World War One: Surface Fleet

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Article Highlights

Key Personnel

Sir John Jellicoe
Jellicoe entered the Navy in 1872 where he showed promise as a young officer; he did well in sea appointments and came to the notice of John Fisher then Director of Naval Ordinance where he was involved in the expansion and modernisation of the Fleet.

Following this he was appointed Commander in the Victoria, flagship of Admiral Sir George Tryon. In 1893 Victoria was rammed and sunk by Camperdown in the course of manoeuvring. The turning circles of the ships were such that it was almost certain that a collision would happen however no one on either ship wished to say so to the Admiral. Jellicoe survived but 321 lives were lost including the Admiral.

In 1904 Jellicoe returned to the Admiralty as Director of Naval Ordinance where he was involved in the planning and construction of the Dreadnoughts. From this he returned to sea as a flag officer before becoming Second Sea Lord in 1912.

At the outbreak of war he was Commander in Chief of the Grand Fleet. He was in charge of the British fleet at the Battle of Jutland in 1916, a role for which he has been criticised. He was made First Sea Lord in November 1916, but was dismissed from this post in 1917 over the use of convey shipping.

Sir David Beatty
He was born in 1871, he joined the navy in 1884 and first came to prominence in 1896 when as a lieutenant he acted a second in command of a small force of gunboats on the Nile. When Beatty later took over command after the wounding of his commander in action against the Sudanese, he took three gunboats and was able to occupy Dongola and pursue rebel troops. For these actions he received a DSO. This action and others when commanding a rocket battery at the battle of Atbara led to him receiving a special promotion to commander at the age of 27.

A printed sheet for a newsvendor stand with the headline 'Beatty Now Commands', dating from c.1916. (RNM)

Between 1902 and 1910 Beatty commanded four cruisers and the Queen, a battleship. In 1910, at the age of 38, he received promoted to rear admiral by special Order in Council.

Strangely in 1911 he turned down an offer appointment as second-in-command of the Atlantic Fleet thus missing out on experience of handling a fleet at sea. Despite this Churchill picked Beatty for the very important appointment to command the battlecruisers over the heads of more senior and perhaps more suitable admirals.

Sir Winston Churchill
Churchill's five years of war leadership (1940-45) secured him a place in modern British history, however Churchill's career was anything but predictable. From 1896 to 1897 Churchill served as a soldier and journalist in India. In 1898 Churchill fought at the battle of Omdurman in Sudan.

In 1900 Churchill was first elected to Parliament. He switched from the Conservatives to the Liberal Party in 1904. Between 1906 and 1911 Churchill served in various governmental posts, and was appointed Lord of the Admiralty in 1911. As Home Secretary (1910-11) he used troops against strikers in South Wales.

After the outbreak of First World War he supported the Dardanelles Campaign, an operation against the Turks. He had encouraged the development of such weapons as the tank. Gallipoli and the failed action at the Dardanelles did great harm to Churchill's reputation and career. Reduced in 1915 to minor office as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, he resigned. Churchill rejoined the Army, and rose to the rank of colonel. In 1917 he was appointed Lloyd George's minister of munitions, subsequently becoming the state secretary for war and air (1918-21), and colonial secretary (1921-22). During the post-war years he was active in support of the Whites (anti-Bolsheviks) in Russia.


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