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Admiral Andrew "ABC" Cunningham

Discussion in 'Naval War in the Mediterrean, Malta & Crete' started by merdiolu, May 16, 2013.

  1. merdiolu

    merdiolu Member

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    I just finished reading memoirs of a Turkish naval officer who was sent to British Mediterranean Fleet for training during the war. He actually served in Royal Navy Mediterannean Fleet in Alexandria for an exchange program and was an officer on anti aircraft cruiser HMS Dido. He also met with Admiral Andrew Cunningham and he says nothing but praise for the Admiral "ABC"....Name was familiar to me for Cunningham's name came up in Dardanelles/ Gallipoli Campaign which has huge historical reverance here in Turkey. So I looked up and learned more about Cunningham's extraordinary service in RN....

    - Commander of destroyer HMS Scorpion involved in Dardanelles Campaign in WW1
    - Commander of British Mediterranean Fleet in Alexandria during WWII, disarmed French squadron in Alexandria without firing a shot in July 1940
    - Led several successful engagements against Italian Fleet including Battle of Calabria ( one Italian battleship took heavy damage ) , Air Attack on Taranto harbour ( Operation Judgement , one Italian battleship sunk , two took heavy damage ) in 1940
    - Won Battle of Matapan in March 1941 , sunk three Italian cruisers and two destroyers , damaged Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto
    - Rescued British Army isolated in Crete during German airborne assault in May 1941 despite heavy losses among his vessels ( three cruisers and six destroyers were lost due to Luftwaffe air attacks , several other ships badly damaged ) , saying "it takes three years to build a ship , it takes three centuries to build a tradition"
    - Continued to lead Mediterranean Fleet with usual determination despite growing losses among his vessels towards end of 1941 ( sinking of carrier HMS Ark Royal battleship HMS Barham and cruiser HMS Galatea by u-boats , destruction of Force K based in Malta , heavy damage on his remaining battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Valiant caused by underwater attack of Italian frogmen in Alexandria harbour )

    - Units under his command destroyed various Axis supply convoys between Italy and Libya ( destruction of Tarigo and Duisburg convoys and battle of Cape Bon-two more Italian cruisers sunk on this engagement- during 1941 and Skerki Bank in 1942 ) in several surface actions not to mention several other smaller successful surface engagements against Italian Navy ( Naval battles of Calabria , Cape Spada , Cape Passero , Otronto between 1940-41 , bombing of Genoa and Tripoli) - though some of these actions might be work of Force H based on Gibraltar.

    -Supplied Malta with various convoys despite heavy losses again

    - Planned and executed naval parts of Operation Torch ( North African landings )

    - Blockaded whole Tunisian coast in spring 1943 with his fleet , stopped Axis sea transport complately between Italy and Tunisia , giving his famous order "Sink , Burn , Destroy , let nothing pass" and prevented Axis Army Group Africa evacuating Tunisia from sea

    - Planned and executed Operation Husky and Operation Avalanche ( landings in Sicily and Italy ) General Eisenhower said about him :

    "Admiral Sir Andrew Browne Cunningham. He remains in my opinion at the top of my subordinates in absolute selflessness, energy, devotion to duty, knowledge of his task, and in understanding of the requirements of allied operations. My opinions as to his superior qualifications have never wavered for a second."

    - Accepted the surrender of Italian Fleet in September 1943

    - Became First Sea Lord of Admiralty in October 1943

    Cunningham became a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB), "in recognition of the recent successful combined operations in the Middle East", in March 1941[40] and was created a Baronet, of Bishop's Waltham in the County of Southampton, in July 1942


    A true Nelsonian naval commander. I wonder why he is so unknown.
     
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  2. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Perhaps the Eisenhower quote has a clue "selfless".
    Any good biographies?
     
  3. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    History (at least 'popular history') tends to remember the more flamboyant and colourful leaders. Look at the 'best-known' generals and admirals of the war: Patton, Monty, Rommel, Halsey and Eisenhower. These names are almost certainly known by the majority of the public. The first four were flamboyant, while Eisenhower is well-known because he became president after the war. Cunningham was an excellent commander, yet lacked 'swagger', 'flamboyance' and 'colour'. In other words, he was fairly 'bland'. This largely explains why he isn't well-known to the general public.

