From The Times
May 20, 2009
Captain Frank Gregory-Smith: destroyer captain and D-Day
Frank Gregory-Smith landed in the assault phase on the
morning of D-Day, June 6, 1944, as Principal Beachmaster on
Gold Beach. It was little more than four years since his
destroyer had almost been sunk as it evacuated British
troops from Dunkirk harbour in May 1940.
As senior staff and training officer for Force G he helped
to plan the landings on Gold Beach in Normandy, and then
landed with his beach commando as Principal Beachmaster to
ensure the constant stream of men and materials landing on
the beach did not turn into a vast traffic jam.
For his professionalism under fire on Gold Beach he was
awarded a bar to his Distinguished Service Cross, and he
also earned a reputation as an expert on amphibious
landings. But at heart he was always a destroyer man and it
was as such, as the captain of HMS Eridge, that he fought
through 1941 and 1942 in the bitter struggle between the
Royal Navy and Axis forces for control of the Mediterranean.
In this theatre he served at the Battle of Sirte, sank a
U-boat, sailed in four Malta convoys and numerous Tobruk
For his services in the Mediterranean he was awarded two
Distinguished Service Orders and the first of his two
Distinguished Service Crosses.
At the Second Battle of Sirte, March 22, 1942, HMS Eridge
was one of five destroyers that stayed with the four vital
Malta-bound supply ships as the Royal Navy's fleet
destroyers and cruisers jousted with the powerful Italian
fleet led by the battleship Littorio. While the surface
battle raged, the escort destroyers engaged a relentless
stream of high-level bombers, torpedo bombers and dive
bombers, all intent, like the Italian fleet, on destroying
the supply ships bound for Malta.
The attacks were so intense that by nightfall HMS Eridge had
almost completely run out of ammunition. The Italian fleet
was beaten off and the convoy was still intact but it was
now well off course. The British cruisers and fleet
destroyers all turned back for Alexandria, leaving the
supply ships and their escorts alone and unable to reach
Malta under cover of darkness.
The convoy dispersed leaving Eridge with the slowest and
most vulnerable of the supply ships, and Captain
Gregory-Smith knew that the next day the bombers would be
back and Eridge would be reduced to firing blanks at them to
protect Clan Campbell. As the rest of the convoy reached
Malta in the mid morning of March 23, Clan Campbell was
attacked one last time and sunk, Eridge's blanks having
little effect on the attacking German JU88 bombers. Eridge
was left alone in a minefield to pick up survivors for three
long hours under constant watch but, thankfully, without
Gregory-Smith received the Distinguished Service Order for
his part in the Battle of Sirte. The citation read: "For
outstanding services in the successful defence of the convoy
against heavy and sustained air attack without the support
of the Fleet Cruisers or Destroyers."
William Frank Niemann Gregory-Smith was born in 1910 in
Ashtonunder-Lyne, Cheshire. He entered Dartmouth Naval
College in 1922 and served as a cadet on his first warship,
the Battle of Jutland veteran battlecruiser HMS Tiger, in
1927. As a midshipman he served on the cruisers HMS
Cumberland and HMS Suffolk on the China station and in 1932
he was promoted lieutenant on another Battle of Jutland
veteran, the battleship HMS Warspite. A further period in
the Far East followed, this time as first lieutenant on a
Yangtse gunboat, HMS Cricket.
By 1936 the situation in Europe was deteriorating, and
Gregory-Smith served as first lieutenant on HMS Foresight
patrolling off the north Spanish coast during the civil war.
At the outbreak of war in 1939 he was first lieutenant on
the fleet destroyer, HMS Jaguar.
Jaguar was stationed in Immingham, Lincolnshire, and almost
immediately began escorting coastal convoys and sweeping the
North Sea for signs of enemy naval activity. She also acted
as an escort for the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal during
the Norwegian campaign.
However, for Gregory-Smith and the rest of the crew, the war
started in earnest in May 1940 when they were ordered to
northern France with three other fleet destroyers to
evacuate troops directly from Dunkirk harbour. It was a
measure of the desperation of the situation that such
valuable ships should be used in such a dangerous role.
Towards the end of 1940 Gregory-Smith was appointed as
captain of HMS Eridge, a Hunt Class destroyer being built by
Swan Hunter on the Tyne. After some convoy work Eridge
sailed for the Mediterranean in May 1941. Her first Malta
convoy was Operation Substance, bound from Gibraltar in July
1941. When another destroyer, HMS Firedrake lost power after
air attack, Eridge was ordered to tow her back to Gibraltar
as the rest of the convoy proceeded east. The 36-hour tow
under constant threat of air attack was successful, and
Gregory-Smith was awarded his first Distinguished Service
Cross, the citation reading: "The safe arrival of Firedrake
at Gibraltar can be attributed largely to the fine
seamanship, courage and determination shown by
In August 1941 Eridge transferred to Alexandria where the
British fleet was being slowly whittled down by enemy
action. Constant convoys to keep the besieged port of Tobruk
open were punctuated by further perilous Malta convoys.
Despite the dangers her crew believed she was a lucky ship,
a feeling confirmed when she sucessfully hunted down U568.
Gregory-Smith received a Bar to his Distinguished Service
Order for the sinking of the submarine.
However, on August 28, 1942, Eridge's luck ran out.
Gregory-Smith was commanding a force of four destroyers
conducting a night bombardment of Axis land positions off El
Daba. An Italian motor torpedo boat slipped through the
darkness, and Eridge was hit by a single torpedo amidships,
killing five of her crew and crippling the ship. By daybreak
Eridge was still afloat but could only return to Alexandria
under tow, all the while under constant air attack. The
force was only a mile off shore so also suffered bombardment
from shore-based artillery. Despite this the force made it
safely back to Alexandria under Gregory-Smith's command, and
for this he was mentioned in dispatches. By 1943 he was back
in London, appointed to Combined Operations Headquarters at
Norfolk House, where planning for the invasion of Europe was
After months of detailed planning, including close knowledge
of the high level of expected casualties, Gregory-Smith was
somewhat shocked to be appointed Principal Beachmaster.
He subsequently returned to Combined Operations and attended
the Yalta Conference in 1945 as part of the British
He remained with the Royal Navy until 1960 but, to his
disappointment, his postwar career was mostly in staffs and
not at sea. Among other roles he was naval attach� to the
Non-Arab Middle East in Ankara and Chief Staff officer
(Intelligence) to the Commander-in-Chief of the
Mediterranean in Malta. After leaving the Navy he served as
the warden of Wilson House Hall of Residence, St Mary's
Gregory-Smith's wife, Jean, whom he married in October 1940
in her native city of Dundee while HMS Jaguar was undergoing
urgent repairs, predeceased him in April 2006. He is
survived by their daughter and son.
Captain Frank Gregory-Smith, DSO and Bar, DSC and Bar,
destroyer captain and D-Day beachmaster, was born on January
24, 1910. He died on May 4, 2009, aged 99