The Greatest Naval Battle in History
( Originally Published 1918 )
GERMANY'S ambition for conquest at sea had been nursed and carefully fostered for twenty years. During the decade immediately preceding the declaration of war, it had embarked upon a policy of naval up-building that brought it into direct conflict with England's sea policy. Thereafter it became a race in naval construction, England piling up a huge debt in its determination to construct two tons of naval shipping to every one ton built by Germany.
Notwithstanding Great Britain's efforts in this direction, Germany's naval experts, with the ruthless von Tirpitz at their head, maintained that, given a fair seaway with ideal weather conditions favoring the low visibility tactics of the German sea command, a victory for the Teutonic ships would follow. It was this belief that drew the ships of the German cruiser squadron and High Seas Fleet off the coast of Jutland and Horn Reef into the great battle that decided the supremacy of the sea.
The 31st of May, 1916, will go down in history as the date of this titanic conflict. The British light cruiser Galatea on patrol duty near Horn Reef reported at 2.20 o'clock on the afternoon of that day, that it had sighted smoke plumes denoting the advance of enemy vessels from the direction of Helgoland Bight. Fifteen minutes later the smoke plumes were in such number and volume that the advance of a considerable force to the northward and eastward was indicated. It was reasoned by Vice-Admiral Beatty, to whom the Galatea bad sent the news by radio, that the enemy in rounding Horn Reef would in be brought into action. The first ships of the enemy were sighted at 3.31 o'clock. These were the battle screen of fast light cruisers. Back of these were five modern battle cruisers of the highest power and armament.
The report of the battle, by an eye-witness, that was issued upon semiofficial authority of the British Government, follows:
First Phase, 3.30 P. M. May 31st. Beattyis battle cruisers, consisting of the Lion, Princess Royal, Queen Mary, Tiger, Inflexible, Indomitable, Invincible, Indefatigable, and New Zealand, were on a southeasterly course, followed at about two miles distance by the four battleships of the class known as Queen Elizabeths.
Enemy light cruisers were sighted and shortly afterward the head of the German battle cruiser squadron, consisting of the new cruiser Hindenburg, the Seydlitz, Derfflinger, Lützow, Moltke, and possibly the Salamis.
Beatty at once began firing at a range of about 20,000 yards (twelve miles) which shortened to 16,000 yards (nine miles) as the fleets closed. The Germans could see the British distinctly outlined against the light yellow sky. The Germans, covered by a haze, could be very indistinctly made out by the British gunners.
The Queen Elizabeths opened fire on one after another as they came within range. The German battle cruisers turned to port and drew away to about 20,000 yards.
Second Phase, 4.40 P. M. A destroyer screen then appeared beyond the German battle cruisers. The whole German High Seas Fleet could be seen approaching on the north-eastern horizon in three divisions, coming to the support of their battle cruisers.
The German battle cruisers now turned right around 16 points and took station in front of the battleships of the High Fleet.
Beatty, with his battle cruisers and supporting battleships, therefore, had before him the whole of the German battle fleet, and Jellicoe was still some distance away.
The opposing fleets were now moving parallel to one another in opposite directions, and but for a master maneuver on the part of Beatty the British advance ships would have been cut off from Jellicoe's Grand Fleet. In order to avoid this and at-the same time pre-pare the way so that Jellicoe might envelop his adversary, Beatty immediately also turned right around 16 points, so as to bring his ships parallel to the German battle cruisers and facing the same direction.
As soon as he was around he increased to full speed to get ahead of the Germans and take up a tactical position in advance of their line. He was able to do this owing to the superior speed of the British battle cruisers.
Just before the turning point was reached, the Indefatigable sank, and the Queen Mary and the Invincible also were lost at the turning . point, where, of course, the High Seas Fleet concentrated their fire.
A little earlier, as the German battle cruisers were turning, the Queen Elizabeths had in similar manner concentrated their fire on the turning point and destroyed a new German battle cruiser, believed to be the Hindenburg.
Beatty had now got around and headed away with the loss of three ships, racing parallel to the German battle cruisers. The Queen Elizabeths followed behind engaging the main High Seas Fleet. '
Third Phase, 5 P. M. The Queen Elizabeths now turned short to port 16 points in order to follow Beatty. The Warspite jammed her steering gear, failed to get around, and drew the fire of six of the enemy, who closed in upon her.
The Germans claimed her as a loss, since on paper she ought to have been lost, but, as a matter of act, though repeatedly straddled by shell fire with the water boiling up all around her, she was not seriously hit, and was able to sink one of her opponents. Her captain recovered control of the vessel, brought her around, and followed her consorts.
