Considerations as to the Employment of the Grand Fleet in the North Sea

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Covering Letter

M. 00145.[1]

 23rd September, 1916 6

MOST SECRET

No. 902.


Sir,

With reference to your letter of the 14th instant, No. 2115/H.F.0022, I am commanded by my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to inform you that they approve generally the conclusions reached at the conference held by on board H.M.S. "IRON DUKE" on the 13th instant, and I am to enclose herewith in duplicate Revised Orders for the Grand Fleet in which the points raised at the conference have been included where applicable.

2. The Revised Orders provide for the procedure necessary on ordering the Grand Fleet to sea and the general considerations governing its employment while at sea; they are prefaced with remarks on the present situation in the North Sea in order to place on record the reasons for the revised orders. It is contemplated that these orders should come into force for the winter months and should be reconsidered in the spring when the days are lengthening.

3. Points in the report of the conference not dealt with in the Revised Orders are as follows:-

Para. 3. Basing of the Fleet. Your remarks are concurred in; the completion of the obstructions and other works will be pressed on with.

Para. 4. Passive Defence. The question of mining off the East Coast between the Tyne and Filey has been referred to the Rear-Admiral Commanding, East Coast, and the matter will be further considered when his report has been received.

Para. 8. Submarines. Concur.

Para. 9. Mining in Heligoland Bight. Concur. It is not proposed to abandon Operation "M.B." yet, as a favourable spell of fine anti-cyclonic weather may occur in October after the equinoctial season.

Para. 10. Paddle Minesweepers. The limitations of the Paddle Minesweepers are recognised.

The Twin Screw minesweepers will not commence to be delivered until December this year.

Four Convoy Sloops will be delivered by the end of October and will join Queenstown. The four ordinary Sloops released from Queenstown were to be sent to the Mediterranean. The four ordinary Sloops will instead be sent to Rosyth for sweeping until enough Twin Screw Minesweepers are available to replace them, on the clear understanding that this is a temporary arrangement.

Para. 11. Plans for certain eventualities.

The plan which has already been prepared at the Admiralty only deals with (a) and (b). It is requested that you will draft plans for (c), as well as for (d) and (e).

4. On hearing from you by telegram that the Revised Orders meet with your concurrence, they will be considered as having come into effect, and copies will be sent to:-

Vice-Admiral Commanding, Battle Cruiser Fleet.
Commodore (T).
Vice-Admiral Commanding, Third Battle Squadron.

The duplicate copy enclosed with this letter should then be handed by you to the Admiral, Second in Command, Grand Fleet.

Revised Orders

CONSIDERATION AS TO THE EMPLOYMENT OF THE GRAND FLEET IN THE NORTH SEA.[2]

1. The present situation in the North Sea, after two years of War, involves considerably greater risk to large ships from mines and submarines than in the earlier stages of the war.

The number of enemy submarines has increased, minelaying has developed and submarine mine-laying has been invented and brought to a great state of efficiency. The large minefield in the North Sea, known as Mine Area 1, has also produced altered conditions by restricting the manoeuvring area near the centre of the North Sea.

2. Scouting by means of Zeppelins has proved of great value to the enemy, and in weather when aircraft can operate it seems almost impossible for our ships to close the enemy without being reported in amply sufficient time to enable him to avoid action and escape. In fact, unless the enemy desires to fight and seek action, the chances of bringing him to action are now lessened and seem problematical.

3. In the event of the enemy raiding vulnerable towns on the East Coast of England, it is impossible for our capital ships from the Northern Bases to bring the enemy to action from some 15 to 30 hours after his ships have have been reported off our coast, the time lengthening according to the distance south to the point of attack. The Fleet in the Northern bases cannot therefore be reckoned on to protect the Ports on the East Coast of England from short attacks such as the Scarborough or Lowestoft raids. Local forces, especially submarines, may be able to inflict some damage on the enemy, but large forces would not as a rule be available to outnumber and effectually destroy him for some time.

4. If the Grand Fleet proceeds south of the Forth whenever the German Fleet is suspected of being about to approach the East Coast, it is certain that it will incur great and increasing risks of losses from submarine attack and from mines, while the chance of bringing the enemy to action is very small, unless he is unduly delayed near our coast by damage to some of his ships by the local forces. In fact, such a policy would afford the enemy good opportunities of reducing the preponderance of our Fleet over his own until at last, if the plan were persisted in, the numbers would become equal and he could then risk a fleet action with some chance of success. It should however be remembered that the enemy cannot use the High Sea Fleet as a bait, to tempt the Grand Fleet south, with impunity owing to our submarines and to the risk of running into an unknown minefield.

5. The British Fleet is vital to the success of the Allied Cause. The German Fleet is of secondary importance; its loss would not vitally affect the cause of the Central Powers, and it can therefore be risked to a much greater extent than the British Fleet.

6. The danger of reckless cruising in the North Sea by either fleet without any sufficient object in view is apparent. This policy is not likely to be adopted by the Germans and it is not one that should be encouraged by the Admiralty.

Periodical exercise cruises, however, to keep the fleet efficient are necessary, and some risks must be accepted in order to carry them out; but taking large risks with the capital ships of the Grand Fleet from mines and submarines in dangerous areas on occasions when there is only a very slender chance of bringing the German fleet to action in daylight is not sound strategy.

