Argument Continues One Hundred Years After Jutland

Some battles are never over and the Battle of Jutland is such a battle. One the 100th anniversary of the Jutland, the Telegraph of London published the following by Nick Jellicoe, Admiral John Jellicoe’s grandson.

 

Nick Jellicoe standing over his grandfather's nval uniform

Nick Jellicoe standing over his grandfather’s nval uniform CREDIT: NMRN/BNPS

(London Daily Telgraph)

Even Nelson could not have done better at Jutland than my grandfather

Britain’s military greatness was founded on its maritime power – and yet in the First World War, while the Royal Navy maintained a crucial economic blockade on Germany, there was just one great sea battle: Jutland.

One hundred years ago on Tuesday, the fleets of Great Britain and Germany confronted one another in the North Sea off the coast of Denmark. To this day, controversy rages over what exactly happened and which side, if any, won the day.

The Kaiser claimed victory, citing heavier British losses in men and ships. But numbers are misleading: yes, the Germans suffered smaller absolute losses – but these represented a far higher percentage of their strength and so were difficult to absorb.

However, the Germans got their version of the battle out while the British were still at sea. The Admiralty bungled its communiqués so badly, it took five revisions before Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty and a former journalist, was recruited to get the British story across.

 

Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, Commander in Chief of the Grand Fleet, reaching the top of a flight of steps on board a battleship. A small group of sailors is stood below looking up at him whilst a capital ship sails astern of the ship. (Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

So what really happened? My grandfather, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, commanded the British Grand Fleet that day and his reputation has arguably never recovered. True, Jutland wasn’t the second Trafalgar the public had expected.

But Jellicoe’s achievement – that of maintaining naval surface supremacy – was quickly lost in the hunt for scapegoats for the failure to secure an outright victory. Those who, like Churchill, had formally approved his written tactical intentions two years previously now accused him of having been too cautious.

The sea was in Jellicoe’s blood through maternal connections back to Nelson and Phillip Patton, an Admiral of the Red. His own father went to sea aged 12 and Jellicoe joined the Navy at 13, passing out of Britannia, with a first-class certificate two years later, in 1874. His career advanced rapidly; but it was under Jacky Fisher that his expertise in gunnery and understanding of ship design developed.

Aged 31, Jellicoe was promoted Commander, then became second-in-command to Admiral Tryon on the ill-fated HMS Victoria (later involved in a fatal collision). Eventually, Jellicoe became Chief-of-Staff on Admiral Seymour’s – unsuccessful – relief expedition to the beleaguered legations in Peking. Friendships with future adversaries would survive war; but after a second brush with death (Jellicoe was shot in the chest leading an attack against Boxer troops), he was invalided home.

To meet the emerging German threat, Fisher as First Sea Lord worked on re-balancing Britain’s naval power centred on Gibraltar and the Channel. But the launch of HMS Dreadnought in 1906 (Jellicoe was on the design team) fuelled a new naval arms race. Jellicoe, meanwhile, had a spell as Director of Naval Ordnance, during which he uncovered poor quality in British munitions. However, his tenure was too short to make a difference, and this left the Fleet at a disadvantage as it faced the enemy at Jutland.

The battle itself was fought late in the day, May 31, 1916. The visibility was appalling, induced by a combination of North Sea fog, lingering cordite fumes and chemical smoke screens. Often, only two ships could be seen at any moment. The battle began ignominiously with the destruction of two British battlecruisers, Indefatigable and Queen Mary. Later that evening, Horace Hood’s Invincible and an older armoured cruiser, Defence, also blew up.

But it was not all bad. Admiral Sir David Beatty, who commanded the Battlecruiser Squadron, lured the Germans back to Jellicoe, who masterfully deployed his 24 dreadnoughts into a five-and-a-half-mile long battle line, twice catching the leading German ships in a “T”, a classic naval warfare tactic.

But Jellicoe did not follow the German battle turns. He judged that he would not have caught them, and also feared that, in the thick fog, he might steam straight on to mines dropped in their wake. As dusk began to fall, he turned his fleet away from a massed German torpedo attack.

