Tag Archives: WWI

The Advent of Naval Dazzle Camouflage

By Mark Wood

During WWI, maritime artist and naval officer Norman Wilkinson proposed that the answer to the growing U-Boat threat, rather than concealment, was for a ship to expose itself to the enemy.

At the commencement of WWI, anti-submarine warfare theory was still in its infancy. There were no instruction manuals on submarine tracking, nor had sub-surface weapons been developed to counter the threat posed by submarines. The initial German U-Boat campaign of 1914 against Britain’s Grand Fleet proved highly successful, resulting in the sinking of nine British warships by the end of the year, including the cruisers Aboukir and Cressy, and the battleship Formidable.

This disastrous beginning to the war forced the Royal Navy to seek safer anchorages off Donegal on Ireland’s North Atlantic coast. The following year, Germany’s campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare saw a dramatic escalation of attacks, and corresponding losses to the Allied merchant fleets. During the first six months of the war only 19 merchant vessels had been lost to U-Boat activity, however in January 1915 alone, the same amount of tonnage was sunk as was destroyed in the previous six months of conflict.

Allied navies resorted to arming trawlers and merchantmen, and some basic tactical instruction was disseminated detailing ideas to counter the U-boat threat, including heading into the line of attack, and attempting to ram hostile submarines.

It was not until 1917 that a Royal Navy officer wrote to the admiralty in London with what he considered might be a possible solution. Norman Wilkinson was a successful painter of maritime seascapes, and an artist for the Illustrated London News, who had set his career aside in 1915 to join the Royal Navy, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. After submarine service in the Mediterranean, he was transferred to mine-sweeping duties in home waters and it was at this point that his idea for a radical form of effective camouflage began to take shape.

Naval camouflage was not a revolutionary idea. The ancient fleets of the Greeks and Romans had experimented with painting their vessels in shades of blue and green to blend with the surface and horizon, and in the early 20th century, navies of the United States and Europe stipulated shades of grey or off-white in accordance with shipping regulations in an attempt to do the same.

Wilkinson’s idea for dazzle camouflage ran contrary to previous thinking. Instead of attempting to hide vessels from enemy view, he intended that they should be highly visible with the key aim of sowing confusion in the mind of the attacker.

During early submarine operations, the task of computing a fire control solution for a U-Boat commander was a manual process. The target intercept course for a torpedo was calculated using slide rules and based on visual tracking of the current position, course, speed, and range of the vessel to be attacked. This problem was further complicated by the fact that the average speed of a torpedo was between 35 and 45 knots, only moderately faster than most warships of the age, therefore plotting information from a visual fix could be inaccurate at best.

Wilkinson reasoned that geometric dazzle patterns painted on ships would take advantage of the complexity in gauging the optimum firing solution for a torpedo by masking a vessel’s true course and speed, thereby confusing the commanders of German U-Boats and deceiving them into miscalculating the submarine’s fire position.

Submarine commander’s periscope view of a merchant ship in dazzle camouflage (left) and the same ship uncamouflaged (right). (Wikimedia Commons)

The bold patterns and extremes of color used in his designs, particularly at the bow and stern would disrupt the visual shape of a vessel, distorting perspective and falsely suggesting that a ship’s smokestacks or superstructure pointed in a different direction than it truly was.

Painted bow curves suggested a bow wave and oblique lines in stripes at the corresponding angles of bow or stern could give the illusion of shortening the vessels length, again confusing the computations of a ship’s attacker. Wilkinson’s ideas borrowed from modernist art concepts of cubism (indeed Picasso, in conversation with the American poet and novelist Gertrude Stein, claimed that the Cubist movement should take credit for its invention), the school of futurism, and its short-lived offshoot, vorticism.

The admiralty initially considered a number of proposals for camouflage schemes, including those from U.S. artist Abbot H. Thayer, whose theories of what he termed “concealing coloration” and “counter shading” were published in 1896 in the Journal of the American Ornithologists Union and are now known as Thayer’s Law. This law was based on the scientist’s many years of observing fauna across the continents of North and South America and concludes that animals are generally dark on top with white under surfaces. Seen from a distance this tends to cancel out the bright sunlight from above and shadow beneath, thereby effectively concealing an animal from potential predators. Thayer demonstrated his ideas to the Department of the U.S. Navy in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, however hostilities came to an end before his proposals could be acted upon.

