From The Admiralty to Jutland
In 1911 David was offered the post of second in command of the Atlantic Fleet; he refused this posting as he wanted to join the Home Fleet or the Admiralty. Some saw this as arrogance fuelled by wealth, others were simply jealous of anyone able to refuse an unwanted appointment, either way David was taking a risk with his career. He was once again saved by influential friends in high places.
Later in 1911 when Winston Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty, he found the sea lords unwilling to offer David employment. Much to the disapproval of his superiors Churchill appointed David to the key post of First Lord’s naval secretary. The naval secretary was the First Lord’s confidential adviser on professional questions and the pair proved an effective team. Over the next two years David was not backward in exploiting opportunities to advance his career and in early 1913 he took command of the British Battlecruiser Squadron. This was a prize appointment that most admirals would have given their right arm for.
David led the largest, fastest and most imposing warships afloat. Journalists rushed to make him the navy’s poster boy and pictures of David with his naval cap at a rakish angle, referred to as the “Beatty tilt”, adorned newspapers on a regular basis.
Just before The First World War broke out he was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath and on 2nd August 1914 he was promoted to acting vice admiral making him the senior cruiser admiral in the Grand Fleet. He led the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron at the actions at Heligoland Bight in 1914, Dogger Bank in 1915 and Jutland in 1916.
The Battle of Jutland remains one of the most controversial naval battles with numerous books and articles devoted to it even today. The Germans were quick to claim victory and, at first, even the British press accepted this position. As one wag remarked at the time “…At 8am I read in the Daily News that the British Navy had been defeated. I thought it was the end of all things….. At 6.30pm the battle had turned into a merely regrettable indecisive action…. Next morning: it has now become a victory”.
During the battle David is reported to have remarked “there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today,” after two of them had exploded within half an hour.
There is now considerable support for the view that Jutland was a strategic victory for the British, though it highlighted a number of short-comings in the Grand Fleet’s performance. The official Admiralty report into the battle recognised two main problems: the poor performance of British shells and poor communications between ships. The report also served to foster disagreement between supporters of Admiral John Jellicoe, Commander of the Grand Fleet and those of David about the two admirals’ performance in the battle: Jellicoe was criticised for his caution and for letting the Scheer escape and David for his mismanagement of the initial encounter with the German fleet and poor signalling procedure. This dispute would rage for years to come and indeed it is said that David, keen to preserve his considerable reputation, tried to shift any blame for the failure of Jutland onto Jellicoe.
In the Battle of Jutland, The Royal Navy lost 14 ships to the German navy’s 11; Britain lost 6,784 men, Germany 3,039. However the badly battered German Fleet fled for home and never ventured en masse into the North Sea again.