Unveiling of the bust of Rear-Admiral Leonard Murray

Navy News / April 22, 2013

During a gala dinner commemorating the Battle of the Atlantic at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa on Thursday, May 2 , the Royal Canadian Navy will unveil a bust of Rear-Admiral Leonard Murray.

Admiral Murray was the only Canadian officer to have commanded a theatre of war during the Second World War. In September 1942, he was appointed Commanding Officer Atlantic Coast and in April 1943 as the Commander-in-Chief Canadian North West Atlantic (CNWA) and Deputy Commander US Task Force 24. He remained as Commander-in-Chief CNWA until the end of the war in Europe.

Born at Granton, on Pictou Harbour, NS on 22 June 1896, Rear-Admiral Murray enrolled in the Canadian Naval Service, later to become the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), as a cadet in January 1911 joining the first class of the Royal Naval College of Canada.  Graduating in 1913, his class went to sea for training with the Royal Navy (RN) in the cruiser HMS Berwick until 1914.  At the start of the First World War he was sent to Naval Headquarters (NHQ) in Ottawa where he gained experience in naval administration and operations – particularly defence of trade – as a cipher officer. Returning to Halifax in 1914 he served in the cruiser HMCS Niobe and later the auxiliary vessel HMCS Margaret patrolling the North American sea trade, followed by a short stint on the West Coast in the cruiser HMCS Rainbow. In 1916 he joined the cruiser HMS Leviathan on the North American and West Indies Station then engaged in organizing the first transatlantic convoys, which were, at the time, the most effective defence against submarines.  In 1918, as a qualified Lieutenant he served in the British Grand Fleet, in the battleship HMS Agincourt, witnessing the surrender of the German fleet in 1918, followed by service in HM Ships Hercules and Crescent.

Remaining in Britain, in 1919 he specialized in navigation, attending the RN Navigating Officers course at HMS Dryad followed by an appointment as the Navigating Officer in the cruiser HMS Calcutta commanded by then Captain Percy Noble who was later, as the Commander-in-Chief Western Approaches, to lead Allied anti-submarine efforts in the Battle of the Atlantic. In 1920 he returned to Canada as the Navigating officer in the cruiser HMCS Aurora until budget cuts caused the RCN to pay off the ship in 1922.  From 1923 until 1929 he served with the RN, initially in the battleships HMS Revenge and HMS Queen Elizabeth, and after completing the RN Advanced Navigation Course, the battle cruiser HMS Tiger. In 1927 he attended the Royal Naval Staff College where he was introduced to convoy organization.

On promotion to Commander in 1929, he returned to Canada and was appointed as the Commander HMCS Naden and Senior Naval Officer Esquimalt. In 1931 he had a short staff tour in Naval Headquarters (NHQ) and in 1932 he assumed command of the destroyer HMCS Saguenay, followed by an appointment as Senior Naval Officer and Commander-in-Charge Halifax in 1934. In 1936 he served, on loan, to the RN in the Admiralty Operations Division followed, later in the year, as the Executive Officer in the battleship HMS Iron Duke.  In 1938 he attended the British Imperial Defence College and on return to Canada in 1939, he was promoted to Captain and appointed Director of Naval Operations and Training in NHQ, being heavily involved in much of the pre-war planning and later naval mobilization.

On the commencement of naval mobilization in August 1939 he was appointed Deputy Chief of Naval Staff and later, in 1940, as the Canadian Naval Representative to the Permanent Joint US-Canada Defence Board where he was instrumental in the development of secret arrangements for USN forces operating from RCN bases. In October 1940, on promotion to Commodore (2nd Class), he was appointed Commodore Commanding Halifax Force. Shortly thereafter, in January 1941, he was promoted to Commodore First Class and sent to the UK as Commodore Commanding Canadian Ships and Establishments in the UK, where he quickly realized that the war against the U-boats was ill suited to seagoing command and required a shore based infrastructure. In consultation with the Commander-in-Chief Western Approaches, he moved ashore to the Canadian High Commission in London (HMCS Dominion), which was conveniently close to the Admiralty.  However, as a result of the strategic importance of Newfoundland in the Battle of the Atlantic, as an escort-staging base, he was subsequently appointed Commodore Commanding Newfoundland Force in June of 1941.  On promotion to Rear-Admiral in December 1941, he became Flag Officer Newfoundland Force, where his intense commitment to his mission may have caused some friction with Naval Service Headquarters (NSHQ) in Ottawa, but won him the admiration of Canada's citizen-sailors and the confidence of the USN leadership.

Returning to Canada in September 1942, he was appointed Commanding Officer Atlantic Coast and in April 1943 as the Commander-in-Chief Canadian North West Atlantic (CNWA) and Deputy Commander US Task Force 24, where his ‘instincts for the offensive' continued to achieve results with limited resources in an immense geographical theatre.  It is noteworthy that he was the only Canadian officer to have commanded a theatre of war during the Second World War. He remained as Commander-in-Chief CNWA until the end of the war in Europe, when he was retired prematurely in 1945, as a result of the inquiry into the Halifax VE-Day riots, which placed the blame on the riots on inadequate preparations by naval authorities under his command. He moved to England in 1947 to study law and in 1949 he was called to the Bar, specializing in Admiralty Law. He died suddenly in Buxton, England on 25 November 1971.