The British Naval Staff in the First World War

The British Naval Staff in the First World War

Nicholas Black


Boydell Press



Reassesses the role of the British Naval Staff during the First World War, challenging many widely-held views, and casting much new light on controversial issues and individuals.
Winner of the Society for Nautical Research's prestigious Anderson Medal, 2010.
Nicholas Black examines the role of the Naval Staff of the Admiralty in the 1914-18 war, reassessing both the calibre of the Staff and the function and structure of the Staff. He challenges historians such as Arthur Marder and naval figures such as Captains Herbert Richmond and Kenneth Dewar who were influential in creating the largely bad press that the Staff has received subsequently, showing that their influence has, at times, been both unhealthy and misinformed. The way in which the Staff developed during the war from a small, overstretched and often manipulated body, to a much more highly specialised and successful one is also examined, reassessing the roles of key individuals such as Jellicoe and Geddes, and suggesting that the structure of the Staff has been misunderstood and that it was a rather more sophisticated body than historians have traditionally appreciated. Black also looks at how the Staff performed in various major naval issues of the war: the role of the Grand Fleet, the war against the U-boat, the Dardanelles Operation and the implementation of the economic blockade against Germany. Overall, the book complements, and at times challenges, both operational histories of the war and biographies of the leading individuals involved.

NICHOLAS BLACK is Head of History at Dulwich College.

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8 line illustrations
348 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Paperback, 9781843836551, April 2011
Hardback, 9781843834427, March 2009
Library eBook
Boydell Press
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Table of Contents

The Admiralty War Staff, 1912-1918: An Analysis of the Personnel
The Establishment of the War Staff and its Work before the Outbreak of War in August 1914
The Churchill-Battenberg Regime, August - October 1914
The Churchill-Fisher Regime, October 1914 - May 1915
The Balfour-Jackson Regime, May 1915 - November 1916
The Jellicoe Era, November 1916 - December 1917
The Geddes-Wemyss Regime, December 1917 - November 1918
Appendix A: Senior Admiralty and Staff Officials
Appendix B: The Admiralty Telephone Directories, 1914 - 1918
Appendix C: Administrative Development of the Admiralty War Staff, 1912 - 1918


Truly an agenda-setting work. It is also valuable for its extensive references to primary sources. WARSHIP

Not only revises our understanding of the Naval Staff's qualifications and competence: it provides an important reassessment of many aspects of the Admiralty's conduct of the naval war, one that challenges conventional wisdom on several counts. [...] This is a fine piece of scholarship, recommended especially to those who focus on operational history to the exclusion of policy, planning, implementation, and logistics. JOURNAL OF BRITISH STUDIES

A superb study that should grace the bookshelf of any serious scholar of the Royal Navy of the period. [...] Essential to any scholar working in the field. THE NORTHERN MARINER
Black has blown aside some of the fog of history and shed light on the accomplishments of a group of mostly overlooked and underestimated men. NAUTICAL RESEARCH JOURNAL
Black's excellent book demonstrates that the staff was larger, more professional and more important. Ultimately an effective, if not always efficient, staff was essential to the successful prosecution of total war in the twentieth century. ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW
[An] elegantly written and well-researched volume. [...] This is an illuminating study that will have a major impact on histories of the First World War. HISTORY
A first-class study of a major subject, whose findings challenge all standard accounts. [...] Black's monograph is the product of a rare combination of diligent and original research in primary sources, a comprehensive and accurate reading of the existing scholarly literature on his subject, a sophisticated historical sensibility, and a writer's gift for clear and engaging exposition. It replaces the existing interpretation of the history of Britain's naval staff during the First World War with one that is much more complete and satisfying. [It] is an exemplar of the power of serious scholarly inquiry. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MARITIME HISTORY
For Naval enthusiasts it's essential stuff [which] rescues from oblivion a fine and unjustly traduced body of men. THE MAIL ON SUNDAY