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A Different Grand Fleet
By Adrian Davis
April 2014

Just before the outbreak of the Great War, the Admiralty produced what we would now call a force structure, covering 1914 – 1917. The First World War intervened before the changes could be made; however, for all of us “what if” gamers, this presents the proposed structure for use in the Great War at Sea series.

The revised force structure had four major changes: the disbandment of the battlecruiser force; the reorganisation of the First Fleet as new dreadnoughts were commissioned; the creation of a Mediterranean Fleet; and, finally, a reorganisation of the cruiser forces.

Disbanding the Battle Cruiser Force

Timed to coincide with Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty’s move from the First Battle Cruiser Squadron, the first reorganisation would see the creation of four squadrons (termed either cruiser, mixed or battlecruiser) starting in March 1915. Each squadron would be composed of two battlecruisers and four cruisers, as shown below:

1 Cruiser Squadron: Lion (Flag), Princess Royal, Royalist, Undaunted, Aurora, Arethusa
2 Cruiser Squadron: Tiger (Flag), Queen Mary, Penelope, Galatea, Inconstant, Phaeton
3 Cruiser Squadron: Indefatigable (Flag), Indomitable, New Zealand, Cordelia, Caroline, Comus, Champion
4 Cruiser Squadron: Inflexible (Flag), Invincible, Conquest, Cleopatra, Calliope, Carysfort

Note: Princess Royal proposed as flagship instead of Tiger: vessels to swap places if this occurred.
Note: If Goeben leaves the Mediterranean, then New Zealand would join 3 Cruiser Squadron; if Goeben stayed there, New Zealand would stay too.

The cruiser squadrons would, in all probability, have the same roles as before: reconnaissance, screening and counter-reconnaissance. The addition of the battlecruisers would have considerably strengthened the cruiser squadrons and, of course, kept them out of the battle line. It would also have returned them to their original mission – that of killing cruisers. The four squadrons were assigned to the First Fleet. Whether the Germans would have reorganised their scouting forces in response is a moot point.

Reorganising the First Fleet

The second reorganisation was longer in nature (battleships aren’t built in a day!) but would have had a major impact on the Royal Navy. First was the introduction of the Queen Elizabeth class superdreadnoughts, then the ‘R’ class and the corresponding changes in the Fleet and its Battle Squadrons. The following indicates the composition of the fleet over the period 1914 – 1917.

August 1914
Fleet Flag: Iron Duke
1 Battle Squadron: Marlborough, Superb, Collingwood, Hercules, Neptune, Colossus, St.Vincent, Vanguard
2 Battle Squadron: King George V, Ajax, Audacious, Centurion, Orion, Monarch, Thunderer, Conqueror
3 Battle Squadron: King Edward VII, Zealandia, Commonwealth, Dominion, Hindustan, Africa, Hibernia, Britannia
4 Battle Squadron: Dreadnought, Bellerophon, Temeraire, Agamemnon
Battle Cruisers: Lion, Princess Royal, Queen Mary, Invincible

January 1915
Fleet Flag: Iron Duke
1 Battle Squadron: Marlborough, Benbow, Collingwood, Hercules, Neptune, Colossus, St.Vincent, Vanguard
2 Battle Squadron: King George V, Ajax, Audacious, Centurion, Orion, Monarch, Thunderer, Conqueror
3 Battle Squadron: King Edward VII, Zealandia, Commonwealth, Dominion, Hindustan, Africa, Hibernia, Britannia
4 Battle Squadron: Dreadnought, Bellerophon, Temeraire, Superb
Battle Cruisers: Lion, Princess Royal, Queen Mary, Tiger

July 1915
Fleet Flag: Iron Duke
1 Battle Squadron: Marlborough, Benbow, Emperor of India, Hercules, Neptune, Colossus, St.Vincent, Vanguard
2 Battle Squadron: King George V, Ajax, Audacious, Centurion, Orion, Monarch, Thunderer, Conqueror
3 Battle Squadron: Queen Elizabeth, Warspite, Valiant, Barham, Africa, Hibernia, Britannia
4 Battle Squadron: Dreadnought, Bellerophon, Temeraire, Superb, Collingwood
Battle Cruisers: Lion, Princess Royal, Queen Mary, Tiger

