Book: The World Crisis, Vol. 2: 1915

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On the declaration of war the relative strength in Home Waters of the British Grand Fleet and the German High Sea Fleet was as follows:—

Dreadnought battleship2013
Dreadnought battle-cruisers43 and Blücher.
Armoured cruisers86 (older).
Modern light cruisers1015

In addition there were the 8 King Edwards and 5 Duncans (two in dockyard hands), which gave a good predominance over the 10 Deutschlands; and there were on each side the older ships (ours incomparably the stronger), for which it was very difficult to find a use in the North Sea.

Included among our older ships forming the Channel Fleet were the 2 Lord Nelsons (because of their low speed) and 6 Formidables.

Looking at the relative strength of the vital units on each side, there was not much margin for mistakes or accidents. But the Fleet was, in its war station, fully concentrated with its flotillas and out of the reach of all surprise. The British ships are individually the more powerful; and with exact knowledge of the balance of force the Germans did not offer battle.

It was in this situation that the Admiralty took the responsibility for advising that none of the six regular divisions need be kept at home. The appreciations of both the British and German Admiralties on the relative strength of the Fleets at this critical moment seem to have been in agreement. All other opportunities will be less favourable to the enemy.

Since then all German ships abroad have been destroyed, and, in consequence, it has been possible greatly to reduce our foreign service squadrons. New construction has also progressed, and ships building at home for foreign countries have been purchased and completed. From these causes the British Grand Fleet has been reinforced by the following ships:—


Erin, Agincourt, Benbow, Emperor of India, Warspite, Queen Elizabeth.

Battle Cruisers.

Tiger, Indomitable, Indefatigable, Invincible, Australia.

Armoured Cruisers.

Defence, Warrior, Black Prince, Duke of Edinburgh, Minotaur, Hampshire, Donegal, Lancaster, Essex.

Modern Light Cruisers.

Calliope, Royalist, Phaeton, Comus, Galatea, Caroline, Cordelia, Inconstant, Penelope, Undaunted, Arethusa, Aurora, Gloucester, Yarmouth.

Flotilla Leaders.

Botha, Broke, Faulknor.

and 27 Destroyers.

Against this we have lost Audacious. Three pre-Dreadnought battleships of the Duncan class, which had already for some months been detached from the Grand Fleet, have been sent to the Mediterranean, and the complements of 8 old Edgar cruisers, which used to form the 10th Cruiser Squadron, have turned over to 24 armed merchant cruisers and 8 armed boarding steamers.

The Harwich Striking Force has been strengthened since the beginning of the war by the light cruisers Arethusa, Penelope, Undaunted, and Aurora (mentioned above); against which we have lost Amphion. The flotilla leader Tipperary joins shortly. The number of destroyers in this force is 33, as against 36 on the outbreak of war, comprising the ‘L’ and ‘M’ flotillas, which are the latest, fastest, and most powerful vessels. In spite of losses, there are now 18 oversea submarines based on Harwich, as against 17 on the outbreak of war. In all we have at home 63 submarines.

Meanwhile the Germans have received:—


Markgraf, König, and Grösser Kurfürst, and probably Kron Prinz.

Battle Cruisers.

Derfflinger, Lützow (probably in June; but better assume her ready now).

Light Cruisers.

Graudenz, Pillau, and Regensburg. Second ex-Russian (?) Zoppot shortly.

Probably between 10 and 20 destroyers and 8 to 10 oversea submarines (apart from an uncertain number of smaller submarines).

Against this they have lost in Home Waters (apart from losses abroad):—

Armoured Cruiser.

Blücher (almost a battle cruiser).

Modern Light Cruisers.

Magdeburg, Köln, and Mainz.

Nine or 10 destroyers and probably the same number of oversea submarines, besides older ships like the Yorck, Friedrich Carl and Ariadne.

