Peter Gretton

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Sir Peter William Gretton
Born (1912-08-27)27 August 1912
Farnham, Surrey
Died 11 November 1992(1992-11-11) (aged 80)
Oxford, Oxfordshire
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Navy
Years of service 1930–1963
Rank Vice Admiral
Commands held Fifth Sea Lord (1962–63)
Flag Officer Sea Training (1960–61)
HMS Saker (1954–55)
HMS Gambia (1952–53)
HMS Chelmer (1943–44)
HMS Vidette (1943)
HMS Duncan (1943)
HMS Wolverine (1942)
HMS Sabre (1941–42)

Abyssinia crisis
Arab rebellion in Palestine
Second World War

Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order & Two Bars
Officer of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Cross
Mentioned in Despatches
Other work Domestic Bursar of University College, Oxford
Senior Research Fellow
President of the Royal Humane Society

Vice Admiral Sir Peter William Gretton KCB, DSO & Two Bars, OBE, DSC (27 August 1912 – 11 November 1992) was an officer in the Royal Navy. He was active in the Battle of the Atlantic during the Second World War, and was a successful convoy escort commander. He eventually rose to become Fifth Sea Lord and retired as a vice admiral before entering university life as a bursar and academic.

Early Life and career[edit]

Gretton was born on 27 August 1912,[1] in Farnham, Surrey, the son of a British Army officer, Gretton joined the Royal Navy as a cadet in 1930 and attended Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.[citation needed] His ambition was to be general seaman officer, a 'salt horse', and serve in destroyers.[citation needed]

After graduating he served in various appointments, as midshipman and sub-lieutenant, rising to lieutenant in 1934. In that year he learned to fly, serving in Courageous.[citation needed]

In 1936 Gretton was with HMS Durban in the Mediterranean and saw action during the Abyssinia crisis and the Spanish Civil War. Also in 1936 during the Arab rebellion in Palestine, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross while leading a landing party in Haifa.[citation needed]

In 1939 he attended an anti-submarine course at Portland and, on the outbreak of the Second World War, was assigned to HMS Vega as first lieutenant.[citation needed]

Second World War[edit]

After a short period with Vega, from September 1939 to April 1940, Gretton was appointed as the first lieutenant with HMS Cossack under Philip Vian. He saw action in the Norwegian Campaign and was mentioned in despatches at the Second Battle of Narvik.[citation needed]

In 1941 he was appointed in command of the destroyer HMS Sabre, serving in the North Atlantic with 1st Escort Group. In 1942 he was given command of HMS Wolverine and returned to the Mediterranean. He took part in Operation Pedestal, the Malta convoy operation in August 1942, and sank the Italian submarine Dagabur by ramming; for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. This action resulted in damage to Wolverine's bow and she returned, first to Gibraltar, then Devonport, for repairs.[citation needed]

During this period Gretton attended the Western Approaches Tactical Unit in Liverpool for anti-submarine training, which was the basis of Royal Navy anti-submarine warfare in the Battle of the Atlantic. In December 1942 he was promoted to commander[1] and given command of HMS Duncan, as Senior Officer Escort to Escort Group B7, based in Derry. His pennant was originally in HMS Tay, moving later to Duncan after she finished refitting.[citation needed]

In 1943 Gretton and the B7 Group saw several quiet convoys, then a series of major convoy battles. In April 1943 convoy HX 231 saw six ships lost while two U-boats were destroyed. In April/May convoy ONS 5 saw twelve ships sunk and six U-boats destroyed, and in late May 1943 convoy SC 130 had no ships lost while three to five U-boats destroyed.[citation needed]

As action in the North Atlantic subsided, Gretton lobbied for B7 to function as a support group.[citation needed] He was given one patrol in October 1943, supporting Convoy ON 206, ON 207 and ON 208, during which Gretton in Duncan helped to destroy two of the nine U-boats destroyed in these battles.[citation needed]

Gretton continued with the B7 Group until May 1944, moving to Vidette and Chelmer when Duncan was no longer serviceable. In the summer of 1944 Gretton moved to the Admiralty staff, where he remained for the rest of the war.[citation needed]

Post war[edit]

Following the end of the Second World War Gretton continued in the Royal Navy, rising through a series of sea and staff commands. He was promoted captain in 1948 and to flag rank in 1960.[citation needed]

In 1963 he became medically unfit[1] and retired, having reached the position of Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff and Fifth Sea Lord, as well as a Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty.

He can be seen in the "Wolfpack" episode of the television series The World at War.[citation needed]

Civilian Life[edit]

Gretton served as the Domestic Bursar of University College, Oxford from 1965 until 1971,[1] and became a senior research fellow in 1971.[1] He published widely on defence matters and was the President of the Royal Humane Society. He died on 11 November 1992 at the age of 80.[1]

Published works[edit]

  • Convoy escort commander (1964; memoirs)
  • Maritime strategy : a study of British defence problems (1965)
  • Former Naval Person : Churchill and the navy (1968)
  • Crisis convoy : the story of HX231 (1974)


Gretton was credited with the destruction of one Italian submarine and two U-boats during the Second World War:[citation needed]

  • The Italian submarine Dagabur was destroyed in August 1942.
  • U-274 was destroyed on 23 October 1943
  • U-282 was destroyed on 29 October 1943.

Gretton was also credited during the war with the destruction of U-381 in May 1943, but post-war analysis judged this attack was against U-636, which was only damaged.[citation needed]


Gretton was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1936 and was mentioned in despatches in 1940. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the King's Birthday Honours of 1941.[1] He received the Distinguished Service Order and Two Bars; the first in 1942 for Operation Pedestal; the second in 1943 for the defence of ONS 5; and the third in late 1943 for the actions as support group leader.[citation needed]

For his postwar career he was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1960 and knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1963.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Peter Gretton". Retrieved 11 June 2008. 
  • Clay Blair  : Hitler's U-Boat War [Volume 2]: The Hunted 1942–1945 (1998) ISBN 0-304-35261-6 (2000 UK paperback ed.)
  • Peter Gretton Convoy Escort Commander (1956) ISBN none
  • Paul Kemp : U-Boats Destroyed ( 1997) . ISBN 1-85409-515-3
  • David White : Bitter Ocean (2006). ISBN 0-7553-1088-8
Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Laurence Durlacher
Fifth Sea Lord
Succeeded by
Sir Frank Hopkins