Roger John Brownlow Keyes

From Kaiserreich

(Redirected from Roger Keyes)

Roger John Brownlow Keyes (born in India on October 4 1872) is a British Admiral, currently in exile in Canada.


Early Life

Roger Keyes was born on October 4 1872, at Tundiani Fort on the Nort-West Frontier Province of India, where his father commanded the Punjab Frontier force. Three years after the family had returned to England Keyes' father was given a new command in India. The parents decided to take the two youngest children with them, but to leave the five oldest, including Roger, in the care of an English country parson and his wife. The accommodations were less than his parents had been led to believe and the younger children were desperately lonely. The parson, however, introduced Keyes to hunting and fishing, which became lifelong passions. Soon, he was sent to a preparatory school at Margate.

The parson's brother was an admiral and stories of the navy were prominent in the household. Keyes wrote his parents of his desire to be a sailor. In 1884 his father, now General Sir Charles Keyes, retired and returned to England. After some discussion and against his father's wishes Roger was permitted to join the Royal Navy.

Military Career


Roger Keyes joined the training establishment, HMS Britannia, in the autumn of 1884, at the age of 12. In August 1887 he was appointed to HMS Raleigh, a cruiser which was flagship of the Cape of Good Hope and West Africa Station. He reached Cape Town on 3 November and began his seagoing life.

In 1890, Keyes transferred to HMS Turquoise, a barque that operated from Zanzibar on slavery suppression missions. There was much opportunity for action as small naval launches under junior officers were sent out for weeks at a time to patrol the coast, probing the estuaries and creeks where Arab slavers hid with their cargoes of young women and children, seized from coastal regions of the Portuguese colony of Mozambique. Often gunfights ensued as the slavers tried to make their escape.

South America

In October 1892 Keyes was sent to South America, for service on HMS Beagle which lasted until 1896. This was a very happy time in his life, as he had plenty of opportunity for polo and shooting in Argentina and Uruguay, where he was made very welcome by the local British residents. After his return home, Keyes served on a training ship for new recruits. He was then given command of HMS Opossum, a new destroyer.


Keyes was then posted out to China to command another destroyer, HMS Hart, soon transferring to a newer ship, HMS Fame. In April 1899, he went to the rescue of a small British force which was attacked and surrounded by irregular Chinese forces while attempting to demarcate the border of the Hong Kong New Territories. Keyes went ashore, leading half the landing party, and, while Fame fired on the besiegers, he led the charge which routed the Chinese and freed the troops. This illustrates a trait Keyes showed all through his life, forcing himself into the centre of any fighting, whenever or wherever it might be.

In late May 1900 reports started to come in to British authorities of disturbances throughout North China, aimed particularly against Chinese Christians, missionaries and European merchants. The anti-foreign agitators were called Boxers, and soon were threatening the foreign legations in Beijing and the European settlement at Tianjin. Local British naval forces were sent to the aid of these two threatened communities. Roger Keyes arrived off Taku in HMS Fame on 31 May 1900, with the whole squadron coming in two days later. Since Fame drew only 8 feet of water and could cross the bar into Taku during four hours of high tide twice per day, she was used to take messages and passengers back and forth to the railhead. As a result, Keyes became familiar with navigation on the lower stretches of the river. Keyes, though a junior officer, began to show once again the foresight and leadership which so characterized his career. His plan to capture four Chinese destroyers succeeded with no British casualties and later Keyes led a surprise attack that successfully destroyed a Chinese fort along the river leading to Tianjin.

After all his exploits, Keyes still managed to get himself into the thick of fighting throughout the rest of the campaign. He managed to obtain leave from the Fame and was able to join the expedition advancing on Beijing. So it came to be that a young naval officer was the first man over the Peking walls, planting a Union Flag on the top. He was also the first to break through to the legations. For his bravery during the boxer rebellion, Lieutenant Keyes was promoted to the rank of Commander.


After a few months leave at home, Keyes was appointed to the command of a new destroyer, HMS Bat, similar to the Fame. He was stationed at Portsmouth and was second in command of the Devonport Destroyer Flotilla. He found the ships' upkeep and training exercises lax and soon he embarked on a rigorous scheme of training using aggressive tactics. His efforts paid off when the ships under his command did very well in naval exercises. This led to an appointment at the Admiralty in the intelligence section.

In 1910 Keyes was offered the appointment of Inspecting Captain of Submarines. This was in the days of the infancy of submarines and the job was not his first choice, but he agreed and found himself in command of sixty-one undersea vessels. Though the position was initially regarded as a training role, Keyes's energy led it to become an operational command. Keyes saw the worsening international situation in late July 1914 and cancelled all leave for his men. He moved his vessels and headquarters to Harwich to be closer to Germany and was ready for war when it broke out on 4 August 1914.

During the Weltkrieg

When the Weltkrieg broke out, Commodore Keyes took command of the submarine force at Harwich on the south east of England and, as Naval Chief of Staff to Vice-Admiral Sackville Carden, was heavily involved in the organisation of the Dardanelles Campaign. Keyes volunteered to take charge of a minesweeping operation intended to clear the way for the bombarding ships. However, the attempt at clearing the Kephez minefield turned into an unmitigated failure, as the Turkish mobile artillery pieces battered Keyes' minesweeping squadron and inflicted heavy damages.

After the heartbreak of the Dardanelles operation, Keyes applied for a transfer back to the Grand Fleet. He was in Salonika finishing up when news arrived of the Battle of Jutland. He returned to England immediately and took command of the battleship Centurion, assigned to the 2nd Battle Squadron. He was promoted Rear-Admiral on April 10 1917. In June he was made second in command of the 4th Battle Squadron, under Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee. He flew his flag aboard HMS Colossus, whose captain was Dudley Pound.

On January 1 1918, Keyes took over command of the Dover Patrol. Immediately after taking control, he altered tactics and the number of sunk U-Boats increased. After the Second Battle of Jutland the situation worsened but Keyes was still able to sink many submarines crossing the Egnlish Channel. Keyes ended the war as an acting Vice-Admiral.


In 1922, Keyes was given command of the new Battle Cruiser Squadron, hoisting his flag at Scapa Flow in HMS Lion. When his term in this position was over he went on half pay for a year pending a new appointment as Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff. In May 1925 Keyes was appointed as Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, the premier active command in the Navy. When the 1925 British Revolution broke out, Keyes broke the socialist blockade and led the fleet to safety in Canada.

In Canada Keyes was promoted to Admiral and Chief of the Naval Staff and became the King's leading naval advisor. Under his guidance in 1928 the Royal Navy began an ambitious building program to bring the Royal Navy up to a modern fighting level: all the naval services were expanded and improved with the emphasis being put on long range ships. Keyes supported Admiral Horatio Nelson Lay's idea to include large fleet carriers but fiercely opposed the inclusion of modern submarines, which he considered useless. This lead to a clash with the Prime Minister Bennett who in 1934 succeeded in having Keyes replaced by Percy Nelles as Chief of the Naval Staff.

Personal Life

Roger Keyes married Eva Bowlby on April 10 1906 and they have five children, three daughters and two sons.

Personal tools