Thus, taking the Grand Fleet and the Harwich Striking Force together, our strength today is:—

Dreadnought battleships25 to 17
Battle cruisers (including Lützow)9 to 5
Total Dreadnoughts34 to 22

Pre-Dreadnoughts included in the Grand and High Sea Fleets—

King Edwards 8 to 10 Deutschlands.
Duncans 2 to 10 "
Armored Cruisers (all obsolescent) 17 to 4
Modern Light Cruisers, including those attached to Squadrons and Flotillas 26 to German possible total of 16 modern light cruisers.
Flotilla Leaders 4 to "
Destroyers 5 flotillas comprising 93 boats and 3 additional; total, 96
Against, probably 8 flotillas comprising 88 boats.
Against, possibly 10 flotillas comprising 110 boats.

The British total does not include 15 older destroyers attached to the Grand Fleet for subsidiary purposes, nor 25 destroyers, including 11 Tribals, forming the Dover Patrol, nor, of course, the Patrol Flotillas (23 destroyers), nor the Harbour Defence Flotillas (45 destroyers and 80 torpedo-boats).

The foregoing figures do not, however, give any true idea of the strength of the British Fleet, which includes 2 ships armed with 15-inch guns and 17 ships armed with 13.5 inch guns, so that the weight of metal, ship for ship and squadron for squadron in the line, apart from numbers, shows an enormous preponderance. The armoured cruisers include 9 Minotaurs and Natals, which are fast and powerful ships, and are contemporaries of the King Edwards. All our modern light cruisers are armed with 6-inch guns; none of the Germans, except the Pillau (ex-Russian), carry anything heavier than the 4-inch. The weight of metal of our destroyers is certainly three times that of the German destroyers.

On the other hand, the Germans have still in Home Waters two squadrons of very old battleships of the Wittelsbach, Kaiser, and earlier classes. We have only 3 such ships left here, the rest being in the Mediterranean. It is not easy to see what use could be made of these old German ships in a Fleet action. It is improbable that they would be brought to sea. If so, they would be the greatest impediment to the manœuvring power of the German Fleet, and the German Admiral would either have to leave them behind to be destroyed at leisure, or, by reducing his speed, allow the British Fleet to cross his T or otherwise engage him at a disadvantage.

Secondly, the argument of the decisive versus the average moment must not be overlooked. All the effective German forces must be considered available for the decisive battle, whereas our refits are continuous, and from this cause 2 or 3 Dreadnoughts and a similar proportion of cruisers and destroyers, are always absent. A further large deduction in the destroyers of the Harwich force occurs from time to time through the need to provide escorts for military purposes.

It will be seen that in all respects, actually and relatively, our position in Home Waters is better than it was at the outbreak of war, when we had full confidence in our strength and the enemy were under no delusions about it. During the next four months the repairs to Inflexible will be finished, and the super-Dreadnoughts Canada, Barham, Valiant, and Malaya will take their places in the line. No other German capital ship will be available in that period.

In view of these facts I believe the new Board will be able to assure my colleagues that there is no reason for anxiety about our superiority in the decisive theatre at the present time, and that the position will progressively improve.

I propose now to examine the great volume of new construction which is approaching completion. Before the end of the present year we shall receive:—

Battleships of the greatest power 7
Light cruisers 12
Destroyers of the largest class and leaders 65
Oversea submarines 40
Coastal submarines 22
    Heavy 18
    Medium 14
    Light 5
Sloops and smaller anti-submarine vessels 107
Of these we shall receive in the next three months:—
    Battleships 3
    Light Cruisers 6
    Destroyers and leaders 19
    Submarines 20

And all the monitors, except the four just ordered, together with a variety of miscellaneous vessels.

The most striking features are:—

First, the very large construction of destroyers, sloops, and fast small craft adapted to the purpose of submarine hunting. Of these, not less than 172 will be ready by December 31.

Secondly, the very great construction of submarines. Of the 10 submarines built by the Bethlehem Steel Works in Canada, 4 will actually be completed early in June, having been ordered in November. We have never had a submarine built under 2 years before.

Thirdly, the Monitor fleet.

