Jutland and Its Sequel Part II

A full account of the Battle of Jutland narrated by Admiral Jellicoe’s grandson as part of the Jutland Centenary Commemorations. The 24 minute animation gives the viewer an overview of the major “chapters” of the battle – the opening battle cruiser action, the Grand Fleet deployment, the Turn Away and the Night Destroyer actions. Additionally the 1917 submarine campaign is explained as a consequence of Scheer’s decision not to risk another Fleet-to-Fleet encounter. Graphics, animation, animated maps and contemporary photography illustrate key points.

Scheer had no wish to renew the battle and, aware that first light would appear at about 03:30, he knew that he could not delay turning south-eastwards any longer, even if it meant fighting his way through Jellicoe’s line. This time, luck was on his side, for Jellicoe’s fleet was several knots faster than his own so that when he gave the order to change course at 21:30 he broke through the light units covering the rear of the British line. A series of confused actions followed in which the Germans had a slight advantage in that they had laid greater emphasis of training for night fighting, including the use of starshells and searchlights. The British lost several destroyers, the armoured cruiser Black Prince and the light cruiser Tipperary. In addition, the cruisers Southampton and Dublin sustained serious damage. The German cruisers Frauenlob and Rostock were torpedoed and sunk. The cruiser Elbing was also hit by a torpedo. Whatever chance she had of survival was snuffed out when she was rammed by one of her own dreadnoughts, the Posen, and finally abandoned to sink. The destroyer Obedient slammed a torpedo into the pre-dreadnought Pommern, which blew up and sank. During the early hours of 1 June the High Seas Fleet passed the Horns Reef, marking the 120-mile swept channel leading to its anchorages. At 05:20 the dreadnought Ostfriesland struck a British mine laid the previous night but managed to limp into harbour. Had the return voyage been just a few miles longer Seydlitz, almost hidden by belching clouds of dense black smoke, drawing 42 feet of water at the bows and with hundreds of tons of water aboard, would never have reached home. As it was, she grounded several times and finally had to be towed into harbour stern-first. The British remained off the Horns Reef until 11:00 on 1 June, then turned for home in rising seas that claimed the Warrior, badly damaged and under tow.

So ended the Battle of Jutland, known, as Skagerrak in Germany. When the final accounting was done, the Grand Fleet’s losses amounted to three battle cruisers, three armoured cruisers and eight destroyers, a total of fourteen ships. The High Seas Fleet lost one pre-dreadnought battleship, one battle cruiser, four light cruisers, and five destroyers a total of eleven ships. British casualties amounted to 6,097 killed, about half of whom were lost in the three battle cruisers, and 510 wounded; the Germans lost 2,551 killed and 507 wounded.

On the basis of statistics and the fact that Scheer had brought his fleet home, the German press claimed a stunning victory. Scheer and Hipper both received Germany’s highest military decoration, the Pour le Merite. Scheer declined to accept a title but the King of Bavaria granted Hipper a knighthood and with it the right to add ‘von’ to his name; knowing the truth of the matter, he was not terribly interested in either. An unexpectedly large number of lesser mortals received the Iron Cross.

Across the North Sea news spread among the British public that a major fleet action had taken place. It was confidently expected that the Royal Navy had won a second Trafalgar and, indeed, it was felt to be nothing less than an entitlement. However, the Admiralty’s first official communiqué on the subject, issued on the morning of 3 June, produced such a sense of shock that it was widely remembered over thirty years later.

On the afternoon of Wednesday May 31, a naval engagement took place off the coast of Jutland. The British ships on which the brunt of the fighting fell were the Battle Cruiser Fleet and some cruiser and light cruisers supported by four fast battleships. Among these the losses were heavy. The German battle fleet, aided by low visibility, avoided prolonged action with our main forces, and soon after these appeared on the scene the enemy returned to port, though not before receiving severe damage from our battleships. The battle cruisers Queen Mary, Indefatigable, Invincible and the cruisers Defence and Black Prince were sunk. The Warrior was disabled and after being towed for some time, had to be abandoned by her crew. It is also known that the destroyers Tipperary, Turbulent, Fortune, Sparrow-hawk and Ardent were lost and six others are not yet accounted for. No British battleships or light cruisers were sunk. The enemy’s losses are serious. At least one battle cruiser was destroyed; one battleship reported sunk by our destroyers during a night attack; two cruisers were disabled and probably sunk. The exact number of enemy destroyers disposed of during the action cannot be ascertained with any certainty, but it must have been large.

