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Jutland 1916

Recommended Reading

The Battle of Jutland

The Battle of Heligoland Bight

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Decisions of Disaster: Jutland 1916
Decisions of Disaster: Jutland 1916
by Alan R. McGahey

In the Shadow of Nelson

On the morning of October 21, in the year 1805, three naval fleets met at Cape Trafalgar off the Spanish coast. Napoleon had ordered his admirals to mass the French and Spanish fleets together against Lord Horatio Nelson and the British Fleet. Admiral Horatio Nelson went to sea at age twelve and fought in many battles throughout his career. Because of one of these battles, he received a wound in his right arm by grapeshot (a clustered projectile used against boarding parties) forcing the doctor to amputate his arm. Admiral Nelson’s thirty-five years at sea coupled with his combat experience refined his leadership abilities.[1] Although Lord Nelson died at the Battle of Trafalgar, the British decimated the combined fleets of France and Spain. Through the superior leadership, training, and number of weapons per ship, Lord Nelson and his men defeated Napoleon’s combined fleet. This victory at sea secured the supremacy of the Royal Navy for the next 100 years, and ended the French plan to invade England. Lord Nelson told his officers and sailors during the battle, “England confides that every man will do his duty”. After the battle was over and as Nelson lay dying, Capt Hardy gave Nelson the good news that they had defeated the enemy. Nelson responded, “Thank God I have done my duty” and then died at 4:30 p.m. [2]

Nelson became a national hero and the spirit of Trafalgar instilled a deep patriotic fervor in the British heart that thumped in tune with their second national anthem, Rule Britannia!

          “When Britain first, at heaven’s command, Arose from out the azure main;

This was the charter of the land, And guardian Angels sung this strain:

          Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves: Britons never will be slaves.” [3]

I. Controversy

A looming controversy has lasted almost a century over the Battle of Jutland in First World War. The Germans inflicted heavy losses on the British Grand Fleet but then retreated, making a run for home. The British chased the German High Seas Fleet from the North Sea, maintained control, and enforce the naval blockade; however both sides claim victory. During the battle, at least three ships suffer catastrophe by massive internal explosions resulting in nearly all hands lost. Was it a result of poor tactics, design flaws, a lack of training, bad luck, arrogance, or German superiority? If Jutland was a victory for the British, then why did Admiral Jellicoe receive a backlash from the public for robbing England another Trafalgar? In Germany, Admirals Scheer and von Hipper received a hero’s welcome. What is puzzling is if Jutland was a German victory why resort to unrestricted submarine warfare eventually drawing the United States into World War I sealing Germany’s fate?

Many factors contribute to success or failure on the battlefield. The results can be analyzed usuallMany factors contribute to success or failure on the battlefield. The results can be analyzed usually by casualty figures or territory gained or lost. In battle, the fog of war obscures visibility making it difficult to assess the movements and position of the enemy. The fog of war has migrated from the surface of the waters of the North Sea across the pages of history obscuring the outcome of the largest and only fleet engagement of the First World War. An analysis of each factor, the men who made critical decisions prior and during the battle, the machines of war, and materials used such as armored plating, ammunition, and the torpedoes. Only after this analysis, can deciphering of events explain the results and answer the questions, who really won the Battle of Jutland and the answer to Sir David Beatty’s exclamation, “There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!” [4]

II. Control of the Seas

For almost one hundred years, the Royal Navy enjoyed supremacy of the seas and the world’s greatest powers had a relatively calm period known as the “Pax Britannia.” During this peaceful time, technology and tactics evolved changing the face of naval warfare. Ships that once were wooden hulled transformed into iron and steel clad warships with steam replacing sails and turret-mounted naval guns replaced muzzle-loaded cannons .[5]

Queen Victoria's father Edward, Duke of Kent, the fourth son of King George III was Hanoverian. He was a descendant of King George I, who arrived in England in 1714 to ensure protestant succession. King George II and III both married German wives to reinforce the ties with Germany. Victoria also married her German cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg. Until Victoria was three years old, she had a German governess, who included German as one of her lessons. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had a daughter also named Victoria known as “Vicky” within family realms. She later married Kaiser Frederick III and became the Crown Princess of Prussia. She gave birth to a son, who would grow up to be Kaiser Wilhelm II. [6] Wilhelm had a fascination with the sea. He had written about his love for the sea when recalling childhood memories of growing up and playing at his grandmother’s seaside estate on the Isle of Wight. He had often seen the naval yard at Portsmouth and the grand ships there. Something in his “English Blood” stirred and he wrote, “There awoke in me the wish to build ships of my own like theses someday, and when I grown up to possess as fine a navy as the English.” His relationship to his mother soured over time because she was determining to mold him and instill in him a sense of “British Independence” however to Wilhelm, she was an iron-fisted taskmaster. When he had grown to manhood, Wilhelm found happiness ad a sense of family when he joined the Germany Army. The army hardened him and he started distancing himself from his parents, especially his mother, the “English Princess.” His father even wrote to the Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, informing him that his son’s vanity and presumptions added to his overweening of himself and his inexperience would make him a danger to foreign affairs. The tension between Wilhelm and his parents seemed to parallel the tensions brewing between England and Germany. [7]

