- from 'the War Illustrated', 10th November, 1917
- 'The Truth about Jutland'
- by Lovat Fraser
Chapters from the Inner History of the War
The Truth About Jutland
The Battle of Jutland was fought on May 31st, 1916, and has recently again become the subject of much discussion, for reasons which do not concern me here. The battle was waged in mist and haze and darkness, and that atmosphere still envelops its story.
It is not surprising that the public are still in a fog about Jutland, because everybody in the battle was in a fog. If you compare the personal narratives of some of those who were present, you will find the most marked but perfectly natural and sincere discrepancies.
The Jutland despatches omit a great deal, and in some respects are very confusing. I do not wish to be misunderstood. The losses were told to the last picket-boat, and the omissions relate solely to details of strategy and similar matters, which it is thought might be useful to the enemy. In these questions I am a heretic, and am all for the full, plain, unvarnished tale. I am fairly sure that the plea of giving information to the enemy has been overworked on land and sea.
There was a great outcry at the time about the first announcement of the battle, made by our Admiralty at 7 p.m. on June 2nd, 1916. It was said to have been clumsy and stupid, and to have misled the world. I have just read that famous announcement through, very slowly a dozen times, weighing every word, after having re-examined most of the information now accessible about the battle.
What Was the German Object?
I find it to be a thoroughly honest, clear, oareful and well-drawn statement of what had happened in the light of the intelligence then available. It was quite colourless, and at that stage rightly so. It dealt imperfectly with the enemy's losses, because they were not then fully known; they arc not much better known to-day.
A howl went up because the Admiralty did not instantly claim Jutland as a victory. Whoever wrote that announcement, he was an honest and able man, who told the truth frankly. I wish all British bulletins in this war had been written in the same spirit. The truth about the Battle of Jutland is that it was not a victory for anybody.
Jutland was never a full fleet action. It was only the beginning of an action, which failed to develop because the light grew too bad, and also because the Germans managed to run away. Whether we could have prevented them from bolting is a question to which I will refer later. In the "Daily Mail" of October 25th Admiral W. H. Henderson contends that the enemy gained their object of avoiding a decision and of getting back to port. I do not think this is the right way to put it. If the German object was merely to avoid a decision, they could have attained it by staying in port. I hold that they had a larger and more direct object which they failed to achieve.
The Germans knew that Admiral Beatty and the Battle-Cruiser Fleet were in the habit of making periodical sweeps down the coast of Jutland. Early in 1916 there were important changes in the German Naval Command, and a time of great activity followed. The object of the Germans on May 31st, 1916, was to destroy Beatty. They did not destroy him, and he led them into the jaws of Admiral Jellicoe and the Battle Fleet. They then developed a new object, which was to escape, and this they achieved; but the object for which they came out was entirely different, and was foiled. It is true that incidentally they inflicted considerable losses upon us; but their own losses, although uncertain, were also considerable, and we could afford to lose ships much better than they could.
When Admiral Henderson says "the strategical and tactical honours" fell to the Germans, he is on less debatable ground; but even here honours are easy.
Beatty's Masterly Manoeuvres
The manoeuvres by which Beatty led the enemy northward into a trap, and then initiated the movement which resulted in the whole of the British forces being interposed between the Germans and their port, were surely masterly. Except in gunnery at the outset, German skill was only revealed in the last stages of the battle, and presents two leading features. The first is the way in which Vice-Admiral Scheer managed to break off the action, and the second is the way in which he made his way back to port.
I shall only state the main aspects of the battle very simply and broadly, omitting technicalities. Beatty and the Battle-Cruiser Fleet had been steaming south about a hundred miles from Jutland, with Jellicoe and the Battle Fleet about two hours astern. Beatty had just turned north to rejoin Jellicoe when he discovered Vice-Admiral Hipper and the German Battle-Cruiser Fleet between himself and Jutland and steaming south. He instantly turned and took up a course more or less abreast of the enemy. The battle began at 3.48 p.m., and within the first hour the battle-cruisers Queen Mary and Indefatigable were struck and blew up. How this happened is fairly well known, but no particulars have been published.
Hipper was leading Beatty towards Scheer and the German Battle Fleet, which came into sight at 4.38 p.m. In four minutes Beatty had turned northward arid was being pursued, which was exactly what he wanted. He in turn now tried to lead the entire German High Sea Fleet to Jellicoe. He gradually swerved north-eastward, compelling the enemy to conform to his course, and at six o'clock he caught the first glimpse of the British battleships. He then turned due east, with the object of eventually coming south again and getting between the Germans and the coast of Jutland.
The Great Moment
Jellicoe's forces were led by the Third Battle-Cruiser Squadron, under Rear-Admiral Hood, who went too far to the east and eventually came into action ahead of Beatty. Hood got very near the enemy, and his flagship the Invincible was quickly sunk. Shortly afterwards the First Cruiser Squadron, under Admiral Arbuthnot, while engaged with German light cruisers, came under close-range fire from the Germans. It is supposed that owing to the mist Arbuthnot was not aware of the nearness of the German battleships. His three armoured cruisers, Defence, Warrior and Black Prince, were overwhelmed by the German guns, and all were eventually lost.
At the time that our Battle Fleet came into action the haze and mist were so opaque that the enemy could scarcely be seen. The despatches are curtailed, and it is impossible to make out from any official account the precise sequel. In passing round the van of the German line Beatty had thrown the leading cruisers into confusion. Scheer stayed long enough to permit them to escape, but. turned his battleships as soon as possible to avoid action. "I have heard so many versions of what followed that, as a layman, I am at a loss to know which is right, but the story which seems to me clearest was something like this:
Jellicoe brought the Battle Fleet into action in line ahead, which has been the battle formation of the Royal Navy since 1653: When his leading ships were crossing the van of the enemy's Battle Fleet it seemed for an instant that he had them absolutely at his mercy. It was one of those moment of which naval strategists dream all their lives. It portended the annihilation of the foe. And then owing to the mist and the smoke and the bad light-the chance vanished. Jellicoe says that very few of the enemy ships could be seen at any one time. If this version is not correct (and I cannot in the least guarantee it), at any rate it is the best which has reached me.
How Did Scheer Escape?
Both the enemy and our own Fleets then followed a course to the southward-We were then nearest Jutland. During a period of about two hours our battleships and battle- cruisers were intermittently engaged, and it was chiefly during this phase that various important enemy ships were seen to be badly hit. Admiral Henderson says that at a time when only our rear squadron was engaged the whole Battle Fleet was turned several points away from the enemy because a torpedo attack threatened the rear squadron. He states that owing to this change of course the chance of destroying the enemy was lost, and that Beatty, who was ahead and still in action, thereby failed to receive support for which he aske:!. Of this I know nothing, and to me the despatch conveys nothing on the point, though it is noticeable that when Beatty finally gave up hope of continuing the action that night because the enemy was invisible, he had to alter his course in order to conform to the course of the Battle Fleet.
There is no doubt that early in the night all our forces were between the enemy and his base, and Beatty says it appeared certain that the Germans would be located at daylight under most favourable circumstances. During the night our destroyer flotillas and the Second Light Cruiser Squadron conducted daring attacks. When dawn? broke the enemy had vanished.
How did Scheer escape? Admiral Henderson says that he "passed during the night astern of our Fleet." This is the first time the statement has been so definitely made, but I have long understood that it is true. While we were steering south-westward in the darkness he passed behind us and reached port. This was the second thing Scheer did skilfully, the first being the way he broke off the action. Jutland was manifestly no Trafalgar, nor is any British naval action which leaves room for doubt.
a British warship sunk at Jutland
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