John Arbuthnot Fisher, First Baron Fisher

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Admiral of the Fleet The Right Honourable Lord Fisher, 1916.
Portrait: © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Admiral of the Fleet THE RIGHT HONOURABLE John Arbuthnot Fisher, First Baron Fisher, G.C.B., O.M., G.C.V.O., R.N. (25 January, 1841 – 10 July, 1920) was one of the most celebrated officers in the history of the Royal Navy. He was actively involved in the service of the Navy for over sixty years, starting his career during the Crimean War and ending it during the First World War. From a comparatively poor background, he made friends in the right places and forged his way up through the ranks.

He became a gunnery expert, founded the Navy's torpedo branch and upon joining the Board of Admiralty started a twenty-year period of reform. His first term as First Sea Lord from 1904 to 1910 is widely credited with having materially prepared the fleet for war, having introduced the world's first all-big-gun battleship, Dreadnought, concentrated the fleet in home waters, and reorganised the training and distribution of personnel. Having retired in 1910, he was then instrumental in the adoption of oil-fuel, and soon after the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 he returned as First Sea Lord.

He resigned in May, 1915, after a falling out with the then First Lord, Winston Churchill, over the commitment to the Dardanelles expedition. The fleet which fought the war was by and large the one constructed during his terms in office.

Early Life & Career

John Arbuthnot Fisher was born on 25 January, 1841, on the Wavenden Estate at Rambodde, Ceylon, to Captain William Fisher (1811–1866) and Sophia Lambe (1820–1895). William Fisher was an officer of the 78th Regiment of Foot (Highlanders) serving as Aide-de-Camp to the Governor of Ceylon. In 1841 he decided to leave the army, and became a coffee planter. Sophia (rendered variously as Sophie or Sophy) was the daughter of Alfred Lambe, a wine merchant in New Bond Street, London. Together, they had eleven children, of whom seven survived infancy. In order of birth they were John (known to the family as Jack), Alice, Lucy, Arthur, Frank, Frederic, and Philip. According to a note Fisher wrote in 1916:

Anyway, I attribute my present vitality to the imbibing of my mother's milk beyond the legal period of nine months; she being a most magnificent and handsome woman, who married for love exactly nine months before I was born. My father was 6 feet 2 inches, also especially handsome.[1]

Having accidentally shot Lady Horton's butler, Fisher is alleged to have said of the butler, "he was a pompous old fellow and it did him good."[2]

Fisher left a number of impressions of how he entered the Royal Navy. He later wrote that:

Lady Horton's neighbour was Sir William Parker, the last of Nelson's Captains, so she asked him to take me to sea, and he did! Strange to say, another dear old lady took a fancy to me, and she was Lord Nelson's own niece, and she asked Sir William for me, and, curiously, my first ship of war was the Victory, Nelson's flagship.[3]

In his published memories he recalled, "I entered the Navy, July 12th, 1854, on board Her Majesty's Ship 'Victory', after being medically examined by the Doctor on board of her, and writing out from dictation The Lord's Prayer; and I rather think I did a Rule of Three sum.[4] He also apparently had to "drink a glass of sherry!"[5]

Fisher was entered on books of the Calcutta as a Naval Cadet on 13 July, 1854, (not 12 July)[6] and went on leave to obtain his naval outfit, which he did at, "Gieve the outfitter at Portsmouth who put him up for the night in an attic at his house in the High Street. Next day he went in a little steamer called the Sir Francis Drake. An Admiral Rich and his daughters were in the same ship. They were very kind to the little lonely seasick boy."[7]

In his memoirs Fisher quoted an account written by A. G. Gardiner of his joining the Calcutta:

One day far back in the fifties of last century a sailing ship came round from Portsmouth into Plymouth Sound, where the fleet lay. Among the passengers was a little midshipman fresh from his apprenticeship in the 'Victory.' He scrambled aboard the Admiral's ship, and with the assurance of thirteen marched up to a splendid figure in blue and gold, and said, handing him a letter: 'Here, my man, give this to the Admiral.' The man in blue and gold smiled, took the letter, and opened it. 'Are you the Admiral?' said the boy. 'Yes, I'm the Admiral.' He read the letter, and patting the boy on the head, said: 'You must stay and have dinner with me.' 'I think,' said the boy, 'I should like to be getting on to my ship.' He spoke as though the British Navy had fallen to his charge. The Admiral laughed, and took him down to dinner. That night the boy slept aboard the 'Calcutta,' a vessel of 84 guns, given to the British Navy by an Indian merchant at a cost of 84,000. It was the day of small things and of sailing-ships.[8]

For the record he was a Naval Cadet and not a Midshipman. He joined the Calcutta on 29 July.[9] It must have been an interesting start: he later claimed, "There were many brutalities when I first entered the Navy-now mercifully no more. For instance, the day I joined as a little boy I saw eight men flogged and I fainted at the sight."[10] However, as Mackay notes elsewhere in his life of Fisher, "Of course, no reliance can be placed on the details of F's latter-day stories of the genre."[11] The Crimean War (1853-1856) was still being waged at the time, and Calcutta was being prepared for sea when Fisher joined her. On 14 November she set sail from Plymouth for Falmouth before returning on 11 December, and didn't leave again until February, 1855, when she cruised the English Channel, being based at Spithead for a time.