Monarchs on their own cannot move their nation into becoming great sea powers. They require naval taMonarchs on their own cannot move their nation into becoming great sea powers. They require naval tacticians; admirals to lead their fleets into combat. The English Admiralty had men such as Admirals George Callaghan, John Fisher, John Jellicoe, and David Beatty. Germany had Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, Admirals Reinhart Scheer, and Franz von Hipper. These men played the most crucial roles building the fleets and devising the tactics used during the battle.

Men of the Sea Part 1: The Admiralty

In the years prior to World War 1, Sir George Callaghan served as Britain’s Naval Commander-in-Chief. However; Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill and Admiral John Fisher thought he was incapable of handing the job if England went to war with Germany. So on the same day England entered World War 1; two months prior to his retirement, John Jellicoe promptly replaced him. This swift move proved an embarrassment to Jellicoe as outrage rang through the Royal Navy. Prior to his removal Callaghan introduced new methodology to the naval operations including initial anti-submarine tactics and requested the start of depth charge production. [8] On 20 July 1913, he requested that the Admiralty increase the amount of ammunition carried on the ships increased from 80 rounds per gun to 120 rounds per gun. This would eliminate reliance on supply ships and prevent ammunition shortages in battle. [9]

The next Admiral to discuss is Admiral John "Jacky" Fisher, who joined the Royal Navy at the age of 13, on 12 June 1854. His first assignment was aboard the HMS Victory, the famed flagship of Nelson’s at the Battle of Trafalgar. He first experienced combat during a failed attack on the Chinese Taku forts on 25 June 1859. Fisher worked hard and soon established himself as a gunnery and torpedo expert. By the age of 21, Fisher became an instructor at the Royal Navy’s gunnery school teach classes in torpedo and mine warfare. In 1882 during the bombardment of Alexandria, Egypt, gunners were extremely accurate on the HMS Inflexible, which Fisher captained. Within the next 20 years, he had constructed “flotilla defense” plan that provided coastal and shipping lane defense using torpedo boat destroyers and new submarines. In the late 1890s, he became Commander of the Mediterranean Fleet. He improved the fleet readiness and instructed the junior officers to develop independent tactical strategies because in battle decisions may rely on their judgment for their ship after assessing the factors. From 1904-1910, Fisher served a First Sea Lord and developed plans to upgrade the Royal Navy to meet the increasing threat from Germany. [10] His greatest achievement was the development of the Dreadnought Battleship. The name of the first ship of its type was HMS Dreadnought. A quote from Admiral Fisher in February 1909 describing what the new Dreadnought class battleship is in comparison to other warships of the day:

“The only issue is the number of Dreadnoughts. No matter who tries to fight the dreadnought, the dreadnought gobbles them all up; it is the armadillo and the ants. The armadillo puts out its tongue and licks up the ants” [11]

The officer handpicked by Fisher to counter the German threat was John Jellicoe. John began his naval career at the same age Fisher did, at age 13, in 1872. Assigned to a training ship, HMS Britannia, and passed at the top of his class in 1874. A promotion to Midshipman provided him with his first sea-going assignment aboard the HMS Newcastle. He left the HMS Newcastle to serve aboard the battleship HMS Agincourt. Jellicoe spent time studying at the Royal Naval College at Greenwich and afterwards received his next promotion to Lieutenant in 1880. At this point, he had made his goal to become a Gunnery Specialist and within a year, he returned to the HMS Agincourt. During the 1882 Arabi Pasha’s rebellion in Egypt, Jellicoe disguised himself as a native to courier secret messages to and from Sir Garnet Wolseley through the enemy lines. Between the years of 1883 to 1889, he served with distinction on three other ships, ending on the HMS Excellent. In 1889, Captain John Fisher transferred Jellicoe from HMS Excellent to his staff to assist with the implementation of the Naval Defense Act. In 1891, Jellicoe became the Executive Officer on HMS Victoria where he suffered Malta fever while on board. An unfortunate accident occurred during naval maneuvers in 1893, when another ship rammed the HMS Victoria causing it to sink. After recovering and serving three years on the HMS Ramillies, Jellicoe received his promotion to Captain. During the Boxer Rebellion, in the midst of a failed attempt reach the legations in Peking, Jellicoe suffered a gunshot wound in the chest. By 1907, Jellicoe assumed the rank of Rear Admiral and with the start of World War I, took command of the HMS Iron Duke and the Grand Fleet stationed at Scapa Flow, Scotland. [12]

