The Invasion Question: Admiralty plans to defend the British Isles, 1888-1918
Morgan-Owen, David Gethin
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
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This thesis presents a new analysis of British naval policy before and during the First World War which challenges both orthodox and revisionist interpretations of the period and highlights a highly significant yet much neglected facet of Admiralty planning. It argues that safeguarding the British Isles from invasion was one of the Admiralty’s prime concerns between 1888 and 1918 and that these defensive considerations played a hitherto unappreciated role in shaping British naval strategy. By exploiting source material generally overlooked by previous writers, it demonstrates that, contrary to popular historical belief, Britain’s naval leadership planned extensively to ensure the inviolability of the British coastline during this period. Before 1900, these plans were characterized by relying upon an extensive flotilla of small vessels, supported by a small number of old armoured warships, to secure the position in the Channel and North Sea, while the Navy’s most modern warships focused upon the main French Fleet in the Mediterranean. The Admiralty’s willingness to rely primarily upon flotilla craft for home defence ended after 1900, however, when German displaced France as Britain’s primary naval rival. Germany posed a very different threat to Britain than had previously been the case with France, since it possessed a merchant marine large enough to transport a significant military force without major disruption to the normal operation of its commerce and had her naval forces concentrated in northern waters. Despite the paucity of German planning for the invasion of the United Kingdom, the Admiralty became haunted by the possibility of a ‘surprise’ German invasion attempt, launched before the outset of war and escorted by a strong German Fleet. The Admiralty identified the danger of a surprise German raid or invasion by early 1907 and formed a series of highly secretive plans to deploy the Navy’s most modern armoured warships into the North Sea at the outset of war to meet this danger. These plans were updated constantly between 1910 and 1918 as perceptions of the German threat developed. The nature and extent of these plans has highly significant implications for our understanding of naval policy throughout the period, and for our appreciation of the role of sea power during the First World War.
PhD in Maritime History