The Liverpudlian Captain who terrified the German navy

Paul Crone looked into the history of Liverpool's most successful naval captain.

On the banks of the Mersey River, a statue honours one of Britain's deadliest naval commanders.

Frederic John Walker, known as Johnnie Walker by his fellow crew mates, was a Navy Captain stationed in Liverpool during the Second World War.

During the conflict, he was tasked with escorting convoy's across the Atlantic Ocean.

Captain Walker's mission was made difficult by patrollingGerman submarines (or U-Boats). Over the course of the war, more than 650 allied convoys were hit by U-Boats working together in what were known as wolf packs.

The Director of The Western Approaches Museum in Liverpool, Dean Paton, said: "Churchill at the end of the war said the only thing that ever scared him was the threat of the U-Boats.

"They had free rein of the Atlantic and were destroying merchant ships."

When Captain Johnnie Walker was given a command in 1942, he knew he would have to try to stave off the wolf packs.

Dean Paton said: "Well Walker peeled off, and what he did was go out and hunt the U-Boats down."

During a single patrol, Captain Walker destroyed six U-Boats. When his ship returned to Liverpool, he received a hero's welcome from huge crowds.

Captain Walker on the bow of his ship, the HMS Stark, as it sailed into Liverpool Credit: British Pathé

Upon his return, the Lord of the Admiralty A.V. Alexander said: "I never hoped to have the good fortune to be here at the... moment when you should return from one of the greatest cruises – the greatest cruise, perhaps, ever undertaken in this war."

Captain Walker did not stop there, and over the course of his naval career he sunk 20 U-Boats, making him the most successful commander during the Battle of the Atlantic.

Dean Paton said: "[He] confused the U-Boats, because all of a sudden they were on the back foot, they were under attack.

"He scuppered their tactics because obviously they planned an attack and that had to be abandoned and also it really knocked the morale of the Kriegsmarine.

"All of a sudden they went from being this undefeated force to these missions being very real and very dangerous."

A bust of Captain Johnnie Walker at the Liverpool War Museum

Despite numerous successes, tragedy struck Captain Johnnie Walker in 1943 when he learnt his son, Timothy, had died.

Dean Paton said: "He was serving in the navy as well, and [Walker] came back into Gladstone Dock to hear over the radio that his son had passed away so you can only imagine the impact that would have had."

It is thought that Timothy's ship, the HMS Parthian, was sunk by a German landmine.

Captain Walker continued to protect convoy's right up until the invasion of Normandy in 1944, during which he protected the fleet carrying troops to France.

This he did successfully for two weeks; no U-boats managed to get past Walker and his vessels, and many were sunk or damaged when they tried.

However, this would be his last mission.

On 7 July 1944, Captain Johnnie Walker suffered from a stroke attributed to overworking and exhaustion.

He died two days later at the Royal Naval Hospital in Seaforth, Merseyside at the age of 48.

More than 1,000 people attended his funeral at Liverpool cathedral, before his coffin was carried through the city to the river for a burial at sea.

Captain Walker's coffin being carried through the streets of Liverpool Credit: British Pathé

Dean Paton said: "Johnnie Walker was a leader, I think, and leaders don’t often seek to be leaders but they become natural leaders through their actions and Johnnie Walker was very much one of those people."

In 1998, members of the Royal Naval Old Boys Association began raising money to erect a statue of Captain Walker.

They received donations from all over the world, including a large sum from a former German U-Boat commander, who had heard stories of Captain Walker and respected him during the war.

The statue of Captain Johnnie Walker looks out across the Mersey River

The statue was unveiled by the Duke of Edinburgh in October 1998, and the Captain stands looking out to sea at Liverpool’s famous pierhead.