The last of the Admiralty’s officers to discuss is David Beatty, who in the tradition joined the navy at age 13. He served on the HMS Trafalgar and later received his promotion to Lieutenant in 1892. Beatty led a quite ordinary career until the late 1890s during General Kitchener’s Sudan invasion while serving in the flotilla of gunboats. The flotilla commander, Cecil Colville, incapacitated by a wound, had Beatty take command. He acted courageously in a series of engagement that later is better known as the Battle of Omdurman resulting in Beatty receiving the Distinguished Service Order. One unique event in Beatty’s career was tossing a bottle of champagne to a young officer of the 21st Lancers on the bank of the Nile. The grateful officer was Winston Churchill. On January 1, 1910, at age 39, Beatty received promotion to the rank of Admiral, which was the same age Nelson was when he became an Admiral. [13]

Now let us look at those responsible for the tactics and strategies from across the North Sea in Germany in the Kaiserliche Marine or better known as the German Imperial Navy.

Men of the Sea Part 2: The Kaiserliche Marine

Alfred von Tirpitz was secretary of the Imperial German Navy from 1897 until just prior to World War I and had support from the Kaiser to build the navy into the High Seas Fleet that included a submarine fleet. Tirpitz joined the Prussian navy in 1865 as a midshipman and commissioned in 1869. He served as a commander of a torpedo flotilla and eventually became Inspector General of the Torpedo Fleet. During this time, he became quite interested in submarine warfare. He received his promotion to Rear Admiral in 1895. After serving with a cruiser squadron for a year, Tirpitz became the Secretary of the Navy and soon afterwards, he introduced two Fleet Acts, the first in 1898 and the other in 1900, reorganizing the navy, putting in to action a seventeen-year plan to build the fleet comparable to the British Navy. Finally, he received the rank of Grand Admiral in 1911 followed by Commander of the German Navy with the start of World War I. [14]

Next is Admiral Reinhardt Scheer, who commanded the German High Seas Fleet at the Battle of Jutland. He entered the navy in 1879 and became a battleship commander by 1907. During the period of the 1890s, he established himself to be a torpedo specialist. In 1910, Scheer received promotion to Chief of Staff of the High Seas Fleet. Three years later, he became commander of the Second Battle Squadron. He was a strong proponent of submarine warfare and used them quite recklessly, eventually antagonizing a powerful neutral country, the United States in 1918. Scheer’s next assignment made him commander of the High Seas Fleet in January 1916. He devised plans to reduce the size of the British Grand Fleet by drawing out small numbers of ships into traps to eliminate the much larger British navy ship by ship. [15]

The last German Admiral is Franz von Hipper. Franz von Hipper Franz Hipper was born on 13 September 1863 in Bavaria.. On 15 April 1881, he joined the Imperial Navy and by May 1882, he was a Sea cadet. On 21 November 1884, Franz received promotion to Unterleutnant. By 1901, he received promotion to Korvettenkapitän. In 1915, he received the rank of Vice Admiral. The ships in which he served on were the full spectrum on naval ships from small cruisers to battleships. [16] From 1912-1914, Hipper commanded the High Seas Fleet Scouting Forces and when war broke out his battlecrusier squadron score many early successes against the Royal Navy. In 1915 at the Battle of Dogger Bank, Hipper escaped through luck and skill from Admiral Beatty. [17]

II. Naval Machines of War

Since men first set sail upon the sea and engaged in combat atop the waves, coastal nations have build navies to ensure trade and provide protection for other seaborne nations. There was no difference prior to the First World War. In 1908, the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, informed the German ambassador “the whole world was now watching rivalry between German and English shipbuilding.” This rivalry came into world focus between the years 1906 to 1914 and proved to be the “coal heaped on the fires” leading to war. The German government passed legislation to support the buildup on the navy causing concern in England. Admiral Tirpitz wanted to undermine England’s control of the seas to promote the Kaiser’s plan of an expanded empire overseas to equal or exceed the British Empire. The advancement of the German navy sparked severe debates in the English Parliament concerning defense policy. The mainline policy makers saw the way to be clear-cut; the British navy will remain superior. Admiral Fisher described the situation,

“Germany keeps her whole fleet always concentrated within a few hours of England. We must therefore keep a fleet twice as powerful as that of Germany always concentrated within a few hours of Germany.”

