|Born||26 April 1887
|Died||14 October 1939 (aged 52)
Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands
|Years of service||1901 to 1939 †|
|Commands held||HMS Curacoa, HMS Norfolk, HMS Sussex, Second Battle Squadron|
|Battles/wars||First World War
• Battle of Dogger Bank
• Battle of Jutland
Second World War
• Destruction of HMS Royal Oak
Rear-Admiral Henry Evelyn Charles Blagrove (26 April 1887 – 14 October 1939) was the first British Royal Navy officer of flag rank to be killed in the Second World War. An experienced staff officer and veteran of several actions of the First World War aboard the battlecruiser HMS Tiger, Blagrove had only just received his appointment as commander of the Second Battleship Division of the Home Fleet when he was killed in the destruction of his flagship HMS Royal Oak by U-47.
Henry Blagrove was born to Colonel Henry John Blagrove, CB of the 13th Hussars and Alice Evelyn Blagrove neé Boothby at Harbledown, Kent in April 1887. His family owned the Blagrove Estate in the Browns Town & Orange Valley of St Ann’s Jamaica. It had formerly been a slave plantation.
In 1901 aged 14 he entered naval service and trained at HMS Prince of Wales, joining HMS Good Hope as a midshipman in 1903 aged 17. Three years later Blagrove departed the ship as a sub-lieutenant and over the next three years earned promotion to full lieutenant aboard several ships, including HMS Sapphire, HMS Arab and HMS Invincible, the latter being the first of many appointments aboard capital ships.
First World War
Following promotion to lieutenant in 1909, Blagrove saw brief service aboard HMS Highflyer, HMS Fox and the battleship HMS Vengeance, before taking a course ashore at Dartmouth College, where the outbreak of the First World War found him. At the conclusion of his studies in October 1914, Blagrove received appointment aboard HMS Tiger, a newly completed ship in the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron under Admiral David Beatty. Tiger was commissioned only days before Blagrove joined her and due to recruitment shortages she had a poor crew made up by deserters from other ships.
Three months after joining Tiger Blagrove saw his first action, as Tiger joined her sister ships in the Battle of Dogger Bank. Tiger fired several hundred shells during the action, but her overall performance was poor, scoring few hits and suffering the loss of ten men to German counter fire. Nevertheless, Tiger was involved in the battle's final moments as the stricken German battle cruiser SMS Blücher heeled over and sank with nearly 800 lives. In late May 1916, a much improved Tiger became involved in the war's largest naval action, the Battle of Jutland. Tiger was engaged in the action from start to finish and despite the loss of three of her compatriots to German fire, Tiger escaped mortal damage, taking at least 15 hits and losing "Q" turret but only suffering 24 fatalities. The battle as a whole was a confusing affair without a clear victor but within 24 hours Tiger had recovered sufficiently from her damage to be able to return to active service, something few German ships could boast.
In November 1917, Blagrove was transferred to the HMS Queen Elizabeth, a fast battleship which had spent much of the war in the Mediterranean. Unlike the battlecruisers in Rosyth, Queen Elizabeth was stationed in Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands and it was there that Blagrove met his future wife Edith Lowe, who was serving as a Wren. The couple would be married in 1921 and later have two daughters. Aboard Queen Elizabeth, Blagrove served out the war, being present at the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet and their subsequent scuttle in Scapa Flow. During the war he was promoted first to lieutenant-commander and later to full commander in 1919. Blagrove was also awarded the Italian Silver Medal for Valour in 1917. He departed Queen Elizabeth in 1920 and joined HMS President during which he saw staff appointments at Cambridge University and in the office of the Second Sea Lord.
In 1922, Blagrove joined HMS Excellent for a training course and then joined HMS Cardiff for his first posting aboard her, later being removed to HMS Ceres as her temporary captain for a month and then returned to Cardiff as her executive officer until January 1925. Further staff and training appointments followed, Blagrove being stationed at HMS Victory, HMS President and HMS Pembroke before being given command of HMS Curacoa in 1927 and promoted to captain. In 1932, after several staff appointments, Blagrove was briefly placed in command of HMS Norfolk and was then returned to shore duties at the Admiralty in 1934.
