John Barnes, Historian

Vice Admiral Sir Ian McIntosh

Although he was to go onto high command, the exploits for which Ian McIntosh will be best remembered took place during the Second World War and included an epic nightmarish voyage in a damaged lifeboat that saved his own life and that of many others.

When he was entertained as guest of honour with Sir Frank Hopkins at a reunion of Ark Royal's Gunroom, the last gunroom in the Royal Navy, he confessed that one of the hardest decisions of his life had been to accept a KBE in 1973 in place of the much prized military version of the MBE that he had been awarded in 1941 for an epic voyage across the Atlantic in a damaged lifeboat. Those of us who knew the story were not at all surprised.

On 25 March 1941, some five hundred miles off Freetown, Sierra Leone, the German commerce raider Thor caught and sank the Anchor line steamer Britannia. McIntosh was taking passage in her to the eastern Mediterranean by way of the Cape. No distress message had been sent as her wireless aerial had been shot away. McIntosh found himself in lifeboat No 7 under the command of Third Officer William McVicar, who later recorded that it was entirely due to McIntosh's skill that the lifeboat was kept afloat and able to rescue survivors. The boat was in danger of being caught under the counter of the sinking ship, but with the aid of a naval rating, McIntosh managed to get her clear. Technically the lifeboat had a capacity of 58, but 82 men scrambled aboard, and the boat was frequently awash as she rode to a sea anchor in a Force 5 NE trade wind. Energetic baling made some impression, but it was temporary and on the second day McIntosh located three holes behind the ballast tanks that had been caused by enemy gunfire. Two men held his legs while he worked on the holes stuffing them with torn blankets and then nailing pieces of tobacco tin over them to complete the repair. He was by now desperately tired and ill.

MacVicar's first thought was to try to sail the boat towards Africa, but after 24 hours of desperately slow progress, the attempt was abandoned and instead MacVicar and McIntosh decided that it would be best to run before the wind in an attempt to reach Brazil. McIntosh judged that they might have to sail some 1,300 miles and he constructed a rough chart from memory and used the sun and stars to navigate. They had just 16 gallons of fresh water, 48 tins of condensed milk and two bags of biscuit. It was clearly not enough and the most rigorous rationing was put in place. The condensed milk, for example, was taken by way of a smear on each palm created by a spoon dipped in the tin. Not surprisingly by the fourth day many of the men were passing out and all were suffering sea water boils and sores. There were quarrels to be quelled and the chief cook, who had drunk seawater, threw himself overboard. To make matters worse, when rain came, their first efforts to save some were not at all successful. They were better organised on the sixteenth day of their voyage when they ran into a violent storm and despite having to bale frantically, they were able to store enough water to enable the ration to be increased. By then their numbers were down. In all 44 men perished on the voyage, but after 23 days they made land on the island of Curupu in northern Brazil and were offered succour by the local fishermen. They were emaciated, badly burnt and suffering from sores and boils, but the survivors knew that they owed their lives to the two men, who had maintained discipline and morale and who in the end were only a few miles out in their reckoning of where they would make shore. Both MacVicar, who "became like a twin brother" to him and McIntosh were awarded the MBE for the skill and courage that had enabled so many men to survive an open boat journey that had covered some 1,500 miles in all.

Repatriated to England, McIntosh recuperated for three months and was then appointed to the 3rd submarine flotilla in Holy Loch and subsequently to Porpoise, operating out of Alexandria as part of the underwater "magic carpet" that brought fuel, stores and personnel to the beleaguered island of Malta. In March 1942 he was appointed to Thrasher as Torpedo Control Officer and took part in four war patrols during that gloomy period in which Axis air attacks forced our submarines to be withdrawn from Malta, while on land Rommel was driving the Eighth Army back to the borders of Egypt. Amongst Thrasher's successful attacks was the sinking of the despatch vessel Diana, which was carrying (so Enigma revealed) 200 technicians intended to restore the port facilities at Tobruk in an effort to resolve Rommel's supply problems. During this difficult period Thrasher found herself in July one of only three British submarines at sea, and while returning to Alexandria, she was the victim of friendly fire and spent a month in dock. For his efforts during this  brief period, McIntosh was awarded the DSC, but he left Thrasher at the end of September 1942 to qualify for his own command.

