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 Posted Saturday, March 13, 1999

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Continued from Part 1      [endnotes not yet keyed into text]

By early December 1967 the first proof copies of the Cassell's book had been printed. Some fell into illicit hands. Soon, others were campaigning to have the book suppressed. In the early draft I had called attention to a dozen factual errors about PQ.17 in Captain Roskill's War at Sea. (I later recognised that it would be churlish to criticise such a magnificent work of history over minor details, and struck them from the manuscript). This charity was misplaced, for he now entered correspondence with Broome and Mr Godfrey Winn.

The reason for the latter's antipathy was not unknown to me. At a luncheon at the Connaught Rooms on 28 December, I spoke to a hundred of Cassell's sales representatives. Off the cuff I referred to the roles played in convoy PQ.17 by Mr Godfrey Winn, and Captain Lawford's anti-aircraft ship Pozarica aboard which he was a guest.

Let nobody diminish the stature of those brave men who sailed on this operation. Winn subsequently wrote a best-seller on PQ. 17 which is still [1970] in print having sold a quarter-million copies. But Mr Winn's shipmates did not themselves view his participation in the same flattering light as he did. In North Russia, one lieutenant wrote in his diary that they asked Winn [a famous homosexual] how he had liked being Lawford's guest. Winn had replied, stated the lieutenant's diary: "Captains are heavenly, but admirals make me shy...!"

Winn found this quotation in the book, of which he had obtained an unauthorised proof copy, and from Captain Roskill, who had for ten guineas written the "stinking" report on the draft The Knight's Move for Kimber at my suggestion and at the latter's commission. Winn secured a copy of that colourful document (although Roskill consulted neither Kimber nor myself in parting with the confidential document). Roskill prophesied in his report that Mr Irving would no doubt be "too vain" to accept criticism; but that was in fact the very object of my submitting the book to the official historian for his view.

Indeed, Roskill went further: on 9 February 1968 he wrote to Winn, "I am more than sorry, indeed deeply distressed that people like you and Lawford should be put to all this trouble, but in view of the history of the book and the character of its author I am quite sure there is nothing to be done except take him to Court." All this time, Roskill maintained a cordial correspondence with me, commiserating with me on one occasion for example, "I am afraid Jackie Broome is rather a difficult character and is especially prickly about that operation. That is the only explanation I can suggest for his uncooperative behaviour. "

Godfrey Winn needed no second bidding. On 12 and 13 February he telephoned Cassell's directors no fewer than half a dozen times. How could they, he raged, as Sir Winston Churchill's publishers distribute a book like this? "And at a time like this, when everybody else is backing Britain, too!" He threatened that he would "break" Desmond Flower (Cassell's managing director) for this awful thing. He summoned Cassell's directors Kenneth Parker and Bryan Gentry to his town flat at Ebury Street at 6 p.m. next day. Over dinner in my flat later that evening the directors related all that had transpired during their two-hour audience with Godfrey Winn.

"Winn," I noted in my diary afterwards, "is going to issue a Writ against [The Destruction of Convoy] PQ. 17 even if he spends £50,000 doing it. He waved Roskill's Report on PQ. 17 [The Knight's Move] at them. . . . Both Winns claim I 'broke into' their homes and had to be thrown out (?).

"I showed the directors my files of correspondence with the Winn brothers and with Roskill, but they had more to tell.

"Winn said he intends calling R. [Lord Justice Winn], Mountbatten, Rebecca West (?) into the witness box. My book was a slur on the Royal Navy.

"I pointed out that all its heroes -- Hamilton, Gradwell and Captain Owen Morris -- were British officers."

On the very next day, Captain Broome again wrote to Cassell's threatening legal action, and on the day after that William Kimber warned me privately that he knew from knowledgeable legal circles that Godfrey Winn was serious. "He has Roskill's support, and his brother, Lord Justice Winn, is supporting his action to the hilt. He is going to spend his fortune on the operation." The angle was to destroy me personally, rather than the book..

On 19 February, 1968 Kimber told me in alarm that a comment by Lord Justice Winn himself had now been reported to him. I noted,

"Winn [had said that he] was going to ruin me. 'With Irving there can be no compromising'. I said I didn't know what I had done to earn such malice."

Kimber again urged me most emphatically to persuade Cassell's to abandon the book The Destruction of Convoy PQ. 17 before it was too late. But Cassell's had already printed seven thousand copies. I would not hear of any such concession to intimidation.


