British Battleship Gunnery officer dies

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British Battleship Gunnery officer dies

Post by Andy H » 24 Jun 2003 17:41

From todays Daily Telegraph
Commander Henry Brooke
(Filed: 24/06/2003)

Commander Henry Brooke, who has died aged 89, enjoyed a bird's eye view of the final age of battleships.

While they were still in their prime he served as gunnery control officer of the battleship Duke of York during the Operation Torch landings in North Africa in 1942, and the following year he witnessed the heartening sight of the 16 in gun American battleships Alabama and South Dakota arriving at Scapa Flow to reinforce the Home Fleet.

But the growing effectiveness of air power at sea was reducing the value of battleships. In July 1945 he was assistant fleet gunnery officer in King George V when she was the last British battleship to fire her guns in anger at the bombardment of Hammatsu, Japan.

Some 15 years later he was the last executive officer of the last British battleship, Vanguard, immediately before she was scrapped. It was therefore appropriate that he became an adviser to Lewis Gilbert when he directed the film Sink the Bismarck, starring Kenneth More.

An old-fashioned gunnery officer, who was ever reluctant to leave the bridge, Brooke witnessed some less conventional aspects of service in early 1944 as squadron gunnery officer in the 8 in cruiser Kent on Arctic and Norwegian operations. She had a reindeer mascot, which had been donated by well-wishers in the Russian port of Archangel, until it fouled the decks once too often and was donated to Edinburgh Zoo.

When, in November 1944, the Royal Navy returned to the southern Norwegian waters from which it had been driven four years earlier for want of air cover, Brooke planned and executed with textbook precision a night action against a heavily protected German convoy off Egersund.

Operating so close inshore, Kent, together with another cruiser Bellona and four British and Canadian destroyers, had to manoeuvre independently to avoid the shallows as they stalked a German convoy of 10 ships under the protection of shore guns.

Brooke illuminated the enemy with star shells and co-ordinated the squadron's fire, switching smoothly from one target to the next. The Germans fought back courageously, but five escorts were sunk, two merchant ships were blown up and others were driven ashore for the loss of two men killed and three wounded by splinters in Kent. Brooke was mentioned in dispatches, and later awarded the DSC for his service.

Henry John Allen Brooke was born on October 21 1913, Trafalgar Day, in the British infantry lines at Maymyo, Burma. His grandmother, the widow of Brigadier-General Henry Brooke who was killed in the Second Afghan War in 1880, lived at Hampton Court, and when Brooke's father was killed in action at Gallipoli in 1915, his mother was allowed to retain the same grace-and-favour residence.

Young Henry was educated at Wellington, and joined the Navy as a special entry cadet. In 1937-38 he was a junior officer in the destroyer Firedrake, which was patrolling the Spanish coast during the civil war when she went to the rescue of the British freighter Cervantes under attack by a German Heinkel bomber; this was one of the first occasions when an aerial torpedo was launched against a ship.

Brooke - known in the Service as "Larry the Bat" after a cartoon character - commanded the frigate Roebuck in 1954-55 and twice led convoys of ships, by night, through the Suez Canal. In the port of Aqaba, Jordan, he met in his tented camp the governor Audeh bin Djad, who had fought under Lawrence of Arabia.

As Senior Officer, Reserve Ships, during the 1960s Brooke brought the frigate Rocket out of deep maintenance in record time, and spent his final two years as Assistant Director of Marine Services. Then, as a retired officer during the next 11 years he travelled a quarter of a million miles, running a fleet of some 600 minor vessels of the Admiralty's port auxiliary service.

Although sometimes thought to be straight-laced and resistant to change, Brooke paid off the Royal Navy's last coal-powered ship, and brought many new types into service. He also took satisfaction in circumventing the Admiralty's Ships' Names Committee and naming a class of ships after his female relations, giving the name of his wife to a water tractor (a small tug).

Brooke was appointed MBE in 1974, but he treasured more the silver statue of a sailor which the then First Sea Lord, Sir Henry Leach, gave him on his final retirement after 47 years on the Navy's active and retired lists.

Brooke was involved in a wide range of charitable activities, including at Chichester Cathedral. He was a member of the Royal Naval Sailing Association and the Royal Yacht Squadron, and the highlight of his year was always tea on the lawns at Cowes for the numerous members of his family.

Henry Brooke married Lesley Mary Noble in 1946. She predeceased him, and he is survived by two sons and two daughters.

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Post by AHLF » 24 Jun 2003 19:32

Damn, I admire those people- not only that they survive the greatest slaughter of all times, but they also live such long lives.
God bless their souls.

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Post by Aufklarung » 24 Jun 2003 21:42

Stories like this are why I like to read Douglas Reeman novels. :D

Thanx, Andy H.

A :)

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