Sunday, May 27, 2018
HMS Liverpool

Looking south from the garden of Rear Admiral Tom Bradbury’s house, set high on the Weald at Dallington near Heathfield in East Sussex, you can see a blue ribbon of the English Channel on the horizon.

Now aged 93, fit and active, he casually remarks that if a shell from a 15 inch gun from one of the battleships in which he served in World War II had been fired from here, it would have been capable of hitting a target at sea sixteen and a half miles away.

This modest and twinkle-eyed former senior naval officer, who went to school in Sussex and has lived in the county for over fifty years, was born in December 1922 to a workingclass family in South London. Tom Bradbury’s father served as a Lance Corporal in the Royal Horse Artillery on the Western Front in the First World War. “We had a happy family life in Walworth with my three sisters where the streets were the playground for many local children who went to the school nearby. On our street the most admired person was a bus conductor because of his smart uniform! When I was eleven I won a London County Council scholarship to Christ’s Hospital in Horsham, the independent Bluecoat School founded by Edward VI in 1552 which had a long tradition of educating children from poorer backgrounds”.

“It was here, as a member of the School Boy Scout Troop, that I and four other boys, thanks to the generosity of a benefactor, joined the contingent representing the UK at the Boy Scouts World Jamboree in Sydney, Australia. In November 1938 we sailed in the Aberdeen & Commonwealth Line’s steamship Esperance Bay on the five-week trip to Adelaide, calling at Malta, Port Said, Aden and Colombo”.

The return voyage from Sydney in January 1939 was in the same line’s Jervis Bay. It was this ship, when converted to an armed merchant cruiser and acting as the sole escort of an Atlantic convoy of thirtyseven ships, which was to achieve lasting fame by singlehandedly confronting the German battleship Admiral Scheer. Hopelessly outgunned and outranged, but in order to draw attention away from the convoy and give the ships time to scatter, Jervis Bay fought on until sunk, allowing all but five ships to escape. For this heroic action, Captain Fogarty Fegan, who went down with his ship, was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

“As a schoolboy in the 1930’s I was introduced, like many other boys of my age, to stories of derring-do in the British Empire or heroism during the recent World War. The Boy’s Own Paper, was required reading. I also particularly enjoyed the naval yarns in books written under the pen-name of Bartimeus who captured the everyday up and downs of life on board His Majesty’s warships. Although I did not appreciate it at the time, I think some of his stories may have had an effect on choosing my later career. One event that certainly did was on the return voyage from Australia. As the Jervis Bay left the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar, soon after dawn on 1st March 1939, we met coming from the west the combined Home and Mediterranean Fleets steaming into the Med for manoeuvres. We watched as lines of battleships, cruisers, aircraft carriers and countless numbers of destroyers sailed past. It was a magnificent and awe-inspiring sight of the pre-war Navy. With war only a few months away, it would never be repeated. It is something which remains with me to this day”.

“Although other historic events were rapidly unfolding, by the time the summer of 1939 had arrived I was more concerned with obtaining good results in my School Certificate, leaving school and starting work. Many of my contemporaries were destined for university, but as I was not particularly academic, I had obtained a post with Vestey Brothers, the long-established firm of frozen meat importers”. This form of internship with British firms who had strong colonial connections was a well-trodden path for boys leaving public school. After a short time at the firm’s head office in London they could expect to depart for every far-flung corner of the British Empire. To trading houses in Hong Kong, to tea and coffee plantations in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) or East Africa, to rubber plantations in Malaya or, in Tom Bradbury’s case, to the vast cattle ranches of Argentina. But with war being declared on 1st September 1939 his job with Vestey came to an end before it had hardly started. He was given five weeks pay for three weeks work and told he was no longer required.

“Fortunately Christ’s Hospital suggested that I should return to school for the winter term until I had sorted myself out. But as I was almost 17 I felt that I had to join something. The school thought that I should take the competitive Civil Service Examination. This was a means of entering all three Services as an officer. The age limits were 17 to 18 years 8 months. By December I was just eligible and sat the exam held upstairs at the Ship Inn, Brighton. I opted for the Royal Navy, but because I had specialised at school in Classics, the lack of Chemistry meant I could not join as a Seaman or Engineer. The only branch open to me was the Supply and Secretariat Branch, known then as the Paymaster Branch. Having passed the exam, the School arranged, as a final act of generosity, for the bill for my uniform, amounting to £150, to be paid by a charity. As a Paymaster Cadet I joined the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth on 1st January 1940. My pay was one shilling (5p) a day”.

