At the beginning of World War II, Vice Admiral Tovey was commander, Light Forces, Mediterranean Fleet. He demonstrated great skill leading 5 light cruisers and 17 destroyers against the Italian main fleet in the Battle of Calabria on 9 July 1940. In October 1940, Prime Minister Winston L. S. Churchill named Tovey to replace Sir Charles Forbes as commander in chief (CinC), Home Fleet. In this post, Tovey led the hunt for the German battleship Bismarck. He commanded in person aboard the battleship King George V when she and Rodney pummeled the Bismarck into a burning wreck on 26 May 1941. Despite one mistake when he thought the Bismarck far north of her actual position, he had conducted the operation well.
Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 and the extension of British and U.S. aid to the USSR, Tovey's Home Fleet had to deal with attacks on Allied convoys to Murmansk and Archangel by German U-boats, bombers, and surface ships based in Norway. The difficult assignment of defending the convoys was largely accomplished, save for convoy PQ 17 in July 1942. At that time, Tovey was under orders to keep the main fleet clear of German air bases and so could do little as the convoy was savaged.
Tovey was part of another controversial episode, the struggle to secure B-24 bombers for convoy escort. He insisted that the key to an Allied victory was the Battle of the Atlantic, and he harried the Admiralty with calls for long-range aircraft to counter the U-boats. This made him very unpopular with Churchill, who was enthusiastic about strategic bombing. In May 1943, just as the Atlantic battle was being won in no small part due to the aircraft Tovey had been demanding, Churchill replaced him as CinC Home Fleet. Tovey then assumed the post of CinC The Nore. He was on the short list to be first sea lord in 1945 but was passed over as being "too obstinate" and retired. Tovey was made a baron in 1946. He later served four years as a lay official in the Church of England. He died in Funchal, Madeira, on 12 January 1971.
Barnett, Correlli. Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War. New York: W. W. Norton, 1991.; Roskill, Stephen. Churchill and the Admirals. New York: Collins, 1977.