The Battle of Jutland - The Run to the North

Posted on Thursday 31st May 2012


Extracted from The Battle of Jutland by Jon Sutherland and Diane Canwell and reproduced by permission of Pen and Sword Books Ltd.
The latter phase of the battle is commonly known as ‘the run to the north’. In effect it actually covers only a very short period of time – from the moment that Beatty’s battlecruisers made their 180 degree turn and began leading Hipper and Scheer into the clutches of Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet.
Scheer desperately wanted to crush what remained of Beatty’s battlecruiser fleet – he could see them and he wanted a share of the prize that Hipper already had his hands around. If he could destroy Beatty’s ships without suffering significant losses himself, the battle would be won, even before Jellicoe arrived on the scene.
As for Beatty, he was concerned not only with drawing Hipper and Scheer on to Jellicoe, but also to survive the encounter with as many of his ships intact as possible. He knew full well that if any of them were seriously hit the Germans would catch up with them and the vessels would be lost.
There was now a strange procession. Hipper and his battlecruisers were pursuing Beatty’s battlecruisers; they were around 19,000 yards apart and on a converging course. Evan-Thomas’s ships were about 7,000 yards behind Beatty and approximately level with Hipper’s ships which were about 17,500 yards away. He was still 21,000 yards ahead of the Friedrich der Grosse, Scheer’s flagship. The closest ships of the High Seas Fleet were Behncke’s, which were only around 19,000 yards short of HMS Malaya.
Beatty began to open fire on Hipper’s battlecruisers, but the Germans fired back, the Seydlitz hitting HMS Tiger and the Lützow hitting HMS Lion three times. Beatty increased speed to 26 knots, aiming to get ahead of Hipper and force him to the east. This would also serve the purpose of shielding Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet and he hoped that if he delayed the German sighting of Jellicoe, there would be no way that the High Seas Fleet could avoid a full-scale action with the Grand Fleet.
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The battle area of the Battle of Jutland.

But Evan-Thomas had to face both Hipper and Scheer alone, with both Hipper’s battlecruisers and up to eight of Behncke’s battleships within range. He therefore ordered HMS Barham and HMS Valiant to fire at Hipper’s ships, whilst HMS Warspite and HMS Malaya tried to engage Scheer’s leading ships. By now Evan-Thomas was between Beatty’s battlecruisers and the German High Seas Fleet, which was coming on, at maximum speed, on a course north-northwest, their modern Dreadnoughts outpacing some of the slower vessels.
At 1730 Hipper turned north-north-west and reduced his speed just at the point when Evan-Thomas’s ships zeroed in on them. HMS Barham and HMS Valiant, firing at ranges of between 16,000 and 18,000 yards, hit three of Hipper’s ships. The Lützow was hit four times, the Seydlitz six times and the Derfflinger three times. Meanwhile HMS Warspite and HMS Malaya managed to hit the König, the Grosser Kurfurst and the Markgraf. In return, the leading ships of Scheer’s fleet failed to hit either of the British vessels, although their fire was getting closer and the Seydlitz managed to hit HMS Warspite twice.
Meanwhile, Beatty had succeeded in getting ahead of Hipper. At 1741 he swung to the east and opened up at a range of 16,000 yards. HMS Princess Royal nearly crippled the Lützow and Hipper was forced to turn east.
Scheer’s battleships were falling behind Evan-Thomas’s, which allowed Evan-Thomas to concentrate on Hipper, and he hit the Lützow, Derfflinger and the Seydlitz. The only ship of Hipper’s five that now remained in full fighting condition was the Moltke. The Von der Tann had jammed turrets as HMS Tiger had knocked out its large guns earlier, but she continued to fire its secondary armament at the battleships, although to no avail.
Jellicoe was now 23 miles away, his six divisions stretching out over 5 miles, but for Hipper there was to be an even more dangerous and immediate problem. His ships had been in action now for two hours and approaching him from the north-east, at a range of about 21,000 yards, was Admiral Horace Hood’s Third Battle Cruiser Squadron.
When HMS Canterbury spotted the muzzle flashes to the southwest, Hood was informed and his Third Battle Cruiser Squadron began to close, with HMS Chester racing off to find out more information. Visibility to the west was not good, so HMS Chester could only pick out a light cruiser and a destroyer; moments later three more light cruisers could be seen.
These could easily have been part of Beatty’s screen, but at 1738 it became clear that they were Germans, as four of the light cruisers belonging to Hipper’s Second Scouting Group opened up on HMS Chester, at a range of 7,000 yards.
In the space of the next fifteen minutes the Frankfurt, Elbing, Pillau and Wiesbaden hit HMS Chester seventeen times.
At 1755 Hood opened fire on the pursuing Germans at a range of 10,000 yards. Boedicker, commanding the Second Scouting Group, ordered his vessels to turn away, but as he did so HMS Indomitable and HMS Invincible repeatedly struck the Wiesbaden with 12in shells. Wiesbaden lay dead in the water, both of her engines wrecked.
When Boedicker signalled that several battleships had attacked him, Hipper responded by ordering his ships to turn south and make for Scheer’s High Seas Fleet. Several of Scheer’s battleships had fallen well to the rear and Hipper now took up a position just in front of the High Seas Fleet.
Hood had scattered the enemy and as he steamed to reinforce Beatty, Boedicker launched a second wave of torpedo boats, which were countered by Hood’s own destroyers. Commander Loftus Jones, on board HMS Shark, led the counter-attack and despite being outnumbered and outgunned, he forced the Germans away. With several German ships firing on HMS Shark her engines were disabled and Loftus Jones was mortally wounded.
HMS Acasta came alongside and her captain, Lieutenant Commander Barron, signalled to ask Loftus Jones whether he could be of any assistance, to which Loftus Jones simply replied: ‘No. Tell him to look after himself.’ HMS Shark was torpedoed by the S-54 and Loftus Jones’s body was later found on the Swedish coastline. He was buried in a village churchyard and was later awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.
Another Victoria Cross was posthumously awarded for outstanding bravery during this part of the battle, the recipient being Boy Seaman First Class John Cornwell of HMS Chester. He was the only survivor of his gun crew and remained at his post, mortally wounded, despite the fact that he was only sixteen years old.
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Morning prayers, onboard HMS Shark.

