Naval History Homepage and Site Search

World War 2 at Sea



by Dr Graham Watson

Links to Main World War 2 Pages:
- Royal Navy Organisation
- Casualties - killed, died, missing
- 1,000 Warship Service Histories
- Convoy Escort Movements
- Battles, Major Warship Losses
- Naval & Military Campaigns
- Navies Daily, 1939-42
- Admiralty War Diaries
Admirals Sir Dudley Pound and Sir Andrew Cunningham (Wikipedia, click to enlarge)   return to World War 2, 1939-1945


This is possibly a unique and certainly valuable overview of the Royal Navy in World War 2, when it accomplished so much.

It is of great help in putting all the other World War 2 material on Naval-History.Net and the internet generally into a clearer perspective

My sincere thanks to Graham Watson, retired from the History Department of Cardiff University.

I have made a point of choosing as heading photographs, the two First Sea Lord's who served throughout the war, Admiral Pound dying in post in 1943. To me their responsibilities were beyond comprehension, and in my opinion, only those who have experienced similar roles and duties are in a position to criticise.


1.1 Principal Flag Officers at the Admiralty, 1939-1945 
The Sea Lords
The Naval Staff
Some Administrative Appointments

1.2 Organisation of the Admiralty, 1939   
The Naval Staff
Administrative Departments

1.3 Organisation of the Admiralty, July 1945
The Naval Staff
Administrative Departments

Nore Command
Portsmouth Command
Plymouth Command

Dover Command
Rosyth Command
Orkneys & Shetlands Command

Submarine Service
Fleet Air Arm
Coastal Forces
Combined Operations

The Home Fleet
Western Approaches
The Halifax Escort Force

Naval Forces, Allied Expeditionary Force 1944-1945

America and West Indies Command, 1939-1942
South American Division, 1939
Africa Command/South Atlantic Command, 1939-1942
West Africa Command, 1942-1945
Gibraltar/North Atlantic Command, 1939-1945

Force H, 1940-1943
The Mediterranean Fleet, 1939-1945
Mediterranean Fleet, September 1939
Mediterranean Fleet, 10.39-5.40
Mediterranean Fleet, 5.40-12.42
Mediterranean Fleet, 1.43-10.43
Mediterranean Fleet, 1.44-5.45

3.3 Indian and Pacific Oceans
East Indies Station, 1939-1942
China Station, 1939-1942
Eastern Fleet 1.1942-East Indies Fleet 11.44-
British Pacific Fleet, 1944-1945


The purpose of this work is to enable those familiar with the battles, operations, and individual ships of the Royal Navy during the Second World War to put that information into the overall structure of the Royal Navy. 

Much of this work is based on the relevant issues of the Navy List, Pink Lists, and the official history by Stephen Roskill. In addition, this work could not have been written without access to material provided by Don Kindell, Jim Colledge, Mike Cox and Colin Mackie. To whom, many thanks are due.

Leadership, control and management of the Royal Navy was vested in the Board of Admiralty which was responsible for both the administration of the naval service and for the command of British naval operations world-wide. As such it differed from the War Office and the Air Ministry where conduct of operations was devolved to the appropriate commanders in the field.

The highest body in the Admiralty was the Board,  composed of politicians, flag officers, and civil servants whose collective function was to discuss and approve major decisions on all aspects of the Royal Navy's strength.  Each member of the Board had a specific function in relation to the administration of the Royal Navy.

The chairman of the Board was the First Lord of the Admiralty. A politician and member of the Cabinet, his role was to represent the navy's views in government discussion on such matters as budgets, construction programmes, manpower needs, and general maritime policy. The First Lord was assisted by a junior flag officer titled the Naval Secretary who had specific responsibility for helping the First Lord in the appointment and promotion of officers. From May 1940 onwards the First Lord, Mr A V Alexander, largely confined himself to this role and did not interfere in operational matters. This was in contrast to his immediate predecessor. Between September 1939 and May 1940, Winston Churchill, as First Lord, did take a leading role in operational matters.

The First Lord was assisted two junior politicians, the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary, and the Civil Lord. The most senior civil servant was the Permanent Secretary. The only major addition to the civilian side of the Board was the appointment of Sir James Lithgow, a prominent shipbuilder, as Controller of Merchant Shipbuilding and Repairs.

Five of the six flag officers on the Board had a specific area of responsibility which was reflected in their titles;

First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff
Second Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Personnel
Third Sea Lord and Controller
Fourth Sea Lord and Chief of Supplies and Transport
Fifth Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Air Services.

The other member was the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff

In September 1939, most of the members of the Board were relatively new in their posts.

The First Lord, Earl Stanhope, was replaced by Winston Churchill on the outbreak of war.

The First Sea Lord - Admiral Sir Dudley Pound; the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff-Rear Admiral Tom Phillips; the Third Sea Lord-Rear Admiral Bruce Fraser had taken up their posts in June 1939. Equally new were Rear Admiral Harold Burrough as Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff, and Rear Admiral Stuart Bonham-Carter as Naval Secretary. The post of Fifth Sea Lord was a recent creation brought about as the result of the transfer of the Fleet Air Arm from the RAF in 1938.

During the course of the war, the personnel and the structure of the Admiralty changed. These changes were most evident in the Naval Staff - the group of directorates directly responsible to the First Sea Lord for the supervision of operations. The administrative tasks of the other sea lords were met by increased numbers of staff rather than by structural changes.


The Sea Lords

First Sea Lord & Chief of the Naval Staff
12.06.39 Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound  [died 21.10.43]
15.10.43-Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham

Deputy First Sea Lord
[post created to reduce administrative burden on Sir Dudley Pound and retained by Sir Andrew Cunningham who confessed his dislike of paper work].
29.07.42-Admiral Sir Charles Kennedy-Purvis

Second Sea Lord & Chief of Naval Personnel

30.09.38-Admiral Sir Charles Little
01.06.41-Vice Admiral William Whitworth [12.43-Admiral]
08.03.44-Vice Admiral Algernon Willis

Third Sea Lord & Controller of the Navy
[Controller was an ancient term for the officer in charge of ship acquisition]
01.03.39-Rear Admiral Bruce Fraser [5.40-Vice Admiral]
22.05.42-Vice Admiral Frederick Wake-Walker -29.09.45 [died] [5.45-Admiral]

Fourth Sea Lord & Chief of Supplies and Transport

01.10.37-Rear Admiral Geoffrey Arbuthnot  [5.40-Vice Admiral]
24.04.41-Vice Admiral John Cunningham
08.05.43-Vice Admiral Frank Pegram [died 8.3.44]
27.03.44-Vice Admiral Arthur Palliser
Fifth Sea Lord & Chief of Naval Aviation
19.07.38-Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Ramsay
21.11.39-Vice Admiral Sir Guy Royle
18.03.41-Vice Admiral Lumley Lister-11.07.42 [post in abeyance]
14.01.43-Rear Admiral Desmond Boyd [6.44-Vice Admiral]
01.06.45-Rear Admiral Thomas Troubridge 

The Naval Staff

Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff 5.40-Vice Chief of the Naval Staff [title changed to conform to similar changes in the General Staff and the Air staff]
01.01.39-Rear Admiral Tom Phillips [acting Vice Admiral 10.39]
21.10.41-Vice Admiral Henry Moore
07.06.43-Vice Admiral Neville Syfret

Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff -6.40
[duties split between several ACNS's in spring 1940]
01.39-Rear Admiral Harold Burrough

Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff [Foreign]

08.04.40-Vice Admiral [ret] Geoffrey Blake
01.12.40-Rear Admiral Henry Harwood
08.04.42-Rear Admiral Bernard Rawlings
02.43-Rear Admiral Reginald Servaes
01.03.45-Rear Admiral Edward Bellars

Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff [Home]

27.05.40-Rear Admiral Arthur Power
28.05.42-Rear Admiral Patrick Brind
22.08.44-Rear Admiral Desmond McCarthy

Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff [U-Boats & Trade]

25.07.40-Rear Admiral Henry Moore
21.10.41-Rear Admiral Edward King
07.12.42-Rear Admiral John Edelsten
00.10.44-Rear Admiral John Dundas
24.03.45-Rear Admiral John Mansfield 

Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff [Weapons]

08.07.41-Rear Admiral Roderick McGrigor
08.03.43-Rear Admiral Wilfred Patterson -5.44

Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff [Air]

01.01.43-Rear Admiral Reginald Portal
00.11.44-Rear Admiral Lachlan Macintosh

Director of Naval Intelligence

02.39-Rear Admiral John Godfrey [9.42-Vice Admiral]
01.43-Rear Admiral Edmund Rushbrooke 

 Some Administrative Appointments

The Naval Secretary
05.39-Rear Admiral Stuart Bonham-Carter
11.39-RearAdmiral Neville Syfret
06.40-Rear Admiral Arthur Peters
10.42-Rear Admiral Frederick Dalrymple-Hamilton
02.44-Rear Admiral Cecil Harcourt
02.45-Rear Admiral Claude Barry

Director of Personnel Services

05.38-Rear Admiral Henry Pridham-Wippell
06.40-Rear Admiral William Tait
11.41-Rear Admiral Harold Walker
12.43-Rear Admiral Harold Kinahan

Vice Controller

09.39-Vice Admiral [ret] Francis Tower [& Director of Naval Equipment] -7.45

Deputy Controller

09.39-Rear Admiral James Dorling
11.41-Rear Admiral Charles Simeon 


.36-Engineer Vice Admiral George Preece
03.42-Engineer Vice Admiral Frederick Turner
01.45-Engineer Vice Admiral John Kingcome

Director of Dockyards

.36-Vice Admiral [ret[ Francis Talbot
.40-Engineer Rear Admiral Samuel Dunlop

Adjutant-General Royal Marines,
10.43-GOC Royal Marines, 5.45-Commandant-General Royal Marines
10.36-General Sir William Godfrey
10.39-Lieutenant General Alan Bourne [1.42-General]
26.01.43-Lieutenant General Thomas Hunton [5.45-General]

Note the relatively short periods of time which flag officers served on the Naval Staff as opposed to those who occupied posts in the administrative departments and directorates. There was a policy to rotate the more promising officers between staff appointments and sea appointments so that freshness of thought could be brought to both to the advantage of the efficiency of the service.

Much of the expansion of posts - as seen in the table for the Admiralty in July 1945 - was accomplished through the employment of flag officers and captains who were either already on the Retired List or were placed on that list with the rank of Rear Admiral. The same phenomenon will be seen in the appointments to many posts in shore commands.

Winston Churchill was inclined to bring some rather elderly senior officers out of retirement for specific posts for which they soon proved less than suitable. He did the same for a number of senior retired generals with similar consequences. The flag officers most identified with this practice were Admiral of the Fleet the Earl of Cork and Orrery to command operations off Narvik in May 1940; Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes as Director of Combined Operations 1940-1941; and Admiral Sir Frederick Dreyer  as Chief of Naval Aviation.

