Obituary: Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward, 1932 – 2013

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

Admiral Sir John (‘Sandy’) Woodward

Admiral Sir John (‘Sandy’) Woodward, who has died aged 81, commanded the carrier battle group Task Force 317.8 during the Falklands conflict.

Admiral Sir John (‘Sandy’) Woodward Photo: REX

In March 1982, shortly before the outbreak of hostilities, Woodward was serving as a rear-admiral and as Flag Officer, First Flotilla, commanding a group of ships on their spring exercise off Gibraltar.

As the news from the South Atlantic worsened, on March 29 Woodward received a routine visit by helicopter from the Commander-in-Chief Fleet to his flagship, the destroyer Antrim. That evening, along with Captain Mike Clapp, the captain of Antrim, they discussed their options if the Falkland Islands were to be invaded and they were asked to re-take them.

Argentina had long claimed the islands, and on April 2 1982, impatient at the progress of diplomatic talks, and wishing to distract their people from domestic woes, the Argentine junta ordered their forces to invade.

During the passage south Woodward visited as many ships as he could, though his message to the various ships’ companies of the destroyers and frigates, was uncompromising: “You’ve taken the Queen’s shilling. Now you’re going to have to bloody earn it. And your best way of getting back alive is to do your absolute utmost. So go and do it.”

The conflict was a maritime campaign from beginning to end, characterised by a struggle for air superiority between Woodward’s ships and the Argentine Air Force, and in its later phases by a series of amphibious landings.

On April 25 British forces recaptured South Georgia after sinking the Argentine submarine Santa Fe. Five days later Woodward’s ships got within gun range of the Falklands to begin a bombardment, and Sea Harriers from the carriers Hermes and Invincible attacked several targets, while an aerial battle continued over the islands; three Argentine aircraft were shot down.

On May 1 the submarine Conqueror, on patrol south of the islands, sighted the light cruiser General Belgrano. Woodward sought a change to the rules of engagement which would allow Conqueror to open fire, as General Belgrano was considered a threat to the Task Force. Conqueror, controversially, sank the Argentine warship, but as a result the Argentine fleet remained in port for the rest of the war.

Two days later, an anti-ship missile, launched from the air, struck the destroyer Sheffield, one of Woodward’s previous commands, setting her ablaze.

British troops landed at San Carlos Water on May 21, and by June 14 the Argentines had surrendered. Woodward was seen by many as the architect of victory, although there were some who, from the outset, had thought that the Flag Officer Third Flotilla (in charge of carriers and amphibious shipping) should have commanded the the Task Force, and made some criticism of Woodward’s tactics.

Woodward was appointed KCB in 1982.

John Forster Woodward was born on May 1 1932 in Penzance, the son of a bank clerk, and educated at Stubbington House school, once known as “the cradle of the Navy”, and the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.

As a junior officer Woodward spent time in the Home Fleet, before specialising as a submariner in 1954. He served in three generations of submarines: the Second World War vintage submarine Sanguine; the post-war, diesel-powered Porpoise; and Valiant, the second of Britain’s nuclear-powered submarines.

In 1960 he passed the Navy’s rigorous submarine command course, the “perisher”, and given charge of the diesel-powered submarines Tireless and Grampus.

Subsequently he was second-in-command of Valiant, before promotion to commander when he became the officer-in-charge (or “teacher”) on the “pePrrisher”.

In December 1969 Woodward took command of Warspite, which was newly repaired after an underwater collision in the Barents Sea with (according to official sources) an “iceberg”. Several members of the crew were still shaken by the incident, and Woodward did much to restore their confidence in the safety of the boat and its manoeuvrability.

In submarines he was nicknamed “Spock”. “I was quite pleased,” he said, “because Spock does everything by logic.”

Promoted to captain in 1972, Woodward attended the Royal College of Defence Studies, where he disliked all the paperwork, and in 1974 he became Captain of Submarine Training. In 1976 he returned to general service, for the first time in more than 20 years, to command the Type 42 guided missile destroyer Sheffield.

