Herbert William Richmond

From The Dreadnought Project
Revision as of 04:52, 13 June 2019 by Simon Harley (Talk | contribs) (Papers)

Jump to: navigation, search

Admiral SIR Herbert William Richmond, K.C.B., Royal Navy (15 September, 1871 – 15 December, 1946) was an officer of the Royal Navy during the First World War. Having specialised as a torpedo officer, he was employed intermittently at the Admiralty between periods of sea-duty. An arrogant and abrasive man to naval colleagues with whom he disagreed, among Richmond's achievements can be counted his co-founding of the Naval Society and the publication of the Naval Review and becoming a noted naval historian while still on the Active List. After retiring from the Navy he was elected to the Vere Harmsworth Chair of Imperial and Naval History at the University of Cambridge, and was then elected Master of Downing College, which position he held until his death.

Early Life & Career

Richmond was born at Beavor Lodge, Hammersmith, London, on 15 September, 1871, the third child and second son of the artist Sir William Blake Richmond (1842–1921) and his second wife, Clara Jane (d. 1916), daughter of William Richards of Cardiff.[1] Herbert had first developed an interest in joining the navy when, at the age of ten, he had visited Portsmouth. He attended St Mark's School, near Windsor.

He entered the training ship Britannia, in 1885; two years later he went to sea as a Midshipman in the Nelson, flagship of the Commander-in-Chief on the Australia Station. On 21 July, 1892 he was confirmed in the rank of Sub-Lieutenant, dated 14 January, 1891.[2] He joined the Surveying Branch and was appointed to gunboat H.M.S. Stork on 15 August, to which ship he was reappointed on 13 November. He attempted to qualify in Gunnery, but, with Charles L. Ottley, could not gain an appointment to H.M.S. Excellent.[3] On 3 January, 1893 he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, dated to 13 November, 1892.[4] He left Stork on 31 August, 1893 owing to fever, and on 11 September, 1893 he was reported unfit and ordered to be resurveyed in two months. On 12 September he asked to leave the Surveying Branch and return to General Service. He was again found unfit on 9 December, with another survey scheduled two months later. He was still unfit on 19 February, 1894, and was given another survey six weeks later and found fit on 2 April. As a torpedo officer he served in several battleships, including two years in the Majestic, flagship of the Channel Squadron.

He was promoted to the rank of Commander dated 1 January, 1903,[5] and on 8 January he was appointed to the Naval Ordnance Department as an Assistant to the Director of Naval Ordnance.[6] In 1992 Professor Jon Sumida stated that "Richmond was Assistant Director of Naval Ordnance in 1910," which is evidently untrue, and one can only assume that Professor Sumida was confusing an Assistant to the D.N.O. with the office of Assistant Director of Naval Ordnance and Torpedoes or Assistant Director of Torpedoes.[7]

On 22 February, 1904, Richmond was appointed executive officer of the Crescent, flagship of the Commander-in-Chief on the Cape of Good Hope Station. He was ordered home on 22 November, 1906, and arrived back in Britain in the Kenilworth Castle on 15 December. He was promptly appointed to Victory, additional, as an additional Naval Assistant to the First Sea Lord, Sir John Fisher, who described him as "quite one of our very best and most accomplished officers."[8] On 8 July, 1907, he married Florence Elsa (d. 1971), second daughter of Sir (Thomas) Hugh Bell, second baronet, of Rounton Grange, Yorkshire. They had one son and four daughters. Around this time Richmond's diary writings began to show the severely critical, and often arrogant, attitude he would adopt towards policies and individuals with whom he disagreed. In 1907 he characterized Admiralty organization as "beneath contempt" and increasingly showed what Professor Barry Hunt called "the intolerance he had for less gifted contemporaries—a certain prickliness of character that coloured most of his personal relationships."[9]


Richmond was promoted to the rank of Captain on 31 December, 1908, and reappointed to the Admiralty on the same day. On 24 March, 1909, he was appointed to Dreadnought for temporary service on the staff of the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, Admiral Sir William H. May. On 30 July he took command of her.[10] then flagship of Sir William May, Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet. He gave up command on 4 April, 1911, shortly after May hauled down his flag.[11]

It has been suggested repeatedly that Richmond's subsequent appointments in command of lesser ships were some sort of punishment: "relegated", in the words of Barry Hunt,[12] to the command of the second class protected cruiser Furious and then Vindictive, "the result of having offered too much advice", according to Donald Schurman,[13] but neither of these historians detail any punitive agenda behind these anti-climactic appointments. Richmond had been extraordinarily fortunate in being given command of the newest and most powerful battleship in the Navy despite being one of the most junior Captains on the Active List – any subsequent appointment was likely going to be a letdown.

