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First Lord of the Admiralty - 1892-1921

1892-1895 John Poyntz Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer
1895-1900 George Joachim Goschen
1900-1905 William Waldegrave Palmer, 2nd Earl of Selborne
1905 Frederick Archibald Vaughan Campbell, 3rd Earl Cawdor
1905-1908 Edward Marjoribanks, 2nd Baron Tweedmouth
1908-1911 Reginald McKenna
1911-1915 Winston Churchill
1915-1916 Arthur Balfour
1916-1917 Sir Edward Carson
1917-1919 Sir Eric Geddes
1919-1921 Walter Hume Long

Prior to the Great War the control of the navy was vested in the Admiralty, composed of a first lord, six lords commissioners and two secretaries. The organization dated from 1912. The first lord, who was invariably a civilian and a member of one of the Houses of Parliament, represented the navy in the cabinet and in the legislature. He was responsible for the general direction and supervision of all business relating to the navy, political and board questions, promotions and removals, appointment of admirals and commanding officers, etc. The attached salary was $25,000.

Frederick Archibald Vaughan Campbell, 3rd Earl Cawdor, became First Lord of the Admiralty on the 6th of March 1905 under Arthur James Balfour, Conservative Prime Minister from 1902-5. He assumed office at a critical time in the modern history of the British navy. It was at the time of great changes which had been begun by Lord Selborne. These related to the organiation, distribution, and equipment of the fleet. Lord Cawdor strongly supported the prosecution of these changes. On 30 November 1905, a few days before the resignation of Mr. Balfour as prime minister, Lord Cawdor issued a "Memorandum on Admiralty Policy" which enunciated a ship-building policy in the following words : "At the present time, strategic requirements necessitate an output of four large armored ships annually." The issuing of this memorandum was his last public act as first lord of the admiralty, but he continued to hold a large place in naval discussions in the succeeding ministries. Upon the coming into power of the Liberal party, lie took a prominent part in the debates of the House as a member of the Opposition, and exercised considerable influence in Unionist councils.

On Mr. Asquith's succeeding to the premiership in the spring of 1908, Reginald McKenna, was transferred to the Admiralty. He entered on his new duties at a time when the country was profoundly stirred by the rapid increase of the German fleet, and was in doubt whether the preparations of the Admiralty were on a sufficiently extensive scale. At the same time a large portion of the Liberal party was disposed to belittle the danger and to call a halt to building-schemes in the interest of peace and economy.

Mr. McKenna, relying upon the advice of his First Sea Lord, Lord Fisher, resisted the section of the Cabinet, represented by the powerful figures of Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Churchill, who took this last view; and, supported by the Prime Minister and Sir Edward Grey, he persuaded his colleagues to begin the building of four battleships of the "Dreadnought" type in 1909, and to ask for power, if necessary, to prepare for the construction of four more a year later. This program disgusted the Radical economists, but did not satisfy public opinion. The Unionists and other friends of a big navy carried on an agitation to the slogan, " We want eight, and we won't wait," and eventually, on July 26, 1909 Mr. McKenna announced that the second four Dreadnoughts would definitely be ordered. The estimates of 1909 had shown an increase of nearly L3,000,000; those of 1910 showed a further increase of L5,500,000, mainly due to new construction.

A still further increase of 3,750,000 in 1911 made it clear that Mr. McKenna and the Admiralty were in earnest in their determination to maintain "a fleet sufficient to hold the seas against any reasonably probable combination." In June 1911 he was able to make satisfactory arrangements at the Imperial Conference for complete unity of action in time of war between Dominion fleets and those of the mother country. He could feel, when in the autumn he passed from the Admiralty to the Home Office, that he left behind him a much stronger fleet than he had found.

In late April 1917 the War Cabinet discussed the 'convoy controversy'. On 23 April Prime Minister David Lloyd George pressed for the introduction of convoys for merchant vessels but the First Sea Lord resisted the measure and was instructed to make another report to the War Cabinet. When Lord Jellicoe made the report on the submarine menace at the next Cabinet, there was no mention of convoy as a possible antidote to the U-boat attacks. The War Cabinet felt they did not have sufficient information to make informed decisions. It was therefore decided on 25 April 1917 that the Prime Minister formally visit the Admiralty to conduct his own investigation. Between 26 April and Lloyd George's visit on 30 April, the Admiralty decided convoys would be given a thorough trial and their structure re-organised.

