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 Posted Saturday, March 13, 1999

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IN JANUARY 2000 David Irving enters the High Court in a libel battle against Deborah Lipstadt, in which she and her lawyers have obtained impressive support of international Jewish organisations. One year later he will fight an action against Gitta Sereny and The Observer newspaper in the same Law Courts building in the Strand, London. But thirty years earlier, in 1970, he entered the same building as a defendant in a libel action which ended with the heaviest libel award in British history being made against him. Now every British law student has to study the case of Cassell v Broome & Irving, as it changed the law. He wrote an account of that traumatic episode a few weeks later, based on his diaries and private papers. The lawyers would not let him publish it. Here, for the first time, exclusive to AR-Online and FPP-Website visitors, is that manuscript.

© Focal Point Publications 1999

Written September 23, 1970; revised and corrected Saturday, March 13, 1999





A look at the first round of the High Court action, by DAVID IRVING, one of the defendants


PQ.17 book

WHEN MY ELDEST daughter was old enough to speak, her favourite question was, "Papa, what do you do all day long?" And I would stop typing and reply, "I am writing a book -- a book about boats."

That was in the summer of 1966, and I had been working on that book five years already. The first interviews of seamen had been late in 1961. Now my Olivetti was painfully extruding the second draft, as the first, a year's work, had been killed in a legal dispute.

"Why do you write?"

Less easy to explain. I do not suppose any true author is principally interested in money or repute. There is a less easily defined, a rarer satisfaction. Few hours have lingered longer in my memory than when I persuaded the kindly old radiochemist Otto Hahn to narrate to me in Göttingen just how he discovered atomic fission in 1938; or when Duncan Sandys described his bitter clash with Lord Cherwell in 1943 over the V-weapons; or when I stumbled across the Gibraltar governor's own record of the night Sikorski was killed, while leafing through a pile of Scottish manuscripts. How to explain that to a child of three?

"We need the money," I replied.

By late 1966 the book about boats was finished. I called it The Knight's Move: it was eventually published under the title The Destruction of Convoy PQ. 17. I believed it was the best history I had ever written.

More properly, it was a book about people. Some were to become famous in their own lifetime, or were famous already. There was Douglas Fairbanks Jr., then a lieutenant in an American cruiser; Godfrey Winn, a well-known Express journalist and passenger; his brother, Rodger, now [1970] a Lord Justice of Appeal, and Commander (later Vice Admiral Sir Norman) Denning, both Intelligence officers In the Admiralty. There was Lieutenant Leo Gradwell, trawler skipper and later an illustrious London magistrate. And there were ten thousand others in the Allied and German warships and merchantmen meeting in the icy Arctic waters in July 1942.

I had their diaries, their photographs, their letters, papers, and memoirs; I had thousands of pages of notes, photocopies of ship's papers and official documents. The research had got out of hand -- it had taken me all over Germany several times, it took me to the naval archives in Washington. Ironically, by late 1966 I knew that the book would never make me money, short of a miracle. I kept up with it because of my personal involvement with the story I was telling: having met the Merchant Navy captains, like the one now living for example with no pension and destitute in Liverpool, it became a grim duty for me to continue and to see the book through to public readership. Even now I cannot read my own manuscript without emotion -- a rare sensation for an author (on 19 September 1966, I find I wrote in my diary: "Worked during the rest of the day typing PQ.17 final manuscript, pages 366-389, the Hartlebury story. My blood still runs cold when I read this tragedy, familiar though it is to me.")

This convoy saw the first DSO's ever awarded to Merchant Navy officers. In my Author's Introduction I wrote an apology for the method I had chosen to portray this heroism:

"Lest this book be misunderstood, its readers should know before they enter into the narrative proper that the guiding light in deciding which incidents in this canvas of tragedy to dwell upon, and which to suppress, has been a conviction that gallantry is best portrayed in its real setting; the ships should be shown to be crewed by normal men with normal fears and feelings. Too often one has read histories of individual acts of heroism, and one's appreciation has been dulled by the picture's lack of relationship to normal human character."

And, referring to the merchant vessels, I added "So The Knight's Move is primarily a book peopled with ordinary people: we see how men reacted when confronted with a grim situation which meant certain disaster and probably death. But against this sombre background we shall find that the individual jewels of gallantry sparkle most, emerging unexpectedly to dazzle us by their own unaccustomed shine."[1]

This was one of the passages I first read out to my publishers in London, William Kimber Ltd., in their Belgravia offices (long since vanished under a new hotel). Francis de Salis, the director to whom I owe much of my earlier success, was not enthusiastic about the subject. In his Joyce-Grenfell voice he said ominously, "You know the market for these war stories is failing." I insisted that this was a book with a difference, as all men were shown to be cowards, from which the real heroes then emerged. (I should have written a more complete diary entry on the conversation, for this was one of the passages to which a High Court judge later particularly referred.)

