The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command Paperback – 23 May 2005
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Customers who bought this item also bought
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
'Explosive' (Navy News)
Anyone who is interested in warfare or the Royal Navy should read this stunningly original account of the 1916 Battle of Jutland and "the reasons why". Gordon is a compelling storyteller, and his weighty tome should frighten no one. It is a classic of the genre. (Sir Max Hastings, Evening Standard 'Paperback of t)
For all naval historians, riveting reading (Christopher Andrew, Sunday Telegraph)
The Rules of the Game is the best book I have read for months ... Gordon researches brilliantly and writes compellingly. His fans are now clamouring for him to write another big book. He is much too good to be allowed to rest on his laurels. (The Spectator)
They don't come much better than this (Alan Judd)
A superb study of military culture (Jeremy Black, History Today)
The most profound study of Jutland this reviewer has ever read (Antony Preston, Warship)
For those who love the epic of sea power ... unputdownable (William Waldegrave)
Does far more than just chart the Battle of Jutland (The Times)
A marvellous work ... a rare combination of major substance and easy accessibility (Jon Sumida, American Neptune)
A fascinating exploration of a devastating conflict in command styles during the Battle of JutlandSee all Product description
Read reviews that mention
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
It is a strange book in that it is, in effect, two books in one. Whether the two books are linked will depend on your point of view, and whether you agree with the central point the author is trying to make. One book (the first and third sections) is about the Battle of Jutland (although the book does not deal with the entirety of the battle in the same level of detail as some). Having said that, it is this book that has been the most helpful to me in fully understanding the various stages of the battle, particularly the events post the arrival of the Grand Fleet. In the first and third sections of the book, when the author is writing about the battle, this book was nothing short of unputdownable (I still don’t know if that is a word!) – absolutely riveting. There are a few brief personal vignettes too that break the heart.
Whilst the author makes clear his belief that there were command failings during the battle, he does not set about to simply rubbish Royal Navy performance at Jutland. He is also very clear about the four major mistakes made by Admiral Scheer during the battle – any of which could have been fatal to the German cause.
The second, book within a book, concentrates on what the author believes to be the reason that the Royal Navy failed to win a decisive victory at Jutland.
This section, in itself is not uninteresting – and the author makes what I believe is a pertinent point around the signals procedure that the RN entered the war with; a procedure that was too complicated, took too long and was too reliant on not having the few specialists able to operate it taken out in battle and/or the masts to fly them from still intact and/or the visibility to see them under battle conditions. To this end there is a large section on the sinking of the HMS Victoria in 1893 and the drowning of Vice-Admiral Tryon (who was trying to pioneer a less complicated signals process – one that more or less died with him).
Like most (all?) books on Jutland, the Jellicoe vs Beatty debate is always there in the background. The author is quite scathing of Beatty post war but appears to believe Jellicoe “and his men” to be the main cause of the problem during the battle. This is where I believe the middle section of the book loses its way somewhat. The author suggests that the RN in 1914 was led by admirals that were not trained to think enough for themselves; that peacetime conditions and unrivalled naval superiority led to a situation whereby the only thing that mattered was to have the shiniest ship. This is not an unbelievable situation – after all its human nature that unrivalled success can lead to complacency. But it’s when the author tries to make a case for why that state of affairs existed that I think he over eggs the pudding and goes too far to try and make his case.
Were there some admirals holding positions that they shouldn’t? Well it would be strange in any large organisation if that were not the case, but essentially the author brings in links to the Royal Family, Polar Exploration, Freemasonry and Jellicoe’s circle and it all goes a bit too far in my opinion, without really proving anything. Does being a friend of the future George V mean one is unsuited for battle? Does being outside that circle mean that one is? As part of this argument I think Rear-Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas (commander of the 5th Battle Squadron) gets a particularly rough ride but he is a useful foil if you want to make Beatty’s case appear better.
But even if you don’t agree with the author’s views in the middle section of the book, it’s interesting to help get a feel for the Royal Navy at that time – and as I said earlier, when the author is writing about the battle, this book is simply brilliant.
Would I recommend this book? One word - YES!
The book is split into five parts, these being the background to the battle, the run to the south and turn North, a study of the Victorian and Edwardian RN which attempts to explain the cultural factors affecting RN command during the battle, the run to the North and clash of fleets followed by an analysis.
No study of Jutland can escape the Jellicoe - Beatty controversy and this is especially true of a book whose central theme is the conflict between Jellicoe's centralised command and the prescriptive nature of the grand fleet battle orders, and Beatty's loose mission focused command style which expected subordinates to anticipate their commanders intentions and act on initiative. Gordon falls very much on the side of Beatty in this conflict although it is to his credit that he does not avoid facing the ghastly behaviour of Beatty after the battle, particular his treatment of Ralph Seymour which was utterly appalling and of Hugh Evan - Thomas. Few could seriously dispute that Beatty was on the right side of this debate and what would become known as mission command was far superior to centralised control using a set of prescriptive battle orders. However, it is hard to escape the feeling that in making a point, Gordon goes too far and that some of his analysis strays into feeling somewhat tendentious and that a little more balance would actually have supported his case.
