Vice Admiral Thomas Erskine Wardle

Thomas Erskine Wardle was born in Winshall, near Burton-on-Trent on 9 January 1877. He was one of eight children born to Henry Wardle (brewer and the Member of Parliament for Burton-on-Trent) and Mary Ellen Wardle (née Salt). He entered the Royal Naval College Britannia as a Cadet on 15 July 1890, and was appointed Midshipman on 15 July 1892.

Wardle's first ship was the battleship HMS Anson, part of the Mediterranean Fleet, which he joined in August 1892. Wardle then served in the sail training ship HMS Calypso during 1895-96 and was promoted Sub Lieutenant on 15 January 1896. He undertook his Sub Lieutenant's training courses at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich in 1896-97, where he achieved first class certificates for all components. He then served in the battleship HMS Collingwood and, following promotion to Lieutenant on 15 January 1897, chose to specialise as a Gunnery Officer. He undertook the Gunnery Officer course at HMS Excellent (Whale Island) in 1898. Lieutenant Wardle served in the battleship HMS Benbow, employed as the Greenock guard ship, during 1899-1901 and also served briefly in the battleship HMS Superb during 1900.

In 1901, Wardle was appointed to the cruiser HMS Juno, which was involved in the Spithead Review for the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902. Lieutenant Thomas Wardle married Gwendolyne Gladys Marguerite Baird in 1902, in Glasgow, Scotland. They went on to have two children, however the Wardles divorced in 1910. Wardle returned to Whale Island to complete the long gunnery course in 1903, after which he served in the cruiser HMS Ariadne on the North America and West Indies Station during 1903-05.

During 1905-06 he served in the cruiser HMS Royal Arthur, also on the North America and West Indies Station. Wardle returned to England for service in the Reserve, or Home, Fleet in the battleship HMS Empress of India during 1906-07 and the cruiser HMS Niobe, during 1907-08. He was promoted Commander on 31 December 1907. Commander Wardle served as second in command of the battleship HMS Canopus in the Home Fleet during 1909-10. Wardle was then appointed as the naval secretary to the Ordnance Board, at the Admiralty, serving there during February 1910 to February 1913, after which, he took command of the cruiser HMS Crescent. Based in British waters Crescent was part of the forces operating in the North Sea following the outbreak of war in August 1914.  

During November 1914 to March 1915 Commander Wardle commanded the armed merchant cruiser HMS Calyx (formerly the RMS Calypso), as part of the 10th Cruiser Squadron, undertaking the northern patrol. Based at Scapa Flow, these ships patrolled the North Sea and northern entrances to the Atlantic, to prevent German warships breaking out into the Atlantic and attacking British merchant shipping. Calyx was returned to her owners in early March 1915 and on 23 March 1915 Wardle took command of the armed merchant cruiser HMS Alcantara for Northern Patrol duties. On 30 June 1915 he was promoted to Captain.

In early July 1915, Alcantara visited Jan Mayen Island to investigate alleged German activity in the area, and reports concerning construction of a U-Boat base on the island. A landing party was sent ashore; but found no evidence of enemy activity. On 29 February 1916, in the North Sea, HM Ships Alcantara and Andes intercepted the German raider SMS Greif, which was disguised as the Norwegian merchant vessel Rena. While a boarding party was leaving the Alcantara to check the vessels papers and cargo, the German vessel struck her Norwegian flag and opened fire on the Alcantara. In the ensuing action both Alcantara and Greif were sunk. Alcantara lost 68 men killed, while the German raider had 230 men killed and the remaining crew taken prisoner. Wardle was subsequently awarded a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) “In recognition of his services in command of HMS Alcantara on 29 February 1916 when he engaged and sank SMS Greif” (London Gazette, 22 June 1916). He then undertook service at the Admiralty in the Naval Intelligence Division.

