Hugh Evan-Thomas

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Admiral Sir Hugh Evan-Thomas, 1921.
Photograph: © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Admiral SIR Hugh Evan-Thomas, G.C.B., K.C.M.G., M.V.O., Royal Navy (27 October, 1862 - 30 August, 1928) was a British Royal Navy officer who commanded the Fifth Battle Squadron for most of the First World War, notably at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. He joined the Royal Navy in 1876 and as a cadet knew the future King George V. Evan-Thomas would serve on and off with the Royal Family during his career. He became a signals specialist and was appointed secretary of a committee to revise the navy's signal book and later served as Second-in-Command of the Portsmouth Signal School.

He was appointed to his first command in 1900 and held appointments afloat until 1905 when he was appointed Private Secretary to the First Lord of the Admiralty. He commanded the new dreadnought battleship Bellerophon from 1908 to 1910, when at the request of the King, now George V, he took command of the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth while the heirs to the throne were under training there. In 1912 he was promoted to Flag Rank and from 1913 to 1915 was Rear-Admiral in the First Battle Squadron, before being given command of the Fifth Battle Squadron which he led at Jutland.

He was superseded in the Fifth Battle Squadron in 1918 and went on half-pay until he was appointed Commander-in-Chief at the Nore in 1921. During his three-year tenure his performance at the Battle of Jutland came under attack from supporters of the First Sea Lord, David Beatty. Among the critics were Winston Churchill, a former First Lord: Evan-Thomas eventually felt compelled to respond to Churchill's accusations in a letter to the The Times newspaper in 1927. By this time his health had collapsed and he died in 1928, aged 65 years old.

Early Life & Career

Hugh Evan Thomas was born on 25 October, 1862 at Cranmers, in Mitcham, Surrey.[1] He was the fifth son of Charles Evan Thomas, J.P., D.L. and Cara Pearson.[2] Charles Thomas (1817-1902) was a barrister and local politician who assumed the additional surname Evan in 1880.[3] Cara (d. aged 81 in 1909) was the eldest daughter of Henry Shepherd Pearson.[4] Her grandfather had been Sir Richard Pearson who had commanded the frigate Serapis in battle against John Paul Jones and the Continental Navy ship Bonhomme Richard. Evan-Thomas was one of eight children and although the family owned three estates in Wales it "may have not have been accompanied by commensurate wealth".[5]

His first attempt at passing the examination for entry to the Royal Navy ended in failure in June, 1875, but he was entitled to re-sit the examination in November.[6] He then passed the examination thirty-second out of the forty-two successful candidates,[7] and entered the training ship Britannia on 15 January, 1876.[1] In his final term he befriended Queen Victoria's grandchildren who had joined in September, 1877; Prince Albert Victor and Prince George. He left Britannia on 20 December, 1887, but during the brief time he was with the princes he made a favourable enough impression on them to be sent Christmas cards by both of them, who nicknamed him "old Voice".[8] The princes' tutor, the Reverend John Neale Dalton wrote to Evan-Thomas on 11 January to make sure that he and the princes kept in touch:

Neither I nor they are at all likely to forget you or the good influence you had over them during their first term on board Britannia. I hope that opportunities may occur for their seeing a great deal more of you. I think they will like to send you a letter every now and then, and I am sure they will be very pleased if you will write them from time to time.[9]

Evan-Thomas passed out 12th out of the 57 cadets in his term in Britannia.[10] He had been appointed to the battleship Monarch in the Mediterranean on 21 December, 1877[1] but didn't leave Britain until the following February. Monarch's captain was Algernon Lyons, a first cousin once removed[11] and "a kindly individual [with] a furious temper".[12] Lyons was succeeded by Captain George Tryon who wrote of Thomas, "A very promising young officer in every respect".[11]

In 1879, when the royal princes finished their training in Britannia, it was decided that Prince George would go on a cruise around the world. It was then decided that him being with Prince Albert Victor might change what Dalton called Albert's "abnormally dormant condition of his mental powers".[13] After much controversy, the use of the corvette Bacchante was eventually approved, and it was agreed that in spite of the danger still inherent in long sea voyages, the two princes would travel together.[14][15] Dalton carefully selected the crew (although his first choice for captain had been turned down)[16] with the help of, amongst others, Lord Charles Beresford[17] and Thomas was chosen to look after Prince Albert Victor. Also chosen was a future First Sea Lord and Admiral of the Fleet, Rosslyn Wemyss.[18] Thomas was appointed on 13 July, 1879[1] and Bacchante left Spithead on its first cruise on 17 September, bound for the Mediterranean. The cruise ended in May, 1880 and was followed by a voyage to Spain and Ireland in the summer.[19]

In September, 1880 Bacchante left Spithead on a voyage around the world, which would last nearly two years. Most of the cruising was done under sail,[18] in company with the Detached Squadron under the Earl of Clanwilliam.[19] When at the Falkland Islands in January, 1881 ready to go round Cape Horn, the squadron was diverted to Cape Colony in response to the First Boer War.[20] The Detached Squadron spent six weeks at Simon's Bay and left for Australia on 9 April.[21] In May, 400 miles off the Australian coast the squadron met rough weather and Bacchante lost a cutter and had her rudder jammed sideways and lost sight of the rest of the squadron. After two days control was eventually recovered and she sailed in King George's Sound near Albany, Western Australia. The princes transferred to the flagship Inconstant while Bacchante was repaired.[22]

Evan-Thomas in the mean-time became the senior midshipman in Bacchante.[23] The princes rejoined the ship on 2 August and Bacchante crossed the Indian Ocean on its voyage back to Britain viâ the Suez Canal.[22] On 22 March, 1882 Evan-Thomas was promoted Acting Sub-Lieutenant with a First-Class pass in Seamanship[1] and at Corfu he left Bacchante for home with another promotee,[24] arriving on 11 April. After foreign leave he was appointed to Excellent from August, 1882 to December, 1883 to study for his Lieutenant's examinations.[1] A consequence of his voyage with the princes in Bacchante was the Reverend Dalton meeting and marrying Evan-Thomas's sister, Catharine Alicia (Kitty).[24] While studying he befriended Lieutenant John Jellicoe, and injured a leg playing football.[25]

