Tuesday, May 31, 2016

100th Anniversary of the Battle of Jutland

Painting of the Battle of Jutland showing the opening battle cruiser action
Oil on canvas by Claus Bergen

From 1919-1935, the Battle of Jutland received an abundance of scholarly attention at the Naval War College. Lieutenant Junior Grade Holloway H. Frost produced a report on Jutland in November 1916 that became the standard work on the subject for students at the College. He later expanded his study to a book that was published posthumously in 1936. Visiting lecturers from Great Britain and Germany, some of whom had served at Jutland, traveled to Newport to weigh in on the controversies surrounding the battle. Students also spent a significant amount of time playing war games during this period. Most classes in the interwar years participated in three major games as part of their studies: a hypothetical war with Japan (ORANGE), a hypothetical war with Great Britain (RED), and a historical battle. Jutland and Trafalgar were the two most gamed historical battles and, more often than not, faculty and staff chose to game Jutland as the historical battle, especially in the decade following World War I. After studying the battle in the classroom, students replayed the action using war gaming models and debated with one another about which side maneuvered more effectively. Each student then wrote a paper in which he presented his conclusions and identified lessons to be learned.

In general, the students covered the battle in comprehensive fashion for the first eight years after the battle, devoting most of their time to analyzing the tactics employed by both fleets. Beginning in 1925, the paper topics became narrower and more focused, presumably because the overall events of the battle were well known by that point. General discussions also suffered from the fact that student research was confined to the same set of sources found in the Naval War College library. The result was that from year to year, students reached similar conclusions and tended not to advance any truly new viewpoints for discussion.

U.S. Navy doctrine of that era emphasized offensive action as the preferred mode of warfare.  Naval War College students thus came down harshly on Jellicoe for acting too cautiously during the battle. Many blamed him for turning away from the High Seas Fleet at the critical point in the battle, allowing it to escape. They also faulted him for exercising rigid control over the Grand Fleet and failing to encourage his subordinates to act on their own initiative. Most students commended Beatty for his aggressive maneuvering while engaging the German battlecruisers, though they also recognized that he failed to report critical information to Jellicoe. Scheer received criticism for reversing course multiple times, a maneuver considered to be indecisive.

Chart from The Diagrammatic Study of the Battle of Jutland (1921) by LCDR Holloway H. Frost

The most common criticism offered by the students was that British Admiral Jellicoe acted too cautiously. Reflecting the idea of the decisive battle that featured prominently in the Naval War College curriculum, the consensus was that Jellicoe could have destroyed the High Seas Fleet if he had acted with an offensive rather than defensive mindset. Many students also questioned German Admiral Scheer’s decisions, especially his turn back towards the Grand Fleet after the first battle turn away, though in general they felt that the Germans exhibited more spirit in the attack than did the English.

In later years, focus shifted to the various components of the fleets and how they were used. Between 1925 and 1931, the actions of the destroyers on both sides received a good deal of scrutiny. Student opinion ran almost universally against the British on this subject, with most arguing that the Royal Navy wasted its destroyers in a defensive role and had no real doctrine governing their use. The Germans again received more favorable commentary for at least using their destroyers to attack, even more so because their attacks were coordinated to support Scheer’s battle turn away from the British line.


By the mid-1930s, naval technology had advanced to the point where the tactics employed at Jutland no longer held much relevance. Study at the tactical level began to drop, but interest in the strategic lessons to be learned remained high. Students writing during this period began to back away from the generally positive commentary that earlier classes offered on the German navy. Many argued that while individual German ships were technically superior to their British counterparts, the German high command never articulated a coherent strategy for the High Seas Fleet's use.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Telebus Comes to the Naval Training Station

Photos of Naval Training Station Newport during World War II are always fun for us to look at, as we never know what they will teach us about the past. Sometimes they reveal bits of Newport’s history that have been forgotten, like a building that no longer stands or a course that is no longer taught. One photo we recently received shows how the Navy came up with an innovative way to ensure that its sailors stayed in touch with their friends and families back home.
New England Telephone & Telegraph Company telebus
Official U.S. Navy photograph
NTS Newport underwent an enormous expansion starting even before the United States entered the war. Funding for new construction on the base came through in June 1941. After Pearl Harbor, the Secretary of the Navy approved an expenditure of $10,000 for new housing and mess facilities. The number of recruits on base rose from 2,800 to 8,600 in little more than a month. Many of these men lived in Quonset huts that were set up as temporary housing on Coddington Point. Though they met the basic needs, Quonset huts were never meant to provide the modern conveniences of life.

Though most sailors were limited in their contact with the outside world during training, the officers in charge of NTS Newport did try to allow recruits to make occasional phone calls home. But how to do this in an age before cell phones and the internet? The answer was to bring the phones to the sailors. The New England Telephone Company had a fleet of buses with phone banks inside that could be connected to local phone lines. These “telebuses” drove to wherever they were needed, hooked up their phones, and welcomed callers to come onboard. Originally intended to support large public gatherings, events, and celebrations, the telebuses were the perfect solution to the Navy’s problem. As long as the men weren’t expecting to have a private conversation, of course!
Sailors waiting their turn to use the telebus
Official U.S. Navy photograph
Telebuses survived long after the war and were used at the Newport Jazz Festival as late as 1957. New England Telephone merged with other companies and changed names several times over the years, but its survives today as part of Verizon Communications.

Rob Doane
Naval War College Museum Curator

Friday, May 6, 2016

HMS Endeavour in the news

HM Bark Endeavour Replica
Operated by the Australian National Maritime Museum

Newport made the news earlier this week with the announcement that researchers from the Rhode Island Marine Archeology Project are getting very close to discovering the wreck site of HMS Endeavour in Newport Harbor. Endeavour gained fame as the ship that Lieutenant James Cook commanded on a three year voyage of scientific discovery in the Pacific Ocean. Among other stops, Cook visited Hawaii, New Zealand, and the east coast of Australia from 1768 to 1771. Although he did not find the fabled continent of Terra Australis that was part of the reason for his voyage, he did record the locations of several Pacific islands on European maps for the first time.

The Royal Navy sold off Endeavour in 1775, but shortly after the outbreak of war in the American colonies, the Admiralty found itself in need of more ships to carry supplies across the Atlantic. Endeavour’s owner renamed her Lord Sandwich and sold her back to the navy, which promptly changed the name to Lord Sandwich 2 since another ship already carried the original designation. She set out in a fleet of 100 vessels from Portsmouth, England in May 1776 carrying two companies of Hessian soldiers bound for New York. Shortly after New York fell to the British, they occupied Newport which became the home of Lord Sandwich 2 for the next two years. Her end came in 1778 when she was scuttled along with twelve other ships in an attempt to stop the French navy from entering Newport Harbor.

Wood fragments from HMS Endeavour
75.05.04

The search for the wreck of Endeavour has produced a fair amount of confusion for historians over the years. We have in our collection a few small pieces of wood from La Liberté, a French whaling ship that ran aground in Newport Harbor in 1793. When these pieces came to the Museum in 1954, it was thought that La Liberté was the renamed ship that had originally been Endeavour. Parts of La Liberté found their way to museums all over the world and even flew on the Space Shuttle! Years later, new evidence suggested that La Liberté was actually another of Cook’s ships, HMS Resolution. Cook made his second and third voyages to the Pacific in Resolution and was so impressed with her performance that he declared her “the ship of my choice.” So, while we may not have any artifacts from Endeavour as we originally thought, these scraps of wood form an 18th century wreck in Newport represent another possible connection with Captain James Cook.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum