ON May 31st, 1916, the Grand Fleet and the High Sea Fleet
fought the action which has become known as the Battle of Jutland. The despatch
describing the battle, as published some weeks later, was not quite in its
original form as written by me. After a conference held at the Admiralty, early
in June, modifications were made : some of them because it was considered that
certain passages might convey useful information to the enemy, and others
because it was thought to be undesirable to draw attention to certain features
of British design. Amongst the latter was the insufficiency of the armour
protection of our earlier battle cruisers.
Throughout the War it had been our policy to cause our
battle cruisers, with their attendant light cruisers, to occupy when at sea an
advanced position, often at a considerable distance from the Battle Fleet.
Battle cruisers were designed and built in order that they might keep in touch
with the enemy and report his movements when he had been found; hence the heavy
guns which they carried. They were intended to find the enemy for the Battle
Fleet and to ascertain the enemy's strength in order to report to the Battle
Fleet. Had this policy not been adopted the enemy's battle cruisers could not
have been brought to action on such occasions as the engagement of January
24th, 1915. And in the cases of raids on our coast, the battle cruisers were
always sent ahead at full speed to endeavour to cut off the enemy battle
Bearing in mind our superiority in numbers in the middle of
1916 and the heavier armaments carried by our ships, the real risk involved in
this policy was that of our battle cruisers being drawn on to the enemy's
Battle Fleet, and one or more of our vessels being disabled. Provided that our
ships were not disabled, they would, owing to their higher speed, have no
difficulty in clear weather in keeping out of range of the enemy's Battle
Fleet, if it were sighted, whilst still maintaining touch with it, and driving
off lighter vessels. With the added support of the ships of the 5th Battle
Squadron, which had been grouped with the Battle Cruiser Fleet owing to the
absence of the 3rd Battle Squadron at Scapa Flow, the tactical advantage of our
ships was even stronger, provided always that the 5th Battle Squadron had an
excess of speed over the fastest enemy's Battle Squadron.
In these circumstances, when preparing my despatch, I had
felt it necessary on the highest grounds, as well as only just to the officers
and men of our battle cruisers, to give some explanation of the heavy losses
incurred by our ships in the early part of the action, when we were opposing
six battle cruisers (supported, though at long range, by four battleships of
the "Queen Elizabeth" class, comprising the 5th Battle Squadron) to five enemy
battle cruisers, which were not then supported by the German Battle Fleet.
Inquiry into this matter showed that one explanation was that our ships were
very inadequately protected by armour as compared with the German vessels of
the battle cruiser type. It was considered undesirable to draw attention to
this publicly while the War was in progress.
The relative values of protection and gun power had
frequently engaged my serious attention. It was also a subject of much
discussion amongst writers on naval matters, some of whom went to the length of
suggesting that all available weight should be put into gun power and that
ships should be left practically without armour. Their views were based on the
argument that "the best defence is a powerful offensive." Although this
argument is very true when applied to strategy, the War has shown its fallacy
as applied to materiel. The loss of the Good Hope, Monmouth, Queen Mary,
Indefatigable, Invincible, Defence, and Warrior, and the considerations to
which these losses gave rise, convinced naval officers afloat, even if it did
not convince others less intimately associated with the Fleet during the War,
that ships with inadequate defensive qualities are no match for those which
possess them to a considerably greater degree, even if the former are superior
in gun power. The conviction was strengthened by the knowledge we obtained,
that German ships, far more frequently hit by gunfire, torpedo, or mine than
many of our ships that sank, were yet taken safely into port owing partly to
their defensive qualities, but partly to the limitations of our armour-piercing
shell at that time.
There has been in the past a tendency in some quarters, when
comparing the relative strength of the British and German Fleets for the
purpose of future provision of large vessels in the Navy Estimates, to make
comparison only on the basis of the gun power of the vessels of the two Navies.
Great superiority in fighting qualities on the part of the British Fleet was
suggested by this blindness to other considerations. During my pre-War service
at the Admiralty this question was often under discussion, and I consistently
demurred to this line of argument as being very misleading, and pointed out
that the true comparison lay between the displacement of the ships of the
various classes, because if we assumed, as War experience has since shown that
we were justified in assuming, that the German naval designers and constructors
were not inferior in ability to our own, it was obvious that, taking ships of
equal displacement and equal speed, and about contemporary date, if our vessels
possessed superiority in gunfire, the Germans must possess superiority in some
other direction. It was well known at the Admiralty that their superiority lay
in greatly increased protection, combined with heavier torpedo armament.
We were also aware that the German vessels were fitted with
small tube boilers, which were very economical in weight for a given
horse-power, and, consequently, the German vessels obtained thereby a further
advantage, the weight saved being presumably utilised in giving the ships
additional protection. In other words, they adopted a different disposition of
the weight available in each ship.
The tables on pp. 310-13 give particulars of the armament,
protection, and displacement of the capital ships of the two Navies engaged in
the Battle of Jutland, so far as they are known to me: The main facts revealed
by an examination of these tables are:
1. The German ships of any
particular period were of considerably greater displacement as compared with
contemporary British ships.
2. The German ships carried a much greater
weight of armour than their British contemporaries.
3. All German.
Dreadnoughts were provided with side armour to the upper deck, whilst nine of
the earliest British Dreadnoughts were provided with armour protection to the
main deck only, thus rendering them far more open to artillery attack. The
"Orion" class of battleship and the "Lion" class of battle cruiser, designed
during my service at the Admiralty as Controller, were the first of our
Dreadnoughts armoured to the upper deck.
4. The main belt and upper belt
armour of the German ships was in nearly all cases thicker than in their
British contemporaries, whilst the protection at the bow and stern was in all
cases considerably greater in the German ships.