In October 1917, Captain Wardle took command of the Town Class light cruiser HMS Lowestoft in the Mediterranean theatre. In early 1918 he served briefly in command of the battleship HMS Dreadnought, also in the Mediterranean. Before taking command of the light cruiser HMS Danae in June 1918, and seeing out the war serving in the North Sea. In the post war period Danae operated in the Baltic, providing support to White Russian forces engaged in fighting the advancing Bolsheviks. Captain Wardle relinquished command of Danae in March 1920, and in the post war honours list (London Gazette, 8 March 1920) he was awarded the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun Third Class “for distinguished service during the war”. He then undertook the Senior Officers Technical Course and Senior Officers War Course before being appointed again to the Naval Intelligence Division in the Admiralty in early 1921.

Later that year he became the Chief of Staff for the British Naval Mission to Greece. This mission had been in existence since before the outbreak of World War I, providing advice and assistance to the Greek Navy on a wide range of matters including recruiting, training, administration, logistics and ship maintenance. Upon returning to England he took command of the light cruiser HMS Calliope in June 1923. The cruiser was then serving as part of the Reserve Fleet at the Nore in southern England.

Wardle was loaned to the RAN in mid-march 1924, and was appointed as Commodore 1st Class commanding His Majesty’s Australian Fleet from 30 April 1924 to 30 April 1926. He initially flew his flag in the light cruisers HMA Ships Melbourne and Brisbane before HMAS Sydney became his flagship in late September 1924, and remained so for the rest of his time in Australia.

Although the battle cruiser HMAS Australia had been decommissioned and her hulk scuttled off Sydney Heads in April 1924, the fleet was still quite active during Wardle’s period in command. In 1924 HMAS Adelaide was part of the RN Special Service Squadron, comprising HM Ships Hood, Repulse, Dauntless, Delhi, Danae, Dragon and Dunedin that conducted a round the world showing the flag cruise. When the Squadron arrived in Australian waters, in April 1924, HMAS Adelaide replaced Dunedin, which then served in New Zealand waters. Adelaide operated with the Special Service Squadron in the Pacific and visited US and Canadian ports, transiting the Panama Canal and spending several months in British waters before returning to Sydney, via the Suez Canal, in April 1925.

In 1925 Brisbane served on exchange service with the Royal Navy, on the China Station, visiting Southeast Asian, Chinese and Japanese ports while HMS Concord operated with the RAN. The following year Melbourne served in the Mediterranean on exchange with the Royal Navy during January-July 1926; her place in the RAN being taken by the light cruiser HMS Delhi. In July 1925 the US Navy deployed a large force of 57 ships comprising battleships, cruisers, destroyers and a fleet train of twelve auxiliaries to the Pacific as an exercise to test its ability to provide logistics support to a large fleet at extended distance from its main bases. Several of these ships visited Sydney and Melbourne.

The rest of the fleet was also active with the survey vessel HMAS Geranium conducting extensive survey work around the Australian coast including the use of RAAF seaplanes to conduct aerial surveys of the Great Barrier Reef area. In June 1925 a second survey ship, HMAS Moresby was commissioned and commenced operations in northern Australian waters. Recruiting was expanding as the RAN planned to obtain two new heavy cruisers (HMA Ships Australia and Canberra) and a seaplane carrier (HMAS Albatross) in the near future.

The fleet’s various destroyers, supported by the depot ship HMAS Platypus, were also active particularly with the training of reservists in the various state port divisions. The submarine squadron had however been disbanded and the six J Class submarines were in the process of being disposed of with the replacement two Odin Class submarines not due to arrive until the end of the decade.

Thomas Wardle handed over command of the RAN Fleet to Rear Admiral George Hyde, RAN on 30 April 1926 and he was rowed ashore from Sydney in a cutter manned by the Commanding Officers of the fleet’s ships. Soon after he departed Australia for return to England where he was appointed as a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in the King’s Birthday Honours List (5 June 1926) for his services to the RN and RAN. Wardle was promoted Rear Admiral on 8 July 1926, but retired at his own request the following day. Thomas Wardle was advanced to the rank of Vice Admiral, on the retired list, on 1 April 1931.

Vice Admiral Wardle, CB, DSO, RN died on 9 May 1944 at Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England.