Errors Made in the Jutland Battle
The following is the text of a letter from Jellicoe to Dreyer, sent to him in a letter dated 1936 and published by Dreyer in his 1955 book "The Sea Heritage".
Errors Made in Jutland Battle
IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER AND BY WHOM MADE
Beatty. At 2.20 p.m. the Galatea reported by wireless the presence of two cruisers, probably hostile, bearing ESE., course unknown. Beatty's dispatch states incorrectly that the report gave their course as being to the Northward. It also states incorrectly that he immediately altered course to SSE. He did not do this until 2.32 p.m. (See signals.)
With an enemy in sight, and that enemy recognised as in strength (see page 131 Beatty's dispatch) and the strongest portion of his force (the 5th Battle Squadron) 5 miles away, it was obviously wise to at once concentrate his force, especialy as the 5th Battle Squadron was some 3-4 knots slower than the battle-cruisers and the strongest portion of his force. He took no such steps, although it was then his intention shortly to alter course to SSE. (i.e., away from the 5th Battle Squadron), as shown by his signal at 2.25 p.m. to his destroyers.
Beatty at 2.32 p.m. made a general signal by flags to alter course SSE. The 5th Battle Squadron at that time was still 5 miles off, and it was quite impossible at this distance for a flag signal to be distinguished, and as the battle-cruisers were probably making a good deal of smoke (as they were working up to high speed), it was also not possible to distinguish their movements. The signal should of course have been made by searchlight or wireless or both.
At 2.39 (Galatea's time), 2.35 (Iron Duke and Lion time) (see signals) the Galatea reported sighting a large amount of smoke as though from a fleet, bearing ENE. Here at any rate was a most strong and obvious reason for concentration, and moreover time to admit of concentration, since Beatty in his dispatch remarks that the enemy could not possibly round the Horn Reef without being brought to action.
The next reports from Galatea at 2.45 and 2.51 p.m. were that the enemy had turned northward (i.e., away from the Horn Reef). Beatty accordingly altered the course of the battle-cruisers to SE. at 2.52 p.m., to East at 3.1. p.m., and to NE. at 3.13 p.m. The signal in each case was made "General", but again it was made only by flags. Owing to the original error in only signalling the alteration of course by flags, the distance between the battle-cruisers and the 5th Battle Squadron had increased by 3 p.m. to 9½ miles. In the case of the latter three signals, however, no harm fortunately resulted, as the 5th Battle Squadron, in ignorance of the alterations, held its SSE. course until 3.5 p.m., and so closed by 3.15 p.m. to within 7 miles of the battle-cruisers, when course was altered to East. There was now an excellent opportunity for Beatty to have concentrated his forces. The enemy was steering north (towards our Battle Fleet), so that the loss of 2 or 3 miles of distance on the part of the battle-cruisers whilst concentrating was immaterial. But the opportunity was not taken. At 3.21 Beatty, for the first time, made a wireless signal giving to the Senior Officers of squadrons his course and speed–i.e., NE. 24 knots, incidentally a speed at which the 5th Battle Squadron could not possibly close him, the full speed of the ships of that squadron being barely 24 knots.
At 3.30 p.m. Beatty, with the 5th Battle Squadron 6 miles away, signalled (again by flags) for course East and speed 25 knots, the enemy being then in sight, with the result that by 3.40 p.m. the distance had increased to over 7 miles. At 3.36 p.m. he informed Senior Officers of squadrons by wireless of his new course and speed, and the 5th Battle Squadron then at once altered course to East, Beatty having at 3.35 p.m. signalled by searchlight to the 5th Battle Squadron course East, speed 25 knots, enemy in sight. Admiral Evan-Thomas at once ordered course East, speed 24 knots–the utmost speed attainable by his ships.
At 3.45 Beatty signalled (a general signal), again by flags, course ESE. At this time the 5th Battle Squadron was 9½ miles from the battle-cruisers (Barham from Lion). Fire was opened by the battle-cruisers on the 1st Scouting Group at 3.47 p.m., the distance being about 15,000 yards. At this time the distance between the 5th Battle Squadron and the 1st Scouting Group was about 25,000 yards. Evan-Thomas was not able to open fire on the ships of the 1st Scouting Group until 4.6 p.m., and then at a range of at least 19,000 yards.
It will be gathered from the remarks above that it was very unforunate that Beatty did not concentrate his force before coming into action, particularly as the ships of the 5th Battle Squadron were exceedingly powerful and were recognised as shooting extremely accurately. The concentration would more than have doubled the strength of his force.
At 4.40 p.m., after receiving the report from the 2nd Cruiser Squadron that the enemy's Battle Fleet was in sight, Beatty made a general signal by flags to alter course in succession 16 points to starboard. Again the 5th Battle Squadron, then – miles astern, could not distinguish the flag signal and continued its course. At 4.48 p.m. Beatty repeated that signal to the 5th Battle Squadron by flags. At 4.50 p.m. the 5th Battle Squadron passed the Lion, and turned 16 points in succession when clear of the battle-cruisers. During this turn the ships of the 5th Battle Squadron came under a very heavy fire from the battleships of the High Seas Fleet, and two of the ships received very considerable damage, as the Germans concentrated their fire on the turning point. In view of the fact that the 5th Battle Squadron was not turned to the northward at the same time as the battle-cruisers, it would have been distinctly better to have ordered the ships to turn "together" instead of "in succession", so as to reduce the time of the turn.
During the run to the northward to join the Battle Fleet it was obviously most important that I should be kept informed as to the strength, composition, and formation of the ships of the High Seas Fleet, so that I could deploy the Battle Fleet to the best advantage. This was the first duty of the advanced force.
