The Grand Fleet Mobilises
The First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill astutely predicted the oncoming storm during the summer of 1914. On the 28th June the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo beginning Europe’s downward spiral into total war. As ultimatums flew between Europe’s great powers and alliances were quietly call upon Churchill foresaw the threat.
Since becoming the First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, he had worked tirelessly to increase the navy’s budget and bring the Royal Navy to a finely honed state of preparedness for a war in Europe. Forming the Naval War Staff, creating the Royal Naval Division - a division of infantry made up of sailors of the Navy Reserve intended for service on land and in overseeing the reshaping of Britain’s naval strategy if war in Europe came - shifting the Royal Navy’s emphasis to that of a great blockade of German held ports.
When war began to look likely in July 1914, Churchill ordered the mobilisation of the entire Royal Navy, under the auspices of a test mobilisation. During this gathering of the fleet a Royal Fleet Review was held at Spithead where the gathered might of the Royal Navy, featuring over 100 assorted vessels including 56 Battleships, was inspected by King George V (see above).
When the mobilisation exercise ended in late July 1914, Churchill held the First and Second Fleets of the Home Fleet at Portland in the South of England, rather than redeploy them back to their usual stations. On the 28th July, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and in turn Russia began to mobilise its armed forces - in anticipation of further escalation of the situation Churchill ordered the First and Second Fleets to steam north to the Orkney Islands in Northern Scotland where they formed the Grand Fleet and readied for war at the Naval base at Scapa Flow. Three days later Germany declared war on Russia and within a week Britain joined the war, on the 4th August 1914, at 11pm Churchill sent a short message to all Royal Navy ships and stations: “Commence hostilities against Germany.”
The Grand Fleet would go on to successfully transport the British Expeditionary Force to France, successfully engage the German Imperial High Seas Fleet at the Battle of Jutland and play a pivotal role in the eventual collapse of Imperial Germany through the crippling four year long naval blockade of German ports maintained by the Royal Navy.
The photograph above is from a postcard commemorating the King’s review at Spithead (Image One Source)
Spectators survey the fleet below, taken at an undated review - between 1897 - 1914, possibly the July 1914 Fleet Review. (Image Two Source)
Map showing the positions of the Grand Fleet during the test mobilisation review (Image Three Source)
Another picture postcard commemorating the review (Image Four Source)
Photograph showing the Grand Fleet at sea, probably c.1914, (Image Five Source)
Winston Churchill: Soldier, (2005), D.S Russell