Naval Power in the Present War
PART IV: The Battle of Jutland—Continued

By Lieutenant Charles C. Gill United States Navy

[The New York Times/Current History, April 1917]

This article is the fourth in a series contributed to CURRENT HISTORY MAGAZINE by Lieutenant Gill of the superdreadnought Oklahoma—with the sanction of the United States Naval Department for the purpose of deducing the lessons furnished by the naval events of the European war.

The Third Phase
The British Grand Fleet Joins in the Battle

During the first and second phases of the battle the Grand Fleet was closing at utmost fleet speed on a southeast by south course. Three battle cruisers, led by Rear Admiral Hood in the Invincible, together with screening light cruisers and destroyers, were in advance operating as a fast wing. At 5:45 an outpost light cruiser was engaged with a division of German light cruisers. At 6:10 Admiral Beatty's engaged squadron was sighted by the Invincible. At 6:21 Admiral Hood led his squadron into action, taking station in the van just ahead of the Lion and closing at 6:25 to a range of 8,000 yards. A few minutes later the Invincible was sunk by gun fire.

In the meanwhile the British battle fleet was coming into action, filling the previously mentioned gap opening up between Admiral Beatty and Rear Admiral Evan Thomas. At 5:55 advanced British armored cruisers, light cruisers, and destroyers were engaged with German cruisers and destroyers. At 6:16 the armored cruisers Warrior, Black Prince, and Defence under Sir Robert Arbuthnot were drawn between the lines and disabled by close-range fire from the German battleships. At 6:14 Admiral Jellicoe formed the Grand Fleet in battle line, and during deployment at 6:17 the first battle squadron opened fire on a German battleship of the Kaiser class. At 6:30 the other battle squadrons engaged ships of the König class. The four battleships of the Elizabeth class, previously engaged during the second phase, formed astern of the main battle fleet. At this time the Warspite of this fifth battle squadron had her helm jam with right rudder, causing her to turn toward the German line, where she was subjected to severe fire, but the trouble being soon corrected she was extricated from this predicament. Admiral Jellicoe reports:

Owing principally to the mist, but partly to the smoke, it was possible to see only a few ships at a time in the enemy's battle line. Toward the van only some four or five ships were ever visible at once. More could be seen from the rear squadron, but never more than eight to twelve…. The action between the battle fleets lasted intermittently from 6:17 P. M. to 8:20 P. M., at ranges between 9,000 yards and 12,000 yards. During this time the British fleet made alterations of course from southeast by east to west (168% degrees) in the endeavor to close, but the enemy constantly turned away and opened the range under cover of destroyer attacks and smoke screens. The alterations of course had the effect of bringing the British fleet (which commenced the action in a position of advantage on the bow of the enemy) to a quarterly bearing from the enemy's battle line, but at the same time placed us between the enemy and his bases. During the somewhat brief periods that the ships of the High Seas Fleet were visible through the mist the heavy and effective fire kept up by the battleships and battle cruisers of the Grand Fleet caused me much satisfaction, and the enemy vessels were seen to be constantly hit, some being observed to haul out of the line and at least one to sink. The enemy's return fire at this time was not effective and the damage caused to our ships was insignificant.

Series of Local Actions

From the reports it appears that the area of the battle was covered by mist and smoke of varying density, interspersed with sections wherein opposing ships could see each other at the battle range. This gave rise to a series of local actions during which all ships of the battle fleet became engaged, but at no time simultaneously. These detached actions were for the most part between few ships for brief periods. The aggregate fighting, however, seems to have been considerable, as may be gathered from the following synopsis of the principal incidents reported by Admiral Jellicoe and Vice Admiral Beatty:

