Reginald Drax

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Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax

Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax.jpg
Born(1880-08-28)28 August 1880
St 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 the Hon. Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, KCB, DSO, JP, DL (28 August 1880 – 16 October 1967) was a British admiral. He is often referred to as Reginald Plunkett[1] or (after 1916) Reginald Drax.[2]

He was the younger son of John William Plunkett, 17th Baron of Dunsany (1853–1899)[1] and his wife, the former Ernle Elizabeth Louisa Maria Grosvenor, née Burton, later Ernle-Erle-Drax (1855–1916).[1] His elder brother was Lord Dunsany, a prolific writer and author of over 60 books.

Quadruple-barrelled name[edit]

Sir Reginald, born a Plunkett, was christened Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly (Plunkett) on 9 September 1880 at Holy Trinity Church, Marylebone, Westminster,[3] and assumed the Ernle-Erle-Drax on 4 October 1916.[4] His long series of titles, Christian names, surnames and postnominals has made him famous beyond his career as an admiral in the Royal Navy.[5] Elsewhere, the name has been cited[by whom?] as having inspired some of the more fanciful appellations employed by writers about the British aristocracy such as P. G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh and in the penultimate episode of Series 2 of the BBC1 costume drama Upstairs Downstairs, the storyline adopts the conceit that Drax was known amongst his civil servants as "Admiral Acronym". Upstairs Downstairs features a leading character, Sir Hallam Holland, who is a member of the British Government's Foreign Office. The leaking of the nickname by Holland's lover to the German authorities forms part of the storyline of the final episode.

Early life[edit]

He was educated at Cheam School[1] and joined the navy at the age of 14, training aboard the stationary school ship, HMS Britannia.[1] He was promoted Lieutenant 15 January 1901.[6]

In 1909 the Admiralty privately published his book, Modern Naval Tactics[7][8], as Lt Hon R A R Plunkett. 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[7].

He also discussed 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[7].

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]


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[9] 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.[10]

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.[11]


  • 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".[12]


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.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v "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. ^ "No. 29783". The London Gazette. 13 October 1916. p. 9861.
  5. ^ Boulby, Chris (8 May 2009). "Three surnames for one person. Too many?". BBC News. Retrieved 13 May 2009.
  6. ^ "No. 27372". The London Gazette. 5 November 1901. p. 7146.
  7. ^ a b c Friedman, Norman (2011-12-12). Naval Weapons of World War One. Seaforth Publishing. ISBN 9781848321007.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Naval Command Changed Melbourne Argus, 6 December 1939
  10. ^ Davison, Robert Lynn (1994). Admiral Sir Reginald Drax and British strategic policy: Festina lente (M.A. thesis) Wilfrid Laurier University
  11. ^ Macintyre, Ben (2008). For Your Eyes Only. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7475-9527-4
  12. ^ David Niven (2005-04-28). The Moon's a Balloon. ePenguin. ISBN 978-0-14-023924-9.
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