David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty

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David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty : biography

17 January 1871 – 11 March 1936

On 11 June 1900, Beatty and 150 men from HMS Barfleur landed as part of a force of 2,400 defending Tientsin from 15,000 Chinese troops plus Boxers. On 16 June 1900 the Taku forts were bombarded and captured to ensure ships could still reach the port. Fierce fighting broke out throughout the foreign areas and railway station, and Beatty was injured. He later took part in the successful relief of the naval brigade and was promoted to captain on 8 November 1900. Beatty returned to Britain, where he required an operation to restore proper use of his left arm.Roskill, p. 32-33

Advancement

In May 1902 he was passed fit for sea duty and was appointed captain of the cruiser HMS Juno in June, spending two months in exercises with the Channel Fleet under Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson before joining the Mediterranean Fleet. Beatty worked hard to raise efficiency so that she was highly rated in gunnery and other competitions by the time he left the ship 19 December 1902. Ethel decided not to be left behind so rented the Capua Palace on Malta, home port of the Mediterranean Fleet, where she became part of the island’s high society.Roskill, p. 40–41

Beatty took command of the cruiser HMS Arrogant in the Mediterranean Fleet in November 1903 and then commanded the cruiser HMS Suffolk in the Mediterranean Fleet from October 1904. He then became the naval advisor to the Army Council in 1906 and, after having been appointing a naval Aide-de-Camp to the King on 5 November 1908, he became captain of the battleship HMS Queen in the Atlantic Fleet in December 1908. He was promoted to rear-admiral on 1 January 1910 by a special order in council since he had not completed the requisite time as a captain. He was offered the post of second-in-command of the Atlantic Fleet, but declined it and asked for one in the Home Fleet. As the Atlantic Fleet post was a major command, the Admiralty were very unimpressed and his attitude nearly ruined his career. Beatty, as a rapidly promoted war hero, with no financial worries and with a degree of support in Royal circles, felt more confident than most naval officers in standing firm on requesting a posting nearer home. He was approaching two years on half pay (which would trigger automatic retirement from the navy) when on 8 January 1912 his career was saved by the new First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill.Roskill, p. 48-52 Churchill had met Beatty when Beatty was commander of a gunboat on the Nile supporting the army at the Battle of Omdurman, in which Churchill took part as a cavalry officer. A "probably apocryphal"Massie, p. 92 story relates that as Beatty walked into Churchill’s office at the Admiralty, Churchill looked him over and said, "You seem very young to be an Admiral." Unfazed, Beatty replied, "And you seem very young to be First Lord." Churchill – who was himself only thirty-eight years old in 1912 – took to him immediately and he was appointed Private Naval Secretary to the First Lord against the advice of First Sea Lord Sir Arthur Wilson.Gordon, p. 381

Beatty became Rear-Admiral Commanding the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron on 1 March 1913. Beatty was late taking up his new post, choosing not to cut short a holiday in Monte Carlo. On his eventual arrival, he set about drafting standing orders regarding how the squadron was to operate. He noted, "Captains…to be successful must possess, in a marked degree, initiative, resource, determination, and no fear of accepting responsibility". He went on "…as a rule instructions will be of a very general character so as to avoid interfering with the judgement and initiative of captains…The admiral will rely on captains to use all the information at their disposal to grasp the situation quickly and anticipate his wishes, using their own discretion as to how to act in unforeseen circumstances…" The approach outlined by Beatty contradicted the views of many within the navy, who felt that ships should always be closely controlled by their commanding admiral, and harked back to reforms attempted by Admiral George Tryon. It is argued that Tryon had attempted to introduce greater independence and initiative amongst his captains, which he believed would be essential in the confusion of a real war situation, but had ironically been killed in an accident caused by captains rigorously obeying incorrect but precise orders issued by Tryon himself.Gordon p.381-382. For a rebuttal of Gordon’s thesis on tactics in the late-nineteenth century Royal Navy see