THE WAR AT SEA (1914-1918)
This page contains links to online resources about the war at sea during the First World War (WW1) that I found most useful and interesting while editing the letters of Royal Navy midshipman Philip Malet de Carteret, whose letters feature in War Letters 1914-1918, Vol. 2.
GENERAL / OFFICIAL RECORDS AND DOCUMENTS / OFFICIAL HISTORIES / BIBLIOGRAPHIES AND RESEARCH GUIDES / EBOOKS / BIOGRAPHIES / THE TIMES DOCUMENTARY HISTORIES / THESES / JOURNALS / WARSHIPS / THE NAVY RECORDS SOCIETY / MAPS / TIMELINES
Naval-history.net is a wonderful resource for 20th century naval history with a lot of immensely important material relating to the First World War including ships’ logs, official despatches, maps and casualty lists. Separate links to key parts of the site are listed in the different sections below.
The Great War Documents Archive has transcribed a wide range of important documents relating to the war at sea. Although the site has not been updated for a long time, it is still a valuable resource for first world war naval history.
Paul Benyon’s Late 18th, 19th and Early 20th Century Naval and Naval Social History Index is another important and valuable site. Although concentrating principally on the Royal Navy during 19th century it also includes some important material relating to the First World War.
The Channel Islands and the Great War – Although not primarily focused on the war at sea, Philip Malet de Carteret was from Jersey and his great nephew, Edward Malet de Carteret has put some of Philip’s letters on the site. He has also written some interesting articles for the group’s journal which are available to download.
OFFICIAL RECORDS AND DOCUMENTS [top]
Ships logs at OldWeather.org is a project to record historical weather by transcribing the records from ships’ log books. The project digitised and transcribed many log books from the First World War. Transcriptions of many of the log books – with links to pages from the originals – are still available through Naval-history.net.
Throughout the war official naval despatches were published in the London Gazette. All these despatches are available at Naval-history.net.
Royal Navy Despatches, London Gazette, August 1914–July 1916
Royal Navy Despatches, London Gazette, July 1916–December 1918
There are over 600 pages of British despatches, reports and letters about the Battle of Jutland in Battle of Jutland, 30th May to 1st June, 1916
Casualty lists for the Royal Navy and Dominion navies can be searched either by name or date.
The Jellicoe Papers – The British Library has digitised thousands and thousands of Jellicoe’s official and unofficial papers which are organised together in seventy separate volumes. Their search facility can throw up all sorts of wild results, so to avoid this just type “Jellicoe” (without the speech marks) into the “title” search on their digitised manuscripts advanced search page. The volumes should then be listed in numerical order.
The Keyes Papers have also been digitised in numerous volumes by the British Library. The only way of being sure to find them seems to be to use the same strategy as with the Jellicoe Papers: type “Keyes” (without the speech marks) into the “title” search on their digitised manuscripts advanced search page. This should bring up volumes 38 through to 87 in a semblance of numerical order. Whether or not the earlier volumes have been digitised is unclear.
The Kings Regulations and Admiralty Instructions detailed the rules and regulations for all those serving in the Royal Navy during the First World War.
Naval Intelligence Documents has an interesting selection of First World War British and German naval intelligence documents taken from the British National Archive.
The Selborne Memorandum, outlining the plan for naval education reform, was published on 25 December 1902, and is one of the most important documents regarding the navy in the pre-war period. (The document needs to be magnified to at least 400%, but can then be read very clearly. (PDF 9 MB)
OFFICIAL HISTORIES [top]
When reading J.S. Corbett’s official histories, naval historian Arthur J. Marder said that ‘You needed a machete to hack through the facts to get at the story.’ Marder, in my view, was being immensely charitable. That said, as a source of facts, Corbett’s books are essential.
Naval Operations, Vol. I covers the first months of the war up to the Battle of the Falklands in December 1914.
Naval Operations, Vol. II is mainly concerned with Gallipoli.
Naval Operations, Vol. III takes events from the spring of 1915 up to, and including, the Battle of Jutland.
Corbett died after completing the third volume. The series was continued by Henry Newbolt.
Naval Operations, Vol. IV looks at the consequences of Jutland and continues up to the unrestricted German submarine war of the spring of 1917.
Naval Operations, Vol. V covers from April 1915 to the end of he war. Although this volume has been digitised it has, up to the time of writing, not been made fully available online by the Hathi Digitial Trust.
Three separate volumes by Archibald Hurd cover the history of the Merchant Navy during the war. The first two volumes are available online.
The Merchant Navy, Vol. I covers the period up to the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915.
The Rasor Bibliography contains over 26,000 entries from published books, articles and dissertations covering both British naval history and general maritime history from the earliest times (55 B.C.) to the present. It has been put online and made freely available to the public by the Centre for Maritime Studies at Exeter University. The bibliography is continually updated.
The Great War Documents Archive has a much smaller bibliography. Although it hasn’t been updated for over ten years, it lists a lot of important material and also includes works in German and French.
A brilliantly clear guide to the Naval Records held at the National Archives of the UK has also been produced by the Centre for Maritime Studies at Exeter University.
The guide itself, totalling some 384 pages, can be downloaded directly as a PDF (1.40 MB).
Reading Lists from Royal Naval Museum is a short series of naval bibliographies, several of which cover the First World War.
Research Guide to the Merchant Navy during the First World War. The Royal Maritime Museum, Greenwich, have produced an excellent research guide for those interested in the history of the Merchant Navy during the First World War. Most of the sources listed, however, are not online.
Coronel and the Falklands by G. Bennett, although written over 50 years ago, is still generally considered the best account of the two battles.
The Navy Everywhere by C. Cato looks at naval operations in theatres of war which were not widely covered by war correspondents, including East Africa, the Cameroons, the Persian Gulf, Aden and the Red Sea.
World Crisis by Winston Churchill. As First Lord of the Admiralty between 1911 and 1915 Churchill was at the heart of events. The first volume of his history of the war covers the build up and the first few months of the conflict, ending just before the fateful decision to attack the Dardanelles was made. The second volume, which is not available online, deals with Gallipoli.
We Dive at Dawn by K. Edwards is an engagingly written, frequently quoted account of Britain’s use of submarines during the First World War.
Two books, Memories and Records by Jackie Fisher. The dominant figure of the early 20th Century Royal Navy, Fisher never wanted to write a book about the war. These two volumes, mainly consisting of his dictated thoughts interspersed with letters and speeches, can therefore, at times, make for a frustrating read. ‘There is no plan nor sequence!’ says Fisher in the introduction. ‘Just as the thoughts have arisen so they have been written or dictated.’
From Dartmouth to the Dardanelles by W. Forester. This account was written by Wolstan Forester when he was 16 years old and edited by his mother. The book gives a vivid account of life at Dartmouth College and what it was like for a young cadet in the first months of the war.
From Snotty to Sub by W. Forester takes Forester’s story up to when he was made a sub-lieutenant just before the end of the war.
The Grand Fleet, 1914-1916: Its Creation, Development and Work by Lord Jellicoe. As Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet from 1914 to 1916, Jellicoe’s account manages to combine his thinking on naval matters with a strong sense of narrative.
The Crisis of the Naval War by Jellicoe focuses on how Britain defeated the threat from German submarines in the final two years of the war.
The Naval Memoirs of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes; Scapa Flow to the Dover Straits, 1916-1918. Keyes held a number of important positions including chief of staff to Admiral Carden at Gallipoli where he was one of the most vociferous supporters of a naval attack on the Straits. This second volume of his memoirs is arguably the least interesting of the two. The first volume, although digitised is still not currently available online.
The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783 by A.T. Mahan. Widely read by naval strategists in both Britain and Germany, Mahan’s book about the importance of sea power and the need to maintain large fleets was one of the most influential books in the years leading up to the war.
