Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (27 & 28 September 2017)

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Date of Auction: 27th & 28th September 2017

Sold for £8,000

Estimate: £3,000 - £4,000

An outstanding 1940 ‘Swordfish Observer’s’ D.S.M. group of four awarded to Warrant Air Officer (O), later Lieutenant-Commander, A. H. Marsh, 824 and 813 Squadrons, Fleet Air Arm, for his part in the devastating attack on Italian shipping in Bomba Bay, 23 August 1940. Flying in one of three Swordfish designated for the attack on 2 submarines, a depot ship and a destroyer, he and his pilot shared in the destruction of the Italian submarine Iride, and successfully torpedoed the Monte Gargano. In a matter of minutes the sub-flight left 3 of the 4 vessels blazing. Marsh was shot down during a raid on the Italian held airfield at Maritza, Rhodes, 4 September 1940. Having crash landed on a small island north of Rhodes, Marsh and his crew acquired a rowing boat and attempted to sail the 12 miles to the Turkish coast - they were spotted by a Flying Boat and intercepted 2 miles short of their goal by an Italian M.T.B. Marsh was a P.O.W. in Italy for three years before making good his escape through German positions three days after Italy had surrendered

Distinguished Service Medal, G.VI.R. (FX.76331 A. H. Marsh. P.O. R.N.) largely officially re-impressed; 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; War Medal 1939-45, mounted for wear, generally nearly very fine or better (4) £3000-4000


D.S.M. London Gazette 14 January 1941:

‘For courage, skill and enterprise in an attack on Italian warships.’

Seedies Roll gives ‘For a torpedo attack by Swordfish aircraft on El Gazala on 23 August 1940.’

Alfred Henry Marsh was born in Andover, Hampshire, in October 1915, and was educated at Andover Grammar School. He joined the Royal Navy as a Boy Second Class in March 1932, and advanced to Leading Seaman in 1937. Marsh transferred to the Fleet Air Arm in May of the same year, was confirmed as Air Gunner in October, and was appointed Leading Airman in August 1939. He served at H.M.S. Peregrine September 1939 - February 1940, during which time he advanced to Acting Petty Officer Airman. He served with H.M.S. Orion (cruiser), February - June 1940. She was originally equipped with a Fairey Seafox which was subsequently replaced by a Walrus, and during Marsh’s period of service she transferred to the Mediterranean. He was confirmed as an Observer in July 1940, and subsequent Second War service included with H.M. ships Liverpool and Eagle.

He served as part of 824 Squadron (Swordfish) with H.M.S. Eagle (aircraft carrier) in the Mediterranean. He was crewed with Lieutenant (A) J. W. G. Wellham, R.N., and forged a successful partnership with his pilot. The Squadron received intelligence of four Italian ships being present in Bomba Bay, Libya, and as a consequence dispatched three Swordfish to attack the target. The sub-flight under the command of Captain O. Patch, R.M., took off from Sidi Barrani (having refuelled there) on the morning of 23 August 1940.

The Italian ships comprised of two submarines, a destroyer and a depot ship. Wellham’s combat report gives the following details on the raid which accounted for the destruction of, or serious damage to, 4 ships with 3 torpedoes and machine gun fire:

‘The target was approached in open vic formation from the North-west at a height of 30 feet. The first ship to come within range was a submarine which appeared to be charging her batteries on the surface, about 4 miles from shore.

I observed Captain Patch preparing to attack this ship, so broke away from the formation and passed the submarine on my starboard side. She was firing with twin machine guns, one forward and one aft on the conning tower. They appeared, from the size of the bullets, to be .5”

Petty Officer Marsh opened fire with his Lewis gun. A few seconds later the submarine [the Iride] blew up, leaving only a small fraction of the stern above the surface [the explosion was primarily caused by Patch’s torpedo].

We were now under fire of 4” H.A. from the depot ship [Monte Gargano] which was lying about 3 miles inshore of the submarine. As we closed this ship it became apparent that there was a destroyer lying alongside her on her port side and a submarine lying alongside the destroyer. The destroyer opened fire with pom-pom, multi machine guns and .5’s. The fire was accurate and at 3,000 yards range my aircraft was struck by a .5” bullet which entered the bottom of the aircraft and struck the forward main spar, the petrol tank and did a certain amount of minor damage.

At a range of about 500 yards I dropped my torpedo on a bearing of green 45 degrees from the depot ship. I observed Lieut. Cheesman’s torpedo strike the submarine and explode. Three seconds later my torpedo exploded on the depot ship just forward amidships. The ship was left blazing furiously.

Four minutes later there was a further large explosion which caused smoke to rise to a height of 300 feet. All three ships were then blazing.

I then turned on to a North easterly course and joined Lieut. Cheesman. About 40 miles from the coast a Cant. Z. 501 flying boat passed over us but did not engage us.

