Annual Manoeuvres of 1913

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The Royal Navy's Annual Manoeuvres of 1913 were a continuing chapter of Britain's efforts to assess the mission and capabilities of the fleet and personnel that had so rapidly matured alongside that of the emergent German threat.

Reasoning Behind the Manoeuvres

The Manoeuvres were mainly designed to measure the Navy’s ability to prevent a hostile landing, protect trade, and to seek a decisive sea battle. The first of these tasks was required to resolve the ambiguous results obtained in the Annual Manoeuvres of 1912. These had also looked at the threat of a raid against the British coast, and the 1912 Red Fleet commander, Admiral Sir George Astley Callaghan, had managed to simulate the landing of a significant force of troops at Filey in Yorkshire. However, this result was disputed as, owing to cost-saving measures, the attacking battleships were doubling as troop transports, their role determined by which flag they flew. It was therefore possible for the invading transports to transform themselves from vulnerable troop carriers into covering battleships at the change of a flag. As a result, the defending submarines claimed to be unaware that the battleships were performing the role of transports undertaking a landing and this was the reason given for why they did not attack.[1] Furthermore, Winston Churchill, then First Lord at the Admiralty, added that ‘the approach of 15 transports under convoy of the Battlefleet would have been an operation of a wholly different character from the approach of 15 well-controlled and unencumbered battleships.’[2]

In order to prevent the recurrence of a similarly equivocal result, in 1913 real transports were chartered and supplied with troops from the Army and Royal Marines. Captain George Alexander Ballard, Director of the Operations Division (DOD), wrote that the 1913 manoeuvres ‘will possibly afford either a valuable confirmation of the results obtained by the Red Fleet last Summer, or show that the apparently successful raid on the East Coast was illusory and its success greatly due to the “make believe” transports, on which point much stress has been laid by the defenders.’[3]

Although other aspects were also included, such as the addition of four warships to represent an Austro-Hungarian squadron attempting to prey on British merchant shipping, the main focus was on assessing the vulnerability of the British mainland.

Conduct of the Manoeuvres

As was customary, to avoid needless diplomatic inflammation, the naval forces involved were dubbed the "Red" force, which was attempting to attack the coast, and a defending "Blue" force. Who these forces represented was not difficult to imagine.

The climactic and disconcerting event of the 1913 manoeuvres was the successful landing of a raiding force in the Humber estuary. Vice-Admiral John Jellicoe, in charge of the attacking Red forces, had given them orders to raid both the Humber and Haisborough, north of Yarmouth on the Norfolk coast. Lacking any port facilities to use, the latter attack was called off as it was deemed too difficult to land on the beach in the prevailing sea state. Off the Humber, the weather was foggy and the Red pre-Dreadnought Duncan, with eight destroyers and the four transports, was able to enter the estuary and drive back the defending destroyers. In accordance with Blue’s defence plan, the destroyers were to leave the area free for the six defending submarines but, whilst retiring, they failed to notify the submarine depot ship Hebe of the arrival of the attacking forces.

Of the fifteen submarines originally based in the Humber estuary, six were deployed locally and nine disposed offensively elsewhere. Three of the defensive flotilla were quickly deemed to be out of action by gunfire as they dived too late, having mistaken enemy destroyers for friendly ones; a fourth submarine later suffered a similar fate. The two survivors were assessed to have sunk the heavy cruiser Cornwall and light cruiser Bristol, and damaged Duncan, but Duncan was still able to engage the defending artillery battery at 6,000 yards range. This barrage allowed the four transports to unload their troops, two by boat and two alongside the quay at Immingham. The umpire, Admiral of the Fleet Sir William Henry May, assessed that Red was successful in landing 24,000 men who ‘did whatever damage they could before the local military forces brought them to action.’[4]

This action demonstrated the vulnerability of the east coast to a raid, though its duration was little more than the four hours required by the rules to unload troops. It also foreshadowed a problem which was to plague the Royal Navy throughout the war: the often insurmountable difficulties in transmitting useful and timely information. The failure, in this case, of the retiring destroyers to notify Hebe of the attack was directly responsible for the loss of three defending submarines. Earlier, the protected cruiser Talbot had encountered the raiding force and sent messages firstly to the Blue Commander-in-Chief and then to the Humber forces. The first message was slightly delayed and the second was only received by Hebe, and that was after a delay of an hour owing to Talbot using the wrong wireless frequency.