On 9 June Calcutta moored off Sheerness Dockyard and on the 30th she was despatched to the Baltic with "packages for the Fleet" there.[12] Although moored fifty miles to the South-East, the British and French naval bombardment of the Russian forts at Helsingfors (Helsinki) could apparently be heard aboard Calcutta on 9 and 10 August.[13] Even though he did not see action, Fisher would be awarded the Baltic Campaign Medal.[14] On 25 August Calcutta left for home, arriving off the Nore on 11 September, returning to Spithead on the 22nd. The ship paid off at Plymouth on 1 March, 1856, and on 2 March Fisher was appointed to the 91-gun steam line of battle ship Agamemnon.[15]

Fisher was rated Midshipman on 12 July, 1856. On 13 July he joined the Highflyer,[16] a steam corvette of 21 guns on the China Station.[17] He took part in the Second China War, which began in October of that year, although he didn't see action until 1 June, 1857, at the Battle of Fatshan Creek.[18] He first performed the duties of a watch-keeping officer on 8 October, aged sixteen and a half, and took part in the capture of Canton on 29 December.[19]

On 25 January, 1860, his nineteenth birthday, Fisher was examined in seamanship for the rank of Lieutenant on board H.M.S. Cambrian. Having obtained his passing certificate, he was given an acting order as Mate, dated 25 January.[20][21] As he related it in a letter of 5 February:

I went up on the 25th January on board the Cambrian before the three captains, and they gave me a regular bounce out. It took altogether three days and, as I told you last mail, I had the satisfaction of getting a first-class certificate. Well, I came on board the Chesapeake and handed in my certificate. After a short time the Admiral [Hope] sent for me and told me he was very pleased to see I had passed such a good examination, and that as a reward for it and on account of old Shadwell's report of me, he should take me as his Flag Mate, and that he would take care to look out for me always.[22]


I have the honour to bring to your notice the highly creditable examination passed by Mr. J. A. Fisher, Acting Lieutenant of H.M.S. 'Furious'; this officer obtained high first class certificates in seamanship and gunnery, and has now passed in navigation under the Regulations laid down in Circular 286, obtaining 963 marks out of 1,000, being the highest numbers yet attained by any candidates who have voluntarily passed under the 5 years system.[23]
His superb navigation score won him the 1861 Beaufort Testimonial.

As a Lieutenant, Fisher was appointed to a number of ships, these stints of service being interspersed with time at H.M.S. Excellent. His first ship as a lieutenant was Furious, where he spent ten months ending on 30 August, 1861. After fourteen months at Excellent, he was placed in Warrior in April 1863 for an additional fourteen months service.

Fisher was sent back to Excellent in June of 1864 and would remain on her books until August, 1869, spending two and a half years in charge of her tender, the gunboat Stork and being granted another first-class certificate in gunnery in March of 1866.


On 2 August, 1869, Fisher was promoted to the rank of Commander.[24] On 8 November he was appointed Commander of the screw ship Donegal which was carrying relief crews for ships on the station, including H.M.S. Ocean. The Donegal was commissioned on 25 November.[25] Two years later, Fisher described his feelings in a letter to his wife:

Two years ago to-day since we commissioned the Donegal and in 17 days more it will be two years since we said 'goodbye'. I often try to think that I never can again feel so miserable as I did then. Everything then was as black as it could be; it was the first time we had really parted, and such a distant station, and such an exceptionally disagreeable way of starting, not in one's own ship, and over 1,200 people were packed on board anyhow, and, most of all, I did not feel that I knew my work, and so my mind was never at rest. I was constantly picturing myself as utterly failing in my work and having to come home on half-pay, much to everyone's surprise, and I could fancy so many fellows rubbing their hands at it: 'He could drill 'em very well on the Common [Southsea], but he had never been out of Portsmouth Harbour in his life, so what could you expect?' 'The Excellent ought to be done away with,' etc., etc. . . .[26]

In June, 1870, he transferred to the ironclad H.M.S. Ocean, flagship of Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Kellett, Commander-in-Chief in China. He returned, in September, 1872, to H.M.S. Excellent, where he was placed in charge of torpedo instruction. The torpedo school was established in the hulk Vernon and subsequently became a separate command in 1876.


