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part of 1917.



The main effort of the Navy during the year 1917 was directed towards
the defeat of the enemy's submarines, since the Central Powers confined
their naval effort almost entirely to this form of warfare, but many
other problems occupied our attention at the Admiralty, and some of
these may be mentioned.

Considerable discussion took place in the early part of the year on the
subject of the policy to be pursued in the Eastern theatre of war, and
naval opinion on the possibility of effecting a landing in force at
different points was invited and given. It need only be said here that
the matter was brought forward more than once, and that the situation
from the naval point of view was always clear. The feasible landing
places so far as we were concerned were unsuited to the military
strategy at that period; the time required to collect or build the great
number of lighters, horse boats, etc., for the strong force required was
not available, and it was a sheer impossibility to provide in a short
period all the small craft needed for an operation of magnitude, whilst
the provision of the necessary anti-submarine defences would have taxed
our resources to the utmost and have prevented essential work of this
nature in other theatres.

The work of the Navy, therefore, _off the coast of Palestine_ was
confined to protecting the left flank of the advancing army and
assisting its operations, and to establishing, as the troops advanced,
bases on the coast at which stores, etc., could be landed. This task was
effectively carried out.

The anchorages on this coast are all entirely open to the sea, and
become untenable at very short notice, so that the work of the Navy was
always carried out under considerable difficulty. Nor could the ships
working on the flank be adequately guarded against submarine attack, and
some losses were experienced, the most important being the sinking of
Monitor M15 and the destroyer _Staunch_ by a submarine attack off Deir
el Belah (nine miles south of Gaza) in November.

The Navy continued its co-operation with the Army in the _Salonika
theatre of war_, assisted by the Royal Naval Air Service, and
bombardments were continually carried out on military objectives.
Similarly _in the Adriatic_ our monitors and machines of the R.N.A.S.
assisted the military forces of the Allies; particularly was this the
case at the time of the Austrian advance to the Piave, where our
monitors did much useful work in checking enemy attempts to cross that

_Off the Gallipoli Peninsula_ the Naval watch on the mouth of the
Dardanelles was continued; extensive new minefields were laid during the
year, and were effective in sinking the _Breslau_ and severely damaging
the _Goeben_ when those vessels attempted a sortie on January 20, 1918.
The R.N.A.S. during the year carried out many long distance
reconnaissance and bombing operations over Constantinople and the

_In the Red Sea_ Naval operations were carried out in conjunction with
friendly Arabs, and the Arabian coast cleared of Turkish forces.

_In the White Sea_ during the latter part of 1917 the whole of the Naval
work fell upon British Naval forces when the Russian ships, which had
co-operated hitherto, had come under the influence of the political
situation. Our force in these waters consisted largely of trawlers
engaged in minesweeping and escort work. The latter duty imposed a very
heavy strain on officers and men, involving as it did the safe conduct
during the year of no fewer than one thousand ships carrying stores and
munitions for the Russian military forces.

_In the Baltic_ the situation became very difficult owing first to the
Russian revolution and, finally, to the Russian debacle. Our force in
these waters consisted of seven submarines. It became evident at the
beginning of October, 1917, that the Germans were intending to carry out
some operations in the Baltic against Russia, and the question of
affording assistance was at once considered by the Naval Staff. It was
surmised that but little dependence could be placed on the Russian
Baltic Fleet (events showed this surmise to be accurate), and in order
to keep our control over the North Sea and ensure the safety of our
communications with France it was obvious that for any action we might
decide to take we should be obliged to divide the Grand Fleet, sending
such portion of that Command into the Baltic as could successfully
engage the High Sea Fleet if encountered, as well as to secure the
return passage via the Great Belt, and retaining a sufficient force to
deal with such German vessels as might attempt operations in the North
Sea or Channel during our raid into the Baltic.

