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A Guide To British Ships At The Battle Of Jutland

The Battle of Jutland, fought over two days from 31 May 1916, was the largest sea battle of the First World War. It pitted 151 British warships against 99 German ships and was the first and only time the two battle fleets confronted each other. A wide range of warship types took part in the battle, and each played a different tactical role.

  • Battleships

    Image of the battleship HMS Iron Duke.
    The battleship HMS Iron Duke.
    Q 75209

    Battleships carried the heaviest guns and the thickest armour. Though well protected from gunfire, their size and relatively low speed made them vulnerable to attack by torpedoes from smaller ships. At Jutland, the Royal Navy deployed 28 battleships, all of which survived the battle. 

    This is the British battleship HMS Iron Duke, which was the flagship of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. As commander of the Grand Fleet, Jellicoe was in overall command of British ships during the battle. From the bridge of this ship, Jellicoe made critical tactical decisions. During the battle, Iron Duke fired on German battleships including SMS König, scoring several hits and inflicting serious damage. 

    Most of Britain's battleships suffered no casualties during the battle. The heaviest toll was suffered by HMS Malaya, whose crew sustained 63 dead and 68 wounded.

  • Battlecruisers

    The battlecruiser HMS Lion.
    The battlecruiser HMS Lion.
    Q 75277

    Battlecruisers were a novel design concept. Their design favoured high speed and heavy armament, at the cost of sacrificing armour protection. They could chase down and destroy slower and weaker ships, and their speed allowed them to stay out of range of a battleship's heavy guns. Even so the battlecruisers' light armour was a gamble; a hit from a heavy shell could cause catastrophic damage. The Royal Navy deployed nine battlecruisers at Jutland. Three were sunk during the battle, killing 3,320 crew – more than half of Britain’s fatal casualties at Jutland.

    This is HMS Lion. During the battle of Jutland, Lion was the flagship of the British Battlecruiser Fleet under Vice-Admiral David Beatty. In the opening stages of the battle, Beatty's fleet fought German battlecruisers of Admiral Franz von Hipper's I Scouting Group. In the first hour of the battle, two of Beatty's battlecruisers – Indefatigable and Queen Mary – were struck by German shells that triggered catastrophic explosions, sinking both ships. On Lion's bridge, Beatty is reported to have remarked to his flag captain 'there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today'.

    Lion was lucky to avoid the same fate. When a German shell started a fire in one of the ship's turrets, Major Francis Harvey of the Royal Marines was mortally wounded. The fire threatened to spread to the turret's magazine, which held many tons of explosives. Despite his injuries Harvey had the presence of mind to order the turret's magazine to be flooded as a safety measure. Seconds later, he collapsed and died. Harvey's quick thinking saved his ship and the lives of hundreds of his shipmates. Buried at sea after the battle, Harvey was later awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

    By the end of the Battle of Jutland, Lion had been hit by German fire many times. Ninety-nine members of her crew were killed, the highest number of fatalities of any British ship that survived the battle and returned to port. A further 51 were injured.

  • Cruisers

    Image of the cruiser HMS Southampton.
    The cruiser HMS Southampton.
    Q 75367

    Cruisers were a type of warship designed to spend long periods at sea, for roles such as commerce protection in far-flung parts of Britain's empire. By the time of the Battle of Jutland, older 'armoured cruiser' designs were giving way to newer types known as light cruisers. As part of a battle fleet, cruisers worked as scouts and protected battleships from torpedo attacks by destroyers. Thirty-four British cruisers fought at Jutland and three were sunk.

    This is HMS Southampton, a light cruiser. During the Battle of Jutland, Southampton was the flagship of Commodore William Goodenough's 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron. Sailing with Beatty's Battle Cruiser Fleet, Southampton was the first British ship to sight the German High Seas Fleet. Writing in his memoirs, Goodenough remembered: 'We saw ahead of us first smoke, then masts, then [German] ships…sixteen battleships with destroyers around them on each bow'.

