World War I: Admiral of the Fleet John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe

John Jellicoe during World War I
Admiral of the Fleet John Jellicoe. Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

John Jellicoe - Early Life & Career:

Born December 5, 1859, John Jellicoe was the son of Captain John H. Jellicoe of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company and his wife Lucy H. Jellicoe.  Initially educated at Field House School in Rottingdean, Jellicoe elected to pursue a career in the Royal Navy in 1872.  Appointed a cadet, he reported to the training ship HMS Britannia at Dartmouth.  After two years of naval schooling, in which he finished second in his class, Jellicoe was warranted as a midshipman and assigned to the steam frigate HMS Newcastle.  Spending three years aboard, Jellicoe continued to learn his trade as the frigate operated in the Atlantic, Indian, and western Pacific Oceans.  Ordered to the ironclad HMS Agincourt in July 1877, he saw service in the Mediterranean.

The following year, Jellicoe passed his exam for sub-lieutenant placing third out of 103 candidates.  Ordered home, he attended the Royal Naval College and received high marks.  Returning to the Mediterranean, he transferred aboard the Mediterranean Fleet's flagship, HMS Alexandra, in 1880 before receiving his promotion to lieutenant on September 23.  Moving back to Agincourt in February 1881, Jellicoe led a rifle company of the Naval Brigade at Ismailia during the 1882 Anglo-Egyptian War.  In mid-1882, he again departed to attend courses at the Royal Naval College.  Earning his qualifications as a gunnery officer, Jellicoe was appointed to the staff of the Gunnery School aboard HMS Excellent in May 1884.  While there, he became a favorite of the school's commander, Captain John "Jackie" Fisher.    

John Jellicoe - A Rising Star:

Serving on Fisher's staff for a Baltic cruise in 1885, Jellicoe then had brief stints aboard HMS Monarch and HMS Colossus before returning to Excellent the following year to head the experimental department.  In 1889, he became assistant to the Director of Naval Ordnance, a post held at that time by Fisher, and aided in obtaining sufficient guns for the new ships being built for the fleet.  Returning to sea in 1893 with the rank of commander, Jellicoe sailed aboard HMS Sans Pareil in the Mediterranean before transferring to the fleet's flagship HMS Victoria.  On June 22, 1893, he survived Victoria's sinking after it accidentally collided with HMS Camperdown.  Recovering, Jellicoe served aboard HMS Ramillies before receiving a promotion to captain in 1897.  

Appointed a member of the Admiralty's Ordnance Board, Jellicoe also became captain of the battleship HMS Centurion.  Serving in the Far East, he then left the ship to act as chief of staff to Vice Admiral Sir Edward Seymour when the latter led an international force against Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion.  On August 5, Jellicoe was severely wounded in the left lung during the Battle of Beicang.  Surprising his doctors, he survived and received an appointment as a Companion of the Order of the Bath and was awarded the German Order of the Red Eagle, 2nd class, with Crossed Swords for his exploits.  Arriving back in Britain in 1901, Jellicoe became Naval Assistant to the Third Naval Lord and Controller of the Navy before assuming command of HMS Drake on the North American and West Indies Station two years later.

In January 1905, Jellicoe came ashore and served on the committee that designed HMS Dreadnought.  With Fisher holding the post of First Sea Lord, Jellicoe was appointed Director of Naval Ordnance.  With the launching of the revolutionary new ship, he was made a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.  Elevated to rear admiral in February 1907, Jellicoe assumed a position as second-in-command of the Atlantic Fleet.  In this post for eighteen months, he then became Third Sea Lord.  Supporting Fisher, Jellicoe argued strenuously for expanding the Royal Navy's fleet of dreadnought battleships as well as advocated for the construction of battlecruisers.  Returning to sea in 1910, he took command of the Atlantic Fleet and was promoted to vice admiral the following year.  In 1912, Jellicoe received an appointment as Second Sea Lord in charge of personnel and training.

