World War I: Battle of Jutland

Clash of the Dreadnoughts

Battle of Jutland
HMS Lion is hit during the Battle of Jutland. Public Domain

Battle of Jutland - Conflict & Dates

The Battle of Jutland was fought May 31-June 1, 1916, and was the largest naval battle of World War I (1914-1918).

Fleets & Commanders

Royal Navy

Kaiserliche Marine

  • 16 battleships, 5 battlecruisers, 6 pre-dreadnoughts, 11 light cruisers, 61 torpedo boats

Battle of Jutland - German Intentions:

With the Allied blockade increasingly taking a toll on the German war effort, the Kaiserliche Marine began devising plans to bring the Royal Navy to battle. Outnumbered in battleships and battlecruisers, the commander of the High Seas Fleet, Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer, hoped to lure part of the British fleet to its doom with the goal of evening the numbers for a larger engagement at a later date. To accomplish this, Scheer intended to have Vice Admiral Franz Hipper's scouting force of battlecruisers raid the English coast to draw out Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty's Battlecruiser Fleet.

Hipper would then retire, leading the pursuing Beatty towards the High Seas Fleet which would destroy the British ships. To support the operation, submarines would be deployed to weaken Beatty's forces while also watching Admiral Sir John Jellicoe's main Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow.

Unknown to Scheer, the British codebreakers at Room 40 had broken the German naval codes and were aware that a major operation was in the offing. Unaware of Scheer's intentions, Jellicoe sortied with 24 battleships and three battlecruisers on May 30, 1916, and took up a blocking position ninety miles west of Jutland.

Battle of Jutland - The Fleets Put to Sea:

Jellicoe's departure was followed later that day by Hipper who left the Jade Estuary with five battlecruisers. Able to move faster than his superior, Beatty sailed from the Firth of Forth early on May 31 with six battlecruisers and the four fast battleships of the Fifth Battle Squadron. Leaving after Hipper, Scheer put to sea on May 31 with sixteen battleships and six pre-dreadnoughts. In all cases, each formation was accompanied by a host of armored and light cruisers, destroyers, and torpedo boats. As the British moved into position, the German u-boat screen proved ineffective and played no role.

Battle of Jutland - The Battlecruisers Collide:

As the fleets moved towards each other, a communications error led Jellicoe to believe that Scheer was still in port. While he held his position, Beatty steamed east and received reports from his scouts at 2:20 PM of enemy ships to the southeast. Eight minutes later, the first shots of the battle occurred as British light cruisers encountered German destroyers. Turning towards the action, Beatty's signal to Rear Admiral Sir Hugh Evan-Thomas was missed and a ten-mile gap opened between the battlecruisers and the Fifth Battle Squadron before the battleships corrected their course.

This gap prevented Beatty from having a crushing advantage in firepower in the coming engagement. At 3:22 PM, Hipper, moving northwest, spotted Beatty's approaching ships. Turning southeast to lead the British towards Scheer's battleships, Hipper was sighted eight minutes later. Racing forward, Beatty squandered an advantage in range and failed to immediately form his ships for battle. At 3:48 PM, with both squadrons in parallel lines, Hipper opened fire. In the ensuing "Run to the South," Hipper's battlecruisers got the better of the action.

Due to another British signaling error, the battlecruiser Derfflinger was left uncovered and fired with impunity. At 4:00 PM, Beatty's flagship HMS Lion took a near fatal hit, while two minutes later HMS Indefatigable exploded and sank. Its loss was followed twenty minutes later when HMS Queen Mary met a similar fate.

Though scoring hits on the German ships, Beatty's battlecruisers failed to score any kills. Alerted to the approach of Scheer's battleships shortly after 4:30 PM, Beatty quickly reversed course and began running to the northwest.

Battle of Jutland - The Run to the North:

Passing Evan-Thomas's battleships, Beatty again had signal difficulties which hampered the Fifth Battle Squadron's turn. As the battered battlecruisers withdrew, the battleships fought a running rear-guard action with the High Seas Fleet. Moving to Beatty's aid, Jellicoe sent forward Rear Admiral Horace Hood's Third Battlecruiser Squadron while attempting to obtain information about Scheer's position and heading. As Beatty ran north, his ships hammered at Hipper, forcing him to turn south and join Scheer. Around 6:00 PM, Beatty joined Jellicoe as the commander debated which way to deploy the fleet.