His first ship was the obsolescent submarine H44, which was used for anti submarine training, but in February 1943 he took command of Sceptre, working from the depot ship Forth in Holy Loch. He was to take part in Operation Source, the midget submarine attack on the battleship Tirpitz, which called for six submarines to tow the X craft, as the midgets were known, to the Norwegian coast and then patrol lest any of the heavy ships under attack should seek to put to sea. The operation, originally planned for March, was postponed until September to enable rigorous training to be completed and on 11 September the six parent submarines left Cairnbawn at two hourly intervals to tow their charges to Altenfjord in Norway. X-9 was lost on passage and X-8 was damaged and had to be destroyed. Sceptre's charge X-10 was one of the four that survived to make the attack on Tirpitz, but electrical problems affecting both her periscope and compasses were to delay her to such an extent that she took no part in the successful attack for which Lieutenants Place and Cameron were awarded the VC. On hearing the massive explosion, she jettisoned her charges and made good her escape from the fjord to return to the waiting submarines, the only one of the four to do so. For his part in the operation McIntosh was mentioned in despatches.

In March 1943 McIntosh had been credited with sinking four escorted merchant ships off the coast of Norway, although research postwar indicated that some of the explosions registered had been due to defects in the new magnetically operated torpedo pistol. In May, operating in the Bay of Biscay, McIntosh sank two iron ore carriers off the coast of Spain. This caused something of a diplomatic furore as one of them, the Baldur, was in territorial waters, but he had effectively put an end to Spain's wartime trade with Germany. Amongst his other successes were two further exploits with a midget submarine X-24. The target was the floating dock in Bergen and the first assault succeeded only in sinking a merchant ship alongside it. The Germans attributed this to sabotage and X-24 was able to complete the job by sinking the floating dock. McIntosh's reputation as "top tower" was complete. Later in two separate night surface patrols McIntosh tackled heavily escorted convoys off the Norwegian coast, his total score being two merchant ships and two escorts. He was awarded the DSO in 1944 and again mentioned in despatches.

Ian Stewart McIntosh was Australian by birth and after an education at Geelong Grammar School, he joined the Royal Navy in 1938, passing out top of his class at Dartmouth and being awarded the King's Dirk. Late in 1940 he elected to qualify for submarines.

After the war, he commanded Alderney and was then seconded to the Australian Navy. However, he decided that his future lay in Britain when he was chosen in 1950 to act as "teacher" on the "perisher" course which qualified officers to command submarines. Subsequently he took command of Aeneas and again found himself the subject of a diplomatic storm when the Soviet Union objected to the submarine visiting Karlskrona in Sweden. Promoted to Commander in 1952, perhaps the happiest of the mainstream appointments which followed was his period as executive officer in Ark Royal. He was in charge of her briefly in 1956 and again when she went into refit in 1958 and proved to be a key figure in a highly successful commission that involved the Queen's first visit to a warship and a visit to the United States to take part in the 350th anniversary celebrations of the English settlement at Jamestown.

Promoted to Captain in 1959, he commanded the 2nd Submarine Squadron 1961-3 and was subsequently appointed to command the aircraft carrier Victorious in 1966. Despite the dreary business of bringing her out of refit, his enthusiasm was infectious and he was able to motivate the dockyard mateys as well as his own crew. He had learnt the lessons of his earlier spell in carriers, successfully integrated the air group and ships crew, and made sure that responsibility was delegated to the lowest practicable level. During the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 Victorious was briefly on stand by to take part in an Anglo-American intervention designed to re-open the straits of Tiran. But when the Wilson Cabinet refused to back the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, the move was abandoned and it became clear that the east of Suez policy that justified the existence of major carriers was dead. Victorious was taken out of service prematurely in 1969. McIntosh had been promoted to flag rank in 1968 and appointed Director General (Weapons) at Bath, responsible for the weapons development programme for the Navy at a time when the entire emphasis was switching to anti-submarine warfare. It was invaluable experience for his nest and final appointment in 1971 as Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Operational Requirements), a post concerned with making equipment procurement decisions in the light of the wider "defence" interest at a time when inter service rivalry was resources was still very apparent. It was a period in which the concept of the "through deck" cruiser was developed, a reversal of the policy pursued by the Admiralty in the aftermath of their defeat over the building of a major new carrier in 1965.

McIntosh was knighted for his services on his retirement in 1973 and spent the next five years as a management selection consultant, but he devoted much of his time to the Sea cadet Association, which he chaired from 1973 to 1983. In 1974 he took charge of the trust to preserve the Second World War destroyer Cavalier and he beat the Admiralty's asking price down from £100,000 to £65,000. He continued to chair the trust until 1988. He was active also in the affairs of the Union Jack Club. Much of his attention had to be given to his wife, Elizabeth, whom he nursed for several years before her death in 1993. Although he had been ill himself for some time, he made light of the fact, reporting himself to be "rather crook".

A man of great charm and modesty, Ian McIntosh was a gentleman in every sense of the word and a great educator. Always approachable, considerate and courteous, he was the subject of both affection and admiration from those he led so well.