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The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command

de Andrew Gordon

Altres autors: Admiral Sir John Woodward (Pròleg)

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This work describes the course of the Battle of Jutland in May 1916. At the same time, it shows why the battle became a source of controversy, as the author reveals conflicting styles of command, a Victorian suffocation of Nelsonic values, and pragmatism overwhelmed by vested peacetime interests.
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An absolutely excellent analysis of Jutland and why it turned out the way it did. The author goes into great detail, both about the events of the battle as well as the institutional cultural background of the late 19th-early 20th Royal Navy. However the book is clearly meant for those who have a basic idea of the First World War and the Battle of Jutland as the author is less interested in general description and explanation than in specific pieces of analysis. ( )
  Andorion | Feb 6, 2021 |
Andrew Gordon’s book is a study of the battle of Jutland that seeks to explain the outcome of the battle through the unusual perspective of the organizational culture of the Royal Navy. The problem can be described as this: how did a force that took such pride in the fighting heritage of Horatio Nelson fail to demonstrate such aggressiveness when facing the German High Seas Fleet on May 31, 1916? To answer this, Gordon charts two generations of British naval command, reaching back into the Victorian era to describe the development of British naval thinking. He finds that the decades of peace – a peace brought about by the victories of Nelson’s navy and maintained by British warships – fostered a culture rooted in theory rather than practice. This was a natural development, fueled both by the dearth of naval combat experience (one of his many fascinating details is that the overwhelming majority of Victoria’s Crosses won by Royal Navy personnel during the 19th century were won fighting on land rather than the sea) and the transformations wrought by new technologies. Without the test of combat, other factors such as ship-handling, social connections and the appearance of warships often determined promotions to command rank.
One of the trends that emerged from this new culture was a greater emphasis on fleet control through signaling. Though signaling through code flags had a long tradition in the Royal Navy, the Victorian era saw a greater emphasis upon it, to the point where a fleet’s commander expected to direct its every action to the detriment of the ships’ captains. Not everyone agreed with this and one admiral, Sir George Tryon, sought to foster more operational independence during his time as the commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet in the early 1890s, but his death in a ship collision (brought about, ironically, by signals from his flagship) in 1893 ended efforts to challenge the dominant naval ethos.

As a result, the admirals who commanded the Grand Fleet at Jutland were the products of a culture which encouraged centralized control in an environment where such control broke down quickly, as the vast distances over which fleets were spread and problems with visibility hindered the ability of the fleet to act in unison. He is forgiving of the men themselves, arguing that commanders from John Jellicoe on down did their duties to the best of their ability (perhaps surprisingly his greatest criticism is reserved for David Beatty, who, while the admiral least committed to the authoritarian style of command, committed many errors which contributed to the loss of the battlecruisers in his squadron). In the end, they simply were not prepared for the conditions of combat when they finally faced it, and thus lost the best opportunity they would have during the war to defeat the nemesis they had prepared so long to face.

Summarizing Gordon’s book cannot do justice to the richness of his fascinating text. It abounds with insights on nearly every page, which are woven together in a narrative that guides readers deftly through a world that was often defined by arcane rules and narrow cliques. While his study is a little too detailed and technical to serve as an introduction to the battle, it is essential reading for anyone seeking an in-depth understanding of the clash between dreadnoughts and why it ended so frustratingly inconclusively for the British. ( )
  MacDad | Mar 27, 2020 |
A detailed analysis of the British 'performance' at the Battle of Jutland and of the naval 'politics' which led to the
Royal Navy developing as it did. Much for the general reader and for those with a special interest in naval history
and tactics/strategy. A long and fascinating read. ( )
  captbirdseye | Feb 9, 2014 |
Andrew Gordon has produced a truly stunning work that appeals to both the naval tactician as well as the less learned reader with an interest in naval history. Beyond that, however, it is thoughtful meditation on the way that cultural mores influence military engagements.

On October 21, 1805, the English fleet, under the command of Lord Nelson smashed the combined French and Spanish fleet off Cape Trafalgar, guaranteeing that fortress England would remain unassailed by Napoleon's vast continental armies. It was a signature victory for the dashing and charismatic Nelson and, though it would cost him his life, it would also ensure his immortality. More than 100 years later, in 1916, the Grand Fleet of the Royal Navy, under the command of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, engaged the German High Seas Fleet near Jutland, Denmark. Unlike Trafalgar, however, the German fleet was able to slip away following the battle without either side achieving a crushing victory. Indeed, both sides would subsequently claim tactical victory. Within the English naval establishment (including the historical community) an equally contentious conflict would quickly develop concerning who within the Grand Fleet was to "blame" for the English inability to bring about a second Trafalgar.

What happened during the intervening years between 1805 and 1916 that so changed the demeanor of the English navy and lead to such disparate results in two major fleet actions? It is a intriguing question and one that Gordon probes with intelligence, insight, and eloquence. Finishing this hefty book, one is left with a great deal to think about indeed.

Bottom line is that the book functions equally well as an account of the Battle of Jutland and as an assessment of how the English naval ethos evolved between 1805 and 1917. There are times when the tactics get a little thick, but the book richly rewards the reader who weathers that particular storm. ( )
  NauticalFiction99 | Jun 28, 2009 |
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Andrew Gordonautor primaritotes les edicionscalculat
Woodward, Admiral Sir JohnPròlegautor secundaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
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This work describes the course of the Battle of Jutland in May 1916. At the same time, it shows why the battle became a source of controversy, as the author reveals conflicting styles of command, a Victorian suffocation of Nelsonic values, and pragmatism overwhelmed by vested peacetime interests.

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