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:
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:

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:


Entire Crew Killed When Battlecruiser Exploded


Royal Navy battlecruiser HMS Queen Mary

(booms to hold anti-torpedo netting are flush against the hull)

Due to the flawed theories of Admiral Sir Jack Fisher, the Royal Navy’s concept of a battlecruiser proved to be a disaster. Theoretically faster than a battleship but less heavily armoured, battlecruisers were meant as scouts for the main battle fleet. The distinction between battleships and battlecruiser was often forgotten.

The ship was coal fired and it required all of her 42 boilers to come on line for the ship to make her design speed of 28 knots.

Launch of battlecruiser HMS Queen Mary at Palmer's Shipbuilding, Jarrow-on-Tyne, England. 1913.
                                    Launch of battlecruiser HMS Queen Mary at Palmer’s Shipbuilding, Jarrow-on-Tyne, England. 20 March 1912


After HMS Queen Mary was hit in the forward magazines the entire ship exploded.

In this explosion, caused by faulty design of flashback protectors in British Navy magazines, 1,266 crewmen died.  Eighteen survived. Two other Royal Navy battlecruisers, HMS Invincible and HMS Indefatigable, also exploded with almost no survivors.

“Fear God and Dread Nought”

HMS Dreadnought 1906 IWM b

Brainchild of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Jacky Fisher, HMS Dreadnought, commissioned in 1906, revolutionized naval warfare. (Photograph courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

Her name, which became synonymous with “battleship,” was taken from the personal motto of Admiral of the Fleet and First Sea Lord (professional head of the Royal Navy) Sir John “Jacky” Fisher “Fear God and Dread Nought”. Admiral Jack pushed the radical new design through the bureaucracy of the Royal Navy by threats and demotions and bullying and trampling on anyone who got in his way.

Not a nice man, Sir Jacky Fisher but history doesn’t judge him for his faults as a man but for his brilliance as a naval leader. Save Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Fisher, few in high places saw the mortal danger posed by the Germans when the Anglo-German naval race began nor did anyone want to admit that the Royal Navy was being strangled by tradition. New ship designs were urgently needed and it was Fisher who saw this more clearly than anyone and rang the alarm bell.

HMS Dreadnought 1906 IWM c

Deck scene aboard HMS Dreadnought circa 1910. 

(photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

HMS Dreadnought 1907 IWM

HMS Dreadnought at underway at slow speed, 1907.

Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

HMS Dreadnought as flagship of Home Fleet 1907

HMS Dreadnought underway in 1907 as flagship of the Home Fleet.

Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

HMS Dreadnought 1906 IWM d

A striking starboard bow portrait of the battleship HMS Dreadnought

(photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

HMS Dreadnought 7

HMS Dreadnought

(photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

Ironically, Fisher was the first naval leader to recognize that aircraft made battleships obsolete………..something he said in 1920!

Royal Navy Won the Battle of Jutland, part two

2nd Battle Squadron

Second battle ship squadron at Battle of Jutland. In spite of Admiral Beatty’s orders to move expeditiously toward his battlecruisers and close the enemy, these battleships just waddled along and the squadron was extremely slow in  its maneuvering. (Official Royal Navy photo in the public domain).

The Battle of Jutland

31 May 1916



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

There continues to be an odd debate about who won this battle. This continued debate is who is ridiculous. The British Royal Navy won. The idea that the Battle of Jutland was a “tactical victory” for the Germans because they sank more British ships and a “strategic victory” for the British because the Germans did not break British control of the North Sea is laughable. After the battle, the German High Seas Fleet turned around, steamed back to their anchorage at Kiel and never again made a serious challenge to British control of the North Sea.


Damage to Q turret on battlecruiser HMS Lion, Admiral Beatty’s Flagship at the Battle of Jutland (Photo courtesy of IWM)

In spite of the damage to his ship and other battlecruisers in his squadron, Beatty was the British Admiral who most lived up to the “Nelson Touch” at the Battle of Jutland. Beatty deserved the praise and promotions he received since he “steered for the thunder of the guns.”

Since every source gives slightly different figures, I have taken the following figures verbatim from the after action summary prepared by Lion’s Captain during the Battle of Jutland,  A.E.M. Chatfield. (Later Admiral of the Fleet and First Sea Lord or Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy)

In the Royal Navy this is formally known as “Report of Proceedings.” The report was made to Vice-Admiral Beatty, Commanding the Battle Cruiser Fleet. As mentioned, HMS Lion was Beatty’s flagship during the battle hence he was aboard the entire time.


HMS Lion surrounded by waterspouts from enemy gunfire as HMS Queen Mary explodes at right. (photo courtesy Imperial War Museum)

 “The damage to the ship is not serious, except that “Q” turret is wrecked, but is reparable. The ship was hit altogether twelve times by enemy heavy shell, but the damage, which I have already reported to you separately, does not seriously affect our seaworthiness or fighting efficiency……”

“…the heavy casualties, which amounted to 95 killed and 49 wounded, mostly in the first two hours of the action, were a tremendous strain on the strongest discipline, yet there was never the least sign of wavering in the least degree from their duty.”



