Sir William Edmund Goodenough, 1867-1945, British Admiral

Sir William Edmund Goodenough was a British naval officer best known as a commander of cruiser forces during the first half of the First World War. His father was a Naval captain, who was killed in 1875 while serving as commodore and senior officer on the Australia station, but that did not discourage Goodenough, who entered the navy as a cadet in 1880. In 1881 he was posted to the Northampton, serving on the North America and West Indies station. In 1886 he was promoted to sub-lieutenant, spent a brief period serving on the Calypso with the training squadron, and then attended the Excellent gunnery school.

Admiral Sir William Goodenough (1867-1945)
Admiral Sir
William Goodenough

His next appointment was to HMS Raleigh, on the Cape of Good Hope station (March 1888-May 1889), followed by a brief period on Victoria and Albert, which saw him promoted to lieutenant. His time as a lieutenant was spent on overseas stations, first in the Mediterranean on HMS Trafalgar and HMS Surprise, and then on the China station in HMS Hermione. His ship took no part in the Boxer rebellions.

In 1900 Goodenough was promoted to commander, and posted back to Britain, where he was given commander of HMS Resolution. In October 1901, after just over a year on this ship her entire crew was transferred to the newly completed battleship HMS Formidable. Formidable and her sister ships Irresistible and Implacable spent the years from 1902 to 1908 in the Mediterranean. Goodenough spent just over three years in the Mediterranean, leaving in early 1905, just after being promoted to captain (1 January 1905).

This period saw a great reform of naval training. Cadets would now enter the navy aged 12-13, and spend four years being educated on shore before going to sea (compare this with the one year Goodenough spent as a cadet on shore). A new school was built at Osborne, and opened in September 1903. This school was very soon full, and a second school was opened at Dartmouth. Goodenough was appointed captain of the Dartmouth College, starting work in May 1905. These colleges had a combined civilian and naval staff, with a captain and a headmaster. The headmaster of Osborne, Cyril Ashford, was transferred to Dartmouth, where he clashed with Goodenough over the correct way to manage the staff – Goodenough wanted to impose a naval hierarchy, Ashford more of a collegiate atmosphere. He remained at Dartmouth for two years, leaving in August 1907.

His next appointment was as flag captain to Sir John Jellicoe, on HMS Albemarle, in the Atlantic Fleet. The flag captain had command of the ship, leaving the Admiral to concentrate on his fleet. In theory the running of the ship was left to the flag captain, although not all admirals were able to resist the urge to interfere in day to day operations (Nelson was famously prone to acting as his own captain in moments of excitement). After a year serving under Jellicoe, Goodenough moved on to as flag captain of the Duncan, under Sir George Callaghan, second in command of the Mediterranean Fleet (1907-1910).

Goodenough’s first truly independent command came in 1910, when he was appointed to command the large armoured cruiser Cochrane. While in command of this ship he was given the duty of escorting King George V to the Indian durbar of 1911. He was then given command of HMS Colossus, a newly completed dreadnaught class battleship and part of the second battle squadron of the Home Fleet.

In July 1913 Goodenough was promoted to commodore (second class), and given command of the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron. His flagship was the cruiser HMS Southampton. This was a substantial promotion that would see Goodenough play an important role in the main naval actions in the North Sea from the battle of Heligoland Bight (28 August 1914) to the battle of Jutland (31 May-1 June 1916) while most battleship captains saw very little real action (In 1916 Goodenough was promoted to command a battleship in the Grand Fleet and promptly disappears from the Official History of the War).

At the outbreak of the First World War the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron was part of the Grand Fleet, and consisted of six modern light cruisers (Southampton, Birmingham, Nottingham, Liverpool, Falmouth and Lowestoft). As the only light cruiser squadron in the Grand Fleet, this unit was generally very busy. On 9-10 August it was part of a force sent to investigate reports that the Germans were establishing U-boat bases on the Faeroes and Lofotens islands. On reaching the area it soon became clear that the Norwegians were keeping a close guard against any such operation.

Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt (1870-1951)
Reginald Tyrwhitt

The 1st LCS played an important part in the battle of Heligoland Bight (28 August 1914). This clash was the result of a plan developed by Commodores Keyes and Tyrwhitt, designed to catch isolated German destroyers and cruisers as they patrolled in the Heligoland Bight. At the same time the army was planning to land troops at Ostend, and so the Admiralty approved the raid in the hope that it would prevent the Germans interfering with the Ostend landings. Admiral Jellicoe pointed out that the German High Seas Fleet might come out to attack the troops at Ostend, and offered to bring the Grand Fleet to sea. His offer was refused, but he was given permission to send the battlecruisers south. Goodenough’s squadron was to accompany them, scouting out ahead of the main force.

