• Rear-Admiral Peter Branson, CBE, Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Operations) 1975-77. Born: 30 March, 1924, in St Malo, France. Died: 1 January, 2011, in Hull, aged 86.
Peter Branson had the rare distinction of being twice torpedoed while under training with the Royal Navy and still holding the rank of midshipman. In 1941, Branson was on his way to serve during his training in the Royal Navy in the Far East on the Glasgow-built Alfred Jones when it was torpedoed off Freetown, Sierra Leone, North Africa, by a German U-boat. Branson was on the bridge and spotted the trails in the water of four torpedoes rapidly approaching the Alfred Jones. Avoiding action was impossible and the ship floundered and sank.
Branson and the other survivors took to two lifeboats. Branson's was so heavily loaded it became a danger to move let alone manoeuvre in the stormy sea. The lifeboat was not to be discovered for six long days and the cramped and hazardous conditions made navigation a problem. Those conditions were exacerbated by limited rations and the unrelenting sun - they were limited to one-sixth of a pint of water a day, some bully beef and condensed milk. On the third day, a seaplane spotted them so they knew help would be on its way. However, it took a further two days before a trawler arrived to tow them into Freetown.
The following year, Branson was returning to the UK to complete his training on the passenger ship Orcades when she was hit by two torpedoes from a U-boat north-west of Cape Town, South Africa. Further torpedoes were fired and the Orcades sank but Branson, learning from his experience of the previous year was, typically, practical. He filled his pockets with all the chocolate he could find. On this second occasion, the survivors were towed back to land immediately.
To have experienced two sinkings when still a midshipman was, to say the least, unusual. The commander-in-chief of the South Atlantic station wrote to his father, Commander Cecil Branson, praising his son's courageous conduct during the sinking and while in the lifeboat.
Cecil Robert Peter Charles Branson was born in St Malo and grew up speaking fluent French and English. He entered Dartmouth aged 14 and, after his training was completed and he had recovered from his experiences in the South Atlantic, Branson qualified as a submariner in 1943 and, initially, served in the Far East. Branson was despatched to Fremantle, Western Australia, in 1944 serving on the submarine Sea Rover and taking part in three patrols off the Sumatra coast and in the Strait of Malacca. These patrols were mainly aimed at monitoring the movements of the Japanese fleet but they did greatly disrupt the Japanese supply lines by sinking a number of coasters.
Branson was to remain in submarines until 1950 when a medical revealed he was suffering from tuberculosis. Reluctantly, he reverted to general service but in 1953 was second in command of the destroyer Defender in the Far East. In 1956 Branson was given command of the anti-submarine frigate Roebuck and then made commander of HMS Rooke, the naval base at Gibraltar. Branson served as naval attach in Paris from 1970-73 and was then appointed captain of the commando aircraft carrier Hermes. He distinguished himself when he commanded the task force in 1973 which was sent to evacuate 1,500 British nationals from Cyprus after the Turkish invasion. In a scrupulously well-organised operation, Hermes' 16 Wessex helicopters landed 41 Commando Royal Marines to help safeguard the British sovereign base areas.
Branson's final tour, as a rear admiral, was in the Ministry of Defence as Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Operations). One of the most challenging situations Branson had to contend with in that final posting was during the controversial Second Cod War, which soured relationships between Iceland and Britain in a standoff over the right to fish waters Iceland considered within its territory. It was a hot political issue requiring much diplomacy and political foresight and Branson drew on all his experience and naval expertise to insure a successful, if only temporary, conclusion. Both the UK and Iceland were members of Nato so the conflict caused embarrassment especially when, at one stage, the ships of the Royal Navy were ramming those of the Icelandic navy.
That tour of duty brought Branson into contact with North Sea fishermen and in particular those from Hull. On his retirement in 1977 he settled there and became managing director of the UK Trawlers Mutual Insurance Association for eight years.
Branson was awarded the CBE in 1975. He married Sonia Moss in 1945. She died last year and he is survived by their daughter.
Burial: Haltemprice Crematorium Willerby East Riding of Yorkshire Unitary Authority East Riding of Yorkshire, England
Created by: K Record added: Dec 10, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 81766874