Battle of Jutland

The Battle of Jutland (German: Skagerrakschlacht, the Battle of the Skagerrak) was a naval battle fought between Britain’s Royal Navy Grand Fleet, under Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, and the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet, under Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer, during the First World War. The battle unfolded in extensive manoeuvring and three main engagements (the battlecruiser action, the fleet action, and the night action), from 31 May to 1 June 1916, off the North Sea coast of Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula. It was the largest naval battle and the only full-scale clash of battleships in that war. Jutland was the third fleet action between steel battleships, following the Battle of the Yellow Sea in 1904 and the Battle of Tsushima in 1905, during the Russo-Japanese War. Jutland was the last major battle in history fought primarily by battleships.

Germany’s High Seas Fleet intended to lure out, trap, and destroy a portion of the British Grand Fleet, as the German naval force was insufficient to openly engage the entire British fleet. This formed part of a larger strategy to break the British blockade of Germany and to allow German naval vessels access to the Atlantic. Meanwhile, Great Britain’s Royal Navy pursued a strategy of engaging and destroying the High Seas Fleet, thereby keeping German naval forces contained and away from Britain and her shipping lanes.

The Germans planned to use Vice-Admiral Franz Hipper’s fast scouting group of five modern battlecruisers to lure Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty’s battlecruiser squadrons into the path of the main German fleet. They stationed submarines in advance across the likely routes of the British ships. However, the British learned from signal intercepts that a major fleet operation was likely, so on 30 May, Jellicoe sailed with the Grand Fleet to rendezvous with Beatty, passing over the locations of the German submarine picket lines while they were unprepared. The German plan had been delayed, causing further problems for their submarines, which had reached the limit of their endurance at sea.

On the afternoon of 31 May, Beatty encountered Hipper’s battlecruiser force long before the Germans had expected. In a running battle, Hipper successfully drew the British vanguard into the path of the High Seas Fleet. By the time Beatty sighted the larger force and turned back towards the British main fleet, he had lost two battlecruisers from a force of six battlecruisers and four powerful battleships—though he had sped ahead of his battleships of 5th Battle Squadron earlier in the day, effectively losing them as an integral component for much of this opening action against the five ships commanded by Hipper. Beatty’s withdrawal at the sight of the High Seas Fleet, which the British had not known were in the open sea, would reverse the course of the battle by drawing the German fleet in pursuit towards the British Grand Fleet. Between 18:30, when the sun was lowering on the western horizon, back-lighting the German forces, and nightfall at about 20:30, the two fleets—totalling 250 ships between them—directly engaged twice.

Fourteen British and eleven German ships sank, with a total of 9,823 casualties. After sunset, and throughout the night, Jellicoe manoeuvred to cut the Germans off from their base, hoping to continue the battle the next morning, but under the cover of darkness Scheer broke through the British light forces forming the rearguard of the Grand Fleet and returned to port.

Both sides claimed victory. The British lost more ships and twice as many sailors but succeeded in containing the German fleet. The British press criticised the Grand Fleet’s failure to force a decisive outcome, while Scheer’s plan of destroying a substantial portion of the British fleet also failed. The British strategy of denying Germany access to both the United Kingdom and the Atlantic did succeed, which was the British long-term goal. The Germans’ “fleet in being” continued to pose a threat, requiring the British to keep their battleships concentrated in the North Sea, but the battle reinforced the German policy of avoiding all fleet-to-fleet contact. At the end of 1916, after further unsuccessful attempts to reduce the Royal Navy’s numerical advantage, the German Navy accepted that its surface ships had been successfully contained, subsequently turning its efforts and resources to unrestricted submarine warfare and the destruction of Allied and neutral shipping, which—along with the Zimmermann Telegram—by April 1917 triggered the United States of America’s declaration of war on Germany.

Subsequent reviews commissioned by the Royal Navy generated strong disagreement between supporters of Jellicoe and Beatty concerning the two admirals’ performance in the battle. Debate over their performance and the significance of the battle continues to this day.

Background and planning

German planning

With 16 dreadnought-type battleships, compared with the Royal Navy’s 28, the German High Seas Fleet stood little chance of winning a head-to-head clash. The Germans therefore adopted a divide-and-conquer strategy. They would stage raids into the North Sea and bombard the English coast, with the aim of luring out small British squadrons and pickets, which could then be destroyed by superior forces or submarines.

In January 1916, Admiral von Pohl, commander of the German fleet, fell ill. He was replaced by Scheer, who believed that the fleet had been used too defensively, had better ships and men than the British, and ought to take the war to them. According to Scheer, the German naval strategy should be:

to damage the English fleet by offensive raids against the naval forces engaged in watching and blockading the German Bight, as well as by mine-laying on the British coast and submarine attack, whenever possible. After an equality of strength had been realised as a result of these operations, and all our forces had been made ready and concentrated, an attempt was to be made with our fleet to seek battle under circumstances unfavourable to the enemy.

On 25 April 1916, a decision was made by the German Imperial Admiralty to halt indiscriminate attacks by submarines on merchant shipping. This followed protests from neutral countries, notably the United States, that their nationals had been the victims of attacks. Germany agreed that future attacks would only take place in accord with internationally agreed prize rules, which required an attacker to give a warning and allow the crews of vessels time to escape, and not to attack neutral vessels at all. Scheer believed that it would not be possible to continue attacks on these terms, which took away the advantage of secret approach by submarines and left them vulnerable to even relatively small guns on the target ships. Instead, he set about deploying the submarine fleet against military vessels.

It was hoped that, following a successful German submarine attack, fast British escorts, such as destroyers, would be tied down by anti-submarine operations. If the Germans could catch the British in the expected locations, good prospects were thought to exist of at least partially redressing the balance of forces between the fleets. “After the British sortied in response to the raiding attack force”, the Royal Navy’s centuries-old instincts for aggressive action could be exploited to draw its weakened units towards the main German fleet under Scheer. The hope was that Scheer would thus be able to ambush a section of the British fleet and destroy it.

Submarine deployments

A plan was devised to station submarines offshore from British naval bases, and then stage some action that would draw out the British ships to the waiting submarines. The battlecruiser SMS Seydlitz had been damaged in a previous engagement, but was due to be repaired by mid-May, so an operation was scheduled for 17 May 1916. At the start of May, difficulties with condensers were discovered on ships of the third battleship squadron, so the operation was put back to 23 May. Ten submarines—U-24, U-32, U-43, U-44, UC-47, U-51, U-52, U-63, U-66, and U-70—were given orders first to patrol in the central North Sea between 17 and 22 May, and then to take up waiting positions. U-43 and U-44 were stationed in the Pentland Firth, which the Grand Fleet was likely to cross when leaving Scapa Flow, while the remainder proceeded to the Firth of Forth, awaiting battlecruisers departing Rosyth. Each boat had an allocated area, within which it could move around as necessary to avoid detection, but was instructed to keep within it. During the initial North Sea patrol the boats were instructed to sail only north–south so that any enemy who chanced to encounter one would believe it was departing or returning from operations on the west coast (which required them to pass around the north of Britain). Once at their final positions, the boats were under strict orders to avoid premature detection that might give away the operation. It was arranged that a coded signal would be transmitted to alert the submarines exactly when the operation commenced: “Take into account the enemy’s forces may be putting to sea”.

Additionally, UB-27 was sent out on 20 May with instructions to work its way into the Firth of Forth past May Island. U-46 was ordered to patrol the coast of Sunderland, which had been chosen for the diversionary attack, but because of engine problems it was unable to leave port and U-47 was diverted to this task. On 13 May, U-72 was sent to lay mines in the Firth of Forth; on the 23rd, U-74 departed to lay mines in the Moray Firth; and on the 24th, U-75 was dispatched similarly west of the Orkney Islands. UB-21 and UB-22 were sent to patrol the Humber, where (incorrect) reports had suggested the presence of British warships. U-22, U-46 and U-67 were positioned north of Terschelling to protect against intervention by British light forces stationed at Harwich.

On 22 May 1916, it was discovered that Seydlitz was still not watertight after repairs and would not now be ready until the 29th. The ambush submarines were now on station and experiencing difficulties of their own: visibility near the coast was frequently poor due to fog, and sea conditions were either so calm the slightest ripple, as from the periscope, could give away their position, or so rough as to make it very hard to keep the vessel at a steady depth. The British had become aware of unusual submarine activity, and had begun counter-patrols that forced the submarines out of position. UB-27 passed Bell Rock on the night of 23 May on its way into the Firth of Forth as planned, but was halted by engine trouble. After repairs it continued to approach, following behind merchant vessels, and reached Largo Bay on 25 May. There the boat became entangled in nets that fouled one of the propellers, forcing it to abandon the operation and return home. U-74 was detected by four armed trawlers on 27 May and sunk 25 mi (22 nmi; 40 km) south-east of Peterhead. U-75 laid its mines off the Orkney Islands, which, although they played no part in the battle, were responsible later for sinking the cruiser Hampshire carrying Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War on 5 June, killing him and all but 12 of the crew. U-72 was forced to abandon its mission without laying any mines when an oil leak meant it was leaving a visible surface trail astern.


The Germans maintained a fleet of Zeppelins that they used for aerial reconnaissance and occasional bombing raids. The planned raid on Sunderland intended to use Zeppelins to watch out for the British fleet approaching from the north, which might otherwise surprise the raiders.

By 28 May, strong north-easterly winds meant that it would not be possible to send out the Zeppelins, so the raid again had to be postponed. The submarines could only stay on station until 1 June before their supplies would be exhausted and they had to return, so a decision had to be made quickly about the raid.

It was decided to use an alternative plan, abandoning the attack on Sunderland but instead sending a patrol of battlecruisers to the Skagerrak, where it was likely they would encounter merchant ships carrying British cargo and British cruiser patrols. It was felt this could be done without air support, because the action would now be much closer to Germany, relying instead on cruiser and torpedo boat patrols for reconnaissance.

Orders for the alternative plan were issued on 28 May, although it was still hoped that last-minute improvements in the weather would allow the original plan to go ahead. The German fleet assembled in the Jade River and at Wilhelmshaven and was instructed to raise steam and be ready for action from midnight on 28 May.

By 14:00 on 30 May, the wind was still too strong and the final decision was made to use the alternative plan. The coded signal “31 May G.G.2490” was transmitted to the ships of the fleet to inform them the Skagerrak attack would start on 31 May. The pre-arranged signal to the waiting submarines was transmitted throughout the day from the E-Dienst radio station at Bruges, and the U-boat tender Arcona anchored at Emden. Only two of the waiting submarines, U-66 and U-32, received the order.

British response

Unfortunately for the German plan, the British had obtained a copy of the main German codebook from the light cruiser SMS Magdeburg, which had been boarded by the Russian Navy after the ship ran aground in Russian territorial waters in 1914. German naval radio communications could therefore often be quickly deciphered, and the British Admiralty usually knew about German activities.

The British Admiralty’s Room 40 maintained direction finding and interception of German naval signals. It had intercepted and decrypted a German signal on 28 May that provided “ample evidence that the German fleet was stirring in the North Sea”. Further signals were intercepted, and although they were not decrypted it was clear that a major operation was likely. At 11:00 on 30 May, Jellicoe was warned that the German fleet seemed prepared to sail the following morning. By 17:00, the Admiralty had intercepted the signal from Scheer, “31 May G.G.2490”, making it clear something significant was imminent.

Not knowing the Germans’ objective, Jellicoe and his staff decided to position the fleet to head off any attempt by the Germans to enter the North Atlantic or the Baltic through the Skagerrak, by taking up a position off Norway where they could potentially cut off any German raid into the shipping lanes of the Atlantic or prevent the Germans from heading into the Baltic.

Consequently, Admiral Jellicoe led the sixteen dreadnought battleships of the 1st and 4th Battle Squadrons of the Grand Fleet and three battlecruisers of the 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron eastwards out of Scapa Flow at 22:30 on 30 May. He was to meet the 2nd Battle Squadron of eight dreadnought battleships commanded by Vice-Admiral Martyn Jerram coming from Cromarty. Beatty’s force of six ships of the 1st and 2nd Battlecruiser Squadrons plus the 5th Battle Squadron of four fast battleships left the Firth of Forth at around the same time; Jellicoe intended to rendezvous with him 90 mi (78 nmi; 140 km) west of the mouth of the Skagerrak off the coast of Jutland and wait for the Germans to appear or for their intentions to become clear. The planned position would give him the widest range of responses to likely German moves. Hipper’s raiding force did not leave the Outer Jade Roads until 01:00 on 31 May, heading west of Heligoland Island following a cleared channel through the minefields, heading north at 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph). The main German fleet of sixteen dreadnought battleships of 1st and 3rd Battle Squadrons left the Jade at 02:30, being joined off Heligoland at 04:00 by the six pre-dreadnoughts of the 2nd Battle Squadron coming from the Elbe River.

Naval tactics in 1916

The principle of concentration of force was fundamental to the fleet tactics of this time. As outlined by Captain Reginald Hall in 1914, tactical doctrine called for a fleet approaching battle to be in a compact formation of parallel columns, allowing relatively easy manoeuvring, and giving shortened sight lines within the formation, which simplified the passing of the signals necessary for command and control.

A fleet formed in several short columns could change its heading faster than one formed in a single long column. Since most command signals were made with flags or signal lamps between ships, the flagship was usually placed at the head of the centre column so that its signals might be more easily seen by the many ships of the formation. Wireless telegraphy was in use, though security (radio direction finding), encryption, and the limitation of the radio sets made their extensive use more problematic. Command and control of such huge fleets remained difficult.

Thus, it might take a very long time for a signal from the flagship to be relayed to the entire formation. It was usually necessary for a signal to be confirmed by each ship before it could be relayed to other ships, and an order for a fleet movement would have to be received and acknowledged by every ship before it could be executed. In a large single-column formation, a signal could take 10 minutes or more to be passed from one end of the line to the other, whereas in a formation of parallel columns, visibility across the diagonals was often better (and always shorter) than in a single long column, and the diagonals gave signal “redundancy”, increasing the probability that a message would be quickly seen and correctly interpreted.

However, before battle was joined the heavy units of the fleet would, if possible, deploy into a single column. To form the battle line in the correct orientation relative to the enemy, the commanding admiral had to know the enemy fleet’s distance, bearing, heading, and speed. It was the task of the scouting forces, consisting primarily of battlecruisers and cruisers, to find the enemy and report this information in sufficient time, and, if possible, to deny the enemy’s scouting forces the opportunity of obtaining the equivalent information.

Ideally, the battle line would cross the intended path of the enemy column so that the maximum number of guns could be brought to bear, while the enemy could fire only with the forward guns of the leading ships, a manoeuvre known as “crossing the T”. Admiral Tōgō, commander of the Japanese battleship fleet, had achieved this against Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky’s Russian battleships in 1905 at the Battle of Tsushima, with devastating results. Jellicoe achieved this twice in one hour against the High Seas Fleet at Jutland, but on both occasions, Scheer managed to turn away and disengage, thereby avoiding a decisive action.

Ship design

Within the existing technological limits, a trade-off had to be made between the weight and size of guns, the weight of armour protecting the ship, and the maximum speed. Battleships sacrificed speed for armour and heavy naval guns (11 in (280 mm) or larger). British battlecruisers sacrificed weight of armour for greater speed, while their German counterparts were armed with lighter guns and heavier armour. These weight savings allowed them to escape danger or catch other ships. Generally, the larger guns mounted on British ships allowed an engagement at greater range. In theory, a lightly armoured ship could stay out of range of a slower opponent while still scoring hits. The fast pace of development in the pre-war years meant that every few years, a new generation of ships rendered its predecessors obsolete. Thus, fairly young ships could still be obsolete compared with the newest ships, and fare badly in an engagement against them.

Admiral John Fisher, responsible for reconstruction of the British fleet in the pre-war period, favoured large guns, oil fuel, and speed. Admiral Tirpitz, responsible for the German fleet, favoured ship survivability and chose to sacrifice some gun size for improved armour. The German battlecruiser SMS Derfflinger had belt armour equivalent in thickness—though not as comprehensive—to the British battleship HMS Iron Duke, significantly better than on the British battlecruisers such as Tiger. German ships had better internal subdivision and had fewer doors and other weak points in their bulkheads, but with the disadvantage that space for crew was greatly reduced. As they were designed only for sorties in the North Sea they did not need to be as habitable as the British vessels and their crews could live in barracks ashore when in harbour.

Order of battle

Warships of the period were armed with guns firing projectiles of varying weights, bearing high explosive warheads. The sum total of weight of all the projectiles fired by all the ship’s broadside guns is referred to as “weight of broadside”. At Jutland, the total of the British ships’ weight of broadside was 332,360 lb (150,760 kg), while the German fleet’s total was 134,216 lb (60,879 kg). This does not take into consideration the ability of some ships and their crews to fire more or less rapidly than others, which would increase or decrease amount of fire that one combatant was able to bring to bear on their opponent for any length of time.

Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet was split into two sections. The dreadnought Battle Fleet, with which he sailed, formed the main force and was composed of 24 battleships and three battlecruisers. The battleships were formed into three squadrons of eight ships, further subdivided into divisions of four, each led by a flag officer. Accompanying them were eight armoured cruisers (classified by the Royal Navy since 1913 as “cruisers”), eight light cruisers, four scout cruisers, 51 destroyers, and one destroyer-minelayer.

The Grand Fleet sailed without three of its battleships: Emperor of India in refit at Invergordon, Queen Elizabeth dry-docked at Rosyth and Dreadnought in refit at Devonport. The brand new Royal Sovereign was left behind; with only three weeks in service, her untrained crew was judged unready for battle. HMS Audacious had been sunk by a German mine on 27 October 1914.

British reconnaissance was provided by the Battlecruiser Fleet under David Beatty: six battlecruisers, four fast Queen Elizabeth-class battleships, 14 light cruisers and 27 destroyers. Air scouting was provided by the attachment of the seaplane tender HMS Engadine, one of the first aircraft carriers in history to participate in a naval engagement.

The German High Seas Fleet under Scheer was also split into a main force and a separate reconnaissance force. Scheer’s main battle fleet was composed of 16 battleships and six pre-dreadnought battleships arranged in an identical manner to the British. With them were six light cruisers and 31 torpedo-boats, (the latter being roughly equivalent to a British destroyer). The only German battleship missing was SMS König Albert.