The naval buildup was a problem for the new Liberal government in England that came to power in 1905. Their platform base was on the idea of homeland social reform. They decide to try a policy of arms control to defuse the situation. This became fruitless since both militaries and traditionalist had already made up their minds thus the machines of war continued to crank out ship after ship, matching, and counter matching the opponent’s naval strength. [18]

By 1914, the British Royal Grand fleet consisted of 28 dreadnoughts, 9 battle cruisers, 8 armored cruisers, 26 light cruisers, 77 destroyers, 1 seaplane carrier, and 1 minelayer for a total force of 250 warships. The Imperial Navy’s High Seas Fleet consisted of 99 warships that consisted of 16 dreadnoughts, 5 battle cruisers, 6 pre-dreadnoughts, 11 light cruisers, and 61 destroyers. [19] A young navy officer, Lieutenant Eric Woodruff, wrote a letter to his brother in September of 1914 stating, “There is a great enthusiasm and recruits are flocking in daily. If only the German fleet would come out, we would wipe them out in a few minutes.” [20]

For the nonprofessional, it is difficult to know the difference between a cruiser and a dreadnought so a brief overview is in order to prevent confusion during the discussion of the Battle of Jutland. As previously discussed, the dreadnoughts were the biggest and most powerful ships afloat at this time. These ships were heavy armored with large main guns and support guns for torpedo defense. This also meant that they were slower than other ships. The battlecruisers were similar in size to the dreadnoughts but had smaller main guns and varied in amount of smaller support guns. It had less armor but had increased speed. The German navy still had some pre-dreadnoughts. These ships were warships built prior to the construction of the HMS Dreadnought (1906) and only had four main guns. Most of these ships were obsolete in the First World War because they were too weak and slow to fight against the modern battleships thus demoted to coastal defense. Next, is the cruiser which is broken down into light cruisers and armored cruisers. The armored cruiser derived its name from the belt of armor around the ship. Both types of cruisers were multi-faceted warship capable of accomplishing many tasks such as scouting missions, patrolling, protection of trade routes, leading destroyer flotillas and supporting main fleet actions. The last of the main ships are destroyers.

The name Torpedo Boat Destroyer (TBD) eventually changed to just Destroyer. These ships were originally large, fast vessels armed with a main gun and torpedoes. By the end of the First World War, the destroyers were primarily used for convoy escort and screening against torpedo attacks from ships and submarines. [21]

Submarines were widely used by both sides in the First World War, however; the role of the submarine was much different with the British, who used them as support for fleet actions, whereas the Germans, used them as lone hunters and there was no distinction of their prey…seaman, merchant, or civilian. The conditions of submarine duty were difficult on those assigned to them. Leading Seaman W. Schlicting served on a U-Boat and describes life aboard when submerged,

“The atmosphere below was beyond description. An appalling burst of heat funneled backward. At any moment would be standing at 45 degrees Celsius. The men were standing over the engines in the bare minimum of clothing and their faces covered with oil and filth. They looked like black skulls” [22]

In September 1914, a demonstration of how lethal one U-boat was during the encounter with three aging battleships, HMS Aboukir, HMS Cressy and HMS Hogue. Midshipman W. Wykham-Musgrave was stationed on the HMS Aboukir and survived the day’s events,

“Dear Granny …I was awoken by a tremendous crash that shook the whole ship, the Aboukir went down suddenly. I slid down the side into the water and swam to the Hogue and was just going on board when it was hit. It went down in three minutes so I swam to the Cressy and when I finished having a cup of hot cocoa it was hit and sunk. I was rescued after three hours in the water.” [23]

Over 1400 men were lost from those three ships. On February 22, 1915, unrestricted U-Boat warfare began and within three months, sunk 115 ships. One of the U-Boat Commanders, W. Furbringer stated, “At last it arrived. Unrestricted U-Boat warfare had begun. We lost a burden that we carried since the day the war broke out.” Unfortunately, one U-Boat went too far, sending over 1400 civilians to a watery grave by sinking the luxury liner RMS Lusitania. [24]


A key component to any battle is the ammunition used. In Nelson’s day, the cannons were loaded with gunpowder and then one of three types of ammunition rammed down the barrel of the cannon. The types of ammunition were, ball, chain, or grapeshot. [25] In WW1, the purpose of the naval shell was to penetrate the armor of the ship and then explode. The British used a propellant called Cordite MD while the Germans used Nitrocellulose. So what is the difference? First, Cordite is actually nitrocellulose (Nitroglycerin is a liquid and nitrocellulose a solid) mixed with stabilizers then rolled into cords and coated with a plasticizer. This plasticizer in the past was paraffin, however; the British used Vaseline that has temperature sensitivity. The Germans, also used nitroglycerine but with better stabilizers with more traditional paraffin. [26]

