REFERENCE DOCUMENTS & RESOURCES - OFFICIAL ADMIRALTY DOCUMENTS
ADM 239/261: THE FIGHTING INSTRUCTIONS, 1939 (C.B.04027)
Updated 31-Mar-2007

This document is a modern transcription of a portion of Admiralty record ADM 239/261. This lengthy document contains the Admiralty's official fighting instructions. The original file is held at the The National Archives at Kew, London. This Crown Copyrighted material is reproduced here by kind permission of The National Archives.

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INTRODUCTORY
SECTION I.-FACTORS AFFECTING NAVAL OPERATIONS

CONTENTS

Clause Subject
1-10
1
2
3
4
5-6
7
8-9
10
 
11-30
11
12-17
18
19
20
21
22
23-24
25
26-27
28-29
30
31-34
GENERAL
Fighting the enemy.
Initiative.
Mutual support.
Loss of ships.
Maintenance of touch with the enemy.
Enemy reports in action.
Action at night.
The use of W/T.
 
TACTICAL
Advantage of sighting the enemy first.
Selection of a favourable tactical position.
The effect of disposition and formation on tactics.
Concentration.
Range at which to fight.
Speed of ships when fighting.
Ammunition expenditure.
Use of smoke in action.
Reporting enemy recognition signals.
Disabled British ships.
Help for damaged ships and aircraft.
Rescue of aircraft personnel.
(Blank)

GENERAL

FIGHTING THE ENEMY
1.
This can only be achieved by a strong offensive spirit and by bold and correct tactical handling of the units engaged. Engagement with a greatly superior force does not constitute sound tactics unless there is some vital object to be achieved by so doing. Once in action, Flag Officers and Captains should concentrate on pressing the enemy and not be influenced by the possible damage their ships may receive.

INITIATIVE
2.
The varying and unforeseen circumstances which always arise in action demand the display of initiative by all concerned. Captains, whenever they find themselves without specific directions during an action or are faced with unforeseen circumstances which render previous orders inapplicable, must act as their judgement dictates to further their Admiral's wishes. Care should be taken when framing instructions, that these are not of too rigid a nature.

MUTUAL SUPPORT
3.
In the past the unfailing support given by one British ship to another in battle has contributed largely to success in action. To-day the same mutual support must be given and expected between all classes of ships. The fact that it is often the duty of heavy ships to give support to small ships should not be forgotten.

LOSS OF SHIPS
4.
War at sea cannot be waged successfully without risking the loss of ships. Before any specific operations can be undertaken, consideration must be given to the losses that may be expected. Should the object to be achieved justify a reasonable loss of ships, the fact that such losses may occur should be no deterrent to the carrying out of the operation.

MAINTENANCE OF TOUCH WITH THE ENEMY
5.
It is the duty of any ship or aircraft which gains touch with the enemy to retain it. Ships should not normally, however, expose themselves to such disablement as would render them incapable of reporting the enemy's movements. In the event of losing touch or being driven off, endeavour should be made to regain touch as soon as possible.

6. Very good reasons should exist before touch with an enemy is relinquished. If an order from a Senior Officer is received, compliance with which will result in losing touch with the enemy, the possibility of the authority concerned not being in full possession of the facts must be considered.

ENEMY REPORTS IN ACTION
7.
It is vital for the success of any operation that the Admiral should be kept fully informed of the movements of the enemy and the development of the action. Nearly every incident is seen by at least one ship or aircraft, but only a few can be observed by the Admiral. Ships and aircraft should never assume that the Admiral can see everything that they can see. When in doubt, it is better in action to give too much information than too little.

ACTION AT NIGHT
8.
The essence of night fighting is surprise followed by prompt action ; complete readiness is essential. In any action at night, the primary object is to develop the maximum volume of gun and torpedo fire before the enemy can do so, and all other considerations are of secondary importance. Results at night will depend on the action taken in the first minute or so, and if the most effective action is not taken immediately it is unlikely that there will be time to recover.

9. Any tendency to assume that a vessel sighted at night is friendly is both dangerous and unsound. It is an advantage in night operations if the initial positions and ordered movements of friendly vessels can be promulgated to all units, in order that vessels sighted unexpectedly in the dark can normally be assumed to be hostile.

THE USE OF W/T
10.
W/T messages may be intercepted or D/F'ed by the enemy, so putting him on his guard and giving him valuable information as to the position of our forces. When in doubt in regard to making a signal by W/T, Captains should balance the advantages to be gained by rapid communication against the possible loss of surprise. The detailed instructions on this matter are contained in the Signal Manual, Chapter XVII.

TACTICAL

ADVANTAGE OF SIGHTING THE ENEMY FIRST
11.
In any action the initiative will be obtained by sighting the enemy before being sighted. The advantage gained may be of short duration, but this should be fully exploited by prompt action. At night this may make the whole difference between being sunk and sinking the enemy. Hence, every endeavour should be made, by day and night, to achieve first sighting.

SELECTION OF A FAVOURABLE TACTICAL POSITION
12.
When the enemy has been located the Admiral will manoeuvre his forces to obtain a good tactical position or force a bad one on the enemy. The following are the factors which affect the choice of tactical position ; their relative importance must vary with the circumstances.

13. Time. The time available, in which to defeat the enemy before daylight fails, will always be of the first importance.

14. Visibility. Visibility and conditions of light may vary in different directions and areas. A force that attains a position which enables its ships to have the best sight of and to be the least obvious to the enemy, will gain an advantage in conditions of differing visibility. The disadvantage of having a setting sun behind the enemy has now been overcome by the introduction of shades for spotting glasses and director sights ; once the sun is below the horizon, gunfire is assisted while twilight lasts. The same principle applies at dawn.