A Scottish zoologist, John Graham Kerr, developed a keen interest in Thayer’s theories and after meeting in London during the 1890s the two remained lifelong friends, with Thayer forwarding a copy of his book Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom to Kerr in 1914. Kerr’s own approach focused on two main interpretations of his own zoological studies combined with Thayer’s. In compensated shading, a theory he elaborated as “All deep shadows should be picked out in the most brilliant white paint and where there is a gradually deepening shadow, this should be eliminated by gradually shading off the paint from the ordinary grey to pure white.” He suggested a further camouflage scheme he named “parti coloring” which anticipated modern “disruptive pattern” concealment by emphasizing the need to break up the outline of ships by using “strongly contrasting shades.”

 Models of the British passenger liner Mauretania demonstrate the effects of dazzle camouflage in comparison with a plain grey color scheme, when seen from the same line of direction. Photographed circa 1918. The camouflage scheme seen here was eventually not used on Mauretania. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.)

While both Thayer and Kerr clearly pioneered the ideas that formed the basis of dazzle camouflage, it was the ideas of Norman Wilkinson that the admiralty board eventually adopted. In recognition of his efforts a post-war award of £2000 was given to him, acknowledging him as the inventor of dazzle camouflage.

The Second World War

Despite the evidence, there was at the time no consensus as to the advantage of using dazzle camouflage, however, Allied naval authorities were sufficiently impressed to continue to employ the idea on both warships and their respective merchant fleets in WWII. The Imperial German Navy had shown little interest in camouflaging their vessels during the Great War and it wasn’t until the Second World War during the invasion of Norway in 1940 that the Germans embraced the possibility of employing the dazzle concept. Photographic evidence of the period shows the hull of the Bismarck painted in a monochrome pattern of dark grey or black and white stripes continuing up onto the superstructure, with the prow and stern area painted black. The intention was to disguise the length of the battleship, creating the impression of a smaller vessel. The heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen was almost identically camouflaged along the waist with extremes of the bow and stern also painted in black, and the battleships Scharnhorst and Admiral Scheer adopted individual dazzle patterns to mask their identities from Allied naval forces. For whatever reason the Kriegsmarine returned to the format of light or dark grey overall for all warships after 1941, whether the senior staff of Oberkommando der Marine were skeptical of the capabilities of geometric camouflage, or whether there were other reasons for the return to pre-war coloring, remains open to debate.

German battleship Bismarck in a Norwegian fjord, 21 May 1941, shortly before departing for her Atlantic sortie. Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Location is probably Grimstadfjord, just south of Bergen. Bismarck’s camouflage was painted over before she departed the area. (NHHC # NH 69720)

While the German navy discarded dazzle camouflage in the early stages of the war, the Allied navies continued its widespread use throughout hostilities until 1945. After continued analytical and evaluative groundwork at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington D.C., dazzle camouflage was deemed to be of merit and a phased roll-out was endorsed across respective fleets. In contrast to the Kriegsmarine’s employment of marine camouflage, as an anti-ship/submarine initiative, the U.S. Navy and to a lesser extent the navies of Britain and Canada attempted to use the bold patterns to disrupt attacks by enemy air assets as well as surface ships and submarines. By continuing the geometric shapes across the decks and superstructures of warships. Each ship was painted in its own distinctive camouflage to prevent the enemy from identifying a class of ship, resulting in a diverse array of patterns which made it considerably more difficult to evaluate its effectiveness.

The U.S. Navy implemented the scheme across most classes of vessel from minesweepers and patrol craft to aircraft carriers. Rigorous design, planning and testing was applied to each pattern and a standardized range of colors and shapes were instituted and applied across all theaters including the Pacific, specifically against the Kamikaze threat.

