2016 is the centenary of the Battle of Jutland also called Battle of the Skagerrak. It was the only major confrontation between the British Navy and German High Seas Fleet during World War One.
In May 1916, the German High Seas Fleet under the command of the Vice Admiral Reinhard von Scheer, took to the seas intent on attacking allied shipping off the Norwegian coast. The German fleet comprised of 16 dreadnoughts, 6 pre-dreadnoughts, 5 battle cruisers, 11 light cruisers and 61 torpedo boats.
The British Navy in the North Sea was based in Rosyth, Cromarty and Scapa Flow. Here it could protect the central and northern areas of the North Sea and stop the German High Seas Fleet from getting into the Atlantic where it could cause huge problems for Britain’s merchant fleet.
Admiral Scheer planned to avoid the bulk of the British Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow. However, British Naval intelligence had broken the German naval code and was aware of Scheer’s plan. In response the British Grand Fleet, under Admiral Sir John Jellicoe in Rosyth, left port to search for the enemy.
On the 31st May at around 4pm British Fast Cruisers came into contact with the enemy off the coast of Denmark. The British came under heavy fire, losing three ships before the eventual arrival of the Admiral Jellicoe’s main fleet. On Jellicoe’s arrival Scheer ordered his ships to withdraw. Fearing he was being led into a trap, Jellicoe ordered his fleet not to pursue. The British instead headed Southeast with the intention of cutting off the enemy as it turned to return to port. Scheer anticipated the British plan and under the cover of darkness broke through the rear of the Grand Fleet and successfully returned to port.
Both sides declared the encounter a victory. The German Navy inflicted significantly more damage on the Royal Navy, sinking 14 ships with casualties numbering 6,094. In comparison the German Navy lost 11 smaller ships with 2,551 causalities. The German fleet had failed to deal a decisive blow to the British. Admiral Jellicoe was heavily criticised for failing to capitalise on the German retreat. He was able to claim the strategic victory. The German Navy was no longer a threat, and remained in port for the duration of War.
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