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Jellicoe: The Grand Fleet

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.

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