World War I: British Royal Navy

Figure 1.--Winston Churchill is shown here inspecting a group of Royal Navy cadets from a training ship during 1912, just before the War. We are not sure yet who is behind Churchill. Churchill was was at the time the First Lord of the Admiralty. The cadets are wearing the classic blue uniforms.

The British Royal Navy was still the dominant naval force of the day. The British had virtual undispute control of the seas since Trafalgur (1805). The Royal Navy between Traflgur and World War I fought no major fleet engagements. It had, however many responsibilities as a result of Britain's far-flung Empire and all impotant merchant fleet. It was the Royal Navy's responsibility policie the colonies and trade routes and defending the British coastline. It also wa used to imposing blockades. This was a major factor in the Napoleomic Wars, but Until World War I this primarily meant small countries that were not paying their bills. Successive British government adopted the policy that to accomplisgh its responsibilities and to guarante British security, the Royal Navy needed a battlefleet that was larger than the world's two next largest navies put together. Thus the Royal Navy could prevail against even an alliance of hostile European powers. The only serious threat was the new German High Seas Fleet built by Kaiser Wilhelm and Admiral Tirpitz. The growing U.S. Navy before the War was also a concern, but it was the bombastic Kaiser and German High Ses Fleet that dominated British thought. The Royal Navy at the time of the War outnumbered the Germans in all important classes of surface vessels. The Royal Navy at the outbreak of World War I had 18 modern dreadnoughts (with 6 more under construction), 10 battlecruisers (lightly armored but heavily gunned), 20 town cruisers, 15 scout cruisers, 200 destroyers, 29 battleships (pre-dreadnought design) and 150 older cruisers (built before 1907). The Royall Navy's numerical superority in capital ships thus made its control of the Sea virtually unassailable. Britain's long naval tradition was also an important advantage.The German calculation was that this was unimportant. They thought that Britain mght even stay out of the War and at any rate the British had only amall Army. The Germanswere convinced tht using the Schhliffen Plan that the German Army would quickly win the War quickly by defeating the French Army as they did in the Franco-Prussian War. With France knocked out of the War, the British would quickly sue for peace. Thus the poerful Royal Navy was not a major concern. Unfortuntely for the Germans, not only did the Belgians fight, but the British did enter the War and rushed the small British Expeditionary Force (BEF) ws quickly deployed to Belgium and slowed the German advance. ARussian offensive in the East forced the Germans to shift forces east. And the French Army held at the Marne September 1914). The War turned into a protracted war of attrition and the Royal Navy supported by the French fleet tured into a key element of the War by eforcing a crippling blockade of Germany and its allies. Rather than being unimportant it became a central element in the War. Most of the Royal Navy's capital ships stationed at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys or Rosyth in Scotland. Here the Grand Fleet stood in readiness to stop any major German fleet action go break te blockade. Britain's smaller ships (cruisers, destroyers, submarines and light forces) were clustered at various points around the British coast. There were also smaller forces in Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, and Pacific. The German High Seas fleet was the only force capable of mouning a serious challenge to the British. And as Admiral Jelocoe famously stated, he was the only man who could lose the War in a single day.


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Created: 10:01 PM 10/10/2012
Last updated: 10:01 PM 10/10/2012