II.
ORDERS FOR THE EMPLOYMENT OF THE GRAND FLEET IN THE NORTH SEA.

1. Proceeding to sea.

Should the Admiralty receive information which renders it to advisable to order the Grand Fleet to sea, the order to "raise steam" will be telegraphed to the Commander in Chief and the Senior Naval Officers of Grand Fleet Squadrons at the several bases. At the same time it will be stated whether sailing is urgent or whether it can be delayed up to 12 hours so that exit channels can be re-swept previous to the fleet sailing, if required.

2. The order to "raise steam" will be followed by orders for the Grand Fleet to proceed to sea and concentrate either in the "Long Forties" or "to the Eastward of the Long Forties" at a rendezvous which will be arranged by the Commander in Chief and communicated by him to his Squadrons, if possible before leaving harbour. The Admiralty will give the Commander in Chief and Vice Admiral Commanding, Battle Cruiser Fleet, any information available as to the enemy's movements or possible intentions, before the Fleet sails. Subsequent information will be given by W/T by "I" method.

NOTE. The expression "to the Eastward of the Long Forties" is to be understood to mean that it is at the Commander in Chief's discretion to select any suitable rendezvous to the Eastward of Long. 2-0 E.

3. The Admiralty will inform the Commander in Chief and also the Vice Admiral Commanding, Battle Cruiser Fleet, of the rendezvous to which the Commodore (T)'s force will proceed, and will inform them of orders given to the Yarmouth and Harwich submarines.

4. In view of the fuel capacity of Light Cruisers and destroyers being limited, the Admiralty will not as a rule approve of exercise cruises for the Fleet unless the situation seems quiet. Should the Fleet be required for active service while on exercise cruise, the Commander in Chief has full discretion as to sending the light cruisers and destroyers to refuel, the necessary arrangements for rapidly re-fuelling them being made in advance.

III.
OPERATIONS AT SEA.

1. It is fully recognised that the movement of the Fleet South, when the weather is such that destroyers cannot accompany it, is attended with increased risk and the Fleet will not be ordered south of the rendezvous arranged by the Commander in Chief in rough weather except in case of exceptional circumstances.

2. Exceptional circumstances may be defined as an attempt at invasion, or that a really good opportunity is foreseen of bringing the German Fleet to action in daylight in an area which is not greatly to the disadvantage of the Grand Fleet. A suitable opportunity might be afforded if the German Fleet attacked the Thames or Dover Strait defences.

3. Unless these exceptional circumstances occur the capital ships of the Grand Fleet should keep to the northward of the parallel of Horns Reef and avoid the vicinity of the mined areas, and should not pass between Mine Area I, the Dogger Bank and the Humber Minefield unless the number of destroyers is sufficient for efficiently screening it.

4. If the southern part of the North Sea is hazardous for our large ships on account of German submarines, it can be made equally hazardous for German large ships by our submarines. The Harwich and Yarmouth submarines now maintain a constant patrol East of Long. 4° E between the Texel and Lat. 55° N. In the event of the German Fleet coming West, all available Harwich and Yarmouth submarines, not already on patrol, assisted by submarines from the Humber, will be made use of to intercept the German Fleet South of Lat. 53° 45' N. and also to protect Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Harwich and the Humber. These submarines will receive orders from the Addmiralty.

5. In the event of the German Fleet coming West, the available Blyth and Tees submarines should endeavour to intercept it, working to the northward of Lat. 53° 50' N.

6. There is some advantage in having oversea submarines available to start from the Humber in case of the German Fleet coming West, and therein no objection to a small number of Blyth and Tees oversea submarines using the Humber as an occasional or supplementary base. It is not suitable as a permanent base for oversea submarines on account of the difficulty of exercising in the vicinity.

7. Cruiser Sweeps.

In order that it should not appear to the Germans that the presence of the our Fleet in the North Sea always coincides with the sailing of our their Fleet, and in order that they should realise the risk of being sighted and brought to action in the event of going to sea and thus be deterred from attempting raids, it is desirable that there should be more frequent patrols by cruisers, light cruisers and destroyers. In order to carry out this policy under the present conditions of submarine activity, it is essential that the vessels employed should be well screened by destroyers. The absence of destroyers on this duty may necessitate some ships of the Grand Fleet being left behind if the Fleet is required to go to sea while a sweep is in progress.

8. The Commander in Chief should arrange for sweeps to be carried out Northward of Mine Area I by cruisers of light cruisers. The area north of Lat. 54°-15' N. and west of Long. 4° N. should also be swept by light cruisers and destroyers from the Grand Fleet, information first being obtained from Rear-Admiral Commanding, East Coast of England, of the movements of the sloops and other minesweeping vessels in the vicinity of the Dogger Bank.

The area south of Lat. 54° 15' N. and west of Long. 4° E. will be swept by vessels from the Harwich force or the by the Fourth Destroyer Flotilla, and will be arranged for by the Admiralty.


In a letter dated 30th October 1914, No. H.F.339/H.F.0034, the Commander in Chief discussed the tactics contemplated owing to the altered conditions produced by mines and submarines.

In Admiralty letter M. 03177 of 7th November 1914, Their Lordships approved the Commander in Chief's views and expressed thier full confidence in the measures he proposed. Later experience has shown no reason to modify the approval then expressed.

ADMIRALTY,

S.W.

23rd September, 1916.

Footnotes

  1. The National Archives. ADM 137/1645. ff. 322-333.
  2. The National Archives. ADM 137/1645. ff. 350-355.

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