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.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
News
i100
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
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

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: If you are a committed Te...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style