150 years since the birth of Admiral Sir David Beatty

Admiral Sir David Beatty

Admiral Sir David Beatty 1871-1936

Beatty was born 150 years ago on 17 January 1871. At the age of 13 he entered the Royal Navy as a cadet.

During his early career he served with distinction in Sudan from 1896-98 and in China during the Boxer Rising of 1900.

He quickly rose through the ranks and succeeded in becoming the youngest officer to achieve flag rank since Nelson, 100 years earlier.

He was appointed Rear Admiral in 1910. When Winston Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty the following year he appointed Beatty as his naval secretary.

In 1913 Churchill appointed Beatty the command of a battle-cruiser squadron and he hoisted his flag in HMS Lion.

First World War

At the outbreak of the First World War, Beatty was second in command to Admiral John Jellicoe in the Grand Fleet.

On 28 August 1914, Beatty took part in the battle of the Heligoland Bight and was able to secure a victory for the British squadrons.

He led another successful offensive at the battle of Dogger Bank against Admiral Hipper on 24 January 1915.

However, his flagship was damaged early in the action and he was forced to command the action via flag signalling.

In December 1915, he was promoted to Vice Admiral and commanded three battle-cruiser squadrons of the Grand Fleet.

When Admiral Scheer became Commander-in-Chief of the German High Seas fleet in 1916, it became clear that he intended to engage the British fleet more intensely.

The climax came at the end of May 1916 when, by sheer co-incidence, the British fleet were also preparing for operations in the Skagerrak, the area where Scheer had decided to draw out the enemy.

At 3.25pm on 31 May 1916, Beatty sighted the German fleet and engaged in battle.

His handling of the battle caused controversy, as he engaged in battle without a supporting squadron of battleships, and hazarded his ships by being in close range of the enemy.

His tactics, however, were successful in that the German fleet did not see the supporting squadrons coming into battle and were forced into a vulnerable position.

This battle would be only major naval confrontation of the war but it proved inconclusive.

The British fleet lost more ships and men but they successfully prevented the High Seas Fleet from putting to  sea again for the rest of the war.

At the end of the year, Jellicoe became First Sea Lord and Beatty succeeded him as Commander in Chief of the Grand Fleet and Acting Admiral.

In November 1918, Beatty took the surrender from the German High Seas fleet after the Armistice had been signed.

On 1 January 1919, Beatty’s rank as Admiral was confirmed.

Four months later, he was promoted again to Admiral of the Fleet and this was followed in November with the appointment of First Sea Lord. He remained in this post until 1927, the longest period any person held this position.

During his time at the Admiralty, Beatty sought to maintain a strong navy in the light of the needs of national economy and world peace.

He managed to negotiate the retention of a core number of ships for the British navy at the Washington Naval Conference in 1921.

He insisted on obtaining full dockyard facilities in Singapore to allow for a Far Eastern fleet to be maintained, in view of the Japanese alliances with Germany.

He was in dispute with the Air Ministry over the Fleet Air Arm which had transferred into the Air Ministry after the war.

Beatty argued that the Admiralty should maintain this service as an essential element of naval warfare.

This was only resolved after his death with the Fleet Air Arm returning to Admiralty control.

Beatty retired from naval service in July 1927, but became a Privy Councillor. In November 1935 he was a pall bearer at the funeral of John Jellicoe.

Four months later, on 11 March 1936, he died and was given a funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral.

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