Fisher was promoted to the rank of Captain on 30 October, 1874.[27]

He was appointed to the corvette Pallas on 16 November, 1876. On 30 January, 1877, he was appointed to the central battery ironclad Hercules on Special Service, and served in her till 1 March.[28]

On 2 March, 1877, he assumed command of the armoured ship Bellerophon as Flag Captain to Vice-Admiral Sir Astley Cooper Key, Commander-in-Chief on the North America and West Indies Station. Admiral Sir William H. Henderson, at the time a Lieutenant in Eclipse, later claimed:

Fisher at this time had apparently given up all interest in gunnery progress; Tynte F. Hammill a very capable officer, her lieutenant (G), who was a great friend of mine, used to tell me and complain. What is more, the Bellerophon is the only ship in the Service that I ever knew or heard of that deliberately threw overboard her ammunition. She used to go outside the Narrows some 15 miles from Grassy Bay for her quarterly gunnery practices, which Fisher insisted should be completed in time to enable the ship to be back and moored (in the Camber before dark. The consequence was they were always hurried, ammunition was wasted, and Hammill who was much distressed about it used to tell me that anything left over when it was time to go back was deliberately thrown overboard. I have always thought that here was the origin of stories to this effect; it was quite in accordance with Fisher's hustling methods, and became, possibly, an aspersion thrown at the Service as a whole.[29]

He was appointed in command of the central battery ironclad Hercules on 7 June, 1878, and on 22 August took command of the paddle-frigate Valorous. On 9 January, 1879, he was appointed to the Pallas again, until 24 July. He then went on a committee to revise the Gunnery Manual. On 25 September he was given a proper sea-going command again, that of the Northampton.[30]

On 30 January, 1881, he was appointed to Duke of Wellington for command of the new battleship Inflexible, which he commissioned on 5 July.[31] He was appointed an Ordinary Member of the Third Class, or Companion, in the Military Division of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (C.B.) on 14 August.[32] While at Alexandria he contracted severe dysentery, from which he took almost four years to make a complete recovery. On 6 April, 1883, Fisher was appointed to command the Excellent at Portsmouth.[33]

Excellent & Gunnery, 1883 - 1890

Sir William Henderson later claimed that Fisher "introduced those much advertised, unreal and highly spectacular shows, of landing parties on Whale Island and of adaptations of military methods and customs which gave him the nickname of "Barnum." My distinct recollection is that he kept himself much aloof from his brother captains."[34] It may be worthwhile considering briefly the background of the 1930 testimony of Sir William. Ruddock Mackay admits that Henderson "must be regarded as a witness markedly hostile to Fisher," but then avers that "he was editor of the Naval Review from 1913 and may be fairly rated a lover of accuracy."[35] The editor of this page is at a loss as to why Henderson should be relied upon to remain impartial when reminiscing: "I have often asked myself the question as to whether he did more harm than good when he came to the top as 1st Sea Lord, and have always come to the conclusion that the former outweighted the latter."[36] The tone of Henderson's published recollection of Fisher is so very bitter that one can't escape the feeling that he was abusing his position as editor of The Naval Review in order to get one last dig in at the man he held responsible for breaking the Navy, as he termed it, "into two parts, a cleavage not even yet properly healed, for that unity of spirit so great a feature of its history during my first forty years' experience of it was destroyed."[37]

On 12 December, 1884, he was appointed Chairman of another Gunnery Manual Committee.[38]

From 8 June to 22 July, 1885, Fisher was appointed to the Minotaur, in the Evolutionary Squadron, "for service with Squadron under Admiral Hornby to report on points connected with Gunnery."[39][40] He was not, as claimed by Mackay and Halpern, in command of Minotaur.[41][42] That honour belonged to Captain Richard F. Britten.

On 1 November, 1886 he was appointed Director of Naval Ordnance at the Admiralty.[43]

Flag Rank

On 2 August, 1890 Fisher was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral, vice Hunt-Grubbe.[44] He became Admiral Superintendent of Portsmouth Dockyard on 21 May, 1891.[45]

Controller of the Navy

He was appointed a Lord of the Admiralty as Additional Naval Lord and Controller of the Navy on 1 February, 1892.[46]

On the occasion of the Queen's birthday 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 26 May, 1894.[47] Richards, First Naval Lord, wrote to Mrs. Fisher (soon to become Lady Fisher) on 22 May: "None of his innumerable friends and admirers can rejoice more sincerely in this fresh tribute to his worth than I do."[48]

Fisher was promoted to the rank of Vice-Admiral on 8 May, 1896 on the death of Vice-Admiral Sir Robert FitzRoy.[49]

Three years after Fisher relinquished the office of Controller, Richards, replaced as First Naval Lord in 1899, wrote to Lady Fisher: "I always recognise the immense advantage I had as 1st Sea Lord, in having such a colleague for Controller of the Navy for the best part of the time I had in office."[50]

North America and West Indies Station

On 24 August, 1897, Fisher returned to sea for the first time in over a decade as Commander-in-Chief on the North America and West Indies Station, hoisting his flag at Portsmouth in the second-class battleship Renown, Captain Daniel McN. Riddel.[51][52]

Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean

Fisher assumed command of the Mediterranean Station on 1 July, 1899, with the acting rank of Admiral. He continued to fly his flag in the Renown.[53]

His Chief of the Staff, Captain (later Admiral Sir) George F. King-Hall, lamented in his diary in April, 1901, "Sir John would always have been, and will be, his own C of S [Chief of the Staff] to a great extent."[54]

On 6 June, King-Hall opined that, "The C-in-C is a very able man, and very good at strategy, but I do not think he pays nearly enough attention to either tactics or gun firing; two things that will win the battle."[55]

