Stephen Roskill

Stephen Wentworth Roskill
Born 1 August 1903
London, England
Died 4 November 1982
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Navy
Years of service 19211949
Rank Captain
Battles/wars Second World War
Awards Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Cross
Relations Eustace Roskill, Baron Roskill
Other work Royal Navy Official Historian of the Second World War
Senior Research Fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge University

Captain Stephen Wentworth Roskill, CBE, DSC, FBA, DLitt (1 August 1903 – 4 November 1982) was a senior career officer of the Royal Navy, serving during the Second World War and, after his enforced medical retirement, served as the official historian of the Royal Navy from 1949 to 1960. He is now chiefly remembered as a prodigious author of books on British maritime history.

The son of John Henry Roskill, K.C. a barrister, and Sybil Dilke, Stephen Roskill was born in London, England and joined the Royal Navy in 1917, attending the Royal Naval College at Osborne and then the Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, Devon. As a midshipman Roskillserved on the light cruiser Durban on the China Station before returning to practice gunnery at Greenwich and Portsmouth.

In 1930, he married Elizabeth Van den Bergh, with whom he had seven children. Roskill served at sea as gunnery officer of the carrier Eagle on the China Station from 1933–1935. Afterwards he instructed at the gunnery school HMS Excellent, and in 1936 he was given the prize gunnery appointment in the navy, that of the newly reconstructed dreadnought Warspite till 1939, was a member of the Naval Staff, 1939–1941, then served as executive officer of HMNZS Leander in 1941–1944.[Note 1]

On 13 July 1943 Leander was part of a task group of predominantly American warships off the Solomon Islands, when they engaged a force of Imperial Japanese Navy ships. During the action, Leander was torpedoed and severely damaged. For his actions in helping keep the ship afloat, Roskill was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. In March, 1944 he was promoted acting captain and sent to join the British Admiralty delegation in Washington, D.C. as chief staff officer for administration and weapons. He was the senior British observer at the Bikini Atomic tests in 1946, and served as Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence, 1946–48 before retiring as a captain, due to increasing deafness caused by exposure to gun detonations.

Career as a naval historian

On retiring from active service in 1948, Roskill was appointed by the Cabinet Office Historical Section to write the official naval history of the Second World War. His three volume work The War at Sea was published between 1954 and 1961.

In 1961, Roskill was elected a senior research fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, where he was instrumental in the foundation of the Churchill Archives Centre. The centre holds 180 boxes of Roskill's personal and research papers. After retirement, he was a visiting lecturer at several universities, including being Lees Knowles Lecturer in 1961, the Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1965, and Richmond Lecturer at Cambridge University in 1967. He was elected a vice president of the Navy Records Society in 1964 and an honorary vice president in 1974.

Honours and awards

Roskill was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on 21 March 1944 as commander in HMNZS Leander when she was torpedoed in the Pacific. In 1946 he was awarded the American Legion of Merit. He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1971 New Year Honours and received an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Cambridge University in 1970, from the University of Leeds in 1971, and from Oxford University in 1980. He was an elected a Fellow of The British Academy.

Dates of rank

Midshipman[1] Sub-lieutenant Lieutenant[1] Lieutenant-commander[1] Commander[1] Captain[1]
15 September 1921 30 July 1924 30 August 1925 30 August 1933 31 December 1938 30 June 1944


  1. The executive officer (XO) and second-in-command of a capital ship was known as "the commander".



  • Barnett, Correlli (2004). in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. 

Published works


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