In the Navy Estimates presented to the House of Commons in March 1910 five armoured vessels were announced for the coming financial year which began on 1 April and ended on 31 March 1911. Four of these armoured vessels would form the Royal Navy’s King George V class of battleship. One of these, eventually named Audacious, was laid down at Cammell, Laird & Co.’s yard at Birkenhead on 23 March 1911, a week before the next Admiralty financial year began. The reason for laying a ship down so late in the financial year was clear: as Reginald McKenna put it in presenting the 1909 estimates, ‘An obvious effect of this system is to postpone for some two years a large part of the financial burdens of the programme to which the ships belong.’ I decided to look at how this worked, using the Dockyard Expense Accounts:
The ship was completed on 15 October, 1913. Incidental expenses over the course of her construction amounted to £31,746, and along with the total of £1,785,069 were considered her first cost of £1,816,315. Material connected to her armament accounted for £436,911, or 24% of the cost.
It is not known where on earth R. A. Burt got his total of £1,918,813, quoted by Wikipedia, from.
Long time readers will know I’m not exactly enamoured with the work of Norman Friedman, so the following may not be a surprise. While checking something in his The British Battleship I was struck by a mention of a British General Election in 1905. There was, of course, no such thing. Arthur Balfour, the Unionist Prime Minister, resigned on 4 December 1905 and was succeeded by the Liberal leader, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the following day. However, Parliament was not dissolved, and a General Election called, until 8 January 1906. Hence why the resulting election is known, even by Wikipedia, as the 1906 United Kingdom General Election. And yet Friedman makes no fewer than five mentions of a 1905 election, and not consistently either. The reader may make of it what they will. I’m just disappointed.
“In October 1905 the Conservatives lost a snap election.”
“In the late 1905 General Election the Liberals, led at that time by Henry Campbell-Bannerman, defeated the Tories.”
“In November 1905 the Tory Government called an election.”
“By that time the Conservatives had lost the November 1905 election.”
“The 1905 election came so late in the programme cycle that the incoming Liberal Government felt unable to change the 1906-7 programme.”
In 1962 Admiral Sir William James, former Room 40 handler, Naval Assistant to First Sea Lord, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff and Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth (among many other appointments) wrote a rather remarkable letter to The Naval Review:
SIR,-In his letter under ‘Lessons Learnt’ (N.R., July, 1961, p. 314) Captain Roskill says that ‘in the case of the Official Military History series the Government decided that, as most of the sources used were confidential and likely to remain so for many years, the author’s references should be printed only in a specially prepared edition’. It might be inferred that, in thirty or forty years time, these sources will be released for study by historians or biographers and provide material for new books on the war. I do not think that this will happen. I do not think that these confidential sources will ever see the light. If in forty years time the Admiralty announced that all documents covering the two world wars were now open to inspection I do not think there would be a single caller. I say this because, whilst interest in the personalities of the statesmen and commanders of the armed forces, and in the general course of major campaigns and battles, remains constant (normal education includes campaigns and battles from Caesar to Wellington and will eventually include the two world wars), interest on the lower level, the detailed conduct of a war at headquarters, soon wanes and eventually fades altogether. This fading today is accelerated by the advent of the atomic age. When the methods of waging war and the weapons were more or less static Admiralty confidential records might be of some use when another war broke out, but methods are now changing so rapidly that Admiralty officers would be wasting their time if they sought guidance in confidential records of earlier wars. The most cogent reason for doubting whether release forty years hence would cause a flutter is that books about both world wars now fill a good sized library. Nearly every one of the men who were responsible for the Grand Strategy and the overall conduct of the campaigns have given full accounts of their stewardship. Sir John Fisher’s [sic] autobiography and letters (recently published by Professor Marder), Churchill’s account of his period at the Admiralty, Lord Wemyss’s autobiography, Jellicoe’s autobiography and the biography of Admiral Oliver leave little untold about the higher direction of the Kaiser’s War. Churchill’s ‘Second World War’, Cunningham’s autobiography and Horton’s biography leave little to be told about the higher direction of Hitler’s War. And for both wars there has been a flood of books, historical and autobiographical, covering every phase. Full-length books have been written about every minor engagement and about the war service of individual battleships, cruisers, destroyers and submarines. What, then, it is fair to ask, can there be in the confidential records that might in thirty or forty years be of interest to anyone? This is not in any sense a criticism of the Admiralty practice of interning documents. There are many reasons for not releasing for inspection records of the conduct of a war on the departmental level. But in these interned papers there can only be titbits for a historian or biographer and people who have lived through thirty years of the atomic age will not have any interest in these titbits.
