Percy W. Nelles

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Percy Walker Nelles
Percy W Nelles Halifax 1940 PA-096505.jpg
Rear-Admiral Percy Walker Nelles, RCN, Chief of the Naval Staff, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, September 1940.
Born (1892-01-07)7 January 1892
Brantford, Ontario
Died 13 June 1951(1951-06-13) (aged 59)
Victoria, British Columbia
Allegiance  Canada
Service/branch  Royal Canadian Navy
Rank Admiral
Commands held Chief of the Naval Staff
Battles/wars
Awards Companion of the Order of Bath[1] Legion of Merit[1]
Relations Son of BGen Charles M. Nelles, CMG[1]

Percy Walker Nelles, CB (7 January 1892–13 July 1951) was a flag officer in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and the Chief of the Naval Staff from 1934 to 1944. He oversaw the massive wartime expansion of the RCN and the transformation of Canada into a major player in the Battle of the Atlantic. During his tenure U-boats raided the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canadian Northwest Atlantic command was created, and the RCN was providing up to 40% of all escort forces in the North Atlantic. His handling of the RCN's war effort had its opponents however, and he was removed from his post as Chief of the Naval Staff in January 1944. He was sent to London as Overseas Naval Attaché, coordinating the RCN operations for Operation Overlord. He retired in January 1945 as a full Admiral.

Early life[edit]

Nelles was born in Brantford, Ontario on 7 January 1892, the son of Brigadier General Charles M. Nelles. He enlisted as a cadet in the Fisheries Protection Service in 1909. He joined the Fisheries Protection Service as the second of the first seven cadets in anticipation of the formation of the Canadian navy.[2]

Naval career[edit]

Percy Nelles served with both the Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy. In 1910, Nelles became a a Midshipman aboard HMCS Niobe.[1][2] Over the next 10 years he would rise from the rank of Sub-Lieutenant to the rank of Captain as the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff. He served as Flag Lieutenant to the first head of the RCN, Admiral Sir Charles Kingsmill. In 1920, Nelles entered the Royal Naval College, was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in 1922 and served in several Royal Navy establishments over the next two years before returning to Canada in 1925.[2]

In August 1925 Nelles returned to Canada and was promoted to Commander and appointed Senior Naval Officer, Esquimalt in December. He returned to the United Kingdom in 1929.[2] On 18 March 1930 he was appointed executive officer aboard the recently refitted Danae-class cruiser HMS Dragon. In the summer of 1930 Dragon set off from HMD Bermuda on a three-month tour of South America's Atlantic and Pacific coasts. After having rounded Cape Horn her captain, L.H.B. Bevan, died unexpectedly. Nelles then assumed temporary command of Dragon. After consultation with the Admiralty, Nelles was appointed acting captain and continued Dragon's tour, being the first RCN officer to command a Royal Navy vessel.[1][3]

Nelles returned to Canada in 1931, reverting to the rank of Commander. In 1933, Nelles was given command of HMCS Stadacona, the RCN shore establishment at Halifax, Nova Scotia and was the first person in RCN history to affirmed in the rank of Captain.[2] In 1934 he became Chief of the Naval Staff and was promoted to Commodore. Nelles was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1938.[2]

World War II[edit]

Hatley Castle

In 1940, Rear Admiral Percy W. Nelles, as Chief of the Naval Staff, led a group of Royal Naval College of Canada alumni who met with Angus Lewis Macdonald, then naval minister to discuss opening a college to train naval officers for the postwar navy and for civilian employment in the merchant marine.[4] The college was to be similar to the Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth and to the former RNCC. In 1940, Angus Lewis Macdonald explained to the House of Commons "it will be a proud day for this country, when our Canadian naval effort will be directed by Canadian men, trained in Canada and operating in ships built in this country."[4]

In November 1940, the Hatley Park and grounds was purchased by the Royal Canadian Navy for $75,000 to house a Naval Training Establishment, later Royal Roads Military College, now Royal Roads University. Nelles was promoted to Vice Admiral.[2] In 1942, at the official opening of the Royal Roads Military College, Vice-Admiral Percey Nelles, Chief of the Naval Staff said: "While you are here, work hard and play hard, and make yourself tougher than any enemy you will ever meet.”[5]

In the 1943 New Year Honours, King George VI appointed Nelles as a Companion of the Order of the Bath.[2] Nelles was the highest-ranking officer in the Royal Canadian Navy until January 1944, at which point he was relieved of his duties by the Minister of National Defence for the Naval Service, Angus Lewis Macdonald, following numerous conflicts regarding the management and training of Canadian naval officers.[6] Rather than being publicly dismissed from duty, Nelles was transferred to Great Britain and given the post of Senior Canadian Flag Officer Overseas (SCFO(O)), a largely administrative position with little involvement in naval operations.[6] Upon his retirement from the RCN, Nelles was promoted to Admiral.[2]

Private life[edit]

Nelles retired to Victoria, British Columbia. In 1946, Nelles was awarded the Legion of Merit with the rank of Commander by the United States. In May 1951, Nelles became ill and died on 13 June. He was survived by his wife and two sons. He was buried at sea by HMCS Sault Ste. Marie.[2]

Legacy[edit]

Royal Canadian Sea Cadets Corps 'ADMIRAL NELLES' was formed in 1940 to honour the Chief of the Naval Staff. This cadet unit, located in Brantford, and is currently under the command of Lieutenant(N) K. McNeill with approximately 40 cadets.[7] Additionally, the barracks at Naden, CFB Esquimalt, is named in his honour, called Nelles Block.[8] Cadets at Royal Roads Military College were awarded the Nelles Trophy for athletics (running).[5]

Honours and decorations[edit]

These included:[9]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "Admiral Percy Walker Nelles". Beginnings. CFB Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum. Retrieved 2010-02-20. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Admiral Percy Walker Nelles". The Crowsnest. Vol. 3 no. 10 (King's Printer). August 1951. p. 8. 
  3. ^ Milner, Marc. "Nelles, Percy Walker". Biography: Diplomats & Ambassadors. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2010-02-21. 
  4. ^ a b Hadley, Michael L.; Robert Neil Huebert; Rob Huebert; Fred W. Crickard (1996). A Nation's Navy: in quest of Canadian naval identity. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 0-7735-1506-2. 
  5. ^ a b Holland, Sarah Elizabeth (March 2010). "Inspired by the Olympic Games: A Very Brief History of Sport at Hatley Park". InRoads Magazine. Royal Roads University. Retrieved 2011-06-11. 
  6. ^ a b Mayne, Richard Oliver(1999). Behind the scenes at Naval Service headquarters: Bureaucratic politics and the dismissal of Vice-Admiral Percy W. Nelles (M.A. thesis) Wilfrid Laurier University
  7. ^ "135 ADMIRAL NELLES RCSCC". 2009-08-21. Retrieved 2010-02-20. 
  8. ^ "Admiral P.W. Nelles" (pdf). Retrieved 2010-02-20. 
  9. ^ "NELLES, Percy Walker, Vice Admiral". Awards to the Royal Canadian Navy. Commander (rtd) John Blatherwick. July 20, 2001. Retrieved June 11, 2011. 

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Walter Hose
Chief of the Naval Staff
1934-1944
Succeeded by
George Jones