Germany’s High Sea Fleet in the World War by R. Scheer . Commander of the High Seas Fleet at the Battle of Jutland and later Germany’s chief of naval staff, Scheer’s account of the war is interesting to read alongside Jellicoe’s.
My Memoirs Vol. I by A. Tirpitz. As Secretary of State for the German Imperial Naval Office, Alfred von Tirpitz was the driving force behind the expansion of the German navy in the years leading up to the war. The first volume of his memoirs covers the period from his childhood to the eve of war.
Admirals.org is an extremely useful site containing the basic career details for all Royal Navy admirals serving between 1904 and 1945.
The same site also has a list of the people who served on the Board of Admiralty during the same period.
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has biographies of most of the leading naval figures of the First World War, including Beatty, Fisher, Jellicoe, Carden, Wemyss, Keyes and many more. Online access is free if you hold a British public libraries lending card.
THE TIMES DOCUMENTARY HISTORIES [top]
During the war The Times published a series of books containing official documents, reports and papers from the early months of the war. Three of the volumes dealt specifically with the war at sea.
The Times Documentary History of the War, Vol.III starts in July 1914 and ends in October 1914.
The Times Documentary History of the War, Vol. IV covers November–December 1914.
The Times Documentary History of the War, Vol. VII covers January–February 1915.
The British Library Electronic Theses Online Service has a number of theses about various aspects of the war at sea that can be directly downloaded from their site. Registration for the service is required, but this is free.
The Genesis of a Cruiser Navy: British First-Class Cruiser Development 1884 – 1909, Lindgren, S.M. (Ph.D., University of Salford, 2013)
International Law at Sea, Economic Warfare, and Britain’s Response to the German U-boat Campaign during the First World War, Russell, Bruce (Ph.D., Open University, 2007)
The Invasion Question: Admiralty plans to defend the British Isles, 1888-1918, Morgan-Owen, David Gethin (Ph.D., University of Exeter, 2013)
The Making of the Royal Naval Officer Corps 1860-1914, Jones, Mary (Ph.D., University of Exeter, 2000)
The Royal Navy’s Fuel Supplies 1898-1939: the Transition from Coal to Oil, Brown, Warwick Michael (Ph.D., King’s College London, 2003)
Selection and Early Career Education of Executive Officers in the Royal Navy 1902-1939, Romans, Elinor Frances (Ph.D., University of Exeter, 2012)
Underwater Weapons and the Royal Navy: 1869-1918, Cowpe, A. (Ph.D., Kings College London, 1980)
War Planning and Strategic Development in the Royal Navy, 1887-1918, Grimes, Shawn (Ph.D., King’s College London, 2004)
The Naval Review is essential reading for anyone interested in the war at sea during the First World War. Set up by serving naval officers in 1912, it was initially frowned upon by the Admiralty, but is now the only service journal in which members can write without prior approval of the MOD. Published quarterly, its archive of past issues is open to all at no cost and contains a significant number of articles about the First World War.
There are many sites on the web containing details of the ships which served during the First World War. The following is a selection of what I think are the best.
Naval-history.net has a listing of almost all the vessels that served in the Royal Navy during the war with brief details about each ship.
The site also includes the Admiralty Estimates from 1919.
Dreadnoughtproject.org is also an excellent source of detailed information about over 1,600 warships from between 1880-1920.
German-navy.de has basic information about all ships in the German navy during the First World War.
The Navy Records Society publishes a wide range of important naval documents and personal papers many of which are available to buy as PDFs.Key collections of interest include:
Maps and plans of British dockyards and ports taken from the Dock Book, published by the British Admiralty in 1909.
Principal Events 1914–1918 is one of the most comprehensive chronologies of the war and was produced as part of the British official history.
Gordon Smith, who runs Naval-history.net, has put the official chronology in a format with a separate section for naval events making them much easier to find.