Naval Related Obituaries


Lantern Swinger
There's a similar thread on the ARRSE website, for Military obituaries started by "Plastic Yank" last year. Perhaps this board would be a suitable home for a Naval equivalent?
Happy to be guided by the Mods on this one. However, as an example the attached obit from today's Telegraph is certainly worthy of a wider readership.

Captain Magnus Work
(Filed: 13/02/2006)

Captain Magnus Work, who has died aged 95, experienced the greatest difficulty in obtaining a commission from the Admiralty; he went on, however, to win the Distinguished Service Cross on three occasions.

He first applied as a Merchant Navy officer for a commission in the Royal Naval Reserve before the war, and was told that none was available. When he enquired again from Hong Kong, he was told he would have to apply in writing when he was next home.

Then, while travelling through wartime London one weekend in January 1940, he visited the Admiralty, where a civil servant told him to go away as interviews were not held on Saturdays. Work replied that they had better hold one immediately as he was on leave and catching a train to Scotland that night.

A hurried examination of his papers resulted in a board being convened, and Work was commissioned as a lieutenant, RNR. The Admiralty wanted to make him a navigator, but he insisted that, as one of the youngest holders of an extra master's certificate, he deserved a command.

When it was discovered that he was going on leave to Orkney, a commander told him: "Thank goodness I have got someone to go to that Godforsaken place, I'll send you as senior officer of the Arctic Pioneer in command of three anti-submarine trawlers there."

Work's leadership and skill were soon recognised, and between 1941 and 1944 he commanded the Flower-class corvette Dahlia. He was awarded his first two DSCs - in January 1944 and in June the same year - for spirited defence of convoys.

On December 9 Work was commanding the Castle-class corvette Bamborough Castle. The ship was one of the first to be armed with Squid, the anti-submarine mortar which threw 600-lb bombs ahead of the ship and enabled its commander to remain in asdic contact with a suspected U-boat instead of having to run over it and lose contact in the noise of his own ship's hull and propellers.

As a convoy of merchant ships prepared to exit through the narrow straits leading from Murmansk, Work and the 7th Escort Group were conducting an overnight sweep outside the harbour when he picked up a faint radar return.

Although doubtful of finding a U-boat so near shore, he closed to investigate. Kapitänleutnant Rudolf Büchler had commanded U-387 for two years, but had so far achieved no sinkings; he dived, but found himself unable to submerge beneath the cold water layer.

Approaching the coast in the dark, Work quickly picked up a firm echo on his asdic and began an urgent, unsupported and accurate attack. Within minutes the U-boat was destroyed with all 51 hands. Work was awarded a second bar to his DSC.

Magnus Spence Work was born on January 18 1910 at Deerness, Kirkwall. His father had been a mariner on the Indian coast, trading coal and rice between Calcutta and Burma until returning to the Orkneys to marry a schoolmaster's daughter who had taught English in France.

Young Work and his brothers were taught largely at home and ran wild, messing about in boats and selling flotsam from the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow. His formal education at Kirkwall was interrupted by prolonged illness, and he was sent to Conway, then in the Mersey, to train for the Merchant Navy.

Work became cadet captain, and won the Moody Cup for sailing, before shipping in 1927 as a midshipman of the Blue Funnel Line in the steamship Philoctetes.

He was a third mate, earning £9 a month in 1931, and between 1933 and 1935 ran the boats of the steamship Ulysses, which was employed in the then-novel role of cruise liner visiting the Great Barrier Reef.

He remembered scanning the passenger lists and wondering how many of the "misses" would be young and pretty. On each cruise he had a different girlfriend, some of whom he kept in touch with for many years.

By 1937 Work had been continually at sea since he was 15, and, wanting to know "how it was to be free", he bought an ancient Morris Cowley two-seater for £10 to explore Scotland while he studied for his ticket at Glasgow Technical College.

In 1938 he returned to Conway to teach, and, when the war began, went to Hong King via the trans-Canadian railway to bring the new steamship Glenorchy from Hong Kong to the Thames.

On being demobilised in 1945 Work joined Alfred Holt as superintendent of stevedoring at London's Royal Docks. He later set up a new operation at Tilbury, where strikes were common in the 1960s; but the men had the highest regard for Work.

Retiring in 1970 to Kirkwall, he became president of the Sea Cadets and captain of Orkney Golf Club. He was also a deputy lieutenant of Orkney, a member of Orkney Islands Pilotage Committee, and a leading member of the friends of St Magnus's Cathedral.

In October 1984 there was a serious disturbance aboard the American oil tanker Beaver State alongside the oil terminal: three seamen returned, over-refreshed, and assaulted the chief officer while one ran amok with a fire axe.

Next day the men appeared before Work, sitting as an Honorary Sheriff. He fined them £250 each; then, rising from the bench, he told them that they should consider themselves lucky: in his day they would have been clapped in irons and put down the forepeak.

For many years Work was honorary secretary of the Kirkwall Lifeboat Station, where he was so highly by regarded by RNLI headquarters, the coastguard and the crew, that he continued in the role until he was 77. Lifeboatmen insisted on being his pallbearers.

Magnus Work, who died on January 10, married Jean Paterson in 1941. She died in 1960, and eight years later he married "Mardi" Sclater, who died in 2003. He is survived by his son from his first marriage.


Lantern Swinger
Re: Naval & Related Obituaries

Er - on a professional basis, notification of deaths of Flag Rank Officers would be very useful and would help me no end! I only check the Times, so notifications from other places are handy and save me having to negotiate the AFPAA Pension jungle.


Lantern Swinger
Re: Naval & Related Obituaries

The last Mershant Navy Veteran fro the First World War.

Nicholas Swarbrick
(Filed: 08/02/2006)

Nicholas Swarbrick, who died on February 2 aged 107, served as a radio operator in the Merchant Navy during the First World War.

Nicholas Swarbrick was born on November 14 1898 at Grimsargh, near Preston, into a well-to-do family. His father had trained as a Roman Catholic priest but instead became a businessman with interests in farming. He served as chairman of Longridge Urban District Council for half a century. "What he didn't know about the drains and the sewers in the district wasn't worth knowing," his son recalled.

Young Nicholas's mother died of consumption when he was about four and for the last two years of her life he was unable to hug her for fear of infection. At six, he went to Winkley Square School in Preston. It was staffed by Jesuits who also taught at Stonyhurst and were strong believers in corporal punishment. Nicholas did well there until he was about 14, when he entered Father Ellison's class, where he was belted so hard that he refused to return to school.

He had already developed an interest in electrical and scientific matters, especially radio, and went to work for his father, taking a course to learn Morse in Liverpool just before the outbreak of war.

