Frederick Charles Doveton Sturdee, First Baronet

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Admiral of the Fleet Sir Doveton Sturdee, as a Rear-Admiral.
Photo: Library of Congress.

Admiral of the Fleet SIR Frederick Charles Doveton Sturdee, G.C.B., K.C.M.G., C.V.O., L.L.D., Royal Navy (9 June, 1859 – 7 May, 1925) was an officer in the Royal Navy. He is chiefly known for his victory at the Battle of the Falkland Islands in 1914, where his squadron destroyed a German cruiser force in South American waters, thus avenging the British defeat at Coronel.

Early Life & Career

Frederick Charles Doveton Sturdee was born on 9 June, 1859, in Charlton, Kent, the son of Frederick Ranney Sturdee (27 July, 1814 - 6 January, 1885), a Master in Her Majesty's Fleet, who retired in 1870 with the rank of Staff Captain and was granted the rank and title of Retired Captain.

Sturdee was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant with seniority of 7 February, 1880.[1]

He was appointed to command the T.B. 81 for the July manoeuvres in 1890 and 1892.[2]

He was promoted to the rank of Commander on 30 June, 1893.[3]

Captain

Sturdee was promoted to the rank of Captain on 30 June, 1899.[4]

For his services in Samoa, on 1 January, 1900, Sturdee was appointed a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George (C.M.G.).[5] He was appointed Assistant Director of Naval Intelligence on the same day.[6]

On 17 October, 1902, he was appointed in command of the second class protected cruiser Minerva.[7] On the occasion of the King's visit to Malta Sturdee was appointed a Member of the Fourth Class of the Royal Victorian Order (M.V.O.) on 21 April, 1903.[8] On 11 November he was appointed Captain of the armoured cruiser Bedford.

He was appointed in command of armoured cruiser Drake on 14 November, 1904, and superseded on 1 January, 1905. On 1 February he was appointed to the Admiralty on Committee Pay and Allowances as President of the Yard Craft Committee.[9]

On 1 May, 1905, he was appointed to the Bulwark as Chief of the Staff to Vice-Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean.[10][11] Beresford wrote to Captain (later Admiral Sir) William C. Pakenham on 12 November:

It would have been impossible for me to have selected an Officer who more thoroughly fills the position as I think it should be filled as Chief of Staff than Captain Sturdee. He is simply a delightful man to work with, and his ideas are rich in cleverness and suggestions.[12]

On the occasion of the King's visit to Corfu he was appointed a Commander in the Royal Victorian Order (C.V.O.) on 16 April, 1906.[13]

He ceased duty in the Mediterranean on 26 January, 1907, and on 5 March, 1907, he was appointed to the King Edward VII as Chief of the Staff to Beresford in his new capacity as Commander-in-Chief, Channel Fleet.[14]

He was appointed in command of the battleship New Zealand on 31 December, 1907.[15]

Flag Rank

On 12 September, 1908, he was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral, vice Kingsmill.[16]

Sturdee was appointed in command of the Fifth Cruiser Squadron on 19 December, 1911,[17] having been offered the appointment by the new First Lord, Winston Churchill. In accepting the appointment he wrote, "Cruiser work has always interested me."[18] The Fifth Cruiser Squadron was subsequently redesignated the Second Cruiser Squadron in December, 1912, from which point Sturdee remained in command one more year.[19]

Sturdee's interest in cruisers is further underlined by a collection of five memoranda by him that were published by the Admiralty War Staff's Operations Division in May 1913. Four of these discussed cruiser warfare during the eighteenth centuries, and a fifth was intended to give "a few guiding principles" for contemporary cruiser operations.[20]

During his command of the Squadron, Sturdee was involved in an interesting contretemps with future Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Longmore that the latter recalled more than fifty years later in The Naval Review. Crossing Cromarty Firth in a motorboat, Longmore cut in amongst a group of cruisers entering the harbour. Shortly afterward, Longmore "received from the flagship Shannon a peremptory signal to 'repair on board at 9 a.m.' This meant nothing less than the prospect of a distressing interview with Admiral Doveton Sturdee, for which the rig was frockcoat and sword."

