HARWOOD, Sir HENRY HARWOOD

1888 - 1950 from England


admiral, was born in London on 19 January 1888, the son of a barrister, Surtees Harwood Harwood and his wife Mary Cecilia, née Ullathorne. He became a naval cadet in the Britannia in 1903 and in his examinations for lieutenant received first class certificates in all subjects. He specialised in torpedo warfare and served as torpedo officer in a number of ships, although without seeing action, in World War I. After the war, Harwood served in the South American squadron for two years, learning Spanish and becoming acquainted with the countries and people of Latin America. His later postings were largely on the staff, although he was fleet torpedo officer in the Mediterranean. He married Joan Chard in 1924; they had two sons, both of whom entered the navy. In 1928 he was promoted captain.

In 1936 Harwood was appointed commodore in charge of the South American division of the America and West Indian station. After the outbreak of war in September 1939 it was learnt that the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee, Captain Langsdorff, was operating in the South Atlantic. She was larger and more powerful than any of Harwood's command and she had sunk nine ships before her engines began to malfunction. Harwood correctly anticipated that the Graf Spee would try to attack a convoy off the River Plate and lay in wait for her with two light cruisers, Ajax and Achilles and the larger Exeter, Captain BELL. Battle was joined on 13 December: as his ships were out-gunned by the Germans, Harwood attacked the Graf Spee from two directions, but Exeter was damaged and had to sail for Stanley, while the two other ships disengaged after being hit. The Graf Spee took shelter in neutral Montevideo but was obliged to move on and, convinced that larger British warships were waiting for him, Langsdorff scuttled his ship on 17 December and committed suicide on the night of 19-20 December.

Harwood's success was a welcome boost to British morale: he was promoted rear-admiral and knighted by radio (to KCB). His fleet, joined by Cumberland, regrouped in Stanley, the wounded were treated in KEMH and an impressive funeral service was held for the dead in the Cathedral on 18 December. In May 1940 Harwood presented gifts (powder compacts with the crest of HMS Exeter) to a number of ladies in Stanley who had helped to nurse the wounded 'with grateful thanks for their devoted service' in a ceremony at the Town Hall.

Harwood returned home to a staff post late in 1940 and was appointed commander-in-chief Mediterranean in 1942. It was not a successful posting and he was moved to a less demanding one before being invalided out of the navy in 1945 in the rank of admiral. He died at home in Oxfordshire on 9 June 1950.

Harwood was a keen sportsman and a person of natural charm who enjoyed much goodwill in Latin America thanks to his knowledge of Spanish. Streets were named after him in Uruguay and on his death requiem masses were said for him in Montevideo and Buenos Aires.

Authors

David Tatham