The fleet of the British Navy had been designed to contest a huge, decisive battle, with the enemy. After the outbreak of the First World War, attempts were made to draw the smaller German Navy into the North Sea for a major battle. Admiral Hugo von Pohl, the commander of the German High Seas Fleet, resisted these temptations, but in February 1916, he was replaced by the much more aggressive, Admiral Reinhardt von Scheer.
In May 1916 Scheer decided that he would take on the might of the British Navy. As a bait, Scheer ordered Admiral Franz von Hipper and 40 ships to begin a sweep along the Danish coast. When he heard the news, Admiral John Jellicoe, who was at Rosyth, gave instructions for the Grand Fleet to put to sea.
With the absence of reconnaissance aircraft, both Jellicoe and Scheer sent out scouting cruisers to locate the position of the enemy. The two sets of scouting cruisers made contact and after a brief gunfire exchange, returned to guide their fleets to battle.
Meanwhile, Admiral David Beatty, and 52 ships, including HMS Chester, had left Scarpa Flow in the Orkneys and were on the way to join Admiral Jellicoe and the Grand Fleet. At 15.45, Beatty came into contact with Admiral Franz von Hipper and his 40 ships. The two fleets opened fire at a range of 15 kilometres. The hazy visibility created problems for both sides but the position of the sun gave a significant advantage to the German captains.
After receiving five hits from the German battlecruiser, Von Der Tann, the British battlecruiser, Indefatigable, sunk at 16.03 after a magazine explosion. More than 1,000 sailors on the ship were killed as a result of the blast. At 16.25 Queen Mary also exploded and went down in only 90 seconds. Two destroyers on both sides were also sunk during this period.
The situation of Beatty's ships became more difficult with the arrival of Admiral Reinhardt von Scheer and the German High Seas Fleet. John Jellicoe, aboard Iron Duke, and the rest of the Grand Fleet, were 20km northwest of David Beatty when the initial battle started. Jellicoe's battlecruiser squadrons headed quickly towards Beatty's fleet but she before they arrived, Invincible became the third of Britain's battleships to explode after a German shell penetrated a turret at 18.33.
The Grand Fleet opened fire immediately it arrived. Admiral Reinhardt von Scheer, recognizing his dangerous position, ordered his ships to turn north. Admiral John Jellicoe, fearing that Scheer was trying to lead the Grand Fleet into a submarine trap or minefield, ordered his ships not to follow. Instead he headed southeast and then south, hoping to intercept Scheer's homeward journey. At 19.10 the two fleets made contact again. Scheer ordered Admiral Hipper's battleships to charge the Grand Fleet, while ordering the rest of his ships to turn away from the fighting. After 20 minutes of firing, Admiral Franz von Hipper also headed home.
Again, unwilling to follow the same route as the German ships, Sir John Jellicoe headed south-west and managed to intercept Hipper at 20.15. Lutzow was sunk and Seydlitz and Derfflinger were badly damaged before the British decided once again not to follow the retreating German ships.
Admiral Reinhardt von Scheer and the German Navy immediately claimed victory based on the number of ships destroyed. Whereas the British Navy lost 3 battlecruisers, 3 cruisers and 8 destroyers (6,100 casualties); the German Navy lost 1 battleship, 1 battlecruiser, 4 light cruisers and 3 destroyers (2,550 casualties).
Admiral Sir John Jellicoe was criticised for being over-cautious, but he argued that it was vitally important to protect the size of his Grand Fleet. Whereas Jellicoe was able to inform the British government on 2nd June that the Grand Fleet was ready for further action, the German High Seas Fleet had to be reconstructed and was never in the position to risk another major North Sea confrontation. Jellicoe was therefore able to claim that his tactics were justified by the battle's long-term effects.
I put my head through the hole in the roof of the turret and nearly fell through again. The after 4-inch battery was smashed out of all recognition, and then I noticed that the ship had got an awful list to port. I dropped back again into the turret and told Lieutenant Ewert the state of affairs. He said, "Francis, we can do no more than give them a chance, clear the turret."
"Clear the turret," I said, and out they went. PO Stares was the last I saw coming up from the Working Chamber, and I asked him whether he had passed the order to the Magazine and Shell Room, and he told me it was no use as the water was right up to the trunk leading to the shell room, so the bottom of the ship must have been torn out of her. Then I said, "Why didn't you come up?" He simply said, "There was no order to leave the turret."
I went through the Cabinet and out on top and Lieutenant Ewert was following me; suddenly he stopped and went back into the turret. I believe he went back because he thought someone was inside.
I was halfway down the ladder at the back of the turret when Lieutenant Ewert went back. The ship had an awful list to port by this time, so much so that men getting off the ladder went sliding down to port. I got to the bottom rung of the ladder and could not, by my own efforts, reach the stanchions lying on the deck from the ship's side, starboard side. I knew if I let go I should go sliding down to port like some of the others must have done, and probably get smashed up sliding down. Two of my turret's crew, seeing my difficulty, came to my assistance. They were AB Long, Turret Trainer, and AB Lane, left gun No 4. Lane held Long at full length from the ship's side and I dropped from the ladder, caught Long's legs and so gained the starboard side. These two men had no thought for their own safety; they knew I wanted assistance and that was good enough for them. They were both worth a VC twice over.