The German scouting force, commanded by Franz Hipper, consisted of five battlecruisers, five light cruisers and 30 torpedo-boats. The Germans had no equivalent to Engadine and no heavier-than-air aircraft to operate with the fleet but had the Imperial German Naval Airship Service’s force of rigid airships available to patrol the North Sea.[citation needed]

All of the battleships and battlecruisers on both sides carried torpedoes of various sizes, as did the lighter craft. The British battleships carried three or four underwater torpedo tubes. The battlecruisers carried from two to five. All were either 18-inch or 21-inch diameter. The German battleships carried five or six underwater torpedo tubes in three sizes from 18 to 21 inch and the battlecruisers carried four or five tubes.[citation needed]

The German battle fleet was hampered by the slow speed and relatively poor armament of the six pre-dreadnoughts of II Squadron, which limited maximum fleet speed to 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph), compared to maximum British fleet speed of 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph). On the British side, the eight armoured cruisers were deficient in both speed and armour protection. Both of these obsolete squadrons were notably vulnerable to attacks by more modern enemy ships.[citation needed]

Battlecruiser action

The route of the British battlecruiser fleet took it through the patrol sector allocated to U-32. After receiving the order to commence the operation, the U-boat moved to a position 80 mi (70 nmi; 130 km) east of the Isle of May at dawn on 31 May. At 03:40, it sighted the cruisers HMS Galatea and Phaeton leaving the Forth at 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph). It launched one torpedo at the leading cruiser at a range of 1,000 yd (910 m), but its periscope jammed ‘up’, giving away the position of the submarine as it manoeuvred to fire a second. The lead cruiser turned away to dodge the torpedo, while the second turned towards the submarine, attempting to ram. U-32 crash dived, and on raising its periscope at 04:10 saw two battlecruisers (the 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron) heading south-east. They were too far away to attack, but Kapitänleutnant von Spiegel reported the sighting of two battleships and two cruisers to Germany.

U-66 was also supposed to be patrolling off the Firth of Forth but had been forced north to a position 60 mi (52 nmi; 97 km) off Peterhead by patrolling British vessels. This now brought it into contact with the 2nd Battle Squadron, coming from the Moray Firth. At 05:00, it had to crash dive when the cruiser Duke of Edinburgh appeared from the mist heading toward it. It was followed by another cruiser, Boadicea, and eight battleships. U-66 got within 350 yd (320 m) of the battleships preparing to fire, but was forced to dive by an approaching destroyer and missed the opportunity. At 06:35, it reported eight battleships and cruisers heading north.

The courses reported by both submarines were incorrect, because they reflected one leg of a zigzag being used by British ships to avoid submarines. Taken with a wireless intercept of more ships leaving Scapa Flow earlier in the night, they created the impression in the German High Command that the British fleet, whatever it was doing, was split into separate sections moving apart, which was precisely as the Germans wished to meet it.

Jellicoe’s ships proceeded to their rendezvous undamaged and undiscovered. However, he was now misled by an Admiralty intelligence report advising that the German main battle fleet was still in port. The Director of Operations Division, Rear Admiral Thomas Jackson, had asked the intelligence division, Room 40, for the current location of German call sign DK, used by Admiral Scheer. They had replied that it was currently transmitting from Wilhelmshaven. It was known to the intelligence staff that Scheer deliberately used a different call sign when at sea, but no one asked for this information or explained the reason behind the query – to locate the German fleet.

The German battlecruisers cleared the minefields surrounding the Amrum swept channel by 09:00. They then proceeded north-west, passing 35 mi (30 nmi; 56 km) west of the Horn’s Reef lightship heading for the Little Fisher Bank at the mouth of the Skagerrak. The High Seas Fleet followed some 50 mi (43 nmi; 80 km) behind. The battlecruisers were in line ahead, with the four cruisers of the II scouting group plus supporting torpedo boats ranged in an arc 8 mi (7.0 nmi; 13 km) ahead and to either side. The IX torpedo boat flotilla formed close support immediately surrounding the battlecruisers. The High Seas Fleet similarly adopted a line-ahead formation, with close screening by torpedo boats to either side and a further screen of five cruisers surrounding the column 5–8 mi (4.3–7.0 nmi; 8.0–12.9 km) away. The wind had finally moderated so that Zeppelins could be used, and by 11:30 five had been sent out: L14 to the Skagerrak, L23 240 mi (210 nmi; 390 km) east of Noss Head in the Pentland Firth, L21 120 mi (100 nmi; 190 km) off Peterhead, L9 100 mi (87 nmi; 160 km) off Sunderland, and L16 80 mi (70 nmi; 130 km) east of Flamborough Head. Visibility, however, was still bad, with clouds down to 1,000 ft (300 m).


By around 14:00, Beatty’s ships were proceeding eastward at roughly the same latitude as Hipper’s squadron, which was heading north. Had the courses remained unchanged, Beatty would have passed between the two German fleets, 40 mi (35 nmi; 64 km) south of the battlecruisers and 20 mi (17 nmi; 32 km) north of the High Seas Fleet at around 16:30, possibly trapping his ships just as the German plan envisioned. His orders were to stop his scouting patrol when he reached a point 260 mi (230 nmi; 420 km) east of Britain and then turn north to meet Jellicoe, which he did at this time. Beatty’s ships were divided into three columns, with the two battlecruiser squadrons leading in parallel lines 3 mi (2.6 nmi; 4.8 km) apart. The 5th Battle Squadron was stationed 5 mi (4.3 nmi; 8.0 km) to the north-west, on the side furthest away from any expected enemy contact, while a screen of cruisers and destroyers was spread south-east of the battlecruisers. After the turn, the 5th Battle Squadron was now leading the British ships in the westernmost column, and Beatty’s squadron was centre and rearmost, with the 2nd BCS to the west.

At 14:20 on 31 May, despite heavy haze and scuds of fog giving poor visibility, scouts from Beatty’s force reported enemy ships to the south-east; the British light units, investigating a neutral Danish steamer (N J Fjord), which was stopped between the two fleets, had found two German destroyers engaged on the same mission (B109 and B110). The first shots of the battle were fired at 14:28 when Galatea and Phaeton of the British 1st Light Cruiser Squadron opened on the German torpedo boats, which withdrew toward their approaching light cruisers. At 14:36, the Germans scored the first hit of the battle when SMS Elbing, of Rear-Admiral Friedrich Boedicker’s Scouting Group II, hit her British counterpart Galatea at extreme range.

Beatty began to move his battlecruisers and supporting forces south-eastwards and then east to cut the German ships off from their base and ordered Engadine to launch a seaplane to try to get more information about the size and location of the German forces. This was the first time in history that a carrier-based aeroplane was used for reconnaissance in naval combat. Engadine’s aircraft did locate and report some German light cruisers just before 15:30 and came under anti-aircraft gunfire but attempts to relay reports from the aeroplane failed.

Unfortunately for Beatty, his initial course changes at 14:32 were not received by Sir Hugh Evan-Thomas’s 5th Battle Squadron (the distance being too great to read his flags), because the battlecruiser HMS Tiger—the last ship in his column—was no longer in a position where she could relay signals by searchlight to Evan-Thomas, as she had previously been ordered to do. Whereas before the north turn, Tiger had been the closest ship to Evan-Thomas, she was now further away than Beatty in Lion. Matters were aggravated because Evan-Thomas had not been briefed regarding standing orders within Beatty’s squadron, as his squadron normally operated with the Grand Fleet. Fleet ships were expected to obey movement orders precisely and not deviate from them. Beatty’s standing instructions expected his officers to use their initiative and keep station with the flagship. As a result, the four Queen Elizabeth-class battleships—which were the fastest and most heavily armed in the world at that time—remained on the previous course for several minutes, ending up 10 mi (8.7 nmi; 16 km) behind rather than five. Beatty also had the opportunity during the previous hours to concentrate his forces, and no reason not to do so, whereas he steamed ahead at full speed, faster than the battleships could manage. Dividing the force had serious consequences for the British, costing them what would have been an overwhelming advantage in ships and firepower during the first half-hour of the coming battle.

With visibility favouring the Germans, Hipper’s battlecruisers at 15:22, steaming approximately north-west, sighted Beatty’s squadron at a range of about 15 mi (13 nmi; 24 km), while Beatty’s forces did not identify Hipper’s battlecruisers until 15:30. (position 1 on map). At 15:45, Hipper turned south-east to lead Beatty toward Scheer, who was 46 mi (40 nmi; 74 km) south-east with the main force of the High Seas Fleet.

Run to the south

Beatty’s conduct during the next 15 minutes has received a great deal of criticism, as his ships out-ranged and outnumbered the German squadron, yet he held his fire for over 10 minutes with the German ships in range. He also failed to use the time available to rearrange his battlecruisers into a fighting formation, with the result that they were still manoeuvring when the battle started.

At 15:48, with the opposing forces roughly parallel at 15,000 yd (14,000 m), with the British to the south-west of the Germans (i.e., on the right side), Hipper opened fire, followed by the British ships as their guns came to bear upon targets (position 2). Thus began the opening phase of the battlecruiser action, known as the Run to the South, in which the British chased the Germans, and Hipper intentionally led Beatty toward Scheer. During the first minutes of the ensuing battle, all the British ships except Princess Royal fired far over their German opponents, due to adverse visibility conditions, before finally getting the range. Only Lion and Princess Royal had settled into formation, so the other four ships were hampered in aiming by their own turning. Beatty was to windward of Hipper, and therefore funnel and gun smoke from his own ships tended to obscure his targets, while Hipper’s smoke blew clear. Also, the eastern sky was overcast and the grey German ships were indistinct and difficult to range.

Beatty had ordered his ships to engage in a line, one British ship engaging with one German and his flagship HMS Lion doubling on the German flagship SMS Lützow. However, due to another mistake with signalling by flag, and possibly because Queen Mary and Tiger were unable to see the German lead ship because of smoke, the second German ship, Derfflinger, was left un-engaged and free to fire without disruption. SMS Moltke drew fire from two of Beatty’s battlecruisers, but still fired with great accuracy during this time, hitting Tiger 9 times in the first 12 minutes. The Germans drew first blood. Aided by superior visibility, Hipper’s five battlecruisers quickly registered hits on three of the six British battlecruisers. Seven minutes passed before the British managed to score their first hit.

The first near-kill of the Run to the South occurred at 16:00, when a 30.5 cm (12.0 in) shell from Lützow wrecked the “Q” turret amidships on Beatty’s flagship Lion. Dozens of crewmen were instantly killed, but far larger destruction was averted when the mortally wounded turret commander – Major Francis Harvey of the Royal Marines – promptly ordered the magazine doors shut and the magazine flooded. This prevented a magazine explosion at 16:28, when a flash fire ignited ready cordite charges beneath the turret and killed everyone in the chambers outside “Q” magazine. Lion was saved. HMS Indefatigable was not so lucky; at 16:02, just 14 minutes into the gunnery exchange, she was hit aft by three 28 cm (11 in) shells from SMS Von der Tann, causing damage sufficient to knock her out of line and detonating “X” magazine aft. Soon after, despite the near-maximum range, Von der Tann put another 28 cm (11 in) shell on Indefatigable’s “A” turret forward. The plunging shells probably pierced the thin upper armour, and seconds later Indefatigable was ripped apart by another magazine explosion, sinking immediately and leaving only two survivors from her crew of 1,019 officers and men. (position 3).

Hipper’s position deteriorated somewhat by 16:15 as the 5th Battle Squadron finally came into range, so that he had to contend with gunfire from the four battleships astern as well as Beatty’s five remaining battlecruisers to starboard. But he knew his baiting mission was close to completion, as his force was rapidly closing with Scheer’s main body. At 16:08, the lead battleship of the 5th Battle Squadron, HMS Barham, caught up with Hipper and opened fire at extreme range, scoring a 15 in (380 mm) hit on Von der Tann within 60 seconds. Still, it was 16:15 before all the battleships of the 5th were able to fully engage at long range.

At 16:25, the battlecruiser action intensified again when HMS Queen Mary was hit by what may have been a combined salvo from Derfflinger and Seydlitz; she disintegrated when both forward magazines exploded, sinking with all but nine of her 1,275 man crew lost. (position 4). Commander von Hase, the first gunnery officer aboard Derfflinger, noted:

The enemy was shooting superbly. Twice the Derfflinger came under their infernal hail and each time she was hit. But the Queen Mary was having a bad time; engaged by the Seydlitz as well as the Derfflinger, she met her doom at 1626. A vivid red flame shot up from her forepart; then came an explosion forward, followed by a much heavier explosion amidships. Immediately afterwards, she blew up with a terrific explosion, the masts collapsing inwards and the smoke hiding everything.

During the Run to the South, from 15:48 to 16:54, the German battlecruisers made an estimated total of forty-two 28 and 30.5 cm (11.0 and 12.0 in) hits on the British battlecruisers (nine on Lion, six on Princess Royal, seven on Queen Mary, 14 on Tiger, one on New Zealand, five on Indefatigable), and two more on the battleship Barham, compared with only eleven 13.5 in (340 mm) hits by the British battlecruisers (four on Lützow, four on Seydlitz, two on Moltke, one on von der Tann), and six 15 in (380 mm) hits by the battleships (one on Seydlitz, four on Moltke, one on von der Tann).

Shortly after 16:26, a salvo struck on or around HMS Princess Royal, which was obscured by spray and smoke from shell bursts. A signalman promptly leapt on to the bridge of Lion and announced “Princess Royal’s blown up, Sir.” Beatty famously turned to his flag captain, saying “Chatfield, there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today.” (In popular legend, Beatty also immediately ordered his ships to “turn two points to port”, i.e., two points nearer the enemy, but there is no official record of any such command or course change.) Princess Royal, as it turned out, was still afloat after the spray cleared.

At 16:30, Scheer’s leading battleships sighted the distant battlecruiser action; soon after, HMS Southampton of Beatty’s 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron led by Commodore William Goodenough sighted the main body of Scheer’s High Seas Fleet, dodging numerous heavy-calibre salvos to report in detail the German strength: 16 dreadnoughts with six older battleships. This was the first news that Beatty and Jellicoe had that Scheer and his battle fleet were even at sea. Simultaneously, an all-out destroyer action raged in the space between the opposing battlecruiser forces, as British and German destroyers fought with each other and attempted to torpedo the larger enemy ships. Each side fired many torpedoes, but both battlecruiser forces turned away from the attacks and all escaped harm except Seydlitz, which was hit forward at 16:57 by a torpedo fired by the British destroyer HMS Petard. Though taking on water, Seydlitz maintained speed. The destroyer HMS Nestor, under the command of Captain Barry Bingham, led the British attacks. The British disabled the German torpedo boat V27, which the Germans soon abandoned and sank, and Petard then torpedoed and sank V29, her second score of the day. S35 and V26 rescued the crews of their sunken sister ships. But Nestor and another British destroyer – HMS Nomad – were immobilised by shell hits, and were later sunk by Scheer’s passing dreadnoughts. Bingham was rescued, and awarded the Victoria Cross for his leadership in the destroyer action.

Run to the north

As soon as he himself sighted the vanguard of Scheer’s distant battleship line 12 mi (10 nmi; 19 km) away, at 16:40, Beatty turned his battlecruiser force 180°, heading north to draw the Germans toward Jellicoe. (position 5). Beatty’s withdrawal toward Jellicoe is called the “Run to the North”, in which the tables turned and the Germans chased the British. Because Beatty once again failed to signal his intentions adequately, the battleships of the 5th Battle Squadron – which were too far behind to read his flags – found themselves passing the battlecruisers on an opposing course and heading directly toward the approaching main body of the High Seas Fleet. At 16:48, at extreme range, Scheer’s leading battleships opened fire.

Meanwhile, at 16:47, having received Goodenough’s signal and knowing that Beatty was now leading the German battle fleet north to him, Jellicoe signalled to his own forces that the fleet action they had waited so long for was finally imminent; at 16:51, by radio, he informed the Admiralty so in London.

The difficulties of the 5th Battle Squadron were compounded when Beatty gave the order to Evan-Thomas to “turn in succession” (rather than “turn together”) at 16:48 as the battleships passed him. Evan-Thomas acknowledged the signal, but Lieutenant-Commander Ralph Seymour, Beatty’s flag lieutenant, aggravated the situation when he did not haul down the flags (to execute the signal) for some minutes. At 16:55, when the 5BS had moved within range of the enemy battleships, Evan-Thomas issued his own flag command warning his squadron to expect sudden manoeuvres and to follow his lead, before starting to turn on his own initiative. The order to turn in succession would have resulted in all four ships turning in the same patch of sea as they reached it one by one, giving the High Seas Fleet repeated opportunity with ample time to find the proper range. However, the captain of the trailing ship (HMS Malaya) turned early, mitigating the adverse results.

For the next hour, the 5th Battle Squadron acted as Beatty’s rearguard, drawing fire from all the German ships within range, while by 17:10 Beatty had deliberately eased his own squadron out of range of Hipper’s now-superior battlecruiser force. Since visibility and firepower now favoured the Germans, there was no incentive for Beatty to risk further battlecruiser losses when his own gunnery could not be effective. Illustrating the imbalance, Beatty’s battlecruisers did not score any hits on the Germans in this phase until 17:45, but they had rapidly received five more before he opened the range (four on Lion, of which three were by Lützow, and one on Tiger by Seydlitz). Now the only targets the Germans could reach, the ships of the 5th Battle Squadron, received simultaneous fire from Hipper’s battlecruisers to the east (which HMS Barham and Valiant engaged) and Scheer’s leading battleships to the south-east (which HMS Warspite and Malaya engaged). Three took hits: Barham (four by Derfflinger), Warspite (two by Seydlitz), and Malaya (seven by the German battleships). Only Valiant was unscathed.

The four battleships were far better suited to take this sort of pounding than the battlecruisers, and none were lost, though Malaya suffered heavy damage, an ammunition fire, and heavy crew casualties. At the same time, the 15 in (380 mm) fire of the four British ships was accurate and effective. As the two British squadrons headed north at top speed, eagerly chased by the entire German fleet, the 5th Battle Squadron scored 13 hits on the enemy battlecruisers (four on Lützow, three on Derfflinger, six on Seydlitz) and five on battleships (although only one, on SMS Markgraf, did any serious damage). (position 6).

The fleets converge

Jellicoe was now aware that full fleet engagement was nearing, but had insufficient information on the position and course of the Germans. To assist Beatty, early in the battle at about 16:05, Jellicoe had ordered Rear-Admiral Horace Hood’s 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron to speed ahead to find and support Beatty’s force, and Hood was now racing SSE well in advance of Jellicoe’s northern force. Rear-Admiral Arbuthnot’s 1st Cruiser Squadron patrolled the van of Jellicoe’s main battleship force as it advanced steadily to the south-east.

At 17:33, the armoured cruiser HMS Black Prince of Arbuthnot’s squadron, on the far southwest flank of Jellicoe’s force, came within view of HMS Falmouth, which was about 5 mi (4.3 nmi; 8.0 km) ahead of Beatty with the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron, establishing the first visual link between the converging bodies of the Grand Fleet. At 17:38, the scout cruiser HMS Chester, screening Hood’s oncoming battlecruisers, was intercepted by the van of the German scouting forces under Rear-Admiral Boedicker.

Heavily outnumbered by Boedicker’s four light cruisers, Chester was pounded before being relieved by Hood’s heavy units, which swung westward for that purpose. Hood’s flagship HMS Invincible disabled the light cruiser SMS Wiesbaden shortly after 17:56. Wiesbaden became a sitting target for most of the British fleet during the next hour, but remained afloat and fired some torpedoes at the passing enemy battleships from long range. Meanwhile, Boedicker’s other ships turned toward Hipper and Scheer in the mistaken belief that Hood was leading a larger force of British capital ships from the north and east. A chaotic destroyer action in mist and smoke ensued as German torpedo boats attempted to blunt the arrival of this new formation, but Hood’s battlecruisers dodged all the torpedoes fired at them. In this action, after leading a torpedo counter-attack, the British destroyer HMS Shark was disabled, but continued to return fire at numerous passing enemy ships for the next hour.

