Book Review: Churchill's Admiral in Two World Wars: Admiral of the Fleet Lord Keyes of Zeebrugge and Dover, GCB, KCVO, CMG, DSO


by Jim Crossley

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2020. Pp. xii, 200+. Illus., maps, biblio., index. $49.95. ISBN: 1526748398

A Life of Roger Keyes

Roger Keyes (1872-1945), is hardly a well-known figure even among naval historians, yet he served the Royal Navy and Britain well in both world wars and played a major role in the development of modern special operations.

Keyes had a very varied career, chasing slavers in the Indian Ocean, fighting the Boxers, commanding virtually every type of warship, and supported innovation. During W. W. I he commanded the Dover Patrol, protecting the BEF’s line of supply to Britain, and engineered the famous raids on Zeebrugge and Ostend. Between the World Wars Keyes rose to Admiral of the Fleet, and held several imperssive commands, but was passed over as First Sea Lord. He served in Parliament, where he supported rearmament, fought to recover control of naval aviation from the RAF, and opposed appeasement.

Sidelined early in World War II, soon after becoming became Prime Minister Churchill, with the threat of a German victory looming, chose Keyes to organize what became the Commandos, at which he was successful, but stepped on too many toes, and was sidelined to fact finding and good will activities, including a stay with the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Crossley, the author of several books on British naval history, does a good job recounting Keyes’s early life and entry into the Royal Navy, how his personality helped and hindered his rise, his various activities in the service, and the complexities of service politics, which prevented him from becoming First Sea Lord. The principal flaw in this otherwise very good book is that Crossley does not seem to have seen Ernest Colemans’ 2014 book No Pyrrhic Victories, which makes a good case that the Zeebrugge and Ostend operations were in fact more successful than generally believed.

Churchill's Admiral offers an interesting biography of one of Britain’s most unusual admirals.




Note: Churchill's Admiral is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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