The battle was now slowly swinging in favour of the British. An early ambush had been sprung, both when the Fifth Battle Squadron had arrived and also when Hood had engaged Hipper’s Scouting Force. Evan-Thomas’s ships had scored some notable hits and by this stage Hipper’s battlecruisers had been hit thirteen times. In exchange, Beatty’s squadron had received six hits, Evan-Thomas had suffered five, while HMS Malaya had been hit seven times by Behncke’s Third Battle Squadron.
Comparatively speaking, Hipper’s battlecruisers were in a far worse state than the ships that remained under Beatty’s command. All five of Hipper’s ships had been holed, all of them were taking in water, but they still maintained their speed and continued to be active in the battle. Of Beatty’s ships, HMS New Zealand was virtually undamaged, while HMS Lion, HMS Princess Royal and HMS Tiger all had turrets out of action. As this phase of the battle ended at around 1800, neither Jellicoe nor Scheer could yet see one another.
Fleet Engaged
The battle that Jellicoe had been dreaming about and that Scheer had seen in his worst nightmares was about to begin. Jellicoe and his twenty-four Dreadnoughts were heading in a south-easterly direction, in six lines abreast, in columns of four, at a speed of 18 knots. Scheer’s fleet, consisting of sixteen Dreadnoughts and six pre-Dreadnoughts, was maintaining a similar speed and heading north.
Jellicoe’s ships occupied an area a mile and a half wide and it would take considerable skill to transform that formation into a 7-mile-long, single line. He needed time and plenty warning in order to carry out the difficult manoeuvre under the eyes of the German fleet. Jellicoe still had no clear indication as to where the Germans were, their speed or direction. If he were caught before his ships could create a single broadside line, Scheer would be able to pummel his leading ships and the vessels following them would not be able to see anything. In the ensuing confusion Scheer would be able to pick off some of Jellicoe’s other vessels and withdraw before Jellicoe could bring his superior firepower to bear.
Jellicoe had received the first report of contact with the German vessels from HMS Galatea at 1418, whereupon he ordered the fleet to proceed at full speed. At 1540 he received news from Beatty that Hipper’s battlecruisers were in sight. Jellicoe’s fleet had reached a speed of around 20 knots by 1600, at about the same time as Hood was sent to reinforce Beatty.
Confirmation that the German High Seas Fleet was close at hand was received at 1638, when Goodenough reported sighting them. Jellicoe had warned his Grand Fleet that ‘fleet action is imminent’. This signal was timed at 1651. Jellicoe still desperately needed to know exactly where the German fleet was as he had to make an informed decision and deploy his vessels accordingly.
The exact positions when Beatty’s force spotted Jellicoe’s fleet at 1733 add to the notion that both men were not wholly aware of their true position. HMS Falmouth, a light cruiser screening Beatty, was around 4 miles to the north of HMS Lion. The light cruiser spotted HMS Black Prince, the cruiser on the extreme starboard of Jellicoe’s screen. As Beatty approached Jellicoe he shifted course to north-north-east, assuming Jellicoe’s position, which meant that he was also closing with Hipper, sparking off another series of salvos at a range of 14,000 yards at 1740.
Fire was concentrated at Hipper’s battlecruisers and the Lützow received several hits, at least four of which caused superficial damage to the German vessel. The Third Battle Cruiser Squadron, led by HMS Indomitable, continued south-south-east, with HMS Lion at this point to their south-west. Hood had dispatched HMS Canterbury to a position around five miles ahead and HMS Chester was five miles to the west. At 1727 HMS Chester had been ordered to investigate firing to the south-west, which was when she came in contact with the four German ships belonging to the Second German Scouting Group.
By 1759, with Hipper under fire from the Fifth Battle Squadron and Beatty’s battlecruisers, he began to flee to the south-west, joining up with Scheer and his High Seas Fleet shortly before 1814, whereupon Hipper turned about and the entire battle line headed north-east. This was also around the time that HMS Acasta was moving away from HMS Shark. HMS Onslow spotted the stationary Wiesbaden and closed to within 2,000 yards. As she closed to finish off the crippled Wiesbaden, Hipper’s battlecruisers were sighted at a range of around 8,000 yards, but the captain still gave the order to fire torpedoes at the Wiesbaden. Just at that moment the Wiesbaden opened fire on HMS Onslow. As Lieutenant Commander Jack Tovey recalled:
Immediately there was a big escape of steam completely enveloping both torpedo tubes. On enquiring I received a report that all torpedoes had been fired and consequently turned away at greatly reduced speed, passing about 3,500 yards from the enemy’s light cruiser previously mentioned. I sent Sub-Lieutenant Moore to find out the damage done; while doing this he discovered that only one torpedo had been fired and observing the enemy’s light cruiser beam on and apparently temporarily stopped, fired a torpedo at her. Sub-Lieutenant Moore, Leading Signalman Cassin, also several other ratings and myself saw the torpedo hit the light cruiser below the Conning tower and explode.
Tovey still had a pair of torpedoes left and his damaged ship could manage around 10 knots. Incredibly he decided to use them against the German High Seas Fleet and not even attempt to flee. Both torpedoes were fired but they missed and with just five casualties, the Onslow limped home.
