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First Lord of the Admiralty - 1892-1921

1892-1895 John Poyntz Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer
1895-1900 George Joachim Goschen
1900-1905 William Waldegrave Palmer, 2nd Earl of Selborne
1905 Frederick Archibald Vaughan Campbell, 3rd Earl Cawdor
1905-1908 Edward Marjoribanks, 2nd Baron Tweedmouth
1908-1911 Reginald McKenna
1911-1915 Winston Churchill
1915-1916 Arthur Balfour
1916-1917 Sir Edward Carson
1917-1919 Sir Eric Geddes
1919-1921 Walter Hume Long

Prior to the Great War the control of the navy was vested in the Admiralty, composed of a first lord, six lords commissioners and two secretaries. The organization dated from 1912. The first lord, who was invariably a civilian and a member of one of the Houses of Parliament, represented the navy in the cabinet and in the legislature. He was responsible for the general direction and supervision of all business relating to the navy, political and board questions, promotions and removals, appointment of admirals and commanding officers, etc. The attached salary was $25,000.

Frederick Archibald Vaughan Campbell, 3rd Earl Cawdor, became First Lord of the Admiralty on the 6th of March 1905 under Arthur James Balfour, Conservative Prime Minister from 1902-5. He assumed office at a critical time in the modern history of the British navy. It was at the time of great changes which had been begun by Lord Selborne. These related to the organiation, distribution, and equipment of the fleet. Lord Cawdor strongly supported the prosecution of these changes. On 30 November 1905, a few days before the resignation of Mr. Balfour as prime minister, Lord Cawdor issued a "Memorandum on Admiralty Policy" which enunciated a ship-building policy in the following words : "At the present time, strategic requirements necessitate an output of four large armored ships annually." The issuing of this memorandum was his last public act as first lord of the admiralty, but he continued to hold a large place in naval discussions in the succeeding ministries. Upon the coming into power of the Liberal party, lie took a prominent part in the debates of the House as a member of the Opposition, and exercised considerable influence in Unionist councils.

On Mr. Asquith's succeeding to the premiership in the spring of 1908, Reginald McKenna, was transferred to the Admiralty. He entered on his new duties at a time when the country was profoundly stirred by the rapid increase of the German fleet, and was in doubt whether the preparations of the Admiralty were on a sufficiently extensive scale. At the same time a large portion of the Liberal party was disposed to belittle the danger and to call a halt to building-schemes in the interest of peace and economy.

Mr. McKenna, relying upon the advice of his First Sea Lord, Lord Fisher, resisted the section of the Cabinet, represented by the powerful figures of Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Churchill, who took this last view; and, supported by the Prime Minister and Sir Edward Grey, he persuaded his colleagues to begin the building of four battleships of the "Dreadnought" type in 1909, and to ask for power, if necessary, to prepare for the construction of four more a year later. This program disgusted the Radical economists, but did not satisfy public opinion. The Unionists and other friends of a big navy carried on an agitation to the slogan, " We want eight, and we won't wait," and eventually, on July 26, 1909 Mr. McKenna announced that the second four Dreadnoughts would definitely be ordered. The estimates of 1909 had shown an increase of nearly L3,000,000; those of 1910 showed a further increase of L5,500,000, mainly due to new construction.

A still further increase of 3,750,000 in 1911 made it clear that Mr. McKenna and the Admiralty were in earnest in their determination to maintain "a fleet sufficient to hold the seas against any reasonably probable combination." In June 1911 he was able to make satisfactory arrangements at the Imperial Conference for complete unity of action in time of war between Dominion fleets and those of the mother country. He could feel, when in the autumn he passed from the Admiralty to the Home Office, that he left behind him a much stronger fleet than he had found.

