Mediterranean Fleet

Mediterranean Fleet
The battleships Bulwark, Renown and Ramillies at Malta in 1902
Active 1690 – 5 June 1967
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Royal Navy
Type Fleet
Garrison/HQ Malta
Samuel Hood, Horatio Nelson, Andrew Cunningham

The British Mediterranean Fleet also known as the Mediterranean Station [1] was part of the Royal Navy. The Fleet was one of the most prestigious commands in the navy for the majority of its history, defending the vital sea link between the United Kingdom and the majority of the British Empire in the Eastern Hemisphere. The first Commander-in-Chief for the Mediterranean Fleet may have been named as early as 1665 and the Fleet was in existence until 1967.

Pre-Second World War

The Royal Navy gained a foothold in the Mediterranean Sea when Gibraltar was captured by the British in 1704 during the War of Spanish Succession, and formally allocated to Britain in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht.[2] Though the British had maintained a naval presence in the Mediterranean before, the capture of Gibraltar allowed the British to establish their first naval base there. The British also used Port Mahon, on the island of Menorca, as a naval base. However, British control there was only temporary; Menorca changed hands numerous times, and was permanently ceded to Spain in 1802 under the Treaty of Amiens.[3] In 1800, the British took Malta, which was to be handed over to the Knights of Malta under the Treaty of Amiens. When the Napoleonic Wars resumed in 1803, the British kept Malta for use as a naval base. Following Napoleon's defeat, the British continued their presence in Malta, and turned it into the main base for the Mediterranean Fleet. Between the 1860s and 1900s, the British undertook a number of projects to improve the harbours and dockyard facilities, and Malta's harbours were sufficient to allow the entire fleet to be safely moored there.[4][5]

In the last decade of the nineteenth century, the Mediterranean Fleet was the largest single squadron of the Royal Navy, with 10 first-class battleships—double the number in the Channel Fleet—and a large number of smaller warships.[6]

On 22 June 1893, the bulk of the fleet, eight battleships and three large cruisers, were conducting their annual summer exercises off Tripoli, Lebanon, when the fleet's flagship, the battleship HMS Victoria, collided with the battleship HMS Camperdown. Victoria sank within fifteen minutes, taking 358 crew with her. Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon, commander of the Mediterranean Fleet, was among the dead.[7]

Of the three original Invincible-class battlecruisers which entered service in the first half of 1908, two (Inflexible and Indomitable) joined the Mediterranean Fleet in 1914. They and Indefatigable formed the nucleus of the fleet at the start of the First World War when British forces pursued the German ships Goeben and Breslau.[8]

A recently modernised Warspite became the flagship of the Commander-in-Chief and Second-in-Command, Mediterranean Fleet in 1926.[9]

Second World War

Malta, as part of the British Empire from 1814, was a shipping station and was the headquarters for the Mediterranean Fleet until the mid-1930s. Due to the perceived threat of air-attack from the Italian mainland, the fleet was moved to Alexandria, Egypt shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.[10]

Sir Andrew Cunningham took command of the fleet from Warspite on 3 September 1939, and under him the major formations of the Fleet were the 1st Battle Squadron (Warspite, Barham, and Malaya) 1st Cruiser Squadron (Devonshire, Shropshire, and Sussex), 3rd Cruiser Squadron (Arethusa, Penelope, Galatea), Rear Admiral John Tovey, with the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Destroyer Flotillas, and the aircraft carrier Glorious.[11]

In 1940, the Mediterranean Fleet carried out a successful aircraft carrier attack on the Italian Fleet at Taranto by air. Other major actions included the Battle of Cape Matapan and the Battle of Crete. The Fleet had to block Italian and later German reinforcements and supplies for the North African Campaign.[12]

Post war

In October 1946, Saumarez hit a mine in the Corfu Channel, starting a series of events known as the Corfu Channel Incident. The channel was cleared in "Operation Recoil" the next month, involving 11 minesweepers under the guidance of Ocean, two cruisers, three destroyers, and three frigates.[13]:154

In May 1948, Sir Arthur Power took over as Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean, and in his first act arranged a show of force to discourage the crossing of Jewish refugees into Palestine. When later that year Britain pulled out of the British Mandate of Palestine, Ocean, four destroyers, and two frigates escorted the departing High Commissioner, aboard the cruiser Euryalus. The force stayed to cover the evacuation of British troops into the Haifa enclave and south via Gaza.[14]