Jellicoe, it will be recalled, was still confused about the position of the German High Seas Fleet, having not seen them himself, but relying instead on scattered and conflicting pieces of information. He was still receiving snippets of information but nothing concrete enough. As Beatty’s battlecruisers drew across the front of Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet, HMS Marlborough, HMS Colossus and HMS Benbow of the Grand Fleet spotted the enemy. Lieutenant Thomas Norman, on board HMS Benbow, recalled:
I must confess it was a magnificent sight seeing the Lion, slightly on fire forward, leading the other ships and firing salvo after salvo, with the enemy’s flashes visible in the haze, but not the ships themselves, tremendous volumes of water being thrown up by the enemy shots, none of which hit the cruisers when in my vision.
When Jellicoe finally received confirmation of the location of the German High Seas Fleet at 1814, he now needed to make an absolute decision. After considering the situation for a short while Jellicoe announced: ‘Hoist equal-speed pendant south-east by east.’
Whilst Jellicoe was ordering the deployment of the Grand Fleet, HMS Defence with Rear Admiral Sir Robert Arbuthnot leading the First Cruiser Squadron had found itself in a difficult situation – slap bang between the oncoming German High Seas Fleet and the Grand Fleet. Arbuthnot moved toward the Wiesbaden with HMS Warrior and HMS Duke of Edinburgh following, his obsolete armoured cruisers cutting across Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet just as it was manoeuvring. For a moment it looked as if Arbuthnot’s battle cruisers were going to collide with ships of the Grand Fleet as HMS Defence and HMS Warrior began firing at the Wiesbaden. Arbuthnot clearly thought that if the Wiesbaden were still capable she would fire torpedoes at the deploying Grand Fleet.
It was an incredibly dangerous manoeuvre, with German battlecruisers breathing down his neck. As Commander Georg von Has, on board the Derfflinger of the First Scouting Group recalled:
In the misty grey light the colours of the German and the English ships were difficult to distinguish. The cruiser was not very far away from us. She had four funnels and two masts, like our Rostock. She is certainly English, Lieutenant Commander Hauser shouted, May I fire? Yes fire away! I was now certain she was a big English ship. The secondary armament was trained on the new target. Hauser gave the order, 6,000! Then, just as he was about to give the order, fire, something terrific happened. The English ship, which I had meanwhile identified as an old English armoured cruiser, broke in half with a tremendous explosion. Black smoke and debris shot into the air, a flame enveloped the whole ship, and then she sank before our eyes. There was nothing but a gigantic smoke cloud to mark the place where just before a proud ship had been fighting.
Thus ended the heroic attack by Arbuthnot and HMS Defence. Just behind her was HMS Warrior which was drawing the fire of the German vessels – in a short period of time she received a total of fifteen hits. Initially the engines continued to run, despite the carnage on deck and below, but huge amounts of water were pouring in and the pumps could not cope. Thick smoke covered the ship and leeched down below decks as the German battlecruisers continued to pour fire at her.
Trailing behind HMS Warrior was HMS Duke of Edinburgh. As she too began to draw fire her crew saw HMS Defence burst into flames just as HMS Warrior was smashed by a broadside. Amazingly HMS Duke of Edinburgh managed to escape serious damage.
Meanwhile, Evan-Thomas was trying to make sense of the situation. His Fifth Battle Squadron seemed to be leading the entire battle line and he believed that the Grand Fleet had deployed to his starboard. Consequently he headed east, straight into the fire of the leading German vessels, quickly realized his mistake and ordered a turn to the north-east.
Incredibly, just as this was happening HMS Warspite headed straight for the Germans, immediately becoming the focus of attention of the Friedrich de Grosse, König, Heligoland, Kaiserin, Ostfriesland, Nassau, Oldenburg and Thuringen, drawing fire away from HMS Warrior.
It is still not clear to this day why HMS Warspite made this huge, circling manoeuvre. At any rate, the Germans were clearly drawn to it, as it would be far more decisive to deal with a vessel such as Warspite than the relatively humble Warrior.
With 13 inches of armour protection extending around her main belt, magazines and turrets, HMS Warspite was seemingly shrugging off all of the attentions of the German ships. As a member of her crew recalled:
For about 20 minutes we received the fire of about 20 German ships, using guns of all calibres at what was virtually point blank range. Only the fact that the ship was continuing to turn circles like a kitten chasing its own tail saved us from being sunk. The noise of the shells hitting or bursting close alongside sounded like the rapid independent fire from a battery of 6-inch guns. The ship was heavily hit.
The Warspite had been hit several times so that the superstructure was bent and gnarled. Suddenly the firing seemed to stop and everyone, including the Germans, thought the ship was about to sink. In truth no one could see what was going on because of the smoke and spray from the shots. Incredibly, the Warspite was in the firing line for ten minutes before eventually pulling away at 16 knots, separating herself from the Grand Fleet. HMS Warspite was ordered to return back to base.
Meanwhile Hood, on board HMS Invincible, turned his squadron at 1817 to fall in line with HMS Lion, just as the German fleet came fully into view, closing from 18,000 to 6,000 yards.
