The eyes were staring into the distance, not seeing the large maps on the wall at the end of the large conference table. Quietly, the naval ratings worked around the immobile figure, replacing the full ash trays with new, dusting off the table.
"Leave them" the voice cut though the air, blue with tobacco smoke, as two ratings started to remove the maps from the wall.
Artistic fingers tapped away another column of ash into the overflowing receptacle in front, a slow column of smoke weaving its way to the ceiling. Their owner longed to roll up his sleeves and open his collar, but that wasn't done here in Admiralty House. The velvet curtains partially closed, a ray of light on the captains cap resting on the table, flecked with grey ash spots, a bright bit of colour in the darkened room.
The form of the CPO leading the clean up crew approached the recumbent figure, a discrete "will that be all Sir?"
Clear dark brown eyes turn in response, a brief nod, "a pot of tea Chief, thank you", the Somerset accent seemingly out of place with the clean lines of a Naval officer.
"Aye Sir " as the Chief ushers his team out, briefly casting his eyes on those now infamous maps as he leaves, closing the double doors behind him, Train of thought momentarily broken, the figures eyes briefly wandered around the now empty room, plain chairs, surrounding a plain but massive table, the old, old walls decorated with pictures of old battles, old ships, and of both young and old men now history. It was a somewhat humbling experience, even now, to sit in such a hallowed place. Where, almost, the once victorious Royal Navy had planned and cajoled its way through the centuries to Trafalgar, then beyond.
A little curl of a smile, how many famous bums had sat in this chair, he thought to himself, maybe Nelson, probably not, but the cushions felt that old in their lack of effect.
A brief knock, the double doors open, quickly followed by a young rating carrying a silver tea service, complete with one porcelain cup and saucer. Setting the tray alongside the Captain, he offers to pour, a brief shake of the commanding head and a quiet "thank you" before retiring again. Stubbing the cigar out, Captain Dawes rises from the chair, approaching the maps, the first of the battle of Dogger Bank, a hand rises, finger poised, touching each marked place; marked with the little innocuous symbol that represented a ship sunk, the finger presses harder as though in pain, denting the map, each symbol represented over a thousand lost men. Some he'd known, some he'd commanded, and by some he'd been commanded. And why? What HAD gone wrong, a fist slams into the wall before the figure turns away, not even looking at the other map, not needing to. This depicting ' Jutland', the German 'Trafalgar', Dogger Bank writ large.
Stalking to the window, throwing the curtains open wide, the then opening the window itself, letting the street noise into the room with a breath of summer air. Those eyes now piercing down into the street as though blaming the passers by for all that had gone wrong.
Turning away from the window, the Captain pours himself a cup of tea, the little ritual bringing back a sense of calmness in its everydayness. It had been a whole month since Jutland had been fought and lost, time enough for the initial shock and repercussions to have settled. The right time to start thinking and investigating, not just knee jerking.
Sir Edward had instructed him to investigate fully the reasons why, not to cast blame, but to find a way to turn the tide. Britain's survival rested, not on its naval supremacy itself, but on its ability to win the battles needed to be fought. Both Dogger Bank and Jutland had dented both the Navy's ability to do this and just as importantly, its confidence to do so. A total of five battle-cruisers had been lost at Dogger bank for no return, and a further ten Dreadnoughts, including The Dreadnought herself as well as the remaining five battle-cruisers, at Jutland, all in return for what, possibly six German Dreadnoughts sunk. Damage is repairable, men lost are not. What lessons can we learn from all this. The questions that he had opened the now adjourned conference had been four fold:-
1) What had gone wrong
2) What had gone right
3) How do we correct the first and
4) How do we maximise the second
These were to be applied to both the lost battles, hopefully, in some ways, the reasons would be the same from each, which would make it easier to correct, although it would not bode well for those who had not learned from the earlier before the later battle had been fought. Although he knew his brief, he also knew that the results of his committee's findings would be used for the labelling of blame. But, that was not his goal or aim as it allowed for bias and prejudice to enter the scene.
With a sigh, the now empty cup is replaced on the table. Placing his own notes and papers back in the briefcase then dusting off his cap, tucking it firmly under his arm he leaves the room, some quiet hours of thought and digesting the day's discussions before resuming the conference tomorrow with the rest of the team.
The doors click gently as they close behind him.
"You look tired dear" as Samantha, the Captains wife, nestled in his arms, the soft South Carolina accent muffled by his shoulder. Stepping back, she reviews the new frown lines, running her hands along his shoulders, pressing gently. "The guests are already here; if I'd known I would have called it off, but..." a little shrug, grey eyes darting across his features.
A delicate kiss on her cheek, "not to worry, after what I've gone through today, this will be light relief". Arms regretfully leaving his wife's trim waist, Captain Robson Dawes, RN, tossed his cap onto the side table, "five minutes then I'll join you".
"Of course darling", the silk clad form glides gracefully away, back towards the Drawing room and their guests, watched avidly by the Captain, his face relaxing as the always pleasurable hobby of watching his wife absorbs a few moments.
