and General Sir Henry Rawlinson (now Lord Rawlinson), and I took the
opportunity of a visit paid by Sir H. Rawlinson to London to confer with
him myself. Subsequently a conference took place at the War Office at
which Sir Douglas Haig was present.
There was entire unanimity between the Navy and Army over the proposed
operation, and we greatly admired the manner in which the Sister Service
took up the work of preparing for the landing. Secrecy was absolutely
vital to success, as the whole scheme was dependent on the operation
being a surprise, more particularly in the selection of the landing
place. Admiral Bacon describes in his book the methods by which secrecy
was preserved. As time passed, and the atrocious weather in Flanders
during the summer of 1917 prevented the advance of our Army, it became
more and more difficult to preserve secrecy; but although the fact that
some operation of the kind was in preparation gradually became known to
an increasing number of people, it is safe to say that the enemy never
realized until long after the operation had been abandoned its real
nature or the locality selected for it.
Some officers with experience of the difficulties encountered during the
landings at Gallipoli expressed doubts of the practicability of the
operation in the face of the heavy fire from large guns and from machine
guns which might be expected, but the circumstances were so different
from those at Gallipoli that neither Sir Reginald Bacon nor I shared
these doubts. The heavy bombardment of the coast batteries by our own
shore guns, which had been greatly strengthened for the purpose, the
rapidity of the landing, the use of a dense smoke screen, the fact of
the landing being a complete surprise, the use of tanks for dealing with
hostile machine guns, the interruption to the enemy's shore
communications by heavy artillery fire, and the bombardment by monitors
of the coast well to the eastward of the landing place as a feint, were
all new factors, and all promised to assist towards success.
Of the supreme importance of the operation there could be no question.
Ever since 1914 the Navy had been pressing for the recapture of the
ports on the Belgian coast, and they could only be taken by means of a
combined operation. Sir John French (now Field-Marshal Viscount French)
himself had in the early days of the war pointed, out the great
importance of securing the coast, but circumstances beyond his control
were too powerful for him.
It was in these circumstances that the decision to undertake the
operation was made, and when it became necessary to abandon it owing to
the inability of the Army to co-operate the intense disappointment felt
by all those who had worked so hard to ensure its success can be
The Harwich force, consisting of the 5th Light Cruiser Squadron and the
flotilla of destroyers, was the only other British force stationed in
south-eastern waters if we except the local craft at the Nore. The 5th
Light Cruiser Squadron and the flotilla were under the command of
Commodore (now Rear-Admiral) Sir Reginald Tyrwhitt, an officer whose
vessels were, if we except the Dover patrol, more frequently in contact
with the enemy than any other British force in Home waters. Sir Reginald
Tyrwhitt had several functions to perform:
(1) It was always hoped that he would be able to join forces with the
Grand Fleet should events foreshadow a meeting with the High Sea Fleet.
(2) We depended very largely on him for reconnaissance work in the
southern part of the North Sea and into the German Bight.
(3) It fell to his lot as a rule to provide the covering force for
aerial operations carried out from seaplane carriers in southern waters.
(4) His force was best placed to cut off any enemy light craft that
might be located in southern waters and to attack Zeppelins at sea on
their return from raids over England.
(5) He was called upon almost weekly to cover the passage of the convoy
of merchant ships between the Thames and Holland known as the "Dutch
(6) He was constantly called upon the provide reinforcements for the
Dover Patrol or to assist in operations carried out by the latter force.
These miscellaneous duties involved a great deal of work for the Harwich
force and particularly for the destroyers.
The necessity for continually providing reinforcements from the Harwich
force for the Dover Patrol was a standing handicap to Sir Reginald
Tyrwhitt's operations; he took the matter philosophically, although I
always realized how difficult it made his work at times, and whenever,
as was frequent, combined operations were carried out by the two forces,
the greatest harmony prevailed between the Commands.
