Admiral Sir John Bush: Naval officer who saw distinguished action in the Mediterranean

American refusal to help Churchill capture three Aegean islands gave him 'the sharpest pangs'

Winston Churchill's last quixotic attempt to follow an independent British policy at sea in the Second World War was the theatre in which John Bush, a future Vice-Chief of the Naval Staff and Commander-in-Chief Western Fleet, proved himself three times a hero.

The Dodecanese Campaign of September to November 1943, when Britain grasped at the Aegean islands of Kos, Samos and Leros only to lose them, was the young naval officer's finest hour, adding a second Bar to his DSC. Night after night, Acting Lieutenant Commander Bush took his first command, the Hunt class destroyer Belvoir, into perilous waters under German artillery and beneath the bombs of Ju87s and 88s and Me109s to deliver ammunition, stores, Jeeps, guns and soldiers in the race with Germany for control of the islands, which had been held by Italy, after Italy's surrender to the Allies.

"It seemed to me a rebuff to fortune not to pick up these treasures," Churchill says of the islands in his memoir The Second World War. "If we could use the Aegean and the Dardanelles the naval short-cut to Russia was established." But US refusal to help gave him, he says, "one of the sharpest pangs I suffered in the war" ... The American pressure to disperse our trained assault shipping from the Mediterranean was very strong."

The letter informing Lt Cdr Bush of his latest decoration in April 1944 says it is awarded for his "courage, determination and skill", and the typed recommendation signed by Captain Levant, says, "HMS Belvoir has carried out two sweeps into the Aegean during which time troops and stores have been landed at Leros. Kos was also bombarded where a petrol dump was set on fire. During one of these sweeps Belvoir was hit by a bomb which fortunately failed to explode."

On the reverse of the flimsy Admiralty paper, the handwriting of that officer's superior, Vice-Admiral Algernon Willis, declares: "Recommended for Decoration. HMS Belvoir has done many more than two sweeps into the Aegean." Indeed, under Bush's command Belvoir made 16 sorties out of Alexandria, Limassol and other harbours, according to the official account of the campaign. She operated under cover of darkness and was frequently bombed.

The original plan, " Accolade", begun in September for a swift capture of Rhodes, strategically the most important island, was cancelled in October under American insistence, and Admiral Willis, in his address to be read out to ships' companies on 17 October, as Germany rushed forces to the area to foil the British, put a brave face on the dwindling chances of success given the minimal air support: "You are being called upon... to undertake a task which involves a most strenuous routine ...The scale of enemy air attack is considerable."

The next day, 18 October, Belvoir was boarded by Turkish officials and Bush had to resort to deception: "It was untruthfully explained that she had a defective boiler and the officials seemed satisfied." As the enemy invasion force assembled and looked likely to win, the "increasingly stiffening attitude of the [neutral] Turks" became a problem for the British ships. Leros finally fell to the enemy on 17 November, and the campaign, which some observers believe inspired Alistair MacLean's 1957 novel The Guns of Navarone, was over by 22 November. A small military party was left on the island of Kastellorizo while Belvoir returned to Alexandria.

Bush gained his first DSC for an action on 16 April 1941, when as a Lieutenant on the destroyer HMS Nubian he had helped to sink an Italian convoy of five merchant vessels and three destroyers between Sicily and Tripoli. The recommendation says he receives the award "in his capacity as Executive Officer and Gunnery Control Officer, for the efficient manner in which the Ship was fought and the accuracy of the gunfire."

He won his Bar in the Battle of Crete between May and June 1941. The recommendation, dated 2 June, cites "outstanding courage and initiative in taking charge after the ship had been hit by a bomb, and the depth charges had exploded. He personally led a party between decks in the face of heavy fumes and smoke, with the knowledge that the magazines were in grave danger of exploding, and extinguished a fire." During May 1941 he was also Mentioned in Dispatches.

John Fitzroy Duyland Bush was educated at Clifton College, Bristol and joined the Royal Navy in 1933. He joined the Plans Division of the Admiralty in 1946, having been promoted Commander at the age of 32, after commanding the destroyers Zephyr and Chevron. He graduated from the Armed Forces Staff College in the US in 1949, commanded the destroyer HMS Cadiz, was promoted Captain in 1952, and became Deputy Secretary to the Chiefs of Staff Committee.

By the time of Suez in 1956 he was Captain (F) of the Sixth Frigate Squadron on HMS Undine, a destroyer converted to an anti-submarine frigate. After a spell as Commodore, RN Barracks, Chatham, he became Director of Plans at the Admiralty and was promoted Rear-Admiral in 1961. He was Flag Officer Flotillas (Mediterranean) in 1962, then, having been promoted Vice-Admiral, became Commander, British Naval Staff and British Naval Attache, Washington.

As Vice-Chief of the Naval Staff from 1965-1967 he planned the Navy's future against competition for resources from the RAF and in January 1967 travelled to Cape Town to take part in the renegotiation of the 1955 Simonstown Agreement. He was knighted in 1965.

From 1967 he held the Nato posts of Commander-in-Chief, Western Fleet, C-in-C Eastern Atlantic, and C-in-C Channel, becoming Admiral in 1968. After his retirement in 1970 he held the honorary positions of Rear- and then Vice-Admiral of the United Kingdom and Lieutenant of the Admiralty. He was also a director of the hospitals development company Gordon A Friesen International in Washington from 1970-73, and served from 1974-76 on East Hampshire District Council.

Anne Keleny

John Fitzroy Duyland Bush, naval officer: born Beach, Gloucestershire 1 November 1914; DSC 1941 and Bars 1941, 1944; CB 1963, KCB 1965, GCB 1970; married 1938, Ruth Kennedy Horsey (died 2013; two daughters, three sons); died East Tisted, Hampshire 10 May 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there