1. The Battle of Jutland
1916, in the North Sea
The greatest naval battle of World War I, the Battle of Jutland, began on 31 May 1916. For thirty-six hours, involving over 100,000 men and 250 ships, the German High Seas Fleet fought the British Great Fleet to what may have been a decisive victory, or an indecisive defeat, or, perhaps, a draw, depending on whose account you read. No matter whom history decided emerged as the victor, the impact of Jutland remained: the German Fleet sailed away to fight another day, a failure that affected the British Navy for decades.
German Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer wanted to draw the British Navy into a direct battle to blunt the effects of the British blockade. Rules of the Game author Andrew Gordon argued that the timing of the battle was not a complete surprise since British intelligence decoded messages from Germany stating that the German fleet was at sea. Nevertheless, reading the firsthand accounts Gordon quotes, most of the enlisted British sailors were surprised to encounter action on that particular day, 31 May 1916. British naval leadership and many of the British public waited, with less patience than those who have experienced war would hope, for another Trafalgar.
At the end of the day, the British lost fourteen ships including three capital ships: the HMS Queen Mary (pictured above), the HMS Indefatigable, and the HMS Invincible and over 6,000 sailors to the successful barrage of German gunnery. Fearing mines and submarines, Jellicoe did not pursue the retreating German fleet, instead setting out for home.
British and German Naval Leaders in Command at the Battle of Jutland
Personal Narratives of Jutland
The Naval Historical Collection includes many first person accounts of naval battles from the American Revolution through the Vietnam War. We are lucky to have a first person account of the Battle of Jutland from Royal Navy Commander Humphrey Walwyn, XO of the HMS Warspite, damaged in the battle on 31 May 1916.
Throughout this exhibition, visitors will find personal accounts and primary documents from the British and Germans, collected, translated, and published by the Naval War College. The documents formed the core of a new curriculum focused on learning from the past to create the Navy's future leaders.
Aboard one of the Royal Navy's ships, served a very well-known Midshipman, Prince Albert, heir to the British throne, and future King George VI (1936-1952). Prince Albert manned a turret during the battle. Prince Albert's account of action on the HMS Collingwood has been digitized by the Royal Collection Trust, UK. Before Prince Albert's battle experience in 1916, the last British monarch to see action in battle was William IV, also with the Royal Navy and also as a Midshipman, nearly 140 years earlier, in 1780.
Andrew Gordon, The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command (London: John Murray, 1996).