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The Crisis of the
Naval War

G.C.B., O.M., G.C.V.O.

_With 8 Plates and 6 Charts_


















A Mine Exploding

A German Submarine of the U-C Type

A German Submarine of the later Cruiser Class

A Smoke Screen for a Convoy

The Dummy Deck-house of a Decoy Ship

A Convoy Zigzagging

A Convoy with an Airship

Drifters at Sea

A Paddle Minesweeper

A German Mine on the Surface

Two Depth Charges after Explosion

The Tell-tale Oil Patch

A Submarine Submerging

Periscope of Submerged Submarine Travelling at Slow Speed

A Submarine Submerged



A. Approach Areas and Typical Routes.

B. Typical Approach Lines.

C. Barred Zones Proclaimed by the Germans.

D. Patrol Areas, British Isles.

E. Patrol and Minesweeping Zones in the Mediterranean.

F. Showing French and British Ports within Range of the
German Bases at Ostend and Zeebrugge.


The Officers and Men
of our
Convoy, Escort, Patrol and Minesweeping Vessels
and their
Comrades of the Mercantile Marine

by whose splendid gallantry, heroic self-sacrifice, and
unflinching endurance the submarine
danger was defeated


Owing to the peculiar nature and demands of naval warfare, but few
dispatches, corresponding to those describing the work and achievements
of our great armies, were issued during the progress of the war. In a
former volume I attempted to supply this defect in the historical
records, which will be available for future generations, so far as the
Grand Fleet was concerned, during my period as its Commander-in-Chief.
The present volume, which was commenced and nearly completed in 1918,
was to have been published at the same time. My departure on a Naval
mission early in 1919 prevented me, however, from putting the finishing
touches to the manuscript until my return this spring.

I hesitated as to the publication of this portion of what is in effect
one complete narrative, but eventually decided not to depart from my
original purpose. There is some reason to believe that the account of
the work of the Grand Fleet gave the nation a fuller conception of the
services which the officers and men of that force rendered in
circumstances which were necessarily not easily appreciated by landsmen.

This second volume, dealing with the defeat of the enemy's submarine
campaign, the gravest peril which ever threatened the population of this
country, as well as of the whole Empire, may not be unwelcome as a
statement of facts. They have been set down in order that the sequence
and significance of events may be understood, and that the nation may
appreciate the debt which it owes, in particular, to the seamen of the
Royal Navy and the Mercantile Marine, who kept the seas during the
unforgettable days of the intensive campaign.

This book, therefore, gives the outline of the work accomplished by the
Navy in combating the unrestricted submarine warfare instituted by the
Central Powers in February, 1917. It would have been a labour of love to
tell at greater length and in more detail how the menace was gradually
overcome by the gallantry, endurance and strenuous work of those serving
afloat in ships flying the White or the Red Ensigns, but I had not the
necessary materials at my disposal for such an exhaustive record.

The volume is consequently largely concerned with the successive steps
taken at the Admiralty to deal with a situation which was always
serious, and which at times assumed a very grave aspect. The ultimate
result of all Naval warfare must naturally rest with those who are
serving afloat, but it is only just to the Naval officers and others who
did such fine work at the Admiralty in preparing for the sea effort,
that their share in the Navy's final triumph should be known. The
writing of this book appeared also to be the only way in which I could
show my keen appreciation of the loyalty and devotion to duty of the
Naval Staff, of the many clever, ingenious and audacious schemes
developed and carried through for the destruction of submarines and the
safeguarding of ocean-borne trade, and of the skilful organization which
brought into being, and managed with such success, that great network of
convoys by which the sea communications of the Allies were kept open.
The volume shows how the officers who accompanied me to the Admiralty
from the Grand Fleet at the end of 1916, in association with those
already serving in Whitehall and others who joined in 1917, with the
necessary and valuable assistance of our comrades of the Mercantile
Marine, gradually produced the measures by which the Sea Service
conquered the gravest danger which has ever faced the Empire.

There were at times inevitable set-backs as the enemy gained experience
of our methods, and new ones had then to be devised, and we were always
most seriously handicapped by the strain imposed upon the Fleet by our
numerous military and other commitments overseas, and by the difficulty
of obtaining supplies of material, owing to the pre-occupation of our
industries in meeting the needs of our Armies in equipment and
munitions; but, generally speaking, it may be said that in April, 1917,
the losses reached their maximum, and that from the following month and
onwards the battle was being slowly but gradually won. By the end of the
year it was becoming apparent that success was assured.

The volume describes the changes carried out in the Admiralty Staff
organization; the position of affairs in regard to submarine warfare in
the early part of 1917; and the numerous anti-submarine measures which
were devised and brought into operation during the year. The
introduction and working of the convoy system is also dealt with. The
entry of the United States of America into the war marked the opening of
a new phase of the operations by sea, and it has been a pleasure to give
particulars of our cordial co-operation with the United States Navy. The
splendid work of the patrol craft and minesweepers is described all too
briefly, and I have had to be content to give only a brief summary of
the great services of the Dover and Harwich forces.

