The Grand Fleet
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    The Grand Fleet

    British Admiral John Rushworth Jellicoe was born in 1859 at Southampton, England. After serving in the First Peking Relief Expedition and the Boxer Rebellion, he commanded in various capacities until his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the British Grand Fleet on August 4, 1914. Admiral Jellicoe's command of the Royal Navy's most important fleet was highlighted by the need to contain Germany's new navy while simultaneously maintaining a decisive commercial blockade. Under these circumstances, it became imperative that the British Fleet not accept battle under anything less than favorable conditions. This resulted in accusations of timidity which were partially unjustified, he was afterall, probably the only individual on either side who could have lost the war in a single day! The Admiral led the largest fleet in the world through a period of enormous change, during which a number of new technologies threatened to sway the balance of power away from the battleships which composed a majority of British naval strength at the time. The mere fact that Jellicoe took the time to educate himself about these new technologies was commendable, although his somewhat inaccurate declarations regarding them showed that not all of the lessons were well taken.

    The Grand Fleet
    From the original 1919 release of this first hand account of the British Navy during World War One.

    THE writing of this record of the work of the Grand Fleet from the outbreak of war until the end of November, 1916, of which little has been heard by the nation hitherto, has helped to fill in days of leisure. The manuscript was finished by the early autumn of 1918, but publication was deferred for obvious reasons. When the armistice had been signed and the German Navy had, for all practical purposes, ceased to exist, I felt free to issue the book. The final revision has been done hastily owing to my early departure for the Dominions, and in the circumstances I hope I may rely on the indulgence of readers if any clerical errors have escaped me. In order to minimize the chances of such errors Mr. Archibald Hurd, to whom I am much indebted, has kindly read the proofs.

    The narrative necessarily includes an account of the organisation and development of the Grand Fleet, and its bases, by successive steps, after the hoisting of my flag on the outbreak of hostilities; and the manner in which the changing conditions of naval warfare were met is also dealt with.

    Admiral Mahan, amongst others, has truly said that whilst the principles of naval strategy are unchangeable,, experience in war and changes in the weapons with which war is waged may profoundly affect the application of those principles.

    The truth of this statement was shown in the Russo- Japanese war; in the short interval between 1904 and 1914 further great advances took place in the technique of warfare; these produced a striking influence on strategy and tactics during the late War.

    The reasons which made it necessary, during the War, to hide from public view the work of the Grand Fleet, no longer exist, and it will no doubt be of interest to the nation to learn something of its operations, especially as, for various justifiable reasons, few despatches were issued dealing with its activities. So far as the Battle Fleet was concerned, the Battle of Jutland was the one exception, and that despatch was written and published at a time when it was necessary to conceal a good deal from the enemy.

    As is inevitable, much of the information in this volume is of a technical character and, though interesting to seamen, may prove less so to the general reader. Those who take this view may decide that Chapters IV to X, inclusive, require only to be glanced at. Confidential matter, which it is still undesirable to make public, has been excluded from the book. Some of this may see the light in later years.

    The main portion of the book is written in narrative form, but where it is thought that an explanation may be useful as to the reasons which governed any particular movement or decision, such reasons are given in order that opportunity may be afforded the reader of understanding the purpose in view and the manner in which it was hoped to achieve it.

    In some parts of the book reference is made to the Germans being superior to us in material. There were many directions, however, in which war experience showed the correctness of our views and the wisdom of our pre-war policy. We did, in fact, obtain a margin of safety in the most essential type of vessel, the capital ship, and we did gain advantage from the heavier calibre of our guns. Naval policy is pursued in peace conditions under inevitable disadvantages in a democratic country, because there are many claims on the Exchequer. Reviewing our pre-war programmes of ship construction and equipment, and bearing in mind the unconsciousness of the nation generally as to the imminence of war, it is matter for satisfaction that the Boards of Admiralty from the beginning of the century were able to achieve so much, and that when at last war became inevitable the nation had in control of its destinies at Whitehall a First Lord and a First Sea Lord who, accepting their responsibility, mobilised the Fleet before war was actually declared, thus securing for us inestimable advantages, as, I hope, I have demonstrated in my record of the Grand Fleet. The years of strenuous work and training carried out by the officers and men of the Fleet, which should never be forgotten, had made of it a magnificent fighting machine, and bore ample fruit during the War.

    The Germans, in creating their Fleet, followed generally the British lead. In this book reference is made to the general efficiency of the German Navy and of the good design and fine equipment of their ships. These points were never questioned by British naval officers, and the shameful surrender of the host of the German ships in 1918 did not alter the opinions previously formed. That surrender was the result of broken moral.

    More than a hundred years after the Battle of Trafalgar, and after a century of controversy, the Admiralty considered it desirable to appoint a committee to decide whether that action was fought in accordance with the original intentions of the Commander-in-Chief, as embodied in his famous Memorandum. It is hoped that the facts recorded in this book, and the comments accompanying them, constitute a clear statement of the making of the Grand Fleet and the manner in which it endeavoured, whilst under my command, to fulfil its mission.


    January 9, 1919.