King-Hall illustrated Fisher's methods for getting things done at home, "Custance tells me, there has been a great rumpus going on at the Admiralty, who however, are going to increase the Mediterranean fleet by cruisers and destroyers, which I do not suppose that they would have done but for Sir John and the agitation. On the other hand I do not think Sir John has acted loyally to his superiors, for he disclosed to Arnold White and Mr Yerburgh, at two visits for two at a time, all our plans."[56]

At the start of September King-Hall observed, "He is a hard man to have anything to do with, does not forget easily."[57] On hearing a rumour that Sir Edward Seymour was to succeed Lord Walter Kerr as First Sea Lord, with the latter going to Devonport, Fisher wrote to Fawkes, Private Secretary to the First Lord, that it was:

Most unkind of Walter Kerr, as I had set my heart on going to Plymouth! However, as it says "Its authoritatively stated",I feel it a'in't [sic] true, and breathe again! But I warn you that if you don't send me down to Plymouth you will have your eyes scratched out by the Fisher family! So look out![58]

Following manœuvres off Argostoli, King-Hall recorded of Fisher:

The C-in-C has been rather impulsive in his signals. My regret is that he never asks my advice or opinion on anything. I must confess I have never had such an uncomfortable time in the service as I have had this summer on board Renown. There is nothing for the Chief of Staff to do at sea and not room in one ship for two Captains unless you are all three in sympathy with each other.

This evening after dinner, the C-in-C evidently relieved from the strain, and got over the feeling of resentment at being worsted, in a burst of feeling said; "I am sick of operations and my brain is getting addled with this."[59]

Fisher wrote to Fawkes on 29 October saying that he didn't want to spend another summer in the Mediterranean, and wondered if "there is any prospect of 'history repeating itself' when Lord Alcester went from Mediterranean to be Second Sea Lord?"[60]

On 2 November, he was promoted to the rank of Admiral.[61]

Second Sea Lord & Navy Reform

It was officially announced on 21 February, 1902, that Fisher would succeed Vice-Admiral Archibald L. Douglas as Second Naval Lord. The Times newspaper commented: "it is not unreasonable to suppose that he is likely to become First Naval Lord when ADMIRAL LORD WALTER KERR retires from that post."[62]

On 3 June the Director of Naval Intelligence, Reginald N. Custance, had written to Vice-Admiral Sir Cyprian A. G. Bridge, with remarkable perspicacity:

Fisher arrives next week. Heaven only knows what he may not attempt to run. Any wild cat scheme finds a supporter in him. It is much to be feared that we are on the eve of a phase of court interest. Fawkes is playing up to them [the Royal Family] for all he is worth, and I fear the advent of Battenberg in Fisher's train.[63]

On 10 June, 1902, Fisher was appointed a Lord of the Admiralty and Second Naval Lord. 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 26 June in King Edward VII's Coronation Honours' List.[64]

On 12 November Captain George F. King-Hall, the Assistant to the Admiral Superintendent of Naval Reserves, noted in his diary: "Heard from Custance that Fisher has applied for Portsmouth, the command falling vacant next June."[65] Fisher confirmed this on the 14th in a letter to his son: "Tyrwhitt says Lord Selborne is extremely reluctant to let me go now, but he admits I'm entitled to Portsmouth and that he can't expect me to play second fiddle here for 2 years after having played the first fiddle for so long." Selborne apparently made it clear that if he were still First Lord when Lord Walter Kerr retired, he would be "determined" to make Fisher First Sea Lord.[66]

Captain King-Hall confided to his diary on 15 October:

Angus MacLeod [Director of Naval Ordnance and Torpedoes] told me that he had been offered Queenstown and Barry, one of Fisher’s men, was to succeed him. He gave me an account of Fisher’s interview with him, how Fisher said "You are trying to wreck my plans regarding gunnery." MacLeod said "No, I am not, but, as D.N.O, it is my duty to express my opinion." Fisher said "You know people talk of the three R's. My three R’s are Ruthless, Relentless, Remorseless."
MacLeod, said he got quite fierce, and glared, saying:— "Anyone who opposes me I crush, I crush!." There is no doubt that Fisher has got MacLeod out of it, in order to put Barry in. MacLeod says he is glad to be out of the Admiralty, with all its scheming. Lord Walter seems to be quite helpless and as MacLeod says, the Admiralty is practically run by Fisher, though C-in-C at Portsmouth, Battenberg and Tyrwhitt.
Admiral Rice [Admiral Commanding Coastguard and Reserves] told me that Beaumont is endeavouring to prevent Fisher from returning as 1st Naval Lord. But as I told Rice, there is not much chance of his doing that.[67]

Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth

Fisher was appointed Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth on 31 August, 1903.[68]

On 20 June, 1904, it was announced that the King had approved of Fisher's appointment as First Naval Lord, in succession to Lord Walter Kerr, to date 20 October. The Times noted that the appointment had been "long anticipated," and would be "received with equal satisfaction throughout the Empire."[69] He spent September and the first half of October in Europe before returning to London to take up the office.[70]

In a letter to the Earl of Selborne of 19 October, 1904, Fisher wrote:

