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Battle of Jutland
31 May – 1 June, 1916
PreliminariesRun to the SouthRun to the NorthClash of the Battle FleetsNight ActionsBritish ReactionsGerman ReactionsAnalysisConclusions

German Plans

On 25 April 1916, whilst returning from the Second Raid on Yarmouth, Admiral Reinhard Scheer, Commander-in-Chief of the German High Sea Fleet, learnt that U-boats were to conduct commerce warfare in line with prize law regulations until further notice. This decision was made after the USA threatened to cut off diplomatic relations with Germany following the sinking of the S.S. Sussex with the loss of 50 civilian lives, some of them American. This severely reduced the effectiveness of U-boats against merchant ships, Scheer decided that it would be better to employ his long range U-boats in co-operation with his surface fleet against enemy warships.[1]

A raid by battlecruisers on Sunderland in the north east of England, supported by battleships. was planned for 17 May but had to be postponed for six days because some of the battleships developed condenser problems. It was expected that Admiral Sir John Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet would respond, so U-boats were positioned to ambush them.

Ten U-boats were to patrol the North Sea from 17 to 22 May. On 23 May two would position themselves off the Pentland Firth, on the Grand Fleet's route from its base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands into the North Sea. Eight would be off the Firth of Forth to intercept Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty Battle Cruiser Fleet as it left Rosyth. Another U-boat would force her way into the Firth of Forth, close to Rosyth, one would reconnoitre Sunderland and two would watch the Humber. A neutral merchantman had told the Germans, wrongly, that a large British force, including battleships, was located there. Three more boats would lay mines in the Firth of Forth, the Moray Firth and west of the Orkneys.[2]

The operation had to be postponed because repairs to the battlecruiser S.M.S. Seydlitz, damaged by a mine in the Second Raid on Yarmouth, took longer than expected. Technical problems with two U-boats meant that there were only eight off the Firth of Forth and the plan to send another into the Firth had to be abandoned. A coded message was sent to the U-boats on 30 May, two days before they were due to return home, informing them that the High Sea Fleet was about to put to sea.[3]

The initial plan to attack Sunderland was abandoned on 30 May because high winds made airship reconnaissance, which Scheer needed to guard his northern flank, impossible. It was replaced by a sweep in the Skagerrak, the water between southern Norway and northern Denmark, apparently aimed at the British cruisers and merchant ships that were frequently seen there. Cruisers and torpedo boats could guard the exposed flank since the High Sea Fleet would not be going so far from its bases.[4]

Balance of Forces

The Grand Fleet was far bigger than the High Sea Fleet. The British had 28 dreadnoughts, nine battlecruisers, eight armoured cruisers, 26 light cruisers, 78 destroyers, a minelayer and a seaplane carrier against 16 dreadnoughts, five battlecruisers, six pre-dreadnoughts, 11 light cruisers and 61 torpedo boats (equivalent to British destroyers),[5]

Jellicoe thought that the odds were not as strongly in his favour as was the case. The British always assumed that the Germans would come out when at full strength, whilst some British ships would always be under refit or repair. The newly commissioned dreadnought H.M.S. Royal Sovereign was still working up and the dreadnoughts H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth and H.M.S. Emperor of India, the armoured cruiser H.M.S. Australia, two cruisers and 17 destroyers were in the dockyard. However, the dreadnought S.M.S. König was also in the dockyard and the new dreadnought S.M.S. Baden, the first German ship with 15-inch guns, was still working up.[6]

The British thought that these ships and the incomplete battlecruiser S.M.S. Hindenburg were with the High Sea Fleet, whilst Jellicoe feared, wrongly, that the Germans had completed the Greek battleship Salamis, building in a German yard at the outbreak of war, for themselves.[7]

Overall, the British had a big advantage in firepower. The Grand Fleet carried a total of 48 15-inch, 14-inch, 110 13.5=inch and 104 12-inch guns. The High Sea Fleet had 128 12-inch and 72 11-inch guns. Excluding guns that could not bear on the broadside (12 British 12-inch and 16 12-inch and 16 11-inch for the Germans) gives total weight of broadside as being 332,360 pounds for the British and 134,216 pounds for the Germans. The British battlecruisers carried 32 13.5-inch and 40 12-inch guns versus 16 12-inch and 28 11-inch on the German ones, giving the British a broadside advantage of 68,900 to 33,104 pounds. The British had 382 21-inch torpedo tubes versus 362 19.7-inch German ones. The 107 German 17.7-inch and the 75 British 18-inch torpedoes had too short a range to be significant in a fleet action.[8]

But these numbers do not tell the full story, as any warship is a trade off between speed, firepower and protection. The British capital ships at Jutland had heavier guns than the Germans, but the German ships were better protected.

The speed of a fleet is that of the slowest vessel, so the British battle fleet was capable of 21 knots versus 18 for the German one because of its slow pre-dreadnoughts. The battlecruisers of both sides could make 25 knots but the heavier British armament came at the cost of lighter armour.

