Captain Mike Barrow: Naval commander who served with distinction in the Falklands War

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The Independent Online

Captain Mike Barrow was one of the most universally loved of the Falklands naval commanders, even though 14 of his crew died when his ship, the County Class guided-missile destroyer HMS Glamorgan, was struck by an Exocet ground-launched missile on the penultimate day of the conflict. His decision to stay an extra two hours on the in-shore gun line off Port Stanley extended the naval artillery support to 45 Commando, Royal Marines, while they fought a harder-than-expected battle.

The Marines were five miles from the islands' capital and less than 48 hours from victory, but it had taken them all night to dislodge very strong Argentine positions on Two Sisters ridge. Keeping up support for the land forces meant, Captain Barrow knew, putting his ship and crew at risk. Glamorgan's men should have fallen out from action stations at 04.00 hours, when according to her orders she would have sped away at 26 knots to reach, several hours later, the safety of the Carrier Battle Group around the Falklands Task Force flagship HMS Hermes 150 miles out at sea.

Instead Barrow kept her at her position south of Stanley, pounding the barren South Atlantic hillsides until 05.30. Moments after she at last called it a day, the approaching missile was sighted. Barrow gave the order "full ahead", and the ship turned rapidly, heeling over. It is thought the sharp turn saved her. Glamorgan was the only ship in the Falklands conflict to take a direct Exocet hit and survive. The missile clipped the upper deck and exploded just short of the hangar.

Eight men were killed instantly, about 20 injured, and the ship's Wessex helicopter destroyed. Five more lost their lives when burning fuel poured through the hole in the deck into the galley below, and another died soon after the ship returned to Britain. Whether Barrow misjudged the limits of the Royal Navy's already-marked-out "envelope" of danger from missile-launchers around Port Stanley, or whether the Argentines had a piece of luck having moved the lorries to new positions, is still an open question. It is known that by the time of Glamorgan's misfortune, the missiles' arcs had changed.

Glamorgan's service to the land campaign is acknowledged by Major General Julian Thompson, who as a Brigadier led much of it, and he notes in his book, No Picnic (1985): "HMS Glamorgan... bravely remained later than ordered to support 45 Commando".

Barrow, who was awarded a Distinguished Service Order for his service in the Falklands, never forgot his men, and only two years ago, in his 79th year and in failing health, made the pilgrimage to the East Falkland, where the Welsh granite memorial to those who died was raised at Hooker's Point, opposite the position where Glamorgan was hit. A regular Anglican churchgoer, Barrow also led the fundraising campaign for the memorial window for Glamorgan's crew that in 1997 was installed in Portsmouth Cathedral.

His DSO citation attributes Glamorgan's successes to Barrow's "calm and inspiring leadership", which "kept his ship at the peak of efficiency over prolonged periods in the face of the enemy". Barrow had led the Falklands campaign's first naval gun line on 1 May, and spent "seven gruelling nights" the citation says, firing star-shells and having Glamorgan's helicopter fly close in-shore in ill-charted waters in Choiseul Sound, East Falkland, as troops in fact prepared to go ashore at San Carlos on the island's other side. After Glamorgan was damaged, the citation adds, Barrow took on the unglamorous task of organising support ships in the tug, repair and logistics area (TRALA).

Michael Ernest Barrow, the son of a naval captain, attended Wellesley House School, Broadstairs, before joining Britannia Royal Naval college, Dartmouth aged 13 on the same day as the Falklands Task Force's future Admiral, John "Sandy" Woodward, a lifelong friend. In those days Barrow outdid Woodward by being made one of the College's two chief cadet captains, or joint head boys.

Woodward later described Barrow in his account of the conflict, One Hundred Days (1992) as "an outstandingly brave commander". Barrow trained in the heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire, the light cruiser HMS Liverpool, and joined the destroyer HMS Agincourt and the light cruiser Euryalus before serving for two years, from 1954, in the Royal Yacht Britannia, where he was noted as "one of the most able young officers in the Service today."

He was Flag Lieutenant to the Commander in Chief of the Far East Station, HMS Tamar, Hong Kong, Vice-Admiral Sir Gerald Gladstone, from 1956-58, after which he had a string of seagoing commands, before attending Staff College at Greenwich in 1966, and again commanding at sea.

He and his wife Judy, whom he married in 1962, are remembered as "excellent hosts and most charming company" during his time as Staff Flag Officer at HMS St Angelo in Malta in 1970-71. The then Flag Officer, Rear-Admiral Derrick Kent, said of him: "He takes part in all activities going on around him and actively supports all naval interests whether they be in the Mess, the busy social life of Malta, or the sports field."

Barrow became from 1971-73 Commander, RNC Dartmouth, where, Admiral Andrew Mackenzie Lewis, Commander-in-Chief, Naval Home Command, noted: "he ran an unusual and lively Wardroom with a light touch which is a delight to watch."

Barrow was deputy director, recruiting, from 1975-77, and rose to be Assistant Chief of Staff (Ops) to the Commander, Allied Naval Forces Southern Europe at Naples. His commands before Glamorgan, which he took over in 1980, included the minesweepers Caunton and Laleston, and the frigates Mohawk, Torquay, and Diomede.

Barrow's last post in the Royal Navy was as ADC to the Queen, and he retired in 1983, being appointed, from 1984, a Gentleman Usher to the Queen. He became Clerk – that is, chief executive – to the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers in 1983, supporting in particular many projects in education until 1995. Thereafter he maintained a passionate interest in the Company's affairs, sitting as "assistant honoris causa emeritus" on the governing body, the Court, of whose proceedings he was reading the Minutes only two days before his death. He is survived by his wife, Judy, sons Roddy and Andrew, and daughter Suzanne.

Michael Ernest Barrow, Royal Navy captain: born Hampshire 21 May 1932; married 1962 Judith Ann Cooper (two sons, one daughter); DSO 1982; CVO 2002; died Portsmouth 28 April 2013.