At the commencement of 1917 the Harwich force comprised 8 light
cruisers, 2 flotilla leaders and 45 destroyers. During the year new
vessels were either added to it or replaced older craft which were
withdrawn for other services, and at the end of the year the force
included 9 light cruisers, 4 flotilla leaders and 24 destroyers.
The force was constantly operating in the outer waters of the Heligoland
Bight to seaward of our minefields. The objects of the presence of our
ships in these waters, in addition to reconnaissance work and aerial
(a) To intercept any enemy light forces which might be intending to
operate off our coasts or which might be on passage between German
(b) To surprise and attack enemy minesweeping vessels.
(c) To destroy Zeppelins either on reconnaissance or raiding work.
(d) To capture enemy merchant ships trading between Dutch and German
ports, or neutrals with contraband trading to Germany.
The opportunities that were given to the force under heading (a) were
exceedingly rare during the year 1917, when even the light forces of the
High Sea Fleet were content to remain almost constantly in port except
when engaged in the operations in the Baltic, and excepting also on the
two occasions on which attacks were made on the Scandinavian convoy; but
a portion of the Harwich force succeeded on one occasion in intercepting
a flotilla of German destroyers _en route_ to Zeebrugge from German
ports with the result that one destroyer was seriously damaged and
forced into the Dutch port of Ymuiden and another either sunk or badly
Forces from Harwich also succeeded in capturing or sinking twenty-four
merchant ships trading between Antwerp and Dutch ports and Germany
during the year, but the main result of the operations of this force was
shown in the refusal of the enemy to risk his vessels except under cover
of darkness in the area in which the Harwich force worked.
The duty of protecting the Dutch convoy imposed a heavy strain upon the
Harwich force. During the year 1917, 520 eastbound and 511 westbound
vessels were convoyed between Dutch and British ports with the loss of
only four ships by submarine attack, one by destroyer attack, and one by
mine. The price paid by the force for this success was the loss of four
destroyers by mines, and one by collision, and the damage of three
destroyers by mine or torpedo, and of five destroyers and one light
cruiser by collision. The frequent collisions were due to the conditions
under which the traffic was carried out at night without lights, and to
the prevalence of fogs. The procedure adopted by the force was
frequently changed as it necessarily became known to the Germans.
The extraordinarily small losses in the convoys were a very great
tribute to the handling of the protecting force and to the organization
in Holland for arranging sailings, when it is borne in mind that it was
almost impossible to prevent leakage of information to German agents
once the time of sailing was given out, and that the convoys were open
to attack from destroyers and submarines operating either from Zeebrugge
or from the Ems or other German ports. The orders of course emanated
from the Admiralty, and of all the great work achieved by Vice-Admiral
Sir Henry Oliver, the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff, during his
service at the Admiralty in the year 1917 and indeed in the two
preceding years, the success attending the work of this convoy was
certainly not the least.
It is difficult to put into words the great admiration which I felt for
Sir Henry Oliver's work throughout the war. Our association commenced
during my command of the Grand Fleet, but became of course much closer
at the Admiralty, and during my service there his assistance was of
immense help to me and of incalculable value to the nation.
It was fortunate indeed for the Allied cause that he held such important
Staff appointments during the most critical periods of the war.
The foregoing chapters have been devoted to describing the measures that
were devised or put into force or that were in course of preparation
during the year 1917 to deal with the unrestricted submarine warfare
against merchant shipping adopted by Germany and Austria in February of
that year. It now remains to state, so far as my information admits, the
effect of those measures.
British anti-submarine measures were almost non-existent at the
commencement of the war. Sir Arthur Wilson, when in command of the
Channel Fleet in the early days of the submarine, had experimented with
nets as an anti-submarine measure, and shortly before the war submarines
were exercised at stalking one another in a submerged condition; also
the question of employing a light gun for use against the same type of
enemy craft when on the surface had been considered, and some of our
submarines had actually been provided with such a gun of small calibre.
