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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- Pages 69-73 -

FLEET ACTION
SECTION VII.-INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE FLEET AT DUSK

CONTENTS

Clause Subject

400-404
400
401
402
403-404

405-429
405
406
407-408
409-410
411-412
413-414
415-416
417-418
419
420-429

GENERAL.
Policy.
Night policy signal.
Instructions when the two fleets have not met by dusk.
(blank)

THE PLAN OF BATTLE.
General.
Aircraft carriers
Aircraft.
Maintenance of touch by surface forces.
(blank)
Action by destroyers at night.
Ordering an attacking force.
Units that have become detached.
The battlefleet
(blank)


SECTION VII.-INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE FLEET AT DUSK

GENERAL

POLICY
400.
If the enemy has not been brought to action or when a fleet action is still in progress at dusk, it will be essential to ensure that the enemy fleet does not escape in the failing light. During this period and after dark, the object of the British fleet will remain the destruction of the enemy battlefleet. This may be accomplished:-

(a) By bringing the battlefleet into action with the enemy capital ships at the earliest possible moment, or
(b) By postponing action between the battlefleets until the light forces have first attacked, or until dawn.
Note.- Action at night is dealt with in Section VIII.

NIGHT POLICY SIGNAL
401.
It is essential that the fleet should know before nightfall the course of action the Admiral intends to adopt, and that a reference position is issued to the fleet before units are detached for their various duties. When making the night policy signal, the Admiral will endeavour to include the following information as far as appropriate in the particular situation:-

(a) The Admiral's general intentions.
(b) Available information about the enemy.
(c) Disposition and movements of the battlefleet during the night.
(d) Morning rendezvous for detached units.

INSTRUCTIONS WHEN THE TWO FLEETS HAVE NOT MET BY DUSK
402. If the enemy fleet is reported at some distance from our forces and contact is unlikely before dark, the Admiral will probably order an attacking force to be formed, and the remainder of the fleet to take up a night cruising disposition before dark.

403. (Blank)

404. (Blank)

INSTRUCTIONS WHEN THE ACTION IS BROKEN OFF AT DUSK

GENERAL
405.
When the two fleets are in action at sunset, contact between them may be lost in the failing visibility. Every endeavour will be made to continue the action and complete the destruction of the enemy. If the action is broken off, ships should be guided by the Admiral's intentions and the following instructions.

AIRCRAFT CARRIERS
406
. Any aircraft carriers intact and able to operate aircraft should take up a position in an area well clear of the fleet, and as far as possible secure from attack by surface ships. The Senior Officer, aircraft carriers, should report to the Admiral the condition of the aircraft carriers and the ability to continue operations. Flying operations should be continued, unless order to the contrary are received from the Admiral. As operations at night will probably disclose the position of a carrier to enemy surface craft, additional escort and screening vessels may be required for the aircraft carrier's protection. Should the chances of night action be remote, and the Admiral desires to reserve the aircraft carriers for operations the following day, it is probable that they will be ordered to join the battlefleet and be stationed in the line for protection against cruiser and destroyer attacks.

AIRCRAFT
407.
In the absence of other instructions from the Admiral, aircraft should be employed at dusk or during the night on the following duties:-

(a) Attack on the enemy battlefleet in the failing light.
(b) Shadowing the enemy main force.
(c) Attack on the enemy battlefleet at night, or assisting the light forces in attack.

408. The difficulties experienced by surface forces in maintaining touch at dusk, make it particularly important that aircraft should keep in close contact and make frequent enemy reports during this period. It must be remembered that aircraft will always have difficulty in distinguishing friend from foe at night. On very dark nights it may be advisable to order air attacks on the enemy battlefleet, unless aircraft are able to locate both main forces before attacking.

MAINTENANCE OF TOUCH BY SURFACES FORCES
409.
Failing instructions from the Admiral on darkness setting in, the Senior Officers, cruisers, in van and rear, are responsible that touch is kept with the enemy. They should detail cruisers to obtain touch or reinforce vessels already in touch as may be necessary. A report of the instructions given is to be made to the Admiral.

410. Cruisers and destroyers actually in touch with the enemy at dusk, or which have been ordered to endeavour to obtain touch, must continue to carry out these duties which are of primary importance. Some of these vessels may subsequently receive orders to form part of the attacking force from a Senior Officer, who is unaware that they are in touch or have been ordered to obtain touch. In these circumstances, they should ignore the order to concentrate and should continue to shadow or search for the enemy.

411. (Blank)

412. (Blank)

ACTION BY DESTROYERS AT NIGHT
413.
An attacking force may be employed by the Admiral when contact is unlikely before dark, or when action as been broken off some time before dark and the destroyers are much disorganised. This force, for attacking the enemy battlefleet during the night, should be organised and formed up before darkness sets in.

414. When the action is continued until dark, it will probably not be practicable for an attacking force to be organised. In these circumstance, the Senior Officer, destroyers, and Captains (D) should order attacks by all available destroyers, before the position of the enemy battlefleet becomes uncertain.

ORDERING AN ATTACKING FORCE
415.
The Admiral will normally order the formation of the attacking force ; but if no instructions are received, the Flag Officer in the van, or in the rear, according to the position of the available light forces, should do so. To avoid the confusion caused by encountering friendly forces at night, only one attacking force should normally be detailed. As a general rule, as large a forces as possible should be sent to attack. Capital ships, however, should never be entirely denuded of light craft at night, but should retain a proportion for screening purposes.

416. The attacking force will consist of cruisers and destroyers. Detailed instructions for forming an attacking force are given in the Signal Manual, Chapter VX, and for the operations of the force in the Destroyer Fighting Instructions, Part II, Section VI.

UNITS THAT HAVE BECOME DETACHED
417
. Cruisers and destroyers. Cruisers and destroyers not included in the attacking or screening forces, or which have been unable to join these forces before dark, should, if in sight of any formed unit, join up with such unit and obtain any available information as to the disposition and movements of their own and the enemy fleets. The subsequent movements of such cruisers and destroyers should be guided by the need for offensive action, but the main attack on the enemy battlefleet should not be interfered with. They should bear in mind that cruisers and destroyers approaching their own capital ships at night are not only liable to be fired on without warning, but that they may disclose to the enemy the position of the battlefleet.

418. Battlecruisers. If the battlecruisers are in action with the enemy or have been unable to rejoin the Admiral before dark, they should not attempt to close the battlefleet once night has fallen, unless ordered to do so. The Senior Officer, battlecruisers, should endeavour to conform with the Admiral's night policy signal, and should detail destroyers in the vicinity to screen the squadron during the night. If he finds himself in an area in which the attacking force may be operating, he should move out of that area and then alter to the course and speed of the fleet.

THE BATTLEFLEET
419.
At dusk, the Admiral will manoeuvre the battlefleet to continue the gun action for as long as possible, and subsequently in accordance with his night policy. Should he decide to avoid night action with the battlefleet, he will order a night cruising disposition before nightfall. But if there is insufficient time for forming up before darkness sets in, all ships should proceed on the course and at the speed of the fleet, being careful not to close friendly units. The battlefleet will then be manoeuvred to reach a favourable tactical position and to bring the enemy to action at daylight, keeping clear of the areas in which the light forces will be operating. If the Admiral intends to seek night action with the battlefleet, Captains should be guided by the instructions given in Section VIII.

420. (Blank)

421. (Blank)

422. (Blank)

423. (Blank)

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