Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Battle of Jutland
The Battle of Jutland, known in Germany as the Battle of the Skagerrak (Skagerrakschlacht), was the largest naval battle of World War I, and the only full-scale clash of battleships in that war. It was fought on 31 May–1 June 1916, in the North Sea near Jutland. The combatants were the Kaiserliche Marine's High Seas Fleet, commanded by Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer, and the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet, commanded by Admiral John Jellicoe.
The Germans planned to use Vice Admiral Franz von Hipper's scouting group of five modern battlecruisers to lure Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty's battlecruiser squadrons into the path of the main German battle fleet and so destroy them. But the British had learned from signal intercepts that a major fleet operation was in prospect, and on 30 May Jellicoe sailed with the Grand Fleet to rendezvous with Beatty.
On the afternoon of May 31, Beatty and Hipper encountered each other, and in a running battle to the south Hipper drew the British into the path of the High Seas Fleet. Beatty turned and fled towards the Grand Fleet and from 18:30 until nightfall at about 20:30 the two huge fleets — 250 ships — were heavily engaged. Fourteen British and eleven German ships were sunk with great loss of life. Jellicoe tried to cut the Germans off from their base in the hope of continuing the battle in the morning, but under cover of darkness Scheer crossed the wake of the British fleet and escaped.
Both sides claimed victory. The British had lost more ships and many more sailors, but Scheer's plan of destroying Beatty's squadrons had failed. For the remainder of the war, apart from brief sorties in August 1916 and April 1918, the High Seas Fleet stayed in port. They continued to pose a threat that required the British to keep their battleships concentrated in the North Sea, but they never again contested control of the seas. Instead, the German Navy turned its efforts and resources to unrestricted submarine warfare.
Naval tactics in 1916
The general idea was that a fleet approaching battle should be in parallel columns moving in line ahead in order to present the minimum target to torpedoes. During the actual battle the fleet should deploy into a single line, crossing the path of the enemy column so that the maximum number of guns could be brought to bear, while the enemy could only fire with the front turrets of the leading ships. Carrying out this classic maneuver of "crossing the T" was largely a matter of luck; more likely would be a heavy exchange between two fleets on roughly parallel courses.
The German naval strategy, according to Scheer, was:
- to damage the English Fleet by offensive raids against the naval forces engaged in watching and blockading the German Bight, as well as by mine-laying on the British coast and submarine attack, whenever possible. After an equality of strength had been realised as a result of these operations, and all our forces had been got ready and concentrated, an attempt was to be made with our Fleet to seek battle under circumstances unfavourable to the enemy.
Since in 1916 the High Seas Fleet had only 18 battleships to the Grand Fleet's 33 and the Germans were falling increasingly further behind as the war progressed, there was no chance of defeating the British in a head-to-head clash of battleships. Instead, they planned to divide and conquer: by staging raids into the North Sea they would lure out small British squadrons which could then be attacked and destroyed. The plan for May 1916 was to station a large number of U-boats off the British naval bases and lure Beatty's battlecruiser squadrons out by sending a fleet under Hipper to raid the coast of Sunderland. After attrition from the submarines the British would be drawn by Hipper towards the German dreadnoughts under Scheer and destroyed.
The British intercepted and decrypted a German signal on 28 May ordering all ships to be ready to put to sea on the 30th. Further signals were intercepted and although they were not decrypted it was clear that a major operation was likely. The Grand Fleet of twenty-four dreadnoughts and three battlecruisers left Scapa Flow under Jellicoe before Hipper left the Jade Estuary on May 30. Beatty's force of four dreadnoughts and six battlecruisers left the Firth of Forth on the same day, and Jellicoe's intention was to rendezvous ninety miles west of the Skagerrak off the coast of Jutland and wait for the Germans.
During the battle the actual force under Jellicoe was twenty-eight dreadnoughts and nine battlecruisers, while Scheer had sixteen dreadnoughts, five battlecruisers and six obsolete pre-dreadnoughts. The British were superior in lighter vessels as well. In terms of weight of broadside the British had an advantage of 332,360 lb (151 tonnes) against 134,216 lb (61 t).
