The Battle of Jutland - Running South then North

Posted on Thursday 31st May 2012

Extracted from The Battle of Jutland by Jon Sutherland and Diane Canwell, reproduced by permission of Pen and Sword Books Ltd.
The Battle of Jutland was the greatest naval engagement of the First World War. The events leading up to the battle gave the indication that it would be a major British naval victory. But as it would transpire the results were less clear-cut.
As May dawned both Scheer and Jellicoe were preparing for major offensives. Jellicoe was planning an operation that would be launched on 2 June, when he would use two light cruiser squadrons as bait, in the hope that Scheer would be tempted out to attack them with the German High Seas Fleet.
The light cruisers would cross between Denmark and Sweden, lurking behind them would be Beatty’s battlecruisers and behind them the Grand Fleet. Jellicoe hoped that his seaplanes could drive off the zeppelins so that Scheer would not be aware of the trap. He needed to draw the Germans out into the North Sea, and trap them. To support this he would lay new mines and position submarines, covering the area between Heligoland Bight and Horns Reef.
At the same time, Scheer had put forward plans for a major operation against Sunderland. He had come to the conclusion that by bombarding Great Yarmouth or Lowestoft he was hitting the British too far south. Beatty, based at Rosyth, would never be able to intercept a German attack and would not, therefore, be drawn into a trap that could be sprung by the High Seas Fleet.
Scheer initially pencilled in the operation for 17 May 1916, but there were problems. High winds and unfinished repairs on some of his ships, meant he had to postpone the operation until the 29 May. By this time his U-boats had been out for nearly two weeks. One had been sunk; another had run into problems and had had to return to base. The bad weather had scattered them, they were running low on fuel and only four of the eighteen U-boats were still in position. But Scheer was desperate to trap Beatty and therefore decided that the High Seas Fleet would sail north some time around midnight on 30 May.
The British intercepted a signal at 1200 hours on 30 May which was immediately passed on to Jellicoe and Beatty. At this stage the British had no idea what the intended target was and hesitated for a while, finally ordering both men to send their fleets out at 1740.
Battleships of the British Grand Fleet in the North Sea, as they head out to meet the German High Seas Fleet at Jutland.
Unfortunately for the Germans the British had been preparing for their own operation. They already knew that a number of German U-boats had left their bases on 17 May. They also knew that there had been no increase in attacks against merchant ships in the Atlantic, which could only mean that the Germans were hiding in wait for something in the North Sea. The final clincher was the information that U-boat commanders had been told that German warships would be operating in the North Sea between 30 and 31 May, and had been warned of their presence to avoid accidental torpedoing of German ships.
Initially, as far as the British were concerned, it was clear that the Germans intended to launch an operation somewhere in the North Sea. Jellicoe had ordered Beatty to rendezvous with him some 90 miles off the entrance to the Skagerrak, at 1400 on 31 May. Meanwhile Jellicoe would make for a position some 70 miles from Beatty’s. Beatty was told to search another 20 miles east and turn north. They would then join together and sweep the Horns Reef to the north of Heligoland Bight with the intention of cutting the Germans off from their base.
The bulk of the Grand Fleet began leaving Scapa Flow at 2230 on 30 May. HMS Iron Duke, Jellicoe’s flagship, led the way, followed by the Fourth then the First Battle Squadrons. At the same time Rear Admiral Horace Hood, in his flagship HMS Invincible, steamed out with the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron, supported by the Second Cruiser Squadron. Around them were eleven light cruisers and forty-two destroyers. Around an hour later the Second Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet set sail from Cromarty Firth. Vice Admiral Jerram on board his flagship, King George V, had with him eight Dreadnoughts and eleven destroyers of the First Cruiser Squadron, which were to take almost parallel and then converging courses. Jellicoe and Jerram were due to meet up with one another at around 1200 hours on 31 May.
Almost at the same time as Jerram set sail, Beatty left the Firth of Forth on board HMS Lion at the head of the First and Second Battle Cruiser Squadrons. Evan-Thomas, on board HMS Barham, followed with the super-Dreadnoughts of the Fifth Battle Squadron. A pair of destroyer flotillas, three light cruiser squadrons and HMS Engadine, the seaplane carrier, protected Beatty’s force. They would head broadly east-north-east, so that they would be 70 miles to the south of Jellicoe and Jerram at the appointed time.
The British vessels set sail around two hours before the German High Seas Fleet left the Jade Estuary. In addition to the failure of the German submarines, none of Scheer’s mines worked either. It would actually take another week for one of these mines, laid by U-75, to claim its first victim, HMS Hampshire, off the Orkneys. A significant casualty when the Hampshire went down was Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, who was en route to Russia to try and persuade the Russians to continue their war against Germany.