Kimber's accepted the manuscript nonetheless, and began editing it. But de Salis's attitude was a warning to me, and since I was uncomfortable about a royalty dispute with them[2] -- for which my own unbusinesslike dealings with them were largely to blame -- I wrote soon after to a rival publishing firm, Cassell and Company, and took a second copy of the current manuscript to them.[3] They were the most eminent firm I could think of, since they had published Winston Churchill's The Second World War. Besides, Cassell's were a very large company, and thus better suited to handle a major war study like The Knight's Move.

Cassell's director Bryan Gentry telephoned me early one morning, five days later: "I think you've written a very wonderful book," he exclaimed. Cassell's intended to make it their main Spring publication of 1968. I promised that as soon as Kimber's option period expired I would sign the book up with the rivals.[4]

There were already legal problems, and I warned Cassell's of them in a letter: A German author had had the impudence to declare that the book was his (he abandoned his claim after it had cost me £500 in legal fees to fight him off). There were, furthermore, parts of the book which might cause offence to surviving British officers. The Royal Navy escorts had been withdrawn from the 1942 convoy before the massacre began, in consequence of orders from London. In particular Captain "Jackie" Broome, RN, the famous senior officer of the twenty-strong close escort of destroyers, minesweepers, corvettes and trawlers in this his first (and last) convoy to North Russia, was disaffected.[5]

Re-reading the first draft, seen by Francis de Salis and a number of naval officers at the revision stage, I admit it is not hard to see why. A number of passages at that time reflected critical opinions expressed to me by the late Leo Gradwell and other naval escort officers about Broome, their Senior Officer.[6,7,8] Some of his orders were difficult for me, a layman (but equally so for the late Rear-Admiral Hamilton, the Cruiser Squadron commander) to justify or explain.[9] But while everybody else, from Vice-Admiral downward, had co-operated in reconstructing the story magnificently, Captain Broome himself had proven difficult to get through to.

He lived in an expensive Chelsea cottage. Years earlier, when I had begun the writing, he had written to me and invited me to leave him out of my research and interviews altogether and although that would clearly be impossible I postponed interviewing him for a year, until March 1963, when I had completed all the ground research.[10]

A suitable entrée occurred to me. The gunnery observer in one of Broome's destroyers had referred to an incident during the convoy, from memory: "The destroyer Keppel picked up several German airmen, who were afterwards interned in the United Kingdom. They can be traced through Keppel's commander, Broome, perhaps; otherwise through German P.o.W. authorities."[11] The reason I quote my contemporary note of the conversation (which I put on microfilm two years before the trial) will become obvious.[12] Subsequently I wrote to Broome to ask if we might use one of his famous drawings as an illustration; I mentioned a fee and he wrote back to ask for twenty guineas.[13] I wrote to a colleague, "This letter of his is decidedly more friendly than our past correspondence and I shall need his help shortly. Buying the illustration might be the key to the door. If there is no objection to this I will pay Broome a visit shortly -- he lives in Chelsea and inspect the picture he holds."[14]

My interest in tracing the German prisoners was obvious. Broome himself opened the door, wearing a silk housecoat and with a drink in one hand. With the squashed features of Louis de Funes, iron grey hair and a cheery laugh he seemed affable enough and I liked him. He asked me in.

I must have asked him about the airmen, in the course of the half hour. But I recognised at once that the Captain's memory was uncertain, and he said he had kept no notes. I privately concluded that his best contribution would be to review the controversial issues as they arose in my drafting. In my diary I mentioned that Broome had shown me the famous sketches, but apart from that there was nothing else.[15]

THAT WAS the last time I saw him for three years. I worked on the first and second drafts of The Knight's Move. When technical questions about the conduct of the Royal Navy escorts arose, I put them to Captain Broome by letter, I would claim courteously at first, but diminishingly patient. ("It has broken my heart," I wrote on one occasion, "trying to get a straight answer") as the answers became ruder and more evasive. Once he opened a letter with the remark, "Really, you amateur tacticians/historians frighten me!" Then he wrote some months later, "Didn't your Father ever tell you that captains' conferences at sea went out with sailing ships?" (My late father, a Lieutenant-Commander R.N., had been torpedoed in an earlier PQ convoy to North Russia.)[16]

William Kimber, who had been financially severely affected by an unsuccessful libel action brought by the Auschwitz doctor Dering -- Dering had died before he could pay the trial costs -- recognised in Captain Broome the archetype of the publisher's nightmare. At one stage, as Broome's minatory letters began to arrive, Kimber offered to lend me £2,000 if I would shelve the book altogether -- the product now of five year's work.[17] At another stage, he telephoned me in a panic and recommended rewriting the whole book with no reference to Captain Broome at all! I said that would be like writing the Battle of Trafalgar without Nelson. "Broome's no Nelson", Kimber rejoined. "This man's got two arms, hasn't he! Two eyes!"[18] This did not seem to me the best way of writing history.

