Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax

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Admiral THE HONOURABLE SIR Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, K.C.B., D.S.O., Royal Navy (22 August, 1880 – 16 October, 1967) was an officer of the Royal Navy.

Early Life & Career

Drax was born Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett in London on 28 August, 1880, the second son of John William Plunkett, later Seventeenth Baron of Dunsany, and his wife, Ernle Elizabeth Louisa Maria Grosvenor Burton. He was the younger brother of the future Eighteenth Baron of Dunsany and in 1916 on inheriting estates from his mother he assumed by Royal Licence the additional names of Ernle-Erle-Drax. Thenceforth he was usually known by the surname of Drax.

From Cheam School he joined the Royal Navy, being appointed to the training ship Britannia on 15 July, 1894. He was rated Midshipman immediately on 15 July, 1896, and on 18 August he joined the battleship Revenge in the Particular Service Squadron. He remained in Revenge until 13 December, 1898, when he returned to Britain. On 15 March, 1899, he was appointed to Impregnable for Pilot, where he remained until 1 July, joining the battleship Magnificent in the Channel Squadron. He obtained a First Class certificate in his Seamanship examination with 921 marks on 15 January, 1900, and was promoted Acting Sub-Lieutenant from that date. On 9 February he was appointed for study at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. His studies were broken by an appointment to H.M.S. Blenheim for the annual manœuvres on 10 July. He obtained a first class certificate in Parts I and II of the College examinations (Navigation) in April and July, 1900, a first in Pilotage in October, a first in Gunnery in January, 1901, and a first in Torpedo in March. For attaining five first class certificates he was awarded a £10 prize.


Plunkett was appointed to H.M.S. Jupiter on 22 March, 1901, and on 4 November he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, dated 15 January.[1] He had been awarded a certificate of efficiency by Captain Sir A. Berkeley Milne, Bart., in September. On 26 November he was appointed to the sloop Rinaldo on the China Station. He remained in her until 28 June, 1903, when he was superseded, and returned to Britain to qualify in Torpedo duties.

On 1 September, 1903, Plunkett was appointed to H.M.S. Vernon at Portsmouth, the home of the torpedo branch. On 31 August, 1904, he qualified as a torpedo officer, with 1661 out of 1900 marks. On 1 September he was reappointed to Vernon for service on the Junior Staff of the school. Around this time he met Admiral Sir John Fisher, the Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth, and recalled the incident in correspondence with Arthur Marder:

I met Fisher only once when, as a very junior Lieutenant, I was bidden to dine with the C. in C. at Admiralty House, Portsmouth because some friends of mine were staying there. After dinner we sat down to play bridge and I somehow found myself as the partner of the great man. In one hand that I had to play I succeeded, mostly by luck, in winning a grand slam, on which Jackie said "good lad: your promotion is assured", to which I replied "Thank you sir, it's a bargain".[2]

Plunkett remained on the staff of Vernon until 8 May, 1905, when he was appointed Lieutenant (T) of the armoured cruiser Bacchante, then in Reserve. On 5 September he joined the cruiser Roxburgh of the First Cruiser Squadron as Lieutenant (T). He was temporarily relieved as torpedo lieutenant from 18 July, 1906, when he went on sick leave suffering from synovitis. He was found fit on 7 December and returned to Roxburgh.

He was appointed on 1 April, 1907, Lieutenant (T) additional for W.T. duties in H.M.S. King Edward VII, flagship of Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, Commander-in-Chief, Channel Fleet. There he remained until 28 July, 1908, when he was appointed to Vernon to requalify in torpedo duties. On 29 September he was appointed to the Royal Naval War College at Portsmouth. There he placed first out of six lieutenants in order of merit, and consequently was sent to the Army Staff College, Camberley, from 22 January to 23 July, 1909. Dr. Robert S. Davison opines that this latter appointment "was extremely unusual duty for a naval officer, especially considering the often strained relations between the Admiralty and the War Office."[3] Plunkett was actually one of seven officers to study at Camberley before the war. The strained relations referred to by Davison weren't the problem (if indeed they were a problem at all). In reality it simply wasn't practical to spare junior officers for courses of study at Camberley, which usually lasted two years, rather than the six months' course Plunkett undertook.

On 31 July, 1909, he again requalified at Vernon, and on 27 December was appointed Lieutenant (T) of H.M.S. Cressy in the Home Fleet. On 10 May, 1910, he became Lieutenant (T) of H.M.S. Natal. He was appointed First Lieutenant and Torpedo Lieutenant (First & T) on 27 June, 1911.

