Jellicoe War Orders and Dispositions 1912

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These War Orders & Dispositions were drafted by Admiral of the Fleet Earl Jellicoe in 1912 when in command of the Second Division of the Home Fleet (soon to become the Second Battle Squadron of the Home Fleets).[1] A severely abbreviated form of the War Orders appears in the printed papers of Earl Jellicoe edited by A. Temple Patterson.[2] Dr. Norman Friedman calls these the "earliest surviving British war orders,"[3] but such a claim is unfounded.[4]

They are marked "First Draft", (no other draft or copy is known to exist) and are strewn with manuscript amendments. These amendments are indicated by text which has been italicised, generally following crossed-out text, which reproduces that crossed out in the original typescript pages. The appendix mentioned in the War Orders was not attached to this draft and its whereabouts are unknown.

First Draft.


In order that Flag Officers and Captains under my command may be fully aware of the principles which will guide me in fighting an enemy's fleet should I be the Senior Officer, the following notes are promulgated for secret information:-


It is to be understood that Commanders of Divisions are given a wide discretion as to the conduct of their Divisions in action, so long as the general principles stated in below this memorandum are carried out.

After forming line of battle If the enemy by superior speed or a more favourable tactical position presses on the van our line, the leading ship is to should alter course gradually away from the enemy so as to preserve enemy's leading ship on an approximate beam bearing. ensure that all the guns of all ships in the lines are kept in action. If the alteration of course is delayed too much the effect is felt in the rear ships before they come to the turning point so that the enemy should not be allowed to get much before a beam bearing. Should the rear be attacked, the Commander of the rear division should place such ships as are necessary on a line of bearing to meet the attack.

When the guns are in action, it is of the utmost important that all turns should be made under small helm, to avoid disturbance of gunfire.

It is equally important of even greater importance that no ship should by her actions blanket the fire of a friend. The greatest care is to be taken that nothing of this nature occurs.

Neighbourly conduct in action is even more important than at other times, and neighbourly conduct is especially necessary in connection with the 'next astern'. This can be shown in many ways, especially in getting signals through to the 'next astern' and in avoiding such large alterations of course and speed as will force the 'next astern' to conform. Special care is necessary in this respect when on a line of bearing.

The Line of Battle will be formed approximately at right angles to the bearing of the centre of the enemy's line, and thereafter the Range will be shortened by the use of the Blue Pendant. When the line of Battle is formed by the use of the Oblique Pendant, the course and speed of the Divisions other than the Wing Divisions must be such as to produce the least disturbance of gunfire and the least blanketing, even at the expense of a gap being temporarily left between Divisions, which is a relatively unimportant matter. and which may even be advantageous if within torpedo range. If the enemy is seen to have torpedo craft in company a gap of 7 6 cables is to be left between the rear ship of one division and the leading ship of the next. The object of this gap is to enable Comrs of Divisions to turn their divisions by Blue Pendant independently if an attack by TBD's is made on the van.


The approach, weather conditions permitting, will be made in Divisions, or Sub-Divisions, (according to the number of ships) disposed at manoeuvring distance, and the fleet speed – unless that of the enemy necessitates an alteration – will be slightly less than that obtained at 3/5ths power by the slowest ship in the line.

If possible, a fast Division or Sub-division will be placed on each wing, and these fast Divisions will be used to gain a position of advantage across the flanks (which will become the van and rear) of the enemy if their excess of speed over that of the enemy's Battle Line is sufficient. It is considered that for this purpose an excess of at least five four knots in speed (as a Division) is necessary, i.e. that the slowest ship has an excess of 6 5 knots, one knot being allowed for station-keeping.