This British superiority was countered by certain technical factors: German gunnery was more accurate, in part because the British had adopted an inferior firing control design; German ships had thicker armour against torpedo attack and more water-tight doors ; German armour-piercing shells were more effective than the British shells; and, vitally important, the British cordite propellant was oversensitive, and their magazines were not well protected. The British also suffered from exceptionally poor communication between their ships.
The battlecruiser action
The German submarines were completely ineffective; they did not sink a single ship and provided no useful information as scouts. Jellicoe's ships proceeded to his rendezvous undamaged but misled by Admiralty intelligence that the Germans were nine hours later than they actually were.
At 14:20 on May 31, scouts from Beatty's force reported enemy ships to the south-east; British light units, investigating a neutral Danish steamer which was sailing between the two fleets, were finding German scouts engaged in the same mission. Beatty moved to cut the German ships off from their base. The first shots of the battle were fired when Galatea of the British 1st Light Cruiser Squadron mistook two German destroyers for cruisers and engaged them. Galatea was subsequently hit at extreme range by her German counterpart, Elbing , of Rear Admiral Bodicker's Scouting Group II.
At 15:30, Beatty sighted Hipper's cruisers moving north-west (position 1 on map). Hipper promptly turned away to lead Beatty towards Scheer. Beatty, some three miles from Admiral Sir Hugh Evan-Thomas's 5th Battle Squadron, turned to the enemy and signaled by flag for the 5th Battle Squadron to follow. Given the distance and visibility, the 5th could not read the flag signals; and as Beatty made no effort to communicate via light signal or radio telegraph , the 5th continued on its original course for several minutes. At 15:45, after having the German ships within range for over ten minutes, and with both fleets roughly parallel at 15,000 yards (14 km), Beatty opened fire simultaneously with Hipper (position 2). Thus began the opening phase of the fleet action, known as the "Run to the South".
The Germans drew first blood. Hipper's five battlecruisers promptly registered hits on three of the six British battlecruisers; nearly 10 minutes passed before the British managed to score their first hit. The first near-disaster of the battle occurred when a 12 inch (305 mm) salvo from Lützow wrecked "Q" turret of Beatty's flagship Lion. Dozens of crewmen were instantly killed, but a far larger catastrophe was averted when Major Francis Harvey, the mortally wounded turret commander, ordered the magazine doors shut and the magazine itself flooded, thereby preventing the fickle propellant from setting off a massive explosion. Lion was saved, but Indefatigable was not so lucky. At 16:00 she was smashed aft by three 11-inch (280 mm) shells from von der Tann, causing damage sufficient to knock her out of line; but not realizing this, von der Tann landed another 11 inch salvo on one of her 12-inch (305 mm) turrets at near-maximum range. The plunging shells easily pierced the armour, and, with no time for the heroics that saved Lion, Indefatigable was ripped apart by a magazine explosion, sinking in moments with all but two of her crew of 1,019 officers and men (position 3).
The odds had been evened to Hipper's benefit, but not for long. Evan-Thomas had finally brought up his squadron of four "super-dreadnoughts" — fast warships of the Queen Elizabeth class armed with 15-inch (381 mm) guns. With 15-inch shells landing on his ships and unable to respond effectively at long range with his smaller guns, Hipper was in a tight spot; but he knew Scheer's main body was fast approaching and his baiting mission was close to completion. The battlecruiser action intensified again: at 16:25 Queen Mary was hit by what may have been a combined salvo from Derfflinger and Seydlitz, and she too disintegrated in a magazine explosion with all but nine of her 1,275-man crew lost. Viewing this debacle, Beatty noted "There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today" to his flag captain (position 4).
