Commanding officer

S/Lt(SCC) TK Griffiths RNR

CO

 

Captain Walker and his "Old Boy's Association"

TS STARLING enjoys a very special relationship with CWOBA, regularly welcoming CWOBA members into it’s Wardroom Mess to celebrate reunions and dinners. A short history of the illustrious Captain’s Naval Career follows:

Captain Frederick "Johnny" Walker, CB, and 4 times DSO, was from September 1941 to September 1942, Commanding Officer of HMS STORK. The Second World War was fully in its stride when he took command. When Captain Walker addressed the ship's company, he said that he had not been able to sail during the war, working in Whitehall, but he then made a prophetic statement. He stated, "I have some ideas of my own" in reference to counter measures against U-Boats. A simple enough phrase, perhaps, but those words were soon to be put into practice when, as Senior Officer of the 36th Escort Group, the ships under his command sank 5 U-Boats in 10 days whilst escorting Convoy HG76 from England to Gibraltar, on the return trip he sank 4 more!

At least 3, and possibly 4 more U-Boats were sunk by the 36th Escort Group before the Captain left STORK to take an appointment as Captain (D) Liverpool. Operating from Derby House. Whilst there he persistently badgered the Admiralty for a sea-going appointment, and in February 1943, he was given command of HMS STARLING, then being built in Glasgow. this at a time when the Allied need for escorts far outstripped the availability. The need in March 1942 was for 1,315 escorts; at the time less than half, 505, were available. To add to the woes of the Allies, from the beginning of 1942 Döenitz had been able to read the Allied Naval Cipher No 3 and Bletchley Park was experiencing problems with the Shark Enigma signals. Allied merchant fleet losses were appalling. The need now switched from lack of ships, aircraft and weapons to the need for new tactics, training and manning at all levels. American-built escorts would soon start to arrive in great numbers and the tactics for these new support groups would need to be completed and revised. In February 1943, HMS Starling was launched from Fairfield in Glasgow. When HMS Starling was due for commissioning, Captain Walker requested Admiralty that as many as possible of his former ship's company should be the nucleus of his new command. Although a large number of STORK personnel had been sent to other ships, almost half did in fact join Starling. After she was launched and carried out her gunnery and anti-submarine trials she was ordered to Londonderry to have the 291-radar set removed and the latest HF/DF gear fitted. This last-minute modification gave Walker the opportunity to avoid the training at Tobermory and train his own crew.

Of the 21 million tons of Allied shipping lost during World War 2, 15 million tons were sunk by U-boats. The Allies retaliated by sinking 781 U-boats, which resulted in a loss of nearly 30,000 of the 40,000 Kriegsmarine personnel serving in U-boats. There was nothing accidental about this victory at sea. It was the direct result of a relentless pursuit of the enemy by the little ships, largely inspired by the brilliant exploits of one man, Captain Johnny Walker of the Royal Navy. Today, Walker is officially recognized as "the man who did more to free the Atlantic of the U boat menace than any other single officer." In 1941, Great Britain and Canada maintained 400 assorted escort ships along the Atlantic convoy routes, but the rate of U-boat sinking remained dismally low, approximately two per month. Then Johnnie Walker took command of an escort group of nine ships, two sloops and seven corvettes. These were major victories won without loss and by the use of unorthodox methods.

Captain Walker's Old Boys Association attended their last function on Saturday 10th July 2004 at the Pier Head where they handed over the statue of Captain Johnnie Walker to the safe keeping of Liverpool Council and the people. Following on from this they all attended a service a St Nicholas' Church before moving on to Bootle Town Hall where the Association standard was formerly handed over to the Deputy Lord Mayor of Sefton for keeping in a permanent purpose built case in the Town Hall.

Captain Walker's Old Boys Association is now a part of history. Using Liverpool as a base, they scoured the high seas, in little Black Swan class Sloops, hunting for the elusive U boat. Their success in this is now the stuff of legends. Included in their patrols is the story of them catching and sinking 6 U Boats on one single patrol. Their heroism is clearly depicted in the Maritime Museum in Albert Dock and also in Bootle Town Hall, with their battle ensigns and other memorabilia on the walls of the Council Chamber as well as the entrance and hallways.

Their numbers dwindle yearly, and now they feel it is the right time to "hang up the flag" and gracefully recede into the sunset of their lives. The gratitude of the people of Liverpool, the United Kingdom and thousands of surviving sailors all over the world is their reward.

TS John Jerwood

 

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