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Admiral Sir Claud Barrington Barry KBE CB DSO

by Barrie Downer

Claud Barry was born on 17 July 1891 in Weston-Super-Mare where his parents were then living. He was the eldest

of two brothers; the younger, Stephen, became a Naval Captain. Claud's parents were Charles Edward born on 23 February 1859 and Maud P Low, the daughter of a Bristol timber merchant. Charles' elder brother was Admiral Sir Henry Barry, who died in 1908 and who must have had an early influence on Claud.

Claud's father was worked as a solicitor in Bristol, at the practice of Barry and Harris. At some stage they moved to No 6 Harley Place, Clifton, an extremely smart address, reflecting Charles Barry's success as an up and coming Bristol solicitor. Claud's grandfather, Henry, seems to have spent a lot of time with them (up to 1900 when he died) as did his mother's sister, Bridget. At the age of 12 when being interviewed to join the Navy, he was asked what a Solicitor did. Having looked at his father's window on many occasions he said that his father commissioned oaths, it seemed to have got him in.

Claud and his brother went to a prep school near Maidenhead called Cornwallis, which no longer exists.

In 1904 Claud joined the Royal Navy at Osborne College. His naval career follows:

Sept 1904-July 1906 Royal Naval College Osborne House Cadet
Sept 1906-July 1908 Royal Naval College Dartmouth  
1906 Autumn Cadet Training Ship  
January 1909 HMS Lord Nelson
(one of the two final pre-Dreadnought battleships)
Midshipman
May 1910 HMS Rother (Destroyer)  
November 1910 HMS Natal (Cruiser)  
January 191 HMS Superb (Dreadnought)  
January 1912 Passed examination for Lieutenant with first class pass in Engineering  
January 1912 HMS Itchen (Destroyer) Sub-Lieutenant
Oct 1912-Feb 1913 Sick leave with rheumatic fever  
March-Dece 1913 HMS Superb (Dreadnought)  
Early in 1914 Appointed Lieutenant and joined Submarine service  
February 1914 HMS Submarines B5and C14 Lieutenant
November 1915 Submarine E12various duties including a period based in Brindisi  
December 1916 HMS Submarine C21 In Command
June 1917 HMS Submarine D4 In command
June 1918 Submarine R12
Submarine R13
In command
Temporary Command
February 1919 HMS Submarine J2& at times J4
In Command and Senior Submarine Officer, Geelong
Lieutenant
August 1922 HMS Barham
Watch-keeping Officer in Battle Squadron Flagship
Lieutenant Commander
September 1923 Naval Staff College  
September 1924 HM Submarine K2& then L16 Lieutenant Commander
In Command
September 1926 HMS Submarine K26 Commander
In Command
September 1927 Admiralty - Naval Equipment Division, largely on development of Submarines  
October 1931 HMS Submarine Thames In Command
November 1933 HMS Victory  
March 1934 HMS President Naval War Course
September 1934 HMS Dolphin
Chief of Staff to Rear Admiral Submarines
 
February 1937 HMS Medway
Captain In Command of 4th Submarine Flotilla
 
June 1939 Admiralty
Naval Assistant to Second Sea Lord (NASL)
 
October 1940 HMS Queen Elizabeth In Command
April 1942 HMS Valiant In Command
June 1942 Mombasa
Senior Administrative role
Commodore
November 1942 Flag Officer Submarines Rear Admiral
September 1944 Sick Leave  
February 1945 Naval Secretary  
December 1946 Director of Dockyards Vice Admiral
May 1950 Retired
Promoted to Admiral and re-employed as Vice Admiral
 
December 7 1951 Died Admiral

Joining the Navy in 1904, he went to Osborne Collegeon the Isle of Wight, which was a tight, well run but very tough environment. Swimming was de rigueur throughout the year. The Navy at that time was under the influence of Jack Fisher, who became First Sea Lord in 1904. He wanted to improve the quality of training for Officers and to orient them to an increasingly technocratic future. The Naval College at Dartmouth had just been constructed, but until after the First World War was not big enough to accommodate all the four years of cadets which would at any time be going through the system. During Claud's first term his parents received a letter from Their Lordships saying that they thought it unlikely that the Navy would want him for a second year… as it turned out he remained in the Navy for 48 years, having passed out of Dartmouth about a third of the way up the list. He was the only one of his term to become an Admiral. At least one became a Bishop, several joined the Army and a large proportion must have been killed in the First and Second World Wars.

