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Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleets in Great War (WWI, European War, World War 1)

Updated on February 5, 2015
Vice-Admiral Sir John Jellicoe's flagship, 'Iron Duke', being coaled at sea.  Inset: Vice-Admiral Jellicoe himself.
Vice-Admiral Sir John Jellicoe's flagship, 'Iron Duke', being coaled at sea. Inset: Vice-Admiral Jellicoe himself. | Source

Jellicoe's Links With The Sea

John Rushworth Jellicoe belonged to the sea, not only because of heredity, but also due to his service from his early years.

Some way back in his family history one can find Admiral Patton, an ancestor who held high office at the Admiralty in Nelson's day. His father was Captain J. H. Jellicoe, a director and commodore, of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company.

  • 1859 - December 5th - John was born within sight and sound of the sea at Southampton.

He also spent his school-days at Rottingdean, on the Sussex coast.

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Rottingdean, Surrey, United Kingdom. John Jellicoe schooldays.

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John Jellicoe birthplace

Royal Navy 1811-1914

High Ability When A Boy

  • 1872 - July 15th - John Jellicoe entered the Navy as a cadet at the age of 12. He quickly showed he had that type of mind which would distinguish him as one of the finest gunnery experts of his time.

He passed out of the training ship 'Britannia' with a plethora of prizes and some hundred marks more than any of his fellow cadets.

  • 1878 - December 5th - he was gazetted a sub-lieutenant on his 19th birthday.
  • 1880 - August 23rd - he secured his lieutenancy, with a "triple-first" certificate.
  • 1883 - he was awarded the special £80 prize for gunnery lieutenants, at the Royal Naval College at Greenwich.
  • 1886 - he secured his first medal - the silver medal of the Board of Trade - for gallantry in saving life at sea, while serving on board the 'Monarch'. Commanding a gig, near Gibraltar, he took it, in heavy seas, to the assistance of a stranded merchantman.

From this time he served in the 'Colossus' and on the gunnery staff of the 'Excellent'.

  • 1891 - June 30th - he was promoted to the rank of commander.

He became assistant to the Director of Naval Ordnance and then first lieutenant of the 'Sans Pariel'.

Admiral Sir john Jellicoe, Commander-in-Chief, British Fleet. He is fifty-five years old,, entering the Navy in 1872. In 1912 he became Vice-President of the Superior Council of the British Navy.
Admiral Sir john Jellicoe, Commander-in-Chief, British Fleet. He is fifty-five years old,, entering the Navy in 1872. In 1912 he became Vice-President of the Superior Council of the British Navy. | Source

What was Mediterranean fever?

Mediterranean Fever will probably be better known to you as Brucellosis.

This is a bacterial infection contracted from farm animals, such as cattle, goats, sheep and pigs, and products therefrom. The most likely cause was from consuming unpasteurised dairy product, such as milk, or maybe fresh goat cheese.

Jellicoe's Escape from the "Victoria" Disaster

  • 1893 - June - the future admiral came before the public eye, after Admiral Sir George Tryon's flagship, the 'Victoria', was rammed by the 'Camperdown' and sank with the loss of the admiral, twenty-one officers, and three hundred and fifty men.

Fortuitously for Jellicoe he was on 'Victoria's' sick list at the time, afflicted with Mediterranean fever.

When the collision occurred, Jellicoe went down, but came up again. With the assistance of Midshipman West, he kept afloat till help arrived. It was at this time that he lost his first medal, which it was told apocryphally, the Board of Trade offered to replace if he paid for it!

Deutschlands Hochseeflotte 1914 / German Imperial Navy 1914

British Royal Navy

Jellicoe's Work During the "Boxer" Troubles

There followed a period of service as commander of the 'Ramillies', on the Mediterranean station.

  • 1897 - January 1st - Jellicoe was promoted captain, and joined the Ordnance Committee.
  • 1898 - he was appointed Flag Captain to Admiral Sir Edward H. Seymour, in the 'Centurion', on the China Station.
  • 1900 - Captain Jellicoe was put in command of the mixed naval brigade sent to the relief of the Legations in Pekin, at the outset of the Boxer Uprising.
    His force fought its way as far as Peitsang, about thirty miles beyond Tien-tsin. Here it was attacked by the enemy in overwhelming strength. It was compelled to fall back on Tien-tsin.
    In the rearguard action Captain Jellicoe was severely wounded. He was fortunate to survive, as the surgeons thought he would lose the use of his left arm, at best.

Admiral Seymour's despatches on the China operations contained the following tribute:

"Captain John R. Jellicoe, my flag captain, was, as always, of most valuable help, both by his judgment and action, till disabled by a serious wound at the Battle of Peitsang, on June 21st."

American comment was as admiring as that of Admiral Seymour; and the Kaiser bestowed upon him the Second Class of the Order of the Red Eagle, with crossed swords.

  • 1901 - November - Captain Jellicoe became Superintendent of Naval Contracts.
  • 1901 - he married Florence Gwendoline, a daughter of Sir Charles Cayzer, head of the Clan Line of steamships.

British & German Battle-Cruisers

Dying Battleships

Raising the Effectiveness of Gunnery in the Fleet

Jellicoe acted as assistant to the Controller of the Navy for a period.