Two patterns of towed explosive sweeps had also been tried and adopted,
but it cannot be said that we had succeeded in finding any satisfactory
anti-submarine device, although many brains were at work on the subject,
and therefore the earliest successes against enemy submarines were
principally achieved by ramming tactics. Gradually other devices were
thought out and adopted; these comprised drift and stationary nets
fitted with mines, the depth charge, decoy ships of various natures,
gunfire from patrol craft and gunfire from armed merchant ships, as well
as the numerous devices mentioned in Chapter III.
Except at the very commencement of the war, when production of craft in
Germany was slow, presumably as a result of the comparatively small
number under construction when war broke out, the British measures
failed until towards the end of 1917 in sinking submarines at a rate
approaching in any degree that at which the Germans were producing them.
Thus Germany started the war with 28 submarines; five were added and
five were lost during 1914, leaving the number still 28 at the
commencement of 1915.
During 1915, so far as our knowledge went, 54 were added and only 19
were lost, the total at the commencement of 1916 being therefore 63.
During 1916 it is believed that 87 submarines were added and 25 lost,
leaving the total at the commencement of 1917 at 125.
During 1917 our information was that 78 submarines were added and 66
lost, leaving the total at the end of the year at 137.
The losses during 1917, given quarterly, indicate the increasing
effectiveness of our anti-submarine measures. These losses, so far as we
know them, were:
First quarter ... 10 Third quarter ... 20
Second quarter ... 12 Fourth quarter ... 24
During 1918, according to Admiral Scheer ("Germany's High Sea Fleet In
the World War," page 335), 74 submarines were added to the fleet in the
period January to October. The losses during this year up to the date of
the Armistice totalled 70, excluding those destroyed by the Germans on
the evacuation of Bruges and those blown up by them at Pola and Cattaro.
Taken quarterly the losses were:
First quarter ... 18 Third quarter ... 21
Second quarter ... 26 Fourth quarter (to
date of Armistice) ... 6
It will be seen from the foregoing figures for 1917 and 1918 that the
full result of the anti-submarine measures inaugurated in 1917 and
previous years was being felt in the last quarter of 1917, the results
for 1918 being very little in advance of those for the previous
According to our information, as shown by the figures given above, the
Germans had completed by October, 1918, a total of 326 submarines of all
classes, exclusive of those destroyed by them in November at Bruges,
Pola and Cattaro.
Admiral von Capelle informed the Reichstag Committee that a total of 810
was ordered before and during the war. It follows from that statement
that over 400 must have been under construction or contemplated at the
time of the Armistice.
It is understood that the number of submarines actually building at the
end of 1918 was, however, only about 200, which perhaps was the total
capacity of the German shipyards at one time.
At the risk of repetition it is as well to repeat here the figures
giving the quarterly losses of merchant ships during 1917 and 1918, as
they indicate in another and effective way the influence of the
These figures are:
British. Foreign. Total.
1st quarter 911,840 707,533 1,519,373
2nd quarter 1,361,870 875,064 2,236,934
3rd quarter 952,938 541,535 1,494,473
4th quarter 782,887 489,954 1,272,843
British. Foreign. Total.
1st quarter 697,668 445,668 1,143,336
2nd quarter 630,862 331,145 962,007
3rd quarter 512,030 403,483 915,513
4th quarter 83,952 93,582 177,534
Figures for 4th quarter are for Month of October only.
The decline of the losses of British shipping was progressive from the
second quarter of 1917; in the third quarter of 1918 the reduction in
the tonnage sunk became very marked, and suggested definitely the
approaching end of the submarine menace.
The fact that during the second quarter of 1918 the world's output of
tonnage overtook the world's losses was another satisfactory feature.
The output for 1917 and 1918 is shown in the following table:
Kingdom Allied and Total for
Output. Neutral World.
