Day of the Dreadnoughts: Battle of Jutland

niall78

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I think the High Seas Fleet deserves great credit.

For example, it took 23 hits to sink the dreadnought Lutzow, and even then it was scuttled in case the British captured it.

Indefatigable and Queen Mary blew up after a few hits because of the catastrophic ammunition storage errors.

It used to be said that German gunnery was more accurate because of superior optical equipment, but I am not so sure. I saw somewhere the proportion of hits to shells fired, and the British rate was lower, but not significantly so. The main British negatives came from Beatty and his squadron.

But it was a "typically German" military performance - thoroughly professional and highly competent, but not enough to make up for the lack in numbers, or the cracking of their codes by the British.

When Lutzow was scuttled, some men were still trapped below decks and had to be abandoned. The last men to leave the ship could hear them singing as they awaited death. You have to salute that type of courage, not matter what country
The Germans had their own ammunition issues during the Battle of the Dodder Bank where they nearly lost the Seydlitz to a turret casement hit and fire. Again a turret officer just saved the ship by flooding the turret and magazine. After that they tightened up their cordite handling.

I think the handling of the High Seas Fleet was amazing. The escape is one of the most amazing breaking from contact manoeuvres in the history of naval warfare. The actions of the German Scouting Squadron are also amazing - especially in the escape - where the battered German battle cruisers went at the main British line to gain their main fleet time to disengage. Near suicidal bravery.

Neither their undoubted bravery, their tactical brilliance or the technical greatness of their ships masks the fact that Jutland ended any real threat to Britain's control of the sea. A fact that ultimately helped doom Germany. In the end the German Fleet was one massive white elephant.
 


niall78

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I hope all of us here assembled acknowledge Robert K Massie, whose two books are (I assume) still definitive:
The relevant sections are Chapters 30 to 34 of the second book.

[I have a .pdf of that text, so could extract for anyone who sends an email to mredfellow "at" gmail dot com.]
Both are good.

I've got The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command by Andrew Gordon. Just dipping into it at the moment but looks another good read.

Castles of Steel is a great book for those who might normally find military history a bit bland.
 

niall78

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I think the British embarrassment and frustration in the aftermath tells its own story.

No one in Britain called it a "strategic victory" in the months after the battle. We can say so only with hindsight.

At the time, anything short of a smashing victory was a severe blow to British morale. Having taken on the Grand Fleet, doing it some damage, and escaping was a corresponding boost to German morale.

That faded in time, but contemporaries saw it as a German victory.
They British lost the propaganda battle - little else. Jellicoe should have issued a press realise the next day saying he'd chased the Germans back to port - which he did.

In many ways the propaganda war was lost because Jellicoe held the field the next day while the Germans were in port reporting their great 'victory' to their own press. Reports of which went all over the world before the British could even frame a response.
 

owedtojoy

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They British lost the propaganda battle - little else. Jellicoe should have issued a press realise the next day saying he'd chased the Germans back to port - which he did.

In many ways the propaganda war was lost because Jellicoe held the field the next day while the Germans were in port reporting their great 'victory' to their own press. Reports of which went all over the world before the British could even frame a response.
The point is that he was probably too honest to say so.

I think the British felt that the pill could not be sugar-coated, and losing 3 dreadnoughts to 1 could not be dressed up as a victory.
 

niall78

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The point is that he was probably too honest to say so.

I think the British felt that the pill could not be sugar-coated, and losing 3 dreadnoughts to 1 could not be dressed up as a victory.
No dreadnoughts were lost on either side. The British did lose three battle cruisers to the Germans one although again the ships they lost in no way changed anything. Even though all but one of the German battle cruisers made it back to port they were so shot-up they were unusable for the best part of a year. Jellicoe just didn't understand modern propaganda.
 

Diawlbach

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The German's faced a superior force, inflicted heavier loses of ships and men and survived to (not) fight another day. Imho that was a tactical victory however it changed nothing strategically.
You do not inflict a tactical defeat by running.

And that's what the Germans did - rightly. Jellicoe crossed their T twice. They had to run, or be annihilated. Smaller German ships were sent on a death-ride to screen the German dreadnoughts fleeing.

It was a British victory. If Beatty had done his job, it would have been a second Trafalgar.
 

owedtojoy

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No dreadnoughts were lost on either side. The British did lose three battle cruisers to the Germans one although again the ships they lost in no way changed anything. Even though all but one of the German battle cruisers made it back to port they were so shot-up they were unusable for the best part of a year. Jellicoe just didn't understand modern propaganda.
The distinction is academic - battlecruisers were battleships with less armour to make them faster.

I could have said "capital ships".

