Winston Churchill

Sir Winston Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty from 1911-15 and 1939-40 and as such the civilian Cabinet minister ultimately responsible for Admiralty and Royal Navy affairs.

1912: Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965) stands beside a staircase aboard the Royal yacht in 1912. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)Churchill onboard the Enchantress, 1912

In September 1911 Churchill was advised that he was to be First Lord of the Admiralty. His elation and determination are reflected in his comment to Violet Asquith: “This is a big thing – the biggest thing that has ever come my way – the chance I should have chosen before all others. I shall pour into it everything I’ve got.”

Churchill adored navy life aboard the Admiralty yacht Enchantress, and after taking up office he set out to visit every capital ship and Royal Navy base in the British Isles. He spent eight months of his first twelve in office aboard the yacht.

Deteriorating relations between France and Germany and the rapid expansion of the German Navy had prompted great anxiety in Britain and Churchill was determined to ensure Britain’s maintenance of its naval supremacy over Germany. He felt that Britain should be in ‘constant and instant readiness for war’.

Churchill was instrumental in reshaping the Royal Navy, with larger more powerful ships and modernising them from coal to oil. His moves would prove instrumental in preparing the Royal Navy for the First World War. Thanks to Churchill’s energy and persistence, the fleet was indeed ready when war came.1

In his second stint as First Lord, Churchill was responsible for protecting Britain’s Expeditionary Force to France and supervising the daily war effort of the Royal Navy. As a member of the War Cabinet, he concerned himself with every aspect of war policy at home and abroad, including rationing, censorship, morale, relations with the United States, the fate of Poland, the future of France, and the acceleration of Britain’s war effort.2

Viscount Cilcennin records that, as Prime Minister, Churchill would signal across to the First Lord of the Admiralty in moments of contemplation, when his eye was caught by the flag flying above the First Lord’s room. “Much of his heart still lay with the office which he had twice adorned at the beginning of two world wars.”

British statesman Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965) arrives at the Admiralty at the start of World War II, as the War Cabinet's new First Lord of the Admiralty, 3rd September 1949. The headline of this anniversary edition reads 'Ten Years Ago'. Original Publication: Picture Post Cover - pub. 3rd September 1949 (Photo by IPC Magazines/Picture Post/Getty Images)“Winston is back.”

Reference sources:

2 The Churchill Documents, Volume 14, by Martin Gilbert