Obituary: Admiral Sir Guy Grantham
Thursday 17 September 1992
GUY GRANTHAM was one of the last and most distinguished members of an important generation of naval officers; that which fought successfully against the odds in the Second World War and then went on to undertake different but no less serious battles in Whitehall to ensure the survival of the service in the decade and a half after 1945.
Grantham was born in 1900 and was educated at Rugby, joining the Royal Navy at 18 as a 'Special', or 'Public School' Entry. He specialised as a submariner but also served in the battle- cruiser Hood and at Dartmouth. After commanding two submarines he was promoted captain at the early age of 37 and joined the staff of the C-in-C Mediterranean Fleet, Admiral Sir Dudley Pound. When Pound became First Sea Lord in 1939 he took Grantham with him as Naval Assistant. In 1940 Capt Grantham assumed command of HMS Phoebe, a brand-new 'Dido'-class light cruiser. Phoebe distinguished herself in the evacuation from Greece for which Grantham was awarded the DSO. She also helped escort the vital 'Tiger' convoy to Egypt and took part in the harrowing operations around Crete.
In August 1941 Phoebe was damaged by a torpedo bomber. She was sent to the US for repairs but Admiral Cunningham, the Fleet C-in-C, kept Grantham and made him Western Desert Naval Liaison Officer. After being mentioned in dispatches Grantham returned to sea in January 1942 with another 'Dido', HMS Naiad, flagship of Rear-Admiral Philip Vian and the 15th Cruiser Squadron. When Naiad was torpedoed and sunk by a U-boat on 11 March 1942 Grantham, with no life- jacket, helped sailors who were less strong swimmers to life rafts and refused to join one himself as they were overcrowded. Vian describes Grantham as being 'at the end of his tether' when he was eventually picked up.
Three days later Vian and Grantham joined their new flagship, HMS Cleopatra, and less than a week later the squadron was at sea escorting convoy MW10 to Malta. On 22 March 1942 MW10 was attacked by the Italian Fleet, which Vian's much weaker escort held off. This second Battle of Birte was one of the most brilliant actions in the history of the Royal Navy and Grantham was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath. He was next appointed to command the aircraft carrier Indomitable but the ship was damaged covering the landings in Sicily. Grantham again was too good to lose and he was made Chief of Staff to Admiral Vian, now commanding the cruisers supporting the Salerno landings. After a second mention in dispatches Grantham became Director of Plans on the Naval Staff at the Admiralty. He attended the conferences at Quebec, Yalta and Potsdam and was appointed CBE in 1946.
That year he returned to the Mediterranean fleet, the most active component of the post-war Royal Navy, as Chief of Staff. This brought promotion to Rear-Admiral in 1947 and he was an obvious choice as the next Flag Officer Submarines. After two years with his old branch he returned in 1950 to Mediterranean Fleet as Flag Officer (Air) and Second in Command. With such broad experience he was an obvious choice as Vice-Chief of Naval Staff, in charge of all the operational aspects of policy at the Admiralty.
When he arrived in Whitehall in July 1951, Vice-Admiral Gran tham found a rearmament programme that was already breaking down. The election shortly thereafter of a Conservative government committed to improving the standard of living rather than trying to press ahead with its predecessor's over-ambitious defence plans marked the beginning of a period of struggle not only to protect the Navy from the worst cuts but also to reshape the fleet for the nuclear age. The main enemy was the Minister of Supply, Duncan Sandys, Churchill's son-in-law, who made a particular attack on the aircraft- carrier programme. In July 1953, the First Sea Lord, Sir Rhoderick McGrigor, sent Sir Guy Gran tham (as he had been since June 1952) and the Director of Naval Intelligence to give Sandys a seminar on the role of the Navy in the new strategic circumstances. Despite a clear and sensible presentation, Sandys remained unmoved. The 'Radical Review' went on until the end of 1954 when Grantham departed from the Admiralty but by that time not only had Grantham and his colleagues assured the future of the carrier programme but the Navy was on course to reshaping itself into a smaller but still powerful and efficient fleet more orientated to limited war duties than to preparations for a global holocaust.
Grantham had been promoted full Admiral in October 1953 and his next job was to replace Mountbatten as C-in-C Mediterranean Station and Nato Commander Allied Forces Mediterranean. When the Suez Crisis broke in July 1956 Grantham was strongly in favour of taking decisive naval action early. This was considered too risky and, as the affair dragged on, Grantham was in the almost impossible situation of planning both 'Musketeer', war against Egypt on Israel's side, or 'Cordage', war against Israel in defence of Jordan. When 'Musketeer' was chosen Grantham hoped for 'a good show if we bring it off' but was infuriated by last-minute changes of plan. The landings at Port Said were an operational success, but by November 1956 the political context was all wrong.
'Granny' Grantham was a straightforward sea officer, very correct and professional in all things. He was a kind and considerate commander popular with and respected by both the wardroom and the lower deck. He was made C-in-C Portsmouth and Nato C-in-C Channel in 1957 and was naturally considered as a potential First Sea Lord to follow Mountbatten in 1959. Mountbatten respected Grantham as a fleet commander but wanted someone with his own high-profile political style and whom he knew thought the same way on defence unification. The Earl of Selkirk, the First Lord, wanted Grantham but Mountbatten had the ear of Sandys, now Minister of Defence. Sandys backed Mountbatten in choosing the latter's close friend Sir Charles Lambe. Given Lambe's illness and premature death this may not have been for the best. Grantham was compensated by the governorship of Malta, a post he held with distinction until 1962.
From 1963 to 1970 Grantham was Chairman of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. He was a self-effacing man who believed in the traditions of the 'Silent Service' and in his last years refused to grant interviews or write any memoirs. He is in danger, therefore, of being forgotten. No one, however, made a greater personal contribution to the history of the Royal Navy in the first half of this century.
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