In December, 1883 Evan-Thomas visited Prince Albert Victor at Cambridge while on leave, having completed his examinations at Excellent. About this time Prince Albert Victor, Prince George, the Prince of Wales (the heir to the throne) and Reverend Dalton were campaigning for Evan-Thomas to be appointed to a royal yacht, but to no avail.[26] Instead, he was appointed to the ironclad Sultan on 10 January, 1884, having attained second class passes in torpedo, gunnery and a first class pass in pilotage.[1]


Evan-Thomas was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant on 31 December, 1884,[27] and reappointed to Sultan. On 26 September, 1885 his application to qualify in torpedo duties was duly noted. He had been expecting to be appointed Flag-Lieutenant in that ship to his cousin, Rear-Admiral Sir Algernon Lyons, but on 20 July, 1886 he was superseded, having fallen ill. His last commanding officer in Sultan, Captain King, wrote to Lyons that he was "very sorry to hear about young Evan-Thomas. He was without exception the best lieutenant in Sultan … The doctors had a very extensive overhaul and swear there is no actual organic mischief yet". Captain King had also commended him as a "thorough seaman and a most efficient officer in every way. Active and zealous".[28]

On 19 January, 1887 Evan-Thomas was surveyed and declared fit. On 21 January he was appointed as Flag-Lieutenant to Sir Algernon Lyons in the flagship of the North America and West Indies Station, H.M.S. Bellerophon.[1] John Dalton wrote to Prince George that "spending the winter at Bermuda will no doubt do him a lot of good; it will be very nice being a flag-lieutenant too, as he won't have so much night work & he will live on shore". Evan-Thomas fell ill again however, and on 20 September he returned to Britain, and on 21 October he was surveyed and found unfit. He was ordered to be resurveyed in six months and given foreign leave for that period, but on 12 May the survey was postponed until the 1 June, when he was again declared unfit and given another two months before being resurveyed. On 31 July he was reported fit and recommended for a "Home Station" and on 7 August he was appointed to the training ship St. Vincent. There he remained until 2 March, 1889, when he was reappointed to Excellent to take the short courses in gunnery and torpedoes.[1] While on leave in December, 1888 he campaigned for his father,[29] who was elected to Brecknockshire County Council as an independent.[30]

On 18 July, 1889 Evan-Thomas was appointed to the battleship Camperdown until 10 September for the annual manœuvres, under Captain Richard King. He was reappointed to her on 19 December when she went to the Mediterranean to serve as temporary flagship for Sir Anthony Hiley Hoskins while the new battleship Victoria was completed.[29] On 29 April, 1890 Victoria arrived in the Mediterranean and swapped crews with the Camperdown. He apparently gained the confidence and trust of Admiral Hoskins, for when Victoria ran aground Evan-Thomas was entrusted with the responsibility of refloating her and repairing her.[31] During this time he corresponded with Prince George directly and through John Dalton. When Prince Albert Victor (then the Duke of Clarence) died on 11 January, 1892, Prince George (by now titled the Duke of York) realised that his active service in the Navy would have to end, and under the belief that he would be given command of the royal yacht Osborne,[32] arranged that Evan-Thomas be appointed his First Lieutenant on 24 March.

In the event, Prince George was not appointed to Osborne which was being refitted. He wrote to Dalton, "poor Thomas will have nothing to do all this time which is most unfortunate, but when we come home [from the South of France] we will see if something can't be arranged for him".[33] Prince George was able to secure for himself command of the protected cruiser Melampus for the upcoming manœuvres, and have Evan-Thomas appointed as his second-in-command.[34] One of the lieutenants, Godfrey-Faussett wrote in his diary that, "Evan-Thomas has done wonderfully well, getting the ship into such perfect order in such a short time". The weather on the manœuvres was described as "dismal"[35], and Prince George didn't remove his clothes for six days while suffering from sea-sickness.[36] He found the time to note that Evan Thomas had "worked very hard".[37] On 18 August a favourable report of inspection was received. Evan-Thomas served in Melampus from 29 June, 1892 to 2 September[1] and then resumed his duties in Osborne which wasn't ready for service until the end of the year. In the mean-time he shot a lot of game and spent time with a Miss Hilda Barnard, the daughter of a Bedfordshire banker.[38]

In February, 1893, Osborne left Portsmouth for Genoa, where the ship was joined by Prince George, his mother Princess Alexandra (later Queen) and his sisters Victoria and Maud. The ship cruised around the eastern Mediterranean, but at Piraeus Prince George returned to Britain on his own to be engaged to his brother's intended wife, Mary of Teck.[39] On 7 May Osborne reached Venice and the royal guests returned to Britain by land. Upon returning to Britain himself with Osborne on 6 June, Evan-Thomas went on leave and ensconced himself in the Naval and Military Club in Picadilly.[40] While he was in London on 23 June he learnt the news of the loss of Victoria.[41]

In the collision of Victoria and Camperdown on 22 June, 1893 off the coast of Tripoli, Lebanon, the Mediterranean fleet lost its flagship and its Commander-in-Chief, Sir George Tryon, under whom Evan-Thomas had briefly served.[42] Tryon had to be replaced, and Sir Michael Culme-Seymour was selected.[43] On 29 June Culme-Seymour sent Evan-Thomas a telegram at his club which read, "Will you come with me to the Mediterranean as Flag-Lieutenant? — Sir A. Hoskins recommends you". Earl Clanwilliam (who had commanded the Bacchante's squadron in 1882) had seen the telegram before it reached Evan-Thomas and noted on it, "I hope you will take it". At the age of 30 Evan-Thomas was relatively old to be a Flag-Lieutenant,[44] and he sought out advice, first from Earl Clanwilliam himself (who "put the whole case before me and strongly recommended my taking it") and then from Sir Anthony Hiley Hoskins. Hoskins told him that the appointment "might do me a great deal of good and can do me no harm".[45]