It is not possible to ascertain how much the Barry boys were influenced by their uncle's Naval career. Sir Henry Barry had joined the Navy in 1863. I have limited details of his service and I believe that he had some connection to the Royal Family, as many Senior Officers at this stage did, due to the fact that both King George V and his brother The Duke of Clarence had served in the Navy.

During the 1900s the Navy became increasingly split by a feud between Fisher and Beresford. It is likely that Sir Henry, who had been the Director of Ordnance, was on the Fisher side. He was Admiral Superintendent of the Portsmouth dockyard in the early 1900s, which in itself was a key appointment in the development of the new Navy, which was heading towards the Dreadnought era, and in fact HMS Dreadnaught was built in record time during his time in charge at Portsmouth. His final appointment was in Command of Cruisers on the Mediterranean station.

He died at home in Botley, and evidence suggests that eight Admirals attended the funeral, which was a full naval occasion with 500 or 600 sailors present.

After Dartmouth and a brief period in an elderly cruiser set aside for training cadets, Claud Barry joined HMS Lord Nelson, one of the last two pre-war Dreadnought battleships. Claud served in her for two years under the redoubtable Sir Robert Arbuthnot, who was killed at the Battle of Jutland. Sir Robert Arbuthnot was a motor bicycle enthusiast, as was my father, and on one occasion they went round the TT course on the Isle of Man.

Having read my Father's log of his time on the Lord Nelson, one gets the impression of a hard-working Navy tuning up for the world war that Fisher thought to be inevitable. Fisher had brought most of the major units of the fleet back into home waters, which was where my Father was based throughout his time as a midshipman. My father's life then seems to have been hard work, followed by more hard work, lots of exercise and a generally tough and unremitting routine. There appears to have been considerable brutality inflicted on younger Officers in a totally unnecessary form.

My father's log alludes to the fact that the Admiral came aboard for Christmas. That Admiral was Admiral Briggs, whose grandson is married to my daughter!

There then followed for Claud a short period in a destroyer, which must have been a pleasant experience in the midshipman's time, which lasted in those days for four years. He then went on to serve in the cruiser Natal and another battleship, Superb.

There does not seem to have been any formal Sub-Lieutenant's training at that time, and Claud spent a short period in a battleship before a longer period in a destroyer, which was a time he remembered with affection.

In 1914 he asked his father whether he should become a Naval Pilot or a Submariner, both enjoyed considerably higher rates of pay. It is said that his Father advised submarines as being the safer choice. Training then seems to have been pretty basic. There was about 3 weeks in the classroom before joining B5, presumably as First Lieutenant, in a submarine driven by petrol. When war was declared with Germany he transferred to another submarine, C14, but was presumably involved in patrolling home waters. In 1915 he went out on the P & O Ship 'Nile' to join the E12 in Malta. E12 had just returned from a spectacular trip in the Sea of Marmora where she had managed to sink 32 merchant ships, 8 transports, a torpedo boat and a gunboat.

It is certain that my Father did not go on a Marmora patrol. I think this was when he had dysentery and had to be disembarked before a potential trip out of the Dardanelles. The submarine seems to have reverted to the Adriatic and was based for a time in Brindisi. On returning to the UK, my Father qualified to command submarines, and after a period in command of C21he was put in command of a D4, a modern diesel engined submarine, which was the first submarine to have a gun. It was also the submarine in which George V did his first and only dive in 1914.

On 22nd May 1918, Claud Barry was patrolling in the English Channel. A convoy was expected from America, and it was anticipated that a U boat might be waiting. In the early hours he was submerged and sighted a German U Boat two miles away. It was a classic situation in that the sun was behind my Father and the German submarine itself was stalking the convoy with the sun behind it. My Father was able to approach and fired two torpedoes at the UB72, which sank leaving three survivors. The situation is best described in the following excerpt from the RN Submarine Museum.