In the meantime the Barham, Valiant and Malaya turned short so as to avoid the danger spot where the Queen Mary and the Invincible had been lost, and for an hour, until Jellicoe arrived, fought a delaying action against the High Seas Fleet.
The Warspite joined them at about 5.15 o'clock, and all four ships were so successfully maneuvered in order to upset the spotting corrections of their opponents that no hits of a seriously disabling character were suffered. They had the speed over their opponents by fully four knots, and were able to draw away from part of the long line of German battle-ships, which almost filled up the horizon-
At this time the Queen Elizabeths were steadily firing on at the flashes of German guns at a range which varied between 12,000 and 15,000 yards, especially against those ships which were nearest them. The Germans were enveloped in a mist and only smoke and flashes were visible.
By 5.45 half of the High Seas Fleet had been left out of range, and the Queen Elizabeths were steaming fast to join hands with Jellicoe.
To return to Beatty's battle cruisers. They had succeeded in outflanking the German battle cruisers, which were, therefore, obliged to turn a full right angle to starboard to avoid being headed.
Heavy fighting was renewed between the opposing battle cruiser squadrons, during which the Derfflinger was sunk; but toward 6 o'clock the German fire slackened very considerably, showing that Beatty's battle cruisers and the Queen Elizabeths had inflicted serious damage on their immediate opponents.
Fourth Phase, 6 P. M. The Grand Fleet' was now in sight, and, coming up fast in three directions, the Queen Elizabeths altered their course four points to the starboard and drew in toward the enemy to allow Jellicoe room to deploy into line.
The Grand Fleet was perfectly maneuvered and the very difficult operation of deploying between the battle cruisers and the Queen Elizabeths was perfectly timed.
Jellicoe came up, fell in behind Beatty's cruisers, and followed by the damaged but still serviceable Queen Elizabeths, steamed right across the head of the German fleet.
The first of the ships to come into action were the Revenue and the Royal Oak with their fifteen-inch guns, and the Agincourt which fired from her seven turrets with the speed almost of a Maxim gun.
The whole British fleet had now become concentrated. They had been perfectly maneuvered, so as to "cross the V of the High Seas Fleet, and, indeed, only decent light was necessary to complete their work of destroying the Germans in detail. The light did improve for a few minutes, and the conditions were favorable to the British fleet, which was now in line approximately north and south across the head of the Germans.
During the few minutes of good light Jellicoe smashed up the first three German ships, but the mist came down, visibility suddenly failed, and the defeated High Seas Fleet was able to draw off in ragged divisions.
Fifth Phase, Night. The Germans were followed by the British, who still had them enveloped between Jellieoe on the west, Beatty on the north, and Evan Thomas with his three Queen Elizabeths on the south. The War-spite had been sent back to her base.
During the night the torpedo boat destroyers heavily attacked the German ships, and, although they lost seriously themselves, succeeded in sinking two of the enemy.
Coordination of the units of the fleet was practically impossible to keep up, and the Germans discovered by the rays of their search-lights the three Queen Elizabeths, not more than 4,000 yards away. Unfortunately they were then able to escape between the battle-ships and Jellicoe, since the British gunners were not able to fire, as the destroyers were in the way.
So ended the Jutland battle, which was fought as had been planned and very nearly a great success. It was spoiled by the unfavorable weather conditions, especially at the critical moment, when the whole British fleet was concentrated and engaged in crushing the head of the German line.
Commenting on the engagement, Admiral Jellicoe said : "The battle cruiser fleet, gallantly led by Vice-Admiral Beatty, and admirably supported by the ships of the fifth battle squadron under Rear Admiral Evan-Thomas, fought the action under, at times, disadvantageous conditions, especially in regard to light, in a manner that was in keeping with the best traditions of the service."
His estimate of the German losses was: two battleships of the dreadnought type, one of the Deutschland type, which was seen to sink; the battle cruiser Lützow, admitted by the Germans; one battle cruiser of the dreadnought type, one battle cruiser seen to be so severely, damaged that its return was extremely doubtful; five light cruisers, seen to sink—one of them possibly a battleship ; six destroyers seen to sink, three destroyers so damaged that it was doubtful if they would be able to reach port, and a submarine sunk. The official German report admitted only eleven ships sunk; the first British report placed the total at eighteen, but Admiral Jellicoe enumerated twenty-one German vessels as probably lost.
