c/o GPO London

 

 

 

800px-Hms_victory

HMS Victory at Portsmouth naval base, 2008

 

The location of any Royal Navy warship in World War Two was a great secret, as it should have been. All ships had the same address, for example

HMS Victory

c/o GPO

London

(that is: care of the General Post Office, London)

Since all Royal Navy logistic and administrative systems were set up to support individual ships, all bases on land were named for ships as well. One was always assigned to a ship. This simple expedient prevented disruptive changes in the system of administration which worked well.

Officers and ratings assigned to the Admiralty or various government officers in London were, and still are, carried on the books of HMS Victory; Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

She was built in the Royal Navy’s Chatham Dockyard and officially commissioned in 1778 as a first-rate ship of the line carrying 104 guns. HMS Victory was placed in dry-dock at Portsmouth naval base in 1922 where she remains, the oldest warship in the world still in commission. (The USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat)

She serves as the flagship of the First Sea Lord or professional head of the Royal Navy.

Photo of HMS Victory courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hms_victory.JPG

 

Admiral Dudley Pound Wouldn’t Take His Own Advice

 

 

iwn pound and SC

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound and the Prime Minister on the deck of the SS Queen Mary. (Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

 

Early in his tenure as First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Dudley Pound wrote to a close friend in the navy and said, “why have Commanders-in-Chiefs and do their work for them? If they are not capable of doing it they must make way for someone who can.” 1

Unique amongst the respective British service commands, the Admiralty had command, organizational and administrative responsibilities of a standard service ministry but also had operational control over the fleets.

Unfortunately, Dudley Pound didn’t take his own advice during the war since he often went over the heads of his C-in-Cs and gave orders to formations under their command.

During the disastrous campaign in Norway beginning in early April 1940, Pound went over the head of both the senior Royal Navy officer on the scene (Admiral Jock Whitworth) as well over the head Whitworth’s C.O., the Commander in Chief, Home Fleet. Pound even sent orders to individual ships. This caused immense confusion as you might imagine.

While many of the orders sent to RN ships fighting in the Norwegian campaign by Dudley Pound were thought to have originated with then First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, many other times during the war Pound needed no prodding from Churchill to interfere in fleet dispositions during action with the enemy.

This could cause serious problems and occasionally disaster such as the infamous scattering order issue to convoy PQ17.

As an aside, the Chief of Naval Operations in the US, has no operational authority over US naval ships. He, or she, is responsible for everything concerning the navy but he doesn’t exercise command over fleets or ships. This has always been the case in the modern history of the US Navy.

In World War Two, Franklin Roosevelt picked Admiral Ernest King out of  a dead-end post which Admirals took a few years before retirement and made him Chief of Naval Operations. However, this gave King little power over the dispositions of the actual naval ships themselves since those were in fleets or other units under the authority of Commander in Chief US Fleet. This title had the unfortunate acronym of CINCUS.

After a spell, this did not suit Roosevelt who wanted one person in charge so he elevated King to the position of Commander in Chief US Fleet while allowing him to also keep the office of Chief of Naval Operations. This gave King immense authority over the entire US Navy. (And he sometimes went over the heads of his commanders such as Nimitz, not to change any of their fleet dispositions but to fire some of their subordinates).

Upon assuming the position of Commander in Chief, US Fleet, Admiral King immediately changed the acronym to COMINCH. King is the only man ever to have held the position of Chief of Naval Operations and Commander in Chief US Fleet simultaneously.

1 Roskill, Stephen “The War at Sea”

 

 

 

9,000 Men Killed, 250 Warships Clash, 25 Sent to the Bottom, Part Two

The Battle of Jutland

31 May 1916

HMSLiondamagetoQturret1916

Damage to Q turret on battlecruiser HMS Lion, Admiral Beatty’s Flagship at the Battle of Jutland (Photo courtesy of IWM)

Since every source gives slightly different figures, I have taken the following figures verbatim from the after action summary prepared by Lion’s Captain during the Battle of Jutland,  A.E.M. Chatfield. (Later Admiral of the Fleet and First Sea Lord or Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy)

In the Royal Navy this is formally known as “Report of Proceedings.” The report was made to Vice-Admiral Beatty, Commanding the Battle Cruiser Fleet. As mentioned, HMS Lion was Beatty’s flagship during the battle hence he was aboard the entire time.

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HMS Lion surrounded by waterspouts from enemy gunfire as HMS Queen Mary explodes at right. (photo courtesy Imperial War Museum)

 “The damage to the ship is not serious, except that “Q” turret is wrecked, but is reparable. The ship was hit altogether twelve times by enemy heavy shell, but the damage, which I have already reported to you separately, does not seriously affect our seaworthiness or fighting efficiency……”

“…the heavy casualties, which amounted to 95 killed and 49 wounded, mostly in the first two hours of the action, were a tremendous strain on the strongest discipline, yet there was never the least sign of wavering in the least degree from their duty.”

HMS_Lion_hit_at_Jutland

HMS Lion hit by German shellfire at Jutland Downloaded from [1] who scanned it from The Literary Digest History of the World War, 10 volumes, Halsey, Francis Whiting, ed; Funk & Wagnalls Co, New York and London, 1920

The complete Report of Proceedings can be found on the following website:

www.dreadnoughtproject.org

 

For some reason, naval historians and enthusiasts continue to debate who the actual victor was in this battle. True, the battle was confusing, to put it mildly. Huge formations of ships on the same side were often out of sight of each other.

Wireless communications were in their infancy so Admirals used a complex system of long strings of signal flags to try and maneuver their fleets. With low cloud cover, visibility was a limited so reading the flag signals was difficult.

All warships on the scene were powered by coal and produced huge clouds of smoke especially when they were steaming at speed. When ships fired on other ships, this generated clouds of powder smoke. To sum it up: many captains couldn’t see a damn thing much less distant flag signals from their Fleet or Squadron commanders.

Because of this, there is still debate over where different formations were at different times. The most fascinating question in military history is:  “what facts did commanders know, when did they learn those facts and how much weight did they give various facts over others?”

Jutland is a battle where the debate over these issues has continued to this very day and will continue for decades to come so I well understand why naval enthusiasts continue to debate the details.  However, many historians and amateur historians, suggest Jutland was a “strategic victory” for the British and a “tactical victory” for the Germans. Reason: Germans sank a larger number of Royal Navy ships  than the British sank German ships. This is both by number and tonnage.

This is historical hair-splitting which I say with due respect to those who like to engage in this debate.

bhc2804

Admiral of the Fleet John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe (1859-1935)

oil on canvass by Walter Thomas Monnington

© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

At Jutland Sir John Jellicoe, the commander of the Grand Fleet was slow to come up and missed the opportunity to get between the German Fleet and their path of escape back their base.

As I wrote previously, the British Grand Fleet won the battle hands down because the German fleet never again sortied in fleet strength from their main base although smaller squadrons dashed out from time to time. But the High Seas Fleet mainly spent the rest of the war anchored behind heavy torpedo netting and other barriers to British attack.

Admiral Scheer, Fleet commander, was going to stage a last Wagnerian suicide mission by taking the fleet to sea in the last few weeks of the war. This precipitated mutiny aboard the ships of the High Seas Fleet and most German ships and bases were seized by mutinous sailors.