You have had a fairly successful career for a Naval Officer. The highlights included shortly after Commissioning, finding yourself in the middle of an insurrection overseas. With a grab bag of Allies, the insurrection is put down, and due to your actions, you get a quick promotion to Lieutenant.
Peacetime was not good for you though. Less than a year after Command at Sea, you find yourself at Court Martial for insubordination during your Shore Command. You survive the Court Martial, but two years later the inevitable "peace dividend" arrives and so do the forced retirement boards.
16 years pass. You are 60 years old. History, as it does, intervenes.
Your nation is at war again. There is only one thing to do. You volunteer. You go to sea. You get Command.
Folks, I present to you a man, and officer, of the highest caliber. If you need to measure yourself by others - you could do much worse than Captain Edward Coverley Kennedy, RN.
His command at age 60? HMS Rawalpindi, built in 1925, an Armed Merchant Cruiser (a converted passenger ship). The ship you go to war with.
During her refit RAWALPINDI was armed with eight 6-inch guns built in 1900 and two 3-inch gun mounts, the crew learning that they saw service in the First World War. The passenger liner’s aft funnel was removed, as were most of the civilian luxuries leaving a bare bones passenger liner. By mid September HMS RAWALPINDI was out of the yard as an AMC, heading for the RN Base at Scapa Flow to begin conducting patrols in the Atlantic that would last three weeks at a time.And what are you facing?
SCHARNHORST and GNEISENAU were ... 38,000 tons and armed with nine 11-inch guns as their main armament and twelve 5.9-inch guns as their secondary battery. With a speed of 31 knots and a crew of over 1450 sailors, they were at the time the most advanced battleships built by Germany.From the TimesOnline, here is his story - the story of the HMS Rawalpindi.
On the bridge of the British ship , on November 23, 1939, stood Captain Edward Coverley Kennedy, a 60-year-old Scot, father of the late Sir Ludovic Kennedy, with a distinguished naval career behind him, who had come out of retirement to command the Rawalpindi. Its role was to intercept merchant vessels carrying grain to Germany but, in the darkening afternoon, Captain Kennedy saw something far more threatening — the silhouette of an enemy battleship.Some can look at this as folly, bravado, or worse. Really?
In fact there were two – the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau, each weighing 32,000 tons, with a maximum speed of 31 knots, and fitted with state-of-the-art guns and armour plating. The British ship stood no chance. Kennedy took immediate evasive action but was outrun. Ordered to surrender, he faced a momentous choice — whether to give in or to fight.
Turning to his chief engineer, he remarked calmly: “We’ll fight them both, they’ll sink us, and that will be that. Goodbye.” They shook hands.
The Rawalpindi’s first salvos hit the Gneisenau but fell short of the Scharnhorst. Both ships opened fire, to devastating effect. Fifteen minutes later it was all over.
They destroyed the Rawalpindi’s bridge, wireless room, gunnery control room and engine room, plunging the ship in darkness and disabling the electric ammunition hoists. Kennedy ordered shells to be pulled up by hand and rolled to the guns, now forced to fire independently. Although the ship was on fire the guns kept firing, scoring hits on both German vessels. But as Kennedy went aft with two ratings to organise a smokescreen, they were met by another enemy salvo. All three were instantly killed.
By this stage Rawalpindi’s steering gear was out of action, her water supply had failed and her guns fell silent. As the crew took to the lifeboats, a shell the Scharnhorst penetrated Rawalpindi’s forward magazine, causing a huge explosion. The ship split in two and began to sink.
The loss of her Captain and nearly all her 300 crew was a devastating blow so early in the war. But back home, the engagement caught the public’s imagination. The press portrayed the action as a sign that the fighting spirit of the Royal Navy had not been broken. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, spoke of Kennedy in the same breath as Drake, Hood and Nelson.
No, that is focus on mission and understanding your place in war - and the fact that in war, you don't choose your role or your moment.
Among naval historians, controversy still surrounds Kennedy’s orders, which had been been to evade action, not seek it out. But, in fact, the circumstances of that day left him with no alternative. The Rawalpindi did its best to seek the shelter of a fog bank, and sent out smoke floats, which failed to ignite. An iceberg four miles away offered better protection, but it was too late. The outcome of Kennedy’s refusal to surrender led to the loss of his ship and most of its crew. But it was also a significant setback for the German navy. Not only did the Rawalpindi inflict damage on the two battleships but it ensured that they gave up any notion of breaking out into the Atlantic, ...With today's communication, we often forget what it was like for those whose loved ones were at sea in WWII.
Captain Kennedy’s daughter, Katherine Calvocoressi, 82, (was) Aged 12, (when) she had learned of her father’s death on the radio: “We were living in a cottage in Scotland with no telephone and my mother heard it on the 9 o’clock news.As a side-note, for you Anglophiles here is a link to his son, Sir Ludovic Kennedy.
“My sister and I had gone up to bed and my mother came rushing upstairs saying, ‘Girls, you must come down!’ She told us what had happened, which was a huge shock. I remember saying, ‘Perhaps Daddy’s one of the survivors?’ and my mother replying, ‘No, he was the Captain’. She was an extremely strong character.”
This FbF first appeared in FEB10.