15. Dawn. When ships meet at dawn, the advantage of light usually favours the ship to the westward. If enemy ships are suspected of being in the vicinity and circumstances permit, ships or units not already in touch can expect prior sighting of any enemy units near them to the eastward, or can avoid being surprised by enemy ships to the westward of them, by steaming at high speed to the eastward from before first light.

16. Wind, sea and swell

(a) It is desirable to deploy in a direction that will bring the wind nearly ahead.
(b) If gunnery requirements predominate, it is better to have the wind on the engaged side so as to avoid interference from funnel and cordite smoke.
(c) A wind on the disengaged side will enable full use to be made of smoke for screening a retirement.
(d) The movements and gunfire of destroyers will be hampered when attacking into a strong head wind or a heavy swell.
(e) For the operations of aircraft carriers it is usually better to have the wind on the disengaged side ; this depends on the strength of the wind.

17. The strategical situation and the conduct of the enemy may, and in the majority of cases will, be the overriding factors in bringing the enemy to action. In these circumstances, any delay involved in improving the tactical position will be unacceptable. The possibility of "fixing" an unwilling or faster enemy by means of air striking force attacks must be constantly borne in mind.

THE EFFECT OF DISPOSITION AND FORMATION ON TACTICS
18.
When two or more squadrons or ships come into range of the enemy, all ships should open fire together. This can best be achieved by disposing squadrons at right angles to the known or expected bearing of the enemy. Ships in column should be formed on a line of bearing broad to the bearing of the enemy ; this formation enables "A" arcs to be quickly opened when ships turn together to the desired course.

CONCENTRATION
19.
Opportunities for concentration may occur unexpectedly and must be seized without delay. A tactical concentration of a stronger force on a weaker should be the constant aim ; when obtained, it can be exploited by a concentration of gunfire on the enemy.

RANGE AT WHICH TO FIGHT
20.
There is always a best range at which to fight a given enemy in given conditions. By day, the main considerations are the characteristics of the opposing ships ; the effects of air-spotting and weather on gunfire ; and the tactical situation. In general, however, a short range should be aimed at. At such a range the superior fighting qualities and stamina of the British race should tell, as they have so often in the past. It must be remembered that in closing the range an end-on target is difficult to hit ; risk of damage from enemy gunfire will be reduced if frequent small alterations of course are made, while steering towards the enemy. At night, the best range is that at which ships can attack the enemy effectively and unseen.

SPEED OF SHIPS WHEN FIGHTING
21.
High speed is invaluable in gaining touch with the enemy. Once an action starts, maintenance of full speed may no longer remain a tactical necessity. An appropriate reduction in speed will often facilitate control and so increase effectiveness of gunfire.

AMMUNITION EXPENDITURE
22.
War experience has proven that is is unsound policy to refrain from engaging enemy ships within gunrange, in order to husband ammunition for a better opportunity later in the action. These opportunities seldom recur. As a general rule, fire should be deliberate at extreme range and maximum fire developed as soon as the enemy comes within effective gun range. An exception may be made on those occasion when a ship is able to close an enemy unseen.

USE OF SMOKE IN ACTION
23.
In all forms of warfare, smoke screens have a psychological effect ; they conceal an unknown threat which may result in a measure of fear or anxiety on the part of the enemy. In particular situations smoke also provides an additional weapon for both attack and defence. On all occasions, however, when smoke is employed tactically two important features must be remembered:-

(a) It is always difficult for the smoke-laying unit to lay the smoke in the right place and at the moment desired by a Senior Officer.
(b) Smoke when once laid is no longer under control.

24. While the immediate advantage to be gained by using smoke should never be overlooked, it must not be forgotten that, for the reasons given in (a) and (b) above, it may later prove to be a disadvantage.

REPORTING ENEMY RECOGNITION SIGNALS
25.
A knowledge of the challenge and reply of other recognition signals employed by the enemy will be of the greatest value in action. Should any ship obtain such information, it should be passed at once to the Admiral by cypher message. The fact of our challenge being compromised by being made to a ship which afterwards proved hostile, should also be reported unless this challenge will shortly be changed. However, the above reports should not be made unless the Captain considers that the use of W/T for this purpose is justified.

DISABLED BRITISH SHIPS
26.
No disabled ship or ship whose ammunition is expended, should leave her unit unless unable to keep station. If station cannot be maintained, disabled ships should join any other ships similarly placed and continue to follow the main force as far as their capabilities allow. They may be of considerable value in the later stages of an action - for example, for dealing with disabled enemy ships. Ships, which have expended all their ammunition and torpedoes, will be available for towing disabled vessels or for other after-action duties.

27. No ship is to be allowed to fall into the hands of the enemy. When a ship has to be abandoned, the Captain is held responsible that she does in fact sink, and he should not leave the vicinity until this has been confirmed.

HELP FOR DAMAGED SHIPS AND AIRCRAFT
28.
When cruising, no capital ship, aircraft carrier or cruiser should go to the assistance of any ship that has been torpedoed or mined without a direct order from the Admiral, or until adequate precautions against submarines and mines have been taken. Destroyers should not use high speed when proceeding to the assistance of vessels believed to have been mined, but should proceed with cautions.

29. No ship engaged with the enemy is to break off action to go to the assistance of a damaged ship or aircraft, without a direct order from a Senior Officer.

RESCUE OF AIRCRAFT PERSONNEL
30.
The personnel of aircraft forced down in the sea should be rescued by destroyers or smaller vessels. Cruisers and larger ships are not to stop to rescue aircraft crews, but they may drop a provisioned boat or carley raft if not in action and unless enemy submarines are known to be in the vicinity.

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