Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Cunningham

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Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope

Andrew Browne Cunningham described by his biographer, John Winton, as ‘the greatest admiral since Nelson’, was born in 1883.

He entered the Royal Navy as a cadet in 1897, and during the First World War commanded three destroyers with verve and distinction, earning himself a DSO and two bars in the process.

On the outbreak of World War II, Cunningham was an Acting Admiral and Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, where he was nicknamed ‘ABC’. For the next two and a half years, he took the war to the Italians with a ruthless efficiency and dash, handling his battle fleet like his beloved destroyers, despite being consistently outnumbered.

Following Cunningham’s master stroke at Taranto, the Mediterranean Fleet went on to inflict a crushing defeat on the Italians at Cape Matapan in March 1941, before enduring months of fighting against the German Luftwaffe, a battle which Cunningham’s fleet could not hope to win, only survive. It was the horrendous losses sustained whilst supporting the evacuation of Crete in May 1941 which prompted perhaps his most famous quote, when he resolutely declared that ‘it takes the Navy three years to build a new ship … it will take 300 years to build a new tradition’.

On 3 April 1942, Cunningham was appointed head of the British Admiralty Delegation in Washington, where he served for six months, before returning to the Mediterranean in time to take command of naval forces allocated to the North African landings in November. In January 1943 he was again appointed C-in-C Mediterranean, where he witnessed the final surrender of the Italian fleet, triumphantly signalling, ‘Be pleased to inform their Lordships that the Italian battle fleet now lies at anchor beneath the guns of the fortress of Malta.’

Cunningham at the Yalta Conference, 1945 (stood behind Churchill)

On 5 October 1943, Cunningham was appointed First Sea Lord, the operational head of the Royal Navy, a post he retained until his retirement in June 1946. ‘ABC’ died on 12 June 1963.

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