Of Battle Orders and Battle Instructions

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In a 2016 article on the Battle of Jutland which appeared in the journal Proceedings Dr. Andrew Gordon writes:

Jellicoe’s succession as C-in-C Grand Fleet by Sir David Beatty at the end of 1916 brought changes whose reception had been prepared by the disappointment of Jutland. Beatty sensibly took his time, but within a year he had ousted Jellicoe’s voluminous Grand Fleet Battle Orders in favour of a few pages of “Grand Fleet Battle Instructions” that drew heavily from battlecruiser doctrine.[1]

The second sentence is riddled with inaccuracies. The purpose of this article is to correct them, and shed some light on post-Jutland orders.

Beatty assumed command of the Grand Fleet on 27 November 1916. The Commander-in-Chief’s battle orders were embodied in the Grand Fleet Battle Orders, which had been instituted by Jellicoe in 1914 and periodically revised, reflecting changes to the fleet and experience gained. Between Jutland and Jellicoe’s supersession at the end of November there were at least 35 such alterations alone.[2] Under Beatty there was no change in this respect. Between 27 November 1916 and 12 March 1917 the Grand Fleet Battle Orders were amended at least 20 times.[3]

On 12 March 1917 Beatty issued a new cover sheet for the Grand Fleet Battle Orders:

This cover contains—
The Grand Fleet Battle Instructions,
The Grand Fleet Battle Orders.
A thorough acquaintance with the above should ensure a complete understanding of the intentions of the Commander-in-Chief, according to the circumstances under which the enemy is met.[4]

The Grand Fleet Battle Instructions were a two-page summary of the Commander-in-Chief’s intentions, with a printed note at the top stating that they were ‘To be kept inside the front cover of the Grand Fleet Battle Orders.’[5] Therefore they were an adjunct to, and not a replacement for, the Grand Fleet Battle Orders, which were not ‘ousted’ as Gordon claims, and not within the year.

In fact, the Grand Fleet Battle Orders survived until February 1918. Like Jellicoe’s they also comprised Cruiser, Destroyer, Submarine and Mining Instructions, to which Beatty added Air. In total Beatty’s Battle Orders numbered over 50 pages.

A major change came in February 1918. The Grand Fleet Battle Orders (and their accompanying Battle Instructions) were divided into Grand Fleet Battle Instructions and Grand Fleet Manœuvring Orders. Dated 1 January 1918, they came into effect on 19 February.[6] In a covering memorandum it was stated that ‘It is improbable that reference to the Battle Instructions will be required to any large extent at sea.’ The Manœuvring Orders were to be on hand for leaving and entering harbour.[7] The reference to consulting the Battle Instructions at sea raises the question, never posed, let alone answered, as to whether the previous Battle Orders were consulted regularly at sea, if at all.

The new Grand Fleet Battle Instructions ‘give the guiding principles which are to be observed by all arms of the fleet when obtaining contact, and when in action, with the enemy.’[8] They totalled 34 pages plus appendix.[9] The Manœuvring Orders tallied 33 pages plus appendices.[10] Even if one were to accept the notion that Jellicoe’s Battle Orders were ‘voluminous,’ then Beatty’s own Battle Orders and succeeding Battle Instructions and Manœuvring Orders were also a mass of paperwork.

So, in summary:

  • Beatty did not ‘wait’, sensibly or otherwise, before making alterations to the Grand Fleet Battle Orders.
  • Jellicoe’s ‘voluminous’ Grand Fleet Battle Orders were not ‘within a year ousted’ by Grand Fleet Battle Instructions of ‘a few pages.’
  • The 1917 Grand Fleet Battle Instructions, being a summary of the Battle Orders still in place, did not ‘draw heavily from battlecruiser doctrine.’ The 1918 set were a stripped down version of the Battle Orders, and likewise cannot be considered drawn from battle cruiser doctrine.

It is a shame that in the centenary year of Jutland such inaccuracies are still being propagated. — SIMON HARLEY, Co-editor.


  1. Gordon. ‘Jutland through a hundred-year lens.’ p. 3 of PDF.
  2. The National Archives (hereafter TNA), ADM 116/1342, unnumbered folio. Table of Contents for ‘Volume II: After Jutland.’ My thanks to Steve McLaughlin for a copy of this massive document.
  3. Ibid.
  4. TNA, ADM 116/1342, f. 351.
  5. TNA, ADM 116/1342, ff. 352-353.
  6. TNA, ADM 116/1342, unnumbered folio. Table of contents for ‘Volume II: After Jutland, Part III.’
  7. H.F. 1126 182. TNA, ADM 116/1342, 507.
  8. TNA, ADM 116/1342, f. 508.
  9. TNA, ADM 116/1342, unnumbered folio. Table of contents for ‘Volume II: After Jutland, Part III.’
  10. TNA, ADM 116/1342, unnumbered folio. Table of contents for ‘Volume II: After Jutland, Part IV.’


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