David Irving portrait

David Irving

[Photo by David Gamble for The Independent on Sunday]

The PQ.l7 Libel Action, 1970

Captain J E Broome, vs. Cassell & Co Ltd and David Irving



Related item on Mr Irving's father:

Peter Eastman delves into the history of an ancestor who served with Mr Irving's father at Jutland and in Antarctic Discovery expeditions

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PQ.17 bookCaptain J E Broome, DSO, RN, the escort commander in this 1942 North Russian convoy disaster, sued David Irving in libel after the publication by Cassell and Co. Ltd. of this book in October 1968. The case came to trial in February 1970; after seventeen days the Jury awarded Broome what was then one of the largest sums of damages, including punitive damages, in history.



David Irving: Information for Counsel on my Background


THIS PRIVATE memorandum was written in 1970 to provide background information for David Irving's Defence Counsel Andrew Pugh in the Libel Action brought by Captain J E Broome. It is reproduced here in full and unchanged, with hyperlinks and illustrations added by this Website. See too Torpedo Running, 1985, and biographical background note, 1991, and answers to some impertinent questions in 1996.

22 January 1970




Information for Counsel on my Background


I am 31 years old (I was born on 24 March 1938). My mother was a professional writer and illustrator, and yachtswoman; my father, whom I only really knew during the last two years of his life (1965--7) was a Commander in the Royal Navy, having served in it since boyhood, including the Battle of Jutland in 1916. FatherHe wrote many books, some of them standard works, many of them with a Services background; his history of the Battle of Coronel and the Falkland Isles is well known, his history of the Royal yacht "King's Britannia" and his handbook of Naval slang, "Royal Navalese" are well known in the Navy. My family came from Portsmouth, and I spent many years of my life there. I remember standing on the beach at Southsea, and cheering with the crowds as the troopships left for Normandy, presumably in 1944.

My parents separated very early, and I and my two brothers and sister lived with our Mother in very reduced circumstances, in Essex. My elder brother is now a Wing Commander in the R.A.F., Ministry of Defence; my twin brother Nicholas was also an R.A.F. officer, before leaving the service to join the Civil Service. My sister was educated throughout at the Royal Naval College for Girls at Haselmere, so it is not untrue to say that I come from a Service family. Father in HMS MarlboroughOur proudest possessions are photographs of my Father reviewing troops with HM King George VI, and on the deck of his ship [Marlborough] between the wars.

I was educated at a free place at Sir Anthony Browne's school, a grammar school, at Brentwood, Essex, staying for three years in the Sixth Form, and studying classical subjects. Here and by later self-education and at University, I acquired eight "A" level examination subjects (German, Latin, Art, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Economics, British Constitution) and thirteen "O" level subjects. I left school in 1956.

The weakness in my education is that I was unable to obtain a University degree. I attribute this to having been selected for an experimental course, which was abandoned after about three years as it proved too difficult; and to our family's chronic poverty. The full record is that in 1956, London University started an experimental course of one year, to enable Classics scholars to transfer to Science courses -- bringing them up to "A" level in one year on subjects completely unlearned previously.

Irving works for John LaingI was granted an I.C.I. Scholarship for this one year, and at its end I passed the three examinations; in 1957, I therefore entered Imperial College, London, in the normal Physics degree course, with a county Scholarship. At the end of this year, I was informed that I had failed the mathematics section, as had most of the others in the Transfer course. I had to retake the whole year, at my own expense. (In this course, we were of course competing with scholars who had studied science subjects throughout their school training). I decided to re-attempt the course for a year.

My family could not afford the fees, so I secured employment with Messrs John Laing, who were rebuilding the College [LEFT], who were able to provide enough work in the mornings for me to be able to pay my keep and studies during the afternoons. I kept this pace up for a year, but again unsuccessfully. I have no grudge against the College for what happened.

At Imperial College I was elected to edit the college magazine, "Phoenix", which had been founded there by H. G. Wells. The magazine was moribund, but by what I saw as sound business methods and concentration on the commercial side, within a year I had increased its circulation to 2,000 (in a college of 3,000 students), and it was making a profit for the Union.

