Hugh Sinclair

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Admiral Sir

Hugh Sinclair

The British Naval Campaign in the Baltic, 1918-1919 Q19353.jpg
Sinclair in a carriage in Tallinn
Born18 August 1873
Southampton, Hampshire, England
Died4 November 1939 (aged 66)
London, England
Occupation Intelligence officer
Awards KCB
Espionage activity
AllegianceUnited Kingdom Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Service branch Secret Intelligence Service (SIS/MI6)
Service years1923–1939
Rank Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service

Admiral Sir Hugh Francis Paget Sinclair, KCB (18 August 1873 – 4 November 1939), known as Quex Sinclair, was a British intelligence officer. He was Director of British Naval Intelligence between 1919 and 1921, and he subsequently helped to set up the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, commonly MI6) and GCHQ.



Sinclair was educated at Stubbington House School and joined the Royal Navy as a cadet aged 13 on 15 July 1886. [1] [2] He was promoted to lieutenant on 31 December 1894. [3]

He entered the Naval Intelligence Division at the beginning of the First World War. He became Director of Naval Intelligence in February 1919 and Chief of the Submarine Service in 1921. [4] He became the second director of SIS in 1923. He was promoted vice-admiral on 3 March 1926 and full admiral on 15 May 1930. [5] [6] Sinclair also founded GC&CS, later to be known as GCHQ in 1919. [7]

Beginning in 1919 he attempted to absorb the counterintelligence service MI5 into the SIS to strengthen Britain's efforts against Bolshevism, an idea that was finally rejected in 1925. The SIS remained small and underfunded during the interwar years. [2] By 1936, Sinclair realised that the Gestapo had penetrated several SIS stations and Claude Dansey, who had been removed from his station in Rome, set up Z Organization, intended to work independently of the compromised SIS. [8]

In 1938, with a second war looming, Sinclair set up Section D, dedicated to sabotage. In spring 1938, using £6,000 of his own money, he bought Bletchley Park to be a wartime intelligence station. [9]

Sinclair was asked in December 1938 to prepare a dossier on Adolf Hitler, for the attention of Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, and Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister. [10] In the dossier, which was received poorly by Sir George Mounsey, the Foreign Office assistant undersecretary, who believed that it did not gel with Britain's policy of appeasement, Sinclair described Hitler as possessing the characteristics of "fanaticism, mysticism, ruthlessness, cunning, vanity, moods of exaltation and depression, fits of bitter and self-righteous resentment; and what can only be termed a streak of madness; but with it all there is a great tenacity of purpose, which has often been combined with extraordinary clarity of vision". [11]

Sinclair became seriously ill with cancer, causing Alexander Cadogan to note on 19 October 1939, that he was "going downhill". On 29 October, Sinclair underwent an operation for his cancer and died on 4 November 1939, aged 66, five days before the Venlo incident. [12]


Hugh was the son of Admiral Frederick Beauchamp Paget Seymour, 1st Baron Alcester [13] and Agnes Sinclair. In his will, Frederick Seymour, left the balance of his estate to Agnes Sinclair for her lifetime. On her death, two fifths were left to Frederick Charles Horace Sinclair and one fifth each to Hugh Francis Paget Sinclair, Claude Hamilton Sinclair and Evelyn Beauchamp Sinclair. [14]

Hugh married, in 1907, Gertrude Attenborough and had two sons. They were divorced in 1920. [15] [16]

Awards and decorations

Medals of Sir Hugh Sinclair on display at Bletchley Park The medals of Sir Hugh Sinclair on display at Bletchley Park, May 2023.jpg
Medals of Sir Hugh Sinclair on display at Bletchley Park

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  1. National Archives, Ref: ADM 196 141 96
  2. 1 2 Christopher Andrew, "Sinclair, Sir Hugh Francis Paget (1873–1939)", rev. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography , Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2008
  3. National Archives, Ref: ADM 196 89 78
  4. "Senior Royal Navy Appointments" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 March 2012. Retrieved 6 September 2015.
  5. "No. 33139". The London Gazette . 5 March 1926. p. 1650.
  6. "No. 33606". The London Gazette . 16 May 1930. p. 3069.
  7. Johnson, John (1997). The Evolution of British Sigint: 1653–1939. HMSO. p. 44. ASIN   B002ALSXTC.
  8. M. R. D. Foot, "Dansey, Sir Claude Edward Marjoribanks (1876–1947)", rev. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2008
  9. Michael Smith, Station X, Channel 4 Books, 1998. ISBN   0-330-41929-3, p. 20
  10. "Spy secrets failed to win Whitehall's trust". Financial Times. 31 March 2005. Retrieved 1 July 2012.
  11. Foreign Office files Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  12. Andrew. pp. 436–438.
  13. Sinclair family papers - Royal Museums Greenwich|
  14. Berrow's Worcester Journal (Worcester, England), Saturday, 18 May 1895; pg. 2; Issue 10517
  15. The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Dec 22, 1920; pg. 4
  16. National Archives, Ref: J 77/1688/2518. Divorce Court File: 2518.
  17. Royal Navy Medal Rolls 1793-1955, Ref: ADM171-61
  18. "No. 12947". The Edinburgh Gazette . 5 June 1916. p. 980.
  19. "No. 31038". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 November 1918. p. 14091.
  20. "No. 31063". The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 December 1918. p. 14685.
  21. "No. 34166". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 May 1935. p. 3594.
  22. King George VI 1937 Coronation Medal Roll, Ref: QLIB5-7
Military offices
Preceded by Director of Naval Intelligence
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chief of the Submarine Service
Succeeded by
Government offices
Preceded by Chief of the SIS
Succeeded by