George Astley Callaghan

From The Dreadnought Project
Jump to: navigation, search
Admiral of the Fleet Sir George A. Callaghan, 1918.
© National Portrait Gallery, London.

Admiral of the Fleet SIR George Astley Callaghan, G.C.B.G.C.V.O., R.N. (21 December, 1852 – 23 November, 1920) was an officer of the Royal Navy. He commanded the main British fleet from 1911 until being relieved on the eve of the Great War in 1914.


Early Life & Career

George Astley Callaghan was born in London 21 December 1852, the third son of Captain Frederic Marcus Callaghan, J.P., of Lotabeg, co. Cork, by his wife, Georgina Frances, daughter of Captain James Hodgson, of the East India Company's service. He entered the Royal Navy in 23 January, 1866, being appointed to the training ship H.M.S. Britannia at Dartmouth as a Naval Cadet. He left Britannia on 16 April, 1877, with a Second Class Certificate and obtained six months' sea time.

He was appointed to the ironclad Caledonia on 17 April and to the battleship Lord Warden on 26 May. On 16 October he was rated Midshipman. He remained in Lord Warden until 25 September, 1870, when he was appointed to the corvette Wolverine. On 15 April, 1872, he was promoted to the rank of Acting Sub-Lieutenant, having passed his seamanship examination for the rank of Lieutenant. He returned home and was borne on the books of Excellent from 16 May, 1874, to 23 April, 1875, while studying for and taking the various examinations for the rank of Lieutenant.[1]

He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant on 15 April, 1875.[2] From 24 April to 3 May he was appointed to Royal Adelaide at Devonport before going on half pay. From 2 December, 1876, to 14 March, 1877, he was appointed to Excellent for a short course in gunnery, and for a torpedo course in Vernon from 15 March to 27 April. He was appointed to Ruby on the East Indies station on 14 June. During this commission one of the ship's boats capsized in the Irrawady, and Callaghan earned the commendation of the Admiralty by his gallant behaviour, which saved the lives of several of the crew.

On 30 September he was appointed to Excellent to qualify in gunnery duties. He completed the course on 31 May, 1883, and on 9 June went on half pay. On 18 July he was appointed to Cambridge at Devonport as Junior Staff Officer. He left Cambridge on 3 September, 1884, and on 16 September was appointed to Duncan, additional, for Trent, for gunnery duties at the naval barracks. On 16 April, 1885, he was again appointed to the Ruby, this time as first and gunnery lieutenant on the South-East coast of America station. He was promoted to the rank of Commander on 31 December, 1887,[3] and in 1888 was appointed to the Bellerophon, the flagship on the North American station, in which ship he returned home in 1892. In the same year he was given the command of the Alacrity, yacht of the commander-in-chief, China station.

On 1 January, 1894, he was promoted to the rank of Captain.[4]


He was appointed an Ordinary Member of the Third Division, or Companion, of the Military Division of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (C.B.) on 9 November, 1900, "in recognition of services rendered during the recent disturbance in China."[5]

He was appointed a Naval Aide-de-Camp to King Edward VII on 25 April, 1904, vice Milne.[6]

He assumed command of the first class protected cruiser Edgar on 16 July, 1901.[7]

He was appointed in command the battleship Cæsar on 21 December, 1901.[8]

He was appointed to command the pre-dreadnought Prince of Wales on 18 May, 1904.[9]

Flag Rank

Callaghan was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral on 29 June, 1905.[10]

He was appointed Rear-Admiral in the Channel Fleet on 16 November, 1906.

Callaghan was appointed Rear-Admiral Commanding the Fifth Cruiser Squadron on 5 April, 1907,

On the occasion of the King's inspection of the Home Fleet Callaghan was appointed a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (C.V.O.) on 3 August, 1907.[11]

He struck his flag in Shannon as Rear-Admiral Commanding in the morning of 16 November, 1908. On 27 November he was appointed Second-in-Command in the Mediterranean.