In 1910 a volume entitled Modern Naval Tactics, dated, 1909, was printed by the Admiralty. Captain Herbert W. Richmond, then Flag Captain in Dreadnought, called it at the time "a thesis on Tactics, clever & very Irish, dogmatic to a degree but quite worth writing if only as a way of discussing matters."[4]

Plunkett was appointed to Victory on 10 April, 1912, having been selected to take the War Staff Course at the Royal Naval War College. It doesn't seem to have gone to his head at all: He apparently wrote in his diary about this time:

I cannot help thinking that Richmond, Dewar, I and a few others must try to undertake the regeneration of the British Navy.[5]


On 30 June, 1912, Plunkett was promoted to the rank of Commander.[6] On 2 July he was lent to H.M.S. Aboukir for service on the staff of Rear-Admiral David Beatty, commanding the Sixth Cruiser Squadron for the annual manœuvres.[7] He qualified for the War Staff in January, 1913, and the Flag Captain of the War College, Richard Webb, noted: "All V.G.I. Strength of character & high ability. Somewhat lacking in tact & inclined to shirk details. Works well when interested. Special aptitude in Operations."[8]

On 24 February Plunkett was appointed War Staff officer on the staff of Beatty, the newly-appointed Rear-Admiral Commanding, First Battle Cruiser Squadron.[9]

Great War

On 15 April, 1916, Plunkett married Kathleen Meda Irene Chalmers in a ceremony conducted at St. John's Church, Edinburgh. The new Mrs. Plunkett was the only daughter of Dr. Quintin Chalmers of London.[10] She was the sister of Lieutenant William S. Chalmers, Plunkett's fellow War Staff officer in Lion. On 12 May he was appointed Beatty's Flag Commander, also helping out with wireless signalling duties. He served at the Battle of Jutland. On 30 June he was promoted to the rank of Captain for services in the battle where he "was most valuable in observing the effect of our fire" and on the strength of Beatty's re-iterated recommendations, and reappointed for War Staff duties on Beatty's staff, though he would be in H.M.S. Tiger.[11]

On 15 January, 1917, he was appointed in command of the scout cruiser Blanche. In April, 1918, he was appointed in command of the light cruiser Dublin.[12]


He was appointed captain of Marlborough in April 1926, staying with her one year.

On 2 August (of 1927?) he was appointed a Naval Aide-de-Camp to the King, vice Tomkinson.[13]

Drax was appointed an Ordinary Member of the Third Class, or Companion, of the Military Division of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (C.B.) on 2 January, 1928,[14] and was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral on 16 January, vice Campbell.[15]

On 12 April, 1929, Drax was appointed Rear-Admiral (Second-in-Command) in the First Battle Squadron, assuming command on 6 May.[16] After giving a lecture entitled "Battle Tactics" in November, 1929, Drax apparently got into a spat with his squadron commander, Sir W. A. Howard Kelly, who was also Second-in-Command, Mediterranean. Having described Kelly as "violently antagonistic" and his arguments to be "plausible, persuasive, and utterly unsound," Drax then privately descended into petty one-upmanship, writing "my theories are based almost entirely on an exhaustive study of the late war, where, incidentally, I did more sea time and saw far more fighting than he [Kelly] did."[17] Evidently Drax felt he had much to be proud of in serving as a member of one of the most incompetent staffs afloat in modern naval history.

At some point the First Battle Squadron became the Second Battle Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet, and Drax came under the command of Chatfield. His report on Drax, dated 23 April, 1930, reads:

I have been v. favourably impressed with with the zeal of this offr. He is a student of his profession with marked imagination & initiative, continually thinking how to improve the fighting efficiency of the fleet. He has on several occasions handled the fleet with ability. Of a somewhat shy nature, he is hardly a leader of men, though he is a leader in thought. For this reason I doubt whether he would be a success in comd of a big fleet, where personal contact with those under comd is such an important factor. He is definitely a user of weapons rather than a 'materiel' man, & he would do good work on the Staff side of the Admiralty.[18]

Despite Chatfield's view that Drax was better at weaponry than materiel, Drax was next appointed as Director of the Manning Department in late 1930. Curiously, he was granted a Private Pilot's Certificate of Competency in July of 1931 and an "A" Pilot's Licence. In 1932, he left the Manning Department to take up an appointment as Commander-in-Chief, America and West Indies Station, where he would preside until late 1934.[19]

In his later years, and doubtless with the wisdom coming from firsthand experience of a flag officer's responsibilities, he mellowed in his views of his former superiors. In 1959 he cautioned Arthur Marder that:

I now well how easy it is to exaggerate or state one[']s criticisms too harshly. Richman [sic] and Dewar were able men but they did this and no doubt I have sometimes done it.[20]

Drax was appointed C.B. in 1928 and K.C.B. in 1934. In 1916 he married Kathleen (died 1980), daughter of Quintin Chalmers, M.D., and sister of Lieutenant (later Rear-Admiral) W. S. Chalmers. Drax died in Poole on 16 October, 1967.