"Thus attired, I climbed into the Maurice Farman and flew up to Invergordon, at the other end of the Firth, alighted astern of the Shannon, taxied up and secured the nose of the Maurice to the stern-rope ladder, up which I clambered.

"As I reached the level of the sternwalk, I saw the Admiral's face peering at me through a porthole, and on reaching the quarter-deck I had a most icy reception by the officer of the watch and Flag Lieutenant, who ushered me below to the precincts of the Admiral's cabin. I was shown into the holy of holies to be greeted with a cheery smile, a handshake and congratulations on my novel method of complying with his signal."

Subsequently,

"[Longmore and Sturdee] had an interesting talk about seaplanes and their potential value to the Navy before the Admiral remembered that he had sent for me to explain the enormity of my crime in cutting in between the ships of his cruiser squadron that very morning. I apologised profusely and we parted most amicably; he even came on deck to see my departure, which went quite well except that in opening the engine full out to take off abreast the ship my best new cap flew off and was cut to bits by the airscrew."[21]

On the occasion of the King's birthday he was appointed an Ordinary Member of the Second Class, or Knight Commander, in the Military Division of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (K.C.B.) on 3 June, 1913.[22] He was promoted to the rank of Vice-Admiral on 13 December, vice Lowry.[23]

Great War

Sturdee as Admiral Commanding the Fourth Battle Squadron in 1917, with his Second-in-Command, Rear-Admiral Roger J. B. Keyes.
Photo: Imperial War Museum. Q 22960.

On 30 July 1914,[24] immediately before the outbreak of the First World War, Sturdee relieved Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Jackson as Chief of the Admiralty War Staff under Prince Louis of Battenberg, First Sea Lord. Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry F. Oliver, the then-Director of the Intelligence Division, later wrote that Sturdee was: "A pompous man who would never listen to anyone else[']s opinion. I could not stick him."[25]

He has been widely regarded as a failure in this post, and in the words of Andrew Lambert: "bore the largest share of responsibility for the destruction of the cruiser squadron under Sir Christopher Cradock at Coronel on 1 November, 1914." This disaster made it urgently necessary to deal with Admiral von Spee's German cruisers; and, when Lord Fisher succeeded Prince Louis as First Sea Lord on 31 October, he "exerted himself to displace" Sturdee, in the words of Ruddock Mackay.[26]

Sturdee was appointed as Commander-in-Chief on the South Atlantic and South Pacific Station on 6 October.[24] The Commodore (S), Roger Keyes, later wrote to his wife, "I have never seen anyone so miserable [and] furious as he [Sturdee] was under the monstrous treatment he received when Prince Louis was turned out."[27] Sturdee reached Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands on the evening of 7 December, 1914, and von Spee's squadron was sighted the next morning. The decisive victory of the Falkland Islands followed, in which Sturdee with two battle cruisers, five cruisers, and one armed merchant cruiser annihilated the German squadron of two armoured cruisers, three light cruisers, and two colliers; only one light cruiser escaped. He was rewarded by a baronetcy on 19 January, 1916. On 22 January his appointment as Commander-in-Chief ceased.[28] He struck his flag at Gibraltar on 28 January and returned to Britain in India.[29] On the same day he wrote to Rear-Admiral Reginald G. O. Tupper from Gibraltar, "I had a good day yesterday with the Calpe Hounds & hope to have another one on Saturday before I leave."[30]

He was appointed Vice-Admiral Commanding the Fourth Battle Squadron in the Grand Fleet on 7 February, hoisting his flag in Benbow.[31]

On 15 September, 1916, he was appointed an Additional Member of the Second Class, or Knight Commander, in the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (K.C.M.G.) for his services at Jutland, dated 31 May.[32]

