HMS Ajax & River Plate Veterans Association

 

Cruiser Captains - continued

 

 

R. G. STEWART: CAPTAIN OF HMS AJAX from 2 JULY 1942 to 13 SEPTEMBER 1942

Commander R. G. Stewart served as Midshipman 15 September 1917, Lieutenant 15 August 1923, Lieutenant-Commander 15 August 1931 and Commander 18 June 1939. He commanded HMS Ajax while she was refitting at Chatham from 2 July to 13 September 1942.

 

J.J.WELD: CAPTAIN OF HMS AJAX from 14 SEPTEMBER 1942 to 8 SEPTEMBER 1944

J.J.Weld served as Midshipman from 15 July 1917, Sub-Lieutenant from 15 March 1918, Lieutenant  from 15 December 1919 and Lieutenant-Commander 15 October 1927.   He was promoted to Commander from 30 June 1954 and to Captain 31 December 1940. Lieutenant Weld specialised in Gunnery in 1924.   He had some connection with South America and was lent to the Chilean Navy in 1930.   He was appointed to command the Gunnery School at Chatham in 1936.

 

He was appointed to the command of HMS Ajax, refitting at Chatham, in September 1942. After re-commissioning, the Ajax proceeded to the Mediterranean, but her luck had changed, and on New Year's Day 1943 she was hit by a 1,000 lb bomb while in harbour at Bone.   Two of her boiler rooms were put out of action and a third damaged. Still, after temporary repairs had been carried out, she sailed under her own steam, first to Algiers and then to New York.

 

In June 1944 the ship was part of the bombarding force on D-Day, off Gold Beach. The Ajax and the Argonaut engaged the four-gun battery at Longues, at 0530, but just before 0600 it opened fire on the HQ Ship Bulolo.   By O63O it had been silenced but soon after resumed the attack.   After further engagements by the Ajax and the Argonaut it was at last finally silenced at about 0845.   Its reduction had required 179 shells from the cruisers - two of its four guns had been put out of action by direct hits through the embrasures.   In August 1944 HMS Ajax was part of the bombarding force for Operation Dragoon, the invasion of the South of France; (TF 84 Alpha Beach, Gunfire Support Group). Again the Ajax was the first to open fire.   She remained in the area until 27 August.

 

Captain Weld left the ship in September 1944.   He attended the Senior Officers' Course in 1948 and afterwards was Naval Attaché in South America.

 

JOHN WILSON CUTHBERT: CAPTAIN OF HMS AJAX from 8 SEPTEMBER 1944 to 19 MARCH 1946

John Cuthbert was born 9 April 1902 and was educated at Kelvinside Academy and the Royal Naval Colleges.   He saw service as a Midshipman from 1919, as Sub-Lieutenant from 15 July 1922, Lieutenant from 15 August 1923 and as Lieutenant-Commander from 15 August 1931.   He was promoted to Commander 30 December 1936 and to Captain in 31 December 1941. He was appointed to command HMS Glasgow in 1942 and was a member of the Joint Planning Staff in London from 1942 to 1944.

 

His next command was HMS Ajax in September 1944.   Under his command the ship formed part of the liberation force that went to Greece in October of the same year.   The island of Santorin, north of Crete, surrendered to the Ajax.   The boats were used by Commander R.S. Foster-Brown, RN, and S.M. Medley of the Hussars took in the caique (Greek fishing boat) ‘Santa Claus’. The German Garrison was rounded up, and the shore party acted as real Santa Claus to the released prisoners-of-war.   They distributed the mail which they had thoughtfully taken ashore with them in the caique.   There were also presents for the islanders, including 30,000 tons of flour, 5,200 lbs of sugar, 1,850 lbs of butter and 2,600. lbs of preserved meat.

 

On 24 December 1944 Winston Churchill slept on board.   He had come for a meeting with Archbishop Damaskinos and M.Papandreous, the new Greek Prime Minister.

 

The war in Europe ended, and the Ajax was given several notable missions. While standing by at Trieste with the Orion, she renewed her friendship with the 2nd New Zealand Division.   In August 1945 as flagship of Admiral Sir John Cunningham, then Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean, she visited the South of France to take part in the celebrations commemorating the anniversary of the Allies' landing, and in the following month, carried the Regent of Iraq from Naples to Istanbul.   The Ajax and escort of two destroyers were the first British warships to pass through the Dardanelles since before the war.   On arrival at Istanbul sailors and marines marched through the streets, and were given a rousing welcome.

In September 1945 the Ajax took General Freyberg and representatives of the New Zealand forces to Crete to revisit the scenes of their gallant resistance, and to attend memorial services for their comrades who died on the  island.

