William Richmond Fell

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William Richmond Fell

Birth nameWilliam Richmond Fell
Born(1897-01-31)31 January 1897
Wellington, New Zealand
Died28 November 1981(1981-11-28) (aged 84)
Wellington, New Zealand
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Navy
Years of service1915–48
Commands heldHMS L16
HMS Oxley
HMS Prince Charles
HMS Titania
HMS Bonaventure
14th Submarine Flotilla
Battles/warsWorld War I
World War II
AwardsCompanion of the Order of St Michael and St George
Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Cross
Officer of the Legion of Merit (United States)
RelationsWalter Fell (father)
William Richmond (grandfather)

Captain William Richmond Fell CMG, CBE, DSC (31 January 1897 – 28 November 1981), was a New Zealand naval officer. He served in the Royal Navy, mainly in submarines, and was involved in the development of human torpedoes and midget submarines during the Second World War.

Early life and education

Fell was born in Wellington, New Zealand. His parents were Margaret and Walter Fell. His maternal grandfather was judge William Richmond. He was educated at Wellington College before moving to Crediton Grammar School, Devon, UK.[1]

He joined the Royal Navy in 1915, training at the Royal Naval Engineering College, Keyham. Fell then served on the battleship HMS Warspite during 1916–17, including at the Battle of Jutland[2] In July 1918 Fell joined the submarine training establishment HMS Dolphin at Portsmouth.[3]

During the inter-war years, he served principally in submarines.[4][1]

Second World War

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for his role in the Norwegian campaign.[5][4]

In January 1941 he was appointed commander of the infantry assault ship HMS Prince Charles,[5] which had been converted from a former Belgian cross-Channel steamer. He along with the Prince Charles took part in Operation Archery, a raid on Vågsøy, Norway, in December 1941.[4] He was mentioned in despatches for his role.[6]

During mid-1942 at the direction of Max Horton, Flag Officer Submarines, he began working with Commander G.M. Sladen to establish and train a special underwater strike unit involving divers and human torpedoes or ‘chariots.[7] The new unit was to supplement the project to develop midget submarines, or X-Craft, then under development by the Royal Navy. Under Fell and Sladen's leadership the unit worked off the depot ship HMS Titania, initially at Loch Èireasort on the Isle of Lewis, then from Loch Striven off the Firth of Clyde attached to HMS Varbel.[8] During this time he was also involved in the development of the midget submarines and their method of operations. Attacks were mounted using the human torpedoes, with mixed success, at Trondheim, Askvoll, and Palermo. X-Craft were used in the successful Operation Source attack on the German battleship Tirpitz in Altafjord, September 1943.

In 1944 he was appointed to command HMS Bonaventure,[5] depot ship for midget submarine operations. In 1945 the unit was deployed with XE-Craft to the Pacific as part of the British Pacific Fleet, where they undertook several operations against Japanese warships and also the cutting of undersea telephone cables used by Japanese military forces.[9] Fell was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and awarded the US Legion of Merit for his service as commander of the 14th Submarine Flotilla (Midget Submarines).[10][11]


Fell remained with HMS Bonaventure until November 1946, when he transferred to working in the Admiralty as a salvage officer. [1][4] Fell returned to New Zealand in retirement in 1959. He died on 28 November 1981.


  1. ^ a b c "William Richmond Fell". Auckland War Memorial Museum. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  2. ^ "First World War Sailor". Nga Taonga Sound & Vision. The New Zealand Archive of Film, Television and Sound Ngā Taonga Whitiāhua Me Ngā Taonga Kōrero. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  3. ^ "Personal". Fielding Star. No. 4119. National Library of New Zealand. Papers Past. 16 October 1920. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d "The Papers of Captain William Richmond Fell". ArchiveSearch. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  5. ^ a b c "Royal Navy (RN) Officers 1939–1945". Unithistories.com. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  6. ^ "35510" (PDF). The London Gazette. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  7. ^ Warren & Benson 1953, p. 16.
  8. ^ Warren & Benson 1953, pp. 25–44.
  9. ^ Warren & Benson 1953, p. 215.
  10. ^ "37603" (PDF). The London Gazette. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  11. ^ "37845" (PDF). The London Gazette. Retrieved 6 June 2021.