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Rear Admiral Leonard Warren Murray, CB, CBE (22 June 1896 – 25 November 1971) was a Canadian naval officer who played a significant role in the Battle of the Atlantic. He commanded the Newfoundland Escort Force from 1941 to 1943, and from 1943 to the end of the war was Commander-in-Chief, Canadian Northwest Atlantic. He was the only Canadian to lead an Allied theatre of operations during World War II.

Early years to the end of World War I

Leonard Warren Murray was born at Grantonmarker, Nova Scotiamarker, on 22 June 1896. His father Simon Dickson Murray (1859–1936) was a direct descendant of the Scottish immigrants who travelled to Pictou Countymarker on the Hector in 1773, and his mother was Jane Falconer (1868–1968). Simon was mid-level manager in various enterprises in Pictou Landingmarker, and Leonard grew up close to the water. At 15 years of age, Murray joined the first intake of recruits into the Royal Naval College of Canadamarker in Halifaxmarker, which had just been created by the Naval Service Act of 4 May 1910.
The first winter at the naval college was absolute hell, we had no uniforms, we arrived in what we stood up in and had to send home for further clothing. A case of measles broke out very shortly and we were quarantined, and the only time we got out of the college was when we went to the skating rink to play hockey; and that was a great relief.
Immediately after graduating in January 1913, he served as a Midshipman on the Royal Navy vessel HMS Berwick on duty protecting British interests in the Mexican Revolution, and then aboard HMS Essex. At the outbreak of World War I he was assigned to the protected cruiser HMCS Niobe, the largest ship in the Canadian navy during World War I. Four of his classmates were sent to the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Good Hope and were killed off the coast of South America on 1 November 1914 at the Battle of Coronel—thereby becoming the first Canadian-service casualties of World War I. Murray served briefly as Flotilla Gunnery Officer on HMCS Margaret and then in February 1916 was promoted to Sub-Lieutenant while aboard HMCS Rainbow. He spent the last two years of World War I as Assistant Navigating Officer on HMS Leviathan, from January 1917 as Lieutenant, where he set up convoys across the Atlantic to outwit German U-boats—invaluable experience for the Battle of the Atlantic more than 20 years later. Murray ended the war in the North Sea aboard HMS Agincourt, and witnessed the surrender of the German fleet at Scapa Flowmarker.

Between the wars

After World War I, Murray served briefly on HMS Ithuriel, HMS Calcutta and HMS Crescent, then did a full tour aboard HMS Aurora as Navigation Officer, until HMS Aurora was paid off in 1921 due to naval budget cuts. Leonard married Jean Chaplin Scott in Westmount, Quebec on 10 October 1921, and with the Royal Canadian Navy depleted of ships on which he could serve, at this point he considered a civilian career and in 1924 qualified as master of a foreign-going vessel. Deciding to remain with the navy, Murray joined many of his colleagues and spent the inter-war years alternating between shore assignments as a training officer with the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve, and serving aboard Royal Navy vessels, which in Murray's case included HMS Revenge (during a tour in 1923 in Turkey where he befriended Lord Louis Mountbatten), and HMS Queen Elizabeth. In January 1925 Murray was promoted to Lieutenant-Commander and spent two years at the Canadian Navy's main training base at HMCS Stadaconamarker. In 1927 Murray returned to the UK where he did a tour aboard HMS Tiger and then spent 1928 studying at the Royal Naval Staff College in the UK. Upon return to Canada in January 1929, Murray was promoted to Commander and became the senior naval officer at CFB Esquimaltmarker. In notes for a lecture to RMC Kingstonmarker in 1932, his interest in the offensive merit of convoys over patrols is evident:

The institution of a system of convoy requires a reorientation of the protective forces. Instead of patrolling the focal areas [where vessels congregate near ports or narrow passages], the group of ships forming the convoy is escorted by an armed escort capable of dealing with any possible scale of attack. This may mean that an increase in the protective force is necessary, but ... the protective force is more definite and concrete than in the patrolling method. In the convoy method ... it is not possible for an enemy to attack without laying herself open to attack and possible destruction.

