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The Jellicoe Papers, Volume I, 1893-1916

Vol 108 (1966), A. Temple Patterson

This substantial selection of the professional and private papers of Admiral John Jellicoe, first Earl Jellicoe (1859-1935), extends from 1893 to 1935. Its publication was directly followed in 1969, by Professor Patterson’s succinct biography of the admiral. Since then, a resurgence of interest in the Battle of Jutland and in pre-war naval provision has resulted from the publication (in 1989 and 1993) of Professor Ranft’s The Beatty Papers (NRS vols. 128 & 132) and from the publication in 1984 of Professor Sumida’s edition of The Pollen Papers (NRS vol. 124), followed in 1989 by his book In Defence of Naval Supremacy Sumida reopened the question of British gunnery at, and before, Jutland. Since then Paul Halpern, in his Naval History of World War I (1994), has provided a comprehensive account and assessment of all the participants. For any further reconsideration of this complex period, The Jellicoe Papers, together with The Beatty Papers, will remain a primary source.

The first volume merely touches, in an introduction, on Jellicoe’s time as DNO, but there are documents for his time as Controller and a few for the years 1910 to 1914. Nearly a hundred fascinating pages track Jellicoe’s initial twelve months, from August 1914, as C-in-C of the Grand Fleet. His abiding sensitivity to the pervasive danger from mines and submarines is soon communicated to Battenburg: ‘Scapa is the only base we have which is almost safe against submarines.’

There are nine pages of extracts from Grand Fleet Battle Orders foreshadowing aspects of the battle which would eventually come. A further hundred pages cover the period February 1915 to February 1916. The Dogger Bank action is analysed, especially the gunnery. The question of the North Sea bases is debated.

Elsewhere Fisher complains of Jellicoe’s ‘lugubrious forecasts’. However, on 17 May, Crease writes that Fisher has resigned, having tired of always ‘watching the First Lord instead of the Germans’. Jellicoe urges the Admiralty to provide for more minesweeping and for further offensive mining. He also suggests air spotting by seaplanes. Jellicoe and Beatty agree in deploring the ‘battle practice’ results of Tiger and Lion. More such practice is the only remedy envisaged. In January 1916 Jellicoe writes generally to Balfour about tactics and strategy. He rules out sending the fleet to the Baltic but endorses submarine operations there.

The volume concludes in Part IV with the long-awaited event of ‘Jutland and its Preliminaries and its Aftermath’. Here, a great deal – if not quite all – is revealed. There are four excellent diagrams. (See also The Beatty’ Papers NRS Volumes 128 & 132).

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