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Sir Varyl Begg
1 October 1908(1908-10-01) – 13 July 1995 (aged 86)
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Varyl Begg
Crown Copyright
Place of birth Kensington, London
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Navy
Years of service 1926 - 1973
Rank Admiral of the Fleet
Commands held First Sea Lord
Battles/wars Second World War
*Norwegian campaign
*Suda Bay
Korean War
*Battle of Inchon
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order
Distinguished Service Cross

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Varyl Cargill Begg GCB, DSO, DSC (1 October 1908 – 13 July 1995) was the British First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy from 1966 to 1968.


Early life

He was born in Kensington, London, on 1 October 1908, the son of Francis Cargill Begg, and his wife, Muriel Clare Robinson. He was educated at Malvern College,[1] before joining the navy as a special entry cadet in September 1926.[1] He served on board HMS Durban, HMS Marlborough, and HMS Shropshire, before being transferred to HMS Excellent, the gunnery school at Whale Island, Portsmouth.

Second World War

In 1934 he qualified as a gunnery specialist.[1] He was then made second gunnery officer of the battleship HMS Nelson, flagship of the Home Fleet, before returning to Whale Island on the experimental staff in 1936. He was appointed flotilla gunnery officer in the destroyer HMS Cossack in 1937, and two years later was gunnery officer of the 6-inch (152 mm) gun cruiser HMS Glasgow.[1] It was on board the Glasgow that Begg saw action in the Second World War. The Glasgow participated in north Atlantic convoys, the Norwegian campaign, and the occupation of Iceland, before being badly damaged in a torpedo attack by Italian aircraft in Suda Bay, Crete.[1]

In 1940 Begg was appointed gunnery officer of the battleship HMS Warspite in the Mediterranean when it was flagship of the commander-in-chief, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham (soon to be First Sea Lord himself).[1] Begg was in charge of Warspite's main 15-inch (381 mm) guns during the battle off Cape Matapan on the night of 28 March 1941. It was an engagement in which the ships Warspite, Barham and Valiant caught the Italian heavy cruisers Fiume and Zara by surprise, with their guns still trained fore and aft, and sank them both in a brutally short action of less than two minutes. A third heavy cruiser, Pola, and two Italian destroyers were also sunk in the engagement. Begg was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his part in the action.[1] He was promoted commander in December 1942 and then went to the gunnery division in the Admiralty, where he was involved in the development of gun design and tactics until after the war. On 7 August 1943 he married Rosemary Cowan.[2] They had two sons, Timothy (born 1944) and Peter (born 1948).[2]

Captain and Korea

Begg was promoted captain in 1947 and was staff officer (operations) to a rear-admiral in the Mediterranean. From 1948 to 1950 he was captain in charge of the gunnery school at Chatham. In the latter year he joined the destroyer HMS Cossack again, this time in command and as captain of the 8th destroyer flotilla.[1] The Cossack served in the first two years of the Korean War, and with other Commonwealth ships carried out blockading patrols of the west coast of Korea as far north as the Yalu River; it was also in the bombarding force of cruisers and destroyers for the crucial Inchon landings in September 1950, which turned the tide of the war in the United Nations' favour, and went on to make many bombardments in support of UN forces ashore. For his service in Korea, Begg was mentioned in dispatches in 1951 and appointed a DSO in 1952.[1] From 1952 to 1955 he was captain of HMS Excellent.[1]

Rear Admiral and Vice Admiral

He commanded the aircraft carrier HMS Triumph from 1954 to 1956, when it was a cadet training ship.[1] Promoted to rear-admiral in 1957, he was chief of staff to the commander-in-chief, Portsmouth, from 1957 to 1958, and then flag officer, second in command, Far East Fleet, from 1958 to 1960.[1]

Begg was promoted vice-admiral in 1960 and went to the Admiralty in 1961 as a lord commissioner of the Admiralty and vice-chief of naval staff.[1] At this time the first sea lord was Caspar John, the first naval aviator to hold the office. They both worked together in the reduction of the three-fleet system in the Royal Navy as well as the difficult decision to disband the fleet in the Mediterranean.

In 1963 Begg went out to the Far East again as a full Admiral, commander-in-chief of British forces in the Far East, and British military adviser to the South East Asia Treaty Organization, at a time of when President Sukarno of Indonesia was stepping up pressure on Malaysia.[1]

First Sea Lord

He was First Sea Lord from 1966 to 1968.[1]


His name is given to a large official government housing estate in Gibraltar (Varyl Begg Estate).


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Obituary: Sir Varyl Begg The Independent, 15 July 1995 Retrieved 10 January 2010
  2. ^ a b Heathcote, page 28
  • The British Admirals of the Fleet 1734 - 1995, Heathcote T. A., Pen & Sword Ltd, 2002, ISBN 0 85052 835 6
Military offices
New title
Command re-established
Post last held by Sir Henry Pownall in 1942
Commander-in-Chief Far East Command
Succeeded by
Sir John Grandy
Preceded by
David Luce
First Sea Lord
Succeeded by
Michael Le Fanu
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Gerald Lathbury
Governor of Gibraltar
Succeeded by
Sir John Grandy


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