Rear Admiral Guy Griffiths AO DSO DSC

It is with great sadness that I advise the passing earlier today of NOC member Rear Admiral Guy Griffiths.

The following Obituary has been written by Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN Ret’d:

On 5 March, four days after his 101st birthday, Rear Admiral Guy Richmond Griffiths AO DSO DSC RAN passed away after a short illness. He was the RAN’s first centenarian admiral and one of its finest destroyer captains. Guy Griffiths was also one of the very few men in the RAN to have seen action in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Guy Griffiths was born in Sydney on 1 March 1923 in Sydney to Guy (snr) and Edith nee Kelman. They were Hunter Valley vignerons and descended from the earliest pioneers of the wine industry in the Hunter. Guy’s childhood around Rothbury was bucolic and gave him a keen interest in wine making and its associated machinery. There was, however, little money in the wine industry in the 1930s and so Guy Griffiths joined the Royal Australian Naval College in 1937 as a 13 year old with the initial intent of becoming an engineering officer. Discipline was strict but he excelled in sport, becoming the College athletics champion and later the Chief Cadet Captain.

In 1941 Guy Griffiths and four other midshipmen sailed to England and joined the battle cruiser HMS Repulse for midshipman training. While waiting for his ship Guy Griffiths stayed with Lionel and Myrtle Logue of the King’s Speech movie fame. Repulse was a happy and well drilled ship and initially took part in the hunt for the German battleship Bismarck before escorting a convoy to the Indian Ocean. As tensions with Japan grew Repulse joined the new battleship HMS Prince of Wales and sailed to Singapore as a deterrent. On 7-8 December Japan conducted a series of surprise attacks on Pearl Harbor, the Philippines and Malaya. Repulse and Prince of Wales sailed to interdict Japanese forces but were caught by land based torpedo bombers and both were sunk. Guy Griffiths was among the 459 who survived Repulse’s sinking, but classmate, Robert Davies was lost with 507 others.

Guy Griffiths returned to the UK to continue his training and obtained his bridge watch-keeping certificate in the destroyer HMS Vivien, then escorting convoys off the east coast. In 1943 he joined the heavy cruiser HMAS Shrosphire, newly refitted and transferred to the RAN to replace HMAS Canberra, sunk in the Battle of Savo Island. Shropshire had a first class ship’s company, led by the Navy’s most famous officer Captain John Collins. In November 1943 Shropshire joined the Australian-US Task Group 74 and took part in operations in New Guinea and then the Philippines. Guy Griffiths served as the port Air Defence Officer, responsible for co-ordinating half of the ships anti-aircraft defences. In the Battle of Leyte Gulf the ships were subjected to repeated kamikaze attacks. Shropshire also took part in the last battleship action, the Battle of Surigao Strait and in early 1945 was heavily involved in the Battle of Lingayen Gulf. Guy Griffiths was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his “marked leadership, ability and courage as Air Defence Officer during the Lingayen operations when subjected to suicide bombings by Japanese aircraft”. He was onboard Shropshire for the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay on 15 August 1945.

In 1946 Guy Griffiths completed the Long Gunnery Course in the UK and after exchange service ashore he returned to Australia in the newly commissioned aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney. After a posting to the RAN’s Gunnery School at HMAS Cerberus he undertook two tours of duty in the Korean War. The first as gunnery officer of Sydney and then of the destroyer HMAS Anzac. The latter ship was involved in close bombardment of enemy positions along both coasts of the peninsula. Guy Griffiths returned to the UK in 1955 to be the commissioning gunnery officer of the new aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne. She was the first warship Guy was not to experience wartime service. The following year on promotion to Commander, Guy Griffiths joined the Fleet Commander’s staff as the Fleet Operations Officer and embarked in Melbourne. The ship undertook multiple Asian deployments and in 1957 while in Hong Kong, Guy Griffiths met his future wife, Carla Mengert, who was then on the staff of the West German Consulate.

In 1958 Guy Griffiths served in Navy Office and was part of its move from Melbourne to Canberra in the following year. The same year he and Carla were married. In 1961 Guy Griffiths commissioned the new Cockatoo Island built Type 12 frigate HMAS Parramatta. She and the equally new Williamtown build HMAS Yarra undertook a deployment as part of the South East Asian Strategic Reserve. After a successful commission, Guy was promoted to Captain in 1963 and served as Director of Tactics, Trials and Staff Requirements. He was involved in preparing the Navy for the introduction of the guided missile destroyers and successfully advocated for the last batch of Type 12 frigates (Swan and Torrens) to incorporate the latest design features of the RN Leander class.

