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Jutland - the Unfinished Battle by Nicholas Jellicoe

The author is the grandson of the victor of Jutland. He is the projector of the Jutland Centenary website and has put a huge amount of work into the Centenary including this book, although he is neither a professional historian nor author, which means he deserves particular praise for the depth of his research. He lives in Switzerland; from the extensive inventory and use of German sources in the book he is clearly fluent in German, which would give him a considerable advantage over most other British writers on this subject who must have such references filtered to them by a translator.

The first quarter of the book sets the political and strategic scene going back to the Accession of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the last deals in the aftermath of the battle and the controversies that ensued. The central half is devoted to the battle itself, related in considerable detail, the author having as always with Jutland to reconcile conflicting evidence as to events and times. Short biographies and pen-portraits are included of the principals - Fisher, Tirpitz, Jellicoe, Beatty, Scheer, Hipper - and these monographs are useful in their own right. Here and later in the book the author skilfully analyses and presents their characters and character deficiencies and we see how for the less bright action is a substitute for thought.

In spite of his ancestry the author comes to naval matters as an outsider which has caused some infelicities of terminology and phrasing (including the odd Americanism). When the work descends to fine grain detail of matters of seamanship and naval warfare there are some slips, such as confusion between the titles ‘First Lord’ and ‘First Sea Lord’ in two places, who can be described as a Flag Officer (p.72), between flag signalling and semaphore on p.113 and regarding AP and Common shell on p.139; these are just some examples. At this level the text is sometimes so confused it obscures the argument; if only the author had recognised the need for a more informed proofreader. This is such a pity as at so many other points the author has it absolutely right. As it is there are some straight proofreading misses such as ‘Nomad’ on p.156.

Early in the book the author comes down against Fisher’s Dreadnought - a development already in mind in the US and France, and therefore an inevitable step - and blames the battle-cruiser losses on their reduced armour, although later in the book he pins it exactly on Beatty’s ordering the removal of safety devices and Gunnery Officers ignoring the rules on ammunition safety. It is ironic that the ghastly losses that gave such a handle to German propaganda were so avoidable.

At the higher level the narrative and commentary are excellent and the analysis of Beatty’s many shortcomings would be hard to better. At sea the horrors of warfare are well brought out, using personal accounts - although there can be none such for those maimed, trapped, entombed, who still lie at their posts. Post-Jutland the narrative takes us to Whitehall where the devious Lloyd George immediately started scheming to torpedo Jellicoe, newly-appointed as 1SL, preferring a catspaw who would not challenge Lloyd George’s ignorant and dangerous ideas. There is a brief and very good summary of the (eventual) adoption of convoy against the U-boats. We then move to a detailed, balanced and illuminating historiography of Jutland including the unedifying behaviour of Beatty’s Dewar jackals.

The various track charts are very clear and useful but an additional one showing the features referred to in the narrative (Horns Reef etc) would have been helpful. The general illustrations are excellently selected. There is a very helpful select bibliography. I would only add ‘A Naval History of World War 1’ by Paul Halpern.

Oh Pen and Sword! WHEN can your editors be weaned off allowing lengthy asides in the notes at the end of the book so that the reader has to have two bookmarks in play? Those for chapter 7 and 9 are almost alternative chapters in themselves. In the main text as a whole, there is sometimes repetition that could have been edited out.

Detailed criticisms apart, this is a very good production and I take my hat off to the way the author has penetrated both the minutiae of the action, the chief personalities involved and the way Jutland is situated strategically and politically.

As to the final judgment - who besides Jellicoe ever had three hundred admirals come to his funeral?

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