Admiral Sir William Christopher Pakenham

William Christopher “Paks” Pakenham was born in London on 10 July 1861, the second son of Rear Admiral Thomas Alexander Pakenham (1820-1889) and Sophia Frances Pakenham (nee Sykes). He had a privileged upbringing with his grandfather, Thomas Pakenham, being the 2nd Earl of Longford. William Pakenham was privately educated and was well skilled in ancient Greek and Latin; being able to read texts in these ancient languages. He entered the Royal Navy, as a 13 year old cadet on 15 July 1874, undertaking his training in the cadet training ship HMS Britannia moored at Dartmouth.

After completing his training he was appointed to the battleship HMS Minotaur on 24 August 1876. On 4 October of that year he joined the turret ship HMS Monarch, which was part of the Mediterranean Fleet, and was promoted midshipman on 21 October 1876. In May 1877 he was appointed to the frigate Raleigh. Pakenham was noted for his swimming ability and in August 1878, when Raleigh was off Larnaca Cyprus, he was commended for his gallantry in rescuing a member of the ships company who had fallen overboard. In mid-September 1879 he joined the sloop HMS Cruizer and served in her for the next six months before being appointed to HMS Alexandra, the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet, in March 1880. While serving in Alexandra he was promoted Sub Lieutenant, in October 1880, and soon after returned to England to study for examinations for promotion to Lieutenant.

Pakenham undertook gunnery training at HMS Excellent and then studied at the Royal Naval College Greenwich from December 1880 until August 1881. In January 1882 Sub Lieutenant Pakenham joined the training ship HMS Lion, for service in the training brig Liberty, and at the end of the year rejoined the ironclad Alexandra in the Mediterranean. In May 1883 he was appointed to the corvette HMS Canada, then serving on the North America and West Indies Station, and as the senior Sub Lieutenant, was in charge of the Gunroom where the other sub-lieutenants and midshipman were accommodated.

One midshipman later recalled:

He ruled us; one other sub-lieutenant, a clerk and seven midshipmen, as a benevolent autocrat, and very strictly as regards personal appearance, demeanour and good manners. In the hottest West Indies weather we were not allowed in the mess without a jacket, while the midshipmen in the other corvettes wore, after working hours, a vest and a towel!

Pakenham was promoted Lieutenant on 21 October 1883 and served in the corvette HMS Tenedos during April-November 1884 during which time he qualified as an interpreter in French. He then joined the armoured cruiser HMS Nelson, as the Flag Lieutenant to Rear Admiral George Tryon, flag officer commanding the Australia Station. He spent the next two years in Australian and New Zealand waters on what was colloquially known as the ‘Social Station’ due to the convivial attitude of the Australian and New Zealand populations. Pakenham returned to England in early 1887 and during July-September he was attached to HMS Vernon where he commanded Torpedo Boat 29 on exercises. Following this he completed a short gunnery course at HMS Excellent.

Lieutenant Pakenham then served as the gunnery officer in the corvette HMS Calypso from April 1888 until September 1890, and while the ship was visiting Kiel, Germany he was involved in a rescue attempt to save a man who had fallen overboard. He then joined the corvette HMS Garnet, for duty in the Pacific Ocean, and served in her until September 1894. Pakenham then undertook a re-qualification course in gunnery at Excellent as well as training in torpedoes at HMS Vernon before being appointed to the cruiser HMS Sybille in January 1895.

From August 1899 to March 1901 he served in the naval intelligence department in the Admiralty before being appointed in command of the sloop HMS Daphne in May 1901. The following year Commander Pakenham served in the battleship HMS Albion for six months before commanding the cruiser HMS Barham, which was part of the Mediterranean Fleet. Pakenham was promoted Captain on 30 June 1903 and undertook a Senior Officers War Course, at the Royal Naval College Greenwich, later that year obtaining a first class pass. He was then appointed to the battleship HMS Glory on the China Station for special service during April 1904 to May 1906; serving as the British naval attaché in Japan as part of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance.

During this period he developed close ties with his Japanese counterparts and served extensively at sea in Japanese ships. During the Battle of Tsushima on 27 May 1905 he was serving, as an observer, in the battleship Asahi which was actively involved in the destruction of the Russian fleet. Asahi fired over 140 12-inch shells in the action and was struck six times by Russian fire and, while the damage did not affect her fighting ability, she had several men killed and wounded. During the battle, Pakenham placed himself on the ship’s after bridge (so as to not get in the way of the ship’s Commanding Officer) and at one point a shell struck the Asahi killing Japanese sailors near him and spraying their blood over his white uniform. Pakenham left his observation point and the Japanese initially thought he was seeking shelter - to the contrary, Pakenham had simply returned to his cabin to don a clean uniform and soon returned to his observation point to view the remainder of the battle. It was subsequently understood his bravery under fire was reported by Admiral Togo, commanding the Japanese forces, directly to the Japanese Emperor.

