Battle of Jutland, 31 May-1 June 1916

Battle of Jutland, 31 May-1 June 1916

Battle of Jutland, 31 May-1 June 1916

The greatest naval battle of the First World War. Jutland had all the ingredients to be a great British naval victory, but in the event the result was much less clear-cut. The recently appointed commander of the German High Seas Fleet, Reinhard Scheer, had returned to the policy of making sorties against the British coast, confident that his codes were secure, and thus that the main British battle fleet, at Scapa Flow in the north of Scotland could not intervene. However, the British could read German coded messages, and were aware of Scheer's plan. At the end of may, Scheer sortied with the entire High Seas Fleet, expected that the only serious threat he would meet was Admiral Beatty's Battlecruiser squadron based on the Forth. Unfortunately for his plan, the Royal Navy knew he was coming, and the Grand Fleet sailed only minutes after the High Seas Fleet.

Both fleets sailed in a similar formation, with a scouting squadron of battlecruisers sailing ahead of the main battle fleets. The battle falls into five main phases. The first came when Admiral Beatty, commanding the British battle cruisers encountered their weaker German equivalent under Admiral Hipper, (31 May) and chased them south towards the main German fleet. The second phase saw Beatty flee north, pursued by the German Dreadnoughts. So far, both sides thought the battle was going to plan, although a design flaw led to the destruction of two British battle cruisers. Now, in the third phase the Germans got a nasty surprise. Thinking themselves involved in a chase that would end with the destruction of the British battlecruisers, they found themselves under bombardment from Jellicoe's battlefleet, which they had thought to be too far north to intervene. The heavy British guns quickly forced Scheer to order a retreat, but then Scheer made what could have turned into a grievous error, turning back, possibly hoping to pass behind Jellicoe, and escape into the Baltic. However, Jellicoe had slowed down, and the German fleet found themselves crossing in front of the British fleet, and in ten minutes of gunfire suffered 27 heavy hits while only inflicted two. Once again, Scheer ordered a retreat. Finally, in the last phase of the battle, in a night of intense fighting, the retreat of the German battleships was covered by their lighter ships, while Jellicoe lost time after turning to avoid a potential torpedo attack. The Germans lost one battlecruiser, one pre-Dreadnought, four light cruisers and five destroyers, while the British lost three battlecruisers, four armoured cruisers, and eight destroyers. However, many of the surviving German heavy ships had suffered serious damage, and one result of the battle was to increase the British dominance in heavy ships.

Jutland was the last, and largest, of the great battleship battles. Neither submarines or aircraft played any part in the battle, despite the plans of both sides. Never again did battle fleets meet again in such numbers. While the Royal Navy suffered more losses, the battle effectively ended any threat from the High Seas Fleet, which now knew it could not contest control of the North Sea with the Royal Navy. The great fleet which Kaiser Wilhelm II had been obsessed with, and which had done so much to sour relations between Britain and Germany had proved to be a blunted weapon. Despite that, the battle disappointed in Britain, where news of a new Trafalgar had been expected, and the hard fought draw at Jutland was not appreciated until much later, while the Kaiser claimed a German victory.

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Over 36 hours, one brutal day and night in 1916, around 100,000 British and German sailors in 250 warships fought for control of the North Sea. By the end, 25 ships had been sunk and more than 8,500 men had lost their lives.

The dreadnought

The British, inspired by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir John ‘Jackie’ Fisher, launched the innovative battleship HMS Dreadnought, which was faster, with better armour and heavier guns, than anything else afloat. At the same time he developed a new type of ship, the battlecruiser, with heavy guns but light armour to allow exceptional speed. Both the British and German battle fleets were immediately out of date.

In the subsequent arms race to build dreadnoughts, as the new battleships became known, Britain remained ahead, despite Germany’s defence budget increasing by 142 per cent.

When Britain declared war on 4 August 1914 the British Grand Fleet had 28 dreadnoughts and nine battlecruisers. The German High Seas Fleet had 16 dreadnoughts and five battlecruisers.

The British Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, knew that the naval situation favoured the British. His position was further enhanced by a civilian codebreaking team in London known as ‘Room 40’. The first two years of war saw little more than skirmishes in the North Sea, including German bombardments of British coastal towns, and the battles of Heligoland Bight (August 1914) and Dogger Bank (January 1915).

The German plan

In January 1916 Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer took command of the High Seas Fleet. Scheer persuaded the Kaiser to let him use the fleet more aggressively, and devised a plan to provoke the British into making a mistake.

Vice Admiral Franz von Hipper’s German battlecruisers were ordered to attack British convoys of merchant ships heading to neutral Norway. Scheer expected Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty, the Commander of the Grand Fleet’s Battlecruiser Squadron based at Rosyth, to engage Hipper, and be joined later by Jellicoe from Scapa Flow. German submarines would ambush the emerging fleets, and Hipper would engage Beatty and lure him towards the main High Seas Fleet. Destroying Beatty’s force first would give the Germans equality in numbers when they fought Jellicoe.

First contact

First contact was at 14:28 when HMS Galatea, a British scouting cruiser, spotted some of Hipper’s ships. The battle had begun.

The Germans fired first. One shell penetrated ‘Q’ turret of HMS Lion, Beatty’s flagship, causing a lethal fire. Royal Marine Major Francis Harvey, although mortally wounded, gave the order to flood the magazine and saved Lion. He was later awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. At 16:02 two salvoes struck HMS Indefatigable, which blew up in a magazine explosion. Twenty minutes later HMS Queen Mary, straddled by German fire, also rolled over and exploded.

At 16:33 Beatty spotted Scheer’s High Seas Fleet ahead of him and turned his ships back north towards Jellicoe.

Hoping to destroy Beatty’s battlecruisers, Scheer and the High Seas Fleet pursued them north. Each ship was exposed to heavy German fire, however, the superdreadnoughts’ armour protected the vital parts of each ship and they continued to inflict serious damage on the pursuing German battlecruisers.

To the north at 18:14 Jellicoe deployed into ‘line to port’, the best position to ‘cross the T’ of the enemy. This would allow his battleships to bring all their guns to bear on the Germans, while receiving fire from only their forward guns.

Nevertheless, this left Jellicoe’s screen of old armoured cruisers in a very dangerous forward position, trapped between the two battle lines. HMS Defence was quickly destroyed, HMS Warrior was badly damaged, and HMS Black Prince became separated and lost.


At 18:34 a shell penetrated the midships turret of Hood’s flagship HMS Invincible. The flash raced down into the magazines below and her midships section disappeared in a huge explosion, taking Hood and over a thousand men with her.

Facing the entire Grand Fleet and heavily outgunned, this was exactly the one-sided battle Scheer had wanted to avoid, and, after a brief, intense firefight, he turned his fleet away.

He ordered a carefully rehearsed escape manoeuvre – the ‘Gefechtskehrtwendung nach Steuerbord’ or ‘battle turn to starboard’ – and the German fleet disappeared into the mist. But minutes later Scheer emerged to face his enemy again. He later said that he was trying to rescue a badly damaged light cruiser, the Wiesbaden, but as the Germans came under fire again, he realised this was a mistake.

Eighteen British battleships fired on the German battlecruisers, while only seven fired at the main German fleet as it turned away again. In the meantime, Jellicoe himself turned away in response to the German torpedo attack.

At 20:19 darkness fell and the fleets parted.

The British were poorly prepared for night fighting and five of their destroyers were sunk. The armoured cruiser Black Prince, out of contact for hours, strayed into the German line and was blown apart in four minutes. The Germans lost three damaged light cruisers and the old battleship Pommern, sunk in the only coordinated British torpedo attack at 02:10.

The German fleet escaped, although Hipper’s wrecked flagship Lützow was scuttled by her own crew at 01:00.

Who won?

Both sides claimed victory. The Germans returned to port first and Scheer was quick to tell his side of the story. Newspapers announced a German victory. Meanwhile, the Grand Fleet made for home, burying its dead along the way.

But strategically the British were the clear winners. The Grand Fleet was ready for action again the next day. The Germans had failed to destroy it, and were so badly shaken by the weight of the British response that they never again seriously challenged British control of the North Sea.

‘… a naval action on a scale unprecedented in history and deeds of individual valour that may have been equalled before but have never been surpassed …’

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.

The clash of fleets

By 1:30 pm on May 31, the rival fleets were approaching each other, but each was unaware of the other’s presence. The High Seas Fleet had rigidly adhered to Scheer’s plan, though Hipper was as yet uncertain whether his scouting group had lured Beatty’s fleet across the North Sea.

For their part, the British were inclined to believe that another fruitless sweep to find the Germans had taken place and that they would soon return to their respective bases. The call sign of the German flagship was, in fact, still being heard from the Jadebusen. Jellicoe, unaware that the transference of this call from ship to shore was a normal practice when the High Seas Fleet put to sea, believed that the main body of that fleet was still in German waters. Beatty’s battle cruisers, with the 5th Battle Squadron in attendance 5 miles (8 km) astern, were reaching the eastern limit of their sweep and would soon turn northward to meet Jellicoe’s force at the rendezvous point. It was a clear, calm spring day. At 2:15 pm the turn commenced, a light-cruiser screen spreading out between the heavy ships and the Helgoland Bight.

Just before 2:00 pm the light cruiser Elbing, on the western flank of the German scouting group, sighted the smoke of a small Danish steamer, the N.J. Fjord, on the horizon to the west. Two torpedo boats were dispatched to investigate. Roughly 10 minutes later, Commodore E.S. Alexander-Sinclair, commanding the British 1st Light Cruiser Squadron aboard the Galatea, also saw the Danish ship and steamed off to investigate, accompanied by the light cruiser Phaeton. At 2:20 pm , the cause of their meeting forgotten, both forces were signaling “Enemy in sight,” and at 2:28 pm the Galatea fired the first shots of the Battle of Jutland.

This chance meeting was extremely fortunate for the Germans, for Jellicoe’s battle squadrons were still 65 miles (105 km) to the north. Had the N.J. Fjord not attracted so much attention, Hipper’s scouting group would inevitably have led the High Seas Fleet toward the Grand Fleet when the latter was fully concentrated under Jellicoe’s command. As it was, the British trap was sprung prematurely.

On receipt of the signals from their light cruisers, both Beatty and Hipper turned and raced toward the sound of gunfire, and at 3:20 pm the two opposing lines of battle cruisers were in sight of each other, maneuvering for position. At 3:48 pm Hipper’s flagship, the Lützow, opened fire, which was promptly returned, but during the next 20 minutes the British line suffered severely: the Lion, the Princess Royal, and the Tiger were hit repeatedly, and the Indefatigable, caught by two salvoes from the Von der Tann, capsized and sank. The 5th Battle Squadron (left behind by the faster battle cruisers) now joined the British line, and its heavy guns caused such damage to Hipper’s battle cruisers that the German torpedo-boat screen moved in to launch a torpedo attack. At this moment another British battle cruiser, the Queen Mary, blew up with a shattering explosion, having been hit in a main magazine.

While this action was in progress, British Commodore W.E. Goodenough’s 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron was patrolling south of Beatty’s main force, and at about 4:40 pm Goodenough reported having sighted the main body of the High Seas Fleet. Beatty immediately withdrew northward to lure the enemy toward the rest of the Grand Fleet, the 5th Battle Squadron covering the withdrawal.