The problem of doing justice to Captain Broome in the book remained -- as much in his interest as in mine. I proposed to him that I send him the entire manuscript of "The Knight's Move" to read and offer comment on, as the obvious safeguard to both his and the Navy's reputation. He wrote back, "Thank you -- I'd like to see your manuscript."[19] I took it round to him on 6 November 1966 (three days after I had privately approached Cassell's to publish it). Afterwards I wrote in my diary, "Left copy of The Knight's Move with him. He said he had a few papers with him. I said my account was at present negative towards him, but I would welcome material from him which might redress the balance. Also, I was willing to express his side of any arguments." I enclosed a list of about thirty pages I considered he should read in particular.

By chance Francis de Salis, Kimber's director, was a dinner guest with us when Broome telephoned next evening. He refused to comment on the manuscript ("a fairy story, a highly fictional account", he termed it) or to identify its mistakes. If we published it he would sue for libel. He had neither the obligation nor the inclination to assist.[20]

As I put the receiver down, de Salis commented. "He has been very fly. You're dealing with a very slippery fellow! He knows that if he comments now, he can't get damages later."[21] This facet of our legal system was unknown to me. I asked myself: Is it really worth waiting years for a possible cheque for damages, if thousands of copies of a book are meantime sold? Even if sales are then stopped by the legal action, the book remains permanently available in thousands of public libraries. And suppose he detects defamatory errors about other officers, besides himself? They certainly would not benefit from any award of damages to him.

There remained one course of action. So far the Admiralty had, quite properly, refused to let me consult Broome's 1942 official report. I now wrote to them appealing again for privileged access to that document. "If it is possible to interpret the events of July 1942 more favourably for Broome than I have done in my manuscript, then I would very much like to do so," I wrote. "But Broome is at present his own worst enemy and has declined to offer any positive comments whatever."[22]

In the meantime Donald McLachlan, former Editor of the Sunday Telegraph and a personal friend, offered to act as mediator. I agreed ("any port in a storm," I confessed to de Salis) [23] but I privately hinted to McLachlan (himself a former Naval Intelligence officer) that he would not find Broome easy: "I would ask you to bear in mind that Broome is a very fly and slippery character," I wrote, quoting de Salis's picturesque description, [who] so far has not put one foot wrong: for example he has refused to make even the least amendment to the draft manuscript of The Knight's Move."[24]

Elsewhere the manuscript met with more favourable reception. Vice-Admiral Sir Norman Denning, the Director of Naval Intelligence, entertained me to lunch at his Club, the Athenaeum, and called it magnificent; so did Leo Gradwell. In an internal memo, the chief of the U.S. Navy's historical division described it as the finest book on convoy warfare ever written. But Captain Stephen Roskill, the official historian, wrote a formal reader's report for Kimber which I could only describe as a stinker. Lord Justice Winn, an Admiralty Intelligence officer who played a role in the convoy tragedy, kindly corrected the draft for me, but pencilled testily across the title page, "I think this is a dangerous and maliciously anti-British work and FORBID the inclusion of my name in the list of COLLABORATORS." The score of British Merchant Navy officers who also read the draft could not have been more enthusiastic for its publication.

The Admiralty may have agreed, for by 4 February 1967 I had been permitted to study Broome's entire secret 1942 report. I believed that it largely corroborated my own deductions; where it did not, I struck out the relevant passages of the draft manuscript, or retyped the page completely (a possibility which may not have occurred to Broome's counsel in the subsequent trial.) Where there was a conflict of evidence, or of wording ("orders, "instructions ") I attached more weight to Hamilton's parallel report -- the cruiser admiral had a larger and more experienced staff -- but this is the kind of judgment normally expected of the historian.