Pakenham was greatly respected by his Japanese counterparts and developed close ties with Admiral Togo, however his written reports to London were deemed by many as pro-Japanese and very anti-Russian. Additionally he was a supporter of the big-gun fast battleship, from his observations of the Battle of Tsushima, which may have influenced the pre-war British ship building program. On 24 July 1905 Pakenham was appointed as a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) and the following year was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun (2nd Class) by the Japanese Government (London Gazette, 18 April 1906).

He took command of the armoured cruiser HMS Antrim in late August 1906 and commanded her until September 1908. Antrim was part of the Channel Fleet and in mid-July 1907 she was part of the escort for the visit of King Edward VII to Ireland for the Irish International Exhibition held in Dublin. Pakenham was made a Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO) for his support to the Royal visit. In August 1907 the cruiser was dispatched to Casablanca, Morocco following an insurrection and the subsequent bombardment of the city by French warships.

In August 1908 Captain Pakenham took command of the battleship Glory, then part of the Mediterranean Fleet, until the ship was placed in reserve in March 1909. He then took command of the battleship Triumph, also part of the Mediterranean Fleet until the end of the year. During April 1909 several Royal Navy ships were sent to southern Turkey to try and stop a Turkish massacre of Armenians and Greeks in the vicinity of Mersin, and over 4000 civilians were killed in nearby Adana. Some sources claimed Pakenham went ashore to assess the situation and, even though unarmed, helped restore order in a particularly dangerous village through his forceful and unwavering demeanour. In October 1909 Triumph was anchored in the port of Phalerum, Greece when Greek Navy sailors mutinied. Pakenham supported the Greek Government by threatening to fire on the mutineers if they approached his ship.

After returning to England in early 1910 Pakenham took command of the new battleship HMS Collingwood, which was nearing completion at Devonport Royal Dockyard. Collingwood was commissioned on 19 April 1910 and became part the Home Fleet. During exercises, in February 1911, the battleship struck an uncharted rock off Ferrol, Spain and damaged her hull but was repaired and in June of that year took part in the Coronation Fleet Review at Spithead for King George V.

Pakenham handed over command of the battleship in December 1911, and was appointed as the Fourth Sea Lord on the Board of the Admiralty with responsibility for the Royal Navy’s logistics and medical services. He was also the Naval Aide de Camp to King George V during 1912-13. In March 1913 Pakenham threatened to resign when the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Winston Churchill, refused to support adequate measures for safe-guarding oil fuel supplies for the Royal Navy. Pakenham was promoted to Rear Admiral on 4 June 1913 and on 1 December of that year was appointed as Rear Admiral Commanding the Third Cruiser Squadron flying his flag in HMS Antrim.

Following the outbreak of war in August 1914 the squadron, consisting of HM Ships Antrim, Argyll, Devonshire and Roxburgh, operated in the North Sea conducting patrols near the Shetland and Faeroe Islands to prevent German warships breaking out into the Atlantic and attacking British shipping. The Squadron captured a German merchant ship on 6 August 1914 but the bulk of their work was long hard and tedious patrolling, often in poor weather, with little sight of the German fleet. There were occasional attacks by German U-Boats.

On 7 March 1915, Pakenham was given command of the 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron including HMAS Australia and HM Ships Indefatigable and New Zealand, with Pakenham flying his flag in Australia (which had arrived in Britain in late January 1915). Vice Admiral Sir George Patey, now commanding the North America and West Indies Station with HMA Ships Melbourne and Sydney under his command remained in nominal command of the RAN’s Fleet. The RAN’s ships were spread far and wide, with the submarine AE2 in the eastern Mediterranean, the cruiser Pioneer off German East Africa and the remaining ships in Australian or Southeast Asian waters. Command of the fleet was effectively done either by the Royal Navy commanders who had Australian ships allocated to them or by the Naval Board in Australia. Administration of Australian naval personnel in England fell to Captain, later Rear Admiral, Francis Haworth-Booth who was naval advisor to the Australian High Commissioner in London.

The 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron operated from Rosyth and conducted regular forays into the North Sea in search of the elusive German High Seas Fleet. On 22 April 1916, during one of these patrols, New Zealand collided with Australia with the latter suffering significant damage and requiring several weeks in dock for repairs. As a result Pakenham transferred his flag, and his staff including some Australian sailors, to New Zealand. Thus HMAS Australia missed the Battle of Jutland on 31 May-1 June 1916.

Pakenham was in command of the Australian Fleet from 23 September 1916 to 9 February 1917.
Pakenham was in command of the Australian Fleet from 23 September 1916 to 9 February 1917.