At 6:17 the third battle squadron engaged German battleships, battle cruisers, and light cruisers at a range of 11,000 yards. The fourth battle squadron, in which was placed the Commander in Chief's flagship Iron Duke, engaged the battle squadron, consisting of the König and Kaiser classes, as well as some of the German battle cruisers and light cruisers. The mist rendered ranga taking difficult, but the fire of the squadron was effective. The Iron Duke opened at 6:30 on a battleship of the König class at 12,000 yards range, hitting on the second salvo, and continuing to hit until the target ship turned away. The fire of other ships of the fourth squadron was principally directed at enemy battle cruisers and cruisers as they appeared out of the mist. The ships of the second battle squadron were in action with vessels cf the Kaiser and König classes between 6:30 and 7:20, and fired also at a battle cruiser which had dropped back, apparently severely damaged. The first battle squadron received more of the return fire than the remainder of the main fleet. The Colossus was hit, but not seriously damaged, and other ships were straddled with fair frequency by the German salvos.

Admiral Jellicoe makes special mention of the Marlborough of the third battle squadron, stating that at 6:17 she fired seven salvos at a German battleship of the Kaiser class, then engaged a cruiser and again a battleship. At 6:54 she was hit by a torpedo and took up a considerable list to starboard, but at 7:03 reopened on a cruiser, and at 7:12 fired fourteen rapid salvos at a battleship of the König class, hitting her frequently until she turned out of line. These details in the case of the Marlborough permit some rather interesting speculations. It seems that this ship alone fired approximately between 200 and 250 13.5-inch shells, each one weighing about 1,240 pounds, aggregating in the neighborhood of 140 tons of high explosive steel shell, at the effective battle range of 12,000 yards in the beginning and closing to 9,000 yards during the course of the action. If this is at all indicative of the fighting done by the other battleships of the main body it is apparent that a considerable weight of metal was let loose. In the first and second phases it is estimated that each of the ships under Vice Admiral Beatty and Rear Admiral Thomas fired four or five times this amount (about 600 tons each) and the Germans quite as much, if not more.

After the injury to the Marlborough Vice Admiral Burney transferred his flag to the Revenge.

It appears that the British battle cruisers after the loss of the Invincible were out of action for about half an hour. At about 6:50 the two remaining ships of Admiral Hood's squadron were ordered to prolong Admiral Beatty's line astern, and, having lost sight of the enemy, the battle cruiser squadrons reduced speed to 18 knots. Course was gradually changed to south and then to southwest in an effort to regain touch with the enemy. At 7:14 two German battle cruisers and two battleships were sighted at about 15,000 yards range, bearing northwesterly. At 7:17 Admiral Beatty's ships re-engaged and increased speed to 22 knots. At 7:32 the British battle cruisers had again reduced speed to 18 knots. German destroyers advanced, emitting clouds of dark gray smoke, under which screen the German capital ships turned away and were lost sight of at 7:45. British light cruisers were ordered to sweep westward to regain touch, and at 8:20 Admiral Beatty ordered a westerly course in support.

Climax of the Fighting

Soon afterward German battle cruisers and battleships were heavily engaged at 10,000 yards range. Admiral Beatty reports that the leading ship was hit repeatedly by the Lion and turned out of line eight points, emitting high flames; that the Princess Royal set fire to a three-funnel battleship, and that the New Zealand and Indomitable both engaged the third ship, forcing her to haul out of line on fire and heeling over. The mist at this time shut them from view, but the Falmouth reported the German ships as last seen at 8:38 steam to the westward. The British battle cruisers did not regain touch, and at 9:24 changed to the southerly course set by Admiral Jellicoe for the battle fleet.

During the third phase the conditions of mist and failing light favored torpedo attack, but few details have as yet been reported. The fourth light cruiser squadron occupied a position in the van until 7:20 P. M., when they carried out orders to attack German destroyers. Again at 8:18 P. M. this squadron moved out to support the eleventh destroyer flotilla in a torpedo attack. They came under a heavy fire from the enemy battle fleet at ranges between 6,500 and 8,000 yards, but succeeded in firing torpedoes at German battleships.

At 6:25 the third light cruiser squadron attacked the German battle cruisers with torpedoes, and the Indomitable reported that a few minutes later a German battle cruiser of the Derfflinger class fell out of line. This may have been the Lützow, as at about this time Vice Admiral Hipper, while under a heavy fire, transshipped his flag in a torpedo boat from the disabled Lützow to the Derfflinger.

