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Peter Kavanagh, Ireland


Peter Kavanagh, Irish Naval Service Cadet, 1947.

Ship: New Westminster City

Position: third officer

Convoys: PQ 13, QP 10

Awards: Commendation for Brave Conduct: His Majesty the King, 15 September 1942; 1939-1945 Star; Atlantic Star; Arctic Star; 1939-1945 War Medal with oakleaf; Irish Mercantile Marine Medal with bar for service on Irish ships during the Emergency years 1939-1946

Peter Kavanagh (at the centre), 1973.

Was born in Dublin, Ireland. His career began in 1937 when, following a pre-sea course at the Irish Nautical College, he joined the Cardiff based Reardon-Smith Line engaged in worldwide trading.

In March 1942 Peter Kavanagh sailed to Murmansk with convoy PQ 13 aboard the cargo ship New Westminster City as third officer. New Westminster City was attacked by enemy aircraft and sank in the port of Murmansk on April 3, 1942. Following the sinking of his ship in Murmansk port third officer Peter Kavanagh transferred to the Empire Starlight, but she was severely damaged during an air-raid a few hours later. For the passage home to the UK, Kavanagh was assigned to the SS Harpalion. On the 13 April 1942 off the North Cape, the SS Harpalion was sunk by an aerial torpedo and he was rescued by a lifeboat from HMS Fury. Months later Third officer Kavanagh received a communication from 10 Downing Street which read:

"By the King’s Order the name of Peter Kavanagh, Third Officer, SS New Westminster City was published in the London Gazette on 15 September 1942 as commended for brave conduct in the Merchant Navy. I am charged to record His Majesty’s high appreciation of the service rendered." Winston Churchill, Prime Minister

His actions as part of the New Westminster City crew were also mentioned in the report of the surviving senior officers from the same ship.

In 1947 Peter Kavanagh joined the Irish Naval Service and from 1973 till 1981 served as Director and Flag Officer Commanding Irish Naval Service.

SS New Westminster City

Tonnage: 4747 tons

Built in 1929

Country: UK

Crew during the war: 44 merchant sailors and 6 armed guards

Participated in convoys Dervish, QP 1, PQ 13

Sunk: April 4, 1942 in Murmansk during a Luftwaffe raid. 2 crewmembers killed.


  1. Information and materials provided by Peter Mulvany, the researcher of participation of the Irishmen in the World War II
  2. http://www.irishseamensrelativesassociation.com
  3. http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C10818989
  4. Irish Defence Forces Magazine “An Cosantoir” (The Soldier) July 1981: Obituary of Commodore Peter Kavanagh Irish Naval Service
  5. Pictures: Irish Military Archives, Limerick Leader, https://www.litres.ru/valeriy-nikolaevich-filimonov/ostoychivost-sudna-s-gruzom-zerna-nasypu/chitat-onlayn/

Article by Hilary Kavanagh, daughter of Commodore Peter Kavanagh, Flag Officer Commanding Irish Naval Service 1973-1980.


Peter Kavanagh was born 1920 and grew up in Sandymount with 3 sisters and 2 brothers. He had a great sense of family and remained in close contact with his siblings all his life. His parents had a shop in Pearse St. 

Peter went to sea in 1937 following nautical training college and started his career with a Cardiff shipping company “Riordan Smith” and enjoyed his time trading in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. 

At the outbreak of WW II he along with his fellow crew members served on the Arctic Convoys trading in hazardous seas between Iceland and Russia. They were torpedoed 3 times on these voyages. The war was never mentioned in our lifetime. When home on survival leave 1942 Dad instructed his sisters to bring him out on the town and show him a good time and not to ask any questions regarding the war or life at sea.  It was at this time that he joined the Wexford steamship company and served on the Kerlogue. He went on to name the family home in Sutton “Kerlogue”.

Peter went on to join Irish shipping and met the love of his life Frances King. They married on the 20th November 1944 and had the first of 5 children a year later.

In 1947 the decision was made for family reasons, amongst others to join the Irish navy. The sea was his passion and he was so proud to wear that uniform. Peter was enthusiastic about everything he did, work, family, sport, sailing, bridge.  He was a great lover of travel and although he was an advocate for education Peter believed travel was the best education one could get.

He was a Christian man and he always saw the good in people. He would say "if you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything".  Peter loved going to see his grandchildren and read at mass. He had a great sense of humour and was very encouraging and believed people could be anything they dreamed to be.  He was a great believer in down time and work life balance. He would say "keep your circle broad and your interests wide". He practiced relaxation, as he called it, now referred to as mindfulness and was a great believer in learning to do nothing, but at the same time when working to have a good work ethic.

We joked about all his lady bridge partners of which there were many. Amongst his interests was gardening. He was proud of his magnificent garden with beautiful rose display. His real passion was sailing. He was navigator on Perry Grear's boat “Helen of Howth”. Peter retired in 1980 and although he loved his career with the navy he was ready for new adventures.

He planned a trip for May 1981 to sail the Helen of Howth to the Caribbean and was to navigate but sadly that never happened as he swallowed a bone while eating dinner 18th March 1981, and died on 30th April that year. Peter also had great plans to backpack in India and had a great curiosity regarding India. A fellow naval officer John Sutton had served there during the Raj and had created this interest.  The other plan he had was to do work with the RNLI. (Royal National Lifeboat Institute/Lifeboat Organisation).

Peter enjoyed his drink night with his good friend Captain Frank Forde and I'd say many a night was spent discussing times at sea over a few.  Frank wrote a book "the long watch" covering life at sea during the war.

There were not going to be enough hours in the day for the plans he had in retirement.

Commodore Peter Kavanagh on the bridge of an Irish Naval Vessel circa 1978-1980.


Marriage of then second Officer Peter Kavanagh, Irish Merchant Navy and his wife Frances, 20th November 1944.


Yacht HELEN OF HOWTH in full sail during the Fastnet yacht race, 1963. Peter Kavanagh was the navigator on board.


Commodore Peter Kavanagh was awarded the following foreign decorations while serving as Flag Officer Commanding the Irish Naval Service 1973-1980:

1. Order of the Crown, From Belgium (awarded 09 August 1980 along with Lt. Gen O’Sullivan)

2. Grand Cross of Merit, from the Federal Republic of Germany

3. The Cross of Naval Merit, First Class, from Spain

4. Order of Orange-Nassau, from Netherlands

5. Commodore of Naval Merit, From France (Awarded 09 November 1978)


Photo showing the award of Commodore of Merit by the French Ambassador to Ireland to Commodore Peter Kavanagh 09 November 1978, with the Kavanagh family in attendance.