On the occasion of the visit of the King to Malta Callaghan was appointed a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (K.C.V.O.) on 24 April, 1909.[12]

Callaghan was promoted to the rank of Vice-Admiral on 27 April, 1910, vice Niblett.[13] 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 24 June.[14] He struck his flag in Duncan as Second-in-Command, Mediterranean, on 8 August, and was appointed Vice-Admiral Commanding the Second Division of the Home Fleet on 9 August.[15]

On 24 July, 1911 he transferred his flag to the dreadnought Hercules.[16]


The new First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston S. Churchill, wrote to the Prime Minister, H.H. Asquith, on 16 November, 1911, about succeeding Sir Francis Bridgeman, who was to leave the Home Fleet to become First Sea Lord:

The Home Fleet, wh [which] becomes vacant, has not, unhappily, any candidate of clear & pre-eminent qualifications. Admiral Jellicoe is not yet sufficiently practised in the handling of fleets or sufficiently in command of the confidence of the Sea Service, to justify what wd seemingly be a vy startling promotion. I shall therefore be taking the perfectly straightforward & unexceptionable course in placing Vice-Admiral Sir George Callaghan, the present 2nd in command, who has been in almost daily control of the largest manoevres in the Home Fleet, and who has previously been second in command in the Mediterranean, in the place of Sir F. Bridgeman. Admiral Sir John Jellicoe will be his 2nd in command, & we will thus be able to see what fitness he will develop for the succession.[17]

Churchill wrote to offer the post to Callaghan on 20 November. In reply on 22 November, Callaghan wrote that "In accepting your very flattering offer I need not assure you that it will be my earnest endeavour to carry out the important duties to the best of my ability."[18] Callaghan was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet on 5 December with the rank of Acting Admiral. He assumed command on the same day.[19]

Andrew Gordon, with his usual mordancy, describes Callaghan as "an intriguing figure of whom little is known, but who stands apart from his contemporaries in that he appears to have eschewed both technocracy and slavish centralization".[20]

Certainly Callaghan developed a positive reputation within months. Visiting Callaghan at Portland, Churchill noted in a letter to his wife on 24 March, 1912: "They are vy simple these sailors; but this one — Callaghan — is sensible."[21] He was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (G.C.V.O.) on 11 May.[22]

He was confirmed in the rank of Admiral on 17 May, 1913.[23]

In his memoirs, Admiral Sir Sydney Fremantle described something of Callaghan's character as Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleets:

He was no brilliant innovator, he had not graduated in the scientific branches of the service, and would not have pretended to judge the merits of the details of continuous advances in material of all descriptions except by the results which they achieved in practice.[24]

Although he never knew Callaghan closely, Admiral The Hon. Sir Reginald A. R. P.-E.-E.-Drax (a Commander on the staff of the First Battle Cruiser Squadron from 1913) later recalled him to Arthur Marder as being "of the old sea-dog type like Charlie Beresford and A.K. Wilson."[25]

An amusing anecdote of an incident during the Home Fleet's 1914 Spring Cruise involving Callaghan and his Captain of the Fleet, Allan Everett, comes from Vice-Admiral Humphrey Hugh Smith. It can perhaps be taken as confirming Drax's "old sea-dog" characterization:

About half-past two in the middle watch the Captain of the Fleet came out of the fleet flagship's chart-house and leaned wearily against the rails of the fore bridge. Suddenly the sound of a merrily whistled tune struck him in the ear. This sound seemed to come up from down below the fore bridge. The Captain of the Fleet peered down into the inky blackness benath him and shouted out: "Dry up, you noisy son of a bitch!" The whistling promptly ceased. A few minutes later the Commander-in-Chief came up on to the fore bridge, stood alongside the Captain of the Fleet, and discussed the general situation. After a while he remarked: "I am sorry, Captain of the Fleet, that you do not like music." "But I am very fond of music, sir," protested the Captain of the Fleet. "Well, if you are really fond of music," continued the Commander-in-Chief, "you would not have been so rude to me just now when I was trying to whistle."[26]

Supersession and the Great War

Callaghan was ordered to strike his flag and hand over to Jellicoe on 4 August.

On 27 August he wrote to Sir George Egerton, Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth:

My dear Egerton,
Thankyou very much for your letter & sympathy.
As you say I was treated abominally.
However, one must not let personal grievances come to the front just now.
I have a clear conscience in having left the Home Fleet ready —
Meanwhile I am doing what I can to help here.
Please remember me very kindly to Lady Egerton.
Yrs Very Sincerely,
George A. Callaghan[27]

Callaghan was immediately appointed for special service at the Admiralty and on 11 September, 1914 was appointed First and Principal Naval Aide-de-Camp, vice Admiral Sir Edmund Poë.[28] This was followed on 1 January, 1915 by his appointment as Commander-in-Chief at the Nore.[29] On the occasion of the King's birthday 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 3 June, 1916.[30] On 2 April, 1917 he was promoted to the rank of Admiral of the Fleet in the place of Sir Arthur D. Fanshawe.[31]

His funeral took place on Saturday, 27 November at Bathwick Cemetery, Bath.[32]


