In February, 1907, my time in command of the Atlantic Fleet was up, and Lord Tweedmouth, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty, asked me to go as Second Sea Lord, and I accepted. Lord Tweedmouth was not First Lord for long, as he broke down in health and was relieved by Mr. McKenna. Sir John Fisher was then the First Sea Lord, Sir Henry Jackson the Controller, and Admiral Winsloe the Fourth Sea Lord. As Second Sea Lord, I had complete charge of the personnel, which was up to 130,000 men. We were by this time very much concerned about the strength of the German Fleet and were gradually increasing our Fleet and personnel. The Home Fleet was divided when Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson left; Lord Charles Beresford was in command of the Channel Fleet, but the main part of the Fleet and the latest ships were stationed in reserve, half crews at Sheerness, under the command of Vice-Admiral Bridgeman. This led to controversy between Lord Charles Beresford and the Admiralty, especially with the First Sea Lord, who would not bring Lord Charles’ Fleet up to the strength that he wanted, or to what it had been in his predecessor’s time. Beresford was constantly writing to the Admiralty telling them that his Fleet was not in a position to meet the Germans, and that he ought to have more ships. In the end there was an Inquiry, the Premier (Mr. Asquith) and two other Cabinet Ministers were on it, and if Beresford had been more au fait with the details of his case when giving his evidence, Sir John Fisher would have come out of it very badly.
When I was appointed to command the Home Fleet in 1909, Sir John Fisher combined the ships that had been under Beresford and Bridgeman, thus returning to the organization in force when Sir Arthur Wilson commanded. The Home Fleet under my command was composed of all ships in commission and reserve in Home Waters. This, in my opinion, should have been done when Beresford was there, and I often used to argue with Sir John Fisher on the subject; he did occasionally give in to a certain extent, but he would never give Beresford more than a few ships at a time.
When I was Second Sea Lord we were working up the personnel of the fleet, and I had only the one civilian Secretary, until the last six months of my time, when a captain was appointed to assist me. What a contrast to the staff the Second Sea Lord has now, 1930, with about six people to help him! Before I had finished my time, the First Lord offered me the command of the Mediterranean Fleet, but I said that I should prefer to have the Home Fleet, provided that I was left in command in case of war, and he said that he would be glad to let me have it; so in February, 1909, I was given command of the Home Fleet, Beresford being superseded at the end of two instead of three years. The Home Fleet was then brought back to its proper strength – in fact, in my opinion it was too big. The Fleets under Lord Charles Beresford, and Admiral Bridgeman at Sheerness, and all the reserve ships in the Home Ports were put under my command – that is to say that I had over 400 ships, together with destroyers and submarines. I pointed out to the Admiralty once or twice that the protection of the East Coast ought to be taken out of my hands and put in charge of another Admiral, who would be able to organize his destroyers and submarines and have telephonic communication between the principal stations. When I was given command of this large Fleet, it was organized in four divisions: two divisions were up to full strength and the other divisions were, with reduced crews, at various Home Ports. There had been a great deal of jealousy between Beresford’s Fleet and Bridgeman’s Fleet, and when they came together under my command, this jealousy persisted, chiefly with the Senior officers in Beresford’s old Fleet, so I had to exercise very great tact to keep the peace. In fact the senior officers of the two Fleets never amalgamated well until after I had taken Captain (now Admiral of the Fleet) Sir Arthur Gough-Calthorpe, who commanded one of the ships in Beresford’s Fleet, as Captain of the Fleet; he thus became Chief Staff Officer for both Fleets and had much influence with his old Captains. Previous to taking command, I was promoted to Admiral in 1908.
I took the Fleet to Scapa Flow in April, 1909; this was the first time that such a large Fleet had ever been there. In June, 1909, we had a Review at Spithead for the Colonial Premiers, who had all come to England that year. On the invitation of the Lord Mayor, Sir G. Wyatt Truscott, and the City of London, I had to take the whole Fleet to Southend in June, 1909, and some of the submarines went up the Thames and anchored off Westminster. The Lord Mayor, the Sheriffs and entourage visited the Fleet at Southend, and we showed them submarines diving, torpedoes being fired at the nets, etc. The Lord Mayor gave us a Grand Banquet at the Mansion House and proposed the health of the British Navy, to which I had to reply. He also gave a dinner to 1,200 Bluejackets and Marines; they marched through the streets of London to the Guildhall and were received with great acclamation. I put Captain Beatty (now Earl Beatty) in command and he arranged everything very well. After Southend, we went to Cowes, in August, 1909, for a Review of the Fleet by the Emperor of Russia. King Edward and the Czar of Russia inspected the Fleet and came on board my Flagship, the Dreadnought. The Czar conferred on me the Order 1st Class of the Alexandra Nevsky.
On May 21st, 1910, I was present at the Memorial Service in Dublin on the death of King Edward the Seventh. In July, 1910, the whole Fleet was mobilized and placed under my command – over 400 ships with fourteen Flag officers – and I took this Armada into Mountsbay, where King George the Fifth was to inspect the Fleet for the first time in his reign. We had very bad weather there, it was blowing hard and heavy seas were running. Eventually I reported that I thought the Fleet would be better at Torquay, where we should have more shelter. The Admiralty agreed, and so, much to the regret of myself and those people at Mountsbay who had been organizing entertainments for us, I had to leave and we anchored at Torquay. The King and Queen came on board the Dreadnought to watch the Fleet at manoeuvres, and on that occasion the King and Queen honoured me by their presence at luncheon, as did the present Prince of Wales, who was quite a young boy. We had very bad weather, with fog, which was very disagreeable. The King sent a letter marking his appreciation of the condition of the Fleet; it ran as follows:
“It has given His Majesty great pleasure to have seen the combined Fleets, and he wishes to express his high appreciation of the excellent state of efficiency in which he has found them, and of the keen spirit displayed by both officers and men.
“His Majesty congratulates you on your magnificent Command.”
On this occasion His Majesty presented me with a portrait of himself in a handsome silver frame. I had a picture painted of the Fleet steaming into Torquay, the artist being Mr. Wyllie, R.A. After the inspection by His Majesty, the ships dispersed to different ports in the United Kingdom to carry out gunnery and torpedo practices. Some went to Invergordon; the officers attended the Northern meeting and were kindly entertained by the county people.
In 1910 the American Fleet visited Portland (Admiral Seaton Schroder in command), remaining more than ten days. This consisted of their latest battleships; the officers were not keen to show the working of the turrets in their ships until I gave an afternoon party on board my Flagship, when I had the turrets and everything else working – with the result that they immediately returned the compliment and showed us all their latest improvements, especially the working of their turrets by electrical power. The ships were in quite good order, but the men seemed to me not to have the stamina of ours. In fact, they were quite a different class, and it was amusing to see the ordinary American Bluejacket landing with his suitcase and going off to London for a few days.