Reply To: Jutland and a direct train of cordite

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Mark Barton

    Michael trying to compare the period your are asking about with what I have seen in recent years, I hope this helps.

    It is always very challenging for any government/staff to prepare for the next war, when it is intending to defend rather than attack and thus the enemy whoever they may be ends up having the choice. Therefore, any after the event analysis will almost invariably find inadequacies in preparation, that is the great benefit of hindsight. There are so many scenarios that can develop and so many other calls on the finances that defence will always have to make compromises and it will select both from what it has experienced previously and from other pressures (e.g. industry wanting the ship building work rather than money going into training). Governments and senior officers will always put the best possible presentation on what is going on. Reading some of the pre WW1 future war fiction (e.g. The Captain of the Mary Rose by W Laird Clowes) it is easy to see how they were struggling to grasp what will be the future challenges. The recent wars for those at the top of the RN in WW1 had been smaller campaigns usually against land based forces (as you will be aware Fisher is no different here having served in the Second Opium War and Anglo Egyptian War) and this must have impacted on his mindset.

    I can think of design work that I have done where if you knew later changes you would not have done the earlier step but of course you never do know the future and you have to make the best decision that you can at the time. So if you are going to establish blame then I think you also need to establish that it was unreasonable that he did not solve those issues (almost to the extent that he could have done so and chose not to with perhaps some form of implied negligence). Admirals must operate within significant constraints including: pressure from other activities; financial and political restrictions and simply that the volume of challenges within their in tray means that inevitably they only have the capacity, however good they are, to tackle some of the issues. However, hard they work they must prioritise both what they invest in and which problems they try and solve and there will be plenty of things they know to be wrong but are just unable to resolve.

    So was he to “blame” or were these simply other challenges that he not been able to tackle in the pressure of running the RN?