The Battle of Jutland
(or the Battle of the Skagerrak
, as it is known in Germany
) took place on May 31, 1916
, pitting the Grand Fleet
of the British Royal Navy
against the German High Seas Fleet
. The battle is notable for two reasons: it was the last major naval battle of World War I
and it was the first naval battle to involve an airplane launched from a ship.
By mid-1916, the Great War had been dragging on much longer than anticipated. A British naval blockade was preventing much of the raw materials needed to feed the German war machine from reaching Germany from its scattered colonies. The Germans were itching to engage the Royal Navy in an all-out battle, but were wary of the superior British numbers (and reputation). Attempts -- although cautious -- were made to lure the British into several limited actions, where the technical advantages of the more modern German warships could be realized, but the Royal Navy was far from compliant. A more aggressive approach was deemed necessary, and the High Seas Fleet's commander, Admiral Hugo von Pohl, was sacked in favor of Vizeadmiral Reinhardt von Scheer.
Within a few months, von Scheer had formulated a plan. Originally, the plan involved a combined operation to bombard Sunderland, utilizing the German surface fleet, U-boats and zeppelins, but the plan was scrapped due to bad weather and the limited operating range of the submarines. Von Scheer then went to Plan B (literally): he would dangle his fleet in the open waters of the North Sea, just off the coast of Denmark's Jutland Peninsula.
On May 30, the Admiralty's SigInt picked up some German radio traffic alerting the U-boats that the German surface fleet was leaving port (presumably something along the lines of "Hey Klaus, we're on our way. Don't torpedo us, okay?"). British Admiral Sir John Jellicoe immediately ordered his fleet to raise steam to find and engage the Germans. (Curiously enough, his intelligence was good enough to allow the Royal Navy's ships to leave port 4.5 hours before the German High Seas Fleet.)
Through that night and the next morning, the fleets converged on the Jade. Jellicoe commanded the Battlefleet (24 dreadnoughts, 4 battlecruisers and 72 smaller ships) which was on its way from Scapa Flow. Another smaller force (4 dreadnoughts, 6 battlecruisers and 41 smaller ships), under the command of Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty, was steaming due east from the Firth of Forth. Across the North Sea, two German fleets were making steam westwards, unaware that the Royal Navy was already on an intercept course. The main fleet (16 dreadnoughts, 6 pre-dreadnoughts and 36 smaller ships), under von Scheer's flag, was steaming northwest from Wilhelmshaven. A battlecruiser fleet (5 battlecruisers and 35 smaller ships) under Vizeadmiral Franz Hipper left Kiel, rounded Denmark and was approaching from the east. (Please note that the 8:1 advantage quoted above seems to be wholly incorrect.)
The first sightings of the German fleet was made by the destroyer HMS Galatea at 1415 of May 31. Beatty changed course to intercept, and ordered the seaplane tender HMS Engadine to launch its (only) reconnaisance plane to report on the enemy's disposition. The plane was piloted by Flight-Lieutenant F.S. Rutland, with Assistant Paymaster G. S. Trewin as observer. ("What? We need an observer? Hey you...yes, you with the abacus! Take these binoculars!") Rutland (later known as "Rutland of Jutland") and Trewin observed four German cruisers and reported their position before withdrawing under heavy fire. Rutland was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his actions. This was the first use of shipborne aircraft in combat; its success helped pave the way for the development of the modern aircraft carrier.
At 1515 GMT, the two battlecruiser fleets sighted each other, engaging each other at long range. The range-finders on the German ships were far superior to those the British had, resulting in devastating long range fire. Within the first 45 minutes of fighting, two British battlecruisers (HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary) had been sunk and another (HMS Lion) was seriously damaged. Also sunk was the destroyer HMS Nomad and the German torpedo boats V27 and V29.
By 1600, the lead elements of the British Battlefleet had arrived and engaged the Germans. The German Battlefleet arrived within the hour. The fleets shook themselves out, causing a brief lull in the fighting. The peace was punctuated by the odd torpedo attack from both sides, resulting in the sinking of HMS Nestor. Several German light cruisers intercepted signals destined for HMS Barham (a light cruiser). The resulting skirmish sunk the German cruiser SMS Wiesbaden, but at a high cost for the British, as HMS Shark (destroyer) and HMS Defence (heavy cruiser) were sunk and HMS Warspite (battleship) was heavily damaged.
