David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty

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David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty : biography

17 January 1871 – 11 March 1936

Admiral of the Fleet David Richard Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty PC, GCB, OM, GCVO, DSO (17 January 1871 – 11 March 1936) was a Royal Navy officer. After serving in the Mahdist War and then the response to the Boxer Rebellion, he commanded the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron at the Battle of Jutland in 1916, a tactically indecisive engagement after which his aggressive approach was contrasted with the caution of his commander Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. He is remembered for his comment at Jutland that "There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today", after two of his ships exploded. Later in the war he succeeded Jellicoe as Commander in Chief of the Grand Fleet, in which capacity he received the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet at the end of the War. He then served a lengthy term as First Sea Lord in which capacity he was involved in negotiating the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 in which it was agreed that the USA, Britain and Japan should set their navies in a ratio of 5:5:3, with France and Italy maintaining smaller fleets.


The battle of Jutland was the major naval engagement of the First World War and marked a turning point in the naval war. Although it was tactically inconclusive, with significantly higher losses in the British fleet but with the German fleet fleeing the field of battle, it was effectively a strategic defeat for Germany. The Royal Navy could much more readily replace its losses with ships already under construction, while the engagement ended with the German fleet retreating as fast as possible from the British. Thereafter the Imperial German Navy ceased any serious attempts to engage the British fleet and remained at home as a ‘fleet in being’. British public perception of the engagement was initially as a serious defeat, at a time when popular opinion expected great things from the Royal Navy. As admiral in command, John Jellicoe received much of the blame for this ‘defeat’, despite the fact that most of the significant losses were amongst the independent battlecruiser squadron commanded by Beatty. A number of serious errors have been identified in Beatty’s handling of this squadron. These included:

  • Failing to engage the German battlecruiser squadron with all his ships, thus throwing away a two to one numerical superiority and instead fighting one-to-one. Beatty was given command of the 5th Battle Squadron to replace a squadron of battlecruisers away for training. These were four of the most powerful ships in the world, but he positioned them so far away from his six battlecruisers that they were unable to take part in most of the engagement with Admiral Hipper’s squadron of five battlecruisers.Brooks p. 232-234
  • Failing to take advantage of the time available to him between sighting the enemy and the start of fighting, to position his battlecruisers to most effectively attack the enemy. At the point the German ships opened fire with accurately determined ranges for their guns, Beatty’s ships were still maneuvering, some could not see the enemy because of their own smoke, and hardly any had the opportunity of a period of steady course as they approached to properly determine target range. As a result the German ships had a significant advantage in early hits, with obvious benefit. During this time he also lost the potential advantage of the larger guns on his ships: they could commence firing at a longer range than the German ships.Brooks p. 234-240
  • Failing to ensure that signals sent to his ships were handled properly and received by the intended ships. Lost signals added to the confusion and lost opportunities during the battle. This issue had already arisen in previous battles, where the same signals officer had been involved, but no changes had been made.Brooks p. 232-233, 237
  • Failing in his role as fast armoured scout to report to Jellicoe the exact position of the German ships he encountered, or to keep in contact with the German fleet while he retreated to the main British Grand Fleet. This information was important to Jellicoe to know how best to position the main fleet to make the most of its eventual engagement with the German High seas fleet. Despite this, Jellicoe succeeded in positioning his ships to good advantage, relying on other closer cruisers for final knowledge of the German’s position, but necessitating last-minute decisions.Brooks p. 232-240
  • The gunnery of his ships was generally poor compared to the rest of the fleet. This was partly a consequence of his ships being stationed at Rosyth, rather than Scapa Flow with the main fleet, since local facilities at Rosyth were limited, but this was a problem identified months before Jutland which Beatty had failed to correct.Brooks p.226-227 He preferred to trust to rapid close-range fire rather than deliberate ranging and operating at extreme range, a failing which had also been pointed out to him previously. His battlecruisers achieved few hits on the enemy, with most of the damage being inflicted by the battleships when they eventually came close enough to take part.