David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty

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David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty

David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty (17 January 1871- 11 March 1936), was an admiral in the Royal Navy.

Born in Nantwich, Cheshire, he joined the Royal Navy in January 1884, he served as a midshipman on the Mediterranean Fleet flagship HMS Alexandria from 1886 until 1888 when he was transferred to HMS Cruiser. He was at the gunnery school, HMS Excellent from 1890 until 1892 when he was promoted to lieutenant. He was on the corvette HMS Ruby until 1893 when he was transferred to the battleship HMS Camperdown until 1895. Ironically he joined the ship shortly after a collision between it and HMS Victoria had nearly killed his future chief at the Battle of Jutland, John Jellicoe. Following Camperdown he went to the battleship HMS Trafalgar. In 1897 he was given his first command, the destroyer HMS Ranger.

Beatty gained recognition in the recapture of the Sudan (1897-1899), where he was selected as second in command by Lord Kitchener for his Khartoum expedition. He was promoted to commander during the expedition, in 1898.

He gained further recognition as a member of the British naval brigade during the Boxer Rebellion (1900), which he joined from the battleship HMA Barfleur on the China Station where he was second in command. During the capture of Tientsin in June he was twice wounded in an arm.

In 1900 he married a wealthy heiress, Ethel Tree, the only daughter of department store founder Marshall Field, and this allowed him much independence that poorer officers lacked. She is reputed to have commented after he was threatened with discipliary action following the straining of his ship's engines "What? Court martial my David? I'll buy them a new ship"[1] (,12084,1129148,00.html).

The couple had houses in London, Leicestershire and Scotland, and circulated in high society, even occasionally dining with the King. Beatty was well known for his flamboyant character, which included wearing a non-standard uniform, which had only three buttons instead of the regulation four on the jacket and always wearing his cap at an angle.

He was captain of HMS Duke of Wellington in 1900 to 1902, and the cruisers HMS Juno, HMS Arrogant in 1903-1904 and HMS Suffolk from 1904 until 1905. He then went ashore and became the naval advisor to the Army Council in 1906.

He was made captain of the battleship HMS Queen in 1908 and promoted to Rear Admiral on 1 January 1910, becoming, at 39, the youngest admiral in the Royal Navy except for Royal family members since Horatio Nelson.

He was offered the post of second-in-command of the Atlantic Fleet, but declined it and asked for one in the home fleet. As the Atlantic Fleet post was a major command the Admiraly were very unimpressed and he nearly ruined his career. He was put on half pay in 1912 but his career was saved when the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, whom he knew from the Sudan, appointed him private secretary. He commanded the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron between 1912, and 1916.

During the Great War, he took part in actions at Heligoland Bight (1914), Dogger Bank (1915) and Jutland (1916). He was an aggressive commander who expected his subordinates to always use their initiative without direct orders from himself.

Jutland proved to be decisive in Beatty's career, although it meant the loss of three of his battlecruisers. Beatty is reported to have remarked "there appears to be something wrong with our bloody ships today" after two of them had exploded within half an hour during the battle. Churchill's account of the First World War, The World Crisis, describes Beatty's next order as "Steer two points nearer the enemy" but this is apocryphal. His next order was to turn away by two points and in any case a few minutes later he reversed his fleet's course to fulfill its anticipated role of leading the German forces towards the main British fleet.

Admiral John Jellicoe, described in Churchill's book as the man who could "lose the war in an afternoon" by losing the strategic British superiority in dreadnought battleships, was not the dashing showman that was David Beatty. When Jellicoe was promoted to First Sea Lord in 1916, partly to reduce the huge merchant ship losses caused by U-boats, he was replaced as commander of the Grand Fleet by Beatty. Jellicoe was subsequently replaced by David Lloyd George as First Lord by Beatty for failing to institute convoys.

However, Beatty disappointed many of his supporters by continuing many of Jellicoe's policies. Although, he did support David Lloyd George in the introduction of convoys in the Atlantic. In 1919, he was appointed Admiral of the Fleet and First Sea Lord until his retirement in 1927. Also during 1919, he was created 1st Earl Beatty, Baron Beatty of the North Sea and Brooksby.

David Beatty spent much of his life (when not at sea) in Leicestershire, and lived Brooksby Hall (now an agricultural college). During the war he and his wife performed many services for the public of Leicestershire, including opening up their home first as a VAD Hospital under the 5th Northern General Hospital, and later a hospital for Naval Personnel.

Preceded by:
Sir Rosslyn Wemyss
First Sea Lord
Succeeded by:
Sir Charles Madden

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Preceded by:
New Creation
Earl Beatty
Succeeded by:
David Field Beatty

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