Thus after February 1967 I felt -- wrongly, as the High Court jury found -- that The Knight's Move was impregnable. I was not distressed when McLachlan's mediation attempts proved nugatory. In my diary I see I told de Salis that victory over Broome was mine: "I was feeling and looking very smug. De Salis agreed: a great success."[26] William Kimber himself telephoned his congratulations at having obtained Broome's report.[27] When Broome commenced writing minatory letters to Cassell's too,[28] I could assure the directors that all the dubious passages had been eradicated, without Broome's assistance.[29] William Kimber Ltd. shared my mistaken confidence. On 28 February 1967 Francis da Salis telephoned me, having read an improved draft, and asserted: "Providing the one word 'blunder' is cut out, I don't see that Broome would have any locus to take action."[30] And in an unhappy letter to Cassell's, on 21 March 1967, when they realised that they had finally lost The Knight's Move to a rival, William Kimber complained that the only reason for their hesitation was the German author's claim on the copyright issue. Captain Broome was not mentioned.[31]


FOR THE failings of the human memory the philosopher Nietzsche once found a neat aphorism: "My memory tells me that that is what I did. But pride says that I cannot have done it. After a while memory gives way to pride." Both Kimber and de Salis were sub-poena'd to give evidence in the trial three years later. Both testified to the best of their recollections that they had rejected the book because it libelled Captain Broome.

Both further testified that the book The Destruction of Convoy PQ. 17 published by Cassell's in September 1968 was substantially the same as the draft (The Knight's Move) they had read in October 1966. (Under cross-examination Kimber conceded that he had read only a few pages of Cassell's version.) The significance was that it was the early draft, The Knight's Move, to which all the hostile warnings and reports read out in the High Court referred.


ContinueRemaining two parts available but not yet hyperlinked:


  1. Introduction to The Destruction of Convoy PQ. 17 (Cassell's, London 1968), page 5 [Return]
  2. After a standing row with Mr. William Kimber on the afternoon of 27 Oct 1966 about the royalties dispute, I noted: "Upon much thought decided that best course of action would be to take PQ. 17 manuscript away from Kimber's and ask Cassell's when they could publish it." [Return]
  3. Diary, 13 Oct 1966. [Return]
  4. Diary, 27 Oct 1966. [Return]
  5. Letter Irving to Cassell's, 2 Nov 1966. [Return]
  6. Diary, 9 Dec 1966. [Return]
  7. Diary, 14 Dec 1966. [Return]
  8. Diary, 27 Oct 1966. [Return]
  9. For example, his order to the 12 remaining escorts to go to North Russia, rather than escort the scattering merchantmen. [Return]
  10. I had written to Broome on 23 May 1962; he replied in the sense quoted 4 Jun 1962. [Return]
  11. Note on an interview with Lt Cdr H.R. Higgins, 16 Apr 1962. [Return]
  12. This is p. 1066 of my microfilm of PQ. 17 research documents, file "Ship's Papers", which was filmed by Kodak on 13 May 1968, so there can be no suggestion that the Note was prepared AFTER the Libel Action. (Film DJ-49) [Return]
  13. Letter Irving to Broome, 14 Jan 1963; reply, 15 Jan 1963. [Return]
  14. Letter Irving to Karweina, undated, p. 578 of film DJ-49. [Return]
  15. Diary, 10 Mar 1963 [Return]
  16. Letter Irving to Broome, 15 Jan 1965; Broome to Irving, 15 Jan 1968; Broome to Irving, 13 Jan 1963. All these letters were read out in Open Court. [Return]
  17. Diary, meeting with William Kimber, 20 Feb and 30 Mar 1967. [Return]
  18. Recorded telephone conversation with Wm. Kimber, Telephone Log, 10 Nov 1966. Kimber suggested writing to Broome,"... and I was going to recommend to the author that your name [Broome's] be omitted from the manuscript entirely. " [Return]
  19. Cf. letter Irving to Broome, 29 Oct 1966. .... .you might like to comment on certain passages before, rather than after publication."' Reply from Broome dated 2 Nov 1966. [Return]
  20. Telephone call from Capt. J.E. Broome, 9 p.m., 7 Nov 1966: draft and full report (3 pp) in Telephone Log. [Return]
  21. Diary, 7 Nov 1966.[Return]
  22. Letter Irving to Ministry of Defence (Navy), 17 Nov 1966.[Return]
  23. Diary, 5 Dec 1966.[Return]
  24. Letter Irving to McLachlan, 13 Dec 1966 (read out in Open Court by the Judge in Summing up, 17 Feb 1970; Summing-Up 1, p.3). [Return]
  25. Cf. Sunday Express, 25 Feb 1968. [Return]
  26.  Diary, 8 Dec 1966. [Return]
  27. Telephone Log, 8 Dec 1966. [Return]
  28. Letter Broome to Cassell's, 27 Dec 1967[Return]
  29. Diary, 28 Dec 1967. [Return]
  30. Telephone call from de Salis, 28 Feb 1967 (T.L.); on 24 Feb 1967 he also phoned and I noted, "Broome, he thinks, is squared." [Return]
  31. Letter Kimber to Cassell's, 21 Mar 1967 put to Kimber during cross-examination on 6 Feb 1970. (Evidence 8 p.17). "If we had not been aware of this copyright situation we would have accepted Irving's manuscript and it would never have found its way into your hands." [Return]

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