David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty

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David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty : biography

17 January 1871 – 11 March 1936

After the war a report of the battle was prepared by the Admiralty under First Sea Lord Wemyss. Before the report was published, Beatty was himself appointed First Sea Lord, and immediately requested amendments to the report. When the authors refused to comply, he ordered it to be destroyed and instead had prepared an alternative report, which proved highly critical of Jellicoe. Considerable argument broke out as a result, with significant numbers of servicemen disputing the published version, including Admiral Bacon, who wrote his own book about the battle, criticising the version sponsored by Beatty and highly critical of Beatty’s own part in the Battle.Bacon, p. 1-253

Besides actively encouraging the publication of books and articles designed to praise his role at the Battle of Jutland and denigrate Jellicoe’s, after his retirement Beatty assisted with the preparation of a 5,200 line poem “The Epic of Jutland” by Shane Leslie.Roskill 1980, pp322-29

Sudan Campaign

Beatty gained recognition during the Mahdist War for his actions in the campaign to recapture of the Sudan. Stanley Colville was placed in command of the gunboats attached to the British expeditionary force in Egypt and as Beatty’s former commander in HMS Trafalgar and superior in HMS Alexandra he requested that Beatty join him. Control of the river Nile was considered vitally important for any expedition into Egypt and the Sudan. Beatty was seconded to the Egyptian government on 3 June 1896 and appointed second in command of the river flotilla. Colville was wounded during the operation, leaving Beatty in command of the gunboats for the successful attack on Dongola. The campaign halted at Dongola to regroup and Beatty returned to Britain on leave. He was commended by Kitchener for his part in the campaign and as a result was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.Roskill, p. 26-27, 29

Beatty was again seconded to the Egyptian government for the next phase of the campaign. This was now at Lord Kitchener’s specific request, for the Khartoum expedition. Beatty first commanded the gunboat El Teb but this was capsized attempting to ascend the Fourth Cataract. Beatty then took command of gunboat Fateh between October 1897 and August 1898: the gunboats were frequently in action advancing along the Nile ahead of the army and saw action at the Battle of Omdurman, where Beatty made the acquaintance of Winston Churchill who had become a cavalry officer in Beatty’s father’s old regiment, the 4th Hussars, and had there learnt his family history. In a few hours 10,000 Dervishes were killed by rifle and machine gun fire without any of them getting within 600 yards of the British force.Beatty (1980), p. 29-30 This battle marked the effective end of resistance to the expeditionary force, but the gunboats were called into service to transport troops to Fashoda, south along the White Nile, where a small force of French troops had made a difficult land crossing and staked a claim to the area: the French were persuaded to withdraw without incident.Heathcote, p. 24 Kitchener commended Beatty for his efforts in the campaign and as a result Beatty was promoted to commander, ahead of 400 other lieutenants, on 15 November 1898.

Postwar career

Beatty was promoted to full admiral on 1 January 1919 and to Admiral of the Fleet on 1 May 1919. He was created 1st Earl Beatty, Viscount Borodale and Baron Beatty of the North Sea and Brooksby on 18 October 1919. He became First Sea Lord on 1 November 1919. In this 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.

During the First Labour Government of 1924, with Japan increasingly hostile to the UK, Beatty lobbied the Clynes Committee for construction of the Singapore Naval Base to continue. Beatty wrote out, but did not send, a threat of resignation. The government were trying to cut back on the numbers of cruisers constructed; the other Sea Lords attributed the building of the Kent class to Beatty’s lobbying, but government desire to alleviate shipyard unemployment was probably a more important factor.Roskill 1980, pp343-5