From The Daily Telegraph 10 January.
Captain George King, who has died aged 92, was a midshipman of the Blue Funnel Line when he helped fight a U-boat for two days in late 1942.
King was serving in the Nederlandsche Stoomvart Oceaan’s Polydorus, manned by Dutch and British officers, on passage from Liverpool via the Cape to Egypt, loaded with war stores, and commanded by Dutch Captain Hermanus Brouwer.
Polydorus was steaming unescorted at 15 knots, a fast ship for her era, when she was detected by the German submarine U-176 under command of Kapitänleutnant Reiner Dierksen. Little did Dierksen know that he had run into one of his most stubborn victims of the war.
King first became aware of the presence of a U-boat when he saw two torpedoes explode prematurely some distance away. Brouwer called his ship’s company to action stations and commenced a wide zigzag, but no further attack developed during the day until that evening, when under cover of darkness U-176 crept close and opened fire with her guns. Polydorus returned fire with her single 4 in gun and fled into the night.
Next morning, at first light, Dierksen tried again, but Brouwer saw the torpedo track and altered course sharply away; he opened fire, forcing Dierksen to withdraw, and dropped smoke floats to create a concealing bank of fog.
When Dierksen drew to upwind of the smoke, long-range gunfire between the steamer and the U-boat began. Brouwer manoeuvred Polydorus like a warship, presenting as small target as possible to Dierksen and heading into rain squalls whenever possible.
All day, young King carried ammunition to the gun, took turns as gunlayer, checked for damage, and kept watches in the crow’s-nest. By nightfall Brouwer hoped that he had shaken off his pursuer, but by three in the morning of the second day, November 27, Dierksen, who had at last drawn ahead, fired a salvo of torpedoes and with the seventh and eighth struck his target.
King recalled that watching Polydorus sink quietly sternfirst “was the most dramatic if not the most profound experience of my life”. He took charge of one of the lifeboats, and the survivors were picked up by a Spanish merchantman.
They landed on December 5 at Las Palmas in the Canaries. For his conduct during the lengthy pursuit and for his subsequent comportment in the lifeboat, King was awarded the Netherlands Bronze Cross.
King progressed to command in the rapidly expanding British Tanker Company, the shipping arm of British Petroleum, became a marine superintendent in 1960, and was managing director of BTC from 1975 to 1981.
At the Fleet Review for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee at Spithead in 1977, King had a heated exchange with Admiral Sir Henry Leach, then Commander-in Chief Fleet and later First Sea Lord, regarding the appearance of the tanker British Respect.
Leach thought the BP ship did not measure up to his standards. King reminded Leach that since his vessel was far longer than any Royal Navy ship present, his small ship’s company would look ridiculous spread out 30 ft apart.
The incident is remembered differently in the two men’s autobiographies.
He was a member of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners, a liveryman of the Worship Company of Shipwrights and a Younger Brother of Trinity House. He was appointed CBE in 1979.
Full obituary with photographs.
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