The Third Battle Cruiser Squadron continued to fire at the German battlecruisers, but poor visibility was causing problems. HMS Invincible, HMS Inflexible and HMS Indomitable were still scoring spectacular hits on Hipper’s battlecruisers, which were was also under fire from Beatty.
As the minutes passed, ships of the British Grand Fleet began to open up on Hipper who realized that to continue would be courting disaster.
The truth, however, was beginning to dawn on Scheer. He now knew that he was not facing a small portion of the Grand Fleet, but the entire might that Jellicoe could muster. What had begun as an operation to draw Beatty to his doom by luring him with Hipper’s force had now turned full circle and it was Scheer who was being lured into the jaws of destruction:
This was the beginning of the main phase of the battle. There was never any question of our line veering round to avoid an encounter. The resolve to do battle with the enemy stood firm from the first.
As each of the ships of the Grand Fleet took up its position in the line they began to open fire. Unfortunately, there was only a short amount of daylight left, but the Germans were trapped. HMS King George V led the British line. The massed, heavy guns of the Royal Navy were about to be finally turned on their arch nemesis, the German High Seas Fleet.
In minutes the turrets were thick with the smell or cordite as the 1,350lb shells were levered into place. Broadside after broadside was hurled at the German ships. The first victim was the Wiesbaden; she was still afloat and despite being hit several more times she did not sink. Nobody could really tell what they were firing at, with shell splashes landing everywhere. The crew on board HMS Benbow thought they were firing at a Kaiser class enemy ship, but later discovered they were actually firing at the battlecruiser, Derfflinger.
The poor visibility abruptly improved at 1830 and the Germans could now see the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron straddled in front of them.
Her [HMS Invincible] guns were trained on us and immediately another salvo crashed out, straddling us completely. Range 9,000! roared Leading Seaman Hamel. 9,000 – salvos fire! I ordered, and with feverish anxiety I waited for our splashes. Over. Two hits! Called out Lieutenant Commander von Stosch. I gave the order 100 down. Good. Rapid! And 30 seconds after the first salvo the second left the guns. I observed two short splashes and two hits. Von Stosch called hits! Every 20 seconds came the roar of another salvo. At 6.31pm the Derfflinger fired her last salvo at this ship.
On board the Lützow, they saw their salvo hit HMS Invincible. A few seconds later there were red glows all over the British ship and at 1834 Invincible blew up.
A shell had penetrated her midship turret and the magazines below had blown her to pieces. Bryan Gasson was a Royal Marine, operating as a rangefinder in the midship turret of HMS Invincible:
Suddenly our starboard mid-ship turret manned by the Royal Marines was struck between the two 12in guns and appeared to me to lift the top of the turret and another of the same salvo followed. The flashes passed down to both mid-ship magazines containing 50 tons of cordite. The explosion broke the ship in half. I owe my survival, I think, to the fact that I was in a separate compartment at the back of the turret with my head through a hole cut in the top. Some of the initial flash must have got through to my compartment as I was burnt on the hand, arms and head – luckily my eyes escaped, I must have instinctively covered them with my hands. The rangefinder and myself had only a light armour covering, I think this came off and, as the ship sunk, I floated to the surface.
Hipper’s ships had scored another notable victory. Georg von Has, onboard the Derfflinger was delighted:
I shouted into the telephone, our enemy has blown up! And above the din of the battle a great cheer thundered through the ship and was transmitted to the fore-control by all the gunnery telephones and flashed from one gun position to another. I sent up a short, fervent prayer of thanks to the almighty, shouted, bravo Hanel, jolly well measured! And then my order rang out, change target to the left.
Within fifteen seconds all but six of the 1,032 men on board HMS Invincible had slipped beneath the surface of the waves with the twisted, metal hulk of their ship. Men were dying in the water and Beatty sent HMS Badger to pick up survivors.
The bow and the stern of HMS Invincible remained visible for some time. HMS Indomitable and HMS Inflexible passed the point where she had sunk, heading for Hipper’s flagship, the Lützow. Shells were falling all around the German flagship and it was clear that the British were hitting her repeatedly. She was not the only one of Hipper’s battlecruisers to be drawing the unwanted attention of British shells.
The German battlecruisers were beginning to take heavy incoming fire from elements of the British Grand Fleet. HMS Iron Duke and HMS Monarch opened fire on the König. The König was badly hit. One shell had smashed the forecastle deck, which had caused fires, two more had smacked into the port battery, another shell had holed the lower armour and a near miss had wounded Rear Admiral Behncke in the upper bridge. The Markgraf was also hit twice, one of which bent the port propeller shaft causing the port engine to be closed down, seriously reducing its speed.
Although Scheer, on board the Friedrich de Grosse, could see very little of the British, he now had to make a decision which if he got wrong would probably mean the destruction of the German High Seas Fleet. After consideration he decided to make a battle turn to starboard. Each German ship was to turn individually, the rear ship turning first, and then each ship in the line following its lead.

