Admiral Arthur Cavenagh Leveson

Arthur Cavenagh Leveson was born in Kensington, London on 27 January 1868 the third son of Edward John Leveson (an East Indies merchant) and Mary Leveson (née Iveson). The family was of Dutch extraction having anglicised their name from Levysshon in the early 1800s and had extensive business connections in Singapore and the Netherlands East Indies. Arthur was privately educated and entered the Royal Navy on 13 January 1881 as a Cadet on board the training ship HMS Britannia moored at Dartmouth. He joined his first ship, HMS Alexandra (flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet), on 1 January 1883 and was promoted Midshipman on 15 January 1883. Midshipman Leveson then served in the corvette HMS Emerald, on the North America and West Indies Station from March-October 1886 before joining the Training Squadron corvette, HMS Rover, in November 1886.

Leveson was promoted to Sub Lieutenant in January 1887 and undertook professional training courses in seamanship, pilotage, gunnery, torpedoes and signals at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich where he attained first class passes in all subjects. He was also awarded the Beaufort Testimonial; an annual award of instruments or books of a professional character and of practical use to a Naval Officer. The award was given to the young officer who attained the highest scores in navigation and pilotage in examinations for promotion to the rank of Lieutenant. Leveson capped these awards off with the 1887 Goodenough Medal which was presented to the Sub Lieutenant who achieved the highest score in the gunnery examination for the year. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 27 July 1887 and then undertook a gunnery training course at HMS Excellent before joining the battleship HMS Iron Duke, part of the Channel Squadron, in November 1888.

In September 1889 Lieutenant Leveson returned to HMS Excellent for advanced gunnery training and upon completing this remained at Excellent as a gunnery staff officer. He commanded Torpedo Boat TB 79 during exercises in July-August 1890 and also served in a variety of ships, for brief periods, conducting gunnery assessments and weapons testing. Leveson joined the battleship HMS Victoria, the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet, in early April 1893 as one of the ships gunnery lieutenants but his time on board was to be brief. On 22 June 1893 Victoria was sunk in dramatic circumstance off the coast of Lebanon in a collision with HMS Camperdown; which despite serious damage stayed afloat.

Vice Admiral Sir George Tryon, flying his flag as Commander of the Mediterranean Fleet in Victoria, was conducting exercises off the coast and frequently issued scant orders to his ships’ commanders in an attempt to make them use their initiative in unpredictable situations. Tryon’s taciturn and difficult manner however meant his ships captains rarely sought clarification of his orders for fear of being berated by their senior officer. This parlous state of affairs came to a head on 22 June when the Commanding Officers of both ships became confused due to Tryon’s orders and collided. Victoria was fatally damaged and sank, taking Tryon and over 350 of her crew to their deaths. Lieutenant Leveson survived and was appointed to the battleship HMS Ramillies (Mediterranean Fleet) in mid-October 1893 as a gunnery lieutenant.

Lieutenant Leveson returned to Excellent in November 1895 for service as a senior gunnery staff officer and also became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. In 1897 he was the Brigade Major of the Naval Brigade and took part in Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London and was awarded the Jubilee Medal. Leveson was promoted Commander on 1 January 1899 and in August of that year joined the battleship HMS Canopus as the Commander (second in command) for the ship’s first commission in the Mediterranean Fleet.

Commander Leveson married Jemima Adeline Beatrice Blackwood (the widow of Edward Henry Stuart Bligh, 7th Earl of Darnley) at St Paul’s, Valetta, Malta on 3 March 1902. They were to have a son Arthur Edmund Leveson (1908-1981) who served as an acting commander in the RNVR during World War II, and was appointed as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1946. The Levesons also had three daughters and a daughter from Jemima’s previous marriage (Elizabeth Adeline Mary Bligh 1900-1937).

