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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: August 2014

7 - The year of Jutland: Germany’s fleet sorties, 1916


“There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today,” Vice Admiral David Beatty remarked to Captain Ernle Chatfield, as they stood on the bridge of HMS Lion, flagship of the Battle Cruiser Fleet. It was 16:26 on the afternoon of May 31, 1916, and the British and German navies had finally met, roughly 100 miles (160 km) west of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula, in the fleet-scale battle both had anticipated for nearly two years. The sortie by the German High Sea Fleet, now under the command of Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer, had begun in the predawn hours of that morning, marking the third of six times between March and November 1916 that it would attempt to challenge the British Grand Fleet. Jutland was the biggest battle any German fleet would ever fight, and for the British, the biggest and most important since Trafalgar in 1805. From the Grand Fleet commander, Admiral Jellicoe, to Beatty, the squadron and ship commanders, and down to the lowliest ensign, the British naval officer corps entered the battle fully expecting a triumph as decisive as Lord Nelson’s victory over the Franco-Spanish fleet 111 years earlier. But two hours into the engagement things were not going well. Indeed, Beatty’s incredulous remark to Chatfield came in reaction to seeing the battle cruiser Queen Mary explode after being struck by a German salvo, 24 minutes after the battle cruiser Indefatigable had met the same fate. The Germans sank a third British battle cruiser, the Invincible, later in the afternoon, and would not lose a capital ship of their own until the predawn hours of the following day, during Scheer’s withdrawal to Wilhelmshaven.

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Chatfield, Ernle, The Navy and Defence: The Autobiography of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Chatfield, 2 vols. (London: Heinemann, 1942–47), vol. 1, p. 143
Campbell, N. J. M., Jutland: An Analysis of the Fighting (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1986)
Tarrant, V. E., Jutland: The German Perspective (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995)
Yates, Keith, Flawed Victory: Jutland 1916 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2000)
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Butler, Daniel Allen, Distant Victory: The Battle of Jutland and the Allied Triumph in the First World War (Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2006)
Epkenhans, Michael, Hillmann, Jörg, and Nägler, Frank, Skagerrakschlacht: Vorgeschichte, Ereignis, Verarbeitung (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2009)
Gordon, Andrew, The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1996), pp. 76–151
Chickering, Roger, Imperial Germany and the Great War, 1914–1918 (Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 91–92