In 1937, Blagrove spent a year commanding HMS Sussex (96) and in 1938 was given the promotion to rear-admiral and placed on the staff of the Admiral Superintendent at Chatham Dockyard after a period as Naval Aide-de-Camp to King George VI. In January 1939 with war impending, Blagrove was given command of the Second Battle Squadron, consisting of the battleships HMS Royal Oak and HMS Royal Sovereign stationed at Scapa Flow. Training and preparing his force in the run up to and opening weeks of the Second World War, Blagrove proved himself a capable and efficient officer, despite some doubts regarding his quiet personality and consequent suitability for service in a seagoing command.
Death on the Royal Oak
Disaster struck HMS Royal Oak in the late night of 13 October 1939, when German submarine U-47 stealthily bypassed the defences at the entrance to Scapa Flow and prepared to attack the berthed battleship. U-47's commander Günther Prien had been disappointed to find that a recent order from Admiral Charles Forbes to clear Scapa Flow in case of air attack had denuded the harbour of targets. The largest remaining warship, retained because she carried a large battery of anti-aircraft guns, was Royal Oak. Prien's first shots failed to find the target, only scoring a glancing blow on the bow and causing a minor alarm to be sounded on the battleship. The alarm was taken however to mean that Royal Oak was in danger of a potential internal explosion, and once this was proven to be unlikely, many of her crew returned to their bunks. Thus when Prien returned shortly afterwards with his torpedo tubes reloaded, Royal Oak was unprepared for attack. Three torpedoes struck her amidships, causing a huge explosion and resulting in the battleship listing dangerously to starboard. Prien used the confusion in Scapa Flow to make good his escape.
As the crew scrambled to leave the stricken vessel, rescue boats set out from the shore and nearby ships responded. However the darkness, oil slick and low water temperature meant that many of those who did escape the ship drowned in the harbour before they could be rescued. 15 minutes after Royal Oak had been struck, the battleship rolled over and sank, taking 833 men with her. 386 were rescued. Blagrove was not among the survivors, his body not recovered and the manner of his death unknown. Blagrove's family heard of the sinking of Royal Oak from newspaper billboards in Edinburgh the following day but were not overly concerned for his safety until they were notified of his death 24 hours later.
Blagrove's name is included on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial as his remains were never recovered. His actual gravesite, the wreck of Royal Oak, is a protected war grave and a memorial to all the men who died aboard her stands in St. Magnus Cathedral on the Orkney Islands. The islanders themselves also maintain the memory of those lost on the battleship and an annual ceremony remembers them at the site of the wreck. Blagrove's widow later worked on the efforts to break the codes of the German Enigma machine at Bletchley Park, and his family have made several visits to the Islands to commemorate their father's memory.
Rear-Admiral Henry Blagrove was an efficient, able and popular officer whose service record contains few blemishes and many commendations. His untimely death ended a promising and successful career. One of his commanding officers, on recommending him for captain in 1927, indicated his character with the assessment:
Above average. An exceptionally good officer which has caused me to recommend him strongly for promotion. Very good powers of leadership - exhorts an excellent influence - is tactful & easy to deal with. Cheerful, energetic & frank personality. Physically fit – plays & is interested in all games. He has been a Rugger player of a high order & understands the game. Socially popular & much liked in the mess. He has extraordinary energy & organising capacity, and a brain capacity above the average. Recommended for further employment in a more responsible position.
- Rear-Admiral Henry Evelyn Charles Blagrove, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Retrieved 11 November 2007
- Rear-Admiral Henry Evelyn Charles Blagrove, Royal Navy Flag Officers 1904-1945, Retrieved 11 November 2007
- Royal Oak Admiral's last words revealed, The Orcadian, June 28, 2001, Retrieved 11 November 2007
- The London Gazette: . 1 July 1927. Retrieved 2007-12-10.