1st quarter 246,239 340,807 587,046
2nd quarter 249,331 435,717 685,048
3rd quarter 248,283 426,778 675,061
4th quarter 419,621 571,010 990,631
1st quarter 320,280 550,037 870,317
2nd quarter 442,966 800,308 1,243,274
3rd quarter 411,395 972,735 1,384,130
4th quarter, Oct. only 136,100 375,000 511,100
It will be noticed that by the last quarter of 1918 the output of
shipping in the United Kingdom alone had overtaken the losses of British
It is not possible to give exact information as to the particular means
by which the various German submarines were disposed of, but it is
believed that of the 186 vessels mentioned as having been lost by the
Germans at least thirty-five fell victims to the depth charge, large
orders for which had been placed by the Admiralty in 1917, and it is
probably safe to credit mines, of which there was a large and rapidly
increasing output throughout 1917, with the same number - thirty-five - a
small proportion of these losses being due to the mines in the North Sea
Barrage. Our own submarines accounted for some nineteen.
Our destroyers and patrol craft of all natures sank at least twenty by
means of gunfire or the ram, and some four or five more by the use of
towed sweeps of various natures. Our decoy ships sank about twelve; four
German submarines are known to have been sunk by being rammed by
men-of-war other than destroyers, four by merchant ships, and about ten
by means of our nets. It is fairly certain that at least seven were
accounted for by aerial attack. Six were interned, some as the result of
injury after action with our vessels.
The total thus accounted for is 156. It was always difficult to obtain
exact information of the fate of submarines, particularly in such cases
as mine attack, and the figures, therefore, do not cover the whole of
the German losses which we estimated at 185.
"PRODUCTION" AT THE ADMIRALTY DURING 1917
The anti-submarine measures initiated during the year 1917 and continued
throughout the year 1918, as well as those in force in the earlier years
of the war, depended very much for their success on the work carried out
by the Admiralty Departments responsible for design and production, and
apart from this these departments, during the year 1917, carried out a
great deal of most valuable work in the direction of improving the
efficiency of the material with which the vessels of the Grand Fleet and
other warships were equipped.
Early in 1917 certain changes were made in the Naval Ordnance
Department. When Captain Dreyer took up the post of Director of Naval
Ordnance in succession to Rear-Admiral Morgan Singer on March 1, the
opportunity was seized of removing the Torpedo Department, which had
hitherto been a branch of the Naval Ordnance Department, from the
control of the Director of Naval Ordnance, and Rear-Admiral Fitzherbert
was appointed as Director of Torpedoes and Mines, with two assistant
Directors under him, one for torpedoes and the other for mines. It had
for some time been apparent to me that the torpedo and mining work of
the Fleet required a larger and more independent organization, and the
intention to adopt a very extensive mining policy accentuated the
necessity of appointing a larger staff and according it greater
independence. The change also relieved the D.N.O. of some work and gave
him more liberty to concentrate on purely ordnance matters.
Captain Dreyer, from his experience as Flag Captain in the _Iron Duke_,
was well aware of the directions in which improvement in armament
efficiency was necessary, and a variety of questions were taken up by
him with great energy.
Some of the more important items of the valuable work achieved by the
Naval Ordnance Department during the year 1917, in addition to the
provision of various anti-submarine measures mentioned in Chapter III,
(1) The introduction of a new armour-piercing shell of far greater
efficiency than that previously in use; the initial designs for these
shells were produced in the drawing office of the Department of the
Director of Naval Ordnance.
(2) The introduction of star shell.
(3) The improvement of the arrangements made, after our experience in
the Jutland action, for preventing the flash of exploding shell from
being communicated to the magazines.
Taking these in order, the _New Armour-piercing Shell_ would have
produced a very marked effect had a Fleet action been fought in 1918.