Many later saw this as his biggest mistake. Some naval strategists argue even now that he should have turned towards the torpedoes. But Jellicoe was concerned that a 25,000-ton dreadnought’s lack of manoeuvrability would have made them a sitting target for the German torpedoes.

Indeed, not one hit home. However, it meant that Jellicoe lost contact with the rest of the fleet.

Not willing to fight a night action where, in his mind, too much was left to chance, he steamed to where he thought the badly damaged German fleet would run. But even though Admiralty codebreakers knew where the Imperial High Seas Fleet intended to go, they failed to pass these vital signals to Jellicoe. When morning broke, no German ships could be found. They had returned to port claiming victory, perpetuating a myth that has lasted to this day.

For many years, it was averred that that the Grand Fleet wasn’t really engaged at Jutland. But the statistics tell a different story: in the first 75 minutes, the British scored 17 heavy hits against the Germans’ 44. In the last hour of battle fleet engagement, the opposite was the case: 49 to 3. Fourteen British and 11 German ships were sunk, with thousands killed on both sides.

Why had losses been so catastrophic? To begin with, magazine safety was sacrificed for gunnery speed and unstable cordite charges were stacked outside battle-cruiser magazines. A single spark could rip a whole ship apart. The protective scuttles through which cordite was fed to the guns were seldom used and even, in some cases, removed.

Furthermore, Fisher put emphasis on speed and gun caliber, thereby failing to give the battle-cruiser enough armoured protection. Jellicoe had privately voiced concerns about these weaknesses.

I seriously doubt that, under the conditions that day, a Nelson would have done any better. He knew that a failure at Trafalgar only risked a third of British naval assets, whereas Jellicoe was, in Churchill’s famous words, “the only man on either side who could have lost the war in an afternoon”.

The entire complement of British first-line ships was deployed at Jutland, and both sides were fighting with new and mainly untried technologies – long-range gunnery, fire control systems, torpedoes, mines, new ship designs.

The stalemate at Jutland convinced the German high command that they could never win a fleet-to-fleet action. Instead, they aggressively resumed unrestricted submarine activity as the only chance of winning a war bogged down on the western front.

THE SUPREME WAR COUNCIL, 1917-1920 (Q 73541) Admiral John Jellicoe and Admiral Jean-Marie Lacaze leaving the Naval Allied Conference in Paris, 27 July 1917. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205187947
THE ALLIED MILITARY PLANNING DURING THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 49115) Admiral John Jellicoe, the First Sea Lord, leaving Hotel Crillon after the Allied Conference in Paris, 26 July 1917. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205282995

Defeating the U-boat menace became Jellicoe’s next task; and yet, despite great success, public opinion had turned against him. Even though half the Admiralty Board threatened to resign, he was sacked on Christmas Eve 1917.

For a country used to great naval victories, Jutland was a disappointment. On the other hand, without the lessons learned that day, the Navy would have been even less prepared than it was for the next war. Progress was made in independent divisional and night-fighting tactics, destroyer tactics, gunnery, signals management, magazine protection and ordnance and officer training.

This was Jellicoe’s legacy; and fittingly, when he died in November 1935, the flags of the Royal Navy, the French Marine Nationale and Hitler’s Kriegsmarine were all lowered in tribute and respect.

detailed article with slide shows and photographs here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/even-nelson-could-not-have-done-better-at-jutland-than-my-grandf/

 

The U-Boats Are Out! German Film Poster from 1917

 

uboat heraus

poster and description courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

“This German film poster publicises a version of the first U-boat propaganda film released by Bufa (Königliche Bild- und Film-Amt) early in 1917. Widespread stories of the exploits of the auxiliary cruiser/commerce raider ‘Möwe’ had alerted the German public to the abilities of this new marine technology. Erdt’s poster design offers the U-boat commander as a new kind of hero who is in control of his vessel and of the battle, manipulating events from a hidden underwater perspective. In fact, the majority of confrontations occurred when the submarine was on the surface. Submarine technology was not advanced and the vessels could not stay underwater for long periods. This and the shorter version of the film (‘Ein Besuch bei unseren Blaujacken’) paved the way for the extraordinary film ‘Der magische Gürtel’, promoting the effectiveness of submarine warfare to both the German public and to audiences in friendly and neutral countries. Hans Rudi Erdt designed a number of film posters for Bufa which exhibit a confident graphic expertise. In common with German poster designers of the period he combines hand-drawn lettering and bold areas of flat colour, integrating image and text into one message. This particular poster, where the ‘U’ is both part of the text and fundamental to the design, is an elegant example of his work.”