At about 16:30, the Southampton of Beatty's 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron led by Commodore William Goodenough sighted the main body of Scheer's High Seas Fleet, dodging numerous heavy-caliber salvos to report the detailed strength of the Germans: sixteen dreadnoughts with six older battleships. Simultaneously a destroyer action raged between the battlecruiser fleets as British destroyers meleed with their German counterparts and managed to put a torpedo in Seydlitz. The destroyer Nestor under Captain Bingham sank two German torpedo boats, the V-27 and the V-29, before she was herself hit and abandoned as Scheer's dreadnoughts sped by. Beatty decided to head north to draw the Germans towards Jellicoe and broke contact with the Germans at about 16.45 (position 5). Beatty's move towards Jellicoe is called the "Run to the North." Because Beatty once again failed to signal his intentions adequately, the super-dreadnoughts of the 5th Battle Squadron found themselves lagging behind the battlecruisers and heading directly into the mass of the High Seas Fleet. For a period they had to fend off the lead German dreadnoughts and Hipper's battlecruisers on their own. Malaya sustained heavy casualties in the process, but the 15-inch fire of the British ships remained effective, causing severe damage to the German battlecruisers (position 6).
Jellicoe was now aware that full fleet engagement was nearing, but had insufficient data on the position and course of the Germans. Rear-Admiral Hood's 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron was ordered to speed ahead to assist Beatty, while Rear-Admiral Arbuthnot's 1st Cruiser Squadron patrolled the van of the main body for eventual deployment of Jellicoe's dreadnought columns. Around 17:30 the cruiser Black Prince of Arbuthnot's squadron, bearing southeast, came within view of Beatty's leading 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron, establishing the first visual link between the converging bodies of the Grand Fleet. Simultaneously the signals cruiser Chester, steaming behind Hood's battlecruisers, was intercepted by the van of the German scouting forces under Rear-Admiral Bodicker. Heavily outnumbered by Bodicker's four cruisers, Chester was pounded before being relieved by Hood's heavy units which swung back westward for that purpose. Hood's flagship Invincible disabled Wiesbaden as Bodicker's other ships fled toward Hipper and Scheer, mistakenly believing Hood was leading a larger force of British capital ships from the north and east. Another destroyer action ensued as German torpedo boats attempted to blunt the arrival of this new formation.
The fleet action
In the meantime Beatty and Evan-Thomas had resumed their engagement of Hipper's battlecruisers, this time with the visual conditions to their advantage. With the battle-worthiness of his ships greatly attrited, Hipper turned back to Scheer around 18.00, just as Beatty's flagship Lion was finally spotted by Jellicoe on the Iron Duke. Jellicoe promptly demanded the latest positioning data of the German forces from Beatty, who failed to respond to this questioning for almost ten minutes.
Jellicoe, having overestimated the enemy forces, was in a worrying position, needing to know the position of the Germans in order to judge when and how to deploy from columns to single line. The deployment could be onto either the western or the eastern column and had to be carried out before the Germans arrived; but early deployment could mean losing any chance of a decisive encounter. Deploying to the west would bring his fleet closer to Scheer, gaining valuable time as dusk approached, but the Germans might arrive before the maneuver was complete. Deploying to the east would take the force away from Scheer, but Jellicoe's ships might be able to cross the "T" and would have the advantage of silhouetting Scheer's forces to the west. Deployment would take twenty irreplaceable minutes, and the fleets were approaching at quite a high speed. Jellicoe ordered deployment to the east at 18:10 ❷.
