chapter  9
10 Pages

The discovery of doctrine: British naval thinking at the close of the twentieth century


At the end of 1995 at the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall the launch took place of The Fundamentals of British Maritime Doctrine, numbered BR 1806 in the official naval publications series.1 The Royal Navy had been late in climbing on the ‘doctrinal’ bandwagon. The Army had led the way with British Military Doctrine, first published in 1989. The Royal Air Force had followed with the first edition of AP3000, Air Power Doctrine in 1991. The Royal Navy, however was a little reluctant to go down the ‘doctrinal’ route. The Assistant Director Data and Doctrine on the Naval Staff, the late and much lamented David Brown, was a staunch opponent and some senior admirals were also dubious. The reason was an understandable reluctance for the Royal Navy to become too dogmatic in its professional approach. The essence of the naval profession was deemed to be flexibility of mind and a willingness to think ‘out of the box’. The contrast between the perception of Nelson as a (good and successful) tactical innovator compared to the apparently sclerotic and over-centralised Grand Fleet of Sir John Jellicoe (that failed to achieve another Trafalgar at Jutland) was a potent one. The Grand Fleet had too much doctrine in Grand Fleet Battle Orders; Nelson had just told his commanders to ‘do their duty’.2