The Admiral paid a fine tribute to the German naval men : "The enemy," he said, "fought with the gallantry that was expected of him. We particularly admired the conduct of those on board a disabled German light cruiser which passed down the British line shortly after the deployment under a heavy fire, which was returned by the only gun left in action. The conduct of the officers and men war entirely beyond praise. On all sides it is reported that the glorious traditions of the past were most worthily upheld; whether in the heavy ships, cruisers, light cruisers, or destroyers, the same admirable spirit prevailed. The officers and men were cool and determined, with a cheeriness that would have carried them through anything. The heroism of the wounded was the admiration of all. I cannot adequately express the pride with which the spirit of the fleet filled me."
At daylight on the 1st of June the British battle fleet, being southward of Horn Reef, turned northward in search of the enemy vessels. The visibility early on the first of June was three to four miles less than on May 31st, and the torpedo-boat destroyers, being out of visual touch, did not rejoin the fleet until 9 A. x. The British fleet remained in the proximity of the battlefield and near the line of approach to the German ports until 11 A. m., in spite of the disadvantage of long distances from fleet bases and the danger incurred in waters adjacent to the enemy's coasts from submarines and torpedo craft.
The enemy, however, made no sign, and the admiral was reluctantly compelled to the conclusion that the High Sea Fleet had returned into port. Subsequent events proved this assumption to have been correct. The British position must have been known to the enemy, as at 4 A. M. the fleet engaged a Zeppelin about five minutes, during which time she had ample opportunity to note and subsequently report the position and course of the British fleet.
The Germans at first claimed a victory for their fleet. The test, of course, was the out-come of the battle. The fact that the German fleet retreated and nevermore ventured forth from beneath the protecting guns and mine' fields around Helgoland, demonstrates beyond dispute that the British were entitled to the triumph. The German official report makes the best presentation of the German case. It follows in full:
The High Sea Fleet, consisting of three battleship squadrons, five battle cruisers, and a large number of small cruisers, with several destroyer flotillas, was cruising in the Skagerrak on May 31 for the purpose, as on earlier occasions, of offering battle to the British fleet. The vanguard of the small cruisers at 4.30 o'clock in the afternoon (German time) suddenly encountered ninety miles west of Hanstholm, (a cape on the northwest coast of Jutland), a group of eight of the newest cruisers of the Calliope class and fifteen or twenty of the most modern destroyers.
While the German light forces and the first cruiser squadron under Vice Admiral Hipper were following the British, who were retiring north-westward, the German battle cruisers sighted to the westward Vice Admiral Beatty's battle squadron of six ships, including four of the Lion type and two of the Indefatigable type. Beatty's squadron developed a battle line on a south-easterly course and Vice Admiral Hipper formed his line ahead on the same general course and approached for a running fight. He opened fire at 5.49 o'clock in the afternoon with heavy artillery at a range of 13,000 meters against the superior enemy. The weather was clear and light, and the sea was light with a northwest wind.
After about a quarter of an hour, a violent explosion occurred on the last cruiser of the Indefatigable type. It was caused by a heavy shell, and destroyed the vessel.
About 6.20 o'clock in the afternoon five warships of the Queen Elizabeth type came from the west and joined the British battle cruiser line, powerfully reinforcing with their fifteen-inch guns the five British battle cruisers remaining after 6.20 o'clock. To equalize this superiority Vice Admiral Hipper ordered the destroyers to attack the enemy. The British destroyers and small cruisers interposed, and a bitter engagement at close range ensued, in the course of which a light cruiser participated.
The Germans lost two torpedo boats, the crews of which were rescued by sister ships under a heavy fire. Two British destroyers were sunk by artillery, and two others—the Nestor and Nomad-remained on the scene in a crippled condition. These later were destroyed by the main fleet after German torpedo boats had rescued all the survivors.
While this engagement was in progress, a mighty explosion, caused by a big shell, 'broke the Queen Mary, the third ship in line, asunder, at 6.30 o'clock.
Soon thereafter the German main battleship fleet was sighted to the southward, steering north. The hostile fast squadrons thereupon turned northward, closing the first part of the fight, which lasted about an hour.
The British retired at high speed before the German fleet, which followed closely. The German battle cruisers continued the artillery combat with increasing intensity, particularly with the division of the vessels of the Queen Elizabeth type, and in this the leading German battleship division participated intermittently. The hostile ships showed a desire to run in a flat curve ahead of the point of our line and to cross it.