Fleet action


In the meantime, Beatty and Evan-Thomas had resumed their engagement with Hipper’s battlecruisers, this time with the visual conditions to their advantage. With several of his ships damaged, Hipper turned back toward Scheer at around 18:00, just as Beatty’s flagship Lion was finally sighted from Jellicoe’s flagship Iron Duke. Jellicoe twice demanded the latest position of the German battlefleet from Beatty, who could not see the German battleships and failed to respond to the question until 18:14. Meanwhile, Jellicoe received confused sighting reports of varying accuracy and limited usefulness from light cruisers and battleships on the starboard (southern) flank of his force.

Jellicoe was in a worrying position. He needed to know the location of the German fleet to judge when and how to deploy his battleships from their cruising formation (six columns of four ships each) into a single battle line. The deployment could be on either the westernmost or the easternmost column, and had to be carried out before the Germans arrived; but early deployment could mean losing any chance of a decisive encounter. Deploying to the west would bring his fleet closer to Scheer, gaining valuable time as dusk approached, but the Germans might arrive before the manoeuvre was complete. Deploying to the east would take the force away from Scheer, but Jellicoe’s ships might be able to cross the “T”, and visibility would strongly favour British gunnery – Scheer’s forces would be silhouetted against the setting sun to the west, while the Grand Fleet would be indistinct against the dark skies to the north and east, and would be hidden by reflection of the low sunlight off intervening haze and smoke. Deployment would take twenty irreplaceable minutes, and the fleets were closing at full speed. In one of the most critical and difficult tactical command decisions of the entire war, Jellicoe ordered deployment to the east at 18:15.

Windy Corner

Meanwhile, Hipper had rejoined Scheer, and the combined High Seas Fleet was heading north, directly toward Jellicoe. Scheer had no indication that Jellicoe was at sea, let alone that he was bearing down from the north-west, and was distracted by the intervention of Hood’s ships to his north and east. Beatty’s four surviving battlecruisers were now crossing the van of the British dreadnoughts to join Hood’s three battlecruisers; at this time, Arbuthnot’s flagship, the armoured cruiser HMS Defence, and her squadron-mate HMS Warrior both charged across Beatty’s bows, and Lion narrowly avoided a collision with Warrior. Nearby, numerous British light cruisers and destroyers on the south-western flank of the deploying battleships were also crossing each other’s courses in attempts to reach their proper stations, often barely escaping collisions, and under fire from some of the approaching German ships. This period of peril and heavy traffic attending the merger and deployment of the British forces later became known as “Windy Corner”.

Arbuthnot was attracted by the drifting hull of the crippled Wiesbaden. With Warrior, Defence closed in for the kill, only to blunder right into the gun sights of Hipper’s and Scheer’s oncoming capital ships. Defence was deluged by heavy-calibre gunfire from many German battleships, which detonated her magazines in a spectacular explosion viewed by most of the deploying Grand Fleet. She sank with all hands (903 officers and men). Warrior was also hit badly, but was spared destruction by a mishap to the nearby battleship Warspite. Warspite had her steering gear overheat and jam under heavy load at high speed as the 5th Battle Squadron made a turn to the north at 18:19. Steaming at top speed in wide circles, Warspite attracted the attention of German dreadnoughts and took 13 hits, inadvertently drawing fire away from the hapless Warrior. Warspite was brought back under control and survived the onslaught, but was badly damaged, had to reduce speed, and withdrew northward; later (at 21:07), she was ordered back to port by Evan-Thomas. Warspite went on to a long and illustrious career, serving also in World War II. Warrior, on the other hand, was abandoned and sank the next day after her crew was taken off at 08:25 on 1 June by Engadine, which towed the sinking armoured cruiser 100 mi (87 nmi; 160 km) during the night.

As Defence sank and Warspite circled, at about 18:19, Hipper moved within range of Hood’s 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron, but was still also within range of Beatty’s ships. At first, visibility favoured the British: HMS Indomitable hit Derfflinger three times and Seydlitz once, while Lützow quickly took 10 hits from Lion, Inflexible and Invincible, including two below-waterline hits forward by Invincible that would ultimately doom Hipper’s flagship. But at 18:30, Invincible abruptly appeared as a clear target before Lützow and Derfflinger. The two German ships then fired three salvoes each at Invincible, and sank her in 90 seconds. A 30.5 cm (12.0 in) shell from the third salvo struck Invincible’s Q-turret amidships, detonating the magazines below and causing her to blow up and sink. All but six of her crew of 1,032 officers and men, including Rear-Admiral Hood, were killed. Of the remaining British battlecruisers, only Princess Royal received heavy-calibre hits at this time (two 30.5 cm (12.0 in) by the battleship Markgraf). Lützow, flooding forward and unable to communicate by radio, was now out of action and began to attempt to withdraw; therefore Hipper left his flagship and transferred to the torpedo boat SMS G39, hoping to board one of the other battlecruisers later.

Crossing the T

By 18:30, the main battle fleet action was joined for the first time, with Jellicoe effectively “crossing Scheer’s T”. The officers on the lead German battleships, and Scheer himself, were taken completely by surprise when they emerged from drifting clouds of smoky mist to suddenly find themselves facing the massed firepower of the entire Grand Fleet main battle line, which they did not know was even at sea. Jellicoe’s flagship Iron Duke quickly scored seven hits on the lead German dreadnought, SMS König, but in this brief exchange, which lasted only minutes, as few as 10 of the Grand Fleet’s 24 dreadnoughts actually opened fire. The Germans were hampered by poor visibility, in addition to being in an unfavourable tactical position, just as Jellicoe had intended. Realising he was heading into a death trap, Scheer ordered his fleet to turn and disengage at 18:33. Under a pall of smoke and mist, Scheer’s forces succeeded in disengaging by an expertly executed 180° turn in unison (“battle about turn to starboard”, German Gefechtskehrtwendung nach Steuerbord), which was a well-practised emergency manoeuvre of the High Seas Fleet. Scheer declared:

It was now obvious that we were confronted by a large portion of the English fleet. The entire arc stretching from north to east was a sea of fire. The flash from the muzzles of the guns was seen distinctly through the mist and smoke on the horizon, although the ships themselves were not distinguishable.

Conscious of the risks to his capital ships posed by torpedoes, Jellicoe did not chase directly but headed south, determined to keep the High Seas Fleet west of him. Starting at 18:40, battleships at the rear of Jellicoe’s line were in fact sighting and avoiding torpedoes, and at 18:54 HMS Marlborough was hit by a torpedo (probably from the disabled Wiesbaden), which reduced her speed to 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph). Meanwhile, Scheer, knowing that it was not yet dark enough to escape and that his fleet would suffer terribly in a stern chase, doubled back to the east at 18:55. In his memoirs he wrote, “the manoeuvre would be bound to surprise the enemy, to upset his plans for the rest of the day, and if the blow fell heavily it would facilitate the breaking loose at night.” But the turn to the east took his ships, again, directly towards Jellicoe’s fully deployed battle line.

Simultaneously, the disabled British destroyer HMS Shark fought desperately against a group of four German torpedo boats and disabled V48 with gunfire, but was eventually torpedoed and sunk at 19:02 by the German destroyer S54. Shark’s Captain Loftus Jones was awarded the Victoria Cross for his heroism in continuing to fight against all odds.

Turn Of The Battle

Commodore Goodenough’s 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron dodged the fire of German battleships for a second time to re-establish contact with the High Seas Fleet shortly after 19:00. By 19:15, Jellicoe had crossed Scheer’s “T” again. This time his arc of fire was tighter and deadlier, causing severe damage to the German battleships, particularly Rear-Admiral Behncke’s leading 3rd Squadron (SMS König, Grosser Kurfürst, Markgraf, and Kaiser all being hit, along with SMS Helgoland of the 1st Squadron), while on the British side, only the battleship HMS Colossus was hit (twice, by Seydlitz but with little damage done).

At 19:17, for the second time in less than an hour, Scheer turned his outnumbered and out-gunned fleet to the west using the “battle about turn” (German: Gefechtskehrtwendung), but this time it was executed only with difficulty, as the High Seas Fleet’s lead squadrons began to lose formation under concentrated gunfire. To deter a British chase, Scheer ordered a major torpedo attack by his destroyers and a potentially sacrificial charge by Scouting Group I’s four remaining battlecruisers. Hipper was still aboard the torpedo boat G39 and was unable to command his squadron for this attack. Therefore, Derfflinger, under Captain Hartog, led the already badly damaged German battlecruisers directly into “the greatest concentration of naval gunfire any fleet commander had ever faced”, at ranges down to 4 mi (3.5 nmi; 6.4 km).

In what became known as the “death ride”, all the battlecruisers except Moltke were hit and further damaged, as 18 of the British battleships fired at them simultaneously. Derfflinger had two main gun turrets destroyed. The crews of Scouting Group I suffered heavy casualties, but survived the pounding and veered away with the other battlecruisers once Scheer was out of trouble and the German destroyers were moving in to attack. In this brief but intense portion of the engagement, from about 19:05 to about 19:30, the Germans sustained a total of 37 heavy hits while inflicting only two; Derfflinger alone received 14.

While his battlecruisers drew the fire of the British fleet, Scheer slipped away, laying smoke screens. Meanwhile, from about 19:16 to about 19:40, the British battleships were also engaging Scheer’s torpedo boats, which executed several waves of torpedo attacks to cover his withdrawal. Jellicoe’s ships turned away from the attacks and successfully evaded all 31 of the torpedoes launched at them – though, in several cases, only barely – and sank the German destroyer S35, attributed to a salvo from Iron Duke. British light forces also sank V48, which had previously been disabled by HMS Shark. This action, and the turn away, cost the British critical time and range in the last hour of daylight – as Scheer intended, allowing him to get his heavy ships out of immediate danger.

The last major exchanges between capital ships in this battle – and in the war – took place just after sunset, from about 20:19 to about 20:35, as the surviving British battlecruisers caught up with their German counterparts, which were briefly relieved by Rear-Admiral Mauve’s obsolete pre-dreadnoughts (the German 2nd Squadron). The British received one heavy hit on Princess Royal but scored five more on Seydlitz and three on other German ships. As twilight faded to night, HMS King George V exchanged a few final shots with SMS Westfalen. [citation needed]

Night action and German withdrawal

At 21:00, Jellicoe, conscious of the Grand Fleet’s deficiencies in night fighting, decided to try to avoid a major engagement until early dawn. He placed a screen of cruisers and destroyers 5 mi (4.3 nmi; 8.0 km) behind his battle fleet to patrol the rear as he headed south to guard Scheer’s expected escape route. In reality, Scheer opted to cross Jellicoe’s wake and escape via Horns Reef. Luckily for Scheer, most of the light forces in Jellicoe’s rearguard failed to report the seven separate encounters with the German fleet during the night; the very few radio reports that were sent to the British flagship were never received, possibly because the Germans were jamming British frequencies. Many of the destroyers failed to make the most of their opportunities to attack discovered ships, despite Jellicoe’s expectations that the destroyer forces would, if necessary, be able to block the path of the German fleet.

Jellicoe and his commanders did not understand that the furious gunfire and explosions to the north (seen and heard for hours by all the British battleships) indicated that the German heavy ships were breaking through the screen astern of the British fleet. Instead, it was believed that the fighting was the result of night attacks by German destroyers. The most powerful British ships of all (the 15-inch-guns of the 5th Battle Squadron) directly observed German battleships crossing astern of them in action with British light forces, at ranges of 3 mi (2.6 nmi; 4.8 km) or less, and gunners on HMS Malaya made ready to fire, but her captain declined, deferring to the authority of Rear-Admiral Evan-Thomas – and neither commander reported the sightings to Jellicoe, assuming that he could see for himself and that revealing the fleet’s position by radio signals or gunfire was unwise.

While the nature of Scheer’s escape, and Jellicoe’s inaction, indicate the overall German superiority in night fighting, the results of the night action were no more clear-cut than were those of the battle as a whole. In the first of many surprise encounters by darkened ships at point-blank range, Southampton, Commodore Goodenough’s flagship, which had scouted so proficiently, was heavily damaged in action with a German Scouting Group composed of light cruisers, but managed to torpedo SMS Frauenlob, which went down at 22:23 with all but 9 hands (320 officers and men).

From 23:20 to approximately 02:15, several British destroyer flotillas launched torpedo attacks on the German battle fleet in a series of violent and chaotic engagements at extremely short range (often under 0.5 mi (0.80 km)). At the cost of five destroyers sunk and some others damaged, they managed to torpedo the light cruiser SMS Rostock, which sank several hours later, and the pre-dreadnought SMS Pommern, which blew up and sank with all hands (839 officers and men) at 03:10 during the last wave of attacks before dawn. Three of the British destroyers collided in the chaos, and the German battleship SMS Nassau rammed the British destroyer HMS Spitfire, blowing away most of the British ship’s superstructure merely with the muzzle blast of its big guns, which could not be aimed low enough to hit the ship. Nassau was left with an 11 ft (3.4 m) hole in her side, reducing her maximum speed to 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph), while the removed plating was left lying on Spitfire’s deck. Spitfire survived and made it back to port. Another German cruiser, Elbing, was accidentally rammed by the dreadnought Posen and abandoned, sinking early the next day. Of the British destroyers, HMS Tipperary, Ardent, Fortune, Sparrowhawk and Turbulent were lost during the night fighting.

Just after midnight on 1 June, SMS Thüringen and other German battleships sank Black Prince of the ill-fated 1st Cruiser Squadron, which had blundered into the German battle line. Deployed as part of a screening force several miles ahead of the main force of the Grand Fleet, Black Prince had lost contact in the darkness and took a position near what she thought was the British line. The Germans soon identified the new addition to their line and opened fire. Overwhelmed by point-blank gunfire, Black Prince blew up (all 857 officers and men were lost), as her squadron leader Defence had done hours earlier. Lost in the darkness, the battlecruisers Moltke and Seydlitz had similar point-blank encounters with the British battle line and were recognised, but were spared the fate of Black Prince when the captains of the British ships, again, declined to open fire, reluctant to reveal their fleet’s position.

At 01:45, the sinking battlecruiser Lützow – fatally damaged by Invincible during the main action – was torpedoed by the destroyer G38 on orders of Lützow’s Captain Viktor von Harder after the surviving crew of 1,150 transferred to destroyers that came alongside. At 02:15, the German torpedo boat V4 suddenly had its bow blown off; V2 and V6 came alongside and took off the remaining crew, and the V2 then sank the hulk. Since there was no enemy nearby, it was assumed that she had hit a mine or had been torpedoed by a submarine.

At 02:15, five British ships of the 13th Destroyer Flotilla under Captain James Uchtred Farie regrouped and headed south. At 02:25, they sighted the rear of the German line. HMS Marksman inquired of the leader Champion as to whether he thought they were British or German ships. Answering that he thought they were German, Farie then veered off to the east and away from the German line. All but Moresby in the rear followed, as through the gloom she sighted what she thought were four pre-dreadnought battleships 2 mi (1.7 nmi; 3.2 km) away. She hoisted a flag signal indicating that the enemy was to the west and then closed to firing range, letting off a torpedo set for high running at 02:37, then veering off to rejoin her flotilla. The four pre-dreadnought battleships were in fact two pre-dreadnoughts, Schleswig-Holstein and Schlesien, and the battlecruisers Von der Tann and Derfflinger. Von der Tann sighted the torpedo and was forced to steer sharply to starboard to avoid it as it passed close to her bows. Moresby rejoined Champion convinced she had scored a hit.

Finally, at 05:20, as Scheer’s fleet was safely on its way home, the battleship SMS Ostfriesland struck a British mine on her starboard side, killing one man and wounding ten, but was able to make port. Seydlitz, critically damaged and very nearly sinking, barely survived the return voyage: after grounding and taking on even more water on the evening of 1 June, she had to be assisted stern first into port, where she dropped anchor at 07:30 on the morning of 2 June.

The Germans were helped in their escape by the failure of the British Admiralty in London to pass on seven critical radio intercepts obtained by naval intelligence indicating the true position, course and intentions of the High Seas Fleet during the night. One message was transmitted to Jellicoe at 23:15 that accurately reported the German fleet’s course and speed as of 21:14. However, the erroneous signal from earlier in the day that reported the German fleet still in port, and an intelligence signal received at 22:45 giving another unlikely position for the German fleet, had reduced his confidence in intelligence reports. Had the other messages been forwarded, which confirmed the information received at 23:15, or had British ships reported accurately sightings and engagements with German destroyers, cruisers and battleships, then Jellicoe could have altered course to intercept Scheer at the Horns Reef. The unsent intercepted messages had been duly filed by the junior officer left on duty that night, who failed to appreciate their significance. By the time Jellicoe finally learned of Scheer’s whereabouts at 04:15, the German fleet was too far away to catch and it was clear that the battle could no longer be resumed.


As both the Grand Fleet and the High Seas Fleet could claim to have at least partially satisfied their objectives, both Britain and Germany have at various points claimed victory in the Battle of Jutland. There is no consensus over which nation was victorious, or if there was a victor at all.


At midday on 2 June, German authorities released a press statement claiming a victory, including the destruction of a battleship, two battlecruisers, two armoured cruisers, a light cruiser, a submarine and several destroyers, for the loss of Pommern and Wiesbaden. News that Lützow, Elbing and Rostock had been scuttled was withheld, on the grounds this information would not be known to the enemy. The victory of the Skagerrak was celebrated in the press, children were given a holiday and the nation celebrated. The Kaiser announced a new chapter in world history. Post-war, the official German history hailed the battle as a victory and it continued to be celebrated until after World War II.

In Britain, the first official news came from German wireless broadcasts. Ships began to arrive in port, their crews sending messages to friends and relatives both of their survival and the loss of some 6,000 others. The authorities considered suppressing the news, but it had already spread widely. Some crews coming ashore found rumours had already reported them dead to relatives, while others were jeered for the defeat they had suffered. At 19:00 on 2 June, the Admiralty released a statement based on information from Jellicoe containing the bare news of losses on each side. The following day British newspapers reported a German victory. The Daily Mirror described the German Director of the Naval Department telling the Reichstag: “The result of the fighting is a significant success for our forces against a much stronger adversary”. The British population was shocked that the long anticipated battle had been a victory for Germany. On 3 June, the Admiralty issued a further statement expanding on German losses, and another the following day with exaggerated claims. However, on 7 June the German admission of the losses of Lützow and Rostock started to redress the sense of the battle as a loss. International perception of the battle began to change towards a qualified British victory, the German attempt to change the balance of power in the North Sea having been repulsed. In July, bad news from the Somme campaign swept concern over Jutland from the British consciousness.


At Jutland, the Germans, with a 99-strong fleet, sank 115,000 long tons (117,000 t) of British ships, while a 151-strong British fleet sank 62,000 long tons (63,000 t) of German ships. The British lost 6,094 seamen; the Germans 2,551. Several other ships were badly damaged, such as Lion and Seydlitz.

