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/

 

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.