These are the seven brains: Jackson, F.R.S., Jellicoe, C.B., Bacon, D.S.O., Madden, M.V.O., Wilfred Henderson (who has all the signs of the Zodiac after his name!), associated with Gard, M.V.O., Chief Constructor of Portsmouth Dockyard, and who splendidly kept the Mediterranean Fleet efficient for three years, and Gracie, the best Marine Engineer in the world![71]

First Sea Lord, 1904-1910

Fisher took office as First Sea Lord on 20 October, 1904,[72] a day earlier than planned. As 16 Queen Anne's Gate, his official residence, was not yet ready for him he took up quarters at the Charing Cross Hotel.[73]

Stewart Ross has stated that, "Fisher did not go out of his way to provoke Beresford."[74] He cites the case of Admiral Bridgeman requesting as his Chief of Staff Captain the Hon. Alexander Bethell, a captain in Beresford's Channel Fleet. Fisher told Beresford that Bethell was being relieved and gave him no reason. He then advised Bethell to keep his transfer secret and not inform Beresford, reducing the latter to calling on Bethell's wife and sending his Flag Lieutenant to Bethell's young daughter for information.[75] This story shows the professional head of the world's largest navy essentially playing games with the senior naval officer afloat. Fisher may not, as Ross claims, have gone out of his way to provoke Beresford, but it suggests that he could have dealt with Beresford in a far more respectful and professional manner.

Fisher was promoted, "in pursuance of His Majesty's pleasure," to the rank of Admiral of the Fleet on 4 December, 1905.[76] After Fisher's promotion, Pretyman, the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary, wrote that "the policy of the Board would be maintained whatever may happen about the new Cabinet."[77] About this time Rear-Admiral George King-Hall noted that: "Under a picture of Sir John, are the following lines in his own handwriting 'Whoever kicks hard, I can kick harder.' This is up in his Secretary's Office."[78] On the same day King-Hall was informed that Fisher felt that he was being unfairly implicated in his appointment as Senior Officer on the Coast of Ireland: "However whatever Sir John says, as A. [Arbuthnot] remarked, can be believed or not as you wish."[79]

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry F. Oliver, Fisher's Naval Assistant from 1908 to 1911, later recounted working for the First Sea Lord:

At the Admiralty I worked with the 1st Sea Lord[']s Private Secretary W.F. Nicholson, he later on was the first Permanent Secretary of the Air Ministry, in a small Office on the first floor looking over the Horse Guards Parade.

There was no war staff then and all the movements of ships, Relief of ships, commissioning and paying off, release of ships for refits or docking, composition of Fleets and Squadrons, and everything affecting sea going and fighting efficiency came through our Office to the 1st Sea Lord. Nicholson or I put suggested minutes on them and took them to the 1st Sea Lord. He was very busy and had many irons in the fire in and outside the Admiralty and barked at us if papers came to him which were merely routine but papers would not go through without his initials and Nicholson would put J.F. on them so that it was impossible to tell any difference.[80]

Following King Edward VII's visit to Russia, Fisher was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (G.C.V.O.) on 10 June, 1908.[81]

On 11 December, 1909, he was formally raised to the peerage as "Baron Fisher of Kilverstone, in the County of Norfolk."[82]


As early as 1905, Battenberg had written to Sir George Clarke of the "senseless way in which Fisher insults and alienates our senior men."[83]

Jameson complains of the "fact that a junior officer had arraigned the Board of Admiralty before a court at Cabinet level and had failed to substantiate his charges had hardly been touched upon, thus cutting away one of the foundations of naval discipline."[84] First, to call Beresford a "junior officer" is absurd - he had just hauled down his flag in command of the second-most powerful British fleet, a fleet which undoubtedly would have been the strongest were it not for the machinations of Fisher. Second, the lengths to which Fisher went to get his own way can hardly be regarded as epitomising naval discipline. The publication of Bacon's letters, and the alleged attempt to have Sturdee spy on Beresford, are indicative of someone repeatedly flouting the chain of command.


Fisher still had hopes of being recalled to the Admiralty, and these rose when Winston Churchill became first lord in October 1911. The two men seemed to have a fascination with each other, though the relationship was volatile. Churchill may have been tempted to recall Fisher, especially after Wilson and Bridgeman, Fisher's successors, proved disappointing, but he was acutely conscious of the renewed dissension this would arouse. Nevertheless, the two men corresponded and had frequent conversations about naval affairs. In June 1912 Fisher became chairman of the royal commission on fuel oil which reported favourably on the use of oil fuel by new warships. In 1913 he produced the first draft of a paper, ‘The oil engine and the submarine’, predicting that submarines would make the traditional command of the sea difficult and would render the dispatch of overseas expeditionary forces more hazardous than ever before. He argued that it was imperative that the British had an equal or larger number of submarines than their prospective enemies. Fisher predicted, accurately and against prevailing opinion, that the Germans would violate international law by using submarines to strike at British commerce.

