Monday, May 3, 2010

Who Won the Battle of Jutland??

While I don't really think I'm going to definitively answer the Title question, I recently watched (again) a History Channel program from a few years ago about the battle and wanted to clear up a couple of facts they got wrong. For those unfamiliar with the battle, it was fought on 31 May-1 June 1916 during World War I and was the largest naval battle of the war. In fact it was the largest naval battle between battleships that has ever been fought. The German High Seas Fleet included 16 dreadnoughts (or all-big-gun) battleships and 6 of the older pre-dreadnoughts, 5 battle cruisers, 11 light cruisers and 61 destroyers. The British Grand Fleet included 28 dreadnoughts, nine battle cruisers, 8 armored cruisers, 26 light cruisers and 78 destroyers. The two forces met rather late in the day of 31 May and engaged off and on for several hours, with a sort of running battle carried out during the night of 31 May-1 June. At the end of the battle the British had lost 14 ships of 111,000 tons while the Germans lost 11 ships of 62,000 tons. The British lost a total of 6,784 dead, wounded or captured, while the German losses amounted to 3,058 killed or wounded. By any measure the British losses were certainly greater, and accounted for the German claims of a victory. However, the British always maintained that they had won a strategic victory because the German fleet never again came out to face the full power of the Grand Fleet - which is the conclusion of the History Channel program. Well, first off The German commander, Admiral Scheer, never intended to take on the British fleet in a full-blown engagement. He was outmatched and he knew it. He always hoped to lure out selected portions of the British fleet and destroy them piecemeal, thus weakening the fleet, so the assumption that he ever intended to fight the whole of the Grand Fleet is erroneous to start with. And then there's the statement that the German fleet never came out again. Not true - they sortied again on 18/19 August 1916 (about two and a half months after Jutland) with the object of bombarding the British east coast town of Sunderland and - again - lure out a selected portion of the Grand Fleet as they had tried before. Despite the fact that the two fleets did not come into contact the 18/19 August sortie of the German fleet had a profound impact on British strategic planning. No longer were they willing to hazard their fleet in the southern North sea and were even willing to accept the odd coastal raid or perhaps even a small scale landing by the Germans rather than chance submarine attack or the mine danger. The High Seas Fleet sortied again on 18/19 October with Zeppelin and submarine reconnaissance support, but finding nothing of interest returned to base. Then on 3 November, in response to the grounding of two U-Boats on the northern Danish coast a battle cruiser, four dreadnoughts and a flotilla of destroyers were dispatched to render assistance, rescuing one of the boats, but suffering two of the dreadnoughts damaged (not seriously) by British submarine torpedoes. Afterwards the German naval effort shifted to the submarine attack on British trade, so there were no further sorties by the battle fleet until late in the war. So, looking back, I really think that it was the Germans who won the Battle of Jutland - but then the British can console themselves that ultimately they won the war.

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