Primary Documents - British Report on the Battle of Jutland, 24 June 1916
Reproduced below is the official British report issued in the wake of the 31 May-1 June 1916 Battle of Jutland - up to that point arguably the greatest naval battle in history. The report's author was Sir John Jellicoe, British Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet.
Although regarded by many as tactically a German victory - more damage was inflicted upon the British Grand Fleet than upon the German High Seas Fleet - strategically the victory belonged undeniably to the British. The German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, afraid of the dangers faced by his fleet, forbade them to engage the British in similar fashion for the remainder of the war.
Thus the German fleet remained in port while the British controlled to patrol freely, imposing an increasingly effective naval blockade upon Germany.
Click here to read the first official German report on the battle; click here to read the first British reaction; click here to read German naval minister Eduard von Capelle's report; click here to read an account of the battle by a German sailor; click here to read a British memoir.
Sir John Jellicoe's
on the Battle of Jutland,
31 May-1 June 1916
24 June, 1916
Be pleased to inform the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that the German High Sea Fleet was brought to action on May 31, 1916, to the westward of the Jutland Bank, off the coast of Denmark.
The ships of the Grand Fleet, in pursuance of the general policy of periodical sweeps through the North Sea, had left its bases on the previous clay, in accordance with instructions issued by me.
In the early afternoon of Wednesday, May 3lst, the 1st and 2nd Battle-cruiser Squadrons, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Lightcruiser Squadrons and destroyers from the 1st, 9th, 10th and 13th Flotillas, supported by the 5th Battle Squadron, were, in accordance with my directions, scouting to the southward of the Battle Fleet, which was accompanied by the 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron, 1st and 2nd Cruiser Squadrons, 4th Lightcruiser Squadron, 4th, 11th and 12th Flotillas.
The junction of the Battle Fleet with the scouting force after the enemy had been sighted was delayed owing to the southerly course steered by our advanced force during the first hour after commencing their action with the enemy battle-cruisers. This was, of course, unavoidable, as had our battle-cruisers not followed the enemy to the southward the main fleets would never have been in contact.
The Battle-cruiser Fleet, gallantly led by Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty, and admirably supported by the ships of the Fifth Battle Squadron under Rear-Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas, fought an action under, at times, disadvantageous conditions, especially, in regard to light, in a manner that was in keeping with the best traditions of the service.
On receipt of the information that the enemy had been sighted, the British Battle Fleet, with its accompanying cruiser and destroyer force, proceeded at full speed on a S.E. by S. course to close the Battle-cruiser Fleet.
During the two hours that elapsed before the arrival of the Battle Fleet on the scene the steaming qualities of the older battleships were severely tested. Great credit is due to the engine-room departments for the manner in which they, as always, responded to the call, the whole Fleet maintaining a speed in excess of the trial speeds of some of the older vessels.
The Third Battle-cruiser Squadron, which was in advance of the Battle Fleet, was ordered to reinforce Sir David Beatty. At 5.30 p.m. this squadron observed flashes of gunfire and heard the sound of guns to the southwestward.
Rear-Admiral Hood sent the Chester to investigate, and this ship engaged three or four enemy light-cruisers at about 5.45 p.m. The engagement lasted for about twenty minutes, during which period Captain Lawson handled his vessel with great skill against heavy odds, and, although the ship suffered considerably in casualties, her fighting and steaming qualities were unimpaired, and at about 6.05 p.m. she rejoined the Third Battle-cruiser Squadron.
The Third Battle-cruiser Squadron had turned to the northwestward, and at 6.10 p.m. sighted our battle-cruisers, the squadron taking station ahead of the Lion at 6.21 p.m. in accordance with the orders of the Vice-Admiral Commanding Battle-cruiser Fleet.
Meanwhile, at 5.45 p.m., the report of guns had become audible to me, and at 5.55 p.m. flashes were visible from ahead round to the starboard beam, although in the mist no ships could be distinguished, and the position of the enemy's battle fleet could not be determined. The difference in estimated position by "reckoning" between Iron Duke and Lion, which was inevitable under the circumstances, added to the uncertainty of the general situation.
Shortly after 5.55 p.m. some of the cruisers ahead were seen to be in action, and reports received show that Defence, flagship, and Warrior, of the First Cruiser Squadron, engaged an enemy light-cruiser at this time. She was subsequently observed to sink.