We have looked at the men, machines, and the material propellants used by both fleets especially at the Battle of Jutland. Another question may arise, “Where on earth is Jutland?” The peninsula connected to Germany and makes up a large portion of Denmark is “Jutland”. The area was home to a Germanic tribe called the “Jutes” who invaded Britain in the fifth century A.D. The battle was approximately 100 miles off the coast of Jutland in the North Sea due south of Stavanger, Norway. [27]

IV. The Battle of Jutland


The Admiralty developed a plan prior to 1914, a set of tactics to employ to destroy the German High Seas Fleet. This plan included firing multiple salvos at medium range. Following the quick destruction, the fleet would take a quick turn away to counteract any German torpedo attacks. The standing orders for the Grand Fleet were of a defensive stance that overruled offensive strides, especially with the threat of torpedo attacks. The Fleet command structure focused on centralization command, the same tradition of Lord Nelson’s tactics at Trafalgar. Even though the British guns out ranged the Germans, it was decided that medium range firing, interestingly, was still within the range of fast-moving torpedoes that is 7,000-10,000 yards, would provide the best results. [28]

The Germans realized that their fleet was outnumbered and wanted to avoid a mass fleet battle so Admiral Scheer developed a plan to lure parts of the British fleet into the North Sea from Rosyth and Scapa Flow by bombarding the eastern coast of England. German warships and U-Boats would be waiting for them. Admiral Hipper would lead Admiral Beatty’s battlecruisers right into Scheer’s hand. If the plan worked, British warships would be enticed into an ambush thus slowly diminishing the Grand Fleet’s strength. The U-Boats proved to be unsuccessful being that they did not sink a single British warship. British Naval Intelligence intercepted encoded messages from Admiral Scheer to Admiral Hipper. The decoded messages informed Admiral Jellicoe and he deployed the whole Grand Fleet, under the cover of darkness, totally slipping passed the U-Boat patrols. [29]

First Contact

On May 31, 1916, both Fleets were on a collision course in the North Sea, but unaware of it. Interestingly, a small Danish tramp steamer, N.J. Fjord, sailed between both fleets catching the eyes of the spotters on board the German Light Cruiser, Elbing, which ordered two torpedo boats to investigate. At the same time, the British light cruisers, Galatea and Phaeton accompanied by the Inconstant and Cordelia, veered on to investigate also. As the Galatea neared the Danish steamer, the saw the funnels of the approaching torpedo boats, the signal flag was raised at 3:20p.m., “Enemy Sighted” and then across the wireless Commodore Alexander-Sinclair sent the following message, “ Urgent, 2 cruisers, probably hostile, bearing south, southeast.” [30] Within 8 minutes, the cruisers open fire on the torpedo boats starting the Battle of Jutland.

The torpedo boats signaled the Elbing and it turned toward the British. Within two minutes she opened fire at arrange of 14,000 yards. She soon found herself under intense enemy fire, however; she score the first hit, a shell crashed into the Galatea just below the bridge and sailed through two deck yet failed to explode. Now both main fleets turned toward the ensuing cruiser combat and at 3:51 p.m., the Galatea reported seeing smoke from the stacks of much larger ships besides that of the cruisers. Beatty’s battlecruisers started to close of Hipper’s position. On board the Derfflinger, the gunnery officer, Korvettenkapitän Georg von Hase reports,

“A message from the captain reached me in the fore gunnery control position that enemy battlecruisers had been reported. I passed this message on to the gun crews. It was now clear that within a short time a life-and-death struggle would develop. For a moment there was a marked hush in the fore control. But this only lasted a minute or so, then humour broke out again, and everything went on in perfect order and calm. I had the guns trained on what would be approximately the enemy's position. I adjusted my periscope to its extreme power, fifteen diameters, the adjustment for perfect visibility. But still there was no sign of the enemy. Nevertheless, we could see a change in the situation: the [German] light cruisers and torpedo boats had turned about and were taking shelter behind the battlecruisers . .. The horizon ahead of us grew clear of smoke, and we could now make out some English light cruisers which had also turned about. Suddenly my periscope revealed some big ships. Black monsters: six tall, broad-beamed giants steaming in two columns. They were still a long way off, but they showed up clearly on the horizon, and even at this great distance they looked powerful, massive.” [31]

