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Sir Peter William Gretton
Born (1912-08-27)27 August 1912
Died 11 November 1992(1992-11-11) (aged 80)
Place of birth Farnham, Surrey
Place of death Oxford, Oxfordshire
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.png Royal Navy
Years of service 1930 to 1963
Rank Vice-Admiral
Commands held
  • HMS Sabre
  • HMS Tay
  • HMS Wolverine
  • HMS Duncan
  • HMS Tay
  • HMS Chelmer
  • HMS Vidette
  • Senior Officer Escort to Escort Group B7
  • HMS Gambier
  • HMS Saker (RN base in Washington DC)
  • HMS Osprey (Portland Naval Base)
  • DSC (1936)
  • OBE (1941)
  • DSO** (1942), (1943) and (1943)
  • CB (1960)
  • KCB (1963)
Other work Domestic Bursar of University College, Oxford
Senior Research Fellow
President of the Royal Humane Society

Vice Admiral Sir Peter William Gretton KCB OBE DSO** DSC (27 August 1912 – 11 November 1992) was an officer in the Royal Navy. He was active during the World War II Battle of the Atlantic, and was a successful convoy escort commander. He eventually rose to become Fifth Sea Lord and retired as a vice admiral before entering university life as a bursar and academic.

Early Life and career[]

Gretton was born on 27 August 1912,[1] in Farnham, Surrey, the son of a British Army officer, Gretton joined the Navy as a cadet in 1930 and attended Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.[citation needed] His ambition was to be general seaman officer, a ‘salt horse’, and serve in destroyers.[citation needed]

After graduating he served in various appointments, as midshipman and sub-lieutenant, rising to lieutenant in 1934. In that year he learned to fly, serving in Courageous.[citation needed]

In 1936 Gretton was with HMS Durban in the Mediterranean and saw action during the Abyssinia crisis and the Spanish Civil War. Also in 1936 during the Arab rebellion in Palestine, he won the Distinguished Service Cross while leading a landing party in Haifa.[citation needed]

In 1939 he attended an anti-submarine course at Portland and, on the outbreak of World War II, was assigned to HMS Vega as first lieutenant.[citation needed]

World War II[]

After a short period with Vega, from September 1939 to April 1940, Gretton was appointed as the first lieutenant with Cossack under Philip Vian. He saw action in the Norwegian campaign and was mentioned in dispatches at the second battle of Narvik.[citation needed]

In 1941 he was appointed in command of the destroyer Sabre, serving in the North Atlantic with 1st Escort Group. In 1942 he was given command of Wolverine and returned to the Mediterranean. He took part in Operation Pedestal, the Malta convoy operation in August 1942, and sank the Italian submarine Dagabur by ramming; for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. This action resulted in damage to Wolverine's bow and she returned, first to Gibraltar, then Devonport, for repairs.[citation needed]

During this period Gretton attended the Western Approaches Tactical Unit in Liverpool for anti-submarine training, which was the basis of the Royal Navy's anti-submarine warfare in the Battle of the Atlantic. In December 1942 he was promoted to commander,[1] and given command of Duncan, as Senior Officer Escort to Escort Group B7, based in Londonderry. His pennant was originally in Tay, moving later to Duncan after she finished refitting.[citation needed]

In 1943 Gretton and the B7 Group saw several quiet convoys, then a series of major convoy battles. In April 1943 convoy HX 231 saw six ships lost while two U-boats were destroyed. In April/May convoy ONS 5 saw twelve ships sunk and six U-boats destroyed, and in late May 1943 convoy SC 130 had no ships lost while three to five U-boats destroyed.[citation needed]

As action in the North Atlantic subsided, Gretton lobbied for B7 to function as a support group.[citation needed] He was given one patrol in October 1943, supporting convoys ON 206, ON 207 and ON 208, during which Gretton in Duncan helped to destroy two of the nine U-boats destroyed in these battles.[citation needed]

Gretton continued with the B7 Group until May 1944, moving to Vidette and Chelmer when Duncan was no longer serviceable. In the summer of 1944 Gretton moved to the Admiralty staff, where he remained for the rest of the war.[citation needed]

Post war[]

Following the end of World War II Gretton continued in the Royal Navy, rising through a series of sea and staff commands. He was promoted captain in 1948 and to flag rank in 1960.[citation needed]

In 1963 he became medically unfit[1] and retired, having reached the position of Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff and Fifth Sea Lord, as well as a Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty.

He can be seen in the "Wolfpack" episode of the television seriesThe World at War.[citation needed]

Civilian Life[]

Gretton served as the Domestic Bursar of University College, Oxford from 1965 until 1971[1] and became a senior research fellow in 1971.[1] He published widely on defence matters and was the President of the Royal Humane Society. He died on 11 November 1992[1] at the age of 80.

Published works[]

  • Convoy escort commander (1964; memoirs)
  • Maritime strategy : a study of British defence problems (1965)
  • Former Naval Person : Churchill and the navy (1968)
  • Crisis convoy : the story of HX231 (1974)


Gretton was credited with the destruction of one Italian submarine and two U-boats during the Second World War:[citation needed]

  • The Italian submarine Dagabur was destroyed in August 1942.
  • U-274 was destroyed on 23 October 1943
  • U-282 was destroyed on 29 October 1943.

Gretton was also credited during the war with the destruction of U-381 in May 1943, but post-war analysis judged this attack was against U-636, which was only damaged.[citation needed]


Gretton was awarded the DSC in 1936 and was mentioned in dispatches in 1940. He was appointed OBE in the King's Birthday Honours of 1941.[1] He won the DSO and 2 bars; the first in 1942 for Operation Pedestal; the second in 1943 for the defence of ONS 5; and the third in late 1943 for the actions as support group leader.[citation needed]

For his postwar career he was appointed CB in 1960 and KCB in 1963.[citation needed]


  • Clay Blair : Hitler's U-Boat War [Volume 2]: The Hunted 1942-1945 (1998) ISBN 0-304-35261-6 (2000 UK paperback ed.)
  • Peter Gretton Convoy Escort Commander (1956) ISBN none
  • Paul Kemp : U-Boats Destroyed ( 1997) . ISBN 1-85409-515-3
  • David White : Bitter Ocean (2006). ISBN 0-7553-1088-8
Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Laurence Durlacher
Fifth Sea Lord
Succeeded by
Sir Frank Hopkins

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