The following two tables show that structure and principal personnel of the Admiralty just before the outbreak of war, and virtually at the end of hostilities.


The Naval Staff
(D - Director, DD - Deputy Director, AD - Assistant Director)

First Sea Lord & Chief of the Naval Staff

Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff [DCNS]

Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff [ACNS]

Director Naval Intelligence [DNI]
DDNI [Captain]
ADNI [Commander]

Director of Plans Division [DofP]
DDP & ADP [both captains]

Director Local Defence Division [DofLD]
DDLD [captain]

Director Trade Division [DTD]
DDTD [captain]

Director Operations Division [DOD]
DDOD [captain]

Director Training & Staff Duties [DTSD]
 DDTSD [captain]

Director Naval Air Division [DNAD]
DDNAD [captain]
Admiral Sir Dudley Pound

Rear Admiral Tom Phillips

Rear Admiral Harold Burrough

Rear Admiral John Godfrey

Captain Victor Danckwerts

Captain D A Budgen

Captain M J Mansergh

Captain C M Blackman

Captain W L Jackson

Captain C Larcom

Administrative Departments
(DG - Director General)

Under First Sea Lord

Hydrographer of the Navy

Navigation Branch

Naval Meteorological Branch


Vice Admiral John Edgell [ret]

Second Sea Lord

Engineer Rear Admiral for Personnel Duties

Director of Personal Services

Director of Air Personnel

Director Naval Recruiting

Director Physical Training & Sport

Department Medical Director General
Deputy MDG

Paymaster Director General

Chaplain of the Fleet

Director Education Department

Admiral Commanding Reserves

Adjutant-General Royal Marines
Admiral Sir Charles Little

Engineer Rear Admiral T H Warde

Rear Admiral Henry Pridham-Wippell

Captain H McWilliam

Lt Colonel A St.Clair-Morford RM


Surgeon Vice Admiral Sir Percival Nicholls
Surgeon Rear Admiral C Griffiths

Paymaster Rear Admiral D Lambert



Vice Admiral Noel Laurence

General Sir William Godfrey
Third Sea Lord

Director of Naval Construction

Deputy Engineer in Chief

Director of Electrical Engineering

Director of Naval Ordnance

Director of Torpedoes and Mines

Director of Naval Equipment
Rear Admiral Bruce Fraser

Sir Stanley Goodall

Engineer Vice Admiral Sir George Preece

Engineer Rear Admiral A G Crousaz

Mr J S Pringle

Captain J C Leach

Captain J Fitzgerald

Vice Admiral F Tower [ret]
Fourth Sea Lord
Director of Dockyards
Rear Admiral Geoffrey Arbuthnot

Vice Admiral Sir Cecil Talbot [ret]
Fifth Sea Lord

Director of Air Materiel
Director Aircraft Maintenance & Repair
Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Ramsay

Captain M Slattery

Captain[E] D Ford


The Naval Staff
First Sea Lord & Chief of the Naval Staff

Deputy First Sea Lord

Vice Chief of the Naval Staff

ACNS [Weapons]

ACNS [Foreign]

ACNS [Home]

ACNS [Air]

ACNS [U-Boats & Trade]

Director Naval Intelligence
10 captains

Director Naval Plans
8 captains

Director Naval Plans [Q]
4 captains

Director Local Defence
1 Rear Admiral [E] [ret]

Director Anti-U-Boat
1 captain

Director Anti-Submarine Warfare

Director Minesweeping
1 captain

Director Trade
11 captains
1 Rear Admiral [S] [ret]

Director Economic Warfare

Director Operations
11 captains

Director Combined Operations
2 captains

Director Tactical, Torpedo & Staff Duties
2 captains

Director Navigation
1 captain

Director Naval Air Warfare & Flying Training
2 captains

Director Naval Air Operations
2 captains

Director Gunnery & AA Warfare
3 captains

Director Signals
2 captains
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham

Admiral Sir Charles Kennedy-Purvis

Vice Admiral Neville Syfret

Rear Admiral R D Oliver

Rear Admiral E G H Bellars

Rear Admiral E D B McCarthy

Rear Admiral L D Macintosh

Rear Admiral J M Mansfield

Rear Admiral E Rushbrooke

Captain G Grantham

Captain Longley-Cook

Captain A Phillips [ret]

Captain Howard-Johnstone

Captain Pritchard [ret]

Captain Crombie [ret]

Captain W Stephens

Captain E Hallifax [ret]

Captain M Pizey

Captain Terry

Captain C L Robertson

Rear Admiral Benn [ret]

Captain Willougby

Captain Byass

Captain Chapman

Rear Admiral Vaughan Morgan

The Administrative Departments

Under First Sea Lord

6 captains

Rear Admiral Wyatt
Second Sea Lord

Engineer Rear Admiral Assistant

Paymaster Director General

Director of Personnel Services

Director Service Conditions

Director Welfare Conditions

Director of Training

Director of Manning

Director Recruiting

Director Physical Training & Sport

Director Combined Operations Personnel

Admiral commanding Reserves

DG Medical Services
3 Surgeon Rear Admirals
1 Surgeon Rear Admiral [Dental]

DG Supply & Secretariat Branch

Director Education

Commandant-General Royal Marines
Vice Admiral Algernon Willis

Engineer Rear Admiral Warde

Rear Admiral [S] W Jolly

Rear Admiral H Kinahan

Captain F Bell [ret]
Captain Blacklock [ret]

Rear Admiral J Durnford

Captain Storey

Colonel Grover RM

Captain Clovis [ret]

Captain Buxton [ret]

Rear Admiral J Vivian

Surgeon Vice Admiral Sir J Dudley

Rear Admiral [S] M Cull

Captain Saxton

General Sir Thomas Hunton
Third Sea Lord & Controller

Vice Controller

Vice Controller [Air]

Deputy Controller [Production]

Deputy Controller & Director Naval Equipment

Assistant Controller

Assistant Controller [WP]

Assistant Controller [R&D]

Engineer in Chief
3 Deputies Engineer in Chief [Rear Admirals]
2 Assistant Engineers in Chief [Rear Admirals]
11 captains [E]

Director Electrical Engineering

Director Torpedoes & Mines
12 captains

Director Naval Ordnance
5 captains

Inspector Gun Mountings

Director Contract-built ships

Many other minor directorates
Vice Admiral Frederick Wake-Walker

Vice Admiral Phillips [ret]

Rear Admiral M Slattery


Vice Admiral Simeon [ret]

Rear Admiral Dicken [ret]



Vice Admiral [E] Kingcome


Captain W Davis

Rear Admiral Woodhouse

Rear Admiral [E] Greathed

Rear Admiral H Morse [ret]

Fourth Sea Lord

Director of Dockyards

Deputy Director Dockyards

Director Naval Stores
Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Palliser

Vice Admiral Talbot

Engineer Rear Admiral Dunlop

Fifth Sea Lord

Director Airfield & Carrier Requirements

Director Air Equipment

Director Aircraft Maintenance & Repairs
Rear Admiral T Troubridge

Captain E Price

Captain Welby-Everett

Rear Admiral [E] Bedale

The Home Commands can be considered in five different categories:

2.1 The three traditional shore commands
  The Nore

2.2 Major wartime shore commands
  Orkneys & Shetlands
2.3 Type of commands
  Submarine Service
  Fleet Air Arm
  Coastal Forces
2.4 Major sea-going commands
 The Home Fleet
 Western Approaches
 The Halifax Escort Force
2.5 Allied command based in the UK
 Naval Forces, Allied Expeditionary Force 1944-1945


The three traditional commands had existed since the eighteenth century and had a number of functions. They were the recruiting depots for all ratings who were assigned to the Royal Naval Barracks at Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth. Each had a range of training establishments which had evolved from the hulks of the early nineteenth century, to a mixture of shore establishments and hulks.  Most provided training in a wide range of duties for the ratings in each command. As many of these training ships had begun as hulks, the ship names were retained even when the establishment was ashore. The legal requirement to have all ratings listed in the books of a commissioned ship added to the evolution of 'stone frigates'. Seagoing warships employed as training ships came under the control of the relevant command.

Each command contained at least one dockyard and naval base for the ships assigned to the relevant command: all commissioned ships were crewed by men from one of the three commands.

Arising out of the requirements for local or coast defence, each command was responsible for naval operations in the local sea area.  

The commander-in-chief of each was an admiral with extensive sea experience, often former commanders of at least one of the major fleets, and sometimes a near-miss for appointment as First Sea Lord.

During the Second World War, in order to ease the administrative burden, these commands devolved a range of tasks to local flag officers in what were normally mercantile ports. 


Named after a sandbank at the mouth of the Thames estuary, the command was responsible for naval operations from the straits of Dover northwards to Flamborough Head in Yorkshire. Shortly after the outbreak of the war, it gave up responsibility for the straits to the newly-reformed Dover Command.  For the rest of the war its southern boundary was North Foreland. In operational terms its main role was to protect the coastal convoys off the eastern coast of England. In 1939-1940 it had a major role in anti-invasion plans. From 1941 to 1944 the convoys were its main task and then it shared responsibility for operations in the southern North Sea with the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force.

01.39-Vice Admiral Sir Henry Studholme Brownrigg*
01.40-Admiral Sir Reginald Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax
12.41-Admiral Sir George D'Oyly-Lyon
06.43-Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Tovey
* killed 24.1.43 while serving as convoy commodore

Admiral Superintendent, Chatham Dockyard
09.39-Vice Admiral [ret] Charles Danby
10.42-Vice Admiral John Crace [10.42-Vice Admiral]

With its headquarters at Chatham, it had other main bases and facilities at Sheerness, Harwich and Immingham.

There were two major dockyards:
Chatham Dockyard
Sheerness Dockyard

In 1939, the main shore bases were:
HMS Pembroke - Base & RN Barracks, Chatham
HMS Ganges - Boys training establishment, Shotley, near Harwich
HMS Wildfire -AA Gunnery School, Sheerness

The command was subdivided into several sea areas with a flag officer in command for each one. They were:
HMS Beaver - Humber
HMS Watchful - Great Yarmouth
HMS Badger - Harwich

Other major shore bases included;
HMS Midge - Coastal Forces base, Great Yarmouth
HMS Beehive - Coastal Forces base, Felixstowe
HMS Europa - HQ Auxiliary Patrol, Lowestoft

The ships under command in September 1939 were:
3 B class destroyers as the 'Emergency Flotilla'
Cadets training cruiser - HMS Vindictive
Harbour training ships - HMS Marshal Soult [gunnery], HMS Sandhurst [mechanical]
The Reserve Fleet included 6 cruisers, 15 destroyers, and 5 minesweepers
Ships in dockyard hands included - 1 cruiser, 4 destroyers and 1 sloop.

