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NEWS > Life After Judd > Notable Alumni Series - Terence Lewin (1920 –1999)

Notable Alumni Series - Terence Lewin (1920 –1999)

Did you know Admiral of the Fleet Lord Lewin KG, GCB, LVO, DSC , (also known as Baron Lewin or Lord Lewin of Greenwich) was an OJ?

Admiral of the Fleet, Terence Lewin, is perhaps best known for his role as Chief of the Defence Staff during the Falklands War. However, this was merely the culmination of a remarkable career that spanned four decades, that encompassed every Naval conflict since the Second World War, and saw some of the widest-reaching reforms made to the Royal Navy in recent times. In short Lord Lewin was one of the most important figures in the defence of the Realm for the best part of forty years.

First Sea Lord and Principal Naval Aide de Camp to Her Majesty the Queen, 1977. (Crown Copyright)

He watched the Royal Navy shrink from the largest and arguably the most powerful navy in the world to almost its present size.

He saw the introduction of radar, the replacement of the battleship by the aircraft carrier, and the introduction of nuclear-powered submarines (Polaris and Trident). He witnessed the Sandys and Nott defence reviews, which severely diminished the role of the Navy, and the cancellation of the Royal Navy's aircraft-carrier programme under Denis Healey in the 1960s.

Admiral of the Fleet Lord Lewin served in the Second World War and then commanded a destroyer, the Royal yacht, two frigates and an aircraft carrier before achieving higher command.

He was First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff in the late 1970s and in that role he worked hard to secure a decent wage for servicemen and helped win them a 32% pay rise. He went on to be Chief of the Defence Staff during the Falklands War, serving as chief war planner and as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's chief advisor during the war.

Born in Dover in 1920, the son of Eric Lewin and Maggie Lewin, Terence was educated at The Judd School in Tonbridge, where he was head prefect in 1938 and where he distinguished himself in athletics and rugby - sports at which he was to represent the Navy. Lewin joined the Royal Navy as a cadet in 1939.

By the time the Second World War broke out he was a midshipman on a cruiser in the Home Fleet and was to spend almost the entire war in seagoing appointments.

Guardian Obituary:

The active service of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Lewin, who has died aged 78, spanned a fraught naval era beginning before the Second World War and ending after the Falklands conflict, in which he played a leading role.

Lewin was appointed Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) in August 1979. His three-year term encompassed profound politico-strategic decisions, including the massive upgrade of Britain's nuclear deterrent and NATO's hotly contested plan to introduce new American medium-range ballistic missiles into Western Europe.

But by far the most dramatic event of his time at the head of all Britain's armed forces was the ad-hoc conversion of a fleet built for anti-submarine warfare in the north-east of the Atlantic into a classic imperial expeditionary force to liberate the Falkland Islands, 8,000 miles away at the southern end, from Argentine occupation.

Supplies being delivered to the destroyer HMS Bristol by helicopter during a stopover at Ascension Island on the ship's voyage to take part in the Falklands War

Ironically Lewin came late to the party, a fact which did not detract from the leading role he was to play. He was on an official visit to New Zealand when it became clear in London at the end of March 1982, that the Argentine junta was about to invade. It thus fell to his successor as Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), the rather more gung-ho Admiral Sir Henry Leach, to arrive - in full uniform from a public function - at the ministerial meeting called by Mrs Thatcher to decide how to respond.

Leach, recognising in the crisis a heaven-sent opportunity to counter the drastic naval cuts being proposed by Defence Secretary John Nott, immediately urged a task force and rashly promised it would be organised 'by the weekend'. In her turn, Mrs Thatcher saw Leach as a heaven-sent instrument for saving her face and took the high-risk gamble his suggestion represented - without consulting the full Cabinet or Parliament, let alone the faraway CDS.

Some who knew Lewin well, doubted whether he would have been so rash as to risk the bulk of the British surface fleet on such a difficult and dangerous undertaking. But presented with the fait accompli, he lined up with the CNS and Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse, the man in direct command of Rear-Admiral Sandy Woodward's task force, behind Operation 'Corporate'.

Lewin slipped smoothly into the part of the Government's chief military adviser cum principal war-time link between the politicians and the Fleet command at Northwood - the active role he had consistently advocated from the CDS in an emergency. He needed all his diplomatic skills to prevent operational exigencies from cutting across political and diplomatic considerations and vice versa, a task rendered more difficult by unhelpful vacillations within a nervous government.

……Lewin served in the Home Fleet's hard-fought and bitterly cold struggle to escort supply ships to Russia, as well as the Mediterranean Fleet's campaign to keep Malta going by means of frequently disastrous convoy runs. He also took part in the North African landing in 1942 and the Normandy invasion in 1944. His wartime exploits brought him three mentions in dispatches and the Distinguished Service Cross, a remarkable 'haul' for a junior officer.