Battle of Jutland - The Dreadnoughts Clash:

Deploying to the east of Scheer, Jellicoe put the fleet in position to cross Scheer's T and have superior visibility as the sun began to set. As the Grand Fleet moved into line of battle, there was a flurry of activity as the smaller vessels raced into position, earning the area the name "Windy Corner." With Jellicoe forming the fleet, the action was renewed when two British cruisers came under fire from the Germans. While one was sunk, the other was badly damaged but was inadvertently saved by HMS Warspite whose steering gear overheated causing it to circle and draw German fire.

Approaching the British, Hipper again clashed with the battlecruisers, including Hood's fresh ships. Taking heavy damage, he was forced to abandon his flagship SMS Lutzow, but not before his ships sank HMS Invincible, killing Hood. At 6:30 PM the main fleet action began with Scheer stunned to find Jellicoe's battleships crossing his T. His lead ships under intense fire from the British line, Scheer averted disaster by ordering an emergency maneuver known as Gefechtskehrtwendung (battle about turn to starboard) which saw each ship reverse course by turning 180-degrees.

Knowing that he could not win a stern chase and with too much light remaining to escape, Scheer turned back towards the British at 6:55 PM.

At 7:15 PM, Jellicoe again crossed the German T with his battleships hammering SMS Konig, SMS Grosser Kurfürst, SMS Markgraf, and SMS Kaiser of Scheer's lead division. Under intense fire, Scheer was forced to order another battle about turn. To cover his withdrawal, he ordered a mass destroyer attack on the British line, along with an sending his battlecruisers forward. Meeting brutal fire from Jellicoe's fleet, the battlecruisers took heavy damage as Scheer laid a smoke screen and retreated. As the battlecruisers limped away, the destroyers commenced torpedo attacks. Turning away from the assault, the British battleships escaped unscathed, however it cost Jellicoe valuable time and daylight.

Battle of Jutland - Night Action:

As darkness fell, Beatty's remaining battlecruisers exchanged final shots with the Germans around 8:20 PM and scored several hits on SMS Seydlitz.

Aware of German superiority in night fighting, Jellicoe sought to avoid renewing the battle until dawn. Cruising south, he intended to block Scheer's most likely escape route back to the Jade. Anticipating Jellicoe's move, Scheer slowed and crossed the Grand Fleet's wake during the night. Fighting through a screen of light vessels, Scheer's ships engaged in a series of chaotic night battles.

In these fights, the British lost the cruiser HMS Black Prince and several destroyers to enemy fire and collisions. Scheer's fleet saw the loss of the pre-dreadnought SMS Pommern, a light cruiser, and several destroyers. Though Scheer's battleships were sighted several times, Jellicoe was never alerted and the Grand Fleet continued sailing south. At 11:15 PM, the British commander did receive an accurate message containing the German location and heading, but due to a series of faulty intelligence reports earlier in the day, it was disregarded. It was not until 4:15 AM on June 1, that Jellicoe was alerted to the German's true position by which point he was too far away to resume the battle.

Battle of Jutland - Aftermath:

At Jutland, the British lost 3 battlecruisers, 3 armored cruisers, and 8 destroyers, as well as 6,094 killed, 510 wounded, and 177 captured. German losses numbered 1 pre-dreadnought, 1 battlecruiser, 5 light cruisers, 6 destroyers, and 1 submarine. Casualties were listed as 2,551 killed and 507 wounded. In the wake of the battle, both sides claimed victory. While the Germans succeeded in sinking more tonnage and inflicting higher casualties, the battle itself resulted in a strategic victory for the British.

Though the public had sought a triumph similar to Trafalgar, the German efforts at Jutland failed to break the blockade or significantly reduce the Royal Navy's numerical advantage in capital ships. Also, the result led to the High Seas Fleet effectively remaining in port for the remainder of the war as the Kaiserliche Marine turned its focus to submarine warfare.

While both Jellicoe and Beatty were criticized for their performance at Jutland, the battle did lead to several changes in the Royal Navy. Determining that the loss in battlecruisers was largely due to shell handing procedures, changes were made to ensure a higher degree of safety. Also improvements were made to gunnery practices, signaling, and the Fleet Standing Orders.

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    Hickman, Kennedy. "World War I: Battle of Jutland." ThoughtCo, Jan. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/battle-of-jutland-2361383. Hickman, Kennedy. (2017, January 3). World War I: Battle of Jutland. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/battle-of-jutland-2361383 Hickman, Kennedy. "World War I: Battle of Jutland." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/battle-of-jutland-2361383 (accessed April 21, 2018).