Famous or well known for a naval specialisation, but which one?

First off though, a little quiz which I know you will solve immediately?

Question 1 - What do admirals Mountbatten and Somerville have in common?

Question 2 - What do admirals Beatty and Somerville have in common?

On reflection, not  easy questions and that is why [partly] I am writing this webpage, so I will put you out of your misery and tell you the answers now.

Question 1 - They were both assassinated by the IRA in Eire in 1979 and in 1936 respectively.

Question 2 -They were both Irishmen

Read on to learn more

In the January 1918 Navy List there are seven officers with the name Somerville and two of these got to be admirals.

By far the more famous of the two, known internationally as well as pan-Royal Navy, was this officer

[from Wikipedia]

Admiral of the Fleet Sir James Fownes Somerville GCB, GBE, DSO, DL (17 July 1882 – 19 March 1949) was a Royal Navy officer. He served in the First World War as fleet wireless officer for the Mediterranean Fleet in which capacity he was involved in providing naval support for the Gallipoli Campaign. He also served in the Second World War as commander of the newly formed Force H: after the French armistice with Germany, Winston Churchill gave Somerville and Force H the task of neutralizing the main element of the French battle fleet, then at Mers El Kébir in Algeria. After he had destroyed the French Battle fleet* Somerville played an important role in the pursuit and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck.

Somerville later became Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Fleet: in April 1942 Admiral Chūichi Nagumo's powerful Indian Ocean raid inflicted heavy losses on his fleet. However, in Spring 1944, with reinforcements, Somerville was able to go on the offensive in a series of aggressive air strikes in the Japanese-occupied Dutch East Indies. He spent the remainder of the War in charge of the British naval delegation in Washington, D.C.

*This is the text of the Ultimatum delivered by the British to it's ally France:-

It is impossible for us, your comrades up to now, to allow your fine ships to fall into the power of the German enemy. We are determined to fight on until the end, and if we win, as we think we shall, we shall never forget that France was our Ally, that our interests are the same as hers, and that our common enemy is Germany. Should we conquer we solemnly declare that we shall restore the greatness and territory of France. For this purpose we must make sure that the best ships of the French Navy are not used against us by the common foe. In these circumstances, His Majesty's Government have instructed me to demand that the French Fleet now at Mers el Kebir and Oran shall act in accordance with one of the following alternatives; (a) Sail with us and continue the fight until victory against the Germans. (b) Sail with reduced crews under our control to a British port. The reduced crews would be repatriated at the earliest moment. If either of these courses is adopted by you we will restore your ships to France at the conclusion of the war or pay full compensation if they are damaged meanwhile. (c) Alternatively if you feel bound to stipulate that your ships should not be used against the Germans lest they break the Armistice, then sail them with us with reduced crews to some French port in the West IndiesMartinique for instance—where they can be demilitarised to our satisfaction, or perhaps be entrusted to the United States and remain safe until the end of the war, the crews being repatriated. If you refuse these fair offers, I must with profound regret, require you to sink your ships within 6 hours. Finally, failing the above, I have the orders from His Majesty's Government to use whatever force may be necessary to prevent your ships from falling into German or Italian hands.

The French did not respond and so were attacked by the Royal Navy, both by massive gunnery broadsides [from HMS HOOD with her 15" guns inter alia]  and by air assets.  Many Frenchmen were killed, ships sunk or disabled, with but a few from many, managing to escape to seek refuge in French mainland ports.

Churchill, you will recall, said afterwards that this was the worst thing he had ever done. Somerville said that all involved should be ashamed and that the rest of the world would turn again the UK for this act. In the event things were very different indeed, with many countries grateful that the UK would fight on alone, and when the French Ambassador to Washington DC showed his anger of the action, the U.S., President Roosevelt told him unequivocally,  that he would have done exactly the same. That was all that was needed to vindicate Churchill's brave action.

[photograph from the Imperial War Museum London]

Showing the admiral allowing his pet cat Prince Chang, his pet Siamese cat to play with his epaullet.


Inevitably [and always sadly] as time goes by, new generations see events and people  in a different light and as such hero's of previous generations tend to be forgotten or get pushed onto the back-burner: it was ever thus! However, there will be one group measured in the thousands, who will long remember that name as the training establishment HMS Mercury at Leydene Hampshire,  had an accommodation block named after this great man. The incumbents of that block, indeed all  in that now erstwhile establishment, would have known of his marvelous career and what he did for his country.

His specialisation was of course as a SIGNAL OFFICER. He qualified as a Wireless Officer [T], the 'T' in this case and at that time meaning Torpedo, for that branch were the original Greenies = technical maintainers:  his seniority as a lieutenant was the 15th March 1904.

Much has been written about this great officer and apart from a couple of tit bits, I have nothing of importance to add.


Now for the second Admiral Somervile, and his story is very different to his much younger namesake. He was an Irish man [just like Beatty was and the Duke of Wellington] and his fate mirrored that of Lord Louis Mountbatten's fate! That must get you wondering unless of course you are not aware of the death of a member of the British Royal Family! So, from the onset you now know that Admiral Boyle Somerville was murdered by the IRA

This admiral is not at all well known even in the navy never mind further afield! That is sad because in academic terms he is famous for his hydrographic work and the sheer numbers of papers he wrote plus several books. He was an accomplished scientist, a first class mariner, and a lead officer in all naval chart production, acclaimed the world over as being the best and most accurate navigation charts ever produced.

He specialised as a Hydrographic Surveyor [affectionately referred to as a "droggy" by sailors]. It is an extremely important branch and has been since the 19th century, a branch of the service which never rests and to which the worlds shipping and maritime navigation owes its gratitude.

