Percy Scott

Admiral Sir Percy Scott was a British admiral in the Royal Navy and a pioneer in modern naval gunnery.

Early years

Scott entered the navy as a midshipman in 1866, at the age of thirteen, and in 1868 received a post on HMS Forte, a 50-gun frigate. He was present at the 1882 British naval bombardment of Egyptian forts at Alexandria, and while witnessing how shockingly inaccurate the British gunners were, began to form his own ideas on the nature of naval gunfire. When promoted to second in command of HMS Edinburgh in 1886 Scott attempted to implement some of his ideas for gunnery improvement by holding more regular firing practices, but was eventually forced to focus most of his crew's energies on the traditional naval task of cleaning the ship.

Ideas into Practice

Scott was given his first full command in 1896, when promoted to captain of HMS Scylla, a 3400-ton cruiser in the British Mediterranean Fleet. He was later moved to HMS Excellent, the navy base at Whale Island, Hampshire. The Excellent served as a training ground, especially for gunnery, and Scott was able to continue to refine his ideas. This included ways to increase artillery accuracy as well as improve the speed of loading the guns.

Gunnery Developments

Until the end of the nineteenth century the accepted range at which warships would open fire on an enemy was 2,000 yards. The development of the torpedo as a practical weapon forced a change in this policy, and it became necessary to engage an enemy at ranges outside torpedo range. This in turn meant that the old system whereby a gunlayer in each turret pointed and fired the turret guns independently could no longer be expected to achieve a significant hit rate on an opposing ship. Scott was instrumental in encouraging the development and installation, initially in Dreadnought Battleships and Battlecruisers, of Director Firing, a system whereby the guns were all pointed, elevated and fired from a single point, usually at the top of the foremast. By firing all the guns simultaneously it was possible to observe the simultaneous splashes produced and correct the aim visually. This system was only practical in ships having a uniform calibre main armament, which dreadnought battleships and battlecruisers had.

Shortly before the First World War a system was developed by Captain Frederic Dreyer which enabled ships positions to be plotted on a chart and their predicted position in the immediate future determined. Used with director firing, this further improved accuracy of gunfire. A superior system, designed by a civilian, Arthur Pollen, was not adopted until the inter-war years.

Later career

In 1907 Scott was in command of the 1st Cruiser squadron of the Channel Fleet, under the command of Lord Charles Beresford. Because of a forthcoming fleet inspection by Kaiser Wilhelm II Beresford signalled all ships to abandon any exercises they were currently engaged in, to enable them to be painted and tidied. Scott's ships were in the middle of a gunnery exercise; he lost his temper and sent an insubordinate signal which resulted in a serious reprimand on board the fleet flaship.[1]

The Kaiser arrived two hours late and did not have time to inspect the fleet.

In July 1908 came what is referred to as the second signalling incident. Beresford signalled to the two columns of the third division of the flet, which was under Scott's command, to turn inwards together. As the two columns were steaming on a parallel course with a separation of 1,200 yards (six cables distance) this would have caused the leading ships, the Good Hope and Argyll to collide. Scott ordered the Captain of the Good Hope to disobey the order, thus avoiding a repetition of the Victoria - Camperdown disaster. Beresford attempted to have Scott court-martialled, but the Admiralty refused.[2] Scott was moved to a command outside Beresford's orbit, and allowed to fly his flag until February 1909, when he hauled it down and came ashore.


1. ^ Carson MSS, the memoirs of Sir Edward Carson, MP
2. ^ Arthur J Marder From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow


  • Massie, Robert K. Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War. New York: Random House, 1991. ISBN 0-394-52833-6
  • Admiral Sir Percy Scott, The World War I Document Archive. Accessed June 6, 2006.
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Admiral is the rank, or part of the name of the ranks, of the highest naval officers. It is usually considered a full admiral (equivalent to full general) and four-star rank above Vice Admiral and below Admiral of the Fleet/Fleet Admiral.
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Naval artillery or naval rifles refers to warship-mounted guns used in naval warfare for attacking other vessels, bombarding targets on shore (naval gunfire support), or for anti-aircraft.
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    HMS Edinburgh was an ironclad battleship of the Colossus class which served in the Royal Navy of the Victorian era.
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    Five vessels of the British Royal Navy have been named HMS Scylla, after the sea monster Scylla of Greek mythology.
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    HMS Excellent is a Royal Navy shore establishment sited on Whale Island near Portsmouth, Hampshire.

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    The dreadnought was a battle ship made in the early 20th century, of a type modelled after the revolutionary HMS ''Dreadnought of 1906. Dreadnoughts were distinguished from previous battleships, known as pre-Dreadnoughts, by an 'all-big-gun' armament and by the use of steam
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    Sir Frederic Charles Dreyer KCB, GBE (8 January, 1878–11 December, 1956) was an officer of the Royal Navy who developed a fire control system for British warships. He retired with the rank of Admiral in 1943, having served through two world wars and having already retired
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    Charles William de la Poer Beresford, 1st Baron Beresford GCB GCVO (February 10, 1846–September 6, 1919), known as Lord Charles Beresford until 1916, was a British Admiral and Member of Parliament.
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