Finally, an effort has been made to suggest the range and character of
the work of the Production Departments at the Admiralty. It is
impossible to tell this part of the story without conveying some
suggestion of criticism since the output never satisfied our
requirements. I have endeavoured also to indicate where it seemed to me
that changes in organization were not justified by results, so that in
future years we may benefit by the experience gained. But I would not
like it to be thought that I did not, and do not, realize the
difficulties which handicapped production, or that I did not appreciate
to the full the work done by all concerned.

It is unfortunate that attempts to draw attention to the lessons taught
us by the war are regarded by many people either as complaints of lack
of devotion to the country's interests on the part of some, or as
criticisms of others who, in the years before the war or during the war,
were responsible for the administration of the Navy. In anticipation of
such an attitude, I wish to state emphatically that, where mention is
made of apparent shortcomings or of action which, judged by results, did
not seem, to meet a particular situation, this is done solely in order
that on any future occasion of a similar character - and may the day be
long postponed - the nation may profit by experience.

Those who are inclined to indulge in criticism should ever bear in mind
that the Navy was faced with problems which were never foreseen, and
could not have been foreseen, by anyone in this country. Who, for
instance, would have ever had the temerity to predict that the Navy,
confronted by the second greatest Naval Power in the world, would be
called upon to maintain free communications across the Channel for many
months until the months became years, in face of the naval forces of the
enemy established on the Belgian coast, passing millions of men across
in safety, as well as vast quantities of stores and munitions? Who would
have prophesied that the Navy would have to safeguard the passage of
hundreds of thousands of troops from the Dominions to Europe, as well as
the movement of tens of thousands of labourers from China and elsewhere?
Or who, moreover, would have been believed had he stated that the Navy
would be required to keep open the sea communications of huge armies in
Macedonia, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia and East Africa, against attack
by surface vessels, submarines and mines, whilst at the same time
protecting the merchant shipping of ourselves, our Allies, and neutral
Powers against similar perils, and assisting to ensure the safety of the
troops of the United States when they, in due course, were brought
across the Atlantic? Compare those varied tasks with the comparatively
modest duties which in pre-war days were generally assigned to the Navy,
and it will be seen how much there may be to learn of the lessons of
experience, and how sparing we should be of criticism. Wisdom distilled
from events which were unforeseeable should find expression not in
criticisms of those who did their duty to the best of their ability, but
in the taking of wise precautions for the future.

Little mention is made in this volume of the work of the Grand Fleet
during the year 1917, but, although that Fleet had no opportunity of
showing its fighting power, it must never be forgotten that without the
Grand Fleet, under the distinguished officer who succeeded me as
Commander-in-Chief at the end of 1916, all effort would have been of no
avail, since every operation by sea, as well as by land, was carried out
under the sure protecting shield of that Fleet, which the enemy could
not face.

I am conscious of many shortcomings in the book, but it may prove of
interest to those who desire to know something of the measures which
gradually wore down the German submarine effort, and, at any rate, it is
the only record likely to be available in the near future of the work of
fighting the submarines in 1917.

June, 1920.



It is perhaps as well that the nation generally remained to a great
extent unconscious of the extreme gravity of the situation which
developed during the Great War, when the Germans were sinking an
increasing volume of merchant tonnage week by week. The people of this
country as a whole rose superior to many disheartening events and never
lost their sure belief in final victory, but full knowledge of the
supreme crisis in our history might have tended to undermine in some
quarters that confidence in victory which it was essential should be
maintained, and, in any event, the facts could not be disclosed without
benefiting the enemy. But the position at times was undoubtedly
extremely serious.

At the opening of the war we possessed approximately half the merchant
tonnage of the world, but experience during the early part of the
struggle revealed that we had not a single ship too many for the great
and increasing oversea military liabilities which we were steadily
incurring, over and above the responsibility of bringing to these shores
the greater part of the food for a population of forty-five million
people, as well as nearly all the raw materials which were essential for
the manufacture of munitions. The whole of our war efforts, ashore as
well as afloat, depended first and last on an adequate volume of
merchant shipping.