Within five days of obtaining his certificate of proficiency, he sailed from London on the Westfalia as a radio officer, crossing the Atlantic to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to pick up horses for shipment to France. He made the journey several times, travelling to Montreal after Halifax's port was damaged in December 1917, when a German submarine attacked a ship carrying ammunition.

"I'm not sure how many torpedoes missed us but ships were being sunk all around me," he said in Max Arthur's Last Post, interviews with veterans of the Great War. As radio operator, Swarbrick was first with news of losses. "I could pick up an SOS from a ship in our convoy that was under attack but we never stopped to pick up survivors because if you did you'd be torpedoed. You'd be a sitting duck for the sub."

In later crossings he brought American troops to Liverpool from New York on an Atlantic liner owned by Canadian Pacific Railway, on which he heard the news of the German retreat which preceded the Armistice from the Eiffel Tower transmitter.

He stayed in the Merchant Navy through the 1920s, visiting every continent except South America, but left to help his father run farms after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, later taking a particular interest in cattle breeding.

He never married.


Lantern Swinger
Re: Naval & Related Obituaries

This one and a few others were published prior to Rum Ration's launch, all are well worth a read.


Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Austin
(Filed: 08/09/2005)

Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Austin, who has died aged 84, was a Fleet Air Arm pilot for 30 years and a Whitehall warrior during the Second Cod War; he was also at the centre of a Yes, Minister-style dispute over a special unit parachuted alongside the QE2 after a bomb hoax in 1972.

As the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Operations and Air), responsible for dispatching men from the Special Boat Service and an Army bomb squad to the cruise ship in mid-Atlantic, he was first faced with the security services' assessment that further terrorist threats were expected.

The Ministry of Defence suggested permanently placing armed Royal Marines on board. But lawyers warned that, if they opened fire in another country's territorial waters, they might be liable to murder charges. Austin robustly replied that this was "most absurd". He agreed with the Foreign Office that a marine could not be expected to sit still just because an attack took place in a foreign port.

Eventually a New York shoe-repairer, who had been trying to extort $350,000 (£140,000), was sentenced to 20 years in jail. Austin concluded that the only consequence to the QE2 was that dinner had been a bit late.

Later that year, Austin had to cope with the Second Cod War, after Iceland's unilateral imposition of a 50-mile fishing limit and its attempt to drive British trawlers from their traditional fishing grounds. He had to preside over the Navy's complex but clear rules of engagement when Icelandic gunboats were cutting nets and ramming ships. This meant telling Edward Heath of the frustration felt by commanders, but the prime minister, with his typical obtuseness, still refused to accede to their calls for "Option D", which would have allowed them to open fire, if necessary.

Austin also contributed towards the outcome of the Falklands War a decade later when he supported proposals to equip helicopters with long-range radars. There was no prospect of financial approval even for a feasibility study, but he authorised work to go ahead at a time when the First Sea Lord ruled that nothing should be done to prejudice new anti-submarine helicopters for the Navy. As a result, Austin's unofficial work was available when it was needed to rush radar-equipped helicopters into service 10 years later.

Peter Murray Austin was born on April 16 1921 and educated at Connaught House, Weymouth, a crammer for Dartmouth, which he joined in the Hood term of 1935. His father was Vice-Admiral Sir Frank Austin, and his kinsmen included the first bishop of Guiana and HGB Austin, who led the West Indies cricket team to England in 1906 and 1923.

At school young Austin was known as "Grubby" for his willingness to enter any scrap or jape without regard to clothing or cleanliness. At Dartmouth he was given official "cuts" for stealing signal rockets from a laid-up ferry for an impromptu fireworks party. Never outstanding at his studies, he excelled on the sports field, being one of the youngest rugby three-quarters to represent the college. The nickname did not stick, but it typified Austin's attitude to life.

When the Second World War broke out, he was a midshipman in the cruiser Cornwall, and he sat his examination for lieutenant during the blitz at Portsmouth, fire-watching by night instead of revising. Between 1941 and 1945 he served aboard destroyers in the Atlantic, on Russian convoys and in the Mediterranean.

In 1943 he came across his father, who had taken a demotion to serve as a convoy commodore at Taranto, the Italian port. After a bibulous evening, young Peter found himself in command of three surrendered Italian ships in a Mediterranean storm. He knew just enough Italian to realise that the crew was plotting to shoot him but, fear of his father's wrath, persuaded them to plough on.

Austin learned to fly in Canada in 1945, and flew Seafires and Sea Furies in 807 Naval Air Squadron between 1947 and 1949. He rapidly progressed to command of 736 squadron at the naval air fighter school, and graduated from the RAF's air warfare course at Manby. At the end of the Korean War, he was commanding the Australian 850 Sea Fury squadron in the carriers Sydney and Vengeance.

He was appointed Lieutenant-Commander (Flying) in the new carrier Bulwark, and was Commander (Air) at the naval air station at Brawdy from 1956 to 1957, and in the carrier Eagle in 1958-59.

Austin's ability was then recognised by prominent general service appointments: as officers' appointer to the staff of the Commanders in Chief Committee (West), and commanding officer of the diesel-engined frigate Lynx and Captain 7th Frigate Squadron, 1963-64. He was off Chile, after taking Lynx through the Panama Canal, when he was ordered to the Falklands to forestall a fit of Argentine aggression over the islands. In 1967 he was director of strategic policies on the staff of the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic at Norfolk, Virginia. Between times he was captain of Brawdy when the Prince of Wales was there, and commander of the carrier Hermes.

His last appointment was as Flag Officer, Naval Air Command, from 1973 to 1976. By the time he retired, Austin had flown 2,700 hours in 32 types of aircraft, including single-engined propeller-driven biplanes, twin engine jets and helicopters, and had made more than 500 deck-landings. As an admiral he usually flew himself to meetings in a Hawker Hunter that had been specially painted green for him. Once, after a gathering of senior officers at Lee-on-Solent and a mess dinner, Austin impressed everyone with his state of well-being at breakfast; he laughed off the idea that flying might not be on, and executed a beautiful flow roll as he departed the airfield in a four-engined de Havilland Heron.

Appointed KCB in 1976, he retired to become director of operations for Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. He never stood on ceremony, and was often more in sympathy with the workforce than with his fellow board members, gaining a grudging respect from the dockers who had wondered, "What the hell can a brasshat know about lumping cargo?"

Always a competent skier, Austin joined the board of the British Ski Club for the Disabled and personally guided numerous parties of disabled skiers to Europe. He oversaw an important phase of Port Regis Preparatory School's development when he was a governor, and, in his eighties, bicycled some 4,000 miles a year wearing his woolly hat and old jumper.

Peter Austin married "Sams" Josephine Rhoda Ann Shute-Smith in 1959. She died in 2001, and he is survived by three sons and a daughter.