To Jellicoe, Goodenough’s signal came as an illuminating surprise, but, unfortunately, it was not sufficiently detailed. Some 40 miles (64 km) still separated him from Beatty’s battle cruisers—and how much farther away was the main enemy force? Jellicoe’s battleships, steaming in six columns abeam of each other, would need to be deployed in one line before action. Both the method and the moment of deployment were matters of vital importance, and the admiral could make no decision on them until he knew the enemy’s position and course.

Just before 6:00 pm Jellicoe sighted Beatty’s battle cruisers, now augmented by the 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron under Rear Adm. Horace Hood. Visibility was rapidly worsening, however, and it was 6:14 pm before Jellicoe received a reply to his urgent signal “Where is the enemy battle fleet?” Twenty seconds later he ordered his main battle fleet to deploy on the port wing division, thus giving the British the benefit of what light remained and also cutting the line of Scheer’s retreat. It was the most vital decision of the battle, and it was taken not a moment too soon. As the last battleship turned into line, the murk cleared slightly to reveal the leading ships of the High Seas Fleet heading for the middle of the Grand Fleet. The broadside of Jellicoe’s entire line could thus be brought to bear on the Germans, who could only reply with the forward guns of their leading ships. For Jellicoe it was a moment of triumph for Scheer it was one of unparalleled danger.

Three factors contributed to the extrication of the German ships from the trap: their own excellent construction, the steadiness and discipline of their crews, and the poor quality of the British shells. The Lützow, the Derfflinger, and the battleship König led the line and were under broadside fire from 10 or more battleships, yet their main armament remained undamaged, and they fought back to such effect that one of their salvoes fell full on the Invincible (Hood’s flagship), causing an explosion which tore the ship in half and killed all except six of the crew. This success, however, did little to relieve the intense bombardment, and the High Seas Fleet was still pressing forward into the steel trap of the Grand Fleet. Placing full reliance in the seamanship of his captains, Scheer at 6:36 pm ordered a 180° turn for all ships together (the last ship becoming the leader), and, as the battleships and cruisers steered away in retreat, torpedo boats draped thick smoke screens across their rear. Miraculously, there were no collisions.

To Jellicoe it was by no means clear what had taken place. Visibility had worsened, and smoke lay thick over the seas. By 6:45 pm contact with the Germans had been lost, and an unnatural silence descended. Yet the Grand Fleet was still between the High Seas Fleet and the German ports, and this was the situation which Scheer most dreaded. Then at 6:55 pm he ordered another 180° turn, possibly in the hope that he would pass astern of the main British line. He was mistaken, and a few minutes after 7:00 pm he was in a worse position than the one from which he had just extricated himself: his battle line had become compressed, his leading ships were under merciless bombardment again, and it was obvious that he must once more turn away. At 7:16 pm , therefore, to cause a diversion and win time, he ordered his battle cruisers and torpedo-boat flotillas to virtually immolate themselves in a massed charge against the British.

This was the crisis of the Battle of Jutland. As the German battle cruisers and torpedo boats steamed gallantly forward, the battleships astern became confused in their endeavour to turn away. Had Jellicoe ordered the Grand Fleet forward through the Germans’ oncoming screen at that moment, the fate of the High Seas Fleet would have been sealed. As it was, because he overrated the danger of a torpedo attack, he ordered a turn away, and the two opposing lines of battleships steamed apart at more than 20 knots (23 miles [37 km] per hour). They did not meet again, and, when darkness descended, Jellicoe faced the task of covering Scheer’s possible escape routes—southward directly to the Jadebusen or southeastward to the Horns Reef and then home.

Unfortunately for Jellicoe, the British Admiralty failed to inform him that Scheer had requested airship reconnaissance of the area around Horns Reef for the following dawn, with the result that the British battleships steamed too far south during the night. Scheer had turned again after nightfall and crossed astern of Jellicoe’s battle squadrons, resolutely brushing aside the British rearguard of light cruisers and destroyers in a series of sharp actions which caused losses on both sides. Scheer reached the security of the Horns Reef minefields at about 3:00 am on June 1. Just before daylight, Jellicoe turned his battleships to search again for the High Seas Fleet, but he was too late.

War At Sea

In 1914, the prosperity of Great Britain and its Empire depended on control of the world’s oceans. Since the start of the twentieth century, Britain and Germany had been locked in a bitter rivalry to build bigger and better warships. At the outbreak of the First World War, many people expected the main confrontation between the countries would be fought quickly at sea. Louis West, who joined the Royal Navy in 1909, was one of them.

Well I think the general opinion was it couldn’t last more than three or four months, everybody was of that opinion. We said, ‘Well, when they come out we’ll have one ding dong battle and that’ll settle the war – hurry up the Germans and come out,’ that was our attitude. We thought we’d wipe the Germans out of course we did. No navy like the British navy, you know. We fully expected there to be a good ding dong battle – some of us wouldn’t come back and the others would – but it’d be all over in a few hours.

Members of the German High Seas Fleet were just as ready for a fight. Lieutenant Commander Dehn described the German navy’s attitude.

The firm knowledge that the British fleet was vastly superior to the German fleet didn’t affect our morale at all. On the contrary, everybody from the admiral down to the youngest stoker was anxious to show what he’d learnt. Everybody was agreed that the fleet as a whole and every unit in it would give a very good account of themselves when the day would come and they would be called upon to do so.

Joseph Vine, who served in HMS Vanguard, remembered the change from peacetime to a state of war.

We didn’t do any ship work at all, no washing decks or anything, none of that old business, paintwork or anything. You were at your battle stations right up until Christmas, that’s all it was – it was war. And we used to be out for about ten days steaming, patrolling, then we’d come in at daybreak at Scapa Flow harbour. All the fleet come in no sooner you’d dropped anchor than the collier would slide up alongside with about 2,000 ton of coal aboard for you.

The first major naval action of the war took place on 28 August 1914, in the Heligoland Bight off the north German coast. A. Blackmore, who served as a range finder aboard HMS New Zealand, took part in the battle, which resulted in a British victory.

We steamed in towards Heligoland in a thick fog and mist. When we got in there, a bit of confusion started because we picked out each ship that was allotted to us and ours was theKoln. We immediately opened fire as soon as we got her in our sights and that was about six or seven thousand yards and continuous fire carried on. During this action I saw what I thought was something for me marked to my name – a shell coming over, a huge shell. I could see through my range finder that it was directed straight to us and watched it and as it come it just cleared the top where I was sitting. I just clutched my seat and shut my eyes and it passed underneath, just cleared the bridge and exploded in the water just the other side of us – a big, black, round cloud.

On 1 November, off Coronel on the coast of Chile in the southern Pacific, the Royal Navy suffered its worst defeat in over a century. S Pawley was an officer in HMS Glasgow – which, although damaged, managed to survive the battle.

We formed into battle line ahead with theOtranto on our port side at some distance and steamed north. It was not very long before smoke appeared on the horizon and we soon discovered this smoke came from two German heavy cruisers. And we were able to recogniseScharnhorst andGneisenau. We were not long in closing on the enemy and soon the battle commenced. TheGood Hope opened fire, a ranging shot, which fell short and then the battle became general. I was standing on the upper deck at the time the sea was very rough under a leaden sky. At times the waves came clean overboard, came clean in over. We were hit in several places. One of our mess decks was flooded the captain’s cabin was wrecked the signalman’s arm was blown off in the foretop holes were knocked in the coal bunkers and we were in a generally poor condition.

Two British armoured cruisers – the Good Hope and the Monmouth – were sunk by a superior German force, led by Admiral von Spee. A. Bushkin witnessed the loss of the Monmouth from aboard HMS Otranto.

TheGood Hope, a shell must have hit the magazine – she blew up. TheMonmouth soon afterwards also blew up. Just before that, their guns – although they were sinking – their guns were firing and those men were carrying out their action stations right until the very last. There’s a darkening sky there’s a leaden sea the weather is getting gradually worse. And we were steaming south getting away out of it, our thoughts mixed, very mixed. Cursing because we couldn’t get to our pals to help them glad to get away out of it. What could we do? Nothing, just nothing.

One of the 1,600 British sailors who died in the Battle of Coronel was the brother of newly-enlisted soldier, Joseph Murray. He remembered how this news affected him.

My brother Tom was a reservist and he was on special reserve which meant that he did a month’s training every year instead of a week. Now on the 1st of November they were sank off Coronel which is on the other side of America. Now up until then I was very patriotic, and after getting to know that I was out for blood! And I swore blind that I’d kill every so and so that I could – and I did! I was out for revenge. So patriotism turned to hate.

The British fleet was also out for revenge. Admiral Sturdee was sent to the south Atlantic with fresh ships to destroy the German squadron. Edward Pullen, of HMS Glasgow, described what happened when the two forces encountered one another off the Falkland Islands.

All at once Sturdee said, ‘I’m coming out now’ – come out in an ‘S’ shape, out of Port Stanley – ‘make a smoke screen’. Well, we did as much as we could but the smokescreen didn’t last long and all at once the Germans lined up ready for battle. And when they saw these tripods, our battle cruisers then had tripods, you know three masts, they started to go – you could see the smoke coming out of their funnels to get plenty of speed up. Battle started now with the Leipzig and it went on from 1 o’clock til 9 o’clock that night and during the battle a signalman came running along with the news, Sturdee’s sent news to say to my captain: ‘I have sunk the two big ships, where are you?’ My captain said, ‘I don’t know where I am!’ He was in the conning tower, excited. Well that battle went on until theLeipzig was all on fire at 9 o’clock.

Four German warships were lost during the battle. British engineer E Amis’s ship, HMS Kent, sank theNuremberg.

She was on fire for’ard and aft and some of them were jumping into the water on bits of wreckage so as to try and get to us. But the seas were icy cold and the sea was not calm then, it was a choppy sea with a rising mist and spray and just choppy billows – they had a pretty rough time in the water. We tried to save some, we hauled some aboard but they were too numb – they eventually died and we simply put them back into the drink again because there was no time for any ceremony.

Bert Stevens, leading stoker in HMS Inflexible, also recalled how British attempts to rescue German sailors from their sinking ships were thwarted.

We never picked no survivors up off theScharnhorst but we picked survivors up off theGneisenau. And when she was sinking she was going down at the bows and she was over on the port side as well. And what happened was she had some wounded on her aft and she also had wounded down below, she’d stood a lot of bashing you see – and when we all got on the upper deck, Phillimore[commander of the Inflexible] said, ‘Try and save as many as you can off this boat.’ Well what happened was, we don’t know who it was, but there was someone on that ship ordered them to fire again and she fired another three rounds at us. Phillimore said, ‘Alright we’ll have to give them some more.’

Even if they were not taking part in these major battles, British sailors faced the constant threat of German submarines. James Cox remembered how much anxiety they caused.

Everybody was on the alert the first months of the war which began to get tedious after a time, every little bottle that showed, the alert went and the searchlights and that were switched on and you know we was all on tenterhooks. I was on searchlight cos that was my work and I was stationed by a searchlight at night, every night, and a gun or torpedo during the day. Well now, that’s how we kept our watches for weeks on end.

They were right to be vigilant. William Halter, who served aboard submarine D4, had a near miss at Heligoland.

