Remembering The Battle of Jutland May 31st 1916

6,094 British and 2,551 German Seamen lost their lives, 14 British and 11 German ships were lost.

The Battle of Jutland 31 May - 1 June 1916
The Battle of Jutland 31 May - 1 June 1916

The Battle of Jutland (German: Skagerrakschlacht) was a naval battle by the British Royal Navy's Grand Fleet (which also included ships and individual personnel from the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Canadian Navy) against the Imperial German Navy's High Seas Fleet during the First World War. The battle was fought on 31 May and 1 June 1916 in the North Sea near Jutland, Denmark.

It was the largest naval battle in history and the only full-scale clash of battleships in the war.

It was actually only the third-ever fleet action between steel battleships, following the smaller but more decisive battles of the Yellow Sea (1904) and Tsushima (1905) during the Russo-Japanese War.

The German ‘High Seas’ Fleet was commanded by Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer, and the British ‘Grand’ Fleet by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. The German fleet's intention was to lure out, trap, and then destroy a portion of the Grand Fleet, as the German naval force was insufficient to successfully engage the entire British fleet. This formed part of a larger strategy to break the British blockade of Germany and to allow German mercantile shipping to operate.

Battle of Jutland map
Battle of Jutland map

The British submarine and surface ships had very successfully stopped the import of a large amount of the materials and foodstuffs the Central powers needed to carry on the war and to even feed their own civilian population and was a highly significant factor in the final outcome of the war.

Meanwhile, the Royal Navy pursued a strategy to engage and destroy the High Seas Fleet, or keep the German force contained and away from Britain's own shipping lanes.

The German plan was to use Vice-Admiral Franz Hipper's fast scouting group of five modern battle cruisers to lure Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty's battle cruiser squadrons into the path of the main German fleet. Submarines were stationed in advance across the likely routes for British ships.

Admiral Sir John Jellicoe OM  GCB GCVO
Admiral Sir John Jellicoe OM  GCB GCVO

However, the British had obtained the German Naval code and thus learned from signal intercepts that a major fleet operation was likely, so on 30 May Jellicoe sailed with the Grand Fleet to rendezvous with Beatty, passing over the locations of the German submarine picket lines while they were unprepared. The German plan had been delayed, causing further problems for their submarines which had reached the limit of their endurance at sea.

On the afternoon of 31 May, Beatty encountered Hipper's battle cruiser force long before the Germans had expected. In a running battle, Hipper successfully drew the British vanguard into the path of the High Seas Fleet. By the time Beatty sighted the larger force and turned back towards the British main fleet, he had lost two battle cruisers from a force of six battle cruisers and four battleships, against the five ships commanded by Hipper. The battleships, commanded by Rear-Admiral Sir Hugh Evan-Thomas, were the last to turn and formed a rearguard as Beatty withdrew, now drawing the German fleet in pursuit towards the main British positions. Between 18:30, when the sun was lowering on the western horizon, backlighting the German forces, and nightfall at about 20:30, the two fleets – totalling 250 ships between them – directly engaged twice.

 Fourteen British and eleven German ships were sunk, with great loss of life. After sunset, and throughout the night, Jellicoe manoeuvred to cut the Germans off from their base, in hopes of continuing the battle next morning, but under the cover of darkness Scheer broke through the British light forces forming the rearguard of the Grand Fleet and returned to port.

Both sides claimed victory. The British lost more ships and twice as many sailors, and the British press criticised the Grand Fleet's failure to force a decisive outcome, but Scheer's plan of destroying a substantial portion of the British fleet also failed. The Germans' 'fleet in being' continued to pose a threat, requiring the British to keep their battleships concentrated in the North Sea, but the battle confirmed the German policy of avoiding all fleet-to-fleet contact. A few months later, after further unsuccessful attempts to reduce the Royal Navy's numerical advantage, the German Navy turned its efforts and resources to unrestricted submarine warfare and the destruction of Allied and neutral shipping.

Wounded men on a hospital ship after Jutland
Wounded men on a hospital ship after Jutland

‘Daily mirror’ reports of 3rd June 1916:

Greatest naval battle in history in North Sea

British lose three battle cruisers, three cruisers and eight torpedo-boat destroyers.

Two German dreadnoughts sunk - Foe battle cruiser blown up, another disabled and stopping and third seriously damaged.

Enemy cruiser and six destroyers sunk - Our losses include Queen Mary, Indefatigable, Invincible, Defence and Black Prince, and Warrior abandoned.

Foe fleet avoid long action with our main force.

Three German Battleships Hit Repeatedly, Two Cruisers Disabled, U-Boat Rammed and Sunk

Press Bureau, Friday 7pm:

 The Secretary of the Admiralty makes the following announcement:

 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 battlecruiser fleet and some cruisers and light cruisers, supported by four fast battleships. Among these the losses were heavy.

The German battle fleet, aided by a 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 battlecruisers 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, Sparrowhawk and Ardent were lost, and six others are not yet accounted for.

No British battleships or light cruisers were sunk.

The enemy's losses were serious. At least one battle cruiser was destroyed and one severely damaged; one battleship reported sunk by our destroyers during a night attack; two light 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.

Admiral Sir John Jellicoe's Estimate of German Losses in Jutland Fight

Admiralty, 1.30am: Since the foregoing communiqué was issued a further report has been received from the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet stating that it is now ascertained that our total losses in destroyers amount to eight boats in all. The Commander-in-Chief also reports that it is now possible to form a closer estimate of the losses and damage sustained by the enemy fleet.

One Dreadnought battleship of the Kaiser class was blown up in an attack by British destroyers, and another Dreadnought battleship of the Kaiser class is believed to have been sunk by gunfire. Of three German battle cruisers, two of which it is believed were the Derflinger and the Lutzow, one was blown up and another heavily engaged by our battle fleet and was seen to be disabled and stopping, and the third was observed to be seriously damaged.

One German light cruiser and six German destroyers were sunk, and at least two more German light cruisers were seen to be disabled. Further, repeated hits were observed on three other German battleships that were engaged.

Ships lost

British

Battlecruisers

  • Indefatigable
  • Invincible
  • Queen Mary

Armoured Cruisers

  • Black prince
  • Warrior
  • Defence

Flotilla Leaders

  • Tipperary

Destroyers

  • Shark
  • Sparrowhawk
  • Turbulent
  • Ardent
  • Fortune
  • Nomad
  • Nestor

German

Battlecruiser

  • Lutzow

Pre Dreadnought

  • Pommern

Light Cruisers

  • Frauenlob
  • Elbing
  • Rostock
  • Wiesbaden

Destroyers

  • V48
  • S35
  • V27
  • V4
  • V29

Losses

6,784 British Sailors were killed in the battle, the magazine explosions of several large ships contributing significantly to that total. They gave their lives in an effort to bring about a quick end to the war. The crippling longevity of the British Blockade of German ports was one of the contributing factors to the German surrender in November 1918. Had the blockade been broken, potentially the war could have lasted longer with the German Fleet being able to challenge Allied Merchant and Supply ships.

We must also remember the 3,039 German Sailors killed as well. They too fought just as hard as their British counterparts for a cause they believed in.

 

Do you know enough about your ancestors who fought in the First World War?

Why not log on to Forces War Records and start your family research - there could be a war hero in your family just waiting to be discovered, and remembered…

Also please read the Jutland Special Edition we released last year along with many other downloads and tutorials for FREE

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