Winston Churchill's ancestor John Churchill (1650-1722), first Duke of Marlborough, was alternately in and out of favor with his sovereigns. An early supporter of King James II, he played a major role in deposing him by joining forces with William of Orange (later King William III) in 1688. Churchill and his wife, Sarah, later regained influence during the reign of William's daughter, Queen Anne. In spite of his many military victories, however, he eventually lost power and was dismissed from all of the offices he held. The first Duke of Marlborough was one of the most successful generals in English history. Never defeated on the battlefield in any major engagement, his greatest triumphs came on the European continent during the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714). There he managed coalitions with great diplomatic skill and fought effectively with allies at Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1706), Oudenarde (1708), and Malplaquet (1709). The epigram "Arma Virumque Cano" (of arms and the man I sing) is a quotation from Virgil's Aeneid.

Randolph Churchill, third son of the seventh Duke of Marlborough and father of Winston Churchill, had a brilliant, if brief, career in British Parliamentary politics in the 1880s. An aggressive and effective debater, he attempted through his program of "Tory Democracy" to garner popular support for his Conservative Party. He became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1886, at the age of thirty-seven, but soon resigned in the course of a party dispute. He died on January 24, 1895, seventy years to the day before the death of his son Winston.

The end of the nineteenth century was a time of great opportunities for young soldiers who, like Winston Churchill, sought to win fame and rise in the military profession. The British Empire, then near its peak, was maintained and extended by Queen Victoria's armed forces in a series of small but deadly conflicts in Africa and Asia. As a newly commissioned cavalry officer, Churchill eagerly sought opportunities to prove himself in combat and to come to the attention of his superiors and the British public. Between 1895 and 1900 he saw combat in Cuba, India, the Sudan, and South Africa. In all of these adventures Churchill demonstrated unusual bravery and self-possession under fire.

Elected to Parliament as a hero of the Boer War, Churchill soon became known for his indefatigable energy and rhetorical eloquence. A fervent advocate of free trade and low tariffs, he switched his political affiliation from Conservative to Liberal in 1904. Many viewed his action as disloyal and opportunistic. Churchill's ascent to power became even more rapid after the Liberals won a decisive electoral victory in 1906. In swift succession, his party's leaders entrusted to him a series of important positions leading to a seat in the Cabinet. By 1911, at the age of thirty-six, he was serving as First Lord of the Admiralty -- the civilian head of Britain's navy.

Theodore Roosevelt met Churchill in December 1900 while the brash young English politician was lecturing in the United States. Roosevelt did not become an admirer. In one 1908 letter Roosevelt said that Winston's father Randolph "was a rather cheap character," and that Winston "is a rather cheap character." He would later add that both father and son displayed "levity, lack of sobriety, lack of permanent principle, and an inordinate thirst for that cheap form of admiration which is given to notoriety."

In the autumn of 1911, to the surprise of the public, an exchange of offices was effected between Winston Churchill and Mr. McKenna, and Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty. Hitherto Churchill had been wont to pose as a disbeliever in the German menace, and an advocate of reductions in British armaments. In August 1908, for instance, he rebuked Lord Cromer for uttering grave words of warning, and ridiculed the bare possibility of an Anglo-German conflict in arms. Early in 1909 he had assisted Mr. Lloyd George in the Cabinet in his unsuccessful endeavour to cut down Mr. McKenna's estimates. But the Agadir crisis of July 1911 seemed to have opened his eyes as it did those of Mr. Lloyd George.

Churchill, the energetic First Lord of the Admiralty, announced a complete reorganization of the navy, which was to be grouped in four fleets, three being for home defence, based on home ports (the third being the Atlantic fleet previously based on Gibraltar), and the fourth, based on Gibraltar, to operate either in home waters or in the Mediterranean. The significance of this new orientation was at once perceived. It was hailed with satisfaction by the Unionists, but the pure economists complained that he had thrown sobriety and thrift to the winds.

Churchill, the energetic First Lord of the Admiralty, promoted the development and use of such new weapons as airplanes and tanks. He grasped, moreover, at an early date the vital importance of oil fuel, and forwarded eagerly the arrangement by which oil was to be obtained for the navy from Persia. He also sent an expedition to attack Germany's ally, Turkey, through the Dardanelles Strait. This military effort failed, contributing to his fall from power. First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Eric Geddes




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