5. The deck protection in
the German ships was usually greater than in the British vessels and the
.watertight subdivision more complete. 6. The German ships carried a greater
number of submerged torpedo tubes than the British vessels.
1. The earlier German battle cruisers were of greater displacement
than their British contemporaries.
2. The German ships carried a greater
weight of armour than their British contemporaries.
3. Five out of our
nine battle cruisers were without protection above the main deck, the whole of
the German vessels being provided with protection to the upper deck.
The German vessels possessed thicker armour in all positions, including deck
protection, as well as more complete watertight subdivision.
5. The German
ships carried a greater number of submerged torpedo tubes than the British
As against the additional protection of the German ships our
vessels of contemporary design were provided in all cases with heavier turret
guns, whilst the German ships carried heavier secondary armaments.
A point of considerable interest, .which should also be
mentioned because it was to prove important, was that the Germans possessed a
delay-action fuse which, combined with a highly efficient armour-piercing
projectile, ensured the burst of shell taking place inside the armour of
British ships instead of outside, or whilst passing through the armour, which
was the case with British shells of that date fired against the thick German
The fuel capacity of the ships of the two Navies was not
widely different, although the British ships, as a rule, were fitted to carry
more fuel. Although I arranged, after the first few months of war, to reduce
the amount of fuel carried by our ships very considerablyin fact, by more
than 25 per cent.I was unable to reduce it further in coal-burning ships
without sacrificing some of the protection afforded by the coal, since in our
case it was necessary to be prepared to do a considerable amount of steaming at
high speed, involving expenditure of coal, before obtaining contact with the
enemy. It would have been unwise to contemplate meeting the Germans with coal
below what I 'may call the "safety line." On the other hand, it was .well known
that, as the Germans had no intention of fighting an action far from their
bases, they had effected a very much greater reduction in the quantity of fuel
carried, with consequently a corresponding advantage in speed.
There was yet one other matter of great importance, namely,
the vulnerability of the ships of the two Navies in regard to under-water
attack. Here the Germans possessed a very real advantage, which stood them in
good stead throughout the war. It arose from two causes :
1. The greater extent of the protective armour inside the
ships, and in many cases its greater thickness.
2. The greater distance of this armour from the outer skin
of the ship and the consequent additional protection to under-water attack
In regard to the first point, the great majority of our
ships only carried partial internal protection, that is, protection over a
portion of the length of the ship. The protection was usually confined to the
region of the magazine and shell-rooms. In the German ships it ran throughout
the length of the vessel.
As to the second point, it was possible to place the
protective bulkhead farther ' ' inboard ' ' in the German ships without
cramping machinery and magazine spaces, because the ships themselves were of
much greater beam. Consequently the explosion of a mine or a torpedo against
the hull of the ship was far less likely to injure the protective bulkhead and
so to admit water into the vitals of the ship than was the case with a British
vessel. The result was that, although it is known that many German capital
ships were mined and torpedoed during the war, including several at the Jutland
battle, the Germans have not so far admitted that any were sunk, except the
pre- Dreadnought battleship Pommern and the battle cruiser Lutzow, whose
injuries from shell fire .were also very extensive.
On the other hand, British capital ships mined or torpedoed
rarely survived. The recorded instances of escape are the Inflexible (mined in
the Dardanelles) and the Marlborough (torpedoed at Jutland), and in the latter
case, although the torpedo struck at about the most favourable spot for the
ship, she had some difficulty in reaching port.
The question will be asked why it was that British ships
were under this disadvantage. The reply is that the whole of our Dreadnought
battleships designed before the War were hampered by the absence of proper dock
accommodation. The German Emperor once remarked to me at Kiel on this subject,
that we had made the mistake of building our ships before we had proper dock
accommodation for them, whilst in Germany they had provided the dock
accommodation first and had designed the ships subsequently. He was quite
right, although, since docks took a long time to construct, the German policy
involved delay in shipbuilding, whereas we got ships of a type, and hence our
margin of superiority in 1914. As each successive type of Dreadnought was
designed, our constructive staff were faced with the fact that if they went
beyond a certain beam the number of docks available would be insufficient; and
to obtain money with which to construct adequate docks was always a matter of
difficulty. Docks make no appeal to the imagination of the public and cost a
great deal of money. The result was that August, 1914, found us with a
superiority in ships, but woefully lacking in dock accommodation ; and for this
reason alone a Fleet action early in the War, resulting in considerable damage
to heavy ships, would have produced embarrassing results.
It is only just to our very able constructive staff at the
Admiralty to point this out ; it was one of the reasons which led to the German
ships being much better equipped to withstand under-water attack than were our
own. It is devoutly to be hoped that this lesson will be borne in mind in the
future, and adequate dock accommodation provided for the Fleet.
The matter is one of which I have considerable personal
knowledge, since it came within my province as Controller in 1909-11 and was
also given to me to examine .whilst Second Sea Lord in 1913. It is needless to
say that on both occasions the necessities were pointed out with emphasis.
These remarks are not out of place, as will be shown, as an introduction to a
consideration of the Battle of Jutland, if that action is to be rightly judged.
In following the proceedings of the Fleet it is essential to
bear in mind that the time of receipt of signals, especially of reports
emanating from the bridge of a ship, is not a true indication of the time at
which the officer making the report began his task. A varying but considerable
interval is bound to elapse; this includes the time taken to write out the
report, transmit it to the wireless office or signal bridge, code it, signal
it, decode it on board the receiving ship, write it out and transmit it to the
bridge. The interval is greater with wireless than with visual signals.