John Tovey was one of the Royal Navy’s Greatest Fighting admirals
Tovey was one of the handfuls of Admirals ever to command Home Fleet which was the largest and most important fleet in the Royal Navy.
when frightened Go use full speed advises admiral tovey c-in-c British Home fleet to captain rory o’coner.
Admiral Sir John Tovey KCB, KBE, DSO, Commander-in-Chief Home Fleet, on board his flagship, HMS King George V, November 1942. Standing to his right is his secretary, Paymaster Commander R N Palford (photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).
Home Fleet only sortied as a fleet on critical occasions such as the breakout of the Bismarck. Often the fleet provided “distant cover” to Arctic convoys in the event heavy Kriegsmarine ships such as the Tirpitz of Scharnhorst put to sea to intercept a convoy.
Although “distant cover” by Home Fleet meant the fleet was stationed four hundred miles from the convoy if the fleet went to 32 knots they could cover that distance in approximately 12 hours although fuel consumption would be enormous.
Admiral Sir John Tovey C-in-C Home Fleet, Prime Minister Winston Churchill & the Lord Privy Seal, Sir Stafford Cripps aboard Tovey’s flagship HMS King George V at Home Fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow.
when frightened use full speed advises c-in-c British Home fleet.
Captain Rory O’Coner, a well known and respected officer in the Royal Navy had served in a number of positions in the Royal Navy but he didn’t have a lot of experience as commanding officer of a warship.
In 1940, after the Admiralty appointed him to the command of the cruiser HMS Neptune, he asked Admiral Sir John Tovey if he had any advice for him. Said Admiral Tovey:
“don’t be proud.”
“When frightened, use full speed.”
HMS Neptune manned by New Zealanders
HMS Neptune, 1937.
(Photo courtesy of Australian War Memorial collection)
Tragically, O’Coner died in action. He was a fighting sailor and probably never frightened very much.
On 19 December 1941, the ship along with several others ran into a newly laid Italian minefield off Tripoli in the Mediterranean. HMS Neptune hit two mines which damaged her severely. While trying to back out of the minefield, she hit two more mines, rolled over and sank.
Other ships had hit mines and no one could get close to HMS Neptune, in fact, O’Coner had instructed them to keep clear.
Out of a ship’s company of 767, only one crewman survived