Henry St John Fancourt bigraphy, stories - Fleet

Henry St John Fancourt : biography

01 April 1900 - 08 January 2004

Captain Henry Lockhart St John Fancourt, DSO, RN (1 April 1900 – 8 January 2004) was a pioneering naval aviator, and held important aviation commands with the Fleet Air Arm during the Second World War. When Fancourt died at the age of 103, he was one of the last, if not the last, survivor who had actively been involved in the Battle of Jutland.

The Battle of Jutland, 1916

On 31 May 1916, the Princess Royal was involved in the initial engagement of the Battle of Jutland. Two of her sister ships were lost (with nearly 2,000 men) and the Princess Royal was mistakenly reported as having been sunk. In reality she had been hit twice and was hit three more times later in the battle. Fancourt's action station was in the rear gun turret so he did not see much of the battle.

Fancourt was mentioned in dispatches later in the war for his efforts on flotilla escort and patrol duties from Queenstown, Ireland. In June 1919, he was present at the scuttling of the German fleet in Scapa Flow.

Early life and naval career

Fancourt was born in Birmingham, and was the son of General St John Fancourt. He joined the Royal Navy and entered the Royal Naval College, Osborne, in January 1913 at the age of 12. In 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, like most of his classmates he was sent to sea—in his case, on the battlecruiser HMS Princess Royal.

World War II

In December 1940 he was promoted Captain and given command of HMS Sparrowhawk, the naval air station at Hatston in the Orkney Islands. In January 1941, Fancourt was bady injured when German dive-bombers destroyed the control tower at Lee-on-the-Solent.

In May 1941, he was Mentioned in Despatches for his initiative in sending a Maryland aircraft to reconnoitre for the German battleship Bismarck after poor weather had prevented RAF reconnaissance. He also ordered 828 Naval Air Squadron's Albacore torpedo bombers to Sumburgh, ready for a strike on Bismarck should she come within range, but she did not.

While at RAF Hatston in Orkney in April 1942 Fancourt, flying a Gloster Gladiator, made the first landing of the war by a British plane on an American aircraft carrier when the USS Wasp was passing through Scapa Flow.

In 1942, Fancourt had been assigned to take command of the escort carrier HMS Searcher, then under construction in the United States. This was cancelled, however, and he took command of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla which consisted of two destroyers, HMS Broke and HMS Malcolm, assigned to Operation Torch, the allied invasion of French North Africa. The destryers were to land a detachment of American Rangers. The assignment was to enter Algiers harbour on 8 November, land the troops and prevent the Vichy French from scuttling their ships or wrecking the port installations (Operation Terminal).

This turned into a disaster when the commandos that landed on either side of Algiers failed to capture the Vichy artillery batteries. These heavily bombarded Fancourt's destroyers and Malcolm had to withdraw after suffering engine room damage. Broke, with Fancourt, penetrated the defensive boom on her fourth attempt and landed her troops. Broke was sunk by French artillery later in the day but the crew and wounded were transferred to the destroyer HMS Zetland. Fancourt was awarded the DSO for his part in the battle.

In January 1943, Fancourt was placed in command of the Argus, now a training carrier. In September 1943, he was given command of the maintenance carrier HMS Unicorn, which sailed for the Indian Ocean in December 1943 with reinforcements for the Eastern Fleet, later transferring to the British Pacific Fleet.

Interwar activities

After the war, Fancourt attended Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, to complete his interrupted education. On his return to the Navy he chose to specialise in aviation and qualified as a pilot in 1924 after attending No 1 Naval Pilots Course. The ongoing dispute between the Admiralty and the Air Ministry about naval aviation meant that he held the dual ranks of Flying Officer, Royal Air Force and Lieutenant, Royal Navy.

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine