Talks – Extracts

‘Killing the Bismarck’

Extract from talk given at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, May 2010:

‘The reality is that avenging the sinking of the battlecruiser HMS Hood by Bismarck on 24 May 1941 was probably THE major driver for those involved on the British side.

‘They had known Hood as a feature of their lives since boyhood and, once they joined the Navy, either served in her, or had friends who were members of the battlecruiser’s ship’s company. Many of those pals died at the hands of Bismarck.

‘The subsequent pursuit and destruction of Bismarck was therefore an extremely personal endeavour for the men of the Royal Navy. Sympathy for the German battleship’s survivors – the brotherhood of the sea  – exerted itself once more after the guns were silent.

‘You could say that the Royal Navy’s aim was not to kill the men in Bismarck, but rather what the German ship represented by way of a threat to their nation’s existence.’


HMS Cossack Association

Extract from a talk given after the association’s annual dinner,
Portsmouth, April 2011:

‘What I think is needed, as we stand on the cusp of another ten years of uncertainty, in which the world will change beyond all recognition – due to ‘events my dear boy, events’, as Harold Macmillan would have said – is perhaps for us all to bombard our local papers, national newspapers, e-mail TV programmes and radio stations each time we see another mad move to destroy the Royal Navy.

‘In that way I feel the Cossacks old and young can, like water wearing down a rock, erode the sea blind ignorance of the UK’s political leaders.’

‘As veterans of the Royal Navy, your voice will be respected and through the continuation of this excellent association you will make a difference to keeping the spark of not only HMS Cossack alight but also the Naval Service.’


‘Killing the Bismarck: A Mission for Revenge?’

Extract from talk given to The Historical Association Dining Group,
London, May 2011:

‘The knowledge that the cruel wheel of fate brings death and disaster in war as surely as it brings glory and survival is surely the primary, and timeless, lesson of the Bismarck Action.

‘In the end all of us would be wise to absorb a quote from ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which to my mind sums up the feelings of those who were involved in, and survived the Bismarck Action.

‘It is equally valid as a description for veterans of any war, seeking to carry on their lives after the heat, the passion of battle – with all its bravery, sacrifice and seeking of vengeance – has gone:

He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.’


HMS Warspite Association

Extract from after-dinner talk given to the HMS Warspite Association, Weymouth, 12 May 2012.

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to begin by thanking you for inviting me to speak at your annual dinner. I am especially glad that I survived last weekend’s encounter with members of the HMS Ardent Association, whom I met to discuss their Falklands War ordeal as part of research for a magazine article.

‘These are certainly more salubrious surroundings than a certain pub where I met the Ardent’s crew, fine establishment though it may be. At least I have enjoyed a satisfying meal rather than just a packet of peanuts and a pint…

‘The Warspite Association is, in my view, a special organisation, which is why it is such a great honour to be with you here tonight. That is not just because you thought me worthy enough to dine with you and give a talk. This remarkable association also represents two different kinds of ships – a pair of vessels that are milestones in our naval history.

‘They were legends of two very different kinds of conflict – one, a super dreadnought battleship, seeing hot action and the other, a nuclear-powered submarine, holding the line unseen in the Cold War.’


‘Ruling the Waves’

Extract from talk given at the York Festival of Ideas, June 2014:

‘Throughout the Cold War espionage lay at the heart of submariners’ activities – whether striving to record the distinctive sound signatures of Soviet submarines and surface ships, or eavesdropping on, and covertly observing, missile tests and other activities.

‘To know an enemy’s vulnerabilities – and capabilities – without him realising you had gained that insight was the ultimate prize, for it awarded the possessor a killer edge.

‘It meant that the day things turned hot you had the drop on your foe. You knew where he was and who he was. You could even be right behind him.’


‘Hunter Killers’

Extract from talk given at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, July 2014:

‘Winston Churchill appreciated the unique hazards of serving in submarines. He wrote: “Of all the branches of men in the forces, there is none which shows more devotion and faces grimmer perils than the submariners.”

‘It is, in my view, about time we knew at least who some of them were – and learned of a few exploits  – in order to understand what they all did for us during the Cold War.

‘That’s why I wrote ‘Hunter Killers’ and why the men featured in the book agreed to speak to me. They are merely the representatives of a remarkable breed of men, a generation that achieved a hidden victory. Hopefully, via their stories, we can also understand a bit more about what many of us actually lived through.

‘For without their story there are pieces of the Cold War jigsaw missing; the full is truth obscured. And where truth is obscured – the mistakes of the past can be repeated.’