On 25 November Sturdee, along with Vice-Admiral Jerram, received a telegram from the Admiralty asking him if he wished to continue in his present command. An officer on Sturdee's staff (no doubt William M. James, whom the editor has never had any time for) later wrote to Arthur Marder that he "well remembers the day when he received the telegram. He was a very conceited man and I am sure was greatly surprised when he was passed over as Jellicoe's successor. He used to explain he had stayed on, as his great knowledge of tactics would be so useful to Beatty!"[33]

In a letter to Jellicoe of 28 November Madden, just appointed Second-in-Command of the Grand Fleet and Admiral Commanding the First Battle Squadron, wrote:

I called on Sturdee before he could come here, he is most anxious to assist Beatty and me tho I know how keenly he feels the change, he referred to the fact that for 10 years he had been made to feel the weight of T.L. [Their Lordships'] displeasure, I hope that there may be a future for him, tho it does not seem possible that it will be afloat.[34]

Sturdee was promoted to the rank of Admiral on 17 May, 1917, vice Gamble.[35] He struck his flag in command of the Fourth Battle Squadron on 12 February, 1918. On 1 March he was appointed Commander-in-Chief at the Nore.[36]

The Nore

On 1 March, 1918, Sturdee was appointed Commander-in-Chief at the Nore.[37]

He was appointed an Ordinary Member of the First Class, or Knight Grand Cross, in the Military Division of the Order of the Bath (G.C.B.) on 1 January, 1921.[38]

Retirement

On 5 July, 1921, Sturdee was promoted to the rank of Admiral of the Fleet in the place of Sir Hedworth Meux.[39]

At the end of the war he received the thanks of Parliament and a grant of £10,000. Soon after ceasing active service he succeeded the Marquess of Milford Haven (Prince Louis of Battenberg) as president of the Society for Nautical Research, and devoted himself to the restoration of Victory, Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar. He had achieved this before he died at his residence, Wargrave House, Camberley, Surrey, on 7 May, 1925.

Assessment

Admiral The Hon. Sir Reginald A. R. P.-E.-E.-Drax wrote the following to Arthur Marder during the writing of From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow:

I knew Sturdee well; we both served together on Beresford's Staff and Sturdee was a great success there as his C.O.S. I think it is unfair to call S. very conceited, though he perhaps became a trifle conceited after his victory over Von Spee.[40]

Andrew Lambert's potted biography of Sturdee in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ends:

Sturdee was an able naval officer, and an effective squadron commander. Despite being an indefatigable student of his profession, however, he never grasped the higher demands of war, and failed as chief of the war staff. His victory at the Falkland Islands was both fortunate and ironic.

Earlier Lambert had written that, "[Sturdee] bore the largest share of responsibility for the destruction of the cruiser squadron under Sir Christopher Cradock at Coronel on 1 November 1914." He echoes the eternal malcontent Richmond who held Sturdee "primarily responsible."[41] As to failing in his capacity as Chief of the War Staff, Sturdee held the position for only three months. In making such broad generalisations, Lambert completely exonerates those who had the authority and the responsibility for the conduct of the war at sea, namely Churchill and Battenberg, who were at any rate the architects of the War Staff which is widely held to have failed so completely. — SIMON HARLEY, Co-editor.

Bibliography

  • "Sir Doveton Sturdee" (Obituaries). The Times. Friday, 8 May, 1925. Issue 43956, col A, p. 19.
  • Admiralty War Staff, Operations Division (1913). Papers on Naval Subjects by Rear-Admiral F. C. D. Sturdee, C.V.O., C.M.G. O.D. No. 6. The National Archives. ADM 1/8326.
  • Longmore, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur. "Naval Flying 1913/1914". The Naval Review LVI (2): pp. 134-139.