Lantern Swinger
Re: Naval & Related Obituaries

Lieutenant-Commander John Russell
(Filed: 04/05/2005)

Lieutenant-Commander John Russell, who has died aged 88, lost a leg while acting as beach master during the Allied landings in Italy; more than 40 years later, he displayed notable dash in disarming a knifeman in an Exeter traffic jam.

Russell commanded an elite Royal Naval Commando unit, "Nan", from September 1943 until he was blown up in February 1944. The RN Commandos were specialist officers and seamen deputed to plan and control landings before directing ships and speeding troops into battle.

During the Sicily landings, the crossing of the Messina Strait and the Allies' arrival at Sapri and Salerno, he had seen how sandbars could form on the tideless Mediterranean coasts and soldiers were drowned when their landing craft became stranded in deep water. So he volunteered to reconnoitre the beaches of Anzio, flying a Seafire at low level.

Russell expected to spend weeks at Anzio, but this turned into months as Kesselring's armies counter-attacked. He kept the beachhead functioning under intense German shelling, and became more involved in fighting than intended. His men probed the shingle with their bayonets for wood-encased mines and defused German booby-traps. Russell himself surveyed the shallow water in a rubber boat while under fire, and his seamen drove new Bren-gun carriers to the front line.

When German fighters strafed the beach and set alight a supply ship, he called for help to rescue the wounded and put out the fire. The only available British troops were guarding German prisoners of war, and American troops refused to leave their shelter. Nevertheless, the prisoners volunteered, a German officer telling Russell: "We will rescue your wounded but will not fight your fire." When the American Major-General Lucas saw this, he mistook the situation and promised the Germans a citation, only to be told by a Wehrmacht officer in perfect English language where to put his medals.

Eventually Russell was caught by "Anzio Annie", a long-range gun which was bombarding the beaches. He was blown several feet into the air, and landed with a badly shattered leg and multiple shrapnel wounds.

He made his own tourniquet but denied that he had amputated his own leg using his commando dagger, instead claiming to have used "a couple of sizeable bits of tibia or femur that I seemed to have spare" to attract the attention of some scurrying Americans. He arrived at the operating table fully conscious and still with his boots on. His leg was amputated close to the groin.

For his courage, leadership and determination Russell was awarded his second DSC of the war. After several months in hospital he was repatriated to England, where he saw his three-year-old daughter for the first time.

John Blakeley Russell was born on March 11 1917 at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley, Hampshire, where his father, a veteran of Lord Wolseley's expedition to relieve Khartoum in 1884, was military commandant. He was educated at Taunton School and Pangbourne from where he followed his brother Vincent into the Royal Navy.

After service before the Second World War in battleships and cruisers, Russell joined the Fleet Air Arm and flew Walrus amphibian aircraft, only to be grounded after 170 hours flying because he experienced chest pains at 15,000ft without oxygen (then a compulsory test for Fleet Air Arm pilots).

He returned to general service as first lieutenant of the Hunt class destroyer Exmoor, and was escorting convoy HG76 off Madeira in December 1941 when two U-boats were sunk in two days. U-131 was depth-charged repeatedly during December 17 and was attempting to escape at speed on the surface when Russell saw it on the horizon.

As Exmoor gave chase, Russell opened fire, scoring several hits with his first salvoes at extreme range and sinking the U-boat. Next day Exmoor took part in the destruction of U-434. Russell, whose captain noted that he had controlled the guns with skill and coolness, was awarded his first DSC. He trained as a commando in Scotland in 1942.

Despite 40 years' phantom pain from his missing leg, Russell was undaunted. He kept a smallholding with pigs and vegetables near Battle, Sussex, and later managed a feed mill for North Devon Farmers. As commodore of the North Devon Yacht club he used to stow his tin leg in the forepeak "as it got in the way" and in the 1950s he sailed with the legless station commander of RAF Chivenor. Despite having only one good leg between them, they used to win many races.

In 1986, Russell was sitting in his car in an Exeter traffic jam, when a robber with a knife backed against the driver's window. As the man lashed out at several policemen advancing behind a shopping trolley, Russell reached out to grab the thug's shirt, and squeezed his arm in a way to make him open his hand and drop the 10in blade. The policemen were commended for their bravery, and Russell was given a good citizen's award. He said: "I didn't do very much."

Russell, who died on April 11, married, in 1941, Mary Wendy "Bimmy" Chichester, who had first captivated him when he saw her playing a minor part in the film Knight Without Armour (1937), which starred Marlene Dietrich. She survives him with two daughters and a son; another daughter predeceased him.


Lantern Swinger
Re: Naval & Related Obituaries

Captain Ronald Brooke(Filed: 06/12/2004)

Captain Ronald Brooke, who has died aged 92, was a highly decorated destroyer captain in the Second World War and helped to rescue the last child survivors from the passenger ship City of Benares.

Brooke was first lieutenant (second in command) of the A class destroyer Anthony when he assisted in an Atlantic rescue which changed policy during the war. The Ellerman line's City of Benares had sailed in Convoy HX71 from Liverpool on Friday September 13 1940, carrying 406 crew and passengers, including 90 children being evacuated to Canada by the Children's Overseas Reception Board (CORB).

Four days out from Scotland, and several hundred miles west of Ireland, after the convoy's escort had to turn back for lack of fuel, City of Benares was torpedoed by the German U-48; some 245 lives were lost from drowning or exposure, and only 13 of the children survived. Six children, along with Fourth Officer Ronald Cooper and Miss Mary Cornish, spent seven days in an open boat. They were found and rescued by Brooke in Anthony on September 26 and landed safely in Glasgow three days later.

Following the sinking of the City of Benares, which the press described as a war crime, it was decided that convoys should sail with rescue ships in attendance; the Allies were spurred to close the mid-Atlantic gap; and the CORB-inspired evacuations of children were suspended. Many years later Brooke was delighted to be invited to a reunion of the children whom he had helped to save.

Ronald de Leighton Brooke was born on January 9 1912 at Tanjong Malim, Malaya. His father, a rubber planter, imported the first motor car to Malaya, a 1903 De Dion Bouton. Ronald entered Dartmouth in 1925.

Before the war he served in the cruiser Arethusa off Palestine. During unrest there he landed with a patrol of sailors with a ship's gun mounted on a lorry to guard Jewish settlers travelling between their settlements outside Jerusalem.

For the first few months of the war Brooke's ship, Anthony, escorted the BEF to France; then, as he remarked later, "In 10 days we brought them all back again!" When his CO, Lieutenant Commander N J V "Pugs" Thew, fell ill Brooke took command of Anthony at Dunkirk. Despite bomb-damage on May 30, Brooke made several journeys and brought back 3,800 troops. On his last day, he spotted a Stuka strafing a raft and drove off the plane, which fled towards the French coast trailing black smoke; on the raft were six members of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment who, fleeing advancing German tanks, had paddled off the beach on the remains of a wooden pontoon. Brooke was mentioned in dispatches.

