William Boyle, 12th Earl of Cork and Orrery, 1873-1967

William Boyle, 12th Earl of Cork and Orrery was a British admiral who was appointed to command the Allied forces involved in the attack on Narvik in April-May 1940. William Boyle was born in Farnham on 30 November 1873. He entered the navy in 1887, and rose to high rank in the years after the end of the First World War. He was knighted in 1931, and became a full Admiral in 1932. In 1933 he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet. In the following year he succeeded to the title of Earl of Cork and Orrery. He was expected to have retired after holding that title, but in 1937 Admiral Sir William Fisher died unexpectedly. Lord Cork was appointed to command at Portsmouth to fill the gap. In the following year he was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet, and in normal circumstances would have retired in 1939.

The outbreak of the Second World War ended those plans. Late in 1939 Lord Cork was appointed to command an expedition to Finland, then under attack from Germany's ally of convenience, the Soviet Union. Fortunately this expedition never sailed, and instead on 10th April 1940 Lord Cork was appointed Flag Officer, Narvik, to take part in the fighting in Norway. He was to command the naval forces involved in the expedition to Narvik, while Major-General P.J. Mackesy was appointed to command the ground forces. Lord Cork sailed for Norway on 12 April, and reached Skjel Fjord, close to Narvik, on 14 April.

The two men first met in the aftermath of the British victory in the second naval battle of Narvik of 13 April. Lord Cork wanted to take advantage of this victory to launch an immediate amphibious attack on Narvik, while General Mackesy wanted to conduct a more careful approach to the town. As a result any chance of a quick victory while the German garrison was disorganised was lost. On 20 April Lord Cork was appointed to command all Allied forces involved in the attack on Narvik. A naval bombardment on 24 April failed to force a German surrender, and eventually Mackesy was allowed to conduct his land campaign. On 15 May the Allied assault began, and on 28 May Narvik fell to the Allies. By now the situation in the Low Countries and France was critical, and after destroying the iron ore dock and related facilities at Narvik, on 8 June 1940 Lord Cork evacuated his forces from Narvik.

This was his last active service. In 1941 he was appointed to investigate Admiral James Somerville's performance at the action off Spartivento. At the end of this enquiry Lord Cork's Board of Enquiry upheld Somervill'e decision to end the fighting when he did.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 July 2008), William Boyle, 12th Earl of Cork and Orrery, 1873-1967 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_cork_orrery_12th.html

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