 

Sailing from Malta in January 1946 after a refit the Ajax arrived in Santos on 23 January.   After three pleasant days she sailed on to Rio de Janeiro, where the flag of Admiral of the Fleet Sir James Somerville, who was there in a personal capacity, was hoisted in the cruiser.   Showing the flag the ship sailed on to Montevideo and then to Buenos Aires.   It was on her return trip that she escorted the men of the Graf Spee, being taken home to Germany in the Highland Monarch after their long internment.

 

From 1949 to 1950 Captain Cuthbert commanded the Vengeance; he was Deputy Controller at the Admiralty from 1951 to 1953; Flag Officer Flotilla Home Fleet from 1953 to 1954; Admiral Commanding Reserves 1955 to 1956; Flag Officer Scotland from 1956 to 1958.

He was promoted Rear-Admiral 8 January 1951; Vice-Admiral in 1954.   He entered the retired list in 1958.   He was nominated   CBE in 1945; KBE in 1951 and CB in 1953.

 

STANLEY BRIAN DE COURCY-IRELAND: CAPTAIN OF HMS AJAX from 19 MARCH 1946 to 26 FEBRUARY 1948

Stanley de Courcy-Ireland was born 5 May 1900, and joined the Royal Naval College, Osborne, as a naval Cadet 1 January 1913 and the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, in 1915.   As Midshipman he served on board HMS Bellerophon, then with the 4th Battle Squadron, Grand Fleet, based at Scapa Flow, from 1 January, 1916, and was present at the battle of Jutland, 31 May, 1916.   He was transferred to the destroyer HMS Pellew, and served in the ranks of Midshipman and Acting-Sub-Lieutenant from 1917 until the ship was torpedoed in June, 1918.   Promoted to the rank of Sub-Lieutenant in 1918, he served on board the destroyer HMS Westcott until 1919 and, was present at the scuttling of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow, and then saw active service in the Baltic.

 

Acting-Lieutenant de Courcy-Ireland then took courses at Ganville and Caius Colleges, Cambridge, from 1919 to 1920, and following promotion to Lieutenant, served in the destroyer HMS Venomous in the Home Fleet.

 

From 1922 to 1924 he was lent to the Royal Australian Navy, and served at Flinders Naval Depot for new entries.   He was- transferred, from 1924 to 1926, to HMS Frobisher, then flagship 2nd Cruiser Squadron Mediterranean Fleet.   In 1926 he specialised as Observer, Fleet Air Arm, and in 1927 served on board HMS Furious.

 

He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander in 1928, and served at RAF Station Leuchars as a ground instructor.   From 1929 to 1934 he served on board HM Ships Argus, Home Fleet; HMS Hermes; RAF Kai Tak in China; and HM Ships Furious and Courageous in the Home Fleet.   In the latter he was Senior Observer in 1934.

 

In 1935 he was promoted-to the rank of Commander, and until 1936 he was Staff Officer Operations to Vice-Admirals Sir Alex Ramsay and N.F. Lawrence, during the Abyssinian crisis.   Commander de Courcy-Ireland then had a spell at the Air Ministry, on the staff of the Director of Training and Staff Duties, and then served on board HMS Newcastle as Second-in-Command until 1941.   He returned to the Air Ministry, from 1941 to 1942, as Acting-Captain, to serve as Liaison Officer, between Air and Naval staff.

 

He was promoted to the rank of Captain in 1942, in command of RNAS Fearn (HMS Owl), and from 1944 to 1945 he was Deputy Director (Naval) Combined Operations H.Q.

 

Captain de Courcy-Ireland took command of HMS Ajax in 1946, then in the Mediterranean Fleet.   The main task between 1946 and 1948 was divided between dealing with Jewish illegal immigrants to Palestine, holding the ring in the Adriatic between Tito and the Italians, and supporting the Greeks in their fight against Communism, and thus alternated between SNO Haifa, SNO Adriatic (in turn with the US Navy) and in Greek waters. Captain de Courcy-Ireland's term of command was extended so that he could bring the ship home.

 

The Government attempted to sell HMS Ajax to India, and then to South America, but fortunately this fell through.   In 1949 she rebelled against the end decreed for her by the Admiralty.   En route to the breakers, she ran aground on mudbanks at the mouth of the River Usk, and for more than a week defied all efforts of a veritable fleet of tugs to shift her.

 

After leaving the Ajax Captain de Courcy-Ireland served as Deputy Director Naval Equipment from 1948 to 1951.   He was appointed ADC to King George VI in 1951 and retired in August of the same year.

 

Captain de Courcy-Ireland was present at the commissioning of the new Ajax at Cammell Laird's yard, Birkenhead, on 11 December, 1963.