The II Battle Squadron of pre-Dreadnoughts at the rear of the German fleet did not make the turn, so the rearmost ship, the Westfalen, a Dreadnought, made the first turn at 1837. It seemed that some of the German vessels were so badly damaged that they would not be able to get away. The Lützow could not make more than 15 knots, could no longer lead the battlecruisers and headed southwest, trying to get away. Four German destroyers, pumping out smoke to hide her, escorted her.
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The sunken halves of HMS Invincible. The destroyer Badger searches for survivors.

Hipper, meanwhile, boarded the G-39, a destroyer. Effectively, Captain Hartog of the Derfflinger, now commanded Hipper’s battlecruisers. Commander von Has, on board the Derfflinger, noted the desperate condition of the vessel:
The masts and rigging had been badly damaged by countless shells, and wireless aerials hung down in an inextricable tangle so that we could only use our wireless for receiving; we could not transmit messages. A heavy shell had torn away two armoured plates in the bows, leaving a huge gap quite six by five metres, just above the waterline. With the pitching of the ship water streamed continually through this hole.
As the German vessels turned away from Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet, they launched a destroyer attack on the British ships. HMS Shark having been left behind, crippled, incredibly engaged the German destroyers with her last remaining 4in gun, hitting the V-48 at least once and forcing her to stop. Captain Loftus Jones was hit by a shell that did not explode but smashed his leg off below the knee. HMS Shark was so battered that she finally sank at 1900. The survivors, around thirty of them, were not picked up for some time, at which stage Loftus Jones was still alive. Of the thirty men who had escaped only six would survive the battle.
Jellicoe, unable to see a great deal, was desperate to regain contact with the German fleet as he headed south-east-by-east. With the range opening up, he signalled for his fleet to turn by divisions to the south, still acutely aware that even though the Germans were in retreat, they could well be laying another trap for his battleships. He was not to know whether or not the Germans had submarines in the area, or whether they had laid minefields.
As the Grand Fleet turned south after its quarry, Beatty, on board HMS Lion, was leading the battlecruisers with HMS Inflexible and HMS Indomitable following him. Around 1854 he was about 8,000 yards from the Grand Fleet, but after some odd turns by him the Grand Fleet was considerably closer by 1905.
Earlier, at 1854, HMS Marlborough had suffered a dreadful mishap. The V-48, stranded after the survivors of HMS Shark had crippled her, fired a torpedo at the British Dreadnought, whose crew recalled a huge explosion and the vessel began to lurch. She had been badly hit and heeled over to starboard, looking as if she was going to sink.
At 1855 Scheer made an incredible decision. He would make another battle turn, heading east, which would bring him directly towards the centre of the British Grand Fleet. But the manoeuvre was not as crazy as it may have seemed, as Scheer explained:
It was still too early for a nocturnal move. If the enemy followed us our action in retaining the direction taken after turning the line would partake of the nature of a retreat, and in the event of any damage to our ships in the rear, the Fleet would be compelled to sacrifice them or else to decide on a line of action enforced by enemy pressure, and not adopted voluntarily, and would therefore be detrimental to us from the very outset. Still less was it feasible to strive at detaching oneself from the enemy, leaving it to him to decide when he would elect to meet us the next morning. There was but one way of averting this – to force the enemy into a second battle by another determined advance, and forcibly compel his torpedo boats to attack. The success of the turning of the line while fighting encouraged me to make the attempt, and convinced me to make still further use of the facility of movement. The manoeuvre would be bound to surprise the enemy, to upset his plans for the rest of the day, and if the blow fell heavily it would facilitate the breaking loose at night. The fight of the Wiesbaden helped also to strengthen my resolve and to make an effort to render assistance to her and at least save the crew. Accordingly, after we had been on the new course about a quarter of an hour, the line was again swung round to starboard on an easterly course at 6.55pm. The battle cruisers were ordered to operate with full strength on the enemy’s leading point, all the torpedo boat flotillas had orders to attack, and the First Leader of the torpedo boats, Commodore Michelsen, was instructed to send his boats to rescue the Wiesbaden’s crew.
