The Battle of Jutland (German: Skagerrakschlacht (Battle of the Skagerrak); Danish: Søslaget ved Jylland / Søslaget om Skagerrak) was the largest naval battle of World War I, the only full-scale clash of battleships in that war, and the last major fleet action between battleships in any war. It is also, by certain criteria, the largest naval battle in history.
It was fought on 31 May – 1 June 1916, in the North Sea near Jutland, the northward-pointing peninsular mainland of Denmark. The combatants were the Imperial German Navy's High Seas Fleet commanded by Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer and the Royal Navy’s British Grand Fleet commanded by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. The intention of the German fleet was to lure out, trap and destroy a portion of the Grand Fleet, as the Germans were insufficient in number to engage the entire British fleet at one time. This formed part of their larger strategy of breaking the British naval blockade of the North Sea and allowing German mercantile shipping to operate again. The Royal Navy, on the other hand, was pursuing a strategy seeking to engage and destroy the High Seas Fleet or else keep the German force bottled up and away from Britain's own shipping lanes.
The Germans' plan was to use Vice-Admiral Franz Hipper’s fast scouting group of five modern battlecruisers to lure Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty’s battlecruiser squadrons through a submarine picket line and into the path of the main German fleet and so destroy them. But the British had learned from signal intercepts that a major fleet operation was likely, and on 30 May Jellicoe sailed with the Grand Fleet to rendezvous with Beatty, passing over the intended locations of the German submarine picket lines before the U-boats had reached their positions.
On the afternoon of 31 May Beatty encountered Hipper's battlecruiser force long before the Germans had intended or expected, which eliminated any submarine influence, but in a running battle Hipper successfully drew the British vanguard into the path of the High Seas Fleet. By the time Beatty turned towards the British main fleet he had lost two battlecruisers along with his numerical advantage over Hipper. However the German fleet in pursuit of Beatty was drawn towards the main British fleet. From 18:30 hrs, when the sun was lowering on the western horizon ing the German forces, until nightfall at about 20:30 the two huge fleets — totaling 250 ships between them — were heavily engaged.
Fourteen British and eleven German ships were sunk with great loss of life. After sunset, and throughout the night, Jellicoe manœuvered to cut the Germans off from their base in hopes of continuing the battle in the morning, but under cover of darkness Scheer crossed the wake of the British fleet and returned to port.
Both sides claimed victory. The British had lost more ships and many more sailors, and the British press criticised the Grand Fleet's actions, but Scheer’s plan of destroying Beatty’s squadrons had also failed. The Germans 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 high seas. Instead, the German Navy turned its efforts and resources to unrestricted submarine warfare.
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 fast battlecruiser force under Hipper to raid the British coast at Sunderland. If all went well, after the British sortied in response to the raiding attack force, the British squadrons would be weakened by the picketing submarine ambush, and the Royal Navy's centuries-long tradition of aggressive action could be used to draw the pursuing but weakened units after Hipper's cruisers, towards the German main force under Scheer. It was hoped that Scheer would be able to effectively ambush a section of the British fleet and destroy it.
It was further hoped that, once a submarine had attacked successfully, fast escorts such as destroyers would be tied down conducting anti-submarine operations. The German plan thus had several strings to its bow, and had the Germans caught the British in the positions where they expected them to be, they would have stood a chance of inflicting losses which would have helped to redress the material balance between the fleets.
Unfortunately for the German plan, the British had been given a copy of the main German code book from the light cruiser SMS Magdeburg, boarded by Russian naval officers after the ship ran aground in Russian territorial waters in 1914. Therefore intercepted German naval radio communications could usually be quickly deciphered; hence the British Admiralty was usually aware of German deployments and levels of activity, giving it an insight into, and forewarning of, German plans.
The British intercepted and decrypted a German signal on 28 May ordering all ships to be ready for sea on the 30th. Further signals were intercepted and although they were not decrypted it was clear that a major operation was likely.
Not knowing the Germans' objective, Jellicoe and his staff decided to position the fleet to head off any attempt by the Germans to enter the North Atlantic, or the Baltic through the Skagerrak, by taking up a position off Norway where they could possibly cut off any German raid into the shipping lanes of the Atlantic, or prevent the Germans from heading into the Baltic. A position further west was unnecessary as that area of the North Sea could be patrolled by air using blimps and scouting aircraft.
Consequently, Admiral Jellicoe led the Grand Fleet of twenty-four battleships and three battlecruisers eastwards out of Scapa Flow before Hipper's raiding force left the Jade Estuary on 30 May and the German High Seas Fleet could follow. Beatty's faster force of six battlecruisers and four battleships left the Firth of Forth on the next day, and Jellicoe's intention was to rendezvous 90 miles (170 km) west of the mouth of Skagerrak off the coast of Jutland and wait for the Germans or for their intentions to become clear. The planned position gave him the widest range of responses to likely German intentions.
It was a fundamental advantage of such a formation that a fleet formed in several short columns could change its heading faster than one formed in a single long column. Since command signals in this era were limited to visible means — made with flags or shuttered searchlights between ships — the flagship was usually placed at the head of the centre column so that its signals might be more easily seen by the many ships of the formation.
Poor visibility sometimes meant that a ship might only be able to recognise the signals of its nearest neighbour or neighbours in the fleet. In these circumstances it was necessary for signals to be repeated by each vessel for an admiral's orders to be communicated to the whole formation. This problem was aggravated by the fact that the coal-fired ships of this era generated a great deal of funnel smoke, which was often the main factor interfering with visibility.
