Jellicoe:Sea Service and Second Sea Lord

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The Life of Admiral of the Fleet
John Rushworth Jellicoe,
First Earl Jellicoe

5 December, 1869 – 20 November, 1935
Jellicoe, 1920.JPG
Background and Early LifeService as LieutenantCommanderCommand and ChinaDirector of Naval OrdnanceFlag Rank and ControllerSea Service and Second Sea LordCommand of the Grand FleetThe War at Sea, 1914-1916The Battle of JutlandAfter JutlandFirst Sea Lord and the Submarine MenaceControversy and DismissalEmpire TourGovernor-General of New ZealandThe Jutland ControversyRetirementDeath and Legacy

Atlantic Fleet

On December 20th, 1910, I assumed command of the Atlantic Fleet (in succession Prince Louis of Battenberg), with the rank of Acting Vice-Admiral. My flag was hoisted in H.M.S. Prince of Wales, with Captain Ronald Hopwood as my Flag-Captain, Commander F. C. Dreyer as Flag-Commander, Fleet Paymaster Hamnet Share as Secretary, and Lieutenant Bernard Buxton as Flag-Lieutenant. The fleet consisted of 6 battleships of the Prince of Wales and Formidable classes, and a Cruiser Squadron of 4 armoured ships, commanded by Rear-Admiral F. T. Hamilton, with his flag in H.M.S. Drake. There were also 2 light cruisers. Rear-Admiral Carden was 2nd in Command of the Battle Squadron.[1]

Christmas leave was then granted:[2]

On leaving England the fleet proceeded to Vigo and carried out exercises with the Mediterranean and Home Fleets, commanded respectively by Sir Edmund Poë and Sir William May. They were of an interesting nature and included a night action between the two fleets in close contact with each other. The difficulty with distinguishing friend from foe, and the exceeding uncertainty of the result, confirmed the opinion I had long held that a night action between fleets was a pure lottery, more particularly if destroyers took part in it.

During these exercises I received a wireless message from the Admiralty informing me of the death of my dear little daughter Betty, five years of age, from mastoids. The news came as a great shock, as she had been quite well when she, with her elder sister Lucy and my wife, came to see me off from Portsmouth.[1]

Betty had died on 25 January in a London nursing home and was buried at Stanmore on 27 January.[3] In the Jellicoe Papers are a number of letters of sympathy from brother officers. One example is from Commodore Sir Robert Arbuthnot:

My dear Admiral,

Oh! What a cruel fate, which has robbed you of poor darling little Betty; who we have always felt was the 'apple of your eye'.

My wife and I are very very grieved about it, and send you our heartfelt sympathy.

It must be with a heavy heart that you have to go through the Fleet Exercise, and it must be heartbreaking, for Lady Jellicoe to be without you to stand by her at home.

We have thought and talked of you often.

Please do not let this letter add to your troubles, by thinking it requires an answer, but I feel I must write and tell you how much we & I sympathise with you.

Y. very sincerely

R. K. Arbuthnot.[4]

On the occasion of King George V's coronation he was appointed an Additional Member of the Second Class, or Knight Commander, in the Military Division of the Order of the Bath (K.C.B.) on 19 June, 1911.[5] He was confirmed in the rank of Vice-Admiral on 18 September, vice Gamble.[6]

Fisher wrote in October, 1911, "Sir John Jellicoe is the future Nelson—he is incomparably the ablest sea Admiral we have."[7]

Second Division, Home Fleet

The new First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, wrote to Asquith on 16 November on the new arrangements in the Admiralty and the fleet:

The Home Fleet, wh [which] becomes vacant [through the elevation of Bridgeman to be First Sea Lord], has not, unhappily, any candidate of clear & pre-eminent qualifications. Admiral Jellicoe is not yet sufficiently practised in the handling of fleets or sufficiently in command of the confidence of the Sea Service, to justify what wd seemingly be a vy startling promotion. I shall therefore be taking the perfectly straightforward & unexceptionable course in placing Vice-Admiral Sir George Callaghan , the present 2nd in command, who has been in almost daily control of the largest manoevres in the Home Fleet, and who has previously been second in command in the Mediterranean, in the place of Sir F. Bridgeman. Admiral Sir John Jellicoe will be his 2nd in command, & we will thus be able to see what fitness he will develop for the succession.[8]

Jellicoe's appointment to command the Second Division of the Home Fleet in succession to Vice-Admiral Callaghan was in itself, to use Churchill's words, a "vy startling promotion," as he was twenty-first out of the twenty-two Vice-Admirals on the Active List in order of seniority, and he had also been seriously considered for command of the entire Fleet. On the changes, Fisher wrote to Churchill on 22 November:

