The Battle of Jutland by Hadrian Jeffs

The Battle of Jutland by Hadrian Jeffs

The Battle of Jutland is not the be-all & end-all of fleet operations in 1916 as many historians believe, but rather the third (and most intense, in terms of combat) of a six-month campaign, comprising four actions, three of them abortive.

In terms of losses and in terms of both ships and men, this campaign favoured the Germans. In terms of damage inflicted and the ratio of losses in proportion to naval strength and construction, the outcome favoured the British.

Battle of Jutland Map

In terms of the strategic outcome, the odds much more clearly favoured the British. By August 1916, they had effectively achieved their final goal in the North Sea: securing the British East Coast from further German capital ship raids (the first three goals had been to establish the distant blockade, secure the cross-channel convoy routes from interference by the heavy units of the High Seas Fleet, and preclude the HSF from preventing British minelaying in the Heligoland Bight, bombarding the coast of occupied Flanders, and mounting ship-launched air raids on the German North Sea coast).

Admiral of the Fleet David Richard Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty, GCB, OM, GCVO, DSO, PC, (17 January 1871 – 12 March 1936)

Despite their reverse at Dogger Bank, the HSF (under von Pohl) had been relatively active in the southern North Sea for the rest of 1915, with major sweeps to the west from Heligoland.

After von Pohl was forced to yield command in early 1916, Scheer pursued this same strategy, but with rather lively consequences for both sides.

Reinhardt Scheer (1863-1928) commanded the German High Seas Fleet at the Battle of Jutland and subsequently headed the Naval Supreme Command in 1918 until his dismissal by the Kaiser shortly before the war’s end.

The four actions I referred to were:

1: March 24; the British seaplane raid on Tondern.

2: April 24-25; the German battlecruiser raid on Lowestoft, Gorleston and Great Yarmouth.*

The German fleet sent a battlecruiser squadron with accompanying cruisers and destroyers, commanded by Rear Admiral Friedrich Boedicker, to bombard the coastal ports of Yarmouth and Lowestoft. Although the ports had some military importance, the main aim of the raid was to entice defending ships to sail, which could then be picked off, either by the battlecruiser squadron or by the full High Seas Fleet, which was stationed at sea ready to intervene. The result was inconclusive: nearby British forces were too small to challenge the German force and largely kept clear of the German battlecruisers, the German ships withdrew before the British fast response battlecruiser squadron or the Grand Fleet could arrive.

3: May 31-June 1; Jutland.

4: August 19; the abortive German raid on Sunderland.

On the first occasion, Scheer missed a golden opportunity (as von Ingenhohl had on a separate occasion off the Hartlepools in December of 1914), to trap and destroy an inferior force of British capital ships standing by the crippled light cruisers Cleopatra and Undaunted.

Although inferior in strength to the combined HSF, the loss of these ships, even to severe damage, would have erased Jellicoe’s numerical superiority over his adversary.

John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe
Former Governor-General of New Zealand
Admiral of the Fleet John Rushworth Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe, GCB, OM, GCVO, SGM, DL was a Royal Navy officer. He fought in the Anglo-Egyptian War and the Boxer Rebellion and commanded the Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland in May 1916 during the First World War.

On the second occasion, the British unwittingly demonstrated the need for flotilla tactics to be centrally directed and co-ordinated, with the actions of the British forces off Great Yarmouth cancelling each other out and possibly saving the 1st Scouting Group from steaming straight into a devastating ambush within sight of the Norfolk coast.

Jutland is much tilled soil; the August operations demonstrate the importance of chance in warfare and the need for command structures to have contingencies to prevent the roll of the dice deciding the course of the war.

Nevertheless, Scheer had had a severe fright, and the Germans never returned to their tactic of tip-and-run raids, nor did they push that far into the North Sea again in such strength until April 1918.

For all the debates over these actions, the British learned that they had lessons to learn (itself an important step), and the Germans learned, at all levels, an excessive and potentially corrosive caution.

Jutland by Hadrian Jeffs

Edited by Abhinav Raghunathan & Alexander Fleiss