"On 27 April 1918, after being delayed by the presence of minefields, UB72 under Trager, left Heligoland and, after being escorted through the danger zone by five minesweeping trawlers, proceeded up the North Sea. After passing around the north of Scotland via the Fair Isle Channel and through the Minch, UB72 passed down through the North Channel and Irish Seas, and by 9 May 1918 was patrolling in the vicinity between the Scillies and the mainland. Throughout the voyage UB72 was constantly attacked by destroyers and patrol craft, and during her passage through the St. Georges Channel, she was depth-charged for two hours by a British destroyer. Although 23 depth charges were dropped, UB72 evaded destruction but, as a result of this encounter, a leak was started in the U-boat's port ballast tank, which left a trail of oil astern. On another occasion 20 depth charges exploded in UB72's vicinity and, besides smashing some electric bulbs, resulted in damaging the U-boat's outward starboard oil tank. Later that same day five more depth charges were heard to explode. Despite these attacks UB72 reached a position off the Scillies and, after proceeding across to the approaches to Brest, Trager cruised up the English Channel and, by early morning on 12 May 1918, UB72 was approximately midway between Guernsey and Portland Bill.

At 0430 that morning HM Submarine D4, whilst on patrol in that vicinity observed UB72 on the surface travelling in a southerly direction some two miles distant. Five minutes later Lt Claud Barry in command of D4 saw UB72, which was obviously unaware of the British boat's presence. He altered course so that the U-boat appeared to be approaching D4. In order that his presence should not be detected Lt Barry lowered his periscope for a few minutes but at 0443 D4's periscope was raised to reveal UB72 steering an easterly course. A few minutes later UB72 was on the British boat's port side, and Barry waited until the U-boat came on to his sights. At 0450 Lt Barry fired a torpedo and after lowering periscope for a few minutes he released a second missile. Ten seconds later the crew of D4heard an explosion and felt a violent concussion. Barry brought his boat to the surface and headed towards three men swimming in a patch of oil. He succeeded in picking up these men, who were the only survivors of UB72's crew of three officers and thirty-one men. The three men were Petty Officer Laabs, Able Seaman Diers and Stoker Gabriel, and by a remarkable coincidence they were all making their first war cruise in a U-boat. From the brief story of the end of UB72 was elicited:

"Just before D4's torpedo struck UB72, the latter boat was motoring along the surface at 4 knots. On the conning tower as Officer-of-the-watch was Petty Officer Heroch, whilst Laabs and Diers were acting as lookouts. Gabriel had just come up on deck and as he spotted the track of D4's torpedo racing towards UB72's side he dived overboard. Seconds later the torpedo struck and UB72 sank like a stone - stern first. The three men on the conning tower were carried below as the U-boat sank beneath them but a rush of air carried them up to the surface. Before D4 could reach them, Heroch sank, but Laabs, Diers and Gabriel were picked up by the British boat and eventually landed at Plymouth as prisoners-of-war."

The result of this action was that several people received awards, and my father received a DSO from King George V. There arrived numerous letters of congratulation, including one from the King's secretary. The King had had his only submarine experience in D4 just before the War.

This was probably the making of my father in submarine service.

At the end of the war my father was in command of a new submarine, R12. Many of the submarines at that time had a cruising speed on the surface of 12 knots and a maximum speed under water slightly less than half that.

The Navy was trying to move in two directions. On the one hand they wanted to create submarine cruisers that could stay on the surface at the same speed as the battle fleet at rather over 20 knots. This led to the steam submarine called the K class, which were larger than any other submarines and much faster on the surface. The problem was that they took four minutes to dive as the boiler fires had to be extinguished. The K class had a bad record because a large number of them sank. On the other hand the Navy was developing fast under water submarines - this led to the R class.

Submarines were developing apace. The original submarines were called Holland Class, and they were followed by Classes A Class, B Class, C Class, D Class, E Class, F Class, G Class, H Class, J Class, K Class, L Class, M Class and R Class. Other submarine types included the Swordfish, Nautilus & S Class, V Class & W Class. My Father conducted a number of trials in the brand new R12and more trials in another similar submarine. He told me that due to the underwater configuration in which the rudders were a long way in advance of the propellers, they were almost completely un-manoeuvrable for coming alongside etc.

