Captain Philip Vian was the perpetrator of the daring Altmark raid. In February 1940 in HMS Cossack, commanding a destroyer flotilla, Vian boarded the German prisoner ship Altmark in a Norwegian fjord and rescued 299 British prisoners who had been captured during the Graf Spee’s commerce raids. In May 1940 he led the evacuation of Namsos aboard HMS Afridi which was sunk during the exchange. In May 1941 he was Commander of the 4th Flotilla which helped to sink the Bismarck. Now an Admiral, Vian led the successful raid on Spitzbergen in July 1941 and in December commanded a squadron in the First Battle of Sirte. He helped protect the convoys bound to and from Malta and the Second Battle of Sirte was a success mostly because of his decisive leadership. He led an assault force for the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and a squadron of aircraft carriers for the Italian landings at Salerno. In June 1944 as Naval Commander of the Eastern Task Force he participated in the cross-Channel invasion of Europe (Operation Neptune). On D-Day he watched the daylight operations and controlled the night surface patrols.
Late in 1944 he was appointed Commander of the Eastern Fleet’s aircraft carrier squadron in Ceylon and joined the British Pacific Fleet in Australia for the assault on Okinawa. An energetic and tireless leader, Vian was always in the thick of battle.