Cecil Burney, First Baronet

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Admiral of the Fleet Sir Cecil Burney, Bart., as an Admiral.
Photo: Imperial War Museum. © IWM (Q 71928).

Admiral of the Fleet SIR Cecil Burney, First Baronet, G.C.B., G.C.M.G., Royal Navy (15 May, 1858 – 5 June, 1929) was an officer of the Royal Navy during the First World War.


Early Life & Naval Career

Burney was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant from the Victoria and Albert with seniority of 30 August, 1879.[1]

Burney was promoted to the rank of Commander on 1 January, 1893.[2]

He was promoted to the rank of Captain on 1 January, 1898.[3] After commanding the first class protected cruiser Hawke in the naval manœuvres of 1900, he commissioned the second class protected cruiser Sappho for service on the South-East coast of America, but was soon transferred to the Cape station during the South African War. His ship struck the Durban bar when in the charge of a pilot on 3 May, 1901, and Burney had to bring her home. On 27 May, 1902, he was appointed in command of the pre-dreadnought Resolution,[4] as Flag Captain to Rear-Admiral Atkinson-Willes, Second-in-Command of the Home Fleet, and on 16 September he was appointed to Empress of India in the same capacity.[5] He remained with him and his successor, Rear-Admiral Poë, until June, 1904. He then spent a year (1904–5) in command of the ex-Chilean pre-dreadnought Triumph in the Channel Fleet. His successful work in training boys at Portland led to his appointment in July, 1905 to the Impregnable as inspecting captain of all boys' training ships. On 17 October, 1906, he was appointed a Naval Aide-de-Camp to King Edward VII, vice Lowry.[6]

Flag Rank

Burney was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral on 10 October, 1907.[7] His first appointment to Flag Rank was to relieve John Denison as Rear-Admiral Commanding the Devonport Division, Home Fleet on 4 January, 1909.[8] From 16 February, 1911, when he took command of the Fifth Cruiser Squadron, he was continuously on full pay for nine years. At the end of 1911 he took command of the Atlantic Fleet, with the acting rank of Vice-Admiral; he transferred to the Third Battle Squadron in 1912. On 20 September he was confirmed in the rank of Vice-Admiral, vice Winsloe.[9] This squadron was on special service in the Mediterranean, and the disturbances that arose in Montenegro and Albania at the close of the second Balkan war led to the dispatch, arranged by the British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, of an international naval force to Antivari on the Montenegrin coast in April, 1913. Burney's squadron was sent in order to secure that an Englishman should be senior officer of the combined fleet. Burney took command and handled the highly delicate and difficult situation, in which his firm manner and rugged mien stood him in good stead, with great ability, and he received a special commendation both from the Foreign Office and from the Admiralty. He had to secure unanimity of action between the naval forces of the five powers represented, as well as resolve the differences between the turbulent Balkan states ashore. He established a pacific blockade of the coast during April and May of 1913, and then from May to November commanded the international force occupying Scutari, which the Montenegrins had captured, until the trouble was finally settled by the conclusion of peace. 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.[10] On the termination of the Scutari affair he was gazetted K.C.M.G.

On his return to England at the end of 1913 Burney took over the command of the Second and Third fleets, then in partial reserve, and the early part of 1914 was occupied in preparing for the test mobilization of that summer.

Great War

On the outbreak of the First World War in August these fleets were organized as the Channel Fleet, with the duty of protecting the channel from enemy raids. In December, 1914 Burney went to the First Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet. His son-in-law, Commander Charles F. Ballard, was amongst those killed when the Formidable was sunk by submarine on 1 January, 1915. The Rear-Admiral in the Fourth Battle Squadron, Alexander L. Duff, saw him on 8 January and noted in his diary that, "He is naturally terribly depressed."[11]

At the Battle of Jutland 31 May, 1916 his squadron was the rear of the line, and was more heavily engaged than the rest of the battleships of the main fleet. His flagship, the Marlborough, was torpedoed, and during the night he transferred his flag to the Revenge. He was promoted Admiral on 9 June, 1916,[12] On 15 September he was advanced to be an Additional Member of the First Class, or Knight Grand Cross, in the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (G.C.M.G.) for his services at Jutland, dated 31 May.[13]

