Hector Charles Donald MacLean (1908 - 2003)

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Birthdate:
Birthplace: Bangalore, India
Death: Died in King's Lynn, Norfolk
Managed by: Peter Breed
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About Hector Charles Donald MacLean

Hector Charles Donald MacLean was born on August 7 1908 at Bangalore, India. His uncle and namesake won the VC during the Pathan revolt in 1897, and his father, a captain in the Royal Scots, won the DSO at 25. Young Hector was brought up by his widowed mother and educated at Wellington before entering the Navy by special entry.

As a midshipman in 1928 he served in the cruiser Durban in the Pacific and was a "snotty" to Lieutenant Prince George of Kent. He specialised in navigation, serving in destroyers and, briefly, the cruiser Delhi in the British Mediterranean Fleet. It was at Malta that the aggressive Vian spotted MacLean's talent, and took him into Cossack.

Vice-Admiral SIR Hector MacLean, who died aged 94, was navigating officer of the destroyer Cossack when she hunted down a German supply ship carrying 299 captive merchant seamen in neutral Norwegian waters in 1940.

The Altmark was returning from the South Atlantic where her parent ship, the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee, had sunk several British merchantmen.

Alerted by his C-in-C, Captain Philip Vian chased the Altmark through the islands and fjords until they reached Jossingfjord at night. There Altmark tried to blind Cossack with her searchlight and charged her astern at full power through a channel in the ice.

But according to Vian, MacLean's "imperturbable skill and expert shiphandling" avoided disaster. He ensured that, as the two ships brushed together, a boarding party leapt onto the Altmark and shouted down a hold,"Any British there?" There was a boisterous response. "Then come up," was the reply. "The Navy's here."

Cossack achieved headlines around the world, but had to be docked to repair her damage; although MacLean had saved her propeller and the underwater hull from the ice and rocks, both her side and stem plates needed repair. Vian therefore had to transfer to another destroyer and, to his consternation, lost MacLean, who was mentioned in dispatches and given another appointment.

After Norway, MacLean was sent to the aircraft carrier Ark Royal. He was navigating her when she was torpedoed on Friday November 13 1941 by a German U-boat. Already in need of maintenance, she lost all power and light and took a heavy list.

By nightfall MacLean, who was on the bridge, had helped to organise a tow. But then a fire broke out, and Ark Royal increased her list until she sank only 25 miles from Gibraltar. Every one on board behaved in an exemplary fashion, and only one man was lost. MacLean was awarded the DSC.

He next served on the battleship Anson, and had a short spell at the Admiralty before being appointed Master of the British Pacific Fleet; but he arrived too late for the war on Japan, and remembered only eating Sydney Bay oysters and playing golf with his commander-in-chief.

MacLean's career after the war alternated between staff and sea appointments. Although not an aviator, he commanded the aircraft carrier Eagle during the Suez crisis and became Flag Officer Aircraft Carrier Squadron. His last appointment was as Chief of Staff at Headquarters Allied Forces Mediterranean, based in Malta. He was appointed CB in 1960 and KBE in 1962.

In retirement MacLean worked for the defence engineering company Elliot Automation. Settling in Norfolk, he became a JP and a Deputy Lieutenant, and captained the Royal West Norfolk golf club. He also chaired the Royal Naval Benevolent Society and the Association of Retired Naval Officers.

MacLean claimed the chieftainship of the MacLeans of Coll, and would have been the 20th chief. But the death of Dr James MacLean of Glensanda, the clan historian who was helping him pursue the claim, meant that he did not succeed.

When MacLean lost some of his possessions to enemy bombing it was his books that he missed most. He had a quotation from Shakespeare or Alice in Wonderland for every occasion, kept Lord Wavell"s anthology Other Men's Flowers by the side of his bed and had recently been reading Trollope and Dickens.

Sir Hector MacLean died on February 19. He married, in 1933, Opre Vyvyan, who survived him with their son and two daughters.

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Vice Admiral Sir Hector Charles Donald Maclean's Timeline

1908
August 7, 1908
Bangalore, India
2003
February 19, 2003
Age 94
King's Lynn, Norfolk
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