The young Lewin was a late developer rather than a high flier, achieving command of the destroyer Corunna in 1955 at the age of 35, as the Navy consistently shrank around him.

In command he was able to indulge his fondness for quoting the Bible and Shakespeare, sending routine signals in the form of a reference which the recipient had to look up and decode. Lewin would wait to see how long it took the addressee to recognise 'Macbeth act lll, scene iv line 93' as an order to leave the formation ('Avaunt and quit my sight').

Spells at sea were interspersed with a variety of shore-bound staff appointments in which he gained all-round experience of how the Navy is run, with the notable exception of the submarine branch, and where his saturnine good looks and charm, allied with instinctive tact, won him many friends.

Such emollient characteristics were not unhelpful when in 1957, as a commander, he became executive officer on the royal yacht Britannia. In 1961, promoted captain, he took charge of the Dartmouth (naval college) Training Squadron, including two frigates.

After commands in the Far East he was made an admiral in 1973 and two years later was appointed first C-in-C Naval Home Command, and then CNS and First Sea Lord. After the customary two years as head of the Navy he was promoted to be Chief of the Defence Staff.

Commander-in Chief, Fleet: at Admiralty House, Northwood, with Lady Lewin (Lady Lewin's collection)

His function as principal conduit of information to the 'War Cabinet' which oversaw the Falklands campaign did not immunise the admiral from involvement in controversy after the Navy made good its promise to recover the islands. The great post-war issue was the sinking by the nuclear attack submarine Conqueror of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano, with the loss of 370 lives.

Amid a welter of mutually irreconcilable government 'explanations' about the destruction of an antiquated ship sailing slowly away from the British task force, Lewin was exposed to criticism which should have been focused on the politicians who sanctioned it. But he showed no doubt that the decision was militarily the right one and stuck to his views long after he stepped down as CDS on October 1, 1982.

As if to prove that admirals of the fleet 'never retire', Lord Lewin of Greenwich, as he was from 1983, when he was also given the rare extra honour of a Garter knighthood for his contribution to the Falklands victory, continued to speak up for the Navy in the House of Lords and in the letters or features pages of the national press, as well as taking on a broad burden of voluntary work for maritime and other charities and museums.

Later life

In retirement Lewin became Chairman of the Trustees of the National Maritime Museum, President of the Society for Nautical Research, a Liveryman of the Skinners' Company and of the Shipwrights' Company and an elder brother of Trinity House.

Left: Inaugurating the Special Entry Book of Remembrance at BRNC Dartmouth with HRH Prince Philip (J.H. Beattie); Right: Unveiling by HRH Prince Philip of the portrait of Lord Lewin in Garter robes, (by Michael Noakes, at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. (J.H. Beattie).

His interests included military history, he had a lifelong interest in, and was an expert on, the life of Captain Cook. 

Lewin ashore by the monument to Captain James Cook at Posession Island, off the east coast of Australia


He died at his home at Ufford in Suffolk on 23 January 1999.


In 1944 he married Jane Branch-Evans, who survived him with two sons and a daughter.

Further reading here:

References from Wikipedia:


Biography here:

“Of biographies of post-war admirals, including Mountbatten, none has covered the career of an officer who was more important or influential in the development of the post-colonial Royal Navy than Admiral of the Fleet Lord Lewin.

Richard Hill, himself a retired rear admiral, writes knowledgably and consistently about Lewin - at, it should be said, his subject's invitation. They served together on several occasions, and Hill interviewed 150 people in the course of his research. His most important source was Lewin himself, who while dying of cancer dictated more than 50,000 words for the benefit of his biographer.

Born in 1920, Terence Thornton Lewin had the typical background for an officer in the Royal Navy: he did not come from a wealthy background (Nelson was the son of a Norfolk vicar), had no family connection with the Navy and did not attend a public school.

Unusually - at a time when most putative naval officers joined Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth at 13 - Lewin was a Special Entry cadet, joining at the last possible opportunity at the age of 18, having failed to get into university.

Although promotion in the Navy has been based at least partly on merit since the time of Pepys, the Special Entry officers were viewed with some suspicion by those who joined by the traditional route, and relatively few were expected to reach the highest ranks.

…..Lewin retired in October 1982, and died 17 years later. He wanted to be remembered for bringing about social change, making the Navy "more egalitarian and family-conscious" without losing "its traditions and heritage". He was not against women at sea, but was concerned about his experiences of homosexuality at sea and its link to indiscipline. His wider legacy - at least as perceived in this readable and comprehensive …biography - is that of an officer whose battles were more often with the civil service, politicians and on occasion other services than with the enemy fleet. But they were necessary battles and ones he fought bravely. No one was more closely involved in bringing the Royal Navy into the modern era.”

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