Obit: Admiral Antony Storrs (1907-2002)

Antony Storrs, the Canadian rear admiral who led a vital minesweeping operation in advance of the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, has died in Victoria, B.C. at the age of 95.

Adm. Storrs was the leader of the 31st Mine Sweeping Flotilla, a Canadian naval unit that cleared the waters around the proposed landing site, Omaha Beach, before dawn on D-Day.

Long afterwards, he told his son that he hadn’t expected to survive the assignment. “He figured it would be a one-way trip and that the chances of coming out alive were fairly slim,” said Andrew Storrs, an Ottawa chartered accountant. “But he was lucky and the Germans didn’t realize he was in that close and didn’t fire on him.”

Antony Hubert Gleadow Storrs, rear admiral in the Canadian Navy. Born in Overton, Wales on April 1, 1907. Died in Victoria, B.C. on August 9, 2002. 

Adm. Storrs eventually became Canada’s senior officer at sea. He received a Legion of Merit from the United States and a legion d’honneur and croix de guerre from France.

After the war he assumed control of the aircraft carrier HMCS Magnificent, the largest ship in the Royal Canadian Navy. In the 1960s, as director of the national coast guard, he escorted the American icebreaker Manhattan through a controversial voyage across the Canadian arctic. In the 1970s, he headed a team of consultants working to help Iran develop a coast guard.

“He was willing to take risks but he always weighed the odds carefully,” Andrew said. “And whatever he did, he researched it very well. He always made sure he was well prepared.”

Born in Overton, Wales in 1907, Tony Storrs lost his mother at the age of five and his father at 14; his guardian gave him a choice of articling for a bank in London or enrolling in a naval college. After several years of naval training, he circumnavigated the globe as a merchant seaman aboard the William Mitchell, one of the last three-masted sailing ships in the British commercial fleet; it was retired in 1927.

Throughout much of the 1930s he worked as a maritime customs officer for the Chinese government, patrolling the coast for smugglers of opium and other contraband, and was stationed in a place called Foo Chow when the Japanese invaded. “He and my mother had to walk out of Foo Chow to Shanghai, where they managed to catch the last blockade runner out,” Andrew said.

Arriving in Victoria in November 1940, the 33-year-old master mariner joined the volunteer reserve of the Royal Canadian Navy and was given command of a corvette on assignment to the Aleutian Islands. Later transferred to Canada’s east coast, he sailed convoys out of Halifax, N.S. and St. John’s, Nfld. His minesweeping duties in the English Channel began in 1943.

“He was very strict, but I also thought of him as being very fair,” said Frank Curry, who served under Adm. Storrs aboard the HMCS Caraquet in WWII. “He was fair with everybody he touched.”

Published by Lugus in 1990, Mr. Curry’s book War at Sea: Canadian Seaman On The North Atlantic records many dramatic episodes involving the Caraquet, such as its first encounter with flying bombs in the strip of the Channel known as “buzz-bomb alley”:

“As soon as we entered buzz-bomb alley with our convoy, a group of flying bombs howled out of the darkness, above the convoy. Their awesome roars, combined with their eerie, flickering, flaming tails, made them a terrifying spectacle as they flew their predetermined course to London.” Employing anti-aircraft guns, some of the ships became expert in shooting down the German rockets.”

As the commander not only of the Caraquet but of a flotilla of six other ships, Adm. Storrs kept his cool under duress and could think clearly even under great pressure, Mr. Curry said. Once, when a magnetically-sensitive mine was dragged up to the ship while a cable was being retracted, he ordered the gear loosened and the ship forward at full speed, gaining just enough distance to avoid serious damage when the mine exploded.

He was famous for his even temper but one night, after an American vessel accidentally rammed his anchored ship in its assigned sleeping berth, he sprang up to the bridge, grabbed a megaphone and addressed the other ship’s young commanding officer in the frankest of terms. “The whole crew was in great glee because he let out a whole string of oaths as long as your arm,” Mr. Curry recalled. “This was a small incident in the war, but it sure gave the crew a great boost.”

Returning to Canada in 1945, he fulfilled various naval roles, including commanding officer of the naval air station at Shearwater, N.S. and senior officer of the Nootka destroyer and the HMCS Magnificent. He was director of the National Defense College in Kingston, Ont. for four years before leaving the Navy in 1962.

Joining the federal Department of Transport as director of marine operations, including the national coast guard, he established a coast-guard school in Sydney, N.S. and initiated a hovercraft as a coast guard vessel in Vancouver. On an official trip to Russia he inspected the Soviet fleet of icebreakers, including a prized nuclear-powered icebreaker, the Lenin.

He also travelled across the Canadian arctic on a coast guard icebreaker that escorted the American oil tanker Manhattan through the northwest passage in 1969. Although the Trudeau administration and many editorialists regarded the Manhattan’s journey as a test of Canada’s sovereignty over the high arctic, Adm. Storrs was genuinely intrigued with the navigational challenge and put much effort into assisting the tanker through the ice-clogged northerly seas.

After retiring from government in 1972, he headed a group of Canadian consultants hired to help Iran build a coast guard for use in the Persian Gulf. He commuted regularly from Ottawa to Tehran, often staying there for a month at a time until the project collapsed with the demise of the Peacock Throne in 1979. “I was one of the last ones out of Iran, and Storrs called me and said, ‘Don’t leave until you’ve got all the money they owe us,'” recalled Tom Irvine, an Ottawa-based marine consultant.

Adm. Storrs was a board member of the Maritime Museum in Victoria and a member of the Naval Officers Association of Canada and other organizations. He is survived by his wife Joy in Victoria; sons Andrew of Ottawa and Robin of Milan, Italy; two grandchildren and a stepbrother, Adrian Storrs of England. After a funeral in Victoria, his cremated remains were carried aboard a naval vessel and scattered at sea. ♦

© 2002