Retired Navy Vice Adm. George L. Russell, 78, former deputy chief of naval operations and Navy judge advocate general, died of cancer Wednesday at Bethesda Naval Hospital.

Adm. Russell was judge advocate general from 1948 to 1962. He then commanded a cruiser division in the Mediterranean and submarines in the Pacific before serving as deputy chief of naval operations for administration from 1955 to 1958.

He retired from the Navy in 1972, after serving four years as commandant of the 12th Naval District, with headquarters near San Francisco.

During World War II, he was flag secretary to Fleet Adm. Ernest King from 1942 to 1944, who was then chief of naval operations.

Later in the war, Adm. Russell commanded Submarine Squadron 10 in the Pacific.

Born in Ashtabula, Ohio, he grew up in Middleburg, Vt. He was a 1921 graduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis and later of the Navy submarine school. He then served aboard subs and commanded the submarine Plunger for three years.

Adm. Russell was an accomplished musician, and was once described as "one of the Navy's best 'hot-lick' banjo players" by The Washington Post.

He began playing the banjo at the Naval Academy. Adm. Russell said at one time that his ukulele-playing roommate had a bad ear for music, "so I joined in, in self-defense."

He played at officers' club jam sessions, church bazaars, and theater shows in Falls Church, as well as at Navy Relief functions.

His first wife, the former Katharine Burrage, died in 1974.

Survivors include his second wife, Dorothy F., of the home in Chevy Chase; a daughter, Anne C. Sednaoui, of McLean; two sons, Thomas H., of Brandon, Vt., and William B., of New York City, and 10 grandchildren.