Battlecruiser Engagement

Beatty gave the deployment order and the ships fell into the line formation. As they approached, Hipper on the bridge for his flagship, Lutzow, was at a loss why the British had not opened fire since the range of the British guns was 18,000 yards. Hipper was amazed that by the time the British came within range of the German guns, the British were still in the process of changing their formation. Admiral Hipper gave the order to his ships to open fire and within half a minute the British returned fire. The battle line was set with the HMS Indefatigable firing on the SMS Von den Tann, the HMS New Zealand and HMS Tiger attacking the SMS Moltke who was returning fire to the Tiger, the HMS Queen Mary against the SMS Seydlitz, and the HMS Princess Royal and HMS Lion against the SMS Lutzow. The SMS Derffinger was not receiving any enemy fire but had targeted the Princess Royal.. Georg von Hase, on board the Derffinger recalled, “By some mistake we were being left out. I laughed grimly and now I began to engage our enemy with complete calm, as at gun practice, and with continually increasing accuracy.” [32] As Korvettenkapitän von Hase poured fire into the Princess Royal, the Queen Mary scored two devastating hits on the Seydlitz. The first hit penetrated the side armor, passed though coal-chute, and exploded destroying cabins and starting multiple fires and the second hit cut through the 9” armor on the rear turret igniting four charges in the turret destroying the gun and causing a flash fire that killed the crew operating the gun. The flash-proof doors were in place preventing the fire reaching the ammunition magazine. Also during this time, the flagships of both fleets had score hits on each other, Beatty on the Lion and Hipper on the Lutzow. A salvo from the Lion hit the forecastle of the Lutzow and in the return salvo the center turret on the Lion was penetrated. Captain Chatfield on the Lion gave this account of what ensued next,

“. . . blew half the roof of the turret into the air, so that it fell on the upper deck with a resounding crash. It ignited the cordite in the loading cages, which were about to be entered into the guns. The explosion and fire. . . had killed every man in the gun-house and working chamber. The igniting of the charges in the gun-house … when the battlecruisers altered course 180 degrees to the northward, bringing what wind there was ahead. It was at that moment that the other charges, eight in number, in the supply hoist, caught fire and a considerable explosion took place, a flame shooting up as high as the masthead. . . The turret's magazine and shell-room crews-some seventy men-were all instantly killed.” [33]

The Indefatigable and the Von den Tann had traded salvos for about 15-20 minutes when suddenly there was a massive explosion on the Indefatigable and a cloud of black smoke hurled hundreds of feet into the air. The ship staggered out of the formation and started sinking by the stern. Two more salvos came in sending smoke and flames from her hull shooting fragments 200 feet in the air, and then she disappeared beneath the waves taking 1,017 of her crew with her. A German torpedo boat rescued two survivors. [34]

Now the Derffinger had switched targets to Queen Mary and joined the assault by the Seydlitz. The Queen Mary took a tremendous. The Queen Mary took a tremendous pounding from both ships and at first seems to have little effect until she exploded to smithereens. Midshipman Lloyd Owen was aboard the Queen Mary at that moment and recalled,

“A tremendous explosion occurred that must have blown the bow to atoms and then another explosion. I sank a considerable distance and after reaching the surface could only see wreckage and oil floating on the surface.”

From the deck of the Lion, Admiral Beatty under his famous words, “There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!” [35]

Regroup with Jellicoe

The battle had raged for over two hours and both sides had launched torpedo attacks and scored multiple hits. Two British Battlecruisers had sunk the a German destroyer, the HMS Nomad was out of the battle due to two torpedoes from S51, a German torpedo boat. Two British destroyers, HMS Petard and HMS Turbulent, each fired a torpedo and sank the German torpedo boat, V29. Within 30 minutes, the light cruisers, HMS Southampton and HMS Champion, spotted the rest of the High Sea Fleet, a large number of dreadnoughts surrounded by torpedo boats. The “recall” order went throughout out Beatty’s ships 15 minutes after the sighting. The fleet turned 180 degrees and heading toward Jellicoe and the rest of the Grand Fleet. Between the intense shelling from both sides and the smoke screen laid down by the British destroyers each fleet lost track of the other. [36]

Admiral Jellicoe dispatched reinforcements, the 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron commanded by Rear-Admiral Hood. The squadron comprised, in single line formation with destroyers positioned as a submarine screen, HMS Invincible, HMS Inflexible, and HMS Indomitable. The weather deceased visibility and sporadically spotted the enemy through the mist. Rear-Admiral Hood led his squadron and opened fire with his port side guns on the German light cruisers. The Germans launched torpedoes at Hood’s ships then turned from the battle. The HMS Indomitable spotted five torpedoes tracks and the Invincible and Indomitable turned to starboard to avoid the torpedoes. Three of the five torpedoes nearly hit the Indomitable. The Inflexible turned to port. During the same time, four British destroyers, Shark, Acasta, Ophelia and Christopher, launched an assault on the destroyer force that was behind them. The Acasta’s injuries were not fatal; however, the Shark sank.[37]