Traditionally, the Royal Navy was a reticent service that shied away from triumphalism, but the tone of the Admiralty’s communiqué and its successor were so negative – to say nothing of being incomplete and inaccurate – that it might have been reporting a serious defeat. Jellicoe was furious, yet despite his fully justified protests, the Admiralty studiously avoided using the word ‘victory’ and, reasoned many, if there had not been a British victory, there must have been a British defeat. It was a message from King George himself that placed the matter in its correct perspective:

I regret that the German High Seas Fleet, in spite of its heavy losses, was enabled by the misty weather to evade the full consequences of an encounter they have always professed to desire but for which, when the opportunity arrived, they showed no inclination.

The neutrals tended to agree. Indeed, Jutland could be seen as yet another escape story. At its simplest, Sheer had gone to sea and Jellicoe had chased him back into harbour. Not one cargo of war material or foodstuffs to feed an increasingly hungry population reached Germany as a direct result of Jutland. Nothing had changed and the Royal Navy’s blockade continued to strangle Imperial Germany.

Once the euphoria had subsided, there were plenty of level headed Germans able to see beyond the simple statistics of loss. Those who watched their shattered ships make their painful way into harbour saw nothing to celebrate. Among them was Scheer, who had received so many plaudits and now recognised that a limit had been reached. His view was that the High Seas Fleet must never again fight such a battle, even if the respective losses were in the same proportion. In his opinion, it was simply not possible to defeat the Royal Navy in a surface engagement. The accuracy of this prediction was confirmed when, during the evening of 2 June, Jellicoe, despite having to dock several ships, was able to report the Grand Fleet ready for action at four hours’ notice. Scheer, on the other hand, indicated that the High Seas Fleet would not be ready until the middle of August, and even then Seydlitz and Derfflinger would not complete their repairs until, respectively, September and October. Somehow, he managed to convince the Kaiser that the surface fleet’s real value lay in absorbing so much of Great Britain material and manpower resources, rather than as a theoretical bargaining counter in any future peace negotiations.

There was, however, one task that he must perform. His men had understandably been shaken by the enemy’s murderous gunfire, the destruction caused by high explosive shells, and the horrible shrieks of comrades torn apart. They knew that they had hit the enemy hard, but it was they who had been forced to seek refuge in harbour. In the circumstances, they found the jubilation of the civilians, who had no idea what had actually taken place, somewhat overdrawn. As a good commander, Scheer knew that he must restore their morale. His attempt to bombard Sunderland had been rudely interrupted by Beatty and Jellicoe. Now, he would repeat it, with adequate Zeppelin reconnaissance to warn him of their approach.

On 18 August he put to sea with the two remaining battle cruisers, 18 battleships and, to prevent his being surprised as he had on the last occasion, a scouting force of Zeppelins would provide advance reconnaissance over a wide area. As usual, Room 40 had provided advance warning of the High Seas Fleet’s assembly. Not only were Beatty and Jellicoe at sea in overwhelming strength, the Harwich Force had also been ordered out. This was spotted by Zeppelin L13 and reported by radio as including a squadron of battleships. It was also, the report continued, within striking distance of Scheer to the south. Delighted, Scheer changed course in pursuit only to discover that his quarry consisted of smaller warships. It was now too late for him to carry out his original intention of bombarding Sunderland and he turned for home. By then, the distance between Jellicoe and Scheer was too great for an engagement to take place. The only losses incurred during the day were the light cruisers Nottingham and Falmouth, torpedoed and sunk by U-boats, and the dreadnought Westfalen damaged by a British submarine. On 18 October Scheer initiated another sortie but cancelled it and returned to harbour when a British submarine torpedoed the light cruiser Munchen in the Heligoland Bight. Thereafter, save for individual ships, the heavy units of the High Seas Fleet spent the rest of the war in harbour, their best officers and men transferring to the U-boat service while the morale of the remainder began to rot.

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