Thus it might take a very long time for a signal from the flagship to be relayed to the entire formation. It was usually necessary for a signal to be confirmed by each ship before it could be relayed to other ships, and an order for a fleet movement would have to be received and acknowledged by every ship before it could be executed. In a large single-column formation a signal could take ten minutes or more to be passed from one end of the line to the other, whereas in a formation of parallel columns, visibility across the diagonals was often better (and always shorter) than in a single long column, and the diagonals gave signal "redundancy", increasing the probability that a message would be quickly seen and correctly interpreted.
However, before battle was joined the heavy units of the fleet would, if possible, deploy into a single column. In order to form the battle-line in the correct orientation relative to the enemy the commanding admiral needed to know the enemy fleet's distance, bearing, heading and speed. It was the task of the scouting forces, consisting primarily of battlecruisers and cruisers, to find the enemy and to report this information in sufficient time, and, if possible, to deny the enemy's scouting forces the opportunity of obtaining the equivalent information.
Ideally the battle-line would cross the intended 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 forward guns of the leading ships. The Japanese admiral Togo had achieved this against the Russian Fleet in 1905 at the Battle of Tsushima. Jellicoe was to achieve this twice in one hour against the High Seas Fleet at Jutland, but on both occasions Scheer managed to turn away and disengage, thereby avoiding the destruction of his fleet.
Admiral Fisher, responsible for reconstruction of the British fleet in the pre-war period, favoured large guns and speed. Admiral Tirpitz, responsible for the German fleet, favoured unsinkable ships and chose to sacrifice some gun size for improved armour. The German battlecruiser Derflinger had armour equivalent to the British battleship Iron Duke, significantly better than on the British battlecruisers such as Tiger. German ships had better internal subdivision and had fewer doors and other weak points in their bulkheads, but with the disadvantage that space for crew was greatly reduced. As they were only designed for cruises in the North Sea they did not need to be as habitable as the British vessels and their crews could live in barracks ashore when in harbour.
Jellicoe's Grand Fleet was split into two sections. The dreadnought Battle Fleet with which he sailed formed the main force and was composed of twenty-four battleships and three battlecruisers. The battleships were formed into three squadrons of eight ships, further subdivided into divisions of four, each led by a flag officer. Accompanying them were eight armoured cruisers (classified by the Royal Navy since 1913 as "cruisers"), twelve light cruisers, fifty-one destroyers and a minelayer.
British reconnaissance was provided by the Battlecruiser Fleet under David Beatty: six battlecruisers, four fast battleships of the Queen Elizabeth class, fourteen light cruisers and twenty-seven destroyers. Air scouting was provided for by the attachment of the seaplane tender HMS Engadine'', one of the first aircraft carriers in history to participate in a naval engagement.
The German High Seas Fleet under Scheer was also split into a main force and a separate reconnaissance force. Scheer's main battle fleet was composed of sixteen battleships and six pre-dreadnought battleships arranged in an identical manner to the British. With them were six light cruisers and thirty-one torpedo-boats.
The German scouting force, commanded by Franz Hipper, consisted of five battlecruisers, five light cruisers and thirty torpedo-boats. The Germans had no equivalent to Engadine, and no heavier-than-air aircraft to operate with the fleet, but had the Imperial German Naval Airship Service's force of rigid airships available to patrol the North Sea.
The British capital ships carried a larger number of guns and a correspondingly larger weight of broadside than their German counterparts; as compared to . Most of the battleships and battlecruisers on both sides also carried torpedoes of various sizes, as did the lighter craft.
The German battle fleet was hampered by the slow speed and relatively poor armament of the six pre-dreadnoughts of II Squadron. On the British side, the eight armoured cruisers were deficient in both speed and armour protection. Both of these obsolete squadrons were notably vulnerable to attacks by more modern enemy ships.
At 14:20 on 31 May, despite heavy haze and scuds of fog giving poor visibility, scouts from Beatty's force reported enemy ships to the south-east; the British light units, investigating a neutral Danish steamer (N J Fjord) which was stopped between the two fleets, had found two German destroyers engaged in the same mission (B109 and B110). The first shots of the battle were fired at 14:28 when Galatea and Phaeton of the British 1st Light Cruiser Squadron opened on the German destroyers, which withdrew toward their own approaching light cruisers. At 14:36 the Germans scored the first hit of the battle when Elbing, of Rear-Admiral Friedrich Bödicker's Scouting Group II, hit her British counterpart Galatea at extreme range.
Meanwhile Beatty began to move his battlecruisers and supporting forces southeastwards and then east to cut the German ships off from their base, and ordered Engadine to launch a seaplane to try to get more information about the size and location of the German forces. This was the first time in history that a carrier-based airplane was used for reconnaissance in naval combat. Engadine's plane did locate and report some German light cruisers just before 15:30, and received antiaircraft gunfire, but attempts to relay the plane's reports failed.