Meanwhile Hipper had rejoined Scheer, and the combined High Seas Fleet was heading north, directly toward Jellicoe. Scheer had no indication that Jellicoe was arriving from the northwest and was distracted by the intervention of Hood's ships to his north and east. Beatty's four surviving battlecruisers were now crossing the van of the British dreadnoughts to join Hood's three battlecruisers; in doing so, he nearly rammed Rear-Admiral Arbuthnot's flagship Defence. Arbuthnot's obsolete armoured cruisers had no real place in the coming clash between modern dreadnoughts, but he was attracted by the drifting hull of the crippled Wiesbaden. With Warrior, Defence closed in for the kill, only to blunder right into the gunsights of Hipper's and Scheer's oncoming capital ships. Defence was destroyed in a spectacular explosion viewed by most of the deploying Grand Fleet, sinking with all hands (903 officers and men). Warrior was hit badly but spared immolation by the mishap of the nearby superdreadnought Warspite. Warspite had been steaming near 25 knots (46 km/h) to keep pace with the 5th Battle Squadron as it tailed Beatty's battlecruisers in the run north, creating enough strain to jam her rudder. Drifting in a wide circle, she appeared as a juicy target to the German dreadnoughts and took thirteen hits, inadvertently drawing fire from the hapless Warrior. This maneouvre from Warspite was known as "Windy Corner ". Despite surviving the onslaught, Warspite was soon ordered back to port by Evan-Thomas. As Defence sank, Hipper moved within range of Hood's 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron. Invincible inflicted two below-waterline hits on Lützow that would ultimately doom Hipper's flagship, but about 18:30 abruptly appeared as a clear target before Lützow and Derfflinger. A series of 12-inch (305 mm) shells struck Invincible, which blew up and split in two, killing all but six of her crew of 1,032 officers and men, including Rear-Admiral Hood.
By 18:30 the main fleet action was joined for the first time, with Jellicoe effectively "crossing Scheer's T" ❸. Jellicoe's flagship Iron Duke quickly scored a series of hits on the lead German dreadnought, Konig; but in this brief exchange, which lasted only minutes, as few as ten of the Grand Fleet's twenty-four dreadnoughts actually fired shots. The Germans were hampered by poor visibility in addition to being in an unfavorable tactical position. Realizing he was heading into a trap, Scheer ordered his fleet to turn and flee at 18:33. Amid a pall of smoke and mist Scheer's forces succeeded in disengaging.
Conscious of the risks to his capital ships posed by torpedoes, Jellicoe did not seek chase but headed south, determined to keep the High Seas Fleet west of him. Scheer knew that it was not yet dark enough to escape, and his fleet would suffer terribly in a stern chase, so at 18:55 he doubled back to the east ❹. In his memoirs he wrote, "the manoeuvre would be bound to surprise the enemy, to upset his plans for the rest of the day, and if the blow fell heavily it would facilitate the breaking loose at night."
Commodore Goodenough's 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron dodged the fire of German battleships for a second time in reestablishing contact with the High Seas Fleet shortly after 19:00. By 19:15, Jellicoe had crossed the "T" yet again ❺. This time his arc of fire was tighter and deadlier, causing severe damage to the Germans, particularly Rear-Admiral Behncke's leading 3rd Battle Squadron. At 19:17, for the second time in less than an hour, Scheer turned to the west, ordering a major torpedo attack by his destroyers and a "death ride" by Scouting Group I's four remaining battlecruisers — Lützow being out of action and abandoned by Hipper — to deter a British chase. In this portion of the engagement the Germans sustained thirty-seven heavy hits while inflicting only two, Derfflinger alone receiving fourteen. Nonetheless Scheer slipped away as sunset (at 20:24) approached. The last major engagement between capital ships took place as the surviving British battlecruisers caught up with their German counterparts, which were briefly relieved by Rear-Admiral Mauve's obsolete pre-dreadnoughts ❻. As the King George V and Westfalen exchanged a few final shots, neither side could have imagined that the only encounter between British and German dreadnoughts in the entire war was already concluded.