The König was leading the line. The German battlecruisers were to the north, while ahead of the advancing Germans was the Second Light Cruiser Squadron, led by Goodenough, who was hoping to have another go at destroying the Wiesbaden. All of a sudden HMS Southampton and the rest of Goodenough’s ships came under fire. He turned back and headed north, signalling to Jellicoe at 1900: ‘Enemy battle fleet steering east-south-east. Enemy bears south-south- west, number unknown.’ At 1910 the German fleet now seemed to be heading directly at the Grand Fleet, which was still jockeying around to take up positions. Some of the British ships were masked by others and could not initially fire.
It soon became clear to Scheer that any attempt to try to save the Wiesbaden’s crew would only lead to the loss of more German vessels. The destroyers he had sent had drawn the attention of British Dreadnoughts which understandably believed that this was not a mercy mission but a torpedo attack on them.
HMS Colossus thought they had hit one of the attacking destroyers, but in all probability they had scored a hit on the V-48, which had regained some power and was creeping south.
By now the British Grand Fleet was firing heavily at the oncoming German vessels. Scheer ran up a signal flag at 1913, ordering his battlecruisers to turn towards the British and engage their van at close range. Scheer was effectively risking his battlecruisers to allow his destroyers to make a decisive attack.
The destroyers were unleashed at 1918. One of the first German ships to suffer was the Grosser Kurfurst, which was hit at least eight times, including some near the waterline.
Meanwhile, Hartog, who had taken over command of Hipper’s four battlecruisers, found that his vessels were under fire from eighteen British Dreadnoughts, while the remaining British vessels fired at the German Dreadnoughts.
Several salvos were fired at the Derfflinger which was hit a number of times. At 1913 a shell pierced the armour of one of the turrets and a fire broke out, which spread rapidly. Huge gouts of flame shot up from the turrets, killing all but five of the seventy-eight men inside them; a second shell killed another turret crew of eighty men. Around fifteen shells struck the ship in all. Commander Georg von Has, later wrote:
The enemy had got our range excellently. I felt a clutch at my heart when I thought of what the conditions must be in the interior of the ship. So far we in the armoured tower had come off very well. Salvos were still bursting round us, but we could scarcely see anything of the enemy. All we could see was the great reddish gold flames spurting from the guns. I ordered the two forward turrets to fire salvo after salvo. I could feel that our fire soothed the nerves of the ship’s company. If we had ceased fire at this time the whole ship’s company would have been overwhelmed by despair. So long as we were firing, things could not be so bad.
The Germans were scoring hits too. The Seydlitz hit HMS Colossus at least twice, but there was relatively little damage done to the enormous British vessel. The German vessel, Von der Tann, was unable to fire as all her guns were out of action, but she sailed on, acting as a mobile target. When she was hit again, the conning tower was smashed and all the occupants were either killed or wounded.
The Lützow was limping away to the south-west when suddenly, to the horror of her crew, they saw the British Second Battle Squadron, consisting of HMS Monarch, HMS Orion and HMS Centurion.
The Lützow was hit several more times, thus reducing her ability to fight back and her speed, but she continued to limp on.
Scheer ordered his destroyers, some of which were already trying to protect the Lützow, to launch another attack at 1915, but in the confusion only thirteen of them attacked.
One of the German destroyers approached HMS Malaya, to within 6,000 yards. After five minutes of heavy fire the destroyer, the S-35, sank with all hands lost, including the crew that she had picked up from the V-29.
The German battlecruisers turned at 1920, headed west-southwest and then followed the retreating German High Seas Fleet that was heading west. At 1922 Jellicoe ordered the Fourth Light Cruiser Squadron to launch a counter-attack, while his Dreadnoughts made two separate turns by division. This meant that the British were now facing south-south-east and sailing away from the German High Seas Fleet.
The German destroyer attacks were ineffective and the problem now facing Jellicoe was that he had failing light and needed to close with the German High Seas Fleet. Again his quality of reports let him down. Eventually, at 1935, he turned the Grand Fleet around to where he believed the German High Seas Fleet to be. Both Beatty and Goodenough had told him that they were heading west, so at 1940, the Grand Fleet was ordered to sail south-westerly. The Germans might have fooled Jellicoe temporarily.