When Callaghan's two years are up I presume you will put Jellicoe in his place and then no need of an Admiralissimo - for he is Head & Shoulders even above Bg! [Battenberg] Bridgeman will confirm this - As Bridgeman goes about that time you can make Bg. his successor so that smooths over his not going as Callaghan's successor! but the object of my letter is that from this time forth you must make no appointment afloat of any one senior to Jellicoe otherwise you will be in a fix in two years time when you wish him to be Admiralissimo![9]

Jellicoe himself described his appointment to the Home Fleet:

In December I received a telegram from Mr. Churchill, who had succeeded Mr. McKenna as First Lord of the Admiralty, offering me the command of the 2nd Division of the Home Fleet in succession to Prince Louis of Battenberg [Actually, Battenberg had commanded the Third and Fourth Divisions], who was going to the Admiralty as First Sea Lord [He was going as Second Sea Lord]. I was not at all anxious to leave the Atlantic Fleet, as I preferred service away from England to service in Home Waters, and I replied that I would sooner retain my Command of the Atlantic Fleet. I then received a somewhat peremptory telegram to the effect that my Command of the Atlantic Fleet would in any case be terminated and that no other appointment was open to me except the one offered. Under the circumstances I had no option but to accept.[10]

On 4 December, 1911, Admiral Bridgeman wrote to Fisher:

Directly I go, up he comes automatically to command of the 2nd Division, and a splendid opportunity for him! He has had no experience of fleet work on a big scale, and is so extremely anxious about the work in it, that he really does too much. He must learn to work his captains and staff more and himself less! At present he puts himself in the position, say, of a glorified gunnery lieutenant. This will not do when he gets a big fleet. He must trust his staff and captains and if they don't fit he must kick them out! I am sure you will agree with me on this view, and I wish, if you get the opportunity, you would drop him a hint. He would take it from you, but perhaps not from me.[11]

Callaghan, then still Second-in-Command of the Home Fleet, wrote to Jellicoe on 9 December:

I can assure you I am not only delighted but thankful to think I am to have your more than valuable assistance to support me in the very big work there is before us.[12]

Jellicoe took command of the Second Division on 19 December[13] and transferred his flag from Prince of Wales to Hercules that morning.[14] He later described the Hercules as "a most comfortable flagship."[15] With him he took his Flag Captain (Hopwood), Flag Commander (Dreyer), Secretary (Share) and Flag Lieutenant. He spent his Christmas leave in Madrid and was joined there by Lady Jellicoe who came from Gibraltar.

During his time in command of the Second Division, Jellicoe wrote a set of what he later termed "War Orders and Dispositions",[16] apparently the first of their nature known to exist.[17] He also performed experiments in "divisional tactics", which had previously been carried out when Sir William H. May had been Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet. According to historian and analyst Norman Friedman, Jellicoe "found that manoeuvring divisions could engage the enemy for only a limited time."[18] The report of the tactical and strategic exercises which took place in January, 1912 are allegedly the earliest known to survive. The exercises involved experiments with divisional tactics, communications and the use of fast divisions by an inferior fleet.[19] According to Admiral Sir Frederic Dreyer, the experiments in divisional tactics showed that "control of the situation was then easily lost."[20]

Second Battle Squadron, First Fleet

On 1 May, 1912 the Home Fleet was reorganised, and the Second Division became the Second Battle Squadron of the First Fleet of the combined Home Fleets.[21]

On 19 October Jellicoe transferred his Flag from Hercules to Colossus at Portsmouth.[22]

On 26 November, 1911, Fisher wrote to a friend:

The sweet thing in the Admiralty Revolution is that not a soul has discovered what it all ABSOLUTELY and SOLELY pivoted on! (AND DON'T YOU TELL ANY ONE!) Jellicoe to be Admiralissimo on October 21, 1914,[Trafalgar Day] when the battle of Armageddon comes along! He automatically becomes Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet in 2 years' time! Of course, the lovely thing about it was that 16 Admirals were scrapped [passed over for command]! So I got my knife into some old friends all right! Jellicoe about the same age as Nelson at Trafalgar and possesses all Nelson's virtues except Lady Hamilton, and there I sympathise with him![23]

On 18 September Jellicoe was confirmed in the rank of Vice-Admiral, vice Gamble.[24]

