Fisher, Sir John Arbuthnot, Lord Fisher

Fisher, Sir John Arbuthnot, Lord Fisher
   An influential British naval officer, and first sea lord before and again during World War I. Fisher was nominated a cadet in the Royal Navy at the age of 13 and served without seeing action in the Crimean War. He then served as a midshipman in the China War of 1857. Academically excellent and extremely ambitious, he rose rapidly through the officer ranks. Promoted captain in 1874, he held numerous sea-going commands and also increasing senior posts with the fleet gunnery school, HMS Excellent. In 1882, he commanded HMS Inflexible, the most powerful ship in the navy, during the bombardment of Alexandria, and went on to command the naval brigade that held the city until the arrival of the army’s expeditionary force. Fisher caught dysentery in Egypt, but nevertheless went back to England to take command of Excellent, going on to become director of ordnance at the Admiralty.
   In 1899, Fisher became commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean, at the time the most important command in the navy. He became second sea lord, responsible for naval personnel, in 1902. In 1904, he succeeded, as had been expected, to the post of first sea lord, the senior officer of the navy - not to be confused with first lord of the admiralty, the cabinet minister for the navy. In an era dominated by a growing German threat on the one hand and financial pressures on the other, Fisher introduced reforms to the reserve system, recalled from far-flung stations and retired numerous obsolete ships to save money for first-class ones, consolidated the Channel and Home fleets, and introduced torpedo-firing destroyers. His most important innovation, however, was the turbine-powered, all-big-gun Dreadnought class of battleships, which all made all previous ships obsolete. Fisher, however, really wished to move to a class of battle cruisers fast and powerful enough to replace battleships entirely, an ambition never realized.
   In retirement after 1910, Fisher pined for recall. He advised the admiralty on the use of oil in place of coal, and correctly foresaw the importance of the submarine. Shortly after the outbreak of war in 1914, Winston Churchill, then first lord of the admiralty, and an admirer of Fisher’s dynamism, recalled him as first sea lord. After the abortive attacks on the Dardanelles in April and May 1915, however, Fisher resigned in protest against what he took to be Churchill’s obsession with that campaign. For the remainder of the war, Fisher advised on technical innovations, playing a part in the development of ASDIC, an early form of sonar named after the Anti-Submarine Detection Investigation Committee, the antisubmarine technology that was essential to victory in World War II. Fisher is remembered for his focus on technology and gunnery over brass-polishing and painting, but most of all for his immense if sometimes controversial reforming energy.
   See also <>; <>; <>.
    Lambert, Nicholas A. Sir John Fishers Naval Revolution. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999;
    Marder, A. J. From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow: The Royal Navy in the Fisher Era. 5 vols. London: Oxford University Press, 1961–70;
    Massie, Alex. Dreadnought: Britain, Germany and the Coming of the Great War. London: Cape, 1992.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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