HMS Sutherland begins month of Battle of Jutland commemorations

Topic: Fighting armsSurface Fleet

Sailors from HMS Sutherland began five weeks of commemorations marking the greatest naval battle ever fought in European waters when their ship visited Invergordon in Scotland.

Two dozen warships sailed from the Cromarty Firth in May 1916 – part of an armada of 150 Royal Navy vessels which clashed with the German Fleet in the North Sea on May 31 and June 1 1916 at the Battle of Jutland.

More than 6,000 British and over 2,500 German sailors were killed. Twenty-five ships never returned to their bases, 14 of them Royal Navy.

In the days after Jutland men succumbed to their wounds up and down the east coast of England and Scotland, including nine sailors in Invergordon-based vessels.

They were buried in the grounds of Rosskeen Parish Church – just a small number of the 136 victims of both world wars laid to rest in the remote cemetery.

A century later, townsfolk planned commemorations to honour the dead – an event which coincided with Sutherland’s visit to her affiliated county.

A short, poignant service led by Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness which was supported by a Guard of Honour from the Plymouth-based frigate.

As the bishop read a poem, nine members of the Invergordon community lined up in front of the nine graves and laid a single rose in front of each headstone, while Sutherlands Guard of Honour performed the General Salute – normally reserved only for very Senior officers or members of the Royal Family.

Next to the Jutland dead are seven headstones for the crew of the ill-fated cruiser HMS Natal which blew up when her shells in her magazine accidentally detonated, killing more than 400 souls.

Almost certainly she would have accompanied fellow armoured cruisers to Jutland, where her sister HMS Warrior was mauled and Black Prince and Defence blew up, killing every man aboard.

After a minute’s silence and a piper’s lament, there was a parade through Invergordon – the Cromarty Firth served as a major Royal Navy base for 40 years from the eve of World War 1 through to the 1950s – ending at St Ninian’s Church, a former naval chapel, where a second short service was held, this time to the memory of Commander Loftus Jones, honoured with a plaque on the church’s wall.

Jones led a formation of destroyers which sought to thwart a charge by German torpedo boats against British capital ships.

They succeeded – but Shark was shot to pieces and her captain mortally wounded. Loftus Jones’ body was later washed up in Sweden, but he became one of the first public heroes of Jutland, posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

“Of the three Scottish ports associated with the Royal Navy in World War 1, Invergordon is the first to mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland – and so begins this period of commemoration for that particular stage of the war,” said Captain Chris Smith, Naval Regional Commander Scotland and Northern Ireland and one of the planners of the Jutland centenary events in Orkney on May 31.

“Compared with the planned events on the Firth of Forth and in Scapa Flow, this had a very significant local flavour, organised and run almost entirely by the local community.

“So it’s been a real honour for the Royal Navy to be invited to participate and I’m delighted that HMS Sutherland was perfectly placed to be able to deliver the kind of support which such an event deserves.

“The people of Invergordon and the Cromarty Firth should be rightly proud of their heritage and they have done a marvellous thing in setting the standard, acknowledging the tragic losses of both the sinking of HMS Natal and the Battle of Jutland. We are really grateful to have played a part in their commemorations.”

The next major commemorative event north of the border will be in South Queensferry on the Firth of Forth in late May; nearby Rosyth was the home of Admiral Beatty’s battle-cruisers which suffered terrible losses at Jutland (HMS Indefatigable and Queen Mary both blew up with near total loss of life).

So it’s been a real honour for the Royal Navy to be invited to participate and I’m delighted that HMS Sutherland was perfectly placed to be able to deliver the kind of support which such an event deserves

Captain Chris Smith RN