The following flotillas served with the command during the period of hostilities:
19th Destroyer Flotilla [B class] - transferred to Dover Command 10.39
22nd Destroyer Flotilla [formed 11.39 at Harwich with G class ex 1st DF/Mediterranean], reverted to title 1st Destroyer Flotilla 12.39 -to 6.40
16th Destroyer Flotilla*, formed at Harwich 6.40 - served until 5.45 [mixture V&W/Hunt classes]
18th Destroyer Flotilla, formed at Harwich 6.40-to 12.40 when broken up [V&W]
21st Destroyer Flotilla*, formed at Sheerness 7.40-served until 5.45 [V&W/Hunt classes]

* formed the southern force for the escort of east coast convoys [see also-Rosyth Escort Force]

during the summer and autumn of 1944 further escorts were added but not organised into flotillas:
in 9.44 they were 11 ex US destroyer escorts and 8 Flower class corvettes
in 5.45 they were 10 ex US frigates/destroyer escorts and 13 Flowere class corvettes

Throughout the conflict the small Kingfisher class corvettes were organised into the 1st and 2nd A/S Striking Groups which were combined as the 1st Corvette Flotilla in 1944.

The major minesweeper flotillas in Nore Command were:
5th M/S Flotilla, Harwich 9.39-4.41 when absorbed into 4MSF [Halcyon-4.40/Hunt classes]
4th M/S Flotilla, Harwich 12.39- mid 1942 [Hunt class]
12th M/S Flotilla, Harwich 12.39-mid 42 [paddle minesweepers]
6th M/S Flotilla, Harwich 5.40-9.40 [Halcyon]
18th M/S Flotilla, 5.43-  [Algerine]
15th M/S Flotilla, by 2.44- [Bangor]
6th M/S Flotilla, Harwich 3.44-1.45 [Algerine]
7th M/S Flotilla, Harwich 3.44-1.45 [Algerine]
42nd M/S Flotilla, Harwich 8.44- [Catherine]
40th M/S Flotilla, Harwich .45- [Catherine]
10th M/S Flotilla, 4.45-  [Algerine]
11th M/S Flotilla, 4.45-  [Algerine]

Squadrons and Flotillas of other commands which served in Nore Command 1939-1940:
2nd Cruiser Squadron
5th Destroyer Flotilla
7th Destroyer Flotilla
20th [Minelaying] Destroyer Flotilla
3rd Submarine Flotilla, Harwich 10.39-5.40


Generally regarded as the most prestigious of the home command, Portsmouth Command was responsible for the middle part of the English Channel between Newhaven and Portland. This area remained unchanged during the war. It was the main assembly area for the naval forces involved in the D-Day landings. Those forces were under the command of the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force commander [Admiral Sir Betram Ramsay], and not under Portsmouth Command.
30.06.39-Admiral Sir William James
01.10.42-Admiral Sir Charles Little
01.03.45-Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton

Admiral Superintendent, Portsmouth Dockyard
Rear Admiral [ret] Robert Turner
30.11.40-Rear Admiral Marshall Clarke-8.11.45 [4.43-Vice Admiral]

The command's headquarters were at Portsmouth with the major base at Portland under its jurisdiction.
It had one major dockyard - Portsmouth Dockyard
and a smaller dockyard - Portland Dockyard

As part of a evolving tendency to concentrate shore establishments in a single location rather than being split between the three command, Portsmouth was responsible for the largest number of training facilities in 1939.  They were:
HMS Victory - Base and RN Barracks
HMS Dolphin - Submarine training school at Gosport [see also submarine command]
HMS Dryad - Navigation school
HMS Excellent - Gunnery school on Whale Island
HMS St Vincent - Boys training school, Gosport
HMS Sultan - Mechanical engineering school
HMS Vernon - Torpedo and mining school

The command was divided into three subordinate areas:
HMS Boscawen - Portland
HMS Fortune - Newhaven
HMS Shrapnel -Southampton

During the course of hostilities, a range of shore establishments were formed, some of which were retained after 1945*:
HMS Collingwood* -Electrical school
HMS Hornet* - HQ Coastal Force
HMS Mercury* - Signals school [existed prewar but not named]
HMS King Alfred - RNVR officers training establishment, Hove
HMS Marlborough - Torpedo school, Eastbourne
HMS Grasshopper - Coastal forces base, Weymouth
HMS Turtle - Combined operations training establishment, Poole [postwar under different name]

The ships under command in 1939 included:

at Portsmouth:
Local Destroyer Flotilla [8 destroyers of various classes]
5 destroyers attached to HMS Vernon
1 old battleships and 1 cruiser attached to HMS Vernon
2 minesweepers attached to HMS Dryad
The 5th Submarine Flotilla was based at Gosport

at Portland:
First A/S Flotilla of 1 sloop, 3 destroyers, and 6 corvettes
Fishery Protection & Minesweeping Flotilla with 2 sloops and 12 minesweepers
The 6th Submarine Flotilla was based at Portland.
The Reserve Fleet included 1 old aircraft carrier, 9 cruisers and 15 destroyers.

Ships in refit included 1 battleship, 1 battlecruiser, 4 cruisers, 2 destroyers and 1 submarine.

The following squadrons and flotillas served in the command during the war.
The Channel Force, Portland 3.9.39-7.10.39 [drew vessels from both Portsmouth & Plymouth]
3rd Battle Squadron
2 aircraft carriers & 2 old cruisers
12th Destroyer Flotilla & 18th Destroyer Flotilla
16th Destroyer Flotilla [V&W] -8.40
18th Destroyer Flotilla [A class] -10.39
1st Destroyer Flotilla [A class then Hunt class] 7.40-5.45
22nd Destroyer Flotilla [old S class] 7-11.40

Extra escorts joined the command in 1944 to support the invasion of Europe and then to protect the cross-channel supply lines. These ships were not organised into flotillas.

In September 1944 they included 8 old destroyers, 5 sloops, 17 destroyer escorts and 15 corvettes
In May 1945 they included 6 French frigates, 4 destroyer escorts, 5 sloops and 16 corvettes.

The major minesweeping flotillas were:
9 M/S F, Portsmouth 11.40-5.45 [Bangor]
14 M/S F, Portsmouth 9.41-1.42 [Bangor]
4 M/S F, Portland 4.44- Portsmouth 8-12.44 [old Hunts]

retitled PLYMOUTH COMMAND 2.41-

Plymouth Command was responsible for the western Channel, the South-West Approaches, Bristol Channel and the Irish Sea. In the expectation of major convoy movements from the Irish Sea around the south of Ireland, the command was renamed Western Approaches Command on the outbreak of war. The German occupation of northern France in the summer of 1940 made convoy routing around the south of Ireland too hazardous. All convoys had to move into the Atlantic via the north of Ireland.

As a result, the command headquarters at Plymouth became too remote. The convoy protection role was allocated to a new headquarters at Liverpool which became the new Western Approaches Command in January 1941. Plymouth Command reverted to a more geographically restricted role of protecting the south-west coastline. In 1943-1944 more active operations against German naval forces were begun with the establishment of a cruiser-destroyer striking force.

24.10.38-Admiral Sir Martin Dunbar-Nasmith VC
01.05.41-Admiral of the Fleet Sir Charles Forbes
24.08.43-Vice Admiral Sir Ralph Leatham [12.43-Admiral]

Admiral Superintendent, Devonport Dockyard
27.09.38-Rear Admiral Arthur Dowding -12.45 [ 5.40 -Vice Admiral] 

In peacetime the command's facilities were concentrated in the Plymouth area. They were Devonport Dockyard and a small number of training establishments:

HMS Drake - Base and RN Barracks
HMS Defiance - Torpedo school
Royal Naval Engineering College

The Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, was in the area but not under the command's authority.

Major subordinate commands during the war were:
HMS Forte - Base at Falmouth
HMS Skirmisher - Base at Milford Haven

Major shore establishments commissioned during the war were:
HMS Raleigh - Training base at Torpoint [retained postwar]
HMS Effingham - Combined operations base, Dartmouth 1943-46
HMS Lizard - Landing craft training base
HMS Appledore - Commando training base

Ships allocated to the command 1939:
Emergency Flotilla - 3 destroyers
Training duties - 1 aircraft carrier, 1 destroyer

Reserve Fleet:
1 aircraft carrier, 6 cruisers, 1 minelayer, 14 destroyers

In refit - 2 battleships, 2 cruisers, 4 destroyers, 1 sloop, 1 minesweeper

In September 1939, the command was allocated:
part of the Channel Force - 2 aircraft carriers, part 18th Destroyer Flotilla
11th Destroyer Flotilla
17th Destroyer Flotilla

Flotillas allocated 1939-1945:
5th Destroyer Flotilla. 9.40-3.41
11th Destroyer Flotilla-11.40 to escort groups
17th Destroyer Flotilla-11.40 to escort groups
15th Destroyer Flotilla 10.39-5.45
10th Destroyer Flotilla 1-12.44
8th Destroyer flotilla 1.45-5.45

The major minesweeping flotillas were:

4th M/S F- Milford Haven 8.42-4.44 [Hunts]
13th M/S F-Plymouth 4.41-12.42 [Bangor]



Originally activated during the First World War, this command had been 'semi-dormant' during the interwar years as 'Coast of Scotland'. It was reactivated in August 1939 and remained one of the major home commands for the rest of the war, and afterwards. Its span of operations extended from Cromarty in the north, down the east of coast of Scotland and north-east England to Flamborough Head.  Unlike the three major commands in southern England, it was not a major manning division with a wide array of training establishments. It ceded responsibility for the west coast of Scotland to HQ Western Approaches to Liverpool at the beginning of 1941.

03.08.39-Vice Admiral Sir Charles Ramsay
05.04.42-Admiral Sir Wilbraham Ford
01.06.44-Vice Admiral William Whitworth [5.45-Admiral]

Admiral Superintendent Rosyth Dockyard
24.09.39-Rear Admiral Colin Cantlie  [10.42-Vice Admiral (ret)]
15.04.44-Rear Admiral Henry Bovell

In 1939 the major facilities in the command were:
Rosyth Dockyard
HMS Caledonia - Artificer training establishment, Rosyth
HMS Cochrane - Base at Rosyth

Major subordinate commands were:
HMS Flora - Invergordon
HMS Bacchante - Aberdeen
HMS Claverhouse - Leith
HMS Calliope - Tyne

Major shore establishments added during the war:

Ships allocated to Rosyth 8.39:
1 destroyer

In reserve -1 cruiser, 10 destroyers

Flotillas which served in Rosyth Command

At the outbreak of war, the Rosyth Escort Force was formed. It consisted of a number of sloops and destroyers - many of the latter were 'WAIRS' (possibly from W-class, anti-AIRcraft) - V& W class destroyers modernised for A/A escort  duties. The Rosyth Escort Force remained operational throughout the war. It's main task was the provision of escorts for the northern sector of the east coast convoy system. Although the sloops were withdrawn to Western Approaches and other duties, the WAIR's remained supported by Hunt class escort destroyers.

