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LIEUTENANT FRANK OTT, NAVAL OBSERVER DECORATED AFTER HIS PART IN THE SINKING OF THE JAPANESE CRUISER HAGURO IN 1945.  HE WAS A FOUNDER MEMBER OF SoFFAAM – OBITUARY

Lieutenant Frank Ott, who has died aged 100, was a Fleet Air Arm observer who was awarded the DSC for his part in the sinking of the Japanese cruiser Haguro in May 1945 by the British East Indies fleet. Ott was the senior observer in 851 Naval Air Squadron, flying Grumman Avenger torpedo bombers (supplied under the lend-lease agreement with the US), when a task force from the East Indies Fleet sailed at short notice from Trincomalee for Operation Dukedom, a mission to intercept and destroy Haguro and the destroyer Kamikaze. The ships had been located on their way to evacuate Japanese troops from the Andaman Islands. Ott’s squadron was disembarked from the escort carrier Shah, but a defective catapult prevented her from operating Avengers and so 851 NAS had to be embarked in her sister ship Emperor, which usually operated Grumman Hellcat fighters.

On May 15, Ott and his crew flew a prolonged but unfruitful search for Haguro, landing on the aircraft carrier after more than five hours with very little fuel left. The enemy cruiser was located by 851’s commanding officer more than 200 miles from the carrier. Later the same day they took off again and attack Haguro with two fully fuelled and armed Avengers, but they could not find the cruiser at its predicted position. On Ott’s advice, his pilot extended the search, and half an hour later they located the ship.

The three Avengers, each armed with four 500 lb semi-armour-piercing bombs, carried out independent attacks, encountering intense antiaircraft fire. One of the aircraft was shot down, however, and the crew taken prisoner. The rest recovered aboard Emperor after reporting “probable hits”. These two long sorties, one of them under enemy fire, had left Ott and the others exhausted but elated to have played their part in what would turn out to be one of the last major sea battles of the Second World War. Haguro was sunk early the next morning by a brilliant torpedo attack carried out by destroyers of the 26th Flotilla south-west of Penang in the Malacca Straits. Ott and his pilot were awarded the DSC, and their telegraphist air-gunner the DSM.

The youngest of three brothers, Frank Cyril Ott was born on January 5 1922 at Dover to Ephraim Ott, a butcher who ran a stall in the market, and Agnes, née Huband. Frank was educated at grammar school, obtaining his school certificate in 1938. Fascinated by the sea, he was an enthusiastic member of the Sea Scouts before joining the Admiralty as a Clerk in 1939. After volunteering for the Navy he was called up in January 1942 and went to the Royal Naval Air Station at Piarco, Trinidad, where he was trained to become an observer in the Fleet Air Arm. After receiving his observer’s “wings” he returned to the UK to become a sub-lieutenant.

In September 1943 he crossed the Atlantic again, this time in RMS Queen Mary, to join the new 851 NAS, commissioned at the US Naval Air Station Squantum, Massachusetts, on October 1. After working up at Norfolk, Virginia, the squadron flew across the United States to join HMS Shah, a new escort carrier, in San Francisco. Ott travelled by train, however, with the squadron’s air mechanics and spent New Year’s Day 1944 at a railway station in Chicago.

After embarking her aircraft, Shah sailed across the Pacific to Melbourne in January and eventually joined the East Indies Fleet based at Trincomalee in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, on March 19. For more than a year she carried out trade protection operations in the Indian Ocean, but after Operation Dukedom, in September, 851 NAS left its American aircraft behind in Ceylon and sailed home in Shah. The squadron disbanded at Gourock near the Firth of Clyde after arriving there in October 1945.

After his demobilisation Ott returned to the Admiralty until 1948, when he moved to the London County Council as an administrative assistant in the Education Office. In 1953 he gained a BSc in Economics from the University of London and subsequently became assistant Secretary at Birmingham University, supervising a new building programme. Later he became Assistant Bursar, but was lent to the adjacent Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where he took charge of its development plan. In 1973 he was appointed Bursar of Bristol University where he remained until retirement in 1987. Ott was for 20 years a member of the Glastonbury Male Voice Choir, a Freemason for 70 years and a founder of the Society of Friends of the Fleet Air Arm Museum at RNAS Yeovilton. He married, in 1946, Olive Rita Read, known as Rita, after they met on a train. They had no children, but shared a love of Great Danes which they bred and showed. Friends remembered with amusement seeing the Otts in their small Austin A30 with a Great Dane sitting on the back seat as if directing them. Rita was disabled by a stroke in 1998 and Frank looked after her until her death in 2008. He was determined to reach 100 and, although he was in hospital by then, he was delighted to receive his card from the Queen.

Frank Ott, born January 5 1922, died January 30 2022.

A SUBSTANTIAL PAYMENT TO THE FLEET AIR ARM MUSEUM

During the December Council Meeting, Marc Farrance asked if Barbara Gilbert could submit a bid for a very substantial sum of money.

