Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (24 & 25 February 2016)
Date of Auction: 24th & 25th February 2016
Sold for £2,000
Estimate: £1,200 - £1,500
Ark Royal, by William Jameson, describes the aircraft carrier’s ordeal at Cape Spartivento on 27 November 1940, when commanded by Captain C. S. Holland, C.B., R.N.
‘Captain Holland, whose health had for some time been worrying Surgeon-Commander Williams (there are few, if any, more demanding jobs than captain of an aircraft carrier), was to be relieved by Captain L. E. H. Maund. The ship’s company was sad to see “Hookie” go; perhaps the young pilots were saddest of all, for they felt their Captain, sensitive and understanding as he was, appreciated their very special problems ... Many of the pilots, young and sometimes rather brash, were new to Service life. To get the best from them - and effectiveness of the entire ship depended on them giving of their best - needed leadership of a particular kind. “He made us feel important,” said one of them afterwards. What finer tribute could a carrier captain wish to have?’
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, C.B. (Military) Companion’s neck badge, silver-gilt and enamel; 1914-15 Star (Lieut. C. S. Holland, R.N.); British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (Lieut. C. S. Holland, R.N.); 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Africa Star; Defence and War Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf; Jubilee 1935; Coronation 1937; Italy, Order of the Crown, Knight’s breast badge, gold and enamel; United States of America, Order of Merit, Commander’s neck badge, gilt and enamel, the Italian badge lacking its obverse centre-piece, otherwise generally good very fine (13) £1200-1500
FootnoteC.B. London Gazette 1 January 1945.
Cedric Swinton Holland was born in October 1889, the son of Admiral Swinton Holland and entered Britannia as a Cadet in 1905. He first went to sea as a Midshipman in H.M.S. Sussex in May of the following year and, having been advanced to Sub. Lieutenant in September 1909, served in the royal yacht Victoria & Albert.
By the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, he was serving in the cruiser Shannon in the Grand Fleet, the flagship of Admiral Sir Charles Madden, C.O. of the 2nd Cruiser Squadron. He remained similarly employed until specialising in signals, as a consequence of which he was appointed Flag Lieutenant to Rear-Admiral Mark Kerr in his flagship the Queen Elizabeth in the Adriatic in the summer of 1916. Then from April 1917 until the end of the war, he served as Wireless Officer on the staff of Admiral Beatty. He was awarded the Italian Order of the Crown and mentioned in despatches (London Gazette 5 April 1919, refers).
Following his advancement to Commander in December 1924, Holland qualified at the Staff College and served as Executive Officer of the cruiser Kent on the China Station, before returning to Staff College as an instructor in 1930. Advanced to Captain in June 1932, and after a year on special service, he commanded the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean from 1934 to 1936, following which he attended the Imperial Staff College. Then in 1938 he was appointed Naval Attaché in Paris, in which capacity he was still employed on the renewal of hostilities.
Ark Royal - Norway
On his return to the U.K. he was appointed to the command of the aircraft carrier Ark Royal in April 1940, the commencement of a memorable period of operations. A good summary of Holland’s period of command, which ended in April 1941, appears in Sea Breezes (Vol. 47, No. 336, December 1973):
‘The next interesting phase of the Ark Royal was to begin on 23 April 1940 when, commanded by Captain C. S. Holland and accompanied by the carrier Glorious, she sailed from Scapa for Norway. Hitler had invaded that country on 10 April while the two carriers had been ‘working up’ in the Mediterranean. Now, after a hurried dash to home waters both ships were to provide cover for naval ships, convoys and the troops on landing. Also it was required that their aircraft should attack German occupied airfields in Norway.
At that time ship-based aircraft were subject to greater limitations of performance than are the modern “Phantom” aircraft serving with the Fleet today. Because of this, they were no match for the planes of the German Air Force they were to meet. However what the naval airmen lacked in aircraft performance, they more than made up in skill and determination, the Skuas in their fighter role shooting down at least 20 enemy aircraft and damaging many others. The Swordfish as bombers even used their lack of speed and ability to fly at nought feet over the water, to an advantage.