Despite his earlier dislike of school, Richmond had become increasingly intellectual in his interests and approach. During these commands he edited the Navy Records Society's volume on The Loss of the Minorca (1913), delivered a series of lectures on naval history at the Royal Naval War College, and completed a book, begun in 1907, entitled The Navy in the War of 1739–48, which, however, was not published until 1920. At the War College he developed among the students the group of naval reformers later known as the Young Turks who advocated a much more offensive naval policy during the war.

In 1913 Richmond became assistant director of the operations division of the Admiralty War Staff at the Admiralty. In this rôle he was not afraid to attack bitterly the strategic plans of his superiors, including those of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. Oliver later noted of Richmond that, "he was not in good health and could not work war time office hours."[14] Richmond hardly covered himself in intellectual glory whilst at the Admiralty. Just before the start of the Great War he wrote in a paper:

The submarine has the smallest value of any vessel for the direct attack upon Trade. She does not carry a crew which is capable of taking charge of a prize, she cannot remove passengers & other persons if she wishes to sink one. Therefore she will not affect direct action in attack, which must be made by cruisers & other surface travelling vessels.[15]

Quite apart from how wrong Richmond was, his statement is all the more ironic in light of his constant railing about the need for preparation for war, and his incessant criticism of his superiors for being so poorly educated that ideas wouldn't occur to him. The day after the British entry into the war he claimed in his diary that Germany would be "forced to a peace" if all her colonies were captured:

For this is largely a colonial war, the outcome of [a] German wish to seize French colonies. Therefore, when the peace comes, Germany will be ready to barter any European conquests to recover her lost territories.[16]

He left the Admiralty in May, 1915 to become liaison officer with the Italian naval command, a post which he held for four months before returning home to assume command of the old battleship Commonwealth on 26 October 1915[17] in the Third Battle Squadron. In April, 1917 he was appointed to command the battleship Conqueror in the Grand Fleet, where he gained the support of Sir David Beatty, the Commander-in-Chief. By late 1917 the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, had become familiar with the ideas of the Young Turks. Through contacts, he and Richmond discussed naval issues and Richmond's career was revitalized. With Beatty's strong support in April, 1918 he was selected as director of the newly formed training and staff duties division of the naval staff at the Admiralty. Richmond's ideas were in advance of his time, however, and practically all of his recommendations were vetoed; he was glad after a few months of frustration to return to the Grand Fleet, in command of the battleship Erin.

Flag Rank

On 29 January, 1920 Richmond was promoted to Rear-Admiral, vice Armstrong.[18] On 26 February he was appointed President of the Royal Naval War College at Greenwich. On 2 March his titles was changed to Rear-Admiral in Charge of the Senior Officers' Course.[19] He was appointed an Ordinary Member of the Third Class, or Companion, in the Civil Division of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (C.B.) on 1 January, 1921.[20]

He was superseded at Greenwich on 27 February, 1923, and on 4 October he was appointed Commander-in-Chief on the East Indies Station.[21]

Richmond was promoted to the rank of Vice-Admiral on 3 April, 1925,[22] upon the death of Vice-Admiral Sir Michael Culme-Seymour.[23] He was appointed an Ordinary Member of the Second Class, or Knight Commander, in the Military Division of the Order of the Bath (K.C.B.) on 3 July, 1926.[24]

He was promoted to the rank of Admiral on 6 October, 1929, vice Phillimore.[25] But his unpopularity within the Admiralty was reinforced when, on the eve of the naval conference of 1930, Richmond contributed two articles to The Times (21 and 22 November 1929) on the subject of naval reduction, which proposed limitation in the size of ships rather than the official Admiralty plan of numerical reduction. This action, Marder suggests, "virtually terminated his career on the active list."[26] On 1 April, 1931, April Fools' Day, Richmond was placed on the Retired List at his own request.[27]


In 1931 Richmond published The Navy in India, 1763–83, which he had researched in the archives of Ceylon and Pondicherry eight years earlier, and a work on naval limitation under the title Economy and Naval Security. He also delivered a series of lectures at University College, London, and the Lees Knowles lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1932, published in book form as Imperial Defence and Capture at Sea in War. In 1933 he published a treatise, Naval Training, and the following year a more important work, Sea Power in the Modern World. In that year he was elected to the Vere Harmsworth chair of imperial and naval history at Cambridge, which Trevelyan, who was part of the electing body, said was a ‘marked compliment to his eminence as a historian, for owing to the age limit affecting professorships he could only hold it for two years’ (Trevelyan, 334). He was also made a professorial fellow of Jesus College. He was completely successful in the academic environment. At the close of his two years' tenure of the chair, he was elected to the mastership of Downing College, which had just fallen vacant.