Camouflage pattern sheet, Measures 31- 32-33, Design 3A, for Essex (CV-9) class carriers. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships/Wikimedia Commons)

The Royal Navy’s use of dazzle commenced at the beginning of 1940 and was considerably less organised. The admiralty adopted a somewhat laissez-faire attitude to the idea and paint schemes were unofficial and individual to each vessel. It was not until later in the war that the admiralty saw fit to take a more serious view of dazzle camouflage and the navy’s concealment specialists devised geometric patterns which became known as the Western Approaches Schemes, to be employed against the sub-sea threat in the Atlantic. The initiative was developed, and the Admiralty Intermediate Disruptive Pattern was employed in 1942 and was superseded in 1944 by the Admiralty Standard Schemes.

The proliferation of black and white photographic images which have been left to historical posterity, while starkly delineating the vivid lines and curves of dazzle camouflage, are unable to convey the range of color and tone so important to the process of deception. Striking shades of blues, reds, greens and purples contrasted with the light and dark grays which made the experiment so effective.

Eventually post-war technological advances in rangefinding equipment and radar rendered dazzle camouflage largely obsolete, and it fell out of favor in post-war naval thinking.

Was Dazzle Camouflage Effective?

Establishing the effectiveness of Wilkinson’s ideas is almost impossible, not least due to the sheer number of variables to be considered such as color, pattern, and the combination of sizes of ships, vessel speed, and the anti-submarine evasion tactics used. An article in the April 1919 edition of Popular Science considered dazzle camouflage an effective tactic in confusing U-Boat commanders although only at short range and less so than what it termed “low visibility” camouflage.

Arguments continue into the present as to the results of gaudy geometric shapes in protecting ships at sea, but it might certainly be considered the most striking example of art being used to develop a solution in war.

While the United States Navy declared in 1918 that statistical evidence suggested less than one percent of merchant vessels painted in dazzle were sunk, these claims are difficult to substantiate. The testimony of U-Boat commanders who had launched attacks against merchant vessels painted in dazzle camouflage suggests that it was a highly effective countermeasure, even to the point of confusing the issue of the type of ships being attacked and the number of vessels in a convoy. Those convoys that were hit suffered less serious damage than those  that were not camouflaged.

While debate over the capabilities of dazzle camouflage continues among naval historians, perhaps the final word should come from the man who officially invented the concept. In an article published in 1920 in the Journal of the Royal Society of the Arts, Norman Wilkinson stated that “The German Admiralty had dazzle painted a liner and had attached her to the submarine training depot at Kiel,” while at the close of hostilities, “a number of the surrendered submarines were painted in precisely the same manner as our merchant vessels.” It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it is this observation by Norman Wilkinson that may answer the question of the worth of dazzle camouflage.

Mark Wood served 15 years in the communications branch of the Royal Navy, with further service in HM Coastguard. After leaving the military he qualified as a history teacher and divides his time between the education sector and working as a freelance writer for military history magazines and websites. Mark is also currently engaged on the Royal Navy First World War Lives at Sea project as a volunteer with the UK’s National Archives.

Featured Image: French cruiser Gloire in dazzle camouflage. (Department of the Navy, Naval Photographic Center)

China’s Base in Djibouti: Lessons from Germany’s Asian Colonialism

China’s Defense & Foreign Policy Topic Week

By Pawel Behrendt

The opening of the Chinese military base in Djibouti on August 1st is a landmark event; China finally has its first overseas military outpost. The parallel of similar activities undertaken by the Germans in China at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries is noteworthy for offering lessons on the relationship between force structure, maritime strategy, and overseas basing.

Djibouti is strategically located on the African shore of the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, which separates the Indian Ocean from the Red Sea, making it proximate to one of the most important sea routes linking China with Europe. For years this small country has hosted military bases of foreign powers such as France, the United States, and Japan. Over the past decade, the existing facilities have offered crucial support to forces fighting Somali pirates. China takes part in this mission, too. However, with the development of the Belt and Road Initiative Djibouti has started to play a vital role on the Maritime Silk Road of the 21st century. Since about the year 2000 China has striven to build and secure its own presence in the Indian Ocean basin. After successfully establishing footholds in Pakistan (Gwadar) and Sri Lanka (Hambantota), the next logical step of the Belt and Road Initiative was at the doorstep of the Suez Canal – Djibouti.

