31/5/1916 Jutland: the fleets collide

In the North Sea to the west of Jutland the British battlecruiser squadron under Admiral Beatty is running north, hotly pursued by the main German fleet. If the Germans can catch and destroy the British they will have shifted the naval balance decisively in their favour. But Beatty is leading them into a trap. The main British fleet under Admiral Jellicoe is steaming south to join the battle.

Admiral Scheer commands the German fleet. Just when he thinks he has caught up with the battlecruisers he realises the deathly danger he is in. He is sailing straight towards the main British fleet, whose ships are lined up to fire all their guns upon him. However, visibility is poor. He reacts quickly, ordering his ships to make an about turn before the British capitalise on their advantage.

In the bad light of the early evening the two fleets now bumble around, the Germans hoping to escape and the British hoping to catch them. A second time the Germans find themselves sailing towards the entire British fleet, but again they manage to about turn before they are obliterated. Finally night falls.

Under cover of darkness the Germans slip away. Jellicoe is happy to let them go, as he does not want to risk his fleet in a chaotic night action. The two fleets head for home.

The largest naval battle in history is over. British losses are greater, with over 6,000 men killed and three battlecruisers sunk, while the Germans have suffered more than 2,500 men killed and lost one battlecruiser and an obsolete battleship; both sides have lost several smaller ships. However, neither side has landed a killing blow and Britain continues to enjoy the naval dominance it had before the clash.

image sources:

HMS Invincible explodes (Wikipedia)

Battle of Jutland fleet action (Wikipedia)

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