In Action with Destroyers

In Action with Destroyers

JAJ Dennis, ed. Anthony Cumming
ARRSE Rating
4.5 Mushroom Heads
Alec Dennis joined Dartmouth as a cadet in 1931 and in 1939 was hauled off his sub lieutenants' courses to join the destroyer HMS Griffin, under the exemplary leadership of Lt Cdr Johnny Lee-Barber, under whom he progressed from sub lieutenant under training, to navigating officer, and then to First Lieutenant at the age of 22. By May 1941 Griffin was the last of her class of nine still afloat.

Dennis thus saw service on East Coast convoys, in the disastrous Norwegian campaign, in the North Sea, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, on convoys to Malta, at the Battle of Matapan, in the withdrawals from Greece and Crete, and on relief runs to Tobruk - leading a charmed life dodging Stukas against which, like most prewar destroyers, Griffin could do little except manoeuvre until two oerlikons were fitted over two years after the start of the war. There was, as a sort of interlude, transfer to the Eastern Fleet and the invasion of Madagascar. In all theatres our destroyers were worked to the maximum and with their officers to the point of exhaustion.

Finally home after four years in the same ship, Dennis was appointed in early 1943 to HMS Savage in build on the Tyne. HMS Griffin became HMCS Ottawa.

There ensued sixteen Arctic convoys, and the sinking of the Scharnhorst, greatly aided by Savage's torpedoes scoring three hits, fired as she closed under fire from the Nazi battlecruiser. Savage's part in D-Day was followed by his Captain going sick and Dennis' (aged 26) promotion to her command for a month. A command appointment to HMS Valorous at the end of 1944 brought North Sea coastal work, and marriage early in 1945. The European war was rounded off by taking the German surrender in Kristiansand, a somewhat belated acting half-stripe, and a brief appointment to the Hunt-class HMS Tetcott for a Japanese war which came to an end without Tetcott's involvement.

The most important thing Dennis took to war and brought safe home was his sense of humour which is fully reflected in this book. It was a war in which one had to grub about a bit to find a good joke, but Dennis is good at that. Bit parts range from Tommy Handley to Ernest Bevin.

The editor, Anthony Cumming, has done a good job preparing the narrative for publication, topping and tailing it with an introduction and a note at the end giving the historical background. He has provided basic maps, sourced an eclectic collection of black and white photographs including some from Dennis' family albums, and gives us a bibliography which includes a number of sources for further reading or research. But most of all he has rescued and brought to us this tale of courage and endurance from the archives of the IWM where full many a flower is stored to blush unseen - but, thanks to Cumming, not this one.

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