HMS Lion hit by German shellfire at Jutland. Photograph downloaded and scanned  from The Literary Digest History of the World War, 10 volumes, Halsey, Francis Whiting, ed; Funk & Wagnalls Co, New York and London, 1920

The complete Report of Proceedings can be found on the following website:

For some reason, naval historians and enthusiasts continue to debate who the actual victor was in this battle. True, the battle was confusing, to put it mildly. Huge formations of ships on the same side were often out of sight of each other.

Wireless communications were in their infancy so admirals on the scene were compelled to communicate to their various squadrons using signal flags. Unfortunately, long and complex orders required long strings of signal flags which were very difficult for signalman on other ships to read because of the conditions.

With low cloud cover, visibility was a limited so reading the flag signals was difficult. Because the battle began at 5:30 pm British time, the light began to fade within a few hours.

All warships on the scene were powered by coal and produced huge clouds of smoke especially when they were steaming at speed. When ships fired on other ships, this generated clouds of powder smoke. To sum it up: many captains couldn’t see a damn thing much less distant flag signals from their Fleet or Squadron commanders.

(c) Rosenstiel's; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Admiral of the Fleet David Richard Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty, Admiral Commanding Battlecruiser Squadron at the Battle of Jutland who showed the Nelson Touch by steering to the thunder of the guns. Beatty’s flagship, HMS Lion, was hit five times and Beatty almost killed. He saw the Germans and went at that. He is the great hero of Jutland and was so recognized by the public and most of the government and the Royal Navy after the battle. 

portrait by Sir John Lavery, oil on canvas, 1917. National Portrait Gallery.

Because of this, there is still debate over where different formations were at different times. The most fascinating question in a history of any battle is:  “what facts did commanders know, when did they learn those facts and how much weight did they give various facts over others?”

Jutland is a battle where the debate over these issues has continued to this very day and will continue for decades to come so I well understand why naval enthusiasts continue to debate the details.  However, many historians and amateur historians, suggest Jutland was a “strategic victory” for the British and a “tactical victory” for the Germans. Reason: Germans sank a larger number of Royal Navy ships  than the British sank German ships. This is both by number and tonnage.

This is historical hair-splitting, which I say with due respect to those who like to engage in this debate.


Admiral of the Fleet John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe, GCB, OM, GCVO, SGM (Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, Order of Merit, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, Sea Gallantry Medal. (1859-1935). (Photo courtesy of the US Library of Congress).

There is absolutely no doubt that at Jutland, Sir John Jellicoe, the commander of the Grand Fleet, was slow to come up and missed the opportunity to get between the German Fleet and their path of retreat to their base anchorage at Kiel. He was deeply aware that losing this battle could be catastrophic and he was very fearful of German submarines and their torpedoes. Yet his hesitation was unjustified. He had a massive fleet and could have taken significant losses.

After he maneuvered his entire battle fleet of more than thirty battleships from divisions to “in line abreast,” it would have been very difficult for U-Boats to have made successful attacks. Further, he was protected from U-boats by his large number of supporting destroyers and lighter ships.

At a critical moment, Jellicoe reduced speed to fifteen knots and it was that brief time at that slower speed that cost the Royal Navy the naval victory of the century.

While Jellicoe was trying to decide what to do, Admiral Beatty in his lightly armoured battlecruisers did most of the fighting and sustained most of the major ship losses.

As I wrote previously, the British Grand Fleet won the battle hands down because the German fleet never again sortied in fleet strength from their main base although smaller squadrons dashed out from time to time. But the High Seas Fleet mainly spent the rest of the war anchored behind heavy torpedo netting and other barriers to British attack.

It is worth noting that after Jellicoe prematurely gave up the chase and returned to his anchorage at Scapa Flow, the men “coaled ship.” That is refueled. In spite of their losses in ships and men, after “coaling,” Jellicoe reported to the Admiralty that the Grand Fleet was available to steam with one hour’s notice.



SMS Seydlitz at the German fleet anchorage. The ship had been hit 21 times by British shells. She inflicted serious damage in return, sinking the Royal Navy battlecruiser HMS Queen Mary in concert with another German ship.  SMS is an acronym for ‘Seiner Majestät Schiff’ which translates from German as “His Majesty’s Ship”. 

In the lat month of World War One, Admiral Scheer, the German Fleet commander, was going to stage a last Wagnerian suicide mission by taking the fleet to sea in the last few weeks of the war. This precipitated mutiny aboard the ships of the High Seas Fleet and most German ships and bases were seized by mutinous sailors. These naval mutinies in Germany spread to other naval bases and led to the collapse of the Imperial German Government and the downfall of the Kaiser who was a pathetic and silly little man.


While Sir John Jellicoe was C-in-C of the Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland, it was Beatty who commanded the battlecruiser squadron, who became the national here. One of the reasons for this was Beatty’s aggressiveness in closing the enemy which resulted in his flagship, HMS Lion, being hit five times by German shells.

beatty farewell


1919. Admiral of the Fleet and Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet David Beatty making his farewell speech to the ship’s company of his Fleet Flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth of the Grand Fleet. Captain Ernle Chatfield and Commander Geoffrey Blake are with him. (photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)