William Reginald Hall

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Admiral Sir William Reginald Hall, 1919.

Admiral SIR William Reginald Hall, K.C.M.G., C.B., Royal Navy, Retired (28 June, 1870 – 22 October, 1943) was an officer of the Royal Navy. He is chiefly remembered today for his tenure as Director of Naval Intelligence during the First World War.

Early Life & Career

Hall was born at The Close, Salisbury, 28 June 1870, the elder son and second child of Lieutenant (later Captain) William Henry Hall, Royal Navy, of Ross, Herefordshire, the first Director of Naval Intelligence and later Captain Superintendent of Pembroke Dockyard, by his wife, Caroline Elizabeth, daughter of the Reverend Henry Thomas Armfield, vicar of the cathedral and the close of Salisbury.

Hall's first sea trip was in his father's ship, the Flamingo, gun-vessel, at the age of ten. He entered the Britannia as a cadet in 1884.

On 18 July, 1889, he was appointed to the Asia for Torpedo Boat No. 81. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant on 28 January, 1890.

On 11 May, 1892, he was selected to qualify in Gunnery Duties, and was appointed to Excellent at Portsmouth for this purpose on 30 September. There he attained a First Class certificate in Gunnery. He was appointed to Victory for command of T.B. 82 on 11 July, 1893, for the annual manoeuvres, but owing to sickness did not take up the appointment. On 18 July, 1894, he was appointed to the Thetis as Lieutenant (G), where he remained until 20 August, when he was appointed to Excellent to serve on the Junior Staff of the Gunnery School. This refutes somewhat the claim of his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography (written by his subordinate, biographer, and acolyte Sir William M. James) which states that "after serving a commission at sea as gunnery lieutenant, he was appointed a senior staff officer on the books of the Excellent, then one of the most coveted appointments in the navy." He did not serve a full commission at sea, and he was not appointed to the Senior Staff of Excellent.

Hall was promoted to the rank of Commander on 1 January, 1901.[1]


Hall was promoted to the rank of Captain on 31 December, 1905,[2] and on 1 January, 1906, he was appointed Inspecting Captain of Mechanical Training Establishments. He was appointed in command of the cadet training cruiser Cornwall on 10 December, 1907.[3]

Hall was appointed in temporary command of the armoured cruiser Natal on 8 December, 1909, following the death of its captain, Frederick C. A. Ogilvy, and he was confirmed in command on 17 December.[4] It has been claimed that Natal retained "first place in the navy at the annual gunnery tests,"[5] and "the top ship in the navy in gunnery."[6] It did indeed hold first place in the 1910 gunlayers' heavy gun test,[7] but in battle practice (the more realistic competition) the ship placed fifth just in the 14 participating ships of the Second Division, Home Fleet and Second Cruiser Squadron.[8]

In April, 1911, he was found at fault for the death of a Seaman George Smith, apparently killed by either a moving or a firing turret which should have had a sentry posted to warn men from approaching.[9]

He was superseded in command of Natal on 27 June, 1911, on which date he was appointed Naval Assistant to the Controller of the Navy.[10]

In 1913 he was lent to the new battle cruiser Queen Mary to command her during her trials, and on 1 July he was appointed to Victory to command her on completion. He now had the opportunity of introducing a wide range of reforms to which he had given much thought. Convinced of the importance of raising the prestige of the petty officers, in his view the most important link in the chain of command, he had all their messes reconstructed in order to give them greater comfort. At the Admiralty's instigation he accepted the responsibility of commissioning without the customary staff of ship's police and trusting to the petty officers to undertake police duties. He broke with tradition by introducing a three-watch system for the organization of the ship's company instead of the two-watch system, because he was convinced that a three-watch system was more suitable for wartime. When war broke out, all the larger units followed this lead. The first cinematograph, the first laundry, the first bookstall, the first adequate hot-water system on board were other fruits of his imagination and devoted interest in the welfare of his men. A deeply religious man, he built into the ship the first chapel in a man-of-war; a few years later all big ships were fitted with chapels.