As of the summer of 1916, the High Seas Fleet’s strategy was to whittle away the numerical advantage of the Royal Navy by bringing its full strength to bear against isolated squadrons of enemy capital ships whilst declining to be drawn into a general fleet battle until it had achieved something resembling parity in heavy ships. In tactical terms, the High Seas Fleet had clearly inflicted significantly greater losses on the Grand Fleet than it had suffered itself at Jutland, and the Germans never had any intention of attempting to hold the site of the battle, so some historians support the German claim of victory at Jutland.

However, Scheer seems to have quickly realised that further battles with a similar rate of attrition would exhaust the High Seas Fleet long before they reduced the Grand Fleet. Further, after the 19 August advance was nearly intercepted by the Grand Fleet, he no longer believed that it would be possible to trap a single squadron of Royal Navy warships without having the Grand Fleet intervene before he could return to port. Therefore, the High Seas Fleet abandoned its forays into the North Sea and turned its attention to the Baltic for most of 1917 whilst Scheer switched tactics against Britain to unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic.

At a strategic level, the outcome has been the subject of a huge amount of literature with no clear consensus. The battle was widely viewed as indecisive in the immediate aftermath, and this view remains influential.

Despite numerical superiority, the British had been disappointed in their hopes for a decisive battle  comparable to Trafalgar and the objective of the influential strategic doctrines of Alfred Mahan. The High Seas Fleet survived as a fleet in being. Most of its losses were made good within a month – even Seydlitz, the most badly damaged ship to survive the battle, was repaired by October and officially back in service by November. However, the Germans had failed in their objective of destroying a substantial portion of the British Fleet, and no progress had been made towards the goal of allowing the High Seas Fleet to operate in the Atlantic Ocean.

Subsequently, there has been considerable support for the view of Jutland as a strategic victory for the British. While the British had not destroyed the German fleet and had lost more ships and lives than their enemy, the Germans had retreated to harbour; at the end of the battle, the British were in command of the area. Britain enforced the blockade, reducing Germany’s vital imports to 55%, affecting the ability of Germany to fight the war.

The German fleet would only sortie into the North Sea thrice more, with a raid on 19 August, one in October 1916, and another in April 1918. All three were unopposed by capital ships and quickly aborted as neither side was prepared to take the risks of mines and submarines.

Apart from these three abortive operations the High Seas Fleet – unwilling to risk another encounter with the British fleet – confined its activities to the Baltic Sea for the remainder of the war. Jellicoe issued an order prohibiting the Grand Fleet from steaming south of the line of Horns Reef owing to the threat of mines and U-boats. A German naval expert, writing publicly about Jutland in November 1918, commented, “Our Fleet losses were severe. On 1 June 1916, it was clear to every thinking person that this battle must, and would be, the last one”.

There is also significant support for viewing the battle as a German tactical victory, due to the much higher losses sustained by the British. The Germans declared a great victory immediately afterwards, while the British by contrast had only reported short and simple results. In response to public outrage, the First Lord of the Admiralty Arthur Balfour asked Winston Churchill to write a second report that was more positive and detailed.

At the end of the battle, the British had maintained their numerical superiority and had 23 dreadnoughts ready and four battlecruisers still able to fight, while the Germans had only 10 dreadnoughts. One month after the battle, the Grand Fleet was stronger than it had been before sailing to Jutland. Warspite was dry-docked at Rosyth, returning to the fleet on 22 July, while Malaya was repaired in the floating dock at Invergordon, returning to duty on 11 July. Barham was docked for a month at Devonport before undergoing speed trials and returning to Scapa Flow on 8 July. Princess Royal stayed initially at Rosyth but transferred to dry dock at Portsmouth before returning to duty at Rosyth 21 July. Tiger was dry-docked at Rosyth and ready for service 2 July. Queen Elizabeth, Emperor of India and HMAS Australia, which had been undergoing maintenance at the time of the battle, returned to the fleet immediately, followed shortly after by Resolution and Ramillies. Lion initially remained ready for sea duty despite the damaged turret, then underwent a month’s repairs in July when Q turret was removed temporarily and replaced in September.

A third view, presented in a number of recent evaluations, is that Jutland, the last major fleet action between battleships, illustrated the irrelevance of battleship fleets following the development of the submarine, mine and torpedo. In this view, the most important consequence of Jutland was the decision of the Germans to engage in unrestricted submarine warfare. Although large numbers of battleships were constructed in the decades between the wars, it has been argued that this outcome reflected the social dominance among naval decision-makers of battleship advocates who constrained technological choices to fit traditional paradigms of fleet action. Battleships played a relatively minor role in World War II, in which the submarine and aircraft carrier emerged as the dominant offensive weapons of naval warfare.

British self-critique

The official British Admiralty examination of the Grand Fleet’s performance recognised two main problems:

British armour-piercing shells exploded outside the German armour rather than penetrating and exploding within. As a result, some German ships with only 8 in (20 cm)-thick armour survived hits from 15-inch (38 cm) projectiles. Had these shells penetrated the armour and then exploded, German losses would probably have been far greater.

Communication between ships and the British commander-in-chief was comparatively poor. For most of the battle, Jellicoe had no idea where the German ships were, even though British ships were in contact. They failed to report enemy positions, contrary to the Grand Fleet’s Battle Plan. Some of the most important signalling was carried out solely by flag instead of wireless or using redundant methods to ensure communications—a questionable procedure, given the mixture of haze and smoke that obscured the battlefield, and a foreshadowing of similar failures by habit-bound and conservatively minded professional officers of rank to take advantage of new technology in World War II. 

Shell performance

German armour-piercing shells were far more effective than the British ones, which often failed to penetrate heavy armour. The issue particularly concerned shells striking at oblique angles, which became increasingly the case at long range. Germany had adopted trinitrotoluene (TNT) as the explosive filler for artillery shells in 1902, while the United Kingdom was still using a picric acid mixture (Lyddite). The shock of impact of a shell against armour often prematurely detonated Lyddite in advance of fuze function while TNT detonation could be delayed until after the shell had penetrated and the fuze had functioned in the vulnerable area behind the armour plate. Some 17 British shells hit the side armour of the German dreadnoughts or battlecruisers. Of these, four would not have penetrated under any circumstances. Of the remaining 13, one penetrated the armour and exploded inside. This showed a 7.5% chance of proper shell function on the British side, a result of overly brittle shells and Lyddite exploding too soon.

The issue of poorly performing shells had been known to Jellicoe, who as Third Sea Lord from 1908 to 1910 had ordered new shells to be designed. However, the matter had not been followed through after his posting to sea and new shells had never been thoroughly tested. Beatty discovered the problem at a party aboard Lion a short time after the battle, when a Swedish Naval officer was present. He had recently visited Berlin, where the German navy had scoffed at how British shells had broken up on their ships’ armour. The question of shell effectiveness had also been raised after the Battle of Dogger Bank, but no action had been taken. Hipper later commented, “It was nothing but the poor quality of their bursting charges which saved us from disaster.”

Admiral Dreyer, writing later about the battle, during which he had been captain of the British flagship Iron Duke, estimated that effective shells as later introduced would have led to the sinking of six more German capital ships, based upon the actual number of hits achieved in the battle. The system of testing shells, which remained in use up to 1944, meant that, statistically, a batch of shells of which 70% were faulty stood an even chance of being accepted. Indeed, even shells that failed this relatively mild test had still been issued to ships. Analysis of the test results afterwards by the Ordnance Board suggested the likelihood that 30–70% of shells would not have passed the standard penetration test specified by the Admiralty.

Efforts to replace the shells were initially resisted by the Admiralty, and action was not taken until Jellicoe became First Sea Lord in December 1916. As an initial response, the worst of the existing shells were withdrawn from ships in early 1917 and replaced from reserve supplies. New shells were designed, but did not arrive until April 1918, and were never used in action.

Battlecruiser losses

British battlecruisers were designed to chase and destroy enemy cruisers from out of the range of those ships. They were not designed to be ships of the line and exchange broadsides with the enemy. One German and three British battlecruisers were sunk—but none were destroyed by enemy shells penetrating the belt armour and detonating the magazines. Each of the British battlecruisers was penetrated through a turret roof and their magazines ignited by flash fires passing through the turret and shell-handling rooms. Lützow sustained 24 hits and her flooding could not be contained. She was eventually sunk by her escorts’ torpedoes after most of her crew had been safely removed (though six trapped stokers died when the ship was scuttled). Derfflinger and Seydlitz sustained 22 hits each but reached port (although in Seydlitz’s case only just).

The disturbing feature of the battlecruiser action is the fact that five German battle-cruisers engaging six British vessels of this class, supported after the first twenty minutes, although at great range, by the fire of four battleships of the “Queen Elizabeth” class, were yet able to sink ‘Queen Mary’ and ‘Indefatigable’….The facts which contributed to the British losses, first, were the indifferent armour protection of our battle-cruisers, particularly as regards turret armour, and, second, deck plating and the disadvantage under which our vessels laboured in regard to the light. Of this there can be no question. But it is also undoubted that the gunnery of the German battle-cruisers in the early stages was of a very high standard.

— Sir John Jellicoe, Jellicoe’s official despatch

Jellicoe and Beatty, as well as other senior officers, gave an impression that the loss of the battlecruisers was caused by weak armour, despite reports by two committees and earlier statements by Jellicoe and other senior officers that Cordite and its management were to blame. This led to calls for armour to be increased, and an additional 1 in (2.5 cm) was placed over the relatively thin decks above magazines. To compensate for the increase in weight, ships had to carry correspondingly less fuel, water and other supplies. Whether or not thin deck armour was a potential weakness of British ships, the battle provided no evidence that it was the case. At least amongst the surviving ships, no enemy shell was found to have penetrated deck armour anywhere. The design of the new battlecruiser HMS Hood (which was being built at the time of the battle) was altered to give her 5,000 long tons (5,100 t) of additional armour.

Ammunition handling

British and German propellant charges differed in packaging, handling, and chemistry. The British propellant was of two types, MK1 and MD. The Mark 1 cordite had a formula of 37% nitrocellulose, 58% nitroglycerine, and 5% petroleum jelly. It was a good propellant but burned hot and caused an erosion problem in gun barrels. The petroleum jelly served as both a lubricant and a stabiliser. Cordite MD was developed to reduce barrel wear, its formula being 65% nitrocellulose, 30% nitroglycerine, and 5% petroleum jelly. While cordite MD solved the gun-barrel erosion issue, it did nothing to improve its storage properties, which were poor. Cordite was very sensitive to variations of temperature, and acid propagation/cordite deterioration would take place at a very rapid rate. Cordite MD also shed micro-dust particles of nitrocellulose and iron pyrite. While cordite propellant was manageable, it required a vigilant gunnery officer, strict cordite lot control, and frequent testing of the cordite lots in the ships’ magazines.

British cordite propellant (when uncased and exposed in the silk bag) tended to burn violently, causing uncontrollable “flash fires” when ignited by nearby shell hits. In 1945, a test was conducted by the U.S.N. Bureau of Ordnance (Bulletin of Ordnance Information, No.245, pp. 54–60) testing the sensitivity of cordite to then-current U.S. Naval propellant powders against a measurable and repeatable flash source. It found that cordite would ignite at 530 mm (21 in) from the flash, the current U.S. powder at 120 mm (4.7 in), and the U.S. flashless powder at 25 mm (0.98 in).

This meant that about 75 times the propellant would immediately ignite when exposed to flash, as compared to the U.S. powder. British ships had inadequate protection against these flash fires. German propellant (RP C/12, handled in brass cartridge cases, which were used in German artillery since traditional there sliding wedge breeches were hard to obturate with smokeless powder otherwise) was less vulnerable and less volatile in composition. German propellants were not that different in composition from cordite—with one major exception: centralite. This was symmetrical diethyl diphenyl urea, which served as a stabiliser that was superior to the petroleum jelly used in British practice. It stored better and burned but did not explode. Stored and used in brass cases, it proved much less sensitive to flash. RP C/12 was composed of 64.13% nitrocellulose, 29.77% nitroglycerine, 5.75% centralite, 0.25% magnesium oxide and 0.10% graphite.

The Royal Navy Battle Cruiser Fleet had also emphasised speed in ammunition handling over established safety protocol. In practice drills, cordite could not be supplied to the guns rapidly enough through the hoists and hatches. To bring up the propellant in good time to load for the next broadside, many safety doors were kept open that should have been shut to safeguard against flash fires. Bags of cordite were also stocked and kept locally, creating a total breakdown of safety design features. By staging charges in the chambers between the gun turret and magazine, the Royal Navy enhanced their rate of fire but left their ships vulnerable to chain reaction ammunition fires and magazine explosions. This ‘bad safety habit’ carried over into real battle practices. Furthermore, the doctrine of a high rate of fire also led to the decision in 1913 to increase the supply of shells and cordite held on the British ships by 50%, for fear of running out of ammunition. When this exceeded the capacity of the ships’ magazines, cordite was stored in insecure places.

The British cordite charges were stored two silk bags to a metal cylindrical container, with a 16-oz gunpowder igniter charge, which was covered with a thick paper wad, four charges being used on each projectile. The gun crews were removing the charges from their containers and removing the paper covering over the gunpowder igniter charges. The effect of having eight loads at the ready was to have 4 short tons (3,600 kg) of exposed explosive, with each charge leaking small amounts of gunpowder from the igniter bags. In effect, the gun crews had laid an explosive train from the turret to the magazines, and one shell hit to a battlecruiser turret was enough to end a ship.

A diving expedition during the summer of 2003 provided corroboration of this practice. It examined the wrecks of Invincible, Queen Mary, Defence, and Lützow to investigate the cause of the British ships’ tendency to suffer from internal explosions. From this evidence, a major part of the blame may be laid on lax handling of the cordite propellant for the shells of the main guns. The wreck of the Queen Mary revealed cordite containers stacked in the working chamber of the X turret instead of the magazine.

There was a further difference in the propellant itself. While the German RP C/12 burned when exposed to fire, it did not explode, as opposed to cordite. RP C/12 was extensively studied by the British and, after World War I, would form the basis of the later Cordite SC.

The memoirs of Alexander Grant, Gunner on Lion, suggest that some British officers were aware of the dangers of careless handling of cordite:

With the introduction of cordite to replace powder for firing guns, regulations regarding the necessary precautions for handling explosives became unconsciously considerably relaxed, even I regret to say, to a dangerous degree throughout the Service. The gradual lapse in the regulations on board ship seemed to be due to two factors. First, cordite is a much safer explosive to handle than gun-powder. Second, but more important, the altered construction of the magazines on board led to a feeling of false security….The iron or steel deck, the disappearance of the wood lining, the electric lights fitted inside, the steel doors, open because there was now no chute for passing cartridges out; all this gave officers and men a comparative easiness of mind regarding the precautions necessary with explosive material.

Grant had already introduced measures onboard Lion to limit the number of cartridges kept outside the magazine and to ensure doors were kept closed, probably contributing to her survival.

On 5 June 1916, the First Lord of the Admiralty advised Cabinet Members that the three battlecruisers had been lost due to unsafe cordite management.

After the battle, the B.C.F. Gunnery Committee issued a report (at the command of Admiral David Beatty) advocating immediate changes in flash protection and charge handling. It reported, among other things, that:

Some vent plates in magazines allowed flash into the magazines and should be retro-fitted to a new standard.

Bulkheads in HMS Lion’s magazine showed buckling from fire under pressure (overpressure) – despite being flooded and therefore supported by water pressure – and must be made stronger.

Doors opening inward to magazines were an extreme danger.

Current designs of turrets could not eliminate flash from shell bursts in the turret from reaching the handling rooms.

Ignition pads must not be attached to charges but instead be placed just before ramming.

Better methods must be found for safe storage of ready charges than the current method.

Some method for rapidly drowning charges already in the handling path must be devised.

Handling scuttles (special flash-proof fittings for moving propellant charges through ship’s bulkheads), designed to handle overpressure, must be fitted.


British gunnery control systems, based on Dreyer tables, were well in advance of the German ones, as demonstrated by the proportion of main calibre hits made on the German fleet. Because of its demonstrated advantages, it was installed on ships progressively as the war went on, had been fitted to a majority of British capital ships by May 1916, and had been installed on the main guns of all but two of the Grand Fleet’s capital ships. The Royal Navy used centralised fire-control systems on their capital ships, directed from a point high up on the ship where the fall of shells could best be seen, utilising a director sight for both training and elevating the guns. In contrast, the German battlecruisers controlled the fire of turrets using a training-only director, which also did not fire the guns at once. The rest of the German capital ships were without even this innovation. German range-finding equipment was generally superior to the British 9 ft (2.7 m) FT24, as its operators were trained to a higher standard due to the complexity of the Zeiss 3 m (9.8 ft) range finders. Their stereoscopic design meant that in certain conditions they could range on a target enshrouded by smoke. The German equipment was not superior in range to the British Barr & Stroud 15 ft (4.6 m) rangefinder found in the newest British capital ships, and, unlike the British range finders, the German range takers had to be replaced as often as every thirty minutes, as their eyesight became impaired, affecting the ranges provided to their gunnery equipment.

The results of the battle confirmed the value of firing guns by centralised director. The battle prompted the Royal Navy to install director firing systems in cruisers and destroyers, where it had not thus far been used, and for secondary armament on battleships.

German ships were considered to have been quicker in determining the correct range to targets, thus obtaining an early advantage. The British used a ‘bracket system’, whereby a salvo was fired at the best-guess range and, depending where it landed, the range was progressively corrected up or down until successive shots were landing in front of and behind the enemy. The Germans used a ‘ladder system’, whereby an initial volley of three shots at different ranges was used, with the centre shot at the best-guess range. The ladder system allowed the gunners to get ranging information from the three shots more quickly than the bracket system, which required waiting between shots to see how the last had landed. British ships adopted the German system.

It was determined that 9-foot (2.7 m) range finders of the sort issued to most British ships were not adequate at long range and did not perform as well as the 15-foot (4.6 m) range finders on some of the most modern ships. In 1917, range finders of base lengths of 25 and 30 ft (7.6 and 9.1 m) were introduced on the battleships to improve accuracy.


Throughout the battle, British ships experienced difficulties with communications, whereas the Germans did not suffer such problems. The British preferred signalling using ship-to-ship flag and lamp signals, avoiding wireless, whereas the Germans used wireless successfully. One conclusion drawn was that flag signals were not a satisfactory way to control the fleet. Experience using lamps, particularly at night when issuing challenges to other ships, demonstrated this was an excellent way to advertise your precise location to an enemy, inviting a reply by gunfire. Recognition signals by lamp, once seen, could also easily be copied in future engagements.

British ships both failed to report engagements with the enemy but also, in the case of cruisers and destroyers, failed to actively seek out the enemy. A culture had arisen within the fleet of not acting without orders, which could prove fatal when any circumstances prevented orders being sent or received. Commanders failed to engage the enemy because they believed other, more senior officers must also be aware of the enemy nearby, and would have given orders to act if this was expected. Wireless, the most direct way to pass messages across the fleet (although it was being jammed by German ships), was avoided either for perceived reasons of not giving away the presence of ships or for fear of cluttering up the airwaves with unnecessary reports.

Fleet Standing Orders

Naval operations were governed by standing orders issued to all the ships. These attempted to set out what ships should do in all circumstances, particularly in situations where ships would have to react without referring to higher authority, or when communications failed. A number of changes were introduced as a result of experience gained in the battle.