Nevertheless, the news of the intention to build a Chinese base came as a surprise in mid-2015. Negotiations proceeded quickly, an agreement was signed in January 2016. The $600 million project was launched the following year. Works on the main body of the facility have already finished, but other parts are still under construction. In reality nobody knows how complex the base is going to be. The first convoy carrying troops to Djibouti departed on July 12 from the port city of Zhanjiang. The base was officially opened on August 1, a very symbolic date – the 90th anniversary of PLA. Beijing is reluctant to use the term ‘military base’ and instead refers to it as a “support facility” that will provide logistical support to forces taking part in UN missions in Africa and the anti-pirate operation. The existing agreement allows the PRC to station 6,000-10,000 troops (sources vary) until 2026. An additional bonus to Djibouti is a $14 billion infrastructure project.

The meaning of the first Chinese overseas base, however, goes far beyond the Silk Road and commerce. China has gained the ability, however limited it may be, to project power in the still unstable Middle East while also strengthening its position against India. Additionally, there are issues of prestige: the PRC has joined the small group of powers that maintain overseas bases. This is very important for a nation that is increasingly self-confident and aims to become a leading power. What most likely accelerated the decision to acquire overseas bases was the Arab Spring of 2011. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) was unable to evacuate Chinese citizens from revolution-torn Yemen and Libya and was forced to ask the U.S. and France for help. Both the Chinese leadership and many ordinary citizens regarded this as humiliation. Thus the buildup of the PLAN initiated in the early 21st century gained wider support and was indicated as one of the key objectives of the modernization and reorganization of the Chinese military. What’s more, a strong navy is seen as a mark of the status of a great power and as a crucial factor in securing crucial sea lines of communication (SLOCs). It must be pointed out that around 80 percent of Chinese oil imports come via the Strait of Malacca. The numbers are even more impressive when it comes to trade: despite extensive land infrastructure programs, around 99 percent of trade exchange with Europe is seaborne.

Historical Parallels with Germany’s Asian Colonialism

It is worth asking whether China really needs an overseas base and what are the chances of sustaining it in the event of a full-scale conflict. Very interesting conclusions come from the history of German colonial presence in Asia. The topic of obtaining an overseas base in Asia was brought up for the first time during the German Revolutions of 1848/49. The colonial idea found many advocates at the National Assembly in Frankfurt. This was connected with the brutal opening of the states of Asia to the world. The Far East was at that time a “Promised Land” where one could sell any amount of cheap European products and in exchange buy valuable tea, silk, and porcelain. However, for exactly half a century since the issue had been raised, Germany had done nothing to get an overseas base, even though the topic kept coming back like a boomerang. The reason was that the “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck saw core German interests in Europe and was strongly against any “colonial adventures” that could antagonize Great Britain.

The situation changed in the late 19th century. Germany was an emerging power striving for a “place under the sun.” The young emperor Wilhelm II was determined to turn Germany into a global power and initiated the “Weltpolitik” (world politics), challenging Great Britain and France. The Kaiser was also influenced by the theories of Alfred Thayer Mahan. He had several copies of The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660–1783, and the margins of one of them were densely covered with notes and commentaries. Thus Wilhelm II had a scientific leverage for his passions: a strong navy and colonies. He found a big ally in Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz. This politically talented officer was a supporter of the ideas of a naval buildup and obtaining an overseas base in China. What’s more, he was able to convince the Reichstag (parliament) to allocate huge sums of money for this purpose.

