Ian Pfennigwerth

Australian Naval Historian

Australia Naval History Australian Naval History

Ian Pfennigwerth – Biography

Naval Historian

Ian Pfennigwerth was awarded a PhD by the University of Newcastle in 2005. Previously he had spent 35 years in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in seagoing, staff and overseas postings, his last twelve years being spent primarily in the intelligence sphere.

He commanded the guided missile destroyer HMAS Perth II, served as Director of Naval Intelligence for three years and was the Defence Attaché in Beijing for two. Resigning in 1992, he built a consultancy in Asian business development for the Australian ITC sector.

Since 2002, Ian has worked in his third career, researching Australia’s naval history, which he interprets broadly to mean the history of the influence of navies on the discovery, development and defence of Australia and its interests. Besides sharing the results of his research through his books and articles, Ian believes that making presentations to community groups is the most effective way of acquainting Australians with key elements of their naval history, concepts that are new to most. This is not ‘sea blindness’ as some claim, but a manifestation of the deep gaps in the teaching and appreciation of history in this country by the general public. (See Current Issues)

His eight published books have cemented his reputation in the field. He won the inaugural Tenix HMAS Perth Award for 2008-2010, resulting in a comparative study of the origins, construction and service of the RAN ships named Arunta and Warramunga. In August 2010 Ian was awarded the Australian Defence Force Academy History Fellowship to research and write the history of the Academy, and this was published in December 2012.

From 2006 to 2012 Ian edited the Naval Historical Society of Australia’s Journal of Australian Naval History, and he has contributed the naval chapters to the three books edited by Peter Dean of the Australian National University on Australia at war in 1942-45, published by the Cambridge University Press.

Ian’s latest book is the first volume of two on honours and awards presented to Australian naval people since 1900. Titled Bravo Zulu (navalese for ‘Well done!’) it provides the background stories of the recipients and their awards. Overshadowed by the achievements of others selected for prominence by the media and sidelined by campaigns calling for the ‘correction’ of apparent anomalies in awards made, the deeds, service and achievements of more than 4,000 Australian naval men and women across 115 years are now revealed, many for the first time. The video clip above introduces the project and its outcomes and Bravo Zulu’s contents are described more fully in the ‘Ian’s New Books’ page. Publication of the second volume in the first half of 2018 will bring Ian’s naval history career to a most satisfying conclusion.

Ian is a regular guest of community groups such as Probus and Rotary to whom he makes presentations on naval topics. These are tremendous opportunities to acquaint Australians with elements of their naval history that, for the most part, are new concepts to many.

Henceforward Ian will be involved in supporting efforts to improve the education of Australians on elements of their naval history – which is much more than battles at sea – and encouraging others to become in involved in working in this important part of the Australian story.