Unfortunately for Beatty his initial course changes at 14:32 were not received by Sir Hugh Evan-Thomas's 5th Battle Squadron (it being too far away to read his flags), because the Tiger failed to repeat his flag signals by searchlight—which Beatty had specifically ordered Tiger to do. Matters were aggravated because Evan-Thomas had not been briefed regarding standing orders within Beatty's Squadron, as his squadron normally operated with the Grand Fleet. Fleet ships were expected to obey movement orders precisely and not deviate from them. Beatty's standing instructions expected his officers to use initiative and keep position with the flagship. As a result, the four Queen Elizabeth class battleships, which were the fastest and most heavily-armed in the world at that time, remained on the previous course for several minutes and were left far behind. Beatty also had opportunity during the previous hours to concentrate his forces, and no reason not to do so, whereas he steamed ahead at full speed faster than the battleships could keep up. Dividing the force had serious consequences for the British, costing them what would have been an overwhelming advantage in ships and firepower during the first half-hour of the coming battle.
Visibility favoring the Germans, at 15:22 Hipper's battlecruisers, steaming approximately northwest, sighted Beatty's squadron at a range of about 15 miles (28 km), while Beatty's forces did not identify Hipper's battlecruisers until 15:30. . At 15:45 Hipper turned southeast to lead Beatty towards Scheer, who was 46 miles (85 km) southeast with the main force of the High Seas Fleet.
Beatty had ordered his ships to engage in a line, one British ship engaging with one German and his flagship Lion doubling on the German flagship Lützow. However, due to another mistake with signalling by flag, Derfflinger was left unengaged and free to fire without disruption, while Moltke drew fire from two of Beatty's battlecruisers. (Nevertheless, Moltke fired with deadly accuracy during this time, putting 9 shells into Tiger in the first 12 minutes.) The Germans drew first blood. Aided by superior visibility, Hipper's five battlecruisers quickly registered hits on three of the six British battlecruisers. Seven minutes passed before the British managed to score their first hit.
The first near-kill of the Run to the South occurred at 16:00, when a 305 mm (12-inch) salvo from Lützow wrecked the midships "Q" turret on Beatty's flagship Lion. Dozens of crewmen were instantly killed, but far larger destruction was averted when the mortally wounded turret commander, Major Francis Harvey of the Royal Marines, promptly ordered the magazine doors shut and the magazine flooded. This prevented a massive magazine explosion at 16:28, when a flash fire ignited ready cordite charges beneath the turret and killed everyone in the chambers outside "Q" magazine. Lion was saved. Indefatigable was not so lucky; at 16:02, just 14 minutes into the slugging match, she was smashed aft by three 280 mm (11-inch) shells from Von der Tann, causing damage sufficient to knock her out of line and detonating "X" magazine aft. Soon after, despite the near-maximum range, Von der Tann put another 280 mm (11-inch) salvo on Indefatigable's "A" turret forward. The plunging shells probably pierced the thin upper armour and seconds later Indefatigable was ripped apart by another magazine explosion, sinking immediately with her crew of 1,019 officers and men, leaving only two survivors. .
Hipper's position deteriorated somewhat by 16:15 as the 5th Battle Squadron finally came into range, so that he had to contend with gunfire from the four battleships astern as well as Beatty's five remaining battlecruisers to starboard. But he knew his baiting mission was close to completion as his force was rapidly closing with Scheer's main body. At 16:08, the lead battleship of the 5th Battle Squadron, Barham, caught up with Hipper and opened fire at extreme range, scoring a 15-inch (381 mm) hit on von der Tann within 60 seconds. Still, it was 16:15 before all the battleships of the 5th were able to fully engage at long range.
At 16:25 the battlecruiser action intensified again when Queen Mary was hit by what may have been a combined salvo from Derfflinger and Seydlitz; she disintegrated when both forward magazines exploded, sinking with all but nine of her 1,275 man crew lost. . Commander von Hase, the first gunnery officer aboard Derfflingler, noted that
The enemy was shooting superbly. Twice the Derfflinger came under their infernal hail and each time she was hit. But the Queen Mary was having a bad time; engaged by the Seydlitz as well as the Derfflinger, she met her doom at 1626. A vivid red flame shot up from her forepart; then came an explosion forward which was followed by a much heavier explosion amidships. Immediately afterwards she blew up with a terrific explosion, the masts collapsing inwards and the smoke hiding everything.
During the Run to the South, from 15:48 to 16:54, the German battlecruisers made an estimated total of 42 280 mm (11-inch) and 305 mm (12-inch) hits on the British battlecruisers (9 on Lion, 6 on Princess Royal, 7 on Queen Mary, 14 on Tiger, one on New Zealand, 5 on Indefatigable), and two more on the battleship Barham, compared with only 11 13.5-inch (343 mm) hits by the British battlecruisers (4 on Lützow, 4 on Seydlitz, two on Moltke, one on von der Tann), and 5 15-inch (381 mm) hits by the battleships (one on Seydlitz, 4 on Moltke, one on von der Tann).
At 16:30, Scheer's leading battleships sighted the distant battlecruiser action; soon after, 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-calibre salvos to report in detail the German strength: sixteen dreadnoughts with six older battleships. This was the first news that Beatty and Jellicoe had that Scheer and his battlefleet were even at sea. Simultaneously an all-out destroyer action raged in the space between the opposing battlecruiser forces, as British and German destroyers fought with each other and attempted to torpedo the larger enemy ships. Each side fired many torpedoes, but both battlecruiser forces turned away from the attacks and all escaped harm except Seydlitz, which was hit forward at 16:57 by a torpedo fired by the British destroyer Petard. Though taking on water, Seydlitz maintained speed. The destroyer Nestor, under the command of Captain Barry Bingham, led the British attacks. The British disabled the German torpedo-boat V27, which the Germans soon abandoned and sank, and Petard then torpedoed and sank V29, her second score of the day. S35 and V26 rescued the crews of their sunken sister ships. But Nestor and another British destroyer, Nomad, were immobilised by shell hits, and were later sunk by Scheer's passing dreadnoughts. Bingham was rescued, and won the Victoria Cross for his leadership in the destroyer action.