It is small wonder, therefore, that those who watched from day to day
the increasing toll which the enemy took of the country's sea-carrying
power, were sometimes filled with deep concern for the future.
Particularly was this the case during the early months of unrestricted
submarine warfare in 1917. For if the menace had not been mastered to a
considerable extent, and that speedily, not only would the victory of
the Allies have been imperilled, but this country would have been
brought face to face with conditions approaching starvation. In pre-war
days the possibility of these islands being blockaded was frequently
discussed; but during the dark days of the unrestricted submarine
campaign there was ample excuse for those with imagination to picture
the implication of events which were happening from week to week. The
memories of those days are already becoming somewhat dim, and as a
matter of history and a guide to the future, it is perhaps well that
some account should be given, however inadequate, of the dangers which
confronted the country and of the means which were adopted to avert the
worst consequences of the enemy's campaign without ceasing to exert the
increasing pressure of our sea power upon his fighting efficiency, and
without diminishing our military efforts overseas.

The latter points were of great importance. It was always necessary to
keep the Grand Fleet at a strength that would ensure its instant
readiness to move in waters which might be infested by submarines in
large numbers should the Germans decide upon some operation by the High
Sea Fleet. The possibility of action between the fleets necessitated the
maintenance of very strong destroyer forces with the Grand Fleet.

Similarly our oversea military expeditions, with the consequent large
number of merchant ships in use as transports or supply ships, required
a considerable force of destroyers and other small craft. These
commitments greatly reduced the means at our disposal for dealing with
the hostile submarines that were attempting to prevent the import of
food and raw materials into the country.

Readers of books, and particularly books dealing with war, show a
natural avidity for what may be described as the human side of a contest
as well as for the dramatic events. But, whether it be prosecuted by sea
or by land, war is largely a matter of efficient and adequate
organization. It is a common saying that we muddle through our wars, but
we could not afford to muddle in face of the threat which the enemy's
unrestricted submarine campaign represented. It is impossible,
therefore, to approach the history of the successful efforts made by sea
to overcome this menace without describing in some detail the work of
organization which was carried out at the Admiralty in order to enable
the Fleet to fulfil its new mission. In effect those responsible for the
naval policy of the country conducted two wars simultaneously, the one
on the surface, and the other under the surface. The strategy, tactics
and weapons which were appropriate to the former, were to a large extent
useless in the contest against mines and submarines which the enemy
employed with the utmost persistency and no little ingenuity. Even in
the Russo-Japanese war, where the mine was little used, it exerted a
marked influence on the course of the war; the Germans based their hopes
of victory in the early days of the struggle entirely on a war of
attrition, waged against men-of-war, as well as merchant ships. The
submarine, which was thrown into the struggle in increasing numbers,
represented an entirely new development, for the submarine is a vessel
which can travel unseen beneath the water and, while still unseen,
except for a possible momentary glimpse of a few inches of periscope,
can launch a torpedo at long or short range and with deadly accuracy. In
these circumstances it became imperative to organize the Admiralty
administration to meet new needs, and to press into the service of the
central administration a large number of officers charged with the sole
duty of studying the new forms of warfare which the enemy had adopted
and of evolving with scientific assistance novel methods of defeating
his tactics.

Whilst the enemy's campaign against merchant shipping always gave rise
to anxiety, there were certain periods of greatly increased activity.
During the summer months of 1916 the losses from submarine attack and
from submarine-laid mines were comparatively slight, and, in fact, less
than during the latter half of 1915, but in the autumn of 1916 they
assumed very serious proportions. This will be seen by reference to the
following table, which gives the monthly losses in British, neutral and
Allied mercantile gross tonnage from submarine and mine attack _alone_
for the months of May to November inclusive:

May ... 122,793
June ... 111,719
July ... 110,757
August ... 160,077
September ... 229,687
October ... 352,902
November ... 327,245

Another disturbing feature was the knowledge that we were not sinking
enemy submarines at any appreciable rate, whilst we knew that the
Germans had under construction a very large number of these vessels, and
that they were thus rapidly adding to their fleet. It was a matter also
of common knowledge that our output of new merchant ships was
exceedingly small, and I, in common with others, had urged a policy of
greatly increased mercantile ship construction. These facts, combined
with the knowledge that our reserves of food and essential raw materials
for war purposes were very low, led me, when commanding the Grand Fleet,
to the inevitable conclusion that it was essential to concentrate all
our naval efforts so far as possible on the submarine menace, and to
adopt the most energetic measures for the protection of our sea
communications and the destruction of the enemy's submarines. Although
it was not easy to see the exact means by which this could be achieved,
it appeared necessary as a first step to form an organization having as
its sole duty the study of the question, comprising such officers as
would be most likely to deal effectively with the problem, supported by
the necessary authority to push forward their ideas. Another necessity
was the rapid production of such material as was found to be required
for anti-submarine measures.

