Jellicoe:The Battle of Jutland

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The Life of Admiral of the Fleet
John Rushworth Jellicoe,
First Earl Jellicoe

5 December, 1869 – 20 November, 1935
Jellicoe, 1920.JPG
Background and Early LifeService as LieutenantCommanderCommand and ChinaDirector of Naval OrdnanceFlag Rank and ControllerSea Service and Second Sea LordCommand of the Grand FleetThe War at Sea, 1914-1916The Battle of JutlandAfter JutlandFirst Sea Lord and the Submarine MenaceControversy and DismissalEmpire TourGovernor-General of New ZealandThe Jutland ControversyRetirementDeath and Legacy

At 14:18 Iron Duke received news that light cruiser Galatea had sighted, "Two cruisers probably hostile in sight bearing E.S.E., course unknown. My position Lat. 56°48'N., Long. 5°21'E."[1] while screening for the Battle Cruiser Fleet. At 14:28 Iron Duke received a semaphore signal from St. Vincent stating that she had picked up German wireless signals at strength nine. Galatea clarified that the two ships she had sighted were in fact destroyers, and then reported a cruiser. This news was received in Iron Duke at 14:30. Five minutes later Jellicoe signalled the Battle Fleet, "Raise speed for full steam and report when ready to proceed."[2]

At 16:38 Jellicoe ordered the Tenth Cruiser Squadron to take up its Eastern Patrol.

Around 17:40 Jellicoe ordered Captain Dreyer to have ranges taken on various bearings using optical rangefinders to determine what would be the best direction along which to engage the German fleet. Dreyer told him that the best direction was to the south and then to the west as the sun set.[3] Every minute the battle fleet was advancing at nearly three-quarters of a mile. At 17:55 Jellicoe asked H.M.S. Marlborough, leading the far-right column of battleships, "What can you see?" Around 18:00 Jellicoe remarked: "I wish someone would tell me who is firing and what they are firing at."[4] Marlborough replied at 18:00 with "Our Battle Cruisers bearing S.S.W., steering East, Lion leading ship."[5] At 18:01 the British battle cruisers were visible from Iron Duke.[6] Jellicoe had expected the Battle Cruiser Fleet to be dead ahead of him. Instead they were forty-five degrees to Starboard.[7]


At 6.14 p.m. on 31st May, 1916 (Jutland Battle), Jellicoe was standing at J1, when the Yeoman of Signals at Y read out each word flashed by Beatty, "Have sighted Enemy Battle Fleet Bearing SSW." Jellicoe at once walked as shown by the arrow and stepping up on to the Compass Platform at J2 looked at the magnetic compass card—in silence. The alphabetical letters on the diagram represent the positions of Jellicoe and others at 6.14 p.m.
J1 and J2, Jellicoe. F, Forbes (Flag Commander).
M, Madden (C. of S.). B, Bellairs (Torpedo and War Staff).
H, Halsey (C. of F.). FH., Fitzherbert (Flag Lieutenant).
D, Dreyer (Capt. of Iron Duke). T, Twigg (3rd Signal Officer).
W, Woods (Fleet Signal Officer). Y, Yeoman of Signals who called out each word of Beatty's 6.14 signal.
Comdr W. Phipps 2nd Signal Officer was with a Yeoman of Signals at Signalling Searchlight on Lower Bridge acknowledging Beatty's reply signal at 6.14. Captain Leggett (Master of the Fleet) was in the Chart House plotting the Iron Duke's position on the Chart.[8]

At 18:14 Jellicoe received a reply from Beatty: "Have sighted Enemy Battle Fleet bearing S.S.W. [South South West]"[5][9] He walked over to the compass platform and looked at the magnetic compass for twenty seconds. He then turned to Commander A. R. W. Woods (Fleet Signal Officer) "Hoist equal-speed pendant S.E. [South East]" This manœuvre had not been practised by the fleet before, and Woods asked whether to make it to SSE "so that they will know it is on the port-wing column?" Jellicoe assented, saying "Very well. Hoist equal-speed S.E. by E." Woods shouted the order down to the signal platform and the signal "Equal-speed Charlie London" was hoisted, and also signalled by wireless to the battle fleet. While ships were still replying (by hoisting the self-same signal up their yardarms) Jellicoe turned to Dreyer and told him, "Dreyer, commence the deployment." Dreyer sounded two blasts of Iron Duke's siren (the signal for a turn to port)[10] and the helm was ordered to be put over to starboard.[11] The division leaders echoed the siren calls and at 18:15 the leading battleships of the Grand Fleet began turning to port, followed by their columns until line of battle was formed. Even as the deployment began, enemy shells began falling on the starboard columns, with ships of the First and Fourth Battle Squadrons being straddled from 18:16 onwards.[12]