The dream of a foothold in the Far East came true in 1898. That is when China and Germany signed a treaty which leased the small fishing village of Qingdao (then Tsingtau or Tsingtao) to the Germans for 99 years. Within 16 years Qingdao evolved into one of the biggest ports of China. There was also a fierce discussion what to do with the overseas base. In official documents the term “Gibraltar of the Far East” began to appear. The German Admiralty wanted to create a mighty fortress and naval base. However, Admiral Tirpitz had different ideas. He was well aware that a globally meaningful Navy had yet to be built, and in the event of war the chances of coming to the rescue of the fortress were negligible. He thought holding Qingdao rested on good relations with Japan. Vice Admiral Friedrich von Ingenhol agreed; he bluntly said that in a full-scale war the base would be useless. Thus Tirpitz decided to create an equivalent of Hong Kong, an important trade port and a center promoting German culture. In this field the Germans managed to achieve quite a lot of success, creating—among other things—one of the first resorts in Asia.

1912 German map of Qingdao.

The admirals’ predictions came true, Japan decided that fighting alongside the Entente was more beneficial than remaining neutral or siding with Germany. So Qingdao played virtually no role in World War I and fell in November 1914 after a two month siege by joint Japanese and British forces. Similarly, the huge fleet of battleships built with a tremendous effort and use of resources, a fleet second only to the Royal Navy, stayed in its bases for most of the war. Tirpitz himself said, after he learned about the outbreak of war, that the Hochseeflotte (High Seas Fleet) would be useless. The main reason was geography. To rule the waves (and support distant basing) any navy needs unobstructed access to the ocean. Meanwhile, the North Sea and thus the main ports of Germany are separated from the Atlantic by the British Isles and Shetland Islands. This allowed the British to establish the effective distant blockade of Germany in 1914 and—save for the battle of Jutland (in German: Skagerrakschlacht)—avoid a major confrontation. The German Navy failed to find a counter for this strategy and as early as 1915 the naval war was ceded to the light forces and submarines. Neither the powerful shipbuilding industry nor the strong merchant fleet, nor the rich maritime traditions of northern Germany, were able to overcome the shortcomings of geography. The same scenario was repeated during World War II even despite the occupation of ports in France and Norway. Germany had remained a land power, and Britain, by virtue of being the dominant sea power, could maintain a network of meaningful military infrastructure across the globe.

China’s Present Challenge and Geographical Constraints

Despite being located on the opposite end of Eurasia, China faces the same problem as Germany due to the crucial role of geography separating the mainland from the Pacific Ocean. The first island chain comprises the Kuril Islands, the Japanese Archipelago, the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, the Philippines, and the western shore of Borneo. The area thus inscribed includes waters directly adjacent to the Chinese coast. Despite the enormous resources invested in the fleet, the PLAN is only now starting to operate outside this border. More southwards China is separated from the Indian Ocean by the Malay Peninsula and the islands of Indonesia. There are also three “bottlenecks” determining maritime traffic between East Asia and Indian Ocean and Europe: the Straits of Malacca, Sunda, and Lombok.

Most of these strategic points on the map are controlled by the United States or its allies. For this reason, China has decided to create A2/AD (anti access / area deny) zones in the East and South China Sea that are to limit the space for adversary maneuver. Moreover, an intensive naval buildup is supposed to make any confrontation too risky by introducing a capability to project power beyond A2/AD zones adjacent to the mainland. In numbers the PLAN is now second only to the U.S. Navy. This resembles similar actions undertaken by Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. The U.S. response is also considering surprisingly similar to the countermeasures used by the British. Scenarios of military exercises conducted in the western Pacific by the United States and its allies do not imply a strike against the Chinese Navy and coast per se, but rather impose a distant naval blockade based on the first island chain.

There are also differences. Tirpitz was an advocate of the fleet-in-being doctrine, wherein the fleet by its existence alone puts pressure on the enemy. Such a theory resulted in building battleships which were not useless but rather not used. The Chinese leadership, among whom Mahan’s theories are gaining popularity like they once did in the German Empire, have learned this lesson. The buildup of the PLAN, besides including impressive programs like aircraft carriers and SSBNs, concentrates on SSKs, SSNs, and surface combatant escorts. The latter are related to the pursuit of strategic security on the maritime routes leading to and from China. Chinese admirals also do not claim to be interested in the fleet-in-being concept. The naval development plan has been described as being divided into stages corresponding to obtaining the ability to conduct operations beyond the subsequent island chains. Currently the stage of going beyond the “first chain” is underway.