At 21:00, Jellicoe, knowing of the Grand Fleet's deficiencies in night-fighting, hoped to avoid a major engagement until early dawn. He placed a screen of cruisers and destroyers behind his battle fleet to patrol the rear as he headed south to guard against Scheer's expected escape to Ems ❼. In reality Scheer opted to bypass his wake and escape via Horns Reef. Luckily for Scheer, Jellicoe's scouts failed to report his true course while Jellicoe himself was too cautious to judge from extensive circumstantial evidence that the Germans were breaking through his rear. While the nature of Scheer's escape and Jellicoe's inaction indicate the overall superiority of German night-fighting proficiency, the night battle's results were no more clear-cut than the battle as a whole. Southampton, Commodore Goodenough's flagship that had scouted so proficiently, was heavily damaged but managed to sink the German cruiser Frauenlob which went down at 22:23 with all hands (320 officers and men). But at 02:00 on June 1, Black Prince of the ill-fated 1st Cruiser Squadron met a grim fate at the hands of the battleship Thüringen, blowing up with all hands (857 officers and men) as her squadron leader Defence had done hours earlier. At 02:10, flotillas of British destroyers launched daring torpedo runs on the German battle lines and at the cost of five destroyers sunk and some others damaged, they managed to sink the predreadnought Pommern with all hands (844 officers and men), as well as torpedoing the light cruiser Rostock and causing another, Elbing, to be rammed by the dreadnought Posen and abandoned. The battlecruiser Lützow was scuttled at 01:45 after being abandoned by her 1,150 survivors. In addition to Jellicoe's caution, the Germans were helped by the failure of British naval intelligence in London to relay a critical radio intercept giving away the true position of the High Seas Fleet. By the time Jellicoe finally learned of Scheer's whereabouts at 04:15 it was clear the battle could no longer be resumed. There would be no "Glorious First of June" in 1916.
Battle damage assessment
The British lost fourteen ships of 111,000 tons total and 6,094 men. The Germans lost eleven ships of 62,000 tons total and 2,551 men. Several other ships were badly damaged, such as HMS Lion and SMS Seydlitz. Regarding ships that could fight again at the end of that day, the British had twenty-four dreadnoughts and battlecruisers ready to fight while the Germans had only ten, so the British still had command of the sea. For the British, the outcome could be seen as giving a tactical loss but a strategic gain. The Germans left the field, while the British remained and were ready to continue the next day. On the other hand, the threat from the German navy did not disappear; contrary to some opinions, it remained still active, though the two battle fleets never met again.
Battlecruiser design and handling
The weak design and faulty use of the battlecruisers were important in the serious losses of the British. The battle is often regarded as demonstrating that the Royal Navy was technologically and operationally inferior to the German Navy. Jellicoe wrote in his despatch:
- "The disturbing feature of the battle-cruiser action is the fact that five German battle-cruisers engaging six British vessels of this class, supported after the first twenty minutes, although at great range, by the fire of four battleships of the "Queen Elizabeth" class, were yet able to sink Queen Mary and Indefatigable … The facts which contributed to the British losses were, first, the indifferent armour protection of our battle-cruisers, particularly as regards turret armour and deck plating, and, second, the disadvantage under which our vessels laboured in regard to the light … The German organisation at night is very good. Their system of recognition signals is excellent. Ours is practically nil. Their searchlights are superior to ours and they use them with great effect. Finally, their method of firing at night gives excellent results. I am reluctantly compelled to the opinion that under night conditions we have a good deal to learn from them".
During the summer of 2003, a diving expedition examined the wrecks of Invincible, Queen Mary, Defence, and Lützow to investigate the cause of the British ships' tendency to suffer from internal explosions. On this evidence, a major part of the blame may be laid on lax handling of the cordite propellant for the shells of the main guns. This, in turn, was a product of current British naval doctrine, which emphasised a rapid rate of fire in the direction of the enemy rather than slower, more accurate fire. In practice, the cordite could not be supplied to the guns rapidly enough through the hoists and hatches; in order to bring up the propellant for the next broadside before the time when it had to be loaded, many safety doors which should have been kept shut to safeguard against flash fires were open. Furthermore, whereas German cordite was supplied in brass cylinders, British cordite was supplied in silk bags, making it more susceptible to flash fires. The doctrine of a high rate of fire also led to the decision in 1913 to increase the supply of shells and cordite held on the British ships by 50 per cent, for fear of running out of ammunition; when this caused the capacity of the ships' magazines to be exceeded, cordite was stored in insecure places.
