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Rear Admiral Guy Richmond GRIFFITHS, AO DSO DSC RAN

Guy Griffiths was born in Sydney on 1 March 1923.  He grew up in the Hunter Valley and descended from four pioneering, wine-producing families – Busby, Kelman, Holmes and Griffiths.

Guy’s childhood was that of a country boy with plenty of free time to muck about in the bush, go rabbit shooting or help with the harvest.  He initially went to school at Rothbury Public and then West Maitland Technical College where some of the pupils’ surnames would become synonymous with the success of the Australian wine industry.

In the late 1920s drought hit the area.  Combined with the Depression and an outbreak of downy mildew, it made life very difficult for those in the wine industry.  At the time, the young Guy was conscious that the family ‘didn’t have many pennies to rub together.’  Although Guy was mad keen on the machinery of wine producing, the associated hardships dampened any interest he had in ever following in his father’s footsteps.

In 1937 he joined the RAN as one of seventeen 13-year old cadet-midshipmen, selected from nearly 500 applicants, and his success was proudly reported in the Maitland Daily Mercury.  He excelled as a sportsman and gained colours for rugby, hockey, rowing and athletics and was made the Chief Cadet Captain of the College in 1939. 

After graduation from the College in late 1940 he and four other graduates were posted for further training to HMAS Australia, which was currently in the North Atlantic.  However, by the time they arrived in England and reported to Australia House they were informed that the Australia was somewhere between Cape Town and Fremantle on it's way home.  In March 1941 the Admiralty decided the five midshipmen would progress their training in HMS Repulse.

The Repulse was involved in the search for the German battleship Bismarck, however, after all the high-speed steaming she was low on fuel and had to detach to top up.  Whilst at anchor news came through on the demise of the Bismarck.  Guy later recalled "the whole ship fell absolutely flat, and frustrated on not being involved".

On 10 December 1941 HMS Repulse was sunk off the east coast of Malaya, by Japanese air attack, while in company with the battleship HMS Prince of Wales.


HMS Repulse of the British fleet enters Sydney Harbour in 1924. Image Sydney Morning Herald.

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Guy said:

"It really wasn't a day for rejoicing, I can tell you.  It was a dark day, a very dark day for the Royal Navy losing the battleship Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser Repulse.

"The Prince of Wales had 1612 people on board and lost 327, but in Repulse we had 1309 and we lost 513. We went down quicker than the Prince of Wales; we were not so heavily armed as a battleship. We were hit with five torpedoes in a fairly short time and the old lady listed to port and then, of course, there's a lot of water coming in, she eventually rolled over and sank stern first so people didn't have much time to get on deck and get overboard.

"I was down below but I was lucky in coming up in time to get through what people normally call a porthole but we called them a scuttle. The list wasn't too much for me just to get through that and then slide down the ship's side and into the water, which was warm.

"People have asked me over a number of years, was I worried about sharks? My response was it wasn't a thought in my mind at that time. Survival was closer to the point."

After rescue Midshipman Griffiths was posted to the battleship HMS Revenge. He was promoted to Sub Lieutenant in 1942 and, in early 1943, he served briefly in the destroyer HMS Vivian before joining the cruiser HMAS Shropshire, on commissioning, in May 1943.

During the next two years he saw action in the South West Pacific, including the battles of Leyte Gulf, Lingayen Gulf and Surigao Strait during the fighting to liberate the Philippines.  He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1944 and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in May 1945 -

"For gallantry, skill and devotion to duty as an Air Defence Operator while serving in HMAS Shropshire in the successful assault operations in the Lingayen Gulf, Luzon Island".

After the war, he completed the specialist course in gunnery at HMS Excellent (Portsmouth) and then conducted two years exchange service with the Royal Navy at HMS Drake (Devonport) before returning to Australia.

From 1950-52 he served as Gunnery Officer in the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney and saw service in the Korean War during October 1951-January 1952.  Griffiths was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in mid-1952 and posted as the Gunnery Officer in the destroyer HMAS Anzac; later that year the destroyer operated in the Korean theatre and he saw further active service.  Griffiths undertook the Royal Naval Staff Course in 1954 and then served in the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne during 1955-56.

Griffiths was promoted to Commander in late 1956 and posted as the Staff Officer Operations and Intelligence on the staff of the Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet.  In late 1958 he was posted to Navy Office in Canberra as the Deputy Director Manpower.