Evan-Thomas went out to Malta with Culme-Seymour in the summer and on 17 October transferred to the new flagship Ramillies.[46] In October he mentioned in a letter home that he was suffering from "bad neuralgia" and was barred from playing polo at about this time on doctor's orders. On 28 May, 1894 he was granted leave to return to Britain on "urgent private affairs":[1] he immediately became engaged to Hilda Barnard.[47] He then tried to secure an appointment to a royal yacht through Prince George and Sir Anthony Hiley Hoskins, both of whom could do little officially.[48] On 18 July, 1894, Evan-Thomas and Hilda were married at St. Saviour's Church, Knightsbridge. In November the couple took passage for Malta and set up house in Valletta. The only cost of his extended leave was, as Prince Louis of Battenberg wrote to him, "to have your promotion put back 6 months".[49]


Evan-Thomas left Ramillies on 4 December, 1896 and Sir Michael Culme-Seymour had written in his service record, "I cannot speak too highly of this officer. Not only 1st rate at Flag Lt.'s but has kept himself up to date in all other Service matters. Taken for the Service + fond of it. Reccmd [Recommended] for prom n".[1] Culme-Seymour wrote elsewhere, "He has great tact and judgement — a thorough knowledge of his duties (signal and otherwise) and both with the fleet in the summer at sea and on shore in Malta has been all that I could wish".[50] He was promoted to the rank of Commander on 1 January, 1897.[51] He returned to England on 6 December 1896 and on 9 May (possibly March)[1] he was appointed Secretary to a committee charged with revising the 1889 Signal Book "without disturbing the general arrangement, but merely to correct such faults as have been found to exist".[52] Their Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty "duly noted" his "efficient manner in which he has carried out [his] duties" on the committee. On 29 June, 1898 he received the Board of Admiralty's thanks for a "year's work in Pigeon Lofts at Ports [Portsmouth] + Sheerness".[1]

On 7 May, 1898 Evan-Thomas travelled to the Isle of Wight and in the company of Sir Michael Culme-Seymour, Lord Charles Beresford and Lieutenant Robert Phipps Hornby he witnessed a wireless radio test conducted by Guglielmo Marconi. He recommended to the president of the signal committee, Sir Compton Domvile that it be fitted in two British warships for testing. Eventually three warships were tested with Marconi wireless gear, and the signal committee produced the 1898 Signal Book.[53] On 19 November, 1898 Evan-Thomas was appointed to Victory for command of the Signal School there,[1] succeeding its founder, Commander Lionel Tufnell. On 12 November, 1900[1] he was relieved by Commander Allan Everett, having "conducted himself with sobriety & has conducted the Signal School in a most capable manner" in the words of Captain Francis Bridgeman.[54] was given command of the light cruiser Pioneer in the Mediterranean on 15 November, 1900 and remained in command until 26 June, 1902,[1] when he was promoted to the rank of Captain.[55]


Having been promoted to Captain, Evan-Thomas was appointed to Victory for service at the Admiralty on 26 June, 1902, where he assisted in the development of Second Sea Lord Sir John Fisher's naval personnel reforms. Fisher reported in Evan-Thomas's service record, "I cannot praise this officer too highly".[2][1] On 21 December Evan-Thomas's brother, Commander Algernon Evan-Thomas, died after accidentally falling off a bridge near his home in Wales.[56] On 16 April, 1903 he was selected by Lord Charles Beresford to be his Flag Captain in Majestic in the Channel Squadron,[1][57] although Beresford is supposed to have first requested Captain Percy Scott.[58] Beresford transferred his command to the battleship Cæsar on 2 February, 1904, bringing Evan-Thomas with him.[59] According to the Squadron Navigating Officer, Commander Henry Oliver, he and Evan-Thomas had to continually give Beresford manœuvring instructions and write them down for his Flag-Lieutenant to give to him.[60] Evan-Thomas remained with Beresford until 1 May, 1905, when he was appointed to command the Admiralty yacht, Enchantress.[1]

Evan-Thomas was temporarily appointed Private Secretary to the First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Cawdor, on 1 October,[1] while the incumbent Captain the Honourable Hugh Tyrwhitt took command of the Renown[61] during the voyage of the Duke of York (the future King George V) and his wife (later Queen Mary) to India.[2] He combined command of the Enchantress with his secretarial duties[62] until he was confirmed as Private Secretary on 1 March, 1906.[1] He was invited to the launch of H.M.S. Dreadnought on 10 February, 1906 but was unable to attend due to illness. As Private Secretary he observed the growing Fisher-Beresford controversy, in which Lord Charles Beresford repeatedly and publicly attacked the Board of Admiralty and especially Sir John Fisher. Despite having served as Beresford's Flag Captain in the Channel Fleet, Evan-Thomas "travelled unscathed through these hazardous times and even gained Fisher's affable esteem".[62] On 9 November, 1906 he was gazetted a Member of the Fourth Class of the Royal Victorian Order (M.V.O.).[63]

