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/

 

Battlecruisers Explode & Admiral Sir David Beatty

THE ROYAL NAVY IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 19571) Admiral David Beatty, posing deliberately for the camera with his hat at its famous ‘Beatty tilt’ shortly after his appointment as the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205125185

Rakish, occasionally reckless, always recognizable, and a fighter in the tradition of Lord Nelson, Admiral David Beatty became the most well known figure of the Royal Navy in later World War One and afterwards.

Admiral David Beatty was keenly aware of the value of public relations however often he decried the popular press. He complained in letters to his wife and friends about that damn fellow Filson who is here….(that is, aboard his then flagship, HMS Lion). He was referring to Filson Young who was a journalist and war correspondent who wasn’t important but knew a lot of important people and managed to get himself into all sorts of places. He talked himself into being commissioned into the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as a sub-Lieutenant and had himself assigned to HMS Lion with the express task of writing about Admiral David Beatty.

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 68682) King George V and Admiral David Beatty on the quarter deck of HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH of the Grand Fleet. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205357472

 

This wasn’t as difficult as it sounds since Young had known Beatty for several years and hero worshiped him. Beatty theoretically found all this annoying mind you, he hardly wanted some hero worshiping journalist like Filson Young around. Except he did and he liked Filson so he invited Filson Young to become part of personal staff mess over which Beatty presided like a king. So as much as he complained, he was usually available to talk to Filson who was aboard HMS Lion during the Battle of the Dogger Bank. In the early twenties he wrote an impressive book still worth reading today: With the Battlecruisers.

Admiral Beatty, later Admiral of the Fleet and Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet, later First Sea Lord and elevated to the peerage as Earl Beatty of the North Sea, was looked on by the public as the ideal of a true Royal Navy officer with the ‘Nelson touch.’ Handsome, controversial (but not too controversial), always wearing his naval cap with his trademark “Beatty tilt,” he was instantly recognizable.  Beatty was a handsome man and a warrior. Women were strongly attracted to him and he was strongly attracted back. His private life was considered scandalous (which it sort of was) which only made him more interesting.

 

 

Battlecruiser HMS Indefatigable explodes at Jutland on 31 May 1916. Only two sailors out of a ship’s company of 1,019 survived.

“In the distance the British battlecruiser HMS Indefatigable sinking after being struck by shells from the German battlecruiser Von Der Tann first in “X” magazine and then once she had limped out of the line she was hit by another salvo on the foredeck, the resulting explosion then destroying her. All but two of Indefatigable’s crew of 1,119 were killed in the blast.”(Photo and caption courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

Three of Admiral David Beatty’s battlecruisers— HMS Invincible, HMS Queen Mary, and HMS Indefatigable —were hit in vulnerable areas not protected by sufficient armour, by German shells during the battle of Jutland and literally exploded. Only a handful of officers and ratings from the three ships survived. Beatty’s own flagship, HMS Lion, was hit repeatedly by German shells which did significant damage.

 

HMS Lion on the left with waterspouts from enemy shells surrounding her. To the right, battlecruiser HMS Queen Mary explodes after German shells penetrated one of her powder magazines.

Beatty and HMS Lion had been pounded by the German navy before in the Battle of the Dogger Bank when German ships temporarily put HMS Lion out of action. Fortunately, since the battle was in the North Sea, HMS Lion did not have to steam far to reach port once the engines were brought back online. Nonetheless, after this experience and Jutland, Beatty had been in more action exposed to death and danger on an open navigating bridge than any other British admiral.

battlecruiser HMS Lion at sea (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

The battlecruiser, a fast, lightly armoured but carrying heavy guns, was the brainchild of Admiral of the Fleet Jacky Fisher, First Sea Lord from 1904 to 1910 (that is, the professional head of the Royal Navy) who subsequently served disastrously in the same position from 1914 to 1915.

            “Their speed will be their protection,” was Fishers’s unrelenting slogan: a dictum now as flawed as the refusal of combat with a nominal equal was unthinkable.”

Thus writes the brilliant naval historian, Professor Andrew Gordon, of the battlecruiser concept, in his magisterial work: The Rules of the Game—Jutland and British Naval Command.  

 

HMS Dreadnought, circa 1906. The booms lashed to the side of the ship were designed to hold anti-torpedo netting. (US Navy Archives)

Fisher was a brilliant and far-sighted naval officer who in his first term from 1904 to 1910, was responsible for the modernization of the Royal Navy including the construction of the first modern battleship, HMS Dreadnought. Upon commissioning in 1906, the revolutionary design of the ship immediately rendered obsolete all other battleships in the world including all the pre-dreadnought battleships of the Royal Navy.

