last survivor of the raid against the Italian Navy at Taranto

Discussion in 'WW2 General' started by syscom3, Nov 19, 2008.

  1. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    Captain 'Alfie' Sutton

    Captain 'Alfie' Sutton was a Fleet Air Arm observer who was the last survivor of the raid against the Italian Navy at Taranto.

    Sutton , who has died aged 96, was the last survivor of the 42 young naval airmen whose attack in 1940 on the Italian fleet at Taranto, southern Italy, altered the balance of power in the Mediterranean and changed the nature of naval warfare.

    As an observer (the Fleet Air Arm equivalent of an RAF navigator), Sutton and his pilot, "Tiffy" Torrens-Spence, flew to Malta from the carrier Illustrious, then picked up reconnaissance photographs of the port, where the entire Italian battle fleet lay.

    The first striking force of 12 Swordfish took off at 20:40 on November 11, six carrying torpedoes, four carrying bombs and two illuminating flares. An hour later Sutton and Torrens-Spence set out in Swordfish L5K with the second strike of nine aircraft; each Swordfish carried an overload tank of petrol in the observer's cockpit, displacing the observer to the air gunner's rear seat. The extra petrol enabled the aircraft to remain airborne for five hours, but Sutton was uneasily conscious that his head and back were resting on the tank as the aircraft dropped down to attack.

    He recalled that the enemy was well alerted by the previous attack, so that battery after battery of anti-aircraft fire opened up as they followed the coast; from 60 miles away he saw a greenish coloured cone of anti-aircraft fire and searchlights over the port. To deliver a successful torpedo attack the Swordfish had to fly level at a height of less than 150 ft to within 1,000 yards of the target. As the Swordfish went into its screaming, whistling dive he saw the aircraft in front spin away out of control, almost hitting the water, and then felt a terrific jolt when Torrens-Spence pulled out of the dive. With tracer and incendiaries streaming up at them, Torrens-Spence called out, "The one to port is too close. What's that ahead?"

    "Dead ahead is Littorio," Sutton replied.

    "Right! I'll take that b******."

    The battleship started to fire, wreathing the aircraft in smoke and making it stink of cordite. When Torrens-Spence let the torpedo go at 700 yards the battleship seemed to fill the horizon, and Sutton thought he could see down the muzzles of the close-range guns. Immediately after the release L5K turned steeply, hit the water, bounced, and staggered between the tethering buoys of two barrage balloons into the air.

    Suddenly the aircraft was out of the cauldron of fire, and everything seemed quiet. Taranto was in chaos: the battleship Conte di Cavour was sunk, and the battleships Littorio and Caio Duilio heavily damaged. British losses were two Swordfish, one crew killed and one captured. In one night, the Royal Navy had inflicted more damage on the Italian fleet than it had on the German High Sea Fleet in the daylight action at Jutland in 1916; it also gave the Japanese a model for Pearl Harbor. With others, Sutton and Torrens-Spence were awarded the DSC.

    Alan William Frank Sutton, known in the Fleet Air Arm as "Alfie", was born on May 21 1912. His father was killed on the Somme, and Sutton was educated at Christ's Hospital, Sussex, before joining the Navy as a special entry cadet in 1930. He trained for one year in the monitor Erebus at Devonport and then served in the battlecruisers Renown and Repulse and the destroyer Basilisk before specialising as a naval observer in 1937. Before the war he flew in Swordfish in 823 and 825 naval air squadrons in Glorious and Illustrious.

    On September 4 1940 Sutton and Torrens-Spence led a dive-bombing raid on Calato airfield in the island of Rhodes, having taken over leadership of the strike after their commanding officer's aircraft suffered an accident on deck. Two months later Sutton was flying with Lieutenant-Commande r "Ginger" Hale, who led a torpedo strike against an enemy convoy off Sicily, sinking two merchant ships. Early next day the Swordfish crews took off on a bombing raid over Tripoli. Sutton was twice mentioned in dispatches for these operations.

    When Illustrious was bombed by the Germans on January 10 1941 and had to be repaired in Alexandria, the remnants of the squadron operated for several weeks with the Army on the desert front. Next Sutton became naval liaison officer to the RAF in Greece, planning nightly operations by 815 naval air squadron, which flew against Italian shipping in the Adriatic from a hidden airfield in the mountains of Albania.

    When their location was betrayed by the unexpected arrival in a Junkers of King Peter of Yugoslavia, who was being hunted by the Germans, Sutton withdrew first to Maleme, Crete, and then, after German paratroopers landed, organised a platoon of sailors and RAF groundcrew to fight alongside the New Zealanders in trying to retake the airfield. Three surviving Swordfish out of 22 flew on to Egypt, while Sutton tramped over the White Mountains to the island's south coast.

    At Sphakia, where the defeated Allied forces were being evacuated by the Navy, he appointed himself beachmaster and, after several thousand men had been taken off, got away himself in one of the last boats. He was awarded a Bar to his DSC for his outstanding gallantry, fortitude and resolution. After a few days in hospital for repairs to his feet which, having worn out his shoes, were like "horse's hooves", he quickly returned to duty.

    Admiral "ABC" Cunningham was accused of parsimony in his praise for Taranto, but he described Sutton's efforts in Greece and Crete – where he had lived for several weeks on a diet of gin and bully beef, developing the early symptoms of scurvy – as "an example of grand personal courage under the worst possible conditions which stands out brightly in the gloom".

    As staff officer (air) to the admiral commanding the eastern task force during Operation Torch, Sutton helped plan the taking of Algeria and Morocco from the Vichy French in 1942. The following January he was air staff officer of 846 squadron, flying Avengers from the escort carrier Ravager in the Battle of the Atlantic. Promoted acting commander a year later, he became operations officer of the fleet carrier Implacable, and prepared the operation when the Fireflys of 1771 squadron located and photographed Tirpitz at Tromsø, in Norway, and made the Fleet Air Arm's last airborne torpedo strike of the war on October 28 1944.

    In March 1945 Sutton sailed for the Pacific, where he planned attacks on targets in the Tokyo plain before the war ended.

    Immediately afterwards he became second-in-command of HMS Nabcatcher (Kai Tak), the air station at the edge of Hong Kong harbour. After staff appointments he commanded the frigate Bigbury Bay from 1951 to 1953, which included a spell in the Antarctic and as guard ship in the Falkland Islands. He was chief staff officer of the carrier Squadron during Operation Musketeer, the Suez invasion, and finished his naval career as Director of the Royal Naval Staff College, Greenwich, from 1962 to 1965.

    Sutton was aide-de-camp to the Queen in 1964. On retiring, he was a graduate of the Naval Staff College, the Joint Services Staff College and the Imperial Defence College; he was also appointed CBE. In addition he held a unique record in having won the Admiralty's Naval History Prize essay competion in 1939, 1947, 1949 and 1956.

    After the Navy Sutton worked for the chemical division of the Distillers Company and then for BP until 1977, when he retired to devote himself to the gardens and woods at his home, Northanger, in Surrey.

    Alfie Sutton, who died on November 6, married, in 1940, Peggy Cazeuax de Grange. She survives him with two sons and two daughters; another daughter predeceased him.
     

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  2. wilbur1

    wilbur1 Active Member

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    Great story sys thanks for sharing:D :D
     
  3. Wayne Little

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    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    RabidAlien Active Member

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    What a great story!

    :salute:
     
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    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor
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    timshatz Active Member

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    Friggin' amazing guy. Great life!
     
  9. DerAdlerIstGelandet

    DerAdlerIstGelandet Der Crew Chief
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  10. felixmt

    felixmt New Member

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    Inspiring story!
     
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