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Duff, Sir Alexander Ludoviclocked

  • H. G. Thursfield
  • , revised by Marc Brodie

Duff, Sir Alexander Ludovic (1862–1933), naval officer, was born at Knockleith, Aberdeenshire, on 20 February 1862, the fourth son and seventh of the fourteen children of Colonel James Duff (b. 1820), of Knockleith, and his wife, Jane Bracken, daughter of Alan Colquhoun Dunlop, of Edinburgh. He entered the navy as a cadet on Britannia in 1875, and served as midshipman in the Mediterranean from 1877 to 1881. He served as sub-lieutenant in the royal yacht Victoria and Albert, and was promoted to lieutenant in September 1884, serving on the China station for two years in the Agamemnon.

Having qualified as torpedo lieutenant, Duff served for three years in the Imperieuse, flagship of the China station, and afterwards (1891) in the Blake, flagship of the North America station, and the torpedo depot-ship Vulcan. He was promoted commander in 1897. After two years in command of the destroyer Bat on training service at Devonport, he joined the cruiser St George as executive officer. He was promoted captain in 1902 and became flag captain in the battleship Albemarle, flagship of the rear-admiral, first in the Mediterranean and later in the Channel Fleet. On 3 September 1886 he married his cousin Janet Douglas (d. 1908), daughter of Garden William Duff, of Hatton Castle, Aberdeenshire. They had two daughters. On 10 January 1924 he married (Alice) Marjorie, who survived him, daughter of Charles Hill-Whitson, of Parkhill, Perthshire. They had no children.

In 1905 Duff became naval assistant to the controller of the navy for three years, then returned to sea service in command of the battleship Temeraire. In 1910 he was appointed commodore of the naval barracks at Portsmouth for a year before becoming director of naval mobilization (entitled director of the mobilization division after the creation of the naval war staff in 1912), and he continued to hold this appointment after his promotion to rear-admiral in March 1913. In October 1914 he returned to sea service as rear-admiral, 4th battle squadron in the Grand Fleet. The commander-in-chief, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, recognizing Duff's technical abilities, put him in charge, jointly with Rear-Admiral Arthur Cavenagh Leveson, of experiments with devices for defending ships from submarine mines and with other inventions; during the battle of Jutland, Duff flew his flag in the Superb.

When in December 1916 Jellicoe left the fleet to become first sea lord in order to cope with the immense problem of the U-boat war, he took Duff with him to the Admiralty as director of the anti-submarine division which was then formed in the naval staff. Duff formulated the detailed proposals which finally led to the adoption of the convoy system, as well as many other important initiatives in this area, which provided much improved protection for British vessels from the submarines. Six months later he joined the Board of Admiralty with the title of assistant chief of the naval staff, with specific responsibility across all divisions for issues concerning anti-submarine warfare. With others, Duff threatened to resign after Jellicoe's dismissal in 1917, but pertinently commented that it was the muddled approach and arguing within the Admiralty that 'put us entirely in the wrong and the politicians were quick to seize it' (Marder, 4.345).

Duff was promoted vice-admiral in 1918 and appointed KCB. On leaving the Admiralty in 1919 he was appointed commander-in-chief of the China station and while there convened a conference with the commanders-in-chief of adjoining stations which recommended the establishment of the naval base at Singapore. He was promoted admiral in 1921 and relinquished the China command the following year. He was appointed CB (civil in 1912 and military in 1916), GCB in 1926, KCVO in 1922, and GBE in 1924. For his services he was awarded, among other foreign orders, the commandership of the Légion d'honneur and the American DSM. He retired in 1925, and settled at Copdock, Ipswich. He died in London on 22 November 1933 and was cremated at Golders Green on 24 November. His ashes were scattered at sea off Harwich.


  • The Times (23 Nov 1933)
  • The Times (25 Nov 1933)
  • A. J. Marder, From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow: the Royal Navy in the Fisher era, 1904–1919, 5 vols. (1961–70)
  • J. Terraine, Business in great waters: the U-boat wars, 1916–1945 (1989)
  • J. Jellicoe, The crisis of the naval war (1920)
  • private information (1949)


  • NMM, corresp. and papers


  • W. Stoneman, photograph, 1917, NPG
  • J. A. M. Hay, oils, 1925, NMM
  • W. Stoneman, photograph, 1931, NPG
  • photograph, repro. in Marder, From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, vol. 4, facing p. 41
  • photograph, repro. in The Times (23 Nov 1933), 18

Wealth at Death

£8898 11s. 0d.: confirmation, 8 Feb 1934, CCI

J. Burke, , 4 vols. (1833–8); new edn as , 3 vols. [1843–9] [many later edns]