Orders, Decorations and Medals (7 April 1994)

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Date of Auction: 7th April 1994

Sold for £4,200

Estimate: £3,000 - £4,000

The important 'Stringbag' D.S.O. awarded to Commander T.P. 'Tim' Coode, 818 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, H.M.S. Ark Royal, who led the flight of Swordfish that crippled the Bismarck, together with other family medals and a large quantity of documents and photographs

a. DISTINGUISHED SERVICE ORDER, G.VI.R., reverse of the suspension bar officially dated '1941' in its Garrard & Co. case of issue, together with original Warrant for the D.S.O. (Lieutenant-Commander T. P. Coode, Royal Navy, H.M.S. Ark Royal) dated 16 September 1941, Admiralty letters concerning his death, 'Neptune' certificate 1936, letters of condolence, portrait photographs including some of his childhood and a wealth of personal letters and documents, good very fine

b. Pair: Rear Admiral T.P. Coode, Royal Navy
BALTIC 1854, unnamed as issued; ROYAL NAVAL COLLEGE, Second Mathematical Prize, silver medal, W.IV.R., inscribed (Awarded to Trevenen Penrose Coode, Christmas Vacation 1836) 57mm, together with contemporary coloured portrait and daguerrotype portrait, both of the recipient in uniform wearing his Baltic medal, toned, good very fine

c. Four: Miss P. Coode, 2nd Officer, Women's - Royal Naval Service 1939-45 STAR; AFRICA STAR; DEFENCE AND WAR MEDALS, these in original card box of issue with forwarding slip together with several portrait photographs, good very fine

Footnote

(lot) At 19.10 hours on the 26 May 1941, Striking Force Leader Commander 'Tim' Coode opened the throttle of his Swordfish 5A and sped off the rolling decks of Ark Royal. The carrier had been pitching up to fifty feet in stormy seas, and with cloud level as low as 600 feet, the task ahead seemed suicidal. But if this gallant gentleman and his band of warriors doubted the effects which their ensuing attack might have on the enemy, Kapitan Lindemann of the Bismarck had reason to believe otherwise. The previous day he had witnessed the bravery of these 'Mad-dog Englishmen' in a similar attack launched by Victorious. Indeed he was all too aware that he might be eating 'kippers' for breakfast, care of the Fleet Air Arm. Behind Coode's climbing 'Stringbag', on the windswept decks of Ark Royal, anxious crew members saw another fourteen Swordfish depart and disappear into the bleak and stormy sky, each sent on its way by a wave from the green flag of Commander Traill, up on the bridge. Circling over Tovey's flagship, H.M.S. Renown, Coode was gratified by the safe arrival of all elements of his fragile task force. Picking up a course to H.M.S. Sheffield, his second rendezvous point, he waved on the Swordfish. Unbeknown to them, they were embarking on what is now recognised as one of the most celebrated missions ever flown by the Fleet Air Arm. Just hours before another force from Ark Royal had erroneously dropped 11 torpedoes against H.M.S. Sheffield such were the weather conditions and communications on that fateful day in 1941. 'Sorry for the kipper' had been the remorseful message sent by one Pilot to Captain Larcom, who stood shaken on the bridge of his fast manoeuvring cruiser. Admiral Somerville, no less disturbed, indulged in a tirade of four letter expletives which would have shocked the ears of the toughest stoker. The awesome responsibility of restoring confidence in the Fleet Air Arm and 'kippering' the Bismarck now rested on the shoulders of Coode and his fellow aviators. Indeed the hopes of all their fellow countrymen relied on the outcome of this bravest of encounters. No one else was going to stop the Bismarck reaching Brest

Commander Trevenen Penrose 'Tim' Coode, D.S.O., was the only son of Read-Admiral C.P.R. Coode, C.B., D.S.O., and a great-grandson of Admiral of the Fleet Sir George Callaghan. A Devonshire man, he entered the Royal Navy as a Cadet in 1920 and first saw service at sea aboard H.M.S. Barham. Promoted to Sub-Lieutenant in 1928, he was next appointed to H.M.S. Colombo but two years later, after a tour in the West Indies, he returned home to join the Fleet Air Arm. After qualifying as a Pilot he saw service aboard the carriers Glorious and Courageous, and the cruisers Leander and Achilles, and in April 1939, shortly after being promoted to Lieutenant-Commander, he joined the Hermes.

