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The Battle of Jutland 1916

HMS Iron Duke, Admiral Jellicoe's flagship at the Battle of Jutland
HMS Iron Duke, Admiral Jellicoe's flagship at the Battle of Jutland

HMS Princess RoyalBattlecruiser HMS Princess Royal The greatest naval battle of the First World War and the greatest of all time in numbers of gun armed battleships and battlecruisers engaged, was fought off Jutland in the North Sea on 31 May 1916. The German High Seas Fleet, considerably inferior to the British Grand Fleet in numbers and gun power, was pursuing a risky strategy of trying to trap and destroy a detached portion of it.

Things went well for the Germans at first. Their force of battlecruisers found Admiral Beatty's Battle Cruiser Fleet and tried to lead it back to the German battleships. In the running battle that followed dangerous handling practices in the British battlecruisers led to Indefatigable and Queen Mary blowing up. Beatty made the famous remark: 'There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today.' He was lucky to have in company four Queen Elizabeth class battleships whose devastating shooting helped to save the battlecruisers from further loss.

When the German fleet came into sight Beatty turned to lead the Germans to what should have been their doom at the hands of Admiral Jellicoe's Grand Fleet of battleships. When the fleets met another battlecruiser, temporarily operating with the Grand Fleet, Invincible, also blew up but not before she had inflicted eventually fatal damage on the German battlecruiser flagship Lutzow. The Germans turned away twice from the British line but eventually succeeded in breaking back to Germany behind an overly cautious Jellicoe, only losing one more big ship, the Pre-Dreadnought Pommern, to torpedo attack by destroyers.

The Grand Fleet as a whole was in better shape, and still in command of the world's oceans outside the North Sea; one journalist wrote that the High Seas Fleet had assaulted its jailer but was still in jail. This was true but it had been a serious assault. Although many of their ships were badly damaged only one German ship had blown up. The Germans had therefore lost only 2,115 men to the British toll of 5,672. In German terms Jutland was a victory. As soon as it could, in August, the High Seas Fleet tried another similar operation and was lucky to escape annihilation. The British learned many lessons at Jutland, which was studied hard for many years. As a result it fought much more effectively in the Second World War.

Further reading:

  • A. Gordon, Rules of the Games (London, 1996)