With the Royal Navy in War and Peace - O’er the Dark Blue Sea

With the Royal Navy in War and Peace - O’er the Dark Blue Sea

Vice Admiral BB Schofield – Victoria Schofield editor.
ARRSE Rating
4.5 Mushroom Heads
The First and Second World Wars must have been great times to have fought through; even better to have lived through: Brian Betham Schofield managed to do both and according to his biography seems to have been a lucky sailor having had two good wars.

Joining as a Midshipman in 1908 his first ship after training was the battlecruiser HMS Indomitable with which he took part in the search for the Goeben and Breslau in the Mediterranean and the Battle of the Dogger Bank. While speaking of his time in Q Turret he also gives a vivid impression of what life was like for stokers in a coal fired ship. Promotion to Sub Lieutenant brought him a posting to a minesweeper, at which he chaffed, and managed from there to get a post to destroyers of the Harwich Force under Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt.

After the outbreak of peace came the outbreak of Spanish Flu which floored the then Lt Schofield, missing his deployment with HMS Marlborough back to the Mediterranean; luck arrived with a posting to HMS Renown in time for a Royal Tour of the Prince of Wales to Canada. While the Prince had his royal engagements, Schofield describes the social life he and other officers enjoyed; while keeping quiet about the rigours of day to day life in the peace time Royal Navy. No doubt he imagines his readers as fellow sailors who would understand the navy life, not lower deck pongos like me. Further surprising this pongo is the amount of courses he had to do, and early on we are introduced to the navigation school HMS Dryad for navigation qualifications where he eventually gets the qualification to navigate first class ships; but along the way has to complete his apprenticeship with a posting to the Fisheries Squadron before becoming the Navigating Officer of HMS Malaya.

As the route to India via the Suez Canal the Mediterranean and it’s Royal Navy fleet feature heavily in Schofield’s career, and he manages courses in French and Italian, becoming an interpreter in both languages.

Tactical courses at Portsmouth and a two-year stint as an Executive Officer at the navigation school was rewarded with a double hatted posting to HMS Orion as Squadron Navigating Officers and Staff Officer Operations – so, not just the army then. He took part in the Non-Intervention Patrols during the Spanish Civil War. From there he became a staff officer on HMS Rodney for the Commander in Chief Home Fleet.

After promotion to Captain Schofield finds himself dealing with diplomacy as a Naval Attaché splitting his time between Paris, The Hague and Brussels. After the German Invasion of Poland, he finds himself dealing with Germans in the neutral countries of Belgium and Holland and has a lucky miss with the Venlo Incident. He then becomes Captain of HMS Galatea and has an interesting time involving Norway, gold, the fall of France, heel kicking during Dunkirk, evacuation of his friends of the French embassy staff from the west of France, seizure of French warships, and counter invasion preparations.

Parting with HMS Galatea he takes on a post in the Admiralty as the head of the Trade Division – which I have never heard of either. However, it is one of those behind the scenes jobs which is not noticed as the RN deals with U-boats, the Luftwaffe, surface units of the Kreigsmarine, the Italian Navy, etc. It is a good example of unseen staff work that continues without being noticed and is no doubt one of many departments which get on with the job of putting war winning policies into place without fuss. He is also present at some of the major meetings of WW2.

Joining HMS Duke of York in August 1943, he entertained King George VI on a visit to the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow. However, luck deserted Schofield here as he had a ‘personal crisis’ which meant he quit HMS Duke of York on 9 December; HMS Duke of York went on to sink the Scharnhorst on December 26. He Returned to the navigation school HMS Dryad where he became quite heavily involved in the Naval Headquarters of D-Day.

In April 1945 Schofield finds himself appointed to command HMS King George V, then part of the British Pacific Fleet. He joins the ship in Sydney and becomes part of the operations against the Japanese in the area of Sakishima and also bombarding the Japanese mainland with the battleship’s guns. Schofield and KGV were present at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo bay. A victory tour of Australia followed and Schofield and KGV returned home by way of South Africa. Arriving in Portsmouth he mentions of the hardest part of any Naval Officer – to say ‘Stop engines.’ for the last time.

Posted to the Admiralty again he becomes a staff officer in the Fighting Instructions Committee, writing up tactical lessons from the war. Promoted Rear Admiral he finds himself on the Staff in Washington DC and becomes involved in the Naval set up of NATO.

In 1950 Schofield retired as Vice Admiral BB Schofield, CB, CBE, 42 years after joining RN Collage Osborne as a cadet. Although I have said at the start that he appears to have been a lucky sailor, I have no doubt his luck is of the ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get.’ type.

The book is well written in the first person (Better than my summary.) and moves nicely through his career. Day to day detail of sailor or officer’s lives may have been useful, but would likely have impeded the flow of the biography. It has four maps at the beginning and 33 illustrations on glossy paper in one section. The endplates have a map of the cruise of HMS Indomitable 1913-14.

An enjoyable book, I found myself reading it as something I wanted to read, rather than a book to review. A well-deserved 4.5 Mr Mushroomheads.

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