A new signal was introduced instructing squadron commanders to act independently as they thought best while still supporting the main fleet, particularly for use when circumstances would make it difficult to send detailed orders. The description stressed that this was not intended to be the only time commanders might take independent action, but was intended to make plain times when they definitely should. Similarly, instructions on what to do if the fleet was instructed to take evasive action against torpedoes were amended. Commanders were given discretion that if their part of the fleet was not under immediate attack, they should continue engaging the enemy rather than turning away with the rest of the fleet. In this battle, when the fleet turned away from Scheer’s destroyer attack covering his retreat, not all the British ships had been affected, and could have continued to engage the enemy.

A number of opportunities to attack enemy ships by torpedo had presented themselves but had been missed. All ships, not just the destroyers armed principally with torpedoes but also battleships, were reminded that they carried torpedoes intended to be used whenever an opportunity arose. Destroyers were instructed to close the enemy fleet to fire torpedoes as soon as engagements between the main ships on either side would keep enemy guns busy directed at larger targets. Destroyers should also be ready to immediately engage enemy destroyers if they should launch an attack, endeavouring to disrupt their chances of launching torpedoes and keep them away from the main fleet.

To add some flexibility when deploying for attack, a new signal was provided for deploying the fleet to the centre, rather than as previously only either to left or right of the standard closed-up formation for travelling. The fast and powerful 5th Battle Squadron was moved to the front of the cruising formation so it would have the option of deploying left or right depending upon the enemy position. In the event of engagements at night, although the fleet still preferred to avoid night fighting, a destroyer and cruiser squadron would be specifically detailed to seek out the enemy and launch destroyer attacks.


At the time, Jellicoe was criticised for his caution and for allowing Scheer to escape. Beatty, in particular, was convinced that Jellicoe had missed a tremendous opportunity to annihilate the High Seas Fleet and win what would amount to another Trafalgar. Jellicoe was promoted away from active command to become First Sea Lord, the professional head of the Royal Navy, while Beatty replaced him as commander of the Grand Fleet.

The controversy raged within the navy and in public for about a decade after the war. Criticism focused on Jellicoe’s decision at 19:15. Scheer had ordered his cruisers and destroyers forward in a torpedo attack to cover the turning away of his battleships. Jellicoe chose to turn to the south-east, and so keep out of range of the torpedoes. Supporters of Jellicoe, including the historian Cyril Falls, pointed to the folly of risking defeat in battle when one already has command of the sea. Jellicoe himself, in a letter to the Admiralty seventeen months before the battle, said that he intended to turn his fleet away from any mass torpedo attack (that being the universally accepted proper tactical response to such attacks, practised by all the major navies of the world). He said that, in the event of a fleet engagement in which the enemy turned away, he would assume they intended to draw him over mines or submarines, and he would decline to be so drawn. The Admiralty approved this plan and expressed full confidence in Jellicoe at the time (October 1914).

The stakes were high, the pressure on Jellicoe immense, and his caution certainly understandable. His judgement might have been that even 90% odds in favour were not good enough to bet the British Empire. Churchill said of the battle that Jellicoe “was the only man on either side who could have lost the war in an afternoon.”

The criticism of Jellicoe also fails to sufficiently credit Scheer, who was determined to preserve his fleet by avoiding the full British battle line, and who showed great skill in effecting his escape.

Beatty’s actions

On the other hand, some of Jellicoe’s supporters condemned the actions of Beatty for the British failure to achieve a complete victory. Although Beatty was undeniably brave, his mismanagement of the initial encounter with Hipper’s squadron and the High Seas Fleet cost him a considerable advantage in the first hours of the battle. His most glaring failure was in not providing Jellicoe with periodic information on the position, course, and speed of the High Seas Fleet. Beatty, aboard the battlecruiser Lion, left behind the four fast battleships of the 5th Battle Squadron – the most powerful warships in the world at the time – engaging with six ships when better control would have given him 10 against Hipper’s five. Though Beatty’s larger 13.5 in (340 mm) guns out-ranged Hipper’s 11 and 12 in (280 and 300 mm) guns by thousands of yards, Beatty held his fire for 10 minutes and closed the German squadron until within range of the Germans’ superior gunnery, under lighting conditions that favoured the Germans. Most of the British losses in tonnage occurred in Beatty’s force.

Death toll

The total loss of life on both sides was 9,823 personnel: the British losses numbered 6,784 and the German 3,039. Counted among the British losses were two members of the Royal Australian Navy and one member of the Royal Canadian Navy. Six Australian nationals serving in the Royal Navy were also killed.


113,300 tons sunk:

Battlecruisers Indefatigable, Queen Mary, Invincible

Armoured cruisers Black Prince, Warrior, Defence

Flotilla leader Tipperary

Destroyers Shark, Sparrowhawk, Turbulent, Ardent, Fortune, Nomad, Nestor


62,300 tons sunk:

Battlecruiser Lützow

Pre-dreadnought Pommern

Light cruisers Frauenlob, Elbing, Rostock, Wiesbaden

Destroyers (Heavy torpedo-boats) V48, S35, V27, V4, V29

Battle of Heligoland Bight

The Battle of Heligoland Bight was the first Anglo-German naval battle of the First World War, fought on 28 August 1914, between ships of the United Kingdom and Germany. The battle took place in the south-eastern North Sea, when the British attacked German patrols off the north-west German coast. The German High Seas Fleet was in harbour on the north German coast while the British Grand Fleet was out in the northern North Sea. Both sides engaged in long-distance sorties with cruisers and battlecruisers, with close reconnaissance of the area of sea near the German coast—the Heligoland Bight—by destroyer.

The British devised a plan to ambush German destroyers on their daily patrols. A British flotilla of 31 destroyers and two cruisers under Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt, with submarines commanded by Commodore Roger Keyes, was dispatched. They were supported at longer range by an additional six light cruisers commanded by William Goodenough and five battlecruisers commanded by Vice Admiral David Beatty.

Surprised, outnumbered and outgunned, the German fleet suffered 712 sailors killed, 530 injured and 336 taken prisoner; three German light cruisers and one torpedo boat were sunk; three light cruisers and three torpedo boats suffered damage. The British suffered casualties of 35 killed and 55 wounded; one light cruiser and three destroyers suffered damage. Despite the disparity of the ships involved in the battle, the battle was regarded as a great victory in Britain, where the returning ships were met by cheering crowds.

Beatty was vaunted as a hero, although he had taken little part in the action or planning of the raid, which was led by Commodore Tyrwhitt and conceived by him and Keyes, who had persuaded the Admiralty to adopt it. The raid might have led to disaster, had the additional forces under Beatty not been sent by Admiral John Jellicoe at the last minute. The German government and the Kaiser in particular, restricted the freedom of action of the German fleet, instructing it to avoid any contact with superior forces for several months thereafter.


The battle took place less than a month after the British declaration of war against Germany on 5 August 1914. The war on land led to defeat for the French and their Allies at the Battle of the Frontiers, the German invasion of Belgium and France. British naval tactics had typically involved a close blockade of ports and this had been the British plan for war against Germany up to 1913. The Admiralty had realised that the advent of submarines armed with torpedoes and mines meant that operations involving capital ships near an opponent’s ports would place them at great risk of surprise attack. Ships would be obliged to keep moving and return to port every few days to refuel.

The German navy had expected that Britain would adopt its traditional approach and had invested in submarines and coast defences. The main body of the German navy—the High Seas Fleet (HSF)—was outnumbered by the British Grand Fleet stationed around home waters and could not expect victory in a general fleet engagement. The HSF adopted a strategy of waiting in defended home ports for opportunities to attack parts of the larger British force. The British adopted a strategy of distant blockade, patrolling the North Sea rather than waters close to Germany. The Germans had two alternatives to break out into the Atlantic Ocean, either by passing through the 20 mi (17 nmi; 32 km)-wide Straits of Dover, defended by British submarines, mine barrages and a large number of older and of smaller warships or exit the northern end of the North Sea, running the gauntlet of the Grand Fleet based at Scapa Flow in Orkney and the 200 mi (170 nmi; 320 km)-wide narrow point between Britain and Norway. Without access to the Atlantic, the German ships were contained in an area where they could not attack Allied merchant shipping. To keep the HSF in harbour, the Grand Fleet made occasional forays and patrolled with smaller cruiser and battlecruiser squadrons.

The bulk of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was transported to France between 12 and 21 August, protected by British destroyers and submarines patrolling Heligoland Bight, which German ships would have to cross if they sortied from their bases. The Grand Fleet remained on patrol in the centre of the North Sea ready to move south but no attack came. The German army had anticipated a rapid transfer of the British army to France, German naval planners overestimated the time the British would need and German submarines were on patrol seeking the Home Fleet.

British plan

At Harwich, Commodore Roger Keyes commanded a squadron of long-range submarines that regularly patrolled the Heligoland Bight and Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt commanded a destroyer patrol. They observed that German destroyers had adopted a regular pattern of patrols where each evening cruisers would escort destroyers out of harbour, to patrol for British ships during the night before being met and escorted home each morning. Keyes and Tyrwhitt proposed to send a superior force during darkness to ambush the German destroyers as they returned. Three British submarines would surface in a position to draw the destroyers back out to sea while a larger British force of 31 destroyers accompanied by nine submarines would cut them off from Germany. Other submarines would wait for any larger German ships leaving the Jade estuary to help.

Keyes impressed Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty with the daring of his plan, which was adopted with some changes. An attack at 08:00 on the German daytime patrol was preferred. Keyes and Tyrwhitt requested support for their operation, in particular bringing the Grand Fleet south and the support of the squadron of six light cruisers commanded by Commodore William Goodenough. This was refused by the Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Doveton Sturdee, who instead agreed to place only lighter forces consisting of Cruiser Force K (Rear Admiral Gordon Moore) with the battlecruisers HMS New Zealand and Invincible 40 mi (35 nmi; 64 km) to the north-west and Cruiser Force C comprising the Cressy-class armoured cruisers, HMS Cressy, Aboukir, Bacchante, Hogue and Euryalus, 100 mi (87 nmi; 160 km) west.

The attack was planned for 28 August; the submarines were to sail on 26 August, while Keyes would travel on the destroyer Lurcher and the surface ships would depart at dawn on 27 August. Tyrwhitt, aboard the brand new light cruiser HMS Arethusa, would command the 3rd Flotilla of 16 modern L-class destroyers, whilst his subordinate, Captain William Blunt, aboard the light cruiser HMS Fearless, would command the 1st Destroyer Flotilla of 16 older destroyers. Tyrwhitt had requested the replacement of his cruiser HMS Amethyst because she was too slow to keep up with his destroyers but Arethusa did not arrive until 26 August. Her crew was inexperienced and it was discovered that its new 4 in (100 mm) Mk V guns jammed when fired.

Admiral John Jellicoe, commanding the Grand Fleet, was not told of the plan until 26 August. Jellicoe immediately requested permission to send reinforcements to join the raid and to move the fleet closer to the action but was allowed only to send battlecruisers in support. Jellicoe dispatched Vice Admiral David Beatty with the battlecruisers HMS Lion, Queen Mary and Princess Royal; and Goodenough with the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron, made up of the light cruisers HMS Southampton, Birmingham, Falmouth, Liverpool, Lowestoft and Nottingham. Jellicoe sailed south from Scapa Flow with the remainder of the fleet. Jellicoe sent a message advising Tyrwhitt that he should expect reinforcements but this was delayed at Harwich and never received. Tyrwhitt did not discover the additional forces until Goodenough’s ships appeared through the mist, leading to a certain apprehension because he was expecting to meet only German vessels. The E-class submarines HMS E4, E5 and E9 were ordered to attack reinforcing or retreating German vessels. HMS E6, E7 and E8 were positioned 4 mi (3.5 nmi; 6.4 km) further out to draw the German destroyers out to sea. HMS D2 and D8 were stationed off the river Ems to attack reinforcements should they come from that direction.


At around 07:00, Arethusa, steaming south towards the anticipated position of the German ships, sighted a German torpedo boat, G194. Accompanying Arethusa were the 16 destroyers of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla. 2 mi (1.7 nmi; 3.2 km) behind were Fearless with the 1st Destroyer Flotilla of 16 destroyers and 8 mi (7.0 nmi; 13 km) behind them was Goodenough with the six cruisers; visibility was no more than 3 mi (2.6 nmi; 4.8 km). G194 immediately turned towards Heligoland, radioing Rear Admiral Leberecht Maass, commander of the German destroyer squadron. Maass informed Rear Admiral Franz von Hipper, commander of the German battlecruiser squadron and responsible for local defence. Hipper was unaware of the scale of the attack but ordered the light cruisers SMS Stettin and Frauenlob to defend the destroyers. The light cruisers SMS Mainz moored on the Ems, SMS Strassburg, Cöln, Ariadne, Stralsund and Kolberg from the river Jade, Danzig and München from Brunsbüttelkoog on the river Elbe were ordered to raise steam.

Tyrwhitt ordered four destroyers to attack G194 and the sound of gunfire alerted the remaining German destroyers moving north, which turned south towards home. Before they could complete the turn, they were sighted by British destroyers which commenced firing. The trailing destroyer V1 was hit, followed by the destroyer-minesweepers D8 and T33. G9 called for fire against the attacking ships from coastal artillery but the mist meant the gunners could not tell which ships were which. At 07:26, Tyrwhitt turned east, to follow the sound of gunfire sighting ten German destroyers, which he chased through the increasing mist for 30 minutes, until the ships reached Heligoland and he was forced to turn away. At 07:58, Stettin and Frauenlob arrived, reversing the situation so that the British destroyers were obliged to retreat towards Arethusa and Fearless. Stettin withdrew, since the German destroyers had escaped but Frauenlob was engaged by Arethusa. Arethusa was better armed but two of its four 4 in (100 mm) guns jammed and another was damaged by fire. Frauenlob—armed with ten 10.5 cm (4.1 in) guns—caused considerable damage before a shell from one of Arethusa’s two 6 in (150 mm) guns destroyed her bridge, killing 37 men including the captain, forcing her to withdraw and return to Wilhelmshaven badly damaged.

At 08:12, Tyrwhitt returned to the original plan to sweep the area from east to west. Six returning German destroyers were sighted which turned to flee, when V-187 turned back. The German ship had seen two cruisers, Nottingham and Lowestoft from Goodenough’s squadron ahead and tried to pass through the British destroyers by surprise, only to be surrounded by eight destroyers and sunk. As British ships began to rescue survivors from the water, the German light cruiser Stettin approached and opened fire, forcing the British to abandon the rescue, leaving behind British sailors. The British submarine E4 had observed the action and launched a torpedo at Stettin but missed; Stettin attempted to ram the submarine, which dived to escape. When E4 resurfaced the larger ships had gone and the submarine rescued the British crewmen afloat in small boats with the German survivors. The Germans were left behind with a compass and direction toward the mainland as the submarine was too small to take them.

Confusion of ships

At 08:15, Keyes—with Lurcher and another destroyer—sighted two four-funnelled cruisers. Still unaware that additional British ships were involved, he signalled Invincible that he was chasing two German cruisers. Goodenough received the signal, abandoned his search for enemy vessels to attack and steamed to assist Keyes against his own ships, Lowestoft and Nottingham. Keyes being chased by four more German cruisers attempted to lure them towards Invincible and New Zealand, reporting them as enemy ships. Eventually, Keyes recognised Southampton and the ships attempted to rejoin Tyrwhitt. The British submarines were still unaware that the other ships were present and at 09:30, a British submarine fired two torpedoes at Southampton; the submarine missed and then escaped when Southampton tried to ram it. Lowestoft and Nottingham remained out of communication range; separated from the rest of their squadron, they took no further part in the action. Tyrwhitt turned to assist Keyes, on receipt of the signal that he was being chased, sighted Stettin but lost her in the mist before coming upon Fearless and her destroyer squadron. Arethusa was badly damaged and at 10:17 Fearless came alongside and both cruisers were stopped for twenty minutes while repairs were made to the boilers.

German cruisers

Cöln, Strassburg and Ariadne had sailed from Wilhelmshaven to join the German ships, while Mainz was approaching from a different direction. Admiral Maass was still unaware of the nature of the attack and dispersed his ships in search of the enemy. Strassburg was first to find Arethusa and attacked with shells and torpedoes but was driven off by torpedo attacks from the destroyers. As Tyrwhitt turned away to the west, Cöln—with Admiral Maass—approached from the south-east and was also chased away by torpedoes. Tyrwhitt signalled Beatty requesting reinforcements and Goodenough with the four cruisers remaining with him came to assist; the force turned west.

Beatty had been following the events by radio 40 mi (35 nmi; 64 km) to the north-west. By 11:35, the British ships had still not completed their mission and withdrawn; with the rising tide, larger German ships would be able to leave harbour and join the engagement. Beatty took his five battlecruisers south-eastwards at maximum speed, an hour away from the engagement. While the advantages of using his more powerful ships to rescue the others was clear, this had to be weighed against the possibility of mischance by torpedo or of meeting German dreadnoughts once the tide was up.

At 11:30, Tyrwhitt’s squadron came upon the German cruiser Mainz and the ships engaged for 20 minutes, before the arrival of Goodenough caused Mainz to attempt an escape. Goodenough gave chase and in trying to lose him, Mainz came back across the path of Arethusa and her destroyers. Her steering was damaged, causing her to turn back into the path of Goodenough’s ships and she was hit by shells and a torpedo. At 12:20, her captain ordered his ship to be scuttled and the crew to abandon ship. Keyes had now joined the main body of ships and brought Lurcher alongside Mainz to take off the crew. Three British destroyers had been seriously damaged in the engagement. Strassburg and Cöln attacked together but the battle was interrupted by Beatty and the battlecruisers. A destroyer officer wrote,

There straight ahead of us in lovely procession, like elephants walking through a pack of … dogs came Lion, Queen Mary, Princess Royal, Invincible and New Zealand …How solid they looked, how utterly earthquaking. We pointed out our latest aggressor to them … and we went west while they went east … and just a little later we heard the thunder of their guns.

— Chalmers


Strassburg managed to disengage and escape when the battlecruisers approached but Cöln was cut off and quickly disabled by the much larger guns of the battlecruisers. She was saved from immediate sinking by the sighting of another German light cruiser, Ariadne, to which Beatty gave chase and again quickly overcame. Ariadne was left to sink, which she eventually did at 15:00, attended by the German ships Danzig and Stralsund who took off survivors. At 13:10, Beatty turned north-west and ordered all the British ships to withdraw, since the tide had now risen sufficiently for larger German ships to pass through the Jade estuary. Passing Cöln again, he opened fire, sinking her. Attempts to rescue the crew were interrupted by the arrival of a submarine; one survivor was rescued by a German ship two days later, out of some 250 men who had survived the sinking. Rear Admiral Maass perished with his ship.

Four German cruisers survived the engagement, saved by the mist. Strassburg nearly approached the battlecruisers but saw them in time and turned away. She had four funnels, like the British Town-class cruisers, which caused sufficient confusion to allow her time to disappear into the mist. The German battlecruisers Moltke and Von der Tann left the Jade at 14:10 and began a cautious search for other ships. Rear Admiral Hipper arrived in Seydlitz at 15:10 but by then the battle was over.