    On to the next aspect: his relative obscurity even in academia. After the officers listed above, you have the men like Alexander, Bradley, Manstein, etc. These are typically known only to history buffs and academics. Cunningham's 'blandness' doesn't address why he is neglected even in comparison to those listed above (for he certainly was on-par with them). The naval war in the Mediterranean tends to be one of the most neglected areas of WWII (for a variety of reasons), especially in regards to the early battles against the Italian Fleet. Given that Cunningham's defining actions were in this theater -- in this 'blind area' of WWII history -- I don't find it that surprising that he is overlooked.
     
  4. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Patron  

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    I admit that I have not heard of him (of course, that is not uncommon), but I think Alan has touched on several important points. First, he just did his job with no expectation of reward. Second, he fought in a theater without much notoriety. The Mediterranean, Sicily and Italy did not receive the glamor of other places.

    I'm glad you brought him up. It does us all good.

    lwd, the biography of Cunningham is listed on Amazon, but seems quite expensive. Try here though http://bookos.org/book/1148496/2c61af
     
  5. urqh

    urqh Tea drinking surrender monkey

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    He had a rather famous brother too...In the early Mid East Land battles.
     
  6. merdiolu

    merdiolu Member

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    Alan Cunningham ? He did OK against Italians in East Africa but when appointed 8th Army he lost control of battle at the beginning of Operation Crusader and relieved.
     
  7. merdiolu

    merdiolu Member

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    What do you think about Cunningham then ? Best Royal Navy commander of war ? Surely Max Horton Commander of Western Approaches or Bertram Ramsey organizer of Dunkirk and D-Day are also very good but Cunningham fought with diminishing resources and vessels and got results. He even got admiration of Admiral Ernst King CiC of US Navy (who was not the best person to cooperate)
     
  8. urqh

    urqh Tea drinking surrender monkey

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    Depends what rank structure we go down to...but for me it was and always will be Johnny Walker RN RIP.
     
  9. Marmat

    Marmat Member

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    ABC had an outstanding war record, a knock against him is that he could be too pugnacious, too willing to take losses that could be perceived to be unnecessary. Somerville on the other hand was the "thinking man's" Admiral; an RN technical expert, he usually got the job done without distraction and without excessive loss. Together, at each end of the Med. they became a hard team to beat. I would suggest that Charles Forbes was the finest First Sea Lord, who never was.

    Philip Vian was arguably the finest tactical naval commander of WWII, of any nation. Vian was a hard man, not one to be loved by his crews, but who in turn commanded destroyer (Atlantic, Altmark, then Bismarck), cruiser (Med. convoys), air support and amphibious assault (Sicily, Italy, Normandy), and finally Fleet Carrier forces (Pacific Feet), all with success - he was everywhere during the war. Vian would retire an Admiral of the Fleet, after serving as 5th Sea Lord in charge of aviation then Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet.
     
  10. freebird

    freebird Member

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    I don't believe that he is in any way "unknown" to people who know about the naval battles of WWII, he had a very prominent role.

    G. Patton, perhaps he is overlooked from the American perspective, but for any serious student of the Euopean war, he certainly would be well known.
    Not as many of the naval commanders are as well known as army commanders in the US, especially from the ETO, as the Americans had a far greater focus on the Pacific. Let's face it, by the time the first US Torch landings in the ETO/MTO, the naval war (except the U-boat war) was basically done, the Krigsmarine was bottled up and the Italians were short on fuel for operations, so there were no major fleet battles that the US participated in in the ETO/MTO

    How many other WWII naval commanders are well known in the US to the average WWII buff? Nimitz, Yamamoto, Nagumo? Maybe Raeder, Donitz, Halsey? Who else? Kimmel?
    How many Allied naval commanders from the ETO/MTO are well known? Can anyone name even one other?

    The the invasion fleets for Torch, Husky, and Avalanche were all commanded by Cunningham, he was respected & trusted by nost of the US commanders.

    I would have to say that he was the best known of all Allied naval commanders in the ETO/MTO, as he was in charge of the primary combat theater in the most critical period.
     
  11. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    By 'academia', I was referring to literature. To see my point, go onto your preferred book site and search for a Cunningham biography. To my knowledge, there is only one (by Michael Simpson), and its high price implies that it had a limited print run, which reflects that it was aimed at a limited audience. This is certainly not reflective of his career. How many full-length biographies are there on other naval commanders who held similar commands?

    "Perhaps he is overlooked from the American perspective" -- I wasn't limiting my post to the American perspective, I'd argue that it holds true across the world. How many average people (or, for the sake of argument, average 'Sunday reader' history buffs) would recognize the name ABC Cunningham in the United Kingdom? I'd say more than in the US, but still not that many.

