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


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 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 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.


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

(photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)


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