-H.M.S. Hood Crew Information-
Biography of Admiral Sir Frederic Charles Dreyer
By Paul Bevand, MBE
Updated 06-May-2014

Admiral Sir Frederic Charles Dreyer, K.C.B., G.B.E. commanded the battle cruiser squadron from aboard H.M.S. Hood from 1928 to 1929.

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Photo of Admiral Sir Frederic Charles DreyerFrederic Dreyer was born on 8th January 1878. Following his early education in Armagh, Dreyer entered H.M.S. Britannia in 1891. On leaving Britannia, where he was placed 5th in his term of 58, he served on H.M.S. Anson and H.M.S. Barfleur before attaining his promotion to the rank of Lieutenant in 1898. The following year saw his move to H.M.S. Excellent - the Navy's gunnery school at Whale Island close to Portsmouth. It was a move that was to shape the rest of his career and have a far-reaching influence on gunnery throughout the Navy. His flair for the speciality soon became apparent and he passed his examinations with honours and by 1901 was a fully qualified gunnery Lieutenant. Such was his grasp and insight into the subject that his first appointment was to the Gunnery School at Sheerness.

Two years later he joined H.M.S. Exmouth - flagship of the Home Fleet and its Commander in Chief, Sir Arthur Wilson. He continued to serve on Exmouth until 1907 at which point he was posted, at the request of Lord Fisher, to the newly commissioned H.M.S. Dreadnought to assist with her gunnery trials. Even at this relatively early stage in his career Dreyer's talents and insight had come to the attention of many high ranking officers and he was posted to the Naval Ordnance Department late in 1907. His work at this time was to be central to the controversy surrounding the effectiveness of the Royal Navy's gunnery at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. An interesting examination of this can be found in Stephen Roskill's "Admiral of the Fleet Earl Beatty. The Last Naval Hero: An Intimate Biography". Roskill describes how during the first years of the twentieth century the Navy was searching for a method of improving main armament fire control systems to increase the accuracy of such guns – particularly at longer ranges. Arthur Pollen had invented a device which he called the Argo Clock. This was able to perform complex calculations taking into account a number of factors and gave rise to vast improvements in accuracy. Pollen's invention was initially received with much enthusiasm in the upper echelons of the Admiralty with both Fisher, (First Sea Lord), and Jellicoe, (Director of Naval Ordnance) in favour of adopting Pollen's invention throughout the Navy. Dreyer's work at this time had led to his "Fire Control Table". When Wilson and Bacon replaced Fisher and Jellicoe respectively the new First Sea Lord and DNO decided in favour of the Dreyer Fire Control Table rather than Pollen's more expensive though more accurate Argo Clock. Roskill leaves the reader in no doubt that this decision was to cost the Navy dear in later years.

In 1909 Dreyer returned to sea as commander of H.M.S. Vanguard. A year later came his first close association with John Jellicoe, then in Command of the Atlantic Fleet, as Dreyer took up post as Flag Commander. Jellicoe was to be one of Dreyer's most ardent supporters during the next decade and soon switched his initial support for Pollen's Argo Clock in favour of Dreyer's Fire Control Table.

1913 was a hectic year in which Dreyer attained his first command, H.M.S. Amphion. Later in the same year came promotion to the rank of Captain and before the close of 1913 he was appointed as Flag Captain to Sir Robert Arbuthnot, 2nd Battle Squadron, aboard H.M.S. Orion. At the outbreak of war he was still aboard Orion. In 1915 his association with Jellicoe was renewed with transfer to H.M.S. Iron Duke as Flag Captain of the Grand Fleet and he was still with Jellicoe in this capacity at the Battle of Jutland in May 1916.

When Beatty replaced Jellicoe as Commander in Chief of the Grand Fleet at the end of the year, Dreyer followed Jellicoe to the Admiralty and in March 1917 took up post as Director of Naval Ordnance. Admiral Chatfield, who at Jutland had been Beatty's Flag Captain aboard H.M.S. Lion, records in his Memoirs "The Navy and Defence" how he and Dreyer had both been "equally perturbed" by the ineffective British gunnery at Jutland. Chatfield makes it clear that he considered Dreyer exactly the right man to go to the Admiralty and ensure that events were not repeated and any remedial action was taken at the earliest opportunity.