In 1961, he became the commissioning Commanding Officer of the destroyer escort HMAS Parramatta. This was followed by duty as the Director of Tactics and Weapons Policy at Navy Office, Canberra.

In 1964 he was promoted to Captain and in December 1965 he took command of the guided missile destroyer HMAS Hobart.  The ship saw action in Vietnamese waters in 1967 and he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO):

‘For devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy as Captain of HMAS Hobart’.

The citation noted:  'Throughout this intense period of operations, Captain Griffiths' coolness under fire, prompt maneouvring, fine example and excellent leadership inspired his ship's company to perform all the tasks assigned to HMAS Hobart with maximum efficiency and outstanding effect'.


Guy Griffiths as a Captain                                           HMAS Hobart in action

Under his leadership Hobart also received a Commendation from the Secretary of the USN, the first for an Australian ship.  In part, the citation read:

For exceptionally meritorious service .... while engaged in combat operations in direct support of Free World objectives in Southeast Asia.  As an element of Task Unit 70.8.9, HMAS Hobart provided the naval gunfire support for United States and Allied forces on shore in the Republic of Vietnam and, as an element of Task Goup 77.1 in the Gulf of Tonkin, supported naval operations against North Vietnamese logistics routes and lines of communication.  Undeterred by frequent, vigorous, acfurate enemy shore fire, Hobart was responsible for the destruction of numerous enemy installations, earning an enviable reputation as an aggressive, eager and dauntless member of the United States SEVENTH Fleet.

From late 1967 he served in Malaysia as Naval Adviser to the Chief of Naval Staff, Royal Malaysian Navy and in 1970 attended the Imperial Defence College, London.

In 1971 he was posted as Director-General Operations and Plans at Navy Office, Canberra and was promoted to Commodore in the same year.  From late 1973 to mid-1975 he commanded the aircraft carrier Melbourne, which was flagship of the Australian Fleet and in addition to its normal operations the ship participated in Operation NAVY HELP DARWIN after Cyclone Tracy destroyed the city on Christmas Day 1974.

In June 1976 he was promoted to Rear Admiral and appointed Chief of Naval Personnel.  In January 1979 he took up his final posting in the Navy as the Flag Officer Naval Support Command.  In June 1979 Rear Admiral Griffiths was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO)

"For service to the Royal Australian Navy over a period of 42 years and particularly as Chief of Naval Personnel".

Rear Admiral Griffiths retired from the Navy in January 1980 after 43 years' service.


Rear Admiral (Ret'd) Guy Griffiths, pictured at his home in Castle Cove in 2020.
He hopes Australia is never involved in another world war. Credit: James Brickwood

Rear Admiral Griffiths is married with one son and one daughter and his interests include golf, skiing, reading and family history research.  He was:

  • Personnel Director of Wormald International 1980-83 and also acted as a Defence consultant for three years.
     
  • National President of the Australian Veterans and Defence Services Council 1980-2004
     
  • A Director of the Australian Vietnam War Veterans Trust (1985 – 2003)
     
  • Chief Executive Officer for the North Shore Heart Research Foundation 1987-1995

Currently he is:

  • Life member of The Naval Historical Society of Australia
     
  • Patron of the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse Survivors Association.
     
  • Patron of the HMAS Canberra & HMAS Shropshire Association
     

In 2010 a new accommodation block at HMAS Creswell was opened and named the Griffiths Block in his honour.
 

 
Former Chief of Naval Personnel, Rear Admiral Guy Griffiths (retd) at the launch of his biography,
Guy Griffiths: The Life & Times of an Australian Admiral, at the Australian War Memorial.
Photo: Petty Officer Bradley Darvill

 


01 March 2023
Today we honour Rear Admiral Guy Griffiths AO, DSO, DSC, RAN Rtd, who celebrated his 100th birthday as the Royal Australian Navy celebrated its 122nd.  You are a living Navy legend.  Your service to the Royal Australian Navy and our nation throughout your life is truly inspiring.  On behalf of our entire Australian Navy community – a very happy birthday on this incredible milestone.  Chief of Navy.


LIFE ON THE LINE - Guy Griffiths

Angus Hordern interviews World War II, Korea and Vietnam veteran Guy Griffiths.


 

Sources:
Guy Griffiths - The Life & Times of an Australian Admiral - by Peter Jones (Official Biography) - available in many book stores.

Royal Australian Navy
Life on the Line - Podcast
Hunter and Coastal Lifestyle
Sydney Morning Herald