From 1952 to 1967, the post of Commander in Chief Mediterranean Fleet was given a dual-hatted role as NATO Commander in Chief of Allied Forces Mediterranean in charge of all forces assigned to NATO in the Mediterranean Area. The British made strong representations within NATO in discussions regarding the development of the Mediterranean NATO command structure, wishing to retain their direction of NATO naval command in the Mediterranean to protect their sea lines of communication running through the Mediterranean to the Middle East and Far East.[15] When a NATO naval commander, Admiral Robert B. Carney, C-in-C Allied Forces Southern Europe, was appointed, relations with the incumbent British C-in-C, Admiral Sir John Edelsten, were frosty. Edlesten, on making an apparently friendly offer of the use of communications facilities to Carney, who initially lacked secure communications facilities, was met with "I'm not about to play Faust to your Mephistopheles through the medium of communications!"[15]:261

In 1956, ships of the fleet, together with the French Navy, took part in the Suez War against Egypt.[16]

From 1957 to 1959, Rear Admiral Charles Madden held the post of Flag Officer Malta, with responsibilities for three squadrons of minesweepers, an amphibious warfare squadron, and a flotilla of submarines stationed at the bases around Valletta Harbour. In this capacity, he had to employ considerable diplomatic skill to maintain good relations with Dom Mintoff, the nationalistic prime minister of Malta.[17]

In the 1960s, as the importance of maintaining the link between the United Kingdom and British territories and commitments East of Suez decreased as the Empire dismantled, and the focus of Cold War naval responsibilities moved to the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean Fleet was gradually drawn down, finally disbanding in June 1967. Eric Grove, in Vanguard to Trident, details how by the mid-1960s the permanent strength of the Fleet was "reduced to a single small escort squadron [appears to have been 30th Escort Squadron with HMS Brighton, HMS Cassandra, HMS Aisne plus another ship] and a coastal minesweeper squadron."[13]:297 Deployments to the Beira Patrol and elsewhere reduced the escort total in 1966 from four to two ships, and then to no frigates at all. The Fleet's assets and area of responsibility were given to the new Western Fleet. As a result of this change, the UK relinquished the NATO post of Commander in Chief Mediterranean, which was disbanded.[18]

Commanders-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet

The first Commander-in-Chief for the Mediterranean Fleet may have been named as early as 1665.[19] Commanders-in-chief have included:[20][21]

