Commodore L’Estrange DSC
Heroes of the RFA Commodore Henry Owen L’Estrange, DSC, RD, RFA
Henry Owen L’Estrange was born in Southern Ireland in 1912 and after being educated at home and at Castlepark Prep school in Dublin, he joined his elder brother in the Merchant Navy.
In 1926 Henry L’Estrange joined the training ship HMS Conway at Liverpool and on completion of his studies he became an indentured apprentice with Alfred Holt of Liverpool, serving his time on ‘Blue Funnel’ line ships. On completion of his training Henry remained with Holt’s as a fourth mate until 1934, when ships and jobs started to be reduced, during the great depression. Henry found and secured a job with the War Department fleet at Watchet in Somerset, where he spent a year as a temporary mate on a target towing vessel.
Henry Owen L’Estrange joined the RFA in 1935 as a 3rd Mate, where he remained until being called up for war service in 1940 with the Royal Navy, as he had joined the Royal Naval Reserve in 1938. Henry first served in an Anti-Submarine trawler HMS Northern Sun from July 1940 until February 1941, in July 1941 he was given his first command, another Anti-Submarine trawler HMS Kingston Agate, where he was to win his Distinguished Service Cross.
On the 27th August 1941 the German submarine U 570 was about 80 miles south of Iceland when she was spotted by an RAF Hudson and damaged her with 4 air launched depth charges, the U boat had come up to periscope depth when it spotted the aircraft, and by the time it had started to dive again the depth charges were in the water. Eventually, the boat returned to the surface and the Hudson attacked again, this time with machine gun fire, the submarine hoisted a white flag, whilst the aircraft radioed for reinforcements.
The following day, Henry L’Estrange and HMS Kingston Agate were one of the first on scene and accepted the U-Boats surrender. They were later followed by the destroyers HMS Burwell and HMS Windemere and other units which stood by the U Boat. The submarine commander had ordered all ammunition and confidential papers to be jettisoned, so when an armed party from the Kingston Agate boarded the U Boat they found that some of the German crew had attempted to open the sea cocks to scuttle the submarine, this was stopped and the submarine taken in tow to Barrow in Furness. On arrival at Barrow the U-Boat was found to still have two live torpedoes in her tubes which could have been used against the Kingston Agate.
For his bravery and skill in the capture of U570 Henry L’Estrange was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross which was announced in the London Gazette of 11 June 1942 and he was invested on 22 September 1942.
U 570 was repaired and re-entered service as the British submarine HMS Graph. Henry L’Estrange left the Kingston Agate in July 1942 and was appointed in command of HMS Kilbride until 1944, when he was admitted to hospital in Gibraltar after being accidentally gassed, his last appointment in the Royal Navy was on the Depot Ship HMS Berry Head.
Henry L’Estrange re-joined the RFA in 1946 and rose through the ranks until in the 1960’s he was promoted Senior Master and was in command of a number of front line ships. He was promoted to Commodore in 1971 and was in command of RFA Stromness in Singapore when he was suddenly taken ill and died, a year before he was due to retire and return to Ireland.