There were many ways in which the Germans might seriously hamper, if not
entirely prevent, the return of our fleet from the Baltic unless we
secured the exits. The Great Belt could easily be closed by block-ships
at its narrowest points, and extensive minefields could be laid. It was
obvious, therefore, that to secure the exit a strong force would be
required, and that it would necessarily occupy a position where it would
be open to serious attack.

The initial operation of gaining access to the Baltic via the Great
Belt, though not impossible, was difficult, involving as it did sweeping
passages through very extensive minefields, and even when our ships were
in the Baltic fairly constant sweeping would be necessary.

Finally, the whole operation would be complicated by the question of
fuel supply, especially to the destroyers and other small craft with a
limited radius of action, since we could not depend upon Russian sources
of supply. These were amongst the considerations which made it clear
that the operation was not one that I could recommend. The Russian naval
view is given in the following statement which appeared in the Russian
Press in October:

The Naval General Staff categorically denies the rumours circulated in
Petrograd on the 8th and 9th instant, to the effect that the British or
French Fleet had broken through to the Baltic Sea.

At the same time it is pointed out that it would be a physical
impossibility for the Allies' Fleet to come in from the western
entrance, because it would be necessary to pass through the Sound or
through one of the two Belts.

Entry to the Sound through Danish or Swedish waters could not also be
affected owing to the fact that these waters in part are only 18 feet
deep, while large-sized vessels would require at least 30 feet of water.

As regards the entry to the Belts, this would be an extremely hazardous
undertaking as parts of the routes are under control of the Germans who
have constructed their own defences consisting of mines and batteries.

In these circumstances, according to the opinion of our naval experts,
an entrance into the Baltic by the Allies' Fleets could only be
undertaken after gaining possession of these waters and the adjacent
coast; and then only with the co-operation of land forces.

The Germans had an easy task in the Baltic, as the Russian resistance
was not of a serious nature; our submarines attacked on every possible
occasion, and scored some successes against German vessels. Towards the
end of the year it became necessary to consider the action to be taken
in regard to our submarines, as the German control of the Baltic became
effective, and the demobilization of the Russian fleet became more and
more pronounced. Many schemes for securing their escape from these
waters were discussed, but the chances of success were so small, and the
submarines themselves possessed so little fighting value owing to their
age, that eventually instructions were sent to the senior officer to
destroy the submarines before they could fall into German hands.



It is natural that the task of recounting the facts in the foregoing
chapters should cause one's thoughts to turn to the future. The Empire
has passed through a period of great danger, during which its every
interest was threatened, and it has come successfully out of the ordeal,
but to those upon whom the responsibility lay of initiating and
directing the nation's policy the serious nature of the perils which
faced us were frequently such as to justify the grave anxiety which
sprang from full knowledge of events and their significance.

An international organization is in process of being brought into
existence which, if it does not entirely prevent a recurrence of the
horrors of the four and a half years of war, will, it is hoped, at least
minimize the chances of the repetition of such an experience as that
through which the world has so recently passed. But the League of
Nations is still only a skeleton to be clothed with authority and
supported by the public opinion of the world if it is to be a success.
It is in its infancy, and so far the most optimistic have not advanced
beyond hopes in its efficiency; and if the lessons of the past are
correctly interpreted, as they were interpreted by our forefathers in
their day, those upon whom responsibility lies in future years for the
safety and prosperity of the Empire will see to it that, so far as lies
in their power, whatever else may be left undone, the security of the
sea communications of the Empire is ensured. Not one of us but must have
realized during the war, if he did not realize it before, that the
all-important thing upon which we must set our minds is the ability to
use the sea communications of the far-flung Empire, which is only united
by the seas so long as we can use them. But while governments may
realize their duty in this matter, and set out with good intentions, it
is, after all, upon the people who elect governments that the final
responsibility lies, and therefore it is to them that it is so necessary
to bring home in season and out of season the dangers that confront us
if our sea communications are imperilled.