In May 1941 Brooke was still in Anthony when she formed the escort for the battlecruiser Hood and the battleship Prince of Wales as they hunted the German battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen south of Iceland. Anthony had been detached to refuel at Hvalfjord when she received an order to "intercept the enemy"; then came the signal: "Hood sunk".

Undeterred, Anthony set off into the night at 25 knots after the Bismarck, though her duties were limited to searching for survivors and escorting the damaged Prince of Wales back to Scapa Flow. In July and August 1941 Brooke took part in the raid on Kirkenes and Petsamo and in the evacuation of Spitzbergen.

Then, in September 1941, Brooke took command of the Hunt class destroyer Wheatland at Yarrow's yard in the Govan. A superb navigator, he was undismayed by taking his new command to sea for the first time in thick fog on the Clyde. For a raid in December on the Lofoten Islands off Norway, Brooke needed only one "shaky sun sight" to find the correct landfall.

In 1942 Brooke took part in special operations and in a number of Arctic convoys, including PQ18. After the disaster of PQ17, which had been ordered to scatter, a major operation was mounted, which included the escort carrier Avenger with Brooke as close escort. The convoy came under persistent air and submarine attack and lost 10 of the 39 merchant ships; however, three U-boats were sunk and some 44 enemy aircraft were shot down.

Avenger and her escorts seemed to attract the German bombers, but even her small complement of aircraft was sufficient to disrupt several air attacks, and Brooke's pom-poms shot down two torpedo bombers, despite his violent manoeuvring to avoid being hit himself.

When one Sea Hurricane crashed into the water, Brooke was quickly at hand to pluck the pilot to safety. He was at sea for 14 days, during which he refuelled six times.

Back in Britain, Churchill visited the returning escort commanders to thank them personally, and Brooke was awarded the first of his DSCs for his gallantry, skill and resolution in escorting an important convoy to Russia in the face of relentless attack.

On November 12 1942, Brooke took part in Operation Torch, landing British commandos and infantry at Bougie, Algeria: though frequently dive-bombed, Brooke's ship escaped damage, and he received a bar to his DSC.

Then, shortly before midnight on February 16 1943, Brooke was patrolling off Bougie with the destroyers Bicester, Easton and Lamerton when he saw a dark shape ahead of him and launched an attack. The contact disappeared and, despite difficult sonar conditions, Brooke hunted all the next day until shortly before midnight, when the Italian submarine Asteria, short of fresh air, burst to the surface and surrendered: Asteria had been seriously damaged by Brooke's first attack and, unable to escape, was scuttled by her crew. Brooke was awarded the DSO.

Just four days later Brooke, with the same destroyer group, was warned about another submarine. After a four-day hunt north-west of Algiers, he found the German U-443, and his attack so damaged the German that Brooke's "chummy" ship, Bicester, was easily able to finish it off with depth charges; there were no survivors. Brooke was mentioned in dispatches.

His next appointment, in 1944, was to India and to Mountbatten's supreme Allied headquarters. Brooke accompanied Mountbatten when he moved from Delhi to Kandy, Ceylon, and as forward planning officer drew up plans for landings in Japanese-held territory.

Though never comfortable in staff appointments, Brooke accepted appointment as an aide to Mountbatten when he became C-in-C Mediterranean. Brooke worked closely with his chief, but later always referred to him discreetly as "the noble earl".

In the early 1950s Brooke commanded the dispatch vessel Alert, though he made several warlike patrols to guard the sea coast of Malaya during the Emergency. When the Korean War broke out, he took Alert to Sasebo, Japan, to act as a communications ship for the fleet at sea.

There were idyllic interludes during his command of Alert: his family were living in Singapore and he frequently managed to take his boys to sea, though he made them pay for their passage by polishing the ship's bright work. However, on one visit in Alert to Sarawak, a diplomatic incident was narrowly avoided: the locals thought that the last White Rajah, Sir Vyner Brooke (to whom Brooke was distantly related), was returning, and, preferring the White Rajah's relaxed attitude to tax collection over the newly independent government's, were preparing a riotous welcome. Brooke had to insist that he had no claim to rule over them.

During the Suez crisis Brooke was promoted to Commodore and commanded an amphibious warfare squadron. He retired in 1962.

He became regional secretary of the Country Landowners' Association, and in 1977 chairman of the friends of St Andrew's, Chilcomb, which he saved from closure. He thought that saving a medieval church was compatible with a pop festival and dismissed his neighbours' anxiety with a brisk: "Why shouldn't the young people have some fun?"

Brooke and his wife travelled widely, and enjoyed a canal boat holiday in Russia when in their nineties. He continued to drive, though latterly he terrified other drivers with his fixed stare from behind the wheel. He also startled listeners by ending his telephone conversations by saying "Over!"

Ronald Brooke died on November 2. He married, in 1940, Jocelyn Pelham Kent, who survives him with their three sons.


Lantern Swinger
Re: Naval & Related Obituaries

Lt-Cdr Victor Clark
(Filed: 13/01/2006)

Lieutenant-Commander Victor Clark, who has died aged 97, played a dashing role in the defence of Singapore as the Japanese closed in on the British garrison in 1941.

After surviving the sinking of the battlecruiser Repulse on December 10, Clark became naval air liaison officer at the combined headquarters in Singapore. Gloomily studying maps showing the enemy's advance, he and Major Angus Rose of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders proposed commando raids behind enemy lines.

Within a week, Clark was commanding the Straits Steamship Company's Kudat as well as a flotilla of gunboats, with 40 Royal Marines and 50 Australian volunteers. In their joint Boxing Day raid at Temerloh, on the west coast, Rose ambushed and destroyed a Japanese column, including a staff car containing a general.

Six days later Kudat was sunk, and with his remaining motor launches under mortar fire, Clark moved south to Batu Pahat.

There he volunteered to take the river gunboats Dragonfly and Scorpion to rescue 2,000 Australian, British and Indian troops who were cut off at a swampy inlet overlooked by the encircling Japanese.

For four nights Clark swam and waded to lead his men in hauling native craft through the mud to bring the exhausted soldiers out to waiting ships.

Lt-Gen Arthur Percival, GOC Singapore, described Clark's feat as "a most difficult operation reflecting the greatest credit on the Royal Navy", but one of Dragonfly's seamen was overheard to say, "Too bloody brave for my liking!"

Two days before the surrender of Singapore, Clark was sent to Java in a motor launch with 60 troops to continue guerrilla operations; but at daylight on February 15 he found the Durian Strait, off Sumatra, guarded by a large Japanese destroyer.