“Image: Within the shape of a large black letter ‘U’ emerge the head and shoulders of a U-boat commander, identified by his cap and jacket, who peers into the sights of a periscope toward the right of the poster. Beneath and beyond the ‘U’ shape are grey waves. On the horizon is the dark outline of a ship, broken in two and sinking, a cloud of white smoke rising from the wreck. Behind it can be traced the pale outline of another vessel. text: U BOOTE HERAUS! [The U-boats are out!] H R ERDT. Hollerbaum & Schmidt, Berlin.”

 

http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/8638

After World War One: Remaking Europe: Several Realistic Takes on the Paris Peace Comments

Big_four

Council of Four at the WWI Paris peace conference, May 27, 1919.

(L – R) Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Great Britain, Premier Vittorio Orlando of Italy, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, President Woodrow Wilson–the first President of the US to visit Europe while in office

(Official US Army Signal Corps photo by Edward N. Jackson)

Below from  “The Long Shadow: the Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century” by David Reynolds (W.W. Norton, New York, 2013). This is a good book if you want to familiarize yourself with the impact on the Western world of the First World War. If you already know the subject, you won’t find much new information in this book. Sort of rehash of the standard history. However, he makes some interesting observations to wit:

“The statesmen in Paris were not… architects of a new Europe…but more like firefighters desperately trying to pour water on the flames. Maps and statistics were woefully inadequate…competing states dressed up demographic evidence to their own advantage….As Wilson and his advisers began to realize, poring over their beautiful maps in the elegant Hotel Murat, neat, clean lines cold not be drawn through ethnically mixed regions….

On one occasion she walked into one of the elegant rooms in the hotel and observed her husband, the President of the United States, on his hands and kn

 

478px-Woodrow_and_Edith_Wilson2

President Woodrow Wilson, seated at desk with his wife, Edith Bolling Galt, standing at his side. First posed picture after Mr. Wilson’s illness, White House, June 1920. Mrs. Wilson holds a document while the President adds his signature. [Wilson had a severe stroke in October of 1919]

(June 1920 Source Library of Congress)

Edith Wilson was the President’s young second wife. They married in 1915. She was then 43 and both had been married previously and both had lost their spouses.  The marriage did not last long because Wilson died in March of 1921. Edith Wilson never re-married and remained in the home she had shared with Wilson in Washington DC until her death in 1961.

 

80,000 British Tommies Suffered From Shell Shock In World War One

 

tommy shell shcok

80,000 British soldiers suffered shell shock (roughly 2% of all that were called up) during World War One. Source:  http://madefrom.com/history/category/world-war-one/

9,000 Men Killed, 250 Warships Clash, 25 Sent to the Bottom, Part One

The Battle of Jutland

31 May 1916

Vice_Admiral_Sir_David_Beatty

Vice Admiral David Beatty, Commanding Battlecruiser Fleet division of the British Grand Fleet at Jutland. 

Knight Grand Cross of Bath, Order of Merit, Grand Cross of the Victorian Order, Distinguished Service Order, Privy Council

(17 January 1871 – 11 March 1936)

Beatty made mistakes during the battle but his aggressiveness in seeking out and engaging units of the German fleet contrasted with the caution of Grand Fleet C-in-C Sir John Jellicoe. He emerged from the battle with an enhanced reputation over Jellicoe and later took his position.

Partisans of both men have been dueling with letters to the Times, books, lectures and decades later with computer games, computer simulations and websites.

The Battle of Jutland in the North Sea was one of the few clashes between massive battle fleets comprised of steel warships in maritime history. Because the engagement took place near the Jutland Peninsular of Denmark, the British refer to it as the Battle of Jutland. However, to the Germans, it is known as the Battle of the Skagerrak, the body of water in which part of the battle was fought.

