The Life and Times of an Australian Admiral
Sydney, NSW: Australian Scholarly Publications, 2021
Paperback pp312 RRP: $43.95
Reviewer: Scott Whitechurch, August 2023
Newly graduated RAN Midshipman Guy Griffiths had a brutal introduction to his service career. He was one of the survivors of his first warship, HMS Repulse, when it was sunk in Malaya in December 1941. Later he would rise to the rank of rear admiral and have a distinguished career, making significant contributions to the Navy in both sea and land postings.
Griffiths’ life is the subject of a superbly written and researched biography by Vice-Admiral Peter Jones RAN (Retd). The author brings to the book a detailed knowledge of his subject – both Navy and Griffiths himself. The book’s focus is on Griffiths’ career from the time he entered the RAN College in 1937 to his retirement in 1980 as Commander Naval Support Command. This period coincided with a time of significant change in the growth and development of the Navy.
Griffiths saw action in three wars - World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. His major service In World War II was as an officer in HMAS Shropshire in the Pacific. In that ship he participated in the last great battleship action, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and witnessed numerous kamikaze attacks. In Korea he served in HMAS Sydney and HMAS Anzac, being the Gunnery Officer of Anzac. He was the captain of HMAS Hobart during its first deployment during the Vietnam War. The author has excellent and vivid descriptions of Griffiths’ participation and different roles all these wars.
His first seagoing command was HMAS Parramatta, interestingly without first having served as an executive officer. In this and his other commands, Hobart and Melbourne, he distinguished himself as a leader of men and as a commander of happy and efficient ships. At page 204 the author states ‘To many of Hobart’s officers and sailors, Guy was the finest captain they had served under’. His leadership ability and concern for naval personnel comes out clearly in the book. Griffiths said that he had learned effective leadership from three men – William Tennant in Repulse, Godfrey Nichols in Shropshire and David Harries in Sydney.
Like any officer, Griffiths had shore postings. Several of these are of particular interest. He had a role in the HMAS Voyager Royal Commission, drafted an excellent paper on Fleet composition and the need for a properly balanced Fleet. He also acted as an advisor to the Royal Malaysian Navy. However, his lasting contribution to the Navy in personnel management and his leadership skills were used to great effect. One of his most significant achievements occurred when he became Chief of Naval Personnel. Himself a graduate of the Royal Navy’s Staff College, he had long seen the need for our Navy to have its own Staff College, instead of relying on the Royal Navy’s. As Chief of Naval Personnel, he was the initiator and driving force behind the creation of the Royal Australian Navy Staff College – a truly lasting benefit to our Navy.
The book should be of wide appeal to not only those interested Naval history but those interested in biography – both military and general. It is highly recommended.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.