Other flotillas were:
15th Destroyer Flotilla 9-10.39
1st M/S Flotilla 1.45-  [Halcyon]
7th M/S Flotilla, Granton 9.39-12.41 [paddle m/s]
8th M/S Flotilla, Tye 9.39- .42 [paddle m/s]
16th M/S Flotilla, Rosyth 8.42-9.43
40th M/S Flotilla, Granton 9.43- .45 [Catherine]
41st M/S Flotilla, Granton 11.43-8.44 [Catherine]
42nd M/S Flotilla, Granton 4-8.44   [Catherine]


Formed on the outbreak of war to provide for the defence and administration of the main base for the Home Fleet. It was also the base for the Northern Patrol.

Flag Officer
09.39-Admiral [ret] Sir William French
12.39-Vice Admiral Hugh Binney
07.01.42-Vice Admiral Lionel Wells [10.43-Admiral]
04.44-Vice Admiral Sir Henry Harwood

Flag was flown aboard HMS Iron Duke at Scapa
HMS Fox - base at Lerwick
HMS Pyramus - base at Kirkwall

Flotillas allocated to the command included:
6th M/S Flotilla 7.41-12.42 [this flotilla may have been under direct Home fleet command]
15th M/S Flotilla 4.42-2.44 [Bangors]

THE NORTHERN PATROL - Operating within the Orkneys & Shetland Command, but not under command-9.40

Flag Officer
09.39-Vice Admiral Max Horton
01.40-Vice Admiral Robert Raikes
07.40-Rear Admiral Ernest Spooner -9.40

Major components:
7th Cruiser Squadron 9.39-12.39
12th Cruiser Squadron 9.39-  retitled 3.10.39-11th Cruiser Squadron-1.40
These squadrons were supplemented and the replaced by armed merchant cruisers which operated until dispersed or converted to other duties 1940-1941.


Like Rosyth, and Orkneys & Shetlands, this former Great War command was re-formed to control and protected sea traffic in the Straits of Dover. It was formed by removing the Straits from Nore Command. Its function would be to protect the supply lines of the British Expeditionary Force in France. This task became redundant after its splendid supervision of the evacuation from Dunkirk.  After the threat of German invasion diminished in 1941, its continued existence as a separate command from Nore Command seems to have more to do with prestige. After the Normandy landings its sea area was largely used by the Allied Naval Expeditionary Forces.

Flag Officer
24.08.39-Vice Admiral [ret] Bertram Ramsey
23.04.42-Commodore Cunliffe
01.08.42-Vice Admiral Henry Pridham-Wippell [6.44-Admiral]-10.07.45

Flotillas allocated to the command
19th Destroyer Flotilla 9-11.39 & 2.40-6.40
6th M/S Flotilla, 5-9.40 [Halcyon]



A headquarters was established at Gosport to provide an organisation to develop the role of coastal forces in home waters. Commanded throughout its existence between October 1940 and November 1943 by Rear Admiral Piers Kekewich. It is not clear whether it had an operational role.

Coastal Forces base were formed at:
HMS Hornet - HQ at Gosport
HMS Midge - Great Yarmouth
HMS Beehive - Felixstowe
HMS Wasp - Dover
HMS Grasshopper - Weymouth


Until the outbreak of war, the Rear Admiral [Submarines] at Fort Blockhouse, Gosport, was the head of the submarine service. He exercised administrative control over the service, and had operational control over the submarine flotillas in home waters. Those two tasks remained the same throughout the conflict. In September 1939 he moved the operational staff to a new headquarters at Aberdour in Fife - about six miles downstream from Rosyth. His administrative staff remained in Gosport. This move made sense when the only two operational flotillas were the 2nd at Dundee and the 6th at Blyth. This cumbersome arrangement ceased when Sir Max Horton took command in January 1940 when the headquarters moved to Northwood in Middlesex.

Rear Admiral [Submarines]
15.12.38 Rear Admiral Bertram Watson
00.01.40-Vice Admiral Max Horton [as Vice Admiral [Submarines][ then 1.41-Admiral [submarines]]
00.11.42-Rear Admiral Claud Barry
00.09.44-Rear Admiral George Creasey

The submarine service was organised in to flotillas made up of one depot ship and a flexible number of submarines. These flotillas usually operated out of a single base. The flotillas in home waters were:

2nd Submarine Flotilla, Dundee 9.39- Rosyth 11.39-1.41
Fully operational flotilla which moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia 1.41

3rd Submarine Flotilla, Harwich 10.39- Rosyth 5.40-Holy Loch 6.40-9.45, continued in existence
Formed from boats returned from Malta. Became the principal operational flotilla in home waters

5th Submarine Flotilla, Gosport 9.39-9.45, continued in existence
Training flotilla with occasional active boats which became an administrative organisation to supervise boats under refit in the UK

6th Submarine Flotilla, Blyth [ex Portland] 9.39-5.45
Operational until 1.42 when it became a training flotilla

7th Submarine Flotilla, Rothesay 10.40-9.45, continued in existence
 Submarine training flotilla

9th Submarine Flotilla, Harwich 6.40- Dundee 8.40-5.45
Administrative organisation for allied boats [Dutch, French etc]

From 1941, it became policy to assign all new boats to the 3rd Submarine Flotilla where they would work up to full operational efficiency, and conduct at least one patrol in the flotilla's area of responsibility. A small number of these boats became permanent members of the flotilla. The majority were either sent to the Mediterranean, and to the Indian Ocean [from 1943] where they did a tour of approximately 12 months [excluding passage time].


The post of Flag Officer Naval Air Stations was established in May 1939 to provide the shore support for the Fleet Air Arm, which had been transferred from the RAF.  Based at Lee-on-Solent, this officer had to create naval air stations for a variety of roles. They included flying training for specific roles and types of aircraft; ground training for mechanics and other personnel; lodger air stations for disembarked carrier squadrons; and trials and development.

Flag Officer Naval Air Stations [5.45-retitled Flag Officer Air [Home]]
24.05.39-Rear Admiral Richard Bell-Davies VC
30.09.41-Rear Admiral Clement Moody
12.05.43-Rear Admiral [ret] Cloudesley Robinson [1.1.45-Vice Admiral [ret]]
01.06.45-Vice Admiral Denis Boyd

This officer was assisted by Flag Officer Carrier Training & Administration
27.04.43-Vice Admiral Lumley Lyster -9.45

In 1939, the Royal Naval Air Stations were-
HMS Daedalus - Lee-on-Solent
HMS Kestrel - Worthy Down  [remainder under construction]
HMS Merlin - Donibristle
HMS Peregrine - Ford

By May 1945, 36 RNAS and 14 training establishments had been established.

(FO - flag officer)

Largely controlled by the tri-service Combined Operations Directorate, this aspect of naval operations did not have an overall commander. Instead responsibility for the training and preparation of amphibious forces was divided between several flag officers.  They were:

Rear Admiral Thomas Baillie-Grohman - FO Combined Operations .42- .43
Rear Admiral Charles Daniel  - FO Combined Operations .43- .44
Rear Admiral Thomas  Troubridge - FO Combined Operations Bases 1-5.43
Rear Admiral Henry Horan -  FO Combined Operations Bases 5.43-8.43
Rear Admiral Loben Maund - FO Landing Craft .43-10.44
Rear Admiral Guy Warren -  FO Unallocated Landing Craft .44-

Once trained these forces were transferred to the relevant task force commander. 

By 1945 there were 19 combined operations training establishments and 26 landing craft bases.



The principal battle fleet for the greater part of the war. Based at Scapa Flow, most of the time, its function was to provide heavy support to all other operations in home waters. This was done largely by standing guard ready to meet incursions by German surface ships into the Atlantic and Arctic.

The Home Fleet was organised on traditional lines with a battle squadron, aircraft carriers, cruiser squadrons, and destroyer flotillas. As the war progressed there was an increased tendency for the Home Fleet to operate with de facto task forces for which the cruiser squadron commanders provided the leadership.

12.04.38-Admiral Sir Charles Forbes [5.40-Admiral of the Fleet]
02.12.40-Admiral Sir John Tovey
08.05.43-Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser
14.06.44-Admiral Sir Henry Moore

06.41-Rear Admiral Alban Curteis [12.41-Vice Admiral]
28.06.42-Vice Admiral Bruce Fraser
23.06.43-Vice Admiral Henry Moore- 6.44

The organisation of the fleet in September 1939 was:
2nd Battle Squadron [Rear Admiral Henry Blagrove]
Battle-cruiser Squadron [Rear Admiral William Whitworth]
Aircraft Carriers [Vice Admiral Lionel Wells]
2nd Cruiser Squadron [Vice Admiral Frederick Edward-Collins]
Destroyer Flotillas  [Rear Admiral Ronald Hallifax]
6th Destroyer Flotilla [Tribal class]
7th Destroyer Flotilla [J class]
8th Destroyer Flotilla [F class]

The following squadrons and flotillas served in the fleet between 1939 and 1945.

Capital Ships

2nd Battle Squadron [Rear Admiral Henry Blagrove]
Ceased to exist as separate squadron when Blagrove died on HMS Royal Oak 14.10.39
Battleships came under direct command of CinC or from 6.41, the 2i/c

Battle-cruiser Squadron [Vice Admiral Whitworth; then Vice Admiral Lancelot Holland-8.5.41-24.5.41]
Ceased to exist with the loss of HMS Hood and Vice Admiral Holland.

