The Battle of Jutland was the biggest naval battle of World War I, so named because it took place in the North Sea near the Danish peninsula of Jutland. On the 31st of May 1916, the German High Seas Fleet sortied in force to challenge the Royal Navy, which sent a superior force out to meet them. The British battle cruiser squadron, consisting of six battle cruisers and four battleships, by chance encountered a scouting squadron of five German battle cruisers. They engaged each other in a running battle. Unknown to each side, each squadron was closely followed by their main battle fleet, and soon the entire main fleets of both sides were in view. The British fleet was stronger and the Germans decided to retreat instead of fight; they narrowly escaped.
In the ensuing battle, the British force lost 14 ships, including three battlecruisers, and over 6000 men. German losses were 11 ships, including a battlecruiser and an old battleship, and 3000 men. Although the German navy won a tactical victory, the commanders realized that their surface units could not achieve strategic success against the Royal Navy, and the High Seas Fleet did not challenge the whole of the Grand Fleet for the remainder of the war.
The Battle of Jutland was the first naval battle in which aerial reconnaissance played a part. The seaplane carrier Engradine was with the British scouting group, and after the advance cruisers had made contact, she launched an aircraft to get a clearer look at the enemy fleet.
Germany and Britain had been involved in a naval arms race for a decade before the outbreak of war. This had two consequences. In 1914, Germany had the second largest navy in the world, although the Royal Navy still had a significant numerical advantage in all ship classes. And the arms race contributed to tensions between Germany and the British Empire.
When the war began, the Royal Navy moved quickly to blockade German ports, cutting her off from overseas trade. German strategy was to lure elements of the Royal Navy into combat under conditions favorable to them. British strategy was to use their superior numbers to destroy as many German units as possible. Both sides were cautious to avoid undue losses, being fearful of “losing the war in a day”. There had already been a few minor engagements in 1914 and 1915, when the German admiralty decided on a more aggressive naval strategy.
Although the German forces were outnumbered and their guns were of shorter range than those of the British, they still managed to inflict more damage on the British than they suffered in return. The military importance of the engagement was not great. The British lost three battle cruisers, three armored cruisers, and eight destroyers, while the Germans lost one obsolete battleship, one battle cruiser, four light cruisers, and five destroyers. The Germans claimed a victory, pointing out the greater losses of the British fleet. The British battle cruisers blew up when hit by German shells because of their faulty gunnery techniques and unsafe propellant stored in silk bags that exploded when set on fire. In an effort to increase the rate of fire, gun crews kept far more than the regulation charges inside their turrets, and also kept loaded not only the primary ammunition supply system, but also the auxiliary hoists and waiting positions. Thus, many charges were exposed to flash when the turret was struck by a German shell, resulting in an explosion sufficient to sink the ship. German propellant charges were stored in brass casings, and would generally burn slowly when exposed to fire.
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- The British also lost 6,097 men to the German loss of 2,545.
- Nicholas A. Lambert, "'Our Bloody Ships' or 'Our Bloody System?' Jutland and the Loss of the Battle Cruisers, 1916." Journal of Military History 1998 62(1): 29-55. Issn: 0899-3718 Fulltext: in Jstor