I happened to be on the bridge all by myself – the captain had gone down for a cup of something – and I was watching and I was petrified. I saw a torpedo come up out of the water, jump out the water and naturally I rang the alarm bell and the captain came running up. I said, ‘We’ve just had a torpedo fired at us, sir.’ He said, ‘Right, down below.’ We went down below, crash dived, and he questioned me about it when we were down below and he said, ‘I ought not to have left you alone,’ he said, ‘you’ve got nerves.’ He said, ‘You never saw any torpedo.’ I said, ‘But I did, sir.’ ‘Oh no,’ he said, ‘I don’t believe you – it doesn’t sound right to me.’ Anyhow we finished the trip and we came back and I had to go up before the torpedo officer on theMaidstone. And he questioned me about that torpedo and he turned round to the captain and he said, ‘That’s right,’ he said, ‘that was a German torpedo.’ And it was correct and I was believed then.

On 24 January 1915, a British force led by Admiral Beatty intercepted a German squadron at the Dogger Bank in the North Sea. British officer John Ouvry of HMS Tiger described the action that followed.

My action station was a very good one – it was in the conning tower, actually I was messenger to the captain who was in the conning tower in charge of the whole ship, of course. We actually got into contact with the German battlecruisers just after 9. The captain was in the conning tower and I was outside looking out for submarines. At about 9.20 we sighted the Germans and they opened fire on us, and we on them. And I remember our first salvo – mind you I was outside the conning tower – blew my hat off! And then to my relief the captain sent a messenger to say come inside the conning tower now.

In a confused encounter, the British managed to lose none of their ships – although Beatty’s flagship, HMS Lion, was badly damaged. However, the German armoured cruiser SMS Blücher was destroyed – witnessed by Ouvry.

We had turned to port to cut off theBlücher, theTiger leading the three ships. And we blasted away at poorBlücher which had stopped and we fired two torpedoes at her at point blank range and I saw one hit. I saw the foremost turret blow up and the mast come down, she’d stopped and was listing. We then turned away back home leavingBlücher sinking and she actually sank within view.

Naval warfare was brutal and terrifying. Teenager Alfred Fright joined the navy as a boy in 1913, and clearly recalled his fear of going into battle just a year later.

Whilst you was waiting for it you was absolutely dead scared, dead scared. But once it started it was fine and you seemed to lose it all. But up until that point, as I say, you was dead scared. And I know I’ve stood on the bridge sometimes and cried with being scared. And also I’ve stood on the bridge – cos we used to have to do lookouts, you see, that was our job mostly, boys. Course the ship sways that much you go three times that much up at the top mast head you see. And I’ve stood up there with these glasses to my eyes, froze to death and crying. That’s the sort of life it was in them days.


Design work on the Nassau class began in late 1903 in the context of the Anglo-German naval arms race at the time, battleships of foreign navies had begun to carry increasingly heavy secondary batteries, including Italian and American ships with 20.3 cm (8 in) guns and British ships with 23.4 cm (9.2 in) guns, outclassing the previous German battleships of the Deutschland class with their 17 cm (6.7 in) secondaries. German designers initially considered ships equipped with 21 cm (8.3 in) secondary guns, but erroneous reports in early 1904 that the British Lord Nelson-class battleships would be equipped with a secondary battery of 25.4 cm (10 in) guns prompted them to consider an even more powerful ship armed with an all-big-gun armament consisting of eight 28 cm (11 in) guns. Over the next two years, the design was refined into a larger vessel with twelve of the guns, by which time Britain had launched the all-big-gun battleship HMS Dreadnought. [3]

Nassau was 146.1 m (479 ft 4 in) long, 26.9 m (88 ft 3 in) wide, and had a draft of 8.9 m (29 ft 2 in). She displaced 18,873 t (18,575 long tons) with a normal load, and 20,535 t (20,211 long tons) fully laden. The ship had a crew of 40 officers and 968 enlisted men. Nassau retained three-shafted triple expansion engines with twelve coal-fired water-tube boilers instead of more advanced turbine engines. Her propulsion system was rated at 21,699 ihp (16,181 kW) and provided a top speed of 20 knots (37 km/h 23 mph). She had a cruising radius of 8,300 nautical miles (15,400 km 9,600 mi) at a speed of 12 knots (22 km/h 14 mph). [4] This type of machinery was chosen at the request of both Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz and the Navy's construction department the latter stated in 1905 that the "use of turbines in heavy warships does not recommend itself." [5] This decision was based solely on cost: at the time, Parsons held a monopoly on steam turbines and required a 1 million gold mark royalty fee for every turbine engine made. German firms were not ready to begin production of turbines on a large scale until 1910. [6]

Nassau carried a main battery of twelve 28 cm (11 in) SK L/45 [b] guns in an unusual hexagonal configuration. Her secondary armament consisted of twelve 15 cm (6 in) SK L/45 guns and sixteen 8.8 cm (3 in) SK L/45 guns, all of which were mounted in casemates. [4] The ship was also armed with six 45 cm (17.7 in) submerged torpedo tubes. One tube was mounted in the bow, another in the stern, and two on each broadside, on either ends of the torpedo bulkhead. [8] The ship's belt armor was 270 mm (11 in) [9] thick in the central citadel, and the armored deck was 80 mm (3 in) thick. The main battery turrets had 280 mm (11 in) thick sides, and the conning tower was protected with 400 mm (16 in) of armor plating. [4]

Nassau was ordered under the provisional name Ersatz Bayern, as a replacement for the old Sachsen-class ironclad Bayern. She was laid down on 22 July 1907 at the Kaiserliche Werft in Wilhelmshaven, under construction number 30. [4] Construction work proceeded under absolute secrecy detachments of soldiers were tasked with guarding the shipyard itself, as well as contractors that supplied building materials, such as Krupp. [10] The ship was launched on 7 March 1908 she was christened by Princess Hilda of Nassau, and the ceremony was attended by Kaiser Wilhelm II and Prince Henry of the Netherlands, representing his wife's House of Orange-Nassau. [11]

Fitting-out work was delayed significantly when a dockyard worker accidentally removed a blanking plate from a large pipe, which allowed a significant amount of water to flood the ship. The ship did not have its watertight bulkheads installed, so the water spread throughout the ship and caused it to list to port and sink 1.6 m (5 ft 3 in) to the bottom of the dock. The ship had to be pumped dry and cleaned out, which proved to be a laborious task. [1] The ship was completed by the end of September 1909. She was commissioned into the High Seas Fleet on 1 October 1909, [4] and trials commenced immediately. [1] HMS Dreadnought, the ship that spurred Nassau ' s construction, had been launched 25 months before Nassau, on 2 February 1906. [12]

On 16 October 1909, Nassau and her sister Westfalen participated in a ceremony for the opening of the new third entrance in the Wilhelmshaven Naval Dockyard. [13] They took part in the annual maneuvers of the High Seas Fleet in February 1910 while still on trials. Nassau finished her trials on 3 May and joined the newly created I Battle Squadron of the High Seas Fleet. Over the next four years, the ship participated in the regular series of squadron and fleet maneuvers and training cruises. The one exception was the summer training cruise for 1912 when, due to the Agadir Crisis, the cruise only went into the Baltic. [14] On 14 July 1914, the annual summer cruise to Norway began. The threat of war caused Kaiser Wilhelm II to cancel the cruise after two weeks, and by the end of July the fleet was back in port. [15] War between Austria-Hungary and Serbia broke out on the 28th, and in the span of a week all of the major European powers had joined the conflict. [16]

World War I Edit

Nassau participated in most of the fleet advances into the North Sea throughout the war. [17] The first operation was conducted primarily by Rear Admiral Franz von Hipper's battlecruisers the ships bombarded the English coastal towns of Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby on 15–16 December 1914. [18] A German battlefleet of 12 dreadnoughts—including Nassau—and eight pre-dreadnoughts sailed in support of the battlecruisers. On the evening of 15 December, they came to within 10 nmi (19 km 12 mi) of an isolated squadron of six British battleships. Skirmishes in the darkness between the rival destroyer screens convinced the German fleet commander, Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl, that the entire Grand Fleet was deployed before him. Under orders from the Kaiser to not risk the fleet, von Ingenohl broke off the engagement and turned the battlefleet back towards Germany. [19]

Battle of the Gulf of Riga Edit

In August 1915, the German fleet attempted to clear the Gulf of Riga to facilitate the capture of Riga by the German Army. To do so, the German planners intended to drive off or destroy the Russian naval forces in the area, which included the pre-dreadnought battleship Slava and a number of gunboats and destroyers. The German naval force would also lay a series of minefields in the northern entrance to the gulf to prevent Russian naval reinforcements from being able to enter the area. The fleet that assembled for the assault included Nassau and her three sister ships, the four Helgoland-class battleships, and the battlecruisers Von der Tann, Moltke, and Seydlitz. The force would operate under the command of Vice Admiral Franz von Hipper. The eight battleships were to provide cover for the forces engaging the Russian flotilla. The first attempt on 8 August was unsuccessful, as it had taken too long to clear the Russian minefields to allow the minelayer Deutschland to lay a minefield of her own. [20]

On 16 August 1915, a second attempt was made to enter the gulf: Nassau and Posen, four light cruisers, and 31 torpedo boats managed to breach the Russian defenses. [21] On the first day of the assault, the German minesweeper T 46 was sunk, as was the destroyer V 99. The following day, Nassau and Posen engaged in an artillery duel with Slava, resulting in three hits on the Russian ship that forced her to retreat. By 19 August, the Russian minefields had been cleared, and the flotilla entered the gulf. Reports of Allied submarines in the area prompted the Germans to call off of the operation the following day. [22] Nassau and Posen remained in the Gulf until 21 August, and while there assisted in the destruction of the gunboats Sivuch and Korietz. [14] Admiral Hipper later remarked that,

"To keep valuable ships for a considerable time in a limited area in which enemy submarines were increasingly active, with the corresponding risk of damage and loss, was to indulge in a gamble out of all proportion to the advantage to be derived from the occupation of the Gulf before the capture of Riga from the land side." [23]

Battle of Jutland Edit

Nassau took part in the inconclusive Battle of Jutland on 31 May – 1 June 1916, in II Division of I Battle Squadron. For the majority of the battle, I Battle Squadron formed the center of the line of battle, behind Rear Admiral Behncke's III Battle Squadron, and followed by Rear Admiral Mauve's elderly pre-dreadnoughts of II Battle Squadron. Nassau was the third ship in the group of four, behind Rheinland and ahead of Westfalen Posen was the squadron's flagship. [24] When the German fleet reorganized into a nighttime cruising formation, the order of the ships was inadvertently reversed, and so Nassau was the second ship in the line, astern of Westfalen. [25]

Between 17:48 and 17:52, eleven German dreadnoughts, including Nassau, engaged and opened fire on the British 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron Nassau ' s target was the cruiser Southampton. Nassau is believed to have scored one hit on Southampton, at approximately 17:50 at a range of 20,100 yd (18,400 m), shortly after she began firing. The shell struck Southampton obliquely on her port side, and did not cause significant damage. [26] Nassau then shifted her guns to the cruiser Dublin firing ceased by 18:10. [27] At 19:33, Nassau came into range of the British battleship Warspite her main guns fired briefly, but after the 180-degree turn by the German fleet, the British ship was no longer within reach. [28]