Scheer feared that his fleet would be tracked. They had been sailing west and at 1945 he ordered his ships to sail south. Unbeknown to both him and Jellicoe, the British and German vessels were now on converging courses.
Beatty, some 6 miles ahead of the Grand Fleet, saw the Germans change course and signalled to Jellicoe: ‘Submit that the van of the battleships follow me: we can then cut off the whole of the enemy’s fleet.’
Beatty was clearly willing to get stuck in once again, but wanted back-up in case he ran into more firepower than he could handle. Jellicoe had already decided to turn to the west and ordered Vice Admiral Jerram’s Second Battle Squadron to follow Beatty. Unfortunately Jerram could neither see Beatty nor the High Seas Fleet and continued west.
At 2011 the British Eleventh Flotilla, led by Commodore James Hawksley, on board HMS Castor, spotted German destroyers to his north-west and turned to attack, supported by the Fourth Light Cruiser Squadron. They had found not destroyers, but in fact the main German battle line. By this stage it was 2026.
The German Dreadnoughts were around 8,000 yards away. HMS Calliope, with Commodore Charles le Mesurier, commander of the Fourth Light Cruiser Squadron, came under fire and was hit several times before heading back for the safety of the Grand Fleet.
Slightly to the south, Rear Admiral Napier, commanding the Third Light Cruiser Squadron, having been ordered by Beatty to scout to the west, picked up a German scouting group at 2000. They fired at one another at long range, with Beatty moving in to support the British cruisers.
Suddenly Beatty’s battlecruisers spotted German battlecruisers and they opened fire on one another at 2019. The German ships were in a desperate state, with holes below the waterline, guns out of action and fires still blazing. The British ships, all five of them, including HMS New Zealand and HMS Indomitable, were in a better condition to fight. Almost immediately the Derfflinger and the Seydlitz were hit, but they kept moving and sought the protection of the bigger German vessels.
Beatty pursued them and now opened fire on the Schleswig-Holstein, the Pommern and the Schlesien as the pre-Dreadnoughts tried to cover the withdrawal of the battlecruisers.
At 2028 Jellicoe ordered his ships to form a single line by moving west to south-west. The Germans, meanwhile, were once again heading south, on a collision course with the Grand Fleet. HMS Caroline and HMS Royalist of the Fourth Light Cruiser Squadron were 2 miles ahead of the Grand Fleet, with HMS Castor and eight other destroyers belonging to the Eighth Flotilla following them. At 2045 they saw German Dreadnoughts heading towards them from the north-west.
There was confusion. While Captain Crooke, the captain of HMS Caroline, ordered a joint torpedo attack, Jerram, on board HMS King George V, was certain that they were Beatty’s battlecruisers. There was a considerable delay while the two men argued the case, but Captain Crooke still launched his attack, certain that they were Germans.
Shells fired by the approaching ships confirmed he was right; the torpedoes in any event missed. The Eleventh Flotilla turned away from the German battlecruisers, believing that the Grand Fleet would open up, but as suddenly as they had appeared, the German ships turned away and were soon out of sight.
The day’s action was over. What now remained to be seen was whether Scheer could extricate himself from the situation or whether Jellicoe could corner him. What was certain was that the Germans could not afford to give battle again. Several of Scheer’s ships had been badly damaged and they were outnumbered to the same extent now as they had been when the battle had begun.
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SMS Wiesbaden, Length 141.7m, displacement 5,180 tonnes. The Wiesbaden was severely damaged by heavy artillery from HMS Invincible. She drifted between the battle lines and became the target of further British fire. She finally sank on 1 June taking most of her crew with her.
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HMS Defence (sunk) Built Pembroke Dockyard, laid down January 1905, completed February 1909, cost £1,362,970. Trial speed 23 knots. November 1914 sent to South Atlantic in hunt for Admiral Graf von Spee. 31 May 1916 sunk at the Battle of Jutland.
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HMS Warrior (sunk) Built Pembroke Dockyard, laid down November 1903, completed December 1906. Cost about £1.18m. 1st Cruiser Squadron Mediterranean Fleet. August 1914 involved in hunt for SMS Goeben and Breslau. December 1914 onwards 2nd Cruiser Squadron Grand Fleet. 1 June 1916 sunk at the Battle of Jutland.
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HMS Shark, a destroyer of the Fourth Flotilla.