At 7.45 o'clock in the evening British small cruisers and destroyers launched an attack against our battle cruisers, who avoided the torpedoes by manoeuvring, while the British battle cruisers retired from the engagement, in which they did not participate further as far as can be established. Shortly thereafter a German reconnoitring group, which was parrying the destroyer attack, received an attack from the northeast. The cruiser Wiesbaden was soon put out of action in this attack. The German torpedo flotillas immediately attacked the heavy ships.
Appearing shadow-like from the haze bank to the northeast was made out a long line of at least twenty-five battleships, which at first sought a junction with the British battle cruisers and those of the Queen Elizabeth type on a northwesterly to westerly course, and then turned on an easterly to southeasterly course.
With the advent of the British main fleet, whose centre consisted of three squadrons of eight battleships each, with a fast division of three battle cruisers of the Invincible type on the northern end, and three of the newest vessels of the Royal Sovereign class, armed with fifteen-inch guns, at the southern end, there began about 8 o'clock in the evening the third section of the engagement, embracing the combat between the main fleets.
Vice Admiral Scheer determined to attack the British main fleet, which he now recognized was completely assembled and about doubly superior. The German battle-ship squadron, headed by battle cruisers, steered first toward the extensive haze bank to the northeast, where the crippled cruiser Wiesbaden was still receiving a heavy fire. Around the Wiesbaden stubborn individual fights under quickly changing conditions now occurred.
The light enemy forces, supported by an armored cruiser squadron of five ships of the Minatour, Achilles, and Duke of Edinburgh classes coming from the north-east, were encountered and apparently surprised on account of the decreasing visibility of our battle cruisers and leading battleship division. The squadron came under a violent and heavy fire, by which the small cruisers Defense and Black Prince were sunk. The cruiser Warrior regained its own line a wreck and later sank. Another small cruiser was damaged severely.
Two destroyers already, had fallen victims to the at-tack of German torpedo boats against the leading British battleships and a small cruiser and two destroyers were damaged. The German battle cruisers and leading battleship division had in these engagements come under increased fire of the enemy's battleship squadron, which, shortly after 8 o'clock, could be made out in the haze turning to the north-eastward and finally to the east. Germans observed, amid the artillery combat and shelling of great intensity, signs of the effect of good shooting between 8.20 and 8.30 o'clock particularly. Several officers on German ships observed that a battleship of the Queen Elizabeth class blew up under conditions similar to that of the Queen Mary. The Invincible sank after being hit severely. A ship of the Iron Duke class had earlier received a torpedo hit, and one of the Queen Elizabeth class was running around in a circle, its steering apparatus apparently having been hit.
The Lützow was hit by at least fifteen heavy shells and was unable to maintain its place in line. Vice Admiral Hipper, therefore, transshipped to the Moltke on a torpedo boat and under a heavy fire. The Derfllinger meantime took the lead temporarily. Parts of the German torpedo flotilla attacked the enemy's main fleet and heard detonations. In the action the Germans lost a torpedo boat. An enemy destroyer was seen in a sinking condition, having been hit by a torpedo.
After the first violent onslaught into the mass of the superior enemy the opponents lost sight of each other in the smoke by powder clouds. After a short cessation in the artillery combat Vice Admiral Scheer ordered a new attack by all the available forces.
German battle cruisers, which with several light cruisers and torpedo boats again headed the line, en-countered the enemy soon after 9 o'clock and renewed the heavy fire, which was answered by them from the mist, and then by the leading division of the main fleet. Armored cruisers now flung themselves in a reckless on-set at extreme speed against the enemy line in order to cover the attack of the torpedo boats. They approached the enemy line, although covered with shot from 6,000 meters distances. Several German torpedo flotillas dashed forward to attack, delivered torpedoes, and re-turned, despite the most severe counterfire, with the loss of only one boat. The bitter artillery fire was again interrupted, after this second violent onslaught, by the smoke from guns and funnels.
Several torpedo flotillas, which were ordered to attack somewhat later, found, after penetrating the smoke cloud, that the enemy fleet was no longer before them; nor, when the fleet commander again brought the German squadrons upon the southerly and southwesterly course where the enemy was last seen, could our opponents be found. Only once more—shortly before 10.30 o'clock --did the battle flare up. For a short time in the late twilight German battle cruisers sighted four enemy capital ships to seaward and opened fire immediately. As the two German battleship squadrons attacked, the enemy turned and vanished in the darkness. Older German light cruisers of the fourth reconnoissance group also were engaged with the older enemy armored cruisers in a short fight.
This ended the day battle.
The German divisions, which, after losing sight of the enemy, began a night cruise in a southerly direction, were attacked until dawn by enemy light force in rapid succession.
The attacks were favored by the general strategic situation and the particularly dark night.