With a little mental shake, the Captain moves towards his study, quickly unlocking the door, then entering his sacred space, the briefcase joins other work, lots of folders and maps, drawing and reports, some flagged 'secret', others 'most secret'. A veritable encyclopaedia of paper and reports, all relevant to his Committee's investigation. Varying from the official despatches of the senior surviving officers in both the battles to ship plans for those vessels lost and others of those only damaged. Without a backwards glance, he locks the door again after leaving, pocketing the key carefully, and then placing his best 'friendly and relaxed' face on, turns to join his guests for the evening.
Three hours later...
Robson gazed tiredly at the top of his wife's head as she curled up against him, both were resting on the main sofa in the 'family' room, a glass of scotch in one hand, his wife's waist in the other, sipping softly, staring into the fire.
"Some Englishmen really are insufferable boors" sheltered in her husbands' arms, Samantha reflected on the evening.
A low laugh, "I hope you're not including me in that!" lips brushing the loose hair tickling his chin, "I thought the evening went quite well myself..."
The heart shaped face turned up at the touch of the lips, lips meet fleetingly, "not you silly, that Hargrove, 'Mr' Cecil Rodney Hargrove, you know... the investment Banker, delightful wife, not sure what she sees in him though... he kept on pestering you all night, showing off, no manners at all, or discretion either I would judge..."
A firmer kiss before replying, "its not really his fault, the whole country is horrified by the results of those two battles... and naturally curious as to what the Navy will do about it, and the Government too. As for discretion, I fear the whole of London is at fault on that subject... 'Security' does not seem to have any meaning in some places" "But", Samantha turned, sitting up slightly, looking earnestly into his face "why couldn't he leave you alone, pestering about your work... its not fair, not fair at all, can't you have some rest!".
Gently, "He's a banker Samantha, with major investments in both munitions and shipbuilding; he was obviously worried about the value of those... its something that may be affected by my work... as well as the war itself, but, money talk does make for boors".
"But..." a quiet interruption.
"Let it rest dear, 'Mr' Cecil 'Rodney' Hargrove has taken up enough of my time this evening, come, " finishing the scotch, " off to bed, its another early start for me I'm afraid".
As Robson settled his papers about his place on the table he briefly scrutinised some of the other Committee Members, one signalling specialist, one gunnery expert - pulled out of retirement, a torpedo man - dragged away from his 'school', a munitions 'guru', an officer from the Naval Construction office and a member of the Naval Intelligence Division. Each had been selected by himself, representing each arm of the service in a, hopefully, competent and unbiased way.
On today's agenda, as he rechecked it, the main item was the appearance in person of Rear Admiral Archibald Moore, recalled from his new station in the Canaries specially, followed by the other surviving Captains from the debacle at Dogger Bank, with Mr Brown of Messer's Babcock and Brown, builders of HMS Tiger appearing last. "Wonder if there will be any mention from Mr Brown of his promise to build another Tiger for free if the Germans managed to sink the first one..." his last thought before raising the small gavel to begin the days business proper.
The gavel banged on the table, ending the days discussions. Robson watched as Mr John Brown wiped his gleaming forehead with a handkerchief, finalised collecting his papers, then with a brief nod to the assembled Naval Officers left the Committee room.
"Gentlemen", as the last non-member left the room, "we need to discuss today's results before we leave for the day", a few nods from the members, a couple resuming their seats. "First, I think, a brief adjournment so that the good Chief here "nodding to the impassive CPO standing by the doors "can arrange some light refreshments, and a comfort break too. We resume in ten minutes". With that Robson stood, scraping his chair back, then moved over to the window, watching the people wandering down The Mall towards Buckingham Palace, collecting his thoughts before the resumption. Gentle noises of papers being ruffled, the quiet chink of china cups and plates being moved into place, the occasional click as the doors opened and closed impinge into the quietude of Robson's thoughts.
The day had not gone well so far: From the detailed, but polite, interrogations of the surviving senior officers from the Dogger bank battle-cruisers, no glaring reason had sprung forth, but a multitude of questions had been raised that needed answers, or further interrogation of people who were no longer in the land of the living. Mr Brown had not, of course, repeated his offer to replace the Tiger, but that had never been seriously expected.
The points that had come out as major issues were:-
a) Why did the Tiger explode
b) The quality of the RN's shooting
c) The effects of the RN's hitting
d) The lack of support from the scouting forces during the actual capital ship battle
e) The resilience of the German capital ships
f) The quality of the German shooting
g) The apparent vulnerability of British ships to damage
Robson shook his head slightly, just why were the RN vessels peeled open like tins of peaches, even the Lion and Princess Royal, almost Super-dreadnought armoured as they were. And Tiger! Tiger, the largest ship in the world had just exploded outright. But, at least one issue had been put to bed: The allegation of allowing himself to be divided then conquered had been thrown at the late Admiral Beatty... but which Commander, never mind a Royal Navy Commanding Officer, would refuse battle when having, on paper at least, superior force, even with the lagging of the New Zealand and Indomitable, Beatty had had three of the largest ships in the world against three smaller and less well armed battle-cruisers, one of which was badly damaged, plus one over large armoured cruiser...