At 6 p.m. Canterbury, which ship was in company with the Third Battle-cruiser Squadron, had engaged enemy light-cruisers which were firing heavily on the torpedo-boat destroyers Shark, Acasta and Christopher; as a result of this engagement the Shark was sunk.
At 6 p.m. vessels, afterwards seen to be our battlecruisers, were sighted by Marlborough bearing before the starboard beam of the battle fleet.
At the same time the Vice-Admiral Commanding Battle-cruiser Fleet, reported to me the position of the enemy battle-cruisers, and at 6.14 p.m. reported the position of the enemy battle fleet.
At this period, when the battle fleet was meeting the battlecruisers and the Fifth Battle Squadron, great care was necessary to insure that our own ships were not mistaken for enemy vessels.
I formed the battle fleet in line of battle on receipt of Sir David Beatty's report, and during deployment the fleets became engaged. Sir David Beatty had meanwhile formed the battle-cruisers ahead of the battle fleet.
At 6.16 p.m. Defence and Warrior were observed passing down between the British and German Battle Fleets under a very heavy fire. Defence disappeared, and Warrior passed to the rear disabled.
It is probable that Sir Robert Arbuthnot, during his engagement with the enemy's light-cruisers and in his desire to complete their destruction, was not aware of the approach of the enemy's heavy ships, owing to the mist, until he found himself in close proximity to the main fleet, and before he could withdraw his ships they were caught under a heavy fire and disabled.
It is not known when Black Prince, of the same squadron, was sunk, but a wireless signal was received from her between 8 and 9 p.m.
The First Battle Squadron became engaged during deployment, the Vice-Admiral opening fire at 6.17 p.m. on a battleship of the Kaiser class. The other Battle Squadrons, which had previously been firing at an enemy light-cruiser, opened fire at 6.30 p.m. on battleships of the Koenig class.
At 6.06 p.m. the Rear-Admiral Commanding Fifth Battle Squadron, then in company with the battle-cruisers, had sighted the starboard wing division of the battle fleet on the port bow of Barham, and the first intention of Rear-Admiral Evan-Thomas was to form ahead of the remainder of the battle fleet, but on realizing the direction of deployment he was compelled to form astern, a manoeuvre which was well executed by the squadron under a heavy fire from the enemy battle fleet.
An accident to Warspite's steering gear caused her helm to become jammed temporarily and took the ship in the direction of the enemy's line, during which time she was hit several times. Clever handling enabled Captain Edward M. Phillpotts to extricate his ship from a somewhat awkward situation.
Owing principally to the mist, but partly to the smoke, it was possible to see only a few ships at a time in the enemy's battle line. Towards the van only some four or five ships were ever visible at once. More could be seen from the rear squadron, but never more than eight to twelve.
The action between the battle fleets lasted intermittently from 6.17 p.m. to 8.20 p.m. at ranges between 9,000 and 12,000 yards, during which time the British Fleet made alterations of course from S.E. by E. to W. in the endeavour to close.
The enemy constantly turned away and opened the range under cover of destroyer attacks and smoke screens as the effect of the British fire was felt, and the alterations of course had the effect of bringing the British Fleet (which commenced the action in a position of advantage on the bow of the enemy) to a quarterly bearing from the enemy battle line, but at the same time placed us between the enemy and his bases.
At 6.55 p.m. Iron Duke passed the wreck of Invincible, with Badger standing by.
During the somewhat brief periods that the ships of the High Sea Fleet were visible through the mist, the heavy and effective fire kept up by the battleships and battle-cruisers of the Grand Fleet caused me much satisfaction, and the enemy vessels were seen to be constantly hit, some being observed to haul out of the line and at least one to sink.
The enemy's return fire at this period was not effective, and the damage caused to our ships was insignificant.
As was anticipated, the German Fleet appeared to rely very much on torpedo attacks, which were favoured by the low visibility and by the fact that we had arrived in the position of a "following" or "chasing" fleet.
A large number of torpedoes were apparently fired, but only one took effect (on Marlborough), and even in this case the ship was able to remain in the line and to continue the action. The enemy's efforts to keep out of effective gun range were aided by the weather conditions, which were ideal for the purpose. Two separate destroyer attacks were made by the enemy.
The First Battle Squadron, under Vice-Admiral Sir Cecil Burney, came into action at 6.17 p.m. with the enemy's Third Battle Squadron, at a range of about 11,000 yards, and administered severe punishment, both to the battleships and to the battle-cruisers and light-cruisers, which were also engaged.