When the Navy Estimates for 1914 began to be debated vociferously in late 1913, Fisher wrote to Jellicoe, then Second Sea Lord, with his thoughts on the relationship between the Sea Lords and the Government:

What I earnestly pray you to bear in mind is the vital fact that the Sea Lords have nothing whatever to do with “Policy” – that is the sole business and responsibility of Parliament! It is not for the Sea Lords to argue what countries we should be in alliance with or otherwise, but when Parliament has laid down the “Policy” (whatever it is – whether 2 keels to 1 – or 60 per cent or any other scale) then the Sea Lords come in to the business & say that the Standard is or is not being adhered to.

If the Sea Lords (as Beresford & others have so often urged them to do) ever try to dictate to Parliament they will be swept away and instead of a Board of Admiralty we shall have a Secretary of State who will be an autocrat.[85]

First Sea Lord Again, 1914

Fisher returned to the Admiralty as First Sea Lord on 30 October to replace Prince Louis of Battenberg, who had been compelled to resign owing to his German ancestry and general dissatisfaction at the naval conduct of the war. The appointment was made at the insistence of Churchill, with the King's expressly stated misgivings. Upon learning of the defeat of Rear-Admiral Sir Christoper G. F. M. Cradock by the German East Asia Squadron at the Battle of Coronel on 1 November, Fisher ordered the battle cruisers Invincible and Inflexible despatched to South America waters as soon as possible to hunt the German squadron down. The Chief of Staff at the Admiralty, Sir F. C. Doveton Sturdee, was tainted by his former association with Beresford and put in command of the force to get him out of the way. Fisher strained his relations with Jellicoe, now Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet, by ordering him to send the battle cruiser Princess Royal to the Western Atlantic to watch the Panama Canal in case the German squadron tried to pass through it. Jellicoe protested at the loss of one of his most modern battle cruisers at a time when his fleet was dangerously near to parity with the German High Sea Fleet. Eventually, all worked out, and Sturdee's squadron destroyed the majority of the German East Asia Squadron at the Battle of the Falkland Islands on 8 December. The success was credited in large part to Fisher, but Sturdee also received much positive attention, with the result that he was much abused by the First Sea Lord afterwards.

The Dardanelles

The break with Churchill came over the Dardanelles expedition. Fisher had apparently gone along with the plans, reluctantly, but after the failure of the naval attack in March, 1915 and the landing of the expeditionary force in April he finally concluded that Churchill would be insatiable about making future demands for the Dardanelles, and on an apparently minor issue—the dispatch of a few additional ships and submarines—he abruptly resigned on 15 May. He also contacted Bonar Law, leader of the opposition, indicating that he considered Churchill a menace who ought to be removed. Fisher's resignation set in motion a chain of events leading to Churchill's replacement by Arthur J. Balfour (whom Fisher opposed) in a reconstituted cabinet, but any hope Fisher had of being recalled ended when he submitted an ill-advised memorandum to the Prime Minister setting out his conditions for returning to office, winning the war, and abolishing the submarine menace. Admiral Sir Henry B. Jackson became First Sea Lord and Fisher's naval career was finally over. Balfour wrote to former First Lord the Earl of Selborne on 20 May, "I am afraid Jacky is really a little mad."[86]

Board of Invention & Research

In June, 1915 Fisher was named chairman of the Board of Invention and Research, an entity supposed to encourage scientific work for the Navy. The board earned the unenviable nickname of the "board of intrigue and revenge" before it was terminated in December, 1918. Its activities appear to have concentrated on antisubmarine warfare, and considerable progress was made towards developing the ultrasonic detection system that would later become known as A.S.D.I.C. (sonar). Fisher and Churchill were also reconciled to the point where in March, 1916 Churchill, recommended to an amazed House of Commons that Fisher be recalled. However, there was no possibility of this happening. After the war Fisher published two volumes of dictated memoirs, Records (1919) and Memories (1919). They are not formal memoirs but rather a collection of anecdotes, thoughts on naval subjects, and aphorisms, as well as assorted letters—all of which convey his forceful character.

Death & Funeral

On the proceeds of his memoirs Fisher took himself, the Duchess of Hamilton and her convalescent son to Monte Carlo in February, 1920. He wrote, "It's Paradise!!! And fancy my not finding it till my 80th year!!! If the Duchess dies (as is quite likely—she worries over so many things!)—I shall live here altogether!" The King's Surgeon, Sir Frederick Treves, who was also in Monte Carlo, advised Fisher to remain and enjoy the weather. The weather changed and on 5 March Fisher had a sore throat, followed by rheumatic pains. Treves ordered him to return to Britain. Between 17 March and early July Fisher underwent four operations for cancer in London.[87] He apparently never knew the nature of the disease killing him.[88] On 6 June he seemed well enough to be moved to the Hamilton estate at Ferne, near Salisbury. His condition again deteriorated and he underwent a final operation at the Duchesses's St. James's Square home on 9 July.[87]


In March, 2011, the colloquial initialism "O.M.G." (standing for "Oh, my God!") was added to the Third Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. The earliest example is apparently found in a letter Fisher wrote to Churchill on 9 September, 1917, quoted in Memories. "I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis—O.M.G. (Oh! My God!)—Shower it on the Admiralty!!"[89]