To preserve his ships the Kaiser determined that the fleet should, “hold itself back and avoid actions which can lead to greater losses”. Admiral Hugo von Pohl, Chief of the German Naval Staff, wired Ingenohl that, “in his anxiety to preserve the fleet [William] … wished you to wire for his consent before entering a decisive action”. Alfred von Tirpitz was outraged by this decision and wrote after the war,

The Emperor did not wish for losses of this sort … Orders [were] issued by the Emperor … after an audience with Pohl, to which I as usual was not summoned, to restrict the initiative of the Commander-in-Chief of the North Sea Fleet. The loss of ships was to be avoided; fleet sallies and any greater undertakings must be approved by His Majesty in advance. I took the first opportunity to explain to the Emperor the fundamental error of such a muzzling policy. This step had no success but on the contrary, there sprang up from that day forth an estrangement between the Emperor and myself which steadily increased.”

After the war, Churchill wrote,

All they saw was that the British did not hesitate to hazard their greatest vessels as well as their light craft in the most daring offensive action and had escaped apparently unscathed. They felt as we should have felt had German destroyers broken into the Solent and their battle cruisers penetrated as far as the Nab. The results of this action were far-reaching. Henceforward, the weight of British Naval prestige lay heavy across all German sea enterprise … The German Navy was indeed “muzzled”. Except for furtive movements by individual submarines and minelayers, not a dog stirred from August till November.

— Churchill

The Germans knew nothing of our defective staff work or the risks we had run.

— Churchill

Lieutenant Stephen King-Hall on Southampton, later wrote about the battle that

As may be deduced from these extracts the staff work was almost criminally negligent and it was a near miracle that we did not sink one or more of our submarines or that one of them did not sink us. Furthermore if anyone had suggested, say in 1917, that our battle-cruisers should rush about without anti-submarine protection and hundreds of miles away from the battle fleet in a mine infested area a few miles from the German battle fleet, he would have been certified on the spot.

It was because the presence of unsupported battle-cruisers was absurd that the logical Germans were sitting in Wilhelmshafen unable to move because the tide was too low on the bar of the Jade river!

I should like to be able to write that this important hydrographical circumstance was part of the plan, but it was only discovered long afterwards.

Nevertheless the strategical and indeed political consequences of this affair were of great importance.

The German Navy was manned by a personnel no less courageous and at least as well trained as our own; their ships were superior type for type; their gunnery was more accurate. Yet in the mind of every German seaman was the reflection that they were challenging the might of a navy which, by and large, had dominated the seas for four centuries. The German seaman had a respect and almost traditional veneration for the British Royal navy, and entered the war with an inferiority complex in striking contrast to the superiority complex which the German Army felt towards all other armies.

It was therefore a rude shock to the German Navy … to learn of this audacious manoeuvre and successful engagement literally within sight of the main German base.

— King-Hall

The Germans had assumed that their cruisers, leaving port one by one, would not meet larger ships or a superior force and failed to keep their ships together so they might have better odds in any engagement. Beatty—when faced with the choice of leaving one of his ships to finish off disabled enemies—had elected to keep his squadron together and only later return in force to finish off the ships. Goodenough managed to lose track of two cruisers, which played no further part in the battle.

German light cruisers armed with larger numbers of faster firing 10.5 cm (4.1 in) guns, proved inferior to similar British cruisers with fewer but more powerful 6 in (15 cm) guns. The German ships proved difficult to sink despite severe damage and impressed the British with the quality of their firing. British and German sources reported the determination and bravery of the defeated German ships when overwhelmed. No one reported the presence of British cruisers to Admiral Hipper until 14:35. Had he known, he could have brought his battlecruisers to sea faster and consolidated his fleet, possibly preventing German losses and instead inflicting some on the departing British ships. The British operation took longer than anticipated and large German ships would have had sufficient high water to join the battle.

The British side suffered from poor communication, with ships failing to report engagement with the enemy to each other. The initial failure to include Jellicoe in planning the raid could have led to disaster, had he not sent reinforcements and the communication failures meant British ships were unaware of the new arrivals and could have attacked them. There was no way to warn off British submarines which might have targeted their own ships. It had been the decision of Admiral Sturdee—Admiralty Chief of Staff—not to inform Jellicoe and also not to send additional larger ships which had originally been requested by Keyes. Jellicoe had countermanded this decision once he knew of the raid, by sending ships which were part of his command. Keyes was disappointed that the opportunity for greater success had been lost by not including the additional cruisers properly into the plan as he had originally intended. Jellicoe was disturbed by the Admiralty’s failure to discuss the raid with their commander in chief of the Home Fleet at sea.

The Germans appreciated that standing patrols by destroyers wasted time and resources, leaving them open to attack. The Germans sowed defensive minefields to prevent enemy ships from approaching and freed the destroyers to escort larger ships, which were never to be sent out one by one. The British realised it was foolish to have sent Arethusa into battle with inadequate training and jammed guns. British ships were criticised for having fired considerable ammunition and torpedoes with little effect but this criticism backfired when at the Battle of Dogger Bank in 1915, British crews tried to conserve ammunition and missed opportunities to damage German vessels.


Germany lost the light cruisers Mainz, Cöln and Ariadne and the destroyer V-187 sunk. The light cruisers Frauenlob, Strassburg and Stettin had been damaged and returned to base with casualties. German casualties were 1,242 with 712 men killed, including Maass and the destroyer commodore. The British took 336 prisoners, 224 German sailors were rescued by Commodore Keyes on the destroyer Lurcher and brought to England, the son of Tirpitz being among the prisoners. The British had lost no ships and casualties did not exceed 35 men killed and about 40 wounded.

Battle of Coronel

The Battle of Coronel was a First World War Imperial German Navy victory over the Royal Navy on 1 November 1914, off the coast of central Chile near the city of Coronel. The East Asia Squadron (Ostasiengeschwader or Kreuzergeschwader) of the Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial German Navy) led by Vice-Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee met and overpowered a British squadron commanded by Rear-Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock.

The engagement probably took place as a result of misunderstandings. Neither admiral expected to meet the other in full force. Once the two met, Cradock understood his orders were to fight to the end, despite the odds being heavily against him. Although Spee had an easy victory, destroying two enemy armoured cruisers for just three men injured, the engagement also cost him almost half his supply of ammunition, which was irreplaceable.

Shock at the British losses led the Admiralty to send more ships, including two modern battlecruisers, which in turn destroyed Spee and the majority of his squadron on 8 December at the Battle of the Falkland Islands.


At the outbreak of war the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy, with assistance from New Zealand and Japanese naval and land forces in the Far East, had captured the German colonies of Kaiser-Wilhelmsland, Yap, Nauru and Samoa, instead of searching for the German East Asia Squadron commanded by Vice-Admiral Maximilian von Spee, which had abandoned its base at the German concession at Tsingtao in the expectation of war breaking out with Japan. The East Asia Squadron rendezvoused at Pagan Island in the Marianas in early August 1914. Eventually, recognising the German squadron’s potential for disrupting trade in the Pacific, the British Admiralty decided to destroy it and searched the western Pacific Ocean after the East Asia Squadron had conducted the Bombardment of Papeete (22 September 1914), where a French steamer reported its presence.

On 4 October 1914, the British learned from an intercepted radio message that Spee planned to attack shipping on the trade routes along the west coast of South America. Having correctly guessed the intention of the German commander, Rear-Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock patrolled the area with a squadron consisting of the armoured cruisers HMS Good Hope (flagship) and HMS Monmouth, the modern light cruiser HMS Glasgow, and the armed merchantman HMS Otranto. The Admiralty had planned to reinforce the squadron by sending the newer and more powerful armoured cruiser HMS Defence from the Mediterranean, but temporarily diverted this ship to patrol the western Atlantic. Defence reached Montevideo two days after the battle, and Cradock instead received the pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Canopus.

The change of plan meant that the British squadron comprised obsolete or lightly armed vessels, crewed by inexperienced naval reservists. Monmouth and Good Hope had a large number of 6-inch guns but only Good Hope was armed with two 9.2-inch guns mounted in single turrets. Spee had a superior force of five modern vessels (the armoured cruisers SMS Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the light cruisers SMS Dresden, Leipzig and Nürnberg), led by officers hand-picked by Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz[citation needed]. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau carried eight 8.2-inch guns each, which gave them an overwhelming advantage in range and firepower; the crews of both ships had earned accolades for their gunnery before the war. The Admiralty ordered Cradock to “be prepared to meet them in company”, with no effort being made to clarify what action he was expected to take should he find Spee. On receiving his orders, Cradock asked the Admiralty for permission to split his fleet into two forces, each able to face Spee independently. The two groups would operate on the east and west coasts of South America to counter the possibility of Spee slipping past Cradock into the Atlantic Ocean. The Admiralty agreed and established the east coast squadron under Rear-Admiral Archibald Stoddart, consisting of three cruisers and two armed merchantmen.

The remaining vessels formed the west coast squadron, which was reinforced by Canopus on 18 October. At the outbreak of war and said to be in need of overhaul, Canopus had a top speed of 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph). (After the fleet sailed, it was found that the ship could only make 16 kn (30 km/h; 18 mph) and that the senior engineer was mentally ill.) The Admiralty agreed that with Canopus the fleet would be too slow to force an engagement with the German cruisers and that without Canopus the west coast squadron stood no chance. Cradock sailed from the Falklands on 20 October, still under the impression that Defence would soon arrive and with Admiralty orders to attack German merchant ships and to seek out the East Asiatic Squadron. As the British squadron rounded Cape Horn, wireless transmissions from Leipzig increased in power and it seemed that the British would catch the ship while isolated, but Spee had made rendezvous with Leipzig on 14 October and had enforced wireless silence on the other ships.

Lines of communication

On 30 October, before the battle but due to communications delays too late to have any effect, Admiral Jackie Fisher was re-appointed First Sea Lord, replacing Prince Louis of Battenberg, who, along with Churchill, had been preoccupied with fighting to keep his position as First Sea Lord in the face of widespread concern over the senior British Admiral being of German descent. Battenberg was a proven and reliable admiral but was replaced to appease public opinion. The crisis drew the attention of the most senior members of the Admiralty away from the events in South America: Churchill later claimed that if he had not been distracted, he would have questioned the intentions of his admiral at sea more deeply.

A signal from Cradock was received by Churchill on 27 October, advising the Admiralty of his intention to leave Canopus behind because of her slow speed and, as previously instructed, to take his remaining ships in search of Spee. He re-stated that he was still expecting reinforcements in the form of Defence, which he had previously been told was coming and that he had given orders for her to follow him as soon as possible. Although Defence had once been sent to reinforce Cradock, it had then been recalled part way, returned to the Mediterranean and then been sent again to form part of a new squadron patrolling the eastern coast of South America. A misunderstanding had arisen between Cradock and the Admiralty over how ships were to be assigned and used. Cradock believed he was expected to advance against Spee with those forces he had, whereas the Admiralty expected him to exercise caution, using Canopus for defence and merely to scout for the enemy or take advantage of any situation where he might come across part of the enemy force. Churchill replied to the signal, telling Cradock that Defence was to remain on the east coast and that Cradock was considered to have sufficient forces for his task, making no comment about his plan to abandon Canopus. Churchill had passed on the message to the Admiralty staff, saying he did not properly understand what Cradock intended.

Cradock probably received Churchill’s reply on 1 November with the messages collected by Glasgow at Coronel, giving him time to read it before the battle. Thus, Cradock would have taken the message as final confirmation that he was doing what was expected. Departing from Stanley he had left behind a letter to be forwarded to Admiral of the Fleet Sir Hedworth Meux in the event of his death. In this, he commented that he did not intend to suffer the fate of Rear Admiral Ernest Troubridge, a friend of Cradock, who at the time was awaiting court-martial for failing to engage the enemy. The governor of the Falklands reported that Cradock had not expected to survive, as did the governor’s aide. Luce reported that “Cradock was constitutionally incapable of refusing or even postponing action if there was the smallest chance of success”.

On 3 November, Fisher in London received news from Valparaiso that Spee had been sighted. He urgently gave orders for Defence to join Cradock and stressed the need to keep Canopus together with the other ships. On 4 November, German reports of the battle started to reach London.


British preparations

On 22 October, Cradock cabled the Admiralty that he was going to round Cape Horn and was leaving Canopus behind to escort his colliers. Admiral John Fisher replaced Battenberg as First Sea Lord on 27 October, and the following day Fisher ordered Cradock not to engage Spee without Canopus. He then ordered HMS Defence to reinforce Cradock. The previous week Cradock had sent Glasgow to Coronel to pick up any messages the Admiralty might have sent. Spee, having learned of the presence of Glasgow off Coronel, sailed south from Valparaíso with all five warships with the intention of destroying her. Glasgow intercepted radio traffic from one of the German cruisers and informed Cradock, who turned his fleet north to intercept the cruiser.

Given the German superiority in speed, firepower, efficiency and numbers, why Cradock chose to engage puzzles historians. At the time Rear Admiral Ernest Troubridge, a friend of Cradock, was awaiting court-martial for failing to engage the enemy, and he had been told by the Admiralty that his force was “sufficient”. The accepted view among Cradock’s colleagues was that he was “constitutionally incapable of refusing action”. On 31 October, he ordered his squadron to adopt an attacking formation. Both sides are thought to have expected to encounter a single ship until they sighted each other at 16:40 on 1 November.


On 31 October, Glasgow entered Coronel harbour to collect messages and news from the British consul. Also in harbour was a supply ship—Göttingen—working for Spee, which immediately radioed with the news of the British ship entering harbour. Glasgow was listening to radio traffic, which suggested that German warships were close. Matters were confused because the German ships had been instructed to all use the same call sign, that of Leipzig. Spee decided to move his ships to Coronel to trap Glasgow while Admiral Cradock hurried north to catch Leipzig. Neither side realised the other’s main force was nearby.

At 09:15 on 1 November, Glasgow left port to meet Cradock at noon, 40 mi (34.8 nmi; 64.4 km) west of Coronel. Seas were rough so that it was impossible to send a boat between the ships to deliver the messages, which had to be transferred on a line floated in the sea. At 13:05, the ships formed into a line abreast formation 15 mi (13.0 nmi; 24.1 km) apart, with Glasgow at the eastern end, and started to steam north at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph) searching for Leipzig. At 16:17 Leipzig, accompanied by the other German ships, spotted smoke from the line of British ships. Spee ordered full speed so that Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Leipzig were approaching the British at 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph), with the slower light cruisers Dresden and Nürnberg some way behind.

At 16:20, Glasgow and Otranto saw smoke to the north and then three ships at a range of 12 mi (10.4 nmi; 19.3 km). The British reversed direction, so that both fleets were moving south, and a chase began which lasted 90 minutes. Cradock was faced with a choice; he could either take his three cruisers capable of 20 kn (23 mph; 37 km/h), abandon Otranto and run from the Germans, or stay and fight with Otranto, which could only manage 16 kn (18 mph; 30 km/h). The German ships slowed at a range of 15,000 yd (13,720 m) to reorganise themselves for best positions, and to await best visibility, when the British to their west would be outlined against the setting sun.

At 17:10, Cradock decided he must fight, and drew his ships closer together. He changed course to south-east and attempted to close upon the German ships while the sun remained high. Spee declined to engage and turned his faster ships away, maintaining the distance between the forces which sailed roughly parallel at a distance of 14,000 yd (12,800 m). At 18:18, Cradock again attempted to close, steering directly towards the enemy, which once again turned away to a greater range of 18,000 yd (16,460 m). At 18:50, the sun set; Spee closed to 12,000 yd (10,970 m) and commenced firing.

The German ships had sixteen 21 cm (8 in) guns of comparable range to the two 9.2 in (234 mm) guns on Good Hope. One of these was hit within five minutes of the engagement’s starting. Of the remaining 6 in (152 mm) guns on the British ships, most were in casemates along the sides of the ships, which continually flooded if the gun doors were opened to fire in heavy seas. The merchant cruiser Otranto—having only eight 4.7 in (120 mm) guns and being a much larger target than the other ships—retired west at full speed.

Since the British 6 in (152 mm) guns had insufficient range to match the German 21 cm (8 in) guns, Cradock attempted to close on the German ships. By 19:30, he had reached 6,000 yd (5,490 m) but as he closed, the German fire became correspondingly more accurate. Good Hope and Monmouth caught fire, presenting easy targets to the German gunners now that darkness had fallen, whereas the German ships had disappeared into the dark. Monmouth was first to be silenced. Good Hope continued firing, continuing to close on the German ships and receiving more and more fire. By 19:50, she had also ceased firing; subsequently her forward section exploded, then she broke apart and sank, with no one witness to the sinking.

Scharnhorst switched her fire to Monmouth, while Gneisenau joined Leipzig and Dresden which had been engaging Glasgow. The German light cruisers had only 10.5 cm (4 in) guns, which had left Glasgow almost unscathed, but these were now joined by the 21 cm (8 in) guns of Gneisenau. John Luce, captain of Glasgow, determined that nothing would be gained by staying and attempting to fight. It was noticed that each time he fired, the flash of his guns was used by the Germans to aim a new salvo, so he also ceased firing. One compartment of the ship was flooded but she could still manage 24 kn (28 mph; 44 km/h). He returned first to Monmouth, which was now dark but still afloat. Nothing was to be done for the ship, which was sinking slowly but would attempt to beach on the Chilean coast. Glasgow turned south and departed.

There was some confusion amongst the German ships as to the fate of the two armoured cruisers, which had disappeared into the dark once they ceased firing, and a hunt began. Leipzig saw something burning, but on approaching found only wreckage. Nürnberg—slower than the other German ships—arrived late at the battle and sighted Monmouth, listing and badly damaged but still moving. After pointedly directing her searchlights at the ship’s ensign, an invitation to surrender—which was declined—she opened fire, finally sinking the ship. Without firm information, Spee decided that Good Hope had escaped and called off the search at 22:15. Mindful of the reports that a British battleship was around somewhere, he turned north.

With no survivors from either Good Hope or Monmouth, 1,660 British officers and men were dead, including Admiral Cradock. Glasgow and Otranto both escaped (the former suffering five hits and five wounded men). Just two shells had struck Scharnhorst, neither of which exploded: one 6-inch shell hit above the armour belt and penetrated to a storeroom where, in Spee’s words, “the creature just lay there as a kind of greeting.” Another struck a funnel. In return, Scharnhorst had managed at least 35 hits on Good Hope, but at the expense of 422 21 cm (8 in) shells, leaving her with 350. Four shells had struck Gneisenau, one of which nearly flooded the officers’ wardroom. A shell from Glasgow struck her aft turret and temporarily knocked it out. Three of Gneisenau’s men were wounded; she expended 244 of her shells and had 528 left.


This was Britain’s first naval defeat since the Battle of Lake Champlain in the War of 1812 and the first of a British naval squadron since the Battle of Grand Port in 1810. Once news of the defeat reached the Admiralty, a new naval force was assembled under Vice-Admiral Doveton Sturdee, including the battlecruisers HMS Invincible and her sister-ship Inflexible. This found and destroyed Spee’s force at the Battle of the Falkland Islands.

