An Outstanding Pilot - Dudley Marrows DSO DFC

An Outstanding Pilot -  Dudley Marrows  DSO DFC

Sunderland III W6077/U left Pembroke Dock in Wales in the early morning of July 30th 1943 on a routine anti-submarine patrol. At the controls sat Flight Officer Dudley Marrows. The sortie was uneventful; a few suspicious looking Spanish fishing boats the only sights to report.[i] Flying home and low on fuel, the crew picked up exchanges between three German U-boats and some RAF and USAAF aircraft. The Royal Navy had a support group of five sloops on the way. The fighting intensified, and before long, Marrows was ordered to divert W6077/U to the Bay of Biscay and join the battle. What happened next has been described as “the greatest air and sea U-boat battle” of the Second World War.[ii]

Dudley Marrows at the controls of a Sunderland
Aeroplane Issue No 564, Vol 48, No 4 - via Marilyn Marrows Voullaire

The Bay of Biscay was a long way from Dudley Marrows’ home town of Bendigo.[iii] He enlisted on the 12th of October 1940, initially posted to No. 1 Initial Training School in Somers, Victoria.[iv] He was only 22 at the time, working as an accountant. Marrows topped his course at 1 ITS Somers, and was sent to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to complete further pilots training.[v] He excelled in courses at No. 25 EFTS, No. 22 SFTS and No. 61 Air School before embarking for England from Cape Town on the 16th of November 1941.[vi] He left Africa as a Pilot Officer, having been promoted in August.[vii]

After some brief stints in RAF Operational Training Units, Marrows was posted to No. 201 Squadron RAF on the 4th of March 1942.[viii] He had been promoted to Flying Officer in February. Having previously trained in Tiger Moths, Avro Ansons and Supermarine Stranraers, Marrows’ three months with No. 201 Squadron introduced him to the Short Sunderland, a recent addition to their fleet. He was a proficient operator of the bulky Sunderlands by the time he transferred to No. 461 Squadron RAAF on the 10th of June.[ix] Their base, Pembroke Dock, became the largest flying boat station in the world in 1943, hosting 99 individual aircraft.

By the 30th of July 1943, Sunderland III W6077/U had over a year of flying experience as a crew, and were eager to join the U-boat battle and prove themselves as a unit. They arrived to find U-boat U-461, U-462 and U-504 positioned in a tight V formation on the surface. The boats were armed with a total of 27 anti-aircraft guns, forcing the aircraft already on the scene into bombing from high altitude.[x] Marrows and his crew did not hesitate however, and dived in low for a standard attack. They strafed and bombed the U-boats, but had to break off after receiving flank and wing-spar damage. Luckily, the damage was relatively superficial. Marrows dived in again moments later, this time so low that the Sunderland’s “hull skimmed the wave-tops”.[xi] The crew were exposed to fire from all three U-boats, but they managed to drop seven 450lb MkVI depth charges before retreating out of range.[xii]

As they pulled away, navigator Jack Rolland noticed that the depth charges had destroyed U-461. Marrows spotted some men, still alive, clinging to the debris and struggling to stay afloat in the oily water. A number of the U-boat’s 68 crew members had survived the destruction of their vessel. Quite controversially, in an act of benevolence not often seen in war, Sunderland III W6077/U once again dived low toward the German U-boat, this time releasing life rafts and floatation devices in place of depth charges. “Not a single member of the crew of 12 disagreed”[xiii] with this decision.

‘Caught on the surface’ depicts the engagement of Sunderland III W6077/U and U-boat U-461
Robert Taylor

Now critically low on fuel, and without any safety devices to rely on in the event of an empty tank, Marrows and his crew turned for home. They spotted another U-boat not too far from the initial attack, and once again disregarding their own safety, dived in to attack. Before the crew had a chance to release their remaining depth charges, the U-boat managed to score a hit with a cannon shell, causing an onboard fire and knocking out the electrical system.[xiv] This did not stop them from delivering a final attack, strafing the boat with their machine guns.

After nearly 14 hours of flight time, Marrows managed to land the Sunderland, significantly damaged from cannons, machine guns and the onboard fire, in the waters of St Mary’s in the Scillies.[xv] The fuel tank was dry. Flight Lieutenant Dudley Marrows was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in October 1943 for his “devotion to duty, disregard for…personal safety and fine fighting spirit” during his “determined attack” in the Bay of Biscay.[xvi]

The war didn’t end here for Dudley Marrows. His heroics earned him a promotion, this time to Flight Lieutenant, on the 26th of August 1943.[xvii] Within only months of their work in the Bay of Biscay, the Sunderland III W6077/U crew, now operating in Sunderland III EK578/E, were in the think of it once again.

The Sunderland III EK578/E crew was returning from a patrol over Portugal on the 16th of September when six Ju 88’s were spotted on their tail. Marrows ordered his men to jettison their depth charges in order to maintain height.[xviii] The Ju 88 formation split in two and began attacking from port and starboard simultaneously. Completely outnumbered and overwhelmed, the crew desperately attempted to deter their attackers. Within minutes, both the rear and nose turrets were out of action, but Sunderland III EK578/E managed to hold strong for another hour, despite “cannon and machine gun shells…tearing into the aircraft”.[xix] Smoke streamed from both port engines as the starboard outer began to fail. The fuselage was shredded with bullets, and oil from the broken hydraulic lines was leaking uncontrollably. Marrows knew he had to make a break for it and land or risk the entire aircraft exploding.