The cruiser Frauenlob was injured severely during the engagement of the fourth reconnoissance group with a superior cruiser force, and was lost from sight.
One armored cruiser of the Cressy class suddenly appeared close to a German battleship and was shot into fire after forty seconds, and sank in four minutes.
The Florent (?) Destroyer 60, (the names were hard to decipher in the darkness and therefore were uncertainly established) and four destroyers—3, 78, 06, and 27—were destroyed by our fire. One destroyer was cut in two by the ram of a German battleship. Seven destroyers, including the G-30, were hit and severely damaged. These, including the Tipperary and Turbulent, which after saving survivors, were left behind in a sinking condition, drifted past our line, some of them burning at the bow or stern.
The tracks of countless torpedoes were sighted by the German ships, but only the Pommern (a battleship) fell an immediate victim to a torpedo. The cruiser Rostock was hit, but remained afloat. The cruiser Elbing was damaged by a German battleship during an unavoidable maneuver. After vain endeavors to keep the ship afloat the Elbing was blown up, but only after her crew had embarked on torpedo boats. A post torpedo boat was struck by a mine Iaid by the enemy.
While the world was still puzzling over the conflicting reports of the Battle of Jutland came the shocking news that Field Marshall Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener, the British Secretary of State for War, had perished ofd the West Orkney Islands on June 5th, through the sinking of the British cruiser Hampshire. The entire crew was also lost, except twelve men, a warrant officer and eleven seamen, who escaped on a raft. Earl Kitchener was on his way to Russia, at the request of the Russian Government, for a consultation regarding mu= nitions to be furnished the Russian army. He was intending to go to Archangel and visit Petrograd, and expected to be back in London by June 20th. He was accompanied by Hugh James O'Beirne, former Councillor of the British Embassy at Petrograd, O. A. Fitz-Gerald, his military secretary, Brigadier-General Ellarshaw, and Sir Frederick Donaldson, all of whom were lost.
The cause of the sinking of the Hampshire is not known. It is supposed that it struck a mine, but the tragedy very naturally brought into existence many stories which ascribe his death to more direct German action.
Seaman Rogerson, one of the survivors, de-scribes Lord Kitchener's last moments as follows: "Of those who left the ship, and have survived, I was the one who saw Lord Kitchener last. He went down with the ship, he did not leave her. I saw Captain Seville help his boat's crew to clear away his galley. At the same time the Captain was calling to Lord Kitchener to come to the boat, but owing to the noise made by the wind and sea, Lord Kitchener could not hear him, I think. 'When the explosion occurred, Kitchener walked calmly from the Captain's cabin, went up the ladder and on to the quarter deck. There I saw him walking quite collectedly, talking to two of the officers. All three were wearing khaki and had no overcoats on. Kitchener calmly watched the preparations for abandoning the ship, which were going on in a steady and orderly way. The crew just went to their stations, obeyed orders, and did their best to get out the boats. But it was impossible. Owing to the rough weather, no boats could be lowered. Those that were got out were smashed up at once. No boats left the ship. What people on the shore thought to be boats leaving, were rafts. Men did get into the boats as these lay in their cradles, thinking that as the ship went under the boats would float, but the ship sank by the head, and when she went she turned a somersault forward, carrying down with her all the boats and those in them. I do not think Kitchener got into a boat. When I sprang to a raft he was still on the starboard side of the quarter deck, talking with the officers. From the little time that elapsed between my leaving the ship and her sinking I feel certain Kitchener went down with her, and was on deck at the time she sank."
The British Admiralty, after investigation, gave out a statement declaring that the vessel struck a mine, and sank about fifteen minutes after.
The news of Lord Kitchener's death shocked the whole Allied world. He was the most important personality in the British Empire.
He had built up the British army, and his name was one to conjure by. His efficiency was a proverb, and he had an air of mystery about him that made him a sort of a popular hero. He was great before the World War began; he was the conqueror of the Soudan; the winner of the South African campaign; the reorganizer of Egypt. In his work as Secretary of War he had met with some criticism, but he possessed, more than any other man, the public confidence. At the beginning of the war he was appointed Secretary of War at the demand of an overwhelming public opinion. He realized more than any one else what such a war would mean. When others thought of it as an adventure to be soon concluded, he recognized that there would be years of bitter conflict. He asked England to give up its cherished tradition of a volunteer army; to go through arduous military training; he saw the danger to the Empire, and he alone, perhaps, had the authority to inspire his countrymen with the will to sacrifice. But his work was done. The great British army was in the field.