Rutland of Jutland and a day that will live in infamy

When English First World War hero and flying ace, “Rutland of Jutland”, became an advisor to the Japanese military on naval aviation in the 1920s, no-one seemed to have thought much more of it. After all, Japan was an ally in WW1. No-one paid much attention — until Pearl Harbor, that is.

“Rutland of Jutland” was Frederick Joseph Rutland. Born in 1886 beside the sea in Weymouth, Dorset, a maritime career was an obvious choice. He joined the navy in 1901 as a simple sailor and progressed through the ranks to the newly formed Royal Naval Air Service, becoming and officer and a pilot in 1915.

In 1916 Lieutenant Rutland won a medal (the Distinguished Service Cross or DSC) for spotting elements of the German fleet at the only major naval battle which pitted all that expensive Dreadnought hardware, at the Battle of Jutland.

His two-man seaplane was winched over the side of his ship just after three in the afternoon of May 31 1916 into the North Sea west of Denmark. The weather was so bad he had to fly at just 90 feet above the ocean, but 22 minutes into his flight the observer could radio back that they had spotted four cruisers. This was a world first — the first time a ship-launched aircraft had spotted an enemy force in battle.

Back aboard his ship and his part played, the ship’s crew was transferring men from a sinking British warship that had come alongside. One wounded man slipped from his stretcher into the sea. Against express orders from the captain, Rutland lowered himself into the dangerous water between the ships, tied a rope around the man and won another medal, handed to him by the King.

By 1917 the now squadron commander got a bar to his DSC and scored another first, being the first pilot to take off from a ship’s deck, or more precisely a platform built over a gun turret.

By 1921, things changed. Rutland of Jutland was becoming a spy. He had resigned his commission and quit the navy, as the prospect of peace stretched ahead following the “war to end all wars”. His marriage had ended in divorce. Like many superannuated officers, he was hired with something approaching the UK government’s blessing to liaise with the Japanese Imperial Navy on his most up-to-date knowledge of carrier based operations. So he moved to Japan.

The Japanese regarded him as their agent, though he said he only did it for the adventuire — and the cash. They codenamed him Shinkawa and sent him to Los Angeles and later Honolulu with the cover of various phoney companies. His free-spending and high living attracted US intelligence, as did his attempts to set up a spy network.

Realising how serious his situation had become when in summer of 1941 his Japanese spymaster was arrested, he begged the British to be taken back. For a brief time he thought that he was welcome — either as part of a secret aerial photo reconnaissance unit, or, as he suggested when he was questioned by British Intelligence, as a double agent for Britain. Incidentally one of his questioners was Anthony Blunt, third cousin to King George VI’s wife and secretly himself a spy — for the Soviets.

Britain did not much want the publicity of a former air ace publicly seen to be siding with the enemy, so they locked him away in an internment camp on an island for most of the war.

Historians are at odds about how great was Rutland’s part in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Yes, it’s true that anyone could go up into the hills and count the disposition of the navy, but his work with the Japanese ten years before must have contributed to the audacious carrier based attack. Stories such as this remove many of the comic book right and wrong idealogies of that war or any war.

“Rutland of Jutland” committed suicide by gassing himself in 1949.

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