Obituary: Capt Henry Denham

Henry Mangles Denham, naval officer, yachtsman, writer: born 9 September 1897; served Royal Navy 1910-47; naval attache, Scandinavian Countries 1940, Stockholm 1940-47; CMG 1945; married 1924 Madge Currie (deceased; one son, two daughters); died London 15 July 1993.

HENRY DENHAM's life as a naval officer and writer was full and varied, ending in his 96th year.

Osborne and Dartmouth embarked Denham on HMS Agamemnon as a midshipman of 16 for the Dardanelles, a period recorded in a book of his diaries and notes, Dardanelles: a midshipman's diary (1981). He describes how he ferried troops ashore and coped with such disasters as a Turkish shell bursting in the wardroom and killing 30 men, how they cleaned up the mess and then recovered from the shock with a game of water polo. He visited Turkey again later in life when he had given up sailing and was interested in submarine archaeology. He made friends with Turkish harbourmasters and one said to him that the British were the bravest enemies they had ever met.

Denham's bravery was legendary and so was his understanding of his enemies including Admiral Erich Raeder, the Commander-in-Chief of the German navy, whom he met at the Kiel regatta in 1936. Denham also got to know the German navy when he was second-in-command of the cruiser Penelope during the Spanish Civil War. He had had some interesting postings after the First World War: a year at Magdalene College, Cambridge, occupying the Rhine with the Rhine flotilla, a round-the-world cruise with the Prince of Wales and Lt Dickie Mountbatten on HMS Renown. In the inter-war years he served on HMS Warspite and Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean where he was able to indulge in his favourite sport of sailing. He was then posted to shore jobs because his ears had been damaged by gunfire and after a turn with naval intelligence was appointed naval attache to the Scandinavian countries in 1940. Based in Copenhagen, he was captured with the whole of the British legation by the Germans on their invasion of Denmark but after repatriation was sent out again as naval attache to Sweden where he arrived just as we were finally pulling out of Norway at the time of the collapse of France.

In Sweden Denham became one of the key sources of British intelligence in the Second World War and the Swedes under German pressure tried to have him declared persona non grata no less than eight times, each of which we resisted. Denham prided himself on never using a paid agent and relying on people who were good friends such as the Norwegian military attache, Col Roscherlund, who had an invaluable friend in an independent intelligence organisation, the C Bureau under Major Petersen, who was the originator of the first report on the breakout of the Bismarck. Ebbe Munck, the Danish Arctic explorer and journalist, was an old friend and a steady source of information on Denmark while the Dutch consul-general kept up a flow of information from the Netherlands. Denham's Polish contacts were loyal friends but their contribution to intelligence was very low grade. He was offered the post of naval attache in Poland after the war but he refused as he disliked the government and felt it would have been disloyal to his Polish friends if he accepted.

While before the Battle of El Alamein there was little help in this field from the Swedes themselves there were exceptions as in the case of Col Bjornstjerna. He and his family became close friends of Denham's and he treasured a small silver salver belonging to Bjornstjerna's ancestor Count Morner, the intermediary who had persuaded Marshal Bernadot to become the Crown Prince of Sweden. It was Bernadot who joined the allies against Napoleon, an allegiance of which the Bjornstjerna family were always proud.

The colonel had been Swedish military attache in London and was now a director of Swedish combined intelligence and as such read the decrypted intercepts of all secret German Geheimschreiber messages to Norway. Denham regularly visited Bjornstjerna, who gave him an oral account of what they knew on the naval side. Denham took no notes and used to run back to his office to get the message off to London. The Abwehr spotted what was going on. The Swedish Commander-in-Chief, General Thornell, dismissed Bjornstjerna from the service but his successor became a friend and was equally helpful.

Apart from his talent for friendship Denham was also a helper to those whose careers were blighted by events. There was Hagman, the commander of the Swedish convoy with the four Italian warships being escorted from Italy to Sweden who were forced to surrender their ships to the British in the Faeroes in spite of his officers opting to stand and fight. When he finally arrived in Gothenburg, Hagman came ashore alone to be met only by Denham and a virulent display of revenge by the C-in-C of the Swedish navy who said that no officer in future should ever surrender his ships. In fact Hagman had saved Sweden entering the war as an ally of Germany, an act for which Winston Churchill said he should have had a medal struck. Another case was that of Count Oxenstjerna, the Swedish naval attache in London who was refused re-entry to the UK after going home on leave after wrongly being suspected of being the source of the infamous 'Josephine' messages to the Abwehr from London. Denham took his side but London did not relent.

Denham's talent for friendship and kindness to the underdog was matched by the good humour with which he revealed the spying of the Swedish secret police with their microphone in the chimney of his flat taking a party up to his attic to surprise the spies listening in. He was a keen sportsman and apart from tennis and squash spent what time he could sailing his Dragon on Lake Malar. He played an important part in the steel specialist George Binney's daring blockade-busting operation to get special steels and tools to England.

When he retired in 1947 Denham cruised the Mediterranean in his yacht and during this period wrote his many guides to the seas and coasts of the Mediterranean. He gave up sailing when he fell off his mast in a storm and concluded that he must put an end to it; he did not believe it right to sail unless you could do so single-handed. He was a keen member of the Royal Cruising Club and the Royal Yacht Squadron. As a thank you for his wartime achievements he was awarded one of the very few CMGs given to naval officers and was also decorated by allied governments.

(Photograph omitted)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering