An outstanding officer and acclaimed naval historian and strategist

An outstanding officer and acclaimed naval historian and strategist

By Peter Jones

REAR ADMIRAL JAMES GOLDRICK: August 8, 1958 – March 17, 2023

Rear Admiral James Goldrick was a naval officer of exceptional intellect and influence, who became Australia’s most internationally acclaimed naval historian.

Goldrick was born in 1958 to Caroline and Peter Goldrick. Caroline studied history at Sydney University, while Peter was a naval fighter pilot who served in both World War II and the Korean War, retiring as a Captain. Goldrick and his sisters Frances and Phillipa enjoyed a gregarious and intellectually stimulating household. A layer of naval discipline accompanied frequent moves necessitated by service life. Goldrick attended a series of mostly Jesuit schools which suited his precocious intellect. His schoolmate Bishop Greg Homeming would remain a lifelong friend.

Rear Admiral James Goldrick returning a General Salute.

Rear Admiral James Goldrick returning a General Salute.

In 1974, 15-year-old Goldrick joined the Royal Australian Naval College at Jervis Bay, as a cadet midshipman. His class of 28 included two Kiwis and developed a strong bond against the early vicissitudes of naval college life. In an environment that spawned nicknames, he was simply known as James. He was enthusiastic about all things maritime, and he made model warships from balsa wood which led to his first appearance in Navy News.

From early on, Goldrick demonstrated academic excellence and a knowledge of the navy beyond his years. In 1976 he and a small group of his classmates attended the University of NSW in Sydney to undertake arts degrees, while his other classmates commenced science, engineering or non-degree studies at Jervis Bay. This was at a time when humanities degrees were viewed with some suspicion in the service.

Illustrative of Goldrick’s intellectual aspirations is that while his classmates were the backbone of his university college’s social committee, he was writing his first book, The King’s Ships were at Sea: The War in the North Sea August 1914 – February 1915. In researching the book he established links with some of the leading international academics in this field. They included Jon Sumida, whose reappraisal of British gunnery innovations at that time was just starting to gain traction. The King’s Ships was one of the first books on the topic to incorporate these insights when it was published in 1984 by the US Naval Institute to very positive reviews.

Goldrick’s interests at university college were not confined to academics, and he met his future wife, Ruth Wilson, who was then studying to be a librarian. Their friendship was maintained after university by post, leading to their marriage in 1989.

James Goldrick at HMAS Watson in 1976.

James Goldrick at HMAS Watson in 1976.

Goldrick’s early sea career was punctuated by various stints with the Royal Navy. The first was in 1980 when he served in the patrol vessel Alderney and the frigate Sirius to obtain his bridge watchkeeping certificate. He returned to the UK for his principal warfare officer course in 1983, where he specialised in anti-submarine warfare. He stayed on for exchange service in the destroyer Liverpool.

Maritime history and contemporary naval affairs continued to be a driving force in Goldrick’s life. By early 1980s he was a frequent contributor to the Australian Naval Institute Journal, US Naval Institute Proceedings and the British Naval Review. Under the pseudonym Master Ned, His Letters From Australia in the latter journal were engaging and widely read. He won the Guinness Prize for the Review’s best article of the year twice. Goldrick was equally prolific in Proceedings, and this included writing an annual Asian navies review from 1982-1991 with classmate Peter Jones.

At this time he was also on the council of the British Naval Records Society, as well as providing comments and corrections to naval bible Jane’s Fighting Ships, for which he received the appreciated recompense of a complimentary copy. They served him well at sea. On one occasion in Sirius, Goldrick successfully identified a new Soviet surveillance vessel that had confounded the bridge staff because it was not in the intelligence summaries or their older copy of Jane’s.

Goldrick’s intelligence and remarkable powers of the pen did not go unnoticed. He was made aide de camp to the Governor-General, Sir Ninian Stephen, and was later research officer to the chief of naval staff, Vice Admiral Michael Hudson. He also served as officer in charge of the RAN’s warfare officer training, where he had the opportunity to positively influence younger officers embarking on their specialisation.

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During the 1980s and 1990s Goldrick was fruitfully collaborating with contemporaries interested in naval strategic and historical thought. At various times he served on the council of the Australian Naval Institute, and in 1989 he and successive research officers Tom Frame and Peter Jones were the driving force behind an influential naval history seminar held at the Australian War Memorial, which sought to promote a more in depth study of the RAN’s history. This resulted among other things in the 1992 book Reflections on the Royal Australian Navy, which James co-edited.

In 1992, unlike most high performing officers, Goldrick did not attend a staff course. Instead, Professor John Hattendorf encouraged James to apply to become a research scholar at the US Naval War College. His time at Newport began a long and profitable association with that institution and resulted in his second book, No Easy Answers: The Development of the Navies of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka 1945-96, which was published in 1997.

Goldrick’s sea service included command of the Darwin-based patrol boat Cessnock, executive officer of the destroyer Perth and twice commanding the frigate Sydney. As a commanding officer he was competent and even tempered, with a sincere interest in the welfare and advancement of his officers and sailors.

James Goldrick at Newport Rhode Island delivering the Hattendorf Prize Lecture.

James Goldrick at Newport Rhode Island delivering the Hattendorf Prize Lecture.

In 2002 he saw operational service commanding the multinational Maritime Interception Force in the Persian Gulf. He revelled in the complexity of that role, and made important tactical contributions to the UN Security Council’s sanction enforcement against Iraq.

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His senior shore appointments included chief staff officer to the chief of navy, director of the RAN Sea Power Centre, director general of military strategy, the commander of border protection command, twice commandant of the Australian Defence Force Academy, and commander of the Australian Defence College. Between 2005-2008 he also found time to be president of the Australian Naval Institute.

While at the Sea Power Centre Goldrick wrote the navy’s capstone document Australian Maritime Doctrine. He also played a key part in the creation of both the navy’s Sea Power and King-Hall history conferences. A particular aspect of this was bringing to these shores distinguished strategists and historians.

In all his naval appointments Goldrick made important contributions, but it was at the Defence Academy and the Defence College that he had the greatest impact on others through his example and an interest in their individual development. One such junior officer was the now-opposition minister for defence, Andrew Hastie. In his maiden speech he recalled Goldrick’s advice to him to build an interior intellectual life sustained by wide reading, writing and critical thinking. Goldrick also observed that your first command is about proving yourself to yourself, and that every subsequent command is about helping others prove themselves to themselves.

Rear Admiral James Goldrick AO CSC RAN reviews the graduates of Rankin division, 2011.

Rear Admiral James Goldrick AO CSC RAN reviews the graduates of Rankin division, 2011.

Goldrick retired from the Navy in 2012 and was soon lecturing at the Defence College he once headed as part of the Australian National University’s instructional team.

In 2015 he was a visiting fellow at All Souls College, University of Oxford. This allowed him to complete the first of two books for which he is most noted. That was Before Jutland: The Naval War in Northern European Waters August 1914 – February 1915. It was followed in 2018 by its companion After Jutland: The Naval War in Northern European Waters June 1916 – November 1918. International recognition followed. In 2020 he was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. Two years later he was awarded the prestigious US Hattendorf Prize for distinguished academic achievement in publishing original research in naval history.

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On his return from the US, Goldrick felt unwell and so began many rounds of treatment first for lymphoma and then leukaemia.

Goldrick was a mentor, shipmate and friend to many. His loss to the navy is irreplaceable. He is survived by his wife Ruth, sons Owen and Edmund and sister Frances.

Vice Admiral Peter Jones, ANI president

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