North West Wales

War hero Admiral Sir Max Kennedy Horton is commemorated

Admiral Horton
Image caption Admiral Horton changed the way Britain dealt with the threat of U-boats

A plaque has been unveiled on Anglesey to a World War II naval hero.

Historians say Admiral Sir Max Kennedy Horton arguably played as big a role in the Allied victory of the Second World War as Field Marshal Montgomery or Bomber Harris.

Yet in the village of his birth, Rhosneigr, he is barely even known.

Anglesey council and the Royal Navy unveiled a memorial at the local library to the man whose tactics defeated the Nazi U-boats.

Between 1942 and 1945 Horton played a key role in the Battle of the Atlantic, developing the aggressive tactics which defeated the German U-boats and ensured shipping lanes stayed open to provide Britain with vital arms and supplies.

As well receiving as British medals, he was honoured for his war efforts by France, the Netherlands, the Soviet Union and the USA.

Naval historian Charles McCain said Horton had a low profile back home despite mixing in high society.

'Radiated confidence'

"Admiral Horton had an extensive acquaintanceship throughout the British Empire. A man in his position would certainly have known a great many people," he said.

"Yet he only entertained to the degree his rank and social position required.

"On several occasions during the war the King and Queen came to luncheon at his formal living quarters in Derby House, Liverpool.

"A letter he wrote afterwards to a friend clearly indicates he knew them already."

"But his background? Parents? His childhood? The source of his inner strength? His heroes? His inner life? Of Sir Max as a man? We have no idea."

"We do know this: the men and women under his command in Western Approaches never came to love him. They never came to like him. But they came quickly to respect him and even more, have the greatest confidence in him - for Sir Max radiated confidence."

Love of the sea

The second of four sons, his stockbroker father ran into financial trouble on the London Stock Exchange before Horton himself was even born in 1883.

Salvaging what money they could, the family relocated to north Wales, bought a hotel in Rhosneigr, and ran fishing and sailing holidays off Anglesey's west coast.

It was here that Horton developed his love of the sea, but possibly also his aloofness and introspection.

Image caption Winston Churchill called on Horton to turn the tide of the war at sea

John Rees Thomas, Anglesey council's head of leisure and culture, said: "He's a hard man to learn much about.

"The only biography of him, by Rear Admiral WS Chalmers, suggests that he was already an accomplished sailor by his very early childhood, but that he and his brother spent a lot of time playing alone, as they found it difficult to fit in with the language and culture of the island."

"But nevertheless we are proud to claim him.

"The plaque's unveiling will mark Rhosneigr and Anglesey's tribute to Admiral Horton who was one of Britain's leading wartime figures."

Horton joined the Royal Navy in 1898 aged 15.

By his early thirties he successfully led a fleet of experimental new weapons in World War I - submarines - earning the Distinguished Service Order with two bars.

More than twenty years later, during World War II, Prime Minister Winston Churchill turned to Horton when the Battle of the Atlantic appeared almost lost.

High-risk strategy

In the winter of 1942/43 German U-boats were sinking an average of four merchant ships a day, and at one point it was estimated that Britain would run out of food in three weeks unless the blockade could be lifted.

Image caption Despite the sinking of the Bismarck in 1941 Britain was suffering heavy losses in the north Atlantic

Horton revolutionised the tactics used on Atlantic convoys, moving away from strictly defensive escort formations to take the fight to the U-boats even if it created greater risk in the short-term.

This high-risk, high-reward strategy meant that under Horton's command merchant shipping losses actually went up.

But the number of U-boats destroyed reached such levels that the Germans withdrew the remains of their fleet from the north Atlantic rather than face annihilation.

However, Mr McCain believes it was not just the change of tactics which brought about such a reversal in fortunes in the Battle of the Atlantic, but Horton's strong leadership and attention to detail.

The stress of a life in command took its toll on Horton, who died in 1951 before realising his ambition to retire to the south of France.

His commemorative plaque was unveiled by the Naval Regional Commander for Wales and West of England, Commodore Jamie Miller, at Rhosneigr Library on Sunday.

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