Reginald Drax

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Sir Reginald Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax

Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax.jpg
Birth nameReginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett
Born(1880-08-28)28 August 1880
Marylebone, London
Died16 October 1967(1967-10-16) (aged 87)
Poole, Dorset
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branchRoyal Navy
Years of service1894–1941
Commands heldDirector, Royal Naval College, Greenwich (1919–1922)
President of Naval Inter-Allied Commission of Control (Berlin) (Jan 1923 – Aug 1924)
HMS Marlborough (April 1926 – February 1927)
1st Battle Squadron (May 1929 – Apr 1930)
America and West Indies Station (Apr 1932 – Oct 1934)
Plymouth Command (Jun 1935 – Sep 1938)
Battles/warsFirst World War Second World War
AwardsKnight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order
Order of St Stanislas (2nd cl.) with Swords (1916)
Knight Grand Cross, Order of Orange Nassau (19 Jan 1943)
RelationsEdward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany
Other workHome Guard (1941–1943)
Commodore of Ocean Convoys (April 1943 – July 1945)
Justice of the Peace
Deputy Lieutenant, Dorset (Oct 1941)

Admiral Hon. Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, KCB, DSO, JP, DL (born Plunkett; 28 August 1880 – 16 October 1967), commonly known as Reginald Plunkett or Reginald Drax, was an Anglo-Irish admiral.[1][2]

Early life and education[edit]

Sir Reginald was born in Marylebone, Westminster, the younger son of John Plunkett, 17th Baron of Dunsany (1853–1899)[1] and his wife, Ernle Elizabeth Louisa Maria Grosvenor Burton, later Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax (1855–1916).[1] At 13 days old, he was christened at Holy Trinity Church, Marylebone.[3]

His elder brother was the celebrated Lord Dunsany, a prolific writer and author of more than 60 books.[4]

He was educated at Cheam School[1] and joined the Royal Navy at the age of 14, training aboard the stationary school ship HMS Britannia from July 1894 to 1896.[4]

His parents were distant cousins who came from influential and wealthy families. His father was the 17th Lord Dunsany, one of the oldest titles in the Peerage of Ireland. His mother, Ernle, was the daughter of Col. Francis Augustus Plunkett Burton (son of Admiral Ryder Burton and his wife, Anne Plunkett, the daughter of Randal Plunkett, 13th Baron Dunsany) and Sarah Charlotte Elizabeth Sawbridge-Erle-Drax (died 1905; daughter of John Sawbridge and his wife, Jane, daughter of Richard Erle-Drax-Grosvenor). Following the death of her brother, Richard, Jane became the sole heiress of Charborough House and other Erle-Drax estates.[5]

After his grandmother Jane's death in 1905, Sir Reginald's mother added the additional surname Ernle on 20 December 1905 (becoming Ernle Plunkett-Ernle), then added Erle and Drax on 20 December 1906 (becoming Ernle Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax), both by royal license.[5]

She died in 1916, leaving Reginald the majority of her vast estates in Dorset, Kent, Surrey, Wiltshire, Yorkshire, and the West Indies. He assumed the additional surnames of Ernle-Erle-Drax on 4 October 1916 by royal licence.[6] His long series of titles, Christian names, surnames and post-nominals has made him famous beyond his career as an admiral in the Royal Navy.[7]

Early career[edit]

In 1896, Drax passed out of the Britannia as a midshipman. He was promoted Lieutenant on 15 January 1901.[8] At his own request, he received an unusual appointment to the Staff College, Camberley, to conduct an in-depth study of the subject of staff training and its application – "then quite unthought of in the higher naval circles" – to the needs of the Navy.[4]

In 1909, the Admiralty privately published his book, Modern Naval Tactics.[9][10] He hoped that it would contribute to a projected official tactical handbook. It drew on an analysis of gunnery from the recent experience of the Battle of Tsushima. He expected that visibility in the North Sea would limit the maximum range of battle fleet duels to 10,000 yards, but recognised that the need to stay outside improving torpedo range would increase gunnery ranges.[9]

He also discussed in the book how to utilise cruisers as a fast wing to the battle fleet; the possible tactics of an inferior fleet, such as the High Seas Fleet; and the impact of ships zigzagging would have on gunnery.[9]

Drax's book was dismissed by the skeptical older generation of admirals, who thought it highly presumptuous for a lowly lieutenant to write with authority on naval tactics. However, the book did succeed in making Drax a man of note.[4] In 1912, when Winston Churchill instituted the Admiralty War Staff, Drax was the first of a dozen officers selected to attend the new staff officer course. He was promoted to commander during the course and then appointed War Staff Officer to Sir David Beatty in the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron, an appointment he held until his promotion in 1916.[4]

He served during the First World War aboard the battlecruiser HMS Lion[1] and was present at the naval battles of Heligoland Bight, Dogger Bank and Jutland.[1] He was promoted captain on 30 June 1916.[1]

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1918 for his command of HMS Blanche.[1]

Interwar period[edit]

Drax held a series of senior naval appointments between the wars. From 1919 to 1922, he was Director of the Naval Staff College, Greenwich.[1] He then served as President of the Naval Allied Control Commission in Germany from 1923 to 1924.[1]