On 14 December, 1908 he was appointed to the command of the new dreadnought battleship Bellerophon then under construction at Portsmouth.[1] As private secretary to the First Lord, he had, as Captain William Pakenham wrote to him, "so often been the beneficent deity who has made others happy by giving them ships … now you are getting a fine and interesting one yourself".[64] Evan-Thomas commissioned Bellerophon into the First Division of the Home Fleet at the Nore on Saturday, 20 February, 1909.[65] During the 1909 manœuvres, Bellerophon formed a single-ship fast division of Sir William May's "Red Fleet" based at Berehaven,[66] which was tasked with preventing a junction of the "Blue Fleet" and "White Fleet", based at Oban and the Firth of Forth respectively.[67] Chasing after the Blue Fleet in advance of the Red, Evan-Thomas was able to overhaul and sink four of the Blue cruisers. In patchy fog on the following day, Bellerophon again advanced ahead of the Red Fleet, and suddenly found itself in clear weather in company with six Blue battleships and was ruled to have been sunk, and returned to Berehaven to wait out the rest of the exercise.[68]

In November, 1909 Evan-Thomas was offered the position of Captain of the Fleet by the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, Sir William May, a position he subsequently turned down.[69] The position would have made Evan-Thomas May's chief of staff and entailed appointment as a Commodore, First Class.[70] In early 1910 May suggested that Bellerophon receive the prototype director-firing system designed by Sir Percy Scott that had previously been fitted in his flagship, Dreadnought. The transfer of the equipment was ordered on 28 January and on 18 February Evan-Thomas reported that "every endeavour will be made to have the gear fitted and tested by 5 March 1910". During the testing of the director, which was fitted for elevation only and not for training, Bellerophon could only achieve a low rate of fire. In his report Evan-Thomas stated: "In view therefore of the slowness of the system and the doubtfulness of the advantages to be gained by it, the system of Director Firing is not recommended for adoption in HM [His Majesty's] Service."[71] It has been suggested that Evan-Thomas was influenced by Sir William May's "hostility to director-firing" and that he was selected by his friend Archibald Moore who was a supporter of Beresford and detractor of Sir Percy Scott.[69] Evan-Thomas had written to May on 18 February, 1910 anticipating the many advantages of director-firing, including greater accuracy, ease of spotting (hence, he thought, there would be no need for spotting from aloft), greater rapidity of fire and even that, because there would be no reliance on turret gun sights and the sighting hoods could be closed, turrets could be "much more closely superimposed". Evan-Thomas's reaction to the performance of the prototype director can be considered as very real disappointment and not some sort of prejudice.[72]

Royal Naval College, Dartmouth

Captain Evan-Thomas at left, with Mrs. Evan-Thomas, and Commander Raikes, Master of the College Beagles.

On 16 August, 1910 Evan-Thomas was appointed in command of the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth[1] in succession to Trevylyan Napier. His tenure at Dartmouth coincided with the passing through of the heirs to the throne, Prince Edward (later King Edward VIII) and Prince Albert (later (King George VI). Lord Fisher wrote to Evan-Thomas of his appointment, "but I suppose you obliged the King. Of course it is an excellent thing your going there, for the service but not for yourself".[73] In February, 1911 a measles outbreak occured at the College and two cadets died, Cecil Corbet Marshall, who died of meningitis[74] and J. Oakley, who died of pneumonia. There were in total over 100 cases of measles reported at the college.[75] Evan-Thomas took the two princes to his home at Redlap, Stoke Fleming, Devon to try and isolate them from the outbreak but both still contracted measles. He was "favoured with remedies from patriotic or mischievous members of the public (hot poultices of boiled onions for example)". The princes eventually recovered and on 17 February the King wrote to Evan-Thomas that, "The Queen and I much appreciate all you and Mrs Thomas are doing for our sons".[73] During the outbreak Evan-Thomas was appointed a Naval Aide-de-Camp to the King on 14 February, 1911 in place of Captain William de Salis.[76]

The King and Queen the visit had planned to visit Dartmouth on 31 March.[77] On 14 March, twenty-one fresh cases of measles were reported at Dartmouth[78] and on 24 March the King's Private Secretary, Sir Arthur Bigge (later Lord Stamfordham) wrote to the Mayor of Dartmouth that, "In consequence of the fresh epidemic of measles at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, the King and Queen have reluctantly abandoned their visit to the college".[79] Evan-Thomas had been received by the King at Buckingham Palace on 23 March.[80]

In February, 1912, Evan-Thomas discovered that cadets planned to paint a statue of the King red ahead of a visit to the college. In response he ordered his civilian staff to stand guard over the statue, but since shiftwork was not in their contract they went on strike. He then sacked them, which resulted in coverage in the tabloid press, which reached the King viâ Prince Albert. The King was moved to write to Evan-Thomas on 29 February, "My Dear Thomas, What is the nonsense which appeared in yesterday's Daily Graphic"?[81] One source claims that "the royal visit was cancelled" due to the strike of the staff, and a general strike which occurred at the same time,[81] but on 5 March (five days after the King wrote to Evan-Thomas) it was announced that a royal visit would be paid to Dartmouth "towards the end of the month".[82] However, all the King's foreign and domestic arrangements were cancelled on 15 March as a result of the coal strike.[83]

Flag Rank

On 9 July, 1912, Evan-Thomas was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral, vice Johnston Stewart.[84] He was superseded at Dartmouth on 14 August[1] by The Honourable Victor A. Stanley.[81] On 13 February, 1912 he was appointed Chairman of a committee on the training of naval cadets entered from public schools, which issued its report on 21 April.[85] From 3 March, 1913 to 20 June he was appointed to the War Course at Portsmouth, which he did not complete.[1] His appointment as Rear-Admiral in the First Battle Squadron in succession to Rear-Admiral The Honourable Somerset A. Gough-Calthorpe was approved by the King in October, 1913,[86] and he raised his flag in the dreadnought battleship St. Vincent on 10 December.[1]