From June 1932 Murray was assigned for a year as Naval Staff Officer to National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa, before setting back to sea for two years, commanding the small fleet of East Coast destroyers from the bridge
HMS Iron Duke
the HMCS Saguenay.At this point, in mid-1934, Murray was appointed to a new position of Senior Naval Officer, Halifax, a position that combined the Commander of the East Coast with the Command of the Naval Dockyardmarker in Halifax. In June 1936 Murray was sent back to the UK to work in the Admiralty Operations Division, and in December 1936 he started his final tour with the Royal Navy serving as Executive Officer aboard the former battleship HMS Iron Duke, where he participated in the 1937 Coronation Fleet Review. In August 1938, in the middle of a final year at the Imperial Defence Collegemarker, Murray was promoted to Captain. And on the eve of World War II, when the Royal Navy was mobilised, Murray returned to Ottawa as a Captain, and Director Naval Operations and Training.

World War II and the Battle of the Atlantic

At the outbreak of World War II, he was appointed Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff. In this capacity he made a secret visit to the UK in March 1940 to negotiate the construction of destroyers in the UK for the Canadian Navy, and was a founding member of the Permanent Joint Board on Defence. In October 1940 he went back to sea as Captain of HMCS Assiniboine and Commodore Commanding Halifax Force, effectively in command of five Canadian warships that were dispatched to the UK in January 1941 to serve convoy duty. On 31 May 1941, he was promoted to Commodore and put in charge of the Newfoundland Escort Force (NEF), and subsequently appointed Rear Admiral on 2 December 1941.

Conditions were terrible that winter. Groups worked on a 35 day cycle which entailed 29 days away from St John’s, 27 days away from fresh bread, 25 days away from fresh meat, added to which at the northern end of their beat there was no sunlight to speak of in the winter. We had to revert to the old rations of Nelson’s time, barreled salt beef with lime juice or tomato juice to scare away scurvy.

The NEF was reorganized in February 1942 as the Mid-Ocean Escort Force (MOEF). On 9 September 1942, Murray was appointed to Commanding Officer Atlantic Coast, with his Headquarters in Halifax, and effective command over 322 armed ships. As a direct result of the Atlantic Convoy Conference of 1–12 March 1943, where it was agreed that the US Navy would concentrate on the South Atlantic leaving Canada and the UK to cover the North Atlantic, on 1 April 1943 Murray was made Commander-in-Chief Canadian Northwest Atlantic. Headquartered in Halifax, he commanded all Allied air and naval forces involved in convoy protection between Canada and the coast of Ireland until the end of the war with Germany in 1945.
Atlantic Convoy 1942

In order to encourage the captains of the merchant ships of all countries which carry the lifeblood of the U.K., I made it a point to attend the briefing conference of all captains and chief engineers before their departure. During the winter of '42-'43, when sinkings were at their worst, I could see when I told them of the measures by escort and air cover that were being taken for their protection and safety; I could see that they knew very well and that they knew I knew in spite of my brave words, that anything up to 25 per cent of them would probably not arrive in the U.K. in their own ships, and that probably half of that number would not arrive in the U.K. at all. But there was never a waver in their resolve.

A personal highlight of this period occurred on 14 September 1943, when Murray gave an impromptu guided tour of Halifax to the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Churchill and his family, together with the First Sea Lord, boarded HMS Renown in Halifax harbour for their return voyage to the United Kingdom following consultations with US President Roosevelt. Murray was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1943 King's Birthday Honours, and Companion of the Order of the Bath the following year.

As the Allies gained the upper hand in the Battle of the Atlantic throughout 1943 and 1944, attacks on convoys diminished and the amount of escort cover was reduced, but the hard work of planning and organising convoys never ceased. By May 1944 British participation in convoy escorts was withdrawn entirely, and Canada was left with sole responsibility until September 1944. Murray's moment of singular pride came in this period, when the largest convoy of World War II, HXS300 sailed for the UK via New York on 17 July 1944, with over 160 ships (1,500,000 tons). It arrived in the UK, without incident, on 3 August 1944.

VE Day and early retirement

Admiral Murray was controversially blamed for allowing sailors shore leave in Halifax on VE Day, a decision that is generally considered to have contributed to the Halifax Riot of 7–8 May 1945. James Lorimer Ilsley, the Acting Prime Minister of Canada, responded quickly to the situation and on 10 May appointed Justice Kellock to chair a Royal Commission into the disorders. On 12 May, Murray was abruptly removed from his command; and the next day a Naval Board of Inquiry under Admiral Brodeur was appointed to investigate naval participation in the disorders. The Kellock Commission placed considerable blame upon the Navy and in particular upon the Admiral, for not having exercised better control over the sailors' celebrations ashore. The Naval Inquiry's findings were more balanced, finding that the riot was caused by several factors, including a failure in the naval command. Murray himself felt that responsibility lay mainly with the civil authorities of Halifax, and he was frustrated that the Kellock Commission effectively placed the Navy on trial without providing him or his officers with an opportunity to defend themselves. He asked for a court martial to clear his name, but this was never agreed. The Government made an attempt to leave the Admiral with his honour intact:

It would be a regrettable thing if, resultant upon the Halifax disturbances, the truly great services of this officer and those under his command were to be forgotten by the people of Canada.

But the Admiral was never assigned another command. Concluding that he was being held up as a scapegoat, and feeling bitter that the country and the Navy had abandoned him suddenly at the moment of the Navy's greatest accomplishment, Murray left Canada for the United Kingdom in September 1945, and was officially discharged from the Navy on 14 March 1946.

Later years

Murray remained active in his retirement, qualifying as a lawyer on 17 November 1949, and with his speciality in maritime law he represented the English government at the 1950 enquiry into the accidental sinking of the SS Hopestar. He was deeply involved with his local church, and served as a rural councillor as well as on school boards. His love of the sea was kept alive by keen membership in the Bar Yacht Club where he was racing Captain for ten years, and a leadership role with the Sea Scouts—coincidentally carried back to Canada where a Canadian Sea Cadet Troop in New Glasgowmarker, near his home town, is named in his honour. Murray stopped practicing law in 1960 to care better for his ailing wife, who died in 1962. Following a chance meeting on a Greek cruise, Leonard remarried on 23 August 1963, in Buxtonmarker to an opthalmic surgeon Antonina Schcheyteenin—who quickly came to be known as Nina Murray. He dabbled in British politics, becoming a fervent member of the Conservative Party and ran unsuccessfully as a candidate in municipal council elections in Buxton in 1965, before turning his attention to a spirited debate with the Canadian military establishment, the media and Prime Minister Pearson wherein he opposed the 1966 integration of the Canadian Armed Forces. Although clearly feeling that Canada had abandoned him following the Halifax Riot, Murray maintained his ties to Canada and last visited in 1970, when he participated in the 25th anniversary celebrations of the Battle of the Atlantic.

Leonard died peacefully in Buxton on 25 November 1971, and his ashes were placed in St Paul's Churchmarker in Halifax on 17 September 1972. Since his death, a number of commemorative steps have been taken, including the placing of a memorial in his honour in Pictou, a collection of his medals and related naval artifacts in the Canadian Naval Operations School in Halifax, and the naming of several naval buildings.


Except for the few months at sea in Assiniboine, my war work was a solid slog, mostly at a desk, averaging 15 hours a day with frequently a full 24. My job was to obtain the greatest possible result from relatively inexperienced personnel. There was little opportunity for anyone to step on another’s toes. They were spread too thinly and there was a more responsible job for each as soon as he felt confident of his ability to take it on. In the autumn of 1941 young volunteer reserve officers who had never seen salt water before the war took command of corvettes manned by 88 men—the number of white and black keys on a piano and each with his own peculiar note—and took their full part in the Battle of the Atlantic.

Experience had taught me this: to find out what you’re capable of, it is only necessary to get a chance to do it—and someone else must have enough confidence in you to provide that chance. In my dealings with the young RCNVR captains I did my best to give them the opportunity to find their own feet and they did it. Once having tasted success they never looked back. What a blessing that we had the bright young peoples to accept this kind of responsibility.


