The first edition of this work had already appeared when I received a letter from Captain Thomas Crease, Lord Fisher’s Naval Assistant, which threw new light on some of the minor aspects of Lord Fisher’s resignation. From this I print the relevant extracts.
Captain Crease to Mr. Churchill
The definite and immediate reason for Lord Fisher’s resignation in the early morning hours of May 15th, was not the telegram concerning the despatch of our cruisers to the Adriatic, sent by you on the 14th and marked ‘1st Sea Lord to see after action.’ The copy of this telegram was opened by me on the night of the 14th, in the course of my duties as Naval Assistant to the First Sea Lord, at which time Lord Fisher had already gone to bed, and it was not seen by him till late next day as he did not come to the Admiralty during the morning. The telegram was certainly not the spark that fired the train, though undoubtedly it fed the flames.
The real reason for Lord Fisher’s resignation at that moment was the minute which you wrote to him somewhere about 11 p.m. on the 14th May, and which he read probably about 5 a.m. on 15th May. This minute is not given in full in your Book, two paragraphs at the end being omitted in your text as printed on pages 355 and 356, and there are also differences in the direction of the minute and minor discrepancies in the body. I think it is necessary, therefore, for the sake of Lord Fisher’s reputation and for historical accuracy, now to draw special attention to this minute and to the circumstances in which it was written. All the reasons you have suggested in your Book for Lord Fisher’s resignation on that early morning, except the telegram, were equally as valid on the night of the 14th when you parted so amicably, as the morning of the 15th, and as I have stated, the telegram had nothing to do with the matter. Without the powerful reason of this particular minute Lord Fisher’s action in resigning would appear to be due to vacillation and indecision, if nothing worse, and a most undeserved slur is cast on his memory.
In Chapter XVIII of your Book you describe the events of 14th May, leading up to your long discussion with Lord Fisher in the evening. At the end of that interview I could see that you yourself were obviously much relieved in your mind, and Lord Fisher also parted from you on quite amicable terms. He told me at once that he had had a very satisfactory discussion with you, and that he had peaceably settled with you what ships and reinforcements should go to the Dardanelles, and that I ‘need not pack up just yet’—earlier in the afternoon, after his return from the War Council, he had informed me that he felt he could not stop much longer as First Sea Lord. He told me exactly what ships it had been arranged to send to the Dardanelles, and gave me some minor instructions in regard to this matter, and he then signed his papers and went home and to bed. The arrangements made, as I then understood from him, so far as ships were concerned, embraced only six large Monitors and four ‘Edgar’ Class fitted with bulges.
Late that night, about midnight, I was working in my room when your Principal Private Secretary, Mr. Masterton-Smith, brought me a minute from you to Lord Fisher, with the direction that Lord Fisher was to receive it first thing in the morning. I read this minute, which I understood had just been prepared and then told Mr. Masterton-Smith that in my opinion Lord Fisher would resign immediately if he received it.
I have been given a copy of the minute by Mr. George Lambert, with a view to its publication, and therefore I now reproduce it, as follows:—
May 14, 1915.
‘MY DEAR FISHER,
I send this to you before marking it to others, in order that if any point arises we can discuss it.
I hope you will agree.
First Sea Lord.
1. The fifth 15-inch howitzer with 50 rounds of ammunition should go to the Dardanelles with the least possible delay, being sent by special train across France and re-embarked at Marseilles. Let me have a time-table showing by what date it can arrive at the Dardanelles.
The two 9.2-inch guns will go to the Dardanelles, either in the two monitors prepared for them or separately for mounting on shore. This will be decided as soon as we hear from Vice-Admiral de Robeck.
2. The following 9 heavy monitors should go in succession to the Dardanelles as soon as they are ready:—Admiral Farragut, General Grant, Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Lord Clive, Prince Rupert, Sir John Moore, General Craufurd and Marshal Ney.
The first 6 of the 9.2-inch monitors should also go unless the Admiral chooses to have two of their guns for work on shore, in which case the first 4 only will go.
A time-table should be prepared showing the dates on which they can be despatched and will arrive. They can calibrate on the Turks. All necessary steps for their sea-worthiness on the voyage should be taken.
In the case of the 9.2-inch monitors it may be found better to send the actual guns out to Malta separately.
It is clear that when this large accession of force reaches the Vice-Admiral, he should be able to spare a portion of his battleships for service in Home Waters, but it may be better to see how the monitors work and what use they are to him before raising this point.
3. Four of the ‘Edgars’ with special bulge protection against the mine and torpedo are now ready. They carry ten 6-inch guns each and supply the medium armament which the monitors lack. They should be specially useful for supporting the Army at night without risk from torpedo attack. They would also be useful at a later stage in passing a shore torpedo tube or escorting other ships that were passing.
We have not found any satisfactory employment for them here.
It is not necessary to provide crews for them: working parties which can take them out will be sufficient. The Admiral can man them from his large Fleet for any special service that may be required. They should start as soon as possible.
Let me have a report on the manning possibilities as defined above and times by which they can arrive.
It will be for consideration when these vessels are on the spot whether a valuable ship like the Chatham should not be released for other duties.
4. The Third Sea Lord will make proposals for providing anti-mine protection for a proportion of the battleships employed, on the lines proposed at our discussion.
