May 2

On Naval History’s Scope

Monday, May 2, 2016 12:01 AM

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In Naval History, we try to recognize small but significant naval anniversaries as well as large and momentous ones, such as the centennial of the Battle of Jutland. It was expected to be a cataclysmic fight—the upstart German fleet against the traditional ruler of the waves, the British fleet. But the World War I battle didn’t quite live up to its billing.

Jeremy Black argues in “Jutland’s Place in History” that although it lacked the decisiveness of the Royal Navy’s great victory at Trafalgar, the battle greatly influenced the war at sea and the Imperial German Navy’s ultimate defeat. Visually explaining history’s largest clash of capital ships is difficult, but hopefully our map package, “Charting the Battle of Jutland’s Course,” will help you better understand the fight. It’s based on maps in Captain Thomas Frothingham’s March 1928 article in the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings. Meanwhile, Gary Staff’s article, “The Lützow’s Trial by Fire,” profiles the short-lived battlecruiser that gave as well as she got, and in “Looking Back,” Paul Stillwell recounts a future king’s experiences in the battle.

The significance of Jutland among naval thinkers can be judged by the more than 60 articles about it that appeared in Proceedings before the outbreak of World War II. Besides Frothingham, U.S. Navy Commander Holloway Frost, who’d earned the Navy Cross during the Great War, contributed several articles; he’d later pen one of the best-regarded histories of the battle.

This tampion, from a longtime Naval Institute member's private collection, fit over the muzzle of one of the 13.5-inch guns on board Vice Admiral David Beatty's flagship at Jutland, the battlecruiser LION. (Richard Latture)

This tampion, from a longtime Naval Institute member’s private collection, fit over the muzzle of one of the 13.5-inch guns on board Vice Admiral David Beatty’s flagship at Jutland, the battlecruiser LION. (Richard Latture)

Also appearing in Proceedings’ pages were the pointed Jutland opinions of civilian observers—including one whose brainchild is the subject of a tantalizing historical “what if.” In the years before World War I, inventor and businessman Arthur Pollen developed an analog fire-control computer for long-range gunnery, the Argo Clock. But the Royal Navy rejected it in favor of a cheaper system devised by Captain Frederic Dreyer, a protégé of future Grand Fleet commander John Jellicoe. Whether or not the Argo Clock would have improved poor British gunnery at Jutland is a hot topic among historians.

During the war, Pollen turned to journalism, becoming the naval writer for Land and Water magazine. It’s no surprise that Jellicoe, who’d played a role in the clock’s rejection, was a frequent target of his criticism and that Pollen championed that admiral’s rival, Vice Admiral David Beatty. He’s the hero of Pollen’s initial account of Jutland, which appeared in the July–August 1916 Proceedings.

Shortly thereafter the writer caught wind of U.S. Captain William Sims criticizing Beatty for risking his battlecruisers at Jutland. Pollen’s Land and Water response, reprinted in Proceedings’ November–December issue, belittled the captain’s observations, stating that they “illustrate . . . the astonishing difference between the point of view of those who only talk and reason about war, and of those who are faced with its realities.”

Some six months later—by which time Sims was facing those realities as a vice admiral in command of U.S. naval forces operating from British ports and Pollen was actively campaigning for Jellicoe’s removal as First Sea Lord—the writer had a chance to drive home his points at a London dinner party. Ethel Beatty recounted the evening in a letter to her husband, the admiral: “I talked to Pollen and he says in another two months Jellicoe will go [he would be sacked seven months later]. . . . The American admiral [Sims] was there. . . . Pollen had been putting him right about the battle of Jutland.”

 

The Naval History staff is pleased to announce that the magazine’s 2015 Author of the Year is Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn, USN (Ret.), for his December article, “Navy Air Strike: North Vietnam,” and his assistance with that issue’s special gatefold, “122 Days on Yankee Station.” Proceedings’ Author of the Year is Lieutenant Commander Brian Smicklas, USCG, and Vincent P. O’Hara was selected as the Naval Institute Press Author of the Year.