Lieutenant 

Robert William Douglas 

DON, 

DSC**

Royal Navy

Died On:
Aged:
20 January 1942

22

Robert Don was born in Forfar, Angus in Scotland on 8 November 1919, the eldest son of William Gilbert Don and Jeannette Elizabeth Edith Grizel Don (née Douglas), of Maulesden, Brechin, Angus. His father had served in the Royal Navy pre-WWI. His younger brother had six children, one of whom founded the Triumph Association. Robert was educated at Cheltenham College from September 1933 to April 1937 (Leconfield House).

After leaving the College, he joined the Royal Navy as a Special Entry Cadet on 1 May 1937 and trained in the cruiser HMS VINDICTIVE from 1 May 1937 to 1 May 1938 when he was promoted to Midshipman and appointed to the heavy cruiser HMS EXETER which served on the America & West Indies Station.

In late 1939 HMS EXETER, with the cruisers HMS ACHILLES and HMS AJAX formed a task group under Commodore Henry Harwood to track down the German Navy pocket battleship ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE which had been engaged in commerce raiding in the South Atlantic.  Eventually GRAF SPEE was located and brought to action.  During the action HMS EXETER was seriously damaged and eventually had to withdraw to the Falkland Islands but not before the GRAF SPEE broke off contact and retreated to Buenos Aires where the ship was scuttled without returning to sea to face further action.

HMS EXETER retuned home for repairs but Robert Don was transferred to and returned home in HMS AJAX.  For his action on board during the Battle of the River Plate Robert Don was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross – see London Gazette 23 February 1940 for which the Citation reads ‘Midshipman Robert W. D. Don, Royal Navy; who, throughout the action showed great calm, resource and initiative, specially in running hoses into the burning Marines’ barracks, in fighting a fire over the lower steering position, and in rescuing the wounded’. The Investiture took place on 23 February 1940.

Robert Don was promoted to Acting Sub Lieutenant on 1 January 1940 and, after returning home he completed his Lieutenant’s Courses before being appointed to HMS DOLPHIN at Gosport ‘for Submarine Training’ on 17 June 1940. On completion of his Submarine Training Course, he was appointed to HMS TRIUMPH on 22 October 1940 – at which time the submarine was in the Clyde areas conducting torpedo firings. TRIUMPH left for her 6th War Patrol (apparently uneventful) on 6 November 1940 en-route to Gibraltar, arriving there on 16 November.  After three more War Patrols East of Gibraltar, on 3 January 1941, TRIUMPH sailed for a further patrol during which the submarine was part of the escort for a convoy to Malta where she arrived on 12th January.

During a further ten patrols in the Mediterranean from Alexandria whilst Robert Don was serving in HMS TRIUMPH the submarine sank an Italian Submarine – the SALPA on 27 June 1941, torpedoed and damaged the Italian heavy cruiser BOLZANO on 26 August 1941 and sank three merchant vessels on 23.  A number of beach reconnaissances were carried as were several special operations where personnel were landed in hostile territory or picked up to be retuned to Alexandria.  In one of these operations, on 8 June 1941, Robert Don was reported to have been manning one of the folboats (Canoes).

Robert Don was promoted to Lieutenant on 16 June 1941. TRIUMPH sailed from Alexandria on her 21st War Patrol on 26 December 1941 to land personnel at Antiparos before proceeding on a patrol in the Aegean Sea. The reported landing had been completed on 30 December but TRIUMPH did not show up on 9 January 1942 when she was to pick the party up again upon completion of her patrol. She was declared overdue and lost with all hands, on 9 January 1942. It was thought she had most likely been mined or was lost due to an accident.

For his service in HMS TRIUMPH Robert Don was recognised with two Bars to his DSC – London Gazette 20 January 1942For courage, skill and resolution in successful Submarine patrols’ – five War Patrols in the Mediterranean’ and London Gazette 5 May 1942For daring, enterprise and devotion to duty in successful patrols in H.M. Submarines’ for three war patrols in the Mediterranean (presented to next-of-kin in July 1942).

Robert Don is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial on Panel 62 Column 1.

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