The British speed advantage may have been even greater than the official speeds of the ships. Welsh steam coal was superior to German coal as a fuel for ships and poor coal sometimes restricted the speed of German warships.[9]

The German ships advantage in protection was increased because their ships were divided into a much larger number of water tight compartments with strong bulkheads than British ones, allowing them to take far more punishment before foundering. This meant that German sailors had more cramped living conditions than British ones, which was considered acceptable because their ships were designed for shorter range operations.[10]

It is, however, a myth that the sailors lived ashore in barracks when their ships were in port. Some U-boat and destroyer crews based in Flanders did so but not the men of the High Sea Fleet based in Germany.[11]

The British firepower advantage was negated to a large extent by the inferiority of their armour piercing shells. The long range at which Jutland was mostly fought meant that shells struck their target's side armour at an oblique angle. British fuses burst their shells on impact if it was at an oblique angle. Even when British AP shells did not hit at an oblique angle, the over sensitivity of the lyddite with which they were filled caused them to explode on impact instead of penetrating the enemy's armour. British shell design and production was the responsibility of the Board of Ordnance, which was part of the War Office, not the Admiralty. Jellicoe had requested better shells and more realistic trials when he was Third Sea Lord, but these issues were allowed to drop when he returned to sea going duty in December 1910. The superior German AP shells were filled with trotyl (TNT),[12]

The German rangefinders were superior to British ones. Their ladder method of finding the range enabled them to score hits more quickly than the British bracket system. The British waited to see if a salvo had hit before correcting the next one. The Germans fired three quick salvos several hundred yards apart in order to find where the enemy was within the ladder. All British gunnery officers at Jutland thought that the German gunnery was better than the British early in the battle but then deteriorated. This may be because the visibility favoured the Germans early on and the British later. The German stereoscopic rangefinders were excellent but hard to use. Their operators had to have eyesight that was not only excellent but identical in both eyes, whereas anybody could be trained to use a British rangefinder. One theory is that the concentration needed to use a German rangefinder might result in the operator's performance declining under the stress and strain of battle. The Germans had better searchlights and binoculars, which gave them an advantage at night.[13]

The British ships, particularly the battlecruisers, had poor flash protection and ammunition handing procedures. An emphasis on rate of fire led to magazine doors being left open and to many charges being removed from their magazine cases. A shell bursting in a turret could then cause a flash that would travel down the hoist to the magazine. This was exacerbated by the violent way in which British charges would catch fire.[14]

S.M.S. Seydlitz was saved from a magazine explosion at the Battle of Dogger Bank when her executive officer ordered two magazine to be flooded. A German seaman captured in 1918, who had been on Seydlitz at Dogger Bank, told his British interrogators that extra doors had ben added to her hoists and the number of charges taken out of the magazine reduced after Dogger Bank.[15]

John Campbell argues in his detailed analysis of Jutland that S.M.S. Seydlitz would have blown up at Dogger Bank had she had British charges.[16]

The British had had a warning about their poor anti-flash protection at the Battle of the Falkland Islands in 1914. The armoured cruiser H.M.S. Kent would probably have blown up had Sergeant Charles Mayes, R.M.L.I. not put out a fire that threatened a magazine. The Admiralty awarded him the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal but did not change the R.N.'s ammunition handing procedures.

Ironically, the one battlecruiser on which ammunition handling procedures were improved was Beatty's flagship H.M.S. Lion. Alexander Grant, her newly appointed Chief Gunner, wrote in his unpublished memoirs, Through the Hawse Pipe, that the Gunnery Officer and Captain accepted his suggestion of:

'drastic alterations in the supply of cordite. These were (1) One magazine to be in use only during action. (2) Not more than one full charge to be in handling room. (3) during any lull in the demand for charges the magazine door to be closed and watertight clips put on. (4) On no account should the magazines be flooded except on receipt of an order from a responsible officer.'

Another potential British weakness was Jellicoe's Grand Fleet Battle Tactics. They discouraged the use of initiative by the commanders of battleship divisions: the [Grand Fleet]] was divided into five battle squadrons, the first four of which each consisted of two divisions of four battleships, with the Fourth Battle Squadron containing the fast battleship of the Queen Elizabeth class: only four of the five were available.

30 May

At 14:20 Iron Duke received a signal from the Admiralty:

Urgent 431. There are indications that German fleet are to be in outer roads by 7 p.m. to-night and may go to sea early tomorrow. Object may be to have them ready to support returning Zeppelins. Sixteen German submarines are now at sea, most of which are believed to be in the North Sea, two are off Terschelling.[17]

In 1920, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry Jackson, recalled:

Our wireless direction-finding stations, under Captain Round, kept careful and very intelligent watch on the positions of German ships using wireless, and on 30th May, 1916, heard an unusual amount of wireless signals from one of the enemy ships which they located at Wilhelmshaven. This was reported to me; the time was a critical and anxious one in the war and I had also some reasons for expecting that the German Fleet might put out to sea during the week. Our Fleet was ready at short notice and had arranged, unless otherwise prevented, to put to sea on the following day for a sweep of the North Sea. But if the German Fleet got to sea first, the chance of a meeting in waters not unfavourable to us was remote; our object was to try to get to sea before or shortly after the Germans, and hitherto we had not succeeded in doing so. Later on in the afternoon, it was reported to me that the German ship conducting the wireless had changed her position a few miles to the northward. Evidently she and her consorts had left the basin at Wilhelmshaven and had taken up a position in the Jade River ready to put to sea. This moment decided me to send our Grand Fleet to sea, and move towards the German Bight at once and try to meet the German Fleet and bring it to action.[18]

May 31

On the morning of 31 May, Jackson, the Director of the Admiralty's Operations Division, visited the Admiralty's code-breakers in Room 40. He is generally said to have asked for the location of the call sign DK and was told that it was in Wilhelmshaven, where it always was, as it was exclusively used by Scheer when his flagship was in port. However, he used a different call sign when at sea, with DK then being transferred to a shore station in Wilhelmshaven. Jackson did not inquire further, but at 12:30 pm sent a signal to Jellicoe informing him that Scheer was at Wilhelmshaven. The Grand Fleet consequently headed for the rendezvous with the Battle Cruisers at a slower speed in order to conserve fuel.[19]

Arthur Marder says that there was a lack of co-operation between Room 40 and the Operations Division,” quoting codebreaker William Clarke as saying that Jackson displayed “supreme contempt for the work of Room 40.” .[20] Andrew Gordon calls him “a ridiculous angry blustering officer.”[21].

However, recent research by Jason Hines, a U.S.N. intelligence officer with over 20 years service, shows that the sequence of events was different to that usually given. The signal announcing Scheer’s call sign was timed 5:41 pm on 30 May. However, it was written in a new cipher that Room 40 could not then read. It did not decrypt and read it until 6:40 pm on 31 May, six hours after Jackson had signalled Jellicoe that Scheer was in port and three hours after the battle began.[22]


  1. Tarrant. Jutland: The German Perspective. p. 49.
  2. Tarrant. Jutland: The German Perspective. pp. 49-51.
  3. Tarrant. Jutland: The German Perspective. pp. 52-53.
  4. Tarrant. Jutland: The German Perspective. p. 54.
  5. Tarrant. “Jutland: The German Perspective” p. 55,
  6. From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow. Volume II. p. 437.
  7. From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow. Volume III. p. 95 note 1.
  8. From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow. Volume II. p.438.
  9. Jutland: An Analysis of the Fighting. p. 185.
  10. From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow. Volume III. pp. 200-1.
  11. Marder. From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow. V. p. 311 note 1.
  12. From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow. Volume III. pp. 203-6.
  13. From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow. Volume III. pp. 196-98.
  14. Jutland: An Analysis of the Fighting. p. 173-74.
  15. The National Archives, Kew, CAB 45/283 German Navy and Sources of Material: Dogger Bank Action, 1915: Miscellaneous Reports from German Sources.
  16. Jutland: An Analysis of the Fighting. p. 374.
  17. Add. MSS. 49014. f. ? Quoted in Jellicoe Papers. I. pp. 253-254.
  18. Round, H. J. (1920). Journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers. 58. pp. 247-248.
  19. From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow. Volume III. pp. 45-48.
  20. From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow. Volume III. p. 47.
  21. The Rules of the Game. p. 72.
  22. Hines, Commander Jason, U.S.N. (October 2008). "Sins of Omission and Commission: A Reassessment of the Role of Intelligence in the Battle of Jutland". The Journal of Military History 72 (4): pp. 1117-1153.


  • Naval Staff, Admiralty (1926). The Battle of Jutland (The German Official Account). O.U. 5359. The National Archives. ADM 186/626.
  • Campbell, N.J.M. (2000). Jutland: An Analysis of the Fighting. New York: The Lyons Press. ISBN 1-55821-759-2. (on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk).
  • Gordon, Andrew (2005). The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command. London: John Murray (Publishers). ISBN 0719561310. (on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk).
  • Hines, Commander Jason, U.S.N. (October 2008). "Sins of Omission and Commission: A Reassessment of the Role of Intelligence in the Battle of Jutland". The Journal of Military History 72 (4): pp. 1117-1153.
  • Marder, Arthur Jacob (1965). From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, The Royal Navy in the Fisher Era, 1904-1919: The War Years : To the Eve of Jutland.. Volume II. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Marder, Arthur J. (1978). From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, The Royal Navy in the Fisher Era, 1904-1919: Jutland and After, May 1916–December 1916. Volume III (Second ed.). London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0192158414.
  • Marder, Arthur J. (1970). From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, The Royal Navy in the Fisher Era, 1904-1919: Victory and Aftermath, January 1918–June 1919. Volume V. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Tarrant, V. E. (1995). Jutland: The German Perspective. London: Arms and Armour Press. ISBN 1 86019 917 8. (on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk).