Cunningham, Admiral Sir Andrew, 1883-1963

An outstanding naval Commander, in 1939 Cunningham was the Acting Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. His main task was to harass the Italian Fleet and after the fall of Greece, insure that supplies got through to Malta. He was a man of action and immediately set out to establish British naval supremacy. One important move was establish good relations with Vice-Admiral Godfroy’s French squadron at Alexandria and they had a sufficiently good working relationship that Godfroy agreed to disarm his ships peacefully after the fall of France and an unpleasant incident, such as the action at Mers-el-Kebir, was avoided. Since the Italian Fleet was reluctant to leave its harbor, Cunningham decided to attack it at Taranto and sent a squadron of Swordfish to bomb Italian battleships. On 11 November 1940 the battleships Littorio, Conte di Cavour, and Duilio were put out of commission and the Italian Fleet was never to regain the initiative in the Mediterranean. Cunningham followed this up by engaging the Italians in the Battle of Cape Matapan in March 1941 where he was able to sink the heavy cruiser, Pola. Cunningham was then involved in the naval actions off Crete, where despite the lack of air cover, he risked his fleet to prevent German reinforcements reaching the island. The British lost Crete and Cunningham lost three cruisers and six destroyers: this coincided with a difficult situation in North Africa and the siege of Malta. British naval power was stretched to its limits. Cunningham was then sent to Washington to attend Chiefs of Staff planning meetings and was then appointed Eisenhower’s Deputy for the Torch landings. He was also naval Commander for the landings in Sicily but after the death of Admiral POUND in October 1943, he was recalled to London and was appointed First Sea Lord. He continued to advise CHURCHILL on naval strategy but his main talent had been as a fighting Admiral.

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