Great War

Jellicoe wrote to Admiral Sir Henry Jackson, First Sea Lord, on 16 June, 1915, that he did not wish to make changes amongst his flag officers unless absolutely necessary: "Our organisation makes all Battle Fleet RA's [Rear-Admirals] lead divisions & therefore I hope they won't be moved, except to a similar appointment. Evan Thomas for instance might well go to Barham. He knows the ropes thoroughly."[87] On 15 July Jellicoe suggested that if Charles Bartolomé was vacating the position of Naval Secretary to the First Lord, "I would suggest for you & Mr Balfour's consideration the name of Evan Thomas. I should be most sorry to lose him, but it is so important to have the right man at the Admiralty that one ought to put aside private feelings. If he went I could suggest Browning for Barham and Heath to relieve Grant."[88]

On 25 August, 1915, Evan-Thomas was appointed Rear-Admiral Commanding, Fifth Battle Squadron, and hoisted his flag in H.M.S. Barham on 1 October.[1] His former Vice-Admiral in the First Battle Squadron, The Honourable Sir Stanley C. J. Colville, wrote to King George V, "Evan-Thomas has left to go hoist his flag in Barham. By Jove What a splendid command he has got, wish I were him".[89] The Fifth Battle Squadron's duty in the Grand Fleet was to be the first battleship force to engage the German battleships, and in the absence of the Battle Cruiser Fleet, the German battle cruisers. In the van it was also to support the attack of British cruisers and destroyers.[90] From the time that the squadron joined the Grand Fleet at Scapa, Sir David R. Beatty worked hard to have the Queen Elizabeth battleships attached to his Battle Cruiser Fleet. Jellicoe argued strenuously against this for months, until in April, 1916, two events occurred which resulted in Evan-Thomas's squadron being ordered to join Beatty at Rosyth.[91]

On 22 April two of Beatty's battle cruisers, New Zealand and Australia, collided in thick fog with the result that Australia had to be in dry-dock until 5 June.[92] On 25 April the German battle cruiser force under Kontre-Admiral Hipper bombarded the East Anglian towns of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. Because of the resulting public outcry, a conference at Rosyth was held on 12 May at which it was decided that the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron (consisting of the three Invincible class battle cruisers would go north to Scapa Flow for gunnery practice. Because Beatty would then be without four big ships at a time when the Germans were thought to have commissioned the battle cruiser Hindenburg, it was agreed that the Fifth Battle Squadron would join the Battle Cruiser Fleet, minus H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth, which would go straight into dry-dock at Rosyth.[93]


The Fifth Battle Squadron anchored in the Firth of Forth on 22 May.[94] Evan-Thomas took the opportunity to have his wife come up to visit him in nearby Edinburgh for a few days. During this time interaction between him and his immediate superior officer, Beatty, "appears to have been non-existent", and that "it seems there was no meeting worth the name".[95] It had previously been agreed that on 2 June the entire Grand Fleet would sail into the Skagerrak between Denmark and Norway in an attempt to lure out the German fleet. Once Jellicoe's Battle Fleet and Beatty's Battle Cruiser Fleet had joined together, the Fifth Battle Squadron and the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron would return to their respective forces.[96]

Beatty later attempted to account for the neglect of Evan-Thomas's force by claiming that the differences between Battle Fleet and Battle Cruiser Fleet doctrine was so great, that it would have been impossible to have acquainted the Fifth Battle Squadron properly with Beatty's ideas in ten days.[97] It is unclear whether Evan-Thomas, in his turn, attempted to acquaint himself with the officers and tactics of the Battle Cruiser Fleet while at Rosyth.[98] On 30 May the Admiralty informed Jellicoe that they believed that the High Sea Fleet would be at sea on 31 May and 1 June and ordered the Grand Fleet to put to sea.[99] Jellicoe ordered the Battle Cruiser Fleet to proceed to a designated position by 14:00 on 31 May.[100] and at 21:10 Beatty ordered the Fifth Battle Squadron out of port five miles astern of the First Battle Cruiser Squadron[101] and Evan-Thomas ordered his ships to weigh anchor at 22:07.[102]

At 08:00 on 31 May Evan-Thomas signalled his ships and called their attention to "B.C. [Battle Cruiser] Orders No. 11. readiness for fighting, which are to be complied with".[103]

In the King's birthday honours three days after Jutland, Evan-Thomas was appointed an Additional Member of the Third Class, or Companion, of the Military Division of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (C.B.).[104] In his despatch published on 15 September, Jellicoe specially recommended Evan-Thomas for further honours:

Although Rear-Admiral Evan-Thomas has but recently received the C.B., I would draw attention to the fact that he commands a Battle Squadron which was closely engaged, and that he is, with the exception of Rear-Admiral Heath, the senior Rear-Admiral in the Grand Fleet.[105]

Continued War Service

Evan-Thomas [left] after being knighted, with Admiral Beatty [right].
Photo: Imperial War Museum.

In July, 1916 night-firing practice was introduced and battleships performed sub-calibre firings in the reaches of Scapa Flow. During one such exercise run without navigation lights[106] on 24 August, Valiant collided with Warspite which in turn nearly collided with Erin. Valiant was in dockyard hands for six weeks and Warspite for three months. A Board of Inquiry was held under Captain William Coldingham Masters Nicholson, which recommended that the captains of the two ships be Court-Martialled. Both were subsequently severely reprimanded.[107] Of Evan-Thomas, the Board of Admiralty "considered that he failed to exercise the necessary control in making arrangements beforehand for the movements of the ships at night".[1]

On 15 September he was appointed an Additional Member of the Second Class, or Knight Commander, in the Military Division of the Order of the Bath (K.C.B.) dated 31 May.[108] On the same day he was also appointed Croix de Commandeur in the French Legion of Honour.[109] He was eventually invested with the K.C.B. during the visit of King George V to Scapa Flow on 25 June, 1917. First Admiral Sir David Beatty was invested with the G.C.B., and he then gave his sword to the King and asked that it be used to knight Evan-Thomas "as a token of the invaluable aid he had rendered at the Battle of Jutland".[110] On 5 June Evan-Thomas was awarded the Imperial Russian Order of St Anne, First Class (with Swords) for his services at Jutland,[111] After the appointment of Eric Geddes as First Lord of the Admiralty in July, 1917, Evan-Thomas was moved to write to his sister-in-law on 26 July:

We have seen the great Enrico Geddes now First Lord of the Admiralty—The other day assistant Manager of a Railway—a bullet-headed sort of a cove who any way looks you straight in the face which is more than those confounded politicians do so perhaps he will suit us quite well. He had rather an ordeal the other night—poor man when he was suddenly confronted with 14 Admirals.[112]

He was confirmed in the rank of Vice-Admiral on 19 September.[113] He was relieved of command of the Fifth Battle Squadron on 1 October, 1918 by Rear-Admiral Leveson[114] and was appointed to H.M.S. President for "Special Service" from 1 October to 31 October.[115]


On 1 January, 1919 Evan-Thomas was appointed an Additional Member of the Second Class, or Knight Commander, of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (K.C.M.G.).[116] He was gazetted with the French Croix de Guerre on 15 February, 1919 [117] and on 15 July received an Honorary LL.D from the University of Wales.[1] On 7 October, 1920 Evan-Thomas was promoted to the rank of Admiral, vice Thursby.[118] He returned from half-pay on 1 March, 1921 to become Commander-in-Chief at the Nore,[115] succeeding Admiral Sturdee in a position regarded with the other home port commands as "the pinnacle of a distinguished sea-dog's career".[119] On 16 December he was awarded the American Distinguished Service Medal for his war services.[120]

Until the spring of 1923, Evan-Thomas served as the president of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Golfing Society.[121] Evan-Thomas requested another interview with the First Lord, scheduled for the morning of 3 December.[122] Two accounts of the meeting exist which were both written in 1926, one written by Evan-Thomas on 10 July from a nursing home in Harrogate to his sister-in-law,[123] and another to Earl Jellicoe on 30 June.[124] According to the first version Evan-Thomas arrived at the Admiralty for his meeting with [First Lord of the Admiralty] Amery and was followed in by Beatty, who proceeded to "push" him out of the room, "for fear I might tell the truth".[122] To Jellicoe he wrote that, "I spoke to him [Amery] for some three or four minutes, I think less, when he was informed that he must see the First Sea Lord — so I was shown out.[125] Evan-Thomas returned to Chatham, and by 14:30 was very ill, having suffered a partial stroke.[122]

Evan-Thomas was appointed an Ordinary Member of the First Class, or Knight Grand Cross, in the Military Division of the Order of the Bath (G.C.B.) on the occasion of the King's birthday on 3 June, 1924.[126] On 30 June he retired at his own request.[127] On 26 July the Narrative of the Battle of Jutland was published[128] with Jellicoe's criticisms included as an appendix.[129] The appendix, "punctuated with graceless Beatty-ite refutations",[130] was prefaced, "Where, however the Appendix differs from the Admiralty Narrative, Their Lordships are satisfied that the Narrative is more in accordance with the evidence available". When Jellicoe noted the "insinuation that he [Evan-Thomas] was responsible for delay in 5th Battle Squadron coming into action", the compilers of the Narrative replied, "Their Lordships are satisfied that the compilers of the Narrative have kept to facts, and that inferences and implications have been strictly repressed".[131]

Evan-Thomas was moved on 13 February, 1927 to write a letter to The Times refuting remarks that Winston Churhill had made in an account of the Jutland battle which the paper had printed on 9 February, calling Churchill's perspectives a "mixture of armchair criticism, want of vision from a sailor's point of view, and utter disregard of the effects of smoke, gunfire and fog, added to a terribly partisan account."

Evan-Thomas later wrote (19 February, 1927) that he had been "too ill to be allowed to read" the Admiralty Narrative.[132] On 8 August Jellicoe wrote to Evan-Thomas's wife, Hilda, explaining how the Board of Admiralty had refused to alter the Narrative further, and ended, "I only hope that nothing untoward has occurred to Sir Hugh's health as the result, as if it has I should hold the Admiralty accountable".[132] On Saturday 2 May, 1925 Evan-Thomas was well enough to travel to London to be invested with his G.C.B. by the King at Buckingham Palace.[133] The King gave Evan-Thomas an audience of half an hour and allegedly heard the latter's "account of his ordeal at Beatty's hands".[130] In retirement he travelled around staying with in-laws and relatives. After shooting partridges and pheasants at Llyn Madoc on 1 October, 1925, the tenth anniversary of his first hoisting his flag in Barham, his game book records no further shooting.[134]

Evan-Thomas died on Thursday, 30 August, 1928, at Cople House of diabetic coma,[115] aged 65. His funeral took place on Sunday, 2 September at Cople.[135] A memorial service was held at Eglwys Oen Duw parish church[136] (Church of the Lamb of God) at Beulah, a church built in 1866 under the patronage of the Thomas family.[137] In the church he is commemorated by a brass plaque on which is inscribed the words of Psalm 121:


In 1929 Neath corporation bought the Evan-Thomas estate at Gnoll to serve as a public park, war memorial and a tribute to Hugh Evan-Thomas. Upon being informed of this by the Mayor of Neath at a reception at Glamorgan, Earl Jellicoe replied:[136]

If I had one loyal and splendid supporter during the Great War in the Grand Fleet, one who never failed me, one who led his ships magnificently, but brought them to a pitch of efficiency that was a pattern to the whole of the Grand Fleet, it was Admiral Sir Hugh Evan-Thomas. We were associated from our earliest days in the Navy … Thoughout his life, I am glad to say, we were the greatest possible friends. No one regretted his death more than myself. His life was a pattern to every naval officer and every Christian gentleman in this country.[138]


The best available source of information on Evan-Thomas is Gordon's The Rules of the Game. It will hopefully be apparent from reading that book and reading this article that there are a number of major discrepancies in how Evan-Thomas has been portrayed.