The danger which confronted the British peoples was never so great in
any previous period as it was during the year 1917 when the submarine
menace was at its height, and it may be hoped that the lessons to be
learned from the history of those months will never be forgotten. The
British Empire differs from any other nation or empire which has ever
existed. Our sea communications are our very life-blood, and it is not
greatly exaggerating the case to say that the safety of those
communications is the one consideration of first-class importance. Upon
a solid sense of their security depends not only our prosperity, but
also the actual lives of a large proportion of the inhabitants. There is
no other nation in the world which is situated as the people of these
islands are situated; therefore there is no other nation to whom sea
power is in the least degree as essential as it is to us. Four out of
five of our loaves and most of our raw materials for manufacture must
come to us by sea, and it is only by the sea that we can hold any
commercial intercourse with the Dominions, Dependencies and Crown
Colonies, which together make up what we call the Empire, with a
population of 400,000,000 people.

What, then, are we to do in the future to ensure the safety of the
communications between these islands and the rest of the Empire? As a
matter of course we should be in a position to safeguard them against
any possible form of attack from whatever quarter it may come. So far as
can be seen there is no present likelihood of the transport of food or
raw materials being effected in anything but vessels which move upon the
surface of the sea. It is true that, as a result of the war, people's
thoughts turn in the direction of transport, both of human beings and of
merchandise, by air or under the water, but there is no possible chance,
for at least a generation to come, of either of these methods of
transport being able to compete commercially with transport in vessels
sailing on the sea. Therefore the problem of guarding our communications
resolves itself into one of securing the safety of vessels which move
upon the surface of the sea, whatever may be the character of the

I do not desire to enter into any discussion here as to the method by
which these vessels can be protected, except to say that it is necessary
for us to be in a position of superiority in all the weapons by which
their safety may be endangered. At the present time there are two
principal forms of attack: (1) by vessels which move on the surface, and
(2) by vessels which move under water. A third danger - namely, one from
the air - is also becoming of increasing importance. The war has shown us
how to ensure safety against the first two forms of attack, and our duty
as members of a great maritime Empire is to take steps to maintain
effective forces for the purpose.

In order to carry out this duty it will be greatly to our advantage if
the matter can be dealt with by all the constituent parts of the Empire.
A recent tour of the greater part of the British Empire has shown me
that the importance of sea power is very fully realized by the great
majority of our kith and kin overseas, and that there is a strong desire
on their part to co-operate in what is, after all, the concern of the
whole Empire. It seems to me of the greatest possible importance that
this matter of an Empire naval policy and an Empire naval organization
should be settled at the earliest possible moment, and that it should be
looked at from the broadest point of view.

I do not think that we in this country can claim to have taken into
sufficient account the very natural views and the very natural ambitions
which animate the peoples overseas. We have, in point of fact, looked at
the whole question too locally, whilst we have been suggesting to the
Dominions that they are inclined to make this error, and unless we
depart from that attitude there is a possibility that we shall not reap
the full benefit of the resources of the Empire, which are very great
and are increasing. In war it is not only the material which counts, but
the spirit of a people, and we must enlist the support, spontaneous and
effective, of every section of the King's Dominions in the task of sea
defence which lies before us, consulting fully and unreservedly the
representatives of our kith and kin, and giving them the benefit of
whatever instructed advice we, with ancient traditions and matured
knowledge, may possess.

In framing our future naval policy it is obvious that we must be guided
by what is being done abroad. We are bound to keep an absolutely safe
margin of naval strength, and that margin must exist in all arms and in
all classes of vessels. At the moment, and no doubt for some time to
come, difficulties in regard to finance will exist, but it would seem to
be nothing more than common sense to insist that the one service which
is vital to our existence should be absolutely the last to suffer for
need of money. During a period of the greatest financial pressure it may
be necessary to economize somewhat in the construction of new ships, and
in the upkeep of certain of our naval bases which the result of the war
and consequent considerations of future strategy may suggest to be not
of immediate importance, although even here it may well be necessary to
develop other naval bases to meet changed conditions; but we cannot
afford to fall behind in organization, in the testing and development of
new ideas, or in the strength of our personnel or in its training. A
well trained personnel and a carefully thought out organization cannot
by any possibility be quickly extemporized.

