Jellicoe:The War at Sea, 1914-1916

From The Dreadnought Project
Jump to: navigation, search
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


At 11 a.m. on 13 August Jellicoe met with the flag officers present at Scapa (from the First, Second, Fourth and Sixth Battle Squadrons, and presumably the First Light Cruiser Squadron) to discuss the forthcoming operation before the fleet proceeded to sea that evening.[1]

Letter of 30 October, 1914

See: Jellicoe Letter to the Admiralty, 30 October, 1914.

The Secretary of the Admiralty sent the Board's reply on 7 November:

I have laid before the My Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty your letter of the 30th ultimo.,and I am commanded by them to inform you that they approve your views, as stated therein, and desire to assure you of their full confidence in your contemplated condict of the Fleet in action.

2. My Lords will, as desired, give orders for all available Ships and Torpedo Craft to proceed to the position of the Fleet Action on learning from you that it is imminent.[2]

Churchill later wrote (though it is unclear from the source when):

I take the fullest responsibility for approving the answer proposed by the First Sea Lord. There was no reason in the first phase of the naval war for seeking a battle except in the best conditions, but I do not accept any responsibility for the actual conduct of Jutland which took place in conditions of relative strength different from those which existed in October 1914.[3]

In 1924 he claimed in a letter to Vice-Admiral Sir Roger J. B. Keyes, Bart., the Deputy Chief of Naval Staff: "My recollection is that I simply affixed my initials to the draft prepared under the direction of the First Sea Lord with the advice of AKW [Sir Arthur K. Wilson]."[4]

Historian Andrew Gordon decries the Board for "rather carelessly" approving Jellicoe's plan, and claims that "there were several things wrong with it." He suggests that, "The plausibility of the Germans risking a disastrous fleet engagement in open waters for the sake of so uncertain a ploy as a U-Boat ambush was not subjected to analysis, and the likelihood that they might simply be running away was obscured."[5]


On 8 January, 1915, Rear-Admiral Duff of the Fourth Battle Squadron wrote in his diary:

Had a discussion with the V.A. [Vice-Admiral Gamble] I agree with him that the Fleet is very badly run. The Staff in the Iron Duke is far too large, which prevents decentralisation, and takes all initiative and authority out of the hands of the V.A.s.[6]

Jellicoe was appointed Knight Grand Cross in the Order of the Bath (G.C.B.) on 8 February.[7] On 5 March he was confirmed in the rank of Admiral after Sir Hedworth Meux was promoted to the rank of Admiral of the Fleet.[8]

In a letter to Jellicoe of 4 July, Balfour commented:

I shall be deeply interested to hear how you propose to deal with the fleet problem on which you and your officers have been engaged. Rest of quote is in J.P.I. p. 171.[9]

On 16 September, 1915, Jellicoe went on leave for ten days. Warspite was sent to Rosyth to return him to the fleet in the event of a concentration. Burney moved aboard Iron Duke in temporary command, and Madden took command of the First Battle Squadron.[10]


With regard to the Fifth Battle Squadron, Jellicoe wrote to Jackson on 9 March:

Beatty has returned to the charge about the 5th BS but I am sure it would be wrong to send them to him. It would for one thing lead to his getting far afield from us which is wrong & in thick weather might be almost disastrous. I am still pondering on the subject.[11]

On 29 April, Jellicoe wrote to Jackson:

Your query re Jerram is a little difficult to answer at present as I have not had very great experience with him at sea.

Unless the matter is urgent I should prefer to give my opinion a little later, but if the matter must be decided now I will give my present view on being told in this sense.

