Seven Days in June Part 2 - A Professional Naval Officer  

What proves that one is a "professional," in the best sense of the word? What convinces others that one is a "professional" naval officer? Is it charisma? Is it, perhaps, a way of walking or talking, or even the display of mannerisms such as gesturing, or how one holds one's head? The Baron, like many in the navies of both Germany and Great Britain, had studied the likely leaders of the foe during the years before the Great War. His letters indicate appreciation for the dash of Vice-Admiral Beatty and the elan he inspired in others. He did not, it seems, hold as high an opinion of Vice-Admiral Sturdee. The appointment of Admiral J[ellic]oe to lead the Grand Fleet came as somewhat of a surprise to many, but my great-grandfather held him in high regard, deeming J[ellic]oe a "consummate professional naval officer." There were several other, more senior RN admirals (all seemingly more eligible for J[ellic]oe's post) that the Baron would have far preferred to face. Events would, of course, validate that opinion after Admiral J[ellic]oe placed the main body of the Grand Fleet where the RN had always specified it should go: alongside the foe, beam-to-beam, guns blazing. Faced with unexpected reverses, suddenly and unaccountably at risk of a fleet-threatening disaster, J[ellic]oe promptly and cooly cast off that same hoary tradition, extricated ex tempore what was physically possible, and got them home without any outward evidence of considering the personal cost to himself.

Admiral J[ellic]oe's apologists and detractors within the RN and the British government were legion after Die Kaiserschlacht, indeed, their numbers may be growing still. His supporters asserted that he would have decisively crossed the "T" of the HSF, save for Sturdee's failure. His detractors claimed, variously, that he should have stayed in the Line vs. Line duel longer, or that he should have turned (later) onto 090 instead of his choice of 270. This historian feels the former underestimate J[ellic]oe's foe that day, and the latter underestimate the risk to the entire GF. Any student who seeks balance must look for sources outside the organizations of study. For that reason, historians have always turned to the work of Admiral Bradford Bonhomme Smith of the United States Navy. Admiral BB Smith, then a captain, was somehow allowed the apparent free run of the bridge of J[ellic]oe's flagship, HMS Iron Duke, throughout Die Kaiserschlacht.* How Smith, an officer of a major, supposedly-neutral power came to be there was one of the subjects of the later famous diplomatic inquiries.

Admiral Smith found no fault in J[ellic]oe's handling of the GF main body in the hours and minutes before the Lines engaged. Smith saw no alternative other than proceeding in support of hard-hit Sturdee, whose force was being pursued by the enemy. As one British source put it in an earlier conflict, "[i]t was a very near thing." This time, however, it did not go for the British as the Baron's forces caught and again attacked Sturdee as the GF main body just reached sight distance. Smith saved his strongest praise, however, for J[ellic]oe's personal demeanor after the battle was over and the shattered GF struggled to reach port. Smith wrote, echoing the earlier words of Vice-Admiral Baron Letters, that Admiral J[ellic]oe demonstrated then that he was a "consummate professional naval officer."

------------------------ Lady Christine Letters, ibid, Appendix D

(* Footnote: Another officer of a neutral country was also there, Admiral (then also a captain) Guilherme Loureiro of Brazil. Admiral Loureiro confined his subsequently published material to his impressions of the battle itself. The material (all by Melancia Press, Rio de Janeiro) is of considerable interest in its own right but, regrettably, Loureiro did not write to the character of Admiral J[ellic]oe. In his later years, Loureiro retired to his vast estates and refused all requests for interviews, content, instead, to putter in his beloved vineyards and melon groves.)

---- On the Approaches to Scapa Flow, Iron Duke, #2 barbette

"Run your fingers over that," Captain Smith suggested, pointing to the scorch marks on the flash doors.

"My fingers should 'run,' ah, very well," replied Captain Loureiro, who had reluctantly assented to climb down there to see what the American so diffidently offered to show him. Once again, the "English" spoken by the American officer had confounded him, used as he was to the speech of their RN counterparts. His own language also was rich with idiom, so it did not really bother him. He extended his hand to the area the other had indicated.



"Ah, the metal is deeply, ah, scored and pitted. Even well into the join."

"Yes," Smith nodded his head. "Embossed," got it, he thought. "The other side of the doors shows burn, as well. I checked."

The American looked around, sweeping the inside of the barbette again with his eyes. Scorch marks were everywhere in grim mosaics. The extent and depth of the scoring varied, seemingly without a pattern. Others spots showed gouges from objects unknown, the metal splashed in ductile response to the impacts. Stains of hydraulic fluid and worse hinted at the other results of the event within the second turret of Iron Duke. Members of the crew were struggling with one hoist mechanism. From time to time, glances were cast their way. Pursuant to orders, however, none of the crew had attempted to police the barbette itself further.