Losses on Both Sides

It is thus seen that during the third phase, lasting from 6:15 to about 8:30 P. M., practically the entire British Grand Fleet was engaged with practically the entire German High Seas Fleet. Early in the phase the British armored cruiser Defense (tonnage 14,600, carrying four 9.2-inch guns and 755 men) was sunk. At the same time the armored cruiser Warrior (tonnage 13,500, carrying six 9.2-inch guns and 704 men) and her sister ship, the Black Prince, were disabled. The Warrior was taken in tow by the Engadine, but broke away during rough weather in the night, and sank after the crew had been taken off. The Black Prince came in close contact with a German battleship during the night and was sunk by gunfire.

Between 6 and 6:30 the Germans lost the light cruiser Wiesbaden. Rear Admiral Hood's flagship, the Invincible, (tonnage 17,250, carrying eight 12-inch guns and 750. men,) was sunk soon after engaging. The German battle cruiser Lützow (tonnage 28,000, carrying ten 12-inch guns and 750 men) was disabled, and sank while returning to port. The German battleship Pommern (tonnage 13,040, carrying four 11-inch guns and 750 men) was probably disabled during the day battle and sunk in the night by a torpedo. The German light cruisers Frauenlob and Rostock were destroyed in the evening fighting, while the light cruiser Elbing was abandoned because of damage due to collision with another German ship. According to official admission, each side seems to have lost about four destroyers, either during this phase or during the night fighting.

The details of how Admiral Jellicoe manoeuvred his ships into action have not been disclosed, but the British battle fleet probably approached with squadrons or divisions in line or line of bearing. That is, the ships were in several parallel columns on a southerly course, with the leading ships in a line approximately east and west, at such a distance apart as to permit all ships to swing into one column, heading either east or west. The deployment into a battle line heading easterly seems to have been skillfully effected under trying conditions. Just what the relative positions of the two fleets were during this phase is not known, but the British seem to have had a tactical advantage in turning the German van. The conditions of poor visibility, however, did not permit them to get full benefit of it, although they had the German ships backed by the twilight sky, an important advantage, which must have increased as darkness approached.

Some criticism has been made of Admiral Jellicoe for not pressing the retiring enemy ships more closely, but it is to be remembered that retiring ships are in a favorable position for using mines and torpedoes. Moreover, the mist and the direction of the wind were helpful to the destroyers in making a good smoke screen for the Germans.

The Fourth Phase

Torpedo Attacks and Fighting During the Night of May 31 to June 1

Admiral Jellicoe reports that after the arrival of the Grand Fleet the tactics of the Germans were generally to avoid further action, in which they were favored by conditions of visibility. At this stage of the action, shortly after 8:40, Admiral Jellicoe quotes Vice Admiral Beatty as follows:

In view of the gathering darkness, and the fact that our strategical position was such as to make it appear certain that we should locate the enemy at daylight under most favorable circumstances, I did not consider it desirable or proper to close the enemy battle fleet during the dark hours.

Admiral Jellicoe then reports:

At P. M. the enemy was entirely out of sight, and the threat of torpedo boat destroyer attacks during the rapidly approaching darkness made it necessary for me to dispose of the fleet for the night, with a view to its safety from such attacks, while providing for a renewal of action at daylight. I accordingly manoeuvred to remain between the enemy and his bases, placing our flotillas in a position in which they would afford protection to the fleet from destroyer attack and at the same time be favorably situated for attacking the enemy's heavy ships.

The British fleet, after making dispositions to guard against night torpedo attacks, steamed at moderate speed on southerly courses. During the night the British heavy ships were not engaged, but Admiral Jellicoe reports that the British Fourth, Eleventh, Twelfth, and Thirteenth Flotillas delivered a series of successful torpedo attacks.

