The Battle of Jutland

Posted by Helen Monday, May 31, 2010 , ,

The Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of World War I was fought on May 31 - June 1, 1916 in the North Sea, near Jutland. Rather than commenting on it or asking Tory Historian to do so, I shall put up a brief discussion between two Conservative activists and amateur historians, who are very knowledgeable on the subject.

David Herdson describes himself as a Conservative activist, political commentator ( a weekly column with, running on Saturday mornings at the moment), with a keen interest in history. This is his brief comment on the battle:
My own view is that Jellicoe got just about all the big calls he made right (his decision on how and whether to form line of battle was spot on and he had 2 mins to call it), that his strategic understanding was correct (keep the fleet in being; deny the Germans access to the ocean), but that the fleet and Admiralty didn't perform as well as they should have done under the circumstances. Much has been made of Jellicoe's decision to break off the action in dusk but that was surely right with the technology in WWI. More should be made of how long it took to make contact in the first place.
Simon Harley is a regular reader of this blog and has commented on previous postings. He is a student at the University of Leeds and his great interest is naval history. This is his response:

My considered opinion is that Jellicoe did get it right. The Royal Navy may have lost more men and ships than the Germans, but the latter were under no illusions that they were lucky to escape. Twice Jellicoe crossed the T of the German line with his Battle Fleet, and his turn away later in the evening was the then accepted method of opposing torpedo attack. As you say, he was let down in no small part by the Admiralty and his own captains. He must be held in some measure responsible for the training of his captains, but this wasn't helped by the unusual command structure imposed on him by the Admiralty, coupled with maintaining the fleet in constant readiness for battle in Scapa Flow.

If the Imperial German Navy had been the vaunted collection of amazing ships and crews led by fantastic leaders which people seem to think it was, they would have had absolutely no qualms in seeking battle with a quantitatively superior Royal Navy. That they did not speaks volumes. As many people say, had there been another battle later in the war, it would no doubt have ended in a crushing British victory (of dubious strategic value), and Jutland would be a footnote in history, along with Dogger Bank and First Heligoland Bight. But the Germans didn't want to play.
Anyone else wants to join the discussion?


  1. Hiraeth Says:
  2. The key reason why Jutland is often seen as a German 'victory' of sorts is two-fold.
    1. Propaganda: the Germans were quick to make claims about the scale of British losses without checking facts, while the British were shy about making any claims without knowledge. This led to the German claim that they had sunk 'Warspite', one of the new 15-inch Queen Elizabeth super-dreadnoughts, when all that had actually happened was a hit to the rudder had forced her to retire.
    2. The disagreement between Beatty and Jellicoe, reflected in their various partisans after the war. Beatty's partisans felt that the action should have been pressed, although this would have resulted in greater loss of ships and life, while Jellicoe's felt that the admiral had been right to act as he did, and that while unspectacular, the Battle of Jutland had confirmed Britain's command of the seas. It seems that most modern historiography reflects the Jellicoe view, while much of the older stuff reflects that of Beatty, perhaps the more 'Death or Glory' view.

  3. Simon Harley Says:
  4. It's a shame really, regarding your point one. The Admiralty of Arthur Balfour and Admiral Sir Henry Jackson issued a very balanced and honest despatch straight after the battle and were pilloried for it. Winston Churchill was brought in to "sex up" a better version of events.

    As far as I can tell, there has not yet been what can be called the "definitive" account of Jutland. All the accounts from the British side are flawed in one way or another and tend to fail at a detail level.

    Another reason for the Germans getting such a good press is that quite frankly their actions at Jutland have received no where near the level of scrutiny that the Royal Navy has. Marder offhandedly called Hipper the "oustanding sea officer of the war", and no one has challenged his unqualified statement. Tarrant's book on "The German Perspective" was so original that it copied entire sentences of Marder in its conclusion (without attributing it). There's no full book-length biography of Scheer in English. Philbin's book on Hipper was based on his so-so doctoral thesis and there's nothing out there on the other German admirals, even in German.

    It's a sad situation. Hopefully the approaching Jutland-centenary will inspire some serious literature on the subject. God willing I might have my biography of Jellicoe done by then.

  5. Hiraeth Says:
  6. Oh, absolutely. The British actually thought telling the truth about the battle was a good idea, while the Germans made some fairly outlandish claims. Truth may often be the first casualty of war, but it seems to me that in the First World War, significant elements in the Government were determined to play a straight bat. Of course, the relevant services appear to have known what the result was, otherwise why didn't the German fleet try to force another action?

    On the German admirals, I suspect that distance lends enchantment to the view. There is the feeling that the British fleet ought to have destroyed the German fleet, thus the Germans must have been clever. In the absence of an outstanding fighting admiral, such as Cunningham in the Second World War, the tendency is to look to the Germans for this.

    I look forward to the biography of Jellicoe.

  7. Gerald Says:
  8. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

Powered by Blogger.




Blog Archive