Royal Naval Writers’ Association

Formed in 1887 - The Oldest Military Association

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Battle of Jutland– National Archive…

The Battle of Jutland

Much of the pre-war tension between Britain and Germany had centred on the growing naval rivalry between an established maritime power and its parvenu challenger. Yet, for most of the course of the First World War, both sides kept their powder dry.

Breaking the stalemate?

Early skirmishes off the coast of South America had brought one resounding victory apiece – for the German High Seas FleetGlossary - opens new window off Glossary - opens new windowCoronel (1 November 1914) and for the Glossary - opens new windowBritish Grand Fleet off the Glossary - opens new windowFalkland Islands (8 December 1914). In the North Sea, British victories at Glossary - opens new windowHeligoland Bight (28 August 1914) and Glossary - opens new windowDogger Bank (24 January 1915) were offset, at least in part, by the success of German submarine attacks against Allied shipping.

Faced with the continued British dominance of the sea and the crippling impact of the Allied , the onus was on Germany to break this stalemate. On 31 May 1916, 42 German warships – led by the newly appointed commander of the High Seas Fleet, – left their North Sea bases to attack Allied shipping off the Norwegian coast. Late in the afternoon, they were confronted by the full might of the British Grand Fleet under Glossary - opens new windowSir John Jellicoe near Glossary - opens new windowJutland (or Glossary - opens new windowSkaggerak to the Germans).

Map of Battle of Jutland - opens new window Map of Battle of Jutland (301k)

No clear victory

Photograph of SMS Sydlitz - opens new window

SMS Seydlitz ‘bowing down’

Begun late in the day, in poor visibility and with darkness approaching, the Battle of Jutland did not yield a clear victory for either side. The greater losses were inflicted by the High Seas Fleet, whose victims included three British battle cruisers: Glossary - opens new windowIndefatigable, Glossary - opens new windowQueen Mary and Glossary - opens new windowInvincible. The Grand Fleet managed to sink just one battle cruiser, Glossary - opens new windowLützow, before the Germans retreated back to their bases. A total of 6,097 British sailors were killed at the Battle of Jutland, in comparison to just 2,551 of their German counterparts. It was hardly surprising that, after hearing news of the battle, Glossary - opens new windowKaiser Wilhelm II boasted that ‘the spell of Trafalgar is broken’.

Letter from Lieutenant Commander Whitfield - opens new window

Sinking of HMS Nomad (133k) Transcript

Promoted officers from Jutland - opens new window

Officers recommended for promotion (231k) Transcript

Dispatch from Battle of Jutland - opens new window

Official despatches (264k) Transcript

Yet, despite the heavier British losses, German claims of victory rang hollow. Following the battle, British naval superiority was undimmed and the blockade continued. The High Seas Fleet’s rapid retreat to base during the encounter showed that it was still wary of facing the full armoury of the Royal Navy in a prolonged fight. After 31 May 1916, the German naval command did not risk another major clash with the Grand Fleet, preferring instead to attempt to break the stranglehold of the blockade through a policy of Glossary - opens new windowunrestricted submarine warfare.

The Battle of Jutland was an honourable draw, but one side – Germany – had needed victory more than the other.

Further research

The following references give an idea of the sources held by The National Archives on the subject of this chapter. These documents can be seen on site at The National Archives.


ADM 1/8457/114-118: Losses of various ships at Jutland, plus casualty lists.

ADM 1/8458/122-132: Losses of various ships at Jutland, plus casualty lists.

ADM 137/3880: Details of damage to German ships at Jutland.

CAB 45/269: CID Historical Section: various material on Jutland, including letters from Jellicoe and reports by Hipper and Scheer, 1916-32.

MFQ 1/366: Message of thanks from Kaiser Wilhelm II to the German navy for its efforts at Jutland.

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