The legacy of Jutland: expectation, reality and learning from the experience of battle in the Royal Navy, 1913–1939
The victory secured over the Central Powers and especially Germany during the First World War owed much to Britain’s maritime dominance if little to the fruits of fleet action. If the result was as expected by the British public and Royal Navy both, then its means of delivery certainly was not and the failure to secure a decisive victory against the High Seas Fleet rankled commoner and commander alike. Why the pre-war expectation of naval combat proved so divergent from the reality of wartime can be attributed to several factors. Still, that evolving technical considerations rendered nugatory the mythology of explanation surrounding Britain’s past naval success was certainly a vital one. Contemporaneously, the Royal Navy’s understanding of how naval power was fostered and exercised underwent a deep and profound shift as it became more ‘scientific’. Not scientific in the sense that its tenets could be verifiably proven or worked out with mathematical precision, but rather it now became anchored in the analysis of previous experience tied to its survey through surviving documentary evidence. Closely associated with this, future naval encounters could be approximated in war gaming based on reasonable conclusions of ship and weapon performance. All this came to fruition in the decade before the war and the disparate strands influencing the future style of naval warfare came together not so much as the clear image of a photograph but more the blurs of an emerging image, slowly crystallising.