John Jellicoe - World War I:

In this post for two years, Jellicoe then departed in July 1914 to act as second-in-command of the Home Fleet under Admiral Sir George Callaghan.  This assignment was made with the expectation that he would assume command of the fleet late that fall following Callaghan's retirement.  With the beginning of World War I in August, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill removed the older Callaghan, promoted Jellicoe to admiral and directed him to take command.  Angered by the treatment of Callaghan and concerned that his removal would lead to tension in the fleet, Jellicoe repeatedly attempted to turn down the promotion but to no avail.  Taking command of the newly-renamed Grand Fleet, he hoisted his flag aboard the battleship HMS Iron Duke.  As the battleships of the Grand Fleet were critical for protecting Britain, commanding the seas, and maintaining the blockade of Germany, Churchill commented that Jellicoe was "the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon."

While the bulk of the Grand Fleet made its base at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys, Jellicoe directed Vice Admiral David Beatty's 1st Battlecruiser Squadron to remain further south.  In late August, he ordered critical reinforcements to aid in concluding the victory at the Battle of Heligoland Bight and that December directed forces to attempt to trap Rear Admiral Franz von Hipper's battlecruisers after they attacked Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby.  Following Beatty's victory at Dogger Bank in January 1915, Jellicoe began a waiting game as he sought an engagement with the battleships of Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer's High Seas Fleet.  This finally occurred in late May 1916 when a clash between Beatty and von Hipper's battlecruisers led the fleets to meet at the Battle of Jutland.  The largest and only major clash between dreadnought battleships in history, the battle proved inconclusive. 

Though Jellicoe performed solidly and made no major mistakes, the British public was disappointed not to win a victory on the scale of Trafalgar.  Despite this, Jutland proved a strategic victory for the British as the German efforts failed to break the blockade or significantly reduce the Royal Navy's numerical advantage in capital ships.  Additionally, the result led to the High Seas Fleet effectively remaining in port for the rest of the war as the Kaiserliche Marine shifted its focus to submarine warfare.  In November, Jellicoe turned the Grand Fleet over to Beatty and traveled south to assume the post of First Sea Lord.  The Royal Navy's senior professional officer, this position saw him quickly tasked with combating Germany's return to unrestricted submarine warfare in February 1917.

John Jellicoe - Later Career:

Assessing the situation, Jellicoe and the Admiralty initially resisted adopting a convoy system for merchant vessels in the Atlantic due to a lack of suitable escort vessels and concerns that merchant mariners would be unable to keep station.  Studies that spring eased these concerns and Jellicoe approved plans for a convoy system on April 27.  As the year progressed, he became increasingly tired and pessimistic and fell afoul of Prime Minister David Lloyd George.  This was worsened by a lack of political skill and savvy.  Though Lloyd George desired to remove Jellicoe that summer, political considerations prevented this and action was further delayed in the fall due to the need to support Italy following the Battle of Caporetto.  Finally, on Christmas Eve, First Lord of the Admiralty Sir Eric Campbell Geddes dismissed Jellicoe.  This action enraged Jellicoe's fellow sea lords all of whom threatened to resign.  Talked out this action by Jellicoe, he left his post.

On March 7, 1918, Jellicoe was elevated to the peerage as Viscount Jellicoe of Scapa Flow.  Though he was proposed as Allied Supreme Naval Commander in the Mediterranean later that spring, nothing came it as the post was not created.  With the end of the war, Jellicoe received a promotion to admiral of the fleet on April 3, 1919.  Traveling extensively, he aided Canada, Australia, and New Zealand in developing their navies and correctly identified Japan as a future threat.  Appointed Governor-General of New Zealand in September 1920, Jellicoe held the post for four years.  Returning to Britain, he was further created Earl Jellicoe and Viscount Brocas of Southampton in 1925.  Serving as president of the Royal British Legion from 1928 to 1932, Jellicoe died of pneumonia on November 20, 1935.  His remains were interred at St. Paul's Cathedral in London not far from those of Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "World War I: Admiral of the Fleet John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). World War I: Admiral of the Fleet John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War I: Admiral of the Fleet John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).