Apart from the proceedings of the flotillas, the second light-cruiser squadron, stationed in the rear of the battle fleet, was in close action for about fifteen minutes at 10:20 P. M. with a German squadron, comprising one cruiser and four light cruisers. In this action the Southampton and the Dublin suffered rather heavy casualties, although their steaming and fighting qualities were not seriously impaired. This night fighting comprises an interesting and perhaps an important phase of the battle, but too little is known about it at this time to permit profitable discussion. During both the day and night conditions were favorable for the use of torpedoes. Destroyer attacks seem to have been numerous, persistent, and daring. It may be assumed that a great many torpedoes were fired, but the resulting damage does not appear to have been very extensive.

The German fleet after nightfall probably steered a southwesterly course at somewhat reduced speed because of damaged ships. It should be kept in mind that the fleet speed of the British was 20 knots. The fleet speed of the Germans was 17 knots, as their dreadnoughts had been eked out with predreadnought battleships of less speed.

Of course, to deceive the enemy, Admiral Scheer may have set a different course, such as toward the nearest land to the eastward; but it seems more reasonable that he tried to ease around the British fleet in the general direction of his Heligoland base.

Early on the morning of June 1 (3 A. M.) Admiral Jellicoe's battle fleet was to the westward of Horn Reef, some ninety miles from the battlefield…. The British fleet then turned to the northward and retraced its course.

Visibility was three to four miles. Admiral Jellicoe reports that the British fleet remained in the proximity of thebattlefield and near the line of approach to German ports until 11 A. M., June 1; that the position of the British fleet must have been known to the enemy, because at 4 A. M. the fleet engaged for about five minutes a Zeppelin which had ample opportunity to note and subsequently to report the position and course of the British fleet; that the waters from the latitude of Horn Reef to the scene of the action were thoroughly searched, but no enemy ships sighted; and that at 1:15 P. M., it being evident that the German fleet had succeeded in returning to port, course was shaped for British bases, which were reached without further incident. By 9:30 P. M. of the next day, June 2, the fleet having fueled and replenished with ammunition, was reported ready for further action.

Results of the Battle

The conduct of the British fleet on the morning of June 1, retracing its tracks to the northward over the battle area—apparently searching the least likely places to find enemy ships—raises a lot of perplexing questions. On the chart, Page 88, it is evident that, if the German fleet,was trying to ease around the British fleet from the westward toward its bases, it must have been in the shaded area, whether using fleet speed of 17 knots for five hours, or more likely, say, 12 knots for that time. If, as suggested above, Admiral Scheer had taken an easterly course, with perhaps the Skagerrack in mind in case of emergency, the German fleet must have been to the eastward of the course taken by the British fleet in the night—which would seem the one lane where the German fleet could not be located.

With the Grand Fleet in position to put itself between the German High Seas Fleet and its bases, why was there no decisive engagement? The fleets could not have been very far apart. Considering that the June nights between evening and morning twilight are only five hours long in these latitudes, and also considering the numerous scouts, both German and British, it looks as though they should have been pretty well informed of each other's whereabouts. But before criticising Admiral Jellicoe for not seeking an engagement in the vicinity of Heligoland it might be well to reflect upon the conditions confronting him on that morning: Visibility only three to four miles; close to enemy bases and comparatively far from home bases; a fleet somewhat knocked about after the previous day's fighting, and no doubt a number of the ships short of both fuel and ammunition; destroyers and light cruisers scattered, many more or less damaged, and perhaps the majority with torpedoes expended; an enemy skilled in the use of submarines and mines.

Because of these conditions, and since the success of the allied cause and the safety of the British Empire depend upon the Grand Fleet, there appear to be few grounds for questioning Admiral Jellicoe's wisdom in safeguarding his ships against the submarine and mine traps laid for them in the vicinity of Heligoland Bight. It is significant that the British Admiralty Staff, which comprises those who know most and care most about the conduct of the fleet, appears to be well satisfied with the way the ships were handled.

