Naval commander

Naval commander

Born: February 17, 1922; Died: July 8, 2014.

North Dalrymple Hamilton, who has died aged 92, served King, Queen and country in a distinguished career that took him from some of the most tumultuous campaigns of the Second World War to command of the Royal Yacht.

Aged just 19, he saw action in the decisive battle to sink the Bismarck, went on to serve in the Russian Convoys and D-Day landings and by 22 had been decorated for gallantry.

Following the Korean War, he took up his post on the Royal Yacht Britannia but his illustrious naval career was cut short after he suffered terrible burns in a helicopter crash, a physical endurance test that saw him triumph to walk again.

He eventually moved from sea to soil, becoming a successful farmer, although he claimed that being a naval officer was much easier, and custodian of the family estate at Bargany, in Ayrshire, whilst continuing to serve the Royal Family as a member of the Queen's Bodyguard for Scotland.

That Royal connection was forged at birth. He arrived in the world while his father was at sea on the battle cruiser Renown with the then Prince of Wales. At the time the ship was in Japan, on a Royal tour of the Far East, with the future Edward VIII who became one of North's godparents, King George V having been one of his father's godparents.

Born at his maternal grandmother's home at Widworthy Court, near Honiton, Devon, North was the son of Admiral Sir Frederick Dalrymple Hamilton, then first lieutenant of the Renown, and Gwendolen Peek.

He grew up at the family home, Clady House, Cairnryan, Stranraer with his two sisters Christian and Graeme, and was educated at Berkshire's Wixenford School, where he excelled at all sports, particularly cricket, before going on to attend Eton College.

A handsome young man, he had already decided to follow in his father's naval footsteps and was due to start officer training at Dartmouth in January 1940 when Wigtownshire was deluged by the worst blizzards in living memory, blocking road and rail routes. Not to be defeated, his mother hired a Cairnryan fishing boat, The Janet, to ferry him up the coast to Girvan to catch a train to Glasgow. However, the snow had also blocked all lines south and he ended up taking a detour via Edinburgh and down the east coast, yet still managing to arrive at Dartmouth on time.

His first posting was to HMS Nelson but he soon joined the newly-commissioned battleship King George V which would shortly take part in the North Atlantic hunt for the mighty German battleship Bismarck.

The Bismarck, a new and heavily-armoured vessel, sank the battle cruiser HMS Hood, the pride of the British fleet, on May 24, 1941, with the loss of all but three of her 1,400-plus crew. A seek and destroy mission immediately began, in the air and at sea, with the George V linking up with battleship HMS Rodney - captained by midshipman Dalrymple Hamilton's father.

Two days later, during a strike by Swordfish aircraft, two torpedoes hit the Bismarck, disabling its rudders but leaving it still afloat. The following morning its British pursuers, led by the King George V and Rodney, caught up with the crippled vessel and engaged the German battleship.

HMS Rodney opened fire first, swiftly followed by the George V. The Bismarck fired back - an act the young Dalrymple Hamilton vividly remembered as he felt guilty hoping that she was not aiming at his ship - but, under his father's command, the Rodney took out the Bismarck's two forward gun turrets. Little more than an hour after the battle began all the Bismarck's guns had been silenced.

HMS Rodney then let loose two torpedos, followed by three more from the cruiser HMS Dorsetshire. The Bismarck, whose crew had prepared to scuttle the vessel, went down with more than 2,000 souls, many already killed in the carnage wreaked by the British guns, leaving just over 100 survivors. The Dalrymple Hamiltons and their fellow crewmen had played the most crucial role in her demise.

North served in destroyers for much of the rest of the war, in particular on HMS Faulknor, initially escorting convoys to Russia before transferring to duties in the North Atlantic and subsequently the Mediterranean.

The Arctic Convoy missions, known as the worst journey in the world, were dangerous, bone-chilling trips, escorting merchant vessels delivering essential supplies to Russia, in temperatures as low as -50 degrees. His missions included convoy PQ18, the first following the doomed PQ17 in which two-thirds of the merchant ships were lost in enemy air and U-boat attacks.

He went on to take part in the invasion of Sicily, the landings in Salerno and the surrender of the Italian fleet in September 1943. In Greece he earned the Distinguished Service Cross, for exemplary gallantry as a gunnery officer on the Faulknor during heavy fighting to support the evacuation of Cos and Leros.

From March 1944 he served on the destroyer HMS Cotswold, taking part in D-Day that June where he was reunited once more in action with his father who was commanding the British naval bombardment force from HMS Belfast that day but who managed to exchange signals with his son. After VE Day, North became Flag Lieutenant to the Commander in Chief, East Indies Station in Sri Lanka, before serving as an instructor at the Signals School at HMS Mercury until early 1950. He then joined HMS Crispin, part of the Third Training Flotilla and served in the Korean War on the cruiser HMS Birmingham, where he gained his MBE, before being appointed Signals Officer to the Queen, initially on the SS Gothic and then on the new Royal Yacht Britannia in 1953.

He took up his first independent command in 1958, the new anti-submarine frigate HMS Scarborough which took part in hydrogen bomb tests in Christmas Island in the South Pacific later that year. That October he was back in Royal service as commander of the Royal Yacht, a role for which he was appointed CVO.

The helicopter accident, which ultimately curtailed his naval career, happened in February 1961 when gearbox failure caused the aircraft, in which he was a passenger, to crash and burst into flames. He was badly burned, endured numerous operations, four months in hospital and had to learn to walk again. Following a long convalescence, he finally returned to work, taking command of HMS Tenby and the Dartmouth Training Squadron, but retired from the Navy in 1970, having also been director of Naval Signals and, latterly, director of the Admiralty Surface Weapons Establishment in Portsmouth.

He and his wife Mary, daughter of Lord and Lady Clydesmuir, whom he had married in 1949, then moved to Loveston House at Bargany where he farmed until 1998 and lavished love and time on the gardens. He was also an officer in the Queens Royal Bodyguard for Scotland, a Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Ayrshire and keenly involved in local affairs including the Girvan branch of the RNLI.

Two years after the death of Mary in 1981, he married widow Tony Beech and in retirement they moved to Hampshire. After Tony died in 2009 he returned to Scotland, to Turnberry from where he could see the sea from his room and remain close to his beloved garden at Bargany.

He is survived by his sons John and Jamie.