Nassau and the rest of I Squadron were again engaged by British light forces shortly after 22:00, including the light cruisers Caroline, Comus, and Royalist. Nassau followed her sister Westfalen in a 68° turn to starboard in order to evade any torpedoes that might have been fired. The two ships fired on Caroline and Royalist at a range of around 8,000 yd (7,300 m). [29] The British ships turned away briefly, before turning about to launch torpedoes. [30] Caroline fired two at Nassau the first passed close to her bows and the second passed under the ship without exploding. [31]

At around midnight on 1 June, the German fleet was attempting to pass behind the British Grand Fleet when it encountered a line of British destroyers. Nassau came upon the destroyer Spitfire, and in the confusion, attempted to ram her. Spitfire tried to evade, but could not maneuver away fast enough, and the two ships collided. Nassau fired her forward 11-inch guns at the destroyer. They could not depress low enough for Nassau to be able to score a hit nonetheless, the blast from the guns destroyed Spitfire ' s bridge. At that point, Spitfire was able to disengage from Nassau, and took with her a 6 m (20 ft) portion of Nassau ' s side plating. The collision disabled one of Nassau ' s 15 cm (5.9 in) guns, and left a 3.5 m (11.5 ft) gash above the waterline this slowed the ship to 15 knots (28 km/h 17 mph) until it could be repaired. [32] During the confused action, Nassau was hit by two 4 in (10 cm) shells from the British destroyers, which damaged her searchlights and inflicted minor casualties. [33]

Shortly after 01:00, Nassau and Thüringen encountered the British armored cruiser Black Prince. Thüringen opened fire first, and pummeled Black Prince with a total of 27 heavy-caliber shells and 24 shells from her secondary battery. Nassau and Ostfriesland joined in, followed by Friedrich der Grosse. The heavy fire quickly disabled the British cruiser and set her alight following a tremendous explosion, she sank, taking her entire crew with her. [34] The sinking Black Prince was directly in the path of Nassau to avoid the wreck, the ship had to steer sharply towards III Battle Squadron. It was necessary for Nassau to reverse her engines to full speed astern to avoid a collision with Kaiserin. Nassau then fell back into a position between the pre-dreadnoughts Hessen and Hannover. [34] At around 03:00, several British destroyers attempted another torpedo attack on the German line. At approximately 03:10, three or four destroyers appeared in the darkness to port of Nassau at a range of between 5,500 yd (5,000 m) to 4,400 yd (4,000 m), Nassau briefly fired on the ships before turning away 90° to avoid torpedoes. [35]

Following her return to German waters, Nassau, her sisters Posen and Westfalen, and the Helgoland-class battleships Helgoland and Thüringen, took up defensive positions in the Jade roadstead for the night. [36] In the course of the battle, Nassau was hit twice by secondary shells, though these hits caused no significant damage. [37] Her casualties amounted to 11 men killed and 16 men wounded. [38] During the course of the battle, she fired 106 main battery shells and 75 rounds from her secondary guns. [39] Repairs were completed quickly, and Nassau was back with the fleet by 10 July 1916. [40]

Later operations Edit

Another fleet advance followed on 18–22 August, during which the I Scouting Group battlecruisers were to bombard the coastal town of Sunderland in an attempt to draw out and destroy Beatty's battlecruisers. As only two of the four German battlecruisers were still in fighting condition, three dreadnoughts were assigned to the Scouting Group for the operation: Markgraf, Grosser Kurfürst, and the newly commissioned Bayern. The High Seas Fleet, including Nassau, [14] would trail behind and provide cover. [41] At 06:00 on 19 August, Westfalen was torpedoed by the British submarine HMS E23 55 nautical miles (102 km 63 mi) north of Terschelling the ship remained afloat and was detached to return to port. [17] The British were aware of the German plans and sortied the Grand Fleet to meet them. By 14:35, Admiral Scheer had been warned of the Grand Fleet's approach and, unwilling to engage the whole of the Grand Fleet just 11 weeks after the close call at Jutland, turned his forces around and retreated to German ports. [42]

Another sortie into the North Sea followed on 19–20 October. On 21 December, Nassau ran aground in the mouth of the Elbe. She was able to free herself, and repairs were effected in Hamburg at the Reihersteig Dockyard until 1 February 1917. [14] The ship was part of the force that steamed to Norway to intercept a heavily escorted British convoy on 23–25 April, though the operation was canceled when the battlecruiser Moltke suffered mechanical damage and had to be towed back to port. [43] Nassau, Ostfriesland, and Thüringen were formed into a special unit for Operation Schlußstein, a planned occupation of Saint Petersburg. On 8 August, Nassau took on 250 soldiers in Wilhelmshaven and then departed for the Baltic. The three ships reached the Baltic on 10 August, but the operation was postponed and eventually canceled. The special unit was dissolved on 21 August, and the battleships were back in Wilhelmshaven on the 23rd. [44]

Nassau and her three sisters were to have taken part in a final fleet action at the end of October 1918, days before the Armistice was to take effect. The bulk of the High Seas Fleet was to have sortied from their base in Wilhelmshaven to engage the British Grand Fleet Scheer—by now the Grand Admiral (Großadmiral) of the fleet—intended to inflict as much damage as possible on the British navy, to improve Germany's bargaining position, despite the expected casualties. Many of the war-weary sailors felt that the operation would disrupt the peace process and prolong the war. On the morning of 29 October 1918, the order was given to sail from Wilhelmshaven the following day. Starting on the night of 29 October, sailors on Thüringen and then on several other battleships mutinied. The unrest ultimately forced Hipper and Scheer to cancel the operation. [45]

Fate Edit

Following the German collapse in November 1918, a significant portion of the High Seas Fleet was interned in Scapa Flow. Nassau and her three sisters were not among the ships listed for internment, so they remained at German ports. [2] During this period, from November to December, Hermann Bauer served as the ship's commander. [46] On 21 June 1919, Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter, under the mistaken impression that the Armistice would expire at noon that day, ordered his ships be scuttled to prevent their seizure by the British. [47] As a result, the four Nassau-class ships were ceded to the various Allied powers as replacements for the ships that had been sunk. [2] Nassau was awarded to Japan on 7 April 1920, though the Japanese had no need for the ship. They, therefore, sold her in June 1920 to British shipbreakers, who scrapped the ship in Dordrecht. [4]

Vice Admiral Franz von Hipper

30 May 1916

Early in the evening of 30 May 1916, the British Admiralty orders Admiral Sir John Jellicoe and Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty to sea after receiving intelligence that the German High Seas Fleet would be put to sea the next morning.

10pm – 11pm
At 10.30pm, the British Grand Fleet, under Jellicoe's command, sets sail from its base at Scapa Flow in northern Scotland. Beatty's Battle Cruiser Fleet and the 5th Battle Squadron leave shortly after from their base at Rosyth further south.

Battle of Jutland Part IV: Night Action 31st May to 1st June 1916

HMS Iron Duke Admiral Jellicoe’s Flagship opening fire at approximately 6.15pm on 31st May 1916 at the Battle of Jutland. Iron Duke is followed by other British Battleships. The ship on the extreme left of the picture is the disabled British destroyer HMS Acasta: picture by Lionel Wyllie

The next battle of the First World War is the Battle of Jutland Part V: Annexe

British Destroyers in Harbour, HMS Fortune with Ambuscade at the front. Both ships fought at the Battle of Jutland on 31st May 1916

Date: 31 st May 1916

Place: In the North Sea off the coast of Denmark

War: The First World War

Contestants: The British Royal Navy against the Imperial German Navy

Admirals: Admiral Sir John Jellicoe commanded the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet. Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty commanded the British Battle Cruiser Fleet. Admiral Reinhard Scheer commanded the German High Seas Fleet. Vice Admiral Franz Hipper commanded the German Battle Cruiser Squadron.

British Destroyer North Sea 1916

The opposing fleets: See The Battle of Jutland Part I

The German navy considered it won the Battle of Skagerrak, the German name for Jutland, having sunk more Royal Navy ships and inflicted more casualties. The Royal Navy considered that it had repelled the incursion by the High Seas Fleet into the North Sea. The German fleet made only one further incursion during the War.

German Torpedo Boat/Destroyer at Sea in the First World War

The Night Action 31 st May/1 st June 1916:

At the end of the fleet action during daylight hours on 31 st May 1916 the German High Seas Fleet steamed away to the south-west under cover of a thick smoke screen and a torpedo attack delivered against the British battle line by the German destroyers both of which masked the direction of the German withdrawal.

During the night of 31 st May to 1 st June 1916 Jellicoe and the British battleships headed south with the destroyers behind, the battle cruisers to the fore and the light cruisers to the west.

The German fleet now heading in a south easterly direction was on a converging course with Jellicoe’s ships.

At around 9.30pm Admiral Scheer, commanding the German High Seas Fleet, renewing his attempt to break through to the east and the route to his home harbours, caused his leading ships to turn to port on course for the Horn Reefs off the Danish coast.

British Flotilla Leader HMS Castor. Castor fought at the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916 leading the 11th Destroyer Flotilla

The leading German light cruisers quickly came into contact with the British rear-guard starboard wing, the light cruiser HMS Castor and destroyers of the 11 th Flotilla.

The British ships were in some doubt as to the nationality of the ships approaching them on their starboard bow. On being challenged the strange ships signalled one correct response and two incorrect. The dilemma was resolved when the German light cruisers switched on their searchlights and opened fire at 2,000 yards (1 ¼ miles).

Gun Crew in action on a British Light Cruiser at the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916: picture by Lionel Wyllie

Castor was immediately hit and set on fire. She turned away firing a torpedo. The following British destroyers Marne and Magic also fired torpedoes. Several British destroyers refrained from firing in the belief that the ships on the flank were British. The German ships turned away and in the confusion each side lost sight of the other.

Commodore Goodenough commander of the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron at the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916

At 10.06pm, on receiving his cruisers’ reports of the action, Scheer turned a point to starboard thinking that this was a deliberate attack by the British destroyers. This change of course put him back on the converging course with the British fleet.

The next British ships Scheer’s fleet encountered were the light cruisers of Commodore Goodenough’s 2 nd Light Cruiser Squadron which were escorting the battleship HMS Marlborough, reduced by torpedo damage to 16 knots.

Goodenough was on the alert after the firing on his starboard beam involving Castor’s flotilla. The German light cruisers of the 4 th Scouting Group (SMS Stettin, München, Frauenlob, Stuttgart and Hamburg) appeared against the faint glow that was all that was left of sunset.

British Light Cruiser HMS Southampton. Southampton fought at the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916 as Commodore Goodenough’s Flagship in the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron

HMS Dublin and Southampton opened fire hitting German ships. Searchlights came on and Dublin and Southampton were deluged with fire from the German squadron at 800 yards (½ mile).

Nottingham and Birmingham kept their searchlights off and were not seen, enabling them to maintain a destructive fire unanswered.

Southampton, heavily damaged, managed to fire a torpedo which struck one of the German light cruisers. There was a flash. The German ships turned off their searchlights and disappeared into the darkness. The engagement had lasted fifteen minutes.

British Light Cruiser HMS Southampton during the night action at the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916: picture by Lionel Wyllie

Southampton and Dublin were on fire with extensive casualties. Frauenlob sank with all hands at around 11pm.

British Light Cruiser HMS Dublin. Dublin fought at the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916 in Commodore Goodenough’s 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron

Goodenough gathered his squadron, less Dublin which became lost after losing her navigating officer and all her charts, and joined the 5 th Battle Squadron, forming a rear guard against destroyer attack.