Roskill described Evan-Thomas as "not a particularly imaginative leader who would sense his senior officer's [Beatty] needs and intentions intuitively".[139] That said, Roskill does demonstrate how absurd some of Beatty's "needs and intentions" were. As indicated Beatty himself later made it clear that it would be relatively difficult for an outsider to follow his ideas.

Of other historians, it would be well to list some of their opinions. In a surprising departure from his usual ignorant criticism, Richard Hough wrote of Evan-Thomas at Jutland, "while Evan-Thomas demonstrated a certain lack of imagination, he did not deserve the vilification he received from some quarters."[140]

See Also


  • "Admiral Sir Hugh Evan-Thomas" (Obituaries). The Times. Tuesday, 4 September, 1928. Issue 44989, col C, p. 17.
  • Barnes, David (2005). The Companion Guide to Wales. Woodbridge: Companion Guides. ISBN 1-900639-43-2.
  • British Admiralty (1920). Battle of Jutland 30th May to 1st June 1916: Official Despatches with Appendices. London: H.M.S.O..
  • British Admiralty (1922). C.B. 0938. Naval Staff Appreciation of Jutland. London: H.M.S.O..
  • British Admiralty (1924). Narrative of the Battle of Jutland. London: H.M.S.O..
  • Brooks, John (2005). Dreadnought Gunnery and the Battle of Jutland: The Question of Fire Control. Oxon: Routledge. ISBN 0714657026. (on and
  • Brooks, John (1997). "Percy Scott and the Director". Warship 1996: pp. 150–170.
  • Brown, Malcolm; Meehan, Patricia (2002). Scapa Flow. London: Pan Books. ISBN 1-405-00785-0.
  • Campbell, N.J.M. (2000). Jutland: An Analysis of the Fighting. New York: The Lyons Press. ISBN 1-55821-759-2.
  • Gordon, Andrew (2005). The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command. London: John Murray (Publishers). ISBN 0719561310. (on and
  • Hines, Commander Jason, U.S.N. (October 2008). "Sins of Omission and Commission: A Reassessment of the Role of Intelligence in the Battle of Jutland". The Journal of Military History 72 (4): pp. 1117-1153.
  • Hough, Richard (1989). The Great War at Sea, 1914-1918. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-285181-0.
  • Nicholson, Harold (1952). King George the Fifth: His Life and Reign. London: Constable & Co Ltd.
  • Penn, Captain Geoffrey, R.N. (2000). Infighting Admirals: Fisher's Feud with Beresford and the Reactionaries. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword. ISBN 0-85052-756-2.
  • Rose, Kenneth (1983). King George V. London: George Weidenfeld and Nicolson Ltd. ISBN 0-297-782245-2.


  • Papers in the possession of the British Library.

Service Records

Naval Appointments
Preceded by
Lionel G. Tufnell
Captain of Portsmouth Signal School
19 Nov, 1898[141][142] – 12 Nov, 1900[143]
Succeeded by
Allan F. Everett
Preceded by
Robert H. Travers
Captain of H.M.S. Pioneer
15 Nov, 1900[144] – 26 Jun, 1902[145]
Succeeded by
George P. W. Hope
Preceded by
Edward E. Bradford
Captain of H.M.S. Majestic
17 Apr, 1903[146] – 2 Feb, 1904[147]
Succeeded by
Frederick L. Campbell
Preceded by
Henry B. Jackson
Captain of H.M.S. Cæsar
2 Feb, 1904[148] – 6 Mar, 1905[149]
Succeeded by
Archibald P. Stoddart
Preceded by
Osmond de B. Brock
Captain of H.M.S. Enchantress
1 May, 1905[150] – 1 Oct, 1905[151]
Succeeded by
Cecil D. S. Raikes
Preceded by
The Hon. Hugh Tyrwhitt
Private Secretary to the First Lord of the Admiralty
1 Oct, 1905[152] – 14 Dec, 1908[153]
Succeeded by
Charles E. Madden
Preceded by
New Command
Captain of H.M.S. Bellerophon
14 Dec, 1908[154] – 16 Aug, 1910[155]
Succeeded by
Trevylyan D. W. Napier
Preceded by
Harry Jones
Captain of H.M.S. Pomone
16 Aug, 1910[156] – 14 Aug, 1912[157]
Succeeded by
Victor A. Stanley
Preceded by
Trevylyan D. W. Napier
Captain of Royal Naval College, Dartmouth
16 Aug, 1910[158] – 14 Aug, 1912[159]
Succeeded by
The Hon. Victor A. Stanley
Preceded by
The Hon. Somerset A. Gough-Calthorpe
Rear-Admiral in the First Battle Squadron
10 Dec, 1913[160][161] – 25 Aug, 1915[162]
Succeeded by
Ernest Gaunt
Preceded by
Cecil F. Thursby
Vice-Admiral in Command, Fifth Battle Squadron
25 Aug, 1915[163][164] – 1 Oct, 1918[165]
Succeeded by
Sir Arthur C. Leveson
Preceded by
Sir F. C. Doveton Sturdee, Bart.
Commander-in-Chief at the Nore
1 Mar, 1921[166] – 5 May, 1924[167]
Succeeded by
Sir William E. Goodenough