When I got to the ship's side, there seemed to be quite a fair crowd, and they didn't appear to be very anxious to take to the water. I called out to them, "Come on you chaps, who's coming for a swim?" Someone answered, "She will float for a long time yet," but something, I don't pretend to know what it was, seemed to be urging me to get away, so I clambered over the slimy bilge keel and fell off into the water, followed I should think by about five more men. I struck away from the ship as hard as I could and must have covered nearly fifty yards when there was a big smash, and stopping and looking round, the air seemed to be full of fragments and flying pieces.
A large piece seemed to be right above my head, and acting on impulse, I dipped under to avoid being struck, and stayed under as long as I could, and then came to the top again, and coming behind me I heard a rush of water, which looked very like surf breaking on a beach and I realized it was the suction or backwash from the ship which had just gone. I hardly had time to fill my lungs with air when it was on me. I felt it was no use struggling against it, so I let myself go for a moment or two, then I struck out, but I felt it was a losing game and remarked to myself, "What's the use of you struggling, you're done," and I actually ceased my efforts to reach the top, when a small voice seemed to say, "Dig out."
I started afresh, and something bumped against me. I grasped it and afterwards found it was a large hammock, but I felt I was getting very weak and roused myself sufficiently to look around for something more substantial to support me. Floating right in front of me was what I believe to be the centre bulk of our Pattern 4 target. I managed to push myself on the hammock close to the timber and grasped a piece of rope hanging over the side. My next difficulty was to get on top and with a small amount of exertion I kept on. I managed to reeve my arms through a strop and I must have become unconscious.
When I came to my senses again I was halfway off the spar but I managed to get back again. I was very sick and seemed to be full of oil fuel. My eyes were blocked up completely with it and I could not see. I suppose the oil had got a bit crusted and dry. I managed by turning back the sleeve of my jersey, which was thick with oil, to expose a part of the sleeve of my flannel, and thus managed to get the thick oil off my face and eyes, which were aching awfully. Then I looked and I believed I was the only one left of that fine Ship's Company. What had really happened was the Laurel had come and picked up the remainder and not seeing me got away out of the zone of fire, so how long I was in the water I do not know. I was miserably cold, but not without hope of being picked up, as it seemed to me that I had only to keep quiet and a ship would come for me.
After what seemed ages to me, some destroyers came racing along, and I got up on the spar, steadied myself for the moment, and waved my arms. The Petard, one of our big destroyers, saw me and came over, but when I got on the spar to wave to them, the swell rolled the spar over and I rolled off. I was nearly exhausted again getting back. The destroyer came up and a line was thrown to me, which, needless to say, I grabbed hold of for all I was worth, and was quickly hauled up on to the deck of the destroyer.
Winston was full of the naval-fight off Jutland. He had been asked to issue the semi-official communique which appeared in Sunday's papers, June 4, and was not quite sure whether he had done right or not. Balfour's private secretary had made the demand, whereupon Winston had consulted Lloyd George and Rufus Isaacs, who said that he could not refuse, so he returned to the Admiralty, and said he would draft something if Balfour personally asked for it. This Balfour did.
Winston thinks that the success of the German Battle Cruiser Squadron against our superior squadron of similar type is a very serious matter and requires investigation. I agreed, but we are evidently very badly informed of all these events as yet, and cannot draw conclusions.
But a victory is judged not merely by material losses and damage, but by its results. It is profitable to examine the results of the Jutland Battle. With the single exception of a cruise towards the English coast on August 19th, 1916 - undertaken, no doubt, by such part of the High Sea Fleet as had been repaired in order to show that it was still capable of going to sea - the High Sea Fleet never again, up to the end of 1917, - ventured much outside the 'Heligoland triangle', and even on August 19th, 1916, the much reduced Fleet made precipitately for home as soon as it was warned by its Zeppelin scouts of the approach of the Grand Fleet. This is hardly the method of procedure that would be adopted by a Fleet flushed with victory and belonging to a country which was being strangled by the sea blockade.
On the other hand, in view of England's economic situation, the Imperial Admiralty promises us that by the ruthless employment of an increased number of U-boats we shall obtain a speedy victory, which will compel our principal enemy, England, to turn to thoughts of peace in a few months. For that reason, the German General Staff is bound to adopt unrestricted U-boat warfare as one of its war measures, because among other things it will relieve the situation on the Somme front by diminishing the imports of munitions and bring the futility of the Entente's efforts at this point plainly before their eyes. Finally, we could not remain idle spectators while England, realising all the difficulties with which she has to contend, makes the fullest possible use of neutral Powers in order to improve her military and economic situation to our disadvantage.
Not only did the first reports suggest a major defeat but most of the sunken ships were Devonport commissioned. Union Street seemed full of women - some hysterical, some crying quietly and others, grey-faced with staring unseeing eyes and leading small children by the hand. They had no illusions, these women - they knew only too well that, when large ships were sunk in battle in the North Sea, there could be but few survivors.