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British and German Navies Clash at the Battle of Jutland: May 31, 1916

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On May 31, 1916, the British and German navies clashed in the North Sea, off the coast of Denmark, in the biggest naval battle of World War I. This battle, known as the Battle of Jutland, lasted about 12 hours and engaged more than 100,000 men on 250 ships. When it was over, more than 8,000 sailors on both sides had been killed.

Before the Battle of Jutland, the British had established naval dominance in the North Sea and blockaded Germany. Given that the British had the strongest navy in the world, German Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer decided to fight the British fleet one piece at a time, until he had shrunk it enough that he could defeat the rest of it in a full-scale battle.

Fold3 Image - Explosion of the Queen Mary at the Battle of Jutland
Accordingly, the Germans devised a plan wherein Rear-Admiral Franz Hipper’s scouting squadron would lure out the British Battle Cruiser Fleet under Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty. Then unbeknownst to Beatty, Scheer would follow with the German High Seas Fleet and destroy Beatty’s forces.

But British intelligence intercepted word that Hipper was putting to sea. This allowed Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, commander of the British Grand Fleet, time to order the Grand Fleet and Beatty’s battlecruisers (for a total of 151 British combat ships) to meet the Germans. However, the British were unaware that the entire German High Seas Fleet, with 99 ships, was at sea due to misinterpreted intelligence; they believed only Hipper was at sea.

The battle began on the afternoon of May 31 after a chance encounter between Beatty’s and Hipper’s ships, and Hipper successfully drew Beatty south toward the main German fleet as planned. When Beatty saw that the High Seas Fleet was in fact at sea and that he was headed straight toward it, he had his ships reverse course and in turn began drawing the Germans toward Jellicoe’s fleet.

Since the Germans didn’t know Jellicoe’s fleet was at sea, Jellicoe was able to arrange his ships at a right angle to the oncoming German ships and “cross the T,” allowing the British the superior position. The fierce battle continued, and the Germans eventually turned away, launching torpedoes in their wake to prevent the British fleet from pursuing them.

Jellicoe positioned his ships between the Germans and their home harbor to try to force a fight the next day. However, despite some localized skirmishes that night, the German ships were able to get around the British fleet in the dark.

When the Germans reached their home port, they declared victory, as the British had lost more men and ships. The British losses totaled 6,094 sailors killed and 14 ships sunk, while German losses were 2,551 killed and 11 ships sunk. However, the British emerged with what many historians consider a strategic victory, since the status quo was maintained: the British fleet still controlled the North Sea and the blockade of Germany continued.

Did you have any family members who fought at the Battle of Jutland? Tell us about them! Or learn more about the battle from the records on Fold3. We even have an entire book of British official dispatches regarding the battle.

59 Comments

  1. Remarkable story of heroism!

  2. Mu husband had a 2nd cousin x2 removed who died at the Battle of Jutland.
    He was Arthur Mansell, a ships cook on HMS Invincible.
    He died on 31 May 1916, and his memorial is on the Portsmouth Memorial Panel 21.
    He left a wife and 2 daughters.
    I understand his widow remarried about 1930.
    He had joined the navy in 1898, and was aged 31 when he died.

  3. A cousin of mine, John Ewan Glennie Gordon of Aberdeenshire, was a 2nd class stoker on the HMS Hampshire which was not directly involved in action in the Battle. Several days later, as the Hampshire was headed on a “secret” mission to Russia with Lord Kitchener and the defense cabinet at meet with Czar Nicholas II, it hit a German mine and sank within twenty minutes with the loss of almost all hands, Lord Kitchener and his cabinet. I think twelve men made it to shore.

    John was only 19 and left his parents and nine siblings to mourn his loss and all those who died with him. His last letter home to his family was posted the morning that the ship sank. It has been saved by his family.

  4. Both my great grandfather and great uncle were on the HMS Vanguard at Jutland. Survived the battle but not the explosion in port at Scapa that destroyed the ship. Have a painting of the ship in battle line at Jutland as a memory of them.

    • That was a sad fact. I had not heard of that disaster at Scapa. My cousin’s ship, the HMS HAMPSHIRE, had left Scapa shortly before it hit the mine and sank on a very stormy day two or three days after Jutland.

