Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The U.S. Navy and the Battle of Jutland, Part II

From:  Naval War College Review, Autumn 2016,  David Kohnen, with contributions from Nicholas Jellicoe and Nathaniel Sims

Part II

1917, Sims—Now an Admiral—Would Lead U.S. Naval Forces in Europe During the War

Jellicoe maintained regular correspondence with Sims, which provided unique means for the U.S. Navy to evaluate the broader significance of the Battle of Jutland. During the summer of 1916, while at sea off the American east coast supervising shakedowns as skipper in USS Nevada (BB 36), Sims again employed the War College afloat method. Sailing off the Virginia Capes for gunnery exercises in August 1916, he organized Jutland war games in Nevada’s wardroom.  Sims wrote of his observations about Jutland to his protégés Pratt and Knox, now at the Navy Department, and encouraged them to gather newspaper accounts, personal letters from their foreign contacts, and U.S. naval attaché reports from London, Paris, Rome, and Berlin.

Given the political stakes involved, USN studies of Jutland had significant strategic ramifications for the future of American naval policy. Following Sims’s lead, the faculty and students at the Naval War College took great interest in the battle. Sims pooled his information with that of his Naval Academy classmate Captain Albert P. Niblack, who was completing studies at the College. Niblack shared the information Sims supplied with Lieutenant Commander Harry E. Yarnell and Lieutenant Holloway H. Frost, among others. Using the Sims's material as a basis, Niblack, Yarnell, and Frost amassed additional information from other sources. They then conducted a war game to replicate the Battle of Jutland in September 1916.

Naval War College War Game of Jutland, September 1916
As with their Naval War College studies of Civil War battles, U.S. naval professionals recognized that the scope and complexity of Jutland offered useful foundations for examining transcendent questions of command, the answers to which would have application to future operations. The pioneering methods of McCarty Little, whose service on the Naval War College faculty began in the 1880s, inspired Sims and his associates to recognize that “tactics is the servant of strategy [and] every tactical problem should have a strategic setting, or at least keep in view the master idea which it is intended to subserve [sic]. That is the reason why tactics left to develop by itself is like servants without a master.” In examining historical battles such as Trafalgar, McCarty Little had emphasized the importance of evaluating decisions made in combat by first considering the strategic context to gain a holistic understanding of the tactical details. 

Seeking to attain an objective, firsthand understanding of historical wars, McCarty Little used nautical charts and tiny model ships to replicate situations faced on the battlefield. The curious practice of war-gaming past battles appeared trite to some—at first glance. Similarly to many Naval War College graduates, Ernest J. King joked about the practice of using “toys” and “play things” in the serious studies involved with decision analysis and war-gaming. 

Nonetheless, in the fall of 1916 faculty members and students at the Naval War College played out the Jutland scenario with toy ships, chalk, and measuring sticks. Drawing on newspaper accounts and naval attaché reports, the Naval War College undertook one of the earliest detailed studies of the Battle of Jutland. In September 1916, Sims and Knox traveled to Newport to assist the students and faculty at the College, whose members included their close associates Niblack, Yarnell, and Frost. Working together, they adapted one of the historical battles already in use within the Naval War College curriculum—they used the rules for the battle of Trafalgar of 1805 to reconstruct the more recent Battle of Jutland of 1916.

Following the war game reconstruction of Jutland, Frost took the lead in producing an official Naval War College report on 26 November 1916. Coincident with the strategic study of Jutland at the College, Sims received orders to testify about the battle before Congress.

In 2016, the Naval War College Reenacted the Original Jutland War Game

At that time, Rear Admiral Bradley Fiske also told Sims of the latter’s tentative selection for promotion to rear admiral. “They could not have done otherwise,” Sims understood, “without precipitating a storm that would have wrecked the keeping of selection in navy hands.” Under restrictions established by Congressional appropriations, Sims now stood 31st on a roster limited to 30 rear admirals; according to the Naval Register, his status was “awaiting commission” in the rank of captain. Given congressional interest in the Battle of Jutland, Sims recognized that his opportunity to discuss the subject in Congress constituted a unique opportunity to make a lasting impression and thereby to secure a fruitful assignment in the rank of rear admiral in the near future. 

On 19 December 1916, Sims explained to Congress the strategic consequences of Jutland. In answering queries about the tactical role of battleships and battle cruisers in the context of that particular engagement, Sims more broadly outlined the potential influence of wireless communication, intelligence, submarines, and aircraft on naval warfare. When discussing the strategic priorities of the U.S. Navy, Sims specifically referred to the Naval War College report about the battle.

“There is a typewritten copy of an analysis made at the Naval War College,” Sims explained in testimony, “simply compiled from official and semiofficial published reports.” 

1 comment:

  1. An excellent two part summary of a hallmark naval battle that was well studied by all. And more importantly how strategy MUST be the measure for tactical engagements of naval ships during global wars fought with fleets that already exist. Such actions will necessitate throwing forces into engagements that will be destroyed, with serious loss of sailors for the grand strategy - which may or may not work. Then afterward, the admirals must evaluate their gains and measure their losses, some of which were sacrificed for the strategic win. It also reminded me of some of Hulsey's decisions around Guadalcanal where he ordered ships into harm's way with the realization that the losses would be high. But the strategy is to win the war with successful tactical advances.