November 1915 - January 1916
Fleet Flag: Iron Duke
1 Battle Squadron: Marlborough, Benbow, Emperor of India, Hercules, Neptune, Colossus, St.Vincent, Vanguard
2 Battle Squadron: King George V, Ajax, Audacious, Centurion, Orion, Monarch, Thunderer, Conqueror
3 Battle Squadron: Queen Elizabeth, Warspite, Valiant, Barham, Malaya, Africa, Britannia
4 Battle Squadron: Resolution, Ramillies, Royal Oak, Royal Sovereign, Revenge
Battle Cruisers: Lion, Princess Royal, Queen Mary, Tiger, Inflexible, Indomitable, Indefatigable, Invincible, New Zealand

April 1917
Fleet Flag: Iron Duke
1 Battle Squadron: Marlborough, Benbow, Emperor of India, Hercules, Neptune, Colossus
2 Battle Squadron: King George V, Ajax, Audacious, Centurion, Orion, Monarch, Thunderer, Conqueror
3 Battle Squadron: Queen Elizabeth, Warspite, Valiant, Barham, Malaya, Agincourt
4 Battle Squadron: Resolution, Ramillies, Royal Oak, Royal Sovereign, Revenge, Renown, Repulse, Resistance
Battle Cruisers: Lion, Princess Royal, Queen Mary, Tiger, Inflexible, Indomitable, Indefatigable, Invincible, New Zealand

It’s worth noting that during 1915 – 1917, the Senior Officer 3 Battle Squadron would have an interesting mix of superdreadnoughts and pre-dreadnoughts to command.

At conclusion of the reorganisation, in 1917, the Royal Navy would have 29 dreadnoughts in the First Fleet (facing Germany). The eight or nine battlecruisers would be part of the new mixed cruiser squadrons, with the 3rd Battle Squadron (now composed solely of Queen Elizabeth class superdreadnoughts) forming the fast wing of the First Fleet.

The Mediterranean Fleet

In the 19th Century, the Mediterranean Squadron was the pride of the Royal Navy. Based at Malta, it became legendary for its appearance and steam manoeuvres; many of the commanders of the First World War served in it. But the Squadron was reduced when Fisher as First Sea Lord concentrated the Royal Navy in home waters to meet the growing threat from Germany. This reorganisation would see the creation of a new Mediterranean Fleet in 1915, which was composed of 12-inch dreadnoughts reassigned from the First Fleet.

August 1914: Inflexible, Indomitable, Indefatigable, New Zealand
January 1915: Inflexible, Indomitable, Indefatigable, Invincible, New Zealand
July 1915: Inflexible, Indomitable, Indefatigable, Invincible, New Zealand
November 1915 - January 1916: Collingwood, Dreadnought, Temeraire, Bellerophon, Superb, Queen, London, Bulwark
April 1917: Collingwood, Dreadnought, Temeraire, Bellerophon, Superb, St. Vincent, Vanguard, New Zealand

Note: If Goeben leaves the Mediterranean, then New Zealand would join 3 Cruiser Squadron; if Goeben stayed there, New Zealand would stay too.
Note: Collingwood to be assigned as Flag CinC Mediterranean; St.Vincent as Flag Rear-Admiral

By 1917, the CinC Mediterranean would have had seven dreadnoughts under command, with perhaps a battlecruiser as well. Note that the Admiralty reckoned the HMS New Zealand to be the match of the SMS Goeben.

Reorganising the cruiser squadrons

The reorganisation wasn’t confined to dreadnoughts and battlecruisers. The cruiser squadrons (as we have seen) of the First Fleet were reorganised as were the various squadrons across the globe. By 1916, the old armoured cruisers would have been replaced by the new C class cruisers; and newer cruisers would have been deployed across the globe. The following shows the cruiser squadrons in 1916, after all the transfers and reorganisations were complete:

First Fleet
1 Cruiser Squadron: Lion (Flag), Princess Royal, Royalist, Undaunted, Aurora, Arethusa
2 Cruiser Squadron: Tiger (Flag), Queen Mary, Penelope, Galatea, Inconstant, Phaeton
3 Cruiser Squadron: Indefatigable (Flag), Indomitable, New Zealand, Cordelia, Caroline, Comus, Champion
4 Cruiser Squadron: Inflexible (Flag), Invincible, Conquest, Cleopatra, Calliope, Carysfort
Mediterranean: Defence, Black Prince, Duke of Edinburgh, Warrior, Southampton, Chatham, Dublin, Weymouth
West Atlantic: Antrim, Essex, Bristol, Amethyst
Attached to 1 Battle Squadron: Fearless
Attached to 2 Battle Squadron: Blanche
Attached to 3 Battle Squadron: Active
Attached to 4 Battle Squadron: Blonde
Mediterranean: Amphion
Attached to 1 (Destroyer) Flotilla: Lightfoot
Attached to 2 (Destroyer) Flotilla: Marksman
Attached to 3 (Destroyer) Flotilla: Kempenfeldt
Attached to 4 (Destroyer) Flotilla: Swift
East Indies: Dartmouth, Falmouth
Cape: Nottingham, Lowestoft, Birmingham
China: Minotaur, Hampshire, Newcastle, Yarmouth
S.E. America: Glasgow, Gloucester
W. America: Algerine, Shearwater
New Zealand: Liverpool, Sapphire, Philomel

Ships of the II Fleet
The II Fleet was composed of the more modern pre-dreadnoughts – note for example Lord Nelson was assigned, despite being commissioned later than Dreadnought. It is likely, though not shown in the paper, that II Fleet was to be organised in two Battle Squadrons – the Fifth and Sixth. The table shows the composition of the fleet from the archive source, with my interpretation of the allocation between the two battle squadrons (note this groups ships of the same class together):

August 1914
Fleet Flag: Lord Nelson
5 Battle Squadron: London, Bulwark, Queen, Prince of Wales, Formidable, Implacable, Irresistable, Venerable
6 Battle Squadron: Duncan, Russell, Albemarle, Exmouth, Vengeance

January 1915
Fleet Flag: Lord Nelson
5 Battle Squadron: London, Bulwark, Queen, Prince of Wales, Formidable, Implacable, Irresistable, Venerable
6 Battle Squadron: Agamemnon, Duncan, Russell, Albemarle, Exmouth, Cornwallis

July 1915
Fleet Flag: Lord Nelson
5 Battle Squadron: London, Bulwark, Queen, King Edward VII, Zealandia, Commonwealth, Dominion, Hindustan
6 Battle Squadron: Agamemnon, Duncan, Russell, Albemarle, Exmouth, Cornwallis

November 1915 - January 1916
Fleet Flag: Lord Nelson
5 Battle Squadron: King Edward VII, Zealandia, Commonwealth, Dominion, Hindustan, Hibernia
6 Battle Squadron: Agamemnon, Duncan, Russell, Albemarle, Exmouth, Cornwallis

April 1917
Fleet Flag: Lord Nelson
5 Battle Squadron: King Edward VII, Zealandia, Commonwealth, Dominion, Hindustan, Hibernia, Britannia, Africa
6 Battle Squadron: Agamemnon, Duncan, Russell, Albemarle, Exmouth, Cornwallis

The II Fleet also had a number of cruisers attached. These were organised into two cruiser squadrons, attached to the battle squadrons and a “Patrols” component. The following shows the composition of the various cruiser components in 1916 and further confirms the organisation into two battle squadrons:

5 Cruiser Squadron: Carnarvon (Flag), Argyll, Devonshire, Roxburgh
6 Cruiser Squadron: Shannon (Flag), Achilles, Cochrane, Natal
Attached to 5 Battle Squadron: Bellona
Attached to 6 Battle Squadron: Boadicea
Patrols: 4 Sentinel

Note that the Admiralty refers to “4 Sentinel” in the Patrols. Actually, only two Sentinel class were built: there were three other classes, the Adventure, Forward and Pathfinder (two cruisers each), which were very similar and all four classes were collectively referred as the “Sentinel class.” One problem is that the source doesn’t state which four would be placed in the Second Fleet.

The ships of the Second Fleet would form the Channel Fleet in time of war.