    "For any serious student of the European War" -- Yes, I agree. Anyone serious about the topic would know his importance, but that doesn't address why he is overlooked in 'popular history' (ie: history buffs, etc) -- which is what the original poster was asking about

    "How many other Allied naval commanders from the ETO/MTO are well known" -- Essentially no flag-grade commanders are well known, which ties into my other point that the MTO is a 'blind area' (overlooked) area of the war. There's a large number of naval commanders who served with distinction, such as Jack Tovey, James Somerville, Philip Vian and Henry Pridham-Wippell. Of these, Tovey and Vian are probably the best-known, but they are still in relative obscurity.
     
  12. Marmat

    Marmat Member

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    Actually, ABC's fairly well known, he wrote his own book on his war i.e. "A Sailor's Odyssey, The autobiography of Admiral of the Fleet, Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope" back in 1951. ABE has 54 copies listed, he kept a daily journal, it's a good book, some 700-800 pages long. This compares favourably with E.B. Potter's official Bio, of Chester Nimitz i.e. "Nimitz", with 69 copies currently listed on ABE.

    In contast, Vian's autobiography "Action This Day, A War Memoir" is very limited; he didn't keep notes, nor a journal, and you can really tell the difference. It's very rare, my copy's originally from the Admiralty Library. Somerville's bio "Fighting Admiral: The life of Admiral of the fleet Sir James Somerville" was written by noted naval author Donald Macintyre, one of the foremost U-Boat killers of the war, who also served as an FAA pilot in the 30's.

     
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  13. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    I stand corrected. It looks like its been out of print for so long it didn't even turn up when I did a search on Amazon. I believe the book I reference (by Simpson) relies to a large degree on his personal papers and the autobiography.
     
  14. freebird

    freebird Member

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    Actually I would have said that ABC was perhaps the ONLY flag officer that is reasonably well known in the ETO/MTO.

    Interesting if you think about it, mostly only air/ground commanders are known in the ETO/MTO, Rommel, Patton, Monty, Ike, Rundstedt, Alexander, Bradley, Kesselring, Ridgeway, etc etc etc. -- But not very many naval.

    On the other hand, we only really know naval commanders in the PTO (Other than McAurthur maybe), Nimitz, Nagumo, Halsey, Yamamoto, Kurita, Spruance etc etc.
    Can you think of any army or division commanders in the PTO that is "well known"? Not too many...
     
  15. SymphonicPoet

    SymphonicPoet Member

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    Oh, Howlin Smith, Simon Buckner, Joseph Stilwell, Alexander Vandegrift, perhaps a few others. Certainly MacArthur is best known, thanks to being an enormous publicity hound, but he's hardly the only General who earned Pacific fame.

    And of course I'd say that Fletcher, Mitscher, and Spruance are all pretty close to household names, though all are USN/PTO.

    As to well known RN Admirals, I'd say John Cunningham and Somerville are pretty much the top of the list, though both held significant wartime commands not in the Mediterranean. Tovey and indeed Dudley Pound also have recognizable names, though no particular association with the Mediterranean Theatre of WWII.

    I'd say that in some ways the Med holds a relationship to the Atlantic in the history of the RN in WWII similar to that of the Southwest Pacific and the Central Pacific in the U.S. While Taranto and Matapan are important actions sinking the Bismark gets rather more press.
     
  16. urqh

    urqh Tea drinking surrender monkey

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    Somerville, will always show up more on google type searches etc...Purely because he is mentioned so many times as the commander who made war with the French fleet. and thus will be mentioned in any book on politics of ww2 or allied relationships etc. Anyone in America doing a cursory search of many ww2 naval battles or political shenanagins will find his name being highlighted somewhere.
     
  17. merdiolu

    merdiolu Member

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    What about Bruce Fraser , Victor of North Cape ? He hunted and sunk Scharnhorst in Arctic December 1943 then commanded British Pacific Fleet.
     
  18. Poppy

    Poppy grasshopper

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    The short bio offered in The Second World War In The Far East by HP Willmott says of :

    Cunningham, Admiral Of The Fleet Sir Andrew [1883-1963]
    First Sea Lord 1942-6
    Victor of Matapan and commander of the Mediterranean Fleet in adversity, he served in Washington and then in the Mediterranean under Eisenhower before becoming Chief of Naval Staff. Generally reserved and withdrawn in dealing with Churchill except in his diary entries [my lol], he headed a navy that emerged in 1944-5 as the only British service that could arrive in strength in the Pacific before the scheduled end of the Pacific war.

    dang, that was hard
     

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