I notice that Rosyth is not vacant until July so possibly there is no great hurry. I don't see much of Jerram. Warrender used to visit me so frequently that he delayed my work. Jerram never comes unless I send for him. He certainly has not a tithe of the Fleet experience of Burney & naturally shews it, but he is an excellent seaman and may pick up quickly, only unfortunately I can't do any exercises with the Germans inclined to be active so there is no chance of giving him experience except such as he picks up on our southern trips. One really wants to be able to exercises Battle tactics against another fleet to be able to form an opinion as to how he would shape under these conditions. On the one occasion when I have had him out for this work he did not do too well. The 1st BS if vacant must I think lie between Madden, Calthorpe, Heath & De Chair. I don't think Bayly would do. He has such curious fits of heroics & he proposes such impossible things that I doubt his judgement now.

If I could spare Madden & he would leave me (both of which are doubtful) he is far & away the best for the 1st BS. But he would be a grievous loss to me.

I would say Peirse but I am always doubtful of him & he is so frequently doubtful of himself that I do not think he would do. If you will let me know when I must give a reply I will let you have it definitely.[12]

Jellicoe wrote to Jackson on 21 May:

I have given much thought to the points you raise in your letter as to relief of Burney and re-organisation of the Battle Fleet.

I am of a very decided opinion that the two officers who are really fitted for the command of the 1st Battle Squadron are Colville and Madden.

If I felt as fit now as I did at the start I should propose Madden, but I am feeling the strain and it is useless to disguise the fact. I am conscious of it myself. Therefore I do not think I can start with a new Chief of the Staff. Madden is invaluable to me and if I broke down I am quite certain he is better fitted than else to run the Fleet. He is also certainly best Officer for the 1st B.S., but it is of greater importance that the Chief of Staff should be the best Officer available than that the 1st BS should have him.

This rules Madden out.

The possibilities for the 1st BS then are Colville, Bradford, Peirse, Calthorpe. Bradford would not do as I think the 1st Lord himself believes. Peirse has had no fleet experience for a great many years and is never very confident of himself. I rule him out. Calthorpe is possible but I do not call him first rate & should not recommend his appointment to such a powerful squadron.

Colville remains. He solves all difficulties, and I recommend that he be appointed. He may not be brilliant but he is sound. He's had more experience than anyone else and is physically fit. I am sure that, failing Madden, he is the best solution & I urge his appointment.

In regard to Sturdee, I should never feel safe with him in command of the most important squadron & leading the van. If you do not care to turn him over to the Hercules I would far sooner he kept Benbow in 4th BS & Hercules remains in 1st BS than that he should go to 1st B.S. I am sorry to say that I do not trust his judgement in tactical quations. I feel very strongly about this and I know that other flag officers hold the same views as myself.

I hope therefore that Colville will succeed Burney is the latter goes. As I said before I am of opinion that Burney is the right man for 2nd SL if Hamilton goes.[13]


  1. "Grand Fleet Operations, August, 1914 - Narrative of Events." Jellicoe Papers. British Library. Add MS. 48995. f. 28-29.
  2. Quoted in Jellicoe Papers. I. p. 79.
  3. Quoted in Bennett. Naval Battles of World War I. p. 136.
  4. Letter of 25 August, 1924. Gilbert. Winston S. Churchill. Companion Volume V. pp. 182-183.
  5. Gordon. p. 21.
  6. Duff Diary. National Maritime Museum. DFF/15.
  7. London Gazette: no. 29066. p. 1443. 12 February, 1915.
  8. London Gazette: no. 29094. p. 2365. 9 March, 1915.
  9. Letter of 4 July, 1915. British Library. Jellicoe Papers. Add. MSS. 48990. f 203.
  10. Commander Matthew Best's notebook entries for 16 September, 23 September, 1915. Liddle Collection. University of Leeds. RNMN/BEST. Box 1. Volume III.
  11. Jackson Papers. National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth: 255/4/53.
  12. Jackson Papers. National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth: 255/4/64.
  13. Jackson Papers. National Museum of the Royal Navy: Portsmouth. 255/4/65.


Gordon, Andrew (2005). The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command. London: John Murray (Publishers). ISBN 0719561310. (on and