John Cunningham file photo [4277]

John Cunningham

Given NameJohn
Born13 Apr 1885
Died13 Dec 1962
CountryUnited Kingdom


ww2dbaseJohn Henry Dacres Cunningham was born at Demerara, British Guiana to Elizabeth Harriet and Henry Hutt Cunningham. After education at the Stubbington House School, he enlisted in the British Royal Navy. In 1900, he was posted to cadet training ship Britannia, and in 1901 to cruiser Gibraltar. In 1904, he was promoted to the rank of sub-lieutenant and then completed the examination to become a lieutenant in Oct 1905. After navigation training, he became the assistant navigator for cruiser Illustrious and senior navigator for gunboat Hebe, cruiser Indefatigable, and finally minelayer Iphigenia. On 8 Mar 1910, he married his cousin Dorothy May; they later had two sons, John and Richard. During WW1, he served as a navigator on cruiser Berwick in the West Indies in 1914, battleship Russell in the Mediterranean Sea between 1915 and 1916 (and survived her sinking), battlecruiser Renown in 1916, and battlecruiser Lion in 1918. After WW1, he served aboard battlecruiser Hood as her navigator, and then later served as the battlecruiser squadron's navigator. In 1922, he served as the commander of the navigator school and then served with Admiral Sir John de Robeck as his master of the fleet aboard battleship Queen Elizabeth. In 1924, he was promoted to the rank of captain and spent time on the staff of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. After some time as deputy director of plans at Admiralty House, he commanded minelayer Adventure between 1928 and 1929. In 1932, he took command of battleship Resolution, flagship of Admiral Sir William Fisher of the Mediterranean Fleet. In 1935, he served as the naval aide-de-camp to King George V. In 1936, he was promoted to the rank of rear admiral and was named the assistant chief of naval staff, which brought him to the administration of the Fleet Air Arm in the following year. In 1938, his office became that of fifth sea lord with a seat on the Board of Admiralty. In the summer of 1939, he was promoted to the rank of vice admiral and was deployed back to sea with command over the 1st Cruiser Squadron in the Mediterranean Sea; he broke his flag on cruiser Devonshire.

ww2dbaseWhen WW2 began on 1 Sep 1939, Cunningham took the 1st Cruiser Squadron back to Britain to join the Home Fleet. Shortly after, he was sent north to support the Norwegian campaign. During the night of 1 May 1940, he led a mixed force of three cruisers, nine destroyers, and three French transports to the port of Namsos, north of Trondheim, to evacuate about 5,700 Allied troops; bad weather postponed the evacuation by a day, but it also somewhat shielded the operation from being attacked by German aircraft. On 7 Jun, he took Devonshire to the Arctic port of Tromsø to evacuate King Haakon VII, Crown Prince Olav, other members of the Norwegian royal family, government ministers, and Norway's gold reserve. On the return trip, Devonshire received the distress signal of carrier Glorious, which was under overwhelming German naval attack; under order to keep strict radio silence on this important transport mission, Cunningham chose to ignore the distress call. He safely delivered the important passengers and cargo to Britain, but Glorious and her two screening destroyers were sunk with the loss of 1,519 men.

ww2dbaseIn Sep 1940, Cunningham was appointed joint commander with Major-General N. M. S. Irwin for Operation Menace which planned to land 6,670 British and Free French soldiers at Dakar, Western Africa. The operation turned out to be a failure as local Vichy-French forces put on a fierce resistance.

ww2dbaseIn 1941, Cunningham was knighted and was named the fourth sea lord in charge of supplies and transport. In Aug of the same year, his younger son Richard Cunningham, who was a lieutenant with the Royal Navy Submarine Service, died in action aboard submarine P33 during an attempt to intercept an Italian convoy toward Libya. He remained in that position until Jun 1943, when he was deployed to the eastern Mediterranean Sea. In Aug, he was promoted to the rank of admiral and given command of all Allied shipping in the Mediterranean Sea. In this role, he oversaw the amphibious operations at Anzio, Italy and Southern France. He remained in the Mediterranean Sea through the end of WW2.

ww2dbaseIn May 1946, Cunningham relieved Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham as the first sea lord. He worked to downsize the WW2-era Royal Navy while also to modernize the fleet for the upcoming Cold War. After the promotion to the rank of admiral of the fleet in Jan 1948, he retired from the military in Sep 1948. Between 1948 and 1958, he was the chairman of the Iraq Petroleum Company. He passed away in the Middlesex Hospital in London in 1962.

ww2dbaseSource: Wikipedia.

Last Major Revision: Jul 2007

John Cunningham Timeline

13 Apr 1885 John Cunningham was born.
13 Dec 1962 John Cunningham passed away.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Anonymous says:
25 Nov 2012 07:17:17 AM

John Cunningham began his schooling at the Queen's College in then British Guiana. I know that because I attended the same school and his photograph hung in the school's auditorium. Also there is a house, the "K" or Cunningham house named for him.

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More on John Cunningham
Event(s) Participated:
» Invasion of Denmark and Norway
» British Attacks on the French Fleet

Ship(s) Served:
» Devonshire

Famous WW2 Quote
"We no longer demand anything, we want war."

Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939

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