Aircraft Carriers

Aircraft Carriers Home Fleet [Vice Admiral Wells 7.40-Rear Admiral Lyster]
Flag transferred to Mediterranean 9.40 
Returned to Home Fleet 7.42 under command of Vice Admiral Lyster
[succeeded by Rear Admiral Clement Moody 21.5.43 -until 1.12.43]

Escort Carriers, Home Fleet 10.43-2.45 [Rear Admiral Arthur Bissett 7.44-Commodore Oliver] 

(note: Cruiser Squadrons are listed in order of formation) 

2nd Cruiser Squadron [Vice Admiral Edward-Collins]  [Town class]
Split into 2nd CS with Humber Force and 18th CS with Home Fleet

18th Cruiser Squadron 9.39-9.42 [Town class]
Rear Admiral Ronald Hallifax
10.39-Vice Admiral Geoffrey Layton
11.40-Rear Admiral Lancelot Holland [1.41-Vice Admiral]
5.41-Rear Admiral Neville Syfret
13.1.42-Rear Admiral Stuart Bonham-Carter -9.42

1st Cruiser Squadron - transferred from  Mediterranean Fleet [County class] 10.39-5.45
10.39-Vice Admiral John Cunningham
1.41- Rear Admiral Frederick Wake-Walker [4.42-Vice Admiral]
24.02.42-Rear Admiral Louis Hamilton
29.08.43-Rear Admiral Arthur Palliser
27.03.44-Rear Admiral Roderick McGrigor

2nd Cruiser Squadron -returned to Home Fleet 1.40 [Arethusa & Leander classes]
Vice Admiral Frederick Edward-Collins
10.40-Rear Admiral Alban Curteis
6.41- Rear Admiral Philip Vian -10.41

15th Cruiser Squadron 5.40-4.41 [Dido class]
Rear Admiral Edward King

10th Cruiser Squadron 9.40-5.45 [Colony class to which Town class were added 1942- and Dido class from 1943]
10.09.40-Rear Admiral Harold Burrough
08.42-Rear Admiral Cecil Harcourt
12.01.43-Rear Admiral Robert Burnett
03.03.44-Rear Admiral Frederick Dalrymple-Hamilton
08.04.45-Rear Admiral Angus Cunningham-Grahame


1st Minelayer Squadron, Loch Ewe 8.40-6.43

08.40-Rear Admiral Frederick Wake-Walker
11.40-Rear Admiral Robert Burnett
02.43-Rear Admiral Thomas Drew
02.43-Rear Admiral Arthur Peters


Rear Admiral Destroyers 9.39-7.44
09.39-Rear Admiral Ronald Hallifax-10.39
00.41-Rear Admiral Louis Hamilton
05.03.42-Rear Admiral Robert Burnett
12.01.43-Rear Admiral Irvine Glennie
19.07.44-Commodore Hutton

(note: Destroyer Flotillas are listed in order of formation) 

6th Destroyer Flotilla
7th Destroyer Flotilla
8th Destroyer Flotilla
5th Destroyer Flotilla
3rd Destroyer Flotilla
4th Destroyer Flotilla
12th Destroyer Flotilla
20th [ML] Destroyer Flotilla
2nd Destroyer Flotilla
9th Destroyer Flotilla
19th Destroyer Flotilla
8th Destroyer Flotilla
17th Destroyer Flotilla
elements of 12th DF
elements of 11th DF
4th Destroyer Flotilla
23rd Destroyer Flotilla
25th Destroyer Flotilla
26th Destroyer Flotilla
8th Destroyer Flotilla
6th Destroyer Flotilla
2nd Destroyer Flotilla
[Tribal class]
[J class ] [att Humber Force]
[F class] [to Force H]
[K class] [det Humber Force/Plymouth]
[I class ex Med; M class from 1942]
[Tribal class]
[E class-later A class]
[H class]
[ex Brazilian H class]
[L class/O class]
[F class]
[O class]
[P class]
[R class]
[Q class]
[S class]
[U class]
[V class]
[various older destroyers]
[Ca class]
[Z class]

Minesweeeper Flotillas

1st M/S Flotilla
6th M/S Flotilla
[Halcyon]  [detached Murmansk 1.42-7.43
[Halcyon]  -merged into 1st M/SF


As recorded under Plymouth Command, HQ Western Approaches was established in its own right at Liverpool in February 1941. From there it conducted the war against the German U-boats for the rest of the war.

17.02.41-Admiral Sir Percy Noble
17.11.42-Admiral Sir Max Horton

The forces allocated to the command were based at three locations - Greenock, Liverpool and Londonderry. In the autumn of 1943 a fourth escort base was established at Belfast. At each base as Captain [D] was responsible for the efficiency of the allocated groups.

The pattern of convoys followed two main routings. The transatlantic flow to and from North America; and the southward flow to West Africa and onwards to South Atlantic and Indian Ocean.

The tactical organisation of the escort forces had been established in the autumn of 1940 when a new type of organisation was formed - the escort group. Each was composed of a 2-3 destroyers and 6 corvettes with the intention they should operate together in defence of a convoy. Initially the escort groups were focussed on the transatlantic convoys. The sloops were allocated as required to the southern routes from their bases. They became escort groups - solely of sloops and later frigates - in the autumn of 1941. The escort group remained the principal tactical organisation for the rest of the conflict. Their composition became more coherent and permanent as the concepts of joint training and joint operations became more possible. In 1943, a number of support groups were formed. As they were not tied to a particular convoy, they could provide extra hunting power where and when required.
During 1941, a number of 'special escort groups' were formed. They were made up of old destroyers and their role was to provide escorts for troopship convoys. Another change evolved during 1944 - an escort pool was formed of escorts not allocated to a specific escort group. Ships in a pool could be employed when circumstances required - many of the Flower class corvettes were allotted to escort pools as more modern frigates took their place in established escort groups.

Another rather short-lived organisation was the Irish Sea Escort Force which was made up of anti-aircraft ships.

As escort carriers became available they were based at Greenock from which location they were deployed on convoy duty. The base was responsible for the work-up of all escort carriers.

One striking feature of the command was the employment of non-Royal Navy escort groups. The Royal Canadian Navy provided an increasing number of groups so that by the last year of the war about half the groups - based at Londonderry - were Canadian. In addition there were Free-French, a largely Norwegian, and a largely Polish Groups.

The organisation of Western Approaches Command can be illustrated by a series of snapshots which outline the distribution of groups.

Western Approaches 1st January 1941

3 Escort Group
4 Escort Group
10 Escort Group
11 Escort Group
5 Escort Group
6 Escort Group
7 Escort Group
8 Escort Group
9 Escort Group
Liverpool Sloop Division
1 Escort Group
2 Escort Group

Western Approaches 1st January 1942

3 Escort Group
4 Escort Group [part French]
23 Escort Group
24 Escort Group
25 Escort Group [Polish]
26 Escort Group
27 Escort Group
5 Escort Group
6 Escort Group
7 Escort Group
37 Escort Group
28 Special Escort Group
29 Special Escort Group
30 Special Escort Group
1 Escort Group
2 Escort Group
8 Escort Group
40 Escort Group
41 Escort Group
42 Escort Group
43 Escort Group
44 Escort Group
20 Special Escort Group
21 Special Escort Group
22 Special Escort Group
Western Approaches 29th January 1943

Escort carriers
B3 Escort Group [pt French]
23 Escort Group
Special Escort Division
Irish Sea Escort Force
B2 Escort Group
B5 Escort Group
B6 Escort Group [pt Norwegian]
B7 Escort Group
22 Escort Group
Special Escort Division
B1 Escort Group
B4 Escort Group
B7 Escort Group
21 Special Escort Group
24 Escort Group
25 Escort Group RCN
27 Escort Group RCN
28 Escort Group
40 Escort Group
42 Escort Group
44 Escort Group
45 Escort Group
Special Escort Division

 Western Approaches 4th February 1944 

Belfast Greenock Liverpool Londonderry
1 Escort Group
3 Escort Group
4 Escort Group
5 Escort Group
Escort carriers
B3 Escort Group
7 Escort Group
8 Escort Group
23 Escort Group
40 Escort Group
B2 Escort Group
B5 Escort Group
B6 Escort Group
2 Escort Group
10 Escort Group
B1 Escort Group
B4 Escort Group
B7 Escort Group
C1 Escort Group RCN
C2 Escort Group RCN
C3 Escort Group RCN
C4 Escort Group RCN
C5 Escort Group RCN
6 Escort Group RCN
9 Escort Group RCN
24 Escort Group
39 Escort Group
Western Approaches, 5th January 1945
Belfast Greenock Liverpool Londonderry
1 Escort Group
3 Escort Group
4 Escort Group
5 Escort Group
15 Escort Group
21 Escort Group
7 Escort Group
8 Escort Group
17 Escort Group
18 Escort Group
33 Escort Group
B2 Escort Group
B3 Escort Group
2 Escort Group
14 Escort Group
19 Escort Group
22 Escort Group
Liverpool Escort Pool
B1 Escort Group
C1 Escort Group RCN
C2 Escort Group RCN
C3 Escort Group RCN
C4 Escort Group RCN
C5 Escort Group RCN
C6 Escort Group RCN
C7 Escort Group RCN
C8 Escort Group RCN
6 Escort Group RCN
9 Escort Group RCN
10 Escort Group
11 Escort Group RCN
16 Escort Group RCN
20 Escort Group
23 Escort Group
25 Escort Group RCN
26 Escort Group RCN
27 Escort Group RCN
30 Escort Group


Formed in October 1939 at Halifax Nova Scotia to provide a heavy force capable of protecting convoys from German surface raiders.. It was dissolved in January 1942 when the battleships were required in the Indian Ocean. Note the use of submarines as convoy escorts!

(Additional Note: The Halifax Escort Force was not part of the Home Fleet but had battleships which made it a resource with hitting power. As it was intended to protect Atlantic convoys from surface raiders it has been placed between Western Approaches [which protected convoys from submarines] and the Home Fleet [which barred access by German surface ships to the Atlantic]. It was under direct Admiralty control throughout its existence.)

Flag Officers/FO 3rd Battle Squadron
01.40-Rear Admiral Stuart Bonham-Carter-1.42

3rd Battle Squadron [mainly Royal Sovereign class]
Cruisers - Emerald, Enterprise, Effingham at various dates in 1940
2nd Submarine Flotilla 1.41-6.41 -Forth & 3-4 T class submarines


Formed in January 1944 to command the naval aspects of the landings in Normandy and subsequent advance up the Channel. It made use of ships from nearby commands for specific operations. For Operation Neptune, the force was organised into specific task forces.

01.44- Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey [killed in air crash 2.1.45]
01.45- Vice Admiral Harold Burrough

Task Force commanders for Operation Neptune
Eastern Naval Task Force -Vice Admiral Philip Vian
Task Group S - Rear Admiral Arthur Talbot
Task Group J - Commodore G N Oliver
Task Group G - Commodore C Douglas-Pennant
Task Group D - Rear Admiral Wilfred Patterson
Task Group E - Rear Admiral Frederick Dalrymple-Hamiton
Task Group K - Commodore Longley-Cook
Mulberry Harbours - Rear Admiral William Tennant

After the landings
Commander British Assault Area/Force 7-12.44, Rear Admiral James Rivett-Carnac




Based at Bermuda with the 8th Cruiser Squadron as its principal component, this command was concerned primarily with operations to detect and sink German surface raiders.  The combination of a reduction in that threat, the entry of the United States into the war, and the increased role of the Royal Canadian Navy, brought about the virtual end of the command in 1942.

26.05.37-Vice Admiral Sydney Meyrick  [1.40-Admiral]
03.04.40-Vice Admiral Charles Kennedy-Purvis -4.42
07.42-Vice Admiral Alban Curteis - as Senior British Naval Officer Western Atlantic
10.44-Vice Admiral Irvine Glennie

Ships Allocated
In 1939-3 cruisers & 2 sloops
6.1940- 4 cruisers and 3 RCN armed merchant cruisers
1.1941- 4 cruisers

Apart from a Dutch sloop, little was listed after 1942.
Between 1943 and 1945 Bermuda was the major work-up base for US built escorts for the Royal Navy.


