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Battle of Jutland (Central Victory)

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Battle of Jutland
Part of World War I
Map of the Battle of Jutland, 1916
The Battle of Jutland, 1916
Date 31 May 1916 (1916-05-31) – 1 June 1916 (1916-06-01)
(1 day)
Location North Sea, near Denmark
Result Tactical German victory; British dominance of the North Sea maintained
Belligerents
Flag of the United Kingdom United Kingdom
Flag of the German Empire Germany
Commanders and leaders
Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom Sir John Jellicoe
Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom Sir David Beatty
War Ensign of Germany 1903-1918 Reinhard Scheer
War Ensign of Germany 1903-1918 Franz Hipper
Strength
Total: 151 combat ships Total: 99 combat ships
Casualties and losses
6,094 killed
674 wounded
177 captured

3 battle cruisers
3 armoured cruisers
8 destroyers
(113,300 tons sunk)
2,551 killed
507 wounded

1 pre-dreadnought
1 battle cruiser
4 light cruisers
5 torpedo-boats
(62,300 tons sunk)

The Battle of Jutland (German: Skagerrakschlacht) was a naval battle fought by the 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 May 31 and June 1, 1916 in the North Sea near Jutland, Denmark. It was the largest naval battle and the only full-scale clash of battleships in the war. It was 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 High Seas Fleet was commanded by Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer, and the Grand Fleet by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. The German fleet's intention was to lure out, trap, and 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. 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.

Germany claimed victory. The British lost more ships and twice as many sailors, and the British press criticised the Grand Fleet's defeat, but Scheer's plan of destroying a substantial portion of the British fleet was for the most part successful. The British 'fleet in being' continued to pose a threat, requiring the Germans to keep their battleships concentrated in the North Sea, but the battle ended the German policy of avoiding all fleet-to-fleet contact. In August Germany finally succeeded in reducing the Royal Navy's numerical advantage, the German Navy turned its efforts and resources to the destruction of Allied shipping.

Battle cruiser action

The route of the British battle cruiser fleet took it through the patrol sector allocated to U-32. After receiving the order to commence the operation, U-32 moved to a position 80 mi (70 nmi; 130 km) east of May Island at dawn on May 31. At 03:40, she sighted the cruisers HMS Galatea and Phaeton leaving the Forth at 18 kn (21 mph; 33 km/h). She launched one torpedo at the leading cruiser at a range of 1,000 yd (910 m), but her periscope jammed 'up', giving away the position of the submarine as she maneuvered to fire a second. The lead cruiser turned away to dodge the torpedo, while the second turned towards the submarine, attempting to ram. U-32 crash-dived, and on raising periscope at 04:10 saw two battle cruisers (the 2nd Battle cruiser Squadron) heading southeast. They were too far away to attack, but Kapitänleutnant von Spiegel reported the sighting of two battleships and two cruisers to Germany.

U-66 was also supposed to be patrolling off the Firth of Forth, but had been forced north to a position 60 mi (52 nmi; 97 km) off Peterhead by patrolling British vessels. This now brought her into contact with the 2nd Battle Squadron, coming from the Moray Firth. At 05:00, she had to crash dive when the cruiser Duke of Edinburgh appeared from the mist heading toward her. She was followed by another cruiser, Boadicea, and eight battleships. U-66 got within 350 yd (320 m) of the battleships preparing to fire, but was forced to dive by an approaching destroyer and missed the opportunity. At 06:35, she reported eight battleships and cruisers heading north.

The courses reported by both submarines were incorrect, because they reflected one leg of a zig-zag being used by British ships to avoid submarines. Taken with a wireless intercept of more ships leaving Scapa Flow earlier in the night, they created the impression in the German High Command that the British fleet, whatever it was doing, was split into separate sections moving apart, which was precisely as the Germans wished to meet it.

Jellicoe's ships proceeded to their rendezvous undamaged and undiscovered. However, he was now misled by an Admiralty intelligence report advising that the German main battle fleet was still in port. The Director of Operations Division, Rear Admiral Thomas Jackson, had asked the intelligence division, Room 40, for the current location of German call sign DK, used by Admiral Scheer. They had replied that it was currently transmitting from Wilhelmshaven. It was unknown to the intelligence staff that Scheer deliberately used a different call sign when at sea.

The German battle cruisers cleared the minefields surrounding the Amrum swept channel by 09:00. They then proceeded northwest, passing 35 mi (30 nmi; 56 km) west of the Horn's Reef lightship heading for the Little Fisher Bank at the mouth of the Skagerrak. The High Seas Fleet followed some 50 mi (43 nmi; 80 km) behind. The battle cruisers were in line ahead, with the four cruisers of the II scouting group plus supporting torpedo boats ranged in an arc 8 mi (7.0 nmi; 13 km) ahead and to either side. The IX torpedo boat flotilla formed close support immediately surrounding the battle cruisers. The High Seas Fleet similarly adopted a line-ahead formation, with close screening by torpedo boats to either side and a further screen of five cruisers surrounding the column 5–8 mi (4.3–7.0 nmi; 8.0–13 km) away. Winds had finally moderated so that Zeppelins could be used, and by 11:30 five had been sent out: L14 to the Skagerrak, L23 240 mi (210 nmi; 390 km) east of Noss Head in the Pentland Firth, L21 120 mi (100 nmi; 190 km) off Peterhead, L9 100 mi (87 nmi; 160 km) off Sunderland, and L16 80 mi (70 nmi; 130 km) east of Flamborough Head. Visibility, however, was still bad, with clouds down to 1,000 ft (300 m).

Contact

By around 14:00, Beatty's ships were proceeding eastward at roughly the same latitude as Hipper's squadron, which was heading north. Had the courses remained unchanged, Beatty would have passed between the two German fleets, 40 mi (35 nmi; 64 km) south of the battle cruisers and 20 mi (17 nmi; 32 km) north of the High Seas Fleet at around 16:30, possibly trapping his ships just as the German plan envisioned. However, his orders were to stop his scouting patrol when he reached a point 260 mi (230 nmi; 420 km) east of Britain and then turn north to meet Jellicoe, which he did at this time. Beatty's ships were divided into three columns, with the two battle cruiser squadrons leading in parallel lines 3 mi (2.6 nmi; 4.8 km) apart. The 5th Battle Squadron was stationed 5 mi (4.3 nmi; 8.0 km) to the northwest, on the side farthest away from any expected enemy contact, while a screen of cruisers and destroyers was spread southeast of the battle cruisers. After the turn, the 5th Battle Squadron was now leading the British ships in the westernmost column, and Beatty's squadron was centre and rearmost, with the 2nd BCS to the west.

File:Jutland battle cruiser action.png

At 14:20 on May 31, despite heavy haze and scuds of fog giving poor visibility, scouts from Beatty's force reported enemy ships to the southeast; 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 HMS 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 SMS Elbing, of Rear-Admiral Friedrich Bödicker's Scouting Group II, hit her British counterpart Galatea at extreme range.

Meanwhile Beatty began to move his battle cruisers 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 aeroplane was used for reconnaissance in naval combat. Engadine's plane did locate and report some German light cruisers just before 15:30, and received anti-aircraft 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 battle cruiser HMS Tiger – the last ship in his column – was no longer in a position where it could relay signals by searchlight to Evan-Thomas, as it had previously been ordered to do. Whereas before the north turn, Tiger had been the closest ship to Evan-Thomas, she was now farther away than Beatty on Lion. 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, ending up 10 mi (8.7 nmi; 16 km) behind rather than five. 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 manage. 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.

With visibility favoring the Germans, at 15:22 Hipper's battle cruisers, steaming approximately northwest, sighted Beatty's squadron at a range of about 15 mi (13 nmi; 24 km), while Beatty's forces did not identify Hipper's battlec ruisers until 15:30. At 15:45, Hipper turned southeast to lead Beatty toward Scheer, who was 46 mi (40 nmi; 74 km) southeast with the main force of the High Seas Fleet.

The Run to the South

Beatty's conduct during the next 15 minutes has received a great deal of criticism, as his ships out-ranged and outnumbered the German squadron, yet he held his fire for over 10 minutes with the German ships in range. He also failed to use the time available to rearrange his battle cruisers into a fighting formation, with the result that they were still maneuvering when the battle started.

