Admiral Sir John Cunningham, 1885-1962

Sir John Cunningham was a British admiral who rose to become Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean from 1943 until the end of the Second World War. He was not related to Sir Andrew Cunningham, who he succeeded both in the Mediterranean and as First Sea Lord. John Cunningham began the Second World War in the Mediterranean, having been promoted to vice-admiral and appointed commander of the First Cruiser Squadron in June 1939.

Cunningham was back in home waters in 1940, commanding the 1st Cruiser Squadron. This squadron was assigned the job of carrying troops to Stavanger and Bergen, to take part in the planned intervention in Norway, but on the night of 7 April Admiral Dudley Pound, the First Sea Lord, ordered Cunningham to unload these troops, and on 8 April the squadron took to sea to support Admiral Forbes and the main fleet. Forbes used Cunningham's squadrons in an attempt to intercept the German naval forces believed to be returning from the north of Norway.

At the end of the unsuccessful Allied intervention in Norway Cunningham was given command of the mixed Anglo-French naval force which was sent to evacuate 5,400 Allied troops from Namsos. The original plan was for this force to conduct a two day evacuation, but Cunningham decided that the threat of German air power made this too dangerous, and so the entire force was embarked in one night. Despite this the Allied ships came under heavy air attack until late on 3 May, when they were 200 miles from the Norwegian coast, losing two destroyers. Cunningham returned to Norway again on 7 June on HMS Devonshire, evacuating King Haakon VII from Tromso. During this mission Cunningham came within 100 miles of the fight between HMS Glorious and the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.

On 8 August 1940 Cunningham was appointed to command the naval forces for the upcoming attack on Dakar, Operation Menace. A combination of factors beyond Cunningham's control (the dislike of de Gaulle in Dakar and the escape of a number of French warships from the Mediterranean to Dakar) meant that the two day attack on Dakar on 23-24 September ended in failure.

Early in 1941 John Cunningham was appointed fourth sea lord, with responsibility for supplies and transport. During 1941 he was also knighted, becoming a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. His time in London ended in June 1943 when he was promoted to full admiral and made Commander-in-Chief of the Levant Command, with responsibility for the eastern Mediterranean. He was also made Admiral Andrew Cunningham's deputy for the entire Mediterranean. This arrangement only lasted until September 1943, when the First Sea Lord, Sir Dudley Pound, was forced by ill health to resign. Andrew Cunningham became the new First Sea Lord, while John Cunningham became the new Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean.

His main task in this new role was to support the Anzio landings early in 1944. It had been hoped that these landings would be followed by a lightning advance behind the German lines, but the battle soon developed into a virtual siege. Cunningham became responsible for running supplies into the Anzio beachhead for much longer and in much greater quantities than expected.

In 1946 John Cunningham succeeded Andrew Cunningham as first sea lord, holding that post until September 1948. He had been promoted to fleet admiral in January 1948.

WWII Home Page | WWII Subject Index | WWII Books | WWII Links | Day by Day

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 July 2008), Admiral Sir John Cunningham, 1885-1962 ,

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us - Privacy