Arctic convoy hero marks 100th birthday

Four generations of the Cobley family. Lt Cdr Kenneth William Cobley is sat in the centre. Four generations of the Cobley family. Lt Cdr Kenneth William Cobley is sat in the centre.

Sunday, May 4, 2014
12:30 PM

A World War Two veteran who took part in a military operation described by Winston Churchill as ‘the worst journey in the world’ has celebrated his 100th birthday.

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HMS Duke of York in March 1942 whilst escorting an Arctic ConvoyHMS Duke of York in March 1942 whilst escorting an Arctic Convoy

Lieutenant-Commander Kenneth William Cobley, who lives in Ottery St Mary, marked the milestone on April 24 with a birthday lunch, a card from The Queen and a get-together with three generations of family in Metcombe.

Lt Cdr Cobley saw action in the freezing waters north of the Arctic Circle between 1943 and 1945 as a gunnery officer on the battleship HMS Duke of York.

And for his part in ensuring vital supplies reached Russia, he was decorated with the Arctic Star in August last year – a medal introduced at the start of 2013 to recognise sailors who had been part of the treacherous convoys.

“Because he was a gunnery officer his hearing is quite bad now,” said Lt Cdr Cobley’s nephew, Jim Cobley. “But his eyesight is unbelievable – he can spot boats on the horizon off Sidmouth that I struggle to see, even with my glasses on.

Members of Duke of York's gun crews after the battleMembers of Duke of York's gun crews after the battle

“It was remarkable what these men went through - they have some amazing stories to tell.”

The Duke of York was the flagship of a fleet tasked with supporting supply convoys between Iceland and the Soviet Union, and although the fleet was spared the worst of air attacks, it was under constant threat from submarines.

Sailors had to endure sub-zero conditions, rough seas and just an hour or two of daylight each day.

In December 1943, the fleet, which was already suffering heavy losses from U-boat attacks, came under additional threat from the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst.

The German cruiser had set sail to sink allied supply ships, but was intercepted by the British fleet on December 26, damaged by the Duke of York’s guns and finally destroyed by torpedoes.

For his part in directing the gunfire during the three-hour battle, Lt Cdr Cobley was decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross by King George VI.

Lt Cdr Cobley retired from the Navy in 1959 before moving to West Hill. He now splits his time between a home in Ottery and a flat in Sidmouth.

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