I'm asking about specific procedures in place on a specific ship, and fleet-wide as well if they exist. If the captain of a ship in the Grand Fleet ordered his ship to move in a particular direction or to a particular location, and if the fleet was very close together (for instance, a few ship's lengths between any give ships), how did the helmsman of that ship ensure that the course wouldn't take them too close to any other? How was this changed when perhaps multiple ships were moving at once?


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There were a standard set of helm orders and procedures for controlling the ship, communicated via the "signal book," which were designed to ensure that ships did not collide. The ships were not free to manoeuvre independently: there was a hierarchy of people who could give orders:

  1. The commander-in-chief of the fleet.
  2. The admiral in command of each squadron.
  3. The admiral in charge of each division within a squadron.
  4. Each ship's commander.

This system had become very important in the late nineteenth century after the collision between HMS Victoria, and HMS Camperdown in 1893. This had been the fault of the fleet commander, Admiral George Tryon, who'd given an order that was obviously going to cause a collision, but nobody dared argue.

There is a highly regarded book, The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command by Andrew Gordon, on the effects of the Royal Navy's command system on the Navy's ability to fight effectively. It's necessary reading if you want to go into this subject.


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