Although this action had been seen from Iron Duke Goodenough was unable to signal his report, the wireless on Southampton being destroyed, leaving Jellicoe unaware that the British ships had been engaging the van of Scheer’s fleet making its way across the British rear.

British 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron in action against the German High Seas Fleet during the night action Battle of Jutland 1916

Jellicoe had expected a torpedo attack by the German destroyers on his rear and he assumed this was the explanation for Goodenough’s sharp action. This view was confirmed by a report from one of Goodenough’s light cruisers that they had been engaging German light cruisers. Jellicoe took these to be in support of the destroyer attack rather than what they really were, the vanguard of the whole German High Seas Fleet. Jellicoe felt justified in continuing on his southerly course.

Other sightings of the German ships were made, one by the destroyer HMS Garland and another by the light cruiser HMS Boadicea attached to Admiral Jerram’s squadron. These were not reported to Jellicoe as the information was considered insufficiently important to justify breaking radio silence.

British Destroyers going into action at the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916

Jellicoe’s general instruction to his destroyer flotillas was intercepted by a German wireless listening station and passed to Scheer confirming to him that the British destroyers were to the rear of the battleship squadrons which were steaming south. Acting on this information Scheer altered course to approximately east of south-east and headed straight for the Horn Reefs light-ship in the expectation that he was now to the rear of Jellicoe’s battleships and clear of them.

Scheer’s 2 nd Scouting Group (six light cruisers led by SMS Frankfurt) led the battle fleet in line ahead with some forty destroyers in a V formation in front. Many of the destroyers had fired all their torpedoes and were low in ammunition. Other destroyers were at the rear escorting the disabled Lützow.

Following the Castor action the German ships did not encounter any further British ships for the time being. This led Jellicoe to believe that the German Fleet was still to his west as he continued to steam south.

The British Fleet was becoming spread out and contact between components was breaking down. Admiral Burney’s Sixth Division was falling behind the rest of the battle fleet due to the damage to its flagship Marlborough. Beatty’s battle cruisers were some fifteen miles to the west screened by destroyers of the 1 st and 4 th Flotillas.

Beyond the British battle cruisers to the west were the 3 rd and 1 st Light Cruiser Squadrons, ordered to take position four miles on Beatty’s starboard beam. But the light cruisers were unable to see Beatty’s flagship HMS Lion and were consequently only able to act on Lion’s assumed position.

At 11.30pm the opposing fleets engaged again.

Night-time Destroyer Flotilla Actions:

British Flotilla Leader HMS Tipperary. Tipperary was sunk at the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916 leading the 4th Destroyer Flotilla

HMS Tipperary and Spitfire and the Fourth Flotilla attack:

Captain Wintour in HMS Tipperary was leading his 4 th Flotilla nearest to the German ships. Some seven miles further east was the light cruiser Champion with the destroyers Termagent and Turbulent of the 10 th Flotilla.

Next to the east were the four destroyers of the Harwich 9 th Flotilla with Morris. Further east was the 12 th Flotilla led by Faulknor.

At around 11.20pm Wintour became aware of shadowy ships on his starboard beam on a course converging with his own.

British Destroyer HMS Turbulent. Turbulent fought at the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916 in the 10th Flotilla. She was run down by a German Battleship in the dark and lost with all hands

At a range of 1,000 yards (½ mile) Tipperary challenged the ships and immediately came under heavy fire at point blank range which left the ship a burning ruin, but not before she had discharged both her torpedo tubes at the German ships. HMS Broke and four of the destroyers also fired torpedoes, followed by the rest of the flotilla. The action was illuminated by the powerful searchlights on the German battleships and cruisers.

Crew of British Destroyer HMS Sparrowhawk. Sparrowhawk fought at the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916 in the 4th Flotilla

The light cruisers of the German 2 nd Scouting Group escaped the British destroyer attack by cutting through the line of battleships. The Elbing was rammed by the battleship Posen and later had to be abandoned.

Second in line to Tipperary was the destroyer Spitfire. As she tried to assist Tipperary a German ship bore down on her and the two ships rammed each other. Spitfire survived the encounter and limped home in spite of having been rammed by the German battleship Nassau. A large section of the Nassau’s armour was later found on Spitfire’s deck.

British Destroyer HMS Spitfire in action with German Battleship SMS Nassau Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916

The consequence of the British destroyer attack was that the van of the German fleet steered away to starboard on a course of south south-west to evade the uproar, a course which took the fleet away from its destination of the Horn Reefs.

Admiral Scheer on reaching the turning point eight minutes later peremptorily ordered the fleet to return to the course south-east by east towards the Horn Reefs.

British Destroyer HMS Spitfire showing the damage she received at the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916

HMS Broke took over from the wrecked Tipperary and led the remaining destroyers south to engage the German fleet anew.

At 11.40pm a large ship appeared on Broke’s starboard bow heading to cross Broke’s course. Broke challenged the ship with the familiar consequences a blaze of searchlights from a number of German battleships and a hail of rapid fire at close range.

Broke swung to port to bring her torpedo tubes to bear but was immediately hit by a number of shells which put her out of control. Unable to steady after the turn Broke went round in a circle and rammed the following destroyer Sparrowhawk. Garland coming up behind managed to evade Sparrowhawk but the next destroyer Contest not seeing what had happened cut the stern off Sparrowhawk.

It seems that the German ships were the Westfalen battleships at the van of the German line.

German Battleship SMS Westfalen firing on British Destroyers during the night action of the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916

A British torpedo got home on the light cruiser Rostock, leading the German destroyers. Rostock withdrew from the area and was abandoned to sink by her crew.

With Broke and Sparrowhawk out of action Achates took over the lead of 4 th Flotilla and led it south again.

British Destroyer HMS Fortune. Fortune fought at the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916 in the 4th Flotilla

The British destroyers soon again saw the looming shadows of the German battle fleet. They were too close for an attack to be launched and Achates and Ambuscade were forced away by German light cruisers, after Ambuscade had fired her last two torpedoes, circling round to the north-east to return to the scene.

The next two destroyers Ardent and Fortune attacked. A German light cruiser opened fire on Fortune setting her on fire. Ardent fired on the cruiser and discharged a torpedo which was thought to have struck the German light cruiser.

British Cruiser HMS Black Prince. Black Prince fought at the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916 as part of Admiral Arbuthnot’s 1st Cruiser Squadron. Black Prince was sunk during the night with all hands

Fortune continued to fire her guns although now sinking. Porpoise attempted an attack on the German light cruiser but was struck by an eight inch shell which wrecked her, leaving the Ardent as the only ship of the flotilla capable of continuing in action.

HMS Black Prince:

Further south the heavy cruiser HMS Black Prince of Admiral Arbuthnot’s First Cruiser Squadron was making its way south to join the rest of the Grand Fleet after the destruction of the squadron earlier in the evening (HMS Defence sunk and HMS Warrior badly damaged and sinking, leaving Duke of Edinburgh and Black Prince).

Members of the crew from HMS Black Prince sunk at the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916 with all hands

Instead of coming up with the British Fleet Black Prince encountered the centre of the German battle fleet. Searchlights were switched on Black Prince and she was subjected to a storm of shellfire which left her in flames. Out of control the Black Prince sailed into the night, just missing the disabled destroyer Spitfire before exploding with the loss of her entire crew.

German Battleship SMS Thuringen attacks HMS Black Prince during the night of 31st May 1916 setting her on fire and sinking her: picture by Claus Bergen

Destruction of the British Armoured Cruiser HMS Black Prince during the night of 31st May 1916 at the Battle of Jutland: picture by Willy Stoewer

British Destroyer HMS Ardent. Ardent fought at the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916 in the 4th Flotilla being sunk during the night action

Ardent then came up with the German Fleet and immediately attacked, firing a torpedo. Four German battleships turned their searchlights on Ardent before subjecting her to a storm of shellfire at point blank range. The German fleet sailed on into the night leaving Ardent to sink with the loss of her crew, other than her captain and one sailor. The Fourth Flotilla had been destroyed.

The British battle fleet continued to steam to the south while these actions were fought. The signs of star shells, explosions and flashes of searchlights on their starboard beam and then behind them being attributed to the actions of British light cruisers repelling attacks on the rear of the fleet. None of the battleship captains and admirals realised that the fighting was caused by the passage of the German fleet across the British rear.

HMS Ardent sinking during the night action of the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916

The only British battleship that was given cause to realise what was in fact happening was HMS Malaya. Malaya saw a torpedo strike a German ship which in the explosion she identified as the leading ship of the Westfalen class of German battleships (the ship did not sink). This information was not passed to Jellicoe. The British battleships continued to steam south while the British destroyers fought the unequal battle against the German High Seas Fleet as it passed across the rear of Jellicoe’s battle fleet.

At around 11.30am Jellicoe received a signal from the Admiralty giving intercepted signals sent by Scheer. The first at 9.6pm requested an airship reconnaissance of the Horn Reefs first thing in the morning. The other signals ordered the German fleet to sail on a course south south-east ¾ east at 16 knots with Hipper’s battle cruisers in the rear.

Jellicoe did not consider that this information revealed that the German fleet was anywhere other than in front of him and continued on his southerly course.

Two further messages, one from Goodenough, finally sent via HMS Nottingham, and the other from HMS Birmingham seemed to confirm to Jellicoe that the German ships engaging the British ships in the rear were only light cruisers and destroyers. The message from Birmingham identified German battle cruisers but gave their course as south, which was correct at the time of observation but was at the time when the German ships deviated from Scheer’s ordered course and before he ordered them back to the easterly course.

No report of the 4 th Flotilla’s final attack on the German battle fleet reached Jellicoe leaving him to assume that the rumpus on the horizon was a further episode in the engagements between ‘light forces’.

British 13th Flotilla Destroyers attacking the German Battleships in the early hours of 1st June 1916 Battle of Jutland

The engagement with 13 th Flotilla, the Harwich 9 th Flotilla and the 12 th Flotilla:

During the 14 th Flotilla action shells were overshooting and falling on the next British force to the east, the 13 th Flotilla led by HMS Champion. Champion veered further to the east and forced the Harwich and 12 th Flotilla destroyers also to veer to the east.

This left a gap into which the German Fleet sailed and passed through.

Two of the 13 th Flotilla destroyers which did not see the turn continued on and came into contact with the German light cruisers Frankfurt and Pillau, escaping under a heavy fire.

The 12 th Flotilla turned onto a north-easterly course and did not resume steaming south until 12.20am.

The Harwich destroyers led by Commander Goldsmith in HMS Lydiard continued south-west at high speed in the expectation of encountering the German fleet and were joined by a number of destroyers from the 13 th Flotilla which had not realised that Champion had turned away and had lost her: Lydiard, Liberty, Landrail, Laurel of the 9 th Flotilla and Morris, Termagent and Turbulent of the 10 th Flotilla and Narissa, Nicator, Narborough, Pelican and Petard of the 13 th Flotilla.

German High Seas Fleet during the night action Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916

Goldsmith’s course was at right angles to the German and he passed across their path before the German fleet came up.

The two destroyers at the end of the line, Petard and Turbulent, saw the German ships. Petard had fired all her torpedoes and could only escape into the dark. Turbulent was run down by a German battleship and lost with all hands.