At 15:48, with the opposing forces roughly parallel at 15,000 yd (14,000 m), with the British to the southwest of the Germans (i.e., on the right side), Hipper opened fire, followed by the British ships as their guns came to bear upon targets. Thus began the opening phase of the battle cruiser action, known as the "Run to the South", in which the British chased the Germans, and Hipper intentionally led Beatty toward Scheer. During the first minutes of the ensuing battle, all the British ships except Princess Royal fired far over their German opponents, due to adverse visibility conditions, before finally getting the range. Only Lion and Princess Royal had settled into formation, so the other four ships were hampered in aiming by their own turning. Beatty was to windward of Hipper, and therefore funnel and gun smoke from his own ships tended to obscure his targets, while Hipper's smoke blew clear. Also, the eastern sky was overcast and the grey German ships were indistinct and difficult to range.

File:HMS Lion (1910).jpg
File:HMS Indefatigable sinking.jpg

Beatty had ordered his ships to engage in a line, one British ship engaging with one German and his flagship HMS Lion doubling on the German flagship SMS Lützow. However, due to another mistake with signalling by flag, and possibly because the Queen Mary and Tiger were unable to see the German lead ship because of smoke, the second German ship, Derfflinger, was left unengaged and free to fire without disruption. SMS Moltke drew fire from two of Beatty's battle cruisers, but still fired with deadly accuracy during this time, putting nine shells into Tiger in the first 12 minutes. The Germans drew first blood. Aided by superior visibility, Hipper's five battle cruisers quickly registered hits on three of the six British battle cruisers. 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 12 in (300 mm) salvo from Lützow wrecked the "Q" turret amidships 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. HMS Indefatigable was not so lucky; at 16:02, just 14 minutes into the slugging match, she was smashed aft by three 11 in (280 mm) shells from SMS 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 11 in (280 mm) 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 battle cruisers 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, HMS Barham, caught up with Hipper and opened fire at extreme range, scoring a 15 in (380 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 battle cruiser action intensified again when HMS 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: "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, 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".—Commander von Hase

File:Destruction of HMS Queen Mary.jpg

During the Run to the South, from 15:48 to 16:54, the German battle cruisers made an estimated total of forty-two 11 in (280 mm) and 12 in (300 mm) hits on the British battle cruisers (nine on Lion, six on Princess Royal, seven on Queen Mary, 14 on Tiger, one on New Zealand, five on Indefatigable), and two more on the battleship Barham, compared with only eleven 13.5 in (340 mm) hits by the British battle cruisers (four on Lützow, four on Seydlitz, two on Moltke, one on von der Tann), and six 15 in (380 mm) hits by the battleships (one on Seydlitz, four on Moltke, one on von der Tann).

"Something wrong with our bloody ships"

Shortly after 16:26, a salvo struck on or around HMS Princess Royal, which was obscured by spray and smoke from shell bursts. A signalman promptly leapt on to the bridge of Lion and announced "Princess Royal's blown up, Sir." Beatty famously turned to his flag captain, saying "Chatfield, there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today." (In popular legend, Beatty also immediately ordered his ships to "turn two points to port", i.e., two points nearer the enemy, but there is no official record of any such command or course change.) Princess Royal, as it turned out, was still afloat after the spray cleared.

At 16:30, Scheer's leading battleships sighted the distant battle cruiser action; soon after, HMS 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: 16 dreadnoughts with six older battleships. This was the first news that Beatty and Jellicoe had that Scheer and his battle fleet were even at sea. Simultaneously, an all-out destroyer action raged in the space between the opposing battle cruiser 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 battle cruiser 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 HMS Petard. Though taking on water, Seydlitz maintained speed. The destroyer HMS 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 – HMS 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.

Crippling of the Beaty's squadron

With the vanguard of Scheer's distant battleship line 12 mi (10 nmi; 19 km) away, smoke coverage prevented Beaty from noticing. Because Beatty failed to notice Scheer's line he continued heading directly toward the approaching main body of the High Seas Fleet. At 16:48, at extreme range, Scheer's leading battleships opened fire.