Closing the range to 400 yards, he aimed his four-pounder gun and every rifle and Lewis gun at the enemy's bridge, hoping to kill the captain. But several accurate rounds from the ship soon reduced his launch to a shambles, with fires in the fo'c'sle and engine room.

The gun was knocked off its mounting, and the rudder jammed hard astarboard; the scuppers ran with blood, and she finally sank.

Despite a broken wrist, Clark lashed other survivors to planks, and told those who had not been wounded to swim towards the mangrove. Soon he was alone and, taking an empty ammunition box as support for his useless arm, he started to swim towards a distant lighthouse.

After spending a night in a fishing hut, he went ashore at Sumatra some 36 hours later. He then stole a canoe to go upriver with a small party of other escapees who had rallied to him.

After six weeks in the deep jungle they were betrayed by natives to the Japanese for 40 silver guilders each. By Clark's own account this did not make "a very heroic story, but I did at least make as big a nuisance of myself as I could for the next three and a half years!"

Clark was awarded a Bar to his earlier DSC, though he found out only when a rare Red Cross parcel arrived from his mother, with his latest decoration underlined on the address label.

Victor Cecil Froggatt Clark was born at Dover on May 24 1908, the son of the vicar of Bromley-by-Bow. He was educated at Haileybury and crewed in Lowestoft fishing smacks without engines during the holidays.

During the 1930s he served in the battleships Valiant and Warspite and the destroyer Anthony in the Mediterranean fleet. Despite being a self-proclaimed mechanical dunce, he owned a succession of motorbikes, including a Norton on which he explored the Holy Land.

In 1938 Clark stood by the Tribal-class destroyer Punjabi, building at Greenock, and was her first lieutenant during the Second Battle of Narvik on April 13 1940, when Warspite and her consorts destroyed eight German warships and a U-boat: Punjabi suffered more casualties than any other British ship, but was repaired in time for the evacuation of troops from St Nazaire. Clark was awarded his first DSC.

A brief period of command of his previous ship, Anthony, ended when she was damaged in rough weather, and Clark was sent to Repulse, which was sunk with the battleship Prince of Wales when they were sent to deter Japanese aggression at Singapore.

Clark's action station on Repulse was "A" turret, whose 15-in guns were not used. He found himself sucked down from the bridge into the froth several times before managing to swim to a raft, where he helped Repulse's captain, William Tennant, haul others from the water.

The end to Clark's prison term was signalled in January 1945 when his camp was overflown during an attack on the oil depots at Palembang: Clark was cheered to see an aircraft with "Royal Navy" emblazoned on its underside. A few weeks later he was transferred to Changi prison, at which he said the food and conditions were luxurious compared to Palembang.

Clark's postwar command of the frigate Loch Tralaig ended when he ran her aground off the Isle of Arran. Passed over for promotion to commander, he spent five years as chief training officer to the Sea Cadets, all the while reading and planning a circumnavigation, then bought the nine-ton ketch Solace through Captain OM Watts's chandlery in Albemarle Street.

His 48,000-mile voyage between 1953 and 1959, with his West Indian crewman Stanley Mathurin, included nine months shipwrecked on the coral atoll of Palmerston in the Cook Islands in the empty Pacific.

Undaunted, and with the help of the descendants of William Marsters, a cooper who had colonised the atoll with his three Polynesian wives in the 19th century, Clark rebuilt his boat well enough to continue sailing her for the next 20 years. In return for the islanders' help he taught navigation, reading and Sunday School.

In 1962 Clark took command of the 160-ton Outward Bound schooner Prince Louis. With Kurt Hahn, five years later he enlisted Prince Philip's aid in finding sponsorship for a new youth-training ship, the 380-ton topgallant schooner Captain Scott, and then skippered her until 1974. He finished his long sailing career by teaching a new generation of sailors at the Emsworth Sailing School.

Clark wrote two books: an account of his voyage, On the Wings of a Dream (1960); and an outline of his life story, Triumph and Disaster (1994).

He underwent a religious experience while reading Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress in 1941, and was sustained by Christian's quotation from Isaiah: "When thou passest through the Waters I will be with thee; and through the Rivers, they shall not overflow thee."

Victor Clark, who died on December 14, married Danae Stileman when he was 67 and she 34: she survives him with their two daughters.


Lantern Swinger
Re: Naval & Related Obituaries

Captain George Baldwin
(Filed: 17/12/2005)

Captain George Baldwin, who has died aged 84, was a wartime hero and post-war pioneer of naval aviation.

Aged 21, in July 1942, Baldwin become senior pilot of 807, the first naval air squadron to be equipped with the unproven Seafire. In October 1943 he took over the squadron, and when it was incorporated with three other squadrons the next year he took command of the 4th Naval Fighter Wing.

The Seafire was a delicate aircraft, which suffered more through accidents than from enemy action - its undercarriage was prone to collapse, or it would pitch forward and bend its propeller. In Baldwin's hands, however, it became a first-class fighter and Army support aircraft.

Flying from the fleet carrier Furious during the Allied landings in North Africa, Baldwin was involved in a vicious dogfight with two Vichy French Dewoitine 520 fighters, and made the first air-to-air kill by a Seafire. 807 squadron Seafires shot down two more Dw 520s and destroyed 20 aircraft on the ground.

In September 1943 Baldwin embarked in the small escort carrier Battler as part of Force V under the under the command of Admiral Philip Vian. Force V was meant to cover the landings at Salerno on September 9 for a few days until major airfields were captured inland; but the Germans resisted strongly, and when the American General Mark Clark signalled that "air conditions were critical" Vian replied: "My carriers will stay here if we have to row back."

To make his aircraft fly faster, Baldwin waxed the wings with furniture polish, removed the exhaust manifolds, and had shipwrights saw nine inches off the propeller blades. By September 12 he was operating from an improvised airstrip cut into a tomato field at Paestum; it was within range of the enemy's guns, and he had to use flints to open the cowling for maintenance. Eventually, only 30 out of the 180 Seafires in Force V were serviceable, but on September 16 the Germans began to withdraw. In October Baldwin took command of 807 Squadron and sent his less experienced pilots to practise dive-bombing against the retreating Germans.

In August 1944 his wing took part in Operation Dragoon, the landings in southern France between St Raphael and Frejus. Baldwin continued in command when 807 merged into the 4th Fighter Wing during Operations Outing, Cablegram and Contempt against German forces in the Greek islands, and he was awarded a bar to the DSC he had won in 1941.

His wing was rested in Egypt before re-embarking in the carriers Hunter and Stalker to join the East Indies Fleet. He witnessed the Japanese surrender of Singapore, and by November 1945 he had reluctantly disbanded one of the Navy's finest and most experienced flying formations.

