Speech: First Sea Lord’s remarks ahead of the centenary of the Battle of Jutland

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  1. In all the reams of Jutland related reading material that have passed across my desk in the last few days, one fact that caught my eye was that no fewer than 8 future First Sea Lords were serving with the Grand Fleet during the Battle of Jutland.

    For you, that’s an interesting historical fact. But for me, just 2 months into my own tenure at First Sea Lord, it adds to the poignancy of this centenary, as I consider my responsibilities, both to the nation and to our sailors and marines today.

    Undoubtedly the most striking characteristic of the Battle of Jutland is the sheer scale of loss.

    Admirals and Ordinary Seaman perished alike.

    Never before had either navy lost so men on a single day.

    When the battle cruiser Invincible was torn apart by an explosion she took less than 90 seconds to sink, taking over 1000 men with her.

    Losses on this scale are difficult to comprehend. Nothing in our modern experience compares.

    So it is important that in this centenary year, the focus be on remembrance.

    But museums are designed to start conversations and encourage questions; and this exhibition is an important opportunity to reflect on the wider significance of Jutland.

    Wider significance

    Terrible as the losses were, the stakes in 1916 could not have been higher.

    Without command of the seas, Britain’s maritime trade, the lifeblood of the war effort, would be in danger and Britain herself would be left open to the risk of starvation or even invasion.

    Admiral Jellicoe understood the enormity of his responsibility.

    He knew that the superiority of the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet had to be protected at all costs.

    And this was the strongest adversary that Britain had faced in a century. The long, calm lee of Trafalgar, as Andrew Gordon so poignantly captured it, was very much over.

    Certainly the sudden and spectacular loss of several capital ships, with almost all hands, was disastrous.

    There were serious questions about the performance of gunnery, signals, armour and shells.

    And there was a profound debate over the balance between regulation and initiative in the culture of the Royal Navy.

    As many of you know, historians, academics and naval officers still exchange broadsides on these issues today.

    Perhaps, with the benefit of what we would today call better situational awareness, Jellicoe could have inflicted a crushing defeat worthy of Trafalgar.

    But in repelling, rather than sinking, the German High Seas Fleet, he had done enough.

    As painful and surprising as Britain’s losses had been, in truth, they did little to dent the Royal Navy’s superiority.

    The very next day the Grand Fleet was back at sea and ready to do battle again, and within in a month the losses in ships had been made good.

    The High Seas Fleet had failed to break the superiority of the Royal Navy and command of the sea remained with Britain.

    Royal Navy today

    Much has changed in a century.

    But the fundamentals remain the same:

    Britain is still an island nation and a global maritime trading power.

    We are still dependent on the sea for security and prosperity and the nation still looks to the Royal Navy to protect its interests at home and around the world.

    Today, the Royal Navy offers a unique blend of soft and hard power. We work to prevent conflict and promote security.

    But we face the same challenge that commanders faced a century ago.

    How can a navy that operates almost exclusively in peacetime conditions maintain the attitudes and skills required to fight a credible adversary in war?

    This matters because, despite the best efforts of policy makers and academics, global security challenges are defined by their stubborn unpredictability.

    The need to deter is ongoing, and when deterrence fails, we must be ready to fight and win.

    So a fighting ethos must permeate everything we do: from the development of our doctrine and the design of our equipment, to how we train and our men and women and how we develop our leaders.

    Because, as Jutland teaches us, major conflicts may be infrequent, but when they come along the price of getting these things wrong is unacceptably high.


    Over the next week, this centenary will be marked in Scapa Flow, in the Firth of Forth, in our dockyard towns and at sea off the coast of Denmark.

    But it also right that that the Battle of Jutland is remembered in London too, alongside so many other reminders of our island story here in the National Maritime Museum.

    We will never forget those who fought and died in the North Sea a century ago.

    But in a conflict otherwise remembered principally for the trenches of the Western Front, Jutland also serves as a necessary reminder of the enduring significance of sea power to our defence and to our prosperity.

    Thank you.