When Armistice was declared, R12was on patrol in the North Sea. My father signalled to the Admiralty asking to return to base and he was summarily told to carry on with his patrol!

After the war the British government decided to transfer six submarines to the Australian Navy. At the outset of the First World War the Australians had two submarines, one of which had a spectacular patrol into the Sea of Marmora for which the Commanding Officer involved, Stoker, was awarded the VDSO in 1919.

The Navy decided to send the remaining J Class submarines, six in number, to Australia. They had been constructed in the middle part of the war and were quite large, being about 1,800 tons, with very reasonable speeds of nearly 20 knots surface and 10 knots submerged. They also had a 4,000 mile endurance, which would be very useful in the long intended voyage.

My father was selected to Command J2and together with the other submarines they left Portsmouth on 9 April 1919 accompanied by their depot ship Platypus. The fleet was escorted by a light cruiser, HMAS Sydney. The first two ports of call were Gibraltar and Malta, and they arrived in Port Said at the end of April. J3broke down, so was towed the rest of the way to Australia by Sydney and subsequently Platypus.

The fleet arrived in Aden on 5 May; two days later they set out for Colombo and shortly after this another, J5, broke down and went on tow with HMAS Brisbane. J3 stopped at Colombo for repairs and HMAS Sydney, J1, J2, J4and J7sailed for Singapore, the last port of call before Sydney was Brisbane. They reached Sydney on 5 July 1919. This trip really was an incredible feat of seamanship and engineering, few submarines had been so far before, and the boats in question had really been designed for North Sea work. To what extent the delivery crews were Australian is unknown, (see editors note right) but certainly the intention throughout the exercise was to turn the submarines over to the Australians in a gradual process, returning officers and men to the UK on an ad hoc basis.

After six months in Sydney J2and J5went to the submarine base at Geelong, Victoria. It was then that my Father met my mother, Marsali Campbell, and they were married in September 1921. At his own request, my father's service with the RAN had been extended by a year, On the 15th August 1921 my father shifted his command to J4. and he returned to the United Kingdom early in 1922. The submarines took part in various exercises, and papers relating to these exercises have been deposited at the Submarine Museum. With reference to the adage that sailors have wives in every port, it is worth retelling a story about a British sailor who married an Australian girl. When he subsequently died my father was involved in complicated correspondence, as it turned out that this sailor also had a wife in Portsmouth, who was quite rightly claiming his pension.

It is sad to say that the Australians decided for pecuniary reasons to abandon their experiment with submarines, and the six J Class boats were all sold for scrap in the latter part of 1922.

Life on board J Class boats during that trip must have been awful. Submarines were not designed for long periods at sea, and so had no air conditioning and very little ventilation. The harbour stops seemed to have been extremely short and presumably all their journeying was done on the surface.

After 8 years as a Lieutenant, my father was due automatic promotion to Lieutenant Commander, he was also due for a temporary return to the big ship navy, as it was deemed important that submarine officers should work with the big ship navy since the submarine service was regarded as a "piratical profession"!

My father was appointed to HMS Barham, a Queen Elizabeth class battleship, commanded by Captain Percy Noble, who subsequently became his Commander-in-Chief in China. Little is known of this period, other than the fact that they attended Cowes as a guard ship and were part of the home fleet.

There followed a year at the Naval Staff College at Greenwich, London. This was of course, as it is now, essential for promotion to the higher ranks. I believe that my Father produced a paper on submarine warfare, which was well received and widely read, if somewhat controversial. This paper has been forwarded to the Submarine Museum.

The next phase of his career was back in submarines and based at Portland. This seems to have been a particularly happy period in my parents' life. Father commanded a steam submarine K2, and also L16. The exact details of this period are not known, but seem not to have been without excitement; at least one submarine was lost at sea with all hands and another, an H boat, sank with considerable loss of life in Devonport dockyard. A newspaper article indicated that Claud Barry was one of the diving team that went to investigate and to remove the bodies.

In 1926, at the age of 35, my father was promoted to Commander and went to command the Navy's last steam submarine, K26 based in Malta, and a very interesting two years are reported. This was followed by a period in the Equipment Department of the Admiralty in London; very little is known about this particular phase but it probably equipped him for his Command of the Navy's newest submarine HMS Thames.