Woods later wrote to Admiral Sir William James (who was present at Jutland as Sturdee's Flag Commander in Benbow):

I have taken my mind back to that wonderful moment on the Iron Duke bridge when our Admiral gave the order for deployment. He was alone on the compass platform but I was close to him. He had been thinking deeply for some moments when he stepped up to the compass, looked at the compass card for a couple of seconds and then gave the order for the directions of the deployment. He said nothing to anyone but acted entirely on his own, keeping his own counsel as was his wont, and making up his mind for himself. It was the most wonderful moment in my naval life and I shall never forget it.[13]

Tactics and Criticism


In 1925, Beatty's former War Staff Officer, Captain (later Admiral Sir) Reginald A. R. P. E. E. Drax, patronisingly described the deployment to Port as a "mistake that Nelson himself might easily have made."[14]

Single Line

The Russian naval attaché, von Schoultz, later claimed "almost unanimous support" at a post-Jutland dinner in Burney's flagship for his assertion that "the maintenance of a single line ahead as a battle formation for the whole fleet had contributed greatly towards rendering a decisive outcome to the battle impossible."[15] However, Admiral Sir Geoffrey Blake, at the time Gunnery Officer in Iron Duke, later wrote of von Schoultz, "We all looked on the Russian Naval Attache [sic] as a joke."[16]


Jellicoe has often been unfavourably compared to Nelson. One can do no better than to quote a former First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord George Hamilton, who wrote in Jellicoe's defence in 1920:

The spirit of Nelson is the ideal of Jellicoe's detractors, but Nelson was not a fool, though some of his would-be admirers apparently think that he was.[17]

See Also


  1. Official Despatches. p. 443.
  2. Official Despatches. p. 444.
  3. Dreyer. Sea Heritage. p. 145.
  4. Quoted in Bacon. Earl Jellicoe. p. 265.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Official Despatches. p. 457.
  6. Bacon. Earl Jellicoe. p. 263.
  7. Winton. Jellicoe. p. 188.
  8. Dreyer. Sea Heritage. p. 144.
  9. Corbett. Naval Operations. III. p. 361.
  10. In the G.F.B.O.s (VI,3), Jellicoe made clear that once he made the signal to deploy the Battle Fleet, he might commence the deployment before all ships had answered the signal. To inform the leading ships of the cruising columns as to which direction the fleet was deploying to, Jellicoe would sound Iron Duke's siren—one blast for starboard and two blasts for port.
  11. In the Royal Navy prior to the 1920s, helm orders were given as if the ship were still steered by a tiller. For example, for a ship to be turned to port (left), the ship's wheel was ordered to be turned to starboard (right).
  12. Campbell. Jutland. p. 152.
  13. Quoted in James. The Sky was Always Blue. p. 97.
  14. "Jutland or Trafalgar." Naval Review. p. 239.
  15. von Schoultz. With the British Battle Fleet. pp. 226-227.
  16. Blake to Arthur J. Marder. Letter of 10 June, 1966. The UCI Libraries. Marder Papers. Box 1. My thanks to Stephen McLaughlin for this letter.
  17. "Letters to the Editor" (Letters to the Editor). The Times. Wednesday, 17 November, 1920. Issue 42570, col B, p. 8.


  • James, Admiral Sir William (1951). The Sky was Always Blue. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd..
  • Mclaughlin, Stephen (2010). "'Equal Speed Charlie London': Jellicoe's Deployment at Jutland". in Jordan, John; Dent, Stephen. Warship 2010. London: Conway. pp. 122-139. ISBN 978-1-84486-110-1.