The Battle of Jutland

The Main Fleet Action

Photograph of the Battle of Jutland viewed from a British warship. 18.05
Jellicoe sights the battlecruiser action from a distance of 15 miles. With little information from Beatty and not sure exactly where Scheer was, Jellicoe had to decide how to deploy his fleet from cruising into battle formation.
The German High Seas Fleet sails toward the most powerful naval force in the world, the Royal Navy's British Grand Fleet. 18.15
Jellicoe decided to deploy his battleships to port (left) - ie. to form a single line behind the port column. This has been described as "the Royal Navy's most important tactical decision of the twentieth century".
Had he taken the starboard line, he would have sailed towards the massed guns of the German High Seas Fleet. Jellicoe's decision reversed this situation. Scheer, believing he was chasing down only Beatty's cruisers, suddenly found himself sailing towards the massed guns of the most powerful navy in the world. His fleet was already taking a dreadful pounding.
Admiral Scheer turns the German High Seas Fleet away from the guns of the British Grand Fleet under cover of a smokescreen. 18.30
Facing almost certain annihilation, Scheer carried out a brilliant manoeuvre. He ordered his whole battle fleet to turn at the same time, make smoke to conceal their whereabouts, and sail at full speed in the opposite direction (South West) away from Jellicoe's guns.
Admiral John Jellicoe crosses the German T at the Battle of Jutland, 31st May 1916. 19.10
For a reason still unexplained, Scheer turned back again and sailed for a second time into the British guns. This time Jellicoe was able to "cross the German T". Only the forward guns of the leading German ships were able to fire on the British Grand Fleet - the German ships further back were too far away to reach the British ships.
The British fleet, on the other hand, were able to concentrate overwhelming fire on the leading German ships, as almost all their ships - and nearly all their guns - could fire on the German fleet at the same time.
Photograph of torpedo being launched from a German destroyer. 19.17
This time, turning away alone would not save him, so Scheer also ordered a mass torpedo attack on the British fleet by his remaining destroyers. It was a desperate gamble.
Admiral Sir John Jellicoe turns the British Grand Fleet away from the German High Seas Fleet at the Battle of Jutland, 31st May 1916. 19.21
At this moment, Jellicoe took the decision that would ensure that he could never win the battle. Jellicoe was extremely cautious of torpedoes and his instinct was to turn away from them as he mistakenly believed that the Germans had developed torpedoes that left no trail of surface bubbles as they moved through the water and so would be undetectable.
So he turned away with his whole battle fleet, allowing Scheer to escape from view and beyond the range of his guns.
Action Jellicoe could have taken to defeat the German High Seas Fleet at the Battle of Jutland, 31st May 1916. 19.21
Had Jellicoe turned towards Scheer at this point instead of away he would have inflicted heavy losses on the German fleet - possibly even routed them, and at the very least butchered the German battlecruisers.
Although heavily criticised for this action, a turn towards the attack whilst more aggressive also increased the risk of losses to the British - a risk Jellicoe did not need to take.
Admiral Sir John Jellicoe attempts to prevent the German High Seas Fleet from reaching its harbour at Wilhelmshaven. 20.00
Despite losing contact with the German High Seas Fleet, Jellicoe was well placed between Scheer and the German fleet's harbour at Wilhelmshaven. He therefore headed generally South in order to cut off Scheer's escape route. Unfortunately, night began to fall and Scheer was able to slip past the British Grand Fleet in the darkness and reach the safety of his home ports. Jellicoe had no option but to begin the long journey home.
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