HMS Liverpool
Tom Bradbury, Tobruk As it was wartime, officer training was severely curtailed. After just one term, Tom was appointed to the Town-class cruiser HMS Liverpool. In the Far East at the beginning of the war, Liverpool had by then been deployed to the Eastern Mediterranean and troop reinforcements had to be sent the long way round via the Cape. A fast convoy of ships, including the former transatlantic liners RMS Queen Mary, the Mauretania and Aquitania, all converted to troop carriers, had been assembled in the Clyde. Using their speed and zig-zagging to avoid attack by U-boats the convoy left Greenock on 25th June 1940 via Freetown and Capetown for Trincomalee in Sri Lanka. Here reinforcements for the Mediterranean were transhipped in British India line ships to Suez, thence by train to Alexandria. The convoy then sailed on to Australia to collect Anzac forces to bring them to the Middle East. Tom joined his ship Liverpool on 28th August. He was promoted Midshipman on the first day of September 1940.

“At that time Alexandria in Egypt, universally known as Alex, was the base for Allied naval operations in the Eastern Mediterranean. The harbour was crammed with every type of ship imaginable. This included the French Naval Squadron disarmed and immobilised following the fall of France in June. The Commander-in- Chief Mediterranean Fleet was Admiral Andrew Cunningham and Liverpool was part of the 3rd Cruiser Squadron together with Gloucester and Kent”.

“Within days we were at sea escorting convoys to Malta and took part in an action in which three Italian destroyers were sunk. In another action south of Crete on 23rd October we were attacked at dusk by Italian torpedo bombers. Without radar it was a complete surprise and our anti-aircraft guns had no time to fire before one torpedo struck forward on the starboard side. At first there seemed no major damage, but twenty minutes later, 8,000 gallons of aviation fuel stowed there for our two Walrus seaplanes, exploded. Rushing onto the upper deck I had the unforgettable sight of giant tongues of flame shooting hundreds of feet into the night sky. The bows of the ship forward of ‘A’ gun turret had disappeared and the turret itself was completely destroyed”.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - June 2016 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic
h3 class="g-title">Latest Issue - Look Inside! Game Changer

Most Popular

  • Weather Casualties +

  • Red Funnel Congratulates New Female Captain +

  • Fatal Collision Blamed on Sudden Turn +

  • The "Hood", My Father - The Ship and Battle - The Bell +

  • Bibby's Triple Success With Major Contracts +

  • 1
  • 2

Top 10 Books and DVDs 2017

Maritime Log

  • Second Heavy Lift Cargo for Power Station Project +

    Eastern Vanquish The second heavy cargo of equipment for the refitting of the Centrica power station at King’s Lynn arrived at the Read More
  • “Third Party Assistance” in Land Attack on Saudi Tanker +

    Abqaiq The Saudi Arabia flag tanker Abqaiq, 302,977dwt, was hit by a shore-launched anti-ship rocket fired by Yemen’s Houthi militia in Read More
  • Record Flies as Second Jack-Up Barge Arrives +

    Albatross What is believed to be the largest ship to visit the harbour in the history of Blyth, in Northumberland, arrived Read More
  • Bibby's Triple Success With Major Contracts +

    Bibby Polaris Three separate multi-million dollar contracts with a major oil and gas company have been won by the Aberdeen-based subsea services Read More
  • New Crane Gives a Lift to Cargo Handling +

    Liebherr Materials Handler Ayr has become the first port in the UK to take delivery of the new model of the Liebherr Materials Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • New Training Ship for US Merchant Marine +

    NSNV One Under the 2,232 page omnibus spending measure signed into law by President Donald Trump, the US Maritime Administration is to Read More
  • Giant Cranes Pass Through Puget Sound +

    Zhen Hua 28 A large heavy lift ship carrying four of the largest container cranes for the US West Coast sailed through Puget Read More
  • First Part of Ships’ LNG Conversion Completed +

    North Star The first of four conversion periods that will see the two Orca class rollon, roll-off vessels of Tote Maritime Alaska Read More
  • Four New Landing Stages for New York Ferry +

    NYC Ferry Construction of the new NYC Ferries landing stages on New York’s Lower East Side began at the end of February. Read More
  • Icebreaker Delivers Two Supply Ships to US Antarctic Base +

    Polar Star The US Coast Guard’s only operational heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, arrived at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, after completing her mission Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • No Mistaking New Line’s Ships +

    ONE Livery The one ship that can’t be missed is the first for a new container line formed by three Japanese owners. Read More
  • Fatal Collision Blamed on Sudden Turn +

    USS John S McCain The collision between the US Navy destroyer John S McCain and the Greek owned oil/chemical tanker Alnic MC, 50,760dwt, in Read More
  • Nine New Cranes for Four Terminals +

    Zhen Hua 21 The first four of nine giant cranes for the DP World Australia container terminals at Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle Read More
  • Six Lifting Decks on New Car Carriers +

    Beluga Ace The first of the new Flexie series of car carriers building for the Japanese shipping company Mitsui OSK Lines, Ltd Read More
  • Eight More for Evergreen +

    Evergreen| The Evergreen Marine Corp of Taiwan, has ordered eight 11,000 teu container ships from the South Korean shipbuilder Samsung Heavy Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • HMS “Astute” in Cat-And-Mouse Pursuit by Russian Ships +