The Main Battle Engagement

As the Germans closed the distance, a tremendous exchange of ordinance ensued. Rear-Admiral Hood, on the bridge of the Invincible, called the gunner control officer, Commander Dannreuther, “Your firing is very good. Keep at it as quickly as you can; every shot is telling.” flagship, Lion, reaWhen Beatty’s flagship, Lion, reached the Iron Duke, Jellicoe’s flagship, Jellicoe asked Beatty via a message, “Where is the enemy?” Unfortunately, during this time, the Invincible sailed out of Jellicoe’s sight right into the German’s sight. [38] Within 5 minutes of the call, the Invincible, received a hit to one of the main turrets. The shell exploded inside the turret resulting in the roof blowing off. A large explosion suddenly occurred equivalent of the magazine exploding. The ship broken in two and sank. Commander Dannreuther and five others were the only survivors of 1,032 crewmembers. During this time two light cruisers, HMS Falmouth and HMS Yarmouth fired a volley of torpedoes toward the leading German battlecruiser with at least one of the torpedoes hit their mark resulting in a humungous underwater explosion. [39]

Admiral Scheer’s main ships thought they were only chancing Beatty’s battlecruisers found themselves heading straight for the force of the Grand Fleet. He gave the orders to turn 180 degrees while the destroyers deployed smoke. Oddly enough, Scheer the turns again resulting in having his “T” crossed. This maneuver allowed the Grand Fleet to concentrate all their guns in a broadside attack on the leading German ships while the Germans could only fire their forward guns.

Retreat to Wilhelmshaven and Kiel

Facing defeat, Scheer orders a massive torpedo attack to cover the retreat of the German High Seas Fleet. Admiral Jellicoe was very cautious of those types of attack so he orders the Grand Fleet to turn away in order to avoid the torpedoes. This decision broke contact with the High Seas Fleet allowing them to escape. Sporadic fighting occurred during the night and by June 1, 1916 the German High Seas fleet was safely back in their homeports. [40]

V. The Aftermath

As the waves calmed and the smoke dissipated on the North Sea and mighty ships of war rested on the bottom revealing cost of men’s lives and ships of this battle. For the Britannia the casualties are as follows: the loss of the battlecruisers, Queen Mary (1,266 of her 1,274 crew lost), the Indefatigable (1,017 of her 1,019 crew lost), and the Invincible (1,026 of her 1,027 crew lost). Armored Cruisers Defence (all 903 crew lost), the Warrior (71 of her 107 crew lost), and the Black Prince (1,026 of her 1,027 crew). The Destroyers Tipperary (185 of her 197 crew lost), the Nestor (6 lost - 80 POWs of her 94 crew), and the Nomad (8 lost - 72 POWs of her 84 crew). Also the Destroyers Turbulent (96 of her 109 crew lost), the Ardent (78 of her 79 crew lost), the Fortune (67 of her 69 crew lost), and the Shark (86 of her 89 crew lost). The torpedo boat Sparrowhawk lost of all 6 crew. There were 65 wounded among these ships bring the casualty total for the Grand Fleet to 5,914.

The German losses are as follows: The battlecruiser Lutzow, lost 115 of her 165 crew. The Pre-Dreadnought Pommern, lost all 844 of her crew. The Light Cruisers, Wiesbaden lost all 589 of her crew, and the Frauenlob (320 of her 321 crew lost). The torpedo boats Elbing (4 out of 16 lost), Rostock (14 out of 20 lost), V48 (all 90 crew lost), S35 (all 88 crew lost), V29 (33 out of 37 lost), V27 (total crew uncertain, 3 lost), and V4 (18 out of 22 crew lost). There were 80 wounded among these ships bring the casualty total for the High Seas Fleet to 2,195. [41]

If by the number of casualties and sunken ships determine the winners of a battle then you might think the Germany were the victors of Jutland. At least Germany and the Kaiser thought this was the case initially. Flags waved as Germany celebrated that the “magic of Trafalgar was broken” and the crews each received the Iron Cross and Scheer and von Hipper would be offered Knighthood – Scheer turned it down because he was not convinced of the victory but he did take a promotion. [42] Kaiser Wilhelm II addressed the High Seas Fleet on its return to Wilhelmshaven, June 1916,