This is perhaps indicative of the Stone Age mentality of history at the time, but given how much paper work James himself must have filled out in the Grand Fleet and at the Admiralty during the war alone it beggars belief that he thought none of it would have been useful. Fortunately for people like me, and I suspect many readers, there has been more than that ‘single caller’ and a lot more than mere ‘titbits’ still waiting to be found in the archives sixty years after release.
After the Dogger Bank Incident of 20/21 October 1904—where a Russian fleet on its way to the Far East opened fire on British fishing trawlers in the belief that they were Japanese warships—relations between the two Empires were strained. The Royal Navy’s Channel Squadron was ready to attack the Russians where they lay at anchor. The Director of Naval Intelligence, Rear-Admiral His Serene Highness Prince Louis of Battenberg, wrote an interesting memorandum on 2 November which is reproduced here:
Assuming that it was decided to use force to prevent the Russian Baltic Fleet from reaching the Far East, the most suitable place would be just to the West and South-West of the Straits of Sunda.
Our Fleet would be near its base at Singapore, whilst the Russian Fleet would be nearing Java, and would have been steaming 3,000 miles against the North East Trade since Reunion would be the last place they could have coaled at. [Added in handwriting:(Russian Colliers have been ordered to Réunion.)]
It may be taken for granted that the Russians would not go through the Straits of Malacca.
If they thought that the route would be barred they would not try to pass through the Straits of Sunda, but would more likely make for the islands to the South-East of Java, where there are many passages through to the North-East and many likely places at which to coal from their own colliers.
A strong Cruiser force would be required to stretch down in a South-Westerly direction from the mouth of the Straits of Sunda.
Moreover, the C. in C., Cape Station should be at Mauritius with one First and two Second Class Cruisers to watch Reunion, besides which the fast ships of the Cruiser Squadron, which would be coming round the Cape, would be able to keep touch with the Russians from Reunion towards Java.
In sufficient time the following ships should rendezvous at Singapore –
5 from China Station
4 “Duncans” from Mediterranean
9, which should suffice to meet on good terms the five First and two Second Class Russian Battleships.
2 from China
2 from Home on the way to China as reliefs for the first two
1 (Flagship) from Australia
2 from China
Second Class Cruisers –
4 from China
2 . . East Indies
1 . . Australia
Third Class Cruisers –
5 from Australia
2 . . East Indies
One First Class and two Second Class Cruisers from Pacific could come across and be employed either in conjunction with the above force, or, preferably, keep in the China Seas whilst the China Fleet is South.
We must however be prepared to detach some armoured Cruisers to cover the three French vessels of that class at Saigon.
The Russian detachments going through the Mediterranean would have to be dealt with from there.
After despatching the four “Duncans” from the Mediterranean, we should join up the eight “Majestics” from the Channel Fleet to the remaining eight (“Formidables”) of the Mediterranean Fleet, which would suffice to meet the eight First Class, four Second Class, and four Third Class Battleships from Toulon.
Additional ships would have to be sent from Home to mask the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
No count is taken of Germany. If her Fleet had to be considered a General Mobilisation would be necessary, as we should then require every available Battleship in the North Sea.
Update: On a whim I decided to work out who would be in charge of this hypothetical force. The Commander-in-Chief on the China Station was Vice-Admiral Sir Gerard H. U. Noel (seniority of 2 November 1901), who would be the most senior and therefore in supreme command. His second-in-command was Rear-Admiral The Honourable Assheton G. Curzon-Howe (seniority of 23 July 1901). The Commander-in-Chief on the Australian Station was Vice-Admiral Arthur D. Fanshawe (seniority of 25 January 1902, and who would be appointed K.C.B. a week after Battenberg wrote his memo). The Commander-in-Chief on the East Indies Station was Rear-Admiral George L. Atkinson-Willes (seniority of 19 February 1901). At the time Rear-Admiral William des V. Hamilton (seniority of 21 January 1903) was wearing his flag in the Duncan class battleship Albemarle as Rear-Admiral in the Mediterranean Fleet (effectively third-in-command), so it is interesting to ponder if the Duncans would have been sent east with a flag officer. He was also due to be relieved at the end of the month by Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Poore, Bart.
