Final WWII Royal Navy destroyer skipper joins the big fleet
John Errol Manners was the youngest son of RADM Sir Errol Manners, KBE, so it was natural that young John at age 17 became a midshipman in the Royal Navy in 1932. After all, his two brothers had preceded him in the “family business” and even his sister had served as a WREN.
After pre-war service on the royal yacht Britannia and a variety of torpedo boats in the Mediterranean and the Far East– while working on his cricket game– John was a junior officer on the cruiser HMS Birmingham on China Station when Hitler marched into Poland in 1939.
Quickly reassigned to the I-class destroyer HMS Eglinton (L87), then under construction in England, he rose fast and by February 1942 John was the temporary captain of the F-class destroyer HMS Fame (H78).
He then served as the first lieutenant of the hard-charging Tribal-class tin can HMS Eskimo (F75)— a ship that had famously lost her bow at Narvik and had to be rebuilt. By May 1943, after serving on Eskimo on dangerous convoy escort runs and Malta lifelines as well as supporting the Torch Landings in North Africa, John moved up to become the destroyer’s skipper in time for the Husky Landings in Sicily.
At the end of 1943, John, by then a lieutenant commander, was given the somewhat lateral position of commander of the elderly Great War era W-class destroyer HMS Viceroy (D91).
On that ship, while escorting Convoy FS 1874 off Sunderland, Viceroy counterattacked the German submarine U-1274 after the latter torpedoed the tanker Athelduke, eventually sinking the U-boat in a drawn-out action that left a dozen bottles of good French brandy floating on the surface and the German sub on the bottom. The booze saved, John forwarded it to the Admiralty– who in turn sent it to Churchill– with the regards of the Viceroy’s crew.
After accepting the German surrender of Trondheim, Norway in May 1945, followed up by anticlimactic post-war assignments on troopships and the battleship HMS King George V, LCDR John Manners, DSC, moved to the reserve list, moving on to his cricket game full time.
Manners, the world’s longest-lived first-class cricketer, who coincidentally held commands on three of HMs destroyers during WWII and accounted for a tricky U-boat with panache, passed last week, aged 105.