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)

31/5/1916 Jutland: “There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today”

The German fleet puts to sea, hoping to catch a portion of the British fleet at a disadvantage. Unfortunately for the Germans, the British have cracked their radio code and know that something is up. The entire British fleet is also out in the North Sea. The British fleet is considerably larger than the German; in a straight fight between the two, the Germans would face destruction.

The overall British commander is Admiral Jellicoe. He is cautious, knowing that if his fleet is defeated it could hand victory in the war to the enemy. But Admiral Beatty, his subordinate and the commander of the British battlecruiser squadron, is more daring. He dreams of a glorious victory like that of Nelson at Trafalgar, one that would eliminate the threat posed by the German fleet.

North west of Jutland, a British cruiser encounters the German battlecruiser squadron. Beatty’s squadron raises full steam and races to engage the Germans, leaving behind the rest of the British ships. The German battlecruisers retreat before Beatty’s superior force. A race south then ensues, with the two squadron’s trading fire as they go. German gunnery appears to be superior. “There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today”, Beatty exclaims, when enemy shells cause a second of his battlecruisers to explode.

Then Beatty’s squadron finds that the German battlecruisers have led them to the main German fleet. Rather than face battle on disadvantageous terms. Beatty orders his ships to make an about turn. The Germans chase him northwards, not realising that they are rushing towards the massed guns of Jellicoe’s dreadnoughts.

image sources:

HMS Queen Mary explodes (Wikipedia)

David Beatty (Wikipedia)

Battlecruiser action (Wikipedia)

30/5/1916 Admiral Scheer prepares to sail into a trap

Britain remains the world’s pre-eminent naval power. The Royal Navy enforces a blockade of Germany that is strangling the enemy’s industry and making its people increasingly go hungry.

Germany also has a substantial navy, albeit smaller than the British. It is commanded by Admiral Scheer. He hopes to find a way of defeating the larger British fleet. If Britain were to lose its naval dominance then Germany would surely win the war, as the blockade would be at an end and Britain itself could be invaded.

The German fleet makes ready to set sail tomorrow. Scheer has a plan in mind. His battlecruiser squadron will patrol aggressively, attacking British shipping to the north west of Jutland. The expectation is that British battlecruisers will respond, whereupon the German will sail south, to draw the British towards the waiting guns of the main German fleet.

Unfortunately for the Scheer, the British have cracked the radio code used by the German navy. They intercept a signal revealing that a major operation will take place tomorrow. Though they do not know the details of Scheer’s plan, or even how many of his ships will be setting sail, they decide that their own fleet will head out to the North Sea tomorrow to block whatever the Germans are up to. The stage is thus set for the greatest naval clash in human history.

image source:

Reinhard Scheer (Lexikon Erster Weltkrieg)