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Book Review, NRJ 60.1

February 15, 2015 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

Strategy and War Planning in the British Navy, 1887-1918

Shawn T. Grimes

Shawn T. Grimes’ Strategy and War Planning in the British Navy, 1887-1918 examines previous historical attempts to study the Royal Navy’s development from 1887 to 1918, finding that many have neglected Great Britain’s strategic policy in the pre-war period. Grimes’ research reveals that previous Admiralty studies have focused mainly on the work of Admiral of the Fleet, Lord John A. Fisher, the man credited with initiating and overseeing the modern transformation of the Service as First Sea Lord prior to and during World War I. Grimes also illustrates that the focus of previous studies has been on the British rivalry with the Dual Alliance and the events of World War I, diminishing the Navy’s strategic transformation and technological evolution from the 1887 establishment of the Naval Intelligence Department up to Admiral Fisher’s appointment in 1904.

Grimes extensively examines the Royal Navy’s evolution through multiple stages of strategic planning, illustrating that a visible transformation occurred from 1887, with the creation of the Naval Intelligence Department, to the end of World War I. He demonstrates that the Admiralty never neglected to examine the strategic, technological, and diplomatic conditions relevant to Great Britain’s naval design plans. Grimes confirms that the offensive planning trend, which began at the height of the Dual Alliance rivalry, played a key role in the overall development of British strategy. His research reveals that the Naval Intelligence Department took the lead in these plans, and that it is clear that Britain’s plans for waging a naval war were far from unorganized.

In spite of prior criticism by historians of Britain’s ability to develop these plans, Grimes demonstrates that the accomplishments of Admiral Fisher and others associated with the Royal Navy’s strategic development are proof that for thirty years Britain’s war planning was legitimate and innovative; their leaders well aware of the potential of their sea defenses in the protection of Great Britain. In order to assess the quality and relevance of the Navy’s operational plans, Grimes evaluates the technological advances in ship design and strategy and the extensive testing that was carried out to authenticate the usefulness of new naval technology in a potential war with Germany. He argues that between 1905 and 1909, the original strategies that developed did not neglect strategic, diplomatic, technological, and operational realities, and in fact implemented naval maneuvers and exercises to test and evaluate new and developing strategies.

Grimes’ examination of the inter-relationship between war plans and maneuvers in the British Navy reveals that the Admiralty recognized the importance of strategic operational planning under the direction of intellectual strategist George Ballard and Admiral Fisher in the 1887-1918 period. The Naval Intelligence Division, the Admiralty, and Admiral Fisher’s development of a strategic policy involved a unique strategy. This began with a planning trend initiated post-1888, saw construction in the late 1890s, and evolved in the event of a possible war with Germany in 1902. Grimes’ research demonstrates that this plan was strategically in place by 1912, two years earlier than many historians previously thought. As such, this book will appeal to anyone interested in naval or military history, as well as students and scholars of the British Navy.

  • Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2012
  • 6-1/4” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xiv + 263 pages
  • Maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $115.00
  • ISBN: 9781843836988

Reviewed by Ericha Sappington, University of West Florida

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