Now that the entire British Grand Fleet had been assembled, the German ships were starting to take heavy damage. SMS Seydlitz had taken heavy damage from gunfire and a torpedo. SMS Lutzow fought a vicious battle with HMS Invincible, taking eight hits from the British battlecruiser. (In one of those curiosities that history offers up on occasion, the Invincible was commanded by Rear-Admiral The Honourable H.L.A. Hood, a descendant of the sailor for whom the famous World War II battlecruiser HMS Hood was named. Invincible was destroyed when a shell from Lutzow penetrated its turret, causing the magazine to explode. HMS Hood died a similar death at the hands of the Bismarck in 1941. Only six of Invincible's crew survived; and only three of Hood's made it home.) Von Scheer needed to reassemble his fleet, which had become drawn out and scattered, so he reversed course at 1833. This action was covered by torpedoes and a smoke screen, courtesy of the torpedo boats.
Fearful of being cut off from home by the British (who had changed course southwards to pursue the German battlecruisers), von Scheer again reversed course at 1855, this time due ENE. About this time, Vizeadmiral Hipper abandoned the Lutzow, transferring his flag to a nearby torpedo boat. Von Scheer didn't realize that he turned directly into the British line, so a third about turn was ordered at 1918, this time covered by another screen of torpedoes and a suicide charge from Hipper's remaining battlecruisers. The Germans came under murderous fire, but executed the manoeuvre with the loss of only one torpedo boat. Jellicoe was later criticized for turning away from the torpedo attacks, rather than turning into them and maintaining contact with the Germans.
Von Scheer set course for Horns Reef with the British in pursuit. During the night, several isolated battles were fought at close range, resulting in the loss of SMS Pommern (pre-dreadnought battleship, hit by torpedoes), SMS Frauenlob (light cruiser, hit by torpedo), SMS Rostock (light cruiser, also torpedoed) and SMS Elbing (also a light cruiser, rammed by a friendly ship) on the German side and HMS Black Prince (heavy cruiser, gunfire) and HMS Tipperary, Fortune, Ardent and Turbulent (destroyers, gunfire). The High Seas Fleet fought their way through the destroyer flotillas and made it home. Two British ships (HMS Warrior and HMS Sparrowhawk) sank on their way back to home port. The last British ships had dragged their twisted hulls into home waters by June 2, a full three days after the conflict.
The mathematics of the battle seem to indicate a German victory. The Royal Navy lost 14 ships (3 battlecruisers, 3 cruisers and 8 destroyers) totalling 111,000 tons displacement, and sustained 6,800 casualties. The German Navy lost 11 ships (1 obselete battleship, 1 battlecruiser, 4 light cruisers and 3 destroyers) totalling 62,000 tons, and took just over 3,000 casualties.
One must look beyond the numbers, though. The Royal Navy was by no means put out of action; many of the damaged ships were active within a matter of months. The Germans didn't fare as well, as their resources were already being tested. Following Jutland, the German Navy diverted most of the money and manpower away from the surface fleet and towards the burgeoning submarine force. The inability to break the blockade helped lead to Germany's economic collapse in 1918. In addition, the failure to unleash surface raiders on the Atlantic shipping routes allowed the British to sustain their war effort, bringing men, machines and material from their far-flung colonies.
The battle also illustrated several deficiencies in the British equipment. The armor piercing shells used by the British were faulty, their range finders were clumsy and ineffective at long range, and the petroleum jelly used to chemically stabilize the cordite accomplished, in fact, the opposite effect. The battle also illustrated the need for decktop armoring on warships, as long range gunfire tends to drop shells in from above, rather than from more oblique angles.
Jutland also heralded the beginning of the end of the battlecruiser experiment. The lightly armored battlecruisers fared poorly in the battle compared to the heavily armored battleships. The British battlecruisers were especially underarmored, which partially explains why so many were lost in relation to those from the German fleet. Battlecruisers, for all their faults, would still be found in the fleet at the outbreak of World War II.
Battle of Jutland - http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWjutland.htm
Battle of Jutland (Skagerrak) - http://www.warships1.com/W-hist/HSI_Jutland.htm
Wikipedia: Battle of Jutland - http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Jutland
The Patriot Files, The Battle of Jutland - http://www.patriotfiles.com/article.php?sid=296
Battle of Jutland: Order of Battle - http://www.ku.edu/~kansite/ww_one/naval/jutob.htm