Scharf ’04 Sets Sail with British Admiral Sir Max Kennedy Horton

William Scharf ’04 bid farewell to the Phillips Academy History Department on Monday with the presentation of his Abbot Scholars project: a biography of British Admiral Sir Max Kennedy Horton. Scharf reached what he called “the culmination of a project which has, in a way, defined [his] life for the last year and a half” when he presented his Abbot Scholar presentation “Drake Reborn: The Life and Times of Admiral Sir Max Kennedy Horton.” The presentation covered the military achievements and personality of a “hero” who played a pivotal role in both World Wars. Initially intrigued after seeing his name while doing research for an author, Scharf became drawn to Horton during the summer of 2002. However, there is little information readily available on Horton because of his personal issues. Horton did not enjoy playing the social games of the lords in the Admiralty and, therefore, ended up being disliked by the powerful members of the British Royal Navy. Furthermore, after his death in 1951, a dispute over Horton’s will arose between one of his many girlfriends and his brother. With the help of letters of introduction from the History Department, Scharf obtained access to archives and found an obscure, out of print, biography. Born in 1883 to English parents in Whales, Horton first attended the Royal Naval Academy at Dartmouth at the age of fifteen in 1898. In 1904, Horton entered the submarine branch and by 1905 he was given his first command of submarine A1. During a demonstration of the strength of the Royal Navy in 1912, Horton commanded the submarine D6 through a supposedly impenetrable blockade of ships. The Admiralty labeled him a pirate. On September 13th 1914, during World War I, Horton’s submarine, the E9, sunk the German cruiser Hayla. This was the first time a British submarine had sunk a British ship. After being assigned to the Baltic Sea, Horton was responsible for intercepting essential German iron ore shipments and destroying troop convoys on their way to Russia. After his many successes, Horton became friendly with the Czar of Russia and the Grand Duke Nicholas who liked Horton’s unofficial, fun-loving spirit. During World War II Winston Churchill, seeing the potential in Horton, essentially forced the Admiralty promote him to the level of Commander of all the Submarines. Horton’s took many liberties as submarine commander. He changed the role of submarines from support units to attack units. In 1940, Horton gave a public radio address to the British people and became an icon overnight. The stories of Jolly Rogers and his perfect record made him an instant hero for the people. After Churchill got Horton into the commission of Commander in Chief of Western Approaches (the Atlantic), Horton completely changed the British approach to the Battle of the Atlantic. Instead of having convoys have disarrayed escorts, Horton ordered escort groups formed and created other groups that would proactively attack German subs. Before Horton assumed command, ship losses had reached 800,000 tons; however, this number dropped to 60,000 during his tenure. After World War II Horton retired, knowing that nothing could compare to being Commander in Chief of Western Approaches during World War II.