Meanwhile, at 16:47, having received Goodenough's signal and knowing that Beatty was now leading the German battlefleet north to him, Jellicoe signalled to his own forces that the fleet action they had waited so long for was finally imminent; at 16:51, by radio, he so informed the Admiralty in London.
The difficulties of the 5th Battle Squadron were compounded when Beatty repeated the order to Evan-Thomas to "turn in succession" (rather than "turn together") at 16:48 as the battleships passed him. Lieutenant-Commander Ralph Seymour, Beatty's flag lieutenant, aggravated the situation when he did not haul down the flags (to execute the signal) for six minutes, so that the 5th Battle Squadron did not actually begin turning until 16:54, when they had moved within range of the enemy battleships. This order would have resulted in all four ships turning in succession to transit through the same patch of sea, giving the High Seas Fleet repeated opportunity with ample time to find the proper range. In the event, the captain of the trailing ship (Malaya) turned early, mitigating the adverse results.
For the next hour, the heavily-armed and armoured 5th Battle Squadron acted as Beatty's rearguard, drawing fire from all the German ships within range, while by 17:10 Beatty had deliberately eased his own squadron out of range of Hipper's now-superior battlecruiser force to give his damaged ships a respite from the accurate and deadly fire of his foes. Since visibility and firepower now favored the Germans, there was no incentive for Beatty to risk further battlecruiser losses when his own gunnery could not be effective: illustrating the imbalance, Beatty's battlecruisers did not score any hits on the Germans in this phase until 17:45, but they had rapidly received five more before he opened the range (4 on Lion, of which 3 were by Lützow, and one on Tiger by Seydlitz). Now the only targets the Germans could reach, the ships of the 5th Battle Squadron received simultaneous fire from Hipper's battlecruisers to the east (which Barham and Valiant engaged), and from Scheer's leading battleships to the southeast (which Warspite and Malaya engaged). Three took hits: Barham (4 by Derfflinger), Warspite (2 by Seydlitz), and Malaya (7 by the German battleships). Only Valiant was unscathed.
The four super-dreadnoughts were far better suited to take this sort of pounding than the battlecruisers, and none were lost, though Malaya suffered heavy damage, an ammunition fire, and heavy crew casualties. At the same time, the 15-inch (381 mm) fire of the four British ships was accurate and effective. As the two British squadrons headed north at top speed, eagerly chased by the entire German fleet, the 5th Battle Squadron scored 13 hits on the enemy battlecruisers (4 on Lützow, 3 on Derfflinger, 6 on Seydlitz) and 5 on battleships (though only one, on Markgraf, did any serious damage).(.
At 17:33 the armoured cruiser Black Prince of Arbuthnot's squadron, on the far southwest flank of Jellicoe's force, came within view of Falmouth, which was about 5 miles (9 km) ahead of Beatty with the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron, establishing the first visual link between the converging bodies of the Grand Fleet. At 17:38 the signals cruiser Chester, screening Hood's oncoming battlecruisers, was intercepted by the van of the German scouting forces under Rear-Admiral Bödicker.
Heavily outnumbered by Bödicker's four light cruisers, Chester was pounded before being relieved by Hood's heavy units, which swung westward for that purpose. Hood's flagship Invincible disabled the light cruiser Wiesbaden shortly after 17:56. Wiesbaden became a sitting target for most of the British fleet during the next hour, but remained afloat and fired some torpedoes at the passing enemy battleships from long range. Meanwhile Bödicker's other ships fled toward Hipper and Scheer in the mistaken belief that Hood was leading a larger force of British capital ships from the north and east. A chaotic destroyer action in mist and smoke ensued as German torpedo-boats attempted to blunt the arrival of this new formation, but Hood's battlecruisers dodged all the torpedoes fired at them. In this action, after leading a torpedo counterattack, the British destroyer Shark was disabled, but continued to return fire at numerous passing enemy ships for the next hour.
In the meantime Beatty and Evan-Thomas had resumed their engagement with Hipper's battlecruisers, this time with the visual conditions to their advantage. With several of his ships damaged, Hipper turned back towards Scheer at around 18:00, just as Beatty's flagship Lion was finally sighted from Jellicoe's flagship Iron Duke. Jellicoe twice demanded the latest position of the German battlefleet from Beatty, who could not see the German battleships and failed to respond to the question until 18:14. Meanwhile Jellicoe received confusing sighting reports of varying accuracy and limited usefulness from light cruisers and battleships on the starboard (southern) flank of his force.
Jellicoe was in a worrying position, needing to know the location of the German fleet in order to judge when and how to deploy his battleships from their cruising formation (in six columns of four ships each) into a single battle-line. The deployment could be on either the westernmost or the easternmost 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 manœuvre 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 visibility would strongly favor British gunnery—Scheer's forces would be silhouetted against the setting sun to the west, while the Grand Fleet would be indistinct against the dark skies to the north and east, and would be hidden by reflection of the low sunlight off intervening haze and smoke. Deployment would take twenty irreplaceable minutes, and the fleets were closing at speed. In one of the most critical and difficult tactical command decisions of the entire war, Jellicoe ordered deployment to the east at 18:15.