I recently came across Years of Endurance: Life Aboard the Battlecruiser Tiger 1914–1916 by John R. Muir, originally published in 1936 and republished last year by Seaforth. Mike Farquharson-Roberts writes in the new introduction (p. vii):
Though he never explicitly states his rank in the book, John Muir was likely a ‘Staff Surgeon’ during the period he is writing about.
Likely? There are few things easier to identify with certainty than an officer’s rank, even in the absence of service records. First we check the December 1914 Navy List (p. 162). John Reid Muir is listed as a Staff Surgeon with seniority of 26 February 1908. Looking at the Navy List for December 1916 (p. 256-7: Yes, just one page, despite the number) we see that on 26 February 1916 he automatically became a Fleet Surgeon after eight years a Staff Surgeon (under the provisions of the order in council of 9 October 1903) and was still in Tiger (p. 398r, in which we also can see Muir was appointed to the ship in October 1914). According to the November 1917 Navy List (p. 569) on 1 January of that year he received a very different change of scenery in the form of an appointment to the Royal Naval Sick Quarters at Wei-Hei-Wei in China, where he was the only medical officer borne! Under C.W. 34315 of 3 October 1918 (see The National Archives, ADM 1/8543/297, formalised by order in council of 8 November) the rank of Fleet Surgeon became Surgeon Commander.
In summation, in the period in which he served in Tiger Muir was definitely both a Staff Surgeon and also a Fleet Surgeon. It is somewhat surprising and disappointing that Farquharson-Roberts was apparently unable to establish Muir’s rank, especially since he is a published historian with, as the introduction reminds us, a PhD in Maritime History. It is quite frankly an insult to Muir that Seaforth did not insist on this rather basic detail of his career being discovered. I gladly offer them the fruits of ten whole minutes of my valuable research time at my usual, and quite reasonable, fee of 100 Guineas.
There are a few other odd things about the introduction, but they can wait for another day.
Recently I started reading Corbin Williamson’s chapter on the early 20th century Royal Navy in The Culture of Military Organizations (edited by Mansoor and Murray). Regrettably it appears to be based solely on secondary sources, with no evidence of archival research whatsoever. Whilst flicking through I stumbled across the rather bold statement:
By 1900, conventional wisdom held that officers with specialization, especially in gunnery and torpedoes, enjoyed an advantage in achieving higher ranks. The senior leaders of World War I were almost all gunnery or torpedo specialists.
Williamson, The Royal Navy, 1900-1945, pp. 324-325
The sources given are Robert Davison, The Challenge of Command, p. 6, and a chapter by Nicholas Rodger. The latter I do not have – a deficit which shall be rectified the next time I visit the British Library or an archive. Davison, on the other hand, writes, ‘Looking through the roster of the senior flag officers during the First World War, it is clear that nearly all who held high command were either gunnery or torpedo specialists, with the notable exception of David Beatty.’ No source is given. Is this the case though?
Neither Williamson nor Davison are precise as to what level they are referring to. What ranks do ‘senior leaders’ and ‘all who held high command’ delineate? Those who held certain ranks? Those who commanded squadrons or held the status of Commander-in-Chief? We will apparently never know. However, we can draw up our own roster.
During the First World War a Supplement to the Monthly Navy List was published. It gives all ‘Flag Officers in Commission, Officers in Commanding Squadrons’ (all those entitled to fly a flag or broad pendant afloat or ashore) in list form, as well as the composition of the various fleets and squadrons. In peace time this information was found in editions of the Navy List, after the seniority lists of the Royal Marines and before the ‘List of Ships and Vessels of the Royal Navy with their Officers and Present Stations’. But, during the war at any rate, the section was published separately. The National Archives has a complete wartime set under the catalogue record 359.3 ADE.
