Lieutenant-Commander David Waters, who has died aged 101, wrote the definitive account of the Battle of the Atlantic , quelled a mutiny by British prisoners of war, and was Deputy Director of the National Maritime Museum.
The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest, largest, continuous military campaign of the Second World War, and the most complex battle in naval history. Winston Churchill said: “Never for one moment could we forget that everything happening elsewhere, on land, at sea or in the air depended ultimately on its outcome.”
Waters’s study — prosaically titled The Defeat of Enemy Attack on Shipping 1939-1945 — was written with Commander Freddy Barley, RNVR, though Waters did the lion’s share of the work.
The 400-page study, with its many charts and diagrams, remained classified for nearly 50 years until it was released to the Public Records Office in 1987. (It has since been published as a book by the Navy Records Society.) It was a key document in formulating Nato strategy and tactics during the Cold War and formed the basis for many other studies.
A key finding of Waters’s study, backed by irrefutable mathematical and historical analysis, was that convoys of merchant ships were not a defensive tactic (as suggested by many naval and air force officers) but the best offensive tactic to break the stranglehold of the German U-boats and, during the Cold War, to neutralise the threat from Soviet submarines.
David Watkin Waters was born on August 2 1911 at St Germans, Cornwall. His father had been lost in Formidable, which on New Year’s Day 1915 was the first battleship to be sunk by U-boat attack in the First World War. David’s mother and another war widow, a friend, brought up their four children together in Sutton, a poor area of Plymouth, and he entered Dartmouth in 1922 — as a naval orphan, his education was free.
He completed his training in the battleship Barham in 1929-30 in the Mediterranean and the cruiser Berwick on the China station (1930-32) . After a year in the Home Fleet in the cruiser Achilles, he volunteered for the nascent Fleet Air Arm in 1935, learning to fly at No 1 Flying Training School then at Leuchars. Pre-war, Waters flew in 821 Naval Air Squadron from the carrier Courageous and 813 NAS from the carrier Eagle. While Eagle was in Kiel, a distant relative who was dressed in the black uniform of the SS called on him and warned him not to come ashore as “terrible things were happening”. During the phoney war Waters was a flying instructor in 767 NAS, based at first at Arbroath and then at Toulon . In June 1940, though the Swordfish aircraft of 767 had been stripped for use as trainers, Waters led a number of bombing attacks on Italian ports. The fall of France prompted a night-time escape to North Africa, navigating by a school atlas; the French were not told for fear of pro-Germans obstructing the runway, and Waters took off with five ground crew as passengers in an aircraft designed to carry only three crew. When 767 eventually reached Malta, the Axis powers were deceived into thinking that the island had been suddenly reinforced. On the night on August 13 1940, at 40ft over the harbour of Augusta in Sicily, Waters lost visual reference when flares used to illuminate targets went out, and ploughed into the sea. Although he and his air gunner managed to get into a partially inflated life raft, they were captured . Waters’s imprisonment on an island in the Venice lagoon was made civilised by the Italian commandant, a philosopher in peacetime, who shared his library with Waters and whose Polish wife joined them to listen to opera on the gramophone; they spent their evenings conversing in their only common language, French. Also held on the island were the crew of the British submarine Oswald, who ostracised their captain and first lieutenant for having abandoned their boat without resistance, and refused the orders both of their officers and their captors. Waters, his air gunner, and Michael Kyrle Pope, the third hand of Oswald (and later Rear Admiral Pope ) were asked by the Italian authorities to restore order, which they did. Friendly relations with his captors did not prevent Waters planning an escape and, when the PoWs were moved to a new camp at Sulmona in the Abruzzi mountains, he left a dummy in his bed and hid in the rafters, only to be discovered by his guards, who beat him with their rifle butts and then apologised by offering bottles of wine. In 1942 Waters was taken by cattle truck to Marlag O at Westertimke, near Bremen, where he educated himself using books provided by the Red Cross, reading history and writing essays which after the war earned him a place at Oxford, which he turned down. In 1946 he was taken on by the Naval History Section of the Admiralty. He remained there until 1960, when, having failed in his ambition to be appointed head of the section, he was recruited by the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich as curator of navigation and astronomy. When his administrative gifts became clear, he was made deputy director. Waters was commissioned by the American bibliophile Henry C Taylor to write The Art of Navigation in Elizabethan and Early Stuart Times (1958): no money changed hands, but Taylor paid Waters’s daughter’s school fees, and Waters did most of the writing in his free time, while commuting on the train between Chichester and London. He wrote several other standard works and articles about ships and the sea, while his love of dogs was expressed in a book written with his wife, The Saluki in History, Art, and Sport ( 1969). In pre-war China, Waters had been fascinated by the variety of junks he saw, and he collected old models and commissioned new ones which now form a unique record, at the National Maritime Museum, of craft which have largely disappeared. After retiring from the National Maritime Museum when he was 67, he took up a number of visiting fellowships in Canada and the United States. Waters married, in 1946, his brother’s widow, Hope (his brother was killed in the war). They later separated, and in 2003 Waters emigrated with his cousin, Marilyn Reynolds, to New Zealand . Hope Waters died in 2009, and he is survived by their daughter. Lt-Cdr David Waters, born August 2 1911, died November 28 2012 SOURCE: TELEGRAPH NEWS