Jellicoe:After Jutland

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The Life of Admiral of the Fleet
John Rushworth Jellicoe,
First Earl Jellicoe

5 December, 1869 – 20 November, 1935
Jellicoe, 1920.JPG
Background and Early LifeService as LieutenantCommanderCommand and ChinaDirector of Naval OrdnanceFlag Rank and ControllerSea Service and Second Sea LordCommand of the Grand FleetThe War at Sea, 1914-1916The Battle of JutlandAfter JutlandFirst Sea Lord and the Submarine MenaceControversy and DismissalEmpire TourGovernor-General of New ZealandThe Jutland ControversyRetirementDeath and Legacy

On 11 July, 1916, Balfour wrote to Lady Jellicoe:

I can most truly assure you that I am as anxious as you are that your husband should allow himself a rest. I ventured diffidently, but most earnestly, to press him upon this point when he was in London immediately after the great battle, and the opinion I held then I hold with undiminished strength at the present moment. There have, of course, been a good many small, though sometimes troublesome, questions about the despatch: but these are now over, and not merely the Allied, but the neutral world is, I believe, more than content.

I fear I could hardly "order" Sir John to take a holiday:! but, in the interests of the country as well as his own, I wish most earnestly that he would.[1]

After Jutland

At a meeting between Jellicoe and Oliver on 15 September, it was recorded that, "The Commander-in-Chief stated that his view was that the main fleet should not go south of Lat.55.30 N. in longitudes east of Long.4.0 E., unless under exceptional circumstances."[2] Oliver noted, "Both the C-in-C and the V.A., B.C.F. hold very definite views as to the Fleet not coming far south on every occasion of the German Fleet approaching the East Coast of England, but only when there is a really good chance of engaging it in daylight."[3] On the same day Jellicoe was appointed to the Order of Merit dated 31 May.[4]

As a result of this conference, Jellicoe was sent Revised Orders on 23 September entitled, "Considerations as to the Employment of the Grand Fleet in the North Sea."[5] The covering letter stated that the Admiralty approved "generally the conclusions reached at the conference held by you on board H.M.S. "IRON DUKE" on the 13th instant, and I am to enclose herewith in duplicate Revised Orders for the Grand Fleet in which the points raised at the conference have been included where applicable."

Choosing a Successor

In a letter of 16 November, 1916, Balfour dictated:

As you may well suppose, I have been giving serious thought to our conversations of last Saturday and Sunday weel[? What the hell did I do here??! S.H.]; and though it is not the purpose of this letter to reopen the particular scheme then before us, it is clear to me that the time has come, or is just coming, when important changes are necessary to the Fleet under your command.

Admiral Burney's time is now approaching its natural conclusion, and I do not think that we ought to stretch the ordinary rules of the service in his favour. I am well aware - both from what you tell me, and from what I learn from the First Sea Lord - of Admiral Burney's high professional qualifications. But though his general health is good, you told me that you had serious doubts whether he could bear the continuous strain of which must fall upon the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet in case of a general action: and I also remember you saying that, though Admiral Burney was a splendid seaman and a safe fleet commander, he might on occasion be lacking in initiative.[pencilled in, "(overcautious & slow to act)"]

As you know from your conversations with the First Sea Lord and with myself, we are of opinion that should anything make it necessary for you to give up the command of the Grand Fleet, Admiral Beatty should be your successor. You pointed out that one objection to this course was that Admiral Beatty had no Grand Fleet experience, and that no substitute could be obtained from the command of the Battle Cruiser Squadron.

I think in these circumstances that he should be made your Second-in-Command [added in pencil, "possibly"?] with the rank of Admiral, and the implied succession to the post of Commander-in-Chief should that fall vacant.

I am of course well aware of the inconveniences which inevitably attach to this policy. It will not, I am afraid be agreeable to the Vice-Admirals who are now in command of the 2nd and 4th Battle Squadrons. But we should have had to face these inconveniences in even a more aggravated form if your original plan of coming to the Admiralty to deal with the submarine menace, could have been carried into effect. They really are inevitable; and I, or any successor of mine in this Office, may at any moment be compelled to deal with them.

There are of course many subsidiary problems to be solved if the course I propose is adopted - e.g., the status and command of what is now called the Battle Cruiser Fleet. All these questions will require very careful reflection. The main point, however, is that Admiral Burney's time has elapsed, his successor as Second-Command should be the man who, in the opinion of the Admiralty, would would be best qualified to be Commander-in-Chief - if a new Commander-in-Chief had to be selected.

I propose to talk the matter over as soon as possible with Admiral Beatty. I have already discussed it with the First Sea Lord. He gives a general approval to the plan; and I most earnestly hope that you will do the same.[6]

On 19 November Jellicoe wrote to Jackson:

Mr Balfour has written that he proposes to relieve Burney at the end of his 2 years & to make Beatty 2nd in command. I am intensely sorry to lose Burney. He is a splendid seaman & handles ships second to none & if his health were above suspicion he should certainly remain, but I do honestly think that he might not bear a great strain for long.

I assume the decision re Beatty is irrevocable, so whilst giving my opinion (which you know) I have only said that I hope he will remain in the BCF as long as he is 2nd & not come to the 1st BS. I don't see any use in his doing so & I see very many objections.

He will require a very able C.O.S.[,] of that I am convinced & I can think of no one better than Duff, if Duff would take the job. T. Napier is the next best but has no Battle Fleet experience which I consider essential & I think Duff is the stronger character which is wanted under the circumstances.[7]


  1. Letter of 11 July, 1916. Jellicoe Papers. British Library. Add. MSS. 71556. f. 118.
  2. Enclosure to No. 2115/H.F. 0022. Add. MSS. 49012. f. 126.
  3. Copy of M. 08218/16, dated 21 September, 1916. Add. MSS. 49012. f. 131.
  4. London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29751. p. 9070. 15 September, 1916.
  5. M. 00145. ADM 137/1645. ff. 350-355.
  6. Letter of 30 January, 1911. Jellicoe Papers. British Library. Add. MSS. 71556. ff. 133-135.
  7. Jackson Papers. National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth. 255/4/107.