Second Sea Lord

In his review of John Winton's biography of Jellicoe in 1981, the historian and former naval officer Peter Gretton wrote, "Winton's impression that Jellicoe was enthusiastic over the air service is suspect: in 1913, he gave up superintendence over the RNAS and transferred it to the Fourth Sea Lord — all because of a minor row with Churchill about protocol."[25] Gretton patently did not appreciate the scale of this "minor row". It may have started out over protocol (more like a flagrant breach of the chain of command), but almost led to most of the Board of Admiralty resigning and the Commander-in-Chief of one of the senior British commands hauling down his flag. Had the Board and Poore resigned, Churchill would certainly have been forced to resign. It's not difficult to see such a sensational sequence of events culminating in the fall of the Asquith government. The public furore surrounding the replacement of Admiral Bridgeman as First Sea Lord ought to serve as an object lesson to historians.

As to Gretton's claim that "Jellicoe's enthusiasm over the air service is suspect," there is absolutely no evidence to support such a claim, and much to refute it.

1913 Manœuvres

Lieutenant (S) Bernard Buxton was appointed as Flag Lieutenant, Lieutenant (T) R. L. Nicholson for wireless telegraphy duties, and Lieutenant (S) E. N. L. White for signals duties. Fleet Paymaster Hamnet H. Share was appointed Secretary, Assistant Paymasters W. D. T. Morrish and H. R. G. Browne as Secretary's Clerks.[26] Commander G. Hamilton and Lieutenant (N) A. F. B. Carpenter joined Jellicoe's staff for intelligence duties.[27] Captain Oliver of Thunderer retained his command and was appointed Chief of Staff, and Captain Edward S. Alexander-Sinclair joined the staff.[28] All appointments were dated 14 July.

After the suspension of the manœuvres, according to Oliver, Jellicoe was summoned to the Admiralty and travelled there by seaplane.[29]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Quoted in Bacon. Earl Jellicoe. p. 168.
  2. Winton. Jellicoe. p. 117.
  3. "Deaths" (Deaths). The Times. Thursday, 26 January, 1911. Issue 39492, col E, p. 1.
  4. Letter of 30 January, 1911. Jellicoe Papers. British Library. Add. MSS. 71556. f. 18.
  5. London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 28505. p. 4588. 19 June, 1911.
  6. London Gazette: no. 28533. p. 6949. 22 September, 1911.
  7. Fear God and Dread Nought. II. p. 397.
  8. Churchill to Asquith. Draft letter of 16 November, 1911. Churchill Papers. Churchill Archives Centre. CHAR 13/1/8-9.
  9. Churchill Papers. Churchill Archives Centre. CHAR 13/2/41-42.
  10. Bacon. Earl Jellicoe. p. 171.
  11. Marder. Fear God and Dread Nought. II. pp. 418-419.
  12. Callaghan to Jellicoe. Letter of 9 December, 1911. Jellicoe Papers. British Library. Add MS 49035. ff. 26-27.
  13. The National Archives. ADM 196/38. p. 693.
  14. "Transfer of Commands" (News). The Times. Tuesday, 19 December, 1911. Issue 39772, col F, p. 11.
  15. Jellicoe to Sturdee. Letter of 26 May, 1916. Sturdee Papers. Churchill Archives Centre. SDEE 3/6.
  16. Jellicoe Papers. British Library. Add MS 49012. ff. 2-16. A severely butchered version is reproduced in Jellicoe Papers. I. pp. 23-25.
  17. Friedman. Naval Firepower. p. 87.
  18. Friedman. Naval Firepower. p. 86.
  19. Friedman. Naval Firepower. p. 296. The report on the exercises is in The National Archives. ADM 1/8268.
  20. Dreyer. The Sea Heritage. p. 68.
  21. "New Fleet Organization" (News). The Times. Monday, 1 April, 1912. Issue 39861, col A, p. 3.
  22. "Naval and Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Monday, 21 October, 1912. Issue 40035, col C, p. 4.
  23. Fear God and Dread Nought. II. p. 424.
  24. London Gazette: no. 28533. p. 6949. 22 September, 1911.
  25. "Setting Course for Jutland". Times Literary Supplement. 25 September, 1981. Issue 4095, pg. 1090.
  26. "Naval and Military" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Wednesday, 2 July, 1913. Issue 40253, col G, p. 16.
  27. "Naval and Military" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Monday, 7 July, 1913. Issue 40257, col E, p. 6.
  28. "Naval and Military" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Saturday, 12 July, 1913. Issue 40262, col C, p. 4.
  29. Oliver. Recollections. II. National Maritime Museum. OLV/12. f. 88.