In 1965 Guy Griffiths commissioned in the USA, the second of the RAN’s Charles F Adams class destroyers, HMAS Hobart. Importantly, he organised, for the first time for an RAN ship, to undertake the full US Navy work-up program, the sophistication of which was a revelation to those who took part. Guy Griffiths would later advocate for its modified adoption into the RAN. In 1967 the Hobart became the first RAN destroyer to take part in the Vietnam War. The ship spent 160 days at sea in her 204 day deployment. She had fired over 10,000 5-inch rounds at 1,050 targets. Hobart was engaged by enemy shore batteries on nine occasions, but only suffered minor shrapnel damage. During that time Guy Griffiths impressed Rear Admiral Walter Coombs Jr USN with his ability to ‘grasp the essentials of complex situations and to act promptly and precisely, and a deft and sure hand in handling his ship’. Hobart received a US Navy Unit Commendation whilst Guy Griffiths was appointed to the Distinguished Service Order and awarded the US Legion of Merit.

After his Vietnam War service Guy Griffiths was promoted to Commodore and in late 1967 became Naval Adviser to the Chief of Naval Staff, Royal Malaysian Navy. There he formed a lifetime friendship with the first Malaysian born CNS, the young Commodore K. ‘Thana’ Thanabalasingham. Attendance at the Imperial Defence College in London followed and thereafter a return to Navy Office as Director-General Operations and Plans. In Canberra, Guy Griffiths was involved in developing the Navy’s argument for the retention for an aircraft carrier, as well as indigenous designed and built destroyers that embodied the lessons from recent conflicts. He was frustrated by the Navy leadership’s uneven advocacy of these issues. In 1974 he took command of the Navy’s flagship Melbourne. Unusually during his tenure, she did not undertake the now routine deployment to Asia, rather she deployed to the US to pick-up the RAAF’s new Chinook and additional Iroquois helicopters, take part in Exercise Kangaroo One, memorably led the RAN Fleet to assist the ravaged Darwin after Cyclone Tracey and then take part in Exercise RIMPAC 75 off Hawaii. In her long career, Guy Griffiths was regarded as one of the Melbourne’s most able captains.

In 1975 Guy Griffiths became Director-General Naval Personnel and he led the Junior Officers Structure Study. Personnel matters had been an abiding interest of Guy Griffiths and here he made one of his most significant contributions to the Navy. The resulting review brought together all officer ab initio training to HMAS Creswell. Guy Griffiths was also keen to better professionalise and educate officers through the establishment of a Navy Staff Course in Australia. This was achieved, when in 1976, he was promoted to Rear Admiral and became Chief of Naval Personnel. Other areas in which he made strides was in improving career management for officers and sailors and he was an early champion for re-enlistment bonuses for sailors. Another important legacy was his introduction into the Navy of an annual fitness test. In 1979 Guy Griffiths became Commander Naval Support Command. With the position of CNS going to classmate Jim Willis, Guy retired on 17 January 1980, just ten days before the 43rd anniversary of his joining the Naval College.

In his post naval career Guy Griffiths most notably served as the National President of the Australian Veterans’ and Defence Services’ Council (AVADSC) for 24 years. He was also a Director of the Australian Vietnam War Veterans’ Trust for 18 years and the inaugural Chief Executive Officer of North Shore Heart Research Foundation. For a time Guy Griffiths was also President of the Naval Historical Society of Australia as well as Patron of the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse Survivors’ Association, the HMAS Canberra-Shropshire Association and the HMAS Hobart Association.

In 2021 his biography Guy Griffiths: The Life and Times of an Australian Admiral was published. In his 100th year Guy Griffiths travelled to UK for one last time and he was only the ninth NSW centenarian to be holding a driver’s licence.

When Guy Griffiths joined the Navy, bi-planes still operated from its large ships and some of its men had seen action in the Boxer Rebellion. Perhaps he, more than any other man, experienced the Navy’s journey from its Depression-era strictures, its darkest days in the face of the Japanese onslaught, its finest hour in the Philippines Campaign and then its reinvention as a capable middle-power Navy, centred on aircraft carriers in the missile age. Professionally, Guy Griffiths’ greatest legacy was his outstanding command of Hobart in the Vietnam War, which paved the way for subsequent successful deployments by other RAN ships in that theatre. As a Rear Admiral he was, with his spruce comportment and his determination to achieve substantive reforms, the epitome of a Flag Officer to all serving in the Navy.

He is survived by his two children Eric and Guy and their families. Further advice will be provided on funeral details when known.

Regards Simon

Simon Cullen

Rear Admiral RAN (Ret’d)

President, Naval Officers Club of Australia

Decorations
AO DSO DSC
Died
05/03/2023

Source of information: Naval Officers Club Australia

Reported by: Morgan