The German High Seas Fleet set sail at 0100 on 31 May with Hipper’s flagship, the Lützow, in the lead, one of five battle-cruisers belonging to the First Scouting Group. Following Hipper was the Second Scouting Group, comprised of light cruisers and thirty torpedo boats. Almost an hour later Scheer’s flagship, the Friedrich der Grosse, set off. Accompanying him and leading the way was the Third Battle Squadron, comprised of eight Dreadnoughts, under the command of Rear Admiral Paul Behncke. Following Behncke was Vice Admiral Erhard Schmidt with a further eight vessels. Bringing up the rear was Rear Admiral Franz Mauve’s
Mauve had begged Scheer to allow him to come on the sortie, despite the fact that his ships were nicknamed the ‘five-minute ships’, as this was the amount of time they were expected to survive in a stand-up fight against modern battleships. In all Scheer had 22 battleships, protected by 6 light cruisers and 31 torpedo boats.
Meanwhile, as Beatty neared the rendezvous point at 1358 on 31 May, he signalled for his ships to make a move to the north-east at 1415, in order to bring his battlecruisers close to the position of the Grand Fleet. By this stage, Hipper was around 50 miles to the east of Beatty. In fact, the light cruiser screens were only 16 miles apart.
By pure ill fortune, a vessel belonging to another nation happened to be in the North Sea in precisely the wrong place, at the wrong time. At around 1400 the German light cruiser Elbing spotted the Danish tramp steamer, N J Fjord; a pair of destroyers was sent to investigate. At 1410 Commodore Edwyn Alexander-Sinclair, on board HMS Galatea, the most easterly ship of Beatty’s light cruiser screen, also saw the Danish vessel and steamed to investigate, joined by HMS Phaeton. As the N J Fjord came into closer view they could see a pair of German destroyers alongside.
HMS Galatea opened fire on the German vessels at 1428. The two German destroyers fled for protection and the Elbing signalled: ‘Enemy armoured cruiser in sight bearing west by north.’ The Germans were to score the first hit of the battle:
At 1432 the first shells were fired at the enemy, and the big battle had started. The distance was 13 to 14 kilometres despite the high speed. We managed to direct the first hit of the battle at the Galatea. The shell hit the bridge through two or three decks. Both English cruisers returned fire but did not hit us.
Both Jellicoe and Beatty received messages from the Galatea at around 1420. Jellicoe was still labouring under the misapprehension that the German High Seas Fleet was still in their harbour, but he ordered the Grand Fleet to proceed at full speed. Beatty, meanwhile, ordered his destroyers to form a submarine screen. He then ordered his battlecruisers south-south-east. HMS Galatea sent another message at 1430, confirming that they had seen a German light cruiser. Beatty immediately ordered a turn to the south-southeast and increased speed to 22 knots. With him was the First and Second Battle Cruiser Squadron, but the Fifth Battle Squadron was not following him.
HMS Barham, the flagship of the Fifth Battle Squadron, had not seen the signal, trying as she was to read flag signals at a distance of 5 miles. The squadron therefore assumed that the signal was just an order to continue their zigzagging pattern that they had been following and steamed on towards the north-west.
Rear Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas commanded the Fifth Battle Squadron. By continuing on the course, and not following Beatty, he had made a dreadful mistake. Originally he had been 5 miles from Beatty, sufficiently close to lend almost immediate support. But by now he was 10 miles away and heading in the opposite direction. HMS Galatea made another report at 1435:
Scheer's battle fleet at sea.
Hipper had responded to the Elbing’s signal, which he had received at 1427, and assumed from the message that he was facing a large number of battleships. He turned west-south-west but quickly realized that he was not facing such a formidable foe, only a handful of British light cruisers.
Meanwhile the British battlecruisers were steaming towards the Germans, with the Fifth Battle Squadron eager to catch up with them, having now rectified the misunderstanding with regard to signals. At 1445 HMS Engadine was ordered by Beatty to launch an aircraft to confirm the reports received from HMS Galatea. This was to become the first air reconnaissance carried out at sea during a battle.
Hipper, on board the Lützow, spotted the advancing British battlecruisers before they spotted him. He continued north but slowed down to 23 knots. At 1525 HMS New Zealand and HMS Princess Royal reported that they had spotted German battlecruisers. HMS Lion saw them five minutes later.
Hipper had already recalled his light cruisers which were pursuing HMS Galatea. At 1533 Hipper ordered that his ships turn 16 points to starboard, effectively reversing his course, the original plan that would draw Beatty’s six battlecruisers into the arms of Scheer. It now seemed inevitable, with Beatty steaming at full speed toward Hipper, who was fleeing to the south-east, that the long-awaited opportunity to inflict serious damage on the British fleet was possible.
If Jellicoe could fulfil his ambition of ensnaring the Germans in a fruitless pursuit of Beatty, he could bring his Grand Fleet to bear and deal with the German surface fleet once and for all.
Running South then North
At 1530 on 31 May Beatty headed at full speed on an easterly course, making straight for Hipper. Hipper meanwhile was heading south-east, but the distance between the two fleets was shortening and in less than fifteen minutes both fleets were within range of one another.
Hipper’s greatest fear in facing the British battlecruisers was the fact that his guns were outranged by the British and they could stand off at about 24,000 yards, out of Hipper’s range, and blow him to pieces.
