25th January 1841. Early WWI Naval Disasters.

NB: Date on left incorrect owing to different Time Zone.

The size of the Royal Navy since 1815 had varied from a high of 85,384 down to 23,000 (1820), after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. 

By 1900 the figure was 114,880 at a time of naval build-up, the time of  the reforming John Arbuthnot, Lord Fisher of Kilverston, First Sea Lord (1904-10), born Today in 1841.

Fisher at 73, was brought back by Churchill, in September 1914, after a succession of indifferent First Sea Lords- Wilson, Bridgeman and Battenberg-to take command of a Navy, now at war, of 1000 ships with 147,667 sailors.(1)

Fisher was appointed owing to a series of naval shortcomings which had exasperated Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty, so much so that  by October 1914 he was facing the prospect of a fourth First Sea Lord in his three years at the Admiralty.

‘Quite concur’ Battenberg was considered too easy going and as Fisher said to Jellicoe, Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, ‘Battenberg was a cipher and Churchill’s facile dupe’.

In the event Fisher flounced out of office in 1915 saying he couldn’t work with Churchill and Wilson took his place. Fisher previously had been the driving force in bringing the Navy up to date to deal with the German threat, resulting in the introduction of the Dreadnought Battleships.(2)

The first setbacks had occurred in the Mediterranean on 9th-10th August 1914, when the German cruisers Goeben and Breslau in the Mediterranean, had escaped. As a result Admiral Troubridge was Court-Martial-ed, though acquitted; another Berkeley-Milne was placed on half pay: Fisher thought he should have been shot.(3)

Then on the morning of 22nd September, three elderly Cressy-Class cruisers, Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue, were sunk by the submarine U-9 off the Dutch coast, 1400 were lost.

Vice Admiral Beatty commanding the Battle Cruiser Squadron of  The Grand Fleet wrote to his wife on October 11th bemoaning that it ‘made him sick that the Navy had provided the first instance of failure’.


Audacious in better times.

A further disaster occurred on 27th October 1914 off Donegal, Ireland, used by Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet as anchorage, when the battleship King George V, HMS Audacious was sunk by a mine

To cap it all on November 1st, Rear Admiral Cradock had lost the Battle of Coronel, off Chile when he and 1600 perished, as well as the cruisers Monmouth and Good Hope.

Prime-Minister Asquith after a late November Cabinet Meeting, wrote to the King that after the escape of the Goeben and the loss of Cressy and its two sister cruisers, ‘it is not creditable to the Navy’.(4)

Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty and politician responsible for the Navy, recorded in those months of 1914,’that matters weighed heavily with him’.

He was not best pleased and a scapegoat was looked for and found in Admiral Battenberg, who was also having problems with his German background: he resigned five weeks later. The family was to change its name to Mountbatten.

By the end of the War in 1918 the Navy had risen to 400,000 sailors, with the inevitable run-down after the Armistice.

(1) Fisher returned on 29th September.

(2) In his letter of resignation he quoted (wrongly) Jowett ‘never explain’, (it was in fact Disraeli), saying he couldn’t adjust himself to the daily requirements of the Dardanelles to meet yr. (sic) views’.

(3) The Goeben was sold to Turkey who entered the war on Germany’s side on November 1st.

(4) Meeting on November 4th 1914.

Ref:  Janes’ Ships.

Ref: wikipedia.org/Pic Image.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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