- Parker, R.G., OBE, Captain, RAN (Rtd)
- Naval history, Biographies and personal histories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Napier, HMAS Melbourne I, HMAS Parramatta I, HMAS Australia II, HMAS Norman I, HMAS Cerberus (Shore Establishment), HMAS Success I, HMAS Nizam, HMAS Stuart I, HMAS Nestor, HMAS Vendetta I, HMAS Westralia I, HMAS Canberra I, HMAS Anzac I, HMAS Geranium, HMAS Waterhen
- December 1975 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
In January 1921 the Fleet was assembled for the Spring Cruise, and the Australian midshipmen were gazetted Acting Sub Lieutenants on the 15th. After visiting northern Spain the Atlantic Fleet arrived at Gibraltar for combined exercises with the Mediterranean Fleet; it returned to Home Ports in August.
After a few weeks in the destroyer Strenuous, Rosenthal was appointed to the RN College, Greenwich, at the end of September, remaining there for a year. He was promoted to Lieutenant at the end of the course, which was designed to give some higher academic training to the young officers after their several years of sea service.
His next appointment was to the destroyer Anzac, commanded by Lieutenant Commander H.V. (Bertie) Creer, one of the famous twins; Rosenthal considered Creer a superb ship-handler and a fine commanding officer. After a spell at Cerberus, his next appointment was to the survey ship Geranium under the command of Lieutenant Commander H.T. Bennett. He left this ship in February 1926, on his appointment to the destroyer Success.
His next ship was the destroyer HMS Tempest, in November 1927, at the start of his exchange service with the Royal Navy. In January 1928 he was appointed to the battleship HMS Marlborough, in which he served until September 1929. On his return to Australia he served at Navy Office Melbourne, as a Lieutenant Commander, having been promoted after the usual eight years as a Lieutenant.
In January 1932, Rosenthal joined the flagship, the cruiser Australia, and in October 1933 he was given his first command, the destroyer Waterhen, which he brought out from England with the other ships which later became, under Captain Waller, the famous ‘Scrap Iron Flotilla‘. Rosenthal was now one of the select band of ‘salt horse’ destroyer captains, who were to build up between them considerable service in command of destroyers.
After twelve months in Waterhen, he was appointed to command Vendetta. In November 1935, he was appointed to the cruiser Canberra, in which he served until January 1937, when he was transferred to the Auxiliary List, as District Naval Officer, South Australia, and promoted to Commander.
The transfer to the Auxiliary List was undoubtedly a great disappointment to him, for it normally meant the end of an officer’s seagoing career; it is extremely likely, however, that Commander Rosenthal had other ideas, and expected that Hitler would have his war in a year or two. The following year, in fact, Rosenthal was recalled for the Munich mobilisation and appointed Commander (D) in the Flotilla Leader Stuart. This appointment only lasted for a couple of months, and by the end of November he was back at his old job.
War was by now inevitable, and when it came it did not take Rosenthal long to suggest that the Naval Board had erred in ‘sidelining’ him to the Auxiliary Service. He was to prove that he was one of the fighting type of officers which thrived under the arduous conditions of war.
His first war appointment was the command of the armed merchant cruiser Westralia, which commissioned on 17th January 1940; at first he possibly considered it somewhat of a disappointing command, but at least he was at sea again. He settled in enthusiastically to his new command, and Westralia soon became a very efficient unit; Rosenthal was a popular captain, and respected by all the officers and ship’s company, the great majority of whom were Naval Reservists, and inexperienced in the workings of a ship-of-war.
After operating in Australian waters until June, Westralia sailed from Fremantle to Colombo for service under the Commander-in- Chief, East Indies. In December the ship was ordered to return to Australia, as an additional ship was required to cover the convoys there, because of the presence of German surface-raiders in the Pacific.
Although sorry to leave Westralia in April 1941, Rosenthal got what he really wanted, the command of a new destroyer.
