When war broke out the Royal Navy had the leading role in Britain’s strategic defence. The army was very small by continental standards and it was for the Navy to protect British home waters and its far flung imperial territories, project British might throughout the globe and ensure that Britannia really did ‘rule the waves’. It was by some margin the largest and most powerful navy in the world, despite Germany’s best efforts in the years leading up to the war to challenge Britain’s naval supremacy.
By early 1914 the Royal Navy had 18 modern dreadnoughts with 6 more under construction; 10 battlecruisers, 20 town cruisers, 15 scout cruisers, 200 destroyers, 29 battleships of a pre-dreadnought design and 150 cruisers built before 1907.
In the event the Royal Navy saw little action. The only major clash between the German High Seas Fleet and the Royal Navy took place at Jutland on 31 May 1916. Shockingly for the public, the British suffered higher losses of ships and men but its command of the North Sea remained intact. Much of its efforts went to countering the danger from German U boats which threatened Britain’s vital supply chain and, until an effective convoy system was introduced, inflicted terrible losses on merchant shipping.