Before long Dreyer had unearthed defects in British shells which had been suspected since the engagement at Heligoland Blight in 1914. Developments to improve the effectiveness of shells, particularly armour piercing ones, were put in hand under Dreyer's supervision but the new and more effective shells, known as "green boys", were not to be with the fleet until April 1918. Despite Beatty's enthusiasm about the green boys and his eagerness to engage the High Seas Fleet to prove their worth in battle, the improved shells were destined never to be used against the German Navy.

1919 saw Dreyer once more renewing his association with his old chief as he was selected to be Jellicoe's Chief of Staff on an Empire Cruise. This venture, which was in many ways similar to Hood'sown Empire Cruise of 1923 to 1924, was to allow Jellicoe to assess and discuss with Dominion and Empire leaders the naval needs and requirements of the Empire in the post war years, and to examine the opportunities for closer co-operation between Empire nations on naval matters generally. Dreyer and Jellicoe left Portsmouth on 21st February 1919 and called at: Gibraltar, Egypt, the Suez canal, India, Melbourne, Sydney, New Zealand and Fiji. Christmas of 1919 was spent at Ottawa before arrival back at Spithead on 2nd February 1920.

April of 1922 saw Dreyer in command of H.M.S. Repulse during which he had his first close association with H.M.S. Hood which was also part of the Battle Cruiser Squadron. At that time Hood was under the command of Geoffrey Mackworth and the Squadron flew the Flag of Sir Walter Cowan.

Dreyer's promotion to Flag rank came in December 1923. In common with many others during the early 1920s he had a period without appointment following his promotion, but late 1924 saw his return to the Admiralty as Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff.

In 1927 he joined the Battle Cruiser Squadron, hoisting his flag for the first time on H.M.S. Hood. Unsurprisingly he used his time aboard her to improve the standard gunnery within the Squadron as well as taking the opportunity to impress his old Chief with a 15-inch night shoot when Jellicoe visited the squadron in 1928. Promotion to Vice-Admiral came in 1929 whilst still flying his flag from Hood, May of that year saw Hood paid off to Portsmouth for a major refit and Dreyer transferred his flag to Renown.

On leaving the Battle Cruiser Squadron, he returned to the Admiralty in June 1930 as Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff.

1932 saw promotion to Admiral and the following year came posting as Commander in Chief China station.

May 1939 saw Dreyer placed on the retired list. However, in common with many other high ranking naval officers, his retirement was to be curtailed by the outbreak of war in September of that year. The early war years saw him serving as Commodore of Convoys and then from 1940 to 1941 he was in post as Inspector of Merchant Navy Gunnery. 1942 saw him move to the position of Chief of Naval Air Services. However his lack of experience in this area gave rise to resentment and criticism from several senior officer and, despite a personal appeal to Churchill, he left the post in 1943 and became Deputy Chief of Naval Air equipment.

Frederic Dreyer died on 12th December 1956


Sources and References
Bacon: Lord Fisher (2 Vols.), Hodder & Stoughton, 1929
Chalmers Rear-Admiral WS: Life & Letters of David Beatty, Admiral of the Fleet, Hodder & Stoughton, 1951
Chatfield, Admiral of the Fleet, Lord: The Navy & Defence, Heinemann, 1942
Coles & Briggs: Flagship Hood, Hale, 1985
Dreyer Adm. Sir F, The Sea Heritage, Museum Press 1955
Jellicoe of Scapa: The Crisis of the Naval War, Cassell, 1920
Roskill SW: Admiral of the Fleet Earl Beatty: The Last Naval Hero: An Intimate Biography, Collins, 1981
Roskill SW: Churchill and the Admirals, Collins, 1977
Winton J: Jellicoe, Michael Joseph, 1981