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 gave the order to Evan-Thomas to "turn in succession" (rather than "turn together") at 16:48. Evan-Thomas acknowledged the signal, but Lieutenant-Commander Ralph Seymour, Beatty's flag lieutenant, aggravated the situation when he did not haul down the flags (to execute the signal) for some minutes. At 16:55, when the 5BS had moved within range of the enemy battleships. The order to turn in succession resulted in all four ships turning in the same patch of sea as they reached it one by one, giving the High Seas Fleet repeated opportunity to find the proper range.

For the next hour, the 5th Battle Squadron acted as Beatty's reinforcements, returning fire on all the German ships within range, while by 17:10 Beatty had halted his own squadron just in range of Hipper's now-superior battle cruiser force which gave his damaged ships a death sentence from the accurate and deadly fire of his foes. Since visibility and firepower now favored the Germans, there was no room for Beatty to mitigate further battle cruiser losses when his own gunnery could not be effective: illustrating the imbalance, Beatty's battle cruisers 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 (four on Lion, of which three were by Lützow, and one on Tiger by Seydlitz). Now the ships of both squadrons, received simultaneous fire from Hipper's battle cruisers to the east and Scheer's leading battleships to the southeast. All took hits: Barham, Warspite and Malaya. Only Valiant was unscathed

The four battleships though better suited to take this sort of pounding than the battle cruisers, and Warspite and Barham were lost, while Malaya suffered heavy damage, an ammunition fire, and heavy crew casualties. At the same time, the 15 in (380 mm) fire of the four British ships was accurate and effective. As the two British squadrons continued the engagement, the 5th Battle Squadron scored 13 hits on the enemy battle cruisers (four on Lützow, three on Derfflinger, six on Seydlitz) and five on battleships (though only one, on SMS Markgraf, did any serious damage).

The fleets converge

Jellicoe now aware that full fleet engagement was nearing, he unfortunately had insufficient information on the position and course of the Germans. To assist Beatty, early in the battle at about 16:05, Jellicoe had ordered Rear-Admiral Horace Hood's 3rd Battle cruiser Squadron to speed ahead to find and support Beatty's force, and Hood was now racing SSE well in advance of Jellicoe's northern force. Rear-Admiral Arbuthnot's 1st Cruiser Squadron patrolled the van of Jellicoe's main battleship force as it advanced steadily to the southeast.

At 17:33, the armoured cruiser HMS Black Prince of Arbuthnot's squadron, on the far southwest flank of Jellicoe's force, came within view of HMS Falmouth, which was about 5 mi (4.3 nmi; 8.0 km) behind Beatty with the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron, establishing the first visual link between the bodies of the Grand Fleet. At 17:38, the scout cruiser HMS Chester, screening Hood's oncoming battle cruisers, 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 HMS Invincible disabled the light cruiser SMS 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 blunted the arrival of this new formation, Hood's battle cruisers were unable to dodge all the torpedoes fired at them. In this action, after failing in a torpedo counterattack, the British destroyers were disabled.

The fleet action

Deployment

In the meantime, Beatty and Evan-Thomas continued their engagement with Hipper's battle cruisers. With several of his ships damaged, Beaty turned back toward Jellicoe at around 18:00. 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. He needed to know the location of the German fleet to judge when and how to deploy his battleships from their cruising formation (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. 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 favour 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 full 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.

Windy Corner

Meanwhile, Hipper had joined Scheer, and the combined High Seas Fleet was heading north, directly toward Jellicoe. Scheer had no indication that Jellicoe was at sea, let alone that he was bearing down from the northwest, and was distracted by the intervention of Hood's ships to his north and east. Nearby, numerous British light cruisers and destroyers on the southwestern flank of the deploying battleships were also crossing each other's courses in attempts to reach their proper stations, often barely escaping collisions, and under fire from some of the approaching German ships. This period of peril and heavy traffic attending the merger and deployment of the British forces later became known as "Windy Corner".

Arbuthnot was attracted by the drifting hull of the crippled Wiesbaden. With Warrior, Defence closed in for the kill, only to blunder right into the gun sights of Hipper's and Scheer's oncoming capital ships. Defence was deluged by heavy-calibre 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.