George Clifton Baldwin was born on January 17 1921. After Sleaford and Hitchin Grammar Schools, he joined the Navy to fly in 1939, after the Inskip report had given control of the Fleet Air Arm back to the Royal Navy. He was sent to the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, from where he travelled daily to Gravesend for flying lessons in Tiger Moth biplanes. He was awarded his wings in January 1940 and, after deck landings practice in the carrier Argus off Hyeres in southern France, joined 801 Naval Air Squadron.

During the Norway Campaign, Baldwin's squadron embarked in the carrier Ark Royal, and he flew the Skua dive-bomber against the invading German forces. Baldwin continued operations against the Germans from Sumburgh and then, during the Blitzkrieg against the Low Countries and France, from RAF Detling. He was promoted to acting sub-lieutenant in July 1940 and awarded his first DSC the following year.

In late 1945, after five years' continuous flying operations, Baldwin accepted a permanent commission in the Navy, retaining his rank of acting lieutenant commander. In 1946-47 he qualified as an Empire Test Pilot before being appointed to the Carrier Trials Unit in 1948, and, a year later, to the Central Flying School. In 1952 he commanded 800 Squadron, where he introduced the Navy's first operational jet fighter, the Supermarine Attacker, embarking in the carrier Eagle. In the same year he undertook the first trials of the British-designed angled-flight deck onboard the USN carrier Antietam, and on June 19 1958, flying a USN Crusader, became one of the first British pilots to exceed 1,000 mph in level flight.

In 1958 Baldwin began a series of successful staff appointments in Washington and at the Admiralty, and a number of courses - including the Nato Senior Officers' Nuclear Weapons Course at Oberammergau, the Civil Defence Staff College at Sunningdale, and the Imperial Defence College in London. Between these appointments he commanded the naval air stations at Lossiemouth (1961-63) and Yeovilton 1966-68

As Director of Naval Air Warfare at the Ministry of Defence (1964-66)Baldwin strongly advocated a new generation of large carriers for the Navy and vigorously fought the Navy's corner with the Defence Secretary, Denis Healey. Baldwin was not selected for promotion to admiral, and retired in 1968; he was appointed CBE. During his flying career he had flown 75 types of aircraft from single-engined biplanes to large jets.

Baldwin was a member of the Press Council 1973-78 and of the Press Council Appointments Commission from 1978 to 1990. He was one of the founders of the Fleet Air Arm Officers' Association (FAAOA), and wrote many letters to The Daily Telegraph arguing for the Sea Harrier to be acquired for the Navy's through-deck cruisers.

He accepted the slight when he was not invited, as chairman of the FAAOA, to the launch of the new carrier Invincible at Barrow-in-Furness in 1976; nonetheless, he drove to stand in the rain with the shipbuilders and the public, amongst whom he detected pride when the new carrier went down the slip.

George Baldwin died on November 11. He married, in 1947, Hasle Mary McMahon, with whom he established a well-known toy shop in Chichester; she survives him with their three sons.


Lantern Swinger
Re: Naval & Related Obituaries

Rear-Admiral Andrew Richmond
(Filed: 05/11/2005)

Rear-Admiral Andrew Richmond, who has died aged 73, was one of a handful of flying "pussers", officers initially barred from becoming pilots because of poor eyesight but later permitted to serve in the Fleet Air Arm for five years before returning to their adminstrative duties.

In his first operational appointment he was chosen to fly the powerful Fairey Gannet, generally agreed to be one of the world's ugliest aircraft, though a workhorse of the fleet. He was then sent with a detachment of 847 Naval Air Squadron to Cyprus, where he spent many hours on air patrol around the island to prevent the smuggling of arms.

In 1957 he suffered a hydraulic failure over the eastern Mediterranean, and had to nurse his sick aircraft back to Nicosia, where he circled the airfield to burn off fuel before doing a belly landing. "Successful wheels up landing," he noted laconically in his logbook.

Richmond next joined 824 Squadron to fly the Westland Whirlwind Mark 7 helicopter from the carrier Victorious. His duties included search and rescue, and many of his sorties involved hovering off the carrier's beam on planeguard, to recover any crashed pilots. However, on November 6 1958, Richmond himself needed rescuing after the engine of his helicopter failed; but he conducted a textbook ditching, and he and his crew were saved unharmed.

Andrew John Richmond was born in London on February 7 1932 and educated at King's School, Bruton, and the Nautical College, Pangbourne, where he was chief cadet captain in 1949, winning both the King's gold medal and the Elder Brethren of Trinity House's prestigious prize: he was particularly pleased to receive his awards from Admiral of the Fleet Lord Cunningham of Hyndhope.

Richmond's desire to join the Royal Navy overcame his disappointment that because of his poor eyesight, he could do so only as a supply officer, or "pusser". He joined in January 1950 and, within the year, was at sea in the cruiser Ceylon, off Korea. He completed his education at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, in 1952, and returned to the Far East as a secretary on the staff of C-in-C, East Indies Station.

When the opportunity to qualify as a pilot arose because of a shortage of officers, Richmond volunteered at once. At the end of five years' loan to the Fleet Air Arm, he returned to the Supply and Secretariat branch, where he moved up swiftly as supply officer in the frigate Ursa. He became staff officer at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth; deputy supply officer at HMS Crest at Brawdy; secretary to the Flag Officer Carriers and Amphibious Ships supply officer of the carrier Bulwark; assistant director of naval manpower at the Admiralty; secretary to the Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command; and director of naval logistic planning. As Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Logistics), Richmond drew together the three services' policy and requirements.

His main task, however, at the height of the Cold War, was to maintain the trans-Atlantic bridge, which he did through frequent visits to the United States, mostly to familiarise himself with reinforcement plans in the event of war with the Soviet Union. Richmond responded to America's hospitality by proposing a Pimm's party. His staff protested that, despite all their logistic planning, Pimm's was unavailable in the United States, but Richmond devised his own recipe. The colour was accurate and the mix was so powerful that none of the guests noticed a slight difference in flavour from the real thing.

In 1984 Richmond was appointed ADC to the Queen, and two years later he became head of his profession as Chief Naval Supply and Secretariat Officer, before retiring in 1987, when he was appointed CB. As chief executive of the RSPCA from 1987 until 1991, Richmond provided effective and able leadership. Afterwards he worked as a consultant for the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

Richmond played golf and gardened with enthusiasm. He was on a sixth caravan holiday to Mausanne les Apilles when he was taken ill and died on September 22.

In 1957 Richmond proposed to (within 10 days of meeting, in Cyprus) "Toni" Jane Annette Ley, a nurse in Princess Mary's RAF Nursing Service; she survives him with their son and two daughters.