Twelve thousand of these new pattern shell had been ordered by November,
1917, after a long series of experiments, and a considerable number were
in an advanced stage of construction by the end of the year. With our
older pattern of shell, as used by the Fleet at Jutland and in earlier
actions, there was no chance of the burst of the shell, when fired at
battle range, taking place inboard, after penetrating the side armour of
modern German capital ships, in such a position that the fragments might
be expected to reach and explode the magazines. A large proportion of
the shell burst on the face of the armour, the remainder while passing
through it. In the case of the new shell, which was certainly twice as
efficient and which would penetrate the armour without breaking up, the
fragments would have a very good chance of reaching the magazines of
even the latest German ships.
The greatest credit was due to the Ordnance Department and to our
enterprising manufacturers for the feat which they achieved. We had
pressed for a shell of this nature as the result of our experience
during the Jutland action, and it was badly wanted.
We had experienced the need for an efficient _Star Shell_ both in the
Grand Fleet and in southern waters, and after the Jutland action the
attention of the Admiralty had been drawn by me to the efficiency of the
German shell of this type. In the early part of 1917, during one of the
short night bombardments of the south coast by German destroyers, some
German star shell, unexploded, reached the shore. Directions were at
once given to copy these shell and not to waste time by trying to
improve upon them, a procedure dear to technical minds but fatal when
time is of the first importance. Success was soon attained, and star
shell were issued during 1917 to all our ships, the vessels of the Dover
and Harwich patrol force and the shore battery at the North Foreland
being the first supplied.
Important experiments were carried out in 1917 on board H.M.S.
_Vengeance_ to test the _Anti-flash_ arrangements with which the Fleet
had been equipped as the result of certain of our ships being blown up
in the Jutland action. Valuable information was obtained from these
experiments and the arrangements were improved accordingly.
The work of the Torpedo and Mining Department was also of great value
during 1917. The principal task lay in perfecting the new pattern mine
and arranging for its production in great numbers, in overcoming the
difficulties experienced with the older pattern mines, and in arranging
for a greatly increased production of explosives for use in mines, depth
These projects were in hand when the new organization involving the
appointment of an Admiralty Controller was adopted.
The circumstances in which this great and far-reaching change in
organization was brought about were as follows. In the spring of 1917
proposals were made to the Admiralty by the then Prime Minister that
some of the work carried out at that time by the Third Sea Lord should
be transferred to a civilian. At first it was understood by us that the
idea was to re-institute the office of additional Civil Lord, which
office was at the time held by Sir Francis Hopwood (now Lord
Southborough), whose services, however, were being utilized by the
Foreign Office, and who had for this reason but little time to devote to
Admiralty work. To this proposal no objection was raised.
At a later stage, however, it became evident that the proposal was more
far reaching and that the underlying idea was to place a civilian in
charge of naval material generally and of all shipbuilding, both naval
and mercantile. Up to the spring of 1916 mercantile shipbuilding had
been carried out under the supervision of the Board of Trade, but when
the office of Shipping Controller was instituted this work had been
placed under that Minister, who was assisted by a committee of
shipbuilders termed the "Shipbuilding Advisory Committee." Statistics
show that good results as regards mercantile ship production were not
obtained under either the Board of Trade or the Shipping Controller, one
reason being that the supply of labour and material, which were very
important factors, was a matter of competition between the claims of the
Navy and those of the Mercantile Marine, and another the fact that many
men had been withdrawn from the shipyards for service in the Army. There
was especial difficulty in providing labour for the manufacture of
machinery, and at one time the Admiralty went so far as to lend
artificers to assist in the production of engines. The idea of placing
the production of ships for both services under one head appealed to and
was supported by the Admiralty. The next step was a proposal to the
Admiralty that Sir Eric Geddes, at that time the head of the military
railway organization in France with the honorary rank of Major-General,
should become Admiralty Controller. This would place him in charge of
all shipbuilding for both services as well as that portion of the work
of the Third Sea Lord which related to armament production. I was
requested to see Sir Eric whilst attending a conference in Paris with a
view to his being asked to take up the post of Admiralty Controller.
This I did after discussing the matter with some of the heads of the War
Office Administration and members of General Headquarters in France.