On the declaration of war I gave directions to take over the 3 small monitors building for Brazil, although at the time no one could see what use could be made of them. The operations on the Belgian coast in support of the left flank of the army immediately showed their value. Early in November, Mr. Schwab, of the Bethlehem Steel Works, came over here in connection with the big submarine orders we were seeking to place. In conversation he mentioned to Lord Fisher and me that he had almost ready the four 14-inch gun turrets which had been ordered for the Greek battleship Salamis now building in Germany. I suggested to Lord Fisher that we should buy these turrets and build monitors to carry them. He took the idea up with avidity, and thereafter we embarked in the closest agreement upon a very large policy of monitor building. We took two spare 15-inch gun turrets which had been prepared for two of the furthest off new battleships (now converted into battle cruisers), and eight 12-inch gun turrets out of 4 Majestics, which we laid up, and with these and the American guns we armed the 14 heavy monitors, namely, 2 with two 15-inch guns, 4 with two 14-inch guns, and 8 with two 12-inch guns apiece. Lord Fisher then went on and pulled the 9.2 inch guns out of the old Edgars and mounted them in 14 small monitors, drawing 6 feet of water, and ten 6-inch guns, two of which had to be removed from each of the 5 Queen Elizabeths, owing to spray interference, were mounted in still smaller ones drawing only 4 feet. We also built 12 monitors for service on the Danube, when the Straits are forced. These are more powerful than the Austrian vessels there, and are capable of being transported by rail, and we are also building 12 monitors or river gun-boats for service on the Tigris and Euphrates. The whole of this new construction is now coming to hand. At the same time we ordered steel protected flat-bottomed boats, specially designed to hold a company each and the whole capable of landing 50,000 men simultaneously at any point which may be found subsequently convenient.

The big monitors should have a part to play in the immediate future. They were originally devised for action among the shallows in the Heligoland Bight. They are heavily armoured. They draw only 10 feet of water and can therefore proceed into water so shallow that no submarine can follow them. They are also protected against torpedoes and mines by large bulges which extend more than 15 feet away from the ship and are composed of numerous compartments, some filled with air and some with water, with a space open to the sea between the outer compartments and the ship. All the guns have been given a special elevation which enables them to fire at ranges exceeding 20,000 yards. The speed of the monitors is their weak point, slightly less than 7 knots being realized with the first one completed at Belfast. Nine heavy monitors will be completed before the end of June, and the rest by about the end of July. The bulk of this work has been done by Harland and Wolff, and the construction of these very heavy vessels carrying the largest guns in the world in 5 or 6 months is one of the most remarkable episodes in the history of British shipbuilding. The workmen have done nobly, both by their exertions and discretion. These monitors should be able to play an important part in default of all other means in the final phases of the Dardanelles operations.

There is no reason to believe that the Germans at all appreciate the extent of our preparations in this respect.

I have not dealt with the new construction maturing after December 31. It is, however, considerable.

The yards are now absolutely full with new construction, and the policy had been approved by the late Board of keeping them running at full blast by placing new orders, in addition to the above, as soon as any opening appeared.


The active personnel of the Fleet, which before the war was 140,000, is today 251,000. The arrangements for manning the new construction have been completed for more than three months ahead, the following ships being provided for in all respects:—


Canada (battleship).
Cleopatra (light cruiser).
Conquest "
Carysfort "
Kempenfelt (flotilla leaders).
Tipperary "
Lightfoot "
4 12-inch monitors.
2 9.2-inch monitors.
9 Sloops
Marmion (‘M’ class destroyer).
Martial "
4 small China River gun-boats (up to July 31)
2 large submarines. "
21 small submarines.
200 lighters.
9 flat-bottomed boats.


June, 1915—
    2 15-inch monitors.
    8 12-inch monitors.
    8 9.2-inch monitors.
    Moon (‘M’ class destroyer).
    Medea (late Greek destroyer).
    Melampus "
    7 sloops.
    50 torpedo launches
July, 1915—
    4 9.2-inch monitors.
    Mandate (‘M’ class destroyer)
    Michael "
    Medusa (late Greek destroyer).
    Melpomene "
    8 sloops.
    4 large China River gun-boats.
    4 small China River gun-boats.
    15 whalers.
August, 1915—
    Barham (battleship).
    Malaya (battleship).
    Birkenhead (late Greek light cruiser).
    Champion (light cruiser).
    Marksman (flotilla leader).
    Nimrod (flotilla leader).
    Marigold (‘M’ class destroyer)
    Milbrook "
    Mons "
    Myrtle "
    Morning Star "
    Nessus "
    Manners "
    4 large China River gun-boats.
    4 small China River gun-boats.
    Titania (submarine depot ship).
    1 large submarine.