In November, 1916, when Jellicoe was appointed First Sea Lord, Burney joined the Board of Admiralty as Second Sea Lord. However, the prime minister, Lloyd George, and Sir Eric C. Geddes, who became First Lord of the Admiralty in July, 1917, grew anxious to replace him by a younger, and in their opinion more efficient, man. Consequently, and despite Jellicoe's effort to keep him, when the board was reorganized the following September, Burney was relieved. On 6 September he was appointed to President for Special Service. On 13 October he was appointed Commander-in-Chief, Coast of Scotland at Rosyth in place of the recently-deceased Admiral Sir Frederick T. Hamilton.[14]

Upon Burney's relief as Second Sea Lord, Jellicoe wrote a letter to Geddes outlining Burney's achievements:


On the occasion of the relief of Admiral Sir Cecil Burney from the post of Second Sea Lord, I wish to bring to your notice the services rendered by him throughout his 45 years of service in the Navy, with a view to recognise these services suitably.

Since Sir Cecil Burney reached the Captains' List he has filled many important appointments with unfailing success. As a Captain he was Inspecting Captain of [Boys'] Training Ships at the time that the Shotley Training Establishment was started; and the subsequent success of that establishment is largely due to him. As a Rear-Admiral he served, first in a division of the Home Fleet, and later in command of the Cruiser Squadron attached to the Atlantic Fleet then under my command. He succeeded me in the command of the Atlantic Fleet, which was consequently reconstituted as the Third Battle Squadron. Whilst in command of that Squadron, he was sent to the Mediterranean; and at the time of the troubles between Montenegro and Albania, he was the Senior Officer of the Allied Navies acting in cooperation. He conducted the work with conspicuous success, and was subsequently requested to take the post of Governor of Scutari and Senior Officer of the International Commission. In this post he commanded a mixed force of soldiers and sailors belonging to Italy, Austria, France, Germany and Great Britain, besides acting as the head of the International Commission - and he was in Scutari for a little over six months in this position.

By common consent, Sir Cecil Burney carried out this difficult work with most conspicuous success; and on leaving he receiveda most complimentary telegram from H.M. Government. He succeeded to a quite remarkable degree in winning the confidence of the [319] Albanians.

His service in Scutari unfortunately broke him down in health for some time - and he has never completely recovered, and suffers constantly from arthritis.

On return to England, he was appointed to the command of the 2nd and 3rd Divisions of the Home Fleet, and was holding that appointment on the outbreak of war.

In the early stages of the war, Sir Cecil Burney was consulted on many occasions by the then First Lord on the subject of bombarding Heligoland and Borkum with his battle squadron; and he communicated with me on the subject several times. I was strongly opposed to a useless sacrifice of ships - and so informed the First Lord. Sir Cecil Burney had great difficulty in convincing him as to the waste of ships and men involved in such an adventure, but he did so convince him - and in the opinion of all the Flag Officers then afloat, he was perfectly right, and we are indebted to him for this work. I mention this as it may be that he has suffered by criticism for this action. Events, and the trend of present oprtations, have fully justified him.

Sir Cecil Burney was appointed to the command of the First Battle Squadron in the Grand Fleet early in 1915, being relieved in the Third Battle Squadron [actually, Channel Fleet] by Sir Lewis Bayly.

From early in 1915 until December 1916, he served as my Second-in-Command in the Grand Fleet with conspicuous success. In my absence on more than one occasion he took command. He was a most loyal and able Second-in-Command, and possessed my entire confidence. He was Second-in-Command on the occasion of the action off Jutland on the 31st May, 1916, and [320] he brought his Squadron into action with great ability. His careful training of this Squadron was shown in the action. The ships were handled exceedingly well: twenty-five torpedoes were avoided by good handling, and the shooting of the guns of the Squadron inflicted severe damage on the enemy. The "Marlborough", Sir C. Burney's Flagship, was specially conspicuous.

