Murray Fraser Sueter

From The Dreadnought Project
Jump to: navigation, search
Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F. Sueter.
Portrait: By courtesy of Mary Sias.

Rear-Admiral SIR Murray Fraser Sueter, C.B., Royal Navy, Retired (6 September, 1872 – 3 February, 1960) was an officer of the Royal Navy during the First World War, emerging as one of the pioneers of war-time aviation, before becoming in retirement a politician.

Early Life & Career

Sueter was born in Alverstoke, Gosport, on 6 September, 1872, the son of Fleet Paymaster John Thomas Sueter and his wife, Ellen Feild Lightbourn. He entered the Britannia as a naval cadet in 1886 and gained eight months' seniority upon passing out in December 1887. He first served as a midshipman in the Swiftsure, flagship on the Pacific station, but moved to the Warspite in June 1890. Sueter suffered a gunshot wound to his right foot while grouse shooting near Vancouver for which he was invalided on 7 April, 1891. Sueter went back to England in May in S.S. Sardinian where proper care had him ready for further appointments by 19 August.[1]

Sueter served in the second class battleship Anson from September 1893 until he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant on 30 June, 1894.[2] He was appointed to the torpedo training school H.M.S. Vernon to qualify as a torpedo specialist in 1896. He commanded the destroyer Fame at the Diamond Jubilee Naval Review of 1897, and after a further two years' service on the staff of the Vernon was appointed in 1899 to the battleship Jupiter for torpedo duties.

In 1902 Sueter received an appointment to the torpedo gunboat Hazard, at the time commanded by Reginald Bacon and recently commissioned as the first parent ship for submarines, of which the Holland boats were just entering for service as the navy's first submarines. While serving in the Hazard, Sueter distinguished himself by entering the battery compartment of the submarine A 1 after an explosion caused by a concentration of hydrogen to assist in the rescue of injured men who would otherwise have been badly burnt. This period of service with the early submarines led to a lifelong interest in these vessels, and in 1907 Sueter published one of the first books of real merit on this subject under the title "The Evolution of the Submarine Boat, Mine and Torpedo".

In 1903 Sueter married Elinor Mary de Winton (d. 1948), only daughter of Sir Andrew Clarke; they had two daughters. He was promoted to the rank of Commander on 30 June of that year.[3]

In 1904 he went to the Admiralty to serve as an Assistant to the Director of Naval Ordnance. In April, 1905, he was reporting on encouraging results obtained stress-testing a refined design of Vickers Dial Fire Control Instruments at the firm before sending them on to Excellent.[4]

Sueter returned to sea in 1906 to command the third class protected cruiser Barham in the Mediterranean, returning two years later to the Naval Ordnance Department in the Admiralty. He was promoted to the rank of Captain on 30 June, 1909.[5]

On 29 September, 1910, he was appointed to the second class protected cruiser Hermione as Inspecting Captain of Airships.[6]

Association with Aviation

The Admiralty at this time was considering the use of aircraft, especially airships, for reconnaissance duties with the fleet and in 1909 had placed contracts for the construction of a rigid airship to be named Mayfly (Mis Majesty's Airship No. 1. Sueter took a very keen interest in her construction and contributed many useful suggestions during her building. As a result he was appointed in 1910 to command the cruiser Hermione with the additional title of Inspecting Captain of Airships. Unfortunately before her first flight the Mayfly's back was broken while she was being manoeuvred out of her hangar in a high wind in 1911, an accident which for a time put a stop to further airship development for the navy. In 1912 Sueter was brought back to the Admiralty to take over the new air department and much of the rapid development of the seaplane as a naval aircraft was due to his enthusiasm. Shortly before the outbreak of war in 1914, and largely on Sueter's suggestions, the naval wing broke away from its parent body, the Royal Flying Corps, to become the Royal Naval Air Service (R.N.A.S.). He was appointed an Ordinary Member of the Third Class, or Companion, in the Civil Division of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (C.B.) on 1 January, 1914.[7]

Royal Naval Air Service

Sueter was instrumental in the rapid build-up of the R.N.A.S. following the outbreak of war in August, 1914. By Order in Council of 13 April, 1915, he was granted the rank of Commodore, Second Class whilst Director of the Air Department, with effect from 13 February of that year. Sueter, who had continued with some success to press for airship development, was very largely responsible for the design and rapid production of small non-rigid airships designed to search out U-boats operating in British coastal waters. In all, some 200 of these were built and proved of great value particularly when convoy was adopted later in the war. Sueter also interested himself in the development of torpedo-carrying aircraft, and, working with Lieutenant Douglas Hyde-Thomson, it was he who initiated the design which was adopted in the navy. An early success when a Turkish supply ship was sunk by an air-launched torpedo in the Sea of Marmora in 1915 not only vindicated Sueter's ingenuity and foresight but proved to be the first step in the development of one of the navy's most powerful weapons.