Arbuthnot's 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 deluged by heavy-caliber gunfire from many German battleships, which detonated her magazines in a spectacular explosion viewed by most of the deploying Grand Fleet; she sank with all hands (903 officers and men). Warrior was also hit badly but was spared destruction by a mishap to the nearby super-dreadnought Warspite. Warspite had her steering gear overheat and jam under heavy load at high speed as the 5th Battle Squadron made a turn to the north at 18:19. Steaming at top speed in wide circles, Warspite appeared as a juicy target to the German dreadnoughts and took thirteen hits, inadvertently drawing fire from the hapless Warrior. Warspite was brought back under control and survived the onslaught, but was badly damaged, had to reduce speed, and withdrew northward; later (at 21:07), she was ordered back to port by Evan-Thomas. Warspite went on to a long and illustrious career, serving also in World War II. Warrior on the other hand, was abandoned and sank the next day after her crew was taken off at 08:25 1 June by Engadine, which towed the sinking armoured cruiser 100 miles during the night.
As Defence sank and Warspite circled, at about 18:19, Hipper moved within range of Rear-Admiral Hood's 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron, but was still also within range of Beatty's ships. At first visibility favored the British: Indomitable hit Derfflinger three times and Seydlitz once, while the Lützow quickly took 10 hits from Lion, Inflexible and Invincible, including two below-waterline hits forward by Invincible that would ultimately doom Hipper's flagship. But at 18:30 Invincible abruptly appeared as a clear target before Lützow and Derfflinger. The two German ships then fired three salvoes each at Invincible, and sank her in 90 seconds. A 305 mm (12-inch) shell from the third salvo struck Invincible's midships Q-turret, flash detonated the magazines below, and the ship blew up and split in two, killing all but six of her crew of 1,032 officers and men, including Rear-Admiral Hood. Of the remaining British battlecruisers, only Princess Royal received heavy-caliber hits at this time (two 305 mm (12-inch) by the battleship Markgraf). Lützow, flooding forward and unable to communicate by radio, was now out of action and began to attempt to withdraw; therefore Hipper left his flagship and transferred to the destroyer G39, hoping to board one of the other battlecruisers later.
Conscious of the risks to his capital ships posed by torpedoes, Jellicoe did not chase directly but headed south, determined to keep the High Seas Fleet west of him. Starting at 18:40, battleships at the rear of Jellicoe's line were in fact sighting and avoiding torpedoes, and at 18:54 Marlborough was hit by a torpedo (probably from the disabled Wiesbaden) which reduced her speed to 16 knots (19 km/h). Meanwhile, Scheer, knowing that it was not yet dark enough to escape and that his fleet would suffer terribly in a stern chase, doubled back to the east at 18:55. In his memoirs he wrote, "the manœuvre 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." But the turn to the east took his ships, again, directly towards Jellicoe's fully-deployed battle line.
Simultaneously, the disabled British destroyer Shark fought desperately against a group of four enemy destroyers and disabled the V48 with gunfire, but was finally torpedoed and sunk at 19:02 by the German destroyer S54. Shark's Captain Loftus Jones won the Victoria Cross for his heroism in fighting his ship against all odds.
At 19:17, for the second time in less than an hour, Scheer turned his outnumbered and outgunned fleet to the west using the "battle about turn" (German Gefechtskehrtwendung), but this time it was executed only with difficulty as the High Seas Fleet's lead squadrons began to lose formation under concentrated gunfire. To deter a British chase, Scheer ordered a major torpedo attack by his destroyers and a potentially sacrificial charge by Scouting Group I's four remaining battlecruisers. Hipper was still aboard the destroyer G39 and was unable to command his squadron for this attack. Therefore Derfflinger, under Captain Hartog, led the already heavily-damaged German battlecruisers directly into "the greatest concentration of naval gunfire any fleet commander had ever faced", at ranges down to 4 miles (7 km). In what became known as the "death ride", all the battlecruisers except Moltke were hit and further damaged, as 18 of the British battleships fired at them simultaneously. Derfflinger had two main gun turrets destroyed, with most of their crews killed, but survived the pounding and veered away with the other battlecruisers once Scheer was out of trouble and the German destroyers were moving in to attack. In this brief but intense portion of the engagement, from about 19:05 to about 19:30, the Germans sustained a total of thirty-seven heavy hits while inflicting only two, Derfflinger alone receiving fourteen.
While his battlecruisers drew the fire of the British fleet, Scheer slipped away, laying smoke screens. Meanwhile, from about 19:16 to about 19:40, the British battleships were also engaging Scheer's destroyers, which executed several waves of torpedo attacks to cover his withdrawal. Jellicoe's ships turned away from the attacks and successfully evaded all 31 of the torpedoes launched at them—though in several cases, only just barely—and sank the German destroyer S35. British light forces also sank V48, which had previously been disabled by Shark. This action, and the turnaway, cost the British critical time and range in the last hour of daylight, as Scheer intended, allowing him to get his heavy ships out of immediate danger.