As Director of Naval Plans from 1978 to 1981, during the Strategic Defence Review (also known as the Nott Review) in the first term of Margaret Thatcher’s administration, Woodward unsuccessfully opposed John Nott’s determination to make severe and “disproportionate” cuts in the Navy. The cuts included one-fifth of its destroyers and frigates, one aircraft carrier, two amphibious ships, and the ice patrol ship Endurance, whose declared withdrawal from the Antarctic encouraged the Argentine invasion of the Falklands in April 1982. Woodward felt keenly the irony that as Flag Officer, First Flotilla, from 1981 to 1983 he should have to clear up the mess created by politicians.

After the Falklands conflict Woodward was Flag Officer Submarines and Commander Submarines Eastern Atlantic in 1983–84.

Although Woodward had made prolific use of the radio-telephone during the Falklands conflict, talking to some of his subordinate commanders and to the Task Group Commander at Northwood, he had never spoken to Margaret Thatcher. Indeed, he did not come to know her until he was Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Commitments) during the period 1985–88, when he attended several Cabinet meetings.

At his first meeting, the Prime Minister’s advisers had not even sat down when she announced that she had read all the papers and explained what the government should do. Woodward realised that she had missed a point of detail and raised a hand to attract her attention. “If looks could kill, I was done for,” he would recall. “But I persisted, gave her the information she had missed and bought time for the other officials to gather their wits before further decisions were made.”

Later, when a senior civil servant told him: “You were very lucky today. You interrupted the PM – most don’t survive that,” Woodward replied: “She was talking – and needed some fearless advice, which she got.”

Woodward respected Mrs Thatcher, but had little time for most politicians, believing that they did not “have a clue about defence”. He was a stern critic of the Coalition government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2010.

While his detractors thought him somewhat cold and arrogant, those who knew him better insisted that he was modest, sensitive, humorous, clever and self-critical. He had been a gifted mathematician at school and was an avid bridge player from his school days.

Woodward’s memoirs, One Hundred Days: the memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander (co-written with Patrick Robinson), are a frank account of the pressures experienced by a commander fighting a war, and is told with self-deprecating humour.

His last appointment in the service was as Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command (1987–89). He was appointed GBE in 1989.

Woodward left the Navy at the age of 57, and in retirement was chairman of the Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel Trust, which raised £2.3 million. The chapel, at Pangbourne College, was opened by the Queen in 2000.

He settled at Bosham, near Chichester, West Sussex, where he could indulge his life-long passion for sailing in small boats.

Sandy Woodward married, in 1960, Charlotte McMurtrie, with whom he had a son and a daughter. They later separated, and since 1993 his companion had been Winifred “Prim” Hoult.

Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward, born May 1 1932, died August 4 2013

VADM Eugene P. Wilkinson (1918-2013)

Fair winds and following seas.

Eugene P. Wilkinson, Who Steered First Nuclear Submarine, Dies at 94

Vice Adm. Eugene P. Wilkinson with the Nautilus.

Vice Adm. Eugene P. Wilkinson, who commanded the Nautilus — the United States Navy’s first nuclear-powered submarine and the first machine to harness atomic fission for propulsion rather than weaponry — died on Thursday in Del Mar, Calif. He was 94.

His family confirmed the death.

As commander of the 324-foot, lead-lined, dirigible-shaped submarine, Admiral Wilkinson made headlines worldwide when he steered the Nautilus, propelled by its onboard reactor, out of a shipyard in Groton, Conn., into Long Island Sound on Jan. 17, 1955, and uttered his first radio message: “Under way on nuclear power.”

The vessel represented a historic technological achievement; a personal triumph for Admiral Wilkinson’s mentor, Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, the founding father of the nuclear Navy; and a resounding if double-edged statement about war and peace and the future uses of nuclear power.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower saw in the Nautilus the commercial potential of nuclear power, a theme of his “Atoms for Peace” initiative in the years before the first commercial nuclear power plant was built in the United States, based on technology pioneered by the Nautilus.

Military analysts greeted the submarine as the vanguard of a new age in warfare, a machine previously unimagined except in the fiction of Jules Verne (whose novels “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “The Mysterious Island” featured a submarine called the Nautilus).