    • I had a 5th cousin 1xremoved on the Vanguard but died in the explosion. I’ve only just found this out and his name is on the memorial in Southsea, near Portsmouth – I live in Portsmouth and didn’t know this!

    • Such a shame families don’t pass on this information. We lived in Southampton and often popped along to Portsmouth, but it wasn’t til after we’d emigrated to New Zealand and I got into Genealogy that we found we had several relatives recorded on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial from both WWI and WWII.

    • Valerie
      If you let me know the details of your relatives, I will try and find them on the memorial and take a photo of their names in situ. My email address is carolursell@hotmail.com.

  5. MULLINGS Branch of my Tree lost Albert James Mullings (1897-1916) at Battle of Jutland

    Able Seaman on HMS “Indefatigable”

    Enlisted in the Navy July 1912

  6. I had an old friend and mentor many years ago, who called his large ginger cat, ‘Jellicoe’ in honour of Admiral Jellicoe and the Battle of Jutland!

  7. My dad’s brother James, died in the Battle of Jutland. James joined the British navy at the age of 15 years old…& back in those days you did not have to show proof of your age.

  8. My grandfather,FC BANNER, was the Chief Engine Room Artificer on HMS COLLINGWOOD at the Battle of Jutland.Also onboard was Prince Albert ( known as Mr Johnstone and later King George VI -he was the only British Sovereign to have seen action in battle since William IV).
    The comment (made in 1932 on FCB’s discharge) from his Engineer Captain
    who served with him on the Collingwood included the comment “During the period we were together I formed the opinion that there was no Chief Petty Officer in whom I had more implicit trust both as regards workmanship and character….”
    Interestingly, it is at least in part due to my grandfather’s skills that I am here today to write this tribute.The course of British Royal history would have been very different if the Collingwood had been sunk

    • My Grandfather, William Charles Pascoe Crabb, at Dartmouth during Prince Albert’s training and was the future king’s Chief Gunner. My Grandfather was thought of very highly and on the Prince’s graduation his King George awarded my Grandfather a silver pocket watch with the King’s cipher (GV) on it. I am steward of this family heirloom until I pass it on to my nephew. Although my Grandfather missed the Battle of Jutland he was awarded the OBE for his Naval service during the Great War and then received the DSC for his action at Libau, Latvia in 1919.

  9. Alfred George Palmer, my first cousin 2xs removed, died on board HMS Broke, age 21. There is a memorial with his name on it on Ham Hill in Stoke sub Hamdon, and I had the chance to visit it last May with my husband. It was thrilling to see his name on the memorial. Each Nov 11th the townspeople have a ceremony and read each of the names out loud. I provided the link to my blog about him down below.

  10. Being a former sailor I can appreciate the story of the battle. Those that died were just doing their job most likely they were not concerned with the politics of the leaders they just had a duty to perform. They may have hated the enemy but not necessarily the individual. They were brave because they answered a call from family, a sense of adventure or a sense of duty to protect those they left behind. May each sailor rest in peace.

  11. Well done, nice to see history passed along.

  12. Recently had a very informative tour of HMS Caroline, last surviving ship from the Battle of Jutland, restored as a floating museum in Titanic Quarter, Belfast

  13. A distant family connection to Jutland. I had to sit down and write out the names to be sure I got it right. My Great Grandmother’s niece was married to Admiral Horace Hood, commander of the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron who died along with almost the entire crew, when his flagship, HMS Invincible, blew up and sank during the battle of Jutland.

  14. My father’s older brother was in the US Navy from WWI until after WWII. He was in port in Portsmouth, England when the ships came limping in from the great battle of Jutland. I have a set of picture post cards that he sent home depicting things about this battle.

  15. Augsburg is a town deep in Bavaria. As the 1st Manager of the Marineverein Augsburg e.V. we regret, that six young of Augsburg lost their lives in the Skagerrak-Schlacht (battle of jutland):
    At the cruiser Frauenlob Maat Andreas Keck,
    at the cruiser Wiesbachen, Matrose Karl Schweighart, Matrose Georg Haebe, Heizer Adalbert Merk,
    at the battlecruiser Seydlitz, Obermatrose Georg Clink and
    at the battleship Pommern, Obermatrose Johann Hoerndl.

