Max Kennedy Horton

Max Kennedy Horton
Max Kennedy Horton
Max Horton 1943 IWM A 20789.jpg
As Commander in Chief Western Approaches in 1943
Born November 29, 1883(1883-11-29)
Rhosneigr, Anglesey
Died July 30, 1951(1951-07-30) (aged 67)
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Navy
Years of service 1898–1945
Rank Admiral
Commands held HMS E9
Flag Officer Submarines
Western Approaches Command
Battles/wars World War I
- North Sea & Baltic Sea
World War II
- Battle of the Atlantic
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath;
Distinguished Service Order & two bars;
Order of St George;
The Board of Trade Medal for Saving Life at Sea;
Légion d'honneur;
Croix de Guerre;
Order of St. Vladimir;
Order of St. Anna;
Order of St. Stanislaus;
Order of Orange-Nassau;
Legion of Merit;
Order of St. Olaf

Admiral Sir Max Kennedy Horton, GCB, DSO and two bars (November 29, 1883 – July 30, 1951) was a British submariner in World War I and commander-in-chief of the Western Approaches in the latter half of World War II, responsible for British participation in the Second World War's 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 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 German submarine 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 Lawrence, 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 another destroyer and a number of merchant vessels and damaged the German armoured cruiser SMS Prinz Adalbert. During this period, 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. On 17 October 1932, Horton was promoted rear admiral with flag onboard the battleship HMS Malaya. Three years later he took command of the 1st Cruiser Squadron with flag onboard HMS London. Promoted to vice admiral in 1937, he commanded the Reserve Fleet.

Second World War

With the onset of World War II, Horton was put in command of the so-called Northern Patrol enforcing the distant maritime blockade of Germany in the seas between Orkney and the Faroes. In 1940, he was made commander of all home-seas-based submarines, even though he was far more senior in rank than the Flag Officer Submarines had traditionally been, because of a new Admiralty regulation that the Flag Officer Submarines had to be an officer who had served aboard submarines in the Great War. Horton's biographer, Rear Admiral William S. Chalmers, cites the opinion that this regulation 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.

Horton rather famously moved his headquarters from Aberdour where he was under the thumb 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".

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 terms of 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.

During the Second World War, an anti-submarine trawler carried the name HMS Commander Horton which was sunk by U-552 on April 27, 1941 .

Honours and awards


  1. ^ "Admiral Sir Max Kennedy Horton, RN". Retrieved 2006-11-26. 
  2. ^ Compton-Hall, Richard (2004). Submarines at War 1939-45. Periscope Publishing. p. 62. ISBN 1904381227. 
Heraldic offices
Preceded by
Sir Walter Braithwaite
King of Arms of the Order of the Bath
1946 – 1951
Succeeded by
Sir James Robb

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