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World War I: Battle of Jutland

Clash of the Dreadnoughts

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World War I: Battle of Jutland

HMS Lion is hit during the Battle of Jutland

Photograph Source: Public Domain

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

 
  • Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer
  • Vice Admiral Franz Hipper
  • 16 battleships, 5 battlecruisers, 6 pre-dreadnoughts, 11 light cruisers, 61 torpedo boats

German Intentions at Jutland

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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