Director of Naval Intelligence

Hall was in command of the Queen Mary at the Battle of Heligoland Bight (28 August, 1914), but, according to then Rear-Admiral (later Admiral of the Fleet Sir) Henry F. Oliver, "his health would not stand the strain and when I became Naval Secretary in October 1914 Mrs. Hall wrote to me and I got Prince Louis of Battenberg and Churchill to appoint him D.I.D."[11] Hall's appointment as Director of the Intelligence Division was dated 14 October.[12]

On 3 June, 1915, Hall was appointed a Companion in the Civil Division of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (C.B.).[13]


Thanks to decrypted telegraph traffic between the German foreign ministry and its embassy in Washington, Hall was in receipt of much intelligence regarding Ireland, and Sir Roger Casement's attempts to obtain German support for an uprising.[14] Room 40 intercepted at least thirty-two messages dealing concerning German support for the Nationalist movement. On 9 April, 1916, the 1,400 ton steamer Libau, masquerading as the Norwegian Aud, sailed from Lubeck carrying 20,000 captured Russian Mausers, ten machine guns, a million rounds of ammunition and a quantity of explosives. Her destination was Tralee Bay on the west coast of Ireland. On 15 April the ship's mission was betrayed by a signal from Nauen asking, "… whether German auxiliary cruiser vessel, which is to bring weapons to Ireland has actually …" The Libau reached Tralee Bay on 20 May, and failed to make contact with any Sinn Feiners.[15] She was sighted by the sloop Bluebell, and ordered into Queenstown. The German ship followed, stopped, then scuttled herself.[16]

Casement himself followed the arms shipment on 12 April with two companions in the U-20 from Wilhelmshaven.

Zimmerman Telegram

Intrigue at the Admiralty

In his memoirs, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry Oliver (Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff in 1917) recounted a tale regarding Hall:

In December 1917 there was evidence to me that there was some underground work going on. One evening about 10.30 p.m. some Officers were talking in my room about Admiralty affairs and one of them referred to someone as "Judas Iscariot" and I asked who he was and was told it was Hall who was mixed up with political people in high places and did not support Jellicoe.[17]

Also in his memoirs, Oliver alleged that Hall had planted agents in the Naval Barracks who had taken far too seriously the "hot air" of Hostilities Only ratings, with the result that Oliver (then Rear-Admiral Commanding the Battle Cruiser Squadron) was summoned to London and told by Wemyss that his men "were hatching a mutiny and would refuse to go to sea." Oliver dismissed the claim as a "mares nest."[18]

Retirement & Politics

Hall had been promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral on 27 April, 1917.[19] He retired on 3 February, 1919 and succeeded Lord Birkenhead as Unionist candidate for the West Derby Division of Liverpool.[20] Ill health hampered his political career, but on the few occasions on which he addressed the House on naval subjects he commanded a respectful hearing through his obvious sincerity and his detailed and inside knowledge of international and imperial affairs. On 1 May, 1922, he was advanced to the rank of Vice-Admiral on the Retired List.[21]

In March 1923 Hall became principal agent of the Conservative Party, an office which he held until after the Conservative losses at the general election of December. The qualities which had stood him in such good stead as director of naval intelligence were other than those required in a principal political agent when his party's fortunes were on the wane, and he was not well suited for the post. He lost his seat at the election but re-entered Parliament in 1925 as member for Eastbourne. On 8 November, 1926, he was advanced to the rank of Admiral on the Retired List.[22] Ill health caused his retirement from politics at the general election of 1929. He died in London 22 October 1943.

Hall married in 1894 Ethel Wootton (died 1932), daughter of (Sir) William de Wiveleslie Abney. They had one daughter and two sons, both of whom became naval officers, the elder dying in 1942.

A drawing of Hall by Francis Dodd is in the Imperial War Museum. A crayon drawing by Louis Raemaekers is in the possession of the family. A bust by Lady Kennet is at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.


There can be, it would seem, no doubt that Sir William Reginald Hall was a clever man. However, two incidents must stand out in any account of his life. The first is his alleged vindictive shortsightedness which led to the Easter Rising in Ireland and much needless slaughter and grief. This requires little further comment, and if true demands universal condemnation.

The other point concerns a story, perhaps apocryphal, which Hall was fond of recounting, whereby during the war a German spy whom he had helped to capture was given a lenient sentence by a judge. The judge had decided that the spy's offence, passing information back to Germany on the location of British factories, mattered little as they were "targets of no military importance." Hall decided to teach the judge a lesson and supposedly sent a report in the spy's name giving the judge's country home as the site of a factory. At a dinner not long afterwards Hall was sat next to the judge in question, who complained that his home had become the target of zeppelin bombings and he had only just escaped with his life. Hall replied, "Well, it was not a target of any military importance was it?"[23] It is perhaps worth noting that the judge in question, Sir Reginald M. Bray (1842-1923), was at the time a Judge on the King's Bench Division of the High Court, was a well regarded jurist, and was in his seventies during the war.[24]


