I did try, honestly, I did. I made a strict promise to myself that the leaning tower of waiting-to-be-read books would be well and truly reduced by summer but, alas, the vagaries of my wandering mind have led me astray - again. For reasons too tedious to repeat now, I have been tempted back into the mysteries of the battle of Jutland, in general, and Andrew Gordon's monumental tome, The Rules of the Game which I read several years ago, in particular. Once again I am utterly and helplessly hooked! I really do believe that Gordon's book should be compulsory reading for any military officer, of course, but also for any politician seriously seeking senior office. In the story of Jutland there are all the truths you will ever need to know concerning the never-ending tragi-comedy of human history and warfare and whilst some of them emanate from the technology most of them spring from that eternal enemy to "the best laid schemes of mice and men" - human nature.
Take just the British side as an example. In the Admiralty, from time to time, were those twin Devil's disciples, Jacky Fisher and Winston Churchill. Big men with big virtues but equally big political/strategic vices to match. In command of the Grand Fleet of 24 massive 'Dreadnought' battleships, the "Castles of Steel"*, was Adm. Jellicoe, a supremely professional naval expert to his fingertips with a ferocious intellect through which all possible permutations of a future battle with the German High Seas Fleet had been worked through in fine detail - with the exception of what actually happened! An intensely private and tacitern man who was incapable of sharing his operational philosophy with his fellow officers partly, suggests Gordon in his book, because he didn't think they had the intellectual ability to grasp it, he relied on strict discipline and absolute obedience to orders. Despite his cold demeanour, he managed to extract intense loyalty from all those who served in his fleet.
Beneath him (although that was a moot point!) and commanding "the big cats" of the seperate battle cruiser fleet which was supposed to be Jellicoe's eyes, was the mercurial Adm. Beatty, a man thought of in Edwardian terms as being 'not quite a gentleman'. Vain, flamboyant and flawed, this man was an accident waiting to happen - and accidents there were a-plenty! Put simply, Beatty lacked that final piece of intellectual ability which allows a commander to quickly assimilate a rapidly changing situation and to see the optimum path to follow. And then finally, Adm. Evan-Thomas, commander of the brand new 'super-Dreadnought' squadron equipped with mammoth 15" guns, two of which can can be seen today embedded outside the Imperial War Museum. These five ships were the very latest in battleship design, stronger, faster and armed more heavily than anything else afloat. Evan-Thomas was a decent, loyal and somewhat plodding officer, utterly obedient but incapable of using initiative.
Those were just some of the all-too human ingredients that were to make up the bubbling stew of errors, misunderstandings, missed opportunites, high courage, great skill and sheer incompetence which was the battle of Jutland. Forgive me if I return to this subject from time to time because I am designing a PowerPoint talk on the subject and setting my thoughts down in writing clarifies the mind - somewhat!
* Castles of Steel by Robert K. Massie, a good history of WWI naval warfare, but even better, is his depiction of Edwardian Europe and the great naval race between Britain and Germany in his outstanding book Dreadnought - one of the very best history books I have ever read. I should add that Gordon's book, The Rules of the Game, in which he carefully steers his way throught the multiple minefields of the very many heated controversies that arose from the battle, might be a tad technical for anyone who, unlike me, is not besotted with the story. It is, however, probably the final word on the whole muddled subject.