BRITISH Justice, supposed to be no respecter of persons, is in fact heavily weighted against the young and impecunious. To decide to go ahead and publish in face of libel actions is no easy decision. In libel actions, neither party can claim legal aid -- the entire cost must be met from private savings. Solicitors and counsel's fees can [1970] easily amount to over ten thousand pounds, and much of this has to be put up in advance of any hearing. If it cannot be advanced, then the action cannot be defended. Like the size of opposing Armies in battle, the funds at the command of opposing litigants are most frequently the determining element in the action.

The first shot was fired immediately. I was in the naval archives in Washington when Winn's former host, Captain Lawford, by now very old, deaf as a post, and in failing health, was sent an unauthorised proof of The Destruction of Convoy PQ. 17 and persuaded to take libel action. (Years before, I had invited Lawford to read the whole manuscript, but he had excused himself on grounds of age. Later we learned that Broome had written recommending him not to assist in any way.)

The second salvo was fired two weeks later. A High Court writ was issued by Captain Broome on 5 March 1968, in respect of a proof copy he had seen. On the following day there was a third salvo: Godfrey Winn's lawyers wrote to Cassell's demanding the destruction of the book, an apology and costs; Winn issued a High Court writ, but it was never served. Cassell's cabled me, "Godfrey now in ring." I replied, "For the Winns, Broome and Lawford it must be quite like old times: into action with convoy and escort, to sink the impertinent enemy."

In the event, Cassell's disposed of Lawford's threat ingeniously and without cost to themselves: Legal though their method was, it did not commend itself to me or my lawyers. Without consulting me they paid a large sum of money to a charity to quieten him, paid his costs, and deducted £1,384 from my royalties. Plans to publish the book went on as before. Perhaps then I saw how prophetic had been my thoughts a week after my very first book, The Destruction of Dresden, was published. Kimber had expressed his disappointment at the delays in the PQ.17 book, and murmured, "A second book on the Dresden scale will really establish you as a writer." "In penury!", a small voice inside me had said: five years had passed since then.

On my return from Washington, my sister phoned. She had spotted a remarkable advertisement in The Daily Telegraph's personal column appealing for PQ. 17 survivors to write to a Mr Paul Lund in Cheshire immediately.

The outcome was a book on the same convoy by Lund, published just six months later, a near-record for a hardback book. Nothing will sink a book more completely than another on the identical subject beating it to the bookstalls. In the event Lund's book just managed to appear on the same day; -- I am happy to say that the reviewers accorded it hardly any attention.

My wife and family thoroughly approved my plans to defend the book against the libel actions, although the children found it hard to understand. Some months earlier, in a further stage of their economic education, I had taken them with me to Fleet Street to show how I handed a series of articles on the famous Dambusters RaidDambusters Raid in to a newspaper office, The Sunday Express [which serialised them for three weeks]; I showed my children the printed result and the price on the newspapers and I let them see the cheque when it arrived. When they disbelieved that this was money, I drove them to my South Kensington bank and we solemnly converted the paper into money they could recognise. If they now understood the bare economics of an author's existence, the fact that some stranger could now come and demand money of me for something I had written was less easy to explain. "It's the Law," I volunteered, and evaded the inevitable questions this new concept provoked.

At no time did Cassell's or I anticipate that Captain Broome had any prospect of success. Their natural reflex on receiving his Writ was to ask Broome for advice on the errors, and to undertake to consider amendments; Broome was under no obligation to give this advice and he did not do so. Cassell's postponed publication, planned for early April, by some months (forfeiting for me a British newspaper serialisation deal worth many thousands of pounds). But when their underwriters' solicitors saw the terms of Broome's 1942 official report, they could only conclude that his lawyers were unaware of this document. They now joined Kimbers' and myself in the belief that this document justified what I had written. Publication was rescheduled for September.

I obtained the services of one of the most eminent libel experts, Mr Colin Duncan, Q.C., an excellent orator rather than a forensic examiner. Silver haired and advanced in years, he had the added advantage of offsetting my own youth [I was then just thirty]. An atmosphere of confidence pervaded my meetings with counsel. When Broome's eleventh-hour claim for punitive damages (a new concept in libel law) became known, Colin Duncan averred that no Judge could allow such a claim to go to the Jury. When my junior Counsel [Andrew Pugh] raised with my solicitors [Rubinstein & Nash] the possibility of "paying in" say £550, the latter were adamantly opposed since -- Royal Navy officer and DSO though Broome was -- he could not believe that even the most hostile judicial summing up would procure an award of damages even half as great.

