Obituary: Capt M. G. Haworth

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M. G. HAWORTH retired in 1965 after a distinguished career in the Royal Navy, which he had joined in 1927 as a cadet at Dartmouth.

Within his first month in the Navy he was nicknamed "Pinkie". That inexplicable title has fascinated many; not perhaps a major lacuna in our naval history but tantalising and with no apparent valid hypothesis to account for it; surely too young to have acquired a taste for the traditional pink gin of his generation, or to have manifested juvenile socialist tendencies. But he is remembered for his sobriquet as much as for his hard-earned DSC and its bar, not to mention his appointment as CBE.

Professionally his immediate claim to fame was probably his contribution to Admiral A.B. Cunningham's defeat of the Italian force off Cape Matapan on 28 March 1941, the fifth Mediterranean battle honour of the Second World War when, for the loss of one aircraft, three heavy cruisers and a brace of destroyers were sunk.

Haworth's elderly Swordfish biplane carried an additional long-range fuel tank instead of a Telegaphist Air Gunner. The observer had therefore to encode and send his reports as well as composing them, and Haworth was not best pleased to hear that the Commander-in-Chief's staff were lamenting their "confused air plot".

His squadron had started their day with a dawn search and a forenoon attack; in the afternoon he returned in one of three aircraft to shadow the enemy for three hours, and swore that his 10 vital signals had provided "a perfectly clear picture" of the developing situation. For his contribution to the victory in the following darkness he was awarded the DSC.

Born in 1914, Michael Goodier Haworth had qualified as an Observer in 1938, and flew with 823 squadron in Glorious, one of three carriers converted from Jacky Fisher's extraordinary battle-cruisers laid down in the Great War. Haworth's war started in the Indian Ocean, from which he returned early in 1940 to join 815 briefly before going to 826.

An early episode which nearly ended his career over home waters was the entangling of his aircraft in the balloon barrage over Harwich, but the Swordfish, though obsolescent, was robust, and his survived three tight revolutions, tethered by one wing, before it escaped. The rest of that year was dominated by the fall of France; Haworth's squadron played a notable contribution to the evacuation from Dunkirk and he was mentioned in despatches.

In 1941 the squadron went to the Mediterranean in the new carrier Formidable, with her armoured deck from which she assaulted Italian airfields in Somalia en route. Haworth covered Maltese convoys, spotted the battle fleet's fall of shot in Cunningham's aggressive shore bombardments and witnessed the loss of Crete where the ship was so badly damaged that the squadron flew to a shore base near Alexandria.

There it developed a skill in night flying, specialising in the illumination of targets for the RAF's equally elderly Wellington bombers, many of which survived because of the geodetic construction devised by Barnes Wallis (designer of the bouncing bomb). Haworth was awarded a bar to his DSC for his work over the Western Desert, and had become the squadron's Senior Observer before detachment to the RAF's 201 (Naval Co-operation) Group at Tobruk as a Lieutenant Commander.

He returned to sea as Assistant Operations Officer in the old Furious, half-sister of his Glorious, Britain's only carrier without the characteristic island superstructure, and which survived the war; she distinguished herself that August in the legendary Pedestal convoy by flying off Hurricanes for the replenishment of Malta.

Seniority took him ashore to help plan the landings in North Africa and Sicily and then, on Mountbatten's enormous staff at Kandy in Ceylon, the reconquest of Japanese gains in the Far East. He went back to naval aviation in the new light fleet carrier Triumph (1945-47), by now a Commander and her Operations Officer.

Here was the make-or-break point for the career of an officer of his age and seniority at that time, the Navy declining so fast that not all the deserving could be promoted. Haworth went on courses and a stint in Whitehall preceded a return to general service in command of the Battle class destroyer Aisne, out of which he was promoted Captain in December 1952 to become Assistant Director of Naval Intelligence (1953-55). He was back at sea for Operation Musketeer, in command of the Daring class ship Diamond, and her sister ships Duchess and Decoy at the assault on Port Said in 1956.

After that he had no more sea time, although his three last appointments were not without interest - he was a Military Representative at Shape (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers in Europe), 1957-60, Director of the Operations Division of the Naval Stag in the MOD, 1960-62, and finally, in the acting rank of Commodore, Naval Deputy Commandant of the Nato Defence College in France until he retired in 1965. He was appointed CBE in 1964.

Apart from his youthful nickname, he was felicitously remembered in the unofficial archive of 926 squadron's "Line Book" as one who "faked a neat poodle when circumstances demanded and sank a useful pint when they didn't" (poodle-faking being Old Navy for engaging the ladies).

He lived in France for almost 10 years after he left the Service, and had two years running an ecumenical establishment in Zambia before settling in Surrey, where he served as a lay reader in the Church of England.

Michael Goodier Haworth, naval officer: born 25 January 1914; CBE 1964; married 1943 Cynthia Noble (two daughters; marriage dissolved 1973), 1975 Fenella Fogarty (nee Forsyth-Grant; died 1979); died 9 May 1999.