The carriers themselves were at great risk throughout this operation, not only from the enemy aircraft but also the German heavy ships. Just how great the risk was can be seen by the fact that the Glorious and the destroyers Ardent and Acasta were intercepted and sunk by the battle cruiser Scharnhorst on 8 June.
Five days later, at midnight on 13 June, 15 Skuas left the Ark Royal to attack the Scharnhorst, then in Trondheim harbour some 50 miles from the coast. This gave the aircraft approximately 160 miles to cover and, with the perpetual daylight of that time of the year, any surprise element in the attack was impossible.
In the face of intense anti-aircraft fire from the Scharnhorst, two cruisers, four destroyers and the shore batteries, the aircraft pressed home their attack in two waves. These were led by Lieutenant-Commander J. Casson, R.N. and Captain R. T. Partridge, R.M. The two leaders were among the 16 pilots and observers lost during the raid. The following day, with the evacuation of Norway complete, the Ark Royal returned to Scapa.’
Churchill’s ‘Melancholy Action’ - destruction of the French Fleet
Sea Breezes continues:
‘The 18 June 1940 saw the Ark Royal leaving Scapa to play her part in what Winston Churchill described as “This Melancholy Action”. She was joining Force H at Gibraltar, and on 3 July with the remainder of the force, approached Oran.
With the capitulation of France the future of the French fleet was a matter of grave concern to the British Government. At Oran and the nearby military port of Mers-el-Kebir lay the new battle cruisers Strasbourg and Dunkerque, with two battleships, several light cruisers, destroyers and submarines. Captain Holland of the Ark Royal who had been Naval Attache in Paris was sent inshore to discuss the situation with Admiral Gensoul.
The French Admiral declined to receive Captain Holland so the latter could only forward the British proposals in the form of a document.
Briefly the British proposed that the French Fleet should continue to operate with the Royal Navy or sail under British control to a British port the crews being repatriated on arrival. An alternative was for the ships to be demilitarised in the French West Indies. Should the French Admiral decline these offers he would be required to sink his ships within six hours.
In the event of failure to agree with any of these proposals, the Flag Officer of Force H was to use whatever force necessary to prevent these ships from falling into enemy hands.
Admiral Gensoul, faced with this document, decided to talk to Captain Holland and the discussion to prevent a battle between allies went on for several hours.’
At length, however, all of Holland’s efforts proved to be in vain. William Jameon’s Ark Royal takes up the story:
‘In a last effort to avert what he had always felt to be a calamitous outcome, Captain Holland signalled to the Hood shortly before 1600: “Admiral says crews being reduced, and if threatened by the enemy, would go to Martinique or U.S.A. This is not exactly our proposition, but I can get no nearer.”
Hardly had the message been sent when the French Admiralty's reply to Gensoul's message of 1200 arrived, instructing him to inform the British intermediary that Darlan had ordered all French forces in the Mediterranean to close Oran. Shortly afterwards Admiral Somerville sent out his final signal, this time direct to the Dunkerque: “If one of British propositions is not accepted by 1730 B.S.T.- I repeat 1730 B.S.T. - I will have to sink your ships.”
At 1625 Captain Holland was seen into his boat by Admiral Gensoul. Before he could rejoin the Foxhound, lying off the boom, shells were falling on Mers-el-Kebir … The destroyers Foxhound and Forester, which had brought our delegates to confer with Admiral Gensoul, came under heavy fire, but miraculously escaped untouched, though repeatedly straddles by salvoes from the French destroyers and the Strasbourg.’
Sea Breezes continues:
‘Just before the shooting began, the Strasbourg and six destroyers in a fine feat of seamanship, broke out of the harbour eluding Force H and steamed eastwards at full speed. Six Swordfish bombed up and set off in pursuit. On sighting the Strasbourg they attacked, their bombs straddling the ship but scoring no hits.
Meanwhile off Oran the tragedy had begun as the ships of Force H opened fire. The bombardment lasted for 10 minutes with Swordfish spotting for the guns. Five other Swordfish escorted by Skuas mined the harbour entrance: as a result of the bombardment the battleship Bretagne and two destroyers were sunk, and the Dunkerque damaged and run ashore.
At 8 p.m. that evening a second strike of Swordfish left the Ark Royal to attack the Strasbourg and her destroyers. They found the ships steaming at 28 knots and making smoke some three miles from the North African coast.
