Obituary: Rear-Admiral Otto Steiner

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The Independent Culture
OTTO STEINER, acronymically OHMS and whose Germanic given names - Ottokar Harold Mojmir St John Steiner - led to many a reference to the Navy List, was descended from a Central European family rooted in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Born in 1916, he entered the Royal Navy from St Paul's School as a public school special entry cadet in 1935. He first went to sea in the light cruiser Orion and then in the heavier town-class Southampton. Not content with what the Fleet provided, he joined the newly formed Royal Naval Sailing Association in 1937 before being commissioned as a sub- lieutenant in March 1938. Within a year he was junior officer in the modern destroyer Ilex which, with her sister Imogen, sank U42 in the Western Approaches on 13 October 1939.

Three months later he moved to the older Havelock which played a notable part in the unfortunate Norwegian campaign of 1940. It is said that her modest fire power was augmented by the mountain howitzers of a French unit supporting two alpine battalions outside Narvik, mounted on her upper deck.

Nevertheless, she was soon reduced to extricating troops, first from Norway to Scotland and then from Lorient in France to Plymouth. Steiner received his first mention in despatches for his part in sinking the Italian submarine Faa di Bruno off Gibraltar on 8 November 1940; his second was in 1941 for his work in saving the French destroyer Le Triomphant.

After a torpedo course at Ports-mouth he joined the elderly cruiser Frobisher in the East Indies; he returned for another six months to Portsmouth, in Vernon, this time in the electrical department. Until the electrical branch of the Navy was established later in the war, torpedo officers were responsible for the Navy's use of the "subtle and himponderable fluid" as a pensioner CPO once described electricity.

Steiner finished the war as a Lieutenant-Commander in the new cruiser Superb. The Admiralty, mindful of the Geddes axe after the First World War, had granted wartime commissions to so-called RNVR officers (much to the fury of many pre-war members), and this meant an easier demobilisation, with no bulge of officers whose services were literally no longer required.

But competition between surviving professionals was as keen as ever. Much depended on the pattern of an officer's appointments, and Steiner was well served by his appointers. He took the naval staff course in 1947 and then went to the staff of the C-in-C, Far East Fleet until he was promoted Commander in 1950. He then went as executive officer in the cruiser Ceylon, where his Captain was Roy Foster-Brown, and then to Daedalus, the naval air station at Lee-on-Solent.

These appointments were interspersed with the Joint Services Staff Course and attendance at the Nato Defence College, and culminated in his promotion to Captain in 1956 after only six years, which was good going. He had one job in the Admiralty, rationalising the underwater research and development work in Osprey at Portland, before going to command the Battle class destroyer Saintes and the third destroyer squadron, 1958-60.

There followed two agreeable years as naval adviser to the British High Commission in Canada, where he presented the Steiner Cup, still contested between British and Canadian crews, and when he returned for the Senior Officers War Course in 1962. From Belgrave Square he went to sea for his last command, the light Fleet carrier Centaur. This was enhanced by a swift and successful demonstration of seapower. The army of the new republic in Tanganyika mutinied. Centaur raced to Aden to embark a Royal Marine Commando and a flight of helicopters and, rendezvousing with the destroyer Cambrian, quenched an incipient insurrection in Dar es Salaam.

In 1965 Steiner was ADC to the Queen, the following year he was promoted to the flag list and he was appointed CB in 1967. From 1966 until he retired in 1968 he was an Assistant Chief of the Central Defence Staff. He then turned in 30 years of active and happy retirement. Sailing had always been his great pleasure. He lost little time on leaving the Navy in promoting and organising the RNSA's Whitbread Round the World race, sponsored by the brewing firm.

The first race was held in 1972-73, after Steiner had directed the arrangements for the four parts - one was longer than any event up to that time. He became Vice- Commodore of the Association in time for the first race, and stepped down as Commodore after the second in 1977. He was always in demand as skipper or spare crew, but never to the detriment of the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners' Royal Benevolent Society, which he served as chairman for 20 years.

A. B. Sainsbury

Ottokar Harold Mojmir St John Steiner, naval officer: born 8 July 1916; CB 1967; married 1940 Evelyn Young (died 1994; one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1975), 1975 Eleanor Powell (one stepson); died 27 December 1998.