Mobilisation of the Royal Navy - Who Was Responsible

Interesting discussion (from WW1-L) which investigates the man responsible for ordering the mobilisation of the Royal Navy squadrons at the very start of the war.

25 July 1998
From Peter Beeston (

It was the First Sea Lord, Admiral Prince Louis of Battenberg, who made the decision to delay the dispersion of the fleet and the demobilisation of the Reserves, NOT Churchill. The latter was on holidays in the country.

Peter Beeston
-----Original Message-----
From: Peter Farrell-Vinay
Date: Sunday, 26 July 1998 0:45
Subject: Re: Scrap of paper (BEF)/RN & IGN
Les wrote
-------------------- Begin Original Message --------------------
Message text written by

"WSC ordered the RN not to demobilize after the summer manoevers, and to go to war stations before any German declarations of war. I wonder..."

-------------------- End Original Message --------------------

True, but then WSC went on holiday with his family to Cromer and only heard of the outbreak of war via the post office telephone there. He then returned to London on a specially-sent locomotive.

Given this it is evident that either WSC was unaware of how close war was (and thus the retention of the fleet was mere prudence), or that he knew he was being watched by German intelligence and therefore determined to appear nonchalant.

Regards Peter Farrell-Vinay

25 July 1998
From (

Tuchman, in "The Guns..." says "the fleet so alertly mobilized by Churchill, reached there" (there, being Scapa Flow) " safely by August 1 while the government was still debating whether to fight." Martin Gilbert, in "The First World War" says "that day," (2 August)"full British mobilization was put into effect, and orders given to shadow two German warships on their way through the Meditteranean to Turkey. A secret assurance was also given by Britain to France, that if the German Fleet went into the North Sea or English Channel to attack French shipping, the British Fleet would give the French vesels 'all the assistance in its power.' "

According to William Manchester's biography of WSC:

"Pear Tree Cottage had no telephone, but their nearest neighbor...offered the use of his. It was here, at noon on Sunday*, that Churchill heard the latest development from Prince Louis....Winston was on the next London train....At the Admiralty he learned that first sea lord had anticipated him; the Third Fleet had completed its test mobilization and was scheduled to disperse, but Prince Louis had ordered it to remain ready for battle, and at 4:05 P.M. he had telegraphed: 'Admiralty to C in C Home Fleets. Decypher. No ships of First Fleet or Flotillas are to leave Portland until further orders. Acknowledge.' Churchill approved and began a ten-day shuuttle between his office, Whitehall, No. 10, and Admiralty House..."

*Sunday was 2 August 1914.

Based on Manchester's quote of the first sea lord's communique, his orders were directed to the First Fleet, and that it should not leave port. Paul Halpern ("A Naval History of World War I"; Naval Institute Press, 1994)) says that by 2 August, "the French minister of marine had been assured already by Churchill that the germans, regardless of British neutrality, would not be permitted to operate in the Channel....The British were also in the process of mobilizing or requisitioning sizeable numbers of merchant ships, trawlers, and drifters for auxiliary purposes."

The first sea lord might have issued a limited set of orders, although from sometime aruound noon of August 2nd, it would appear that WSC was in touch with the Admiralty and shortly afterwards back in his office. My initial comment noted (see below) that responsibility for sending the fleet to its war stations was the responsibility of WSC. Where he was has little bearing on what he knew or didn't knew, as he was able to stay in touch by telephone with the Admiralty (even on the 2nd, which was a Sunday) through the use of a neighbor's telephone, and knew enough of events that by 2 August he could give assurances of RN assistance to the French and also return to his office and issue other orders.

26 July 1998
From Peter Beeston (

The comment of yours that I was querying was "WSC ordered rhe RN not to demobilize after the summer manoevers...". This he did not do. To quote Marder: "Churchill, who promptly approved, has often incorrectly been given the credit for this masterstroke".

26 July 1998
From (

Referring to WSC on WSC is something that needs to be done with a grain of salt. He discusses the background to the RN situation in the "World Crisis", and specifies that begining with his appointment to the Admiralty that a series of protocols for what the RN would do in the event of war had been worked out well before 1914, and that he expected many officers to know what had to be done.

