David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty
Rear Admiral David Beatty.
Admiral of the Fleet David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty (17 January 1871 – 11 March 1936), was an admiral in the Royal Navy.
Born in Nantwich, Cheshire, he joined the Royal Navy in January 1884. He served as a midshipman on the Mediterranean Fleet flagship HMS Alexandria, from 1886 until 1888, when he was transferred to HMS Cruiser. He was at the gunnery school, HMS Excellent from 1890 until 1892 when he was promoted to lieutenant. He was on the corvette HMS Ruby until 1893, when he was transferred to the battleship HMS Camperdown until 1895. Ironically, he joined the ship shortly after a collision between it and HMS Victoria had nearly killed his future commander-in-chief at the Battle of Jutland, John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe. Following Camperdown he was transferred to the battleship HMS Trafalgar. In 1897, he was given his first command, the destroyer HMS Ranger.
Beatty gained recognition in the recapture of the Sudan (1897-1899), where he was selected as second in command by Lord Kitchener for his Khartoum expedition. He was promoted to commander during the expedition, in 1898 at the early age of 27 over the heads of many senior officers.
He gained further recognition as a member of the British naval brigade during the Boxer Rebellion (1900), which he joined from the battleship HMS Barfleur on the China Station where he was second in command. During the capture of Tientsin in June, he was twice wounded in an arm, and rewarded for his bravery with a promotion. At the age of 29, Beatty became the youngest Captain in the Royal Navy. The average age for a newly promoted Captain at the time was 43.
In 1900, he married a wealthy heiress, Ethel Tree, the divorced only daughter of department store founder Marshall Field, and this allowed him much independence that most other officers lacked. She is reputed to have commented after he was threatened with disciplinary action following the straining of his ship's engines "What? Court martial my David? I'll buy them a new ship" . She had bought him a steam yacht, houses in London and in the Leicestershire hunting country, and a Scottish grouse moor. The couple circulated in high society, even occasionally dining with the King. However, there were disadvantages, as Beatty discovered after his marriage, for his wife was an unstable neurotic who caused him extreme mental tortures. Beatty was an intelligent and able leader, but all his social and sporting obligations, coupled with his high-strung temperament, prevented him from becoming a coldly calculating professional like Jellicoe – or his adversary, Hipper. Beatty’s flamboyant style included wearing a non-standard uniform, which had six buttons instead of the regulation eight on the jacket, and always wearing his cap at an angle.
He was captain of HMS Duke of Wellington from 1900 to 1902 and of the cruisers HMS Juno, HMS Arrogant in 1903-1904 and HMS Suffolk from 1904 until 1905. He then became the naval advisor to the Army Council in 1906.
He was made captain of the battleship HMS Queen in 1908 and promoted to Rear Admiral on 1 January 1910, becoming, at 39, the youngest admiral in the Royal Navy, except for Royal family members, since Horatio Nelson.
He was offered the post of second-in-command of the Atlantic Fleet, but declined it and asked for one in the Home Fleet. As the Atlantic Fleet post was a major command, the Admiralty were very unimpressed and his attitude nearly ruined his career. He was put on half pay in 1912, but his career was saved when the new First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, whom he knew from the Sudan, appointed him private secretary. From 1912 to 1916, he commanded the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron.
World War I
During World War I, he took part in actions at Heligoland Bight (1914), Dogger Bank (1915) and Jutland (1916). He was an aggressive commander who expected his subordinates to always use their initiative without direct orders from himself.
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David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty
Jutland proved to be decisive in Beatty's career, despite the loss of two of his battlecruisers. Beatty is reported to have remarked "there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today" after two of them had exploded within half an hour during the battle. Churchill's account of the First World War, The World Crisis, describes Beatty's next order as "Steer two points nearer the enemy", but this is apocryphal. His next order was to turn away by two points, and, in any case, a few minutes later he reversed his fleet's course to fulfill its anticipated role of leading the German forces towards the main British fleet.
Admiral John Jellicoe, described by Churchill as the man who could "lose the war in an afternoon" by losing the strategic British superiority in dreadnought battleships, was not the dashing showman that David Beatty was. When Jellicoe was promoted to First Sea Lord in 1916, Beatty succeeded him as commander-in-chief of the Grand Fleet and received promotion to the rank of full Admiral at the age of 45.
In 1919, he was appointed Admiral of the Fleet and served as First Sea Lord until 1927. In the same year, he was created 1st Earl Beatty, Viscount Borodale and Baron Beatty of the North Sea and Brooksby.
Later life and legacy
David Beatty spent much of his life (when not at sea) in Leicestershire, and lived at Brooksby Hall (now an agricultural college). During the war, he and his wife performed many services for the public of Leicestershire, including opening up their home first as a VAD Hospital under the 5th Northern General Hospital, and later as a hospital for Naval Personnel.
In Germany, Beatty ruined his reputation when he told the crews of his ships that were receiving the German High Seas Fleet for its internment at Scapa Flow, "Don't forget that the enemy is a despicable beast," and arranged the surrender of the German Fleet as a grand spectacle of humiliation. The German navy thus ignored Beatty's request that its Commander-in-Chief, Erich Raeder, attend his funeral -- as Raeder had done at Jellicoe's funeral earlier. Raeder merely sent the German navy attache.
The Royal Navy named a King George V-class battleship after Beatty, but this ship was renamed HMS Howe before completion.
A bust of Beatty rests on Trafalgar Square in London, alongside those of Jellicoe and Andrew Cunningham, Admiral of the Fleet in World War II.
- In the afternoon Beatty came into the Lion’s chart-house. Tired and depressed, he sat down on the settee, and settling himself in a corner he closed his eyes. Unable to hide his disappointment at the result of the battle, he repeated in a weary voice, “There is something wrong with our ships,” then opening his eyes he added, “And something wrong with our system.” Having thus unburdened himself he fell asleep.
W. S. Chalmers. The Life of Beatty. 1951. (Chalmers was Lieutenant, R.N. on HMS Lion at Jutland)
- Andrew Gordon, The rules of the game - Jutland and British Naval Command ISBN 0-7195-5542-6
- W. S. Chalmers, Rear Admiral, R.N. The Life of Beatty. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1951.
|Military Offices |
|Preceded by |
The Lord Wester-Wemyss
|First Sea Lord |
|Succeeded by |
Sir Charles Madden
|Peerage of the United Kingdom |
|Preceded by |
|Earl Beatty |
|Succeeded by |
David Field Beatty