The fire of Marlborough (Captain George P. Ross) was particularly rapid and effective. This ship commenced at 6.17 p.m. by firing seven salvoes at a ship of the Kaiser class, then engaged a cruiser, and again a battleship, and at 6.54 she was hit by a torpedo and took up a considerable list to starboard, but reopened at 7.03 p.m. at a cruiser and at 7.12 p.m. fired fourteen rapid salvoes at a ship of the Koenig class, hitting her frequently until she turned out of the line.
The manner in which this effective fire was kept up in spite of the disadvantages due to the injury caused by the torpedo was most creditable to the ship and a very fine example to the squadron.
The range decreased during the course of the action to 9,000 yards. The First Battle Squadron received more of the enemy's return fire than the remainder of the battle fleet, with the exception of the Fifth Battle Squadron. Colossus was hit but was not seriously damaged, and other ships were straddled with fair frequency.
In the Fourth Battle Squadron - in which squadron my flagship Iron Duke was placed - Vice-Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee leading one of the divisions - the enemy engaged was the squadron consisting of Koenig and Kaiser class and some of the battle-cruisers, as well as disabled cruisers and light-cruisers.
The mist rendered range-taking a difficult matter, but the fire of the squadron was effective. Iron Duke, having previously fired at a light-cruiser between the lines, opened fire at 6.30 p.m. on a battleship of the Koenig class at a range of 12,000 yards. The latter was very quickly straddled, and hitting commenced at the second salvo and only ceased when the target ship turned away.
The rapidity with which hitting was established was most creditable to the excellent gunnery organization of the flagship.
The fire of other ships of the squadron was principally directed at enemy battle-cruisers and cruisers as they appeared out of the mist. Hits were observed to take effect on several ships.
The ships of the Second Battle Squadron, under Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Jerram, were in action with vessels of the Kaiser or Koenig classes between 6.30 and 7.20 p.m., and fired also at an enemy battle-cruiser which had dropped back apparently severely damaged.
During the action between the battle fleets the Second Cruiser Squadron, ably commanded by Rear-Admiral Herbert L. Heath, with the addition of Duke of Edinburgh of the First Cruiser Squadron, occupied a position at the van, and acted as a connecting link between the battle fleet and the battle-cruiser fleet.
This squadron, although it carried out useful work, did not have an opportunity of coming into action.
The Fourth Light-cruiser Squadron, under Commodore Charles E. Le Mesurier, occupied a position in the van until ordered to attack enemy destroyers at 7.20 p.m., and again at 8.18 p.m., when they supported the Eleventh Flotilla, which had moved out under Commodore James R. P. Hawksley, to attack.
On each occasion the Fourth Light-cruiser Squadron was very well handled by Commodore Le Mesurier, his captains giving him excellent support, and their object was attained, although with some loss in the second attack, when the ships came under the heavy fire of the enemy battle fleet at between 6,500 and 8,000 yards.
The Calliope was hit several times, but did not sustain serious damage, although, I regret to say, she had several casualties. The light-cruisers attacked the enemy's battleships with torpedoes at this time, and an explosion on board a ship of the Kaiser class was seen at 8.40 p.m.
During these destroyer attacks four enemy torpedo-boat destroyers were sunk by the gunfire of battleships, lightcruisers and destroyers.
After the arrival of the British Battle Fleet the enemy's tactics were of a nature generally to avoid further action, in which they were favoured by the conditions of visibility.
At 9 p.m. the enemy was entirely out of sight, and the threat of torpedo-boat destroyer attacks during the rapidly approaching darkness made it necessary for me to dispose the fleet for the night, with a view to its safety from such attacks, whilst providing for a renewal of action at daylight.
I accordingly manoeuvred to remain between the enemy and his bases, placing our flotillas in a position in which they would afford protection to the fleet from destroyer attack, and at the same time be favourably situated for attacking the enemy's heavy ships.
During the night the British heavy ships were not attacked, but the Fourth, Eleventh and Twelfth Flotillas, under Commodore Hawksley and Captains Charles J. Wintour and Anselan J. B. Stirling, delivered a series of very gallant and successful attacks on the enemy, causing him heavy losses.
It was during these attacks that severe losses in the Fourth Flotilla occurred, including that of Tipperary, with the gallant leader of the Flotilla, Captain Wintour. He had brought his flotilla to a high pitch of perfection, and although suffering severely from the fire of the enemy, a heavy toll of enemy vessels was taken, and many gallant actions were performed by the flotilla.