    HMS Astute British News Ahead of the American led missile strikes against suspected chemical weapon manufacturing plants in Syria in early April, Read More
  • Busy Period for Japanese Navy +

    JS Asahi Japanese News It has been a particularly busy period for the Japanese with a number of new vessels being accepted Read More
  • Historic Port Visit to Vietnam +

    USS Carl Vinson US News In a significant move in March, the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson made an historic port Read More
  • Russian Minesweeper Fleet Expands +

    Alexander Obukhov Russian News By 2027 the Russian Federation Navy is expected to have acquired a total of ten Alexandrit class minesweepers Read More
  • New Patrol ship for Danes +

    HDMS Lauge Koch Danish News On 11 December, in a ceremony held at Naval Station Korsør, the Royal Danish Navy commissioned the third Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Maersk Expansion +

    Ulusoy 14 Maersk is making what seems to be a clever, though now very obvious, step to take for a far seeing Read More
  • "Rogaland" Performs for Dunkirk +

    Rogaland I am not normally drawn to such films as the latest Dunkirk release, but on my recent viewing it proved Read More
  • Weather Casualties +

    Hebridean Isles The issue of ferry operation, subsequent to the UK leaving the EU, will rather, regretfully, but unavoidably, continue to feature Read More
  • Superfast Stena +

    Superfast VII Superfast VIII The issue of ferry operation, subsequent to the UK leaving the EU, will rather, regretfully, but unavoidably, continue to feature Read More
  • Sanctions Eased for Mangyongbong 92 +

    Mangyongbong 92 Ever since the 1950s when I was aware of the Soviet merchant marine’s Baltic SS Co vessels which linked Leningrad Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • Nostalgic for Oil Fuel Depots +

    BP Distributor A collection of fine images of coastal tankers delivering fuel to the Southern Scottish town of Kirkcudbright took my eye. Read More
  • The Benefits of Wheel Spokes +

    Will Everard The Anna (see the print edition for details), like all Dutch craft, has a band around the outside of her Read More
  • Double Dutch Ketches +

    Gallant The Dutch 27.7m steel ketch Gallant, was built as a ‘logger’ in 1916 for the North Sea herring fishery. Read More
  • Focus on Freshspring +

    Freshspring Severn Sea The Scandinavian connection this month, continues with the welcome reappearance of the magnificently versatile Severn Sea 147gt of Bideford seen Read More
  • Fame for Sandgrevstur +

    Vestborg and Sandfrakt I followed up the casualty Fame which featured in my last Coastal Commentary. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • "Future of the Fjords" +

    Future of The Fjords Norway is a country which takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously and is at the vanguard of changes to reduce Read More
  • Wight Shipyard Co Wins Second Export Order +

    Ultramar In 2017, I had the pleasure of visiting Wight Shipyard Co’s famous Columbine Yard in East Cowes (Isle of Wight) Read More
  • Red Funnel Congratulates New Female Captain +

    Alice Duncan Red Funnel, the Isle of Wight’s awardwinning ferry operator, welcomes the promotion of Alice Duncan to the position of captain. Read More
  • Historic Name in Shipping Lives On +

    MV Coho Way back in 1818, the founders of the Black Ball Line inaugurated the first scheduled freight and passenger service across Read More
  • 2018 Spring Quilliam Lecture +

    Qilliam Lecture Poster "Quilliam Today" is is this year's title for the Spring Quilliam Lecture on Thursday 5th April in Arbory Church. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • "QE2" Comes to Life Again +

    QE2 in Dubai There will be many readers who, for the last decade, have followed the fortunes of the Queen Elizabeth 2. Read More
  • Supersub "Migaloo" +

    Migaloo The future of superyachts and how they may develop over imminent years, keeps superyacht commentators, like me, amused for hours. Read More
  • Superyacht Solution to Housing Shortage +

    Bluebird Diana Yacht Design is doing its bit to help solve the housing shortage. Read More
  • The Bridge +

    Queen Mary 2 QM2 vs the Super Yachts race results between the St Nazaire Bridge and the Verrazano Bridge in New York Read More
  • Just A Storyline? +

    Marco Polo Notwithstanding a number of attempts to emulate “The World” by other operators, any past thoughts of competing with the only Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

National Maritime Museum of Ireland Interior

Taikoo Dockyard & Engineering Co

On 1 January 1867, John Swire & Sons, having been established as merchants in Liverpool since 1816, opened the first Read More
HMS Hood

The "Hood", My Father - The Ship and Battle - The Bell

In writing about HMS Hood and her service career, I am not going to attempt to cover it fully, as Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

HMT Swansea Castle

The Role of British Fishermen in World War I

In WWI, Germany’s policy of wholesale mining of the North Sea and Atlantic was implemented from the day War was Read More
Prince Robert

Three Canadian Princes

Few especially built ships for a trade have become the orphans of economic circumstances faster than a trio built for Read More
  • 1
  • 2