A small unit of two cruisers which came to prominence at the battle of the River Plate in December 1939. It was absorbed into the South Atlantic command shortly thereafter.

.36-Commodore Henry Harwood [12.39-Rear Admiral
07.40-Commodore Frank Pegram   [2.42-Rear Admiral]

9.1939-cruisers Exeter and Ajax.


Based at Simonstown with the 6th Cruiser Squadron as its main component, it was retitled South Atlantic Command in September 1939 when its headquarters moved to Freetown in Sierra Leone.

With the establishment of West Africa Command in August 1942, South Atlantic Command was transferred back to Simonstown.

Commander-in Chief
08.03.38-Vice Admiral George D'Oyly-Lyon
09.40-Vice Admiral Robert Raikes
02.41-Rear Admiral Algernon Willis
03.42-Rear Admiral William Tait
04.44-Vice Admiral Robert Burnett 

Between 1939 and 1942 the command had a varying number of ships which included an aircraft carrier, a seaplane carrier, between 6 and 9 cruisers, and up to 13 armed merchant cruisers. In September 1939, this force included two submarines at Freetown [Severn, Clyde]. The main purpose of this force was to hunt down German surface raiders. On a number of occasions it received extra forces for specific tasks: the hunting groups of 1939; Force M for operations against Vichy French forces in the autumn of 1940; and the invasion of Madagascar in the spring of 1942.

After the creation of a separate West Africa Command, the forces base at Simonstown were minimal for the rest of the war: often little more than 3-4 corvettes.



Created in August 1942 as part of the re-organisation of commands. This was a recognition of the growing importance of Freetown as a major base for convoy escorts.

Flag Officer
08.42-Rear Admiral Frank Pegram
05.43-Rear Admiral Bernard Rawlings
11.43-Vice Admiral Arthur Peters

From 1941, an escort force began to be build up at Freetown. Initially it consisted of 2 corvettes and a few Free French vessels. the growth of the escort forces is illustrated:
01.07.1941- 18th Destroyer Flotilla [8], 2 sloops, 18 corvettes
01.01.1942- 18th Destroyer Flotilla [8], 2 sloops, 24 corvettes
01.08.1942- 18th Destroyer Flotilla [8], 2 sloops, 23 corvettes
01.07.1943- 15 destroyers, 2 sloops, 15 corvettes
01.02.1944- 6 destroyers, 7 sloops & frigates, 7 corvettes
01.09.1944- 25 escorts organised in 56, 58, 59, 60 Escort Groups
02.05.1945- 24 escorts organised in 55, 56, 57, 58 Escort Groups 


On the outbreak of war, the Gibraltar command was elevated to North Atlantic Command with responsibility for the sea lanes on either side of the straits. Those duties remained although the commands efforts were often obscured by the activities of Force H [see below] and Western Approaches. The lack of clear boundaries of responsibility between Gibraltar and Force H created confusion in the conduct of naval operations in the area. By the end of 1942, Gibraltar was concerned primarily with being a base for convoy escorts. As such, the command had become a component area command of the allied naval forces in the Mediterranean. 

Rear Admiral Gibraltar then Vice Admiral Gibraltar
05.39-Rear Admiral Norman Wodehouse
01.11.39-Vice Admiral Sir Dudley North
09.12.40-Vice Admiral Frederick Edward-Collins
09.43-Vice Admiral Harold Burrough
01.45-Vice Admiral Victor Crutchley VC

Before 1939, a small force of destroyers was based at Gibraltar. This was enlarged to form the 13th Destroyer  Flotilla which was the main force throughout the war.

Squadrons and Flotillas based at Gibraltar
11th Cruiser Squadron 9-10.39 [2 old cruisers]
13th Destroyer Flotilla 9.39-5.45
8th Submarine Flotilla 12.40-12.42 [flotilla then moved to Algiers]
28, 36, 37, 38 Escort Groups were based at Gibraltar whilst part of Western Approaches.

[other formations stationed at Gibraltar 1943-1945 will be dealt with in the Mediterranean Fleet section below]


FORCE H, 1940-1943

Created on 28th June 1940 in the aftermath of the defeat of France, to provide a task force capable of operations in both the western Mediterranean and the Atlantic. It was under direct Admiralty control and in not subordinate to Gibraltar. It became the principal force for the supply convoys to Malta. From November 1942 -with Operation Torch-it became the battle fleet of the Allied Naval Forces in the Mediterranean until disbandment in August 1943. As such it provided cover for the landings in Algeria, Sicily and Salerno.

Flag Officer
28.06.40-Vice Admiral James Somerville
10.01.42-Vice Admiral Neville Syfret
01.43-Vice Admiral Harold Burrough
24.02.43-Vice Admiral Algernon Willis

06.40-Rear Admiral Lancelot Holland [18th Cruiser Squadron]
04.41-Rear Admiral Neville Syfret
01.42-Commodore Charles Daniel
07.42-Rear Admiral Cecil Harcourt
05.43-Rear Admiral Arthur Bissett

The following notes relate to the composition of Force H up to the autumn of 1942. After that date the ships allocated to it deployed as part of a wider allied effort throughout the Mediterranean.

[see Mediterranean Fleet below]

In general, Force H was composed of a core of permanently allocated ships-usually one capital ship, one aircraft carrier, one-two cruisers, and one destroyer flotilla. Extra ships from either the North Atlantic Command at Gibraltar, the Home Fleet, and the Mediterranean Fleet for major operations such as the action against the French fleet at Oran or the main Malta convoys.

The permanent component at various dates was made up of the following ships:

1.7.40 1.1.41 1.7.41 1.1.42 1.5.42
Hood [F]
Ark Royal
8th Destroyer Flotilla
Renown [F]
Ark Royal
8th DF
Renown [F]
Ark Royal
8th DF
Malaya [F]
19th DF
Malaya [F]
Hermione [det]
19th DF

Destroyer Flotillas
8th Destroyer Flotilla [F class] 6.40-8.41
4th Destroyer Flotilla [Tribals] 8.41-4.42
19th Destroyer Flotilla [L class] 10.41-



As the organisation of the Mediterranean Fleet changed considerably over the five years of conflict, it is best to outline its command structure and composition in several time scales.

They are:
1. Original composition in September 1939
2. Much reduced strength, October 1939-May 1940
3. Full strength battle force, June 1940-December 1942
4. The complexities created by the introduction of the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force 1943-1944
5. United Mediterranean Command 1944-1945  

The complexity of the period 1942-43 can be seen in the following lists of CinC's

06.39-Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham
03.42-Vice Admiral Henry Pridham-Wippell [temp]
22.04.42-Admiral [actg] Sir Henry Harwood
20.02.43-Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham
10.10.43-Admiral Sir John Cunningham

Shore headquarters

Commander Allied Naval Expeditionary Force (ANXF) 1942-1943
10.42-Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham -2.43  
Deputy Commander ANXF 1942-1943
010.42-Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay -2.43
Shore headquarters

Mediterranean Fleet, September 1939

CinC-Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham

1st Battle Squadron [Vice Admiral Geoffrey Layton] [3 Queen Elizabeths & Ramillies]
Aircraft carrier - Glorious
1st Cruiser Squadron [Vice Admiral John Cunningham] [3 County class]
3rd Cruiser Squadron [Rear Admiral Henry Moore] [2 Galatea class]
Destroyer Flotillas  [Rear Admiral John Tovey]
1st Destroyer Flotilla [G class]
2nd Destroyer Flotilla [H class]
3rd Destroyer Flotilla [I class]
4th Destroyer Flotilla [Tribal class]
1st Submarine Flotilla [Maidstone, 2 Porpoise & 4 S class]
Vice Admiral Malta - Vice Admiral Wilbraham Ford

When it appeared that an Italian entry into the war was unlikely, most of the above either returned to the UK or were dispersed on anti-raider operations in the Atlantic.

Mediterranean Fleet, 10.39-5.40

After the departure of ships and submarines to other commands, the Mediterranean Fleet consisted of :

CinC-Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham

Aircraft carrier - Glorious - to 4.40
3rd Cruiser Squadron [4 old light cruisers] [Rear Admiral Henry Moore]
Destroyers [Vice Admiral John Tovey]
21st Destroyer Flotilla [D class] [passed through from China to UK - 2 destroyers retained in Med.]
10th Destroyer Flotilla [RAN flotilla to which were added 3 other RN destroyers]
1st Submarine Flotilla [3 O class ex UK]
3rd M/S Flotilla [Hunt class]
Vice Admiral Malta-Vice Admiral Wilbraham Ford

Mediterranean Fleet, 5.40-12.42

Strength restored in anticipation of the Italian declaration of war. The strength of the fleet can be illustrated at various dates.

CinC - Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham -3.42
3.42-Vice Admiral Henry Pridham-Wippell [acting]
22.4.42-Admiral [actg] Sir Henry Harwood

Vice Admiral Malta

Vice Admiral Wilbraham Ford
1.1.42-Vice Admiral Ralph Leatham

Vice Admiral Light Forces & 2i/c

Vice Admiral John Tovey
10.40-Vice Admiral Henry Pridham-Wippell -3.42 [& 1st Battle Sqn 5.41-3.42]

1st Battle Squadron
10.40-Rear Admiral Bernard Rawlings-5.41

Flag Officer Aircraft Carriers

11.7.40-Rear Admiral Lumley Lyster
 4.2.41- Rear Admiral Dennis Boyd-1.42

3rd Cruiser Squadron

 6.40-Rear Admiral Edward Renouf-2.41

7th Cruiser Squadron

5.41-Rear Admiral Bernard Rawlings -1.42

15th Cruiser Squadron

5.41-  Rear Admiral Edward King 15.10.41-Rear Admiral Philip Vian
1.8.42-  Rear Admiral Arthur Power

Destroyer Flotillas

5.41-  Rear Admiral Irvine Glenne-8.42

1.1.41 1.7.41 1.1.42 1.8.42
1st Battle Sqn
Aircraft carrier

3rd Cruiser Sqn
7th Cruiser Sqn

2nd DF
10th DF
14th DF

1st S/M Flotilla

Malta S/M

2nd M/S F
1st Battle Sqn
Aircraft carriers

3rd Cruiser Sqn
7th Cruiser Sqn

2nd DF
10th DF
14th DF

1st S/M Flotilla
10th S/M Flotilla

2nd M/S F

Red Sea Forces
1st Battle Sqn

7th Cruiser Sqn
15th Cruiser Sqn
A/A cruisers

2nd DF
5th DF
7th DF
10th DF
14th DF

1st S/M Flotilla
10th S/M Flotilla

10th Corvette Fl.
2nd M/S F
1st Battle Sqn
Aircraft carrier

7th Cruiser Sqn
15th Cruiser Sqn

2nd DF
5th DF
14th DF

1st S/M Flotila
10th S/M Flotilla

10th Corvette Fl.
11th Corvette Fl.
2nd M/S F

15th Cruiser Sqn

5th DF
12th DF
14th DF
22th DF

1st S/M Flotilla

10th Corvette F
11th Corvette F
2nd M/S F
14th M/S F

At Malta
10th S/M Flotilla
17th M/S F

Mediterranean Fleet, 1.43-10.43
(FO - Flag Officer, TF - Task Force)

The main changes which took place in 1943 were:

The amalgamation of the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force and the Mediterranean Fleet into a single command-the Mediterranean

The emergence of shore-based area commands. of which the first was the area previously delegated to the original Mediterranean Fleet which became Levant Command. The other were FO Tunisia 5.43- .43; FO North Africa  .43-44, FO Sicily 7-9.43; FO Taranto 9.43-5.45; FO West Italy 9.43-10.44; FO Northern Mediterranean 10.44-; and FO Western Mediterranean 12.423-1.44 & 7.44- .45. Gibraltar and Malta continued as major bases for the new organisation.