In 1959, my last year at the College, I edited a London University newspaper, at the U. L. Union's request, called "Carnival Times". As I learned that the profits of the Carnival were to go to a South African subversive organisation, through World University Service, I deliberately engineered the magazine so that it would incur costs cancelling out the profits of the rest of the Carnival of 1959. This incurred a vast amount of -- probably justifiable -- hostility at the time, and much of the rumour-mongering against me today stems from the "Carnival Times" episode in May 1959. In particular the "Daily Mail" published an article, half of which was accurately reporting an interview with me, but half of which was very inaccurate in the best traditions of Fleet Street, quoting me as saying, "Call me a mild Fascist", etc.)

Out of University, my deferment of National Service no longer operated. Since I was liable for National Service, I decided to volunteer for a Short Service commission, with the option of regular service, in the R.A.F., and volunteered at the Holborn recruiting office for the three-year Russian language course (in R.A.F. uniform) at Cambridge University, I had passed "O"-level Russian. I passed all the R.A.F. qualification examinations and tests, and secured an Intelligence test rating of 97%, which the officer said was the highest at Holborn for 19 years (which does not say much for Holborn). All was arranged for me to enter Cambridge in May 1960, had I not been pronounced medically unfit for any kind of military service.[1] This was a relief, as it spared me three years.

Steelworker's IDI decided to find some other tough employment in lieu of National Service. I intended literally to start at the bottom, as the surest foundation for getting to the top. I thought a steelworker was the toughest job, and to do it in the Ruhr would be even tougher; I applied to Krupp (the only name I knew), but they replied that since Allied Dismantling Orders had deprived Krupp of all steelworks, they could not oblige; I then applied to Thyssen, of Mülheim, near Düsseldorf, and they accepted me as an unskilled steelworker for one year. I therefore gave up my Laing employment, which alone had enabled me to survive, transferred to the Ruhr in about September 1960, and worked as a steelworker [RIGHT], in every shop from the tube and plate mills to the furnace stage, where I rose to the humble position of Third Smelter by the time I left. I applied during this period for a staff position with a British steel company, Stewart and Lloyd's, in the Midlands, and they promised to find me a job.

However, before I returned to England I decided to try again for a degree, without which, I thought, all higher executive jobs would be barred to me. I wrote to University College, London, the Department of Political Economy. They replied with some hesitation, since they had heard of me from Imperial College; they finally agreed to accept me for the BSc (Econ.) course if I could pass the two "A"-level examinations, Economics and British Constitution, in time; the examinations were in May, and the offer was made to me in February 1961; I knew nothing of either subject, but I procured the books necessary, and as soon as I came off shift in the steel mill, I studied for about eight hours each day, in the men's dormitory where I had a corner. I passed both examinations with distinction in May, and was informed of this in about August 1961, by which time I had left and taken up a job as clerk-stenographer with the U.S.A.F. in Spain (Strategic Air Command), as I did not consider I could have passed the examinations. University College accepted me for the course.

Dresden 1945, victims awaiting mass cremationLEFT: The Dresden Holocaust, 1945


Again I had to pay the course and fees. John Laing Ltd procured for me (by kind intervention of Maurice Laing himself) a job as night-watchman on the site of what is now the Commonwealth Institute, in Kensington. To eke out the very small earnings (about £8 p.w.) of a watchman, I started writing articles; my first articles had already been published in The Daily Telegraph and the Jewish Chronicle about my experiences in Germany. The job had the advantage of needing no accommodation, as I could sleep in the site hut on a table; it was also an imposing address (Commonwealth Institute, High Street, Kensington) and I could use the typewriter there. Here I began work on a book on the frightful Allied air raids on Dresden, about which I had heard from a fellow-steelworker who was a refugee from Leipzig. From 8 a. m. to 4 p.m. I studied economics at University College; from 4 p. m. to 8 a. m. and all weekends I was in the site hut, and researching for Dresden -- mostly writing letters.

By the spring of 1961, I was earning so much from my writing, that I had paid off all the fees due from me, and had money in the Bank. By the autumn, it was better, and by early 1962 I had a contract with NEUE Jllustrierte, which paid me £88 per week for 35 weeks, researching and writing a series of articles on air warfare. After two years at University College, I decided to devote myself entirely to a career of professional writing about history, and left without taking the degree.