On the outbreak of war in 1939 Richmond became chairman of the university joint recruiting board; he welcomed the establishment in his own college of the Cambridge naval division, and he started a series of lectures on foreign affairs and the progress of the war for the junior combination room, afterwards continued and extended as the ‘Richmond lectures’. But his greatest interest remained the promotion of ideas, learnt from history, of sea power and of a British strategy based on it. In 1941 he published, in the Cambridge Current Problems series, a booklet surveying British strategy from the days of Queen Elizabeth I; in 1943 he took the same theme for the Ford lectures which he delivered at Oxford, and these he afterwards expanded into his greatest work, Statesmen and Sea Power, published in 1946 only a few weeks before his death. A volume left in manuscript was edited by E. A. Hughes and published in 1953 as The Navy as an Instrument of Policy, 1558–1727.

Richmond was appointed C.B. in 1921 and promoted K.C.B. in 1926. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy (F.B.A.) in 1937 and was a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. On the establishment in 1934 of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich he was appointed one of the trustees. He received the honorary degree of D.C.L. from Oxford in 1939. He was forced by illness to give up all strenuous physical activity after 1940. He died of a heart attack at his home, the master's lodge, Downing College, on 15 December, 1946, and was cremated at Cambridge on 18 December.



Having read Portrait of an Admiral, Admiral Sir Frederic C. Dreyer wrote to Admiral Sir Dudley R. S. de Chair:

But how terrible it is to read.
I always knew he was clever and unbalanced as well as conceited – but the book goes further and makes it quite clear, that he, with all the advantages of good birth and upbringing in our Noble Service, was a disloyal Cad.

But the publishing of R's diaries (which I see he showed to M. [Marder] himself) is far far worse – its only redeeming feature is that it is so bad, wicked and untrue that it does no harm to our Noble Service or to the reputation of Jellicoe and the large majority of Naval officers who were outside "R's Ring."[28]

Unfortunately, contrary to Dreyer's hope, the "portrait" presented by Marder has endured. Richmond's caustic and scurrilous opinions (poorly selected by Marder) still influence our view of the Royal Navy, out of all proportion to their significance. Much harm has indeed been done to the "Noble Service."

This writer will briefly summarise his personal view of Richmond's life and claim to fame. He was born to a relatively notable family. Having joined the Royal Navy, he showed some promise. He, through his intellectual arrogance, then started to hinder his own career. His one notable act before 1919 was to co-found the Naval Society and The Naval Review. During the First World War he acted in a disloyal and consistently short-sighted manner to his superiors, and, by later allowing his war-time diaries to be utilised, did the Royal Navy its greatest ever historiographical disservice. Considering that history was a crutch for him, it would be interesting to know what his reaction would be to the tainting of the historical record caused by Portrait of an Admiral.

By a miracle, his career survived the war, and he did some good service at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. He then held the Command-in-Chief of the East Indies Station, which gave him the chance to do some research in Indian archives. By the end of his career even other pre-war "Young Turk" reformers found Richmond difficult and overly-critical. Admiral The Hon. Sir Reginald A. R. P.-E.-E.-Drax warned Arthur Marder that "I know well how easy it is to exaggerate or state one[']s criticisms too harshly. Richman [sic] and Dewar were able men but they did this".[29]

Gough's description of Richmond as "one of the best sea officers of his time" is risible.[30] Roskill's assessment that he was "one of the ablest and most original-minded officers of his generation, but also one of the most intolerant,"[31] is probably closer to the truth. His originality can not be doubted, but his actual ability (and his sanity) is, upon close examination of his diaries, open to question.

See Also


  • "Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond" (Obituaries). The Times. Tuesday, 17 December, 1946. Issue 50636, col D, p. 7.
  • Cowpe, Alan (1980). Underwater Weapons and the Royal Navy: 1869-1918. Unpublished PhD Thesis. London: King's College, London.
  • Goldrick, James; Hattendorf, John B., eds (1993). Mahan is not Enough: The Proceedings of a Conference on the Works of Sir Julian Corbett and Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond. Newport, Rhode Island: Naval War College Press. ISBN 096379731X.
  • Gough, Barry (2010). Historical Dreadnoughts: Arthur Marder, Stephen Roskill and Battles of Naval History. Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing. ISBN 9781848322.
  • Hunt, Barry D. (1982). Sailor-Scholar: Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond 1871-1946. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. ISBN 0889201048.
  • Marder, Arthur J. (1952). Portrait of an Admiral: The Life and Papers of Sir Herbert Richmond. London: Jonathan Cape.