Glasgow, having escaped the battle, steamed south for three days at 20 kn (23 mph; 37 km/h), passing through the Straits of Magellan. Canopus—warned by Glasgow’s messages—turned about and headed back at the best speed she could manage, 9 kn (10 mph; 17 km/h). On 6 November, the two ships met and proceeded slowly towards the Falklands. Twice during the voyage Canopus had to report that she was not under control. After coaling, both ships were ordered north but again Canopus broke down. She was finally ordered to be beached in the inner part of Stanley Harbour, where she could serve as a defensive battery.

Otranto steamed 200 nmi (370 km; 230 mi) out into the Pacific Ocean before turning south and rounding Cape Horn. On 4 November the Admiralty issued orders for the surviving ships to go to the Abrolhos Rocks, where a new force was being assembled. Rear-Admiral Archibald Stoddart, with the armoured cruisers HMS Carnarvon and Cornwall, were to meet them there and await the arrival of Defence. Sturdee was ordered to travel with the battlecruisers HMS Invincible and Inflexible—then attached to the Grand Fleet in the North Sea—to command a new squadron with clear superiority over Spee.

Despite his victory, Spee was pessimistic about his own chances of survival and dismissive with regard to the harm done to the British navy. The official explanation of the defeat as presented to the House of Commons by Winston Churchill was: “feeling he could not bring the enemy immediately to action as long as he kept with Canopus, he decided to attack them with his fast ships alone, in the belief that even if he himself were destroyed… he would inflict damage on them which …would lead to their certain subsequent destruction.”

On 3 November Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Nürnberg entered Valparaiso harbour to a welcome by the German population. Spee refused to join in the celebrations; when presented with a bouquet of flowers, he refused them, commenting that “these will do nicely for my grave”. He was to die with most of the men on his ships on 8 December 1914, at the Battle of the Falkland Islands.

Battle of Dogger Bank

The Battle of Dogger Bank was a naval engagement during the First World War that took place on 24 January 1915 near the Dogger Bank in the North Sea, between squadrons of the British Grand Fleet and the Kaiserliche Marine (High Seas Fleet). The British had intercepted and decoded German wireless transmissions, gaining advance knowledge that a German raiding squadron was heading for Dogger Bank and ships of the Grand Fleet sailed to intercept the raiders.

The British surprised the smaller and slower German squadron, which fled for home. During a stern chase lasting several hours, the British caught up with the Germans and engaged them with long-range gunfire. The British disabled Blücher, the rearmost German ship, and the Germans put the British flagship HMS Lion out of action. Due to inadequate signalling, the remaining British ships stopped the pursuit to sink Blücher; by the time the ship had been sunk, the rest of the German squadron had escaped.

The German squadron returned to harbour, with some ships in need of extensive repairs. Lion made it back to port but was out of action for several months. The British had lost no ships and suffered few casualties; the Germans had lost Blücher and most of her crew. After the British victory, both navies replaced officers who were thought to have shown poor judgement and made changes to equipment and procedures because of failings observed during the battle.


Before 1914, international communication was conducted via undersea cables laid along shipping lanes, most of which were under British control. Hours after the British ultimatum to Germany in August 1914, they cut the German cables. German messages could be passed only by wireless, using cyphers to disguise their content. The Signalbuch der Kaiserlichen Marine (SKM) was captured from the German light cruiser SMS Magdeburg after she ran aground in the Baltic Sea on 26 August 1914. The German-Australian steamer Hobart was seized near Melbourne, Australia on 11 August and the Handelsverkehrsbuch (HVB) codebook, used by the German navy to communicate with merchant ships and within the High Seas Fleet, was captured. A copy of the book was sent to England by the fastest steamer, arriving at the end of October. During the Battle off Texel (17 October), the commander of the German destroyer SMS S119 threw overboard his secret papers in a lead lined chest as the ship sank but on 30 November, a British trawler dragged up the chest. Room 40 gained a copy of the Verkehrsbuch (VB) codebook, normally used by Flag officers of the Kaiserliche Marine.

The Director of the Intelligence Division of the Admiralty, Rear-Admiral Henry Oliver, established a code breaking organisation to decipher German signals, using cryptographers from academic backgrounds and making use of the windfalls taken from the German ships. At first, the inexperience of the cryptanalysts in naval matters led to errors in the understanding of the material. This lack of naval experience caused Oliver to make personal decisions about the information to be passed to other departments, many of which, particularly the Operations Department, had reservations about the value of Room 40. The transfer of an experienced naval officer, Commander W. W. Hope, remedied most of the deficiencies of the civilians’ understanding. On 14 October, Oliver became Chief of the Naval War Staff, but continued to treat Room 40 more as a fiefdom and a source for the informal group of officers around the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, which received decoded messages but had insufficient authority to use them to best advantage.

German ships had to report their position every night by wireless and British listening posts along the east coast took cross-bearings to find the positions of the ships when they transmitted. This signals intelligence meant that the British did not need wasteful defensive standing patrols and sweeps of the North Sea but could economise on fuel and use the time for training and maintenance. The Admiralty also uncovered the German order of battle and tracked the deployment of ships, which gave them an offensive advantage. The lack of a proper war staff at the Admiralty and poor liaison between Room 40, Oliver and the operations staff meant that the advantage was poorly exploited in 1915; it was not until 1917 that this was remedied. When German ships sailed, information from Room 40 needed to be passed on quickly but Oliver found it hard to delegate and would not routinely supply all decrypts; commanders at sea were supplied only with what the Admiralty thought they needed. Information could reach the Grand Fleet late, incomplete or mistakenly interpreted. When Jellicoe asked for a decryption section to take to sea, he was refused on security grounds.

German raid

With the German High Seas Fleet (HSF) confined to port after the British success at the Battle of Heligoland Bight in 1914, Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl, the Commander-in-Chief of the HSF planned a raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby on the east coast of England, with the I Scouting Group (Admiral Franz von Hipper), a battlecruiser squadron of three battlecruisers and a large armoured cruiser, supported by light cruisers and destroyers. Hipper opened fire at 08:00 on 16 December 1914, eventually killing 108 and wounding 525 civilians. British public and political opinion was outraged that German warships could sail so close to the British coast, shelling coastal towns with impunity; British naval forces had failed to prevent the attacks and also failed to intercept the raiding squadron. The British fleet had sailed but the German ships escaped in stormy seas and low visibility, assisted by British communication failures. The Germans had made the first successful attack on Britain since the 17th century and suffered no losses but Ingenohl was unjustly blamed for missing an opportunity to inflict a defeat on the Royal Navy, despite creating the chance by his offensive-mindedness.

British counter-action

The British had let the raid occur and appeared to the public to have been surprised (having been forewarned by decoded wireless messages) and then to have failed to sink the German raiding force on its way back to Germany. In 1921, the official historian Julian Corbett wrote,

Two of the most efficient and powerful British squadrons…knowing approximately what to expect…had failed to bring to action an enemy who was acting in close conformity with our appreciation and with whose advanced screen contact had been established.

The British had escaped a potential disaster, because the British 1st Battlecruiser Squadron (Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty) was unsupported by the 2nd Battle Squadron (Vice-Admiral Sir George Warrender), when it failed to make contact with the raiding force. The worst British failure was in the exploitation of the intelligence provided by the code breakers at Room 40 (Sir Alfred Ewing), that had given the British notice of the raid. Some intercepts decoded during the action had taken two hours to reach British commanders at sea, by when they were out of date or misleading. News of the sailing of the HSF was delivered so late that the British commanders thought that the Germans were on the way, when they were returning. At sea, Beatty had sent ambiguous signals and some commanders had not used their initiative. On 30 December, the commander of the Home Fleet, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, gave orders that when in contact with German ships, officers were to treat orders from those ignorant of local conditions as instructions only but he refused Admiralty suggestions to loosen ship formations, for fear of decentralising tactical command too far.

German plan

Hipper suspected that the British had received advanced warning about earlier operations of the HSF from spy ships mingling with British and Dutch fishing boats, operating near the German Bight and the Dogger Bank, to observe German fleet movements. Hipper considered that with the Dogger Bank mid-way on the short route to the English coast, a signal from a trawler could reach the British in time for the British battlecruisers to intercept a German sortie, certainly on the return journey. Hipper ordered German ships vigorously to enforce search and seizure rules, fishing boats being brought into Cuxhaven to be searched. Buoyed by the success of the raid on the English coast, Admiral Hipper planned an attack on the British fishing fleet on the Dogger Bank. The German fleet had increased in size since the outbreak of war, with the arrival in service of the König-class dreadnought battleships SMS König, Grosser Kurfürst, Markgraf and Kronprinz of the 3rd Battle Squadron and the Derfflinger-class battlecruiser Derfflinger.

Hipper intended to clear the bank of British fishing vessels and dubious neutrals and to attack any small British warships in the area, with the HSF covering the withdrawal of the battlecruisers. The limited nature of the operation conformed to the ban by the Kaiser on operations by the High Seas Fleet, that had been reiterated on 10 January. A slightly more aggressive strategy was permitted, within the policy of keeping the HSF in being, in which the fleet could sortie to attempt to isolate and destroy advanced British forces or to attack the Grand Fleet if in greater strength. On 19 January, Beatty had reconnoitred the area west of the German Bight and been seen by a German aircraft. The reconnaissance and British activity at the Dogger Bank led Ingenohl to order Hipper and the I Scouting Group to survey the area and surprise and destroy any light forces found there. The I Scouting Group contained the battlecruisers Seydlitz (flagship), Moltke, Derfflinger and armoured cruiser Blucher, four light cruisers and eighteen destroyers.

British plan

Wireless transmissions from German ships in the Jade River on 23 January 1915, intercepted and decoded by Room 40, alerted the British to a German sortie in force as far as the Dogger Bank. At the Admiralty, Wilson, Oliver and Churchill arranged a plan to confront the Germans with a superior opponent. A rendezvous was set for 24 January at 07:00, 30 nmi (35 mi; 56 km) north of the Dogger Bank and about 180 nmi (210 mi; 330 km) west of Heligoland. The battlecruisers comprised the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron (Beatty) with Lion (flagship), Tiger and Princess Royal. The new 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron (Rear-Admiral Gordon Moore deputy to Beatty) had New Zealand as flagship and Indomitable. Harwich Force (Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt) sailed from Harwich with three light cruisers and 35 destroyers, to rendezvous with the battlecruisers at 07:00 on 24 January.

To cover the East Coast and act as distant support, the 3rd Cruiser Squadron and the seven pre-dreadnoughts of the 3rd Battle Squadron (Admiral Edward Eden Bradford) sailed from Rosyth for an area in the North Sea, from which they could cut off the German force if it moved north. The Grand Fleet left Scapa at 21:00 on 23 January, to sweep the southern North Sea but could not be expected to arrive on the scene until the afternoon of 24 January. Soon after the German force sailed, the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron (Commodore William Goodenough) and the battlecruisers departed Rosyth, heading south; at 07:05 on 24 January, a clear day with good visibility, they encountered German screening vessels at the Dogger Bank.

Orders of battle

Royal Navy

1st Battlecruiser Squadron: HMS Lion, Tiger and Princess Royal

2nd Battlecruiser Squadron: HMS New Zealand and Indomitable

1st Light Cruiser Squadron: HMS Southampton, Birmingham, Lowestoft and Nottingham

Harwich Force: three light cruisers (HMS Aurora, Arethusa, Undaunted) and 35 destroyers

Imperial German Navy

1st Scouting Group: SMS Seydlitz, Moltke, Derfflinger and Blücher

2nd Scouting Group: SMS Kolberg, Stralsund, Rostock, and Graudenz

Two flotillas of 18 torpedo boats combined


24 January

Positions in the battle

Sighting the smoke from a large approaching force, Hipper headed south-east by 07:35 to escape but the battlecruisers were faster than the German squadron, which was held back by the slower armoured cruiser Blücher and the coal-fuelled torpedo boats. By 08:00, the German battlecruisers had been sighted from Lion but the older battlecruisers of the British 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron were lagging behind the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron. Chasing the Germans from a position astern and to starboard, the British ships gradually caught up—some reaching a speed of 27 kn (31 mph; 50 km/h)—and closed to gun range. Beatty chose to approach from this direction so that the prevailing wind blew the British ships’ smoke clear, allowing them a good view of the German ships, while German gunners were partially blinded by their funnel and gun smoke blowing towards the British ships. Lion opened fire at 08:52, at a range of 20,000 yd (11 mi; 18 km) and the other British ships commenced firing as they came within range, while the Germans were unable to reply until 09:11, because of the shorter range of their guns. No warships had engaged at such long ranges or at such high speeds before, and accurate gunnery for both sides was an unprecedented challenge but after a few salvos, British shells straddled Blücher.

The British fire was concentrated on the battlecruiser Seydlitz at the head of the line and Blücher at the rear. With five British ships against four German, Beatty intended that his two rear ships, New Zealand and Indomitable, should engage Blücher, while his leading three engaged their opposite numbers. Captain Henry Pelly of the new battlecruiser Tiger assumed that two ships should concentrate on the leading German ship and engaged Seydlitz, leaving Moltke free to fire at Lion. Tiger’s fire was ineffective, as she mistook the shell splashes from Lion for her own, when the fall of shot was 3,000 yd (1.7 mi; 2.7 km) beyond Seydlitz. At 09:43, Seydlitz was hit by a 13.5 in (340 mm) shell from Lion, which penetrated her after turret barbette and caused an ammunition fire in the working chamber. This fire spread rapidly through other compartments, igniting ready propellant charges all the way to the magazines and knocked out both rear turrets with the loss of 165 men. Only the prompt action of the executive officer, Wilhelm Heidkamp, in flooding the magazines saved Seydlitz from a magazine explosion that would have destroyed the ship.

The British ships were relatively unscathed until 10:18, when Derfflinger hit Lion with several 30.5 cm (12.0 in) shells, damaging her engines and causing flooding; Lion lost speed and began to fall behind. At 10:41, Lion narrowly escaped a disaster similar to that on Seydlitz, when a German shell hit the forward turret and ignited a small ammunition fire but it was extinguished before causing a magazine explosion. A few minutes later, taking on water and listing to port, Lion had to stop her port engine and reduce speed to 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h) and was soon out of action, having been hit 14 times. At 10:30, Blücher was hit by a shell from Princess Royal, which caused an ammunition fire and boiler room damage. Blücher had to reduce speed to 17 kn (20 mph; 31 km/h) and lagged behind the rest of the German force. Beatty ordered Indomitable—his slowest ship—to intercept Blücher.

With his ships running short of ammunition, Hipper chose to steam for home, leaving the disabled Blücher behind, to save his remaining ships. The annihilation of the German squadron appeared likely to the British until 10:54, when Beatty—believing he saw a submarine periscope on Lion′s starboard bow—ordered a 90° turn to port, to avoid a submarine ambush (The “periscope” may have been a surfacing, run-out torpedo which had been launched 15 minutes earlier by the German destroyer V5). At 11:02, realising that so sharp a turn would open the range too much, Beatty ordered “Course NE” to limit the turn to 45° and then added “Engage the enemy’s rear”, to clarify his intent that the other ships, which had now left Lion far behind, should pursue the main German force. With Lion′s electric generators out of action, Beatty could only signal using flag hoists and both signals were flown at the same time.

The combination of the signal “Course NE”—which happened to be the direction of Blücher—and the signal to engage the rear was misunderstood by Beatty’s second-in-command, Rear-Admiral Moore on New Zealand, as an order for all the battlecruisers to finish off Blücher. The British battlecruisers broke off the pursuit of the German squadron and attacked Blücher, with most of the British light cruisers and destroyers joining in. Beatty tried to correct this obvious misunderstanding by using the order from Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar “Engage the enemy more closely” but this order was not in the signal book and Beatty chose “Keep nearer to the enemy” as the closest equivalent. By the time this signal was hoisted, Moore’s ships were too far away to read Beatty’s flags and the correction was not received.

Despite the overwhelming odds, Blücher put the British destroyer HMS Meteor out of action and scored two hits on the British battlecruisers with her 21 cm (8.3 in) guns. Blücher was hit by about 70 shells and wrecked. When struck by two torpedoes from the light cruiser Arethusa, Blücher capsized at 54 25′ N. Lat., 5 25′ E. Long and sank at 13:13, with the loss of 792 crew. British ships began to rescue survivors, but they were hindered by the arrival of the Zeppelin L-5 (LZ-28) and a German seaplane which attacked with small bombs. No damage was done but the British ships put on speed and withdrew to avoid further aerial attack, leaving some of the survivors behind. By this time, the rest of the German ships were too far away for the British to catch up.

Lion made 10 kn (12 mph; 19 km/h) at the beginning of the 300 nmi (350 mi; 560 km) return voyage, escorted by Indomitable. Beatty contemplated leaving a flotilla of destroyers to guard Lion and sending the rest to the German Bight, to make a night attack on the German ships, but the damage to Lion caused more problems. As she crept home, the ship suffered further engine-trouble from saltwater contamination in the boiler-feed-water system and her speed dropped to 8 kn (9.2 mph; 15 km/h). Lion was taken in tow by Indomitable, an operation which took two hours, in which the battlecruisers were exceedingly vulnerable to submarine attacks. At 17:00, the voyage resumed, the ships eventually managing 10 kn (12 mph; 19 km/h) and when the Grand Fleet arrived, Jellicoe increased the screen to thirteen light cruisers and 67 destroyers. A message from the Admiralty arrived that the Germans were planning a night destroyer attack but that the destroyers with the two scouting groups were low on fuel and those with the HSF were too far away.

25 January

Lion and Indomitable slowed to 7 kn (8.1 mph; 13 km/h) overnight when Lion had more engine-trouble and at dawn were still 100 nmi (120 mi; 190 km) short of the Firth of Forth. The destroyers reformed into an anti-submarine screen and the ships reached the firth at midnight; the destroyer Meteor was towed into the Humber Estuary. Lion was out of action for four months, Fisher having decreed that the damage be repaired at Armstrong’s on the Tyne, without her going into dry dock, making for an extremely difficult and time-consuming job. The surviving German ships reached port; Derfflinger was repaired by 17 February but Seydlitz needed a drydock and was not ready for sea until 1 April.



1916 advertisement for a film of the Blücher sinking. Proceeds from the premiere showing of the film went to orphans of artists and writers lost to the war.

At first the Germans thought that Tiger had been sunk, because of a large fire that had been seen on her decks, but it was soon clear that the battle was a serious German reverse. Kaiser Wilhelm II issued an order that all risks to surface vessels were to be avoided. Ingenohl was sacked and replaced by Admiral Hugo von Pohl. The damage to Seydlitz revealed flaws in the protection of her magazines and dangerous ammunition-handling procedures. Some of these failings were remedied in the HSF before the Battle of Jutland (31 May – 1 June 1916). The Germans thought that the appearance of the British squadron at dawn was too remarkable to be a coincidence and concluded that a spy near their base in Jade Bay was responsible, not that the British were reading their encrypted wireless communications. (In 1920, Scheer wrote that the number of British ships present suggested that they had known about the operation in advance, but that this was put down to circumstances, although “other reasons” could not be excluded.)

