WWI Naval Bibliography

A review of The Rules of the Game by Dr. Andrew Gordon

(This review of The Rules of the Game is contributed by Simon Stock (sstock@getty.edu).

Dr. Andrew Gordon's lengthy study will surely become the defining account of the Battle of Jutland. As Geoffrey Miller states, it is an easy read with dispassionate analysis of the facts: a rational and sensible reassessment added to many revelations unearthed by the author's in-depth research.

The book starts with an account of Jutland up to the delayed arrival of the 5th Battle Squadron (Evan-Thomas) to the Hipper- Beatty duel. Evan-Thomas and Beatty's handling of the advance guard (along differing doctrines) provides the perfect point of departure and reference to the mid-nineteenth century pax brittanica, when the Victorian Navy struggled to promote a workable combat doctrine from its opposing pool of `authoritarian' and `autocratic' Admirals. The problems faced by the Grand Fleet at the onset of war, and highlighted by inadequacies at Jutland, can be traced to the wardroom battles of this era, particularly over the use of the cumbersome signal book and how best to adapt it to `real' combat situations governed by the ever-changing factors of the technological revolution (symbolised by the `all big gun' Dreadnought). Ultimately, the pioneering development in this field was arrested in its infancy by the sinking of the Victoria and consequent loss of its foresighted Admiral, Tryon (inventor of `TA'). The central discussion is followed by a return to the gunfire of Jutland where we witness how this `arrested development' affected the outcome of the battle. The dispositions and handling of the Fleet by Jellicoe, Beatty, Scheer et al. are indeed masterly analysed; their respective shortcomings and doctrinal reasoning put across fairly. No encounter is left un-discussed, no surviving statement left without reappraisal. The post-Jutland analysis and Beatty-Jellicoe confrontation then become the focus of scrutiny from which we can deduce our own conclusions.

Dr. Gordon's prose is full of amusing anecdotes. I particularly liked the attention to individual experiences of the battle, or naval life, which are tied in to the relevant discussion. For example, we are reminded of Tryon's last signal before the collision: "What are you waiting for?"... or that the spotter in Fisher's ill-fated battlecruiser Invincible was the German composer, Wagner's, godson. Later, a reference to the `Jutland prize for creative writing' had me in stitches! There is also an interesting account of Freemasonry in the service, which provides the explanation for many an admirals straight-jacket of `dutifulness'. The book commendably puts the whole naval episode firmly into the context of the late 19th and early 20th century, with all its corresponding ideologies and imperialistic assumptions that disintegrated so painfully on the fields of the Somme and Verdun.

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Last Updated: 16 Febrary, 1998.