The signals which reached me from Beatty's command, just after he turned to the northward, were one from Beatty via the Princess Royal at 4.45 p.m. which gave the strength of the enemy as 26-30 battleships steering SE., and one from the Southampton at 4.48 giving correct information as to the size and formation of the High Seas Fleet.
During the actual run to the northward the Southampton gave me reports at 5 p.m. and 5.40 p.m., which would have been valauble had it not been that the dead reckoning position of the Southampton was in error. (This was not surprising.) The Southampton's incorrect report at 5.50 p.m. that the enemy battle-cruisers bore SW. from their battleships was very confusing.
Commodore Sinclair in the Galatea, leading the battle-cruisers, sighted the German battle-cruisers at about 5.35 p.m. at a distance of about 16,000 yards, but unfortunately made no report.
Beatty at 5.40 p.m. was engaging the ships of the 1st Scouting Group, but made no report of the position.
Jellicoe. Might have altered course gradually to South to close the enemy at say 6.45 p.m., instead of waiting to 6.55 p.m.
There was some firing going on by the rear ships of our line up to 6.45 p.m., but from knowledge gained since the event, the later firing was at the Wiesbaden. Had I altered course at 6.45 p.m. it would not, as a matter of fact, have produced any result beyond our reopening fire earlier than we did at the enemy as he closed us after his turn towards us at about 6.56 p.m.
Scheer would of course have turned away again as soon as he felt the effects of our fire. The reason why I delayed the turn to South was because I thought that the enemy disappearance was due to thickening of the mist. I could not see his turn away from where I was on top of the chart-house, nor could anyone else with me.
Burney. Might have reported the turn away of the enemy at 6.40. He could see it, apparently, by his report. Probably he did not report it as he thought that I too could see it.
Jerram. In view of the fact that the van squadron of battleships was not nearly so much exposed to the destroyer attack at 7.22 as was the rest of the Battle Fleet, Jerram might, I think, have independently altered course back to close the enemy before I signalled the general alteration of course. Possibly he may have been influenced not to do so by the fact that I had at 7.21 ordered his squadron to alter course 4 points to port. I did this because his rear ships were in the way of the leading ships of the centre squadron altering to port.
Jellicoe. As he did not do so, I might have ordered him to close. As a matter of fact it would not, I think, have produced any result, as he would have been very little ahead of the rest of the Battle Fleet.
Whilst on the subject of the turn away to avoid torpedoes, it may be as well to point out, in reply to the criticism which this turn has met with, that any other course might have led to serious disaster. Admiral Burney points out in his dispatch at least twenty-one torpedoes passed through the line of his squadron, one of which (fired before 7 p.m.) hit the Marlborough. This torpedo did not therefore come from the destroyer attack at 7.20 p.m. But a reference to the reports of captains of ships of his Battle Squadron shows that apparently all the remaining twenty came from this attack as they passed through at about 7.35 p.m. One also passed ahead of the Iron Duke at this time. The alternatives to a turn away were a turn towards, or holding the course and dodging the torpedoes. A turn towards would have led to great danger if the first attack had been followed up by a second and third , and no one could say that this would not be the case. To hold on and dodge might meet with success if the tracks could be seen. Information had reached me that the Germans had succeeded in making the tracks of their torpedoes more or less invisible. Therefore there was danger in this alternative. The turnaway was therefore adopted. Experience since the War has shown what a large number of hits may be scored by torpedoes on ships that turn towards or hold their course. These experiences have not been published but they are known to me. Further, the turn away was the counter carried out by every other Admiral, German or British, during the War. On the other hand I fancy that a turn towards by Divisions might sometimes be a useful counter, with of course much less risk than a turn towards by "Blue Pendant".
Jellicoe. I should have ordered the 4th Light Cruiser Squadron to search for the enemy when I turned to SW. at 7.42 p.m. Also it would have been wise if I had closed the enemy Battle Fleet when Comus reported she was firing at it at 8.38 p.m. Had I done so I might have been able to fire a few rounds at them before they turned away. I was misled by the firing of our battle-cruisers ahead, which was at ships well to the northward of them, and not, as I was inclined to think, at ships to the westward.
Lion. Asking Princess Royal by flashlight at 9.32 for challenge and reply. (Intercepted by enemy and used by him.)
Jellicoe. At 9.45 I might have told Commodore F. as part of signal 2145 giving reference position, to let destroyers know where enemy was last seen as reported by Vice-Admiral B.C.F. I doubt, however, if he knew this himself.
Beatty. Re the footnote on page 112 of the Admiralty narrative. It may be remarked that Beatty, who knew better than I the position of the enemy, did not inform his destroyers nor give them orders to attack.
Capt. Boyle of Malaya. Should have reported sighting enemy large ships at 11.40 p.m. (one of which he stated in his written report he took to be of Westfalen class in action with our destroyers). This would have given me a clue to Scheer's movement of cutting across the rear of the fleet. Some of the destroyer leaders could, I think have reported this.
Admiralty. At 10.41 p.m. not informing me of the intercepted German wireless signal ordering Zeppelins to be off Horn Reef at daylight. Also not informing me of the signals the Admiralty intercepted almost hourly during the night, from Scheer giving his course and speed. These errors were absolutely fatal, as the information if passed to me would have clearly shown me that Scheer was making for the Horn Reef. The information which was so conclusive would have led me to alter course during the night for the Horn Reef, instead of waiting till daylight to close the Horn Reef if no information respecting enemy movements towards one of the other channels to his base had reached me by daylight, as was my intention.
- The italicised addition is in Jellicoe's handwriting in one of the two copies in the British Museum.
- Dreyer, Admiral Sir Frederic C. (1955). The Sea Heritage: A Study of Maritime Warfare. London: Museum Press Limited.