    • I am sorry for the loss of your own in the battle. It is unfortunate that in any war, but perhaps more so in WW1 all sides sacrificied so many who had so much to to offer the future.

    • Es tut mir leid, Krieg isn’t schrechlich.

  16. Unfortunately I don’t know of any relatives that fought then. I do know of a Peter Beaver that fought in the war of 1812. However, I do think we should thank all the men and their family’s that fought in any war to keep us a free country!!

  17. The German Navy was more heavily armed because its ships were largely tasked with near-sea duties and so could be bulkier, as opposed to the British Navy which had a world-wide task and therefore a need for lighter ships that could venture much further with the fuel that was available to them. A classic case of a clash between ill-matched behemoths that favored the Germans in the North Sea. The partial victory attained by Jellicoe and Beatty should not be underestimated.

  18. My father, Horace T Day, was a 17 year old Midshipman on HMS New Zealand at the battle of Jutland. HMS New Zealand was only hit once, putting a gun turret out of action. The following year, the destroyer he was on, HMS Torrent, was sunk along with two others off the coast of Holland. He was one of 12 survivors and the shop’s dog.

  19. My dad joined the U.S.Navy onboard USS Blackhawk, in July 1917. His name is Fred Harlan Stanford. Anyone with photos or info please share! My dad died in August 1956, I was too young to ask about his expierences. Thank you!

    • Lot’s of period photos, as well as a rooster of the crew with Fred H Stanford listed, can be found at http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/03/0309.htm

    • I live in the Kansas City area where the official U.S. WWI museum is located. It houses a wealth of information including online information. If you contact them they will be happy to see if there is any info on your father. Their address is: 100 West 26th Street, Kansas City, Missouri, USA. Phone: 1-816-888-8100. http://www.theworldwar.org. Not only does this wonderful, modern, tech savvy museum have info on the American experiences, they have WWI artifacts from all the countries involved in The Great War. Gas masks, tanks, many types of guns, hundreds of pictures. I am a member of this fantastic museum which has speakers and programs every month. This month alone, the WWI Museum had a program on: The American in Paris; The True Story of the American Hospital of Paris. On May 16th I am going to see: Women at War: Served Like a Girl, which is a documentary chronicles the lives of female veterans. From May 25-28 the museum has a series of programs and speakers for Memorial Day Weekend. On Tuesday, May 29 there is a speaker for the program “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”. Recently I had the privilege to see the huge painting: Gassed by John Singer Sargent. The painting of men who were blinded by a gas in the trenches, is more than 9 feet tall and 21 feet long. Kansas City was SO privileged to get this painting on loan from the UK.

  20. My first name is “Benbow”, as I am a collateral descendant of Admiral John Benbow, for whom H.M.S. Benbow was named. She led her squadron of four battleships into the Battle of Jutland and, I believe, was instrumental in the repulse of the German fleet.

  21. I would love to hear from anyone whose relative served aboard H.M.S. Benbow during WWI.

  22. My grandfather, George William Belcher, was a gunner on the Royal Oak during the battle. He enlisted in the Royal Navy as a Boy 2nd Class, in January 1896, and retired in 1921. I have his “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred” medals, also the small silver Jutland medal given to all who were present at the battle.

  23. My Great Uncle able seaman Harry Gasson was killed on the H.M.S. Castor in the Battle of Jutland, he was washed ashore and was buried in Esbjerg as an unknown sailor, and due to research between Britain and Denmark he was Identified and his headstone was re dedicated on the 100th anniversary of the battle May 31, 2016 which I was very proud to have attended.
    R.I.P Harry Gasson

    • At least there was some good in the end of the story. So many others were never found. The re-dedication must have been special for family members.

  24. My father was a 16-year-old sailor on one of the destroyers that did a turnabout torpedo attack on The larger, faster pursuing British fleet. Stopping their pursuit and covering the retreat with smoke screens.

  25. My husband’s uncle Joe Martin was on The Black Prince aged 16.atJutland. Before the battle he sent his mum pictures of the crew. We now have these two which we keep veryy safe.

    • My great uncle Francis (Frank) Smitten was also lost when the “Black Prince” went down with all crew at the Battle of Jutland” on 31st May 1916.

