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Before Jutland is an effort to understand what happened at sea in northern European waters in 1914-15 when the German High Sea Fleet faced the Grand Fleet in the North Sea and the Russian Fleet in the Baltic.
The book is an extensively revised and extended version of the author's 1984 work The King's Ships Were at Sea.
It covers the first six months of the First World War because very important things occurred in that time and, despite the loose ends that inevitably remain with four more years of conflict to follow, important things can be said. The focus is primarily on the British, but both the Germans and the Russians are integral to the study because neither the British nor the Germans' North Sea activities can be fairly assessed without giving due weight to the Baltic theatre of operations.
This is an operational history, which balances coverage of the major incidents with treatment of the continuum of activity.
The intent within the scene setting chapters is not to attempt a complete survey of the events of the previous decade, but to situate each navy within the environment of 1914. Before Jutland includes the battles of Heligoland Bight and the Dogger Bank, as well as the shock of the submarine and its effect on the operations of all the protagonists.
In analysing these events, it seeks to provide the context within which the protagonists were actually working, without the application of excessive hindsight, because in 1914 so much was new and experimental.
Observers are inclined to consider what is known as the 'Fisher Era' as a continuum from Admiral Fisher's accession as First Sea Lord in the British Admiralty in 1904; in reality the pace of operational development not only accelerated but became truly multi-lane only after about 1909, just before the great reformer went into his first retirement. The pressures at all levels within navies were therefore intensifying in the years immediately before the outbreak of the war in ways that were not fully understood, nor necessarily recognized.
In short, those involved were struggling to learn a new language of naval operations and warfare with an incomplete dictionary and very little grammar. In all, Before Jutland tries to show not only what happened, but how the services evolved to meet the challenges that they faced at the opening of the Great War and whether or not that evolution was successful.
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