Losing capital ships 3 to 1 made it impossible for the British to gild Jutland as a victory.
 

between the bridges

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Wreaths will be laid to mark the huge loss of life during the battle, in which men from Great Britain were killed along with those drawn from Ireland (which was at that stage still unified).


A German admiral is set to be one of the guests today, as well as senior political figures from both sides of the border and other VIPs.

Read more: Warship which survived Jutland to be opened in Belfast - Belfast Newsletter
 

owedtojoy

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You do not inflict a tactical defeat by running.

And that's what the Germans did - rightly. Jellicoe crossed their T twice. They had to run, or be annihilated. Smaller German ships were sent on a death-ride to screen the German dreadnoughts fleeing.

It was a British victory. If Beatty had done his job, it would have been a second Trafalgar.
I agree "If Beatty had done his job". But he didn't.

I look upon Jutland like one of the inconclusive battle Grant fought against Robert E. Lee in 1864, like The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and Petersburg. In each one Grant suffered more losses than Lee, and at the end of the battle Lee was able to withdraw to new defensive lines.

They were not "victories" for Grant, and the Union did not present them as such. But they pointed the way towards the inevitable end.

Jutland was not a victory for Britain, but it was not a total defeat either, and maybe that is what mattered. Jellicoe could have lost the war in an afternoon, but didn't.
 

Malcolm Redfellow

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There were some essential problems that precluded a total British victory:
  • less-than-adequate ranging and fire-direction;
  • poor communications between ships;
  • shells which weren't sufficiently "armour-piercing".
The German advantages were:
  • ships designed specifically for North Sea conditions, rather than a world-wide deep-sea commitment;
  • most of the action was late afternoon, with the British caught against a declining sun.
A crude count makes Scheer's High Seas Fleet victors on the day: 2,115 men lost, the battleship Pommern, the battle-cruiser Lutzow, light cruisers Elbing, Wiesbaden, Rostock and Frauenlob, together with the torpedo boats V4, V27, V29, S35 and V28. That compares with British losses of 6,095 officers and men killed, three battle-cruisers — Invincible, Indefatigable and Queen Mary — together with three armoured cruisers (who had no proper place in an action of this type): Defence, Warrior and Black Prince. The torpedo attacks were remarkably hit-and-miss (when co-ordination would have made them far more effective), and involved destroyer losses of Tipperary, Ardent, Fortune, Nestor, Nomad, Shark, Sparrowhawk and Turbulent.

Daniel G Ridley-Kitts: The Grand Fleet, The Royal Navy in the First World War (page 146) sums this up — and note the second of these paragraphs:
On balance it could be construed that, as the Germans claimed on reaching port before the British, that they had won a famous victory and this is how it appeared to the neutral nations. But the Grand Fleet had come within an ace of annihilating the High Seas Fleet, a fact that Admiral Scheer was only too conscious of, knowing that luck had been his greatest ally on that fateful day and that the Royal Navy still had command of the seas.

The day after the battle, Admiral Jellicoe could report that the Grand Fleet was ready for sea in 24 hours, as opposed to the several months required for the High Seas Fleet to repair their damage.

To say the British were disappointed with the results would be an understatement, and most of the odium for failing to destroy the German fleet fell on Jellicoe. By November 1916 he had been removed from command of the Grand Fleet and in a sideways promotion was appointed as First Sea Lord, while command of the fleet went to the more popular commander, at least in the public’s opinion, the dashing Sir David Beatty.
 

Calvin J. Hamilton

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I wonder if Jutland had been a complete German victory [ I believe it was a nil all draw with Britain getting the upper hand on the Jerrys]

Would there have been an attempted German invasion of Britain
 

niall78

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I wonder if Jutland had been a complete German victory [ I believe it was a nil all draw with Britain getting the upper hand on the Jerrys]

Would there have been an attempted German invasion of Britain
There would have been no invasion. Just a reversal of what happened to Germany. Slow starvation of both population and industry.
 

Diawlbach

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I agree "If Beatty had done his job". But he didn't.

I look upon Jutland like one of the inconclusive battle Grant fought against Robert E. Lee in 1864, like The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and Petersburg. In each one Grant suffered more losses than Lee, and at the end of the battle Lee was able to withdraw to new defensive lines.

They were not "victories" for Grant, and the Union did not present them as such. But they pointed the way towards the inevitable end.

Jutland was not a victory for Britain, but it was not a total defeat either, and maybe that is what mattered. Jellicoe could have lost the war in an afternoon, but didn't.
See, I would say they were victories for the Union. Grant just kept going, punching Lee back into siege lines he never escaped, inflicting losses Grant could replace but Lee couldn't and ensuring the war was lost.