  • "Admiral Sir Reginald Hall" (Obituaries). The Times. Saturday, 23 October, 1943. Issue 49684, col F, p. 6.
  • Andrew, Christopher (1986). Her Majesty's Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community. New York: Viking. ISBN 0-670-80941-1.
  • Beesly, Patrick (1982). Room 40: British Naval Intelligence 1914–1918. London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-281468-0.
  • James, Admiral Sir William Milbourne (1956). The Eyes of the Navy: A Biographical Study of Admiral Sir Reginald Hall. London: Methuen & Co..
  • Ramsay, David (2008). 'Blinker' Hall: Spymaster: The Man who Brought America into World War I. Stroud: The History Press. ISBN 1862274657.


Service Records

See Also

Naval Appointments
Preceded by
Frederick C. D. Sturdee
Captain of H.M. T.B. 82
11 Jul, 1893 – c. mid Aug, 1893[Inference]
Succeeded by
Stanley L. Willis
Preceded by
Inspecting Captain of Mechanical Training Establishments
1 Jan, 1906[25][26] – 10 Dec, 1907[27]
Succeeded by
Edmund H. Smith
Preceded by
Herbert C. C. Da Costa
Captain of H.M.S. Cornwall
10 Dec, 1907[28][29] – 8 Dec, 1909[30]
Succeeded by
James C. Ley
Preceded by
Frederick C. A. Ogilvy
Captain of H.M.S. Natal
8 Dec, 1909[31][32] – 27 Jun, 1911[33]
Succeeded by
Clement Greatorex
Preceded by
Dudley R. S. de Chair
Naval Assistant to the Third Sea Lord and Controller of the Navy
27 Jul, 1911[34] – 1 Jul, 1913[35]
Succeeded by
Clement Greatorex
Preceded by
New Commission
Captain of H.M.S. Queen Mary
1 Jul, 1913[36] – 13 Oct, 1914[37]
Succeeded by
Rudolf W. Bentinck
Preceded by
Henry F. Oliver
Director of the Intelligence Division
14 Oct, 1914[38][39] – 15 Jan, 1919[40]
Succeeded by
Hugh F. P. Sinclair
as Director of Naval Intelligence


  1. The London Gazette: no. 27263. p. 82. 4 January, 1901.
  2. The London Gazette: no. 27870. p. 25. 2 January, 1906.
  3. ADM 196/43. f. 78.
  4. ADM 196/43. f. 78.
  5. James. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  6. James. The Eyes of the Navy. p. 11.
  7. Result of Test of Gunlayers with Heavy Guns in His Majesty's Fleet, 1910. p. 5.
  8. Result of Battle Practice of His Majesty's Fleet, 1910. p. 5.
  9. Hall Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 40/78.
  10. Hall Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 40/78.
  11. Oliver Papers. National Maritime Museum. OLV/12. "Recollections." II. p. 164.
  12. Hall Service Record. p. 78.
  13. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29180. p. 5325. 3 June, 1915.
  14. Andrew. Her Majesty's Secret Service. pp. 246-247.
  15. Beesley. Room 40. p. 187.
  16. James. The Eyes of the Navy. p. 111.
  17. "Oliver Typescript Memoir." II. p. 198.
  18. "Oliver Typescript Memoir." II. p. 210.
  19. The London Gazette: no. 30042. p. 4095. 1 May, 1917.
  20. "Admiral Hall's Retirement" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Saturday, 15 February, 1919. Issue 42025, col G, p. 13.
  21. The London Gazette: no. 32695. p. 3625. 9 May, 1922.
  22. The London Gazette: no. 33222. p. 7477. 19 November, 1926.
  23. Beesley. Room 40. pp. 37-38.
  24. "A Strong Judge" (News). The Times. Friday, 23 March, 1923. Issue 43297, col D, p. 15.
  25. "Naval and Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Saturday, 9 December, 1905. Issue 37886, col B, p. 14.
  26. Hall Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 40/78.
  27. Hall Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 40/78.
  28. The Navy List. (October, 1908). p. 296.
  29. Hall Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 40/78.
  30. Hall Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 40/78.
  31. Hall Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 78.
  32. The Navy List. (April, 1911). p. 347.
  33. Hall Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 40/78.
  34. Hall Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 78.
  35. Hall Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 40/78.
  36. Hall Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 78.
  37. Hall Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 40/78.
  38. The Naval Staff of the Admiralty. p. 122.
  39. Hall Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 40/78.
  40. Hall Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 40/78.