5. The following increased provision will be made for the Air Service. (D.A.D. will supply on verbal instructions.)
6. During this month 5 new Submarines are delivered, viz., S2, E18, V2, V3 and S3. In June the Montreal boats come in. Therefore, in view of the request of the Vice-Admiral, I consider that two more E boats should be sent to Dardanelles.
(Initd.) W. S. C.
May 14, 1915.
It was obvious to me that this minute went beyond the agreement regarding reinforcements of ships and materials for the Dardanelles, which Lord Fisher told me himself he reached with you earlier in the evening, and which he considered to be the ultimate lengths to which he was prepared to go in order to meet your views. Knowing Lord Fisher’s frame of mind, I felt sure that this, coming at that moment and within a few hours of the previous agreement which he considered final, would be the last straw.
I discussed the matter at some length with Mr. Masterton-Smith, and finally he took the minute back to you, to report what I had said before definitely handing it to me for despatch. After some delay, Mr. Masterton-Smith handed me back the minute and said it must be sent on, as you felt certain that Lord Fisher would not object to the dispositions proposed and in any case it was necessary that they should be made.
Lord Fisher probably read the minute about 5 o’clock next morning, 15th May, and as I had anticipated, soon after wrote and sent you his resignation.
I now have no doubt whatever in my mind as to what occurred in connexion with this fateful minute. You had prepared it during the course of the afternoon, and addressed it to ‘Secretary,’ ‘First Sea Lord’ and ‘Chief of Staff’ in that rotation. Before despatching it, however, you decided to discuss the matter personally with the First Sea Lord at your interview during the evening, and after doing this you took away the minute. This would account for me not having seen it in the original form. Late at night you altered the minute and added to it, and then sent it on, directed to Lord Fisher only, and with the covering letter, when I saw it for the first time. Apart from the points already referred to, there is the correction from your original version (as printed in the Book) regarding the ten guns of the ‘Edgar’ Class and a change in the wording about the shore torpedo-tubes, which demonstrate that the minute was revised.
The additional paragraphs relate to the despatch of Aircraft (which did not especially concern Lord Fisher) and also to the despatch of two more E class submarines, which concerned him vitally. I believe, also, that the final minute included more monitors than had been agreed during the evening, but I cannot be certain on this point. Lord Fisher’s letter of resignation of 15th May refers to ‘the increasing daily requirements of the Dardanelles to meet your views,’ and his further letter of 16th May says ‘until the series of fresh naval arrangements for the Dardanelles you sent me yesterday morning convinced me that the time had arrived to take a final decision—there being much more in these proposals than had occurred to me the previous evening when you suggested some of them.’ Lord Fisher, correctly or incorrectly, had conceived that he had reached a final and binding agreement with you on the evening of the 14th, and he was not prepared to have further reinforcements proposed within a few hours of this agreement being made, and therefore he resigned.
I understand that you have no complete copy of this minute amongst your records and that you have no recollection of preparing and sending it, which of course explains the omission of the full document in your narrative of these events…. I think that in the rest of the narrative you have been quite fair and just to Lord Fisher.
To this letter I made the following reply:—
Mr. Churchill to Captain Crease
I am very much obliged to you for your letter, and am deeply interested to learn your view of the reasons which actuated Lord Fisher in his final decision to resign. I am glad to think that my surmise that he was offended by the terms of my minute about the cruisers that were sent to Italy, and by the fact that they were despatched in anticipation of his formal sanction, was incorrect. I shall certainly not dispute your view that the real reason was the minute which you quote in your letter in its final and amplified form. As Lord Fisher carried this minute off with him when he resigned, it was not filed with my other papers and it had passed completely from my mind. An exhaustive search among my papers has failed to produce a copy of it. Otherwise I should certainly have printed it, and I will willingly now secure for it the fullest publicity.
It is only necessary for me to make the briefest observations upon it.
In my conversation with Lord Fisher in the evening of May 14 to which you refer, we reached, as you say, a general agreement on the immediate reinforcements to be despatched at that juncture to the Dardanelles. But this could not be regarded in the nature of a final bargain or treaty between separate or hostile powers. Obviously a duty lay upon the First Sea Lord no less than upon me to sustain the Fleet and Army at the Dardanelles by every means possible without endangering our main position in the North Sea, and any reasonable and practicable succour that was available must at least be open to discussion between us. I can only suppose that further reflection and heart-searching on the problem between the time when Lord Fisher retired to rest and I, late in the night, completed the final edition of my minute, led me to feel that the two submarines were an essential part of the proper treatment of the problem. The Admiral on the spot was evidently asking for them, and Mr. Balfour’s Board, which succeeded mine, sent them and a good many more and by this agency alone nearly paralysed the Turkish communications across the Marmora. I cannot therefore feel that I was wrong in wishing to include them among the proposals sent to the First Sea Lord, not as matters decided upon, but for consideration and discussion as I was careful to make plain in my covering note to the minute. I do not recollect, nor does Sir James Masterton-Smith, that the addition of these two submarines to the reinforcements was ever represented to me at your instance as being likely to cause a fatal disagreement. If something of this sort was said to me, it certainly made no impression on my mind either at the time or afterwards. The addition of the two submarines must have appeared to me as not raising any new question of principle between me and the First Sea Lord, and at the same time most necessary in itself. That being so, it was clearly my duty to make the proposal. That this item, the dimensions of which can be fully judged and which until you visited me had passed entirely from my mind, should have precipitated the disastrous events which followed, only invests with deeper melancholy the tragedy of the Dardanelles.