  • "Sir Reginald Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax" (Obituaries). The Times. Wednesday, 18 October, 1967. Issue 57075, col F, p. 12.
  • Davison, Robert L. (April 2003). "Striking a Balance Between Dissent and Discipline: Admiral Sir Reginald Drax". The Northern Mariner/Le Marin du nord XIII (2): pp. 43-57.
  • Plunkett, Lieut. Hon. R. A. R. Plunkett, R.N. (1910). Modern Naval Tactics: 1909. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, Ltd., for His Majesty's Stationary Office.
  • R.P.D. (1953). "Lord Beatty's "Battle Cruiser Orders"." The Naval Review. XLI. No. 3. pp. 269-276.


Service Record

Naval Appointments
Preceded by
John M. Casement
Captain of H.M.S. Blanche
15 Jan, 1917[21] – Apr, 1918[22]
Succeeded by
Francis A. W. Buller
Preceded by
Albert C. Scott
Captain of H.M.S. Dublin
Apr, 1918[23] – 19 Feb, 1919[24]
Succeeded by
Edward H. Rymer
Preceded by
Arthur B. S. Dutton
Captain of H.M.S. Marlborough
9 Apr, 1926[25] – 12 Apr, 1927[26]
Succeeded by
Frederick C. Fisher
Preceded by
William M. Kerr
Rear-Admiral in the First Battle Squadron
12 Apr, 1929[27] – 26 Apr, 1930[28]
Succeeded by
Henry D. Pridham-Wippell
Preceded by
Edward A. Astley-Rushton
as Director of the Mobilisation Department
Director of the Manning Department
18 Dec, 1930 – 2 Apr, 1932
Succeeded by
Arthur L. Snagge
Preceded by
Vernon H. S. Haggard
Commander-in-Chief, America and West Indies Station
2 Apr, 1932[29] – 10 Nov, 1934[30]
Succeeded by
The Hon. Matthew R. Best
as Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies Station
Preceded by
Eric J. A. Fullerton
Commander in Chief, Plymouth Station
11 Jun, 1935 – 24 Oct, 1938
Succeeded by
Martin E. Dunbar-Nasmith
Preceded by
Henry J. S. Brownrigg
Commander-in-Chief at the Nore
1 Dec, 1939[31] – 2 Apr, 1941[32]
Succeeded by
Sir George H. D'O. Lyon



  1. The London Gazette: no. 27372. p. 7146. 5 November, 1901.
  2. Notes on Marder's draft of chapter 12 of From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, 11 November 1959, DRAX 6/18, Drax MSS., Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College.
  3. Davison. p. 44.
  4. Diary entry of 27 August, 1910. Richmond Papers. National Maritime Museum. RIC 1/8.
  5. Dewar Papers. National Maritime Museum. DEW/27. f. 201.
  6. The London Gazette: no. 28623. p. 4748. 2 July, 1912.
  7. ADM 196/45. f. 214.
  8. ADM 196/125. f. 188.
  9. ADM 196/45. f. 214.
  10. "Marriages" (Marriages). The Times. Thursday, 20 April, 1916. Issue 41146, col A, p. 1.
  11. ADM 196/45. f. 214.
  12. The National Archives. ADM 196/45. f. 214.
  13. The London Gazette: no. 33303. p. 5332. 16 August, 1927.
  14. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 33343. p. 3. 2 January, 1928.
  15. The London Gazette: no. 33349. p. 440. 20 January, 1928.
  16. The National Archives. ADM 196/45. f. 214.
  17. Davison. p. 50.
  18. Drax Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/90. f. 88.
  19. Drax Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/90. f. 88.
  20. Drax to Marder, 27 November 1959, DRAX 6/18, Drax MSS., Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College.
  21. The Navy List. (November, 1917). p. 391u.
  22. Drax Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/45. f. 214.
  23. Drax Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/45. f. 214.
  24. Drax Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/45. f. 214.
  25. Drax Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/45. f. 214.
  26. Drax Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/45. f. 214.
  27. "Flag Appointments" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Wednesday, 9 June, 1929. Issue 45096, col G, p. 6.
  28. Drax Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/45. f. 214.
  29. Drax Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/45. f. 214.
  30. Date is indistinct, save for year. Drax Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/45. f. 214.
  31. Drax Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/45. f. 214.
  32. Drax Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/45. f. 214.