I venture to submit that a record of this nature should be rewarded by a Baronetcy being conferred on Sir Cecil Burney.

Incidentally it may be mentioned that Lieutenant Burney (Sir Cecil Burney's son) has performed the most valuable services during the war by his invention of the paravane, now in almost universal use - an invention which has already saved several of H.M. Ships and several merchant ships from loss by mines.

(Intld). J. R. J.


Sir W. Graham Greene, the then Permanent Secretary to the Board of Admiralty, later wrote of Burney:

As Second Sea Lord during the war his administrative functions did not call for much display of special abilities — My recollection is that he was a very useful member of the Board & carried out his duties in an efficient manner, but the executive direction of the Fleet & naval operations was centred in the hands of the First Sea Lord & War Staff & Burney's share in this was small. He had of course[,] as the Member of the Board to take the place of the First Sea Ld, should the latter be absent or otherwise able to act, to keep himself acquainted with what was going on & the policy governing the action of the Fleet, but this constituted the sole claim upon him outside the ordinary duties of his office.
In character Burney was amiable & very easy to work with & my relations with him during the time he was at the Admiralty were of the friendliest. I regretted his departure but his qualities would not have been appreciated by the men placed in power at the Admiralty in 1917 & in his own interests the change to the Scottish Command was in his best interests.[16]


On 15 February, 1919, Burney requested permission (subsequently granted) to be absent from Rosyth to confer with the Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth, The Hon. Sir Stanley C. J. Colville, from the 18th to the 21st of February. He was appointed Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth in succession to Colville on 31 March. On 12 April, 1920, he went on leave to Acqui, Italy, and was superseded in absentia on 28 April.[17] Burney was promoted to the rank of Admiral of the Fleet on 24 November, 1920.[18]

Burney was placed on the Retired List on 24 November, 1925,[19] upon completing five years in the rank. He died at his home, Upham House, Hants, on 5 June, 1929, from a combination of lobar pneumonia, tonsillitis, and osteo arthritis. He was seventy-one years old.[20]


  • Dictionary of National Biography.
  • "Admiral of the Fleet Sir C. Burney" (Obituaries). The Times. Thursday, 6 June, 1929. Issue 45222, col A, p. 19.


Service Records

Naval Appointments
Preceded by
John Denison
Rear-Admiral, Devonport Division, Home Fleet
1909 – 1910
Succeeded by
Arthur A. C. Galloway

Preceded by
Frederick T. Hamilton
Rear-Admiral Commanding,
Fifth Cruiser Squadron

Succeeded by
F. C. Doveton Sturdee

Preceded by
Sir John R. Jellicoe
Vice-Admiral Commanding,
Atlantic Fleet

1911 – 1912
Succeeded by
Lewis Bayly
Vice-Admiral Commanding,
Third Battle Squadron

1912 – 1913
Preceded by
Frederick T. Hamilton
Vice-Admiral Commanding, Second and Third Fleets
1913 – 1914
Succeeded by
Sir Lewis Bayly
Vice-Admiral Commanding,
Channel Fleet

Preceded by
Sir Lewis Bayly
Admiral Commanding,
First Battle Squadron

1914 – 1916
Succeeded by
Sir Charles E. Madden
Preceded by
New Appointment
Grand Fleet

