John Fisher, 1st Baron Fisher

Royal Navy Admiral of the Fleet (1841–1920)

Admiral of the Fleet John Arbuthnot "Jacky" (or "Jackie") Fisher, 1st Baron Fisher, GCB, OM, GCVO (25 January 1841 – 10 July 1920) was a British admiral known for his efforts at naval reform. He had a huge influence on the Royal Navy in a career spanning more than 60 years, starting in a navy of wooden sailing ships armed with muzzle-loading cannon and ending in one of steel-hulled battlecruisers, submarines and the first aircraft carriers. The argumentative, energetic, reform-minded Fisher is often considered the second most important figure in British naval history, after Lord Nelson.

The Essence of War is Violence. Moderation in War is Imbecility.


  • The humanising of war? You might as well talk about the humanizing of Hell!...... The essence of war is violence! Moderation in war is imbecility!..... I am not for war, I am for peace! That is why I am for a supreme Navy....... The supremacy of the British Navy is the best security for peace in the world...... If you rub it in both at home and abroad that you are ready for instant war.....and intend to be first in and hit your enemy in the belly and kick him when he is down and boil your prisoners in oil (if you take any), and torture his women and children, then people will keep clear of you.
  • Favouritism was the secret of our efficiency in the old days and got us young Admirals.....Going by seniority saves so much trouble. 'Buggins's turn' has been our ruin and will be disastrous hereafter!
    • Letter to Lord Selborne, dated 13 January 1901, describing Buggins's turn, a system by which appointments or awards are made in rotation rather than on merit.
    • Fear God and Dread Nought: The Correspondence of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher of Kilverstone. Vol 1 (1953), p. 181.
  • Big risks bring big success!
  • Sea fighting is pure common sense.  The first of all its necessities is SPEED, so as to be able to fight--When you like, Where you like, and How you like.
    O.M.G. (Oh! My God) - Letter to Churchill, 9 Sept 1917
    We want brave men! ANY BLOODY FOOL CAN OBEY ORDERS!
    • Letter to Admiral Beatty, dated 3 February 1915.
    • Fear God and Dread Nought: The Correspondence of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher of Kilverstone. Vol 3 (1959), p. 152.
  • Can the Army win the war before the Navy loses it?
  • O.M.G. - Oh! My God!
  • If any subordinate opposes me, I will make his wife a widow, his children fatherless and his home a dunghill.
  • Length of course depends on the stupidity of the class...
    • Fisher's notes in the front cover of his own copy of A Short Treatise on Electricity and the Management of Electric Torpedoes (1868)
    • Fisher of Kilverstone (1973), Ruddock F. Mackay, Clarendon Press, p. 48.
  • Those who rise in peace are men of formality and routine, cautious, inoffensive...Hawke represented the spirit of war, the ardour, the swift initiative, the readiness of resource, the impatience of prescription and routine, without which no great things are done!
    • Fisher of Kilverstone (1973), Ruddock F. Mackay, Clarendon Press, p. 265.
  • ...Jellicoe had all the Nelsonic attributes except one - he is totally wanting in the great gift of Insubordination. Nelson's greatest achievements were all solely due to his disobeying orders!..... Any fool can obey orders! But it required a Nelson to disobey Sir John Jervis at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, to disregard the order to retire at Copenhagen, to go into the Battle of the Nile by night with no charts against orders, and, to crown all, to enter into the Battle of Trafalgar in a battle formation contrary to all the Sea orders of the time! BLESS HIM! Alas! Jellicoe is saturated with Discipline!
  • We left our element, the sea, to make ourselves into a conscript nation fighting on the Continent with four million soldiers out of a population of forty millions.
  • We are an Island.  Every soldier that wants to go anywhere out of England - a sailor has got to carry him there on his back.
  • "Tact" is insulting a man without his knowing it.
  • Even a man's faults may reflect his virtues.
  • I thought it would be a good thing to be a missionary, but I thought it would be better to be First Sea Lord.
  • Hit first! Hit hard! Keep on hitting!! (The 3 H's)
  • Never Deny : Never Explain : Never Apologise
  • The best scale for an experiment is 12 inches to the foot.
  • EQUAL OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL.... Nature is no respecter of birth or money power when she lavishes her mental and physical gifts.  We fight God when our Social System dooms the brilliant clever child of a poor man to the same level as his father.
  • The Essence of War is Violence. Moderation in War is Imbecility.
  • ...and you may sleep quietly in your beds.
    • Speech at The Royal Academy Banquet, 1903, regarding the threat of invasion.
    • p. 83.
    • The phrase 'Sleep quiet in your beds' appears in Records, p. 85 and Memories, p. 202.
    • The phrase 'So sleep easy in your beds' was used for the title for the sixth episode of the BBC documentary The Great War.
  • As age increases, audacity leaks out and caution comes in.
  • The Frontiers of England are the Coasts of the Enemy.
  • It is an historical fact that the British Navy stubbornly resists change.
  • The Submarine will be the Battleship of the future!
    • p. 180.
  • It is very silly indeed to build vessels of War so strong as to last a hundred years. They are obsolete in less than ten years.
    • p. 209.

Quotes about Fisher

  • To tell you the truth this is another proof that Fisher's intellectual flaws are on the same great scale as his intellectual virtues. I told you his proposal about the German fleet at Kiel [to "Copenhagen" it]. It was no use of paradox nor said to shock. He meant it.
    • 2nd Earl of Selborne in a letter to Arthur Balfour, the Prime Minister, dated 26 Dec 1904.
    • Quoted in Fisher of Kilverstone (1973), Ruddock F. Mackay, Clarendon Press, p. 319.
  • But it does so happen that at the very moment when the changed conditions of naval sea-power rendered administrative revolution necessary, in Sir John Fisher was found a man of genius peculiarly fitted to aid in its execution.
    • Arthur Balfour, memorandum on Fisher's renumeration, dated 4 Dec 1905.
    • Quoted in Fisher of Kilverstone (1973), Ruddock F. Mackay, Clarendon Press, p. 348.
  • No man I have ever met ever gave me so authentic a feeling of originality as this dare-devil of genius, this pirate of public life, who more than any other Englishman saved British democracy from a Prussian domination.
    • Edward Harold Begbie, The Mirrors of Downing Street: Some Political Reflections (1920), London, 9th Ed. pp. 39-40.
  • There is no doubt whatever that Fisher was right in nine-tenths of what he fought for.
  • I found Fisher a veritable volcano of knowledge and of inspiration...
  • There was always something foreign to the Navy about Fisher. He was never judged to be one of the 'band of brothers' which the Nelson tradition had prescribed. Harsh, capricious, vindictive, gnawed by hatreds arising often from spite, working secretly or violently as occasion might suggest by methods which the typical English gentleman and public-school boy are taught to dislike and avoid, Fisher was always regarded as the 'dark angel' of the Naval service.
  • To be a 'Fisherite' or, as the Navy called it, to be in 'the Fish pond' was during his tenure of power an indispensible requisite for preferment.
  • I knew his weakness as well as his strength. I understood his extravagances as much as I admired his genius. In sheer intellect he stood head and shoulders above his naval fellows.
  • I found many remarkable men, but he was on the whole the most extraordinary personality of them all, and charged with genius.
    • Arthur J. Marder. Preface to Fear God and Dread Nought: The Correspondence of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher of Kilverstone. Vol 1 (1953), p. 13.