Leveson was promoted Captain on 30 June 1903 and in mid-August, of that year, became the Naval Assistant to the Third Sea Lord and Controller of the Navy (Rear Admiral Sir William May). Patronage was common place in the Royal Navy where senior officers would select junior officers and assist them in furthering their careers and Rear Admiral May supported Leveson in doing so but this also ensured enemies of May became enemies of Leveson as well.

In 1904 the Entente Cordiale was enacted between Britain and France (effectively a security treaty between both countries acknowledging they would support each other in times of conflict). As part of this agreement the Royal Navy sent several ships to Brest as a show of support and from there over 100 naval officers proceeded by train to Paris for meetings and social events with their French counterparts. May and Leveson were part of the British entourage and Captain Leveson, amongst others, was awarded the Croix d’Officier of the Legion of Honour. In January 1905 Leveson was appointed Commanding Officer of the newly commissioned battleship HMS King Edward VII (flagship of the Atlantic Fleet).

Following this he temporarily commanded the battleship HMS Bulwark (3 January 1908-13 June 1908), while the ship was undergoing a refit at Chatham Dockyard, and then commanded the battleship HMS Africa (Flagship of the Home Fleet) during the period 13 June 1908-11 June 1910. Leveson was also flag captain to Vice Admiral Sir William May who commanded the Home Fleet during this period. In January 1911 Captain Leveson took command of the newly commissioned battle-cruiser HMS Indefatigable. He was awarded a King George V Coronation Medal in 1911 and was also the Vice President of a conference on gunnery held at the Admiralty during December 1911-January 1912. Captain Leveson was appointed as a Companion of the Order of the Bath (Civil Division) (London Gazette, 27 September 1912) for his services to the Royal Navy. He relinquished command of Indefatigable in March 1913 and was appointed as Naval Aide-de-Camp to King George V.

Leveson was also appointed as a Commodore 1st class on the staff of Admiral of the Fleet Sir William May (Umpire in Chief) during the naval manoeuvres that took place during July-August 1913. On 1 December 1913 Leveson was promoted Rear Admiral and appointed for duties in the Admiralty. He assumed the position of Director of Operations Division (DOD) in the Admiralty War Staff in early May 1914 and was serving there when war broke out in August 1914. Leveson was described at this time as:

The DOD was Rear Admiral Leveson, a stocky broad shouldered figure who walked with such a pronounced nautical roll that his youngest daughter refused to walk with him because it made her feel seasick. Leveson had a good brain, plenty of ability and a powerful personality. But he was a ‘driver’, even a bully, and not a leader - the sort of man who would shout down opposition. Actually, his bullying manner was in part a pose. Beneath his ferocious exterior there was a kind heart. Unfortunately only those who knew him appreciated this, with the result that few were keen to serve under the domineering ‘Levi’ whether at the Admiralty or at sea.

Due to ‘political’ in-fighting within the Admiralty stemming from Rear Admiral David Beatty, who despised Admiral May, and his supporters and also due to concerns that Leveson was out of his depth at the strategic level he was appointed in command of the 2nd Battle Squadron on 17 January 1915.

During his time in command the squadron operated, as part of the Grand Fleet, in the North Sea conducting patrols in search of German vessels during 1915 and early 1916; but with little sight of the enemy. The 2nd Battle Squadron took part in the Battle of Jutland (31 May-1 June 1916) with Leveson flying his flag in the battleship HMS Orion and commanding HM ships Conqueror, Monarch and Thunder.

HMS Orion was lead ship of the 2nd Division of the 2nd Battle Squadron and during the early stages of the battle fired four salvos of 13.5 inch shells (40 shells in total) scoring just one hit on the battleship SMS Markgraf (this hit destroyed one of the German ships 5.9-inch guns and killed several of her crew). Orion and Monarch later engaged the battlecruiser SMS Lutzow, and escorting destroyers, hitting the battlecruiser with at least five shells which knocked out two of her main guns and caused flooding below decks. Conqueror and Thunder fired at the badly damaged light cruiser Wiesbaden and a number of German destroyers, during the battle, but without confirmed hits as smoke generally obscured their gunnery. None of Leveson’s ships were damaged during the battle.

