Captain Hank Rotherham - Bismarck

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José M. Rico
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Captain Hank Rotherham - Bismarck

Post by José M. Rico » Sun Oct 01, 2006 9:22 am

Captain hunted the Bismarck

The Daily Telegraph

Friday, December 20, 2002

Captain Hank Rotherham, who has died aged 95, was a restlessly adventurous naval officer, best known as the Fleet Air Arm observer responsible for setting in motion the hunt for the German battleship Bismarck in 1941.

In May of that year, Capt. Rotherham was in the Orkneys when news came that the Bismarck and the cruiser Prinz Eugen had sailed from the Baltic. The weather had made flying impossible when the senior naval officer planned an attack by the Fleet Air Arm on the ships, which were then thought to be at Bergen, in Norway.

Capt. Rotherham volunteered for a reconnaissance mission of the Norwegian fjords in a Maryland bomber. In low cloud and strong winds, sometimes flying as low as 50 feet to avoid German radar, he navigated the Maryland to a perfect landfall; then, though under heavy fire, he searched the fjords so thoroughly he was able to signal on an emergency frequency "Battleship and Cruiser have left." This set in motion the hunt and then the destruction of the Bismarck.

He was awarded an immediate Distinguished Service Order.

Geoffrey Alexander Rotherham, known as Hank, was born at Darenth, Kent, on Dec. 31, 1906. He went to Dartmouth as a cadet in 1920. Capt. Rotherham first fell in love with Canada when, in the 1920s, he travelled from England to Esquimalt to join the cruiser Durban, where Prince George was serving.

In 1932, Capt. Rotherham trained as an observer for the renascent Fleet Air Arm. In 1939, he was promoted to commander and appointed to the carrier Courageous. She was torpedoed by the U-29 in the South West Approaches on Sept. 17, 1939. Capt. Rotherham swam to the Ellerman liner Dido and was home four days later.

He soon got himself attached to an expedition to Dakar in 1940, aimed at setting up a Free French base for de Gaulle in Africa. The expedition collapsed. When it was diverted south to French Equatorial Africa, Capt. Rotherham became a liaison officer to Philippe Leclerc. He conducted many of the delicate negotiations with the Free French leaders. For all this he was appointed Order of the British Empire in 1941.

Capt. Rotherham was Commanding Officer Naval Air Station Twatt. He went on to join the staff of the Eastern Fleet carrier force and helped plan the seizure of Madagascar, which was fiercely resisted by the Vichy French.

For the next 2 1/2 years he commanded the Royal Naval Air Station at Katukurunda, Ceylon, which became an important staging post in the war against Japan. On Sept. 29, 1945, off Port Said, Capt. Rotherham rescued 450 passengers and crew from the burning ship Empire Patrol.

After five years in the wartime rank of acting captain, he decided to accept an appointment as Director of Naval Aviation, on loan to the Royal Canadian Navy.

After the war, he settled in Canada, working in the aircraft industry and then in real estate.

He published an autobiography, It's Really Quite Safe (1985).

He is survived by his wife, Debbie Stairs, three sons and a daughter.

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Post by RNfanDan » Mon Oct 02, 2006 3:36 am

Thank you for posting this, Mr. Rico!

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José M. Rico
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Post by José M. Rico » Mon Oct 02, 2006 7:28 am

You're welcome.

It is actually an old article I found somewhere on my computer yesterday.

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Post by Orville H. Larson » Mon Oct 09, 2006 6:49 am

Captain Rotherham, RN lived a full, eventful life, didn't he?

The article mentioned that he moved to Canada, where he became involved in aviation and real estate. Was he living there when he died?

My state, Minnesota, borders two Canadian provinces, Ontario and Manitoba. I was just thinking how interesting a visit to this naval personage would have been!

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Re: Captain Hank Rotherham - Bismarck

Post by Brome » Sun Sep 13, 2020 7:08 am

He did live out the rest of his life in Canada. I knew him and his wife when I was young. They were very involved in Knowlton [now part of the Town of Brome Lake] where they did most of the real estate brokerage and were very involved in different worthy activities like Lion's Club and the local Pony Club.

I had no idea that he was such a war hero and only found out about it recently.

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