All the schools and training establishments have been kept in full activity from the beginning of the war, and a regular system of withdrawing men in rotation from the Grand Fleet and other fleets and squadrons, and replacing them by boys and young seamen, has enabled good and seasoned complements to be provided for the new vessels. It would, of course, be impossible to man all these new and powerful units without paying off and laying up a number of the oldest ships. We have already, as has been seen, voluntarily laid up 4 of the Majestics, and a certain number of the older armoured cruisers, and before the end of the autumn it will be necessary to lay up 8 or 10 of the Majestic and Canopus battleships and the 2 remaining Cressys, together with 4 or 5 other vessels of similar age and obsoleteness. From this point of view, the reduction of our naval strength by the loss of old vessels, provided the crews are saved, can easily be over-estimated. But for the war, they would have been out of commission already; and now they will have to pass out of the service, in any case, to meet the superior claims of vastly stronger and more useful types. This point, together with the approach of the Monitor Fleet, was an important factor in the decision to undertake operations of the nature now proceeding at the Dardanelles. Recruiting is good and active, and Vote A, which now stands at 250,000 (including about 25,000 men of the Royal Naval Division and ancillary services), will shortly have to be increased, probably to 300,000. At the present time, when, owing to the prolongation of the operations at the Dardanelles, we are holding on to almost all our old ships and at the same time receiving constant accession of new ships, the strain is at its greatest. But the needs of the next three months, both in officers and men, can be met, and thereafter considerable relief may be expected, both from the laying up of old ships and the completion of the training of large drafts.

Defence of Harbours.

Within the United Kingdom the principal harbours of strategic importance, and all naval bases, are now protected by anti-submarine booms. The effectiveness of these booms is shown by the fact that, so far as is known, no hostile submarine has penetrated or attempted to penetrate harbours and naval bases so defended. The anti-submarine booms constructed and placed in position as defences in the United Kingdom have a total length of 49.3 sea miles. In addition, there are 2 miles at Mudros Bay, Lemnos; and Gibraltar and Malta are also completed.

The system employed in many areas of submarine indicator nets, with trawlers and drifters watching them, has proved an effective deterrent to the passage of submarines, and there is reason to believe that the Germans prefer to make the enormous detour northabout rather than run the risk of passing the Dover cordon. The immunity which our transports and shipping have lately enjoyed in the Channel is largely due to the success of this system. 1,000 miles of indicator net have been ordered, of which about 700 miles have been delivered, and 75 miles have been sent to the Dardanelles, and more is to go.

Auxiliary Vessels.

A full numerical list of all vessels under the control of the Admiralty on April 19, reaching the total of 3,927, is attached. The numbers have increased since the list was completed.

List of Vessels under Admiralty Control on April 19, 1915.

Battleships 62
Battle cruisers 9
Cruisers 43
Light cruisers 64
Flotilla leaders 4
Torpedo-boat destroyers 226
Torpedo-boats 106
Submarines 71
Miscellaneous (sloops, gunboats, depot ships, etc.) 72
Armed merchant cruisers 44
Yachts 71
Admiralty trawlers 13
Auxiliary trawlers (late fleet sweepers) 8
Fleet messengers 18
Mine-sweeping trawlers, auxiliary patrol trawlers, drifters, etc. 1,359
Paddle mine-sweepers 12
Mine carriers 7
Armed boarding steamers 23
Seaplane ships 5
Portsmouth extended defence steamers 2
Ammunition carriers 40
Store carriers 25
Frozen meat carriers 5
Squadron supply ships 15
Flotilla supply ships 5
Special service steamers 3
Accommodation ships 2
Salvage ships 1
Marconi ships 2
Colliers 467
Oilers 73
Hospital ships 11
Motor-boats 156
For military service—
    Ships for Expeditionary Force, etc. 313
    Ships engaged in Colonies (about) 120
Harbour craft—
    Naval 333
    Military        31
Self-defensive merchantmen 32
Armed coast vessels        51
Australian fleet—
    Battle cruiser 1
    Light cruisers 4
    Torpedo-boat destroyers 3
    Submarine 1
    Miscellaneous 5
Canadian fleet—
    Cruiser 1
    Light cruiser 1
    Royal Indian marine vessels       7
Total     3,927

Large numbers of the smaller natures of guns, including about 70 4.7’s, have been obtained from the most varied sources, some from ships operating in waters not exposed to torpedo attack, some from Japan, some from the Bethlehem Works in America, many from the Gunnery Schools, etc. The object held in view has been to arm the largest possible number of small craft employed on anti-submarine work, and also merchant ships passing through submarine-infested waters.

