COMMANDER CLAUDE SCLATER
DSO and bar, FRGS, MA.
This biography is based on Commander Sclater's Obituary which appeared in the Times on the 3rd. May 1986, supplemented by material supplied by his family.
Claude Edward Lutley Sclater was born 24/1/1910 in Odiham, Hampshire. Educated at Twyford School, he went to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth; in 1927 he joined HMS Hood as a Midshipman. As a Lieutenant he served for two years in HMS Folkestone during the 1930s on the China Station, after which he transferred to the Surveying Service and assisted with surveys of the Shetlands and of uncharted waters off Borneo and Malaya for which he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1933.
At the outbreak of war he was serving in the battleship Royal Oak when she was torpedoed in Scapa Flow; 833 of her company were lost and he was rescued from the water. He then (Dec. 1939- July 1940) became Executive Officer of the flotilla leader Broke in the Western Approaches, during which time his ship took part in the Dunkirk Evacuation. On promotion to Lt. Commander later in 1940 he took command of the World War I vintage destroyer Wild Swan; his ship took part in a number of sweeps across the Channel, destroying enemy shipping and invasion barges, and was afterwards on Convoy Escort duty in the Atlantic, based at Liverpool, Gibraltar and Freetown, and seeing much action.
In June 1942 while Wild Swan returning alone to Plymouth to refit, the ship was attacked and eventually sunk by German dive bombers. With her assorted armament of 4.7-inch guns, 12 pounders, pom-poms, Lewis guns and some Bren Guns scrounged at Boulogne amid the evacuation two years earlier, Wild Swan nevertheless shot down six of her attackers, a feat unsurpassed in a single ship action. The survivors were rescued from the sea after 15 hours in open boats, 31 having perished from exposure. Claude Sclater was awarded the DSO for his bravery and skill during this action.
He then took command of the new "O" Class destroyer Obdurate, based in Scapa Flow, screening the Home Fleet and escorting convoys to Russia In December 1942 his ship took part in the Battle of the Barents Sea in which the convoy JW-51B was attacked by a strong German force consisting of the pocket battleship Lützow, the heavy cruiser Hipper and six destroyers. The escorting force carried out a series of feint torpedo attacks, coming under heavy fire from Hipper, Obdurate herself being hit. However these tactics suceeded in their objective of protecting the convoy, which passed through unscathed, and Hitler was so enraged at the failure to destroy JW-51B that he threatened to scrap his entire (surface) fleet and sacked its commander-in-chief, Admiral Raeder. Sclater was awarded a Bar to his DSO for his role in the battle.
A year later Obdurate was struck by a homing torpedo, fired from a U-boat which she was attacking; after temporary repairs in the dockyard at Murmansk she limped back to Newcastle on one engine and was paid off.
After the Allied invasion of France Claude served for a year as Chief Staff Officer in Antwerp, clearing and operating the port, for which he was made an Officer of the Belgian Order of the Crown.
Subsequently he was appointed CO of the minesweeper Hound and the 18th. Minesweeping Flotilla (Feb. 1946-Feb. 1947) based in Queenstown to sweep the minefields in the St. George's Channel; he was mentioned in despatches for this work.
He afterwards served as Resident Naval Officer, Orkney, in charge of the Naval Base at Lyness; this being a shore appointment a house was provided and he was at last able to enjoy some family life. During this time he was instrumental in having the sunken Royal Oak declared an official war grave.
Retiring as a Commander in 1955, Claude Sclater was appointed Domus Bursar of King's College, Cambridge, where he spent nine years, becoming a Fellow of his College and M.A. Cambridge. As a result of years of neglect due to the war and building restrictions his main task, after looking after the creature comforts of the Fellows and Undergraduates, was to supervise the restoration of the College buildings, including re-roofing the Chapel and Gibbs's Building.
He retired in 1964 and died on 20th April 1986.
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minor correction 15/05/2012