Captain A.S. Rosenthal DSO and Bar, OBE, RAN
- December 1975
- Parker, Captain R. G. , OBE, RAN (retd)
- Biographies and personal histories, Naval history
- HMAS Anzac I, HMAS Australia (II), HMAS Canberra I, HMAS Cerberus (Shore Establishment), HMAS Geranium, HMAS Melbourne (I), HMAS Napier, HMAS Nestor, HMAS Nizam, HMAS Norman I, HMAS Parramatta (I), HMAS Stuart I, HMAS Success I, HMAS Vendetta I, HMAS Waterhen, HMAS Westralia I
- Originally published in the Naval Historical Review edition (all rights reserved)
After further service with Somerville’s Force H, and attacking more submarines, but without success, Nestor made rendezvous with a troop convoy west of the Azores. The convoy escort was under the command of the Captain of the battleship Repulse, and arrangements had been made to refuel at sea from an oiler; however, Repulse fuelled first, and when she returned Rosenthal received a signal in effect: ‘Sorry, Nestor, but I have emptied the oiler‘. As Nestor was very short of fuel, she was forced to slip into Bathurst, Gambia, with only 15 tons left, which had only been achieved by the most stringent steaming economies.
After leaving Bathurst, a depth-charge attack was carried out in shallow water, and one charge exploded prematurely, damaging Nestor’s turbine feet, and she returned to Devonport for repairs, on completion of which she sailed for Gibraltar.
On 15th December 1941, in company with three destroyers off Cape St. Vincent, a submarine was sighted on the surface.
Rosenthal immediately turned towards the submarine, increased speed and opened fire at a range of 11,000 yards The submarine submerged, and shortly afterwards Nestor obtained contact and attacked with depth charges. Subsequently a heavy underwater explosion was heard and oil, wreckage and human remains appeared on the surface. The sinking of U-127 was confirmed and credited to Nestor. This was the only German U-Boat destroyed by the RAN, and the second submarine sunk, the first being by Stuart. For the destruction of U-127, Rosenthal received a bar to his DSO. Nestor joined the Mediterranean Fleet, and took part in the bombardment of Bardia, with Napier and Nizam. In January 1942 the destroyers sailed from Alexandria to join the Eastern Fleet.
Operation ‘Vigorous’ was planned to cover the sailing of a convoy from Alexandria to Malta, in conjunction with a similar operation named ‘Harpoon’ from the west. Napier, Norman, Nizam and Nestor were recalled from the Eastern Fleet and joined the eastern convoy which left Alexandria on 13th June 1942 for Malta; it was commanded by Rear Admiral Vian in Cleopatra. The convoy consisted of eleven merchant ships, escorted by seven cruisers, 26 destroyers and a small fleet of minesweepers and corvettes.
The Luftwaffe were soon on the scene, and they sank several ships, including Hasty and Airedale. But Operation ‘Vigorous’ had not yet paid the full price.
At 1806 on the 15th Nestor was straddled during a high-level attack; the gigantic forces generated by the three bombs exploding almost simultaneously lifted Nestor bodily out of the water, and she crashed violently as she fell back. The area between the bridge and the funnel flexed violently, and Commander Rosenthal and all personnel in the vicinity were thrown to the deck. Nestor suffered damage to her two Boiler Rooms, both compartments flooding immediately, and causing complete failure of all power.
The damage and resulting flooding caused Nestor to settle by the bow and gave her a list to port. The greatest danger was the fire which had broken out in the uptakes from No. 1 Boiler-Room; as the normal hand fire-extinguishing equipment had proved ineffective, Rosenthal suggested using wet hammocks at the base of the funnel, to stifle the fire, and in an hour the fire was out.
The destroyer Javelin took Nestor in tow, and three Hunt Class destroyers were sent to form an escort. The ships were attacked by high-level and torpedo-bombers, but no further damage was done. Night brought more troubles, as the tow parted twice. Only 80 miles had been covered, and there were still 230 miles to go to Alexandria, in waters dominated by the Luftwaffe.
Nestor’s fate was sealed by the approach of E-Boats at dawn. The position was now critical; Commander Rosenthal requested Javelin to break radio silence to advise the Commander-in-Chief at Alexandria of the gravity of the position. Admiral ordered that Nestor was to be scuttled. The ship’s company jumped across onto Javelin, which had come alongside. Scuttling operations were carried out, but it was necessary for Javelin to fire seven charges to hasten her end.
Nestor sank 115 miles north-east of Tobruk. In her short life, she saw more action than most destroyers, and was the only Australian warship that had never served in home waters; she had steamed 90,000 miles before she was sunk.
In the history of the Australian ‘N Class’ destroyers, published by the Naval Historical Society of Australia in 1972, I paid this tribute to her Captain:
‘He was one of those rare individuals, a man of ultra-quick decision. For a ship at war, it had to be the right decision in a moment of crisis, and Nestor’s illustrious career in a very large measure was due to the man who commanded her. Invariably relaxed and cheerful when off-duty or in harbour, at sea he drove the ship and her complement hard, but it was what everyone expected. He was the master of his profession as a destroyer-man. A capable ship-handler, a meticulous navigator, and insatiably interested in the day-to-day details of the ship’s affairs that matter for fighting efficiency. Of bright and breezy personality, forthright and outspoken – not always to senior officers’ liking – he was highly regarded by his brother captains in the various fleets in which Nestor served, as well as by Captain D7, Captain Stephen Arliss, DSO, RN. One particular admirer of Commander Rosenthal was Admiral Sir James Somerville, Flag Officer of Force H, with whom Rosenthal was to later renew friendship in Washington.
For the officers and ship’s company of Nestor, her Commanding Officer was a man who earned their complete respect, confidence and admiration’.
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