- A.N. Other
- History - general, Ship design and development, Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2012 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
In a recent chat one of our more senior members, Norm Rivett, recalled as a young apprentice listening to Lord Haw-Haw (William Joyce) on German propaganda radio interviewing the ace U-Boat commander Gunther Prien. Prien who had an excellent command of English, on being asked how, when he had penetrated the defences at Scapa Flow and sank HMS Royal Oak, he knew it was Royal Oak, Prien answered that he had studied the ship’s charactistics in “Janes” and from the funnel configuration he knew the identity of his target. While many of our readers would have studied Janes, perhaps not as intently as Prien, possibly few know the history behind this authoritive publication. The attached article first appeared in the United States “Naval Institute Proceedings” in December 1996 and is reproduced by kind permission of the Institute.
HOW FIGHTING SHIP’s BECAME JANE’s
By Richard Brooks
The vision of a young British naval warfare enthusiast revolutionised the way in which naval professionals approached learning about all the world’s navies and their ships. At the turn of the 20 th century, strong-willed Fred T. Jane introduced visual elements to supplement statistics in his reference volumes for easier, more immediate identification.
On 6 August 1865 the wife of a young Church of England curate in the fashionable London suburb of Richmond gave birth to her first son. Baptized John Frederick Thomas, he is known around the world as Fred T. Jane, the founding editor of All The World’s Fighting Ships. In his day, he brought an entirely new approach to the study of naval forces.
Previously, these had been exclusively the concern of a handful of professionals and politicians. By the end of the 19 th century, democratic politics and a technological revolution in warfare had created a more general awareness of defence problems. Fred T. Jane would be one of the first to meet the growing demand for objective and dispassionate analysis of such issues.
Although his father, The Reverend John Jane, was a man of the cloth, Fred’s mother came from a family with a tradition of service in the Royal Navy and Marines. A painting survives of her great uncle, Major Andrew Kinsman, Royal Marines, who shows a remarkable resemblance to photographs of Fred in his 30s. Her grandfather, John Knill Kinsman, saw action in the Napoleonic Wars as a Royal Navy lieutenant in the epic 1805 chase of the Ville de Milan (46 guns) by HMS Cleopatra (32 guns). Small wonder that Fred Jane should display an early interest in naval matters. This found practical expression in an act of piracy perpetrated against a friend’s model sailing boat on a duck pond:
My chum was a sportsman, and after punching my head, proceeded to arm his ship also. We took to armour plates made from biscuit tins, and to squadrons instead of single ships. In the battle that ensued our fleets annihilated each other, and depleted finances forbade their renewal.
In the early 1880s, a nationalistic revolution in Egypt was threatening British interests in the Suez Canal, and a squadron of British battleships bombarded fortifications at Alexandria. Subsequently, bluejackets and Marines landed to restore order, with assistance of Marines from the U.S. Ships present. This action, the most considerable undertaken by the Victorian Navy, provided an inspiration for the 17 year-old Jane that changed his life. He completed an album containing his own drawings of the ships engaged. Called Ironclads of the World, this handful of sketches eventually formed the basis of a book still associated with his name.
When Jane came to leave Exeter School in 1884, however, he showed little evidence that he possessed a world-class talent:
….. At school I was an awful thickhead. I could never understand Euclid. I was whacked. I was called an idiot. I was punished in all kinds of ways, but it never got me any further.
Jane had expressed his talents in other ways. On the football pitch, he had been recognised as a plucky and straight running halfback who always made ground, although he was apt to get too near the scrimmage (sic) through over-eagerness; an observation to be borne out in later life. Equally significant, Jane had been responsible for the Toby, an alternative school magazine that nearly drove the official publication out of business. It enjoyed great success “by reason both of its illustrations and its disregard of veracity and the law of libel in dealing with the school authorities.”