David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty

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David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty : biography

17 January 1871 – 11 March 1936

Beatty chose Lieutenant Ralph Seymour as his flag lieutenant, despite Seymour being unknown to him. Seymour had aristocratic connections, which may have appealed to Beatty since he sought connections in society, but it was also the case that Seymour’s sister was a longstanding close friend of Churchill’s wife. Appointments by influence were common in the navy at this time, but the significance of Beatty’s choice lay in Seymour’s relative inexperience as a signals officer, which later resulted in difficulties in battle.Gordon p.384-385

Early career

Beatty joined the Royal Navy as a cadet passing into the training ship HMS Britannia tenth out of ninety-nine candidates in January 1884.Roskill, p. 21 During his two years at Britannia, moored at Dartmouth, he was beaten three times for various infractions. He passed out of Britannia eighteenth out of the thirty-three remaining cadets at the end of 1885. Beatty’s letters home made no complaint about the poor living conditions in Britannia, and generally he was extrovert, even aggressive, and resented discipline. However, he understood how far he could transgress without serious consequences, and this approach continued throughout his career.Beatty (1980), p. 11-12

Beatty was given orders to join the China Station in January 1886, but the posting did not appeal to his mother, who wrote to Lord Charles Beresford, then a senior naval officer, member of parliament and personal friend, to use his influence to obtain something better.Beatty (1980), p. 14 Beatty was, in February 1886, instead appointed to HMS Alexandra, flagship of Admiral the Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Victoria’s second son, who was Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Squadron.Roskill, p. 22 This proved an excellent social opening for Beatty, who established a longstanding relationship with the Duke’s eldest daughter, Marie, and with other members of the court. Alexandra was a three-masted sailing ship with auxiliary steam power, and despite remaining flagship was already outdated in a navy which was steadily transitioning from sail to steam. Life in the Mediterranean fleet was considerably easier than cadet life, with visits to friendly ports all around the Mediterranean, but Beatty was concerned to work diligently towards naval examinations, which would determine seniority and future promotion prospects.Beatty (1980), p. 15, 21 Beatty was promoted to midshipman on 15 May 1886 and assigned to assist lieutenant Stanley Colville on watchkeeping duties: Colville was to play an important part in Beatty’s future career.Chalmers, p. 12

Beatty left HMS Alexandra in March 1889 and joined the cruiser HMS Warspite in July 1889 for manoeuvres before joining the sailing corvette HMS Ruby in September 1889, in which he was promoted to sub-lieutenant on 14 May 1890. Next he attended courses at Greenwich during which he was somewhat distracted from his naval career by the delights of London. Beatty scored a first-class examination pass in Torpedoes, but only seconds in Seamanship, Gunnery and Pilotage, and a third in Navigation. A biography states that "his cabin at Greenwich was full of photographs of actresses, some of which were signed in the most endearing terms".Roskill, p. 24 citing Shane Leslie draft biography of Beatty which was discontinued at the request of the family After attending the gunnery school, HMS Excellent, he undertook a posting to a torpedo boat in July 1891 and then a tour in HMS Nile from 19 January 1892.

Beatty joined the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert in July 1892 while Queen Victoria was holidaying in the Mediterranean: Victoria was in mourning for her grandson, Albert Duke of Clarence, who had died January 1892.Beatty (1980), p. 22 Promoted to lieutenant on 25 August 1892, he rejoined HMS Ruby in August 1892 and then transferred to the battleship HMS Camperdown in September 1893 (which had only recently been involved in the fleet accident where she had rammed and sank the battleship HMS Victoria). He transferred to the battleship HMS Trafalgar in September 1895.

World War I

On the eve of the First World War in 1914, Beatty was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath and promoted to acting vice-admiral a month later. He was confirmed in the rank of vice-admiral on 9 August 1915. He led the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron at the actions at Heligoland Bight (1914), Dogger Bank (1915) and Jutland (1916).Heathcote, p. 25

Jutland proved to be decisive in Beatty’s career, despite the loss of two of his battlecruisers. Beatty is reported to have remarked (to his Flag Captain, Ernle Chatfield, later First Sea Lord in the early 1930s), "there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today," after two of them had exploded within half an hour during the battle. In any case Beatty’s actions succeeded in drawing the German High Seas Fleet into action against the British Grand Fleet.

Beatty succeeded Admiral John Jellicoe as commander-in-chief of the Grand Fleet and received promotion to the acting rank of admiral in December 1916. With his dashing style, he was the antitheseis of his predecessor. Beatty’s marriage was failing disastrously at the time, and the result was to be a decade-long love affair between Beatty and Eugénie Godfrey-Faussett, wife of Captain Bryan Godfrey-Faussett. Under Beatty’s command the Grand Fleet maintained its dominance of the North Sea until the end of the War.

Beatty escorted the German High Seas Fleet to internment at Scapa Flow in November 1918 giving the order from his flagship that "the German Flag will be hauled down at sunset and will not be raised again without permission". This was not a lawful order, as the fleet remained the property of the German Government having been interned rather than having surrendered, but nevertheless Beatty enforced it.Heathcote, p. 26