Quickly establishing himself as a likeable and courageous Flight Commander, Coode was selected, in early July 1940, to participate in an attack by six Swordfish against the French battleship Richelieu in Dakar Harbour. The Swordfish, which arrived after Lieutenant-Commander 'Bobby' Bristowe had dropped depth charges from a hastily armed motor-launch from Hermes, scored one torpedo hit. Bristowe received a well-merited D.S.O., having escaped the harbour after a completely successful surprise attack. Coode was mentioned in despatches (London Gazette 6 September, 1940).

It was Coode's next appointment, however, that would lead to wider fame and recognition. Soon after the Dakar attack, he was posted to the legendary Ark Royal. As Commanding Officer of No. 818 Squadron, he would shortly participate in one of the Fleet Air Arm's most celebrated torpedo strikes, second only to the devastating blow which had been delivered at Taranto. Ever since breaking out from Scandinavian waters, the Bismarck, the enemy's mightiest battleship, had been the haunting menace of all Allied ships at sea. Gradually the net closed as Admiral Tovey and Somerville's Force ‘H’ maintained their determined vigil.

On the night of 24/25 May, in an effort to slow down the Bismarck, Tovey had ordered a Swordfish strike from H.M.S. Victorious. Accordingly, a Flight under Eugene Esmonde, shortly to be recipient of the Victoria Cross, attacked in atrocious weather conditions. Only one ‘kipper’ found its mark but damage was negligible. As the chase continued, Tovey was already planning the next strike to be delivered by the Fleet Air Arm. On this occasion disaster nearly struck, the Striking Force under Lieutenant-Commander Stewart-Moore mistaking H.M.S. Sheffield as their target. Miraculously, either their ‘kippers’ malfunctioned or were avoided by the skilled manoeuvring of Sheffield.

About this time, staring at a grey stormy horizon from the bridge of U-556, Kapitan Herbert Wohlfarth strained his eyes in disbelief. Emerging out of the gloom were the silhouettes of a large carrier and battleship. Clearing the bridge for an emergency crash dive, he cursed his bad luck. His last torpedoes had been expended on much smaller fry. Aboard the ‘large carrier’, Acting Commander Coode was just in the process of digesting his latest orders. He was to command Tovey's next aerial offensive. With elements of 810, 818 and 820 Squadrons, a total of 15 Swordfish carrying forty-three officers and men, he was to set off for the Bismarck as soon as the weather permitted. The unlucky Stewart-Moore would act as second-in-command and lead the second wave of the strike. They had no illusions about what lay ahead.

After an accident free departure from Ark Royal, under the watchful eyes of Commander Traill, and a morale boosting rendezvous over the Renown, Coode passed on the course for their next rendezvous, above the Sheffield. Departing in six Sub-Flights of two to three aircraft, a cold and bumpy journey of nearly one and a half hours brought them out over Captain Larcom's command. In a similar vein as Captain Blackwood who had once signalled Nelson, 'The enemy is coming out of harbour', Larcom reported to Coode 'The enemy is twelve miles dead ahead'. Next stop Bismarck.

