Admiral ‘Jacky’ Fisher 1841-1920

Admiral John ‘Jacky or Jackie’ Fisher was an outstanding innovator whose reforms helped transform the Royal Navy into a modern fighting force at the start of the twentieth century.

Born 25 January 1841 in Ceylon, Fisher entered the navy as a Cadet on 13 July 1854, aged 13. He served during the Crimean War and took part in the capture of Canton during the China War. After qualifying at the gunnery school HMS Excellent he spent a year on the recently commissioned HMS Warrior as Lieutenant.

Throughout the 1860s and 70s he undertook various commissions at sea and ashore most notably at HMS Excellent where he nurtured an interest in the development of the torpedo.

After his promotion to Captain in 1874 he took command of several ships including the battleship HMS Inflexible which played a prominent role in the bombardment of Alexandria in July 1882.

Following his return to England Fisher spent five years as Director of Ordnance and Torpedoes.

As Third Sea Lord and Controller of the Navy from 1892-97 he become involved in warship design, the warship construction programme and developments in gunnery and engineering.

After a period as Commander-in-Chief of the North America and West Indies station Fisher served as the British Naval delegate at the first Hague Peace Conference. After the conference, he became Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet.

As Second Sea Lord (1902-3) Fisher began putting into practice major reforms for the navy.

A key achievement during this time was introduction of the Selbourne Scheme. This sought to unify training for all naval officers and provided them with a familiarity with engines, vital knowledge for working in the increasingly mechanised navy.

On the 21 October 1904, at the age of 63, Fisher became First Sea Lord. His main preoccupation was to develop a more powerful, modern fleet in order to retain British naval supremacy. He was responsible for the construction of the first ‘all big gun’ fast battleship, HMS Dreadnought in 1906.

Powered by new turbine engines it combined great speed with increased gun power. Fisher also oversaw the development of the submarine with its torpedo weapons.

Fisher retired in 1910 but kept alive an interest in naval affairs. In 1912 he became chairman of the Royal Commission on Oil Fuel. This had been another of his interests during his term in office and resulted in the adoption of using oil fuel in all new ships being constructed.

The outbreak of the First World War brought Fisher back to the Admiralty as First Sea Lord in October 1914. During his tenure he became involved in ship construction. He also became at odds with the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, over the proposed Dardanelles campaign.

Fisher believed attacking the Dardanelles would jeopardise the success of the major naval strategy of the war. Ultimately forced to concede Fisher became increasingly discontented when it was clear the campaign was hopeless. He resigned his post in 1915.

Fisher then served as chairman of the newly established advisory Board of Invention and Research. This would be the final chapter in an illustrious naval career spanning over 60 years.

He died on the 10 July 1920 and was given a public naval funeral in Westminster Abbey.

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