The battle of Jutland (Norway)

Artist's impression of the battle / pubpages.unh.edu

Artist’s impression of the battle / pubpages.unh.edu

This sea battle of the Great War is interesting for two reasons: the first is that Jutland was the first challenge to British naval superiority since Trafalgar in 1805; the second is that both Britain and Germany claimed they won it. There was no outstanding victory as such, nor was there a resounding defeat.

Admiral Jellicoe led the British Grand Fleet from their safe home at Scapa Flow to intercept the German High Seas Fleet off the coast of Jutland in Denmark. Prior to this Admiral Beatty in command of six battle cruisers had been searching the North Sea for a sign of Admiral Hipper’s force of five battle cruisers. The latter had ‘dared’ to leave port in the teeth of the nation that allegedly controlled the oceans. Then Beatty found the German ships and engaged them, but their superior gunnery promptly blew up two of Beatty’s warships – not a good start. Beatty learned that his cruisers had inadequate armour and easily-hit magazines.

The next stage of the battle was Beatty luring sixteen German Dreadnoughts under Admiral Scheer towards the stronger British Grand Fleet, with Jellicoe in command of no less than twenty-eight Dreadnoughts*. If the fleets had met there can be no doubt of the outcome, but Scheer saw what was intended and ordered a drastic turn-about under cover of smoke laid by his destroyers. He escaped the trap.

Night fell and Scheer recognised that the British fleet lay between him and his base; with great skill he managed to cross astern of Jellicoe’s warships in silence, and thus made a most remarkable escape. In the press storm that followed in both warring countries, the British claimed they had won Jutland because the German fleet had run for their base. The Germans claimed victory was theirs because they sunk more ships. Britain lost three battle cruisers (and presumably their crews), three smaller cruisers and eight destroyers. Germany lost one pre-Dreadnought battleship, one battle cruiser, four light cruisers and five destroyers. Jellicoe and Beatty came out of Jutland without flying colours, and Winston Churchill was publicly rude about Jellicoe. Germany decided to concentrate on all-out submarine attacks as a better way of challenging British sea power.

 

*The Dreadnought was a special class of battleship named after HMS Dreadnought (1906) planned by Admiral Fisher (q.v.). The vessel was faster than all other battleships, making over twenty knots at full speed, and could also outgun them with its massive twelve-inch guns. It was driven by the latest oil-fired turbine engines, more reliable than coal-fired steam. Both Germany and Britain had Dreadnoughts, the Germans had been building four a year for some years, and a race to equip both grand fleets with them had been going on. When the Great War began, Britain had forty-two ships of the Dreadnought class and Germany twenty-nine. The battle of Jutland took place in May, 1916; it was the only time the two fleets clashed throughout the War.

 

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