Lantern Swinger
Re: Naval & Related Obituaries

Rear-Admiral 'Debby' Piers
(Filed: 15/11/2005)

Rear-Admiral "Debby" Piers, who has died aged 92, was a young Canadian officer in charge of a slow convoy to Britain which was severely mauled by U-boats; the episode led to the Royal Navy insisting that the Canadians withdraw from the North Atlantic for further training.

When the 42 ships of Convoy SC 107 set off in October 1942, Piers's destroyer Restigouche was the only ship with high-frequency direction-finding (HF/DF) equipment, which he had scrounged from the US Navy at Londonderry. Four other corvettes in the escort either had new captains or were fitted with unreliable radar and short-range ASDIC. When they were attacked west of Cape Race, Newfoundland, by an estimated 17 U-boats, Piers used his HF/DF to sweep aggressively around the convoy, driving off most of the shadowers.

But eight ships were sunk on the first night, and seven more in the next week. Piers fought fiercely, but when he limped into Liverpool, the Royal Navy's criticism was harsh.

Senior officers claimed that the Royal Canadian Navy had expanded too rapidly, had taken on too many tasks and was poorly trained. Admiral Sir Max Horton's report pointed out that 80 per cent of the convoy's losses had occurred when it was under Canadian command in the western Atlantic. This ignored the difficulties under which the convoy had sailed, and singled out Piers's youth and inexperience. Certainly Piers was young; he was earning less than his ship's doctor. But he had been senior officer on convoys on at least seven occasions without losing a ship; and he had been in the North Atlantic for three years.

The Canadians stuck by Piers, and he left Restigouche in June 1943 with a reputation as a fine seaman and brilliant tactician. He took a keen interest in the welfare of his sailors and, in a hard-hitting report of his own, recommended better equipment, more home leave and regular mail, longer work-up periods, fewer short-term appointments and better individual training. The ensuing reforms greatly improved the RCN's fighting performance.

The citation for his DSC in 1943 declared: "This officer has served continuously in His Majesty's Canadian destroyers since the commencement of hostilities. As Senior Officer of Convoy Escort Groups in the North Atlantic, he has, by his vigorous leadership and aggressive attack, been an inspiration to those under his command."

Desmond William Piers was born on June 12 1913 into one of the founding families of Halifax, Nova Scotia. His father called him Desy, which was transmuted into Debby when he was a baby. In 1932 Piers graduated from the Royal Military College, Kingston, to become the first cadet to join the Royal Canadian Navy. He trained at sea in the Royal Navy and returned to Canada in 1937 as first lieutenant of "Rusty Guts", as Restigouche was known.

Piers experienced his baptism of fire during the evacuation of France when Restigouche, under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Horatio Nelson Lay, was ordered to assist in evacuating the 51st Highland Division's wounded from St Valery, near Dieppe. Lay asked Piers to send someone ashore to get in touch with the Highlanders. Looking in his cabin mirror, Piers told himself: "Piers, you're the one who's going ashore," and replied to himself: "Aye Aye, Sir." After he had packed binoculars, a signal lamp, chocolate bars and a bottle of whisky in his golf bag, he was told by Lay: "Piers, you're a bloody fool. But okay, find out what's going on and signal it back." Ashore, Piers found Major-General Victor Fortune, who was refusing to leave because he wanted to hold the perimeter defences to allow more men to get away, and Piers narrowly avoided accompanying him into captivity. The propeller of his boat was damaged, and he could make only a half knot out to where Lay waited for him inshore.

The following year, Piers was the newly-appointed captain of Restigouche when she struck an uncharted rock in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, while escorting Prince of Wales, on which Churchill and Roosevelt held their Atlantic Charter meeting; when she had to put in for repairs, he returned to Halifax, where he married Janet Macneill.

In late 1943 Piers became training officer at Halifax, where he made inspirational speeches about the duty of officers in privileged positions toward their fellow men, while insisting upon very high standards in exercises. He also helped to thwart German prisoners of war who had escaped from Bowmanville, Ontario; he controlled the shore side of operations from the lighthouse at Pointe Maisonnette, New Brunswick, though U-536, which had come to pick them up, evaded the trap set.

At the Normandy invasion, Piers commanded the new destroyer Algonquin, which bombarded the shore in support of Canadian and American troops. He also served in Arctic convoys.

In February 1945 he took part in a mock winter Olympics in northern Russia, winning the 100 yards dash; his crew played ice hockey against the locals, which they lost 3-2.

With the return of peace, Piers was second-in-command of the Canadian aircraft carrier Magnificent, and obtained a pilot's licence; but he also had to quell a protest by ratings exasperated by his maintenance of tough wartime discipline. He held influential appointments in headwaters during an intense period of the Cold War, and was at the centre of decisions concerning the RCN's commitment in Korea as well as about Canada's maritime commitment to Nato. In 1952 he was Assistant Chief for Personnel and Administration to the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic, then returned to sea as commanding officer of the cruiser Quebec and as commander of the First Canadian Escort Squadron.

Piers returned to the Royal Military College as commandant, and in 1960-62 served as Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Plans) at naval headquarters. He was chairman of the Canadian Joint Staff and commander of the Canadian Defence Liaison Staff in Washington.

Piers retired in 1967 to his house, the Quarter Deck, at Chester, Nova Scotia, where he took up community work. But in 1977 he was appointed Agent General of Nova Scotia in London, where he promoted the province's use of tidal energy, publicised the first international gathering of the clans in the province and helped to organise industrial seminars around the country; the following year he was made a Freeman of the City of London.

While thoughtful and considerate of his people, Piers set high standards for himself, and expected the same of others.

At a dinner to commemorate the Battle of the Atlantic two years ago, he played a harmonica and delighted his friends by dancing to the tunes of his own shanties.

He gave 12 acres of land to the Nature Conservancy of Canada in order to ensure public access to one of the last wild headlands of Canada.

"Debby" Piers, who died on November 1, married Janet Macneill, the former wife of Peter Aitken, second son of Lord Beaverbrook, in 1941: he had been smitten since first seeing her on stage at Halifax when, aged six, she played a fairy in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.


War Hero
Re: Naval & Related Obituaries


One from 'the other side'. I posted Erich Topp's obituary on the Submariners' thread recently but perhaps it should take its place here now the naval obit thread is running. The obituary is taken from a website run by relatives of casualties of a ship Topp sunk. Very fair, understanding and forgiving.

Erich Topp

January 27, 2006

History has lost another key figure from World War Two. Admiral Erich Topp passed away in Suessen, Germany on December 26, 2005. It's hard for us as relatives of casualties on the NERISSA to think of Erich Topp as anything other than a murderer but war is war. The chances of him surviving in a U-boat were very slim but he survived and was Germany's third highest ranking U-boat commander. We must respect and honour him for the part he played in history and his important contributions to society following the war. He was a great man. Because he played a purely military role during the war, the British released him almost immediately after his capture. Later in his career as an officer in the West German Navy, he spent a significant time in the U.S. Pentagon. He is survived by his two sons, Dr. Kay Peter Topp born in 1945 and Michael Topp born in 1950.