As Defence sank, at about 18:19, Hipper moved within range of Beatty's ships. At first, visibility favored the British: HMS Indomitable hit Derfflinger three times and Seydlitz once, while 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, Lion abruptly appeared as a clear target before Lützow and Derfflinger. The two German ships then fired three salvos each at Invincible, and sank her in 90 seconds. A 12 in (300 mm) shell from the third salvo struck Lion's Q-turret amidships, detonating the magazines below and causing her to blow up and sink. All but six of her crew of 1,032 officers and men, including Beaty, were killed. Of the remaining British battle cruisers, only Princess Royal received heavy-calibre hits at this time (two 12 in (300 mm) 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 torpedo boat SMS G39, hoping to board one of the other battle cruisers later.

Crossing the T

By 18:30, the main battlefleet action was joined for the first time, with Jellicoe effectively "crossing Scheer's T". The officers on the lead German battleships, and Scheer himself, were taken completely by surprise when they emerged from drifting clouds of smoky mist to suddenly find themselves facing the massed firepower of the entire Grand Fleet main battle line, which they did not know was even at sea. Jellicoe's flagship Iron Duke quickly scored seven hits on the lead German dreadnought, SMS König, but in this brief exchange, which lasted only minutes, as few as 10 of the Grand Fleet's 24 dreadnoughts actually opened fire. The Germans were hampered by poor visibility, in addition to being in an unfavourable tactical position, just as Jellicoe had intended. Realizing he was heading into a death trap, Scheer ordered his fleet to turn and flee at 18:33. Under a pall of smoke and mist, Scheer's forces succeeded in disengaging by an expertly executed 180° turn in unison ("battle about turn to starboard"), which was a well-practiced emergency manoeuvre of the High Seas Fleet. "It was now obvious that we were confronted by a large portion of the English fleet. The entire arc stretching from north to east was a sea of fire. The flash from the muzzles of the guns was seen distinctly through the mist and smoke on the horizon, although the ships themselves were not distinguishable".—Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer 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 HMS Marlborough was hit by a torpedo (probably from the disabled Wiesbaden), which reduced her speed to to 16 kn (18 mph; 30 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 maneuver 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.

Gefechtskehrtwendung

Commodore Goodenough's 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron dodged the fire of German battleships for a second time to re-establish contact with the High Seas Fleet shortly after 19:00. By 19:15, Jellicoe had attempted to cross Scheer's "T" again. This time Scheer's arc of fire was deadly, causing severe damage to the British battleships, particularly Vice-Admiral Jerram's leading 2nd Battle Squadron (HMS King George V, Ajax, Centurion, and Erin all being hit, along with HMS Superb of the 4th Battle Squadron), while on the German side, only the battleship SMS Markgraf was hit.

At 19:17, Scheer turned his outgunned fleet to the west using the "battle about turn" (German Gefechtskehrtwendung), but this 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 battle cruisers. Hipper was still aboard the torpedo boat G39 and was unable to command his squadron for this attack. Therefore, SMS Derfflinger, under Captain Hartog, led the already heavily damaged German battle cruisers directly into "the greatest concentration of naval gunfire any fleet commander had ever faced", at ranges down to 4 mi (3.5 nmi; 6.4 km). In what became known as the "valiant ride", all the battle cruisers except SMS Moltke remarkably were not hit or further damaged, as 18 of the British battleships fired at them simultaneously. Derfflinger had two main gun turrets destroyed. The crews of Scouting Group I suffered few casualties, but survived the pounding and veered away with the other battle cruisers 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 British sustained a total of 37 heavy hits while inflicting only two.

While his battle cruisers 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 failed to turn away from the attacks and suffered 31 jits on his capital ships – though, in several cases, only just barely – but sank the German destroyer SMS S35. British light forces also sank V48, which had previously been disabled by HMS Shark. This action, and the turn away failure, 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 battle cruisers 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 HMS King George V exchanged a few final shots with SMS Westfalen, neither side could have imagined that the only encounter between British and German dreadnoughts in the entire war was already concluded.