Barbara reported that FAAM was in negotiations with the families of two FAA veterans who had important items that they wished to sell to FAAM, or they would go to auction. The major collection comprised the medals and logbooks of Cdr Stanley Orr RNVR. The Chairman recognised the name of the FAA’s highest scoring fighter pilot of WW2, and later the commanding officer of the RN’s first Hovercraft Unit. Stanley Gordon Orr was born in London in 1916 and joined the FAA in 1939. After completing his flying training on fighters, he was appointed in May 1940 to 806 Squadron at RNAS Hatston in Orkney, flying the Blackburn Skua and Roc. He took part in raids against German-occupied Norway, before a rapid move to RAF Detling to cover the Dunkirk evacuation.

Having converted on to the Fairey Fulmar, 806 embarked in Illustrious and headed to the Mediterranean. Stan Orr began his scoring in September 1940 and was awarded his first DSC. He was airborne on the day when Illustrious was bombed and severely damaged and landed at RAF Hal Far. Flying in defence of Malta and Illustrious, Stan scored five more victories and awarded a bar to his DSC. 806 then embarked in HMS Formidable, but she was damaged quite soon after that and 806 disembarked again to Alexandria, re-equipping with Hurricanes to fight against the Vichy French in Palestine. Orr was given a non-operational appointment for the first time in his career with an instructor’s job at Yeovilton, before helping to form 896 Squadron, equipped with Grumman Wildcat fighters, in Norfolk, Virginia. An attack of polio slowed him down for a while but on his recovery he was given command of 804 Squadron, equipped with Grumman Hellcats. He flew in the raids against Tirpitz, winning a second Bar to his DSC, and later a Mention in Dispatches. In September 1944 he went to RNAS Henstridge as Chief Flying Instructor (CFI) and then to Empire Test Pilots School (ETPS) at Boscombe Down. For his work on early jets he was awarded the Air Force Cross before serving operationally again in HMS Ocean in Korea. Back at Boscombe Down he commanded the Naval Test Squadron, which was awarded the Boyd Trophy, given annually for the best feat in naval aviation. His final job in the navy was to command the Inter Service Hovercraft Trials Unit at Lee on Solent. In his generation, Stan Orr was a major figure in the FAA, but he was a modest man whose achievements are mainly known in limited circles. His medals reflect his exceptional abilities as both an operational pilot and a test pilot. 

Barbara’s second request was for something a little more unusual, but interesting nevertheless. The watch company of Rolex embarked on an unusual promotional scheme during World War 2. Rolex had lost many of its customers with the outbreak of war, so decided to provide watches to Allied Prisoners of War. These only had to be paid for on the conclusion of the war. It appears that many officers availed themselves of this bargain offer. So many of them were airmen in Stalag Luft III, site of the Great Escape, that one Rolex model is known as “The Escaper”. 

Derek Martin was a Midshipman pilot in the FAA at the same time as Stan Orr, also on Blackburn Skuas and flew as a member of 801. Arriving off Northern Norway in Ark Royal, he was one of four Skua crews who were in combat with German Heinkel 111s on 7 May 1940, claiming a share in one Heinkel shot down. Five weeks later, as a pilot of one of five 801 aircraft along with nine Skuas of 803, set out to attack the damaged battlecruiser Scharnhorst at Trondheim. Eight of the Skuas were shot down, including Midshipman D T R Martin and Ldg Airman W J Tremler. Whilst in captivity, Derek obtained one of these Rolex watches and it was this one, along with other papers, that Barbara sought to secure for FAAM.

More by practice than written policy, Soffaam has donated funds to the museum to enhance its collection and operations. The Council refused a request for operating subsidies at the start of lockdown on the basis that, if a national museum could not be supported by Government, then it was not a going concern. Since then we have donated £10,000 towards major electrical installation works, and now £20,000 to assist in the purchase of two significant additions to an already world class collection. The museum will have to wait a while now until we rebuild our funds.

A SIGNIFICANT CONTRIBUTION TO THE SOCIETY

One of our lifetime members, who wishes to remain anonymous, called me to explain that, having been a member of SoFFAAM since paying his join fee back in 1998, he now feels like he has been getting a “free ride” from the society for some time. He has very kindly given a donation of £500 to SoFFAAM, wishing it to be used in a way that would attract younger joiners. This is something we are very keen to do, as they are the future of our society.

After some thought, our Chairman, Graham Mottram, contacted the Dorset and Somerset Sea Cadets, who have aviation as a part of their training structure. It was decided that a free 12-month SoFFAAM family membership would be granted to the top aviation cadet in each unit. This is to be called “The SoFFAAM Award”. In addition to this, a £25 prize will be awarded to the cadet who writes the best essay on the Fleet Air Arm contribution to the Battle of Britain. This will run for three years and is to be called the “ Tillard/Cockburn Prize”, in recognition of some of those very FAA personnel.

Our sincere thanks go out to our anonymous donor and we hope that his generosity results in some interest from the younger generation! We will publish the outcome of this initiative in future publications of Jabberwock.

Simon Websper, Membership Secretary.