There now followed one of the most interesting periods of my father's career. As a Senior Commander he was asked to take over the building and commission of a new submarine, HMS Thames, then under construction at Barrow-in-Furness. It was built to weigh 3,000 tons and there were to be three of these submarines built: Thames, Clyde and Forth. In many ways they were the predecessors of the T Class and Amphion Class, which remained in service until about 1970. They were diesel driven, and very highly regarded. Prior to the actual commissioning of the submarine, my parents lived in Barrow-in-Furness for about a year and my father worked in close conjunction with Commander Sir Charles Craven, Managing Director of Vickers in Barrow-in-Furness. He subsequently became head of Vickers during the war years and was my Godfather.

When the submarine was commissioned, work started initially in Portsmouth and a number of experiments were carried out, taking her as far north as she could, with further trials in the Red Sea.

It was during this Red Sea trials that my father's elder son was killed in a riding accident, and so he had to come home. This was before air travel and therefore the trip back to England was long and harrowing.

A much referred to incident took place in the later stages of my father's command, when the submarine was returning on a Friday afternoon from Portland to Portsmouth to give leave. In order to save time they went through the end of the St Aldhem's race but the submarine suddenly went over to an angle of 60º, and for a time my Father and his First Lieutenant 'Shrimp' Simpson (subsequently Flag Officer commanding submarines), felt they were going to sink. The boat slowly righted and it was discovered that they had lost two seamen from the bridge, who never found. There was some criticism of the incident and certainly Simpson felt that it was due to a major design fault. Claud Barry was officially censored for 'Endangering the Ship'. Apparently my father did not believe that the submarine had a design fault because he had enormous faith in everything that the Admiralty and the Navy did. In 1933 he was promoted to Captain and given the coveted role of Chief of Staff to the Flag Officer of Submarines. This was a Gosport based appointment and he was working for Admiral Talbot.

In 1934 my father left the Thames, was promoted to Captain and went to Blockhouse, ie HMS Dolphin, the Headquarters of the Navy's submarine branch. There he was Chief of Staff to the then entitled Rear Admiral Submarines. This role is now called Flag Officer Submarines (FOSM). This must have been an extremely interesting and important role, as the Rear Admiral not only had administrative but also operational control of submarine flotillas based in Portsmouth, the Clyde, Malta, Hong Kong etc. This was at a time when the government had finally woken up to the threat posed by Germany. The submarine fleet comprised boats left over from the First World War, the Parthian Class and Rainbow Class, plus the three new River Class boats, with a whole series of new submarines in the pipeline. Initially he was to report to Rear Admiral Talbot and subsequently to Rear Admiral Raikes, whose son, many years later, became the first and only person to succeed his father in that role.

My parents were based at Titchfield, where I was born in 1936. For a time when my father was in Portsmouth, he had his own yacht, a Yawl called Nereid, and he was instrumental in starting the Royal Naval Sailing Association (RNSA) of which he was Founder, Chairman, and one of the Original Members.

He was highly thought of in the role as Chief of Staff to the Admiral, having worked in the Equipment Division and then, after a succession of submarine commands over a 17 year period, he commanded the Navy's newest submarine.

In 1937 my father was appointed as Captain of the 4th Submarine Flotilla, based on the China station. This was a substantial command comprising a depot ship, HMS Medway, and a theoretical strength of 15 submarines most of which came from the O Class, P Class and R Class.

Submarines always needed a depot ship to provide maintenance facilities and accommodation for officers and crews when the submarines were not on patrol. Submariners always lived off their submarines when the submarines were in harbour, this was because living conditions were basic and indeed right up to the present time are nowhere near the standards that they would be on board a ship. The Medway had been specially constructed for the purpose of depot ship (and in fact was the first custom designed depot ship) and provided accommodation for no less than 800 submariners, in addition to her ship's company.

My father's command was both administrative and operational but Medway was bound to spend most of her life in harbour, the cruising speed was probably only in the region of 12 knots. According to an eye witness the ship when in progress made an extraordinary rumbling noise and it was probably the last ship in the Navy to have what were known as Reciprocating Engines.

In 1920 Lord Jellicoe, the wartime head of the British Navy, had forecast that Japan was likely to be the next enemy. In the 1930s it became clear that Japan was a potential threat, and as a result the China station became the most important submarine base for the British Navy. The O, P and R boats that made up the fleet were quite large, and may well have been designed with those waters in mind. They were individually commanded and officered by an elite band of people, many of which went a long way in the Second World War, but regrettably a number of them were killed. The Japanese had not followed their Treaty of Obligations and had secretly built a larger navy than that to which they were entitled. They were already becoming aggressive and there were numerous confrontations, but they invariably backed down after being unpleasant. Japan was in the process of invading mainland China and was constantly flexing her muscles.

It was against this background that my father and his second in command, Commander Menzies, (known as the Colonel) trained their submarine force to be in the highest of readiness.

In fact the war with Germany came first and in 1939 many of the boats, including the Medway, headed back to the Mediterranean.

My father journeyed back to the United Kingdom, and his period in command came to an end in May 1939 . In China he had served under Admiral Sir Percy Noble who had been his Captain in Barham. His Flagship was HMS Kent, commanded by Captain Ashmore, both of whose sons were out on a station as midshipmen, and both in due course reached Flag rank. Sir Edward Ashmore is currently Britain's longest senior surviving non-royal Admiral of the Fleet.

My father's next job was entitled Naval Assistant to the Second Sea Lord (NASL). The second Sea Lord, Admiral Little, was himself an ex-submariner. The traditional role of Second Sea Lord is that of Personnel. My father was responsible for all appointments up to the rank of Captain. Little's report on my father comments that he did a thoroughly good job as the Navy rapidly expanded to meet hostilities. My father, I know, was responsible for re-employing a number of Senior Retired Officers, many of whom re-joined the Navy at a considerably more junior rank, rather than sit the war out in retirement.

At the start of the war, my father asked Admiral Little if he could be relieved of his job and to go back to sea, to which Little replied, "Don't bother me Barry, I have other things to do at the moment".

We will never know if my father was involved in the manning for Dunkirk: there are suggestions that it was within his remit.

At the end of 1940 my father obtained his release and was able to go back to sea. He was appointed to command HMS Queen Elizabeth, a 26,000 ton battleship, whose primary armament was eight 12 inch guns. Queen Elizabeth was first commissioned in 1915 and was the first of five similar ships. They were the first big oil-burning warships, and in their prime could achieve about 25 knots. These were followed by a class of super-dreadnaughts; five ships of the R class, which were not a great success. Queen Elizabeth had been out to the Dardanelles at the time of the Battle of Jutland and the other four ships were there as the Fifth Battle Squadron under the command of Ewan-Thomas. Queen Elizabeth was subsequently taken over by Lord Beatty as Flagship for the Grand Fleet in the latter part of the war. In due course she became Admiral Cunningham's flagship in the Mediterranean with my father as Flag Captain. My father assumed command of Queen Elizabeth while she was in a dry dock in Portsmouth. She was having as major reconstruction, which was I believe the third that she had had in her life. My father told me that when he first went on board there was still a train running inside the hull.

By the end of 1940 Portsmouth had become a prime target for the Luftwaffe and it was decided to move the Queen Elizabeth to Glasgow. This was done at short notice and she was ill prepared for the trip, both in terms of crew and facilities. I have a letter telling that my father lacked a knife and fork, but did have a spoon. It was a fairly epic trip with a lot of dockyard workers on board, which allowed the ship to complete her refit in the comparative comfort of the Clyde.

Once the ship was ready to go, she had 82 officers and around 1,400 petty officers and sailors. She left Glasgow for Scapa Flow early in 1941 and presumably was worked up there before the war proper. She sailed on the 12 March 1941 and was immediately warned that the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisnau were out. After some days at sea it became apparent that the Scharnhorst and Gneisnau had made it to Western France, and so the Queen Elizabeth was able to return for further working on at Scapa. She didn't stay there very long and was soon off to Canada. Having got quite close to Canada she was turned round and diverted to Gibraltar, which she entered in early April.