The demise of Force H as the battle fleet in the Mediterranean in October 1943.

Starting with Operation Torch, the use of task forces for the landings in Sicily, Anzio and southern France.

CinC - Admiral [actg] Admiral Sir Henry Harwood
20.2.43-Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham
10.10.43-Admiral Sir John Cunningham

Vice Admiral Malta-

1.10.43-Vice Admiral Louis Hamilton

FO Levant-
3.43-Admiral [actg] Sir Henry Harwood
6.43-Vice Admiral John Cunningham

10.43-Vice Admiral Algernon Willis

28.12.43-Vice Admiral Bernard Rawlings

FO Tunisia

12.5.43-Rear Admiral [ret] Gerald Dickens - ?43

FO North Africa

.43-Rear Admiral [ret] Geoffrey Watkins -?

FO Sicily

07.43-Rear Roderick McGrigor -9.43

FO Taranto

13.9.43-Rear Admiral Arthur Peters -11.43
15.11.43-Rear Admiral Roderick McGrigor

FO Western Italy

30.09.43-Rear Admiral Anthony Morse

FO Western Mediterranean

12.43-Rear Admiral Charles Morgan -1.44

FO Force H

01.43-Vice Admiral Harold Burrough Admiral Algernon Willis-10.43
FO 2i/c Force H
7.42-Rear Admiral Cecil Harcourt [& 12th Cruiser Sqn]
5.43-Rear Admiral Arthur Bissett [& escort carriers]

TF Commanders
North Africa 11.42-Rear Admiral Harold Burroughs; Commodore Thomas Troubridge
Sicily 7.43- Rear Admirals McGrigor, Troubridge, Vian
Salerno 9.43-Rear Admiral Philip Vian, Commodore G N Oliver

FO Aircraft Carriers 10-12.43-Rear Admiral Clement Moody

FO 15th Cruiser Squadron
8.42-Rear Admiral Arthur Power
5.43-Rear Admiral Cecil Harcourt

Distribution of Forces - three snapshots:
Western Mediterranean
(DD - Destroyer Division, sub-division of Flotilla)
([-] - understrength)

Force H
3 battleships
2 aircraft carriers
12th Cruiser Sqn
6th DF [Tribals, I & Q]
19th DF [L &P]
59th DD [Hunts]
Force H
4 battleships
1 aircraft carrier
2 monitors
6th DF [Tribals]
59th DD [Hunts]
Force H
6 battleships
3 aircraft carriers
12th Cruiser Sqn
8th DF [E, F, I classes]
4th DF [-] [P/Q]
14th DF [-] [J/P]
24th DF [O/T]

Gibraltar Escort Force
13th DF
26 EG
36 EG
43 EG
61 EG

1 cruiser
57th DD [Hunts]
58th DD [Hunts]
8th Submarine Flotilla
12th M/SF
13th M/S F
13th DF
56th DD [Hunts]
12th M/S F [Algerine]
16th M/S F [Bangor]

57th DD [Hunts]
58th DD [Hunts]
60th DD [Hunts]
8th Submarine Flotilla
13th M/S F [Bangor]

Force Q

12th Cruiser Sqn
19th DF [L class]

5 escort carriers
2 cruisers
13th DF
12th M/S F [Algerine]

58th DD [Hunts]
46 EG
48 EG
50 EG
8 other escorts
8th Submarine Flotilla
13th M/S F [Bangor]

Central and Eastern Mediterranean
10th Submarine Flotilla
17th M/SF
10th Submarine Flotilla
14th M/S F [Bangor]
17th M/S F [Halcyon]
15th Cruiser Sqn [Force K]
6th DF [2 Tribals]
19th DF [Tribals/L]
57th DD [Hunts]
60th DD [Hunts]
36th EG
10th Submarine Flotilla
14th M/S F [Bangor]
17th M/S F [Halcyon]

Eastern Mediterranean
15th Cruiser Sqn
5th DF [Hunts]
12th DF [P, Tribal & I]
14th DF [J &K]
1st Submarine Flotilla, Beirut
10th Corvette Gp
11th Corvette Gp 
3rd M/S F [Hunts]
14th M/S F [Bangor]
15th Cruiser Sqn
5th DF [Hunts]
14th DF [1/J/K/P/ Tribal]
22nd DF [Hunts]
24nd DF [T class]
1st Submarine Flotilla, Beirut
Convoy EG 1
Convoy EG 2
Convoy EG 3
Convoy EG 4
36th Escort Gp
2nd M/S F [Hunts]
21st M/S F RAN [Bathurst]
22nd M/S F RAN [Bathurst]
14DF [-] [J/K]
1st Submarine Flotilla
2nd M/S F [Hunts]
22nd M/S F RAN [Bathurst]
Mediterranean Fleet, 1.44-5.45

Based at Malta with light forces distributed between the various area commands.

CinC -Admiral Sir John Cunningham

Vice Admiral Malta-
Vice Admiral Louis Hamilton
 4.45-Vice Admiral Frederick Dalrymple-Hamilton

FO Levant
Vice Admiral Bernard Rawlings  30.10.44-Rear Admiral William Tennant

FO Taranto

Rear Admiral Roderick McGrigor
3.44-Rear Admiral Charles Morgan

FO Western Italy 10.44-Northern Mediterranean

Rear Admiral Anthony Morse

FO Western Mediterranean

15.7.44-Vice Admiral Geoffrey Miles 
Distribution of warships - two snapshots

1 battleship
1 monitor
7 escort carriers
15th Cruiser Sqn
3 AA cruisers
14th DF [G/K/L]
24th DF [T]
50th DD [U]
1st Submarine Flotilla, Malta
10th Submarine Flotilla, Maddalena

Escort Forces
5th DF [Hunts]
18th DF [Hunts]
22th DF [Hunts]
57th DD [Hunts]
59th DD [Hunts]
37 EG
40 EG
47 EG
48 EG
49 EG
50 EG
51 EG
2nd M/S F [Hunts]
5th M/S F [Algerine]
8th M/S F [Algerine] in UK
12th M/S F [Algerine]
13th M/S F [Bangor]
17th M/S F [2 Halcyon]
19th M/S F [Algerine]


13th DF
38 EG
41 EG
51st A/S
15th Cruiser Sqn
3rd DF [L/M]
5th DF [Hunts]
14th DF [J/K]
22nd DF [Hunts]
51st EG
5th M/S F [Algerine]
8th M/S F [Algerine]
12th M/S F [Algerine]
19th M/S F [Algerine]

Gibraltar Escort Force
3 destroyers
39 EG
40 EG
55 EG
57 EG [lent to West Africa]
51st A/S Gp

Squadrons, Flotillas and other formations which served in Mediterranean

1st Battle Squadron 9.39-3.42 & 3-10.43
no numbered aircraft carrier squadrons

1st Cruiser Squadron 9-10.39
3rd Cruiser Squadron 9.39-8.40 [absorbed into 7CS]
7th Cruiser Squadron 5.40-1.42
12th Cruiser Squadron 11.42-12.43
15th Cruiser Squadron 4.41-11.44

1st Destroyer Flotilla 9-11.39
2nd Destroyer Flotilla 9.39-dispersed to South Atlantic & West Indies
2nd Destroyer Flotilla 5.40-2.42
3rd Destroyer Flotilla 9.39-10.39
3rd Destroyer Flotilla 11.44-
4th Destroyer Flotilla 9.39-11.39
4th Destroyer Flotilla 11.42-3.43
5th Destroyer Flotilla 4.41-5.45
7th Destroyer Flotilla 3.41-1.42
8th Destroyer Flotilla 6-9.43
10th Destroyer Flotilla 1.40-7.41
11th Destroyer Flotilla 8.42-1.43
12th Destroyer Flotilla .42- to Greek manned
14th Destroyer Flotilla 5.40-1946
21st Destroyer Flotilla 10.39-12.39
22nd Destroyer Flotilla 2.42-5.45
24th Destroyer Flotilla 4.43-5.45
25th Destroyer Flotilla 11.43-12.44

Destroyer Divisions [Hunt class] 1942-44-
57, 48, 59 60 DD's

Escort Groups 1943-44
47, 48,49, 50, 51, 55, 57
Corvette Groups 1941-1944
Convoy Escort Groups 1943-44
-1, 2, 3, 4

1st Submarine Flotilla 9.39-10.44
8th Submarine Flotilla 3.41-12.43
10th Submarine Flotilla 1.41-9.44

3rd M/S Flotilla 9.39- retitled 2nd M/S Flotilla 5.40-10.44
5th M/S Flotilla 8.43-
8th M/S Flotilla 1.45-
12th M/S Flotilla 10.42-
13th M/S Flotllla 12.42-1.45
14th M/S Flotilla 1.42-1.45
16th M/S Flotilla 10.43-
17th M/S Flotilla 7.42-



With a force which included the 4th Cruiser Squadron [3 Town class], 2 sloops in the Red Sea, and 3 sloops in the Persian Gulf, the East Indies Command was responsible for the entire Indian Ocean. Between the outbreak of the war, and its demise in the spring of 1942, its principal function was to protect trade from possible German surface raiders.  When Italy entered the conflict in June 1940, responsibility for the Red Seas was transferred to the Mediterranean Fleet, and did not revert back until 1942. Also operating in the command were the ships of the Royal Indian Navy which was an organisation controlled by the government in Delhi. With the creation of the Eastern Fleet in 1942 the command was abolished.

