The Battle Of Jutland

The battle no-body won!

As I write this on 31st May 2016, commemoration events are being held to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland. A national day of commemoration, involving descendants, old enemies turned allies, military and political leaders, plus the only warship to survive the battle, will remember those on both sides who fought and died for their country.

A service at St Magnus Cathedral in Orkney will pay tribute to the 8,648 sailors who died during the battle and will be followed by a ceremony at Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery in Hoy where the Commonwealth servicemen and German sailors from World War One are buried. A service of remembrance is also taking place on board HMS Duncan at Jutland Bank, the site of the battle.

If, like me, you are a little hazy about this historic event, here are a few of the details and the reasons why it might be referred to as “the battle nobody won”.

The Battle of Jutland became the largest naval battle of the First World War, claiming the lives of 8,648 seamen. Almost 250 ships took part, creating a scale of battle that has not been seen since.

How did it start?

The Battle of Jutland was considered to be the only major naval battle of World War One. Britain, at that time, was believed to have naval supremacy not only in Europe but also throughout the world. The British public were convinced that Britain’s navy could not be challenged, as the words in the popular song “Rule Britannia” start – “Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves. Britain never, never, never shall be slaves”.

The British navy in the North Sea was based in Rosyth, Cromarty and Scapa Flow, from where it could protect the central and northern areas of the North Sea and stop Germany getting into the Atlantic where they could cause problems for Britain’s merchant fleet. In 1916 Admiral Reinhardt von Scheer, newly appointed as commander of the German High Seas Fleet, decided to lure the British fleet out of their naval bases and destroy them, using a combination of submarines and surface boats. In May he ordered Admiral von Hipper to move along the Danish coast with 40 ships. The plan worked; Admiral Jellicoe in Rosyth saw the movement of such a large force as a provocative move and ordered his fleet to put to sea where it was joined by the fleet from Scapa Flow. The battle started on May 31st 1916, 90 miles off the Danish coast at Jutland Bank and was to last only 36 hours.

Conditions were bad with poor visibility. There was no radar or sonar then and wireless was primitive. The ships could neither see nor communicate with each other due to the mist and gun smoke of the battle. Critics have cited the myriad of conflicting flag signals and wireless messages which were both confusing and unintelligible.

The Outcome

Fourteen British and eleven German ships were sunk during the 36 hours of battle, with great loss of life, (over 6,000 British sailors and 2,500 Germans). The Germans claimed that Jutland was a victory for them as they had sunk more of the British ships, but Jellicoe claimed victory for the British as his fleet was still sea worthy at the end of the battle whereas the German fleet was not. Within a month the British Fleet was repaired and stronger than it was prior to the battle. The German fleet was never again in the position to put to sea and challenge the British navy in the North Sea. Germany’s naval power and trade routes were restricted by the outcome, while Britain’s naval dominance was confirmed for the rest of the war, helping force a victory in 1918. Although public opinion complained about the lack of a complete victory, Winston Churchill commented that Jellicoe was the one man who could have lost a battle in one afternoon; instead he proved himself a worthy admiral.

Jutland provided the last major fleet action involving battleships. Germany decided to engage in unrestricted submarine warfare, while mines, torpedoes and aircraft carriers emerged as dominant offensive weapons in naval warfare.

The Tributes

Those taking part:-

  • David Cameron the British Prime Minister
  • German President Joachim Gauck
  • The Princess Royal representing the British Royal family
  • Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland First Minister

And more importantly:-

  • Descendants of those brave men and boys who fought in the battle

Thousands of ceramic poppies have been installed in tribute of the dead, poppies and forget-me-nots ( the German flower of remembrance) are to be cast into the sea, each one signifying a life lost in the battle and a specially commissioned piece of music by the late composer and Orkney resident, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies will be performed.

Some relatives of the dead travelled 10,000miles to be there and for them it was a day of remembrance, reconciliation and thanks for those brave men who fought for their respective countries.

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