Papers

Service Records

Naval Appointments
Preceded by
Charles J. Briggs
Rear-Admiral in the First Division, Home Fleet
1910 – 1911
Succeeded by
Richard H. Peirse

Preceded by
Cecil Burney
Rear-Admiral Commanding Fifth Cruiser Squadron
1911 – 1912
Succeeded by
Renamed Third Cruiser Squadron

Preceded by
Former Fifth Cruiser Squadron
Rear-Admiral Commanding Third Cruiser Squadron
1912 – 1913
Succeeded by
Charles E. Madden

Preceded by
New Command
Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic and South Pacific
1914 – 1915
Succeeded by
Command Ended

Naval Appointments
Preceded by
Henry B. Jackson
Captain of H.M.S. Vesuvius
9 Jan, 1890[42]
Succeeded by
Reginald H. S. Bacon
Preceded by
Henry B. Jackson
Captain of H.M. T.B. 81
22 Jul, 1890[43] – 25 Aug, 1890[44]
Succeeded by
Frederick C. D. Sturdee
Preceded by
Frederick C. D. Sturdee
Captain of H.M. T.B. 81
21 Jul, 1892[45] – 31 Aug, 1892[46]
Succeeded by
Reginald H. S. Bacon
Preceded by
Francis R. Pelly
Captain of H.M.S. Porpoise
30 Nov, 1897[47][48] – 20 Nov, 1899[49]
Succeeded by
Arthur H. D. Ravenhill
Preceded by
Robert S. Lowry
Assistant Director of Naval Intelligence, Foreign Division
1 Jan, 1900[50] – 16 Oct, 1902[51]
Succeeded by
?
Preceded by
Charles H. Cochran
Captain of H.M.S. Minerva
17 Oct, 1902[52] – 10 Nov, 1903[53]
Succeeded by
Arthur W. Waymouth
Preceded by
New Command
Captain of H.M.S. Bedford
11 Nov, 1903[54] – 21 Nov, 1904[55]
Succeeded by
Richard H. Peirse
Preceded by
John R. Jellicoe
Captain of H.M.S. Drake
22 Nov, 1904[56] – 30 Jan, 1905[57]
Succeeded by
Mark E. F. Kerr
Preceded by
Edward G. Shortland
Captain of H.M.S. New Zealand
31 Dec, 1907[58] – 13 Oct, 1908[59]
Succeeded by
Archibald P. Stoddart
Preceded by
Cecil Burney
President of Anti-Submarine Committee
16 Feb, 1911[60] – 19 Dec, 1911[61]
Succeeded by
Reginald G. O. Tupper
Preceded by
Cecil Burney
Rear-Admiral Commanding, Fifth Cruiser Squadron
19 Dec, 1911[62] – Dec, 1912[63]
Succeeded by
Archibald P. Stoddart
Preceded by
Himself as Rear-Admiral Commanding, Fifth Cruiser Squadron
Rear-Admiral Commanding, Second Cruiser Squadron
11 Dec, 1912[64] – 19 Dec, 1913[65]
Succeeded by
Charles E. Madden
Preceded by
Sir Henry B. Jackson
Chief of the Admiralty War Staff
30 Jul, 1914[66] – 6 Nov, 1914[67]
Succeeded by
Sir Henry F. Oliver
Preceded by
Sir Douglas A. Gamble
as Vice-Admiral Commanding, Fourth Battle Squadron
Admiral Commanding, Fourth Battle Squadron
7 Feb, 1915[68] – 13 Feb, 1918[69]
Succeeded by
Sir Montague E. Browning
as Vice-Admiral Commanding, Fourth Battle Squadron
Preceded by
Sir George Callaghan
Commander-in-Chief at the Nore
1 May, 1918[70] – 28 Feb, 1921[71]
Succeeded by
Sir Hugh Evan-Thomas