Fisher’s second major brainchild was the battlecruiser. He forced this design through a skeptical Admiralty only to see his design proven disastrous at Jutland on 31 May 1916.

 

Admiral of the Fleet Sir David Richard Beatty, PC, GCB, OM, GCVO, DSO. (Privy Counsellor, Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Order of Merit, Grand Cross of the Victorian Order, Distinguished Service Order) Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum. From the Collection: THE ROYAL NAVY IN THE HOME WATERS, 1914-1918 

 

During that battle, the Admiral Commanding Battle Cruisers, David Beatty, was more than startled when the battlecruisers around him started exploding. After the second of his battlecruisers exploded, Beatty turned to his flag captain on HMS Lion and said, “something seems to be wrong with our bloody ships today.” And there was.

You can read book after book on the Battle of Jutland but it was Beatty who found and pinned the German High Seas fleet and led them toward what should have been its destruction by the Grand Fleet under Jellicoe. In doing so, Beatty was in action with his battlecruiser squadron far longer than the heavy battleships of the Grand Fleet.

The battlecruisers were not designed to fight it out with battleships but this is what happened in any event. Beatty has been criticized for being overly aggressive but that is specious. The culture of the Royal Navy was once the enemy was sighted, you went at them. It was the responsibility of the heavier ships to come up in support as fast as they could. In this Jellicoe failed.

But the biggest failure was that of the battlecruiser design and concept. It was a disaster. Unfortunately, after scrapping enough ships to meet their obligations under the Washington Naval Limitation Treaty, the Royal Navy was left with three of the newer battlecruisers: HMS Hood, HMS Repulse, and HMS Renown. Of these three, only the Renown was taken out of service and rebuilt with all of her major flaws corrected including thickening the armour over her magazines. While the other two were taken out of service for refits, neither spent two years in the dry dock being completely rebuilt and re-engined as did the Renown.

 

HMS Hood at sea. (Photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

The result wasn’t surprising. HMS Hood became a victim of plunging fire from the Bismarck. A shell went through the three inches of steel which formed the armoured deck over the aft powder magazine. It ignited the magazine and the ship blew up and sank in less than two minutes.

HMS Hood was the largest warship in the world and a symbol of the might of the British Empire. Since the Hood spent so much time on “goodwill” tours throughout the world showing the flag, she was the most well known warship in the world. That she simply blew up was a shock to the British public and people throughout the world. (Only three men out of 1600 survived).

In a disastrous nightmare, HMS Repulse accompanied the KGV class battleship Prince of Wales, to Singapore and was sunk by the Japanese in the early days of the Pacific campaign.

This left only HMS Renown which for many months served as Admiral James Somerville’s flagship while he commanded the famous Force H from Gibraltar. (The ‘H’ doesn’t stand for anything). HMS Renown survived the war because she survived the bombs and the shells which hit her whereas the Hood and the Repulse did not. A sad story of a class of ships which should have been taken out of service entirely once their vulnerability at Jutland became clear.

Royal Navy Won the Battle of Jutland, part one

A great victory for the British Royal Navy

The Battle of Jutland

31 May 1916

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

HMS_Dreadnought_1906_H61017

the precursor of the Battle of Jutland Royal Navy battleship HMS Dreadnought underway, circa 1906-07

(photo courtesy US Navy History and Heritage Command)

After the 1890 publication of Alfred Thayer Mahan’s, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660–1783, maritime nations engaged in a “Dreadnought race.” The Royal Navy, under First Sea Lord, Sir Jackie Fisher, launched the first modern battleship, HMS Dreadnought, in 1906. Fisher’s brainchild was so revolutionary that the name of the ship itself became synonymous with “battleship.” The name comes from Sir Jackie Fisher’s personal motto of “Fear God and Dread Nought.”

HMS Dreadnought 1906 IWM a

HMS Dreadnought. She was undergoing refit and did not participate in the Battle of Jutland. In fact, the ship never fought in any World War One naval battles. Her revolutionary design rendered all other heavy warships obsolete overnight. Ironically, technology and naval design moved so fast that HMS Dreadnought herself was close to obsolete by the time of the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916. The ship  was decommissioned in 1919 and sold for scrap in 1923. Thus her time in active service was only thirteen years. 