The question is whether in the case of a hypothetical war against the U.S. and its allies the PLAN would be able to go beyond the safe haven of A2/AD zones and break through the blockade. Such an operation is feasible, but it would involve significant losses. In addition, the blockade is rarely carried out by the main force. Thus after the “defenders” break out into the open the fresh main force of “attackers” is already waiting for them.

The base in Djibouti is very unlikely to provide any sufficient relief. This is the case not only in the event of a confrontation with the United States, but also a confrontation with India whose prime location would allow it to freshly contest the PLAN if were to succeed in breaking through Asia’s maritime chokepoints.

Conclusion

China is geographically and historically a land power. As has been the case with Germany and Russia, a blue water navy can be an expensive sign of prestige and great power status rather than a real weapon of war. Power projection for a high seas fleet in a benign, peacetime environment is a different matter entirely. Germany’s historical experience with maintaining distant naval infrastructure reveals that such basing is often irrelevant in full-scale war and virtually impossible to sustain or defend against assault. China’s navy will need to grow significant capacity and capability if China wishes to continue establishing distant military bases for the purpose of projecting power while hoping to retain them in conflict. Alternatively, China could moderate its overseas ambitions by accepting that such bases are indefensible and whose loss should be affordable so long as China’s naval power projection can be checked by potential adversaries in both the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Pawel Behrendt is a Ph.D. candidate at the Faculty of Political Science of the University of Vienna, an expert at the Poland-Asia Research Center, and Deputy Chief Editor of Konflikty.

Featured Image: Chinese troops stage a live-fire drill in Djibouti. (Handout)

Book Review: Andrew Gordon’s The Rules of the Game

Gordon, Andrew. The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2013, reprint ed. 708pp. $34.95

9780141980324

By Captain Dale Rielage

There is always interest, and usually value, in reading what the boss is reading. Since General Al Gray established the Marine Corps reading list in the late 1980s, reading lists have proliferated across the military services. The Marine Corps Library website lists more than twenty. While the original Marine Corps reading list bore General Gray’s own unique stamp, today most military reading lists feel like the product of a committee – because most are – developed with an eye towards representing every facet and constituency in their institution. What has personally informed and moved a thoughtful warrior, however, is more interesting than the consensus of any committee…which is why, for example, Admiral Stavridis’s reading recommendations are always worth taking aboard. Earlier this month, one of my colleagues made reference to the classic work The Rules of the Game. His comment sent me back to my bookshelf. There, in the recent Naval Institute reprint edition, I noticed an epigraph that escaped my attention years ago:

This edition has been brought to publication with the generous assistance of VADM John M. Richardson, USN, Commander, Submarine Force, and VADM Peter H. Daly, USN (ret.) CEO, US Naval Institute, in the interest of helping put this book in the hands of current and future naval professionals.

It is one thing for a book to make an official reading list, but when the (then) future Chief of Naval Operations is willing to help a book to remain in print, it bears a second look. What any particular senior officer saw in this volume I can only speculate, but a couple lost weekends later, it is clear that Rules of the Game speaks to the most profound challenges facing the U.S. Navy.

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On the surface, a 600-plus page (708 pages with notes and appendixes) book about the Battle of Jutland seems an unlikely means to examine the established order of U.S. Navy command and control. The fight between the British Royal Navy and the German High Sea Fleet in the North Sea on 31 May and 1 June 1916 was the largest naval battle of World War I. This epic clash of dreadnought battleships is widely regarded as a draw, with neither side achieving clear victory. Gordon, however, turns the Royal Navy at Jutland into a long case study of the role of doctrine, training, centralization, initiative, and institutions in naval warfare. He begins his analysis as the fleet engagement at Jutland is starting, with the Battle Fleet and the Battle Cruiser Fleet, the two key combat formations that comprised the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet, getting underway from their respective homeports 200 miles from each other. So good was British naval intelligence in this era that the Grand Fleet weighed anchor in response to a planned German sortie more than four hours before the German High Sea Fleet reached the open sea.

