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Sir John Hayes

Signal Officer (later-Vice Admiral)


Captain John Hayes

Captain John Hayes

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Hayes was aboard HMS Repulse as signals officer, and lucky to survive her sinking.


September 16 1998 

Vice-Admiral Sir John Hayes, KCB, OBE, Flag Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland, 1966-68, died on September 7 aged 85. He was born in Bermuda on May 9, 1913.

In an adventurous career afloat, John Hayes was at the heart of two melancholy episodes endured by the Royal Navy during the Second World War. As signals officer of HMS Repulse, he was among the survivors of the sinking of the battlecruiser and the battleship Prince of Wales, when the two capital ships were eliminated from the Far East naval equation by Japanese aircraft in the opening days of the Malayan campaign. Later, while on Arctic convoys, he was a close witness to the events which led to the catastrophe which befell Convoy PQ17. His written record of events was part of the evidence in a libel suit later brought by the convoy escort commander against the author David Irving.

The son of an Army doctor, John Osler Chattock Hayes (always known as "Joc" from these initials) spent much of his childhood in Bermuda before joining the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth in 1926. Undersized until reaching the age of 17, Hayes passed an inconspicuous four years in an environment which, with its at-the-double discipline, cold baths and compulsory sport, out-spartaned Sparta. A love of music that was to last a lifetime seemed slightly eccentric; solitary instrumental practice periods did not fit easily into the energetic timetable.

He survived life in the midshipmen's gunroom of the battleship Royal Oak in the spit-and-polish Mediterranean Fleet, but was then able to enjoy the magic of the China Station as it was in the halcyon days of the mid-1930s in the cruiser Cumberland.

In July 1938, as a Lieutenant Commander, Hayes was the Navigating Officer at H.M.S Vindictive, a seagoing Cadet training cruiser.

He was next in the West Indies, then the Persian Gulf in the sloop Fowey, supporting Britain's diplomacy amid the Trucial States. As well as navigating in these notoriously shallow and reef-infested waters, he was also the ship's Accounting Officer, being paid an extra 2s 6d a day for the privilege of being court-martialled should his accounts not be in order. It was said that more navigators suffered this way than through the grounding of their ships.

The outbreak of war sent him to the ancient cruiser Cairo, protecting the East Coast collier convoys upon which London, in those days, depended. A serious strain-induced deterioration in his eyesight sent him ashore in early 1940, but the Admiralty later relented and, fatefully, Hayes found himself aboard the battlecruiser Repulse.

With the threat posed by Japan in the autumn of 1941 she was sent with the battleship Prince of Wales to Singapore, where, in a forlorn effort to prevent the capture of Malayan airfields, the two ships were sailed to the north-east where they soon came under air attack.

As Signals Officer, Hayes was on the upper deck abaft the bridge, where he had a terrifying view of the preliminary high-level bombing attacks - which hit one of the boiler rooms - and the subsequent waves of torpedo-bombers approaching at low level. Despite brilliant ship handling by Captain Tennant, Repulse was hit by four torpedoes and sank in eight minutes with the loss of 500 lives. Hayes's movements "were then dictated by gravity ... bouncing off the red-hot funnel ... the flag lockers which were now awash ... and so overboard helplessly and down for what seemed a long time". Dazed and blackened with fuel oil, he watched the Prince of Wales also sink, and was then picked up by the destroyer Electra and returned to Singapore.

Assigned to the operational staff, Hayes liaised with the Army in the evacuation of Johore, his exit over the causeway making him the last free Briton on the Malayan mainland for some years. After several adventures he was taken to Batavia in the cruiser Jupiter as Singapore fell; both Electra and Jupiter were subsequently sunk in the Battle of the Java Sea. A nerve-racking voyage to Ceylon in a slow Dutch inter-island coaster was followed by a troopship to Liverpool.

He was next appointed Operations Officer to Admiral Hamilton, commanding the First Cruiser Squadron and escorting Arctic convoys to Russia, Hayes was intimately involved in the events which led to the catastrophe that befell Convoy PQ17. When ordered to scatter by a First Sea Lord mistakenly fearful that the battleship Tirpitz was on the loose, two thirds of its ships were sunk. Hayes's pencilled report of the proceedings, flown to his C-in-C by Walrus amphibian in order to preserve radio silence, was later used as evidence in the libel suit brought by Captain Broome, the escort force commander, against David Irving's 1968 book The Destruction of Convoy PQ17 - an account, according to Hayes, that contained "vicious fabrication".

Hayes's war ended in the Mediterranean on the staff of the C-in-C based in Malta, with a satisfying involvement in the liberation of Greece and its rescue from communism. After the war Hayes was promoted early to captain and appointed to command of the frigates on the South Africa station. But recurrent eyesight problems deprived him of his chance to command a large ship and he considered himself highly fortunate to make rear-admiral in 1962, and even luckier to be appointed second-in-command of all Western Fleet ships at sea in 1964.

His final post was Flag Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland, from which he retired in 1968. He was Lord- Lieutenant of Ross and Cromarty, Skye and Lochalsh, 1977-88.
He is survived by his wife Rosalind, their two sons and one daughter.


Please contact Andy (webmaster) with any information.

Andy Wade (Webmaster)

Face The Music

His autobiography, Face The Music, 1991 (see above), unconsciously paints a portrait of a sensitive, deep-thinking man with a strong sense of history, able to illuminate with a skilful and affectionate pen the spirit of the sailors he knew so well.

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