The submarine telegraph – a tool or a truss?

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      At the time of the spectacular world-wide spread of submarine cables mid-19th century, one American admiral complained: “once we [senior officers] were big out there – now I feel like an errand boy tied to a wire.”
      I am trying to find what was the view of the RN’s commanders… hitherto left much to act on their own initiative when, say, three months sailing time from home – but now able to seek advice in a matter of hours from the most distant Stations.
      Anyone who could point me to a comment, anecdote, or incident of RN officers being reined in by that “wire” would do me the greatest service.
      Brian James

      P.S. B

        Navy Records Society’s “Naval Miscellany” vol. VI contains letters of Captain F.S. Clayton RN on the Australia Station (edited by Mary Jones), including one in 1887 in which he bemoans that his admiral:
        “cannot move about his own station without permission from home – centralisation with a vengeance. It is a great pity, all owing to that tiresome telegraph – he may not go out of reach of the plague without leave”.
        Peter Beston


          Andrew Lambert’s recent book Admirals(Faber and Faber, 2008) deals in several places with this cultural change, and the subsequent even more important ones – the introduction of global radio coverage and now instantaneous satelite comunications and command.
          He seems to regard Cunningham as the last admiral with some degree of freedom, achieved largely because of his friendship with Pound [First Sea Lord in the early part of WWII], but shows that it also worked in reverse. He gives an example from [Admiral Sandy] Woodward of the admiral on the spot using the system to twist the arms of both Whitehall and the Prime Minister to get action over the Belgrano during the Falklands conflict.
          Paul Quinn

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