[from Wikipedia]

Somerville joined the Royal Navy as a cadet in 1877. He trained as a Hydrographic Surveyor, was promoted to Commander on 31 December 1901, Captain in 1912 and Vice Admiral on 1 August 1919. He retired on 2 August 1919. While on surveying duties in the Western Pacific, Somerville built a significant collection of ethnographic artifacts from the Solomon Islands - now in Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. The war of course, really put paid to all non combative operations, like for example surveying, and whilst some of their specialist vessels were given combative roles, other hydrographers were reappointed to other war tasks. In 1914 Captain Boyle Somerville RN was appointed as the the CO in a series of vessels, the first being the merchant ship Victorian with a high percentage of RN personnel crew, a ship requisitioned by the Admiralty for commissioning as a British warship - see Navy List January 1915 Page 401V. He must have enjoyed this appointment and found the experience exciting because the vessel was fitted out as a major armed Merchantman having  some great hitting power -  6 x 6" guns. This is a potted history of the 15,000 ton Atlantic ocean liner larger that most warships of this period.

Many times bigger than any of the other RN ships he commanded in the survey fleet.

Following the outbreak of World War I the Admiralty requisitioned the ship on 17 August for conversion into an armed merchant cruiser and fitted eight 4.7-in (120 mm) guns which later were replaced by six 6-in (152 mm) guns. Victorian was commissioned into the Royal Navy and served with the 9th and 10th Cruiser Squadrons. Soon assigned to escort duty, the vessel also transported troops and cargo. In 1914, Victorian patrolled the Atlantic, and in September that year, in conjunction with the French cruiser Cassard carried out a sweep along the coast of Morocco in and carried out several bombardments to help suppress a rebellion.

After Canadian Pacific took over Allan Line and the war ended, Victorian resumed civilian service in 1920. At the end of the following year the direct-drive turbines were replaced by geared turbines and oil fuel supplanted coal. The vessel became a single-class liner and was renamed Marloch. In the mid-1920s the liner was in reserve service (although often used) until sold for breaking in 1929.

His command of the merchant vessel Victorian lasted only from August 1914 to June 1915 - to his regret no doubt.
That was followed by three warships, the Amphitrite May 1915 - July 1915, King Alfred  Sept 1915 - Sep 1916 and Devonshire Oct 1916 - Nov 1917. He was honoured for services to the nation in WW1.

 In 1908, while surveying in British waters, he read a book suggesting stone circles and standing stones might have astronomical significance. He thereafter devoted much of his time to surveying such monuments in Britain, Ireland and elsewhere, and became a recognised expert in the field of archaeoastronomy. He contributed papers to the Antiquarian magazine.

As part of the late summer 1917 reorganisation of the burgeoning British Secret Intelligence Service, led by Mansfield Smith-Cumming and his de facto deputy, Colonel Freddie Browning, Somerville was appointed as 'officer in charge of the Naval Section within the Secret Service Bureau.' This was the first career naval officer posting to the Secret Service. In February 1919, Somerville wrote a review setting out a number of basic principles for service and encouraging the development of specialist intelligence technical skills within the navy for intelligence gathering and analysis. Also in February 1919, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George "in recognition of valuable services during the war".

After his retirement he returned to the family home at Castletownshend, near Cork in Ireland. On 24 March 1936 he was killed when IRA men knocked on the house door, asked the man who answered whether he was Mr Somerville, to which he answered Admiral Somerville, whereupon he was shot at point blank range by a revolver. IRA chief of staff Tom Barry was involved in the shooting. The Vice-Admiral was targeted for recruiting local men to join the Royal Navy. In reality it was quite the opposite, for many young men approached the admiral on a regular basis asking for a reference to ease their attempt  to join the navy, and he had merely talked-it-up, as one would do whilst giving them a reference, in most cases anyway!

He was the younger brother of the novelist and artist, Edith Somerville. She, most surprisingly [because of her family background] was disillusioned by the British and bizarrely because a nationalist, and we all know what that became! Still to this day when not far off the second decade of the 21st century there are six nationalistic party's active in Ireland which are Irish Republican Liberation Army, National Party, New Irish Republican Army, Óglaigh na hÉireann, Republican Network for Unity and Saoradh. His sister. the eldest child of eight children, adopted the nationalistic party line in her writing, her songs and in the singing of them at nationalist gathering.

As was the death of Lord Louis, his life was taken by sub humans, and men manifestly unfit to lick the boots of these two British admirals and patriots.

To honour the memory of this meritorious officer a Naval Prize Fund was set up as shown here.


1. A fund has been established in memory of Rear-Admiral Boyle Somerville, for the purpose of awarding a prize which will be known as the Boyle Somerville Memorial Prize, and will have as its object the encouragement of research work in connection with the science of meteorology.

2. The prize may be awarded annually to an Officer in the Royal Navy, or one of the Commonwealth Navies, whose work during the period under review is adjudged to be of particular merit in connection with the development of meteorology and its application to naval operations. Special consideration will be given to any original papers indicating a voluntary effort additional to the author's normal duties.

3. No prize will be awarded in any year in which no work of sufficient merit is brought to the notice of the Admiralty.

4. The amount of the prize will not exceed Ł10 in any one year and shall be expended in the purchase of books and/or instruments and/or other articles as approved by the Admiralty.

5. The prize shall not be awarded more than once to the same Officer.

6. The award will be made on the material received at the Admiralty in each calendar year, by a committee consisting of the Hydrographer, the Director of Naval Air Warfare and the Director of the Naval Weather Service.

7. In case of co-operation, an Officer who has assisted in the production of material may participate in the award, should the funds be sufficient.