Unfortunately the improving weather conditions deteriorated nearer their target, a cloud base of some 10,000 feet almost touching the windswept surface of the sea. Any chance of a co-ordinated attack was now impossible and Coode ordered his Sub Flights to engage independently. As Striking Force Leader, the gallant Commander was first to attack, sweeping down through the cloud and aiming for a position upwind of the mighty enemy battleship. As his altimeter needle spun down from 8,000 to under a 1,000 feet, there was still no sign of the cloud breaking. He wondered just how much further he dare descend before 'running out of height'. Mercifully at 700 feet his straining Swordfish, with the remainder of the Sub Flight in hot pursuit, suddenly cut through the cloud, only to emerge four miles ahead of the Bismarck rather than behind her. As the despondent aviators climbed rapidly for cloud cover, the Bismarck's guns were seen to open fire by Tovey's onlooking ships. It was nearly 21:00 hours and the duel was on.

Re-grouping out of the enemy's sight, Coode and his Flight re-emerged out of the cloud on the Bismarck port beam. Levelling out over the water at ninety feet, or thereabouts, they tried to carry out a precision attack: Speed 90 knots, Torpedo release 900 yards. Then all hell broke out as the flimsy Stringbags flew straight into a terrifying broadside from an anti-aircraft armoury that would be difficult to better. Brightly coloured streaks of tracer swished past, and into, their screaming Swordfish but none broke ranks. In the total confusion and noise of battle that reigned, it was difficult to see whether any of their ""kippers"" had struck home. Coode's observer, Edmond Carver thought not. But the observer of the No. 3 Sub Flight Swordfish which had inadvertently attached itself to Coode's force thought he saw a column of water amidships. The remainder of Coode's command now swept in with equal courage, delivering a succession of ‘kippers’ at the rate of two or three per Sub Flight. Within thirty minutes it was all over. Coode had remained behind as long as possible, circling the arena of combat, and was no doubt amazed to see that none of his men had gone down. Certainly some had been hit, one aircraft returning with 175 holes in her frame. There were, however, no fatalities. But as time would ultimately reveal, the enemy had been dealt a mortal blow. Of the three hits obtained by Coode's command, two had proved relatively harmless. The last, however, had crippled the Bismarck's steering gear. As the battered Swordfish made their way back to the Ark Royal, they hovered over Sheffield, waggling their wings. The Pilots' waves were met with rousing cheers from the bridge, Captain Larcom no doubt leaning towards forgiveness for the mistake made earlier that day. It was indeed an historic moment and the fruit reaped from their achievement was already assisting Admiral Tovey plot the Bismarck's end. For the Swordfish one more drama remained. Due to the appalling weather it took over an hour to get everyone back down on Ark Royal and three Pilots crash-landed. While two casualties were rushed off for treatment, the remainder were quickly debriefed. As a result, Captain Maund was able to signal Tovey, 'One hit amidships' and soon after 'Possible second hit on starboard quarter'. In fact the Bismarck was turning round in circles, now hours from meeting a gallant end.

Postscript:

On 25 January 1943, having just taken command of a Royal Naval Air Station in British East Africa, Commander Coode was killed in a flying accident. On 10th March, Naval Chaplain Fletcher wrote to Coode's mother, 'He was a really great and courageous man, and yet so humble about it all. It was not until his death that I realised it was he who torpedoed the Bismarck and stopped her'. On 8 June 1943, just over two years after her gallant son's exploits, Mrs Coode received from the King's hands his Distinguished Service Order. Commander Coode is buried in Mombasa New Cemetery, Kenya (Row A, Grave No. 60).

References:
‘Pursuit, The Chase and the Sinking of the Battleship Bismarck’, by Ludovic Kennedy (The Viking Press, 1974).
‘Find, Fix and Strike, The Fleet Air Arm at War, 1939-45’, by John Winton (B.T. Batsford, 1980).
‘The Discovery of the Bismarek’, by Dr. Robert D. Ballard (Guild Publishing, 1990).
‘Bismarck and Hood, Great Naval Adversaries’, by Paul J. Kemp (Arms and Armour Press, 1991).
‘The Swordfish Story’, by Ray Sturtivant, ISO (Arms and Armour Press, 1993).