On the following day (25 July) Jellicoe launched a raid on Blyth. His four fast transports with escorting cruisers sailed towards the Tyne and then split, with two transports heading for Blyth and two for Sunderland. The main fleet remained farther out at sea to cover the raids. Finally, the two slower transports (Cyclops and Assistance) were sent back towards the Humber – this time to raid Mablethorpe on the Lincolnshire coast.

At Blyth, the defending light craft were driven off as before, but the two submarines present claimed to have attacked the transports, three hours twenty minutes after they anchored, according to the umpire.[5] At this point the transports should have been deemed out of action, but were not due to further miscommunications. However, several arguments were made suggesting that this was irrelevant. The rules stated that a transport required four hours to unload its troops and supplies, but both ships had managed this in less than two hours. Jellicoe was later keen to point out that when one of the ships was meant to have been torpedoed, ninety minutes after her arrival, she had already unloaded 1,000 troops and had only a few feet of water beneath her keel and therefore the ships would have grounded and unloading would not have been hindered too much.[6]

At Sunderland, the Red destroyers were able to confirm that the anchorage was clear of Blue vessels and the two transports anchored at 0555hrs. They completed the unloading of troops within 90 minutes. Once again there were defending submarines in the area, one of which (H.M.S. C 21 (1908)) was assessed to have torpedoed the armoured cruiser H.M.S. Warrior (1905) as she was delayed trying to pick up her steamboat which had been assisting in the landing of troops. Admiral May notes that had Warrior not returned for her steamboat, C 21 would have been able to torpedo the transports 125 minutes after they anchored.[7]

A second Blyth raid was prevented by the defenders, but at about 2000hrs on July 27 the Admiralty stopped the exercise, lest the repeated successes of the raiding forces broadcast British weakness to a German audience.[8] The operations led by Jellicoe had clearly demonstrated that the British coast was vulnerable to raids and, when the attacking force was supported by armoured vessels, how ineffective the patrol flotillas were. This confirmed the experiences of earlier manoeuvres, with the possible, but inconclusive, exception of defensive submarines.

Following some small rearrangements of the lighter forces, war resumed at 0600hrs on 31 July, but the second phase of exercises added little to what had been learned earlier.

Conclusions Drawn from the Manoeuvres

Although the manoeuvres appeared to show that Britain was vulnerable to coastal raids, umpire Sir William May was unconvinced. He criticised the set-up of the manoeuvres as being advantageous to the attacker, and also the tactics of the defending commander George Callaghan.[9] Overall he saw the raids as failures: ‘Red attempted to land 108,000 men and he landed 43,750 at the most: 18,000 escaped, and the remainder – 46,750 – were drowned or captured’ (sic: the mathematical error is May’s). No country would attempt such risks and losses before they had command of the sea, he argued.[10]

In comparison, Callaghan believed that the manoeuvres had demonstrated that a well-defended invasion fleet could be successful and he used this as an argument for placing pre-Dreadnought battleships in various east coast ports to defend against such an event. He also asserted that weakly-defended raiding forces would be intercepted and destroyed by flotilla craft supported by a more distant cruiser patrol before they could disembark sufficient troops to be a serious threat.[11] This latter point was contrary to the conclusions of the 1910 manoeuvres and was not tested or demonstrated in 1913.

Jellicoe was clearly of the opinion that a raid against a weak or undefended port would be successful, especially if undertaken early in hostilities. Such a raid should be escorted by pre-Dreadnought battleships to overcome any cruisers encountered, and defending destroyers and submarines would always be overwhelmed. He saw no difficulty with bringing a convoy of twelve transports across the North Sea and commented favourably on the rapidity at which troops disembarked against a jetty in the exercises. Nor could raids be ruled out later in a war; in the manoeuvres Red was constrained in his timing but a wartime opponent would have a better choice of vessels and weather, making success even more likely.[12]

May, Callaghan and Jellicoe all saw a need for better defences at east coast harbours, naval ports and the coast in general.[13] Jellicoe saw this as the only alternative to moving the fleet further south and, in doing so, placing it at risk of enemy submarines and destroyers[14]. Amongst the naval ports, Callaghan identified only the Nore as being adequately defended, whilst ‘Harwich, the Tyne, the Forth and Cromarty, are so poorly defended as hardly to deter any determined enemy from attack from seaward.’[15] The situation at Scapa Flow was no better.