With these ideas in my mind I had written letters to the Admiralty on
the subject, and was summoned to a conference in London on November 1 by
Mr. Balfour, the First Lord. The whole question of the submarine warfare
was fully discussed with Mr. Balfour and Sir Henry Jackson (then First
Sea Lord) during the two days spent in London. I had at that time formed
and expressed the view that there was very little probability of the
High Sea Fleet putting to sea again to risk a Fleet action until the new
submarine campaign had been given a thorough trial. With the High Sea
Fleet "in being" we could not afford to deplete the Grand Fleet of
destroyers, which could under other conditions be employed in
anti-submarine work, and therefore the probable German strategy in these
circumstances was to keep the Fleet "in being." At the same time the
situation appeared so serious that I went so far as to suggest that one
Grand Fleet flotilla of destroyers might under certain conditions be
withdrawn for anti-submarine duties in southern waters.

The misgivings which I entertained were, of course, shared by all those
in authority who were acquainted with the facts of the case, including
the Board of Admiralty.

On November 24 Mr. Balfour telegraphed offering me the post of First Sea
Lord, and in the event of acceptance requesting me to meet him in
Edinburgh to discuss matters. After consultation with Sir Charles
Madden, my Chief of Staff, I replied that I was prepared to do what was
considered best for the Service.

During the conference with Mr. Balfour in Edinburgh on November 27,
1916, and after I had agreed to go to the Admiralty, he informed me of
the consequent changes which he proposed to make in flag officers'
appointments in the Grand Fleet. Amongst the changes he included Admiral
Sir Cecil Burney, who would be relieved of his post as second in command
of the Grand Fleet and commander of the 1st Battle Squadron, as he had
practically completed his term of two years in command. I thereupon
asked that he might be offered the post of Second Sea Lord, and that
Commodore Lionel Halsey, who had been serving as Captain of the Fleet,
might be offered that of Fourth Sea Lord. In my view it was very
desirable that an officer with the great experience in command possessed
by Sir Cecil Burney should occupy the position of Second Sea Lord under
the conditions which existed, and that one who had served afloat during
the war in both an executive and administrative capacity should become
Fourth Sea Lord. I also informed Mr. Balfour of my desire to form an
Anti-Submarine Division of the War Staff at the Admiralty, and asked
that Rear-Admiral A.L. Duff, C.B., should be offered the post of
Director of the Division, with Captain F.C. Dreyer, C.B., my Flag
Captain in the _Iron Duke_, as his assistant.

All these appointments were made.

Although I arrived in London on November 29, I did not actually take
office as First Sea Lord until December 5, owing to an attack of
influenza. On that day I relieved Sir Henry Jackson, but only held
office under Mr. Balfour for two or three days, as the change of
Government took place just at this period, and Sir Edward Carson came to
the Admiralty in place of Mr. Balfour.

This book is intended to record facts, and not to touch upon personal
matters, but I cannot forbear to mention the extreme cordiality of Sir
Edward Carson's relations with the Board in general and myself in
particular. His devotion to the naval service was obvious to all, and in
him the Navy possessed indeed a true and a powerful friend.

The earliest conversations between the First Lord and myself had
relation to the submarine menace, and Sir Edward Carson threw himself
wholeheartedly into the work. This was before the days of the
unrestricted submarine campaign, and although ships were frequently
torpedoed, very large numbers were still being sunk by gun-fire. The
torpedo did not come into general use until March, 1917.

One of the most pressing needs of this period of attack by gun-fire was
consequently a great increase in the number of guns for use in
defensively armed merchant vessels, and here Sir Edward Carson's
assistance was of great value. He fully realized the urgent necessities
of the case, and was constant in his efforts to procure the necessary
guns. The work carried out in this connection is given in detail in
Chapter III (p. 68).

During Sir Edward's tenure of office the reorganization of the Naval
Staff was taken in hand. Changes from which great benefit resulted were
effected in the Staff organization. Sir Edward very quickly saw the
necessity for a considerable strengthening of the Staff. In addition to
the newly formed and rapidly expanding Anti-Submarine Division of the
Naval Staff, he realized that the Operations Division also needed
increased strength, and that it was essential to relieve the First Sea
Lord of the mass of administrative work falling upon his shoulders,
which had unfortunately been greatly magnified by the circumstances
already described.

It is as well at this point to describe the conditions in regard to
Staff organization that existed at the Admiralty at the end of 1916, and
to show how those conditions had been arrived at.

Prior to 1909 there was no real Staff, although the organization at the
Admiralty included an Intelligence Department and a Mobilization
Division. The Director of Naval Intelligence at that time acted in an
advisory capacity as Chief of the Staff. Indeed prior to 1904 there were
but few naval officers at the Admiralty at all beyond those in the
technical departments of the Director of Naval Ordnance and Torpedoes
and the members of the Board itself. The Sea Lords were even without
Naval Assistants and depended entirely on the help of a secretary
provided by the civilian staff at the Admiralty.

In 1910 a new branch was formed termed the Mobilization and Movements
Department under a Director. This branch was a first step towards an
Operations Division.

Under Mr. Churchill's regime at the Admiralty in 1911 a more regular

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