No man ever made his mark on the Navy the way that Lord Fisher did. He was unquestionably the greatest reforming admiral of all time and many of his changes were long-lasting. Some of his critics accused him of ill-thought out reforms carried out on the spur of the moment. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Battle fleets of long-range and high-speed ships, sound training schemes to forge the best officers, the withdrawal of obsolete ships and the rearrangement of the foreign fleets to best cope with external threats, the revolutionary use of mines and torpedoes are just a few of the reforms that Fisher pushed through.
His controversial and much misunderstood Dreadnought was a work of genius. Almost all naval opinion and all public opinion considered him out of his mind to build a ship that would at a stroke eliminate the Fleet’s superiority over that of Germany. But he had the vision to see the technological inevitability of dreadnoughts and the advantage to be gained by being the first to develop them.
Fisher made mistakes (the idea of the marines joining the Selborne Scheme proved impracticable) and he had his oversights (as in his neglect of dockyards on the east coast and his refusal to set up a war staff) but they are trivial in comparison with his achievements. He and Churchill were particularly derided for their command of naval part of the Dardanelles expedition.
All this could not have been be done without upsetting others. He challenged the old-school who simply opposed any change at all and he upset others who favoured changes, but not his changes. His drive, energy and determination led him to give short shrift to those who blocked his path. But, despite the claims to the contrary, there is abundant evidence that he sought the opinions of others and listened to argument. His mind, far from being closed, ferociously picked the brains of others.
When Rear Admiral Sir Robert Arbuthnot watched the Fleet review in July 1914, he commented ‘All that is best and most modern here is the creation of Lord Fisher.’
Richard Freeman’s thoroughly researched ‘Tempestuous Genius’ provides a fascinating overview of the turbulent life and times of Admiral Lord Fisher.
Author: Richard Freeman
Title: Tempestuous Genius: The Life of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher
First Published by: Endeavour Press
Date: 7 September 2015