"Pirate of the Adriatic” wreaked havoc during Second World War

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Navy News / September 30, 2019

A 22-ship German convoy sailing in two columns slipped through the dark in the Adriatic Sea late in the Second World War.

A Canadian sailor in command of a British Royal Navy motor torpedo boat (MTB) was hot on its trail.

Captain Thomas George Fuller kicked open the three huge Packard engines in his MTB and at full speed, with guns blazing, fearlessly ran the gauntlet between the two columns.

Germans returned fire that hit their own ships.

In the resulting confusion, Fuller slipped away and left the German Navy firing on itself.

This was one of the actions that won him a Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) and helped earn him the nickname “Pirate of the Adriatic.”

During the war, Fuller was awarded the DSC on three separate occasions.

He undertook numerous feats of daring while wreaking havoc among enemy formations. His tactics revolutionized small boat warfare during his exploits in the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Aegean Seas.

He had 105 firefights at sea as well as 30 actions in which he didn't fire a shot.

He carried commandos and captured dozens of ships intact loaded with useful cargo such as tons of goulash and Danish butter. At one point he sank or captured 25 ships in 10 days.

Born in Ottawa, he was a 32-year-old building contractor when he joined the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1939. He was seconded to the British Royal Navy where he eventually commanded flotillas of MTBs in the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas.

He was awarded his first DSC for an action off Dover, England, in May 1942 before being transferred to Alexandria and His Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Mosquito in 1943. While there he won a bar to his DSC for actions in the Aegean Sea.

In 1944 he took command of the 61st Motor Gun Boat flotilla, eight torpedo gunboats, based on Vis Island, Yugoslavia. It was here, while conducting raids on Axis shipping to provide supplies to Josip Broz Tito’s partisans, that he earned a second bar to his DSC and a Mention in Despatches.

After the war Fuller commanded Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) Naden in Esquimalt, B.C., and Carleton in Ottawa before retiring in 1952. He resumed his construction interests, eventually creating the Fuller Group of Companies that were responsible for dozens of projects in Ontario and the Maritimes.

Fuller was still working in the family business when he died at 85 years of age in May 1994.

Remembered as a genuine Canadian naval hero, the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa erected a memorial passageway in his honour and HMCS Carleton named their Operations Room after him. As well, the Thomas G. Fuller Trophy is awarded annually to the Naval Reserve unit that achieves the highest state of combat readiness.