  26. My Step-Grandfather was a torpedo man aboard HMS Tipperary at the battle.
    They were supposed to be in a night attack on some German cruisers when they were illuminated by searchlights. They went into the attack, however it was the Battleships Nassau and Westfalen they were heading for ! Not exactly a fair fight !

    My Step-Grandfather was at his torpedo tube awaiting the signal to fire. He was watching the bridge for the order when he saw a brilliant flash and the bridge lifted up in the air. Then a searchlight flew off it’s stanchion and tumbled towards him. All this was in slow motion. He said it seemed ridiculous at the time watching this.
    The next thing he remembered was waking up in Greenwich Naval Hospital 7 days later.
    Seemingly he was blown overboard by the blast and helped by some survivors who were clinging to some wreckage. They were picked up and taken back to the UK.where his skull was repaired by forming a silver cap over the damaged bone.

    The Tipperary was so badly damaged by 150 5.9″ shells that she later sank. In many ways he was lucky being hit in the first salvo as he would probably been killed if he had stayed aboard !

    • An amazing story. All battles are a matter of inches for so many sailors and soldiers.

  27. Hi everyone
    We never forget all that was done for us in this and other battles. I am a Danish man, born in Jutland and raised with this story. It never dyes. Thanks to all these Us and UK heroes we were freed and I grew up in a free country.

  28. No relatives but a friend Lieutenant Junior Grade George W. Whitton, do not remember the ship name, however his father and Anglian Minister was the Chaplain of the board the ship. George an engineer was in the boiler room, the heat was so intense his hair fell out.

  29. My great great grand father was Edward Pickett Chapman, Stoker 1st class. He served and died aboard HMS Indefatigable at Jutland. He left a daughter and 3 grandchildren, his wife and son having both passed a couple of years before. His name appears on the Chatham Naval Memorial, his daughters name engraved alongside his. I was at the 2016 Memorial Service where I was lucky enough to meet a descendant of Jellicoe’s. Edward is just one of many of my family that I Honour both at sea, in the air and on land.

  30. Shallow article. Jellicoe’s crossing the T was brilliant, given the lack of information and Beatty’s confusing signals. Did not mention the effect of turning the British Battlefleet to avoid torpedoes and its effect of chasing the German fleet. Also failed to mention Evan-Thomas’ squadron saving Beatty’s bacon once positioned as a rear guard, and the poor shooting by Beatty’s ships.
    Nothing said about Fisher’s theory that speed is protection and the other causes of the loss of 3 battlecruisers to 1, such as stacking shells fort ready use, faulty british shells and faulty testing thereof, …
    Also, comparing what it took to sink the Lutzow vs. what it took to sink the British battlecruisers. Also, should note that long-range sighting and firing were relatively new to sea warfare.

  31. My Grandfather Stanley Thomas Agombar was PO Stoker on HMS INFLEXIBLE during the Jutland action.

  32. I have researched the men from my hometown who served at the Battle of Jutland.. to date I have records of 67 locals who served 20 of these were lost.

    They were from Queenstown (now Cobh) Co. Cork Ireland

    Men of Queenstown.. (Lives of the First World War)

  33. My grandfather served on HMS Agincourt at the Battle of Jutland. Thankfully he survived and went on to serve in WW2 and survived that also otherwise I would never have known him. Very brave men.

  34. I’ve read that cruisers we’re faster because they carried less armor for protection. British Navy also could buy more cruisers or less battleships with the same amount of money.
    It was a gamble that didn’t pay off as cruisers took the brunt of battle and had more losses .

  35. My uncle Thomas Massey was killed at Jutland aged 18. He was on the battlecruiser HMS Indefatigable.

    Always remembered by the family he never knew.

  36. My great grand uncle, Walter Harris, was 1st boy aboard HMS Invincible.

    Walter Harris was one of nine children born to Richard, a farm labourer, and Elizabeth Harris. At the time of the 1911 census the family were living at Bushenbery Farm in Brockham. Walter had been born on 23rd July 1899 at Pyrford near Woking, seven of the children were still living. There were two older brothers and a younger sister still living at the family address.