The memoirs of Alexander Grant, gunner on Lion, show that some British officers were well aware of the dangers of careless handling of cordite:
- "With the introduction of cordite to replace powder for firing guns, regulations regarding the necessary precautions for handling explosives became unconsciously considerably relaxed, even I regret to say, to a dangerous degree throughout the Service. The gradual lapse in the regulations on board ship seemed to be due to two factors. First, cordite is a much safer explosive to handle than gun-powder. Second, but more important, the altered construction of the magazines on board led to a feeling of false security … The iron or steel deck, the disappearance of the wood lining, the electric lights fitted inside, the steel doors, open because there was now no chute for passing cartridges out; all this gave officers and men a comparative easiness of mind regarding the precautions necessary with explosive material".
After the battle the Admiralty produced a report critical of the cordite handling practices. By this time, however, Jellicoe had been promoted to First Sea Lord and Beatty to command of the Grand Fleet; the report, which indirectly placed part of the blame for the disaster on the fleet's officers, was suppressed.
The battle showed that the British concept and use of the battlecruiser was wholly flawed. The battlecruiser had been designed according to Jackie Fisher's dictum that "speed is armour". They were intended to be faster than battleships, with superior fire control, and able to pound enemy battleships at ranges at which the enemy could not reply. But at Jutland they were not used in this fashion — and indeed, British fire control was not sufficiently developed to permit them to be so used — but instead closed recklessly with enemy battleships while lacking the armour to stand up to the pounding they received.
The Jellicoe controversy
At the time Jellicoe was criticised for his caution and for allowing Scheer to escape. Beatty in particular was convinced that Jellicoe had missed a tremendous opportunity to win another Trafalgar and annihilate the High Seas Fleet. Jellicoe's career stagnated; he was promoted away from active command to become First Sea Lord, while Beatty replaced him as commander of the Grand Fleet.
The controversy raged within the navy for about a decade after the war. Criticism focused on Jellicoe's decision at 19:15. Scheer had ordered his cruisers and destroyers forward in a torpedo attack to cover the turning away of his battleships. Jellicoe chose to turn away to the southeast and so keep out of range of the torpedoes. If Jellicoe had instead turned to the west, could his ships have dodged the torpedoes and destroyed the German fleet? Supporters of Jellicoe, including the naval historian Julian Corbett, pointed out the folly of risking defeat in battle when you already have the command of the seas. (Corbett's volume of the official history of the war, Naval Operations, contains the extraordinary disclaimer, "Their Lordships find that some of the principles advocated in the book, especially the tendency to minimise the importance of seeking battle and forcing it to a conclusion, are directly in conflict with their views.")
Whatever one thinks of the result, it is true that the pressure on Jellicoe was immense, and his caution is certainly understandable. The then-First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, said of the battle that Jellicoe "was the only man who could have lost the war in an afternoon." The criticism of Jellicoe also fails to give enough credit to Scheer, who was determined to preserve his fleet by avoiding a decisive engagement and showed great skill in effecting his escape.
- Battlecruisers Indefatigable, Queen Mary, Invincible
- Armoured cruisers Black Prince , Warrior, Defence
- Destroyers Shark , Sparrowhawk , Tipperary , Turbulent , Ardent , Fortune , Nomad , Nestor
- Battlecruiser Lützow
- Pre-Dreadnought Pommern
- Light cruisers Frauenlob , Elbing , Rostock , Wiesbaden
- Destroyers V48, S35, V27, V4, V29
Order of battle
- Beatty's official report
- Jellicoe's official despatch
- Jellicoe, extract from The Grand Fleet, published 1919
- Scheer, Germany's High Seas Fleet in the World War, published 1920
- by Rudyard Kipling
- by Alexander Grant, a gunner aboard HMS Lion
- by Moritz von Egidy, captain of SMS Seydlitz
- by Richard Foerster, gunnery officer on Seydlitz
- by Georg von Hase, gunnery officer on Derfflinger
(Note that due to the time zone difference, the times in some of the German accounts are two hours ahead of the times in this article.)
- John Campbell, Jutland: An Analysis of the Fighting, Lyons Press .
- Andrew Gordon, The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command, John Murray.
- V. E. Tarrant, Jutland: The German Perspective — A New View of the Great Battle, Weidenfeld & Nicholson.
- Nigel Steel and Peter Hart, Jutland 1916: Death in the Grey Wastes, Cassell.
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