The German aim was to inflict enough damage on the Grand Fleet that they could escape into blue water again. They failed and got stuck in port more than before. The RN aim was to keep and tighten the blockade and, if possible, annihilate the High Seas Fleet. It achieved the first and would have achieved the second had the Germans not run. If you achieve more of your aims while preventing them achieving any, it's a victory.

An interesting contrast is the Glorious First of June. The RN AND French considered it a victory; the first because they inflicted damage on warships, the French because they achieved their aim of fighting the grain ships through. Each, from their own perspective, was right.
 

niall78

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The distinction is academic - battlecruisers were battleships with less armour to make them faster.

I could have said "capital ships".

Losing capital ships 3 to 1 made it impossible for the British to gild Jutland as a victory.
Battle cruisers had less armour but also weaker guns. In a one on one duel with a larger dreadnought a battle cruiser mightn't get a hit on a dreadnought before being sunk. They were a much weaker ship. The strength of the fleets rested on their big gun dreadnoughts. The 'scouts' despite their prominance in the action were of much lesser importance. Especially two of the three the British lost - first of their classes there is debate that they were reaching obsolescence themselves.

The only victory - apart from raw numbers - that could be claimed for Germany is a propaganda one. Even that didn't last long when people worldwide realised the British still held the North Sea and Germany was still bottled-up in her ports behind minefields.

Germany never challenged the balance of power at sea with her surface fleet again during the First World War after the Battle of Jutland. In my opinion it is probably one of the biggest tactical and strategical victories for Britain during the war. It was war winning. Germany starved and surrendered ultimately because of this victory.
 

niall78

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See, I would say they were victories for the Union. Grant just kept going, punching Lee back into siege lines he never escaped, inflicting losses Grant could replace but Lee couldn't and ensuring the war was lost.
I'd agree. War is always about resources. Whoever reaches the end of their resources losses the war. By this stage of the American Civil War both Grant and Sherman realised this and ground the Confederacy to bits in numerous engagements fought at breakneck speed. In the cold arithmetic of war it didn't matter how many were killed after each of these battles just how many you had ready for the next battle. The Union's manpower was rising the Confederates plummeting.

Numbers killed in a tactical battle give no clue as to the actual result of that battle. In fact great victories sometimes incur incredible loss ratios compared to your enemy.
 

Diawlbach

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I'd agree. War is always about resources. Whoever reaches the end of their resources losses the war. By this stage of the American Civil War both Grant and Sherman realised this and ground the Confederacy to bits in numerous engagements fought at breakneck speed. In the cold arithmetic of war it didn't matter how many were killed after each of these battles just how many you had ready for the next battle. The Union's manpower was rising the Confederates plummeting.

Numbers killed in a tactical battle give no clue as to the actual result of that battle. In fact great victories sometimes incur incredible loss ratios compared to your enemy.
The ratio of needing three attackers to one defender comes to mind.
 

Diawlbach

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Battle cruisers had less armour but also weaker guns. In a one on one duel with a larger dreadnought a battle cruiser mightn't get a hit on a dreadnought before being sunk. They were a much weaker ship. The strength of the fleets rested on their big gun dreadnoughts. The 'scouts' despite their prominance in the action were of much lesser importance. Especially two of the three the British lost - first of their classes there is debate that they were reaching obsolescence themselves.

The only victory - apart from raw numbers - that could be claimed for Germany is a propaganda one. Even that didn't last long when people worldwide realised the British still held the North Sea and Germany was still bottled-up in her ports behind minefields.

Germany never challenged the balance of power at sea with her surface fleet again during the First World War after the Battle of Jutland. In my opinion it is probably one of the biggest tactical and strategical victories for Britain during the war. It was war winning. Germany starved and surrendered ultimately because of this victory.
Jutland starved Germany; defeating submarine warfare by convoys in a war run from Cobh ensured Germany couldn't starve Britain.
 

slippy wicket

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Malcolm Redfellow

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I think the British felt that the pill could not be sugar-coated, and losing 3 dreadnoughts to 1 could not be dressed up as a victory.
Which is why the German propagandists sold Jutland as "the victory of the Skaggerak".

Another way of looking at relative gains/losses is to calculate what was the immediate outcome. Because the High Seas Fleet suffered disproportionate damage (if fewer actual "losses"), the balance of available "heavy units" fell from 16 German to 28 British before Jutland to 10 to 24 after.

Jutland didn't finish the High Seas Fleet. There was the Heligoland encounter between German Dreadnoughts and British battlecruisers (17 November 1917) and the High Seas Fleet sallied forth to tart its mutton as far as southern Norway (24 April 1918).
 


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