Footnotes

  1. The London Gazette: no. 24810. p. 622. 10 February, 1880.
  2. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/39/411
  3. The London Gazette: no. 26422. p. 3981. 14 July, 1893.
  4. The London Gazette: no. 27099. p. 4345. 14 July, 1899.
  5. The London Gazette: no. 27154. p. 285. 16 January, 1900.
  6. ADM 196/39 f. 1256.
  7. ADM 196/39 f. 1256.
  8. The London Gazette: no. 27560. p. 3525. 2 June, 1903.
  9. The National Archives. ADM 196/39. f. 1256.
  10. "Naval and Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Monday, 24 April, 1905. Issue 37689, col C, p. 8.
  11. The National Archives. ADM 196/39. f. 1256.
  12. Beresford to Pakenham. Letter of 12 November, 1905. Pakenham Papers. National Maritime Museum. PKM/4/2/4.
  13. The London Gazette: no. 27908. p. 2875. 27 April, 1906.
  14. The National Archives. ADM 196/39. f. 1256.
  15. ADM 196/39 f. 1256.
  16. The London Gazette: no. 28178. p. 6760. 18 September, 1908.
  17. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/39. f. 1256.
  18. Sturdee to Churchill. Letter of 22 November 1911. Churchill Papers. Churchill Archive Centre. CHAR/13/29.
  19. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/87. f. 70.
  20. Sturdee, Papers on Naval Subjects.
  21. Longmore, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur. "Naval Flying 1913/1914". pp. 135-136.
  22. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 28724. p. 3903. 3 June, 1913.
  23. The London Gazette: no. 28783. p. 9338. 19 December, 1913.
  24. 24.0 24.1 ADM 196/39. f. 1256.
  25. Oliver. II. f. 99.
  26. Mackay. p. 469.
  27. Keyes Papers. I. p. 58.
  28. "Squadrons and Senior Naval Officers in Existence on 11th November, 1918, and Which Have Now Ceased to Exist." The National Archives. ADM 6/461. Unnumbered folio.
  29. ADM 196/39. f. 1256.
  30. Tupper Papers. National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth. 1987/130 (49).
  31. ADM 196/39. f. 1256.
  32. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29751. p. 9071. 15 September, 1916.
  33. Quoted in Marder. Dreadnought to Scapa Flow. III. p. 339.
  34. Jellicoe Papers. British Library. Add. MSS. 49009. f. 81.
  35. The London Gazette: no. 30084. p. 4942. 22 May, 1917.
  36. ADM 196/39. f. 1256.
  37. Supplement to the Monthly Navy List. (November, 1918). p. 2.
  38. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 32178. p. 4. 1 January, 1921.
  39. The London Gazette: no. 32394. p. 5733. 19 July, 1921.
  40. Volume 2. Chapters Nos. 1 & 2., 22 February 1962, DRAX 6/18, Drax MSS., Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College.
  41. Richmond diary, 4 November, 1914. Quoted in Marder. Portrait of an Admiral. p. 125.
  42. The Navy List. (March, 1892). p. 262.
  43. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/39/411
  44. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/39/411
  45. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/39/411
  46. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/20/79
  47. The Navy List. (October, 1898). p. 281.
  48. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/39. f. 1256.
  49. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/20. f. 81?
  50. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/39. f. 1256.
  51. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/39. f. 1256.
  52. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/20. f. 40.
  53. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/20. f. 40.
  54. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/20. f. 40.
  55. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/20. f. 40.
  56. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/20. f. 40.
  57. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/20. f. 40.
  58. The Navy List. (October, 1908). p. 348.
  59. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/20. f. 40.
  60. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/39. f. 1256.
  61. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/39. f. 1256.
  62. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/39. f. 1256.
  63. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/87. f. 70.
  64. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/39. f. 1256.
  65. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/39. f. 1256.
  66. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/87. f. 70.
  67. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/87. f. 70.
  68. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/39. f. 1256.
  69. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/87. f. 70.
  70. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/87. f. 70.
  71. Sturdee Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/87. f. 70.