Death of a interesting man

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Death of a interesting man

Post by Andy H » 25 Jul 2003 17:34

From today's Daily telegraph
Commander Christopher Dreyer
(Filed: 25/07/2003)

Commander Christopher Dreyer, who has died 85, was one of the young men in small fast boats praised by Winston Churchill for their fighting zeal and professional skill during the Second World War.

In 1940, aged 21 and newly promoted to lieutenant, Dreyer was the Senior Officer of the 3rd MTB Flotilla when he found himself ordered to "nip over to Dunkirk and see what you can do".

Having arrived there, he towed small boats out of the shallow water and carried dispatches from Captain William Tennant, the Senior Naval Officer ashore, saying that much more could be achieved.

Almost the only factor working in the British favour was the weather, but over the next few days a flotilla of nearly 1,000 ships rescued more than 300,000 British and Allied troops. Dreyer lost count of the number of trips he made between England and Dunkirk.

After the sinking of the destroyer Keith, flagship of Rear-Admiral William Wake Walker, Dreyer's MTB became probably the smallest warship to wear an admiral's flag in action; Wake Walker was amused to see the crew improvise a tea towel daubed with red paint as his flag.

On one occasion, Dreyer counted 35 dive-bombers queueing up to attack him. Eventually the entrance to the harbour was so filled with wrecks that there was no point in him twisting and turning his MTB and he could only go flat out, trusting to luck.

By the time he had made his last trip, to the rattle of small arms fire and shots from a German battery, nine days of continuous action had left him feeling "fairly exhausted".

In October 1942, as a German convoy with a strong escort passed up the Channel, Dreyer conceived the bold plan of lying in wait with his flotilla of MTBs on the shoreward side. But as he crept in towards Cap Gris Nez, his boat was hit and disabled. Before he could scuttle his ship by firing a Very pistol into the petrol-filled engine-room, he was blown skywards.

Dreyer was soon hauled unconscious aboard a Carley float, which was being swept towards France despite furious efforts to paddle; after an hour, however, Dreyer and his companions were picked up by one of his own flotilla.

During Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily, Dreyer commanded the 24th MTB Flotilla, and was lying in ambush in the Messina Straits in the darkness on July 12/13 1943 when he saw a U-boat pass ahead of him, too close for Dreyer to fire his torpedoes. He was about to give chase when he saw another U-boat following close behind. Going rapidly astern, Dreyer fired a torpedo at scarcely 100 yards, blowing it up.

Follow-up attacks badly damaged the first U-boat, which was forced to return to port, and the same night a squadron of German E-boats was also intercepted and mauled, thus preventing any attack on the amphibious landings. Dreyer apologised to his Commander-in-Chief: "Two U-boats engaged in position. Regret only one sunk."

Before being invalided home with a recurring illness, Dreyer had the satisfaction of escorting the surrendered Italian fleet into Malta, Admiral Cunningham signalling the Admiralty: "Be pleased to inform their Lordships that the Italian battle fleet now lies at anchor under the guns of the fortress of Malta." While still a lieutenant, Dreyer had won a Distinguished Service Order and two Distinguished Service Crosses.

Christopher William Stuart Dreyer was born on June 18 1918, the son of Major-General John Dreyer, RA, who had worked with his brother, Admiral Sir Frederic Dreyer on gunnery improvements after Jutland; he was also a cousin of Admiral Sir Desmond Dreyer (whose obituary was published on May 21). Christopher's elder brother John became Captain RN; a sister became a Wren.

As a boy, Christopher remembered watching the Schneider Trophy air races while picnicking on top of a fort in the Solent; he entered the Royal Naval College Dartmouth in 1932.

After passing out, Dreyer spent several years in command of fast motorboats, then became operations officer to Captain Coastal Forces in the Channel, and worked with Peter Scott, the naturalist, on the planning of the invasion of France.

Later he helped to develop the technique whereby MTBs were directed by radar control, like fighter aircraft, on to their targets.

In 1945 Dreyer was torpedo officer of the cruiser Norfolk in the East Indies, where the future Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fieldhouse, was one of his junior officers.

Lent to the Royal Swedish Navy in 1951-52 to advise on MTB operations, Dreyer was awarded the Swedish Order of the Sword. But he was again taken ill, and invalided from the service in 1953 while senior officer of the aircraft carrier Ark Royal.

His first command, MTB 102, had been built as a private venture by Commander Peter Du Cane, of Vosper. It later carried Churchill and General Eisenhower as they reviewed the D-Day invasion fleet, and also starred in the film The Eagle Has Landed; it is probably the only surviving Royal Navy boat to have taken part in the Dunkirk evacuation.

While Dreyer was still in hospital recovering from Mediterranean fever (chronic brucellosis, which he had originally caught as a midshipman eating ice creams in Malta), Du Cane invited him to join Vosper, where he became sales director. He later became chairman of Vosper Thornycroft Far East.

In retirement, Dreyer lived in Berkshire where, until emphysema prevented him, he enjoyed the physical labour of farming. He also raised funds for the Samaritans, and was president of the Coastal Forces Veterans' Association. Dreyer attended several Little Ships reunions, always claiming his place in MTB 102 with his pipe and the words, "This is my bunk". Once, in Belgium, he swapped stories with a soldier he had rescued at Dunkirk whose regiment had also suffered at Waterloo; to settle a point of history, Dreyer insisted that they take a taxi to the battlefield.

Dreyer, who died on June 24, married Olivia Page in 1940; she survives him with their five daughters and a son.

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Post by Aufklarung » 25 Jul 2003 22:17

Andy H
It would appear that this man left a colourful and distinguished past. His family should be proud of the legacy in service to his country, that he achieved. RIP.
MTB life was one of the most dangerous jobs in any Navy, IIRC.

A :)

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Lord Gort
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Post by Lord Gort » 25 Jul 2003 22:26

I feel too little is said about the motor boat operations of the war. I know some of the operations on the allied/Axis side.

However I know little of the pacific theatres use of these boats excpet when reading about an MTB captain who took part in the operation get Macarthur out of some where or other.

Thanks for the story Andy,


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Post by Sokol » 26 Jul 2003 04:21

As far as I know, the Brits had some kind of Special Boat Service. They were elite commandoes, right? Can anyone give me some information about them (my knowledge of the Western front is woefully limited)?


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Lawrence Tandy
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Post by Lawrence Tandy » 26 Jul 2003 04:27

I found this link to the SBS in WW2 if you are interested. ... eshell.htm
My sincere condolences for the passing of this unique, brave and interesting man.


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Post by Sokol » 26 Jul 2003 04:34

My thanks, Lawrence.


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