Battle of Jutland

The Long Shadow of Trafalgar

Although separated by more than a hundred years and extraordinary technological change, the shadow of Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar hung over Admiral Sir John Jellicoe and Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty when they fought the Kaiser’s fleet at Jutland on 31st May, 1916.

The Kaiser proclaimed that ‘the spell of Trafalgar has been broken’, but although the British lost more ships and men, the Royal Navy had won a costly victory. The British blockade of Germany continued, bringing severe hardship to the population, forcing Germany into a disastrous submarine campaign which helped bring the USA into the war, and eventually caused a mutiny by disillusioned German sailors in 1918. But the British Admiralty mishandled public relations, and arguments raged about whether overwhelming victory had eluded the British as a result of Jellicoe’s alleged caution, or Beatty’s alleged glory-seeking.

Beatty's silver box from the Battle of Jutland

The British had been the undisputed masters of the seas since Trafalgar. Jellicoe was expected to be the new Nelson, although the label never sat comfortably with him, but it was Beatty who arguably identified most self-consciously with his predecessor. With his distinctive looks, flair and charisma, few naval officers better understood the importance of ‘image’ to a public brought up on stories of Nelson. Beatty kept a silver biscuit box that had been in Nelson’s cabin at Trafalgar onboard HMS Lion at Jutland, and this extraordinary artefact has been lent to The National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) for the ’36 Hours’ exhibition. Victoria Ingles from The NMRN exhibition team is clear about its importance: "The fact that Beatty kept this in his cabin at the Battle of Jutland is an indication of how much he treasured this item. Two inscriptions on the box record its unique history, connecting the two men and the key battles with which they are associated.”

As the ‘Jutland Controversy’ overwhelmed objective consideration, efforts to emphasise the ‘Nelson connection’ were diluted. In 1935 new fountains and a pair of bronze busts were proposed for Trafalgar Square as memorials to Jellicoe and Beatty. Work was stopped in 1939, the fountains were dropped, and the busts eventually placed more unobtrusively against the square’s north wall. To add insult to injury the new battleships Jellicoe and Beatty were renamed Anson and Howe in 1940. Heroes from Nelson’s time were, perhaps, easier for the public to relate to at a time of national crisis?

Jutland 1916: The Big Debate

New date: Thursday 2nd February 2017.

Ever since the guns fell silent, Jutland has divided opinion. Was it the battle that won the war? Why does Jutland matter today? And what of the social impact on Britain and Germany?

Are blockades ever morally justified and what is the cultural legacy of the battle – where are the poems and music, the TV dramas and plays? Why does Jutland matter today?

If these are the type of questions you would love to discuss, then Jutland 1916: The Big Debate is the museum event for you. In this centenary year of what Nick Hewitt, Head of Heritage Development at The NMRN has described as “The Royal Navy’s defining moment in The Great War”, have your say and put your questions to our panel of experts.

The international panel will be chaired by British historian and broadcaster Dan Snow. Panel members include Dr Andrew Gordon, author of The Rules of the Game, Jutland and British Naval Command, Dr Laura Rowe, a Lecturer in Naval History at the University of Exeter, and the National Museum’s Nick Hewitt. Further details of speakers to be confirmed.

Have your questions answered by the experts, explore Jutland’s significance, and help us put this epic confrontation back at the heart of Royal Naval, British and world history.

Jutland 1916: The Big Debate

Find out more >

Jutland Exhibition

Major Francis Harvey Jutland Victoria Cross

Victoria Crosses:
After the Battle of Jutland, four sailors were awarded the Victoria Cross, three posthumously to Major Francis Harvey, Commander Loftus Jones, Boy 1st Class John Travers Cornwell and one to Commander The Honourable Barry Bingham, who survived but remained a Prisoner of War until the Armistice of 1918. Each of the recipients of the highest military decoration for valour in the face of the enemy will be represented throughout the Jutland exhibition with Major Francis Harvey’s Victoria Cross being on permanent display for the duration of the exhibition.

Commonwealth Representation:
As the arms race with Imperial Germany picked up pace in the years before the First World War, the British government persuaded the new Commonwealth governments to pay for their own ships, providing a much needed boost to a Royal Navy which still had to operate within the constraints of government spending. The result was the battlecruisers HMAS Australia and HMS New Zealand, which were launched in 1911. In an age when loyalty to the ‘home country’ was still prized and individuals often felt both ‘Canadian’ and ‘British’, volunteers from across what was then the Empire flocked to join both small locally raised forces and the Royal Navy itself. Commonwealth sailors at Jutland certainly hailed from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and undivided India, and from other countries as well.

The NMRN is proud and grateful to tell the story of this Commonwealth contribution to victory at Jutland through an extraordinary collection of artefacts from HMS New Zealand, generously loaned by the National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy and on public display outside New Zealand for the first time.

Divers on The Battle of Jutland wrecks undertaking Marine Archaeology

Maritime Archaeology:
As soon as history was made, it slipped beneath the waves. The Jutland wrecks form an underwater battlefield more complete than those of the Western Front. They lie in fairly shallow, international waters and some have badly deteriorated or were even salvaged for their valuable non-ferrous metals, until in 2006 the 14 British Jutland wrecks were designated as protected places. In 2015 the Royal Navy survey ship HMS Echo, in partnership with The NMRN, spent a week scouring the floor of the North Sea with her multibeam sonar equipment, creating moving three-dimensional images of the lost Jutland ships for the ‘36 Hours’ exhibition. These ghostly pictures graphically illustrate the horrific aftermath of this great battle, simultaneously a triumph and a tragedy on an epic scale. Underwater photo credit: Claudio Provenzani


Naval Nurses onboard HM Hospital Ship Plassy

Sailors’ Stories:
See Jutland through the eyes of those involved in the battle and its immediate aftermath. At the heart of ‘36 Hours’ are the artefacts from some of the more than 100,000 sailors from both fleets who took part in the Battle of Jutland, from admirals to boy seamen. “Many were very aware of the battle’s momentous importance”, said Victoria Ingles, “collecting and retaining mementos in their families for years after Jutland.”

Naval Nursing Sister Mary Clark, aboard the hospital ship Plassy, saw the effects of the battle on sailors and recorded them in a detailed and very moving diary. Despite their ordeal, Clark describes many of them as “look[ing] cheery even at that hour” and records how “very few of them made a moan” when having dressings removed from their injuries.

Stanley Terry was a Stoker aboard HMS Tiger who recounted in notes made after the battle how he saw the doomed battlecruiser HMS Queen Mary just ahead and “the men walking about on the decks [with] some sat up on the guns quite plain… Little did I think that before three more hours were over she, and all her crew, would be at the bottom of the sea.”

Find out how sailors reacted to their ships being sunk; the confusion, fear and turmoil of a clash between 250 ships; and the reaction to Jutland veterans by members of the public who, misunderstanding the nature of the first modern naval battle, felt they had been let down after basking in the glory of naval supremacy for over a hundred years.

Resources:

  • Jellicoe, N. (2016) Jutland: The Unfinished Battle. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Seaforth Publishing
  • Matthews, P. (2012) London’s Statues and Monuments. Oxford, UK: Shire Publications
  • Clark, M. (n.a.) Private Papers of Miss M. Clark, HMHS Plassy (IWM)
  • Portsmouth Historic Dockyard (2016) Jutland 1916 The Big Debate. Retrieved from: http://www.historicdockyard.co.uk/jutland-debate
  • Steel, N and Hart, P (2004) Jutland 1916 Death in Grey Wastes, Weidenfeld & Nicolson
  • Gordon, A (1997) Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command, John Murray