Beatty had lost control of the battle and he judged that the opportunity of an overwhelming victory had been lost. The Admiralty—erroneously believing that Derfflinger had been badly damaged—later reached the same conclusion. Jutland later showed that the British battlecruisers were still vulnerable to ammunition fires and magazine explosions, if hit by plunging fire. Had Moore’s three fast battlecruisers pursued Hipper’s remaining three (leaving the slower Indomitable behind as Beatty intended), the British might have been at a disadvantage and been defeated. Blücher demonstrated the ability of the German ships to absorb great punishment; all of Hipper’s remaining ships were larger, faster, newer, more heavily armed, and far better armoured than Blücher; only Seydlitz had suffered serious damage. Apart from the sinking of Blücher, the Germans out-hit the British by over three to one, with 22 heavy-calibre hits—16 on Lion and six on Tiger—against seven British hits.

The battle, although inconclusive, boosted British morale. Rear-Admiral Moore was quietly replaced and sent to the Canary Islands and Captain Henry Pelly of Tiger was blamed for not taking over when Lion was damaged. Ralph Seymour remained Beatty’s flag lieutenant, although he was responsible for hoisting Beatty’s two commands on one flag hoist, allowing them to be read as one. The use of wireless allowed centralised control of ships from the Admiralty, which cramped the initiative of the men on the spot. Signals between ships continued to be by flag but there was no revision of the signal book or the assumptions of its authors. Signalling aboard Lion was again poor in the first hours of Jutland, with serious consequences for the British. The battlecruisers failed to improve fire distribution and similar targeting errors were made at Jutland.


In 1929, Julian Corbett, the official naval historian, recorded 792 men killed and 45 wounded out of the 1,026 crew on Blücher, 189 of the men being rescued by the British. Seydlitz lost 159 men killed and 33 wounded and Kolberg lost three men killed and two wounded. In 1965, Marder wrote that over 1,000 German sailors had been killed or captured, for British casualties of fewer than 50 men killed or wounded. In 2003, Massie wrote that German casualties were an estimated 951 men killed and 78 wounded, most in Blücher; 153 men were killed and 33 were wounded in the fire in the two after turrets of Seydlitz. The British rescued 189 unwounded prisoners and 45 wounded from Blücher. British casualties were 15 killed and 80 men wounded. On Lion, two men had been killed and eleven wounded, most by a shell hit in the A turret lobby. Ten men were killed on Tiger with nine men wounded and on Meteor, four men were killed and two were wounded.

Joe Wilson

Joe Wilson

Joe Wilson was born in High Spen, County Durham, in 1909. Joe played football for Spen Black and White, Winlaton Celtic and Tanfield Lea Institute before signing for Newcastle United, initially on amateur forms, in 1933. He impressed for their Central League team, and turned professional in September 1933. He made his senior debut on Christmas Day 1934 and scored in a 6–2 defeat of Hull City in the Second Division, and played regularly through the second half of that season.

However, he fell out of favour, playing in only 14 matches in 1935–36, many of which were in positions other than his preferred inside right, and was made available for transfer at a fee of £500. He spoke to two Third Division South clubs, Cardiff City and Brighton & Hove Albion, and chose to sign for the latter; the fee paid was £450.

Joe impressed with his pace and his ability on the ball, and was a regular in the side, although not always at inside right. In the three seasons running up to the Second World War, as Albion finished third, fifth and third, Joe missed only nine matches in league and FA Cup. During the war he served as a Physical Training Instructor and when duty permitted, appeared for Albion in the wartime competitions.

He resumed his career with appearances in all ten of Albion’s 1945-46 FA Cup matches and 39 of their 42 fixtures in the first post-war league season. He then retired as a player and was appointed assistant to trainer Alex Wilson. When Alex Wilson left the club in 1952, Joe succeeded him as trainer, a post he held for 18 years. In 1963, he had a brief spell as caretaker manager between George Curtis’s departure and the arrival of Archie Macaulay. After five years as chief scout, he retired in 1974.

Joe played 353 matches for the Seagulls between 1936 and 1947 scoring 49 goals.

Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Jack Williams was born in 1906 in Wolverhampton, and played local football for Wednesfield Rovers before signing for Second Division club Wolverhampton Wanderers in November 1925, initially as an amateur. He made only three league appearances, in the 1927–28 season, and moved on to Gillingham of the Third Division South.

After three months and nine appearances, he moved on again, to Brighton & Hove Albion, where he was very highly rated. He was a regular in the side, and played 48 appearances in all competitions before a serious injury sustained towards the end of the 1929–30 season ended his career at the age of 23. He left the club in 1931 and joined the Brighton police.

Stan Webb

Stan Webb

Stan Webb was born in Portslade-by-Sea in 1906. He worked at the local gasworks, and played football for his works team and for Sussex county League team Hove before turning professional with Brighton & Hove Albion in 1924. He spent the next season with Tunbridge Wells Rangers of the Kent League, and made 24 first-team appearances for Albion in 1925–26. He then lost his place to the experienced Skilly Williams but regained it in late 1928, and was undisputed first choice goalkeeper until the arrival of Joe Duckworth, with whom he enjoyed a rivalry for the position until Duckworth moved on in 1932. Stan made his 234th and final first-team appearance for Albion in 1934, returned to Tunbridge Wells Rangers in 1935, and finished his career at Southwick.

Peter Trainor

Peter Trainor

Peter Trainor was born in Cockermouth, Cumberland in 1915. He began his football career with Workington of the North Eastern League and joined Preston North End in 1937, but never played for their first team. He moved on to Brighton & Hove Albion a few months later, and soon established himself in the team, but the outbreak of the Second World War and consequent abandonment of competitive football for the duration meant he was into his thirties before the resumption. He played occasionally at centre forward after the war, but then lost his place entirely and went back to Workington at the end of the 1947–48 season.

Peter played 94 matches for the Seagulls between 1938 and 1948 scoring 5 goals.

Charlie Thomson

Charlie Thomson

Charlie Thomson was born in Perth, Perthshire in 1905. He played for St Johnstone YMCA and for Scottish League clubs Alloa Athletic and Falkirk where he spent four seasons, before moving to England to sign for Brighton & Hove Albion in 1934. He was a first-team regular for five years and made 191 appearances for the Seagulls.

Charlie joined Exeter City in 1939, and played in the first three matches of the 1939-40 Football League before competitive football was abandoned for the duration of the Second World War. He then returned to Scotland where he played for Dundee United in the Eastern Regional League and was on the losing side in the Scottish War Emergency Cup, won by Rangers. After the war, he rejoined Exeter City before going back to Scotland.

Bert Stephens

Bert Stephens

Bert Stephens was born in Gillingham, Kent in 1909. An outside forward, Bert began his career at amateur club Ealing Association and joined Third Division South club Brentford in February 1931. He made just six first team appearances for the club and scored one goal, before his departure at the end of the 1934-35 season. Bert spent much of his time with Brentford in the reserve team, with whom he won two London Combination titles and the 1934-35 London Challenge Cup.

Bert joined Brighton & Hove Albion in June 1935. He was Brighton’s top scorer in the 1936-37 season, with 26 goals in all competitions and again in 1938-39 with 17 goals. After competitive football was suspended in 1939 due to the outbreak of the Second World War, Bert remained with the Seagulls. He retired in 1948, after scoring 86 goals in 180 league games and at the time he was Brighton’s second-highest goalscorer. Including his tally in wartime matches, Bert scored 174 goals for the Seagulls between 1935 and 1948 appearing in 366 matches.

Reg Smith

Reg Smith

Reg Smith was born in Rotherham in 1903. He played for Midland League club Scunthorpe & Lindsey United before joining Brighton & Hove Albion in 1923.

Although the team had considerable strength at full back at during the 1920s, Reg averaged 20 league matches a season for the seven seasons he spent in the first team, and was appointed captain for 1929–30. An injury early in that campaign effectively ended his professional career, although he remained on the club’s books until 1931.

Reg then played amateur football for Shoreham.

Harold Sly

Harold Sly

Harold Sly was born in Appley Bridge, Lancashire in 1904. He played football for the Rover Company’s team before joining Birmingham, however, he never started a match for the club in the English Football League and dropped back into the amateur game with Tamworth Castle.

In 1927 he joined Gillingham of the Football League Third Division where he spent two seasons but never secured a regular place in the club’s first team, He then moved to Brighton & Hove Albion where he made 24 appearances between 1929 and 1933 before joining French club FC Sete.

Tommy Simpson

Tommy Simpson

Tommy Simpson was born in Dundee in 1904. He played junior football for Dundee Osborne before signing for Dundee United in December 1923. He became a regular in the side, and made a major contribution to their promotion to the Scottish First Division in 1924–25.

After more than 100 appearances in league and cup competition over three-and-a-half seasons, he left for Brighton & Hove Albion for a £250 fee. He played 30 times in the Third Division South in 1926-28 scoring 6 goals the before returning to Scotland where he joined Montrose.

Joe Pointon

Joe Pointon

Joe Pointon played for non-league football for Leek Wesleyans, Leek National, and Congleton Town before signing with Stoke He did not feature for the “Potters” however, and so crossed the Potteries divide to join Port Vale as an amateur in April 1923. He played six consecutive Second Division games during the 1923-24 season, filling in for the regular number 7 Jack Lowe. He played four games during the 1925-26 season, but was released upon its conclusion.

He moved on to Luton Town, Brighton & Hove Albion (1928-29 16 matches, 5 goals), Torquay United, Bristol Rovers and He was Torquay’s top scorer during the 1929-30 Third Division South season, with sixteen goals.

Geordie Nicol

Geordie Nicol

Geordie Nicol was born in Saltcoats, Scotland, and played in Scottish Junior football before joining Manchester United in January 1928. He moved on to Brighton & Hove Albion in May 1929, and was their leading scorer in the 1930-31 season with 31 goals in all competitions.

He had a season in the Irish League with Glenavon before returning to England to play for Gillingham and then for French club RC Roubaix.

Billy Henderson

Billy Henderson

Billy Henderson, a right-back began his career with his local side Whitburn from whom he joined Brighton & Hove Albion where he made 2 appearances in 1919-20.

He then moved to Aberdare Athletic and played 19 league games in Aberdare’s first ever season in the Football League (1921–22). He left Aberdare mid-way during the season, in January 1922, to join West Ham United in a £650 transfer and was part of the West Ham team that won promotion to the First Division.

He also appeared in the famous White Horse Final, the first FA Cup final to be held at the brand new Wembley Stadium, during the 1922-23 season. He was an ever-present for the Hammers during the 1923-24 season. He retired because of ill health after the 1928–29 season, having played 183 times and scored one goal, the goal being scored in the FA Cup against his old club Aberdare in 1924.

Billy Moffatt

Billy Moffatt

Billy Moffatt was born in Bellshill, Lanarkshire, in 1897. He played junior football for Bellshill Athletic before joining Bo’ness of Division Two. He captained the team to the quarter-finals of the 1922-23 Scottish Cup, in which they performed well in a 4–2 defeat to Division One club Motherwell despite being handicapped by an injury to Billy.

In 1925, he signed for English Second Division club He soon established himself in the team, and was ever-present in the 1926–27 season in which they were promoted to the First Division, He took his appearance total to 138 before being released in 1930 to join Brighton & Hove Albion then of the Third Division South.

He was already 32 years old, and Albion used him as a standby player to cover at right back at and wing half. In his first season, he contributed to a run of 16 league matches unbeaten that remained a club record until 2015. After two seasons and 23 appearances, he left the Football League for non-league football.

Herbert Jones

Herbert Jones

Herbert Jones began his football career, whilst still a part-time plumber, with his hometown club, Blackpool, making his debut on 16 December 1922, in a goalless draw against Hull City at Bloomfield Road. He went on to make a further fifteen league appearances during the 1922-23 campaign, in what was Bill Norman’s final season in charge of the Seasiders. Under new manager Major Frank Buckley in 1923-24, Herbert made 28 league appearances. He also featured in Blackpool’s two FA Cup ties that season.

The following season, 1924-25 Herbert appeared in 34 of the club’s 42 league dates. He again appeared during the club’s FA Cup run, this time helping them to the fourth round. They were knocked out by Blackburn Rovers by at Ewood Park by a single goal in front of a crowd of 60,000.

Blackburn approached Blackpool the following season, 1925-26 with a view to signing the defender. Blackpool accepted the £6,000 offer, and in mid-January he moved east across Lancashire. Herbert went on to play 247 league games for Rovers spanning from 1925 to 1934. He won the FA Cup with the club in 1928.

He then joined Brighton & Hove Albion in 1934 for a season, making 43 appearances.

He finished his career back on the Fylde with Fleetwood Town.

Dai James

Dai James

Dai James was born in Aberdare in in 1899. He joined his hometown club, Aberdare Athletic in 1921, ahead of their first season in the Football League, and went on to make 171 appearances in the Third Division South playing at centre half, wing half and all the forward positions in a five-and-a-half-year stay.

He moved to Brighton & Hove Albion, in December 1926, and made a further 32 appearances scoring 9 goals before being released at the end of the 1928–29 season.

Jack Atherton

Jack Atherton

Costing £250 in May 1938, Atherton arrived at the Goldstone from Preston North End, having joined the Deepdale staff at the age of sixteen in May 1934. His opportunities with his home town club were limited, though, and he made their First Division side on just four occasions in four seasons. He couldn’t win a regular place on the South Coast with the Albion either, despite scoring a brace of goals against Notts County in only his third outing. Jack didn’t play senior football during the war years, but Albion retained his registration until May 1947 when he was put on the transfer list. There were no offers and Jack never again appeared in the Football League.

Jack played 10 matches for the Seagulls in 1938-39 scoring 2 goals.

Dennis Gordon

Dennis Gordon

Dennis Gordon was born in Bilston, Staffordshire. He attended Southfield School in Oxford, and played first-team football for Headington United from the age of 14. After serving with the RAF during the Second World War, he returned to Oxford, took a job as an audit clerk in the Borough Treasurer’s department, and resumed his football career with Oxford City. He was also on the books of Tottenham Hotspur as an amateur, and played for their reserves. When that registration expired at the end of the season, West Bromwich Albion signed him on amateur forms; two days later, he received a letter from Tottenham Hotspur offering him terms for the new season. He soon made his senior debut, and over the next four-and-a-half years he scored 10 goals from 27 league appearances. At the end of the 1951–52 season, he was placed on the transfer list.

Gordon signed for Brighton & Hove Albion for a £3,500 fee. He was not a regular in his first season with the club, but missed only nine league matches over the following five years, and scored twelve goals as Brighton won the 1957-58 Third Division South title. He shared the outside-right position for the next two seasons, and was released on a free transfer in 1961. He played non-league football for a further five years.

He returned to local government work in Brighton’s Corporation’s Housing Department. Dennis died in Jersey in May 1998 at the age of 73.

Joe Leeming

Joe Leeming

Gallaher’s cigarette card featuring Joe Leeming of Brighton & Hove Albion.

Preston, Lancashire born left back Joe Leeming started his football career with junior club Turton in 1896 before joining First Division Bury, for whom he made his Football League debut against Blackburn Rovers in April 1898. From the following season he was an ever present, playing mainly centre half or inside left until he switched to left back from 1905, and he stayed a total of 11 seasons with The Shakers. During that time he won the FA Cup twice with Bury, playing in their 4-0 victory over Southampton in the 1900 Final and scoring twice (playing as a forward) in their record 6-0 thrashing of Derby County in the 1903 Final, both staged at The Crystal Palace. In November 1899 he was selected to play for The Football League against The Irish League in a 3-1 victory at Burnden Park, Bolton, but he never played for England.

He scored 20 goals in 280 appearances for Bury before joining Southern League Brighton & Hove Albion in 1908, where he became the club captain and played a further six years, most notably he helped Brighton win the 1909-10 Southern League Championship, and also was a member of the Albion team that won the 1910 FA Charity Shield when they beat League Champions Aston Villa 1-0 at Stamford Bridge that September. In the five years that the Charity Shield was contested by the winners of the Football League and Southern League between 1908 and 1912, this was the only occasion on which the Southern League Champions prevailed. The victory remains Brighton & Hove Albion’s only national honour to date.. In 1914 he returned to Lancashire to join non league Chorley before retirement, having played 193 matches for Brighton without ever scoring.

He was the father of the footballer Clifford Leeming, who went on to play for various clubs including Bolton Wanderers, Bury and Tranmere Rovers.

Wilfred “Tim” McCoy

Wilfred “Tim” McCoy

Wilfred “Tim” McCoy was born in Birmingham in 1921. He was nicknamed Tim, after the Western film star, Tim McCoy and was generally known by that name. His football career appeared to have ended prematurely when the outbreak of the Second World War and a call-up to the Army prevented him from taking up a trial with Bolton Wanderers. However, when he was posted to Preston Barracks in Brighton, he appeared in wartime matches for Brighton & Hove Albion in the 1940–41 season.

After the war, he signed for First Division club Portsmouth. As backup he made just 18 league appearances in two-and-a-half seasons, and moved on to Northampton Town. He captained the team, and helped them finish as Third Division South runners-up in 1949–50. In January 1951, he returned to Brighton & Hove Albion where he was a regular in the team for nearly three years. He left at the end of the 1953-54 season, and went on to play non-league football for Tonbridge.

He then worked as a representative of an electrical appliances company and lived in the Woodingdean area of Brighton. He died in the city in 2005 at the age of 83.

Edward Martin

Edward Martin

Edward Martin was born in Greasley, Nottinghamshire. He played for Selston Amateurs and Heanor Town and had an unsuccessful trial with West Bromwich Albion before signing for Brighton and Hove Albion of the Football League Third Division South in September 1932. He was a first-team regular in the last four seasons before the Football League was suspended for the duration of the Second World War and helped the Seagulls finish as runners-up in 1938–39. Martin served in the Army, and made guest appearances for Portsmouth and Bournemouth before resuming his Seagulls career in the 1945-46 FA Cup, He played no more league football through injury, and went on to work as an electrician in a Nottinghamshire colliery.

Edward died in Selston, Nottinghamshire, in 1990 at the age of 79.

Jack Stevens

Jack Stevens

Jack Stevens was born in Broomhill, Northumberland, As a young man, he was a professional sprinter who won the Morpeth Handicap Sprint. He began his Football League career with Ashington, for whom he appeared twice, and was on the books of Manchester City without playing first-team football, before joining Stockport County in late 1932. He became a regular for Stockport over the next 18 months, was ever-present in the 1933–34 season, and appeared on the losing side in the inaugural Third Division North Cup Final. Stevens then signed for Brighton and Hove Albion. Appearing infrequently in his first season, he missed only five matches in the next three. He remained with the club during the first season of wartime competition before joining the Manchester Police.

Len Darling

Len Darling

Len Darling was born in Gillingham. He played non-league football before joining his hometown club, Gillingham, of the Football League Third Division South, in 1933. After one season, during which he made 14 league appearances, he signed for Brighton and Hove Albion, where he established himself as a first-team regular. He made 141 league appearances in the pre-war period, served as an ARP ambulance driver during the conflict (as well as playing for Brighton and as a guest for Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic i the wartime competitions), and played a further 58 league matches after the resumption. He also coached in schools and acted as trainer to the England Youth team. After football, he worked as a schoolteacher. Len died in Felixstowe, Suffolk in 1958 at the age of 47.