Stephen Roskill

Stephen Roskill

New Zealand crewed its cruisers with a mix of Britons and Kiwis, with the former dominating the senior ranks. In September 1941 gunnery expert Stephen Roskill RN was posted to Leander as executive officer, a position he thought a demotion after working at the centre of things on the Naval Staff. First appearances deepened his gloom. In the absence of Captain Robert Bevan, discipline had fallen on the ship, which Roskill found in a dirty state. He helped to restore morale and discipline. Nicknamed ‘the Black Mamba’ for the speed with which he could materialise and assess a situation, Roskill was liked and respected by Leander’s men. His emphasis on damage control paid off when Leander took a torpedo in the Battle of Kolombangara – the crew knew what to do.

Roskill had a very close escape. The blast threw him into the air and only a quick rugby tackle from a shipmate saved him from going overboard. Despite being wounded in the leg, he directed salvage operations for several hours until finally incapacitated by his injuries.

On retiring from active service, Roskill became an official war historian. He wrote many books, but is best remembered for his magisterial The war at sea, published in three volumes between 1954 and 1961. Still in print, it is widely regarded as a classic.

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