The 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron consisting of only New Zealand and Indefatigable took part in the battle with Indefatigable struck by several German shells causing her to blow up. Only three people survived the explosion from her crew of over 1000 men, New Zealand survived the battle unscathed. On 15 September 1916 Pakenham was appointed as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) for his services at Jutland. On 23 September 1916 Pakenham also assumed command of the Australian Fleet, following the arrival of the light cruisers Melbourne and Sydney in British waters, after nearly two years of service in the West Indies. As Patey now no longer had any Australian ships under his command his continuance as the Flag Officer commanding the Australian Fleet was no longer warranted.

Pakenham was considered by many to be a brilliant man, who devoted his entire life to the naval service, yet at the same time was very odd. He was a confirmed bachelor, tee-totaller and living an austere life at sea, rarely taking leave. He enjoyed walking and the occasional round of golf. He was very precise in his speech and immaculate in his habits - he slept fully dressed, collared and booted whenever at sea, resorting to using blue blankets so that fluff attaching to his uniform might be less conspicuous.

The Australian Naval Board was formally advised that Pakenham had a “sympathetic and courteous consideration of Australian individualism” and this had allowed him gain “the whole hearted confidence and esteem of all the Australians under his command”. In reality many of the younger ratings saw him as a man with a superiority complex and they could not warm to him. Pakenham was appointed as Vice Admiral Commanding the Battle Cruiser Force on 29 November 1916 but continued to hold the position of commanding the Australian Fleet until 9 February 1917 when this was assumed by Rear Admiral Arthur Leveson, CB, RN. Vice Admiral Pakenham continued to command the battlecruiser force for the remainder of war.

Admiral Sir David Beatty (Commander of the Grand Fleet 1916-1918) later recorded that Pakenham was the only Commanding Officer who disappointed him, more so because he was directly responsible for his appointment, and had a deuce of a fight to get him appointed at all. ‘Patrician Paks’ was aloof and immaculately dressed and Beatty later wrote:

I am rather disappointed with old Paks...He does not seem to possess quite the right flair or be quick enough in grasping the situation and at high speeds it makes such a difference. But for the life of I don’t know a soul who would do it better. I can only go on instilling (or trying to) into him the right principles by which he must be governed.

During a visit to the Grand Fleet by King George V, in July 1917, Pakenham was appointed as a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO). He had also recently been awarded the Russian Order of St Stanislaus - 1st Class with Swords (London Gazette, 5 June 1917) for his services at Jutland, which is interesting noting his anti-Russian sentiments from 1905. He was confirmed in the rank of Vice Admiral on 1 September 1918, and in the 1919 New Year’s Honours List was appointed as a Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG). He was also awarded an Order of the Rising Sun - Grand Cordon by the Japanese Government (London Gazette, 29 November 1918), a French Croix de Guerre (London Gazette, 15 February 1919), the Chinese Order of the Excellent Crop (Grand Cordon) (Edinburgh Gazette, 27 January 1920) and a United States of America Distinguished Service Medal (London Gazette, 29 September 1922) for his wartime service.

His command of the Battle Cruiser Force ceased on 28 February 1919 and his next appointment was not until early August 1919 when he became President of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. His time at the naval college was cut short by the death of Vice Admiral Trevelyan Napier, who was Commander in Chief of the North America and West Indies Station and who died in late July 1920.

Pakenham was subsequently appointed as Commander in Chief of the North America and West Indies Station hoisting his flag in the heavy cruiser HMS Raleigh in early August 1920. This command required frequent showing the flag cruises to British colonies in the West Indies, interaction with the Dominion of Canada and diplomatic activities with the United States. In early 1922 Raleigh passed through the Panama Canal and conducted a port visit to San Francisco, after which she returned to Bermuda and conducted port visits in the Chesapeake Bay area.

Unfortunately Raleigh ran aground in heavy fog off Newfoundland, on 8 August 1922, and became a total loss, with at least a dozen of her ship's company perishing due to hypothermia. The Commanding Officer and navigator were court martialed and found negligent in their duty, reprimanded and dismissed their ship; both subsequently resigned from the navy. Despite this unfortunate event Pakenham was promoted Admiral on 6 April 1922. He relinquished command of the North American Station on 1 January 1923 and returned to England. He subsequently received no more appointments in the Royal Navy and resided at the exclusive Turf Club in Piccadilly noted for its aristocratic membership.

Pakenham was appointed as a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) in June 1925 and subsequently in early February 1930 was appointed as the Bath King of Arms (Herald of the Order of the Bath). Admiral Sir William Christopher Pakenham, GCB, KCMG, KCVO, RN was placed on the Retired List at his own request, on 1 March 1926. He never married and died while visiting the port city of Donostia (San Sebastian), Spain, on 28 July 1933.