In May 1940 the ship sailed to Gibraltar as part of Operation Tiger, trying to pass a long convoy containing an armed division, tanks and Hurricane aircraft. There followed an epic trip, documented elsewhere; basically the intention of the convoy was to get through to Malta and in part to get some of the convoy through to Alexandria. Queen Elizabeth was going all the way and was initially escorted by Admiral Sommerville who was in HMS Renown, and was also accompanied by the Aircraft Carrier HMS Ark Royal. This was Force H. Force H saw the convoy through the first part of the Mediterranean and then Queen Elizabeth and the escorting the cruisers and destroyers were on their own until they met up with the Mediterranean fleet proper, which included Warspite and Barham plus the aircraft carrier Formidable, numerous cruisers etc. The Queen Elizabeth reached Alexandria in late May. The war was not going well at that time: we had been pushed out of Greece and were about to be pushed out of Crete. The Queen Elizabeth went to sea at least once in the direction of Crete, but spent much of the time in Alexandria harbour, as the risks of losing her outweighed any advantages that she might have achieved at sea.

Sometime earlier in the war Admiral Cunningham, the Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, had achieved a major victory at the battle of Matapan off southern Greece, which effectively curtailed the activities of the Italian fleet. In addition to this, the Fleet Air Arm raid on Turanto further damaged the Italian fleet, rendering it inconsequential. There remained an extremely active German army both in Crete and in the Western Desert. It was at this time that the German/Italians were effectively winning the air war. On one of Queen Elizabeth's rare trips to sea she witnessed the torpedoing and sinking of her sister ship, HMS Barham, and a similar sinking of my father's old ship, the Medway. At this time Queen Elizabeth had become the fleet Flagship as the Warspite had been sent away for repairs. She was moored up in Alexandria harbour and the Commander in Chief largely lived on board.

At the end of 1941 the Italians staged their famous midget submarine attack on Alexandria. On Friday 18th December a warning signal was received that some sort of attack might be expected. At 4am. the next day two Italians were found swimming near Valiant. They were taken on board and it became apparent they had manned a two-man submarine. They were not forthcoming as to their achievements and where the bomb was. Despite interrogation ashore, they stuck to "names and numbers only". They were put back on board and sent below to a point near the Valiant's magazine to encourage them to perhaps come up with what was going on, but to no avail. Shortly after this there was a major explosion and Valiant listed. A little later a bigger explosion shook the Queen Elizabeth, flooding three boiler rooms and killing fifty members of the engine room staff. The people who put the bombs under Queen Elizabeth were not apprehended for another 24 hours.

This meant that Cunningham now had no battleships in the Mediterranean. Barham had been sunk and Warspite was damaged, so his full strength was down to five cruisers. A deception exercise was put in place by photographs in the Times of 'colours' in one of our ships in the Mediterranean. The fleet was in a sorry state in the immediate run up to El Alamein.

Valiant was the less damaged of the two ships, and she was immediately put into floating dock in Alexandria for temporary repairs prior to transfer to South Africa with better facilities. Her captain (Captain Morgan) was about to be promoted and it was decided to put Claud Barry in charge of Valiant forthwith to take her through the Suez Canal and down to Durban for major repairs. This my father achieved and he then spent a few weeks in Durban in a most congenial atmosphere far from the effects of the war.

My father was now high on the Captain's list and about a year off a possible promotion. From the reports I have seen, it was highly probable that he would be promoted, and in the interregnum period he was transferred to Mombasa, where he carried out an administrative role, with distinction, in the work of Commodore. Back home it was decided that the Senior Admiral in charge of the submarine service, Admiral Horton, would be the ideal person to take charge of the Battle of the Atlantic, which was being fought from a Liverpool base. The tide was turning against the Germans, but a concerted effort was needed to achieve victory against the U boat menace in the Atlantic, which would allow for the build up of American troops in Europe, and would also allow the continued delivery of supplies to the United Kingdom. Somewhat surprisingly, it was decided to replace such a distinguished figure with an acting Rear Admiral, in the person of my father. This was as a result of a recommendation by Cunningham together with the fact that my father was well qualified for the job.

