Philip Louis Vian

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Admiral of the Fleet

Sir Philip Louis Vian

G.C.B. K.C.B. K.B.E. D.S.O.
Rear-Admiral Sir Philip Louis Vian in 1944 © National Portrait Gallery, London.
Born15 July 1894
London, England
Died27 May 1968 (aged 73)
Ashford Hill, Hampshire, England.
AllegianceFlag United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.gif United Kingdom
Service BranchNaval Ensign of the United Kingdom from 1801.png Royal Navy
Years Active1907–1952
Highest RankFlag United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.gif Admiral of the Fleet
Commands held19th Destroyer Flotilla (1934-36)
1st Destroyer Flotilla (1936)
HMS Arethusa (1936-39)
4th Destroyer Flotilla (1940-41)
Force K (1941)
15th Cruiser Squadron (1941-42)
Chief of Staff to the Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth Station (1943)
Force V/Task Force 88 (1943)
Flag Officer, Western Italy (1943)
Force J (1943-44)
Eastern Task Force (1944)
Aircraft Carriers, British Pacific Fleet (1944–45)
1st Aircraft Carrier Squadron, British Pacific Fleet (1945-46)
Vice-Admiral, Second-in-Command, British Pacific Fleet (1945-46)
Fifth Sea Lord & Chief of Naval Air Services & Deputy Chief of Naval Staff (Air) (1946–50)
Home Fleet (1950–52)
WarsFirst World War
Second World War

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Philip Louis Vian G.C.B. K.C.B. K.B.E. D.S.O. & Two Bars (15 July 1894 – 27 May 1968) was a Royal Navy officer who served in both World Wars. He went on to become Vice-Admiral, Second-in-Command, British Pacific Fleet (1945-46), then Fifth Sea Lord & Chief of Naval Air Services & Deputy Chief of Naval Staff (Air) (1946–50) and finally Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet (1950–52).[1]

Naval Career

Philip Vian was born on 15 June 1894 in London.[1] He entered the Royal Naval College, Osborne as a Cadet on 15 May 1907 before moving to Royal Naval College, Dartmouth until 14 January 1912.[1] On 15 January 1912 he was promoted to Midshipman.[1] During World War One, Vian served on the cruiser HMS Argonaut and destroyer HMS Morning Star and witnessed the Battle of Jutland in 1916, although his ship did not play a direct part.[1] On 5 July 1916 he was promoted to [Lieutenant]], and served in the destroyers HMS Ossory and HMS Sorceress for the remainder of the war.[1] After the war, he specialised in gunnery. On 15 February 1924 he advanced to the rank of Lieutenant Commander.[1]

In 1929 he was promoted to Commander and served on the Far East station in HMS Kent.[1] In December 1929, he spent two years at the Admiralty. He then joined HMS Active in 1932, leader of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean.[1] In 1934, he was promoted Captain and commanded the 19th Destroyer Flotilla (Mediterranean) during which time they were sent to defend Malta during the Abyssinian crisis.[1] He was later transferred to command the 1st Destroyer Flotilla and in July 1936, at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, they were involved in the evacuation of British subjects, exchange of refugees and acted as a floating communications centre for the Ambassador.[1] After a brief period back at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, he was appointed as Flag Captain to Rear Admiral Lionel Wells in HMS Arethusa, flagship of the 3rd Cruiser Squadron in the Mediterranean.[1] In August 1939, he was made Captain of a flotilla of elderly destroyers, based at Devonport.[1] During the short period of his command, while in HMS Mackay, he came into close action with a German U-Boat attacking a tanker. He was appointed to HMS Cossack in command of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla in January 1940 for escort duties to and from Scandinavia.[1] In February 1940, Vian led his flotilla to the Norwegian coast to seize the German ship Altmark, known to be carrying British prisoners transferred earlier from the scuttled pocket battleship, KMS Admiral Graf Spee.[1] After a long search, the Altmarck was sighted in Norwegian waters and taking refuge in the Jossing Fjord. Vian took HMS Cossack into the fjord and sent a boarding party on to the German ship. After a scuffle with the enemy crew, the boarding party rescued the 300 prisoners and coined the famous cry “the Navy’s here!” Vian was awarded the DSO for this engagement.[1]

Soon after this, Vian temporarily transferred to HMS Alfridi and took part in the Norwegian campaign during April to June 1940 and was involved in many actions including the evacuation at Namsos, during which his ship was sunk. He was mentioned in Despatches for his part in the action. In May, he returned to HMS Cossack and in October 1940, took part in Operation DM that involved the destruction of a German convoy off the Norwegian coast. For this action, he was awarded a bar to his DSO.[1] He spent the rest of the winter on escort duties. Between 24 - 27 May 1941, the 4th Destroyer Flotilla joined in the search for the German battleship, KMS Bismarck. Along with ships from the Home Fleet under Admiral Tovey, the flotilla shadowed and attacked the stricken Bismarck, which was finally sunk on the 27th. Vian received a second bar to his DSO.[1]

