With regard to the first section of this book, it is essential to state that from October 25, 1911, to May 28, 1915, I was, in the words of the Royal Letters Patent and Orders in Council, ‘responsible to Crown and Parliament for all the business of the Admiralty.’ This period comprised the final stage in the preparation against a war with Germany; the mobilization and concentration of the Fleet before the outbreak; the organization of the Blockade; the gathering in 1914 of the Imperial forces from all over the world; the clearance from the oceans of all the German cruisers and commerce destroyers; the reinforcement of the Fleet by new construction in 1914 and 1915; the frustration and defeat of the first German submarine attack upon merchant shipping in 1915; and the initiation of the enterprise against the Dardanelles. It was marked before the war by a complete revision of British naval war plans; by the building of a fast division of battleships armed with 15-inch guns and driven by oil fuel; by the proposals, rejected by Germany, for a naval holiday; and by the largest supplies till then ever voted by Parliament for the British Fleet. It was distinguished during the war for the victories of the Heligoland Bight, of the Falkland Islands, and the Dogger Bank; and for the attempt to succour Antwerp. It was memorable for the disaster to the three cruisers off the Dutch Coast; the loss of Admiral Cradock’s squadron at Coronel; and the failure of the Navy to force the Dardanelles.
Eight years had passed since I quitted the Admiralty, and I felt it both my right and my duty to set forth the manner in which I endeavoured to discharge my share in these hazardous responsibilities. In doing so I adhered to certain strict rules. I made no important statement of fact relating to naval operations or Admiralty business, on which I did not possess unimpeachable documentary proof. I made or implied no criticism of any decision or action taken or neglected by others, unless I could prove that I had expressed the same opinion in writing before the event.
In every case where the interests of the State allowed, I printed the actual memoranda, directions, minutes, telegrams or letters written by me at the time, irrespective of whether these documents had been vindicated or falsified by the march of history and of time. The only excisions of relevant matter from the documents were made to avoid needlessly hurting the feelings of individuals, or the pride of friendly nations. For such reasons here and there sentences were softened or suppressed. But the whole story is recorded as it happened, by the actual counsels offered and orders given in the fierce turmoil of each day. The principal minutes by which Admiralty business was conducted embody in every case decisions for which, as the highest executive authority in the department, I was directly responsible, and are in all cases expressed in my own words. I am equally accountable, together with the First Sea Lord at the time, for the principal telegrams which moved fleets, squadrons and individual ships, all of which (unless the contrary appears) bear my initials as their final sanction.
If in the great number of decisions and orders which these pages recount and which deal with so many violent and controversial affairs, mistakes can be found which led to mishap, the fault is mine. If, on the other hand, favourable results were achieved, that should be counted to some extent as an offset. Where the decision lay outside my powers and was taken contrary to my advice, I rest on the written record of my warning. Should it be objected that in any of these matters, many of them so highly technical, a landsman and layman could form no valuable opinion, I point to the documents themselves. They can be judged as they stand. But lest, on the other hand, it should be thought that I am seeking to claim credit which is not mine, it must be remembered that throughout this period I enjoyed the assistance, loyal, spontaneous and unstinted, of the best brains of the Royal Navy, that every treasure of every branch of the Admiralty and the Fleet was lavished upon my instruction, and that I had only to apply my own reason and instinct to the arguments of those who I believe stood in the foremost rank of the naval experts of the world.