Vice Admiral Sir Ian McIntosh
Australians Serving in British Submarines in WWII
Vice Admiral Sir Ian McIntosh KBE, CB, DSO, DSC
A bookish child who always dreamed of a life at sea, Ian Stewart McIntosh proved his mettle at just 21 during an epic lifeboat voyage at the height of World War ll. He would go on to become a submarine ace and a Vice Admiral of the Royal Navy.
In 1941, his troop ship Britannia sunk, the young McIntosh showed remarkable courage and extraordinary leadership when he found himself with 81 others in a lifeboat designed for just 56, awash and riddled with shrapnel holes. Assuming authority along with the Britannia’s Third Officer, McIntosh identified and supervised repairs to the lifeboat, sketched a chart from memory and helped steer by sun and stars for 23 days. He had studied William Bligh’s perilous voyage in an open boat, cast adrift after the mutiny on the Bounty in 1789. With great presence of mind McIntosh recalled many life saving tips from Bligh’s account, including that the first rainwater captured should be used to wash the receiving sails and not be drunk.
Incredibly, 36 men staggered ashore 2,400 kilometres away at Sao Luis, Brazil – emaciated, sunburnt and covered in sores and boils – but alive.
McIntosh was born in Melbourne in 1919 and later attended Geelong Grammar where the headmaster John Darling expressed doubts about his dreamy charge’s naval ambitions; confessing years later that
“We did not think that he was the type required.”
It was to prove a spectacular misjudgement.
Entering the Royal Navy in 1937, McIntosh quickly progressed from cadet to midshipman and in 1940 won the King’s Dirk for graduating first place at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, as well as qualifying as a submariner. His first action resulted in the extraordinary 1941 lifeboat saga which earned him a military MBE.
In a glittering career that followed, McIntosh served aboard the submarines HMS Porpoise and HMS Thrasher, earning the Distinguished Service Cross.
As Commanding Officer of the submarine HMS Sceptre, he sank almost 15,000 tons of enemy shipping and took part in Operation Source, attacks on heavy German warships in Norwegian waters by midget submarines.
But McIntosh said his proudest moment came in 1967 when – as commander of the pride of the British fleet, the aircraft carrier Victorious – he sailed into Sydney Harbour to be greeted by his mother, who had travelled the nearly 900 kilometres from Melbourne.
A Rear Admiral from 1968, promoted to Vice Admiral two years later, he became Director-General Weapons (Naval) at the Ministry of Defence in 1969 and Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (Operational Requirements) in 1970 before retiring in 1973, the same year he was awarded a KBE for his distinguished service.
Sir Ian Stewart McIntosh died in 2003, aged 83.