Previous Page  6-7 / 44 Next Page
Show Menu
Previous Page 6-7 / 44 Next Page
Page Background





‘He could lose the war in an afternoon.’

Admiral Jellicoe’s enormous responsibility


hen war was declaredAdmiral Jellicoe was put in command of the

Grand Fleet. So important was the Navy to Britain’s security

that,as First Lord of theAdmiralty,Winston Churchill wrote after

the Battle of Jutland, Jellicoe was ‘the only man on either side

who could lose the war in an afternoon’. In other words if the

Navy was defeated that was it! That thought haunted Jellicoe

– he felt not only Britain’s security but the whole weight of the

Empire on his shoulders.

What he was all too aware of was that Britannia was

still supreme but no longer unquestionably so. In particular

there was a new threat, one that came from under the waves:

the German U-boats.

Just one month into the War a U-boat blew HMS Pathfinder to bits

off St Abb’s Head on Scotland’s south east coast.This unsettled Jellicoe enormously as

he realised that his base at Scapa Flow was wide open to submarine attack.His solution

was to take the Grand Fleet on a tour of the Western Isles whilst the narrow channels

leading from Scapa Flow to the open sea were closed off with block-ships.The main

southern entrance to Scapa Flow, the mile and a half wide Hoxa Sound, needed to be

kept open and a coastal battery was put in place to cover the anti submarine booms –

big net curtains that were strung across the channels.

The booms and batteries were in place by early 1915.With the block-ships closing

access to smaller channels, Jellicoe was able to end his Hebridean cruise and safely

anchor his warships.


HMS Caroline,docked in Belfast,is the only ship from the Grand Fleet still afloat.Inside it is

still possible to get a sense of life on board

In the engine room there are two massive steam turbines with another two in the forward

chamber and a great steam condenser in the middle. It was a hellish place to work with the

noise,the vibration,the heat.Men must have been continually pouring with sweat.

In battle, the emergency steering compartment was used to manoeuvre the ship, when

everything else had been blown apart.Eight to ten men would be down in this chamber with

the hatch locked – following orders that came down from above.

Enormous power was needed to turn the gigantic wheels in this massive ship. Down there

in the heat of battle, rocking and rolling with blasts from shells trapped in a cage of steel it

must have been terrifying.


Once bitten twice shy


t the outset of war the Imperial German Navy was the pride and joy of Germany’s

supreme ruler, Kaiser Wilhelm, and was based in Kiel and Wilhelmshaven. It

symbolised German might and was the bright star upon which imperial aspirations rested.

The Germans hoped that the British would mount a close blockade of the coast,

and so gradually lose ships to German mines,shore batteries and


the two

fleets reached parity as a result,then they might risk fleet action.

On 28th August 1914, Commander Reginald Tyrwhitt led a raid on German patrols

along the German coast in an attempt to lure theHigh Seas Fleet out of port.The Germans

responded by dispatching 6 light cruisers and, finding himself outgunned, Commander

Tyrwhitt requested assistance from Vice Admiral Beatty. Beatty’s intervention led to a

British victory with only 35 British casualties compared to 1,200 German.More significant

for the Kaiser was the damage caused to his ships with 3 cruisers sunk and 3 damaged.

The Kaiser was deeply upset at the defeat and decided that no German ships were

to sail out into the North Sea to seek out the Royal Navy unless they had express

permission from him personally. So effectively the German fleet battened down the

hatches and stayed put in Wilhelmshaven and Kiel. Now its role was to be a deterrent

and a possible basis for negotiation at the war’s end.

This suited the British. In one very important way they didn’t want to fight. They

were used to over 100 years of ruling the waves with no opposition. They would be

happiest to simply keep that status quo. The British Isles lay athwart Germany’s route

to the open seas,and the North Sea was now a form of maritime no man’s land.

part 1 – above the waves

part 1 - above the waves