"The Fringes of the Fleet"
"Tales of the Trade"
"Destroyers at Jutland"
This great expansion of the British Empire during the last ninety-six years has not come about without a great deal of jealousy from the other European powers; and this jealousy was never more real or more dangerous than it is today…However one may now regard the language, it can be stated without much argument that these views coincided with Kipling’s. Indeed, although the text was Fletcher’s, Kipling referred to the book as “my history book” (Thomas Pinney (Ed.) Letters lV, letter to John Lockwood Kipling, 7-8 January 1911)
The other nations realised that this Empire was founded on trade, that it has to be maintained by a navy, and that it has resulted in good government of the races subject to us. So, though they have envied us and given us ugly names, they have on the whole, paid us the compliment of trying to copy us, to build up their navies, to increase their manufactures, to plant colonies and to govern subject races well. … But all European nations are now keenly interested in trade rivalry; whether this will end peaceably or not, remains to be seen.
But during the early part of the first World War I saw a good deal of him at close quarters. He was writing on various aspects of the war for one of the leading London daily papers under official sanction, and received special facilities from the Admiralty. I was Admiral in command of the East Coast patrol forces at that time and was ordered to receive him as my official guest for a specified period during which he was to be allowed to get an idea of our work without disclosing confidential matter. He arrived on board my flagship accordingly and for more than a week occupied the spare cabin and sat at my table with my personal staff and self. And of course he made the acquaintance of the other officers on board. At first a slight reserve existed on both sides.If this account is meant to refer to the two visits to Dover and Harwich, then there are inconsistencies between the Admiral’s account and the dates and commentary given in Pinney, which derive from Mrs. Kipling’s diaries, and this compiler would suggest that Kipling made a total of three visits to the Navy, which would correspond to the format of the articles: the visit to Dover produced the pieces headed ‘The Auxiliaries’: the Harwich visit produced the two articles entitled ‘Submarines’, while the last two pieces, headed ‘Patrols’ were the result of his week-long visit to Rear-Admiral Ballard which probably occurred later in the year. (It may be noted that, in ‘The Long Trail’, Meryl Macdonald says (but does not cite a reference) that after his visits to Dover and Harwich “for complete contrast there followed a week with the East Coast patrol when he was the guest of the admiral aboard his flagship and sat at table with his staff.”) In any case, Admiral Ballard had not been based at Dover since October 1914 and was never at Harwich. The opening paragraphs of the last two articles, describing the base from which the ‘patrols’ operated is much more like Immingham, which was where Rear-Admiral Ballard had his headquarters, than Dover or Harwich. As further evidence that the two visits detailed in Carrie’s diaries are not the same as those that described by the Admiral, in the Dover account, he is given an Able Seaman as his guide and mentor: but Ballard specifically says that Kipling had no contact with the Lower Deck:
For our part, we were somewhat impressed by finding such a celebrity among us; and he, to begin with, rather felt the novelty of his surroundings I think, as he was diffident in manner, and in fact almost deferential towards me. But all that soon wore off, and we were all on a very sociable and easy footing before he departed. In leaving he spoke to me in most appreciative terms about his stay on board with such obvious sincerity that I am convinced he enjoyed it. I know that I did. We had a laugh together over his problem of producing articles to interest the public when all the really interesting points in the work of the patrols were strictly secret. However he possessed in a remarkable degree the gift of making the most of any subject he chose to write about, and I found that reading it was almost more absorbing than the subject itself in this case, though the subject was not without its excitements. He would have liked to mix with the men forward, and I told him he might if he wished, but that I doubted if they would talk with complete freedom to anybody they knew to be a semi-official guest in the Admiral's quarters. He quite saw that point and decided to remain aft.
As soon as the dispatch was out of the way [the Jutland dispatch – the official report of the battle] I tried to get permission to have the battle described by one of the outstanding writers of the day, and I succeeded so far as to be authorised to ask Mr. Rudyard Kipling if he would undertake a series of articles on the destroyer attacks during the battle. As a matter of fact, I had already, on my own initiative, approached him and obtained his consent.The Battle of Jutland (known in Germany as the 'Battle of Skagerrak') took place in the afternoon of 31st May 1916 and the night following. It was not the second Trafalgar that the Royal Navy and the British public had been hoping for: and the result was best summarised by an American reporter who said 'The German fleet has assaulted its gaoler, and remains in gaol'. For the British, it was a tale of heavy losses, due to material deficiencies in the battle-cruisers, and of a missed opportunity in the night, due to lack of imagination on the part of one or two captains. The German fleet took a battering, but their losses were smaller, in ships and men, and they returned to their base the next day, scarcely the action of a victorious fleet.
I then collected all the reports, which filled a large dispatch box, and proceeded to invade Mr. Kipling in his country house. As soon as I had shown him what I had brought him, he was enthusiastic about the job, and having explained to him what points we wanted left alone, he accepted the task, notwithstanding the numbing and withering censorship that had to be imposed on him. Let me add that in those priceless articles which he produced for us not one word was ever deleted by me or anybody else.