A 15 foot swell raged in the Bay of Biscay that day, but Marrows still managed to navigate the waves and safely land Sunderland III EK578/E.[xx] All of his 11 man crew had survived the battle, but many were wounded. Two of the the Sunderland’s three life-rafts had be torn to shreds by shrapnel, so the crew were forced to squeeze into a single raft.[xxi] They were blown around the Bay of Biscay for 18 hours before miraculously being located by a search party miles from their last known location. Marrows considered it a “miracle” the crew had survived.[xxii] He was still yet to lose a single member - something only a scarce number of Sunderland captains could claim.

A grainy German photograph of Dudley Marrows and his crew atop their damaged Sunderland III EK578/E
Aeroplane Issue No 564, Vol 48, No 4 - via Marilyn Marrows Voullaire

The crew of Sunderland III EK578/E stand aside a life raft of the type they were crammed inside for 18 hours
Aeroplane Issue No 564, Vol 48, No 4 - via Marilyn Marrows Voullaire

Sergeants Fred Bamber and Allan Pearce were both awarded the DFC for their bravery during the battle, while Marrows admitted to the Distinguished Service Order for his “inspiring leadership, great courage and determination”.[xxiii]

Dudley Marrows must be considered one of the premier Sunderland pilots of the Second World War, described by his Wing Commander as “a most outstanding flying-boat Captain”. He stayed loyal to the Sunderland aircraft for the final years of the war, transferring to No. 40 Squadron[xxiv] RAAF to fly Sunderland ML733’s from Australia to New Guinea. The wild ‘Flying Porcupine’ (nicknamed as such due to the lethal on-board fire power the Sunderland possessed) had truely been tamed by Marrows.

Flight Lieutenant Dudley Marrows’ war officially ended on the 17th of April 1946 when he was discharged from No. 40 Squadron upon demobilisation.[xxv] After nearly six years of service, Marrows returned to Mildura a companion of the Distinguished Service Order and a Distinguished Flying Cross recipient - a genuine war hero. He married his wife Silvia and the pair moved to Mildura, where Marrows began growing citrus fruits right across the Wentworth area.

Some forty years after Dudley returned from war, Silvia Marrows attended a reunion of Sunderland and U-Boat crew members in Germany, where she was approached by a German woman. She told Silvia to thank Dudley for “[her] many happy years of marriage”.[xxvi] Her husband was Wolf Stiebler, captain of German U-boat U-461. Dudley and the crew of Sunderland III W6077/U had saved Stiebler’s life by deciding, against all the instincts of war, to drop a life raft to him and the other survivors. Marrows and Stiebler, once the fiercest of enemies, became the most unlikely of friends, spending time with each other in Germany and Australia. The reprimand Marrows had received from his superiors for dropping the life raft all those years ago was surely worth it to see the spirit of friendship and morality transcend the battlefield.

Wolf Stiebler, left, who commanded a German U-boat, tries on an Akubra in the company of Dudley Marrows, right, during a visit to Australia
The Age March 15, 2019 — 11.01am

In 2015, Marrows received France's highest decoration, the Legion of Honour, “for his role in liberating the country during the war”.[xxvii] He passed away four years later on the 11th of March 2019, aged 101, and was buried at Gol Gol Cemetery beside his wife Silvia. Not only was Dudley Marrows an extraordinary pilot, he was a man of upmost integrity, unconditional kindness and unrelenting bravery. We will remember him.


i Marrows Voullarie, M 2020, ‘Sunderland Sub-Killers - U-Boat Strikes from the Cockpit’, Aeroplane, vol. 48, no. 4, pp. 50-56.
ii  Ibid.
iii  NAA Service Record.
iv  Ibid.
v  Ibid.
vi  Ibid.
vii  Ibid.
viii  Ibid.
ix  Ibid.
x  Marrows Voullarie, M 2020, ‘Sunderland Sub-Killers - U-Boat Strikes from the Cockpit’, Aeroplane, vol. 48, no. 4, pp. 50-56.
xi  Ibid.
xii  Larkins, S, 2015, No. 461 Squadron (RAAF) - "A Bullet With Your Name On It”, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 19 November 2020].
xiii  Wright, T, 2019, ‘The amazing bond of Dudley Marrows and the U-boat captain he saved’, The Age, <>.
xiv  Marrows Voullarie, M 2020, ‘Sunderland Sub-Killers - U-Boat Strikes from the Cockpit’, Aeroplane, vol. 48, no. 4, pp. 50-56.
xv  Ibid.
xvi  DFC Citation.
xvii  NAA Service Record.
xviii  Marrows Voullarie, M 2020, ‘Sunderland Sub-Killers - U-Boat Strikes from the Cockpit’, Aeroplane, vol. 48, no. 4, pp. 50-56.
xix  Ibid.
xx  Ibid.
xxi  Wright, T, 2019, ‘The amazing bond of Dudley Marrows and the U-boat captain he saved’, The Age, <>.
xxii  Ibid.
xxiii  Marrows Voullarie, M 2020, ‘Sunderland Sub-Killers - U-Boat Strikes from the Cockpit’, Aeroplane, vol. 48, no. 4, pp. 50-56.
xxiv  NAA Service Record.
xxv  Ibid.
xxvi  Wright, T, 2019, ‘The amazing bond of Dudley Marrows and the U-boat captain he saved’, The Age, <>.
xxvii, 2020, Vale Dudley Marrows, DSO DFC Legion De Honor, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 19 November 2020].