Scheer’s fleet had passed through the massed British destroyers and was making off towards the Horn Reef.

The German destroyers had even less success. Scheer had ordered his destroyers to find the British battle fleet and deliver torpedo attacks on it during the night. The German destroyers mounted no attacks.

1 st June 1915:

The first glimmers of dawn came around 2am on 1 st June 1915. The weather was deteriorating with increasing mist and rising winds. Disabled ships were forced to cope with heavier seas.

The night actions had seen the British destroyers engaged use up most of their torpedoes and the flotillas dispersed. Ardent and Fortune had sunk. Tipperary was sinking. Sparrowhawk was disabled.

In the German fleet the light cruisers Elbing and Rostock were abandoned and sinking as was the battle cruiser Lützow, Admiral Hipper’s flagship.

Plan showing the British 12th Destroyer Flotilla’s attack at dawn 1st June 1916 on the German Battle Line during the Battle of Jutland. In the attack the German pre-Dreadnought SMS Pommern was sunk with all hands. The order of the German Battleships was uncertain as ships had been forced to pull out of the line during the night to avoid torpedoes and then re-enter where there was a space: plan by John Fawkes

The British 12 th Flotilla’s Dawn Attack:

The only British destroyer flotilla capable of action was the 12 th . After being forced to the north north-east by Champion’s swerve this force was racing south again.

The force comprised Captain Stirling in HMS Faulknor leading, on the starboard wing 1 st Division, Obedient, Mindful, Marvel and Onslaught, on the port wing 2 nd Division, Maenad, Narwhal, Nessus and Noble, astern Marksman, Opal, Menace, Munster and Mary Rose.

British Destroyer HMS Opal. Opal fought at the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916 in the 12th Flotilla

The destroyers were all 34 knot ships of the most modern type with four torpedo tubes and as yet unengaged.

At 1.45am in the first glimmerings of daylight Captain Sterling saw a line of ships on his starboard bow on a south-easterly course. Once nearer Sterling saw that the ships were the German battleships. Sterling altered course to run parallel to the German fleet and ordered Obedient to attack with the 1 st Division. He signalled to Jellicoe that German battleships were in sight and that he was attacking.

German Battleships in action during the night of 31st May 1916 Battle of Jutland

The German line now disappeared having seen the approaching destroyers and turned to starboard in a zig-zag pattern.

Sterling increased speed to 25 knots on the same course and did a U turn to deliver his attack from in front. As he expected, the German battleships came back into view having resumed their course.

The German ships were seen to be ‘Kaiser’ battleships in the van with older battleships in the rear. During the night the German ships had become muddled up due to the need to turn out of line to avoid torpedoes and re-joining the line where they could find a space.

It was sufficiently light to make the powerful searchlights ineffective and the swirling mist made the destroyers difficult to see. Nevertheless a storm of shellfire was opened on the British ships by the German battleships and light cruisers accompanying them.

Faulknor fired two torpedoes at the second and third ships in the German line. Obedient fired two torpedoes and Marvel and Onslaught fired four each. Mindful was slowed by boiler trouble and being masked by the others was unable to fire.

German Battleship SMS Pommern torpedoed in the early hours of 1st June 1916 Battle of Jutland by British 12th Destroyer Flotilla with the loss of her crew

There was a terrific explosion and the German pre-Dreadnought battleship Pommern blew up and sank with the loss of her entire crew. Another battleship was hit but it is unclear which and it did not sink.

German Battleship SMS Pommern being torpedoed in the early hours of 1st June 1916 Battle of Jutland by British 12th Destroyer Flotilla with the loss of her crew

The attacking British destroyers escaped largely unscathed except for Onslaught struck by shellfire on the bridge and her captain and first lieutenant killed (the ship was sailed back to Rosyth by the surviving RNR sub-lieutenant and a midshipman).

Dawn was coming and the German High Seas Fleet was still thirty miles short of the Horn Reefs light vessel. In spite of the need to press on, the attack by Stirling’s destroyers forced the German fleet to turn away.

German Battleship SMS Pommern explodes and sinks with the loss of her crew at the Battle of Jutland on 31st May 1916

This turn caused the German ships to avoid yet another attack by British ships. HMS Champion was returning south with the destroyers Obdurate and Moresby.

German High Seas Fleet during the night action Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916: picture by Claus Bergen

At 2.15pm Champion turned west towards the sound of firing. The wandering Marksman joined the line. After heading south Champion turned east. This caused the ships she led to miss the German fleet now back on its course south-east, although the rear destroyer Moresby caught sight of four pre-Dreadnoughts about 4,000 yards away (2 ½ miles) moving at full speed.

British Flotilla Leader HMS Champion. Champion fought at the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916 as leader of the 13th Destroyer Flotilla

Marksman fired her last torpedo at the German battleships but struck and sank a German destroyer V4.

The German fleet was now clear of the units of the Grand Fleet and able to make the Horn Reefs and head for its home harbours.

Jellicoe, with no reliable information as to the whereabouts of the German Fleet, was diverted to the west south-west by firing which turned out to be Indomitable and some British light cruisers firing at a German airship.

At 4.30pm with his battleships in cruising order Jellicoe began the journey northwards and home. He signalled to his ships “Enemy fleet has returned to harbour”. The Battle of Jutland was over.

German Battleship SMS Thuringen firing on HMS Black Prince during the night action Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916

The next battle of the First World War is the Battle of Jutland Part V: Annexe

14. Two British battlecruisers exploded during the battle

HMS Indefatigable and Queen Mary suffered catastrophic explosions after being hit during the opening stages of the battle.

This was initially attributed to poor armour protection. Modern analysis has also stressed the quality of the cordite explosive used in the ammunition, and the ammunition handling arrangements used in the two navies.

The German Navy had learned valuable lessons at the Battle of the Dogger Bank and had introduced various anti-flash precautions that ensured ammunition fires could be contained rather than spreading to the entire magazine.

Names with Bold links are to Geni profiles or projects. Other links take you to external biographical web pages.

Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the British Empire armed forces.


For the extremely gallant way in which he led his division in their attack, first on enemy destroyers and then on their battlecruisers.
He finally sighted the enemy battle-fleet, and, followed by the one remaining destroyer of his division (Nicator), with dauntless courage he closed to within 3,000 yards of the enemy in order to attain a favourable position for firing the torpedoes.
While making this attack, Nestor and Nicator were under concentrated fire of the secondary batteries of the High Sea Fleet. Nestor was subsequently sunk.

Bingham was also awarded the OBE and was mentioned in dispatches. He was awarded the (Tsarist) Russian Order of St Stanislaus. In 1919 he published a memoir of his naval career, notable for his description of the worst part of naval life being, not nearly being blown to pieces in battle, nor the nervous hours and minutes before battle it was the ordeal, in that pre-diesel age, of coaling.

  • John Travers Cornwell - Commemorative Stamp John Travers Cornwell "Jack" (HMS Chester)

The recommendation for citation from Admiral David Beatty, reads:

"the instance of devotion to duty by Boy (1st Class) John Travers Cornwell who was mortally wounded early in the action, but nevertheless remained standing alone at a most exposed post, quietly awaiting orders till the end of the action, with the gun's crew dead and wounded around him. He was under 16½ years old. I regret that he has since died, but I recommend his case for special recognition in justice to his memory and as an acknowledgement of the high example set by him."


An extract from "The London Gazette," No. 29751, dated 15th Sept., 1916, records the following:- "Whilst mortally wounded and almost the only survivor after the explosion of an enemy shell in "Q" gunhouse, with great presence of mind and devotion to duty ordered the magazine to be flooded, thereby saving the ship. He died shortly afterwards."

I am writing this at 6 PM on the evening of Friday June 2nd 1916.

The ship is at Rosyth and we reached this base at 2 PM today having left it at 9 PM on Tuesday 30th May. In the interval a Naval action of some magnitude has taken place.

HMS Southampton played her part in it and it has been an honourable if somewhat trying part which we have played. It is of course inevitable that one ship, not to mention one individual like myself can form but an indifferent opinion of the complete results and actions of a ‘show’ such as this last one. But it so happened that circumstances dictated that this ship should see as much of the action, if not more than any other ship. Also my position in the ship as a Control Officer of the After Control, only became a busy one under two circumstances.

(1) If the Lieut. (G) is killed

(2) If we should become engaged both sides at once

Neither of these incidents took place, so that I had time to take notes and observe times etc. I have judged it best to follow generally the form of a diary then I can distinguish easily between what I heard and what I saw. (ALL TIMES ARE G.M.T.)

On the afternoon of Tuesday the 30th May we were lying at our base (Rosyth) when the signal came through at about 6 PM “Flag Lion to B.C.F. (Battle Cruiser Fleet) and 5th B.S.(Battle Squadron) – raise steam and report when ready to proceed” At 9 PM we weighed and proceeded, no one in this ship knowing at the time the object of the operation. It does not in fact appear that we had great expectations of seeing them as we cruised East all Wednesday forenoon at no very high speed. By noon we had steam for “full speed” at 1⁄2 hours’ notice but as we were well over towards the Danish coast, this order partook more of the nature of routine than of anything else. The course of the Fleet was approx. East and the L.C. (Light Cruiser) screen was spread 1st L.C.S. (Light Cruiser Squadron) – 3rd – 2nd L.C.S. (ourselves) from North to South. At 2.23 PM “Galatea” sighted two enemy Light Cruisers and much smoke bearing East. At 2.56 PM they reported the German B.C. Fleet.

We held on our Easterly course until 3.55 PM the B.C. came into line, steering South with the “Lion” leading and they at once opened fire on the German B. C. Fleet We were on the “Lion’s” starboard bow and on our port beam was a number of T.B.D’s. (Torpedo Boat Destroyers) and the “Champion” (Light Cruiser). As soon as we opened fire (and by “we” I mean our B.C.) the Germans opened fire as well, if not before.

It must be realized that whilst our own B.C. were only a mile or so from us the Germans were about 20,000 yards away and against a very dark background, whilst we were silhouetted against the Western sky. The tactical disadvantage was very great, as it was extremely difficult for our B.C. to see the German B.C. It was of course still harder for us to see the Germans, in fact all that we ever saw of the enemy during the first period of the action was a series of flashes on the horizon. We were therefore helpless spectators of the severe punishment our own B.C. were suffering without having the consolation of seeing what damage the Germans were experiencing.

As has been the custom before, the German shooting was initially very good. Our B.C. were foaming through enormous splashes and it was evident that our line was being straddled. I was watching the line at 4.15 (approx.) and I had just noted with satisfaction that the “Lion” was emerging from a collection of huge fountains of water when I was horrified to see a colossal column of grey white smoke stand on the water where the “Indefatigable” (Battle Cruiser) had been. This column of smoke which I estimate was 700 feet high expanded on top into a great mushroom. The base of this mushroom stalk became a fiery red. I realized the “Indefatigable” had been blown up and the next thing I remember was seeing the next ship in the line coming through the place where she had been.

