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Captain Stephen Wentworth Roskill, CBE, DSC, FBA (1 August 1903 – 4 November 1982) was a senior career officer of the Royal Navy, serving during the Second World War and, after his enforced medical retirement, served as the official historian of the Royal Navy from 1949 to 1960. He is now chiefly remembered as a prodigious author of books on British maritime history.
Stephen Wentworth Roskill
|Born||1 August 1903|
|Died||4 November 1982|
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England
|Years of service||1921–1949|
|Battles/wars||Second World War|
|Awards||Commander of the Order of the British Empire|
Distinguished Service Cross
|Relations||Eustace Roskill, Baron Roskill|
|Other work||Royal Navy Official Historian of the Second World War|
Senior Research Fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge University
The son of John Henry Roskill, K.C. a barrister, and Sybil Dilke, Stephen Roskill was born in London, England and joined the Royal Navy in 1917, attending the Royal Naval College at Osborne House and then the Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, Devon. As a midshipman Roskill served on the light cruiser Durban on the China Station before returning to practise gunnery at Greenwich and Portsmouth.
In 1930, he married Elizabeth Van den Bergh, with whom he had seven children. Roskill served at sea as gunnery officer of the carrier Eagle on the China Station from 1933–1935. Afterwards he instructed at the gunnery school HMS Excellent, and in 1936 he was given the prize gunnery appointment in the navy, that of the newly reconstructed dreadnought Warspite till 1939, was a member of the Naval Staff, 1939–1941, then served as executive officer of HMNZS Leander in 1941–1944.[Note 1]
On 13 July 1943 Leander was part of a task group of predominantly American warships off the Solomon Islands, when they engaged a force of Imperial Japanese Navy ships. During the action, Leander was torpedoed and severely damaged. For his actions in helping keep the ship afloat, Roskill was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. In March, 1944 he was promoted acting captain and sent to join the British Admiralty delegation in Washington, D.C. as chief staff officer for administration and weapons. He was the senior British observer at the Bikini Atomic tests in 1946, and served as Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence, 1946–48 before retiring as a captain, due to increasing deafness caused by exposure to gun detonations.
On retiring from active service in 1948, Roskill was appointed by the Cabinet Office Historical Section to write the official naval history of the Second World War. His three volume work The War at Sea was published between 1954 and 1961.
In 1961, Roskill was elected a senior research fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, where he was instrumental in the foundation of the Churchill Archives Centre. The centre holds 180 boxes of Roskill's personal and research papers. After retirement, he was a visiting lecturer at several universities, including being Lees Knowles Lecturer in 1961, the Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1965, and Richmond Lecturer at Cambridge University in 1967. He was elected a vice president of the Navy Records Society in 1964 and an honorary vice president in 1974.
Honours and awardsEdit
Roskill was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on 21 March 1944 as commander in HMNZS Leander when she was torpedoed in the Pacific. In 1946 he was awarded the American Legion of Merit. He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1971 New Year Honours and received an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Cambridge University in 1970, from the University of Leeds in 1971, and from Oxford University in 1980. He was an elected a Fellow of The British Academy.
Dates of rankEdit
|15 September 1921||30 July 1924||30 August 1925||30 August 1933||31 December 1938||30 June 1944|
- Barnett, Correlli (2004). in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
- Barry M. Gough, Historical Dreadnoughts: Arthur Marder, Stephen Roskill and Battles for Naval History. Seaforth/Pen and Sword, 2010.
- Escort. The Battle of the Atlantic by Denys Arthur Rayner and edited by S. W. Roskill (1955)
- HMS Warspite. The story of a famous battleship (1957)
- The Secret Capture. (On the capture of the German submarine U-110 (1940) during the second world war). (1959)
- The war at sea, 1939–1945 Three volumes (1954–61; 1994)
- The Navy at War, 1939–1945 Published in the US as The White Ensign: The British Navy at War, 1939–1945(1960)
- The Strategy of Sea Power. Its development and application. Based on the Lees-Knowles Lectures ... 1961 (1962)
- A Merchant Fleet in War. Alfred Holt & Co., 1939–1945. (1962)
- The strategy of sea power (1962, 1984)
- The Art of Leadership (1964)
- Naval policy between the wars. Vol. 1, The period of Anglo-American antagonism, 1919–1929; Vol. 2, The period of reluctant rearmament, 1930–1939 (1968, 1976)
- Documents relating to the Royal Naval Air Service (1969)
- Hankey: Man Of Secrets. Volume I (1877–1918). Collins. 1970. ISBN 0-00-211327-9.
- Hankey: Man Of Secrets. Volume II (1919–1931). Collins. 1972. ISBN 0-00-211330-9.
- Hankey: Man Of Secrets. Volume III (1931–1963). Collins. 1974. ISBN 0-00-211332-5.
- The eventful history of the mutiny and piratical seizure of HMS Bounty, its causes and consequences by Sir John Barrow edited with an introduction by S. W. Roskill (1976)
- Churchill and the admirals (1977, 2004)
- Admiral of the Fleet Earl Beatty: the last naval hero: an intimate biography (1980)
- Eugene L. Rasor, English/British Naval History since 1815. New York: Garland, 1990, pp. 38–41.