The last major exchanges between capital ships in this battle took place just after sunset, from about 20:19 to about 20:35, as the surviving British battlecruisers caught up with their German counterparts, which were briefly relieved by Rear-Admiral Mauve's obsolete pre-dreadnoughts (the German 2nd Squadron). The British received one heavy hit on Princess Royal but scored five more on Seydlitz and three on other German ships. As twilight faded to night and King George V exchanged a few final shots with Westfalen, neither side could have imagined that the only encounter between British and German dreadnoughts in the entire war was already concluded.
While the nature of Scheer's escape, and Jellicoe's inaction, indicate the overall German superiority in night-fighting, the results of the night action were no more clear-cut than were those of the battle as a whole. In the first of many surprise encounters by darkened ships at point-blank range, Southampton, Commodore Goodenough's flagship which had scouted so proficiently, was heavily damaged in action with a German Scouting Group composed of light cruisers, but managed to torpedo the Frauenlob which went down at 22:23 with all hands (320 officers and men).
From 23:20 to approximately 02:15, several British destroyer flotillas launched torpedo attacks on the German battlefleet in a series of violent and chaotic engagements at extremely short range (often under 0.5 miles (1 km)). At the cost of five destroyers sunk and some others damaged, they managed to torpedo the light cruiser Rostock, which sank several hours later, and the pre-dreadnought Pommern, which blew up and sank with all hands (844 officers and men) during the last wave of attacks before dawn. Three of the British destroyers collided in the chaos, and the German battleship Nassau rammed the British destroyer Spitfire, blowing away most of the British ship's superstructure merely with the muzzle blast of its big guns, which could not be aimed low enough to hit the ship. Nassau was left with a 3.3 m (11 feet) hole in her side reducing her maximum speed to 15 knots (28 km/h), while the removed plating was left lying on Spitfire's deck. Spitfire survived and made it back to port. Another German cruiser, Elbing, was accidentally rammed by the dreadnought Posen and abandoned, sinking early the next day. Of the British destroyers, Tipperary, Ardent, Fortune, Sparrowhawk and Turbulent were lost during the night fighting.
Just after midnight on 1 June, the Thüringen and other German battleships sank the Black Prince of the ill-fated 1st Cruiser Squadron, which blundered into the German battle line, was overwhelmed by point-blank gunfire, and blew up with all hands (857 officers and men) as her squadron leader Defence had done hours earlier. Lost in the darkness, German battlecruisers Moltke and Seydlitz had similar point-blank encounters with the British battle line and were recognized, but were spared the fate of Black Prince when the captains of the British ships, again, declined to open fire, reluctant to reveal their fleet's position. At 01:45 the sinking battlecruiser Lützow, fatally damaged by Invincible during the main action, was torpedoed by the destroyer G38 on orders of Lützows Captain Viktor von Harder after the surviving crew of 1,150 transferred to destroyers that came alongside. At 02:15 the German destroyer V4 suddenly had its bow blown off; V2 and V6 came alongside and took off the remaining crew and the V2 then sank the hulk. Since there was no enemy nearby it was assumed that she had hit a mine or a submarine.
At 02:15 five British ships of the 13th Destroyer Flotilla under Captain James Uchtred Farie regrouped and headed south. At 02:25 they sighted the rear of the German line. Marksman inquired of the leader Champion as to whether he thought they were British or German ships. Answering that he thought they were German, Farie then veered off to the east and away from the German line. All but Moresby in the rear followed, as through the gloom she sighted what she thought were four pre-dreadnought battleships 2 miles (4 km) away. She hoisted a flag signal indicating that the enemy was to the west and then closed to firing range, letting off a torpedo set for high-running at 02:37 then veering off to rejoin her flotilla. The four pre-dreadnought battleships were in fact two pre-dreadnoughts, Schleswig-Holstein and Schliesen, and the battlecruisers Von der Tann and Derfflinger. Von der Tann sighted the torpedo and was forced to steer hard a starboard to avoid it as it passed close to her bows. Moresby rejoined Champion convinced she had scored a hit.
Finally, at 5:20, as Scheer's fleet was safely on its way home, the German battleship Ostfriesland struck a British mine on her starboard side, killing one man and wounding ten, but was able to make port. Seydlitz, critically damaged and very nearly sinking, barely survived the return voyage and after grounding and taking on even more water in the evening of 1 June, had to be assisted in to port stern first, where she dropped anchor at 07:30 on the morning of 2 June.
The Germans were helped in their escape by the failure of the British admiralty in London to pass on seven critical radio intercepts obtained by naval intelligence indicating the true position, course and intentions of the High Seas Fleet during the night. One message was transmitted to Jellicoe which he received at 23:15 reporting accurately the German fleets course and speed as of 21:14. However the erroneous signal from earlier in the day reporting the German fleet still in port, and an intelligence signal received at 22.45 giving another unlikely position for the German fleet had reduced his confidence in intelligence reports. Had the other messages been forwarded, which confirmed the information received at 23:15, or had British ships reported accurately sightings and engagements with German destroyers, cruisers and battleships, then Jellicoe could have altered course to intercept Scheer at the Horns Reef. The unsent intercepted messages had been duly filed by the junior officer left on duty that night who failed to appreciate their significance. By the time Jellicoe finally learned of Scheer's whereabouts at 04:15, Scheer was too far away to catch and it was clear that the battle could no longer be resumed.
