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Vian file photo [5037]

Philip Vian

Given NamePhilip
Born15 Jun 1894
Died27 May 1968
CountryUnited Kingdom


ww2dbasePhilip Louis Vian joined the British Royal Navy in May 1907. He completed courses at the Royal Naval College at Osborne and Dartmouth in 1911 and was assigned to training cruiser Cornwall. Following the training cruise, he was assigned to the dreadnought Lord Nelson of the Atlantic Fleet. After serving aboard a cruiser off East Africa, he received commission of the destroyer Morning Star, with which command he witnessed the Battle of Jutland. In 1917, upon promotion to the rank of lieutenant, he served aboard destroyer Ossory and then destroyer Sorceress, followed by a tour of duty as battlecruiser Australia's gunnery officer off Australia in 1918. During the inter-war years, he specialized in naval gunnery. In 1929, he was promoted to the rank of commander and was assigned to the cruiser Kent, which served in the Far East station. In Dec 1929, he married Marjorie Haig. Between 1930 and 1931, he served at the Admiralty in London, England, Britain. In 1932, he was named the divisional commander of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean Sea, serving aboard HMS Active. In 1934, he was promoted to the rank of captain and placed in command of the 19th Destroyer Flotilla of the Mediterranean Fleet. In late 1935, he commanded the 19th Destroyer Flotilla off Malta during the tension caused by the Italian invasion of Abyssinia. During the Spanish Civil War, he commanded the 1st Destroyer Flotilla, which was initially involved in the evacuations of British citizens and the exchange of refugees, and then later served as a communications center for the British ambassador to Spain. After returning to Britain, he briefly attended the Royal Naval College at Greenwich in England, and then served aboard cruiser Arethusa as Rear Admiral Lionel Wells' flag captain.

ww2dbasein Aug 1939, Vian was made captain of a destroyer flotilla consisted of older ships, based out of Devonport, England, with his command ship being destroyer Mackay. In this role he came into close action with a German submarine that attacked a British tanker after the European War began. In early 1940, he was named the commanding officer of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla with Cossack being his flagship. While aboard Cossack, he came across the German supply vessel Altmark near Jøssingfjord off Norway. Altmark was known to be carrying British prisoners whose ships were sunk by pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee. Altmark retreated into the fjord under the protection of two Norwegian gunboats, which protected the German vessel due to Norway's neutrality. When Vian moved Cossack into the fjord by force, he was happy to observe that the Norwegian ships did not interfere. Altmark opened fire while maneuvering to ram Cossack, but ran aground by by mistake. Vian's men boarded Altmark and transferred the 299 rescued prisoners onto Cossack. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for the successful rescue.

ww2dbaseUpon the completion of destroyer Alfridi's refitting, Vian switched from Cossack to Alfridi, changing the lead ship of the flotilla. Aboard Alfridi, Vian commanded the flotilla to evacuate Allied troops at Namsos, Norway in Apr 1940, which led to the sinking of Alfridi. He returned to Cossack in May 1940. In Oct 1940, he took part in Operation DM that saw the destruction of a German convoy off Norway; for this action, he received a bar to his DSO award. He spent the remainder of winter 1940-1941 escorting convoys in the North Atlantic.

ww2dbaseBetween 24 and 27 May 1941, Vian commanded the 4th Destroyer Flotilla in search of the German battleship Bismarck. For his actions during the hunt, he received a second bar to his DSO award.

ww2dbaseIn Jul 1941, Vian was promoted to the rank of rear admiral by the First Sea Lord Sir Dudley Pound. He was sent to Russia to negotiate naval cooperation between Britain and Russia, which talks broken down quickly. He was then appointed to command Force K based at Scapa Flow in Britain. In Aug 1941, while aboard HMS Nigeria, Vian and his force destroyed the coal mining facilities on Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago and then evacuated the Russian and Norwegian citizens from there. On the return trip, the force came across a German convoy in Hammer Fjord on the Norwegian coast, sinking German training cruiser Bremse by ramming.

ww2dbaseUpon the disbanding of Force K, Vian took command of the 15th Cruiser Squadron based in Alexandria, Egypt. He participated in the First Battle of Sirte in Dec 1941 and Operation Vigorous in Jun 1942. In early Mar 1942, Vian's flagship HMS Naiad was sunk while escorting a small force from Malta; Vian survived the sinking and transferred his flag to HMS Cleopatra. In Dec 1942, he participated in the Second Battle of Sirte. Despite shipping losses during the Second Battle of Sirte, one merchant ship survived and unloaded her cargo at Malta, which was the primary objective. He left the Mediterranean Sea in Sep 1942 due to health concerns.

ww2dbaseIn Apr 1943, Vian returned to shore service after his health condition improved. In Jul, he commanded an amphibious force during the invasion of Sicily. In Sep, he commanded Force V during the landings at Salerno, Italy; Force V was consisted of the escort carriers Attacker, Battler, Hunter, and Stalker, and supported by the maintenance carrier Unicorn. In Jun 1944, Vian was the commander of three British naval forces supporting the Normandy landings with his flag aboard HMS Scylla. In Nov, he was promoted to the rank of vice admiral and made Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath for his services during the Normandy invasion. In 1945, he was placed in charge of air operations of Task Force 57 of the British Pacific Fleet, which made four attacks on Japanese oil refineries in Sumatra, supported the invasion of Okinawa, Japan, and conducted air raids on the Japanese home islands.

ww2dbaseBetween 1946 and 1948, Vian served as the Fifth Sea Lord and placed in charge of naval aviation. In 1946, he received the American award Distinguished Service Medal, the Norwegian award Medal of the Order of St. Olav, Danish award Order of the Danneborg, and French award Croix de Guerre; he was also awarded membership in the French Legion d’Honneur and Legion of Merit. In 1948, he was promoted to the rank of admiral. In 1950, he was appointed commander in chief of the British Royal Navy Home Fleet with his flag aboard HMS Vanguard. He retired from service in 1952, and was later promoted to the rank of admiral of the fleet and awarded the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath while on the retired list. After a successful business career after retirement, he passed away in his home in Ashford Hill, England in 1968.

ww2dbaseSources: the Royal Naval Museum, Wikipedia.

Last Major Revision: Oct 2007

Philip Vian Timeline

15 Jun 1894 Philip Vian was born.
27 May 1968 Philip Vian passed away.


Admiral Halsey and Vice Admiral Vian aboard USS Missouri, circa May-Aug 1945; the other officers were Commander William Kitchell and Captain Joel Boone

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More on Philip Vian
Event(s) Participated:
» Altmark Incident
» Invasion of Denmark and Norway
» Battle of Denmark Strait
» Invasion of Sicily and Italy's Surrender
» Normandy Campaign, Phase 1
» Okinawa Campaign

Philip Vian Photo Gallery
Admiral Halsey and Vice Admiral Vian aboard USS Missouri, circa May-Aug 1945; the other officers were Commander William Kitchell and Captain Joel Boone

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