Ships of the III Fleet

This was very much the “reserve” fleet, composed of the oldest pre-dreadnoughts and with most of the assigned ships having nucleus crews. It is likely that three Battle Squadrons would have been created in the Fleet; in this case, the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth. Once again, this table shows the composition of the fleet from the archive source, with my interpretation of the allocation between the two battle squadrons. The four named ships were assigned to the Humber in the source documentation. No fleet flagship was assigned:

August 1914
7 Battle Squadron: Cornwallis, Canopus, Albion, Glory, Goliath, Ocean
8 Battle Squadron: Caesar, Illustrious, Magnificent, Prince George, Victorious
9 Battle Squadron (Humber): Jupiter, Hannibal, Majestic, Mars

January 1915
7 Battle Squadron: Vengeance, Canopus, Albion, Glory, Goliath, Ocean
8 Battle Squadron: Caesar, Illustrious, Magnificent, Prince George, Victorious
9 Battle Squadron (Humber): Jupiter, Hannibal, Majestic, Mars

July 1915
7 Battle Squadron: Prince of Wales, Formidable, Implacable, Irresistable, Venerable
8 Battle Squadron:
Vengeance, Canopus, Albion, Glory, Goliath, Ocean
Unknown: Caesar, Illustrious, Magnificent, Prince George, Victorious
9 Battle Squadron (Humber): Jupiter, Hannibal, Majestic, Mars

November 1915 - January 1916
7 Battle Squadron: Prince of Wales, Formidable, Implacable, Irresistable, Venerable
8 Battle Squadron:
Vengeance, Canopus, Albion, Glory, Goliath, Ocean
Unknown: Caesar, Illustrious, Magnificent, Prince George, Victorious
9 Battle Squadron (Humber): Jupiter, Hannibal, Majestic, Mars

April 1917
7 Battle Squadron: Queen, London, Bulwark, Prince of Wales, Formidable, Implacable, Irresistable, Venerable
8 Battle Squadron:
Vengeance, Canopus, Albion, Glory, Goliath, Ocean
Unknown: Caesar, Illustrious,
Material Reserve: Magnificent, Prince George, Victorious
9 Battle Squadron (Humber): Jupiter, Hannibal, Majestic, Mars

After July 1915, it becomes increasingly difficult to assign ships to the battle squadrons. My interpretation is that the Majestic class would have been relegated to guard ship or similar duties, with the more modem pre-dreadnoughts forming the battle squadrons. Interestingly, the cruiser deployments for 1916, shown below, only name two battle squadrons.

7 Cruiser Squadron: Suffolk (Flag?), Berwick, Lancaster, Kent
Attached to 7 Battle Squadron: Topaze
Attached to 8 Battle Squadron: Diamond
Training Services: Drake, Good Hope, King Alfred, Leviathan, Donegal, Monmouth, Cornwall, Cumberland
Reserve Commission: 6 Cressy, 6 (10) Talbot*, 4 Sentinel

Note: Originally six Talbot class were proposed, but this was revised upwards to 10 in the source documentation on account of the proposed workload. Also known as Eclipse class

The reserve commission cruisers would have formed several Cruiser Squadrons, probably numbered Ninth though to Twelfth. These would have been assigned to the Northern and Southern Patrols, amongst other duties. Again, the source doesn’t state which of the eight Sentinels would have been placed in reserve.

Finally, it’s also worth mentioning that the Edgar class cruisers (HMS Edgar, Hawke, Endymion, Royal Arthur, Gibraltar, Grafton, St. George, Theseus and Crescent) were to be placed in Material Reserve (and thus available for recommissioning in time of war).

Scenario suggestions

Try the revised First Fleet organisation in any of the Jutland scenarios – Dogger Bank, Jutland itself or Helgoland Blight. The Mediterranean Fleet could be added to any post-1917 scenario in Mediterranean.

Sources

This article is drawn from ADM 1/8383/179, Battle and Cruiser Squadrons – Programme, 8th July 1914. The paper does actually use different terms for the new (mixed) cruiser squadrons. Even the Admiralty couldn’t decide what to call them! Note also that the cruiser squadrons in the First Fleet were supposed to be created in March 1915 – yet many of the battlecruisers were to stay in the Mediterranean until November of that year.

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