  1. ADM 196/18. f. 380.
  2. The London Gazette: no. 24204. p. 2342. 30 April, 1875.
  3. The London Gazette: no. 25772. p. 15. 3 January, 1888.
  4. The London Gazette: no. 26471. p. 7580. 29 December, 1893.
  5. The London Gazette: no. 27245. p. 6853. 9 November, 1900.
  6. The London Gazette: no. 27676. p. 3081. 13 May, 1904.
  7. Callaghan Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/38. f. 202.
  8. Callaghan Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/18. f. 535.
  9. "Naval & Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Monday, 16 May, 1904. Issue 37395, col A, p. 7.
  10. The London Gazette: no. 27814. p. 4700. 7 July, 1905.
  11. The London Gazette: no. 28048. p. 5390. 6 August, 1907.
  12. The London Gazette: no. 28246. p. 3277. 30 April, 1909.
  13. The London Gazette: no. 28362. p. 3063. 3 May, 1910.
  14. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 28388. p. 4475. 24 June, 1910.
  15. ADM 196/38. f. 202.
  16. "Exchange of Flagships" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Tuesday, 27 June, 1911. Issue 39622, col G, p. 16.
  17. Churchill. Winston S. Churchill. Companion Volume II. Part 2. p. 1336.
  18. Callaghan to Churchill, 22 November 1911, CHAR 13/1, f. 28, Chartwell MSS, Churchill Archive Centre, Churchill College.
  19. ADM 196/38. f. 202.
  20. Gordon. p. 382.
  21. Churchill. Winston S. Churchill. Companion Volume II. Part 2. p. 1529.
  22. The London Gazette: no. 28607. p. 3475. 14 May, 1912.
  23. The London Gazette: no. 28722. p. 3753. 27 May, 1913.
  24. Fremantle. p. 163.
  25. Notes on Marder's draft of chapter 14 of From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, 11 November 1959, DRAX 6/18, Drax MSS., Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College.
  26. Smith. pp. 257-258.
  27. Letter of 27 August, 1914. Liddle Collection. University of Leeds. Egerton Papers. RNMN/EGERTON/3.
  28. The London Gazette: no. 28902. p. 7293. 15 September, 1914.
  29. Supplement to the Monthly Navy List (March, 1915). p. 3.
  30. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29608. p. 5553. 2 June, 1916.
  31. The London Gazette: no. 30008. p. 3206. 3 April, 1917.
  32. "Funerals" (Deaths). The Times. Monday, 29 November, 1920. Issue 42580, col D, p. 17.


  • "Death of Admiral Callaghan" (Obituaries). The Times. Wednesday, 24 November, 1920. Issue 42576, col E, p. 14.
  • Fremantle, Sir Sydney R. (1949) My Naval Career: 1880-1928. London: Hutchinson & Co.
  • Gordon, Andrew (2005). The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command. London: John Murray (Publishers). ISBN 0719561310. (on and
  • Smith, Vice-Admiral Humphrey Hugh, D.S.O. (1936). An Admiral Never Forgets: Reminiscences of thirty-seven years on the active list of the Royal Navy. London: Seeley, Service & Co. Limited.

Service Records

  • The National Archives. ADM 196/86. Volume 1. f. 134.
  • The National Archives. ADM 196/38. Volume 2. ff. 195, 202.
  • The National Archives. ADM 196/18. Volume 6. ff. 380, 535, 542.

Naval Appointments
Preceded by
Robert L. Groome
Rear-Admiral in the Channel Fleet
1906 – 1907
Succeeded by
Robert S. Lowry

Preceded by
New Command
Rear-Admiral Commanding,
Fifth Cruiser Squadron

1907 – 1908
Succeeded by
Robert S. Lowry

Preceded by
H.S.H. Prince Louis of Battenberg
Second-in-Command, Mediterranean
1908 – 1910
Succeeded by
T. H. Martyn Jerram

Preceded by
Sir A. Berkeley Milne, Bart.
Vice-Admiral Commanding, Second Division, Home Fleet
1910 – 1911
Succeeded by
Sir John R. Jellicoe

Preceded by
Sir Francis C. B. Bridgeman
Home Fleet

1911 – 1912
Succeeded by
Sir John R. Jellicoe
Home Fleets

1912 – 1914
Preceded by
Sir Richard Poore, Bart.
Commander-in-Chief at the Nore
1915 – 1918
Succeeded by
Sir F. C. Doveton Sturdee, Bart.

Court Appointments
Preceded by
Sir Edmund S. Poë
First and Principal
Naval Aide-de-Camp

1914 – 1917
Succeeded by
Sir Henry B. Jackson

Personal tools
Google AdSense