    The Naval Situation in May, 1916

    IT may not be out of place here to touch upon the general naval situation in the spring of 1916—that is, on the eve of the Battle of Jutland. What were the strategical conditions? To what extent was it justifiable to take risks with the Grand Fleet, particularly risks the full consequences of which could not be foreseen owing to the new conditions of naval warfare?

    The Grand Fleet included almost the whole of our available capital ships. There was very little in the way of reserve behind it. The battleships not included in the Grand Fleet were all of them pre-Dreadnoughts and therefore inferior fighting units. They consisted of seven ships of the " King Edward VII." class, two ships of the " Lord Nelson" class, and four of the "Queen" class, all of these ships being in the Mediterranean except five of the "King Edward VII." class. They were required there either for work with the Italian Fleet or for the operations in the Ćgean. Five of our light cruisers were also in the Mediterranean.

    The French and Italian Battle Fleets were also in the Mediterranean, but, owing to political considerations and their duty in watching the Austrian Fleet, there was little prospect of their leaving that locality.

    It is interesting to compare this situation with that existing a century earlier. In September, 1805, the month before Trafalgar, the disposition of British ships in commission in home waters and the Mediterranean is given in the following table :

    Station Commander-in-Chief Ships of the Line Frigates Sloops and small vessels Total
    From Shetland to Beachy Head Lord Keith 10 15 155 180
    Channel Port Admirals - 1 51 52
    Guernsey and Jersey Sir J. Saumarez - 2 12 14
    Off Ushant, etc. Admiral Cornwallis 26 15 20 61
    Irish Lord Gardner - 10 14 24
    Mediterranean Lord Nelson 26 19 24 69
    In port refitting and destined to reinforce Lords Nelson and Cornwallis

    In addition to Nelson's force of 26 capital ships and 19 frigates, the Navy had, therefore, in commission in home waters and the Mediterranean a yet more numerous force of 47 capital ships and 50 frigates. The main portion of this force was with Cornwallis off Ushant, and was watching Brest. Between the Shetlands and Beachy Head we had 155 sloops and small vessels.

    In 1916, in addition to the Grand Fleet of 39 capital ships (including battle cruisers) and 32 cruisers and light cruisers, we had in commission in home waters and the Mediterranean only 13 capital ships (all of pre-Dreadnought types and, therefore, obsolescent) and 5 light cruisers. Between the Shetlands and Beachy Head we had, exclusive of the Grand Fleet and Harwich force, about 60 destroyers (mostly of old types), 6 P boats, and 33 old torpedo boats.

    In September, 1805, we had building 32 ships of the line in England, besides 10 under construction in Russia, and 36 frigates. In May, 1916, we had building five capital ships and about nine light cruisers.


  2. #2
    A consideration of these figures will show that the situation at these two periods was very different, in that, in 1805, the force engaged at Trafalgar was only a relatively small portion of the available British Fleet; yet Mahan has declared that ''Nelson's far distant, storm-beaten ships on which the Grand Army never looked, stood between it and the dominion of the world." In 1916 the Grand Fleet included the large majority of the vessels upon which the country had to rely for safety.

    Earlier in the War, at the end of October, 1914, I had written to the Admiralty pointing out the dangers to the Grand Fleet which an intelligent use of submarines, mines and torpedoes by the Germans, before and during a Fleet action, would involve, and had stated the tactics which I had intended to employ to meet the expected German movement in order to bring the enemy to action in the shortest practicable time and with the best chance of achieving such a victory as would be decisive. I stated that with new and untried methods of warfare new tactics must be devised to meet them.

    I received in reply an expression of approval of my views and of confidence in the manner in which I proposed to handle the Fleet in action.

    Neither in October, 1914, nor in May, 1916, did our margin of superiority justify me in disregarding the enemy's torpedo fire or meeting it otherwise than by definite movements deduced after most careful analysis of the problem at sea with the Fleet and on the tactical board.

    The severely restricted forces behind the Grand Fleet were taken into account; and there was also a possibility that the Grand Fleet might later be called upon to confront a situation of much wider scope than that already existing.

    The position gradually improved after 1916. During the latter half of that year the remaining ships of the "Royal Sovereign" class joined the Grand Fleet, and greatly increased the ratio of strength of the Fleet as compared with the High Sea Fleet. Early in 1917 it was also possible to withdraw the four battleships of the " Queen " class from the Adriatic. This much eased the manning situation. And in April, 1917, the culminating event was the entry of the United States of America into the War on the side of the Entente. In December, 1917, the United States sent a division of battleships to join the Grand Fleet, and it was apparent that we could count upon the whole battleship strength of the United States Navy, if required, to second our efforts.

    Finally, and perhaps most important of all, the light cruiser and destroyer forces with the Grand Fleet increased steadily after the Battle of Jutland, and to a very considerable extent reduced the danger of successful torpedo attack on the Grand Fleet in action by surface craft. The inclusion of the K. class submarines—submarines of high speed—in the Grand Fleet in 1917 made it very probable that any losses suffered by us by submarine attack would be more than compensated by enemy losses from the same cause.

    In spite of the fact that, in 1918, the situation in regard to battle cruisers was becoming unsatisfactory, the general effect of all these considerations upon the tactics of the Grand Fleet was bound to be overwhelming. The position was assured, and we could have afforded to take risks later on which, in 1916, would have been most unwise.



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