Faster and more agile than any submarine before, it was able to cruise almost indefinitely without refueling. (The half-joking rumor among the crew was that they would surface every four years to re-enlist.) It became the prototype for the Navy’s perpetually prowling fleet of strategic nuclear missile subs.

Admiral Wilkinson’s career straddled the commercial and military realms of nuclear power. He went on to command the Navy’s first nuclear-powered surface ship, the cruiser Long Beach, from 1959 to 1963. At his retirement from the Navy in 1974, he was the vice admiral in command of all submarine warfare operations.

From 1980 to 1985 he ran the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, a nonprofit organization established by the nuclear power industry to improve safety standards in the aftermath of the Three Mile Island accident near Harrisburg, Pa.

Admiral Wilkinson recalled the Nautilus launching as the apex of a period of unqualified optimism about atomic energy. “If you were involved in nuclear,” he told The San Diego Tribune in a 1989 interview, “you were a white shining knight.”

Eugene Parks Wilkinson was born on Aug. 10, 1918, in Long Beach, Calif., and was orphaned shortly afterward, when his father, Dennis, died in a car accident and his mother, Daisy, succumbed to a sudden illness. He was raised by his grandparents Dennis and Lillian Wilkinson, who ran a small creamery.

Admiral Wilkinson, who was known as Dennis to family and friends, graduated from San Diego State College with a degree in physics and chemistry and was teaching chemistry there as a graduate student when World War II broke out. After he enlisted, the Navy sent him to an officer training program and assigned him to diesel-driven submarines. He received the Silver Star for valor in the Pacific.

Teaching at the Navy’s submarine school after the war, he was wavering between pursuing a Navy career and returning to his postgraduate studies when Admiral Rickover, the newly appointed head of the Navy’s nuclear power development agency, offered him a chance to do both.

With a corps of other handpicked officers, he was sent to study atomic physics and nuclear reactors at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. He later served as the representative of the Bureau of Ships at Atomic Energy Commission offices in the Pittsburgh area. He is survived by three sons, Dennis, Stephen and Rod; a daughter, Marian Casazza; and four grandchildren. His wife, Janice, died in 2000.

In a 2001 biography of Admiral Rickover, Francis Duncan wrote that he chose Admiral Wilkinson, a commander at the time, to skipper the Nautilus because he was “intelligent, imaginative, and free from the deadly embrace of tradition” — a reference to his not having graduated from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. The two remained friends until Admiral Rickover’s death in 1986.

Crusty and temperamental, Admiral Rickover also had a mischievous sense of fun, which Admiral Wilkinson recalled in an article for The Saturday Evening Post in 1955. The Nautilus was on its maiden voyage, he wrote, when Admiral Rickover took a turn at the controls. After completing a scheduled test maneuver, he then ad-libbed orders for a nonsensical, if not dangerous, move: “Take her down and put her on the bottom,” he said. “All ahead full.”

“This left me in a rather embarrassing situation,” Admiral Wilkinson wrote, “since I had to countermand all the admiral’s orders immediately.”

Obituary: Commander Eddie Grenfell, RN

Commander Eddie Grenfell

Commander Eddie Grenfell, who has died aged 93, was a leading light in the campaign for Arctic convoy veterans to be awarded their own medal.

Commander Eddie Grenfell with his Arctic Star medal in March 2013

In 1942 Grenfell was responsible for the radar which was fitted in the Empire Lawrence, a catapult-armed merchant ship (or CAM), which carried a single Sea Hurricane fighter. The Hurricane was to be launched by catapult in the event of an aerial attack on convoy PQ16, bound for Murmansk.

On May 26 Empire Lawrence’s radar was damaged by enemy gunfire. Grenfell volunteered to climb the mast to carry out a repair while another air attack developed. He clung to the masthead while cannon shells and machine-gun bullets whistled past, then scrambled to the deck past a jagged hole where the mast had been hit. He was rewarded with a tot of what he called “the best of Jamaica’s golden liquid” — and the ship’s master promised that he would be recommended for bravery in the face of the enemy.