Unless the Fleet is numerically and actually stronger than that of the enemy, the separate attack by both the fast Divisions will not be carried out, at any rate at the commencement of the action, but the van fast Division will be used to bear upon the enemy's van, and as the enemy turns to prevent her his T being crossed, our main body will follow on in support of the fast Division, whilst the rear fast Division will be to attack the rear of the enemy as soon as the situation becomes favourable. Under these circumstances, the fast van Division must be careful not to become detached entirely beyond the support of the main body. The indication that this support is being lost will be the increased number of enemy's ships that are firing at the fast Division. The Flag Officer in command must use discretion as to increasing the range and decreasing his speed under such conditions, before he is overwhelmed by hostile fire.


In the case where we have a distinct superiority, this superiority will be made use of by holding the enemy's fleet by our main body, composed probably of fewer ships than are in the enemy's line, whilst the fast Divisions attack van and rear.


As is well known, the attack by fast Divisions is one requiring great skill and care. The least lack of care may result in a fast Division being isolated for a time, and the operation is more difficult for the Division attacking the rear than for that attacking the van.

The Division attacking the rear must be very most careful to keep outside Torpedo range until the ships are beyond the dangerous bearing for Torpedo fire.

The Division attacking the van may should find themselves in a favourable position for firing Torpedoes during the approach, and should not fail to take advantage of it. In both cases it is safe to shape the first course should be shaped on a theoretically correct plan, as a very few minutes on a really faulty course may result in disaster. For this purpose, the plan shown in Appendix I [Not attached] should be followed at the start, being modified as found necessary during the approach.

The enemy should be most carefully watched, as a 16-point turn on his part if not seen at once is likely to lead to the isolation of the original van – now rear – fast Division.

The Flag Officers of fast Divisions must be most careful to use small helm, and make as few turns as possible whilst getting into position, so that the least disturbance to gunfire takes place. They should place their ships on that line of bearing that as will give their maximum broadside fire during their approach and prevent fire being blanketed by adjacent ships as they approach, and the line of bearing should be such as to give their maximum broadside fire during their approach.


Whilst the fast Divisions are working into position, the main body will form line to engage the enemy with a very slow deliberate fire at extreme range, and will not close to really effective range until the fast Divisions are seen to be approaching a favourable position, the object being to get the fast Divisions and main body into effective range together. This requires great care, and it is very necessary desirable that the van and rear fast Divisions should reach their objectives at about the same time.


A very slow fire will be opened by guns of 9.2.” calibre and above at 14000 15000 yards. Providing weather conditions & motion of ships permit The fire is to be quickened as the range and rate of change are found and the range decreases, and at 9000 13,000 to 12000 yards the maximum rate of fire should be established if hits are being obtained. In view of the Torpedo menace, it is not intended to close to less than 6000 7000 yards under ordinary circumstances.


In the event of it appearing that the enemy has obtained our range and rate of change accurately, a Blue Pendant turn of one or two points may be expected, with the idea of disturbing the accuracy of the enemy's fire.


If the attack is being made by Divisions, with a consequent pressure on the van and rear of enemy by the fast Divisions, the fire of the main body will be dispersed amongst the ships of the enemy's line, ships in rear receiving the least fire. If any ship is in doubt as to her target, she should take her opposite number in the enemy's line, leaving out the enemy's two van ships, if the attack is by Divisions. If the attack is not made by Divisions, ships will fire at their opposite number in the enemy's line unless concentration is ordered.


Common shell for ranging. Lyddite A.P. when the firing becomes general.


The intention is to fight the action with the gun as the principal weapon, but every opportunity that presents itself of firing a torpedo is to be taken, and a fast Division attacking the van will have the best chance of using this weapon. Should the progress of the action show a very decided superiority in gun fire on the part of the enemy at long range, course will be altered as quickly as possible until so that effective torpedo range is reached. as quickly as possible.


Ships unable to keep their station in the line are to haul outwards and take station in rear. When no longer able to keep up they must act as circumstances dictate. The disabled ships of the enemy will also be left behind until the main body is accounted for, but if the fleet is accompanied by Torpedo Craft, a proportion of them will be detailed to prevent the escape of the enemy's disabled vessels.