The German rangefinders, on the other hand, were quicker to operate and at around 1548 Hipper gave the order to open fire. The range by now had dropped to 16,400 yards. According to Commander Georg von Hase, on board SMS Derfflinger:
Then began an ear-splitting, stupefying din. Including the secondary armament we were firing on average one mighty salvo every seven seconds. Dense masses of smoke accumulated around the muzzles of the guns, growing into clouds as high as houses, which stood for seconds like an impenetrable wall and were then driven by the wind over the ship. We often could see nothing of the enemy for seconds at a time.
Hipper ordered the Lützow to open fire on HMS Lion, while Derfflinger concentrated on HMS Princess Royal, the Seydlitz focussed on HMS Queen Mary, the Moltke fired at HMS Tiger and the Von der Tann opened up on HMS Indefatigable. HMS New Zealand was left without an opponent. In return, HMS Lion and HMS Princess Royal fired at the Lützow, HMS Queen Mary at the Derfflinger, HMS Tiger at the Seydlitz, HMS New Zealand at the Moltke and HMS Indefatigable at the Von der Tann.
It was a confusing engagement: shots were firing left and right, with different-sized splashes landing either beyond or in front of the enemy ships. Both Beatty and Hipper quickly realized that they had got too close to one another. Beatty swung his ships to starboard and Hipper to port, still maintaining virtually parallel courses, the distance opening up to around 1,500 yards.
Jellicoe meanwhile had been informed about the contact. He was 53 miles away and eager to get involved so had increased speed to 20 knots. Scheer, on the other hand, was 46 miles away and making for the area of the engagement at a speed of 16 knots. The two main fleets were still two hours away from one another, with neither of them knowing for sure that the other fleet was even in the North Sea.
Theoretically Beatty, with an extra battleship, had the advantage, but there was confusion with the signals.
HMS Queen Mary did not fire at the Derfflinger as she was ordered to do, but had opened fire on the Seydlitz; nearly half an hour passed before HMS Queen Mary realized her mistake and started firing at the Derfflinger. At the same time HMS Tiger was actually firing at the Moltke instead of the Seydlitz, which meant that both she and HMS New Zealand were firing at the Moltke.
The German firing turned out to be more effective. In the first five minutes the Moltke hit HMS Tiger twice, while with her fifth salvo the Lützow hit HMS Lion twice. In all, in the first twelve minutes of the engagement, every single one of Beatty’s ships was hit, with the exception of HMS New Zealand.
The Germans had scored fifteen hits against the British, who had only scored four. HMS Lion had hit the Lützow twice and HMS Queen Mary had hit the Seydlitz twice. At around 1600 a 12in shell from the Lützow hit HMS Lion’s Q turret, tearing off the roof and the front of the turret, and killing or maiming most of the gun crew:
The enemy’s shooting at the Lion became extremely accurate and She sheered a little to starboard, the effect as to fall of shot being very noticeable. Just as she came back again she was very heavily hit and I saw a large plate, which I judged to be the top of a turret, blown into the air. It appeared to rise very slowly, turning round and round, and looking very much like an aeroplane. I should say it rose some 400 or 500 feet and looking at it through glasses I could distinctly see the holes in it for the bolts. My attention was drawn from this by a sheet of flame from her second funnel, which shot up about 60 feet and soon died down, but did not immediately disappear. It seemed to have no affect on the ship, except that her mid-ship turret seemed out of action. One gun was about horizontal and the other at a considerable elevation.
This was the view of the hit on HMS Lion as seen by Commander Alan MacKenzie-Grieve on board HMS Birmingham of the Second Light Cruiser Squadron.
HMS Lion is hit on the 'Q' turret.
A mortally wounded Major Francis Harvey of the Royal Marines dragged himself to the voice pipe, despite the fact that he had lost both of his legs. He passed an order to close the doors to the magazines and flood them for fear that the flames would spread. Harvey was later awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his action, which almost certainly saved the ship. HMS Lion staggered out of the line, badly damaged, but there was worse to come.
The Germans believed that they had put Beatty’s flagship, HMS Lion, out of action, but she was still steaming at full speed and half a dozen of her heavy guns were still firing. As the German light cruisers and a destroyer began to retreat, the British Fifth Battle Squadron moved in.
HMS Indefatigable and the Von der Tann were firing salvos at one another. Shortly after 1400 hours one from the Von der Tann penetrated the 1in deck armour of the British ship and blew up a magazine. As a second salvo of shots from the German ship smashed into HMS Indefatigable, there was a huge explosion.
Both the Germans and the British now had five ships firing at one another. The Fifth Battle Squadron was still too far away, desperately trying to catch up with Beatty. Despite the fact that they were pitching in with shots at the light cruisers, they were not really adding very much to the main engagement.
By 1608 the Fifth Battle Squadron was in range of the German battlecruisers and Evan-Thomas could order his vessels to open fire on the rear ships in the German battle line.
The Germans were now seriously outnumbered. As the vessels of the Fifth Battle Squadron closed, the Seydlitz came into range and was almost immediately hit just below the waterline, although not seriously damaged.
Beatty realized that he should now concentrate his fire on the forward German ships, leaving the Fifth Battle Squadron to take care of the ones in the rear.
