Anthony Montague 'Steady' Tuke


Tuke joined the Royal Navy in 1938 and learned to fly in Tiger Moths at Gravesend on Number 4 pilot’s course,
where his progress was always reported as “steady”.

Adam Tuke

No. 4 course at Gravesend.  Tuke is extreme right, third row back

Lieutenant-Commander 'Steady’ Tuke was one of the youngest recipients of the DSC during the Battle of Britain
after a desperate aerial battle over the English Channel.

Tuke was 19 when, in April 1940, he joined 826 Naval Air Squadron, the first operational squadron of Fairey Albacore torpedo-bomber biplanes,
based at Ford in Sussex.

Tuke's Fairey Albacore

A month later the squadron moved to Detling, Kent, to provide cover for the Dunkirk evacuation,
and on May 31 bombed road and rail targets at Westende, and E-boats off Zeebrugge.  The squadron then operated for five months
from Bircham Newton, Norfolk, under RAF Coastal Command, conducting mining and torpedo operations over Holland, Belgium and France.

On the night of June 26/27, returning from laying mines in the Dutch canals, Tuke suffered an engine failure but managed to glide back over the coast and crash-land in the dunes at Waxham. His aircraft was a write-off but Tuke and his crew were unharmed.

Then on September 11, at the height of the Battle of Britain, Tuke flew one of six Albacores, with an escort of six Blenheim fighters
of the RAF’s No 235 Squadron, to attack a convoy of invasion barges off Calais.  Descending from 10,000ft he could see a cloud of Messerschmitt 109s
rising to meet them, and an aerial battle involving at least two dozen aircraft quickly became a mêlée.  The Messerschmitts, armed with cannons,
attacked the much slower Albacores, which the Blenheims attempted to defend.

Tuke jinked and slowed to outmanoeuvre the faster German aircraft, while Naval Airman Robert Mathews stood in the rear of the cockpit
to fire his single .303in Vickers machinegun until wounded in the shoulder.  The cockpit was riddled with bullets, the main spar shot away,
the upper aileron jammed, and Tuke’s observer, sub-lieutenant EG Brown, wounded in the head.  Despite a holed petrol tank and both tyres being punctured,
Tuke nursed his aircraft back to Bircham Newton and landed safely.

Two Blenheims and an Albacore were shot down and two more Albacores badly damaged, while the Albacores claimed one or two Messerschmitts.
All told 826 Squadron lost eleven aircrew and thirteen aircraft on these operations.

Anthony Montague Tuke was born on December 28 1920 at Boxford, Suffolk, the son of a Merchant Navy captain.
He was educated at Woodbridge School where he was captain of rugby, cricket, fives and tennis,
company sergeant major in the Officer Training Corps, and head boy.

After its channel operations in 1940, Tuke’s squadron was sent to St Merryn to rest, but within an hour of landing there the airfield was bombed
and several aircraft damaged.  It was a relief to be sent to Campbeltown in November 1940 to prepare for embarkation in the new carrier Formidable
and operations in the Eastern Mediterranean.  En route via the Cape of Good Hope, Tuke laid magnetic mines in the Italian Somaliland port of Mogadishu
and took part in a bombing raid on the naval base at Massawa.

Next Tuke took part in the Battle of Matapan when, in mid-afternoon on March 28 1941, he and his squadron attacked the Italian fleet with torpedoes,
one of which hit and slowed the battleship Vittorio Veneto.  Next he flew to El Adem, south of Tobruk, for operations with the RAF,
escorting convoys through the Mediterranean.

On May 25 1941 Formidable was damaged by German dive-bombers and while she was under repair in Alexandria, Tuke was deployed into the Western Desert on air operations in support of the Army. Tuke was part of a makeshift squadron in Formidable when she sailed to America for permanent repairs, but returned early to Britain to become senior pilot of 819 Naval Air Squadron, flying the Fairey Swordfish.

In August 1943, Tuke, now an acting lieutenant-commander, sailed in RMS Queen Mary for the USA where he took command of 851 Naval Air Squadron
which was forming up at Squantum, Massachusetts, to fly the Grumman Avenger torpedo-bomber.  Tuke’s squadron embarked on the escort carrier Shah
for operations in the Indian Ocean, where on August 10 1944 he spotted and attacked U-198.  After a two day hunt, the Indian sloop Godavari and
the frigate Findhorn sank the submarine with depth bombs north west of the Seychelles.

Tuke was awarded a Bar to his DSC for his courage, leadership and determination.

After almost five years of continuous front line flying, he was rested, from November 1944 to August 1945, as lieutenant-commander (Flying)
at HMS Peewit, the deck landing training school where he met and married the captain’s secretary, third officer Frances Mary Harvey WRNS.

He commanded 783 squadron at the Naval Air Signal School, Arbroath until November 1947, when he retired on grounds of ill-health.

In retirement Tuke, who regularly supported squadron reunions and Fleet Air Arm dinners, was group secretary for West Essex
of the National Farmers Union; a lay tax commissioner; and a governor of his old school.  At an old boys’ dinner in 2003, to a standing ovation,
Tuke accepted a bill (in euros) for the damage he had done to Vittorio Veneto in 1941.

Steady Tuke is survived by his wife and two sons.


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