HMS_Lion_hit_at_Jutland

Beatty’s flagship at Jutland was the battlecruiser HMS Lion. She took a terrific pounding during the engagement. The above shows HMS Lion being hit by a German shell during the battle.

Historian Andrew Gordon, author of the magisterial work, The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command, wrote that farmers thirty miles inland could hear the rumbling of the massive naval cannons. Several naval historians and Royal Navy enthusiasts recommended this book to me a year ago and I devoured it. (Metaphorically speaking).

It is one of the best books on the Royal Navy I have ever read.

 

Jutland_Peninsula_map

Map of Northern Denmark showing the Jutland Peninsular pointing North and to the left is the body of water known to the Germans as the Skagerrak.

The Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet with 150 ships, including twenty-eight battleships, faced-off against the German High Seas Fleet comprised of 100 ships, including sixteen battleships. The battle began in the late afternoon and continued into the night.

Artillery Killed 50% of soldiers in World One and Two

 

British Artillery in action at Gallipoli

 

60_pounder_Cape_Helles_June_1915

A British 60 pounder Mk I battery in action on a cliff top at Cape Helles, Gallipoli, possibly in June 1915. The unit might be the 90th Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, located forward of Hill 114. The gun has the inscription “Annie” painted on the barrel.

(photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

 

The industrial age gave generals the ability to pound their enemies with greater and greater artillery barrages. In both World War One and World War Two, over 50% of casualties were caused by artillery. I was reminded of this anew last night when I was reading The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years’ War to the Third Reich by Robert M. Citrano. These statistics from his book will give you a sense of the pace of escalation of shells fired in just a brief time frame:

…during the Russo-Japanese War (1904 to 1905), the Russian artillery expended an average of 87,000 rounds a month, seen then as an incredible figure. Less than a decade later, in the First Balkan War, the Bulgarian Army’s monthly rate had grown to 254,000 shells. By 1916, the French were averaging 4,500,000 rounds a month. During the week long battle for Messines Ridge (June 3—10, 1917), British guns fired 3,258,000 rounds.

[Source: The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years’ War to the Third Reich by Robert M. Citrano.]

In preparation for the First Battle of the Somme, Allied artillery pounded German lines for a week before the attack, firing 1.6 million shells. This barrage had almost no effect on the German troops who were waiting out the massive artillery fire in very deep shelters.

On 1 July 1916, the young officers leading the troops blew their whistles at 0730 and the British troops “went over the top,” that is over the top of the trench. German troops, almost untouched by the artillery barrage, emerged from their dugouts, brought up the machine guns and mowed down the British soldiers. By the end of the day, British and Imperial troops had taken 60,000 casualties with 20,000 killed. (source BBC)

While the BBC website says 60 per cent of all officers in the attacking divisions were killed, I’m not sure that figure is correct since I have read in numerous academic histories that “only” 40% of officers were killed.

 Artillery on somme

Mark V 8 inch howitzers in action on the Somme, 1916. During the preliminary bombardment leading up to 1st July the British artillery fired more shells at the 16 mile length of trenches to be assualted than on the entire Western Front over the preceding 12 months.

(Photo courtesy of the 6th Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment)

http://www.6throyalberks.co.uk/index.html

 

 

 

 

An explosion on the battlefield in France was heard in London

 

 

_74103488_179tcalbert1916(c)mrsghillman_cropped

The secret tunnelers of World War One

 

While the war raged on in the mud and trenches, a very different war was taking place beneath the soldiers’ feet. A group of miners, operating in total secrecy, dug tunnels up to 100ft underground, to plant and detonate mines beneath the enemy’s trenches. Their biggest success was at Messines Ridge in Belgium where over 900,000lbs of explosives were simultaneously detonated in 19 underground tunnels. Much of the German front line was destroyed, and the explosions were heard 140 miles away by the British prime minister in Downing St.

from the BBC’s “12 Amazing Facts About World War One You Probably Did Not Know.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/0/26936615

 

Comments Charles McCain “This wasn’t a new tactic. For example, miners on both sides in the American Civil War dug tunnels under enemy lines. The miners then filled the tunnels with explosives and someone lit the fuse. The Battle of the Crater in the Civil War was precipitated by such an explosion.”