The Papers of Admiral Sir John Fisher
This collection of documents is restricted to official papers written by (or at the instigation of) Admiral Sir John Fisher, first Baron Fisher (1841-1920) in his capacity as First Sea Lord 1904-1910.
Fisher was convinced of the inevitability of war with Germany. All his volcanic energy was directed to reforming the Royal Navy and preparing it for that war. The Edwardian Royal Navy which he inherited in 1904 was, for all its swank and circumstance, a moribund organization with an administrative apathy that stretched from the Admiralty downwards. His arrival came like a thunderclap upon both the Admiralty and the Navy and his shock tactics rocked the Service to its foundations. The scale and pace of his reforming achievements were astonishing. ‘But the Navy was not a pleasant place while this was going on’ (Churchill).
Fisher’s reforms were achieved at a cost. Predictably, these changes were anathema for many of the Old Guard. But many modern, thinking officers were alienated by Fisher’s absolute intolerance of contrary views. Fisher made no attempt to accommodate other opinions. Men who questioned his views were enemies to be crushed. Individual critics were ‘damnable skunks’ or ‘pestilent pimps’. The Admiralty had never seen the like. The cost was deep dissention throughout the officer corps of the Royal Navy. However, Winston Churchill, who recalled Fisher in 1914 for what proved a fatal experience for both men, judged Fisher as ‘a man truly great despite his idiosyncrasies and truly good despite his violence’.
Volume Two contains the Admiralty War Plans issued in 1907. Kemp cautions that these were war plans and not war orders. The Admiralty at this time provided only outline plans for given circumstances; commanders-in-chief were to produce their own war orders within this framework. These War Plans appear to be based on rudimentary war games played at Portsmouth Naval War College in 1905, 1906 and 1907, the scenarios for which were wholly unrealistic. They may have been hurriedly compiled to confound Lord Charles Beresford’s claim that the Admiralty had no war plans. The War Plans reflect a lack of realism and understanding of the capabilities of modern naval ships and weapons only seven years before Britain and Germany eventually went to war.
Peter K. Kemp was educated in the Royal Naval colleges of Osbourne and Dartmouth. He served mainly in submarines until losing a leg in an accident in 1928. During World War II he was recalled to service in the Naval Intelligence Division, serving in the U-boat tracking room in the Operational Intelligence Centre. In the five years before and five years after the war he was a member of The Times editorial staff. In 1950 he was appointed Head of the Naval Historical Staff, Admiralty Archivist and Librarian, a post he occupied until 1968. Between 1952 and 1962 he was also editor of the RUSI Journal. He dies on 15 March 1992.