HMS Dreadnought made all other heavy naval ships in the world, including the Royal Navy’s, obsolete at one stroke. From that point through the First World War, immense treasure was spent by various nations on battleships or “dreadnoughts.” This race was started by the Germans who were determined to have it with the rest of Europe no matter what. The leaders and informed people of Imperial Germany, of whom there were many, recognized that when they began building their modern High Seas Fleet of newly designed battleships, that the British government and the Royal Navy would, correctly, regard this as a mortal threat to British naval supremacy.

jutland 5

At around 4.00 pm during the opening phase of the battle of Jutland, British battlecruisers can be seen on the horizon as they open fire and German shells burst along the line of ships. The German ships are out of sight around 18,500 yards beyond the British ships. The light cruiser HMS CHAMPION and the 13th Destroyer Flotilla (MORESBY, NARBOROUGH, NERISSA, NESTOR, NICATOR, NOMAD, OBDURATE, ONSLOW, PELICAN and PETARD) are taking stations ahead of the British battlecruisers. As is shown the battlecruisers were led by HMS LION and the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron (PRINCESS ROYAL, QUEEN MARY, TIGER), the 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron (NEW ZEALAND and INDEFATIGABLE) can be faintly seen astern to the left of the image. The photograph was taken from HMS BIRMINGHAM.

(photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

The cavalier way the Germans went about this is astounding and in the end they didn’t even build a fleet that was big enough to challenge the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet on anything like an equal basis. The British government, however, spent money like water to construct a massive new fleet of battleships and battlecruisers and destroyers.

hms lion 3

On the horizon a German shell misses amidships of the battlecruiser HMS LION, flagship of Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty. She suffered thirteen hits by the 12 inch guns of the German battlecruiser LUTZOW the most serious of which started a fire in “Q” turret. This was only prevented from blowing up the magazine by the quick thinking of a mortally wounded Royal Marine officer who ordered the magazine to be flooded.

(photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

The long forecasted and long anticipated clash of battle fleets finally happened at Jutland. Yet despite the training and more training and the building of immense fleets at immense cost, the battle proved oddly anti-climatic. The British Grand Fleet didn’t destroy the German High Seas fleet as expected nor did the Germans destroy the British fleet. After the long and confused engagement German fleet turned around and raced back to their anchorage while the British Grand Fleet attempted but failed to get between the Germans and their line of retreat. Had the Royal Navy been able to do this and bring the full force of their large numbers of heavy battleships to bear, they might have destroyed the German fleet. But that did not happen.

hms lion 88

On the horizon the battlecruiser HMS LION, flagship of Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty, can be seen after being hit on ‘Q’ turret. This was the most serious of thirteen hits by the 12 inch guns of the German battlecruiser LUTZOW and started a fire in “Q” turret.

(photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

hms Lion

British battlecruisers HMS LION, HMS PRINCESS ROYAL and HMS RENOWN at sea. 

 (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

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.

 

HMS_Warspite_and_HMS_Malaya_during_the_battle_of_Jutland

HMS Warspite and Malaya, seen from HMS Valiant at around 14:00 hrs 31 May 1916 during the run-up to the Battle of Jutland

 (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

Vice_Admiral_Sir_David_Beatty

Vice Admiral David Beatty, Commanding Battlecruiser 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.

His whispered affairs with women other than his wife (all of which turned out to be true) and his private life in general gave him a mysterious and raffish air. When added to his good looks, wealth (from his American wife) and his cocked his officer’s cap made him a glamorous idol of the time.

Partisans of both men have been dueling with letters to the Times, books, lectures and decades later with computer games, computer simulations and websites. No matter what one says of Jellicoe, there is no excusing that he was slow to come up and that it was Beatty who put himself “in harm’s way” and was almost killed on several occasions during the battle.

hms lion 23

HMS Lion and HMS Tiger off Portland Skerries.

 (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

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 photo above from the Imperial War Museum shows HMS Lion being hit by a German shell during the battle.

HMS_Indefatigable_sinking

HMS Indefatigable sinking after being struck by shells from the German battlecruiser Von der Tann

(photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

Destruction_of_HMS_Queen_Mary

HMS Queen Mary blowing up

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.

photos courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

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

The Battle of Jutland

31 May 1916

HMSLiondamagetoQturret1916

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

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.

1200px-HMSLion_besideHMSQueenMaryblowingup1916

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_at_Jutland

HMS Lion hit by German shellfire at Jutland Downloaded from [1] who scanned it 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:

www.dreadnoughtproject.org

 

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 used a complex system of long strings of signal flags to try and maneuver their fleets. With low cloud cover, visibility was a limited so reading the flag signals was difficult.

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.

Because of this, there is still debate over where different formations were at different times. The most fascinating question in military history 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.

bhc2804

Admiral of the Fleet John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe (1859-1935)

oil on canvass by Walter Thomas Monnington

© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

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 escape back their base.

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.

Admiral Scheer, 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.

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.