Due to convoying merchant vessel losses rapidly decreased, reducing the pressure on food supply and imports. The most important domestic and political consequence was the loss of confidence in Lord Jellicoe as First Sea Lord and Sir Edward Carson as First Lord of the Admiralty. Geddes replaced Carson on 20 July 1917 while Lord Jellicoe was dismissed on Christmas Eve 1917. He was succeeded by his deputy Vice Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss.

The reports of the Dardanelles and Mesopotamia Commissions were published, the one in the spring, and the other in the summer, of the year 1917; and the revelations they contained of mismanagement and muddle in high Change*, quarters confirmed the public in its satisfaction that the two War Administrations presided over by Mr. Asquith had given way to Mr. Lloyd George's War Cabinet. The report of the Mesopotamia Commission, with its reflections on the Government of India, brought about Mr. Austen Chamberlain's resignation of the Secretaryship of State for India.

Other ministerial changes took place about the same time: Lord Rhondda succeeded Lord Devonport as Food Controller, Sir Auckland Geddes succeeded Mr. Neville Chamberlain as Director of National Service; Mr. Barnes succeeded Mr. Henderson as Labour representative in the War Cabinet; Sir Edward Carson left the Admiralty to become a member of the War Cabinet without portfolio a position from which he resigned in Jan. 1918; Sir Eric Geddes became First Lord of the Admiralty, Dr. Addison Minister of Reconstruction without portfolio, Mr. Hayes Fisher (afterwards Lord Downham) President of the Local Government Board, Mr. Hodge Minister of Pensions, and Mr. G. H. Roberts Minister of Labour.

Lloyd George took the opportunity to bring back into high office his friend Mr. Churchill, and to attract to his banner Mr. Edwin Montagu, one of the ablest of the younger Liberals. Mr. Churchill became Minister of Munitions, and Mr. Montagu Secretary of State for India. Mr. Lloyd George also persuaded Gen. Smuts to remain in England as a regular member of the War Cabinet. The public looked askance at the return to office of Mr. Churchill, after his responsibility for the Dardanelles fiasco; but Mr. Lloyd George had a high opinion of his friend's energy and capacity in office, and realized the inadvisability of leaving him to become the nucleus of a critical and aggressive opposition.

Sir Eric Geddes went to the Admiralty to complete and work a reorganization which his predecessor (Sir Edward Carson) had initiated, when, in May, a new naval war staff was constituted. The First Sea Lord, as chief of the staff, was freed of all administrative detail in order that Admtnto he might give his undivided attention to questions of policy and strategy; and he had the assistance of a director of operations, a director of intelligence, and others. There was also revived the office of Admiralty Controller, who was to organize the whole of the supply of the navy including transport, victualling, manufacture of ordnance, and shipbuilding. Sir Eric had then been brought in from the outside to fill this important post, as a great civil administrator who had just successfully organized the military railway system behind the lines ir. France; and in July, when Sir Edward Carson's vigorous counsel was needed in the War Cabinet, he became himself First Lord.

The two main tasks of the Admiralty under him were to defeat the submarine menace, and to stimulate shipbuilding. They were more successful in the first than in the second. By provision oi various ingenious methods of attacking and destroying underwater vessels they steadily reduced the losses of British ships, and they were able to announce the details buiumi of some 150 German submarines destroyed. But in spite of obtaining the assistance of Lord Pirrie, the great Bel fast shipbuilder, as Controller-General of Merchant Shipbuilding, and of the institution of national shipyards, they were unable till the last month of the war to make shipbuilding overtake ship destruction. The destruction of British ships in 1917 amounted to a tonnage of 4,009,537, and the ships built only reached a tonnage of 1,163,474. In the first nine months of 1918 the figures were: tonnage destroyed 1,925,312, built 1,310,741.

In Dec. 1917, Sir Rosslyn Wemyss became First Sea Lord.

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Page last modified: 29-01-2017 16:58:42 ZULU