    Goodenough knew that up-to-date information on the German fleet was vital. He led his squadron closer to the enemy. Having counted the German ships, noted their formation and course, and relayed this information, Goodenough turned his squadron away. In range of ten German battleships, the squadron immediately came under heavy fire. Dozens of heavy shells fell close to Southampton, but none hit the ship. One officer remembered: 'I can truthfully say that I thought each moment would be our last…we seemed to bear a charmed life…how we escaped amazes everyone from [Commodore Goodenough] downwards'.

    Later, Southampton was not so lucky. During the night, the ship fought German cruisers in a chaotic and extremely violent battle at close range. Though sinking a German cruiser with a torpedo, Southampton was set on fire. In a matter of minutes 89 of the ship's crew were killed or injured, with most of the upper deck crew maimed or burned. Using a stokers' bathroom as an operating theatre, the ship's doctor spent the next eleven hours treating the wounded.

  • Destroyers

    Image of model of the destroyer HMS Shark.
    Model of the destroyer HMS Shark.
    MOD 140

    Destroyers were the lightest warships to fight at Jutland. Versatile light warships, they were used for patrolling and raiding, as well as to screen battle fleets during major actions. Destroyers were the fastest class of warship, but were unarmoured and vulnerable to gun fire. Though carrying only small guns, their armament included torpedoes that could cripple or even sink big ships. Seventy-nine British destroyers took part in the Battle of Jutland and eight were sunk. From four of the sunken destroyers, 173 British sailors were rescued by the German navy and taken prisoner.

    This is a model of the destroyer HMS Shark. At Jutland, Shark was part of the 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron, a force of three battlecruisers, the light cruisers Chester and Canterbury, and three other destroyers. During the battle, Shark became entangled in a close-range and chaotic fight between British and German. Shark was hit repeatedly. One shell destroyed the ship's bridge and steering gear and another disabled the ship's engines, leaving the ship adrift. 

    Two of Shark's guns were knocked out, their crews killed. Leaving the shattered bridge, Shark's wounded captain, Commander Loftus Jones, helped man the only remaining gun. Firing on nearby German ships, Jones and his men hit the German destroyer V48, disabling the ship. As German destroyers closed in, Jones ordered his men to don lifebelts. Hit by a torpedo, Shark sank. Thirty of Shark's crew were able to board rafts, but many died of wounds or exposure, including Jones. Only six survived to be rescued by a neutral Danish steamer late at night. 

    Commander Jones' body washed ashore in Sweden a few days later. In 1917, in recognition of his leadership, Jones was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

  • Seaplane carriers

    Image of the seaplane carrier HMS Engadine at anchor.
    The seaplane carrier HMS Engadine at anchor.
    SP 413

    During the First World War, the use of aircraft in naval warfare was in its infancy. This is HMS Engadine. This ship started its life as a cross-Channel ferry. It was later adapted to become a seaplane carrier, able to launch and retrieve light aeroplanes, called seaplanes, that can take off and land on water. At the Battle of Jutland, Engadine launched a Type 184 seaplane flown by Flight Lieutenant Frederick Rutland, with Assistant Paymaster G S Trewin on board as an observer. 

    Flying over the North Sea, Rutland and Trewin were able to spot approaching German ships. Despite being shot at, Trewin was able to report their sightings back to Engadine. Soon after, the aircraft suffered a mechanical failure and Rutland was forced to land. This brief flight, lasting little more than half an hour, was the only contribution by aircraft to the Battle of Jutland. For this exploit, Rutland was nicknamed 'Rutland of Jutland'.

    After the war, Rutland's aircraft was preserved at the Imperial War Museum. In 1941, during the Second World War Germam bombing campaign known as the Blitz, the museum suffered a direct hit from a German bomb. Worst hit was the museum's naval gallery. Among the exhibits destroyed was Rutland's seaplane. The bomb blast stripped away the fabric covering the aircraft's fuselage. As the plane could not be restored, only the cockpit section was kept. This surviving relic of the Battle of Jutland is now on display, loaned to the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton in Somerset.