Night action and British withdrawal

At 21:00, Jellicoe, conscious of the Grand Fleet's deficiencies in night fighting, decided to try to avoid a major engagement until early dawn. He placed a screen of cruisers and destroyers 5 mi (4.3 nmi; 8.0 km) behind his battle fleet to patrol the rear as he headed south to guard Scheer's expected escape route. Luckily for Scheer, most of the light forces in Jellicoe's rearguard failed to report the seven separate encounters with the German fleet during the night; the very few radio reports that were sent to the British flagship were never received, possibly because the Germans were jamming British frequencies. Many of the destroyers failed to make the most of their opportunities to attack discovered ships, despite Jellicoe's expectations that the destroyer forces would, if necessary, be able to block the path of the German fleet. Jellicoe and his commanders did not understand that the furious gunfire and explosions to the north (seen and heard for hours by all the British battleships) indicated that the German heavy ships were breaking through the screen astern of the British fleet. Instead, it was believed that the fighting was the result of night attacks by German destroyers. The most powerful British ships of all directly observed German battleships coming astern of them in action with British light forces, at ranges of 3 mi (2.6 nmi; 4.8 km) or less, and gunners on the HMS Malaya made ready to fire, but her captain declined, deferring to the authority of his superiors – and neither commander reported the sightings to Jellicoe, assuming that he could see for himself and that revealing the fleet's position by radio signals or gunfire was unwise.

While the nature of Scheer's sudden descision to attack, and Jellicoe's inaction, indicate the overall German superiority in night fighting, the results of the night action were 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, were sunk by a German Scouting Group composed of light cruisers, but managed to torpedo the SMS 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 battle fleet in a series of violent and chaotic engagements at extremely short range (often under 0.5 mi (0.80 km)). At the cost of five destroyers sunk and some others damaged, they managed to torpedo the pre-dreadnought SMS Pommern, which blew up and sank with all hands (839 officers and men) at 03:10 during the last wave of attacks before dawn. Three of the British destroyers collided in the chaos, and the German battleship SMS Nassau rammed the British destroyer HMS 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 11 ft (3.4 m) hole in her side, reducing her maximum speed to 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h), while the removed plating was left lying on Spitfire's deck. Spitfire sank on its way back to port. Of the British destroyers, HMS Tipperary, Ardent, Fortune, Sparrowhawk and Turbulent were lost during the night fighting.

Just after midnight on June 1, SMS Thüringen and other German battleships sank the HMS Black Prince of the ill-fated 1st Cruiser Squadron, which had blundered into the German battle line. Deployed as part of a screening force several miles ahead of the main force of the Grand Fleet, the Black Prince had lost contact in the darkness and took a position near what it thought was the British line. The Germans soon identified the new addition to its line and opened fire. Overwhelmed by point-blank gunfire, the Black Prince blew up with all hands (857 officers and men) as her squadron leader Defence had done hours earlier. Lost in the darkness, the battle cruisers SMS 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 battle cruiser Lützow – fatally damaged by Invincible during the main action – was torpedoed by the destroyer SMS G38 on orders of Lützow's Captain Viktor von Harder after the surviving crew of 1,150 transferred to destroyers that came alongside. At 02:15, the German destroyer SMS 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 had been torpedoed by 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 German line. HMS 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 mi (1.7 nmi; 3.2 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 Schlesien, and the battle cruisers Von der Tann and Derfflinger. Von der Tann sighted the torpedo and was forced to steer sharply to starboard to avoid it as it passed close to her bows. Moresby rejoined Champion convinced she had scored a hit.

Finally, at 05:20, as Jellicoe's fleet began retreating, Jellicoe's flagship HMS Iron Duke struck a German mine on her starboard side, killing one man and wounding ten, but was able to make port. Marlborough, critically damaged and very nearly sinking, barely survived the return voyage: after grounding and taking on even more water on the evening of June 1, she had to be assisted stern first into port, where she dropped anchor at 07:30 on the morning of June 2.

The Germans were helped in their attack 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 at 23:15 that accurately reported the German fleet's course and speed as of 21:14. However, the erroneous signal from earlier in the day that reported 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 better engage Scheer. 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 had done far to much damage to his rear positions and it was clear that the battle could no longer be won.

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