I cannot attempt to describe my feelings when the action having proceeded as before vis: – flashes on the horizon, columns of splashes around our Battle Cruisers, salvoes from our B.C. At 4.23 PM in an almost similar manner the “Queen Mary” (Battle Cruiser) was obliterated by an 800 feet high mushroom of fiery smoke, in this case I remember seeing bits of her ‘flying upward’. As I watched this fiery gravestone, it seemedto waver slightly at the base and I caught a momentary but clear glimpse of the hull of the “Queen Mary” sticking out of the water from the stern to the after funnel. At this moment (i.e. shortly after the “Queen Mary” sunk) we had either sheared across to port or the B.C. had sheared to starboard to open range, for I remember noticing that we were about 1⁄2 a mile almost right ahead of the “Lion”. Whilst in this position I saw the shell or shells hit the “Lion” which put her midship port turret out of action also causing a fire. I hear that this single shell accounted for the greater number of those killed in the “Lion” (109).

At 4.38 we sighted and reported Light Cruisers followed by the German High Seas Fleet bearing South East steering about North East or North. Either just before or after this, Admiral Beatty made the signal to a/c 16 points which the B.C. then did. We did not obey this signal and held to the Southward for two reasons: –

(1) We thought there might be the chance of making a torpedo attack.

(2) We wished to have a good look at them and report accurately.

With these intentions we held on and on, ever drawing nearer to this formidable line of German Battleships. I could see them plainly and counted 16 of them led by the four “Koenig’s” with the six older ones in the rear. Every moment it seemed as if they must open fire and obliterate us, but luckily they decided we were not worth ammunition at this stage of the proceedings. Finally, at a range of 12.900 yards we discovered we could not get into position for a torpedo attack so we turned 16 points and steered Northerly with the German B.C. on our starboard bow and Battle Fleet on our starboard quarter and beam, this was at 4,45 PM. When the “Lion” and remaining B.C. turned 16 points to North or North by West the German B.C. seeing their Grand Fleet coming up from the South also turned 16 points. Our B.C. was then engaged with the German B.C. but we could not see much of this, then came a gap of a couple of miles then the 5th B.S. heavily engaged with the leading half of the German line. Close to the last ship of the 5th B.S. was the “Southampton”, sometimes we were 4-6 cables on their disengaged quarter, at other times we were almost astern. Away on our port quarter were some destroyers and the other ships of our squadron. ‘For the following hour, 5pm to 6pm, I can truthfully say I thought each succeeding minute was our last.

For that hour we were under persistent 11in shellfire from the rear of the German fleet. That is to say, all the German battleships which could not get to our battleships thought they might as well while away the time by knocking us out. ‘Needless to say we could not fire a shot in return as the range was about 16,000 yards, way beyond our guns. ‘I crouched behind the 1/10in plate of the after control with Hayward-Booth (the Sub.) and the Clerk and we gnawed on bully beef. However, my throat was so dry that I could not get much down and we could not get any water.

About once a minute or perhaps thrice in two minutes a series of ear splitting reports would indicate that another salvo had burst around the ship. Against my will I could never resist hanging over the edge and then I saw half a dozen or four muddy foamy looking circles in the water over which black smoke hung. Sometimes these pools were one side, sometimes the other. Some were literally absolutely alongside the ship and those threw masses of water onboard drenching us to the skin. I should say (and this is a carefully reasoned and considered estimate) that 40 large shells fell within 75 yards of us within the hour and many others at varying distances out. We seemed to bear a charmed life but it was obvious that such a position could not last forever. How we escaped for an hour amazes everyone from the Commander downwards but providence was with us. We did escape until the arrival at 6.17 PM of Sir J. Jellicoe and the Battle Fleet, this caused the action to enter a 3rd phase. Before proceeding with the third phase of this unique and historic day (a very milestone if not turning point in Naval history).

I must emphasize one highly important point which belongs of right to both the 1st and 2nd phases of the action. I refer to the question of light. This highly important factor was very greatly in the enemy’s favour during phases one and two. (i.e. Phase One: B.C. against German B.C. Phase Two: 5th B.S. and B.C. against German B.C. and High Seas Fleet). The fact of this being so was of course due to our relative positions and the time of day. Though at 4 PM the sun was still high in the heavens it was to the N.W. of us and we were to the West of the enemy. As this wonderful afternoon drew on and the sun sank lower towards the N.W. horizon the British ships were silhouetted against the illumination in the sky.

The enemy showed up indifferently against a mass of low lying dark grey and purplish clouds. Having stated this most important point I can now describe how at 6.17 PM I heard with the keenest satisfaction that Sir John Jellicoe who had been hurrying South with the Grand Fleet Battleships and armoured cruisers had been sighted right ahead. It is neither my place nor my province to discuss in a descriptive account such as this, the tactics employed on the 31st May – 1st June. But I cannot allow myself to go any further without expressing my admiration and delight at the masterly gunnery in which the Commander-in-Chief worked round the Germans to get good light, by putting them to the Westward of him. When one considers that he could not be considered as fully prepared for a General Fleet Action and that he had been obliged to come rushing South to get us out of a hot corner his success is still more magnificent. When the Battle Fleet deployed to the Eastward our B.C. passing across the bows of the Fleet took up their positions in the van where also to be found the 1st, 4th and 3rd L.C.S. and Destroyers.

The 5th B.S. joined up quite naturally at the tail of the line and we remained astern of them with the “Faulknor” and her destroyers. As our Grand Fleet deployed I saw a terrible sight, I saw a four funneled cruiser apparently steering down between the two Battle lines, she was moving surrounded by splashes and was in hell. At 6.25 that terribly familiar column of smoke rose over the spot where I had last seen her. It was the end of the “Defence” (armoured cruiser). From amidst the welter of confusion a second 4 funneled cruiser appeared steering about West at 7 knots, she was heavily on fire aft and seemed in a bad way. Painfully she crept across the end of our Battle Line and drew clear of the inferno which was still lashing the water where the “Defence” had gone down. After we had seen the “Defence” go down and as the “Warrior” hauled across out of it, the line of battle became formed and action became general. Shortly afterwards we were amazed to see “Warspite” suddenly turn to starboard and steer towards the German Fleet.

I guessed at once she had been hit in the steering gear. For three or four thousand yards she went towards them coming under a hail of huge shells as the German Battle Fleet or rather portions of it concentrated on her. I was prepared to see her go up at any moment as it did not seem possible she could survive, the more so as she seemed to be stopped. This lasted some ten minutes when to our astonishment she re-appeared again from amongst the cascades of splashes and smoke around her and steaming strongly came up to the rear of the fleet again. As a matter of fact, she was ordered shortly afterwards to repair to Rosyth for Repairs. Action may now be said to have become general.

Our long line of Battleships stretching away literally for miles to the N.E. and gradually curving around the Germans. (Though the speed of the fleet was only 17 knots) they presented an inspiring and heartening spectacle as they proceeded majestically along. Salvo after salvo belched out from the long line of these great ships now confronted for the first time in their careers with the enemy they had waited to see for so many weary months. Firing was not very rapid to begin with as the light was still very poor but as the boot was shifted to the other leg and the Germans became outlined against the western sky the Battleships warmed to their work and an almost continuous succession of jets of flame and brown balls of cordite smoke shot out from the British Battle Fleet. At 6.47 PM we observed a 3 funneled German Battleship lying between the tail of our line and the German line, she was stopped and on fire. Having nothing particular at that moment on his hands our Commodore Goodenough decided to run over towards her and work our wicked will on her. The fleet at the time was only steaming at 17 knots so we saw that we should have no difficulty in rejoining the rear of the Battle Fleet.

At 6.50 we turned to about S.E. and ran down at high speed supported by our squadron to where this 3 funneled German Battleship (probably the Pommern) wallowed in her agony. As soon as we got within range the Squadron opened fire and we could see several shells, in fact a very large number burst on her, the six rear ships of the German line had in my opinion preserved an ominous silence whilst we advanced to batter their helpless brother. It was the calm before the storm for when we were about 6,000 yards from the 3 funneler and 12,000 yards from the German Battle line they opened a very heavy fire on our Squadron, we fled helter skelter to get back to the rear of our own lines pursued by a perfect shower of 11 inch shells which ‘crumped’ down alongside us in astounding precision.

As an instance of what we had for ten minutes I may mention that Booth and myself were in the After Control together making feeble jokes about the shells which were greeted by our Control Party with hysterical laughter of a somewhat forced nature, and at 7 PM we observed 3 salvo’s of 3 or 4 shells in each strike the water together. We agreed that 2 salvo’s aggregating 7 shells fell alongside the starboard side of the ship, distance about 15 to 50 yards and one bunch of 3 fell 40 yards on the port side at the same time. A regular stream of about one every 15 seconds was falling just ahead of the ship on either bow drenching people on the bridge with their spray. At 7.15 we were out of range astern of the 5th B.S.

(The Q.E’s) who were loosing off steady salvo’s from their 15 inch guns. Although the sea was flat calm the surface was heaving with a sullen swell simply due to the tremendous number of ships of every size and speed which were moving about, it was very difficult for us to steer due to this. Over the whole scene hung brown clouds with the vapour from hundreds of funnels pouring smoke spread over the 100 miles of sea (10×10) in which the main action was being fought. At about 7.15 the Commander-in-Chief had managed to get to the East North East of the enemy, which later in order to avoid having his track crossed and as he was also being menaced by a destroyer attack turned to the South East. The light was now in our favour and during the next 10 minutes the enemy Battle Fleet must have suffered very heavily from our Fleet. I had an impression at the time that German T.B.D’s (Torpedo boat destroyers) endeavoured to attack our van. The distance was so great that I could not be sure.

I have since heard it was so and that they were beaten off. At 7.30 PM the Germans had experienced enough for I suddenly saw the rear ships of their line alter course 8 points together. So apparent was this manoeuvre that I sent a written message to the Commodore drawing his attention to it. At the same time his destroyers at the S.E. end (or van) of his line started a smoke screen which by 7.35 was effective having drifted the length of their line. Under cover of this, they retired. Our Battle Fleet held on a Southerly course as the enemy had been obliged to retire to the S.W. and there seemed a good chance of cutting them off from Germany.

A minor incident which now took place deserves recording…..A German destroyer was left in a disabled condition the wrong side of the smoke screen from its own point of view. As we passed at 7.45 we fired a salvo at 6,400 yards and hit it just in time. The “Faulknor” and a number of destroyers went over to administer the “coup-de-grace” It has just occurred to me that if the “Marlborough” was torpedoed it might have been this little hornet that did it, for she must have been closer to our line than any other German T.B.D. However, this is only a surmise. At 8.25 “Birmingham” sighted a submarine, perhaps this got the “Marlborough”? At 8.30 the Fleet was in columns of divisions, we the 2nd L.C.S. were in line ahead on the starboard beam of the three remaining ships of the 5th B.S. (“Warspite” had gone home) At 8.50 PM we sighted four German T.B.D’s on our starboard bow apparently intending an attack on the Battle Fleet, probably the 5th B.S. We opened fire at once and hit the leading one, though the dusk made shooting very difficult. We drove the others off and they vanished with their tails down.

At 9 PM heavy firing and flashes ahead and to the S.E. I found out afterwards this was the 3rd L.C.S. and our B.C. who had been feeling their way to the Eastward to see if our Fleet was trying to get between the Germans and their base. At this stage of the proceedings only 3 German B.C. were going about together. At about 9.15 or 9.30 we eased to 17 knots, we were astern of the Battle Fleet and course South. At about this time I drank a little tea which I found, it had no milk or sugar but it was good. Booth also found a slab of chocolate in his cabin. At approx. 9.40 we suddenly saw a flotilla of destroyers rushing at us, just as we were about to open fire we saw they were our own. As they dashed past our line (how we cursed their haphazard behavior), one of them fired a 4” at us, but didn’t hit anyone.

