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.

HMSLiondamagetoQturret1916

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.

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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. 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:

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 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.

John_Jellicoe,_Admiral_of_the_Fleet

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.

 

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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.

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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)

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.

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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

“Something Wrong With Our Bloody Ships Today”

Map of Skagerrak and Kattegat (Denmark, Norway, Sweden).

The Battle of Jutland, was named by the British for the nearby Jutland peninsular, and was named as the Battle of the Skagerrak by the Germans, after the portion of the North Sea in which it was fought. Depending on the history one is reading, either names are used which can be confusing. The map above should help make sense of it all but maybe not.

[The Confederacy and the Union did a similar thing in the American Civil War with the South naming battles after the nearest town and North typically naming battles after the nearest body of water. Hence: First and Second Manassas/First and Second Bull Run (after the Bull Run creek), Sharpsburg vs Antietam (Creek), etc.]

David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty (17 January 1871 – 11 March 1936), was an admiral in the Royal Navy, and participated in the Battle of Jutland by using his squadron to lure the German fleet towards the waiting British Grand fleet under Jellicoe. As an unmarried young officer he had a scandalous affair with a married daughter of Marshall Field, the very wealthy department store magnate from Chicago. Eventually the woman divorced her husband, and married Beatty, although the marriage was not a happy one and Beatty continued to have his affairs and she apparently did as well.

When Vice Admiralty Beatty’s battlecruisers found the Germans at the Battle of Jutland, they found them the hard way: by hearing and seeing shellfire coming their way since the Germans had spotted them first. After HMS Invincible and HMS Queen Mary had both blown up, Beatty said, or is purported to have said:

There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today.

There is a debate over what he actually did say, although it seems clear that Beatty did say there was something wrong with “our ships.”

His flagship, HMS Lion, was pummeled by the German ships and almost blew up as well since she had the same design flaw in her powder magazines as did the two battlecruisers which had just blown up. Only through the extraordinary courage of Major Francis Harvey, the Royal Marine officer commanding HMS Lion’s Q turret did the Lion not explode. Hit by a German shell which killed almost everyone in the turret and the powder magazine, the mortally wounded Harvey ordered the flooding of the turret’s magazine which saved the ship from exploding like her consorts. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

June 1916. Damage to Q turret of British battlecruiser HMS Lion after the Battle of Jutland. Front armour plate has been removed.

[Images courtesy of the Wikipedia, Wikipedia, and Wikipedia.]

Three Queens Named Mary – Part 1

Part 1Part 2

The Queen Mary, sister ship of the Lion and the Princess Royal and capable of a speed of 28 1/2 knots an hour. The modern British battle cruiser was sunk in 1916 about half an hour after the battle of Jutland was fully joined. The booms folded back against the hull of the ship were used to hold the heavy anti-torpedo netting used to protect the ship at anchor.

Battlecruiser HMS Queen Mary was the sister ship of HMS Lion, flagship of the Battlecruiser Squadron. They were very fast ships for the era and both were capable of making more than 30 knots an hour. Queen Mary was sunk thirty minutes into the Battle of Jutland (31 May 1916 – 1 June 1916) when she was struck by German shellfire and blew up. Her crew losses were appalling: in just a few minutes 1,266 officers and ratings died. Only eighteen members of the crew survived.

31 May 1916 Destruction of the battlecruiser HMS Queen Mary at the Battle of Jutland.

[Images courtesy of Wikipedia and Wikipedia.]