Beatty himself had had to order HMS Lion out of the line to deal with the turret fire, which had meant that both the Seydlitz and the Derfflinger were targeting HMS Queen Mary. The Derfflinger had not intended to be firing at the Queen Mary but poor visibility caused her to switch fire from HMS Princess Royal, with a spotter trying to see above the smoke, at around 1617.
So far HMS Queen Mary had acquitted herself extremely well. She was firing all eight of her big guns and had so far hit the Seydlitz four times, but she was now under fire from two German ships. At around 1621 her Q turret was hit and then she was hit again, causing a massive explosion that effectively broke the ship in half, lifting the bow section clean out of the water. In seconds all that was visible was the stern, with repeated explosions tearing parts of the ship to pieces. Of HMS Queen Mary’s crew of 1,286 men, only twenty survived.
Destroyers HMS Petard and HMS Laurel hunted for survivors, managing to pick up the majority of them, but two men were later taken prisoner by a German torpedo boat.
I was standing beside Sir David Beatty and we both turned round in time to see the unpleasant spectacle. The thought of my friends in her flashed through my mind; I thought also how lucky we had evidently been in the Lion. Beatty turned to me and said, ‘There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!’ A remark which needed neither comment nor answer. There was something wrong.
I was standing beside Sir David Beatty and we both turned round in time to see the unpleasant spectacle. The thought of my friends in her flashed through my mind; I thought also how lucky we had evidently been in the Lion. Beatty turned to me and said, ‘There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!’ A remark which needed neither comment nor answer. There was something wrong.
In the space of just forty-five minutes Beatty’s flagship had been severely damaged and two of his vessels had been sunk. At this stage the Battle of Jutland was definitely being won by Hipper.
Hipper now ordered the Ninth Torpedo Flotilla, consisting of nine vessels and led by the Regensburg, to launch an assault on the British ships, in order to give himself time to extricate his own from the fight. Suddenly, led by HMS Champion, the destroyers cut across HMS Lion and beat off the German torpedo boat attack, sinking the V-27 and the V-29.
Now it was the turn of the British to launch an attack on the enemy. The British destroyers, led by HMS Nestor, fired a number of torpedoes – up to twenty – but only one, fired by HMS Petard, scored a hit, hitting the Seydlitz and smashing a huge hole in her side. HMS Nomad and HMS Nestor now came under fire from the German battlecruiser’s secondary armament, firing at them at a range of only 3,000 yards. The two destroyers were crippled and would be finished off later on by Scheer’s battlecruisers.
Meanwhile, the Second Light Cruiser Squadron was some 21/2 miles ahead of HMS Lion. At 1630 Commodore William Good-enough, on board HMS Southampton, made a terrifying discovery:
We saw ahead of us, first smoke, then masts, then ships. ‘Look sir,’ said Arthur Peters, ‘this is the day of a light cruiser’s lifetime. The whole of the High Seas Fleet is before you!’ It was: 16 battleships with destroyers disposed around them on each bow. That was reported.’
With great courage Goodenough remained on course for a further five minutes to ensure that he could inform Beatty and Jellicoe of the exact numbers of the German fleet. His lookouts reported twenty-two battleships with a destroyer screen, in battle formation.
Beatty had to beat a hasty retreat now that Scheer’s High Seas Fleet had arrived – he needed to get out of range without losing any more vessels and draw the German fleet towards Jellicoe. He had an advantage in terms of speed of up to 10 knots and also knew that Hipper would not risk going too far ahead of Scheer.
At 1643 Beatty had also ordered his destroyers to fall back. HMS Nestor and HMS Nomad had been left to their own devices having been damaged earlier. Lieutenant Commander Paul Whitfield, on board HMS Nomad, recalled:
The High Seas Fleet spotted us, and started battle practice at us with 6in or bigger guns. Salvo after salvo shook us and wounded a few. The ship sinking fast, I gave the order to abandon her and pull clear. About three minutes after, she went down vertically by the stern.
HMS Nestor was to be next, as recalled by Commander Barry Bingham:
Very soon we were enveloped in a deluge of shell fire. Any reply from our own guns was absolutely out of the question at a range beyond the possibilities of our light shells; to have answered any one of our numerous assailants would have been as effective as the use of a peashooter against a wall of steel. Just about this time we fired our last torpedo at the High Seas Fleet and it was seen to run well. It was a matter of two or three minutes only before the Nestor, enwrapped in a cloud of smoke and spray, the centre of a whirlwind of shrieking shells, received not a few heavy and vital hits and the ship began to slowly settle by the stern and then to take up a heavy list to starboard.
HMS Nestor finally sank at around 1730. Many of the survivors were in the water for some hours, but German destroyers picked some of them up shortly after dark.
Thus ended the first phase of the Battle of Jutland, which was later dubbed ‘the run to the south’. Beatty’s ships had been outgunned and outmanoeuvred by Hipper’s battlecruisers. Had it not been for the timely arrival of the Fifth Battle Squadron, his losses may well have been all the more severe. Beatty had begun with six battlecruisers against Hipper’s five, but had ended up with only four.
Admiral Von Scheer, Commander-in-Chief of the German High Seas Fleet.

Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet.

HMS Iron Duke, Jellicoe's flagship. It received no damage during the battle.

HMS Lion, the flagship of Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty, Commander-in-Chief of the British Battlecruiser Fleet.

Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty.

SMS Friedrich der Grosse
Kaiser Class Dreadnought Battleship
Built Vulcan, Hamburg, laid down January 1910, completed January 1913, cost 45,802,000 Marks. Trial speed 22.1 knots. Fleet flagship and part of III Battle Squadron at the start of the war. Present at the Battle of Jutland 1916 as flagship of Vice Admiral Scheer. Fired 72 rounds and received no damage. October 1917 operations in the Baltic Islands. Interned and scuttled at Scapa Flow at the end of the First World War.
With Beatty steaming at full speed toward Hipper... the long-awaited opportunity to inflict serious damage on the British fleet was possible...

SMS Lützow Derfflinger Class Battlecruiser
Built Schichau, Danzig, laid down May 1912, completed August 1915, cost 58,000,000 Marks. Trial speed 28.3 knots. I Scouting Group. 24 April 1916 bombardment of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. Flagship of Vice Admiral von Hipper. Took part in sinking of HMS Invincible and sunk at the Battle of Jutland.

Vice Admiral Franz Ritter von Hipper.

SMS Derfflinger Battlecruiser. Length 690 feet
The damaged 'Q' turret of HMS Lion, showing the missing plate.

HMS Indefatigable.

HMS Indefatigable sinks beneath the waves after being shelled by the Von der Tann.
SMS Von Der Tann. Length 563 feet 4 inch, displacement 19,064 tons. Trail speed 27.4 knots. It was hit by 2x15in and 2x13.5in rounds with 11 killed and 35 wounded. After the war it was interned and scuttled at Scapa Flow.
'There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!'

Commodore William Goodenough, on board HMS Southampton, sighted the High Seas Fleet and reported back to Beatty and Jellicoe.

Further Reading

The Battle of Jutland
(Hardback - 224 pages)
ISBN: 9781844155293

by Jon Sutherland
Only £15.99 RRP £19.99

The Battle of Jutland was the greatest naval engagement of the First World War, if not any war. The events leading up to the battle gave the indication that it would be a major British naval victory. But as it would transpire the results were a lot less clearcut. It had been the German vessels that had soured relations between Britain and Germany, but in the end the fleet had proved inadequate. Whilst the Germans claimed a victory, in Britain, Jutland was celebrated as another Trafalgar.

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