Read here the moral roundly writThe fact was that the Grand Fleet, having returned, and fuelled and ammunitioned was ready for battle again on 4th June: the German fleet made no further sortie until August. And only one dreadnought in the Grand Fleet received hits: the capital ship losses were all in the Battle Cruiser Force. Two examples may be quoted. Beatty had six battle cruisers under his direct command, and three more were with the Grand Fleet: of these nine, three were lost, but on the following day, all six were battle-worthy. The Germans started the engagement with five battle cruisers: one was sunk, but three were so badly damaged that they were lucky to reach port, and only one was battle-worthy on 3rd June. These facts were concealed from the German public. And a post-war analysis of hits obtained by the respective battle-fleets came out in favour of the Grand Fleet in the proportion of 3 to 2.
For him who into battle goes -
Each soul that, hitting hard or hit,
endureth gross or ghostly foes.
Prince, blown by many overthrows
Half blind with shame, half choked with dirt,
Man cannot tell, but Allah knows
How much the other side was hurt..
We’ve just had a man down here fresh from the Jutland action – a destroyer commander. He was very well satisfied with what had been dealt out to the Hun and had a gay time between a couple of Dachshund cruisers at 200 yds, both of them tried to ram him.A footnote says: ’This was Lt.-Commander Lyon (Bateman’s Visitors Book, 9 June 1916), who was probably Admiral (as he later became) Sir George Hamilton D’Oyly Lyon (1883-1947) who was at the Battle of Jutland.’ In fact, the Navy List shows that it was not he, but another Lieutenant Commander Lyon, Herbert Inglis Nigel: the former had, indeed, been at Jutland, but as the Gunnery Officer of the super-dreadnought Monarch; the latter, though, was the Commanding Officer of the destroyer Nonsuch, of the 12th Destroyer Flotilla, one of the screening units for the Grand Fleet, and therefore matches Kipling’s description in the letter. Kipling wrote more expansively in a private letter twelve days later (see below, at the start of the notes on the third part of Sea Warfare p. 149.)
… his closest contacts with fighting men were made in ships of the Royal Navy. He visited the Grand fleet in Scottish waters and went more than once to Dover and Harwich. The ship’s company of HMS Maidstone, the depot ship for submarines, were his special friends and for them he wrote several songs and epigrams. [footnote: At the request of some naval friends Kipling designed crests and badges for several ships and naval units.] One day at Harwich he went down in a submarine, and hated it since he was inclined to claustrophobia. His naval songs and ballads are perhaps the most firmly realised of his studies of active service, especially the sharply etched seascapes in the poem ‘Minesweepers’ with its charming word-pattern of the ships’ names: Sweepers - Unity, Claribel, Assyrian, Stormcock and Golden Gain.Birkenhead makes scant reference to Sea Warfare, merely saying:
… he had come closest to the war visiting ships of the Dover Patrol and the Harwich Flotilla, and verses inspired by these naval occasions were his most vivid wartime achievement, particularly "Minesweepers" with its haunting refrain : 'Send up Unity, Claribel, Assyrian, Stormcock and Golden Gain.'J M S Tompkins wrote, in general terms, but with a specific reference to Sea Warfare:
One type of character appears all through Kipling’s work. This is the resourceful young officer, military or naval, carrying heavy responsibilities with a cheerful countenance, formidable in jest or in earnest. He met these young men in India and South Africa, at Portsmouth and Simonstown, in peace and war. The Infant, back from the Burmese War; Judson, that ‘ship’s husband’, with his banjo, quelling a revolution; Stalky, besieged in a Border fort, Moorshead, tyrannically elaborating his gaudy jests on sea or land; the officers of the destroyer in ‘A Sea Dog’ – these are the same young men, functioning according to the circumstances in which they find themselves. They are brothers of the young veterans of ‘The Trade’, of whom he wrote with strong emotion in Sea Warfare. He called them children, and they cannot have liked it, if they read him. But this spontaneous, unchastened emphasis of admiration and protest at the intimacy of youth with the business of death was not new in 1916. It can be found in the Boer War journalism in “With Number Three” and earlier in “The Drums of the Fore and Aft”.Andrew Lycett describes these weeks thus:
No sooner had he finished [articles written after visiting the French army] than he was off on another jaunt, visiting Royal Navy establishments on the Channel at Dover and off the east coast at Harwich. The idea was that the Navy was too much of a silent service and would benefit from some newspaper publicity. Harwich was the headquarters of HMS Maidstone, the base for submarines patrolling the North Sea. Rudyard struck up a good rapport with the men who sailed these ‘tin fish’, contributing some of the poems which accompanied his subsequent articles to their in-house journal, the Maidstone Magazine.Gilmour dismisses Sea Warfare in one paragraph:
The articles on the Royal Navy are not among his best journalism. Written at the request of the Admiralty and the Ministry of Information, they were compiled almost entirely from confidential reports [the assessment may be considered fair, but the comment is not – over 40% of the text of Sea Warfare resulted from his visits to Dover, Harwich, and Immingham, and from talking to those intimately involved: Ed.] Those essential ingredients of Kipling’s newspaper work, the vividness of sights and smells, were on this occasion limited to the East Coast Patrol at Harwich [in fact, Dover and Immingham: Ed]. He wrote a series of articles about Jutland, but he had not been within 500 miles of the battle.This last is strictly true, but the reader of this Guide is invited to read, alongside Kipling’s words, the actual words of those who were personally involved in the individual actions he describes (see the notes on "The Fighting at Jutland"), and judge whether Kipling’s non-presence resulted in any misrepresentation.