It is the height of economic folly to stint experimental research, for
it is in times of stress that the value of past experimental work is
shown. In the matter of organization we must be certain that adequate
means are taken to ensure that the different arms which must co-operate
in war are trained to work together under peace conditions. A modern
fleet consists of many units of different types - battleships,
battle-cruisers, light cruisers, destroyers and submarines. Before I
relinquished the command of the Grand Fleet, large sea-going submarines
of high speed, vessels of the "K" class, had been built to accompany the
surface vessels to sea. It is very essential that senior officers should
have every opportunity of studying tactical schemes in which various
classes of ships and kinds of weapons are employed. In considering the
future of the Navy it is impossible to ignore aircraft. There are many
important problems which the Navy and the Air Service ought to work out
together. A fleet without aircraft will be a fleet without eyes, and
aircraft will, moreover, be necessary, not only for reconnaissance work,
but for gun-spotting, as well as, possibly, for submarine hunting. Air
power is regarded by many officers of wide practical experience as an
essential complement to sea power, whatever future the airship and
aeroplane may have for independent action. A captain who is going to
fight his ship successfully must have practised in time of peace with
all the weapons he will employ in action, and he must have absolute
control over all the elements constituting the fighting power of his
ship. In a larger sense, the same may be said of an admiral in command
of a fleet; divided control may mean disaster. The advent of aircraft
has introduced new and, at present, only partially explored problems
into naval warfare, and officers commanding naval forces will require
frequent opportunities of studying them. They must be worked out with
naval vessels and aircraft acting in close association. With the Air
Service under separate control, financially as well as in an executive
and administrative sense, is it certain that the Admiralty will be able
to obtain machines and personnel in the necessary numbers to carry out
all the experimental and training work that is essential for efficiency
in action? Is it also beyond doubt that unity of command at sea, which
is essential to victory, will be preserved? In view of all the
possibilities which the future holds now that the airship and aeroplane
have arrived, it is well that there should be no doubt on such matters,
for inefficiency might in conceivable circumstances spell defeat.

Then there is the question of the personnel of the fleet. It would be
most unwise to allow the strength of the trained personnel of the Navy
to fall below the limit of reasonable safety, because it is upon that
trained personnel that the success of the enormous expansions needed in
war so largely depends. This was found during the late struggle, when
the personnel was expanded from 150,000 to upwards of 400,000, throwing
upon the pre-war nucleus a heavy responsibility in training, equipment
and organizing. Without the backbone of a highly trained personnel of
sufficient strength, developments in time of sudden emergency cannot
possibly be effected. In the late war we suffered in this respect, and
we should not forget the lesson.

In future wars, if any such should occur, trained personnel will be of
even greater importance than it was in the Great War, because the
advance of science increases constantly the importance of the highly
trained individual, and if nothing else is certain it can surely be
predicted that science will play an increasing part in warfare in the
future. Only those officers and men who served afloat in the years
immediately preceding the opening of hostilities know how great the
struggle was to gain that high pitch of efficiency which the Navy had
reached at the outbreak of war, and it was the devotion to duty of our
magnificent pre-war personnel that went far to ensure our victory. It is
essential that the Navy of the future should not be given a yet harder
task than fell to the Navy of the past as a result of a policy of
starving the personnel.

There is, perhaps, just one other point upon which I might touch in
conclusion. I would venture to suggest to my countrymen that there
should be a full realization of the fact that the Naval Service as a
whole is a highly specialized profession. It is one in which the senior
officers have passed the whole of their lives, and during their best
years their thoughts are turned constantly in one direction - namely, how
they can best fit the Navy and themselves for possible war. The country
as a whole has probably but little idea of the great amount of technical
knowledge that is demanded of the naval officer in these days. He must
possess this knowledge in addition to the lessons derived from his study
of war, and the naval officer is learning from the day that he enters
the Service until the day that he leaves it.

The Navy, then, is a profession which is at least as highly specialized
as that of a surgeon, an engineer, or a lawyer. Consequently, it would
seem a matter of common sense that those who have not adopted the Navy
as a profession should pay as much respect to the professional judgment
of the naval officer as they would to that of the surgeon or the
engineer or the lawyer, each in his own sphere. Governments are, of
course, bound to be responsible for the policy of the country, and
policy governs defence, but, both in peace and in war, I think it will
be agreed that the work of governments in naval affairs should end at
policy, and that the remainder should be left to the expert. That is the
basis of real economy in association with efficiency, and victory in war
goes to the nation which, under stress and strain, develops the highest
efficiency in action.


_Abdiel_ as minelayer,
Admiralty, the, American co-operation at,
and the control of convoys,
anomalies at,
lack of naval officers at,
naval air policy of,
official summary of changes in personnel of Board,
over-centralization at,
"production" at, in 1917,
reorganization at,
the Staff in October, 1916,
in April, 1917,
end of December, 1917,
end of November, 1918,
Admiralty Controller, appointment of an,
Admiralty Organization for Production, growth of the,
Adriatic, the, Austrian destroyers in,
R.N.A.S. assists military forces of Allies in,
Aegean Sea, the, British destroyers in,
Aeroplane, the Handley-Page type of,
Aeroplane stations,
Air Ministry, the, establishment of,
Air power as complement to sea power,
Aircraft, bombing attacks by,
for anti-submarine work,
the eyes of a fleet,
Airship stations,
Airships as protection for convoys,
Allied Naval Council, formation of,
America enters the war,
(see also United States)
American battleships and destroyers in British waters,
Anderson, Sir A.G.,
Anti-flash arrangements, improvements of,
Anti-submarine convoy escorting force, the, strengthened,
Anti-submarine devices,
Anti-submarine Division of Naval Staff, Directors of,
formation of,
Anti-submarine instructional schools,
Anti-submarine operations,
Anti-submarine protection for ports of assembly,
Approach areas, and how protected,
Arabian coast cleared of Turkish forces,
Armament production,
Armed merchant ships,
Armour-piercing shell, an improved,
Armstrong, Commander Sir George,
Atlantic convoys, losses in,
organization of system of,
_Audacious_, loss of,
Auxiliary patrols, deficiency in deliveries of,
in home waters and in Mediterranean zones,

Bacon, Sir Reginald,
a daring scheme of, abandoned,
author's tribute to,
his book on the "Dover Patrol,"
his proposal for Folkestone-Cape Grisnez minefield,
organizes coastal bombardments,
witnesses bombardment of Ostend,
Baker, Rear-Admiral Clinton,
Balfour, Rt. Hon. A.J., a mission to the United States,
offers author post of First Sea Lord,
Baltic, the, a difficult situation in,
Barrage, Folkestone-Cape Grisnez,
four forms of,
off Belgian coast,
the Dover,
the North Sea,
the Otranio,
Bayly, Admiral Sir Lewis, in command at Queenstown,
Belgian coast, barrage off,
mining the,
Bell, Sir Thomas,
Benson, Admiral, and author,
visits England,
Bergen, Capt. Halsey's appointment to,
Bethlehem Steel Company, the,
Bird, Captain F., of the Dover patrol,
Blackwood, Commander M.,
Blockade of German ports, difficulties of,
Board of Invention and Research, the (B.I.R.),
Bomb-throwers and howitzers,
Bonner, Lieutenant Charles G., awarded the V.C.,
Boxer campaign in China, the,
_Breslau_, loss of,
British and German production of submarines, etc., compared,
British Empire, the, importance of security of sea communications of,
British merchant steamships, losses from submarines,
losses of unescorted,
submarine sinks enemy destroyer,

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Online LibraryJohn Rushworth JellicoeThe Crisis of the Naval War → online text (page 19 of 20)