Using the service records in ADM 196 the specialisation or otherwise of the officers named can be identified. There are four categories: those who did not specialise, also known as the ‘salt horse’ officer; those who specialised in gunnery duties; those who specialised in torpedo duties; and, not mentioned by Davison, those who specialised in navigating duties. By the First World War there was a fourth specialisation – signals – but none of those on the flag list had qualified (although Allan Everett and Hugh Evan-Thomas, to name two, were recognised authorities).
I have used the Supplements corrected to 10 September 1914 (the first in The National Archives’ collection) and 1 November 1918 to show the situation at the beginning and at the end of the war. The following charts speak for themselves.
At the beginning of the war, with 54 flag officers and commodores flying their flags, the ‘salt horse’ outnumbers each other individual category. And what of the state of affairs at the end of the war, when another 20 officers were employed – an increase of more than a third?
It is difficult to see how Davison drew his conclusions. By war’s end the proportion of non-specialist officers may have shrunk in relation to the others, but they still formed the largest bloc by far! It is clear, therefore, that the advantage held by specialist officers in being employed afloat and ashore in the First World War has been over-stated.
There are, of course, caveats: the Supplements do not include members of the Board of Admiralty or heads of department in London. Nor does it include Chiefs of the Staff. Nor does my analysis break down employment by rank or differentiate between type of command. Even if, however, the vast majority of the ‘salt horse’ officers were flying their flags or broad pendants ashore or in subordinate positions (such as second-in-command of a battle squadron), it is worth pointing out that the supreme qualification for advancement was actually having flown one’s flag (for the flag officer) or being deemed worthy of flying a broad pendant (for a captain). Under the regulations they would theoretically be less likely to be retired on promotion to rear-admiral or left unemployed for so long that they would be retired for non-service. That is an investigation for another day, however.
Note: Earlier versions of these charts on Twitter showed one more gunnery specialist than torpedo, the result of a mis-reading of The Hon. Sir Somerset A. Gough-Calthorpe’s service record.
Update 15/02/2022: I recently obtained a copy of Rodger’s chapter, ‘Training or Education: A Naval Dilemma over Three Centuries.’ It does not support Williamson’s claim whatsoever.
On 23 March 1915 the newly-appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Edwin S. Montagu, wrote to Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, about the looming ‘Shell Crisis’ which would, in a matter of weeks, be a factor in the latter succeeding the former. Montagu proposed that the War Office should have a civilian Secretary of State instead of Lord Kitchener or that Lloyd George be appointed Minister of War Contracts (‘one or the other’). He also outlined his idea of what should drive procurement:
I am quite clear that the only attitude in which a Minister can hope for salvation at the end of this war is the attitude which says – it is possible that I paid too much for this; by careful search I might have made a less extravagant bargain for that; it is true that these things are not as good as they should be, but I went on the belief that something is nearly always better than nothing and that extravagance is the only method to speedy equipment.
Churchill Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, CHAR 13/44/122.
Whether Montagu would have advocated the same principle with regard to PPE, Track and Trace, and vaccine procurement is anybody’s guess.
On the eve of the First World War the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, wrote to the Permanent Secretary, Sir W. Graham Greene:
Importance is attached to revival of singing in the Fleet. A good song-book should be prepared and issued, together with leaflets of the words. An officer in each ship should organize the singing and take an interest in it in addition to his other duties. Captains should arrange that there is a ship “singing” not less than once a month throughout the year. Half the programme should be choruses from the song-book and the other half the music hall turns which are now popular. It is desirable that the men should sing together, and that everyone should join. The Vice-Admirals and Rear-Admirals commanding should take an interest in these “singings,” and money can be provided for a small prize, say a silver wreath, to be awarded by the Vice-Admiral to the best ship in the squadron or on the station each half-year. Part singing should also be encouraged where possible; but this is much more difficult to organize. The ordinary ship’s singing should become a regular part of the routine, and should be carried out as unquestioningly as if it were a gunnery or torpedo practice.
I wish to receive constructive proposals.
Greene’s response, and any subsequent action, are regrettably unknown. It would be interesting to know what sort of songs Churchill had in mind, but the mixture of prescribed songs and “popular” music is an interesting one.
