Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Bureaucracy at Jutland

Brad DeLong blogs often about the day-to-day events of various wars.  Recently he's been posting on the battle of Jutland, the biggest naval battle of WWI and the subject of controversy ever since.

On the British side part of the issue has been the relationship between Admiral Jellicoe, the overall commander of the British forces, and Admiral Beatty, the commander of the most important subordinate force. The first was cautious, the second not.  The first was older, the second a young whipper-snapper.  Beatty had the battle cruisers, fast and hard-hitting, but vulnerable, ultimately their trade-offs between striking power and armor were judged to be bad choices

The Brits had superior numbers, the Germans had better ships.  The Brits had controlled the seas for centuries, the Germans were the upstarts. The battle itself was inconclusive--the Brits suffered more losses, but maintained control of the seas.  Both sides arguably had chances to do better, possibly even to win a decisive victory. Between the personalities, the So there's a lot of room for historians to come up with different narratives

Excerpts from tooday's post, which in turn is excerpts from a book:

"As discussed in Chapter 4, Evan-Thomas had not been favoured with a copy of BCFOs [Beatty's orders]. Had he been, he would have found informative Beatty’s ‘Instructions for Concentrating Battle Cruisers when Spread, and Forming Order of Battle’, for while these injunctions were framed with individual battlecruisers, rather than a squadron of battleships, in mind, the impression they impart of the thrust of BCF lore is unmistakable:
A sudden alteration of course by the ship sighting the enemy is seen by those on either side of her far more rapidly than any signal could be sent, and, being an almost certain indication of an enemy having been sighted it should be acted upon immediately. All ships that may be required to support must proceed to do so until they know definitely that they will not be required. The immediate sequel to concentrating is forming Order of Battle and engaging the enemy. In future this will be done so far as possible without signal, and each Captain is to use his discretion in handling his ship as he considers that the Admiral would wish.... Each detached ship should, at her discretion, close and engage the enemy without waiting for further orders.... Ships must never suppose that the absence of a signal implies that any given action is not sanctioned by the Flagship; on the contrary it usually denotes that the Admiral relies on each ship to take whatever action may be necessary without waiting to be told.... The sole object of these instructions is to enable ships to understand beforehand the principles of rapid co-operation, so that the enemy may be brought to action at the earliest possible moment without any ship needing or wishing to wait for detailed orders from the Admiral.
To point out again that Evan-Thomas’s ignorance of BCFOs was not mainly his fault is to emphasize again the divergence between the tactical regimes of the Battle Fleet and the BCF, and more specifically, between the habits of thought expected of their respective junior flag-officers. But if one ferrets around in the ‘70 closely printed pages’ of GFBOs, one finds, amongst the ‘mass of detail which should have been common knowledge’, ‘initiative’ injunctions which, while designed to preserve the unity of a deployed battle-line, are at least partly transferable in sense to Barham’s dilemma at 2.32...."
 My point is simply that you find bureaucracy everywhere, and knowledge of and compliance with instructions is important.

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