Sir Dudley Pound, 1877-1943

Sir Dudley Pound was the First Sea Lord, the professional head of the Royal Navy from early in 1939 until just before his death in October 1943. Alfred Dudley Pickman Rogers Pound was born on the Isle of Wight on 29 August 1877. Like Churchill he had a British father (a barrister) and an American mother.

His naval career began in 1891, when at the age of 14 he joined the navy as a cadet. By 1916 he had reached the rank of captain, and at the battle of Jutland served as the flag captain of HMS Colossus. This ship was more involved in the fighting that most of the main battle fleet, sinking two German cruisers during the fighting. After Jutland Pound was moved a new department in the Admiralty devoted to forward planning. This soon became the Plans Division, while in 1922 Pound became head of that department. He was promoted to vice admiral in 1930 and and in 1932 was made Second Sea Lord, in charge of naval personnel.

Pound was probably at his best when serving as Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. He was first promised this post in January 1935, but the outbreak of the Abyssinian crisis meant that Sir William Fisher, the existing C-in-C, was kept in post. Pound volunteers to serve as Fisher's Chief of Staff during this crisis, before eventually succeeded to the command in 1936. He held this critically important command in the aftermath of the split with Italy and during the Spanish Civil War, and was rewarded for his skillful handling of a difficult situation with a knighthood in 1937.

For most of his career Pound had not been considered as a potential First Sea Lord, but in the years before the outbreak of the Second World War most of the existing candidates were ruled out. Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey, who would later distinguish himself at Dunkirk, resigned in 1936 after a disagreement with Sir Roger Backhouse. Backhouse himself would serve as First Sea Lord from January-June 1939 before being forced to resign by ill-health. Sir William Fisher, Pound's predecessor in the Mediterranean, died suddenly in 1937. Admiral Sir Geoffrey Blake had to be invalided out in 1936. Admiral of the Fleet Sir Ernle Chatfield, the First Sea Lord at the start of 1939, was appointed Minister for the Coordination of Defence. As a result, when Backhouse resigned Pound was offered the job.

Pound is not considered to have been a particularly successful First Sea Lord. Although he was like and respected for his hard work and attention to detail by many at his own rank, he was not felt to have a very good grasp of wider strategic issues, and he was not always popular with his subordinates. . He was described as having a "slow but good" brain (by his flag captain in the Mediterranean), and reached the top post through hard work and the absence of rival candidates. His health was also poor in 1939. He suffered from a hip injury which made it difficult to sleep, and is said to have fallen asleep in meetings. He also had a brain tumour, discovered by the Fleet Medical Officer, but not reported to the Admiralty. Pound was also prone to interfere in matters of detail in remote commands, taking advantage of the Admiralty's status as an active operational headquarters, sometimes with disastrous results (perhaps the best known of these was the order that saw convoy PQ-17 scatter in the face of a perceived threat from the German surface fleet, exposing the merchant ships to destruction at the hands of the U-boats).

Pound's most important contribution to the fighting during his time as First Sea Lord was his focus on the U-boat war. Pound quickly realised that every other aspect of the British war effort, and later the Anglo-American war effort in Europe, relied on the defeat of the U-boats. This was also an area where his attention to detail was of great value. Pound was also able to handle Churchill with some success, managed to convince the PM to abandon some of his wilder schemes, without losing Churchill's complete confidence.

As First Sea Lord Pound was a member of the Chief of Staff Committee until replaced by General Alan Brooke in March 1942. He also accompanied Churchill on a number of his trans-Atlantic voyages, taking part in meetings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was on one of these journeys, to the Quadrant summit at Quebec, that ill health forced Pound to resign from his post. On 10 September 1943 Pound informed Churchill that he had suffered a stroke which had left his right side "largely paralysed". Pound returned to Britain on HMS Renown. Soon after his return he suffered from a second stroke. He died on 21 October (Trafalgar Day) 1943. Pound was replaced as First Sea Lord by Admiral Andrew Cunningham

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 July 2008), Sir Dudley Pound, 1877-1943,

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