Battle of Jutland Centenary

On 31 May 2016 events across the land and sea – and beneath the waves – will mark the 100th anniversary of the greatest naval battle fought in World War 1.

A national day of commemoration involving descendants, old enemies turned firm allies, military and political leaders – plus the only warship to survive the clash – will remember the Battle of Jutland.

Battle of Jutland 1916

On the afternoon of Wednesday 31 May 1916, the British and German Navies met for the only full scale clash of the Great War. At stake: control of the North Sea and Britain’s place in the war. They met 90 miles off the coast of the Danish region by which the encounter is known in the English-speaking world: the Battle of Jutland.

The clash between the world’s two most powerful navies was the climax of more than a decade of antagonism between Britain and Germany – and a decade of rapid naval expansion and development.

Dreadnoughts – mighty all-big-gun battleships who took their description from the revolutionary HMS Dreadnought – were the ultimate weapon of the day. A nation’s standing was judged on how many dreadnoughts it possessed.

The Royal Navy had 37 such mighty ‘castles of steel’ as Winston Churchill famously called them, the Germans 21. In all, 150 British and 100 German warships joined battle. One in ten ships would never return home. With them went 6,094 British and 2,551 German sailors.

When it was over, the British controlled the sea, the Germans returned to their bases – but claimed victory having sunk more ships. It prompted arguments over ‘who won’ at Jutland – or Skagerrak as it is known in Germany – which continue to this day.

Commemoration

On Orkney, a national service of remembrance will be held in the impressive setting of St Magnus’ Cathedral, Kirkwall, followed by a simpler ceremony at Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery on Hoy overlooking Scapa Flow.

Other events, including commemorations at the naval memorials in Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth, will also take place to mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland.

Location the area of battle

The battle was fought in the North Sea about 90 miles off the coast of Denmark's Jutland peninsula from 31 May to 1 June.

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BEFORE THE BATTLE the strategy

From the outset of the Great War, the Royal Navy’s strategy was to cut Germany off from the outside world by strangling her overseas trade – and any imports.

While the British public had been reared to expect a 20th Century Trafalgar, the man in charge of the Grand Fleet had no intention of risking his warships unnecessarily.

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fleet sighted

2.35pm

At 2.35pm on Wednesday 31 May 1916 the cruiser HMS Galatea flashed a signal which electrified the Grand Fleet:

URGENT. HAVE SIGHTED LARGE AMOUNT OF SMOKE AS THOUGH FROM A FLEET, BEARING EAST-NORTH-EAST.

battle-cruiser action

Over the next 80 minutes, the vanguards of the two opposing fleets – the battle-cruisers of Admirals Beatty and Hipper – converged, each determined to lure the other into a trap: the might of the respective battle fleets with their overwhelming number of dreadnoughts.

At 3.48pm, Beatty’s flagship HMS Lion opened fire on Hipper’s flagship SMS Lützow at a range of more than nine miles...

5.30PM The run to the north

Having lured the Germans north for an hour or so, a little after 5.30pm the scouting forces ahead of Jellicoe’s – cruisers, destroyers and the battle-cruisers of Admiral Horace Hood – came into view.

The new cruiser HMS Chester ran headlong into four German cruisers. Her partially-trained crew, including one boy seaman Jack Travers Cornwell, delivered one broadside before being peppered by enemy shells...

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Jutland 100

6.33PM the 'death ride'

It was 6.33pm. The battle was going in Germany's favour. Suddenly the Grand Fleet appeared on the horizon.

On the bridge of his flagship SMS Friedrich der Grosse – Frederick the Great – Reinhard Scheer realised he faced possible annihilation with the entire Grand Fleet before him.

“The entire arc stretching from north to east was a sea of fire,” he recalled...

9.00PM night action

Nightfall found the Grand Fleet to the east of the High Seas Fleet, steaming on roughly parallel courses to the south-south-east.

Deprived of victory in daylight and ill-equipped and unprepared for a night battle – unlike the Germans, whose ships were fitted with better searchlights and bristled with torpedo tubes – Jellicoe resolved to cut his foe off from his base and complete the destruction of the German Fleet.

1 jUNE The aftermath

The morning of 1 June found the German Navy largely back in its home ports and the ships of the Royal Navy combing the scene of the previous day’s battle looking for survivors.

The Kaiser quickly visited his Fleet as Germany proclaimed a great victory, claiming “the spell of Trafalgar has been broken”. 
Across the North Sea, there was widespread disappointment – in the Navy and in public – at the Royal Navy’s failure to deliver a second Trafalgar....

commemorative services

Services of thanksgiving in the Orkney Islands, a combined Anglo-German service of remembrance at sea, plus commemorations at the naval memorials in Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth – where the names of most of the 6,094 sailors and Royal Marines killed are listed - will mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland.

On Orkney, a national service of remembrance will be held in the impressive setting of St Magnus’ Cathedral, Kirkwall, followed by a simpler ceremony at Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery on Hoy overlooking Scapa Flow. 

Around one quarter of attendees invited to both events will be descendants of men who fought at Jutland. 

"Speaking to descendants and remembering their families’ individual stories helps to preserve the memories of those that lost their lives."

Commemorative paving stones will be laid to remember the four Victoria Cross recipients from the battle and will be dedicated in the men’s respective home towns.

Jack Cornwell VC

In an era largely before celebrities and film stars – and a decade before the word ‘teenager’ entered the dictionary, 16-year-old Londoner John ‘Jack’ Travers Cornwell was the most famous teenager in Britain.

events

  • A service at St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall on Orkney Mainland
  • A commemorative event at the Royal Navy Cemetery at Lyness on the island of Hoy
  • A wreath-laying ceremony at sea on Jutland Bank by British and German ships
  • The Royal Navy will support commemorations in the Orkney Islands with a major warship
  • The opening of HMS Caroline in Belfast as a museum and visitor attraction
  • The laying of commemorative paving stones to commemorate the four Victoria Cross recipients from the Battle of Jutland
  • Orkney Islands Council’s wider programme of cultural and educational activities
  • The commemoration of Jutland casualties buried in Sweden, Norway and Denmark
  • Commemorative events at naval memorials in Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham
  • Commemorative activity in Germany in Wilhelmshaven, home to the German High Seas fleet, and at the Laboe Naval Memorial in Kiel.

The Battle of Jutland centenary events are a key part of the UK Government’s four year programme to commemorate the First World War.

Find out more at www.gov.uk/government/news/government-plans-to-commemorate-the-battle-of-jutland-centenary

Interactive Map The Human Cost

Naval historians have plotted the terrible human cost of the Navy’s greatest 20th Century battle for the first time on an impressive interactive map.

The National Museum now want the public to fill in the stories of the ‘men of steel’ – photographs, first-hand accounts, letters, anything which puts a human face on a very inhuman battle.

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