“REAR ADMIRAL PHILIP “PERCY” GICK flew Swordfish aircraft in the early years of the Second World War; he served in a total of eight aircraft carriers, and was awarded the DSC and Bar and twice mentioned in dispatches.
Less than a month after joining 825 Squadron, flying Swordfish biplanes from the carrier Victorious, Lieutenant Gick was involved in the hunt for the German battleship Bismarck in May 1941. During an initial attack at night, he was the only pilot out of nine to score a torpedo hit, though no significant damage was inflicted.
Bismarck was sunk two days later following a more successful air strike from Ark Royal. Gick subsequently received the DSC for his part in the action. Two weeks later 825 Squadron transferred to Ark Royal, and for the next five months was employed in the Mediterranean supporting convoys from Gibraltar to Malta.
The ship also flew off several fighters to the island. On the night of July 31 Gick’s squadron attacked the port of Alghero in Sardinia. On November 13, while returning from another reinforcement of Malta, Ark Royal was torpedoed by U-81. The ship sank the following day, only 25 miles from the safety of Gibraltar.
Gick was mentioned in dispatches for his part in these actions. In December 1941 Gick took command of 815 Squadron operating in the Western Desert in support of the 8th Army. During the next nine months the squadron attacked enemy airfields and armoured formations, and conducted anti-submarine patrols off the coast.
Gick subsequently received a Bar to his DSC for his part in the destruction of U-652 in June 1942. During his time in the Western Desert Gick was compelled to make the best use of resources as and when he found them.
A group of Italian prisoners of war was conscripted to do the cooking for Gick’s men, while some of their comrades – who had worked for Alfa Romeo – were put to work repairing the various aircraft. Gick then spent a year in staff appointments in Britain. Following promotion to acting lieutenant commander he joined the escort carrier Vindex as Lt Cdr (Flying).
After work on the Atlantic convoy routes, Vindex was part of the covering force for the Normandy invasion in June 1944. In August the ship was part of the escort for a convoy to Russia and its return in September.
By the time Gick left the ship in October, his aircraft had taken part in the sinking of no fewer than five U-boats, for which he was again mentioned in dispatches. He had also come close to being court-martialled, after telling a gunnery officer to “bugger their Lordships’ orders and do as we have always done”.
Gick got away with a reprimand, of which he later commented coolly: “Added to those I had already got, [it] made very little difference.” After a short spell in command of a training squadron, Gick joined the carrier Venerable, part of the British Pacific Fleet, in command of the ship’s air group.
Venerable was part of Rear Admiral Harcourt’s force sent to liberate Hong Kong after the Japanese surrender. One of the problems Gick had to deal with in Hong Kong was piracy; junks carrying the vital rice supplies were being hijacked, and their crews murdered.
Gick was accordingly appointed Staff Officer Anti-Piracy (although when the signal from the Admiralty arrived, it had omitted the word “anti”). With the aid of a well-armed team (including a professor of classics) Gick intercepted the pirates at sea.
“The drill was quite simply that, when a strange craft came close to us and answered a challenge with a burst of fire, they received about 10 times the amount they could possibly muster,” he recorded later.
“By the time we got on board most of them were dead or dying; we took the junk back with one or two still alive and saw fit to get them to their homes to spread the rumour that there was not much future in piracy.” In time, the pirates gave up.
Philip David Gick (he acquired the name “Percy” courtesy of an admiral on board the battleship Nelson) was born at Weymouth on February 22 1913, the son of Sir William Gick, who had been in charge of naval supplies during the First World War. ]
Educated at St Lawrence College, Ramsgate, he joined the Royal Navy in 1931 as a public school entrant aged 18 (most officers in those days joined as cadets at 13). After Dartmouth he did his sea training in Nelson and then completed professional courses ashore at Greenwich and Portsmouth.
He spent much of 1936 at sea in the fishery protection sloops Godetia and Lupin. Having been selected for the Fleet Air Arm, he commenced flying training at Leuchars, Fife, in September that year. Twelve months later, Lt Gick joined his first squadron, No 822, flying Swordfish aircraft from the carrier Furious.
