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Lt-Comm. Kenneth "Tom " Cobley DSC

Discussion in 'WWII Obituaries' started by GRW, Apr 24, 2016.

  1. GRW

    GRW Pillboxologist Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

    Oct 26, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Stirling, Scotland
    "Lieutenant-Commander Kenneth “Tom” Cobley, who has died aged 101, played a leading role in the Battle of North Cape as the gun direction officer in the last fight involving a British battleship against another battleship.

    Cobley was gunnery director in the battleship Duke of York, flagship of the Home Fleet, when she stalked and intercepted the German battleship Scharnhorst off the North Cape, Norway, on Boxing Day 1943. Guided by radar through the snow and darkness of the Arctic midwinter, Duke of York closed unseen to within 12,000 yards of the German, and at 16:50 Cobley pressed the switch to fire four well-placed starshells, which caught the enemy by surprise.

    Scharnhorst still had her turrets trained fore and aft, and to Cobley, peering through his rangefinder high above the bridge of the British ship, she shimmered “like a ghost”.

    “When Duke of York ceased fire, it was the end of an era, the last time a Royal Navy battleship would ever engage an enemy battleship”
    A minute later, Duke of York was plunging under the huge waves of a following sea in gale force winds. Cobley breathed out slowly as he took careful aim, pressed the trigger, and fired a full broadside of 10 14 in guns, and for the next few minutes salvoes from Duke of York continued to straddle the target, which turned away and made off at speed.

    By 17:17 Duke of York had settled down to a stern chase on a parallel course to Scharnhorst, and by 18:08 had fired 52 broadsides, 31 of which were assessed as “straddles” (when shells fired as a salvo land on either side of the target, maximising the probability of having scored a hit) until, “with a terrifying crash”, one of Scharnhorst’s return shells tore through the mast below Cobley’s position in the director. The shell did not explode, but cut the cable to the radar above Cobley.

    With her higher speed, Scharnhorst now drew out of range, and it seemed that she might be lost in the night, until with her radar repaired, at 19:01 Duke of York resumed firing radar-directed salvoes.

    Meanwhile, as cruisers and destroyers of the Home Fleet closed on the wounded German battleship, the commander-in-chief signalled “finish her off with torpedoes”, and at 19:45 Scharnhorst sank. When Duke of York ceased fire, it was the end of an era, the last time a Royal Navy battleship would ever engage an enemy battleship.

    Cobley was awarded the DSC.

    Kenneth William Cobley (always known as Tom) was born in Bristol into a large family on April 24 1914; when his father, who was gassed at the Battle of the Somme, could no longer afford to support his children, Kenneth and one of his brothers joined the Navy as boy seamen. In 1930 Cobley trained at HMS Ganges at Shotley, near Harwich.

    His first ship was the cruiser Cumberland on the South Atlantic and South America station (1932-34), and in 1934-35 he served in the aircraft carrier Furious. Cobley’s memory of his next ship, as a leading seaman in the river gunboat Gannet on the Yangtze, was of one of the locally employed Chinese seamen being caught smuggling opium in a solar topee and being summarily executed by the Chinese police.

    Cobley returned home to attend courses to become one of the elite of the Navy, a Warrant Officer Gunner, and at the outbreak of war he was serving in the destroyer Mackay. In 1940, when the French destroyer Léopard was refitted for service with the Free French, Cobley trained her crew in the use of the new weapons with which she was equipped."

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