In 1915 Sueter turned his inventive mind to new avenues of service for the R.N.A.S. and advanced the idea of providing armoured cars for the defence of airfields established abroad. During the early months these cars did useful work in Flanders and northern France but as the war settled into its static phase of trench warfare their value declined. Two squadrons of these armoured cars were sent abroad, one to Russia under Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson and one to Egypt under the second Duke of Westminster. Sueter's restless brain, not content with the armoured car design, concentrated on means of giving it a cross-country capability by fitting it with caterpillar tracks. From this advance it was a short step to the development of the tank.

With the appointment of Rear-Admiral Charles L. Vaughan-Lee in September, 1915, as Director of Air Services with overall responsibility for naval aviation, Sueter was made Superintendent of Aircraft Construction with full responsibility for the matériel side of all naval aircraft. At the same time he was promoted Commodore, First Class. But in 1917, after some differences of opinion with the Board of Admiralty, he was sent to southern Italy to command the R.N.A.S. units there. Later in the year Sueter wrote a letter to George V on the subject of recognition of his work, and that of two other officers associated with him, in initiating the idea of tanks. This was passed to the Admiralty in the normal manner and roused considerable resentment. Sueter was informed that he had incurred Their Lordships' severe displeasure and relieved of his command. He returned to England in January, 1918 and despite his protests no further employment was found for him. He was placed on the Retired List on 18 January, 1920,[8] but on 25 March the Admiralty obtained an Order in Council under whose provisions he would be promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral on the Retired List when a vacancy opened, which occurred on 31 July.[9]

On 16 June, 1921, Sueter was elected Member of Parliament for the Hertford division, running on the Anti-Waste platform. He obtained 12,329 votes, as against Conservative and Unionist candidate Sir Hildred Carlile's 5,553.[10]


Sueter died at his home, The Howe, Watlington, Oxfordshire, on 3 February, 1960.


  • "Sir Murray Sueter" (Obituaries). The Times. Friday, 5 February, 1960. Issue 54687, col A, p. 15.
  • Sueter, Commodore Murray F., Royal Navy (1914). The Evolution of the Submarine Boat[,] Mine and Torpedo: From the Sixteenth Century to the Present Time (Second Edition). Portsmouth: Gieve, Matthews and Seagrove, Limited.
  • Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F. (1928). Airmen or Noahs: Fair Play for Our Airmen; The Great "Neon" Air Myth Exposed. London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd.
  • Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F. (1937) The Evolution of the Tank. A Record of Royal Naval Air Service Caterpillar Experiments.. London, Hutchinson and Co (Reprint 1941 with additions).

Service Records

Naval Appointments
Preceded by
Captain of H.M.S. Fame
Succeeded by
Charles Tibbits
Preceded by
Herbert Meade
Captain of H.M.S. Teazer
21 Jul, 1903[11] – 18 Aug, 1903[Inference]
Succeeded by
Henry C. R. Brocklebank
Preceded by
Anthony F. Gurney
Captain of H.M.S. Barham
5 Mar, 1906[12] – 1908[13]
Succeeded by
Herbert A. Adam
Preceded by
Robert E. R. Benson
Captain of H.M.S. Hermione
29 Sep, 1910[14]
Succeeded by
Norman L. Stanley
Preceded by
New Appointment
Director of the Air Department
25 Nov, 1912[15]
Succeeded by
Charles L. Vaughan-Lee
as Director of Air Services


  1. Sueter Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 309.
  2. The London Gazette: no. 26534. p. 4154. 20 July, 1894.
  3. The London Gazette: no. 27572. p. 4187. 3 July, 1903.
  4. Principal Questions Dealt with by the Director of Naval Ordnance, 1905. pp. 466-7.
  5. The London Gazette: no. 28263. p. 4857. 25 June, 1909.
  6. "Naval and Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Friday, 7 October, 1910. Issue 39397, col C, p. 3.
  7. The Edinburgh Gazette: no. 12630. p. 7. 2 January, 1914.
  8. The London Gazette: no. 31761. p. 1264. 30 January, 1920.
  9. The London Gazette: no. 32017. p. 8408. 13 August, 1920.
  10. "Women's Win for Anti-Waste" (News). The Times. Saturday, 18 June, 1921. Issue 42750, col C, p. 10.
  11. "APPOINTMENTS FOR THE NAVAL MANOEUVRES." The Times (London, England), Thursday, Jul 16, 1903; pg. 8; Issue 37134.
  12. The Navy List. (March, 1907). p. 282.
  13. "Sir Murray Sueter" (Obituaries). The Times. Friday, 5 February, 1960. Issue 54687, col A, p. 15.
  14. The Navy List. (April, 1911). p. 325.
  15. Sueter Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/43. f. 309.