During the war submarine headquarters were based at Northways, a block of flats in Swiss Cottage. This allowed for the submarine branch to be separate from the Admiralty but within very easy access. My father's role was administrative, in charge of all British submarines and also operationally in charge of all allied submarines in home waters. He carried out this role from Northways, but made frequent visits to the various submarine centres both in the United Kingdom and abroad. He lived "above the office" in a flat within the Northways complex. There are relatively few details of his period in command, but it was at the time when the British Midget submarines were being developed and pitted against German targets, notably the Tirpitz. He was the major contributor to the development of the Midget and his achievements are, in my opinion, under sung. He was much involved in all aspects of the Midget operation and took a very strong personal interest in all details.

Unfortunately the stress of having commanded warships in both world wars, along with a lifetime of important command posts, took its toll. In the summer of 1943, when on an inspection visit to Alexandria, Egypt, he had a heart attack, a coronary thrombosis. He recovered from this too quickly and was flown home by flying boat. Soon after he had a second attack that laid him low, and whilst he continued to operate in his role for a while, he was later relieved by Rear Admiral Creasey, who in due course became Commander in Chief, Home Fleet at the time of the coronation.

My father recovered and was appointed to be Naval Secretary and to take over from a friend, Cecil Harcourt, who went to command aircraft carriers during the latter stages of the war against Japan. It is said that but for his illness, my father would have had this coveted role.

The Naval Secretary post still exists and is an extremely important one. These days it can form a bridge between First Sea Lord which is the professional Head of the Navy, and First Lord of the Admiralty, the political head. Initially this was held by a senior politician, A V Alexander, and then for a brief period Brendan Bracken, and subsequently Alexander again. My father's time in this role, which lasted until 1947, saw the end of hostilities in both Europe and Japan and the subsequent transformation into peacetime. My father seems to have achieved in this role and was now about to go forward to what would be his last appointment.

I believe that he was offered the role of Commander in Chief of the Indian Navy, in the immediate post partition phase. This would have been an interesting and rewarding job and one my father would have greatly enjoyed. However, it was a final role, and the alternative was to take over as Director of Dockyards. This was a Civil Service appointment, and was rewarded by a slightly higher rate of pay. More to the point, it was a job that would last until after he was sixty, which was five or six years off, and which would see me put through the expensive educational process. He opted for this role.

During the war the department had moved to Bath and it was here that he was based. It was an important administrative role with considerable technical involvement. 60,000 people, mainly civilian labour, were employed and when he took over they were operating at Portsmouth, Plymouth, Chatham, Sheerness, Pembroke and Rosyth in this country and Gibraltar, Malta, Singapore, Hong Kong, Simonstown and Bermuda abroad. Since the war was over, it was a period of reduction and he successfully closed Pembroke, Sheerness and Bermuda dockyards during his time in command. A considerable amount of travel was involved and these visits were largely undertaken by flying boat or by Super Constellation. He seems to have carried out this role with considerable distinction, and was much liked and respected. In 1951 he came to the top of the Vice Admiral's list, and as his boss, Controller of the Navy Michael Denny, was a Vice Admiral, he could not be promoted further. He therefore retired as a Vice Admiral, promoted in retirement to full Admiral and re-employed as a Vice Admiral. Retirement approached and he was due to leave the navy on 31st December 1951, 48 years after he had joined. On 10th December a grand farewell party was given for him and he came home for Christmas and retirement. On the 26th December he had an unexpected heart attack and died the next day. The funeral service was held in Beaulieu church, he was cremated and his ashes scattered at sea from HMS Trespasser, a submarine. A subsequent memorial service was held in Bath.

Towards the end of his period as Director of Dockyards the socialist government, under Clem Attlee, lost a snap election and was replaced by a Conservative government under Winston Churchill. Churchill wanted to reverse a number of the socialist policies, particularly with regard to naval estimates. My father's entire department had to achieve new estimates at extremely short notice and this obviously put considerable strain on him. At the same time he was involved in numerous farewell visits and parties. His constitution had never really been strong since his earlier illnesses and this must have contributed to his demise.

My father's Naval career spanned 48 years, he held numerous command posts and rose to high rank. His greatest contributions were probably the preparation of the Submarine Service for war, the Midget and Chariot Programmes and helping to start the RNSA


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Extracts from The Diary of TelegraphistRobert John Lockyer