Naval officer who took command of a landing craft off Walcheren after his senior officers were killed.
John Jarvis-Smith, who has died aged 91, was mistakenly given up for dead during the Second World War and later became a successful shipbroker.
On November 1 1944 Smith, as he then was, took part in Operation Infatuate, the British and Canadian amphibious assault on heavily fortified and entrenched German positions on the Dutch island of Walcheren. Smith was a sub-lieutenant in Landing Craft Gun (Large) No 11, a shallow-draft craft, armed with two 4.7 in guns, which closed to within 1,000 yards of the beach to soften up the German defences. While LCG(L) No 11 and the other landing craft of the Support Squadron drew the fire of the German guns, Royal Marines and Belgian and Norwegian commandos made their landing on a breach in the defences.
LCG(L) No 11 was repeatedly straddled and her Australian captain dispersed his officers by sending Smith below. Smith had no sooner reached the wireless office when he heard a colossal thud above him. Rushing to the bridge, he found that everyone had been killed or badly injured. A second hit wrecked the engine room and a third destroyed the wireless room, which Smith had just left. Smith took command and on one engine slowly manoeuvred the disabled craft alongside a hospital ship where the injured were taken aboard.
As an ordinary seaman he was put in charge of 30 of his peers and was promoted a year later, having proved his leadership qualities, to midshipman, serving during the Second World War on landing craft.
Exposing the ships of the Support Squadron had been a deliberate ploy to distract German fire while the marines landed, and the casualties among the ships were heavy: only seven out of 27 survived unharmed. In March 1945 Smith was surprised, however, to learn from the London Gazette that he had been awarded, posthumously, a mention in despatches “for gallantry and great devotion to duty during the assault on Walcheren”. When Smith pointed out that it was another officer, Lieutenant Leonard George Smith, who had been killed, and that he was alive and well, the Admiralty promptly awarded Smith the Distinguished Service Cross.
Smith outside Buckingham Palace with his mother and sister after the investiture at which he received his DSC
John Frederick Smith was born on March 15 1924 in Streatham where his father worked on the buses. He was educated at Woodmansterne Road primary and Central School, Tooting, and was a chorister and London YMCA singles tennis champion.
In 1941 Smith joined the RNVR, through the Y scheme for educationally qualified boys who had been selected while at school as having potential officer-like qualities. Smith recalled that as an ordinary seaman he was put in charge of a hut of 30 youths of his own age, and told to prove his leadership. After 12 months he was promoted to midshipman and served the war in landing craft, seeing action off Sword Beach on D-Day. In June 1944 his LCG(L) spent three weeks giving covering fire to troops on the left flank of the British landings.
In December 1944 Smith was given command of a Landing Craft Tank (LCT) tasked with conveying relief supplies, food, clean clothing and even an upright piano donated in England, for the people of the devastated city of Caen.
After the war Smith became a shipbroker, starting in a firm called Simpson, Spence and Young. The Simpson in question was Ernest Simpson, the former husband of the Duchess of Windsor, and with Simpson Smith enjoyed many convivial lunches at the Savoy and developed a life-long appreciation of good food, wine and cigars. Later Smith worked for Murco and the Greek shipping magnate John Latsis.
In 1971, mindful of the wartime confusion, he formally changed his name to Jarvis-Smith.
As Jarvis-Smith he retired at 62, selling a house in Brunswick Square, Hove, which he and his partner had restored. He continued to commute between a thatched cottage in the Savernake Forest and a home in Les Ferres, Alpes Maritimes, where his fluent French enabled him to integrate comfortably into the community.
In 1990 he moved to Crossmichael in Dumfries and Galloway where he became involved in village life, opening his house and garden to raise money for various causes including the National Trust for Scotland, the World Wildlife Fund, the Red Cross, and the local Conservative Party, of which he became chairman.
Jarvis-Smith is survived by his civil partner, Roger Cave, who shared the last 34 years of his life.
The tactic proved successful as the German shore batteries let rip but as the enemy repeatedly targeted their vessel, Smith’s captain dispersed his officers by sending Smith below decks – a move that was to save him from the carnage about to be wreaked above. Just as he reached the wireless room he heard a huge bang and, on rushing to the bridge, discovered all his colleagues either dead or injured.
The engine room was then hit by a second explosion and another destroyed the wireless room. The 22-year-old then took command and slowly manoeuvred the stricken craft, by now on one engine, alongside a hospital ship which took the wounded on board.
The fight lasted nearly four hours and there were heavy losses. Of the 27 ships involved, eight sank and only seven were left unscathed.