WWII: Commander Lewis King DSC VRD RNZNVR
Wellingtonian Lewis King joined the Naval Reserve in 1931. He was one of the 25 officers and 219 ratings who left Wellington as the first New Zealand Naval Draft in the RMS AQUITANIA in May 1940 with the Second Echelon.
In St George's Channel, inbound for the Clyde, they were met by their destroyer escort and King decided that these were the ships in which he wanted to serve. He got his wish and was posted to HMS EXCELLENT for a Gunnery Officers Course before joining HMS WESTON, which was engaged in alternate Atlantic and coastal convoy escort duties.
His next post was to HMS BERKLEY, working as an escort to the Channel convoys at a time when France had fallen and the whole continental Channel coast was occupied by Germany. Long-range guns at Cape Gris-Nez, Stuka dive-bombers, and mines laid along the route by German aircraft made life very difficult for Allied convoys.
HMS ONSLOW was being completed in Glasgow when King joined her. She was part of the 17th Destroyer Flotilla based on Scapa Flow, but worked for much of the time out of Iceland. ONSLOW participated in 10 Archangel & Murmansk convoys, a Malta convoy, the American landings at Casablanca in North Africa and commando raids in Norway before being seriously damaged in action near North Cape in Norway.
It was in the Norwegian action that King earned the Distinguished Service Cross. The German cruiser ADMIRAL HIPPER opened fire on ONSLOW causing much damage, particularly in the forward part of the ship. Captain R St. V Sherbrooke, who was awarded the VC, wrote:
'Although Lieutenant King, a young Reserve Officer, had been first lieutenant in the (Flotilla) Leader for one month only, he exercised complete control when the ship was seriously damaged by three 8 inch shells. A fire raged as the result of two hits forward, the forward fire and repair party had been wiped out; the ship had to remain at Action Stations and had suffered a 20 percent loss in personnel through casualties. Despite these severe handicaps, by personal demonstration he showed his untrained assistants exactly what he required and the serious fires were under control in a remarkably short time. Nearly the whole forepart of the ship was on fire at one time or another; nevertheless, after four hours he was able to report to the bridge that all fires were extinguished and a collision mat in place over the hole in the ship's side. He continued unceasingly to attend to the safety of the ship and the welfare of the ship's company. Her safe arrival in harbour 24 hours later is testimony to his sound judgement and untiring efforts. In courage and leadership he set a fine example to his men and that their morale remained as high as ever is a tribute to their first lieutenant.'
Later King served as Gunnery Officer in HMNZS ACHILLES when she was attached to the East Indies Fleet, the British Pacific Fleet and the Japanese Occupation Forces.
His Naval career continued after the war as Executive Officer of HMNZS OLPHERT.