In this latest Tribal Class Destroyer article Dr Alex Clarke gives us the story of HMS Eskimo. Many ships loose a bow in their career, especially smaller warships which are involved in the melee; few loose it three times in a career – even in World War II. Such colour certainly serves to make history interesting, although it is not, or rather not just, because of facts like this that led to her selection for this series. HMS Eskimo’s story is so wide an complex that it could not be limited to one part, and when combined with the life of Admiral John Eaton, then it expanded even more and has therefore made itself hopefully the perfect Christmas/New Year series within a series to read.
|Admiral Eaton taking the Salute outside Supreme Allied Headquarters Atlantic –
LHCMA – Eaton II
From Sheffield he moved to the training school HMS St Vincent, and then being appointed Director of the RN Staff College, Greenwich, in 1949.[i] These last two posts were significant as they were consider crucial to shaping the future force, and only officers of trusted skill and leadership were even deliberated over for the appointments, let alone appointed. During his tenure he was an active participant, and was judged to have done well. One speech in particular is pertinent from his time at Greenwich, both in terms of demonstrating what his experience had taught him, but also foreshadowing what comes later in his career. This speech was entitled “Grand Strategy, It’s Background and Application in a Future War” and he gave it to the staff college in 1950.[ii] The whole speech is worth reading, but it is the second part which provides illumination of leadership. Here Eaton proposed:
“2. The Relation between Policy and Strategy
Before going any further let us try and clear our minds about the meaning of the word Strategy. It comes from the Greek word ‘Strategos’ meaning the ‘leader of an army’ and the significant thing is that the same Greek word also means ‘Chief Magistrate’. Thus you will see that the word Strategy was in concept, political as well as military, and it is most important that you should recognise the affinity between Policy and Strategy. National Policy and Strategy on the highest plane are in fact indivisible.
- Even on the highest level it is not pure theory that determines the policy and strategy of a nation. The relationship of any nation towards its neighbours, which nowadays includes virtually all other countries who may be potential allies or enemies and its geographical positon in regard to them, will determine its national policy. Thus national policy is governed by antecedents and environment, by historical ties, by the ideology of the people and by the interpretation of that ideology by their leaders.” [iii]
Eaton is deftly pulling together a lot of concepts, interestingly he doesn’t mention the judicial role of magistrates but instead focuses on the political. Possibly in later speeches discussing peace enforcement missions, like that he had taken part in during the Spanish Civil War he might have brought it up. Instead though he is focusing the balancing act leaders have to manage between the naval and military requirements of an operation, and the domestic/foreign political requirement of an operation. He takes this point further:
“4. National Policy
While on the subject of Policy, I would like to give you an example of British National Policy which has affected our strategy for centuries, our Policy of the ‘Balance of Power in Europe’. For 400 years we have always opposed the strongest and most aggressive power on the Continent with the aim of preventing the Low Countries from falling into the hands of such a Power. It is very remarkable how we have maintained this policy through so many years. How we have never joined with the strongest power on the Continent of Europe, although it must have been very tempting at times to do so, but in alliance with the weaker States, have always opposed the Strong Power whether it was Spain, France or Germany, because we were determined to maintain the Balance of Power. This, of course, is in effect what we are doing to-day, although the scene has broadened. It is to-day a question of the balance of world power, a fact fully realised by the countries who are in alliance with us.
- Who will deny that Russia is one of the strongest and certainly the most aggressive power to-day? Our policy is to avoid a war with that county, but to be prepared to fight it should that war come. We have according formed a series of understandings with the United States, the Commonwealth countries and the other Atlantic Treaty Powers, with the aim of organising essential deterrent forces and of building up offensive power should war break out.
- At the same time, we are trying to resist the spread of communism by all possible means short of war. / Against this background the Strategic problem is set.
- Policy and Strategy then go hand in hand. Policy being the predominant partner in peace and Strategy the managing director in war. We must, I think, be ever on our guard against Political expediencies, which are a Strategical nonsense.” [iv]
In effect Eaton has said, that policy and strategy have to be simpatico, that grand strategy though needs to be long term, practical and thought through – short term solutions may sound attractive at the time but don’t provide for proper security. Balance is the key, building alliances that balance power is the strategy he is supporting, stressing the need for allies, including but certainly not limited to the United States in order to balance Russia. As such it is a realistic and honest analysis of Britain’s capabilities at the time, but it still manages to be positive, as it’s highlighting that the nation which brings all these people together is Britain – it’s the common link, the friend to all, and if those in the room are as willing to work with others as Eaton’s espousing then that will mean greater security for Britain. Although to do so will require Britain’s traditional flexibility of approach to diplomacy.
