SELECTED SOJOURNS ON THE ISLE OF WIGHT

Posted by Admin on Monday, 25th July 2011, 12:39

Having recovered from his wound, Jellicoe continued to gain promotion, and between 1900 and 1914 became successively Assistant to the Controller of the Navy, Director of Naval Ordnance, Rear Admiral in the Atlantic Fleet, Second-in-Command Home Fleet, Second Sea Lord at the Admiralty, and Commander-in-Chief Red Fleet for manoeuvres.

During this period two important events occurred. At Cowes he was knighted by Edward the Seventh, and he married Gwendoline Cayzer with whom he lived in a flat over Harrods Stores. The union was a happy one and Gwendoline bore him five children: Constance Lucy Gwendoline (1903), Agnes Betty Gardiner (1905), Myrtle Grace Brocas (1908), Norah Beryl Cayzer (1910), Prudence Catherine Patton (1913), and George Patrick John Rushworth (1918).

One December when leave permitted he rode to hounds on the Isle of Wight, but much of his time was occupied with either improving the Navy or attending ceremonial occasions such as the Quebec Tercentenary Celebrations where he supported the Prince of Wales at a magnificent Review. In 1911 he was at the Coronation Review at Spithead, and he and Gwendoline were at Westminster Abbey for the Coronation.

Realising the importance of gunnery, which many of his colleagues were inclined to neglect, Jellicoe insisted on intensive training –  a programme that in 1906 resulted in 2,171 more hits and 3.916 fewer misses than had been scored in 1901. His advocacy of Percy Scott’s new aiming device met with the Admiralty’s usual opposition, as did his pleas for more ships – requests to which Churchill for economic reasons was reluctant to accede.

The years 1910-12 saw him on holiday with his wife’s people, Sir Charles and Lady Cayzer, at St Lawrence Hall. During Cowes Week he raced in the German Emperor’s Meteor and in Herr Krupp von Bohlin’s Germania. When, during December, the P&O liner Delhi, with the Duke of Fife, the Princess Royal, and family aboard, went aground on the West Coast of Morocco, Jellicoe was involved in the rescue operation, for which he received telegrams from George the Fifth and Queen Alexandra.

In May 1913 Sir John and Lady Jellicoe were in Berlin for the wedding of the Kaiser’s daughter, Princess Victoria Louise to Prince Ernest of Cumberland. Their invitation included an evening at a State opera performance, and the honour of dining with King George and Queen Mary. From the Kaiser, Jellicoe received a book dealing with the German Navy, an extremely efficient service the strength and weakness of which, one may assume, Sir John did his utmost to investigate. Also while in Germany he met Admiral von Tirpitz and went up in a Zeppelin, Hansa. His interest in aircraft was another example of foresight concerning their potential.

With the outbreak of the First World War imminent Sir John Jellicoe was appointed by Sir John Fisher to take over from his friend, Sir George Callaghan, the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet – a step, not wishing to humiliate Callaghan, he did everything in his power to avoid taking. But Fisher was insistent and, on August 4th, 1914, Jellicoe’s flag was flown by HMS Iron Duke. Correlli Barnett in The Sword Bearers describes the meeting between Callaghan and his successor as being ‘as gruesome as Jellicoe feared’. Apparently it troubled his conscience for years.

From the beginning of his new command Jellicoe was beset with difficulties. Scapa Flow was not an invulnerable anchorage and consequently he had to keep many of his ships at sea, which caused worrying breakdowns, especially to condensers. His wish to blockade all contraband from reaching Germany was prevented by the Government’s fear of starting a war with America and the neutrals. Disagreement between the prudent Jellicoe and the impulsive Lloyd George, who knew nothing about the subject, was inevitable – the latter refusing to implement a convoy system until he had enough vessels to cope with it. Urged by Lord Northcliffe, Lloyd George tried to persuade the First Sea Lord to remove Jellicoe, but Sir Eric Geddes knew this action would not be justifiable.

Until the Battle of Jutland in May 1916 the majority of people in this country, with memories of past victories, thought the British Navy invincible, and it must have given the myopic diehards who controlled it a great shock to learn that German gunners, who had trained for nine years, were better than ours, their guns and ammunition superior, the armour-plating of their ships thicker and of better steel, and that their ships, having watertight bulkheads, were more efficient in design. Ships hit by our heavier shells remained afloat; ours struck by lighter projectiles sank. Two six-inch after-guns of the Iron Duke, being too near the water, were useless.

When collating these data I discovered the following discrepancy: one author said our losses at Jutland totalled 68,500 tons against a figure of 61,180 tons for Germany; another gave 111,980 tons for the British losses and 62,233 tons for the enemy’s. Our casualties were recorded as 6,945, the Germans’ as 2,921. Nearly every town and village on the Isle of Wight lost men.

When it was known that the German High Seas Fleet was at sea, Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet lay at Cromarty and Scapa Flow, the Battle-cruiser Fleet under Sir David Beatty at Rosyth, a force of one cruiser, thirty-five destroyers, and some submarines under Admiral Tyrwhitt was at Harwich, and another fleet mainly of destroyers and submarines made up Admiral Bacon’s Dover Patrol; the whole giving the British a great numerical superiority.

To lure the Grand Fleet within range, Admiral Reinhard Schear’s first plan was to bombard Sutherland. Changing his mind, he decided to instruct Vice-Admiral Hipper to head for Norway.

For a full account of the Battle of Jutland I recommend Correlli Barnett’s with its explanatory diagrams. Much of the engagement was fought at long range in such poor visibility that targets were little more than smudges on the horizon. By the time Jellicoe arrived on the scene Beatty’s fleet had suffered terrible destruction. Much has been written either to justify or condemn Jellicoe’s actions, his defence being that he was hampered by the weather conditions, unreliable reports from ships relaying Admiralty signals concerning the whereabouts of the enemy, and information arriving too late. Those who would locate Jellicoe’s Achilles’ heel, might find it in the allegation that he was given Scheer’s course in time to cut off his retreat, and that when some of his battleships sighted the foe he gave no order to open fire. The fact remains that when Scheer finally directed his fleet toward the Horn Reefs in the hope that Jellicoe would pursue it and thus expose his ships to a submarine attack, Jellicoe ordered the manoeuvre for which he was later criticised. Knowing the fate of the British Empire depended on the survival of its Naval power, anticipating a trap he turned away from the enemy and let them run for safety, never again to emerge before Germany surrendered. Alfred Temple Patterson says Beatty thought him too cautious. Surely, like Horace’s Odysseus, he was blameless and clear of offence?

T. C. Hudson

© T. C. Hudson.
This article may not be reproduced without prior permission of the author.

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