Commander-in-chief From To Flagship Note
Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Saunders January 1757 May 1757
Vice-Admiral Henry Osborn[22] May 1757 April 1760
Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Saunders April 1760 1763
Vice-Admiral Augustus Hervey 1763 ?
Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Spry 1766 1769
Vice-Admiral Lord Howe[23] 1770 1774
Vice-Admiral Robert Man[24] 1774 1778
Vice-Admiral Robert Duff[24] 1778 1780
Vacant[24] 1780 1783
Vice-Admiral Sir John Lindsay 1783 1784
Vice-Admiral Phillips Cosby 1785 1789
Rear-Admiral Joseph Peyton 1789 1792
Rear-Admiral Samuel Granston Goodall 1792 1793
Vice-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood February 1793 October 1794
Vice-Admiral Lord Hotham October 1794 November 1795
Vice-Admiral Lord Jervis 1796 1799
Vice-Admiral Lord Keith November 1799 1802
Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson [20][25] May 1803 January 1805 Died after Battle of Trafalgar
Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood 1805 1810
Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Cotton[26] 1810 1811
Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Pellew 1811 1814
Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Penrose 1814 1815
Vice-Admiral Lord Exmouth 1815 1816
Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Penrose 1816 1818
Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Fremantle[27] 1818 1820
Vice-Admiral Sir Graham Moore 1820 1823
Vice-Admiral Sir Harry Burrard-Neale 1823 1826
Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Codrington 1826 1828
Vice-Admiral Sir Pulteney Malcolm 1828 1831
Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Hotham[20][25] 30 March 1831 19 April 1833 Died 19 April 1833
Vice-Admiral Sir Pulteney Malcolm 3 May 1833 18 December 1833
Vice-Admiral Sir Josias Rowley 18 December 1833 9 February 1837
Admiral Sir Robert Stopford 9 February 1837 14 October 1841
Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Owen 14 October 1841 27 February 1845
Vice-Admiral Sir William Parker 27 February 1845 13 July 1846 Parker was briefly First Naval Lord in July 1846 but requested permission to return to the Mediterranean on ground of his health.[28]
Vice-Admiral Sir William Parker 24 July 1846 17 January 1852
Rear-Admiral Sir James Dundas 17 January 1852 1854 Vice-Adm. 17 December 1852
Rear-Admiral Sir Edmund Lyons 1854 22 February 1858 Vice-Adm. 19 March 1857
Vice-Admiral Sir Arthur Fanshawe 22 February 1858 19 April 1860 Marlborough [29]
Vice-Admiral Sir William Martin 19 April 1860 20 April 1863 Marlborough [30]
Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Smart 20 April 1863 28 April 1866 Marlborough[31] then Victoria [32]
Vice-Admiral Lord Clarence Paget 28 April 1866 28 April 1869 Victoria then Caledonia[33]
Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Milne 28 April 1869 25 October 1870 Lord Warden [34] Adm. 1 April 1870
Vice-Admiral Sir Hastings Yelverton 25 October 1870 13 January 1874 Lord Warden [35]
Vice-Admiral Sir James Drummond 13 January 1874 15 January 1877 Lord Warden then Hercules [36]
Vice-Admiral Sir Geoffrey Hornby 5 January 1877 5 February 1880 Alexandra [37] Adm. 15 June 1879
Vice-Admiral Sir Beauchamp Seymour 5 February 1880 7 February 1883 Inconstant and Alexandra[38] Adm. 6 May 1882
Vice-Admiral Lord John Hay 7 February 1883 5 February 1886 Alexandra[39] Adm. 8 July 1884
Vice-Admiral H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh 5 February 1886 11 March 1889 Alexandra[40]:222 Adm. 18 October 1887
Vice-Admiral Sir Anthony Hoskins 11 March 1889 20 August 1891 Alexandra Mar 89 – Dec 89
Camperdown Dec 89 – May 90
Victoria May 90 onwards[40]:222, 320, 336
Adm. 20 June 1891
Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon 20 August 1891 22 June 1893 Victoria[41] Died in commission; lost in Victoria
Admiral Sir Michael Culme-Seymour 29 June 1893 10 November 1896 Ramillies[40]:362
Admiral Sir John Hopkins 10 November 1896 1 July 1899 Ramillies[42]>
Admiral Sir John Fisher 1 July 1899 4 June 1902[43] Renown
Admiral Sir Compton Domvile[44] 4 June 1902 June 1905 Bulwark[42]
Admiral Lord Charles Beresford [45][46][47] appointed 1 May 1905
assumed command 6 June 1905
February 1907 Bulwark
Admiral Sir Charles Drury[48] appointed 5 March 1907
assumed command 27 March 1907
1908 Queen
Admiral Sir Assheton Curzon-Howe [49][50] appointed 20 November 1908
assumed command 20 November 1908
1910 Exmouth
Admiral Sir Edmund Poë [50][51] appointed 30 April 1910
assumed command 30 April 1910
November 1912 Exmouth[42]
Admiral Sir Berkley Milne [52][53]:287, 289, 422[54] appointed 1 June 1912
assumed command 12 June 1912
27 August 1914 Inflexible
During World War I plans were put in place to separate the Mediterranean into specific areas of responsibility. The British were charged with responsibility for Gibraltar, Malta, Egyptian coast, and Aegean in August 1917 Vice Admiral Somerset Gough-Calthorpe became CinC, MF commanding all British forces in the Mediterranean. Overall allied command would remain under the control of the Allied Commander in Chief, who was the head of the French Navy. Vice-Admiral Somerset Gough-Calthorpe was also responsible for coordinating other allied forces in Mediterranean. British forces were divided into a number of sub-commands namely Gibraltar, Malta, the British Adriatic Squadron, the British Aegean Squadron, the Egyptian and Red Sea Division and the Black Sea and Marmora Force. [55] Post titles have been put in bold in the notes column.
Admiral Sir Somerset Gough-Calthorpe[53]:323[56]:80[57][58] 26 August 1917 25 July 1919 Superb Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean
Vice Admiral Sir John de Robeck[56]:85 & 94[59] 26 July 1919 14 May 1922 Iron Duke
Vice Admiral Sir Osmond Brock[56]:92[60] 15 May 1922 7 June 1925 Iron Duke Admiral 31 July 1924
Admiral Sir Roger Keyes[61] 8 June 1925 7 June 1928 Warspite
Admiral Sir Frederick Field 8 June 1928 28 May 1930 Queen Elizabeth[56]:121
Admiral Sir Ernle Chatfield[62] 27 May 1930 31 October 1932 Queen Elizabeth[56]
Admiral Sir William Fisher [63][56][64][65] 31 October 1932 19 March 1936 Resolution later Queen Elizabeth[56]:121 & 123
Admiral Sir Dudley Pound[56]:140
20 March 1936 31 May 1939 Queen Elizabeth[42]
During World War II, the Mediterranean Station was split between commands some of the time. Post titles in the notes column.
Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham [66][67][68] 1 June 1939
6 June 1939
assumed command
March 1942 Warspite August 1939
HMS St Angelo (base, Malta) April 1940
Warspite February 1941
Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet. Vice-Admiral Cunningham was given acting rank of Admiral on 1 June 1930, and promoted to Admiral on 3 January 1941.
Admiral Sir Henry Harwood [68][69] 22 April 1942 February 1943 Warspite
HMS Nile (base, Alexandria) Aug 1942
Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet. Vice-Admiral Harwood was given acting rank of Admiral.
Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham [66][67][68] 1 November 1942 20 February 1943 HMS Hannibal (base, Algiers) Naval Commander Expeditionary Force (NCXF) North Africa and Mediterranean
In the February 1943 the Mediterranean Fleet Command was divided into a command of ships and a command of ports & naval bases:
Mediterranean Fleet: Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet, 15th Cruiser Squadron, Cdre. (D)
Levant: Commander-in-Chief, Levant, Alexandria, Malta, Port Said, Haifa, Bizerta, Tripoli, Mersa Matruh, Benghazi, Aden, Bone, Bougie, Philippeville
Levant Command was renamed Levant and Eastern Mediterranean Command in late December 1943.[70]

