Graphical version

National Maritime Museum

Cowan, Admiral Sir Walter Henry, 1st Bt. (1871-1956)


Reference code(s): GB 0064 COW

Held at: National Maritime Museum

Title: Cowan, Admiral Sir Walter Henry, 1st Bt. (1871-1956)

Date(s): [1892-1944]

Level of description: Collection

Extent: 3ft;91cm

Name of creator(s): Cowan | Sir | Walter Henry | 1871-1956 | Admiral


Administrative/Biographical history:

Cowan entered the BRITANNIA as a naval cadet in 1884. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1892 and commanded the REDBREAST between 1893 and 1895 in the Red Sea. In 1895 he was appointed to the BARROSA, Cape Station. He saw active service during the Brass River and Benin expeditions in 1897 and in 1898 commanded the gunboat flotilla on the Nile during the operations in the Sudan. Cowan was promoted to commander in 1901 and to captain in 1906. After almost two years in the post of Assistant to the Admiral of Patrols, Cowan was sent in 1914 to the Zealandia, Grand Fleet. He joined the PRINCESS ROYAL in 1915 and in her was present at Jutland, 1916. He was appointed Commodore commanding the First Light Cruiser Squadron, Grand Fleet, in 1917 and reappointed after his promotion to rear-admiral in 1918. He continued to command it as well as the naval force in the Baltic during the anti-Bolshevik operations in 1920, for which he became well-known. In 1921 he took command of the Baltic Cruiser Squadron. After a year as Commanding Officer on the coast of Scotland, Cowan became, in 1926, Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies, and it was during his two years there that his Station was extended to include South America. Cowan was promoted to admiral in 1927, was appointed First and Principal Aide-de-Camp to the King in 1929 and retired in 1930. At the age of sixty-eight, he persuaded the Admiralty to employ him for the duration of the war in the rank of commander. He served as liaison officer with a commando brigade in the eastern Mediterranean during 1941 and was then attached to an Indian regiment in the Western Desert. He was captured at Bir Hakeim in 1942 and repatriated the following year. After further active service he retired in 1945. See Lionel Dawson, Sound of the guns (Oxford, 1949) and Geoffrey Bennett, Cowan's war (London, 1964).


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Sir Walter Henry Cowan containsing two logs, 1893 to 1897, an order book, 1914, and charts and photographs. There are also many semi-official letters received, 1896 to 1947, in particular from Admirals of the Fleet Viscount Cunningham (q.v.) and Sir Roger Keyes (1872-1945). There are also Cowan's letters to Admiral Sir Rudolph Bentinck (1869-1947), which were returned to Cowan; they are of a private rather than of an official nature. There are, however, some official papers relating to the Baltic campaign and a draft autobiography.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:

In transit - item unavailable from May to August 2011

Conditions governing reproduction:

Please contact the Archive for further information.

Finding aids:

Detailed catalogue online at the: National Maritime Museum website .


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

The papers were presented by Admiral Cowan's daughter, Miss M.C.B. Cowan, in 1956 and 1962.



Archivist's note: Edited by Sarah Drewery, Jun 2011.

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: 2011-04-19

Naval affairs | Military affairs | Military science | Social sciences
Naval history | History
Naval operations | Military operations | Military engineering
World War One (1914-1918) | World wars (events) | Wars (events)
World War Two (1939-1945) | World wars (events) | Wars (events)

Personal names
Bentinck | Sir | Rudolph | 1869-1947 | Knight | Admiral
Cowan | Sir Walter Henry "Tich" | 1871-1956 | 1st Baronet | Admiral
Cunningham | Andrew Browne | 1883-1963 | 1st Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope | Admiral of the Fleet
Keyes | Roger John Brownlow | 1872-1945 | 1st Baron Keyes of Zeebrugge and Dover | Admiral of the Fleet

Corporate names
Royal Navy

Balkans | Eastern Europe