Later that day, when the convoy was attacked by German bombers, Empire Lawrence was able to fly off her Sea Hurricane and shoot down two of the enemy. The Sea Hurricane, however, ditched into the sea and the pilot had to be plucked from the water by a rescue ship.

This single aircraft constituted the convoy’s entire airborne defence, and the next day three enemy bombers dived on Empire Lawrence. Their bombs exploded in No 2 hold, causing her cargo of ammunition to go up and turning the ship into a gigantic fireball. Grenfell recalled: “I flew through the air surrounded by large chunks of steel, one that looked like the ship’s funnel, hitting the water and going down very deep, and when I opened my eyes, I found myself faced with a swirling black turmoil instead of the green sea I had expected. With my lungs close to bursting, I prayed, even argued with my Maker. Something was hanging on my right arm. I gave a heave, and brought to the surface the body of someone impossible to recognise. A piece of metal, still there, had almost halved his head in two.”

The survivors of Empire Lawrence were landed in Murmansk, where they were left on the quayside, cold and hungry, until the next morning. They were then taken to a Russian camp where they lived on a diet of tea and pork fat. Grenfell’s wounds were slight: cuts and bruises, and incipient frostbite in his lower legs. He was repatriated in the destroyer Hussar.

William Edward Grenfell was born at Peterhead in Scotland on January 17 1920 and educated at Montrose Academy, Angus, and the Prince of Wales Sea Training School at Limehouse , which trained deck ratings for the Merchant Navy.

On the outbreak of war he joined the Royal Navy as a torpedoman, trained as an electrician, and was sent to sea, first in the cruiser Edinburgh and then in Empire Lawrence, in which his role was to operate and maintain the ship’s radio direction-finding equipment (or RDF, as radar was then known).

Post-war, Grenfell was commissioned into the Navy’s newly formed electrical branch, and after serving as assistant British naval attaché in Bonn (1961-65) he lived in Germany for 15 years, at first running an import-export business. After being seriously injured in a car accident, he rebuilt his life working as a gardener and later as a tour guide.

Apart from his tot of rum, Grenfell’s bravery in May 1942 was never formally acknowledged, and his treatment rankled. When the Russian government began to award medals on the 40th, 50th and 60th anniversaries of the Great Patriotic War, with special reference to service in the defence of the Soviet Arctic, and it began to invite survivors to commemorative events in Archangel and Murmansk, Grenfell’s sense of injustice increased. In his retirement he began a campaign for participants in the Arctic convoys to be awarded a medal.

Successive British governments resisted the argument that the Russian convoys were a distinct campaign, although naval historians recognised that the struggle in the Barents Sea, more than 800 miles from the Atlantic proper, was very definitely a separate affair from the Battle of the Atlantic.

When, in 2006, the Blair government offered a lapel badge, it was dismissed as being “like something you find at the bottom of a cornflakes packet”. Grenfell went further: “We are disgusted, absolutely disgusted. Mr Blair effectively told us we were a great bunch of fellows but there was a limit to what he could do and we would have to be happy with a badge. I am not satisfied. The only way that a campaign, especially one as dreadful as the Arctic one, goes down in history is by a medal. A badge means nothing.”

Then, in December 2012, Grenfell heard that he had won his fight. By March this year, however, he was too ill to travel to the official award ceremony in Downing Street. He was presented with his medal by the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, at the Lord Mayor’s parlour in Portsmouth.

Grenfell also received a personal letter from the Prime Minister, and he thanked the PM by acknowledging the part he had played in achieving success for the veterans: “He always supported our claim but was hampered by civil service bureaucracy just as I was,” said Grenfell. “I’m just sad that so many of my colleagues are no longer with us to receive their medals.”

Eddie Grenfell married first, in 1942 (dissolved 1967), Beryl Hodgkins; he married secondly, in 1968 (dissolved 1974), Irene Haneberg. He is survived by two daughters of his first marriage.

Cdr Eddie Grenfell, born January 17 1920, died June 28 2013