The early part of the battle was chaotic. It was fought in mist, between forces that could often only catch glimpses of partly identified opponents. Keyes and Tyrwhitt did not know that Beatty and Goodenough were to take part in the operation, causing problems of identification. Goodenough’s squadron soon became a little scattered. Nottingham and Lowestoft were detached to help British destroyers that were in trouble, but then got lost in the mist and missed most of the battle. Goodenough then spent a short period chasing HMS Lurcher, Keyes’s flagship, while Keyes’s was in turn convinced that he was being chased by four German cruisers. Goodenough soon realised the mistake, and turned back to follow the original plan. He then encountered a British submarine in an area where he did not expect to find one, and attempted to ram it. The submarine captains were not expecting to find other British cruisers in the area, and although by now Keyes and Tyrwhitt now knew Goodenough was in the area they had no way to contact the submarines, and so Goodenough was forced to withdraw from the danger area.

As the confusion was sorted out, he and his remaining four ships appeared just in time to save the British destroyers from a potential mauling at the hands of the German light cruiser Mainz. His attack forced the Mainz to flee, and she ran into the main force of destroyers, suffering heavy damage in the clash. Finally, Goodenough’s light cruisers sank her. The British battlecruisers then appeared on the scene, and the battle turned into a race between them and the retreating Germans. 

Goodenough and the 1st LCS took part in early October manoeuvres that had been designed to prevent the Germans interfering with the first Canadian troop convoy. In late October they were at sea again, responding to rumours that German cruisers were at sea. In November he was once again at sea, chasing the German ships that had attacked Yarmouth and Gorleston (3 November).

In December the Germans launched a more successful raid on the Yorkshire Coast, attacking Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby. Goodenough and the 1st LCS were once again mobilised in an attempt to catch the German raiders, and this time did make contact with the German light cruisers, as they attempted to escape east on the morning of 16 December. Goodenough was able to open fire at the German cruisers, but then received a poorly worded signal from Admiral Beatty. Originally intended to recall two of Goodenough ships only, the vague signal reached all four of his cruisers, giving him no choice but to call off the chase. Goodenough received an unfair amount of criticism for this, but had the support of Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, and retained his post. 

During the battle of Dogger Bank (24 January 1915), Goodenough and the light cruisers performed their intended role well, keeping in touch with the German battlecruisers and acting as the eyes of the fleet. He was eventually forced away by heavy fire from the Blücher, but soon returned to take part in the final destruction of the German cruiser. In August 1915 his squadron took part in the successful hunt for the German mine layer Meteor.

In May 1916 more modern light cruisers were formed into a new 1st Light Cruiser Squadron, and Goodenough’s squadron renamed the 2nd LCS. In this capacity he took part in the battle of Jutland. On the eve of the battle the 2nd LCS was one of three light cruiser squadrons attached to Admiral Beatty’s battlecruiser fleet at Rosyth. Goodenough’s role was to act as scouts for the battlecruiser fleet, and in that capacity he was the first to report the presence of the German battleships to Admiral Beatty as they approached the fight between the battlecruisers. On sighting the German fleet, he steamed towards them at full speed, risking destruction to give an accurate report of their numbers, winning much praise for his actions. As the battle continued, Goodenough’s squadron managed to keep in contact with Beatty’s battlecruisers better than the other light cruiser squadrons, which were thrown off during the high speed manoeuvring. He then took the correct position during the clash between the battle fleets to keep the German ships in sight during the main action.

As 31 May came to an end, Goodenough’s squadron became engaged in battle itself, first with German destroyers, and then with the German 4th Scouting Group. His own flagship suffered heavy damage during the short range gun battle, but fired the torpedo that sank the German cruiser Frauenlob. The fighting destroyed the Southampton’s radio equipment, forcing Goodenough to pass all messages to the fleet through HMS Nottingham, although with some delays.

Soon after the battle of Jutland Goodenough was rewarded with a promotion to Rear-Admiral. In November-December 1916 the high command of the navy was reorganised. Admiral Jellicoe moved from the Grand Fleet to become First Sea Lord, while Beatty was appointed commander-in-chief of the Grand Fleet. In the same wave of changes, Goodenough was appointed rear-admiral of the second battle squadron, flying his flag on HMS Orion. The battleships of the Grand Fleet were not inactive during the last two years of the war, but no further direct clash between the battle fleets would follow Jutland.

After the war Goodenough remained in the navy until 1930, serving as admiral superintendent of Chatham Dockyard (1919-1920), commander-in-chief of the Africa Station (1920-1922), with a promotion to vice-admiral, commander of the Reserve Fleet then commander-in-chief at the Nore (1924-1927). In May 1925 he was promoted to full admiral. During 1930 he served as first and principal naval aide-de-camp to the king.  In retirement he worked for the Royal Geographical Society, serving as its president from 1930-33. Goodenough was considered to have been a superb tactician, and a master of light cruiser tactics at a time when the Royal Navy had only just resumed construction of such ships, after a period in which Lord Fisher had believed that large destroyers would replace them. He earned the respect of the men under his command, and was always willing to explain his thinking to the captains within his squadron.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (22 October 2007), Sir William Edmund Goodenough, 1867-1945, British Admiral ,

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