As a Rear Admiral, he commanded the 2nd Battle Squadron of the Home Fleet from 1929 to 1930. From 1930 to 1932 he was ashore in the Admiralty as Director of Naval Mobilisation Department that became the Department of Manning.[1]

Promoted to Vice Admiral on 24 September 1932, he held from 1932 to 1934 the much-sought post of Commander of the America and West Indies Squadron.[1]

From 1935 to 1938, he was Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth.[1]

Mission to Moscow[edit]

He was the British half of the Anglo-French delegation sent to Moscow in August 1939[1] to discuss a possible alliance with the USSR. As an indication of the low priority the Allied governments put on the mission, it was sent by sea. The Soviets did not take the delegation seriously because Drax did not have any power to make decisions without the approval of the British government, rendering him next to powerless.

Second World War[edit]

In December 1939, Drax was appointed Commander-in-Chief, The Nore[11] serving until 1941. It was an important post, as he was responsible for the protection of the east coast convoys from Scotland to London. He faced the multiple threats of acoustic mines and magnetic mines as well as attacks from the air and by surface vessels, especially after the fall of the Netherlands and of Belgium.

As the war continued, advancing years caused him to retire from the active navy list and to join the British Home Guard.[1] Nonetheless, he went to sea from 1943 to 1945 as a convoy commodore during the Battle of the Atlantic.[1]

Alongside Admiral Herbert Richmond and Vice-Admiral Kenneth Dewar, Drax was considered to be an intellectual with controversial views, including the need for naval reform.[12]

He was an early pioneer of solar heating.[1]


His friend, James Bond novelist Ian Fleming, named the character Sir Hugo Drax as a tribute.[13]


  • He wrote a book entitled Handbook on Solar Heating (Montefiore Stalin 272)[1]
  • Admiral Drax's papers are at Churchill College, Cambridge.[1]
  • He is also referred to in the David Niven autobiography The Moon Is a Balloon when he assisted in the starting of Niven's career. Niven was on his uppers, having left the Army and adrift in the nascent Hollywood. After a cocktail party, on the Admiral's ship, he was deposited the following morning into the press barge at a PR junket for the launch of the film Mutiny on the Bounty. Niven goes on to reveal it made him stand out and be recognised and become the only man "to crash Hollywood in a battleship".[14]


In 1916, he married Kathleen Chalmers.[1] They had four daughters and one son.[1] Their youngest daughter, Mary (1925–2017), married Robert Rothschild in her second marriage. Their son is Henry Walter Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, who is the father of Richard Drax, Conservative MP for South Dorset since the 2010 general election.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u "The Papers of Admiral Sir Reginald Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax - content and context". Janus. Retrieved 13 September 2008.
  2. ^ Robert L. Davison (April 2003). "Striking a Balance Between Dissent and Discipline: Admiral Sir Reginald Drax in The Northern Mariner/le Marin du Nord" (PDF). The Northern Mariner. Retrieved 13 September 2008.
  3. ^ Christening register of Holy Trinity Church, 1880 (The Metropolitan Archive).
  4. ^ a b c d e "Obituary: Sir Reginald Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax – First Director of the Naval Staff College". The Times. The Times Digital Archive. 18 October 1967. p. 12.
  5. ^ a b Mosley, Charles, ed. (2003). Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knighthood (107 ed.). Burke's Peerage & Gentry. pp. 1240–1241. ISBN 0-9711966-2-1.
  6. ^ "No. 29783". The London Gazette. 13 October 1916. p. 9861.
  7. ^ Boulby, Chris (8 May 2009). "Three surnames for one person. Too many?". BBC News. Retrieved 13 May 2009.
  8. ^ "No. 27372". The London Gazette. 5 November 1901. p. 7146.
  9. ^ a b c Friedman, Norman (12 December 2011). Naval Weapons of World War One. Seaforth Publishing. ISBN 9781848321007.
  10. ^ Plunkett, R A R (1909). Modern Naval Tactics. Monthly Record of the Principal Questions Dealt With by the Director of Naval Ordnance, 1889-1911 PRO ADM 256: Admiralty Library.CS1 maint: location (link)
  11. ^ Naval Command Changed Melbourne Argus, 6 December 1939
  12. ^ Davison, Robert Lynn (1994). Admiral Sir Reginald Drax and British strategic policy: Festina lente (M.A. thesis) Wilfrid Laurier University
  13. ^ Macintyre, Ben (2008). For Your Eyes Only. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7475-9527-4
  14. ^ David Niven (28 April 2005). The Moon's a Balloon. ePenguin. ISBN 978-0-14-023924-9.

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Vernon Haggard
Commander-in-Chief, America and West Indies Station
Succeeded by
Sir Matthew Best
Preceded by
Sir Eric Fullerton
Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth
Succeeded by
Sir Martin Dunbar-Nasmith
Preceded by
Sir Studholme Brownrigg
Commander-in-Chief, The Nore
Succeeded by
Sir George Lyon
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Sir Roger Backhouse
First and Principal Naval Aide-de-Camp
Succeeded by
Sir Dudley Pound