Military Wiki
Sir Max Kennedy Horton
Admiral Sir Max Horton, 1943
Born (1883-11-29)29 November 1883
Died 30 July 1951(1951-07-30) (aged 67)
Place of birth Rhosneigr, Anglesey
Place of death London
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Navy
Years of service 1898–1945
Rank Admiral
Commands held Western Approaches Command
Flag Officer Submarines

First World War

  • North Sea & Baltic Sea

Second World War

Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order & Two Bars
Sea Gallantry Medal
Mentioned in Despatches
Order of St. George (Russia)
Order of St. Vladimir (Russia)
Order of St. Anna (Russia)
Order of St. Stanislaus (Russia)
Légion d'honneur (France)
Croix de Guerre (France)
Order of Orange-Nassau (Netherlands)
Legion of Merit (United States)
Order of St. Olaf (Norway)

Admiral Sir Max Kennedy Horton, GCB DSO & Two Bars, SGM (29 November 1883 – 30 July 1951) was a British submariner during the First World War and commander-in-chief of the Western Approaches in the latter half of the Second World War, responsible for British participation in the Battle of the Atlantic.

First World War

Horton joined the Royal Navy officer training ship, HMS Britannia on 15 September 1898. Whilst on HMS Duke of Edinburgh, he was involved in the rescue efforts when SS Delhi ran aground off Cape Spartel and was subsequently awarded the Board of Trade Medal for Saving Life at Sea in silver.

The outbreak of war saw Lieutenant-Commander Horton in command of one of the first British ocean-going submarines, the 800-ton HMS E9. At dawn on 13 September 1914, he torpedoed the German light cruiser SMS Hela six miles southwest of Heligoland. Hela was hit amidships with the two torpedoes, fired from a range of 600 yards. All but two of her crew were rescued by the U-18 and another German ship. Although pursued most of the day by German naval forces, E9 managed to reach Harwich safely.[1] Entering the port, Horton initiated the tradition of British submariners of hoisting the Jolly Roger after a successful patrol.[2]

Horton (left) with Noel Laurence, commander of HMS E1 (right), while serving in the Baltic

Three weeks later, Horton sank the German destroyer S 116 off the mouth of the river Ems. For sinking the cruiser and the destroyer, Horton was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). Sent to the Baltic Sea as part of a British flotilla, Horton sank a number of merchant vessels and, on 2 July 1915, damaged the German armoured cruiser SMS Prinz Adalbert. On 31 December 1914, Horton was promoted to Commander.

In 1917, Horton was awarded the bar to his DSO for long and arduous services in command of overseas submarines. Three years later, as a captain, he was awarded a second bar to his DSO for distinguished service in command of the Baltic submarine flotilla.


During the 1920s, Horton served as captain of HMS Conquest and of the battleship HMS Resolution. Promoted to rear admiral on 17 October 1932, he became Commander of the 2nd Battle Squadron with his flag in the battleship HMS Malaya in December 1933 and Commander of the 1st Cruiser Squadron with his flag in HMS London in 1935. Promoted to vice admiral in 1937, he was given command of the Reserve Fleet that year.

Second World War

With the onset of World War II, Horton was put in command of the Northern Patrol enforcing the distant maritime blockade of Germany in the seas between Orkney and the Faroes. In 1940, he was made Rear Admiral Submarines. In the opinion of Horton's biographer, Rear Admiral William S. Chalmers, a new regulation which required the post holder to be an officer who had served aboard submarines in the Great War, was forced through for the sole purpose of ensuring that Horton was on a very short list of qualifiers for this post, almost ensuring his rapid transfer to Aberdour, so great was the desire of some within the Admiralty to have Horton revitalize the submarine arm.[3]

Horton moved his headquarters from Aberdour, where he was under the control of the fleet commanders at Scapa Flow, to Northways in north London, officially because he wanted a freer hand in running his command, but purportedly because Northways was located near some of his favorite golf courses. Horton, an avid golfer, is said to have played a round of golf almost every day during the war (since most of the convoy battles took place at night), and was generously handicapped at a "financial 8".

He was responsible for the creation of convoy rescue ships, which accompanied some Atlantic convoys to rescue survivors from ships sunk by enemy action. Rescue ships were typically small freighters with passenger accommodations. Conversion to rescue service involved enlarging galley and food storage areas and providing berthing and sanitary facilities for approximately 150 men. The ships carried scrambling nets along the sides, and boats suitable for open sea work instead of normal lifeboats. Rescue ships normally included a small operating room for an embarked naval doctor and sick bay staff.

Having been promoted to full Admiral on 9 January 1941, Horton was appointed Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches Command on 17 November 1942. Here he instituted a series of tactical changes in the way the escort ships were to be used. In addition to the existing escort group system, in which groups of ships were assigned to defend the perimeter of convoy boxes, Horton instituted a system of support groups, who would also travel with the convoys, but have much more freedom in pursuing submarines to the death, even if such action necessitated leaving the convoy for longer periods of time than were considered acceptable for escort groups. Horton's support groups proved to be decisive in the crucial spring of 1943, taking the battle to the U-boats and crushing the morale of the U-boat arm with persistent and successful counterattacks. Horton is widely credited, along with his predecessor, Admiral Sir Percy Noble, as being one of the most crucial figures in the Allied victory in the Atlantic. In August 1945, Max Horton, at his own request, was placed on the retired list in order to facilitate the promotion of younger officers. He was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath.

On 27 April 1941, German submarine U-552 sank HMS Commander Horton, an anti-submarine trawler.[4]

Honours and awards


  1. "Admiral Sir Max Kennedy Horton, RN". Retrieved 26 November 2006. 
  2. Compton-Hall, Richard (2004). Submarines at War 1939–45. Periscope Publishing. p. 62. ISBN 1-904381-22-7. 
  3. Chalmers, Chapter X
  4. "April 1941 events of the Battle of the Atlantic". Timelines. Retrieved 9 September 2015. 


  • Chalmers, William (1954). Max Horton and the Western Approaches: A biography of Admiral Sir Max Kennedy Horton. Hodder & Stoughton. 
Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Gerald Dickens
Commander-in-Chief, Reserve Fleet
Succeeded by
Post Disbanded
Preceded by
Bertram Watson
Rear-Admiral Submarines
Succeeded by
Claud Barry
Heraldic offices
Preceded by
Sir Walter Braithwaite
King of Arms of the Order of the Bath
Succeeded by
Sir James Robb

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