  I HAVE NO politics, and I am certainly not an extremist. I am not a Fascist. I belonged to no other political group or organisation than the Young Conservatives, briefly, at Imperial College. My views are independent and sometimes unorthodox, but never anti-democratic. I am not anti-Semitic (my publishers, Weidenfeld; my solicitors, Rubinstein; my garage-landlord, Littlestone; my sub-tenants, Woolfson; and many others associated with me are Jews). [2]

This has not prevented people from making these charges against me, because these are the charges that stick. On the other hand, I am not intolerant of other groups, and respect their right to an opinion. I was invited by University College to debate with Sir Oswald Mosley at their Assembly Hall on 29 November 1962, on the subject, "This House would Restrict Commonwealth Immi-gration" -- a subject on which I wished to express opinions. (I.e. I was one of the principal supporters of the Motion.)

On the other hand, I am frequently invited to lecture for the Council for Education in World Citizenship, a liberal, left-wing body. I make almost as frequent trips to countries beyond the Iron Curtain as to countries this side. When the West Germans recently put on trial a former SS officer charged with atrocities in a concentration camp connected with the Wernher von Braun V-2 rocket production factories, I travelled specially to Essen with a file of my documents (about two years ago) to place at the Court's disposal.

I had collected the documents for my book "The Mare's Nest". I did not make or attempt to make any publicity about this -- indeed, it might lose me friends in Germany if it were to become publicly known.

My book "The Destruction of Dresden" was very favourably reviewed by people like Richard Crossman and Mr Sydney Silverman.

It is also sometimes suggested that my books are predominantly scandal-mongering, or even anti-British. This is not so.

"The Destruction of Dresden" (1963) was about something of which no British person could be proud; but few Britons ever heard about it, until the book was published. Sir Arthur Harris, Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command, afterwards described me in a letter as the only historian whom he would trust. (I have the letter).

Mare's Nest book"The Mare's Nest" (1964) was written with special Government clearance to use official records within the "closed" period. It principally described the heroic R.A.F. attack on the Peenemünde V-2 station. The book was cleared by the Ministry of Defence, by the Cabinet Office, the Foreign Office and by the Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas Home, in person.

"The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Keitel" was a book which Mr William Kimber asked me to translate -- i.e. he took the initiative. I had never previously read it or heard of it. It does not mention Britain.

"The Virus House"  The history of German atomic research during the war, was considered the best follow-up for "The Mare's Nest", which was about V-2 and secret weapons. My scientific background was an asset, and the book was very highly praised, including a good review from Captain Stephen Roskill. A main passage of the book describes the courageous British Commando attack on the Rjukan heavy-water factory in Norway.

"Accident --the Death of General Sikorski"  The British people as a whole had no knowledge of the British Government's betrayal of the Polish cause in 1943 and 1944. In addition, as is very clearly set out in my diaries and telephone logs for April 1967, the initiative for a book on the subject came from William Kimber, my publisher; not from me.

Dams Raid"The Dams Raid"  In preparing material for a book on this story, I was given special clearance for closed documents by kind permission of Mr Harold Wilson, Prime Minister, in direct correspondence with him. The material was subsequently very widely published, as a newspaper series; it is still being published, all over the world. ("Sunday Express").

"The Destruction of Convoy PQ. 17"  This is the first book to portray in documentary depth the heroism of the British merchant marine. Even so, the Royal Navy are not unduly criticised, although certain episodes are inevitably viewed in the afterlight. The book has been given the very highest praise in its British reviews, and the American Navy Historical Division's head minuted in a confidential memorandum, content of which was imparted to me, that he considered it the finest book on convoy warfare that he had ever seen. It has drawn private letters of congratulation from Admiral Servaes, Admiral Denning, and many others who had read it, and in particular from the relatives of the late Rear-Admiral Hamilton, whose reputation it was supposed to vindicate.

(David Irving)


David Irving notes (in 1998):

  1. There is no explanation for the "medically unfit" finding when I volunteered for the RAF. I passed the medical tests at the steelworks shortly after. Back
  2. The subtenants "Woolfson" were a family I gave the upper floor of my Duke Street apartment over to for many months, as they had fallen on hard times. In this case, the kindness was repaid: they prevailed on a good friend in Hove, a Mrs M E Hyams, in the spring of 1972 to lend me for copying the daily diary-register kept by her late husband, the chief of Churchill's wartime police guard at Chequers. Back

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