Peter Padfield

Peter L. N. Padfield (born 1932) is a British author, biographer, historian, and journalist who specializes in naval history and in the Second World War period. His early journalism appeared under the name P. L. N. Padfield. As well as his non-fiction work, he has also published four novels.

Life and work

Strathmore, Padfield's last P&O ship
Mayflower II, in which Padfield shipped in 1957

Born in British India, Padfield attended a well-known boarding school for boys, Christ's Hospital, then trained for a naval career as a Royal Naval Reserve cadet on HMS Worcester. He then became a navigating officer with the P&O shipping company. In 1957 he was paid off from P&O's London to Australia ocean liner Strathmore,[1] after being accepted as one of the crew of Mayflower II, a replica of the original Mayflower, and sailed in her on her maiden voyage from Plymouth, Devon, to New York City.[2][3] On his escape from a junior officer's life with P&O, Padfield later commented that "Cargo boats, public schools, and prisons have a great deal in common".[4] After New York, he returned to sea in the Pacific, including a visit to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, where he panned for gold, then wrote The Sea is a Magic Carpet, published as a book in 1959, an account of his adventures.[5]

Padfield settled in England and established a career in journalism. In his second book, The Titanic and the Californian, he defended the reputation of Captain Lord, the master of the Californian who since 1912 had been widely blamed for the death of hundreds of passengers on the Titanic.[6] He concluded that in the Board of Trade Inquiry chaired by Lord Mersey there had been "crazy deductions, distortions, prejudice, and occasional bone-headed obstinacy of witnesses and the court",[7] and the huge success of this enabled him to begin writing books full-time.[5] Next came several works on naval history, including The Great Naval Race (1976), a study of the rivalry between Britain and Germany in the early 20th century, which led to biographies of three leading Nazis, Karl Dönitz,[8] Heinrich Himmler,[9] and Rudolf Hess.[10] In 2003 he won the Mountbatten Maritime Prize for his Maritime Power and the Struggle for Freedom.[11][12]

Padfield's latest historical work is Hess, Hitler and Churchill (2013), in which he explores the mystery of Rudolf Hess's flight to Britain in 1941. He develops the theory that it may have been part of a significant German peace offer and suggests that Hess was carrying documents with detailed proposals from Hitler. These would have meant an armistice between Germany and Britain, which would stand neutral in a planned German war against the Soviet Union, in return for which Germany was willing to withdraw its armed forces from Western Europe.[13][14]

Private life

In 1960 Padfield gave up his life at sea and married Jane Padfield.[12] They settled first at Clare, Suffolk,[15] and brought up a son and two daughters in East Anglia, buying a gaff-rigged Norfolk shrimp boat for sailing on the River Deben. They now live at Woodbridge. Taking many holidays in Switzerland, until the arrival of old age the couple's interests included cross-country skiing in the winter months, and they continue with mountain walks in the summer. Padfield also sketches and paints in watercolours.[12]



Naval history

Second World War


Selected articles


  1. Pacific Islands Monthly Volume 30 (1960), issues 7–12, p. 84
  2. Warwick Charlton, The Voyage of Mayflower II (Cassell and Co., 1957), p. viii
  3. Alexander Stilwell, The Trafalgar Companion (2005), p. iii
  4. Sea Breezes, Volumes 29–30 (1960), p. 141
  5. 1 2 Peter Padfield biography at, accessed 18 October 2015
  6. 'The Titanic and the Californian by Peter Padfield' in Saturday Review Volume 49 (1966), p. 46
  7. Eugene L. Rasor, The Titanic: Historiography and Annotated Bibliography (2001), p. 53
  8. Dönitz: the Last Führer (1984)
  9. Himmler: Reichsführer-SS (1990)
  10. Hess: Flight for the Führer (1991), and Hess: the Führer's Disciple (1993)
  11. 2003 Maritime Media Awards Winners and Nominees at, accessed 28 October 2015
  12. 1 2 3 PETER PADFIELD Naval Historian and Biographer at, accessed 18 October 2015
  13. Nigel Jones, Hess, Hitler & Churchill by Peter Padfield, review in The Daily Telegraph dated 4 October 2013 online, accessed 19 October 2015
  14. Kerry Bolton, introduction to Twilight Over England by William Joyce (2013), p. 32, citing Jasper Copping, 'Nazis "offered to leave Western Europe for free hand to attack USSR"' in The Daily Telegraph dated 26 September 2013
  15. The Society for Nautical Research Annual Report (1960), p. 32
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