The events of 24-30 July are clearly described by WSC, and what his role in events regarding to the RN situation is spelled out.

According to WSC:

" I went back to the Admiralty at about 6 o'clock. I said to my friends who have helped me so many years in my work that there was real danger and it might be war.

I took stock of the position, and wrote out to focus them in my mind a series of points which would have been attended to if matters did not mend. My friends kept these as a check during teh days that followed and ticked them off one by one as they were settled.

1. First and Second Fleets. Leave and disposition.

2. Thrid Fleet. Repelenish coal and stores."

(Snipped by LRP: there is a list of another 15 items that follow, relating to the fleet, men, and other details)

"I discussed the situation at length the next morning (Saturday) with the First Sea Lord. For the moment, however, there was nothing to do. At no time in all these last three years were we more completely ready....I had planned to spend the Sunday with my family at Cromer, and I decided not to alter my plans. I arranged to have a special operator placed in the telegrapgh office so as to ensure a continuous night and day service. On saturday afternoon the news came in that Serbia had accepted th eultimatum....Reassured by these reflections I slept peacefully, and no summons distrubed the silenece of the night.

At 9 o'clock the next morning I called up the First Sea Lord by telephone. He told me that there was a rumor that Austria was not satisfied with the Serbian acceptance of the ultimatum, but otherwise there were no new developments. I asked him to call me up again at twelve.....At 12 o'clock I spoke to the First Sea Lord again. He told me various items that had come in from various capitals, none however ofdecisive importance, but all tending to a rise of temperature. I asked him whether all the reservist had already been dismissed. He told me they had. I decided to return to London. I told him I would be with him at nine, and that meanwhile he should do whatever was necessary.

Prince Louis awaited me at the Admiralty. The situation was evidently degenerating. Special editions of the Sunday paper showed intense excitement in nearly every European capital. The First Sea Lord told me that in accordance with our conversation he had told the Fleet not to disperse. I took occaision to refer to this four months later in my letter accepting his resignation. I was very glad publicly to testify at the moment of great grief and pain for him that his loyal hand had sent the first order which began our vast naval mobilization."

Okay, it's long-winded, and the last paragrpagh makes it obvious that Louis sent the orders out to the fleet, but what also seems to be very obvious that these orders were based on prior discussions and agreements with WSC. Did Luois act without consulting WSC? No, it would appear that tehre were prior discussions and directions on this matter, and that Louis directed the Fleet not to disperse while WSC had to be aware of what was going on elsewhere.

Although Luois appears to have sent the orders out, it would seem that WSC was in relatively close contact with the Admiralty who were acting in accordance with a series of pre-exisitng orders based on the seriousness of events. One gets the feeling that WSC was directing the responses of the RN, regardless of who signed the orders and sent them out.

Bear in mind, this is WSC talking about WSC.....

26 July 1998
From Peter Beeston (

I agree that Churchill tends to be a little unreliable when talking about himself. His memory is very selective. The GOEBEN business is a case in point.

At no stage does he specifically state that he discussed the termination of the trial mobilization with Battenberg.

Both Marder and Roskill appear to believe that Battenberg made his own decision on the subject and both had very good access to original sources. Neither makes any reference to prior discussions on the subject between Battenberg and Churchill but it would be incredible if some such had not taken place given the trend towards war. Churchill has to be given credit for the fact that a test mobilization was substituted for manoevers although the reason is said to have been economy rather than a foreknowledge of events.

27 July 1998
From David Heal (
> WSC ordered the RN not to demobilize after the summer manoevers, and to go
> to war stations before any German declarations of war. I wonder... if the
> IGN knew of the RN going to a war footing at the time, and of the pre-war
> Anglo-French naval agreements whereby the RN would guard the waters off
> northern France and the Channel, and the French fleet would be based in the
> Med, and guard British interests in that area? This arrangement would
> obviously have come to the attention of German naval intelligence watching
> the activities of the RN and French fleets.

The IGN certainly should have known as it was in the newspapers here within a day or two.

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