Sir Somerset Arthur Gough-Calthorpe, 1864-1937, British Admiral

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Sir Somerset Arthur Gough-Calthorpe was a senior British admiral during the First World War, who served with the Grand Fleet, as second sea lord and as commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean. He was born into an army family, the son of General Somerset John Gough-Calthorpe, but his mother was the daughter and widow of naval captains, and Gough-Calthorpe chose to enter the navy. He entered the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth in 1878. Promotion to lieutenant came quickly, in 1886. In 1895 he joined naval brigades acting ashore on the east and west coasts of Africa, and was rewarded with a promotion to commander on 1 January 1896.

Gough-Calthorpe was promoted to post-captain in 1902, aged 38, at a time when the average age for that promotion was over 40. He spent the period 1902-1905 as naval attaché to Russia, Norway and Sweden. This period included what was probably the most important naval conflict for over a century, the Russo-Japanese War, which saw the Japanese destroy two Russian fleets and created a great belief in the power of the big gun.

On his return from Russia he was appointed captain of the cruiser Roxburgh, then the battleship Hindustan, before acting as captain of the fleet for Admiral Sir William May, commander of the Home Fleet (1909-1910). He was promoted to rear-admiral in 1911, serving as rear-admiral of the 1st battle squadron from 1912-1913. In 1913 he was moved to the second cruiser squadron, as rear-admiral (second-in-command).

At the outbreak of the First World War, rear-admiral Charles E. Maddon, the commander of the squadron, was promoted to act as Chief of Staff to Sir John Jellicoe, and Gough-Calthorpe was promoted to command the squadron. At the start of the war this squadron contained the cruisers Shannon, Achilles, Cochrane and Natal, each carrying a mix of 9.2in and 7.5in guns. Gough-Calthorpe chose the Shannon to be his flagship. He remained with the 2nd Cruiser Squadron from 1914 until 1916, leaving before Jutland. During his period in charge the squadron took part in a number of minor operations, including a sweep of the Norwegian fjords in August 1914 to hunt for secret German U-boat bases and the efforts to protect the first Canadian troop convoy in October 1914. It was at sea during the battle of Dogger Bank, but like the rest of the Grand Fleet was not directly involved in the battle. When the battlecruiser squadron moved south to Rosyth, the 2nd Cruiser Squadron remained with Jellicoe at Scapa Flow. During this period he established a record as a hard working but not outstanding officer.

Just prior to the battle of Jutland, Gough-Calthorpe was made second sea lord, holding the post until August 1917, when he was appointed as British commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean. This post had been vacant for most of the war, on the understanding that the French would take on the responsibility for the Mediterranean while the Royal Navy protected the French north coast. However, by 1917 French attention was concentrated on the Aegean. When the German submarine campaign forced the adoption of a convoy system, it was decided to appoint a British officer to take control of the multi-national trade protection squadrons in the Mediterranean. First choice for the new post was Admiral Wemyss, then commander-in-chief in the far east, but he was diverted to the post of Deputy First Sea Lord, and Gough-Calthorpe was given the Mediterranean command.

His appointment was probably due to a combination of his prior experience as a naval attaché and his fluent French. He was to be under the overall command of the French commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean, Admiral Gauchet, and would have to deal with French, Italian, Japanese, American and Greek admirals.

Although he had a series of flagships (HMS Egmont, HMS Superb and HMS Iron Duke), Gough-Calthorpe spent most of his time on shore, heading the inter-allied commission at Malta. When he first took up his new command he found a number of his subordinates had been rather too used to their virtual independence, but Gough-Calthorpe eventually regained control over them, helped by the removal of some of the more senior officers involved. 

Although he was not entirely convinced of the value of the convoy system, by October Gough-Calthorpe was ready to being running convoys every five days on the Alexandria-Bizerta, Malta-Milo and Milo-Alexandria routes. At the same time the Admiralty instituted through-convoys, from the Suez canal to Gibraltar, under their own control.

Gough-Calthorpe would have preferred to institute a dedicated anti-submarine campaign in the Straits of Otranto, destroying German and Austrian submarines on their way in and out of the Adriatic. This policy was actually approved in early 1918, using ships freed from the Dardanelles patrol by the elimination of the threat from the Goeben and the Breslau. They had made a sortie into the Aegean in early 1918, in which the Breslau was sunk by mines and the Goeben badly damaged.

Despite this distraction, the convoy system was the most effective trade protection measure take by Gough-Calthorpe. Shipping losses declined slowly from a high of 94 ships lost in April 1917, before the convoy system came into force. At that time there were normally just under 25 German submarines in the area. During most of 1918 that number increased to nearly 35, without ever managing to increase the number of sailing back to the level of April 1917.

At end of war ended Gough-Calthorpe up negotiating the final armistice with Turkey, despite still officially being under French command. He was the senior officer present at Mudros when the Turks arrived to negotiate the terms of the surrender, although the French had more powerful ships until British reinforcements arrived. The armistice was signed on 30 October, and on 12 November Gough-Calthorpe, on his flagship HMS Superb, led the allied fleets through the Dardanelles to Constantinople.

In the aftermath of the armistice, Gough-Calthorpe was created high commissioner at Constantinople. For nine months he was serving two masters – the Admiralty at sea and the Foreign Office for Turkey. His problems included the Russian civil war, and the disintegration of much of the Ottoman Empire. He proved to be an excellent negotiator and diplomat, performing his difficult duties with skill. 

In the post war period he served as commander-in-chief at Portsmouth (1920-1923), first and principle aide-de-camp to George V (1924-1925) and British naval representative at the permanent armaments commission of the League of Nations. He was promoted to admiral of the fleet in 1925, remaining on the active list until his retirement in 1930.

While sometimes referred to as Admiral Calthorpe, in the Official History of the War he was invariably indexed as Gough-Calthorpe, and referred to in that manner in the text (other than in the volume on the submarine war). However, on the Turkish armistice documents he signed as Arthur Calthorpe.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (23 October 2007), Sir Somerset Arthur Gough-Calthorpe, 1864-1937, British Admiral, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_gough_calthorpe.html

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