The remainder of Leveson’s command of the 2nd Battle Squadron was routine patrolling of the North Sea. He was mentioned in a dispatch from Admiral Jellicoe (London Gazette, 6 July 1916) for commanding his squadron throughout the Battle of Jutland with skill and judgement. Leveson was subsequently appointed as a Companion of the Order of the Bath (Military Division) in the London Gazette of 15 September 1916, for his services at Jutland.

On 5 December 1916 he took command of the 2nd Battle Cruiser Squadron hoisting his flag in HMAS Australia. He was subsequently appointed as Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet on 10 February 1917 and held this additional position until 3 September 1918; when he relinquished command to Rear Admiral Sir Lionel Halsey, KCMG, RN. While in command of the Australian Fleet, Leveson flew his flag in the battlecruiser HMAS Australia and nominally had responsibility for the light cruisers HMA Ships Melbourne and Sydney which had arrived in British waters in late 1916. Leveson was also instrumental in trialing aircraft launchings from Australia in early 1918.

While in command of the Australian fleet Leveson was described by one historian as:

Although he had no obvious linkage with Australia’s navy, he threw himself whole-heartedly into all matters pertaining to its welfare and advancement. He immediately recognised the need to reinvigorate Australia’s ships company with pride in their achievements and arranged for the battlecruisers war record - Rabaul, New Guinea and Samoa - to be affixed in a place of honour on the after end of her forward superstructure. To engender an increased sense of national identity, Leveson also ordered the conspicuous display of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms around the ship, and turned his own cabin into almost a museum of Australian records with prints of the early Pioneers and notabilities from the earliest days down to the present.

Left: Avant-garde sketch of Leveson, who commanded the Australian Fleet between February 1917 and September 1918. Right: Admiral Leveson and his staff onboard the battlecruiser HMAS Australia (I).
Left: Avant-garde sketch of Leveson, who commanded the Australian Fleet between February 1917 and September 1918. Right: Admiral Leveson and his staff onboard the battlecruiser HMAS Australia (I).

During September 1918 he undertook special service at the Admiralty before being appointed as commander of the 5th Battle Squadron on 1 October 1918 as an acting Vice Admiral. He was confirmed in the rank on 1 January 1919 and also made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in the 1919 New Year’s Honours List (London Gazette, 1 January 1919). He was also awarded an Order of St Stanislaus with Swords (Russia) (London Gazette, 5 June 1917) and the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun (2nd Class) (London Gazette, 29 August 1917) for his war service.

Vice Admiral Leveson was again appointed Commander 2nd Battle Squadron in early April 1919 and held this position until early October 1920. During this period the squadron consisted of four battleships with Leveson flying his flag in HMS Barham. Leveson was then without appointment until promoted Admiral on 1 June 1922 and in September of that year was appointed as Commander in Chief China Station. Flying his flag in the cruiser HMS Hawkins he commanded the various RN ships operating throughout North Asia and South East Asia. This was a busy command with several British colonies in the region, ongoing disorder in China and the rise of Japan as a major power. Leveson’s ships supported relief efforts in Tokyo following the Great Kanto earthquake of 1 September 1923 which destroyed much of the city.

He relinquished this command in November 1924 and upon returning to England was again without a follow on appointment until early 1926. He then became First and Principal Naval Aide-de-Camp to King George V from February 1926 and was appointed as a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) (London Gazette, 3 June 1927). Admiral Leveson was placed on the Retired List on 22 February 1928.

Admiral Sir Arthur Cavenagh Leveson, GCB, FRGS, RN died in Contrexville, a renowned health spa city in north-eastern France, on 26 June 1929. He was buried in Midhurst, Sussex and was survived by his wife and children.