James Joseph Magennis was the only man from Northern Ireland to be awarded a Victoria Cross in the Second World War.
On 31 July 1945, his midget submarine, XE.3, attacked the Japanese cruiser Takao off the coast of Singapore in a covert operation. Midget sub in place, Magennis tried to attach his six mines but the hull was too dirty for the mines to stick. He had to painstakingly scrape it clean with his knife. Knowing there was a constant risk of discovery, Magennis spent 30 nerve-wracking minutes completing the task.
Once Magennis had returned to XE.3, the sub’s commander Lieutenant Ian Fraser struggled to free it from under the hull of the Takao. Their final task was to drop two large explosive charges under the ship. But one failed to fall away. It would have to be released by hand. Although exhausted from his first dive, Magennis insisted on going back out to free the charge. It took him seven long minutes using a heavy spanner before the midget sub could finally escape. Magennis received a VC for his bravery during the attack on the Takao.
A portrait of Leading Seaman James Magennis VC, by the distinguished Ulster artist Robert Taylor Carson, is on display in the gallery of the NI War Memorial. Taylor Carson worked as an unaccredited war artist for the USAF in Northern Ireland during World War Two and also recorded the daily activities of the American troops.