My lawyers did however warn me, "Although on facts we would appear to substantiate the matters contained in the book, the Judge might sum up in a way which is not in our interest or the Jury might make a decision on emotional rather than factual grounds. As you know, it is possible to lose this case although from a pure factual point of view we should make out our Defence."

An innocent to the processes of Law, I found this hard to believe. No payment-in was made (it would not have helped, as things turned out.) So certain was I of Justice and success, that for two years after receiving Broome's Writ I tried to insure against the risk of Broome's dying before the verdict and the Judge's ruling on the costs. To that extent I had learned from Kimber's misfortune.

Captain Broome was evidently equally realistic. One newspaper sprang a surprise interview on him that summer, 1968, and quoted him in print as saying that he planned to drop the proceedings, although he felt the book to be published was "slanted against England, Churchill, and the Royal Navy." The reporter read out his shorthand note over the telephone to me in Spain. But almost at once Broome denied the quotation attributed to him. Subsequent attempts by journalists to speak to him were cancelled by his lawyers.

Broome's lawyers themselves continued to cast flies over us.

Two weeks before the trial, word reached Cassell's that a "friend of both Broome and Cassell's" was anxious to mediate. Four days before the trial opened, Broome's leading Counsel, -- this was Mr. David Hirst Q.C., who, Kimber had warned me in early 1967, had been retained by Godfrey Winn for his abortive action -- privately approached Cassell's counsel with the cryptic statement that there were rumours that the Captain wanted an enormous sum of money to dispose of the action: "I want you to know this isn't so at all. If you have any feelings on the subject, please don't hesitate to get in touch." By this time of course six Counsel had been briefed, and truly majestic costs already incurred.

I felt sorry that Broome had become enmeshed in such a costly dilemma. On 25 January this year [1970] -- the very evening before the Trial commenced -- I told [Fleet-street editor] Donald McLachlan, who had come to tea with us, that I was anxious about Broome's ability to pay the huge costs involved: "It would be tragic if he were to ruin himself over this case."

Yet his own lawyers had at one stage professed to my own dumbfounded representatives, "Cost is no object in this case!"" (Their costs alone amounted to over £23, 000 when the first High Court action was over.)


 Lawton 2000The Judge hearing the action was the sixty-year-old Sir Frederick Lawton (left), son of a prison governor and educated, like myself, at a grammar school. Humorous and erudite, he bared his teeth incongruously even when making the wittiest observation. The naval witnesses marched into the box almost in column of four, in support of Captain Broome. They were soft-spoken, mannered and truthful. I particularly liked Admiral Hayes, Hamilton's staff officer in the convoy. He quietly mentioned how a battle-cruiser, Repulse, had vanished from beneath his feet in six minutes; it had been attacked by Japanese torpedo-bombers based on Saigon 400 miles away. Allied convoys had hitherto been attacked by enemy aircraft up to 380 miles from enemy aerodromes. Navigation was to play an important part in the Trial.

Pozarica's Captain Lawford had himself given evidence earlier in private, but on balance Broome decided against having it read to the Jury, and paid the entire cost himself. Every one of the officers involved volunteered that the Admiralty's mistaken report that the German battle fleet had sailed, and that the consequent scattering of the convoy, left them "shattered." I had described Captain Broome as "a broken man" when he realised the mistake -- one of the passages found to be libellous.

Captain John Litchfield, a former cruiser officer whose wordy opinions I had weighed and eventually largely discarded as I suspected him of being too close a friend of Broome to be entirely objective, voiced his displeasure at my having done so when he also stood in the witness box. He, Captain Roskill, Kimber, and de Salis all testified from the witness box that in their view the draft manuscript (as they had read it: which was before I had seen the 1942 Broome report!) libelled Captain Broome. Of course, in a normal libel action such opinions would have been severely enjoined by the Judge; but the eleventh-hour claim for "punitive damages" in the PQ. 17 case made it relevant to enquire whether we, the defendants had received due warning.

That The Destruction of Convoy PQ.17 as published was materially different from the original draft (in fact 150 pages had been wholly retyped) was noisily denied by Broome's Counsel. I cannot criticise the witnesses for not having recalled the differences; several years had passed since then.

On this point we were hampered by the election -- which was very proper at the time it was made -- of both leading Defence Counsel to call no witnesses. Several naval officers had in fact volunteered to testify on my behalf. Our Counsel's ruse de guerre benefited us immeasurably in other ways; they argued privately that since we rested our Defence wholly on official war documents already introduced as agreed evidence, we should dispense with oral witnesses.

