Here is the fuller version:Commander David Edwards, who has died aged 92, helped pioneer countermeasures to German magnetic mines and to release a convoy from the Seine in May 1940...
Commander David Edwards, who has died aged 92, helped pioneer countermeasures to German magnetic mines and to release a convoy from the Seine in May 1940.
Edwards was a newly-made sub lieutenant in the inchoate Electrical Branch, when he was sent to the torpedo school at HMS Vernon, Portsmouth where he was the youngest member of the team led by the scientist and future Nobel prize-winner, Francis Crick. Crick, who had a personal vendetta because a German bomb had destroyed his laboratories, was working on the design of magnetic and acoustic mines and their countermeasures.
Edwards soon found himself visiting the ports of Britain to fit degaussing equipment, which reduced ships’ magnetic ‘signatures’, to requisitioned fishing boats and to newly-built ships.
In May 1940 he was sent to Lowestoft to fit new minesweeping equipment to two fishing vessels, Resparko and Revello. After a day of sea trials, Edwards was sent in Resparko, manned by her peacetime fishermen and one naval signalman, to Dover. At midnight he was met by Rear Admiral (later Admiral Sir) Frederic Wake-Walker, who as Rear-Admiral (Minelaying) was coordinating technical measures to deal with German magnetic mines. Wake-Walker gave Edwards charts and sealed orders and told him to proceed to Le Havre, where the French Navy was trapped in harbour by a mines which had been laid from the air.
As Resparko approached Le Havre she exploded some 8 or 9 mines on her way into harbour, where Edwards found that the French had no means of sweeping magnetic mines and had already lost several ships. He assumed responsibility for sweeping the approaches to the harbour and clearing a channel to release ships penned up in the Seine.
Edwards described what happened next: “During one of our sweeps around the main harbour, the tail of our special cable sweep managed to tie itself round one of the many buoys in the harbour and we were locked in one position, with the possibility of setting off a mine. I, with a seaman, set off in a boat to endeavour to free the cable; this proved an impossible task and the only solution was to chop through the special electrical cable and then rescue the tail section. This I did with the ship’s axe and freed the minesweeper. Then I recovered the important tail section which later was brought ashore and rejoined to the main cable by a French electrical jointer from the local power station.
“In another hairy episode, we found ourselves drifting without our degaussing protection, having just exploded a mine close to the ship, causing the steam driven electrical generator to cut out. The shock had upset the engine governor and the engine was racing away at high speed. The crew realised the danger of drifting over a magnetic mine without our protective degaussing system functioning, so boats were lowered, and most of the crew left the ship.
“I with one rating, went down to the engine room and replaced the governor, which had come apart, and we slowly got the engine and the generator back in service. We picked up the crew and continued our patrol, a close shave!”
After a week, when an important convoy was able to sail from the Seine, Edwards returned to HMS Vernon to continue work on the acoustic mine.
David George Edwards was born at Walthamstow on September 5, 1918, and won a scholarship to Bancroft’s School in 1930, shortly before his father died. At Bancroft’s he spent many hours building wireless sets and in his last term was asked to demonstrate the use of the cathode ray tube for a science exhibition. This led to the offer of a five year apprenticeship at the London Power Company, which was in the process of standardizing the supply voltage of electricity and concentrating generating capacity at a small number of large, new coal-fired power stations.
Edwards rose at 4.30 am, worked from 7.30 am until 5 pm and studied at night school for the equivalent of an electrical engineering degree, and volunteered for the Royal Navy.
Edwards established a reputation for completing with conspicuous success difficult jobs, which for others of less ability, tact and good humour would have proved insurmountable. After Vernon he spent two years in Bougie, North Africa, before being recalled to prepare ships for the Normandy landings.
Postwar Edwards worked at the Admiralty’s radar research establishment at Malvern. In 1954 he was appointed to the Loch-class frigate HMS Cardigan Bay in Hong Kong, employed as guardship at Hong Kong and off Korea, and on anti-piracy patrols Borneo and Indonesia, and in training the Malayan RNVR.
Edwards was promoted to commander in 1956, and spent eighteen months on the staff of the Flag Officer Aircraft Carriers before being appointed to Washington to work with the US Navy on the purchase of Phantom jets for the RAF and the Royal Navy. He returned to the Admiralty at Bath and worked on as a civilian until his final retirement in 1971. He lived quietly at South Stoke, Somerset, gardening and saving up for a number of cruises.
Edwards, who died on died on May 1, 2011, married first in 1942 Mary Hillman who died in childbirth in 1948. He married second Gillian Creese in 1949, who survives him with their two sons and a daughter of the first marriage. Another daughter predeceased him in 1999.