In January 1944 the two separate commands were re-unified into a single command with the Flag Officer, Levant and East Mediterranean, (FOLEM) reporting to CINC Mediterranean Fleet.[71]

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham [66][67][68] 20 February 1943 15 October 1943 HMS Hannibal (base, Algiers/Taranto) Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet.
Admiral Sir John Cunningham [67][68] 15 October 1943 February 1946 HMS Hannibal (base, Algiers/Taranto) Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Station & Allied Naval Commander Mediterranean
Admiral Sir Algernon Willis[72] 1946 1948 HMS St Angelo (base, Malta)[42]
Admiral Sir Arthur Power 1948 1950 HMS St Angelo (base, Malta)[42] Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean
Admiral Sir John Edelsten 1950 1952 HMS St Angelo (base, Malta)[42] Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean
Admiral Earl Mountbatten of Burma 1952 1954 HMS St Angelo (base, Malta)[42] Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean
Admiral Sir Guy Grantham[73] 10 Dec 1954 10 Apr 57 HMS St Angelo (base, Malta)[42]
Vice Admiral Sir Ralph Edwards 10 Apr 57 11 Nov 58 HMS St Angelo (base, Malta)[42]
Admiral Sir Charles Lambe 11 Nov 58 2 Feb 59 HMS Phoenicia (base, Malta)[42]
Admiral Sir Alexander Bingley 2 Feb 59 30 Jun 61 HMS Phoenicia (base, Malta)[42]
Admiral Sir Deric Holland-Martin 30 Jun 61 1 Feb 64 HMS Phoenicia (base, Malta)[42]
Admiral Sir John Hamilton[13]:297 1 Feb 1964 5 June 1967 HMS St Angelo (base, Malta)[42]


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Further reading

  • S.W.C. Pack Sea Power in the Mediterranean – has a complete list of fleet commanders
  • Halpern, Paul, ed. (2011). The Mediterranean Fleet, 1919–1929. Publications of the Navy Records Society. 158. Farnham, Surrey, UK: Ashgate for the Navy Records Society. ISBN 978-1-409427-56-8. 
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