He was appointed CO of Norman, building at Southampton, but after a few weeks was suddenly ordered to take command of her sister ship Nestor, already in commission at Scapa Flow. I joined her shortly afterwards as her Engineer Officer. Nestor had had several setbacks in her working-up periods since commissioning, but with the arrival of Rosenthal went right ahead and was destined to become a very successful and famous ship during her short life of eighteen months.
His First Lieutenant was Lieutenant George Crowley RN, now a retired Rear Admiral, who was an exceptionally talented, cheerful and hardworking officer. He gave Rosenthal tremendous support, as did all the officers, for Rosy had the great gift of welding all his subordinates into an efficient working team. As the Engineer Officer of Nestor, the author felt that he was indeed fortunate to have as his Captain a man with a mechanical bent who took such a great personal interest in the wellbeing of the engineering plant, and gave such wonderful support when it came to getting mechanical repairs expedited by the various dockyards and repair-ships, which was very difficult in many of the outlying bases.
Rosenthal’s first task, on 22nd May, was to escort the battleship King George V, the aircraft-carrier Victorious and four cruisers on the beginning of the long chase to sink the Bismarck; there were six other destroyers in the escort – two days later the destroyers with oil tanks low were detached to refuel at Iceland, and thus Nestor missed Bismarck’s final destruction.
By July 1941 the supply situation at Malta had again become desperate and Operation ‘Substance’ was mounted, to run a convoy of one personnel ship and six transports to the island from the west. The operation was under the command of Admiral Somerville, with Force H, reinforced by Nelson, cruisers and destroyers, including Nestor. At the same time it was intended to run to the west seven ships from Malta which were immobilised in the face of enemy airpower.
Nestor embarked 56 troops at Gibraltar, and left with the covering group on 21st July 1941 in thick fog. For the first two days, Nestor was in the screen to Force H. On the next day off the African coast, Nestor’s Anti- Submarine Officer detected hydrophone effects, and sighted torpedo tracks crossing from starboard to port. Sub Lieutenant Colclough immediately ordered ‘hard astarboard’ and an alarm report was made to Renown.
Two torpedoes passed under Nestor, who hunted the submarine for an hour. The Admiral later reported that the successful avoiding action taken by his heavy ship ‘was only rendered possible by the prompt action taken and quick and accurate report made by Nestor’.
At 2.30 on the 24th July the convoy was attacked eight miles north of Pantellaria by Italian motor torpedo-boats. At 2.55 Rosenthal saw one ship of the convoy dropping astern, and on investigation he found the Blue Star ship Sydney Star steaming slowly on the opposite course to the convoy. Nestor closed her and learnt that she had been torpedoed and that she was lowering her lifeboats, as her Master believed that she was sinking. The two ships were now only four miles from Pantellaria, and Rosenthal decided to embark the troops onboard; this proved to be a most difficult operation, but it was greatly assisted by the initiative of two seamen who jumped down into one of the transport’s lifeboats and got it clear when ‘delay was not acceptable’.
While alongside, Rosenthal impressed on the Master to keep his ship afloat and under way. Although three torpedo-boats approached, Nestor was able to embark 460 troops and 20 of Sydney Star’s complement and at 4.10 Nestor cast off. To Rosenthal’s great satisfaction, the transport was able to follow at 12 knots. The cruiser Hermione later joined them and the three ships successfully beat off a dive-bomber and high-level bombing attack. They reached Malta safely at 2 p.m. It was a great day for the beleaguered fortress – not a ship had been lost from the convoy.
‘The safe arrival of Sydney Star reflects great credit on the Commanding Officer of Nestor, Commander A.S. Rosenthal RAN’, reported Admiral Somerville, ‘who showed judgement, initiative and good seamanship in handling a delicate situation so close to the enemy’s coast and in the presence of enemy E-boats. It was fitting that the CO and most of his crew should be Australians‘. That afternoon the west-bound convoys sailed from Malta, followed by the cruisers and destroyers, including Nestor. All ships arrived safely at Gibraltar. Both Rosenthal and Nestor made their names in the Sydney Star affair, and Rosenthal was awarded the DSO.