This willingness to work with others was perhaps a factor in his next appointment, Flag Officer commanding HM Australian Fleet in 1951.[v] The Korean War was raging and Britain was preparing to carry out its first nuclear weapons test at Monte Bello Islands, Western Australia. [vi] The commander of the Australian Fleet was a key post for these operations, critical to not only the operational success, but the political management of both the UK/Australia relationship and the emergence of the Royal Australian Navy as its own service. Eaton was crucial to all of this, mainly because of how he approached the task of forging links:
“It is my firm belief that the uninterrupted use of the sea will continue to be the principle factor in the prosperity and security of this great widely scattered community of ours, and that if we wish to go on as we have begun we must continue to look to our moat.
Finally Ladies and Gentlemen I am reminded of my remarks earlier in my talk to you this evening of the use of the sea for pleasure and recreation by members of Yacht Squadrons such as this. Alas they have been called on to put their knowledge of seamanship to grimmer uses than these I have just mentioned. In the Epic of Dunkirk and in the manning of all sorts of auxiliary craft in all the theatres of war they did a magnificent job. The Navies of the Commonwealth will always be in their debt.”[vii]
These words were spoken to a dinner at Sydney Royal Yacht club, to an audience composed of members from all the Australian Royal Yacht Clubs. It was Empire day 1953, and these closing remarks were delivering a message about sea power to the audience. In stressing though “ours” and the commonwealth, the recent history together, Eaton sought to renew ties with what was an influential elite. This was however a theme he did not just leave to the elite’s, when talking on Australian radio he continued it:
“Now the changes that have taken place in the last thirty years or so have had a profound affect on the whole conduct of sea warfare and I think it might perhaps be of interest to you if I said a few words on this subject. Countries like Australia and Great Britain which are completely surrounded by sea have always been told in the past to ‘Look to their moat’ when consider the problem of defence. Today they have not only got to look to the moat but to the air over that moat. Moreover the moat will undoubtedly contain in time of war hidden perils the shape of fast-moving submarines and mines very difficult to locate and destroy”
But if life is to be judged by legacy then it was what came later, when after a year in command as Flag Officer commanding the Reserve Fleet, he was appointed in 1955 to the combined post of Commander-in-Chief, America and West Indies Station and Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic.[viii] He would be the last officer to hold this duel role, as it was he would manage its headquarters move from Caribbean to Norfolk, Virginia. Again it was as much a political management role as an operational command one, but in this role he was securing Britain’s place at the table in the NATO command structure as the organisation was being forged anew. The move to Virginia could have caused a loss of face, a loss of influence, as the move was made from a separate command to a deputy command. Instead of letting it subside into subservience, he set a precedence of being the strong right hand, the discreet sounding board and the firm questioner; the role which could and would stand up to the supreme commander if necessary.
This was important, as the two supreme commanders would more often than not be American, and Britain could not really hope to maintain the deputy commander Europe role, as others would commit more troops. However, thanks to Eaton, the RN managed to confirm that as long as there was to be a Supreme Commander Atlantic, the Deputy Supreme Commander Atlantic would be British. This meant for Britain a permanent senior post, a permanent point of influence within the doctrine and planning of NATO. It was a critical role, for NATO as well as national prestige and remained so till the reorganisation of NATO in the early 2000s, when the whole Atlantic command structure was virtually done away with. In a final twist though, Admiral Sir Ian Forbes, who was the last Deputy Commander, was also made the last Supreme Commander – although he only held it in an Acting capacity.
Perhaps though this is not the only legacy Eaton should have, for a man who didn’t enjoy speeches but had to make them, he certainly made some fine ones, with often interesting conclusions. It was though his opening remarks which seem to have been his strongest, and the ones which could perhaps serve best today, come from a lecture he gave in March 1953 to the Australian Joint Anti-Submarine School:
“I am going to try this morning to put before you my conception of Maritime Power and its general application in War. Gallons of ink and tons of bumph have been expended in the past on this subject. Men who have forgotten more about the subject than I shall ever know, have written learned tomes on ‘Sea Power’, ‘Maritime Strategy’, ‘The Navy’s Part in Strategy’ and the ‘Control of Sea Communications’. Many of these works were written before the advent of Air Power and as such have to be studied with discrimination, but the volume of literature shows clearly how important a matter a proper understand of the problems inherent in the successful conduct of Sea Warfare was considered to be. In my opinion that understand is equally important to-day. In fact it might well be argued that it is more important in view of the complexity of Modern War.
So it is with considerable trepidation that I approach my task this morning. If in the course of my talk, I make statements that are blindingly obvious and generally tend to over-simplify, I would ask you to bear in mind that we have in the past often overlooked the obvious and concentrated on the obscure and that a simple mind must needs deal with a complex problem in a simple way.”[ix]
|Admiral Eaton with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip on their visit to Virginian and the Supreme Allied Headquarters Atlantic –
LHCMA – Eaton II
[i] LHCMA – Eaton III
[ii] LHCMA – Eaton I
[iii] LHCMA – Eaton I
[iv] LHCMA – Eaton I
[v] LHCMA – Eaton III
[vi] LHCMA – Eaton III
[vii] LHCMA – Eaton I
[viii] LHCMA – Eaton II
[ix] LHCMA – Eaton I