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Strategy and War Planning in the British Navy, 1887-1918

Strategy and War Planning in the British Navy, 1887-1918

Shawn T. Grimes
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Strategy and War Planning in the British Navy, 1887-1918
    Book Description:

    It has been widely accepted that British naval war planning from the late nineteenth century to the First World War was amateur and driven by personal political agenda. But Shawn T. Grimes argues that this was far from the case. His extensive original research shows that, in fact, the Royal Navy had a definitive war strategy, which was well thought-through and formulated in a professional manner. Faced by a perceived Franco-Russian naval threat, the Admiralty adopted an offensive strategy from 1888 to 1905 based on observational blockade and combined operations. This strategy was modified after 1905 for war with Wilhelmine Germany. The book shows how specific war plans aimed at Germany's naval and economic assets in the Baltic were drawn up between 1906 and 1908 and that the strategy of primary distant blockade, formulated between 1897 and 1907, became a reality in late 1912 and not July 1914 as previously thought. The book argues that the Naval Intelligence Department, which took a lead in devising these plans, was the Navy's de facto staff. Overall, it is clear that there was a continuity underpinning British thinking about how to wage a naval war. SHAWN GRIMES received his PhD in history from the University of London and has been a Lecturer in European History at the University of Saskatchewan

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-817-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-ix)
    Shawn Grimes
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-xi)
  5. Maps
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    The late Victorian and Edwardian Royal Navy has long occupied a distinctive niche within the discipline of naval history. From Arthur Marder’s seminal work in the early 1940s to revisionist conceptualizations over the last two decades, academic discourse in the field has been anything but stagnant. Perhaps more than any other aspect, this is due to the dominating presence of the mercurial Admiral of the Fleet Lord John A. Fisher. Not only did he initiate and oversee the Service’s ‘modern’ transformation, he defined it. Thus, Fisher’s decisions, actions, and intentions as First Sea Lord inevitably permeate most studies of Admiralty...

  7. 1 The Naval Intelligence Department, Naval History, and Admiralty War Planning, 1887–1904
    (pp. 7-40)

    The late Victorian Navy has been portrayed as a collection of colonial gunboats and freakish ironclads, commanded by ‘spit and polish’ officers possessing little intellectual acuity beyond their own narrow technical training. Fortunately, this ‘grotesque parody’¹ has been challenged by studies highlighting the intellectual, strategic, and technological accomplishments carried out before Admiral Sir John Fisher’s ‘modernization’ of the Royal Navy after October 1904.² While conservatism and a squashing of command initiative were retrenched following the Victoria disaster in June 1893,³ two factors emerged to enhance the Service’s strategical progression: the establishment of the Naval Intelligence Department in 1887, and the...

  8. 2 Early Planning against Germany, 1902–6
    (pp. 41-74)

    Between 1892 and 1905, the Admiralty focused on the threat posed by the Dual Alliance navies. Through annual fleet manoeuvres, exercises, and academic debates, a particular ‘doctrine’ or strategy had emerged to deal with the Franco-Russian fleets. The Royal Navy’s strategists proposed a close watch on, and direct attacks against, an adversary’s main bases as the most expedient method to destroy an enemy fleet while protecting British seaborne trade. Weaknesses in this strategy led to the adoption of the advanced base concept as a viable component in the successful blockade of enemy ports. Coupled with new, more seaworthy vessels for...

  9. 3 The Scandinavian Dimension and War Planning, 1906–7
    (pp. 75-106)

    From June 1905 to April 1908, the Royal Navy’s strategic interests were wedded to the debate over Norwegian and Scandinavian neutrality. At issue were the Baltic entrances and Russo-German attempts to turn the sea into a mare clausum. British policy hinged upon Foreign Office and Admiralty efforts to preserve the Navy’s access to the Baltic in the event of war. The Admiralty’s response was to implement a series of operational plans against Germany in late 1906. Unlike their antecedents, however, the Ballard Committee’s 1907 war plans were a deliberate reaction to the possibility that the Navy’s freedom of action in...

  10. 4 War Planning, 1908–9
    (pp. 107-138)

    The Admiralty’s first official operational planning was prompted by the realization that a future Anglo-German war was a likelihood due to the High Seas Fleet’s growth and Germany’s attempts to break the diplomatic alignment of the Entente in 1905–6. The Royal Navy’s strategy focused on offensive inshore, blockade, and amphibious operations in the North Sea and, particularly, the Baltic as the only viable avenues by which naval power could exert direct pressure on Germany. The plans were also by-products of the Norwegian/Scandinavian status quo dilemma, reflecting Admiralty and Foreign Office concerns that regional neutrality agreements or compacts could effectively...

  11. 5 Probes into Admiralty War Planning, 1908–9
    (pp. 139-158)

    The inter-relationship between naval planning, diplomacy, fleet exercises, a new light cruiser procurement policy, even HMS Halcyon’s covert activities off western Jutland, had all revealed the validity of the Admiralty’s 1907–8 war plans. By late 1908, however, the Navy’s strategy garnered unwanted attention from several quarters, especially Fisher’s Service opponents and ‘continental’ advocates. His reactions to these perceived intrusions from the Cabinet and Army would later affect the Navy’s strategic development into the First World War. Weaknesses in the Admiralty’s strategic policy were supposedly revealed at the CID meeting on 23 August 1911 during the second Moroccan crisis. Before...

  12. 6 The Solidiication of Dual Strategies, 1911–14
    (pp. 159-189)

    Admiral of the Fleet Sir A. K. Wilson’s tenure as First Sea Lord (January 1910–December 1911) contributed little to the Admiralty’s strategic policy compared to earlier administrations. The Navy’s chaotic planning after 1910, however, was also attributable to Fisher’s final actions as First Sea Lord. A proven planning system centred on the NID and the War College was terminated by his policies after the Beresford Inquiry. The Navy War Council firmly retrenched the Service chief’s prerogatives over all Admiralty planning. Yet neither Fisher nor McKenna could have foreseen the new Service head’s autocratic approach in policy matters when they...

  13. 7 Offensive Planning and Operational Realities, 1914–18
    (pp. 190-224)

    Britain’s declaration of war against Germany on 4 August 1914 did not appreciably alter the Royal Navy’s strategic policy as it had evolved after 1911. Since there was no clear delineation between the distant blockade, as instituted in 1912, and offensive pre-war plans, the Admiralty’s unfolding wartime strategy appeared erratic and unco-ordinated. Some have suggested that the Navy had no definitive plan at the war’s outset and suffered a ‘continuing failure’ to produce co-ordinated operational schemes afterwards. This was attributable to the lack of a proper staff system prior to the war, the half measures implicit in the War Staff’s...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 225-234)

    The High Seas Fleet’s anti-climactic surrender in November 1918 offset the search for offensive solutions to the North Sea stalemate and the submarine menace.¹ For some, the termination of hostilities had revealed congenital defects in the Admiralty’s strategic system, especially poor preparation at the war’s outset. Richmond cited weaknesses in the Navy’s pre-war educational and strategic policy for continuing ‘the Doctrine of No Doctrine; so many officers so many ideas is the present Service rule. Hence, lack of preparation of war, as no one had clear & agreed upon views as to how war would be conducted.’² The scuttling of the...

  15. APPENDIX I Naval Intelligence Department
    (pp. 235-236)
  16. APPENDIX II Growth of the High Seas Fleet, 1 January 1900–4 August 1914
    (pp. 237-238)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 239-252)
  18. Index
    (pp. 253-264)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 265-265)