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Jellicoe.

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HMS Black Prince (sunk)
Built Thames Iron Works, laid down February 1903, completed March 1906. Cost about £1.15m. Trial speed 23.66 knots. 1st Cruiser Squadron Mediterranean Fleet. August 1914 involved in hunt for SMS Goeben and Breslau. December 1914 onwards 1st Cruiser Squadron Grand Fleet. 1 June 1916 sunk at the Battle of Jutland.

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German Battlecruisers in the North Sea.

HMS Defence was hit by two heavy salvoes in quick succession, and the Admiral and his flagship disappeared in a roar of flame.

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John Cornwell, aged 16, though mortally wounded he remained at his post.

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Admiral Sir Robert Arbuthnot.

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A salvo fired from the main armament of a German Dreadnought.

A few seconds later there were red glows all over the British ship and at 1834 Invincible blew up.

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Rear Admiral The Hon Horace Hood, who was lost with his flagship the Invincible.

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Rear Admiral The Hon Horace Hood, who was lost with his flagship the Invincible.

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HMS Indefatigable (sunk)
Built Devonport Dockyard, laid down February 1909, completed April 1911, cost £1,520,591. Trial speed 26.89 knots. August 1914 hunting SMS Goeben and Breslau. 18 August became flagship of Dardanelles squadron. 3 November 1914 bombarded Dardanelles forts. 20 February joined 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet. 31 May 1916 sunk by SMS Von der Tann at the Battle of Jutland.
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HMS Queen Mary (sunk)
Built Palmers, laid down March 1911, completed March 1912, cost £2,078,491. 1st Battlecruiser Squadron Grand Fleet. Present at the Battle of Heligoland Bight. January–February 1915 refit at Portsmouth. 31 May 1916 sunk at the Battle of Jutland.

To their enormous horror they saw the entire British Grand Fleet arrayed in front of them...

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British battleship in action.

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HMS Colossus was hit by the
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SMS Seydlitz in port at Wilhelmshaven, after being hit by 21 heavy shells.
Korvettenkapitan Richard Foerster was the I Artillerie Offizier of the Seydlitz; he describes the terrifying night on board with the ship in dire straits and how the vessel limped home:

The condition of our ship became ever graver. Hour by hour more water penetrated into the foreship, so that the stern almost lay in the water. The danger always increased that the forward bulkheads would break. Our men of the Leak Security Service, under the direction of Korkpt. von Alvensleben and Marineingenieurs d Res. Lucke, worked like slaves during the night! The untiring, energetic work of each man had a single aim, that we still believed in, to bring the ship safely to harbour. Special thanks should go to our commander, who through his quiet, definite orders inspired all on the ship during the battle, and forgot his understandable tiredness and always spurred us to new performances. We all wanted to save our heavily damaged ship, cost what it may, and there were still many difficulties to overcome.

With each hour our situation became graver, we already had enormous amounts of water in the ship, and the strenuous work was not possible to stop new water masses penetrating the ship. Two pump steamers came out from Wilhelmshaven and they put themselves alongside us and pumped water out of the ship. However, as quickly as they pumped the water out more water poured in through the innumerable holes, that could only poorly be closed. Everything now depended on the transverse bulkhead of the forward boiler room; if it held then it was quite possible that we could remain capable of buoyancy, if it failed then it meant the end. I knew that the I Offizier, Korvkpt. von Alvensleben and his bulkhead men had been in the questionable boiler room and strengthened the bulkhead with available means. With innumerable wooded supports they had propped the bulkhead but water seeped through in many places, and death lurked nearby. Undeterred they did their duty in this horrible room and it was only thanks to them that the ship was saved.

Slowly we proceeded, and slowly we neared our goal. During the night a storm came up from the NW and heavy seas threatened to destroy the fatally wounded ship, just short of the safety of harbour. We had 4,000 tonnes of water in the ship and within a few hours a further 1,000 tonnes entered. However we survived this trial and on a sunny evening toward 6hrs we arrived on Wilhelmshaven Roads to the cheers of the ships lying there.

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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