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11-08-2015, 17:44

John Jellicoe (1859-1935)

Admiral Sir John Jellicoe stood at the center of the British naval effort in World War I. As commander of the Grand Fleet, which contained the bulk of Britain's naval strength, he directed the most important operations of the British navy from the start of the war until the close of 1916. At that point, he became First Sea Lord and took control of all aspects of the war at sea. Jellicoe proved a decisive commander in the period 1914-1916. In dealing with the crucial threat posed by the German submarine offensive in 1917, the admiral proved less steady, and he was forced from office in December 1917. John Jellicoe was bom on December 5, 1 859. A member of a family with a long naval tradition, he entered the Royal Navy as a cadet in 1872. He rose rapidly, obtaining a glowing reputation as a gunnery officer. Jellicoe's career was enhanced by a stint of combat service in the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. Even more important, he early on became a protege of Admiral Sir John Fisher, who, as First Sea Lord from 1904 to 1910, became the architect of the modem British navy. Fisher's favorite became an admiral in 1907 at the early age of forty-eight. In the years immediately before the outbreak of war, Jellicoe received assignments intended to groom him for larger responsibilities, becoming commander of the Atlantic Fleet and then serving as Second Sea Lord. On the first day of the war. First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill ordered Jellicoe, then deputy commander of the Grand Fleet, to relieve his superior. Admiral Sir George Callahan. Churchill considered Callahan too old to lead Britain's most important naval force. Jellicoe reluctantly complied, protesting the impropriety of moving into the shoes of his immediate superior in such a peremptory fashion. Jellicoe now had the awesome responsibility of commanding the most important weapon in the Allied arsenal. The Grand Fleet controlled the crucial sea lanes of the North Sea. If it suffered a major defeat, the German navy could cut the British army on the continent off from its home base; just as fatally, it would cut Britain's essential supplies of food from the outside world. To add to his burdens, Jellicoe realized that his force of battleships, battle cruisers, and smaller ships operated in a new combat environment. The danger from submarines and mines made aggressive operations like those conducted by such legendary predecessors as Lord Horatio Nelson impossible. Jellicoe had to retain control of the sea while preserving his margin of strength. The British naval leader conducted operations between 1914 and 1916 in that spirit of caution. Efforts to trap units and destroy significant parts of the German High Seas Fleet in the open waters of the North Sea failed repeatedly, and the British commander was embarrassed when German warships were able to shell coastal cities in eastern England. The grand encounter between the battleships of the two powers came at the Battle of Jutland, off the coast of Denmark, on May 31, 1916. Jellicoe's leadership during the battle reflected his fear of seeing the British fleet hit by heavy losses. In the two hours of fading daylight in which the main action took place, Jellicoe twice saw the line of enemy battleships turn away from his fleet. His critics have charged him with excessive caution in failing to pursue the Germans with vigor, permitting the enemy's High Seas Fleet to return safely to port. Moreover, British ship losses were substantially greater than those inflicted on the Germans. Nonetheless, most students of Jutland have endorsed Jellicoe's decisions. In his moment of supreme responsibility, the British leader had chased the enemy from the open waters of the North Sea, and the Royal Navy retained its superiority in battleships and battle cruisers. Germany remained under blockade, and Allied sea traffic was safe from the enemy's surface fleet. Jellicoe's next test came from beneath the sea. By the closing months of 1916, Germany's naval efforts centered on submarine attack against Allied merchant shipping. In late November, the government promoted Jellicoe to First Sea Lord, the officer in charge of the entire Royal Navy. His chief task was to aombat the submarine menace. At first, Jellicoe remained tied to the failing policy of patrolling the sea lanes and seeking out the underwater enemy. As commander of the Grand Fleet, he had vehemently opposed proposals to shift destroyers from their principal task of protecting his battleships to duty escorting merchant ships. Like most senior naval commanders, +ie had numerous objections against having Allied merchant ships travel in convoys. Convoying seemed to mean abandoning an offensive posture by the navy, creating large targets for enemy submarines, and relying on the dubious skills of merchant captains in coordinated maneuvering. With losses climbing to frightening proportions in early 1917, Jellicoe plunged into despair. In a conversation with Admiral William Sims of the United States in April, he supposedly stated that German submarines were winning the naval war; Britain had nothing to counter the deadly threat. In the end Jellicoe accepted the necessity for convoys. But the initiative came from his subordinates, from Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and possibly from Sims as well. The First Sea Lord implemented a convoy system deliberately rather than energetically. Perhaps due to his own reservations, perhaps due to his declining health and the strain of overwork, a full-fledged convoy system was in place only at the close of 1917. Lloyd George and his energetic new First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Eric Geddes, both found Jellicoe lacking in drive and imagination. Geddes became especially concerned about the navy's failure to stop German submarines from passing through the English Channel. In late December, Geddes forced Jellicoe from his post, replacing him with the more vigorous and imaginative Rosslyn Wemyss. Jellicoe had no major military responsibilities for the rest of the war. In the postwar period, he served as governor-general of New Zealand from 1920 to 1924. He died in London on November 20, 1935.