Admiral of the Fleet Sir Michael Pollock

First Sea Lord during Britain's awkward 'cod war' with Iceland


Michael Patrick Pollock, naval officer: born Altrincham, Cheshire 19 October 1916; DSC 1944; LVO 1952; Assistant Chief of Naval Staff 1964-66; CB 1966, KCB 1969, GCB 1971; Flag Officer Second in Command, Home Fleet 1966-67; Flag Officer Submarines and Nato Commander Submarines, Eastern Atlantic 1967-69; Controller of the Navy 1970-71; Chief of Naval Staff and First Sea Lord 1971-74; First and Principal Naval ADC to the Queen 1972-74; Bath King of Arms 1976-85; married 1940 Peg Steacy (died 1951; two sons, one daughter), 1954 Midge Reece (née Bisset, died 2001; one stepdaughter); died Martock, Somerset 27 September 2006.

Michael Pollock held a steady ship in particularly turbulent political waters during his appointment as First Sea Lord, in 1971-74. He had, however, a profound understanding and experience of the Navy under fire as he was seldom out of action in the Second World War, where his courage and leadership resulted in a DSC and three mentions in dispatches.

Pollock was born in Cheshire in 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, where his father lost a leg, and joined the Royal Naval College Dartmouth aged 13 and became a cadet aboard the training cruiser Frobisher before joining the battleship Nelson as a midshipman. For a short spell, he was loaned to the destroyer Express during the Abyssinian crisis. In 1937 he was promoted lieutenant and served with the cruiser York, the flagship of the American and West Indies station.

At the outbreak of war in 1939, Pollock was second in command on the destroyer Vanessa and was in action protecting Atlantic and Channel convoys until she was put out of service by the enemy in July 1940. By the following year he had qualified as a gunnery officer and was determined to get back into the fight, but was made an instructor until 1942 when he joined the cruiser Arethusa.

On 18 November 1942 Arethusa was part of the escort for a convoy to Malta, which was in desperate need of supplies. At twilight Arethusa was attacked by German torpedo-carrying aircraft from both sides and, although she took evasive action, one torpedo hit her and caused a violent explosion killing 156 men out of a complement of 500. Pollock was deeply moved by the burial at sea of so many of his comrades.

Arethusa was severely damaged, with a gaping hole 53ft long by 30ft high, but somehow her gallant crew managed to get her back the 450 miles to Alexandria. Pollock gained his first mention in dispatches for his gallantry. After repairs, Arethusa was sent to America.

On his return to England, and promoted to lieutenant-commander, he was soon in action as the gunnery officer on the cruiser Norfolk, escorting Arctic convoys to Murmansk. On Christmas Day 1943, the German battle-cruiser Scharnhorst put to sea with the intention of attacking two Russian-bound convoys north of Norway. British code-breakers had decoded the Scharnhorst's orders and the Admiralty were able to direct Norfolk, Belfast and Sheffield to intercept Scharnhorst, which had been unable to locate the convoy and had sent her accompanying destroyers south. Alone now, Scharnhorst was picked up by Belfast's radar and at 9.40am Sheffield opened fire. Norfolk followed, scoring two hits, one of which demolished the enemy's main radar aerial, so that she was unable to return accurate fire. It was the beginning of the end of this magnificent ship, which was finally sunk by the Duke of York at 7.45pm with a loss of over 1,900 men. Pollock was awarded a DSC for his part in the battle.

Norfolk returned to Tyne for repairs and was unable to participate in the preparations for D-Day. Pollock was in Malta on the way to the Far East when the Japanese surrendered in August 1945. He was next involved with the Norfolk against the nationalists in Malaya and Java.

In 1951, while Pollock was serving in the UK, his wife died in Bermuda, leaving him with three small children. The children were looked after by their grandmother until Pollock had the good fortune to meet Midge Reece, whom he married in 1954. Back in the UK, he was part of the organisation of the funeral of King George VI in 1952 and was appointed LVO. Two years later he was second-in-command of the light cruiser Newcastle and saw action in the Korean War, providing naval gunfire to the UN forces.

After a period at the Admiralty, Pollock was given command of a destroyer flotilla as captain of the Vigo. His next command was of the aircraft carrier Ark Royal, on which the first trials of the Hawker Harrier were carried out. From 1964 until 1966 he was Assistant Chief of Naval Staff in the lead-up to the defence review by the Labour government. Pollock then became second-in-command of the Home Fleet, with his flag on Tiger, where talks were carried out on board between the Prime Minister Harold Wilson and the doughty Ian Smith on the future of Rhodesia.

On his promotion to vice-admiral, Pollock was appointed Flag Officer Submarines and oversaw the first test firing of the Polaris missile in 1968 and the opening of the Faslane submarine base in Scotland. In 1969 he became Controller of the Navy and the Third Sea Lord. When Sir Michael Le Fanu, the newly appointed Chief of Defence Staff, retired suddenly because of ill-health, in 1971, the then First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Peter Hill-Norton, was promoted to replace him and Pollock stepped into Hill-Norton's shoes as First Sea Lord.

During his appointment, he had to deal with the very tricky "cod war" with Iceland and came to terms with the Navy's having to reduce its role on the world stage and focus more on the Eastern Atlantic and Nato. In 1974 he was promoted Admiral of the Fleet.

On leaving the Navy, Pollock returned to Powys, where he enjoyed country pursuits and sailing. In December 2004 he was proud to witness his grandson Barney Pollock pass out of Dartmouth as he had done 71 years earlier - and even more delighted that Barney should pass out with the Commandant Talbot Prize and the Queen's Sword.

Max Arthur

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