Flag Rank Appointments

In July 1941, Vian was specially promoted at the age of 47 to Rear-Admiral by the First Sea Lord, Dudley Pound.[1] He was sent on a visit to Russia to negotiate for naval cooperation between the two countries, but these were unsuccessful at the time. He was then appointed to command Force K at Scapa Flow, to prepare for convoys to Russia. As part of the preparations, the force, led by Vian in HMS Nigeria, was sent to Spitsbergen and Bear Island where, in August 1941, they destroyed the coal-mining facilities, withdrew the Norwegian settlers, and evacuated the Russian colony back to Russia. During their return, following reports of a German convoy in the area, Vian attacked the convoy in Hammer Fjord, where due to the nature of the fighting, HMS Nigeria rammed and cut in half the German training cruiser Bremse. A few weeks after this event, the first Russian convoys commenced and Force K was disbanded.[1]

In October 1941, Vian took command of the 15th Cruiser Squadron at Alexandria.[1] There were few ships available and the enemy forces were greatly superior. The main British tasks were to ensure the survival of Malta through supply convoys and the prevention of supplies reaching the Axis armies in North Africa. In December Vian successfully bombarded Derna, and later in the same month he took his first convoy to Malta, which resulted in the first battle of Sirte against an Italian force.[1] In early March 1942 Vian’s flagship, HMS Naiad, was sunk while escorting a small force from Malta. Vian survived and transferred to HMS Cleopatra. At the end of the month, he led another convoy destined for Malta. On passage, it met with the Italian battle fleet under the command of the same Admiral who had led the enemy force in December, and the second battle of Sirte commenced. Through great bravery and tactics, the merchant ships remained unscathed from surface attack, although enemy aircraft caused serious damage. The outcome was that one merchant ship arrived safely, one was beached at Malta and the third was sunk. Vian received a personal message of congratulation from the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Vian was also awarded the KBE on 31 March 1942.[1]

After an unsuccessful convoy to Malta in June, his health was deteriorating and in September 1942, Vian was sent home for rest. When the aircraft he was in broke down in West Africa, he contracted malaria and was seriously ill for several months. Although better, in April 1943 he was deemed only fit for shore service, something that he was not fond of, and he was appointed to a post on the staff planning the invasion of Europe. On 24 April he was briefly appointed Chief of Staff to the Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth Station until 29 April 1943.[1] However, before he before he could commence, he was sent back to the Mediterranean to take over an amphibious force whose commander had died in an air crash.[1] He commanded an amphibious force during Operation Husky, the successful landings at Sicily in July 1943.[1] On 27 August 1943 he was appointed Rear Admiral Commanding, Force V / Task Force 88 to cover Operation Avalanche, the landings at Salerno On 20 September 1943 he was appointed Flag Officer, Western Italy until 29 September, 1943.[1] In September Vian returned to the UK and on 11 November 1943 he was next appointed Naval Force Commander, Force J, (for the Normandy invasion) [HMS Odyssey) until 21 January 1944.[1] On 22 January 1944 he took command of the Eastern Task Force in preparation for the invasion of Normandy.[1] In HMS Scylla, he commanded three British forces during the initial assault in June 1944. and made KCB for his services during the Normandy invasion. In addition, he received four Mentions in Despatches.[1]

On 15 November 1944 he was sent out to the Far East and appointed Flag Officer Commanding, Aircraft Carriers, British Pacific Fleet until 22 February 1945.[1] On 23 February 1945 he was appointed Flag Officer Commanding, 1st Aircraft Carrier Squadron, British Pacific Fleet until May 1946, whilst in this post he was promoted to the rank of Vice-Admiral and additionally appointed from 27 October 1945 Vice-Admiral, Second-in-Command, British Pacific Fleet.[1] At the end of the war, after his return from the Pacific on 23 September 1946 Vian became Fifth Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Air Services at the Admiralty, in charge of naval aviation, whilst in this post he was additionally appointed Deputy Chief of Naval Staff (Air) in 1947.[1] On 26 September 1948 he advanced to the rank of Admiral and remained as a sea lord at the admiralty until 11 January 1950.[1] On 12 January 1950 he was appointed Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet with HMS Vanguard as his flagship, and retained this position until he retired from the service on 1 June 1952.[1]

On his retirement, he was promoted Admiral of the Fleet, a rank that is normally confined to First Sea Lords, in recognition of his exceptional service during WWII.[1] In addition, he was awarded the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. After leaving the service, he undertook several commercial directorships. He died at his home in Ashford Hill, near Newbury on 27th May 1968.[1]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 1.24 1.25 1.26 1.27 1.28 1.29 1.30 1.31 1.32 1.33 1.34 1.35 1.36 Gretton, Peter (6 January 2011). "Vian, Sir Philip Louis (1894–1968), naval officer". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/36650. Retrieved 10 June 2021.