The Swordfish went into action, dropping their torpedoes outside the destroyer screen and, although they reported one hit, the Strasbourg steamed on into the gathering darkness.
Reconnaissance reports over the harbour at Oran the next day showed that the Dunkerque although ashore, was not permanently out of action. Reluctant to order another bombardment, Admiral Sir James Somerville sent in two squadrons of Swordfish armed with torpedoes.
The two squadrons left the Ark Royal at 5.15 a.m. on 6 July, arriving over the harbour at sunrise. Attacking in three waves at least four torpedoes hit the target, and the Dunkerque was out of action for a long time to come.
The fact that it had been necessary to mount such attacks against a former ally soured any sense of achievement. For the naval airmen some lessons had been learned among them the fact that it was necessary to get inside the destroyer screen when attacking a capital ship with torpedoes, and that torpedo carrying aircraft were a force to be reckoned with, whether by night or day.’
Further operations in the “Ark”
Sea Breezes continues:
‘The Ark Royal was to be involved in an equally unpleasant task later in the year when on 23 September she accompanied General de Gaulles's forces to Dakar as Force M. Resistance to the General by the forces in Dakar led to the landing being abandoned.
In between that time, the Ark Royal and her aircraft were in combat with the Italian Air Force. On 9 July a strike was launched against Cagliari on the South Coast of Sardinia with bomb and mine laying aircraft. Against intense anti-aircraft fire and later fighter attacks, the aid was pressed home. One Swordfish force landed on an enemy airfield during the raid and the crew were taken prisoner. On 2 and 3 September 2 two more attacks were mounted against Cagliari, and again on 9 November when, after refuelling, the Ark Royal returned to the attack, this time with Fairey Fulmars replacing the Skuas.
The 27 November saw the Ark Royal and the remainder of Force H escorting an Eastbound convoy south west of Sardinia. A Swordfish on reconnaissance sighted an Italian force of two battleships, six cruisers and 16 destroyers. Force H turned to attack. It was necessary to slow down the enemy ships if they were to be brought to action, so 11 torpedo carrying Swordfish took off. Twenty minutes later they sighted the Italian cruisers steaming in two columns and the two battleships screened by seven destroyers. The cruisers were being engaged by advanced units of Force H.
The Swordfish swooped into the attack concentrating on the two battleships and dropping their torpedoes inside the destroyer screen. The leading ship, the Vittorio Veneto was hit abaft the after funnel and there were explosions astern of her and ahead of the second ship, one of the “Cavour” class.
A second strike was airborne an hour later and attacked the cruisers. Unfortunately in spite of the recorded hits the enemy speed was still such that the Renown was unable to bring them to action.
Because of the flying operations, the Ark Royal was operating some three miles from the main force and became a major target for the Regia Aeronautica. Squadrons of Savoia 79s repeatedly attacked the carrier, and several times observers onboard the flagship thought the Ark Royal had been sunk; then she emerged un-damaged from the welter of smoke and spray.
In the weeks that followed, the Ark Royal carried out the work of war as a floating aerodrome for air reconnaissance and search, covering the movements of Force H and the convoys they escorted. There were repeated actions against the Italian Air Force in which the naval airmen fought with great determination … ’
Owing to ill-health caused by the strain of senior command, Holland came ashore in April 1941, the same year in which he was appointed an A.D.C. to the King. He was twice mentioned in despatches (London Gazettes 1 July 1941 and 6 January 1942, refer).
Having then been advanced to flag rank, he served as Director of the Signal (Wireless and Radar) Department at the Admiralty until November 1943, when he was appointed to the staff of the Eastern Fleet in Colombo.
Far East - journey’s end
He was awarded the C.B. and promoted to Vice-Admiral and, with his flag in the cruiser Sussex, departed Trincomalee in late August 1945, with overall command of the force that occupied Penang on 3 September and Singapore two days later. He was subsequently among those present at the official surrender ceremony of Japanese forces in South-East Asia and was appointed a Commander of the American Legion of Merit (London Gazette 13 August 1948, refers).
Holland was placed on the Retired List in 1946 and served as Chairman of King George’s Fund for Sailors until 1949. He died in London in May 1950; sold with copied research.