  • 1903 - August - Captain Jellicoe was commander of the armed cruiser 'Drake', which took a leading position as one of the best shooting ships in the Navy.
  • 1905 - he became Director of Naval Ordnance and Torpedoes, as one of "Jacky Fisher's" men. Within twelve months of his appointment the percentage of hits per round in the naval gunnery tests was raised from forty-two to seventy.
  • 1906 - he became a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (C.V.O).
  • 1907 - February 8th - he was promoted to the rank of rear-admiral, and hoisted his flag in the 'Albemarle'.

After that he became second in command of the Atlantic Fleet and a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (K.C.V.O).

  • 1908 - he was Third Sea Lord and Controller of the Navy.
  • 1910 - he became Commander of the Atlantic Fleet.
  • 1911 - he was given the command of the second squadron of the Home Fleet, with the rank of vice-admiral, and the Knight Commander of the Bath (K.C.B.)
  • 1912 - he became Second Sea Lord.
  • 1913 - he raided Grimsby, the Humber, Sunderland, and Blyth, during naval manoeuvres, creating a veritable sensation, with a force considerably inferior in strength to that of his opposition.

Admiral Sir John Rushworth Jellicoe. K.C.B.. K.C.V.O.
Admiral Sir John Rushworth Jellicoe. K.C.B.. K.C.V.O. | Source

'Iron Duke' - flagship of the British Grand Fleet

Commander-in-chief of the Home Fleets

  • 1914 - July - it was announced that Vice-Admiral Sir John Jellicoe would be Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleets, at the end of the year, in succession to Admiral Sir George Callaghan.
  • 1914 - August - the outbreak of the Great War precipitated the official notification that Vice-Admiral Jellicoe had been appointed to the supreme command of the Home Fleets, with the acting rank of admiral, with Rear-Admiral Charles E. Madden, as his Chief of Staff.

Co-incidentally, Rear-Admiral Madden was married to one of Lady Jellicoe's sisters.

On his appointment King George V. sent the following message to Sir John:

"At this grave moment in our national history I send to you, and through you to the officers and men of the Fleets of which you have assumed command, the assurance of my confidence that under your direction they will revive and renew the old glories of the Royal Navy, and prove once again the sure shield of Britain and of her Empire in the hour of trial."

Admiral Sir John Jellicoe hoisted his flag in the 'Iron Duke'. He had long inspired confidence with those that knew him.

Jellicoe was not a tall man. He was clean-shaven, had alert, grey eyes, strongly-shaped jaw, and was decisive of speech. He was a typical British naval officer of the time; a trained seaman, devoted in body, mind, and soul to the British Senior Service, to which he belonged.

He had been, if not instrumental, fundamental in shaping the British Fleet of which he assumed command.

Between him and his Chief of Staff, Sir Charles Madden, there was an absolute accord on matters of strategy and tactics. Both had been members of the famous 'Dreadnought Design Committee'. Fortunately for Britain, Sir John's appointment came just when he was at the zenith of his capabilities.

H.M.S. Iron Duke. One of the most powerful of British Dreadnoughts. Built in 1912, she had a length of 620 feet over all, displacement with full load, 26,400 tons, and was armed with ten 13-5 in. guns plus sixteen smaller guns and four torpedo-tubes.
H.M.S. Iron Duke. One of the most powerful of British Dreadnoughts. Built in 1912, she had a length of 620 feet over all, displacement with full load, 26,400 tons, and was armed with ten 13-5 in. guns plus sixteen smaller guns and four torpedo-tubes. | Source

Battleships of World War 1

Great Silent Naval Victory

Whilst the land forces of Sir John French were embarking for France, the British Fleet, under Admiral Jellicoe, had won an overwhelming victory against the German Fleet.

Apart from repelling an attack by a submarine flotilla in which H.M.S. 'Birmingham' sank the German submarine U 15, the British Fleet, had, pretty much, strangled the sea-borne commerce of Germany, without a blow.

This had occurred in less than a week. Effectively they'd inflicted all of the consequences of a naval defeat upon them.

The German Navy had not ventured on any significant engagement. Britain's only damage was the wreck of H.M.S. 'Amphion', caused by a floating mine on August 6th, rather than a coming together of the Fleets.

Against this, one can measure the destruction of the German mine-layer, the SS 'Königin Luise', by British gunners on August 5th.

On the evening of August 14th the British Fleet, under Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, had won a victory of inestimable importance over the German Navy - the second most formidable sea-power in the world.

In spite of the menace of such an hostile fleet, with scouting aeroplanes and secret submarines, Field-Marshal Sir John French was able to disembark at Boulogne, following the British army that had landed in France.

"Clash of Steel Monsters" World War 1

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    • humahistory profile image
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      Chaz 3 years ago from UK

      Thanks again, Graham, much appreciated. Glad to have maybe aided for future offerings.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 3 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi Chaz. Excellent as usual. Thanks for your previous words of encouragement, I will try to improve my understanding. Meanwhile carry on with your excellent work. You will be picked up by the other military buffs soon.

      Voted up and all.

      Graham.