The book devotes significant effort to studying Beatty and the 5th battle squadron (5BS), and rightly so as perhaps no other part of the Jutland story goes to the heart of the Jellicoe vs. Beatty command debate as effectively as the story of 5BS. And this is the part of the story which probably challenges the advocates of Beatty more than any other. For all the forward thinking of Beatty, his failure to even meet with Evan - Thomas before sailing in order to brief him on what would be expected of him should the fleet sail was a shocking omission. The signals failures during the battle have been well documented and as Gordon freely admits the fact that Ralph Seymour was not the best flag lt shouldn't be used to try and excuse Beatty of his responsibilities, it was to his credit as a human being that he stood by Seymour during the war, displaying a loyalty his subordinate that was commendable in many ways (making his later turning on Seymour perhaps even more distasteful) but ultimately Beatty has to be assigned the responsibility for continuing to retain an officer of known deficiencies in such a critical role. That Evan - Thomas decided to take a very literal approach to signalling procedures was a great failing but it was for Beatty to have briefed him before the battle. One of the key qualities of a commander is to understand those they command and their capabilities. No matter how right Beatty was in principle, his ideas needed to be understood by those he commanded and implemented effectively and the mishandling of 5BS does not tell of a commander implementing effective command and control.
An odd omission given its relevance to the books central theme is that Gordon does not really consider the signalling error at the battle of Dogger Bank which led to the battle cruisers halting their pursuit of Hipper in order to destroy the already crippled large armoured cruiser Blucher (it should be noted that some have argued that as well as letting Hipper escape, this error could also have perhaps saved some of Beatty's ships from the fate that befell them at Jutland). This has generally been ascribed to Seymour's signalling, yet if Evan - Thomas is to be blamed for a lack of initiative in his literal approach to signalling protocol then surely the fact that the battle cruiser captains, captains who were apparently imbued with the spirit of Beatty and who had been well briefed were also guilty of what critics might call a mindless obedience to signals regardless of what military good sense might indicate is worthy of some comment? If his own battle cruisers had demonstrated such problems with displaying initiative at a critical moment, why on earth did Beatty assume that 5BS, coming from the grand fleet and accustomed to grand fleet battle orders, would fall in with his looser mission based style? I think this omission is quite a serious one as it is an important piece of the puzzle with significant implications for Gordon's analysis of the command approaches of Jellicoe and Beatty. To be simplistic, it is irrelevant how right an idea is if those who will have to execute it cannot do so.
The section on the Victorian and Edwardian navies attempts to explain the culture of obedience and emphasis on ship handling and complex manoeuvres of the pre-war navy and in particular the baleful effects of Admiral George Tryon's untimely demise when his flagship HMS Victoria was rammed by HMS Camperdown. In emphasising the importance of George Tryon's ideas and the adverse impact of these ideas being abandoned following Tryon's death I can only agree with Gordon. The book makes the point that Tryon's fleet was manoeuvring by signal when his terrible misjudgement resulted in tragedy making it rather ironic that the incident was used to discredit his TA system of manoeuvring without flags. This section feels a little odd in places, for example it dwells at some length on the role of freemasonry in the RN officer corps and polar exploration to help explain the lack of initiative shown by RN officers and their dependency on orders received from above. This section also feels a little over cooked, as while it is generally accepted that obedience to the signal book and an over emphasis on spit and polish and being able to execute impressive fleet manoeuvres which were of little value in action had far reaching consequences for the RN in WW1 it is unfair to pretend that RN officers of the era were in some way stupid or incompetent. I don't believe that this was Gordon's intent but it is the impression created by this section. Yet, it is heartening that Gordon does highlight that the famous quote of Berkely - Milne that he wasn't paid to think has been taken out of context.
Ultimately the book makes an error which Gordon himself identifies in other books on the subject, that of seeing the clash of culture between Jellicoe and Beatty as a zero sum game such that if Beatty's ideas were right then those of Jellicoe were wrong. No matter how important it is to foster initiative and seize opportunities, commanders also need to take care of the more mundane aspects of command and to understand the material they have been given. The poor gunnery of the battle cruisers in WW1, the failure to apply ammunition handling procedures and the failure to act on Seymour's signalling failures, all of which should have been identified and acted upon before the Jutland battle do not speak highly of Beatty. Equally, Jellicoe's rigid adherence to orthodoxy and his caution may have cost the RN the opportunity to destroy Scheer's fleet but it is also true that the superb gunnery of the grand fleet, its high morale and his appreciation of what his subordinates were capable of cannot be dismissed when considering Jellicoe's qualities. The truth is that a fleet commanders needs elements of both Jellicoe's technocratic attention to detail and Beatty's flair and willingness to exploit opportunities.
In a sense the endless Jellicoe - Beatty debate is rather sad, both men were courageous, dedicated officers who served their country well. Whatever failure can be ascribed to Beatty at Jutland it has to be recognised that he fulfilled his most important role superbly by delivering Scheer's fleet to the grand fleet. Equally, Jellicoe's deployment to cross Scheer's Tee was one of the singularly most vital command decisions of the war and a decision vindicated by all serious analysis whilst his caution was based on a pragmatic understanding of the relative strategic positions of the RN and German fleet.
The book finishes with 28 lessons for modern navies where Gordon demonstrates that the principal lessons identified by his analysis are applicable today, process vs. product, an over reliance on centralised command and the battle between rationalism and empiricism. I wouldn't disagree with Gordon's 28 points but at the same time it feels a bit anecdotal and homespun and oddly disappointing following the intellectual rigour displayed in the rest of the book.
If some of the above seems a bit negative, I'd emphasise again that this book is essential reading if you are interested in the battle of Jutland and it is a genuine classic of naval history. If some of my review seems a little negative it is because the book is so stimulating and forces the reader to reconsider their existing views. And in a sense that is the greatest achievement of the book, no matter how much you already know of the subject I am sure you will find something fresh and original in this book which will cause you to reconsider things. Cery highly recommended, 5*.