Smith, reflecting further as the other attache crouched closer to the closure line, had been on the bridge when the order was given. Once dawn approached and it was clear that the battle was over, the admiral had ordered a halt to all non-essential repairs. Never had Smith imagined such an order.

"Am I not clear, gentlemen?" J[ellic]oe had demanded, as apparently the expressions on the RN officers betrayed that they, too, were unfamiliar with that command. "The evidence is to be preserved in situ and not to be disturbed without my expressed authorization." For just a moment, Smith had seen the banked fire in the man as his glance had tracked across the others as threateningly as Iron Duke's own turrets. The chorus of "aye, aye, sir" had been immediate and vigorous, and the officers had hastened to dispatch the commands to the rest of the main body.

It must have been like the fires of hell in here, thought Smith again. He had heard that about 80 men had died in here. Looking around, he did not doubt it.

"Merda," uttered the other attache softly. His voice was muffled, still bent over the flash doors.

"Murder?" Smith asked.

"Yes, we almost all were, right here."

"Uh-huh, it's a possible explanation, don't you think?"

"It is true. I would argue it not. Not after this."

They both stared at what they now realized was nearly their death. A brilliant order, Smith was thinking. After a few moments, the Brazilian attache spoke again. Somewhat in shock, he struggled for words.

"The battle was, um, abslutamente, an absolute, er, barafunda, confusion. Those hits up above struck down many with their impact and splinters. Some of it was very near us, yes. But the greatest threat was not there at all. Instead, it was down here, por detrás dos bastidores, where we could not see, that we almost died." He swallowed. "It changes this battle, for me. We are alive, but so close it was. And I did not even know."

The Brazilian officer stood back up and turned to Smith.

"I want to see the sky again. Let us ascend from this place."

Smith was not alone in thinking hellfire had been here.

Later, back on the bridge, Smith spent the time watching the diminished formation working its way into harbor. As unobtrusively as possible, he continued his study of the GF CO. At some point, the other had accomplished a change of uniform, as the torn and stained sleeve was no longer in evidence. If there had been a wound beneath the braided fabric, the admiral had given no indication of it. His cheek and ear on that side, though, still showed the marks of the flying shards of one of the hits that had struck the bridge area just after 7:00 PM yesterday.

A cruiser group neared. It was one that had not been at the battle. He thought it was part of the Harwich Force, but Smith had long lost track of the disparate RN light ship formations. The crew of the unmarked ship gaped at the damage on Iron Duke, but Smith saw petty officers quickly put an end to it. There were still stares, but they were more covert. Smith would see this pattern repeat itself several times on the way into the harbor.

One of the aides came onto the bridge and approached the admiral.

"Sir, the report has been confirmed. Phaeton's group does have prisoners. The number they give is 102. Most are from CL Elbing, the others apparently from two or more TBs."

"Very well."

Excellent, thought Smith. At least there'll be some chance to figure out what had happened on the other side. He, for one, would like to know what orders Scheer had given or been given. They must have been far, far different from what he and the British had ever been told. The apparent breakdown in intelligence was dismaying. Perhaps a senior officer was among the rescued and would be eager to brag a bit and, in so doing, lift a bit of the fog of war.

"Sir, KGV reports they're down to 8 knots, but the bulkhead appears still to be holding."

Erin's report, an hour before, had been much the same. Sprung hatches and buckled plating had made flooding on both ships a constant threat all night.

J[ellic]oe spoke quietly to a senior aide, who nodded and headed off the bridge. The rest of the admiral's party was making preparations for going ashore, presumably for the admiral to make his report in person. Smith realized he was along the other's general path, nodded to the other (the officer's deeply circled eyes did not give any indication that he had noticed), and turned to follow after a moment. The aide went directly to the wireless where he made inquiries. "Any more on rescues?" Smith heard, shamelessly eavesdropping out in the passageway. "No, sir. And we've heard from all the groups now, sir."

Smith continued towards the wardroom for another mug of tea. He'd've preferred scalding black, viscous, USN chief's mess coffee. Actually, after that last bit, a heavy slug of rum might have been better still. There were thousands missing. Thousands! He didn't need to return to the bridge to see the admiral's reaction. It'd be a simple "very well," and that's all. But Smith would remember that briefest glance into the controlled furnace within the man. Outside, J[ellic]oe was cool, even cold. Revealed in that moment, though, was a fire as hot as any of the towers that had flared above his ships.

Professional, Smith thought. The man was a consummate professional.

jim (Letterstime)

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