See Also


  • Bacon, Admiral Sir Reginald Hugh Spencer (1929). The Life of Lord Fisher of Kilverstone: Admiral of the Fleet. Volume One. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc.
  • Bacon, Admiral Sir Reginald Hugh Spencer (1929). The Life of Lord Fisher of Kilverstone: Admiral of the Fleet. Volume Two. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc.
  • Marder, Arthur J.. ed. (1952) Fear God and Dread Nought: The Correspondence of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher of Kilverstone. Volume I: The Making of an Admiral, 1854-1904. London: Jonathan Cape.
  • Marder, Arthur J.. ed. (1956) Fear God and Dread Nought: The Correspondence of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher of Kilverstone. Volume II: Years of Power, 1904-1914. London: Jonathan Cape.
  • Marder, Arthur J.. ed. (1959) Fear God and Dread Nought: The Correspondence of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher of Kilverstone. Volume III: Restoration, Abdication and Last Years, 1914-1920. London: Jonathan Cape.
  • Gough, Barry M. (1995). Murfett, Malcolm H.. ed. The First Sea Lords: From Fisher to Mountbatten. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers. ISBN 0275942317.
  • Hough, Richard (1969). First Sea Lord: An Authorized Biography of Admiral Lord Fisher. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd. ISBN 049230484.
  • Mackay, Ruddock Finlay (1973). Fisher of Kilverstone. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0198224095.
  • Penn, Geoffrey (2000). Infighting Admirals: Fisher's Feud with Beresford and the Reactionaries. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Leo Cooper. ISBN 0850527562.


Service Records

Naval Appointments
Preceded by
Richard Wells
Captain of H.M.S. Bellerophon
2 Mar, 1877
Succeeded by
Bouverie F. Clark
Preceded by
Nathaniel Bowden-Smith
Captain of H.M.S. Hercules
7 Jun, 1878 – 22 Aug, 1878
Succeeded by
Edward H. Howard
Preceded by
Captain of H.M.S. Northampton
25 Sep, 1879 – 29 Jan, 1881
Succeeded by
Noel S. F. Digby
Preceded by
New Command
Captain of H.M.S. Inflexible
5 Jul, 1881 – 31 Dec, 1882
Succeeded by
Edward H. Seymour
Preceded by
William Codrington
Captain of H.M.S. Excellent
6 Apr, 1883[90][91]
Succeeded by
Compton E. Domvile
Preceded by
John O. Hopkins as Director of Naval Ordnance
Director of Naval Ordnance and Torpedoes
1 Nov, 1886[92]
Succeeded by
Compton E. Domvile
Preceded by
William E. Gordon
Admiral Superintendent, Portsmouth Dockyard
21 May, 1891[93] – Feb, 1892
Succeeded by
Charles G. Fane
Preceded by
John O. Hopkins
Third Naval Lord and Controller of the Navy
1 Feb, 1892 – 23 Aug, 1897
Succeeded by
Arthur K. Wilson
Preceded by
Sir James E. Erskine
Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies Station
15 Sep, 1897[94]
Succeeded by
Sir Frederick G. D. Bedford
Preceded by
Sir John O. Hopkins
Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Station
1 Jul, 1899[95]
Succeeded by
Sir Compton E. Domvile
Preceded by
Archibald L. Douglas
Second Naval Lord
10 Jun, 1902[96]
Succeeded by
Sir Charles C. Drury
Preceded by
Sir Charles F. Hotham
Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth Station
31 Aug, 1903[97] – Mar, 1904
Succeeded by
Sir Archibald L. Douglas
Preceded by
Lord Walter Kerr
as First Naval Lord
First Sea Lord
20 Oct, 1904[98]
Succeeded by
Sir Arthur K. Wilson
Preceded by
H.S.H. Prince Louis of Battenberg
First Sea Lord
30 Oct, 1914 – 27 May, 1915[99]
Succeeded by
Sir Henry B. Jackson
Court Appointments
Preceded by
Sir Henry F. Stephenson
First and Principal Naval Aide-de-Camp
21 Oct, 1904[100]
Succeeded by
Sir Lewis A. Beaumont