Service Records

Naval Appointments
Preceded by
A. Gordon H. W. Moore
Captain of H.M.S. Dreadnought
30 Jul, 1909[32] – 4 Apr, 1911[33]
Succeeded by
Sydney R. Fremantle
Preceded by
Cole C. Fowler
Captain of H.M.S. Furious
4 Apr, 1911[34] – 15 Mar, 1912[35]
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Harold G. Innes
Captain of H.M.S. Vindictive
12 Mar, 1912[36] – 28 Oct, 1912[37]
Succeeded by
Arthur K. Waistell
Preceded by
George P. W. Hope
Assistant Director of Operations Division
30 Apr, 1913[38] – 19 May, 1915[39]
Succeeded by
Charles D. Burke
Preceded by
Maurice Woollcombe
Captain of H.M.S. Commonwealth
26 Oct, 1915[40][41] – 26 Apr, 1917[42]
Succeeded by
Arthur G. Smith
Preceded by
Hugh H. D. Tothill
Captain of H.M.S. Conqueror
26 Apr, 1917[43] – Apr, 1918[44]
Succeeded by
John W. L. McClintock
Preceded by
James C. Ley
Director of Training and Staff Duties
12 Apr, 1918[45] – 1 Jan, 1919[46]
Succeeded by
Walter M. Ellerton
Preceded by
Walter M. Ellerton
Captain of H.M.S. Erin
1 Jan, 1919[47][48] – 1 Dec, 1919[49]
Succeeded by
Percival H. H. Thompson
Preceded by
Sir Frederick C. T. Tudor
President of the Royal Naval College, Greenwich
26 Nov, 1922[50] – 27 Feb, 1923[51]
Succeeded by
George P. W. Hope
Preceded by
Lewis Clinton-Baker
Commander-in-Chief, East Indies Station
4 Oct, 1923[52] – 4 Oct, 1925[53]
Succeeded by
Walter M. Ellerton
Preceded by
New Office
Commandant of the Imperial Defence College
1 Sep, 1926[54] – 31 Dec, 1928[55]
Succeeded by
William H. Bartholomew



  1. Thursfield; Brodie. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Subscription required to view article.
  2. The London Gazette: no. 26310. p. 4249. 26 July, 1892.
  3. Richmond diary entry for 5 January, 1893. National Maritime Museum. RIC/3. Quoted in Cowpe. p. 282.
  4. The London Gazette: no. 26360. p. 3. 3 January, 1893.
  5. The London Gazette: no. 27512. p. 4. 2 January, 1903.
  6. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 205.
  7. Mahan is not Enough. p. 247.
  8. Quoted in Marder. Dreadnought to Scapa Flow. I. p. 408.
  9. Hunt. p. 2.
  10. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 205.
  11. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 205.
  12. Hunt. Sailor-scholar. p. 25.
  13. Schurman. The Education of a Navy. p. 112.
  14. Oliver. II. f. 120.
  15. Draft paper of 11 July, 1914. Richmond Papers. National Maritime Museum. RIC/1/9.
  16. Notes for 5 August, 1914. Richmond Papers. National Maritime Museum. RIC/1/9.
  17. The Navy List. (December, 1916). p. 393e.
  18. The London Gazette: no. 31779. p. 1832. 13 February, 1920.
  19. ADM 196/43. f. 288.
  20. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 32178. p. 4. 1 January, 1921.
  21. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 288.
  22. The London Gazette: no. 33038. p. 2566. 14 April, 1925.
  23. "Flag Promotions" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Wednesday, 8 April, 1925. Issue 43931, col C, p. 14.
  24. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 33179. p. 4403. 3 July, 1926.
  25. The London Gazette: no. 33541. p. 6408. 8 October, 1929.
  26. Marder. Portrait of an Admiral. p. 29.
  27. The London Gazette: no. 33706. p. 2331. 10 April, 1931.
  28. Dreyer to de Chair. Letter of 19 September, 1952. Dreyer Papers. Churchill Archives Centre. DRYR 4/3.
  29. Drax to Marder. Copy of letter of 27 November, 1959. Drax Papers. Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College. DRAX 6/18.
  30. Gough. Historical Dreadnoughts. p. 71.
  31. Roskill. Hankey. I. pp. 40-41.
  32. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 205.
  33. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 205.
  34. The Navy List. (April, 1911). p. 318.
  35. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 205.
  36. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 205.
  37. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 205.
  38. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 205.
  39. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 205.
  40. The Navy List. (December, 1916). p. 393e.
  41. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 288.
  42. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 288.
  43. The Navy List. (November, 1917). p. 392p.
  44. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 288.
  45. The Naval Staff of the Admiralty. p. 123.
  46. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 288.
  47. The Navy List. (August, 1919). p. 788.
  48. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 288.
  49. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 288.
  50. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/89. f. 49.
  51. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 288.
  52. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/89. f. 49.
  53. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/89. f. 49.
  54. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 288.
  55. Richmond Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 288.