As the narrative arrives at the moment enemy forces are in contact and key tactical decisions are being made, Gordon shifts his view back a century. In a 200 page excursion, he introduces the competing naval schools of thought and the resulting institutional habits and personal relationships that led to the British fleet acting as it did at Jutland.

Britain left the Napoleonic Wars with a navy second to none and a tradition of victory built on the aligned independence of Nelson’s band of brothers. Nelson’s famous flag hoist opening Trafalgar was the last he made during that battle – not because of his death, but because he needed no other. Shortly after the war, however, new visual signaling systems promised increasing control over the movements of forces in combat. In peacetime drills, these systems yielded reliable execution of complex maneuvers. However, the reality of how this signals system would work in combat was lost over decades. In the breach, smoke from engineering and gunnery, signal masts and halyards destroyed by gunfire, signalmen lost to shot and shell, and the sheer volume of communications in a fleet engagement would conspire to negate centralized command and control. The promise of centralized control and effective coordinated combat action, however, produced a deep influence on the Royal Navy.

In what Gordon memorably dubbed “the long lee of Trafalgar,” the Royal Navy continued to dominate the seas. Its officers retained the expectation of victory bequeathed them by their predecessors. That there had been no major fleet action in living memory was discussed, but rarely with concern. The French or Russian navies occasionally caused alarm, but no “peer competitor” called into question the fundamentals of the system – the rules of the game.

There was good reason for this comfort. By almost every metric, the Royal Navy in the second half of the nineteenth century was extraordinarily successful. Its officers were masters of seamanship and navigation and created the standard for contemporary and modern navies. Operating forward in defense of a worldwide empire, many Royal Navy officers had seen combat and had demonstrated personal courage and resourcefulness. Beatty, commander of the Battle Cruiser Fleet at Jutland, had earned distinction – and favorably impressed a young Winston Churchill – in littoral action using river gunboats to support ground forces in Egypt. Work to understand and incorporate new technologies proceeded apace, with a limited cadre of specialists articulating the new technology to the fleet at large. There were efforts to change operational culture, most prominently spearheaded by the driven and charismatic Admiral Sir George Tyron. Tyron advocated a looser form of control, emphasizing formations following the Commander’s intent as understood or expressed in the movements of his flagship. His untimely death in a collision at sea – ironically and unfairly blamed on his style of signaling – arrested reform efforts for decades.

Having allowed the German Fleet to avoid decisive battle and escape home, the Royal Navy left the field at Jutland with a sense of failure that grew as the war concluded. Denied the decisive fleet action they expected, senior British commanders engaged in decades of controversy over what signals were sent, received, intended, and expected. This controversy colors any discussion of the battle to this day. Gordon, however, seeks to move this discussion to a more profound level. While individual commanders executed the action at Jutland, their failure to exercise initiative at key moments was not truly an individual act. Indeed, Gordon asserts that the sudden exercise of tactical initiative would have been an unnatural rejection of the culture that had nurtured them through their entire professional lives.

In his final chapter, Gordon draws twenty-eight specific observations from the Jutland experience. They are directed toward the Royal Navy of the early 1990s, but will resonate with serving officers today. Gordon rails against command and control being driven by the tools of information processing. Absent deliberate restraint, every increase in the capacity to transmit information produces an increase in the amount of information transmitted – with the capacity of the senior to send information, rather than the capacity of the junior to assimilate information, driving the flow. The focus too easily becomes getting the mechanisms of communications right, believing that with that information dominance achieved, success in command and control ensues. Ready access to information and the ability to transmit orders raises the level of decision making further from the point of action. When these links fail – today from jamming, cyber attack, or destruction of communications satellites – it is folly to expect naval commanders in combat will suddenly be able to shed the culture in which they have been trained.

