A Biographical Dictionary of the Twentieth Century Royal Navy: Volume 1 Admirals of the Fleet and Admirals, Alastair Wilson

A Biographical Dictionary of the Twentieth Century Royal Navy: Volume 1 Admirals of the Fleet and Admirals, Alastair Wilson

This is the first volume in an ambitious project to produce a dictionary of 20th Century British Naval Biography, and covers Admirals of the Fleet and Admirals, covering a total of 336 men.

Reading a random selection of biographies, the most striking feature is just how much the Royal Navy changed during this period. The earliest men covered here spent most of their active careers serving in the Victorian navy, went through the transition from sail to steam and all of the technological changes of that period, but in many cases retired without having to test their ships in combat. Next come the two wartime generations – one confident in command of the most powerful navy in the world, the next facing the rise of American naval power and the rise of air power. Finally we get the smaller post-war group, commanding a navy in near-constant decline.

This volume is split into two halves. The physical book covers the historical background, explains the career path of Naval officers, and the structure of the dictionary. The section on the career path once again illustrates the pace of change in this period – at the start of the period some concepts are unchanged from Nelson's time, with officers on half pay, promotion by seniority and ships listed with the number of main guns they carried, but these disappear as the period goes on, and a far more modern service emerges. This section provides a useful guide to the career path of Royal Naval officers, and is of interest in its own right.

The biographical dictionary is presented in pdf form on the accompanying CD (with a printed list of the admirals at the back of the book). Each entry contains a brief summary of promotion dates, followed by a record of service, starting with training posts, moving onto the ships they served in during the middle phases of their career (with brief notes) and onto any administrative or command posts held later in their careers. Next comes a list of honours and awards, which in some cases can be a very sizeable section, with honours from all around the world. Most entries end with some brief comments (or not so brief in the case of the more important or controversial officers).

This is a very useful reference work in its own right – it'll certainly be of great use for me as I try and track down some of the more obscure wartime admirals – and the complete series will be a very impressive achievement.  

1 - Forms of Entry
2 - Promotion through the Ranks, and Seniority on the Active List
3 - Branch
4 - Specialization/ Sub-specialization
5 - Half Pay and Retirement
6 - Promotion on the Retired List
7 - Record of Service
8 - Honours and Awards
9 - General Remarks
10 - Family
11 - Sources

Alphabetical List of Twentieth Century Admirals of the Fleet
Alphabetical List of Twentieth Century Admirals

Author: Alastair Wilson
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 96 + CD
Publisher: Seaforth
Year: 2013

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