The silence in the room intruded into his thoughts, he turned to see his fellow committee members sat patiently, waiting for him to resume his seat. He smiled inwardly at the respect shown, even by the retired Admiral, which in Robson's mind, was even more remarkable given the reputation of Sir Percy Scott as a genius in addition to his superior rank.
It was past midnight when Robson returned home, moving quietly about the house, one last final set of notes to write up then securing his study for the night.
He crept into the family room where Samantha was asleep on the sofa, in front of the banked fire, lightly kissing her forehead he lifts her gently into his arms then carries her upstairs, she murmurs softly in his arms, sleepily wrapping an arm across his shoulders then snuggling close.
"So, how's it gone so far then Robson?" The sharp Northern Irish accent shaping the words almost beyond understanding.
Robson's brow creased slightly as he quickly gathered his words before replying to the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Edward Carson, "Hmm, the investigation is proceeding apace Sir Edward, we've received good co-operation from all concerned so far, no mud slinging either which I'm somewhat surprised about, to tell the truth, some small things that are obviously anomalies, but, as we're not ruling out anything, they will be investigated further, just in case..."
Sir Edwards' careful nod before responding taken as a sign of approval, "and the team you assembled, how is that working out?"
A wry smile appears as Robson speaks, "it's a tough team to lead Sir Edward, they are all experts in their own fields and don't take kindly to being corrected, or even guided at times, by some one outside of their field, but it's working fine on balance. I'd rather have a tough ride keeping them on target than getting the answers wrong, or missing something vital", a hand gently sweeping some imaginary lint from his immaculate uniform trousers. "We've almost finished the high level investigation into Dogger Bank, it's given quite a few pointers to some of the major failures that occurred, but before allocating additional resources to each topic, I want to wait to complete the same level of coverage on Jutland, as some are so obvious that there will be duplication. As one of the witnesses stated, Filson Young..." "Ahh", Sir Edward intruded, "that young reporter bod that Beatty and Churchill placed into the Lions Officers".
"That's him Sir Edward; he has given some insights that have proven to be useful. I guess that we in the Navy can be a bit too incestuous at times. But, he stated, and to a large degree I agree, that everything that went wrong at Dogger also went wrong at Jutland, although, I disagree when he broadened that statement to one of everything that went wrong at Jutland happened at Dogger." (note 1)
"Quite... quite. So, do you have anything I can take to the PM? To say that the Nation awaits the results of your findings would be an understatement to a formidable degree..." The steely eyes, that had previously cut witnesses down to the absolute truth in court, gazed firmly at Robson, waiting for his response.
With a nod, not even having to refer to his own notes Robson began, "Yes Sir Edward, the first point that came out is that our battlecruisers were not sufficiently armoured enough for a ship to ship contest with their opposite numbers. This is easily illustrated by the ease at which they were sunk purely by attrition. If we exclude the loss of the Tiger at this time, all the ships were lost due to an accumulation of hits. Now that brings me immediately on to points two and three, which are distinctly related. The second point that arose is the quality of the shooting itself by our ships, they did not hit enough for the volume of fire, rough estimates give almost an equal number of heavy calibre shots by both sides, but, the estimated actual hits is greatly in the Huns favour. The explanations behind this seem to be twofold, firstly, with the Battle cruisers being stationed at Rosyth, there are no practice firing ranges set up yet, so they could not train sufficiently and secondly, the fire control equipment is not capable of tracking a vessel through a course change of any significance, so that he firing solution needs to be found again after each such change".
The third point, which was actually raised by Admiral Beatty himself prior to his tragic death, was that although when we did hit, the obliquity of the firing angles seemed to defeat our shells much more so than those of the Huns (note 2) and also that the explosive effect of our shells seems to have less than that of the Huns too... The ordinance people are looking further into both these points, but as yet, with no verdict"
"Anything on the Tiger yet?" interjected the First Lord.
"Nothing firm as yet Sir Edward, the only reasonable explanation is that somehow a shell from either the Seydlitz or the Derflinger, we're not sure but probably the latter, penetrated her magazines causing a catastrophic explosion. We suspect a hit on 'B' turret, as some of the survivors from Princess Royal noticed a hit just prior to the explosion and the explosive affect seemed to begin at the fore part of the ship then work back along the hull".
"Hmm, not very encouraging is it Robson...?"
"Unfortunately, I have to agree totally with that statement Sir Edward". "What time do you resume?" The First Lords' enquiry instilling haste without speed into the intonation.
"I'm booked on the 14.45 to Edinburgh, then connecting north to Scapa on arrival, the Board will be assembling the day after tomorrow with the interviewing of the in situ commanders and crews of the Grand Fleet "a quick thought of 'does it still rate 'grand' in its title scurries through Robson's mind as he finishes his sentence, "that will take upwards of three days, depending on the availability of those persons".
"Well good luck and continue the good work, but remember; the Scots don't make good whiskey!" With a smile Sir Edward dismisses Robson.
1) Quotation from 'With the Battlecruisers' by Filson Young.
2) This issue was an point raised by Beatty OTL but not acted upon by the 'Admiralty' administration apparently.
by P. Dawes