Erich Topp and Crew of U-552
Postwar examination of Kreigsmarine documents and logs conclusively attributes the sinking of Nerissa to U-552 under the command of Erich Topp. Topp and U-552 claimed notoriety by torpedoing and sinking the American destroyer Reuben James on October 31, 1941, over a month before the United States' entry into the war. Erich Topp survived the war and is acknowledged as the third top scoring U-boat commander having sunk 34 Allied merchant ships with a gross displacement of 193,684 tons. Erich Topp was recalled from active service in 1943 to serve as an instructor and subsequently was given command of U-2513 in 1945. He surrendered his boat to the British at the conclusion of hostilities. His original command U-552 was reassigned to another commander and she continued her remarkable career which spanned 4 years and 5 months of active service. U-552 was scuttled by her crew on May 2, 1945 at Wilhelmshaven to avoid capture.

Erich Topp joined the German Navy in 1934 and won distinction as a U-boat commander in WW2. On 17 war patrols he and his men sank 34 enemy vessels and were highly decorated for their accomplishments. Following a brief stint as an ordinary seaman after the war, Topp studied architecture, graduating in 1949 as a certified engineer. For two years he worked as a scientific assistant at the Technical University in Hanover and subsequently embarked on a career as a freelance architect. In 1958, he rejoined the West German Navy, serving three years as the German naval representative to NATO's Military Committee in Washington, D.C. After additional staff commands and promotions, he ended his active service in 1969 as Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the West German Navy with the rank of Rear Admiral. From 1970 to 1984 he worked as an industrial consultant.


Lantern Swinger
Re: Naval & Related Obituaries

Another from the archives, interesting reading.

Sub-Lieutenant Rod Dove
(Filed: 20/12/2005)

Sub-Lieutenant Rod Dove, who has died aged 84, won the DSO during a daring attack on Italian shipping by riding a human torpedo into Palermo harbour.

As the submarine Trooper surfaced in heavy weather off Palermo on January 2/3 1943, Dove and his crewman, Leading Seaman Jimmy Freel, climbed on to the casing wearing their cumbersome diving suits.

Dove recalled that it was the blackest night, with the Force 5 wind off the coast whipping up to make Trooper bounce like a yo-yo on a short string.

Each man worked with one hand, holding on to the submarine with the other, as they unscrewed the wire fastenings to push Chariot XVI out of its container and on to the deck, which was continually swept by waves.

As Trooper lay semi-submerged to allow Dove and Freel to clamber aboard their craft, a breaker suddenly picked up the chariot, lifting it over the casing and dumping it on the other side of the boat.

Both men managed to stay astride; but their limpet mines and magnets for attaching the warhead were washed away, though they did not discover this until much later.

Of the five chariots involved in Operation Principal, Dove and Freel's was the first to find its way under the defensive net and into the harbour. Although the net's lower folds, lying on the seabed, had demagnetised their compass, they reached their target, the 8,500-ton Italian troopship Viminale.

Working underwater, Dove improvised a rope sling to hang the 1,000-lb warhead to the sternpost of the liner and set the timer. Without a compass, he realised that they could not make a rendezvous outside the harbour, and they decided to scuttle their chariot and swim ashore.

He and Freel, who were wearing naval battledress under their Sladen diving suits, were making their way out of Palermo when they had the satisfaction of hearing their charges blow up, badly damaging Viminale.

Shortly afterwards, however, they were arrested by the carabinieri and handed over to the Italian navy who, for several weeks, threatened to shoot them as saboteurs.

While in solitary confinement at Forte Boccea in Rome, they located other charioteers captured at Palermo by singing mock opera - "Is there anyone here from the Navy?" to the tune of She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes.

When Dove tired of re-reading the same ancient magazines, he sketched the Dulwich College crest on the wall of his cell.

Later they were sent to a disused 14th-century monastery at Padula, Calabria, where various escape plans were either detected by their guards or vetoed by the senior British officer.

After the Italian capitulation in 1943, the charioteers were sent by the Germans to a Marlag outside Bremen, and there Dove learned that he had been awarded the DSO. As the war ended and the prisoners were force-marched eastwards before the advancing Russian army, Dove was strafed by the RAF.

On repatriation in May 1945 he found that his special pay for diving and chariot duties had been stopped from the time of his capture; and no appeal could get it restored.

Dove's parents, who had been told that he was missing, found out only eight months after his capture that he was alive when the story of his doings broke in the Daily Sketch.

Freel, who was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal for his part in Operation Principal, used the chaos in Italy during late 1943 to escape, and fought for several months with the partisans until he could join the advancing British Army.

Operation Principal was something of a Pyrrhic victory: Viminale had been damaged and a new Italian cruiser sunk. But the submarines Traveller and P311, with three chariots and their crews, were lost; six charioteers were captured and two others died. Only one chariot, along with its crew, was recovered.

Rodney George Dove was born on September 1 1921 in south London, where his father - a survivor of the fighting at Arras and an Army lightweight champion boxer - owned several butcher's shops. Young Rod, who gained a scholarship to Dulwich, joined the Navy in 1940 as a seaman.

He was trained to be coxswain of a landing craft but, after an accident in which he lost the middle two fingers of his left hand, he was sent to HMS King Alfred at Hove, where he came top of class in navigation and torpedoes and was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant, RNVR.

Dove volunteered for hazardous duties, without knowing what this entailed, and found himself training for service in human torpedoes or chariots, weapons which Churchill had ordered to be copied from captured Italian models following the successful attack on British battleships at Alexandria.

After experiments and realistic training (in which a colleague drowned) under the rigorous leadership of Commander "Tiny" Fell in Scotland, Dove deployed with Naval Party 450 to the Mediterranean for Operation Principal, a massed attack by human torpedoes against Axis shipping in Italian ports.

After his return to England Dove was sent by the Admiralty to be assistant harbourmaster in Batavia (now Jakarta). He liked the East Indies and, after being demobbed in Singapore, worked for the general traders Maclaine Watson.

When he retired on health grounds in the 1950s, he emigrated to Vancouver, where he joined Air Canada and worked his way from ticket agent to senior ground staff manager.

A lifelong bibliophile, Dove settled on the shores of Hay Bay, Lake Ontario, where he had to build a wing on to his house to accommodate his library. When he became blind he turned to collecting talking books and had the newspapers read to him every day.

Rod Dove died on October 30. He married, in 1949, Helenna Wehmann. They divorced in the 1970s, and in 1984 he married Ann Gifford. Both wives survive him with two sons and two daughters of the first marriage.

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