James Fownes Somerville

James Fownes Somerville (Sir)
Birth and death
1882 - 1949
Profession details
Naval Officer
Related place
Alistair Grant

Sir James Fownes Somerville (1882-1949) Naval Officer. After entering the Navy, he worked in the new field of wireless telegraphy from 1907. For the next twenty years, he held a series of important posts, including Fleet Wireless Officer at Gallipoli. In 1931, after the Invergordon mutiny, he led an inquiry into the grievances, which established the causes of the mutiny, and successfully restored confidence in the Royal Navy. At the outbreak of the Second World War broke he became a successful radio commentator. He was also given the task of developing and installing naval radar on ships. It was developed successfully and installed quickly due chiefly to Somerville's technical know-how and leadership. On 3rd July 1940, he was given the onerous task of securing the demobilisation of the French fleet at Mers al-Kebir, by negotiation or force if necessary. The French Admiral Gensoul effectively forced Somerville to open fire and destroy three ships at a loss of one thousand six hundred French lives. His leadership of Force H as gatekeeper to the Mediterranean and defending convoys in the central Atlantic was crucial to the naval war effort, culminating in the pursuit and crippling of the Bismarck battleship in May 1941 by Ark Royal's Swordfish airplanes. On VE-day, he was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet. He was born in Weybridge.

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