Admiral William O’BrienOn PQ 17: "I can remember vividly the scene at that time and the picture of my Captain on the bridge worrying and us all worrying with him. Little flows of arctic ice coming by us. Then we were quitting. It's the most horrible recollection".
Admiral William O’Brien – Film 1Sir William OBrien joined the Royal Navy in 1930 - aged just 13 and a half. He went to Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth and after 3 ½ years of pretty brutal training he sets sail on HMS Frobisher.
Admiral William O’Brien – Film 2After qualifying as a Sub Lieutenant in 1937 he joins HMS Wolsey which provides target practice for British submarines in and around Portsmouth. He also develops a love of sport and a dislike of alcohol. Its not long before hes surrounded by birds in the Mediterranean!!
Admiral William O’Brien – Film 3Sir William was aboard HMS Garland when she was involved in Nyon Patrols during the Spanish Civil War. They were also involved with transferring prisoners from the mainland to the Balearics. Its whilst HMS Garland is patrolling off Somaliland that war breaks out and he recalls his Captains dead pan reaction to the news.
Admiral William O’Brien – Film 4On heading back to the Mediterranean, the ships ASDIC picks up a signal. Its the start of a chain reaction of events that have disastrous results and the ship is very fortunate to survive. William is drafted to HMS Wolsey, a converted anti-aircraft destroyer, and starts convoy duties along the East Coast of England.
Admiral William O’Brien – Film 5Operation Royal Marine was a plan hatched by Churchill to float mines down the Rhine and cause havoc to bridges and hopefully slow the German blitzkrieg. Its the start of an incredible period of Sir Williams naval service. A long way from the sea he finds himself literally throwing mines into the river as they endeavour to stay East of the rapidly advancing German armies. Some fascinating detail and also some emotion.
Admiral William O’Brien – Film 6Sir Williams next ship is HMS Witherington. He carries out a number of convoys on her. He also talks about another of Churchills ideas which hes glad doesnt come to anything [it involves a lot of petrol and a fair wind]. He also recalls the Portsmouth blitz. The Witherington is in harbour at the time and despite fire and bombs all around, she is unscathed.
Admiral William O’Brien – Film 7Sir William, now a First Lieutenant is onboard the O Class destroyer, HMS Offa. He shares recollections of the Russian Convoys and the extremely difficult conditions everyone onboard had to contend with. He also talks about the Polyarny inlet. Definitely not his favourite place
Admiral William O’Brien – Film 8Sir William recalls a Commando operation on Vaagso Island, off Nordfjord. Stealth is the order of the day and as dawn breaks the BBC bellows out of their onboard speaker system. Not quite what was intended. Later in the day HMS Offa pursues a Dutch vessel. Even to this day, the outcome still troubles him.
Admiral William O’Brien – Film 9Tales of the Arctic continue onboard HMS Offa. Heavy seas, ice and a German presence are testing for the whole crew.
Admiral William O’Brien – Film 10Sir William recalls in fantastic detail his recollections of the ill-feted convoy PQ17. Despite an upbeat Admiralty pep talk its another moment in his career that still visibly troubles him. He goes onto talk about PQ18 and both the rescue of SS Macbeth and witnessing others that werent so lucky.
Admiral William O’Brien – Film 11HMS Offa heads to support the American landing in Casablanca in North Africa as part of Operation Torch. Offa wasnt in the thick of the action and after she returns to England Sir William does some more training before taking charge of HMS Cotswold.
Admiral William O’Brien – Film 12Sir William talks in detail about the lead up to D-Day. The Cotswolds preparations include practice bombings, landings and a lot of mine clearance. Its also the first time he loses a man onboard who is under his control. It still annoys him to this day.
Admiral William O’Brien – Film 13HMS Cotswold is tasked with providing gun power on Gold Beach. The ship is expendable so he moves very, very close in. Its on D-Day that his Chief Engine room artificer is hit by shrapnel. He survives but he cant sit down HMS Cotswold escorts HMS Warspite and Erebus.His next job is to monitor landings in the Walcheren islands
Admiral William O’Brien – Film 14Sir William is sent to the Far East as a Lieutenant Commander. He joins Force W and is based in Coxs Bazar in Assam just outside Burma, Its not a happy time for him. Theres a lot of political wrangling and not a lot of niceness. He leads the final invasion into the shores of Singapore. Sir William goes onto serve with the Duke Of Edinburgh. Maybe next time well record that too Very, many thanks for your time Sir William. A fascinating interview.
On PQ 17: “I can remember vividly the scene at that time and the picture of my Captain on the bridge worrying and us all worrying with him. Little flows of arctic ice coming by us. Then we were quitting. It’s the most horrible recollection”.