The following year he transferred to 810 Squadron in Courageous, and on the outbreak of war his squadron moved to the new carrier Ark Royal, engaged in anti-submarine operations with the Home Fleet. Ark Royal survived submarine and air attacks before joining Force `K’ in early 1940, searching for German commerce raiders in the South Atlantic.
The ship and her aircraft then played an active part throughout the Norway Campaign. Afterwards, Gick served ashore for a few months as a flying instructor before joining 825 Squadron in Victorious. Following the liberation of Hong Kong at the end of the War, Gick moved ashore on the staff of the Commander-in-Chief.
On his return to Britain as a Commander, he served on the staff of the RN Tactical School and went to sea in the carrier Vengeance as Executive Officer. Promoted captain in 1952, Gick took command of the new destroyer Daring.
She had lost her commander, who had collapsed and died on board, and also two crewmen in a gun accident; morale was low, and it was decided that she needed a young, progressive captain to get her back on course.
Gick swiftly won the confidence and respect of the crew. Among his first acts was to persuade Gracie Fields to come on board and sing for them. They were also suitably impressed when he became the only naval officer to be fined for speeding in the Suez Canal.
The following year, while on exercise in the Mediterranean, Daring was among the ships which provided disaster relief following the devastating earthquake on the Greek island of Cephalonia. Gick sped to Malta to load up emergency supplies.
Daring was the first ship on the scene to deliver aid and Percy Gick supervised the whole operation until further help arrived. The episode is commemorated by a plaque in HMS Daring Street, Argostoli, on Cephalonia, where he is remembered going ashore to functions sporting top hat, tails, cape, cane and a monocle.
In 1954 Captain Gick came ashore as the Captain of the Royal Naval Air Station Lossiemouth in Scotland. In January 1957 he took command of the aircraft carrier Bulwark for her final commission as a fixed-wing carrier before her conversion to helicopter carrier.
Initially part of the Home Fleet, Bulwark took part in Nato exercises in the North Atlantic and the Caribbean before transferring to the Far East Fleet in May 1958. Later that summer, in response to events in Lebanon and Cyprus, the ship transported troops of the Army’s Strategic Reserve from Mombasa to Aden.
Soon after, Bulwark intercepted a distress signal saying that two tankers had collided 150 miles away off the Arabian coast. Gick sped to the scene, where Bulwark’s helicopters rescued a number of crewmen from one of the tankers; the second tanker – the 56,000-ton Melika – was ablaze, and Gick resolved to take her in tow.
This was a difficult and dangerous operation, yet Bulwark succeeded in towing her into Muscat, a feat that was rewarded with what was then the highest salvage value recorded (it stood for six years in the Guinness Book of Records); the money was distributed equally among Bulwark’s crew.
It was while on Bulwark that Gick had occasion to discipline an unpleasant bully from the lower deck. The miscreant was told that he could suffer a conventional punishment, or go two rounds in an improvised boxing ring with Gick himself, who was welterweight champion of the Navy.
The hapless sailor opted for the latter, and was soundly beaten. After Bulwark paid off in Portsmouth at the end of the year, Gick became president of an Admiralty interview board and then, following promotion to rear admiral in 1961, was appointed Flag Officer Naval Flying Training at Yeovilton.
Here he was accustomed to drop in unannounced – piloting his bright blue Hunter – at Fleet Air Arm bases to carry out his inspections. He retired in 1964. Gick decided to commute his pension, and threw himself into a demanding new project, turning the former logging ponds at Emsworth, near Chichester, into a yacht harbour.
Making use of local plant hire companies, he did much of the physical work himself, losing a finger in the process. Within five years he created the Emsworth Yacht Harbour, one of the first such enterprises in the country. He sold the business in 1990.
A keen yachtsman, he was a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron and the Royal Ocean Racing Club. He was appointed OBE in 1946, and CB in 1963. Gick married, in 1938, Aylmer Rowntree, whom he had met at Emsworth Sailing Club; she died in 1993.
He is survived by a son and three daughters.” (Obituary courtesy of the Daily Telegraph)