Battle of Jutland - Background

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Battle of jutland - Grand Fleet Visibility played a major role in gunnery accuracy at the Battle of Jutland.  As can be seen in this picture of the Grand Fleet at sea, a lot of smoke is given off under normal steaming, under battle conditions with higher speeds, gun smoke and shell splashes it takes little imagination to appreciate the problems of hitting a moving ship miles away.

The Battle of Jutland (known as the Battle of Skagerrak in Germany), fought between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet in 1916, was the largest surface naval battle of the metal ship era, the only major fleet action of World War 1, and the last major fleet action that the participants will ever fight.  It also played a key role in the demise of the reputation of battlecruiser, saw the first use of a carrier based aircraft in battle and is one of the most controversial naval actions in the Royal Navy's long history.

The Royal Navy started the war with a numerical advantage in capital ships over the Germans.  The Germans realised that they were likely to lose a full fleet battle and so determined to even the odds by luring smaller parts of the Grand Fleet into traps to eventually bring about equality with the British, at which point they felt confident they would defeat them.

In the spring of 1916 the U-Boat offensive against merchant shipping was restricted to prize rules, giving Scheer, the German C-in-C, more submarines than usual to use against warships.  He decided to station them off the major British naval basses and then entice the Grand Fleet out of harbour and over the waiting U-Boats.

Initially Scheer planned to raid Sunderland to draw out the Grand Fleet, but this relied on Zeppelin scouting and the weather ruled this out, so an alternative plan was used.  He planed to send the battlecruisers, under by Hipper, to the Skagerrak (the sea between southern Norway and Denmark), threatening British patrols and merchant ships in the area.  On the morning of 31 May the High Seas Fleet made for sea.

SMS Westfalen leads a line of German battleships in 1915.  She was part of the Nassau class, all four of which were at Jutland.  Germanys first Dreadnoughts, like the ships which followed them, had less firepower but greater protection than their British equivalents.  Westfalen led the German van during the night sinking four destroyers. Battle of Jutland - Westfalen

The British had by the morning of 30 May received indications that the Germans were assembling, this along with increased U-Boat activity and a decoded (but not interpreted) operational signal led the British to suppose that the High Seas Fleet was going to put to sea. By 10.30 PM on 30 May the Grand Fleet was at sea, two and a half hours before the Germans.

Of the ten U-Boats off British bases only U66 and U32 sighted British ships, U32 reporting two battleships, two cruisers and several destroyers and U66 reporting eight battleships, light cruisers and destroyers.  Only U32 launches an attack with no success.  The Germans did not interpret this as the whole Grand Fleet being at sea.

On the morning of 31 May Jellicoe, the British C-in-C, received incorrect intelligence from the Admiralty that the German Flagship was still in port, resulting in him to deduce that the German operation would be a cruiser sweep with the High Seas Fleet only providing distant cover.  When he found this later to be incorrect it shook his confidence in the intelligence provided, with important consequences for the outcome of the battle.

On the afternoon of 31 May the British battlecruisers, under Beatty, were on a course that at 4.30 PM would take them 20 miles ahead of the German Battlefleet and 40 miles astern of their battlecruisers.  Fortunately, for Beatty, the Danish steamer N.J.Fjord was steaming between the cruiser screens of both battlecruiser fleets. At 2.00 PM the Elbing sighted her and sent B109 and B110 to investigate.  Galatea and Phaeton also went to investigate. At 3.20 PM Galatea signalled "Enemy in sight" and eight minutes later the British light cruisers opened fire.

Beatty turned his battlecruisers south-south-east to engage the enemy.  Unfortunately for the British, owing to a mixture of bad initial positioning, sloppy signalling, lack of initiative and bad luck the powerful 5th Battle Squadron turned in the other direction and carried on for nearly ten minutes increasing the range from the enemy and depriving Beatty of the most powerful squadron in the world during the early part of the Battle of Jutland.

Battle of Jutland - Neptune HMS Neptune was a stepping stone design between the in line wing turrets of previous designs and the all centre line disposition of the future.  Neptune retained wing turrets but they were offset to allow cross deck firing.

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