William Richmond Fell was born in Wellington, New Zealand, 31 January 1897, the son of Walter Fell and Margaret Richmond. He was educated at Wellington College, New Zealand; Crediton Grammar School, Devon, 1914-15; and the Royal Naval Engineering College, Keyham, 1915-16. He married Phyllis Munday in 1921 (divorced), with whom he had two sons, and later he married Jean Dunkerley.
He entered the Royal Navy, 1915, and served as a Midshipman in HMS Warsprite, 1916-17, including the Battle of Jutland. He was promoted Sub-Lieutenant and appointed to the P.11, a unit of the Dover Patrol engaged in escorting Channel convoys by day and patrolling the Dover mine barrage by night, 1917-18. He joined the submarine training establishment HMS Dolphin at Portsmouth, 1918. He served in submarines, 1918-39, in the Mediterranean and on the China Station, qualifying for command in 1925. He returned to HMS Dolphin as a training officer, 1931.
On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, he was in command of reserve submarines at Portland. He volunteered to serve with Q-Ships, or submarine decoy ships, 1940. During the Norwegian campaign, he commanded a group of five trawlers known as the Gubbins Flotilla, which was despatched to support soldiers landed in Norway under the leadership of Colonel Gubbins, April 1940. He was given command of the former Belgian cross-Channel steamer, Prince Charles, which was converted to an infantry assault ship, and led a small flotilla of similar vessels in the Vaagso raid, December 1941. He returned to submarines and set up a training base in western Scotland to work on the development of human torpedoes or 'chariots', 1942-3. He was also involved in the development of the midget submarines or X-craft, 1943, which were used in a successful attack on the Tirpitz in Altafjord, Norway, September 1943. He was promoted Captain and commanded HMS Bonaventure in midget submarine operations in home and Pacific waters, 1945-7. He joined the Boom Defence and Salvage Department at the Admiralty and organised salvage operations to clear wrecks from the coasts of the British Isles and the Mediterranean, 1948. He retired from the Navy in 1948. He was retained as a civilian by the Admiralty and continued to supervise salvage operations, 1948-60, most notably at Port Said after the Suez Crisis, 1956-7.
He returned to New Zealand in retirement, 1959. He died on 28 November 1981.
He was awarded the DSC, 1941, CBE, 1947, and created CMG, 1957.
His publications include: "The Sea Surrenders" (1960) and "The Sea Our Shield" (1966).
Papers comprising diaries, log books, correspondence, official papers and photographs
Including papers about the Second World War, 1939-45; post-war salvage operations, 1952-5; and salvage operations during the Suez Crisis, 1956-7
With diaries of Captain Fell's father, Dr Walter Fell, 1915
The papers were given to Churchill Archives Centre by Captain Fell, 1981.