1915 – 1916
Naval Appointments
Preceded by
Sir Richard Poore, Bart.
Captain of H.M.S. Hawke
1900[Citation needed]
Succeeded by
Herbert W. Savory
Preceded by
James E. C. Goodrich
Captain of H.M.S. Resolution
27 May, 1902[21]
Succeeded by
John E. Bearcroft
Preceded by
Henry L. Fleet
Captain of H.M.S. Empress of India
16 Sep, 1902[22]
Succeeded by
Herbert A. Warren
Preceded by
New Command
Captain of H.M.S. Triumph
11 Jun, 1904[23]
Succeeded by
Frederic E. E. Brock
Preceded by
Robert A. J. Montgomerie
Inspecting Captain of Boys' Training Ships
10 Jul, 1905[24]
Succeeded by
George E. Patey
Preceded by
Frederick T. Hamilton
Rear-Admiral Commanding, Fifth Cruiser Squadron
16 Feb, 1911[Citation needed]
Succeeded by
Archibald P. Stoddart
Preceded by
Sir John R. Jellicoe
Vice-Admiral Commanding, Atlantic Fleet
19 Dec, 1911
Succeeded by
Sir Charles E. Madden
as Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet
Preceded by
Vice-Admiral Commanding, Third Battle Squadron
19 Dec, 1911[Citation needed]
Succeeded by
Lewis Bayly
Preceded by
T. H. Martyn Jerram
Second-in-Command, Mediterranean Station
13 Jun, 1913[25] – 19 Oct, 1913[26]
Succeeded by
Michael Culme-Seymour
Preceded by
Vice-Admiral in Command, Fifth Battle Squadron
5 Dec, 1913[27]
Succeeded by
Sir Lewis Bayly
Preceded by
Sir Lewis Bayly
Vice-Admiral Commanding, First Battle Squadron
19 Dec, 1914[28]
Succeeded by
Sir Charles E. Madden
Preceded by
The Hon. Sir Somerset A. Gough-Calthorpe
Second Sea Lord
4 Dec, 1916[29]
Succeeded by
Sir Rosslyn E. Wemyss
Preceded by
Sir Frederick T. Hamilton
Commander-in-Chief, Rosyth
13 Oct, 1917[30]
Succeeded by
Sir Herbert L. Heath
Preceded by
The Honourable Sir Stanley C. J. Colville
Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth Station
31 Mar, 1919[31]
Succeeded by
The Hon. Sir Somerset A. Gough-Calthorpe


  1. The London Gazette: no. 24758. p. 5309. 2 September, 1879.
  2. The London Gazette: no. 26359. p. 2. 2 January, 1893.
  3. The London Gazette: no. 26924. p. 7854. 31 December, 1897.
  4. "Naval & Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Saturday, 3 May, 1902. Issue 36758, col B, p. 14.
  5. "Naval & Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Wednesday, 27 August, 1902. Issue 36857, col B, p. 4.
  6. The London Gazette: no. 27959. p. 7017. 19 October, 1906.
  7. The London Gazette: no. 28068. p. 6813. 11 October, 1907.
  8. Hazell's Annual, 1910. p. 199.
  9. The London Gazette: no. 28647. p. 7022. 24 September, 1912.
  10. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 28724. p. 3903. 3 June, 1913.
  11. Diary entry for 8 January, 1915. Duff Papers. National Maritime Museum. DFF/15.
  12. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29621. p. 5828. 13 June, 1916.
  13. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29751. p. 9071. 15 September, 1916.
  14. ADM 196/38. f. 181.
  15. Add. MSS. 40491. ff. 318-320.
  16. Note on Burney of 23 January, 1935. National Maritime Museum. Greene Papers. GEE 13. ff 2-3.
  17. ADM 196/38. f. 181.
  18. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 32150. p. 11942. 3 December, 1920.
  19. The London Gazette: no. 33110. p. 7950. 1 December, 1925.
  20. ADM 196/38. f. 181.
  21. Burney Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/38. f. 180.
  22. "Naval & Military Intelligence". The Times. Wednesday, 27 August, 1902. Issue 36857, col B, p. 4.
  23. Burney Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/38. f. 180.
  24. "Naval and Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Wednesday, 28 June, 1905. Issue 37745, col F, p. 12.
  25. Burney Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/38. f. 180.
  26. Burney Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/38. f. 180.
  27. Supplement to the Monthly Navy List. (September 1914). f. 6.
  28. Squadrons and Senior Naval Officers in Existence on 11th November, 1918. p. 2.
  29. The Naval Staff of the Admiralty. p. 125.
  30. Squadrons and Senior Naval Officers in Existence on 11th November, 1918. f. 37.
  31. "Naval Command Changes" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Thursday, 27 March, 1919. Issue 42059, col F, p. 13.

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