  1. Cameron, pp. 10–13.
  2. Tucker p. 140.
  3. Taped interview with Murray at National Defence HQ in May 1970, transcribed in Library and Archives of Canada, Admiral Murray papers, Collection MG30 E207.
  4. Original graduation certificate in Library and Archives of Canada, Admiral Murray papers, Collection MG30 E207
  5. Naval Personnel records of Leonard Murray in Library and Archives Canada AE42-14-29 and 60-M-11 Vol 3.
  6. Tucker, p. 221
  7. Although this does not appear in his RCN service record, the Murray papers at LAC contain his navigation notes from a voyage in late 1919, and a period of service from 31 October - 1 December 1919 is quoted in a letter of 1924 applying for a civilian Master's license.
  8. Cameron, p. 34.
  9. Lecture notes from 1932, in Library and Archives of Canada, Admiral Murray papers, Collection MG30 E207.
  10. Murray's Standing Orders and navigation records for this command are held in Library and Archives of Canada, Admiral Murray papers, Collection MG30 E207.
  11. The orders and arrangements for the Coronation Fleet review are in Library and Archives of Canada, Admiral Murray papers, Collection MG30 E207.
  12. Notes prepared by Murray for CBC interview in 1967, Library and Archives of Canada, Admiral Murray papers, Collection MG30 E207.
  13. Full account of the Renown's voyage to the UK and of the arrangements for Churchill and family are found in a telex in Library and Archives of Canada, Admiral Murray papers, Collection MG30 E207.
  14. Douglas, p. 184.
  15. Redman, Stanley R.
  16. Board of Enquiry held in HMCS Stadacona 15–21 May 1945 to investigate the circumstances leading up to Naval Participation in the Recent Disorders in Halifax and the extent and nature of any breaches of discipline by Naval Personnel, 21 May 1945, Canadian National Archives reference RG24 vol. 11208
  17. Personal correspondence in Library and Archives of Canada, Admiral Murray papers, Collection MG30 E207
  18. Letter of 29 May 1945 to Vice Admiral Jones, Library and Archives of Canada, Admiral Murray papers, Collection MG30 E207
  19. Ministry of National Defence Press Release, 18 August 1945
  20. Original documentation in Library and Archives of Canada, Admiral Murray papers, Collection MG30 E207
  21. Copy of the full legal brief is in Library and Archives of Canada, Admiral Murray papers, Collection MG30 E207
  22. Murray, Nina. Ninachka—The Making of an Englishwoman?, Hamilton Books, Maryland 2008, ISBN 0-7618-3791-6
  23. Cameron, p. 300.
  24. Cameron, p. 294.


  • Boutilier, James A., RCN In Retrospect — 1910–1968, University of British Columbia Press 1982, ISBN 0-7748-0152-2
  • Cameron, James M., Murray: The Martyred Admiral, Lancelot Press 1980, ISBN 0-88999-145-6
  • Douglas, William A.B., Roger Sarty and Michael Whitby, No Higher Purpose: The Official Operational History of the Royal Canadian Navy in the Second World War, 1939–1943, Volume 2 Part 1, Vanwell Publishing 2002, ISBN 1-55125-061-6
  • Douglas, William A.B., Roger Sarty and Michael Whitby, A Blue Water Navy: The Official Operational History of the Royal Canadian Navy in the Second World War, 1943–1945, Volume 2 Part 2, Vanwell Publishing 2007, ISBN 1-55125-069-1
  • Edwards, Kenneth, Seven Sailors, Collins 1945
  • Library and Archives of Canada, Admiral Murray papers, Collection MG30 E207
  • Milner, Marc, Rear-Admiral Leonard Warren Murray: Canada's Most Important Operational Commander, in The Admirals : Canada's senior naval leadership in the twentieth century, Richard Gimblett, Peter Haydon and Michael Whitby, eds. Dundurn Press 2006, ISBN 1-55002-580-5
  • Murray, Nina, Ninachka — The Making of an Englishwoman?, Hamilton Books 2008, ISBN 0-7618-3791-6
  • Redman, Stanley R., Open Gangway: The (Real) Story of the Halifax Navy Riot, Lancelot Press 1981, ISBN 0-88999-150-2
  • Sarty, Roger, Rear-Admiral LW Murray and the Battle of the Atlantic, in Warrior Chiefs, Bernd Horn and Stephen Harris, eds. Dundurn Press 2001, ISBN 1-55002-351-9
  • Tucker, Gibert Norman, Naval Service of Canada: Volume I: Origins and Early Years, King's Printer, Ottawa 1952
  • Leonard Warren Murray collection description online, from Library and Archives Canadamarker

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