Two torpedoes were seen to take effect on enemy vessels as the result of the attacks of the Fourth Flotilla, one being from Spitfire, and the other from either Ardent, Ambuscade or Garland.
The attack carried out by the Twelfth Flotilla (Captain Anselan J. B. Stirling) was admirably executed. The squadron attacked, which consisted of six large vessels, besides light-cruisers, and comprised vessels of the Kaiser class, was taken by surprise.
A large number of torpedoes was fired, including some at the second and third ships in the line; those fired at the third ship took effect, and she was observed to blow up. A second attack made twenty minutes later by Maenad on the five vessels still remaining, resulted in the fourth ship in the line being also hit.
The destroyers were under a heavy fire from the lightcruisers on reaching the rear of the line, but the Onslaught was the only vessel which received any material injuries.
During the attack carried out by the Eleventh Flotilla, Castor (Commodore James R. P. Hawksley) leading the flotilla, engaged and sank an enemy torpedo-boat destroyer at point-blank range.
There were many gallant deeds performed by the destroyer flotillas; they surpassed the very highest expectations that I had formed of them.
Apart from the proceedings of the flotillas, the Second Light-cruiser Squadron in the rear of the battle fleet was in close action for about 15 minutes at 10.20 p.m. with a squadron comprising one enemy cruiser and four light-cruisers, during which period Southampton and Dublin suffered rather heavy casualties, although their steaming and fighting qualities were not impaired. The return fire of the squadron appeared to be very effective.
Abdiel, ably commanded by Commander Berwick Curtis, carried out her duties with the success which has always characterized her work.
At daylight, June 1st, the battle fleet, being then to the southward and westward of the Horn Reef, turned. to the northward in search of enemy vessels and for the purpose of collecting our own cruisers and torpedo-boat destroyers.
At 2.30 a.m. Vice-Admiral Sir Cecil Burney transferred his flag from Marlborough to Revenge, as the former ship had some difficulty in keeping up the speed of the squadron. Marlborough was detached by my direction to a base, successfully driving off an enemy submarine attack en route.
The visibility early on June 1st (three to four miles) was less than on May 31st, and the torpedo-boat destroyers, being out of visual touch, did not rejoin until 9 a.m.
The British Fleet remained in the proximity of the battlefield and near the line of approach to German ports until 11 a.m. on June 1st, in spite of the disadvantage of long distances from fleet bases and the danger incurred in waters adjacent to enemy coasts from submarines and torpedo craft.
The enemy, however, made no sign, and I was reluctantly compelled to the conclusion that the High Sea Fleet had returned into port.
Subsequent events proved this assumption to have been correct. Our position must have been known to the enemy. as at 4 a.m. the Fleet engaged a Zeppelin for about five minutes, during which time she had ample opportunity to note and subsequently report the position and course of the British Fleet.
The waters from the latitude of the Horn Reef to the scene of the action were thoroughly searched, and some survivors from the destroyers Ardent, Fortune and Tipperary were picked up, and the Sparrowhawk, which had been in collision and was no longer seaworthy, was sunk after her crew had been taken off.
A large amount of wreckage was seen, but no enemy ships, and at 1.15 p.m., it being evident that the German Fleet had succeeded in returning to port, course was shaped for our bases, which were reached without further incident on Friday, June 2nd.
A cruiser squadron was detached to search for Warrior, which vessel had been abandoned whilst in tow of Engadine on her way to the base owing to bad weather setting in and the vessel becoming unseaworthy, but no trace of her was discovered, and a further subsequent search by a light-cruiser squadron having failed to locate her, it is evident that she foundered.
The enemy fought with the gallantry that was expected of him. We particularly admired the conduct of those on board a disabled German light-cruiser which passed down the British line shortly after deployment, under a heavy fire, which was returned by the only gun left in action.
The conduct of officers and men throughout the day and night actions was entirely beyond praise. No words of mine could do them justice. On all sides it is reported to me that the glorious traditions of the past were most worthily upheld - whether in heavy ships, cruisers, light-cruisers, or destroyers - the same admirable spirit prevailed.
Officers and men were cool and determined, with a cheeriness that would have carried them through anything. The heroism of the wounded was the admiration of all.
I cannot adequately express the pride with which the spirit of the Fleet filled me.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. IV, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
"Suicide Ditch" was a term used by British soldiers to refer to the front-line trench.
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