This paper is written as part of a book-length study, currently in progress, of the origins and development of naval offensive thinking during the five decades or so leading up to the First World War. Its particular focus is the idea of the "decisive battle," i.e., the belief that dominated naval thinking in the Victorian and Edwardian periods that the goals of war at sea could, would, and ought to be settled by a single, all-destructive clash between massed battle fleets. The Great War would demonstrate, of course, that "real" war was a far cry from the "ideal" that had been promoted by the "pens behind the fleet." When the "second Trafalgar" failed to take place, apologists were quick to propose that this was only to be expected and that the "uneducated hopes" were disappointed because they had failed to grasp the distinction between what modem students of strategy call declaratory and action war planning. The implication was that the professional naval strategist did know the difference and had prepared all along to enjoy, as Churchill put it after the Battle of Jutland, "all the fruits of victory" without the need for the British to seek the battle at all. The distinction between declaratory and action policy, i.e., between what one says will be done and what is planned in fact, may be an obvious one in principle; in practice it is not, not even for the professional military planner. An important reason is that only declaratory strategy receives public exposure at home and abroad, and only it is read, discussed, absorbed, and liable to be acted upon. Declaratory plans, when repeated often enough, can take on a life of their own and assume an action reality that was never intended. This phenomenon is not unique to naval war planning at the tum of the century. Take, for example, the U.S. Navy's "Maritime Strategy" of the 1980s. Some people hold that the avowed aim of an immediate forward offensive was declaratory and intended to be a deterrent. Or did the "war-fighters" really mean what they said? Or is it the true sequence of events that planners became so carried away with their own declarations that in the course of public promotion, demonstrative exercises, etc., war-fighting came to imitate war-posturing? It needs also to be kept in mind that "real" war planning cannot be at too great odds with public professions for the simple reason that the discrepancy will eventually become evident from the kinds of military forces that are built. The fleets that went to war in August 1914 were built in the image of the decisive battle. It is true that there were some naval strategists on both sides in 1914 who were skeptical about the prospect of a royal road to victory. It is also correct that the war plans on both sides allowed for strategies short of an immediate pursuit of battle. Indeed, both the British and German naval war plans say remarkably little about quick and decisive action. It is nevertheless disingenuous to suggest that only lay opinion had been led astray, whereas the professionals knew better and were unsurprised by the absence of early battle action. When all was said and done. the naval profession as a whole was just as committed to what one commentator in 1915 called the "totally wrong idea of the meaning of naval supremacy .. , This paper is made possible thanks to the author's six-month appointment at the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, as a Secretary of the Navy Senior Research Fellow. I am also particularly indebted to the thoughtful advice and commentary of Commander James V.P. Goldrick. Royal Australian Navy, Professor John B. Hattendorf, Captain Wayne Hughes, U.S. Navy (Retired). Commander Graham Rhys-Jones, Royal Navy, Professor Geoffrey Til, And Mr. Frank Uhlig, Jr. If the final result does not quite live up to their high standards, only the author is to blame.