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Jellicoe: The Grand Fleet
Chapter 12a - The Battle of Jutland

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 cruisers.

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.
4. 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 ships.

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 armour.

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 considerably—in 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 afforded thereby.

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.

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