When line of Battle is formed Our own Torpedo Craft with attendant vessels will be take stationed one half 2 points on the disengaged quarter of the main body, unless these dispositions are necessarily altered by the proceedings of the similar hostile vessels. The purpose of the light vessels accompanying our Destroyers is to prevent the attack of the enemy's Torpedo Craft on our Battle Line. That of the Destroyers themselves is to attack the enemy's Battle Line.

The attendant vessels are to be formed between our Destroyers and the enemy, but always a mile further from the enemy than our Battle Fleet. It is most important that this rule should not be disregarded, so that these light vessels are not sunk by “overs”. The Destroyers and attendant vessels are divided so that should a 16-point turn be made, the disposition is not affected, but if the Senior Officer of the Flotilla sees that the enemy is concentrating all his Destroyers at one end of the line, he should meet this by a similar concentration of our attendant vessels and some of the Destroyers.

The Senior Officer of light cruisers is to meet an attack by enemy's Destroyers coming from ahead or nearly ahead of the enemy's line at once and without orders, and if necessary he is to order Destroyers to support him. The Battle Fleet will not be turned away from attacking Destroyers if it can be avoided, but will trust to the light cruisers for protection. They must however be always ready for such a turn as a last resort. If the Battle Line is short, a Blue Pendant turn might be expected. If the line consists of more than 12 vessels, the Flag Officers of the leading Divisions have has discretionary powers to turn his Division by Blue Pendant.

Flag Officers of remaining Divisions will make a similar turn together as soon as they observe his action or see his signal. The gap of 6 cables left between divisions should admit of their being separately by Blue Pendant without danger of overlapping. A turn in succession would give the enemy's Battle Fleet so great an advantage as to be most undesirable. The amount of the turn should of course be restricted as much as possible to avoid a turn of 3 points should have a great effect in increasing the time for dealing with the enemy's TBD's and will also cause probable errors in his Torpedo fire.

The occasion on which a turn together is like most likely to be required is when the enemy's Destroyers attack through the intervals in their own Battle Line, and the position of the Destroyers will give a good indication as to which form of attack will be probable.


This will be ordered:-

(1) when As soon as the enemy has commenced to suffered considerably from our fire.

(2) if our fire is in danger of being overwhelmed, so as the object being to create a diversion and force the enemy either to turn and to direct divert a portion of his fire on to the Destroyers.

The attack is to be made from a position not more than 4 points on the bow of the enemy, and consequently the Flotilla must move ahead of our own Battle Fleet as the action progresses.

If an attack by Destroyers is carried out, one or two Divisions of Destroyers with an attendant vessel is to accompany the van fast Division, keeping abreast at least a mile further from the enemy than the fast Division. The Flag Officer of the fast Division will give the order for the this attack to take place.


Repeating ships are to take station one mile on the off beam of the Battle Fleet. This distance is necessary to avoid dame from “overs”.


The leading ship will always become, without signal, the guide of the Fleet, unless orders to the contrary are signalled.

Should the leading ship be forced to haul out of line from any cause, she is immediately to acquaint her next astern by hauling down No 4 pendant. This is of the greatest importance to avoid the second ship following a turn which is not intended.

The next astern will then hoist 4 pt & take guide of the Fleet without further orders.

The second ship in the line should be on the look out for a large alteration of course by the leading ship & if such an alteration is made without apparent cause & without signal he should not necessarily follow it. For this reason leading ship are always to shew a compass pt above the netting to the next astern if she is altering course more than 2 points so that next astern knows it is an intended alteration & not involuntary. The compass pendant alone will suffice.


  1. Jellicoe Papers. British Library. Add. MS. 49012. ff. 1-16.
  2. The Jellicoe Papers. I. pp. 23-25.
  3. Friedman. Naval Firepower. p. 87. Friedman however doesn't cite the original of this document.
  4. See, for example, Harley, Simon (August, 2016). ‘A Distinct Point in Modern Naval Tactics’. The Mariner's Mirror. 102 (3): 325-330.