In particular, they saw no cause for me to enter the witness box: I could give admissible evidence on nothing relating to our defence of Justification. And while I could certainly have testified that there had been no "cold, cynical calculation" to libel Broome for profit -- the essence of the historic claim for "punitive damages" -- here our Counsel intended to submit that there was no case to answer. (In a writing career of nine years, I had sold a total of 19,500 hardback books in England: my total income from these before tax had been £3,200. How therefore can an author deliberately libel somebody, expecting the profits thereby to be so large that he can pay any libel damages and costs awarded against him?)

Above all, all the defence Counsel warned that the most obvious tactic for the Plaintiff was to make a privileged assault on my reputation, and that nothing would facilitate this more than having me, as was scheduled, for five days in the witness box. The Plaintiff's case was certainly intended to cover a broad front. I myself duly observed how David Hirst had stacked along the shelf in front of him copies of every book I had written; and the documents "discovered" even included an article I had written on Hitler's teeth. I was not apprehensive, and on the last meeting of Counsel half-an-hour before I was expected to enter the witness box, I appealed, "If I am to go to the firing-post, I would at least like my last words heard." Later, having lost the case, I saw no reason to criticise my "generals", and I persuaded myself they were right.

ContinueEndnotes to Part 3 are not yet keyed in


  1. Evidence, 6 Feb 1970. (Evidence U, p.14) 
  2. Note of the speech in Diary, 28 Dec 1967. 
  3. Diary of Lt James Caraduc . . . Aug 1942 (radar officer of corvette La Malouine.)
  4. Roskill admitted this under cross-examination by Kempster, 9 Feb 1970 (Evidence 9, p.41)
  5. Roskill's report on The KnIght's Move, confidential, Nov 1966.
  6. Letter Roskill to Winn, 9 Feb 1968; put to Roskill in Open Court. Evidence 9, p.43. (9 Feb 1970)
  7. Letter Roskill to Irving, 17 Feb 1967.
  8. Telephone Call from Mr Kenneth Parker, 13 Feb 1968 (Telephone Log); and my subsequent telephone call to William Kimber, 13 Feb 1968 (recorded, Telephone Log.)
  9. Diary, with full note of conversation with Parker and Gentry, 14 Feb 1968 
  10. Note for the Record on Conversation with William Kimber, 16 Feb 1968. Cf. phone conversation with Kimber, recorded, 17 Feb 1968: ". . . and I say expressly 'the two Winns', because from what I hear I think that Lord Justice Winn is as much behind this as Godfrey. "
  11. Cf. Kimber phone converse-ton 16 Feb 1968 (T.L.)
  12. Diary, 19 Feb 1968.
  13. Telephone call from Gentry, 21 Feb 1968 (T.L.)
  14. Letter from M.A. Jacobs and Co. to Cassell's, etc. 6 Mar 1968.
  15. Cable Cassell's to Irving, 8 Mar 1968 (T.L.)
  16. Letter Irving to Cassell's 11 Mar 1968.
  17. Diary conversation with Kimber, 6 May 1963.
  18. Letter Irving to Cassell's. 23 Mar 1968.
  19. Letter Cassell's to Theodore Goddard, Broome's solicitors, 11 Mar 1968. Broome's answer under cross-examination by Kempster for Cassell's, 2 Feb. 1970.
  20. Note on meeting at Cassell's between their lawyers and mine, 24 Apr 1968.
  21. Letter Goddard to Rubinstein, Nash a. Co., 20 Jan 1970.
  22. Note on meeting with Counsel (Kempster, Duncan et al.) 23 Jan 1970.
  23. Letter Rubinstein, Nash, to Irving, 15 Dec 1969.
  24. Vide my correspondence with R.G. Rew of Leslie Andrews a. Co., my accountants.
  25. "The Sun", 5 Sep 1968; telephone call from "The Sun" reporter, 4 Sep 1968, 5.15 p.m. (Telephone Log); my letter Rubinstein, Nash and Co, S Sep 1968 (before reading "The Sun", which was not available in Spain.)
  26. Note for Record on Interview of correspondent of "Bild am Sonntag", 17 Sep 1968.
  27. Phone conversation with Miss Alexander, of Rubinstein, Nash, 11.25 a.m., 7. Jan l970 (TL)
  28. Note on Meeting of Defence Counsel in the case, 23 Jan 1970.
  29. Note on Conversation with Mr. Donald McLachlan over tea in my flat (Diary), 25 Jan 1970.
  30. When Miss Alexander had protested at their insistence that a bound volume of The Knight's Move original manuscript should be broken up for them to photocopy.
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