John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe

John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe bigraphy, stories - Admiral, viceroy

John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe : biography

5 December 1859 – 20 November 1935

Admiral of the Fleet John Rushworth Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe, GCB, OM, GCVO SGM (5 December 1859 – 20 November 1935) was a Royal Navy officer. He fought in the Egyptian war and the Boxer Rebellion and commanded the Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland in May 1916 during World War I. His handling of the fleet at that battle was controversial: he made no serious mistakes and the German High Seas Fleet retreated to port – at a time when defeat would have been catastrophic for Britain – but at the time the British public were disappointed that the Royal Navy had not won a victory on the scale of the Battle of Trafalgar. Jellicoe later served as First Sea Lord but was removed at the end of 1917 as a result of his pessimistic view, declaring that nothing could be done to defeat the U-boats. He also served as the Governor-General of New Zealand in the early 1920s.

World War I

Grand Fleet

At the start of World War I, Admiral George Callaghan, Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet, was removed by First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill. Jellicoe was promoted to full admiral on 4 August 1914 and assigned command of the renamed Grand Fleet in Admiral Callaghan’s place, though he was appalled by the treatment of his predecessor. He was advanced to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath on 8 February 1915.

When Fisher (First Sea Lord) and Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty) both had to leave office after their quarrel over the Dardanelles, Jellicoe wrote to Fisher: “We owe you a debt of gratitude for having saved the Navy from a continuance in office of Mr Churchill, and I hope that never again will any politician be allowed to usurp the functions that he took upon himself to exercise”.Grigg 2002, p371-2

Jellicoe was in command of the British Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland in May 1916, history’s largest (and only major) clash of dreadnoughts, albeit an indecisive one. His handling of the Grand Fleet during the battle remains controversial, with some historians describing Jellicoe as too cautious and other historians faulting the battlecruiser commander, Admiral David Beatty, for making various tactical errors.Brooks, p. 232-237 Jellicoe certainly made no significant mistakes during the battle: based on limited intelligence, he correctly deployed the Grand Fleet with a turn to port so as to "cross the T" of the German High Seas Fleet as it appeared.Massie, p. 621 After suffering heavy shell damage, the German fleet turned 180 degrees and headed away from the battle.Massie, p. 645 Jellicoe was criticised for not pursuing the German High Seas Fleet, but it is unclear that this would have been sensible, given the risk of German torpedo attacks.Grigg 2002, p371-2 At the time the British public were disappointed that the Royal Navy had not won a victory on the scale of the Battle of Trafalgar. Churchill described Jellicoe later as ‘the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon’. Nevertheless he was appointed a member of the Order of Merit on 31 May 1916, advanced to Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order on 17 June 1916 and awarded the Grand Cross of the French Legion of Honour on 15 September 1916.

First Sea Lord

Jellicoe was appointed First Sea Lord in November 1916. His term of office role saw Britain brought within danger of starvation by German unrestricted U-Boat warfare.Heathcote, p. 131

At the War Committee (a Cabinet Committee which discussed strategy in 1915-16) in November 1916, the admirals present, including Jellicoe, told Lloyd George that convoys presented too large a target for enemy ships, and that merchant ship masters lacked the discipline to “keep station” in a convoy. In February 1917, Hankey wrote a memorandum for Lloyd George calling for the introduction of “scientifically organised convoys”, almost certainly after being persuaded by Commander Henderson and the Shipping Ministry officials with whom he was in contact. After a breakfast meeting (13 February 1917) with Lloyd George, Carson (First Lord of the Admiralty) and Admirals Jellicoe and Duff agreed to “conduct experiments”. However, convoys were not in general use until August 1917, by which time shipping losses to U-boats were already falling from their April peak.Grigg 2002, p49, 51, 53