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  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Baddeley. Dictionary of National Biography 1922-1930. p. 291.
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  10. Luard Committee. Q. 890.
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  30. "The County Councils" (News). The Times. Friday, 5 February, 1889. Issue 32617, col C, p. 10.
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  32. Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 230.
  33. Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 233.
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  36. Nicholson. King George the Fifth. p. 47.
  37. Quoted in Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 235.
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  46. Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 260.
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  50. Quoted in Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 311.
  51. The London Gazette: no. 26809. p. 4. 1 January, 1897.
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  56. "Obituary" (Obituaries). The Times. Monday, 24 December, 1902. Issue 36959, col C, p. 8.
  57. 17 April. per Evan-Thomas Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. f. 105.
  58. Bennett. Charlie B.. pp. 256-257.
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  62. 62.0 62.1 Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 371.
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  64. Quoted in Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 372.
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  67. "Naval and Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Saturday, 31 July, 1909. Issue 39026, col A, p. 7.
  68. Gordon. The Rules of the Game. pp. 372-373.
  69. 69.0 69.1 Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 373.
  70. King's Regulations & Admiralty Instructions. I. p. 52.
  71. Brooks. "Percy Scott and the Director". p. 159.
  72. Information courtesy of Dr. John Brooks. See also ADM 1/8145.
  73. 73.0 73.1 Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 374.
  74. "The Prince of Wales and Prince Albert" (Court and Social). The Times. Monday, 13 February, 1911. Issue 39507, col B, p. 11.
  75. "The Princes at Dartmouth" (News). The Times. Saturday, 18 February, 1911. Issue 39512, col B, p. 10.
  76. The London Gazette: no. 28466. p. 1238. 17 February, 1911.
  77. "News in Brief" (News in Brief). The Times. Monday, 13 March, 1911. Issue 39531, col F, p. 8.
  78. "Measles at Dartmouth" (News in Brief). The Times. Tuesday, 14 March, 1911. Issue 39532, col F, p. 8.
  79. "Dartmouth Visit Abandoned" (News in Brief). The Times. Saturday, 25 March, 1911. Issue 39542, col F, p. 10.
  80. "Court Circular" (Court and Social). The Times. Friday, 24 March, 1911. Issue 39541, col A, p. 11.
  81. 81.0 81.1 81.2 Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 375.
  82. "The King's Arrangements" (Court and Social). The Times. Tuesday, 5 March, 1912. Issue 39838, col F, p. 11.
  83. "The King's Plans" (News). The Times. Saturday, 16 March, 1912. Issue 39848, col B, p. 8.
  84. The London Gazette: no. 28626. p. 5082. 12 July, 1912.
  85. Report of the Committee on the Training of Naval Cadets to be Entered from Public Schools and Elsewhere. The National Archives. ADM 116/862.
  86. "Naval and Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Thursday, 2 October, 1913. Issue 40332, col D, p. 12.
  87. Jackson Papers. National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth: 255/4/1.
  88. Jackson Papers. National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth: 255/4/6.
  89. Quoted in Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 37.
  90. Grand Fleet Battle Orders. p. 11.
  91. Gordon. The Rules of the Game. pp. 42-48.
  92. Parkes. British Battleships. p. 517.
  93. Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 48.
  94. Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 51.
  95. Gordon. The Rules of the Game. pp. 54-55.
  96. Gordon. The Rules of the Game. pp. 48-49.
  97. Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 57.
  98. Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 58.
  99. Hines. "Sins of Omission and Commission". p. 1126.
  100. Battle of Jutland: Official Despatches. p. 403.
  101. Battle of Jutland: Official Despatches. p. 405.
  102. Battle of Jutland: Official Despatches. p. 409.
  103. Battle of Jutland Official Despatches. p. 427.
  104. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29608. p. 5553. 3 June, 1916.
  105. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29751. p. 9063. 15 September, 1916.
  106. Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 506.
  107. Brown; Meehan. Scapa Flow. p. 120.
  108. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29751. p. 9070. 15 September, 1916.
  109. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29751. p. 9081. 15 September, 1916.
  110. "Naval Investiture" (News). The Times. Thursday, 28 June, 1917. Issue 41516, col A, p. 3.
  111. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30116. p. 5591. 5 June, 1917.
  112. Evan-Thomas to Mrs. Thomas Bernard. Evan-Thomas MSS. Quoted in Marder. From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow. IV. p. 214 and Grieves. Sir Eric Geddes. p. 46.
  113. The London Gazette: no. 30313. p. 10051. 28 September, 1917.
  114. "Admiral Sir Hugh Evan-Thomas" (Obituaries). The Times. Tuesday, 4 September, 1928. Issue 44989, col D, p. 17.
  115. 115.0 115.1 115.2 ADM 196/42. p. 208.
  116. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31099. p. 109. 31 January, 1918.
  117. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31182. p. 2361. 15 February, 1919.
  118. The London Gazette: no. 32081. p. 9891. 12 October, 1920.
  119. Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 548.
  120. The London Gazette: no. 32459. p. 7311. 16 September, 1921.
  121. "Naval and Military" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Tuesday, 22 May, 1923. Issue 43347, col F, p. 19.
  122. 122.0 122.1 122.2 Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 550.
  123. Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 688.
  124. Beatty Papers. II. pp. 473-474.
  125. Beatty Papers. II. p. 473.
  126. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 32941. p. 4408. 3 June, 1924.
  127. The London Gazette: no. 32953. p. 5162. 4 July, 1924.
  128. "The Battle of Jutland" (News). The Times. Thursday, 2 June, 1927. Issue 44597, col C, p. 9.
  129. Narrative of the Battle of Jutland. pp. 106-113.
  130. 130.0 130.1 Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 552.
  131. Narrative of the Battle of Jutland. p. 106.
  132. 132.0 132.1 Quoted in Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 552.
  133. "Court Circular" (Court and Social). The Times. Monday, 4 May, 1925. Issue 43952, col B, p. 17.
  134. Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 553.
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  136. 136.0 136.1 Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 560.
  137. Barnes. The Companion Guide to Wales. p. 89.
  138. 138.0 138.1 Quoted in Gordon. The Rules of the Game. p. 560.
  139. Roskill. Admiral of the Fleet Earl Beatty. p. 155.
  140. Hough. The Great War at Sea. p. 294.
  141. Evan-Thomas Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. f. 105.
  142. Kent. Signal!. p 361.
  143. Evan-Thomas Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. f. 105.
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  160. Squadrons and Senior Naval Officers in Existence on 11th November, 1918. p. 2.
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