In a recent CIMSEC podcast on the subject of leadership Professor Andrew Lambert of King’s College London discusses the career of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Cunningham:
He was so determined not to be a junior officer on somebody else’s ship that when in his very early twenties he was given command of a very small torpedo boat he made sure that he was the best torpedo boat commander in the Navy so no flotilla commander would release him back into a big ship. He then moved on destroyer command, and he managed to hold one destroyer command for four years which was absolutely unprecedented. He did not serve on a big ship under another captain from his early twenties until he was the captain of the big ship. Nobody else ever did this. Nobody. But Cunningham got away with it because he was that good.
Cunningham was not in his ‘very early twenties’ when he was given command of T.B. 14 in May 1908: He was 25 (four months and six days to be exact). The reference to a four year long destroyer command is incorrect in a number of respects. It was not ‘absolutely unprecedented’ as a cursory glance at an October 1915 Navy List and service records show. Vice-Admiral Geoffrey Mackworth commanded the destroyer Ferret from October 1911 to March 1916 as a Lieutenant-Commander and Commander for five years and five months. Captain William B. Mackenzie (a) commanded the Bulldog as a Lieutenant-Commander from November 1911 to July 1916 for four years eight months. I saw several more just under the four year mark and I gave up less than a quarter of the way through the list of ships.
Of course, however, Cunningham did not just command the same destroyer for four years. He commanded the vessel in question, Scorpion, for just under seven years (2,517 days according to his service record).
Now we come to Professor Lambert’s assertion that ‘nobody else’ avoided serving under another captain at sea until they themselves became the captain (we have already eliminated the lower boundary of ‘very early twenties’). Now, to be clear, my research ends by and large at 1919 and anything beyond that is what I have picked up along the way. So I had to rack my brain for destroyer officers. The only only I could think of offhand was Admiral of the Fleet Lord Tovey, who distinguished himself in command of the destroyer Onslow at Jutland. Cunningham last served under another captain in 1908 in the armoured cruiser Suffolk and his first command of a big ship was Calcutta in 1926. Tovey left the Amphion in 1914. Whilst he spent considerably more time ashore on account of appointments at the Admiralty he too would never serve under another captain again. He took command of the Rodney in 1932. Their periods between serving in a big ship and commanding a big ship are remarkably similar:
Cunningham: 18 years 13 days.
Tovey: 17 years eight months five days.
To sum up:
Cunningham was not in his ‘very early twenties’ when he was given his first command.
He did not hold one destroyer command for four years.
Holding a destroyer command for four years was not ‘absolutely unprecedented’.
‘Nobody else’ managed to leave the big navy and not return to it until they were in command simply is not true.
Apparently pointing these errors out constitutes ‘manufactured outrage’. The reader can decide whether that is a fair accusation.
Cunningham service record. The National Archives. ADM 196/47/82. Mackenzie service record. The National Archives. ADM 196/45/248. Mackworth service record. The National Archives. ADM 196/45/53. Tovey service record. The National Archives. ADM 196/49/257.
Winston Churchill is popularly supposed to have instituted a policy of ‘Aerial Policing’ over Iraq in 1920, whereby air power was used to suppress insurgency rather than a more expensive ground-based solution. BBC News claims ‘It was a policy Churchill had first mused on in the House of Commons in March 1920, before the Iraqi uprising had even begun.’
The policy actually goes back eight years. On 31 March 1912 Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, wrote a minute for his colleagues concerning the ‘Situation in Somaliland’, the British colony on the Coast of Africa:
In a few years time when aeronautics have developed the question of dealing with this fellow will become a reasonable proposition. It is purely a question of expense. He is not worth a 4,000,000l. expedition. But if 200,000l. or 300,000l. would do the work, as it may easily do in the near future, I should be quite ready to approve the expenditure. We must be certain of our tackle, however.
First Lord’s Minutes Vol. I. 1911-1913.
This ‘fellow’ is presumably a reference to the leader of the Somali Dervishes, Sayid Mohamed Abdullah Hassan, ‘the Mad Mullah’, who had already been harassing the British for over a decade. Fast forward eight years and many skirmishes later (including one where Adrian Carton de Wiart lost an eye) to 1920, and a flight of Royal Air Force Airco DH.9As is popularly supposed to have helped crush the Mullah’s revolt at the same time air power played a part in suppressing the Iraqi revolt.