We then intercepted Captain Patch and returned to Sidi Barrani, landing with about 5 gallons of petrol remaining.’

The disposition of the ships had not been known prior to take off, and as such no pre-arranged plan of attack was in place. Patch ‘navigated the sub-flight with great accuracy to the targets, the whole of the track out and back being out of sight of land and the total distance flown 366 miles.... It is clear, from the individual reports, that good co-operation between pilot and observer existed in all three aircraft. The Rear Gunner fire of Petty Officer Airman Marsh and Sub-Lieutenant (A) Bradford on the submarine attack by Captain Patch, must have facilitated the latter’s “get away” to a considerable extent.’ (The Commanding Officer, H.M.S Eagle, report refers).

In total 1 D.S.O., 4 D.S.C.’s and Marsh’s D.S.M. were awarded for the raid over Bomba Bay.

Marsh transferred to 813 Squadron at the start of September 1940. Still operating from H.M.S. Eagle in the Mediterranean, he took off for a dawn raid, 4 September 1940. This time, with Lieutenant D. N. Collins, R.N. as his pilot, Marsh took part in the attack on the Italian held airfield at Maritza, Rhodes. The airfield defences had been alerted and were prepared prior to the arrival of the Swordfish, and a number of the aircraft were shot down by Italian fighters from the 163a Squadriglia Autonoma. Collins and Marsh were shot down, and the latter’s MI9 debrief gives the following:

‘We were attacked by Italian fighters (CR 42) and crashed on a small island directly South of the island of Symi, which is about 15 miles North of Rhodes.

There appeared to be only Italian peasants on the island, and within a few minutes we found a small rowing boat. While the two [Collins and Leading Airman A. Wilson, R.N.] others rigged up sail I held off three Italians with our Lewis gun. We then set sail, making for Cape Aiepo (Turkey) about 12 miles away.

After we had gone about 10 miles, and could see the waves breaking against the rocks at Cape Aiepo we were located by an Italian flying boat, and shortly afterwards were intercepted by an Italian M.T.B. which took us on board. We were taken via the M.T.B. depot ship to Rhodes where we were kept six days until 10 Sep. We were then flown to Rome.’

Marsh was imprisoned at Campo 78, Sulmona, 16 September 1940 - 1 April 1943. He transferred to Campo 70, Monte Urano, in April 1943, and as his debrief shows, escaped:

‘On the night of 11 Sep [1943] along with nine others I left Campo 70, which at that time was still in Italian hands [the Italians having surrendered on 8 September] and patrolled by British and Italian guards. We left about 2100 hrs, the party being under R.S.M. Hennesey, Grenadier Guards, who was in charge of the British guard on the outer perimeter. He marched us out of the camp as though we were a search party going out for deserters. No one questioned our departure. Outside we split into two parties of five... I heard later that this [the other party] was captured by the Germans near the camp the day after they escaped.

After leaving the camp, we went South by the following route: - Moresco, Bellante, East of Teramo, Penne, West of Chieti, Guardiagrele, East of Casoli, S. Giovanni, Gissi, Palata, Lariso.

On the journey we lived at farms and got plenty of food from the peasants, who also warned us of places to avoid because of the presence of Germans or Fascists. Our party split up about 26 Sep. near Lariso. There were Germans everywhere at the time. F/Sgt Owen and C.P.O. Jopling left us. Hennesy, Hootton and myself were together for the rest of the time. We met the two others when we reached the British lines. We were three nights at a farm about two miles N.W. of Casal Vecchio. Early on the morning of 2 Oct. the Germans evacuated villages to the East of where we were, and we learned that British troops were arriving.

We went to Castelnuovo where we met a Canadian unit. The Canadians sent us to Divisional H.Q., where we were interrogated for tactical information. We were then sent to Barletta (one night), Bari, and Taranto. In Taranto we were interrogated by the P/W Sub-Commission on 6 or 7 Oct. We were afterwards sent to Algiers via Bizerta. We left Algiers on 28 Oct. and arrived in Liverpool on 6 Nov. I went on leave on 7 Nov.’

Having returned to the UK, Marsh advanced to Chief Petty Officer (Observer) in November 1943. He was employed as an Instructor at H.M.S. Daedalus for the remainder of the war. He advanced to Acting Warrant Air Officer (O) in June 1946, and was commissioned Air Control Officer in October 1950. Marsh’s final appointment was as Senior Air Traffic Control Officer at H.M.S. Condor. He retired as a Lieutenant-Commander in 1963, and died in September 1992.

Sold with the following items and documents: four mounted related miniature awards; riband bar; parchment Certificate of Service; parchment History Sheet for Air Gunner and Observer’s Mate; Royal Navy Higher Educational Certificate, Second Class; Warrant appointing A. H. Marsh a Warrant Air Officer (O), dated 11 March 1949; newspaper cuttings, photograph of recipient in uniform, other ephemera and copied research.