05.39-Vice Admiral Ralph Leatham
04.41-Vice Admiral Geoffrey Arbuthnot-6.42

Flag Officer, Royal Indian Navy

10.37-Vice Admiral Herbert Fitzherbert
03.43-Vice Admiral John Godfrey

The bulk of the forces allocated to the East Indies were cruisers and armed merchant cruisers, supported by a few sloops:
6.1940-3 cruisers, 4 armed merchant cruisers, 1 sloop & 3 RIN sloops in the Persian Gulf
9.1940-4 cruisers, 6 armed merchant cruisers, 3 sloops
7.1941-10 cruisers, 6 armed merchant cruisers, 2 sloops

On occasion, major warships operated in the command.  They were:

Malaya 10-12.39
Ramillies 11.39-5.40
Royal Sovereign 9-10.40

Aircraft carriers-
Eagle  10.39-5.40
Glorious 10.39 only
Hermes 2.42-4.42
Eagle  4-10.41

4 O class submarines from 4th SM Flotilla operated out of Colombo as 8th Submarine Flotilla 9.39-5.40

Flag Officer, Red Sea
.40-Rear Admiral Arthur Murray
04.41-Rear Admiral Ronald Hallifax -6.11.43 [died]
12.43-Rear Admiral John Waller

Forces in the Red Sea:
6.1940-2 cruisers, 1 AA ship, 4 destroyers [K class], 5 sloops
9.1940-5 cruisers, 3 destroyers, 7 sloops
1.1941-2 cruisers, 3 destroyers, 8 sloops
7.1941-2 cruisers, 5 sloops
1.1942-1 cruiser, 4 sloops

CHINA STATION, 1939-1942

Based at Hong Kong, the China Station was a quite substantial force in 1939. It was composed of:

Aircraft carrier - Eagle
5th Cruiser Squadron [4 cruisers]

21st Destroyer Flotilla [9 destroyers]
4th Submarine Flotilla [16 submarines]

and for local duties:
Local Defence Flotilla at Hong Kong [4 destroyers]
Yangste Flotilla [15 gunboats]
West River Flotilla [4 gunboats]
2 M/S Flotilla in reserve at Singapore [9 minesweepers]

Commander-in Chief
05.02.38-Admiral Sir Percy Noble
09.40-Vice Admiral Geoffrey Layton-12.41-resumed post 11.12.41 as CinC Eastern Fleet

Flag Officer, 5th Cruiser Squadron
05.39-Rear Admiral Arthur Murray- .40

Flag Officer, Yangtse Flotilla

21.12.37-Rear Admiral Reginald Holt
01.40-Rear Admiral John Vivian - .41

Flag Officer, Malaya

.39-Commodore Thomas Drew [1.40-Rear Admiral]
06.41-Rear Admiral Ernest Spooner -2.42 [died in escape from Singapore]

Senior Naval Officer, Hong Kong

.38-Commodore Arthur Peters
11.40-Commodore Alfred Collinson -25.12.41

Within six months, all the major warships, the 21st Destroyer Flotilla, and the 4th Submarine Flotilla had been withdrawn to other theatres. The only additional force were three elderly D class cruisers which constituted the 5th Cruiser Squadron until early 1942.

The only reinforcement was the arrival of Force Z - as the core of a new Eastern Fleet - HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Repulse, and three destroyers. The capital ships were sunk on 10th December 1941, among the dead was Admiral [actg] Sir Tom Phillips who was to be CinC Eastern Fleet.

The remaining ships, and some later additions, constituted the Eastern Fleet until the Japanese victories at Singapore and Dutch East Indies.


It took some time for a new Eastern Fleet to be organised after the disasters in the Far East, made worse by the Japanese incursions into the Indian Ocean in April 1942.  With most of its major warships based in East Africa during 1942, it did not become a capable force until 1943. Thereafter it gradually grew in strength so that by 1944 it was capable of major operations in the Indian Ocean. When the British Pacific Fleet was formed in November 1944 the Eastern Fleet was renamed the East Indies Fleet.

The Eastern Fleet, especially in 1942 and 1943, commanded a significant number of non-British vessels. Apart from the massive input of the Royal Indian Navy with its escort vessels, the fleet had a significant number of Dutch submarines and surface ships [the survivors of the fleet in the Netherlands East Indies; and several destroyers and many escorts were manned by crews from the Royal Australian Navy. The aircraft carrier USS Saratoga operated in the Indian Ocean in the first half of 1944. From May 1944, the French battleship Richelieu was a major asset until the end of the war.

There were three basic elements in the fleet; the battle fleet with its carriers, battleships and supporting warships to tackle any Japanese heavy ships and strike at shore targets; the submarine force to deny Japan the use the sea routes between Singapore and Rangoon; and. often forgotten, a substantial escort force to guard the convoys between Suez and India, and between the Cape and India.

From October 1943, the fleet was the maritime component of South East Asia Command, but had responsibilities outside of the SEAC area as well.

Vice Admiral Geoffrey Layton [who became Governor & CinC Ceylon]
12.02.42-Admiral Sir James Somerville
08.08.44-Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser [who became CinC BPF in November 1944] 
11.44-Admiral Sir Arthur Power

Flag Officer 3rd Battle Squadron & Second in command

26.02.42-Vice Admiral Algernon Willis
01.01.44-Vice Admiral Arthur Power
11.44-Vice Admiral Harold Walker

Flag Officer, Aircraft Carriers [31.12.44-FO Air EIF]

02.42-Rear Admiral Denis Boyd
12.43-Rear Admiral Clement Moody
.45-Rear Admiral Robin Bridge

Flag Officer, 4th Cruiser Squadron-10.44

04.42-Rear Admiral William Tennant
10.43-Rear Admiral Arthur Read

Flag Officer, 5th Cruiser Squadron

01.05.44-Rear Admiral Arthur Power
01.45-Rear Admiral Arthur Read
03.45-Rear Admiral Wilfred Patterson

Flag Office, Ceylon
14.05.42-Rear Admiral Arthur Read
08.43-Rear Admiral Victor Danckwerts [died]
03.44-Rear Admiral Gresham Nicholson
.45-Rear Admiral John Mansfield

The changing composition of the fleet can be seen in a series of snapshots. It is difficult to give a precise total of each type of ships as the lists included ships on passage to and from the UK. This comment applies equally to the list of the British Pacific Fleet.

The Battle Fleet
(DD - Destroyer Division, sub-division of Flotilla)

04.02.44 05.1.45 04.5.45
1st BS [3 ships]
3rd BS [4 ships]
4th CS [9 ships]
5th CS [7 ships]
6 AMC's
4th DF [5 ships]
7th DF [4 ships]
11th DF [3 ships]
4 other destroyers
1st BS [3 ships]
3 aircraft carriers
4th CS [10 ships]
5th CS [6 ships]
7th DF [6 ships]
11th DF [8 ships]
16th DD [4 ships]
3rd BS [3 ships]
4 escort carriers
5th CS [9 ships]
7th DF [4 ships]
10th DF [4 ships]
11th DF [8 ships]
18th DF [8 ships]
24th DF [8 ships]
26th DF [8 ships]
59th DD [4 ships]
3rd BS [3 ships]
21st ACS [8 ships]
5th CS [11 ships]
10th DF to 2nd DF [8 ships]
11th DF to 6th DF [8 Ships]
26th DF [6 ships]

Submarine Force

09.01.43 04.02.44 00.01.45 04.05.45
4th S/M F [11 boats - mostly Dutch] 4th S/M F [16 boats] 2nd S/M Flotilla [13 boats]
4th S/M Flotilla [18 boats]
2nd S/M F [22 boats]

Escort Forces

09.01.43  04.02.44  01.45 04.05.45
Ceylon - 10 escorts ABC* - 30 escorts
Aden - 15 escorts
Kilindini - 8 escorts
RIN - 8 escorts
AA sloops - 7 ships
60 EG - 11 ships
Aden - 9 ships
Kilindini - 14 ships
Unallocated - 34 ships
20 River class frigates
19 sloops
18 corvettes

* ABC-Aden-Bombay-Colombo groups
Squadrons and Flotillas in this command:

1st Battle Squadron 3.42- .42
3rd Battle Squadron 1.42-9.45

no aircraft carrier squadrons until-
21st Aircraft Carrier Squadron 3.45-

4th Cruiser Squadron 1.42-11.44
5th Cruiser Squadron 1.42-9.45

2nd Destroyer Flotilla 2.42-6.43
4th Destroyer Flotilla 4.43-11.44
6th Destroyer Flotilla 6.45-
7th Destroyer Flotilla 1.42-4.45
10th Destroyer Flotilla 1.45-
11th Destroyer Flotilla 1.43-9.45
24th Destroyer Flotilla 1-5.45
26th Destroyer Flotilla 1.45-

2nd Submarine Flotilla 1.45-

4th Submarine Flotilla 1.42-4.45
8th Submarine Flotilla 2.44-8.44

6th M/S Flotilla 1.45-

7th M/S Flotilla 2.45-


The British Pacific Fleet was the result of a desire on the part of Winston Churchill for there to be a major British naval presence in the final stages of the maritime war against Japan. It meant the creation of a battle fleet centred around a large force of aircraft carriers which could be maintained at sea for lengths of time similar to those common to USN carrier forces. The US Navy had more than enough ships for the task-in some ways they had a surplus of warships. The US Navy agreed to a British presence provided the Royal Navy built up its own supply lines. As a result a large fleet train of ships and bases had to be created from scratch, extending from Australia northwards.. RAN ships continued to serve with the US Seventh Fleet with its extensive and generous supply chain. The carrier task force began operations against Japanese targets in April 1945. The BPF did not reach its planned strength by August 1945-many ships were still on passage from the UK. It was run down rapidly in the six months after VJ Day.

Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser

Second in Command & FO 1st Battle Squadron [task force commander at sea]
Vice Admiral Henry Rawlings 

Rear Admiral 1st Battle Squadron
06.45-Rear Admiral Charles Daniel
4 battleships

Flag Officer, 1st Aircraft Carrier Squadron
11.44-Vice Admiral Philip Vian
6 aircraft carriers

Flag Officer, 11th Aircraft Carrier Squadron
01.03.45-Rear Admiral Cecil Harcourt
4 aircraft carriers

Flag Officer, 2nd Cruiser Squadron
04.45-Rear Admiral Reginald Servaes
3 cruisers

Flag Officer, 4th Cruiser Squadron
11.44-Rear Admiral Patrick Brind
7 cruisers

Flag Officer Destroyers
01.45-Rear Admiral John Edelsten
7th Destroyer Flotilla [N class]
19th Destroyer Flotilla [Battle class]
24th Destroyer Flotilla [T class]
25th Destroyer Flotilla [U class]
27th Destroyer Flotilla [W class]

Flag Officer Air
01.45-Rear Admiral Reginald Portal
MONAB*s and other shore-based naval aviation facilities
* MONAB - Mobile Naval Air Bases

Flag Officer Fleet Train
01.45-Rear Admiral Douglas Fisher

Flag Officer Administration
01.45-Rear Admiral Charles Daniel
06.45-Vice Admiral [actg] James Rivett-Carnac
Operating under command of US Seventh Fleet
4th Submarine Flotilla, 4.45-Fremantle  [average 10-12 T class]
8th Submarine Flotilla, 8.44-Fremantle  4.45-Subic Bay [average 10 S class]

revised 19/9/15