Gordon also highlights the difficulty of integrating new concepts and technologies into a peacetime navy. In the Royal Navy of 1900, enthusiasts for new technologies drove the stated purpose and design of new weapons – much like our navy today. Their specialized focus ignored or obscured real operational challenges to their systems. Once a new system or platform arrived in the Fleet, however, its integration and employment became the business of fleet officers who were and are often working from different approaches than the cadre of experts who designed it. As practical naval officers, they rarely set a capability aside as too flawed for use, but rather would often “make the best of it,” sometimes using the ship for an entirely different purpose than intended. At Jutland, the Royal Navy Battle Cruiser Fleet consisted of ships designed to mount heavy guns but limited armor. Their superior speed was intended to allow them to manage their range to more heavily protected enemies. In actual combat, managing this thin envelope of safety proved too difficult. 3,300 British sailors died in these ships – ten percent of all the British sailors who participated in the battle – in what Gordon aptly calls “a costly rediscovery of the designer’s terms of reference.”

That insight brings us to Gordon’s overarching theme – how the Royal Navy dealt with a long peace, technological change, and an emerging German challenge to its comfortable dominance of the maritime domain. It is a short leap to ask to what extent the U.S. Navy remains, to paraphrase, in the long lee of Midway. It is a question the service must be comfortable asking, whether or not the answers are comfortable.

Aside from its impact and insight, The Rules of the Game is delightfully written. Gordon has a knack for memorable turns of phrase and admirable clarity (if not economy) of expression that makes the long journey through his thinking as enjoyable as it is intriguing. Every naval professional’s bookshelf should have a well-thumbed copy of this volume.

Captain Rielage serves as Director for Intelligence and Information Operations for U.S. Pacific Fleet, the headquarters where the Midway operation was commanded and controlled. He has served as 3rd Fleet N2, 7th Fleet Deputy N2, Senior Intelligence Officer for China at the Office of Naval Intelligence and Director of the Navy Asia Pacific Advisory Group. His opinions do not represent those of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, or Department of the Navy.

Twenty-Eight Observations from The Rules of the Game
by Andrew Gordon

Lessons from the Battle of Jutland
31 May to 1 June 1916

1) In times of peace, empirical experience fades and rationalist theory takes its place.
2) The advent of new technology assists the discrediting of empirical doctrine.
3) The purveyors of new technology will be the most evangelizing rationalists.
4) Rationalism, unlike empiricism, tends to assume an accretion of vested interests.
5) The training establishment may try to ignore short bouts of empirical experience to preserve its ‘rationalist’ authority.
6) Military cultures impart doctrine by corporate ambience as much as by explicit teaching.
7) In long periods of peace, ‘ambient’ doctrine may be no more than the habits of years in which war has been forgotten.
8) If doctrine is not explicitly taught, vested interests will probably ensure that wrong doctrine is ambiently learned.
9) In peacetime, doctrine is vulnerable to commandeering by ‘systems lobbyists.’
10) Innovations adopted in accordance with peacetime doctrine may lock the Fleet into both systems and doctrine which will fail the empirical test of war.
11) Purveyors of technical systems will seek to define performance criteria and trials conditions.
12) A service which neglects to foster a conceptual grasp of specialized subjects will have too few warriors able to interrogate the specialists.
13) The volume of traffic expands to meet capacity.
14) Signals ‘capacity’ tends to be defined by how much the senior end can transmit rather than how much the junior end can conveniently assimilate.
15) Signal prioritizing mechanisms become dislocated in times of overload.
16) Incoming traffic can act as a brake on decision-making.
17) The more signals, the more the sun shines on signalers.
18) The ‘center’ must subject its own transmissions to the strictest self-denying ordinance.
19) Signaling promotes the centralization of authority.
20) There is an inverse law between robust doctrine and the need for signaling.
21) Heavy signaling, like copious orders, is symptomatic of doctrinal deficiency.
22) The promise of signaling fosters a neglect of doctrine.
23) War-fighting commanders may find themselves bereft of communications faculties on which they have become reliant in peacetime training.
24) Properly disseminated doctrine offers both the cheapest and the most secure command-and-control method yet devised by man.
25) Every proven military incompetent has previously displayed attributes which his superiors rewarded.
26) Peacetime highlights basic ‘primary’ skills to the neglect of more advanced, more lateral ‘secondary’ abilities, the former being easier to teach, easier to measure, and more agreeable to superiors.
27) The key to efficiency lies in the correct balance between organization and method.
28) Doctrine draws on the lessons of history.

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