THE BATTLE OF JUTLAND

 

 

(photo left courtesy of Len Holland showing crew of Indefatigable in May 1915. The names read as follows:-

A group of Kingsteignton and Newton men on HMS Indefatigable in May 1915. Almost 12 months later many of those pictured here were to lose their lives at the Battle of Jutland.

Standing: Bartlett (Kingsteignton), Holland (Kingsteignton), Collett (Newton), Watts (Newton), Churchward (Newton) Honeywell (Newton). Sitting: (Mardon (Kingsteignton), Way (Kingsteignton), and Holmes (Newton).

 

 

THE BATTLE OF JUTLAND

The greatest naval battle of the First World War, the Battle of Jutland, was fought in the North Sea and is now etched in the annals of Royal Navy history.  Included in the fight were many Devonport based ships such as HMS Indefatigable, HMS Lion, HMS Tiger, HMS Warrior, all carrying Kingsteignton men amongst their crews.

The commander of the German High Seas Fleet, Reinhard Scheer, who had recently been making sorties along the east coast of England, decided the time was right to set sail with the entire High Seas Fleet, expecting that the only serious threat he might meet was Admiral Beatty's battlecruiser squadron based at Rosyth on the Forth. He was confident that the main British battle fleet, at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys, was too far away to intervene. However, unknown to Scheer the British had cracked the Germans’ navy codes and were wise to his plan. The Royal Navy knew he was coming. Only minutes after notification had been received that the German High Seas Fleet had put to sea the British Grand Fleet sailed.                                                                                                             Both German and British fleets had a scouting squadron of battlecruisers sailing ahead of the main battle fleets. Admiral Beatty, commanding the British battle cruisers encountered their weaker German equivalent under Admiral Hipper on 31st May and as Hipper turned and made a course south east towards the main German fleet Beatty took the bait and chased them. Hipper hoped to lure the British battlecruisers into the path of Scheer’s main fleet where the German Dreadnoughts would destroy them.. The ships engaged at 3.48pm when the Lutzow fired at Lion.  It is still a matter of considerable controversy as to whether Beatty was right to engage his six vessels with the enemy.  His dash in pursuit of the enemy with his fast battlecruisers meant that he lost touch with the heavier armed and armoured battle ships in his squadron.                                                                                                                                                                                    

The greater accuracy of the German gunnery quickly led to the destruction of two British battle cruisers, HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary, from hits to their magazines, prompting Beatty to declare: 'There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today.'

 HMS Indefatigable had become involved in a one-on-one duel with the Von der Tann, which was the German Navy’s first major turbine powered warship. At 16.00hrs two 11in shells hit her upper deck, causing an explosion in X magazine. She staggered out of line, and began sinking at the stern. At 16.05hrs she was hit by another salvo which caused a much bigger explosion. She blew up and vanished, with the loss of all but 18 of her 1000 crew.      

Beatty’s own flagship HMS Lion was hit by many shells. The most dangerous blow came at 16.03hrs, when a heavy shell hit Q turret, entered the gun-house and exploded over the left gun. The explosion killed most of the gun crew and caused a fire that threatened to spread to the magazine, and destroy the ship. Only the quick thinking of Major F. J. W. Harvey, the Marine officer in charge of the turret, saved the Lion from the same fate at Indefatigable. Despite being mortally wounded, he ordered the magazine doors to be shut and the magazine flooded. He was awarded a posthumous V.C. for his actions.

When Beatty saw the main force of the High Seas Fleet looming in front of him he turned back north towards the

main fleet, pursued by the German Dreadnoughts, luring them into the path of Jellicoe’s battle fleet as had been originally planned.

As the High Seas Fleet made its way north through poor visibility and when the mist eventually cleared it found the Grand Fleet looming in front of them. Jellicoe ordered his ships to “cross the T” so that his ships would be able to engage all their guns on the oncoming enemy, which by now was silhouetted against the sky.

Firing began at 18.30 hrs and over the next two hours the opposing fleets engaged twice before the Germans turned south.  Jellicoe managed manoeuvred his ships to the south hoping to cut them off but under cover of darkness the German fleet slipped undetected through the British rear-guard.

Jutland was the last, and largest, of the great capital ship battles. Neither submarines nor aircraft played any part in the battle, despite the plans of both sides. Never again did battle fleets meet again in such numbers. The battle effectively ended any threat from the German High Seas Fleet, which the Germans now knew could not contest control of the North Sea with the Royal Navy. The sea power with which Kaiser Wilhelm II had been obsessed, and which had done so much to sour relations between Britain and Germany, had not delivered the hoped for mastery of the sea.

The battle disappointed the people of Britain, where news of a second Trafalgar had been expected, and the hard fought draw at Jutland was not appreciated until much later.

The ability of the Royal Navy to maintain a blockade against Germany was a causal factor of the Steckrübenwinter (Turnip Winter) of 1916-17. Poor weather had resulted in the failure of the potato crop and the inability to import potatoes from other sources meant the civilian population had to subsist on turnips as an alternative.

While both sides claimed victory - the German claims were based on the number of ships sunk, whilst the British reported 24 battleships ready for action on the day after the battle - it was dreadful day for the ships on which men from the village were serving.

HMS Warrior was hit by a 12 inch shell, which inflicted considerable damage and claimed 107 casualties. Crippled she was taken in tow but later sank. HMS Tiger was hit by fifteen 11 inch shells with twenty four killed and forty six wounded.   During the battle she fired off three hundred and three 13.5 inch shells. As already mentioned Lion was badly hit and Indefatigable blown up.

Six Kingsteignton men, Fred Bartlett (HMS Indefatigable), Len Holland (HMS Indefatigable), Fred Jordan (HMS Warrior), George Newland (HMS Lion), Harry Way (HMS Indefatigable) and John Yeo (HMS Tiger), were lost in the battle on that day.

Others such as Stoker Fred Harris (HMS Tiger) suffered injuries from the inhalation of gas. Numerous other men from the village such as Chief PO Sam Evans, Stoker Sam Bickham and Stoker Frederick Medland got news to their families that they were safe. Two weeks after the battle a memorial service to those lost was held in the parish church.