Obituary: Captain George Hunt, Submarine commander and naval hero
Captain George Hunt was one of the most decorated naval officers in the Second World War. His courage was demonstrated on numerous occasions and his skills as a sub mariner made him one of the most respected officers in the Royal Navy.
He was responsible for sinking more enemy shipping than any other submariner and was mentioned in despatches for his “unsurpassed daring and brilliance”. Based, for much of the war, at the strategically vital, but much-bombed island of Malta, Capt Hunt sank many German and Italian shipping with precision torpedoing and some skilful manoeuvring of his submarine.
George Edward Hunt, always known as “Geordie”, was born in Milton of Campsie, north Glasgow, where his forefathers had founded a calico printing works. His father was a colonial officer serving in Uganda who died when Hunt was an infant. As a child he returned to Glasgow with a label on his coat lapel which simply read: “Moffat, Scotland”.
Capt Hunt was educated at St Ninian’s in Renfrewshire but left at 13 to join firstly the Merchant Navy and then the Glasgow-based Henderson Line. Finally in 1938 he was commissioned into the Royal Navy
Capt Hunt volunteered for the submarine service on the outbreak of war and was navigator on the Unity which was rammed by a Norwegian cargo ship. While awaiting rescue Capt Hunt kept up the spirits of the crew and was mentioned in despatches. In 1941 he was transferred to the Proteus as second-in-command and awarded his first DSC. That year after service with a Dutch submarine in the North Sea he covered the evacuation from Dunkirk.
In 1942 Capt Hunt was transferred to the Mediterranean where he was second in command of Proteus and engaged an Italian torpedo ship during which his submarine was badly damaged.
Again he proved resourceful in preventing it from sinking and navigated their slow but safe return to base. For his calm and purposeful leadership het was awarded DSC. Later that year he was promoted and took command of Ultor (after Mars the Avenger).
On his return to the Mediterranean – and on his first patrol there – he sank a German motor vessel anchored in a port in Sicily. Hunt was awarded a Bar to his DFC and a further mention in despatches. Ultor then played a prominent part in Operation Shingle when it provided support to the troops at the Anzio landings.
In June 1944 off Cap d’Antibes in the South of France he spotted a large German vessel with nine escort ships and five aircraft. Hunt engaged the enemy and fired his torpedoes, all of which damaged the enemy. Hunt retired (“on tiptoe” he recalled later) as fast as possible but pursued by the enemy. He was bombed heavily – more than 100 depth charges – but sank two escort ships and despite his heavily damaged submarine he returned to base. It was a mark of his technical mastery of the submarine’s apparatus and his powers of leadership that he sank so many enemy ships and maintained the high morale of his men under such challenging circumstances.
His senior officer commented that Hunt throughout had displayed “consummate technical skill, determination and courage of the highest order”. Hunt, modestly, and typically, referred to the presence of so many escort vessels as “very off-putting”.
By the end of the war Hunt had been awarded the DSO for eight patrols in 1944 and a Bar for his bravery off Cap d’Antibes. At the age of 28 he was one of the most highly decorated naval officers serving in the war.
When he went to collect his medals at Buckingham Palace from King George V1 he was joined by 13 Ultor colleagues who were also being invested with medals.
After the war Hunt was involved in submarine operations – notably under the Arctic – and various staff posts. He was promoted to captain in 1953 and for a decade served in various capacities in the RN before retiring in 1963.
He and his wife emigrated that year to Australia and settled in Queensland. After serving with an engineering company Hunt ran the commercial offices of the British High Commission. He was connected with many Australian naval organisations and was elected president of the Queensland United Services Institute.
Hunt was much respected for his remarkable war career – about which he remained defiantly modest – his good humour and invariable courtesy. He co-wrote his autobiography Diving Stations and had married his Scottish-born wife Phoebe in 1939 when she was serving as a WRNS. She died last year and he is survived by their daughter.