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Colin McMullen

Gunnery Officer

HMS Prince of Wales

 

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His Obituary:

Captain Colin McMullen

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The text of his Obituary:

Captain Colin McMullen, who has died aged 84, was gunnery officer of the Battleship Prince of Wales, joining her in 1940 when she was building in Birkenhead, and serving in her throughout her short but eventful wartime career.
The ship's main 14 inch gun armament was of a new design and had some serious "teething problems". She still had dockyard workmen on board when she and other ships of the home fleet sailed from Scapa Flow for the dramatic pursuit of the German Battleship Bismark in May 1941.
Prince of Wales and the Battlecruiser Hood encountered Bismark and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen off Iceland early on the morning of May 24. McMullen was just about to open fire when the ship's padre's voice came over the broadcast, intoning the naval prayer before a fight at sea: "O most Powerful and Glorious Lord God..."
"Turn that bloody thing off!" McMullen cried "Shoot!"
McMullen was one of the horrified onlookers who saw Hood blow up, Prince of Wales herself was hit and damaged, but she scored 3 crucial hits on Bismark, which caused the Germans to abandon their sortie into the Atlantic and turn towards Brest, thus leading to Bismarck's eventual destruction.
McMullen was mentioned in dispatches.

In August 1941, Prince of Wales took Winston Churchill across the Atlantic for his historic meeting with President Roosevelt at which the Atlantic charter was signed.

 

In September, she joined Force H to escort the hectic "Halberd" convoy to Malta before going out to the far East with the Battlecruiser Repulse to form Force Z. The ships, which had been intended to deter the Japanese, were instead attacked by Japanese aircraft in the South China Sea on Dec 10, and in one of the greatest naval disasters of the war they were both sunk.

Prince of Wales' Captain, and Admiral Tom Phillips, who flew his flag in her, were lost. McMullen, who was on an upper bridge, was probably the last man to leave the ship. he was picked up by a destroyer and taken to Singapore.

 

McMullen returned home in 1942 and was appointed First Lieutenant at HMS Excellent, the gunnery school at Whale Island, Portsmouth, where he devised a novel "battle teacher" This represented the A gun of a destroyer during a night action in heavy weather, with the gun mounted on a rolling platform and realistic effects of gunfire and spectacular falls of water.

 

McMullen was then seconded. Because of his experience of sailing the French coast, to Force J for operation Jubilee, the Dieppe raid of August 1942. His job was to ensure that the main landing was made at the right place at the right time. The raid was a disaster, but McMullen's part in it was well done and he was awarded the DSC.

 

Promoted Commander in January 1943, he later took command of the destroyer Highlander, leading B4 Escort Group. The group, which was based on Londonderry, escorted 23 convoys to and from Gibraltar.
In 1944, McMullen took command of the Frigate Helmsdale and was escorting an outward bound convoy off the coast of Ireland when a U-Boat was reported in Irish territorial waters. McMullen organised a search which did not find the U-Boat and incurred the disapproval of Admiral Sir Max Horton, C-in-C Western Approaches. Horton summarily relieved McMullen of his command, ordering him to turn over to his First Lieutenant and transfer, by boat, to a homebound destroyer. Back in Liverpool, Horton would not accept McMullen's explanation and flew into one of his characteristic rages. Such an episode would have ended many men's careers but "Colin Mac", although deeply indignant about the unjust way he had been treated, was too able an officer to succumb and soon took command of the destroyer Scorpion.

 

His predecessor had been one of the finest destroyer captains in the Navy, but the wartime years at sea had worn him out, and the crew's morale was at a low ebb. they rallied soon enough under the example of "Colin Mac's" tremendous physical courage and stamina.
In January 1945, when Scorpion had been hove to for two days in an Arctic storm, she was threatened by a wave so huge that everyone else on the bridge feared for their lives. But above the howling wind and they heard "Colin Mac" bellowing in an exaggerated West Country burr "Marrk my words - it doesn't blow like it used to!" Scorpion escorted two convoys to Russia and McMullen was awarded a Bar to his DSC.

 

Colin William McMullen was born on March 12, 1907, and educated at Cheltenham before joining the training ship Erebus as a Special Entry cadet in 1925.
He specialised in gunnery in 1932, and went on to serve in Hood, at St Vincent, the Boys training establishment at Gosport, and as a cadet divisional officer in the training cruiser Frobisher.
After the war, McMullen commanded the Rhine Flotilla, based at Krefeld in Germany, and was Captain Minesweeping Mediterranean Fleet. It was in this capacity that he took charge of salvaging the wreckage of the Comet airliner which crashed in the sea off Naples in 1954.
The next year he was Commodore at NATO Headquarters in Paris, living in his Dutch barge De Bries on the Seine.
In 1956 he was Commodore Inshore Flotilla, and actually set out to take part in the operation to seize the Suez Canal - but it ended before he arrived.

 

McMullen retired in 1958 and became a self employed marine consultant, engaged in harbour studies and marine projects all over the world. He often wrote for professional and sailing journals and sailed his 35 foot sloop Saecwen* until he was well into his eighth decade.
He was founder member of the Royal Naval Sailing Association. He served on the committee of the Royal Cruising Club for more than 15 years, and as Commodore from 1972 to 1977.

McMullen is survived by his wife, Gillian, and a daughter.

 

Please contact Andy (Webmaster) with any further information.

Andy Wade (Webmaster)

Information (Obituary) provided by

Frank Sugden

 

The 35 foot sloop Saecwen*

Last year I sailed across the Channel in Saecwen and considered her a lovely boat in all respects. I thought the family of Colin McMullen might like to know she is still being regularly sailed and lies in the Helford River near Frenchmanís Creek although at this moment of time is being sailed in off the coast of Brittany. The current owner is the local dentist of Constantine, Tim Zorab.

The information I have on her name is that the translation of Saecewn is 'Sea Queen', from the Saxon language, she being a Saxon Classed Sloop. She was built at Burnham on Crouch. The name of the Boatyard escapes me so too does the name of her designer, however, her designer is still alive and lives somewhere on the Channel Isles.


Don Triggol, Lydeard St Lawrence, Somerset (dated 30th August 2003)