The following, up to the present, have been armed with guns for attack on or defence against submarines:—

Merchant steamers190
Drifters and net drifters105


On the outbreak of war the approved outfits were practically complete, and according to arrangements which had been prepared in advance large orders were automatically placed. These are now beginning to mature, the main flow beginning in August.

Since then the principle followed has been to place every possible order with the naval shell-makers that the trade can take. In consequence very large supplies of ammunition for all classes of guns will come to hand by the end of the year.

Since the beginning of the war we have received on the average four times as much heavy and twice as much medium shell as we have fired away, including all operations at the Dardanelles, and we are therefore in a substantially better position than at the outset, when the position was not unsatisfactory. This is particularly true of the Grand Fleet ships, for the bombarding operations have been almost entirely confined to the older vessels. Before the end of the year we shall receive eight times as much ammunition as we have fired away in the whole 10 months of the war, though, of course, there will be more ships to be provided for.

No apprehension is felt in regard to high explosives for naval purposes. In this matter we are in the hands of the War Office, but we have assured ourselves repeatedly that our wants will be met. Cordite is not quite so satisfactory, and some months ago I was distressed to find that owing to the great orders for shells that had been put out in excess of any previous plan, the projectiles were, after July, getting a good deal ahead of the propellent. Mr. Balfour, at my request, very kindly held an independent inquiry into this, and made a report which is reassuring. From this it appears we began the war with 23,000 tons of cordite. Since then we have fired away 1,500 tons and have received 8,000. Before the end of the year we shall receive 13,000 tons under existing orders. This takes no account of the new Admiralty factory which is being built at Poole, or of the factory at the Firth of Forth which Lord Moulton is undertaking as an emergency matter.

Every nerve should be strained to increase the supply of naval ammunition, as the expenditure in a Fleet battle at long range may be very large. We were working up to a total of three outfits a ship; but we ought not to stop there.


We are well ahead with our supply of torpedoes and shall be for 3 or 4 months to come, but so great is the volume of new construction requiring torpedoes, that our greatly expanded resources will be strained to keep pace with it towards the close of the year. The expenditure of torpedoes since the action in the Heligoland Bight late in August last has been very small from the fact that no targets are presented to our submarines or destroyers, and there is no reason to suppose that this condition will not continue.


The coaling arrangements of the Fleet have proved in every respect satisfactory. The supply of oil fuel, which in time of peace had excited much apprehension, and had been the object of special study, has presented no difficulty. A table showing the present consumption and position follows. A second table showing the comparison of our actual expenditure in war with the War Staff estimates prepared more than two years ago also follows. It will be seen that our anticipations erred to a reasonable extent upon the side of safety. Our oil reserve now stands at nearly 1,000,000 tons, well dispersed and a large proportion kept afloat. The sea routes are perfectly safe, the prices not exorbitant, and the sources from which we can draw very numerous.


The Royal Naval Air Service has expanded from 98 officers and 595 men at the beginning of the war to 895 officers and 8,039 men at the present time. This, however, includes the armoured car squadrons and the anti-aircraft defence. A paper is attached showing the latest numbers and dispositions of the naval seaplanes and aeroplanes, from which it will appear that we have at present about 250 machines ready to fly. Making allowance for the loss of two a day, we shall have by September 1 about 600 aircraft, and by the end of the year about 1,200 machines of all kinds, including a number of very large ones. Extensive arrangements have been made for the supply of bombs, principally the 20 lb., 112 lb., and the 500 lb. bombs. The last-named carries a bursting charge 30 per cent. larger than that of the 15-inch shell. We have at present 178 pilots trained and 99 in training, and it has been proposed to raise these numbers by the end of the year to about 500, allowing for wastage.

W. S. C.

May 30, 1915.

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