I imagine a Gun layer lost his head. At 10 PM searchlights were suddenly switched on, away on our starboard beam. I notice that I keep on using the word ‘suddenly’ I can only plead that during these slow dragging hours most of the events did happen ‘suddenly’ In the glare of these searchlights we saw a number of destroyers making an attack which apparently failed as the ships with the searchlights opened a very rapid fire and scored at least one hit as a big explosion took place on one T.B.D. We thought they looked like our own T.B.D’s but were not sure. (Was this the flotilla that passed us half an hour before and did we see “Tipperary” sunk?)

In a few minutes the lights went out and we were once more straining our eyes in staring out on all sides. PART II In this account of the great action I take up the threads of the story where we have just left off. In case the reader has become confused by the times I will briefly state that up to the moment when Part II begins, this Squadron and especially this ship had been under very heavy shell fire most noticeably from 5 – 6 PM when astern of the 5th B.S. and again from 7 – 7.10 PM when running away from the rear ships of the German line. During all this time from 2.30 – 10.00 PM May 31st which is the time Part I ends we had been at Action Stations When it became dusk we went to night Defence Stations and I went to the bridge as our arrangements are that the Gunnery Lieutenant should control one side and that I control the other.

In conversation with him (Burroughs) we had agreed that as in the event of a night action it was improbable, or at all events devoutly to be hoped that we should not be engaged both sides at once, that if we did get into action I should go down into the battery and preferably the waist, quarterdeck and after end generally, as owing to their distance from the bridge, communication to these positions and the guns there are precarious. It is therefore advisable to have an Officer on the spot if possible, for coolness in a night attack is obviously essential.

The time of which I am now writing is 10 PM on 31st May having watched the night action described at the end of Part I, I decided to rest for a little. I was on the bridge at the time and looking round I discovered the canvas cover of a searchlight, curling myself up in this I lay down at the base of the steering compass. The narrative will now assume a distinctly personal character but this is inevitable for did I attempt to give a general description of our night action I should be bound to fail. It would be impossible for one individual to do so. I can simply record what I experienced and what I saw together with what I heard immediately afterwards.

At 10.15 I heard someone say that a line of cruisers had been seen on the beam, getting up I went aft and looked in on my way at the After Control where I found Mr. Cabage (Bosun) and Booth who declared they could see German cruisers on the beam. It was a German scouting group consisting of “First Bismarck” or “Rion”, “Augsburg”, “Kolberg”, “Rostock” ? At this moment 10.20 a ship astern of us either the “Dublin” or the “Nottingham” fired out to starboard and almost at once I saw the shell detonate on a ship on the beam.

I dashed down into the waist and stood behind S3 gun, instantly we were dazzled by a mass of searchlight beams. We switched on our own lights and opened fire, I have a distinct recollection of seeing a line of cruisers but I can only remember one, a four funneled craft of the “Rostock” class, distance 1,500 yards. I remember thinking “well we can’t miss each other at this range, we are in for it this time” I think S3 had fired two rounds and already a hail of shells had enveloped the ship, though I didn’t realize it at the time, when there was a blinding flash and I seemed to be standing in a fire During this action I have forgotten to mention that we fired a torpedo at the German line. As the range was 1000 to 1500 yards it is probable that the “Mouldy” ran all right and that we got a hit, this belief is further strengthened by these facts:-

(1) Observers aft declare they saw one of the German ships struck by a torpedo and suffer a very heavy explosion. Of course these reports cannot be considered very reliable owing to the circumstances under which they were made.

(2) Officers’ in the ships astern have told me that they observed an underwater explosion in one four funneled cruiser in the German line.

(3) Next day we passed a place where a ship had gone down, this coincided very nearly with the spot where we had our action.

(4) If the enemy did not suffer any very exceptional loss, why did they shear off when they must have seen that another five minutes would have sunk us (“Southampton”) unless they thought that we could not possibly survive with our big fires and that why together with their admission of the “Rostock” they persist in claiming the “Birmingham”, evidently us.

I must confess that we must have presented a very comforting sight to German eyes. I staggered back and stumbled round the superstructure and passing aft on the port side came round to the point marked “A” on the sketch where I observed that a fire was in full blast at “B” between the gun and the corner of the superstructure at “H”.

The Sergeant Major gallantly dashed forward to turn on the fire main at “H” but no water came as the pipe below had been pierced by a shell. As I have already said I was standing behind the gun when another shell hit, this shell on bursting against the side killed the breech worker of the gun near me and also the loading number standing just to my left front. It also knocked out and wounded the whole of the rest of the guns’ crew except three men, there were left these three or two, I’m not sure exactly, the Sergeant Major (severely burnt) and myself, slightly singed. When we saw that the fire main would not work we managed to get a hose up the hatch and bring it round, whilst doing this I looked up to the boat deck and saw a sight which almost paralyzed me with horror.

An enormous fire was raging between the 2nd and 3rd funnels. Every now and then it showed signs of dying away only to flare up again as high as the top of the funnel. It lit up the whole ship and one could feel its heat. It quite obscured another fire which I found out afterwards was going under the fore bridge. Every moment I thought, as did everyone else onboard and also people in the ship next to us, that we should blow up. I must explain that though I hardly realized it at the time, an Armoured cruiser, (either the “Roon” or “Prinz Heinrich” and four light cruisers were concentrating on us. With the exception of one or two shells which did some damage to the “Dublin” (she had the Navigator and one man killed, 9 wounded) none of the rest of the squadron were touched.

Whilst we were putting out the fire another shell burst on the starboard after searchlight killing two or three men up there and hurled the remains of it down on top of us in the waist, as far as I know it killed no one. When we had put out the fire I dragged a hose up the port ladder to the boat deck, falling over a heap of about three dead men on the way. When I got to the central fire it was being got under control. I met the Commander there, also Booth and also saw most of P.3’s gun’s crew dead by their gun as were also S. 3’s, they were lying on the deck.

Whilst this fire had been raging we were lit up from stem to stern and the enemy let drive at us for all they were worth. As this fire died down the enemy put out their lights and sheared off, either this was due to the punishment they had received or some other cause. At all events we held our course and they turned away.

Darkness succeeded light and groping my way forward I passed a number of dead men and came across a boy (Mellish), a splendid little chap, one arm and a leg was off. He was bleeding to death, quite conscious and most plucky. I had him taken below as well as many others, Mellish died one hour afterwards. On reaching the bridge I met the Commander who sent me to report casualties, I went down aft stopping to see some dead put over the side and then down the hatch to the central passageway which was in places running with blood. The doctors were operating in the Stokers bathroom they were doing an amputation when I arrived. Not a murmur rose, not a sound, not a groan came from these wrecks of humanity lying on the deck, the tables and the sideboard.

A whispered request for a cigarette was all I heard. Going up to the bridge again I told the Commander what I could and then went down to the battery where the Lieut, (G) and the Commander were making up sufficient guns’ crews with stokers to man one side if required. We also did our best to test and restore communications, which in most cases were blown to stems. Having done what, we could, Booth and myself went up to the bridge and lay down on the searchlight cover as there was nothing else we could do. We found a lot of blood there so we shifted ground. Suddenly firing started right astern, supposedly Battle Cruisers in action. I prayed to heaven we should not run up against them, with only enough men left to man one side and even then the loading numbers were stokers, we were in no state to fight. We increased to 20 knots and when dawn was breaking we sighted a number of Battleships right ahead. Such is the uncertainty of night work that for one or two painful moments we were not sure of their identity, but luckily they were our own.

The scene on the upper deck defies description and in places it was so horrible that I will not describe it. The funnels were riddled with holes large and small and most of the upper deck casing and the boats were coloured a bright yellow from the melinite fumes. Of the boats, only one was fit to put in the water. Down below, the smoking room flat presented an extraordinary appearance, Marsden’s cabin and Stoddart’s on the starboard side were utterly wrecked as two shells had passed through here. One had carried on into the Wardroom and the other had made its way across the ship into mine doing a good deal of damage and smashing the scuttle.

All my gear was on the deck and there was about six to nine inches of water (chiefly through my broken scuttle) everywhere. It was a painful sight.

A shell went into the Commodore’s cabin high up but did nothing, another entered Booth’s cabin and smashing through his bunk entered the Wardroom and fetched up with some violence against the soda water machine. A 9.4” entered the ships’ side through the Carpenter’s cabin, killed two men in the flat and did damage I have already described in the waist overhead. The funnels were hit repeatedly and there were several direct hits on the deck which did tremendous execution amongst the gun crews near them. Two or three direct hits under the bridge caused a fire and deaths under and on the bridge itself. There were further hits along the side, some of which were kept out by our three inch armour, but one big one penetrated and wrecked the First Lieutenant’s cabin. Others came in and smashed the Gunner (T) and (G’s) cabins. A big one entered the stokers number two mess deck and killed some men there, it also gave some trouble as it was on the waterline.

This one and the one in the Carpenter’s cabin were the only ones which leaked at all badly once we had plugged and shored them all up. The main suction kept the water from these in hand. As to our movements during the 1st June and also as to a detailed list of our injuries, they are not really of great general interest. The Germans probably doubled back on their tracks and though we were between them and their base the weather was misty and they escaped the Commander-in-Chief’s Grand Fleet. We passed some very large mines and a T.B.D. bottom up whilst we were cruising about in the Bight looking for the Germans.

At twelve noon we packed up Action stations having been at them for 23 hours and we returned to base. On the way in we had to heave to once during the night as a small gale caused some of the shores to carry away and we began to leak rather badly. We also buried some wounded who had died of their wounds, one poor chap had just died today in the hospital ship after surviving a week, he was one of the frightfully burnt cases I now propose to close this account by rendering thanks where they are due, as one fellow said speaking about our ‘night show’…… ” There were not many atheists’ onboard us at 11 PM, though there might have been some at 10 PM”. Note: HMS Southampton’s casualties were 35 killed and 41 wounded.

Petty officer Albert Symonds

Petty officer Albert Symonds in happier days visiting Spain in 1911.

HMS Southampton 24th October 1917 Said Writer A.W.G. Symonds has served under me from 27th October 1915 to 15th February 1917. He has always carried out his responsible duties here with accuracy and loyalty. In several trying and arduous situations, including the Battle of Jutland, 31st May 1916, his conduct has been in every way satisfactory. I have no hesitation in recommending him for a position of responsibility and trust. Signed Staff Paymaster R.N.

I had to upload this to the RNWA (Royal Naval Writers Association) website, and thought it would be fascinating to share.

This is a transcript of the Journal of Petty Officer (Writer) Albert Symonds who was serving in the Town Class Light Cruiser HMS Southampton. (Sister ship of HMS Lowestoft which was in 1916 with the Mediterranean Fleet in the 8th L.C.S.)

Plan showing the British 12th Destroyer Flotilla’s attack at dawn 1st June 1916 on the German Battle Line during the Battle of Jutland. In the attack the German pre-Dreadnought SMS Pommern was sunk with all hands. The order of the German Battleships was uncertain as ships had been forced to pull out of the line during the night to avoid torpedoes and then re-enter where there was a space: plan by John Fawkes.

Editors Notes. Images have been added to the original script for information purposes only & All copy write goes to the respected original owners.