At Jutland, the Germans, with a 99-strong fleet, sank 115,000 tons of British ships, while a 151-strong British fleet sank 62,000 tons of German ships. The British lost 6,094 seamen, the Germans 2,551. Several other ships were badly damaged, such as HMS Lion and SMS Seydlitz. On the other hand, the British fleet remained in control of the North Sea at the end of the battle. In tactical terms, most commentators regard Jutland either as a German victory or as indecisive.
At a strategic level the outcome has been the subject of a huge literature, with no clear consensus. In the immediate aftermath, the view of the battle as indecisive was widely held, and remains influential. Despite numerical superiority, the British had been disappointed in their hopes for a decisive victory comparable to Trafalgar, and the central objective of the influential strategic doctrines of Alfred Mahan. The High Seas Fleet survived as a fleet in being. Most of its losses were made good within a month — even Seydlitz, the most badly damaged ship to survive the battle, was fully repaired by October and officially back in service by November. The Germans had failed in their objective of destroying a substantial portion of the British Fleet. No progress had been made towards the goal of allowing the High Seas Fleet to operate in the Atlantic Ocean.
Subsequently, however, there has been considerable support for the view of Jutland as a strategic victory for the British. While the British had not destroyed the German fleet, and had lost more ships than their enemy, the Germans had retreated to harbour and at the end of the battle the British were in command of the area, notwithstanding their losses. The German fleet would only sortie twice more, on 18 August and in October 1916. Apart from these two (abortive) operations the High Seas Fleet – unwilling to risk another encounter with the British fleet – remained inactive for the duration of the war. Jutland thus ended the German challenge to British naval supremacy. A German naval expert, writing publically about Jutland in November 1918 commented, Our Fleet losses were severe. On 1st June 1916 it was clear to every thinking person that this battle must, and would be, the last one.
At the end of the battle the British had maintained their numerical superiority, and had twenty-three dreadnoughts ready and four battlecruisers still able to fight, while the Germans had ten. Even more to the point, as damaged dreadnoughts Warspite and Malaya went in for repairs, Queen Elizabeth and Emperor of India joined the fleet with Resolution and Ramillies soon to join. Princess Royal and Tiger in dockyard would be replaced by Australia. Far from being weakened, the Grand Fleet was within a month stronger than before sailing to Jutland. Moreover, the damaged British ships were restored to operational status more quickly than were the German, which offset in some respects the superior performance of the German forces.
A third view, presented in a number of recent evaluations, is that Jutland, the last major fleet action between battleships, illustrated the irrelevance of battleship fleets following the development of the submarine, mine and torpedo. In this view, the most important consequence of Jutland was the subsequent decision of the Germans to engage in unrestricted submarine warfare. Although large numbers of battleships were constructed in the decades between the wars, it has been argued that this outcome reflected the social dominance, among naval decisionmakers, of battleship advocates who constrained technological choices to fit traditional paradigms of fleet action. In the event, battleships played a relatively minor role in World War II, in which the aircraft carrier emerged as the dominant offensive weapon of naval warfare.
The issue of poorly performing shells had been known to Jellicoe, who as third sea lord from 1908 to 1910 had ordered new shells to be designed. However, the matter had not been followed through after his posting to sea and new shells had never been thoroughly tested. Beatty discovered the problem at a party aboard 'Lion' a short time after the battle, where a Swedish Naval officer was present. He had recently visited Berlin, where the German navy had scoffed at how British shells had broken up on their ships armour. The question of shell effectiveness had also been raised after the Battle of Dogger Bank, but no action had been taken. Hipper later commented, 'it was nothing but the poor quality of their bursting charges which saved us from disaster'.
Admiral Dreyer, writing later about the battle where he had been captain of the flagship, Iron Duke, estimated that effective shells as later introduced would have led to the sinking of 6 more German capital ships, based upon the actual number of hits achieved in the battle. The system of testing shells, which remained in use up to 1944, meant that statistically a batch of shells of which 70% were faulty stood an even chance of being accepted. Indeed, even shells which had failed this relatively mild test had still been issued to ships. Analysis of the test results afterwards by the ordinance board suggested the likelihood that 30-70% of shells would not have passed the standard penetration test specified by the admiralty.
Efforts to replace the shells were initially resisted by the admiralty and action was not taken until Jellicoe became first sea lord in December 1916. As an initial response the worst of the existing shells were withdrawn from ships in early 1917 and replaced from reserve supplies. New shells were designed, but did not arrive until April 1918, and were never used in action.
An impression was formed by Jellicoe, Beatty and other senior officers that the cause of the ships' loss had been their relatively weak armour. This led to calls for armour to be increased and an additional one inch (25 mm) was placed over the relatively thin decks above magazines. To compensate the increase in weight ships had to carry eqivalently less fuel, water and other supplies. Whether or not thin deck armour was a potential weakness of British ships, the battle provided no evidence that it was the case. At least amongst the surviving ships, no enemy shell was found to have penetrated deck armour anywhere. The design of a new battlecruiser HMS Hood, which had just started building at the time of the battle, was altered to give her 5000 tons of additional armour.
The differences in packaging, handling, and chemistry of the British propellant charges (used to fire the shells out of the guns) as compared to the Germans', turned out to be a factor of some importance. British cordite propellant (handled in exposed silk bags) tended to burn violently causing uncontrollable "flash fires" when ignited by nearby shell hits, whereas the German propellant (handled in brass cartridge cases) was both less vulnerable and less volatile in composition. Moreover the British magazines were not adequately protected against the intrusion of flash fires, and the Royal Navy emphasised speed in ammunition handling over safety procedures, enhancing the rate of gunfire by staging many exposed charges in the chambers between gun turret and magazine, leaving the ships vulnerable to chain-reaction ammunition fires and magazine explosions.