It is hard for persons unused to the sea to visualize the conditions and circumstances attending this engagement. Even seagoing men of excellent balance are liable, when transplanted temporarily to the tranquillity of a war college, to be somewhat influenced by environment, and, while in enthusiastic search of illustration for pet theories, they may overlook or fail to give due weight to modifying factors which cannot be simulated on the game board. Students of tactics on shore make their decisions after study and discussion in the comfortable quiet of a well-lighted room, and then use T square and ruler to move their miniature ships on a motionless wooden ocean. The fighters of the Jutland battle faced quite a different proposition. Decisions had to be made quickly, accurately transmitted by signal, and promptly carried out on a sea darkened by mist, smoke, and approaching night. All this had to be done, moreover, in the midst of battle, under the strain of apprehension, in the uncertainties of meagre and conflicting information.

Which side won and which side suffered the more damage—these are and for some time probably will continue to be debatable questions. Great Britain and Germany both claim a victory, and one's point of view seems to determine which of these two opinions is accepted. Very likely history will judge the battle indecisive. As to the damage inflicted, present official British and German admissions show that Great Britain lost a greater tonnage in ships actually sunk, but this is by no means conclusive evidence that the British fleet suffered greater punishment than did the German fleet. A careful study of the reports of the battle as well as sidelights, such as the official veil of secrecy enshrouding the German fleet and the fact that an honorary degree has been conferred upon the Chief Constructor of the German Navy because of the structural merits of German warships, especially with regard to their non-sinkability after injury, all indicate that many British shells and torpedoes found their mark. The chief losses, moreover, occurred in the battle cruiser squadrons. The battleship line, the backbone of British sea power, was not shorn of a single unit.

As regards general results, the military situation does not seem to have been much changed. British sea power is still supreme and exerting its inexorable pressure; the German High Seas Fleet is still a fleet in being and a menace to its enemies.

The following is the British statement of losses:

BATTLE CRUISERS

 
Queen Mary
Indefgable
Invincible

Tonage
27,000
18,750
17,250

Armor Belt
9 in.
9 in.
7 in.

Main Battery
8 13.5-in.
8 12-in.
8 12-in.

Speed
28
26
26

Men.
1,000
899
750

Completed
'13
'11
'08

ARMORED CRUISERS

Defense
Black Prince
Warrior

14,600
13,550
13,550

6 in.
6 in.
6 in.

4 9.2-in.
6 9.2-in.
6 9.2-in.

23
20.5
22.9

755
704
704

'08
'06
'08

DESTROYERS

Tipperary
Turbulent
Fortune
Sparrow Hawk
Ardent
Nomad
Nestor
Shark

1,900
-----
920
950
950
-----
-----
950

-----
-----
-----
-----
-----
-----
-----
-----

-----
-----
-----
3 4-in.
3 4-in.
-----
-----
3 4-in.

31
-----
29.50
31.32
31.32
-----
-----
31.32

160
-----
100
100
704
-----
-----
100

'14
-----
'12
'12
-----
-----
'12
'12

The German losses reported by the German Admiralty are:

BATTLESHIPS

 
Pommern

Tonnage
13,040

Armament
4 11-in.
12 6.7-in.

Speed
19

Completed
'07

BATTLE CRUISERS

 
Lützow

Tonnage
28,000

Armament
8 12-in.
12 6-in.

Speed
27

Completed
'15

LIGHT CRUISERS

 
Rostock
Frauenlob

Tonnage
4,820
2,656

Armament
12 4.1-in.
10 4.1-in.

Speed
27.3
21.5

Completed
'15
'03

NEW LIGHT CRUISERS

 
Elbing
Wiesbaden

Tonnage
-----
-----

Armament
-----
-----

Speed
-----
-----

Completed
-----
-----

DESTROYERS

 
Five

Tonnage
-----

Armament
-----

Speed
-----

Completed
-----

TOTAL TONNAGE LOST

British
German

117,150
60,720

TOTAL PERSONNEL LOST

British
German

6,105
2,414

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013



If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —

THE HEADLONG FURY

A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald

The Headlong Fury
448 FASCINATING PAGES
PURCHASE NOW