“I would like to thank you all. Whilst our army has been fighting our enemies, bringing home many victories, our Fleet had to wait their turn. A brave leader led our Fleet and commanded the courageous sailors. The superior English armada eventually appeared and our Fleet was ready for battle. What happened? The English were beaten. You have started a new chapter in world history.” [43]

However, Admiral Scheer expressed his thoughts in a confidential report to the Kaiser on 4 July 1916,

“Should future operations take a favourable course, we should be able to inflict serious damage upon the enemy. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that even the most successful outcome of a further battle will not force England to make peace.... A victorious end to the war within a reasonable time can only be achieved through the defeat of the British economic life - that is, by using the U-boats against British trade.... It is my duty to advise Your Majesty that in British waters, where American interests are strong, it will be impossible to avoid incidents, however conscientious our commanding officers may be....” [44]

The British still controlled the North Sea and Germany reverted to unrestricted submarine warfare. This battle was definitely a “black eye” on their face but they claimed victory! It was a costly one at that but they kept the main High Seas Fleet from controlling the North Sea.

In Retrospect

If this was truly, a British victory then why was public opinion so distraught. The public was expecting another Trafalgar! When the casualty reports came in they felt as if they had suffered a defeat at the hands of Germany. Admiral Jellicoe was to blame for the catastrophe! On the other hand, was it his really his fault? It is true that Jellicoe appeared to be a “man unable to delegate” who developed a 200 page book of rules for every situation to centralize command resulting in subordinates that waited for orders before acting. He and Beatty did not take advantage of the long-range gunnery advantage the Grand Fleet had over the High Seas Fleet. Jellicoe was cautious, maybe too cautious of torpedo attacks and lost an opportunity to destroy the German fleet but he still kept them bottled up in the harbors for the most part. Remember the largest loss of life came when three battlecruisers, Queen Mary, the Indefatigable, and the Invincible experienced catastrophic explosions after only five hits, which included turret hits. [45] The interesting fact is that the German battlecruisers took many more hits than the three British ships and they did not explode. The Lutzow received 24 hits, the Derfflinger received 26 hits, and the Seydlitz received 23 hits. [46] Without those three battlecruisers exploding the whole tide of Jutland would have turned. So what was it that made the difference? Cordite MD!


In 1910, Commander Frederic Dreyer developed a fire control system of “rapid-independent fire”. His machine marked gunnery range observations on paper then calculated “mean range-finder range” within moments. Averaging several plotted observations proved more accurate then plotting single range observations. The Admiralty adopted this technique in 1912, calling it the “Dreyer Table”. [47] This coupled with Sir George Callaghan 1912 decision to increase ammunition from 80 rounds per gun to 120 rounds per gun laid the foundation for tragedy. The brave sailors tried to fulfill the tradition of their ancestors and the words of Nelson, “England confides that every man will do his duty”. The extra ammunition and cordite were laying in the handling rooms and the hatchways from the turrets down into the magazine. an and diver, Innes Wreck historian and diver, Innes McCartney, confirmed this in 2001/2002 with expeditions. A more recent dive was recorded on the Discovery Channel production, “Jutland: Clash of the Dreadnoughts”, in which McCartney and other experts report that the Invincible’s remains run approximately east to west (bow to stern) at a depth of 50 meters. The center section is completely devastated; the bow section is upside-down and stern section upright. One of the turrets points over the starboard quarter with the turret roof missing, “it is a definite Cordite burn”. On May 31, 1916, a shell pierced one of the center turrets causing the initial explosion. The Cordite stacked in the passageways passed the fire, daisy-chained, from the turret down to the magazine. The final explosion in the magazine broke her in two. [48]

The decisions of Jellicoe and Beatty may have lost another Trafalgar for England. A slap-in-the-face of British pride; however, the decisions of the Admiralty to adopt “rapid-independent fire” and the decision to overload the ships with ammunition and Cordite proved to be the “Decisions for Disaster” at the Battle of Jutland sending over 3000 sailors to a watery grave.
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Show Footnotes and Bibliography
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Copyright © 2009 Alan R. McGahey

Written by Alan McGahey. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Alan McGahey at: An update to this article is available upon request via email.

About the author:
Alan McGahey retired from the USAF in 2007 after 21 years as a Graphics Specialist. He works as a DOD civilian for DAPS Europe in the United Kingdom. Currently, he is finishing a BA in History from University of Maryland University College Europe. In his spare time, he plays historical games on the PC and board games but specializes in tabletop 1:1200, 25mm, 15mm, and 6mm.

Published online: 03/12/2009.
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