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 contemporary British naval doctrine, which emphasised a rapid rate of fire in the direction of the enemy rather than slower, more accurate fire.
In practice drills, emphasizing speed of firing, 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 opened, bags of cordite were locally stocked and kept locally to need creating a total break down of safety design features and this 'bad safety habit' carried over into real battle practices.
Furthermore, whereas the German propellant RP C/12 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.
There was a further difference in the propellent itself, while RP C/12 burned when exposed to fire it did not explode while cordite would. Extensively studied by the British RP C/12 after WWI would form the basis of Cordite SC later.
The memoirs of Alexander Grant, Gunner on Lion, suggest that some British officers were aware of the dangers of careless handling of cordite:
Grant had already introduced measures onboard Lion to limit the number of cartridges kept outside the magazine and to ensure doors were kept closed, and must have contributed to her survival.
After the battle the Admiralty produced a report critical of the cordite handling practices. By this time 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 not widely distributed, and effectively suppressed from public scrutiny.
The results of the battle confirmed the usefulness of director firing of guns from one central position. This was extended to cruisers and destroyers where it had not thus far been used, and to secondary armament on battleships.
German ships were perceived to have been quicker in determining the correct range of enemy ships and thus obtained an early advantage. The British used a 'bracket system', whereby a salvo was fired at the best guess range and depending where it landed the range was progressively corrected up or down until successive shots were landing in front of and behind the enemy. The Germans used a 'ladder system' whereby an initial volley of three shots at different ranges was used, with the centre shot at the best guess range. The ladder system allowed the gunners to get ranging information from the three shots more quickly than the bracket system, which required waiting between shots to see how the last had landed. British ships adopted the German system.
It was determined that 9 foot (2.7 m) rangefinders of the sort issued to most British ships were not adequate at long range and did not perform as well as the 4.5 m (15 foot) rangefinders on some of the most modern ships. During 1917 rangefinders of base lengths of 7.5 m and 9.0 m (25 and 30 feet) were introduced on the battleships to improve accuracy.
British ships both failed to report engagements with the enemy, but also in the case of cruisers and destroyers failed to actively seek out the enemy. A culture had arisen within the fleet of not acting without orders, which could prove fatal when any circumstances prevented orders being sent or received. Commanders failed to engage the enemy because they believed other more senior officers must also be aware of the enemy nearby, and would have given orders to act if this was expected. Wireless, the most direct way to pass messages across the fleet (although it was being jammed by German ships) was avoided either for perceived reasons of not giving away the presence of ships, or for fear of cluttering up the airwaves with unnecessary reports.
A new signal was introduced instructing squadron commanders to act independently as they thought best while still supporting the main fleet, particularly for use when circumstances would make it difficult to send detailed orders. The description stressed that this was not intended to be the only time commanders might take independent action, but was intended to make plain times when they definitely should. Similarly, instructions on what to do if the fleet was instructed to take evasive action against torpedoes were amended. Commanders were given discretion that if their part of the fleet was not under immediate attack, they should continue engaging the enemy rather than turning away with the rest of the fleet. In this battle, when the fleet turned away from Scheer's destroyer attack covering his retreat, not all the British ships had been affected, and could have continued to engage the enemy more closely.
A number of opportunities to attack enemy ship by torpedo had presented themselves but been missed. All ships, not just the destroyers armed principally with torpedoes but also battleships, were reminded that they carried torpedoes intended to be used whenever an opportunity arose. Destroyers were instructed to close the enemy fleet to fire torpedoes as soon as engagements between the main ships on either side would keep enemy guns busy directed at larger targets. Destroyers should also be ready to immediately engage enemy destroyers if they should launch an attack, endeavouring to disrupt their chances of launching torpedoes and keep them away from the main fleet.
A new signal was provided for deploying the fleet to the centre, rather than as previously only either to left or right of the standard closed-up formation for travelling, to add some flexibility when deploying for attack. The fast and powerful 5th Battle Squadron was moved to the front of the cruising formation so it would have the option of deploying left or right depending upon the enemy position. In the event of engagements at night, although the fleet still preferred to avoid night fighting, a destroyer and cruiser squadron would be specifically detailed to seek out the enemy and launch destroyer attacks.
The controversy raged within the Navy and in public 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 historian Cyril Falls, pointed out the folly of risking defeat in battle when you already have command of the sea. Jellicoe himself, in a letter to the Admiralty months before the battle, had stated that he intended to turn his fleet away from any mass torpedo attack (that being the universally accepted proper tactical response to such attacks, practiced by all the major navies of the world), and that in the event of a fleet engagement in which the enemy turned away he would assume that the intention was to draw him over mines or submarines and that he would decline to be so drawn. The Admiralty approved this plan and expressed full confidence in Jellicoe at the time (Oct. 1914).
The stakes were very high, the pressure on Jellicoe was immense, and his caution is certainly understandable — his judgment might have been that even 90% odds in favour were not good enough on which to bet the British Empire. The former First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill said of the battle that Jellicoe "was the only man on either side 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 the superior firepower of the full British battle line, and who showed great skill in effecting his escape.
(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.)