  1. Quoted in Bacon. Lord Fisher. I. p. 4.
  2. Bacon. Lord Fisher. I. p. 236.
  3. Quoted in Mackay. p. 4.
  4. Fisher. Memories. p. 142.
  5. Fisher. Records. p. 7.
  6. Fisher Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/15. [ADM 196/15.] f. 3. Presumably he was also placed on the books of Victory as well in accordance with regulations. Mackay doesn't seem to have followed this up.
  7. Lady Fisher writing in 1907. Mackay. p. 5.
  8. Fisher. Records. pp. 11-12.
  9. Mackay. p. 5.
  10. Fisher. Records. p. 10.
  11. Mackay. p. 5n.
  12. Mackay. pp. 6-7.
  13. Mackay. p. 9.
  14. Fisher. Records. p. 261.
  15. Mackay. p. 11.
  16. ADM 196/15. f. 3.
  17. Mackay. p. 12.
  18. Mackay. pp. 14-15.
  19. Mackay. p. 16.
  20. The Navy List. (January, 1860). pp. 236, 239.
  21. ADM 196/15. f. 3.
  22. Quoted in Mackay. p. 22.
  23. Quoted in Mackay. p. 29.
  24. The London Gazette: no. 23523. p. 4366. 6 August, 1869.
  25. Mackay. Fisher of Kilverstone. p. 70.
  26. Quoted in Mackay. Fisher of Kilverstone. pp. 70-71.
  27. The London Gazette: no. 24147. p. 5200. 3 November, 1874.
  28. The National Archives. ADM 196/15. f. 9.
  29. The Naval Review (1930). p. 190.
  30. The National Archives. ADM 196/15. f. 9.
  31. The National Archives. ADM 196/15. f. 9.
  32. The London Gazette: no. 25138. p. 3794. 15 August, 1882.
  33. The National Archives. ADM 196/15. f. 9.
  34. The Naval Review (1930). p. 191.
  35. Mackay. p. 227.
  36. The Naval Review (1930). p. 201.
  37. The Naval Review (1930). p. 202.
  38. ADM 196/36. f. 455.
  39. ADM 196/15. f. 9.
  40. ADM 196/36. f. 455.
  41. Mackay. p. 183.
  42. Halpern. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  43. ADM 196/36. f. 455.
  44. The London Gazette: no. 26076. p. 4282. 5 August, 1890.
  45. ADM 196/15. f. 9.
  46. ADM 196/15. f. 9.
  47. The London Gazette: no. 26516. p. 3116. 26 May, 1894.
  48. Letter of 22 May, 1894. Quoted in Mackay. p. 211.
  49. The London Gazette: no. 26740. p. 2988. 19 May, 1896.
  50. Letter of 13 February, 1900. Quoted in Mackay. p. 211.
  51. ADM 196/15. f. 9.
  52. "Naval & Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Wednesday, 25 August, 1897. Issue 35291, col D, p. 5.
  53. ADM 196/15. f. 9.
  54. Diary entry for 16 April, 1901.
  55. Diary entry for 6 June, 1901.
  56. Diary entry for 21 July, 1901.
  57. Diary entry for 1 September, 1901.
  58. Fisher to Fawkes. Copy of letter of 17 September, 1901. Fisher Papers. Churchill Archives Centre. FISR 1/2/92.
  59. Diary entry for 12 October, 1901.
  60. Fisher to Fawkes. Copy of letter of 29 October, 1901. Fisher Papers. Churchill Archives Centre. FISR 1/2/99.
  61. The London Gazette: no. 27373. p. 7223. 8 November, 1901.
  62. "Editorial" (Editorials/Leaders). The Times. Friday, 21 February, 1902. Issue 36697, col E, p. 7.
  63. Bridge Papers. National Maritime Museum. BRI 15. Quoted in Mackay. p. 275.
  64. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 27448. p. 4189. 26 June, 1902.
  65. Diary entry for 12 November, 1902.
  66. Mackay. pp. 284-285.
  67. Diary entry for 15 October, 1903.
  68. ADM 196/15. f. 9.
  69. "Important Naval Appointments" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Monday, 20 June, 1904. Issue 37425, col A, p. 10.
  70. Mackay. p. 315.
  71. Fear God and Dread Nought. I. p. 331.
  72. ADM 196/15. Unknown register. f. 9.
  73. Mackay. p. 315.
  74. Ross. Admiral Sir Francis Bridgeman. p. 143.
  75. Bennett. Charlie B. p. 305.
  76. The London Gazette: no. 27861. p. 8812. 8 December, 1905.
  77. Quoted in Williams. Defending the Empire. p. 69.
  78. Diary entry for 2 February, 1906.
  79. Ibid.
  80. Oliver. II. ff. 62-63.
  81. The London Gazette: no. 28148. p. 4404. 16 June, 1908.
  82. The London Gazette: no. 28317. p. 9514. 14 December, 1909.
  83. Jameson. The House that Jack Built. p. 131.
  84. Jameson. The House that Jack Built. p. 131.
  85. Fisher to Jellicoe. Letter of 30 December, 1913. Jellicoe Papers. British Library. Add MS 49006. ff. 26-27.
  86. Bodleian Library. Selborne Papers. SP 1/1512.Quoted in Adams. Balfour. p. 436.
  87. 87.0 87.1 Hough. First Sea Lord. p. 357.
  88. Mackay. Fisher of Kilverstone. pp. 513-514.
  89. Fisher. Memories. p. 87.
  90. Fisher Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/15. p. 9.
  91. The Navy List. (September, 1885). p. 253.
  92. Fisher Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/36. f. 452.
  93. "Naval & Military Intelligence." The Times (London, England), Monday, 13 April, 1891. Issue 33297, col C, p. 7.
  94. Clowes. The Royal Navy. Vol. VII. p. 87.
  95. Clowes. The Royal Navy. Vol. VII. p. 87.
  96. Fisher Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/36. f. 455.
  97. Fisher Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/15. f. 9.
  98. The Naval Staff of the Admiralty. p. 118.
  99. The Naval Staff of the Admiralty. p. 119.
  100. "Birthday Honours" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Wednesday, 9 November, 1904. Issue 37547, col A, p. 10.