    Walter enlisted in the navy on 15th April 1915, at the time he was 15 years old and 5ft 1 1/2 inches tall with brown hair and eyes and a clear complexion. After serving on HMS Ganges, a training ship, as a 2nd Class boy he was promoted to 1st Class boy in July 1915 and briefly served on 2 ships before transferring to HMS Invincible in January 1916. HMS Invincible was a battle cruiser built in 1917, in war time she had a complement of up to 1,00 officers and men in war time. Invincible was sunk at the battle of Jutland when two German ships fired three salvoes each and sank her in 90 seconds. At least one 305 mm (12-inch) shell from the third salvo struck her midships ‘Q’ turret. The shell penetrated the front of ‘Q’ turret, blew off the roof and detonated the midships magazines, which blew the ship in half. The explosion possibly ignited ‘A’ and ‘X’ magazines. Of her complement, 1026 officers and men were killed, including Rear-Admiral Hood her commanding officer There were only six survivors.

  37. My grandfather was chief stoker on beaties flag ship HMS Lion. He survived the war but mentally never forgot or sleep well for the rest of his life. He was ordered to shut the doors to the turret which had been hit and was flooding the ship. He never forgot the shouts and screams of those who were shut in.
    That is why we should never get involved in wars again.those who have no choice die when leaders thrive.
    Portmouth have a great exhibit of battle of jutland also greenwich has a small one worth a visit. Very moving.

  38. My Grandfather, John Hennessy was a stoker aboard HMS Bullfinch, a Motor Torpedo Boat Destroyer attached to HMS Leander. Although He was not at Jutland, he served until 1923. His last posting was as Chief Stoker on HMS Hood at the time of her commissioning.

  39. My great grandfather was a stoked on the HMS Invincible

  40. our uncles uncles uncle catain hamnet Holditch Share sec too jelico was on the gun officers dec on H M S IIRON DUKE observiing the fall of shot etc. He later becam a rear admeral

  41. I read all of the above comments: very interesting & humbling. As an American, with grandfathers who were a bit too young to fight in The Great War, I appreciate all of this shared information. My paternal grandmother had an older brother who was drafted but his records show he remained State side during the war. My mother had uncles who were born in the 1890’s & I found their WWI records online. I do not know if they served overseas. Too bad so much information died with them and whatever papers they had are gone. You and your ancestors are all part of World History.

    My 92 year old father is a WWII Navy veteran who volunteered in 1943 at the age of 17. Due to his youth, after Basic Training in Idaho, he was sent to the California coast to put supplies on ships going out to the Pacific. He saw ships limp back into port, and wounded sailors walking off & others being carried off. Witnessing all of the damage done to ships & men, my father grew up quick! I can not imagine a 15 yr old boy going into service for his country; youth and innocence gone!

  42. Just discovered that one of my wife’s great uncles was killed in the Battle of Jutland. He was an Irish conscript into the British Navy.

  43. Residing in Admiral-Hipper-Strasse in Weilheim, Bavaria, and having Admiral Hipper’s birthplace right in front of my window, the sad stories of victims leave a confusing and somewhat chilling effect with me – as this picturesque town today really couldn’t be more peaceful.
    It may perhaps be soothing, or at least it comes soothing to me, that most people hereabouts don’t care any more about military sacrifice.
    The only prominent reminder of Rear-Admiral Franz Hipper in everyday life comes with the time before Christmas. As the town of Weilheim is an official supporter of the minehunter (Minenjagdboot) ‘Weilheim’, each year some navy personnel of the boat come down to Bavaria to sell mulled wine on the local Christmas Market. The money raised is being given to social projects in Weilheim.
    A big portrait of Admiral Hipper is still kept in the local museum, and so is Hipper’s uniform, but tellingly they are displayed in the most distant room in the building where hardly anybody ventures to go due to steep stairs and dim lights.
    Perhaps there’s even a bit too much of a distance towards World War I in Germany’s young generation, bordering ignorance. Never forget those who suffered or died.

  44. PERCY CAMERON (1st Cousin 2xremoved) from the cobbled streets of Holbeck, Leeds, Yorkshire joined the Royal Navy on 13 Oct 1909 lying about his age. He was just shy of 17 but said he was born 17 July 1891 to make out as 18.He was serving as a Stoker 1st class on HMS BLACK PRINCE when his ship was attacked and sunk in the early hours. Only recently married he left a widow.

  45. My father James Pearson was on Temeraire at Jutland

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