For Jellicoe, military protection was also needed on the Shetlands Islands to prevent the excellent anchorages there from being captured and used as coaling and submarine bases[16]. Finally, he suggested that raids against the west coast were also likely to be successful, especially if the enemy battlefleet were used to decoy British cruisers away from their usual patrol areas[17].

Order of Battle


  1. Arthur J. Marder, From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, Vol 1: The Road to War, 1904-1914, (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), 352.
  2. Winston Churchill, “Notes on the Manoeuvres: Prepared for the Prime Minister By the First Lord” 17.10.1912: ADM 116/3381. The National Archive (TNA), 10.
  3. George Ballard, “Manoeuvres for 1913”, 29.01.1913: The National Archives. ADM 116/1214.
  4. W. H. May, “Naval Manoeuvres, 1913”, August 1913: The National Archives. ADM 116/1169. p. 11.
  5. Ibid., 14.
  6. J. R. Jellicoe. “Naval Manoeuvres, 1913”, 06.08.1913: The National Archives. ADM 116/3381. p. 3.
  7. May, “Naval Manoeuvres, 1913”, p. 15.
  8. A Temple Patterson, Jellicoe, A Biography, (London: MacMillan, 1969), p. 53.
  9. W. H. May, “Manoeuvres 1913: Report by Umpire-in-Chief”, 18.08.1913: The National Archives. ADM 116/3381. pp. 2, 4.
  10. Ibid., 24.
  11. George A. Callaghan, “Naval Manoeuvres and the effect on North Sea strategy". 28.08.1913: The National Archives. ADM 116/3130. p. 7.
  12. Jellicoe, “Naval Manoeuvres”, pp. 1-2.
  13. May, “Manoeuvres 1913: Report”, 31.
  14. Jellicoe, “Naval Manoeuvres”, p. 2.
  15. Callaghan, “Naval Manoeuvres”, 8.
  16. Jellicoe, “Naval Manoeuvres”, 3.
  17. Ibid., 4.


  • Ballard, George. “Manoeuvres for 1913”, 29.01.1913: ADM 116/1214. The National Archive (TNA)
  • Callaghan, George A. “Naval Manoeuvres and the effect on North Sea strategy". 28.08.1913: ADM 116/3130. TNA
  • Churchill, Winston. “Notes on the Manoeuvres: Prepared for the Prime Minister By the First Lord”, 17.10.1912: ADM 116/3381. TNA
  • Jellicoe, J. R. “Naval Manoeuvres, 1913”, 06.08.1913: ADM 116/3381. TNA
  • Marder, Arthur J. From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, Vol 1: The Road to War, 1904-1914, London: Oxford University Press, 1961.
  • May, W H. “Naval Manoeuvres, 1913”, August 1913: ADM 116/1169. TNA
  • May, W. H. “Manoeuvres 1913: Report by Umpire-in-Chief”, 18.08.1913: ADM 116/3381. TNA
  • Temple Patterson, A. Jellicoe, A Biography, London: MacMillan, 1969.

The Times, as was customary in the era, published a number of articles on this evolution.

  • "The Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 28 May 1913, p. 8.
  • "Naval and Military Intelligence." Times, 2 June 1913, p. 3.
  • "The Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 7 June 1913, p. 12.
  • "The Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 10 June 1913, p. 5.
  • "The Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 12 June 1913, p. 5.
  • "The Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 18 June 1913, p. 4.
  • "The Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 9 July 1913, p. 3.
  • "The Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 10 July 1913, p. 4.
  • "Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 11 July 1913, p. 6.
  • "The Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 12 July 1913, p. 4.
  • "The Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 15 July 1913, p. 5.
  • "The Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 17 July 1913, p. 5.
  • "Naval And Military Intelligence." Times, 21 July 1913, p. 6.
  • "The Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 22 July 1913, p. 6.
  • "Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 23 July 1913, p. 6.
  • "The Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 24 July 1913, p. 8.
  • "Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 25 July 1913, p. 8.
  • "Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 26 July 1913, p. 4.
  • "Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 28 July 1913, p. 6.
  • "Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 29 July 1913, p. 8.
  • "Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 30 July 1913, p. 8.
  • "Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 31 July 1913, p. 12.
  • "Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 2 Aug. 1913, p. 6.
  • "Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 4 Aug. 1913, p. 8.
  • "The Naval Manoeuvres." Times, 27 Aug. 1913, p. 5. (a seeming lampoon)

Annual Manoeuvres of the Royal Navy
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