    Continue reading...
  2. A though provoking read but whoever wrote it needs a severe reprimand for their abysmal use of English grammar.
  3. Yes...depressing that he doesn't understand the meaning of the word 'enormity', for example.
    • Like Like x 1
  4. Seaweed

    Seaweed War Hero Book Reviewer

    I think he's being a bit hard on Jellicoe in suggesting that we could have had another 'Trafalgar'.

    Forcing battle on an enemy whose entire immediate aim was to avoid it was, in my view having read up on Jutland quite a bit recently, impossible.

    As to 'situational awareness', please consider the poor visibility made worse by the hundreds of funnels belching smoke, not least from the ships between Iron Duke and the enemy.

    We achieved a massive and total strategic victory, at a cost which in many ways was largely avoidable, particularly in terms of bad drills regarding cordite handling. More coherent signalling by Beatty and more intelligent stationing by him of the 5th BS MIGHT have inflicted greater damage on the enemy.
    • Like Like x 1
  5. Pity he doesn't actually have the courage he expresses in the speech and do something about our fighting power.
    • Like Like x 1
  6. Shots fired.

    Shots I'm down with.
  7. Totally agree - particularly the issues surrounding the handling and stowage of cordite. I think we also underestimate the difficulty of manoeuvring large numbers of ships in relative close formation when communications between platforms was (by todays standards), slow and to a large extent, still reliant on visual contact. I doubt we'll ever grasp how different their concept of 'time' and situational awareness was to what we experience today.

    Just as interesting is the internal naval politics and professional revelries between key players which still generates debate to this day.
  8. Seaweed

    Seaweed War Hero Book Reviewer

    How do you know what he does or doesn't say to SecDef and so forth? A cheap shot I think.
  9. It doesn't matter what he says, it's the results he produces. He judges me in that way, so you can bet your arse I'll judge him straight back.
    • Like Like x 2
  10. These lofty military positions are appointed by government and 'approved' by HRH and with the rare exception they will all tow-the-line to some degree.
  11. As to 'situational awareness', his distrust of Naval Intelligence formed a greater cloud than the hundred belching funnels...
  12. The reason for his distrust of naval intelligence is an unbelievable story.
  13. Seadog

    Seadog War Hero Moderator

    'HM' and ' toe the line'. Apart from that your credentials are strategic.

  14. How very thoughtful of you, I did wonder what your duties entailed. Having watched the programme last night, it would appear that Beatty was a swaggering peacock and a scoundrel,whereas Jellicoe was an officer and a gentleman.
    Last edited: May 22, 2016
  15. Seadog

    Seadog War Hero Moderator

    Not a duty but a pleasure. You set out your requirements.

  16. Seaweed

    Seaweed War Hero Book Reviewer

    A cheap shot.

    Having been misinformed by the Admiralty to the effect that Scheer was still in the Jade, and sent other somewhat stale info that conflicted with what was being reported by his cruisers, it's hardly surprising that Jellicoe was a bit chary of what he was being told from London.

    It is also to the point that the Admiralty failed to pass an absolute indication (an intercepted request for Zeppelin reconnaissance) that Scheer's chosen route home was via the Horns Reef.
  17. The cloud of misinformation... I should have said 'justifiable distrust'.
    Oliver and Jackson had a lot to answer for.
    Last edited: May 22, 2016
  18. Indeed. I think that the Royal Navy in 1916 were dealing with mines, torpedoes, U boats, and working with different materials from Trafalgar. But certainly at the time there was the huge expectation that the Navy should have inflicted a devastating defeat on the High Seas Fleet.
    But if the latter are trying to lure the Royal Nay towards minefields or in line of U boats then the 'Trafalgar' scenario is not possible.
    There's also the question of a whole mythology invested in the battle of Trafalgar in any case. It would take another ten years to defeat Napoleon . and by October 1805 the invasion scare was over .

  19. I recall my father telling me (he served for 31 years before being killed in the early days of WW2) that all was not loggerheads between the two. Being decorated and bedecking themselves in bling was a priority. Beatty to Jellicoe--or the other way round on publication of the New Year's Honours where one of them received a second Knighthood--" Once a Lord always a Lord--But twice a knight is enough" Apocryphal? I know not.

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