Admiral Sir John Jellicoe’s Despatch on the Battle of Jutland

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NOTE – The following is taken from the Third supplement (dated July 6th, 1916) of THE LONDON GAZETTE of July 4th, 1916.

ADMIRALTY, 6th JULY, 1916.

The following Despatch has been received from Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, G.C.B., G.C.V.O., Commander-in-Chief, Grand Fleet, reporting the action in the North Sea on 31st May, 1916 (All times given in this report are Greenwich mean time.):-


Iron Duke,
24th, June, 1916.


SIR, - Be pleased to inform the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that the German High Sea Fleet was brought to action on 31st May, 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 day, in accordance with instructions issued by me.

In the early afternoon of Wednesday, 31st May, the 1st and 2nd Battle Cruiser Squadrons, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Light Cruiser 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 Battle Cruiser Squadron, 1st and 2nd Cruiser Squadrons, 4th Light Cruiser 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 cruiser 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, K.C.B., M.V.O., D.S.O., and admirably supported by the ships of the Fifth Battle Squadron under Rear-Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas, M.V.O., 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.

The following extracts from the report of Sir David Beatty give the course of events before the Battle fleet came upon the scene:-

“At 2.20 p.m. reports were received from Galatea (Commodore Edwyn S. Alexander-Sinclair, M.V.O., A.D.C., indicating the presence of enemy vessels. The direction of advance was immediately altered to S.S.E., the course for Horn reef, so as to place my force between the enemy and his base.

“At 2.35 p.m. a considerable amount of smoke was sighted to the eastward. This made it clear that the enemy was to the north-ward and eastward, and that it would be impossible for him to round the Horn Reef without being brought to action. Course was accordingly altered to the eastward and subsequently to north-eastward, the enemy being sighted at 3.31 p.m. Their force consisted of five battle cruisers.

“After the first report of the enemy, the 1st and 3rd Light Cruiser Squadrons changed their direction, and, without waiting for orders, spread to the east, thereby forming a screen in advance of the Battle Cruiser Squadrons and 5th Battle Squadron by the time we had hauled up the course of approach. They engaged enemy light cruisers at long range. In the meantime the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron had battle cruisers by the time we turned to E.S.E., the course on which we first engaged the enemy. In this respect the work of the Light Cruiser Squadrons was excellent, and of great value.

“From a report from Galatea at 2.25 p.m. it was evident that the enemy force was considerable, and not merely an isolated unit of light cruisers, so at 2.45 p.m. I ordered Engadine (Lieutenant-Commander C.G. Robinson) to send up a seaplane and scout to N.N.E. This order was carried out very quickly, and by 3.8. p.m. a seaplane, with Flight Lieutenant F.J. Rutland, R.N., as pilot, and Assistant Paymaster G.S. Trewin, R.N., as observer, was well under way; her first reports of the enemy were received in Engadine about 3.30 p.m. Owing to clouds it was necessary to fly very low, and in order to identify four enemy light cruisers the seaplane had to fly at a height of 900 feet with 3,000 yards of them, the light cruisers opening fire on her with every gun that would bear. This in no way interfered with the clarity of their reports, and both Flight Lieutenant Rutland and Assistant Paymaster Trewin are to be congratulated on their achievement, which indicates that seaplanes under such circumstances are of distinct value.

“At 3.30 p.m. I increased speed to 25 knots, and formed line of battle, the 2nd Battle Cruiser Squadron, forming astern of the 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron, with destroyers of the 13th and 9th Flotillas taking station ahead. I turned to E.S.E. slightly converging on the enemy, who were not at a range of 23,000 yards, and formed the ships on a line of bearing to clear the smoke. The 5th Battle Squadron who had conformed to our movements, were now bearing N.N.W., 10,000 yards. The visibility at this time was good, the sun behind us at the wind S.E. Being between the enemy and his base, our situation was both tactically and strategically good.

“At 3.48 p.m. the action commenced at a range of 18,500 yards, both forces opening fire practically simultaneously. Course was altered to the southward, and subsequently the mean direction was S.S.E., the enemy steering a parallel course distance about 18,000 to 14,500 yards.

“At 4.8 p.m. the 5th Battle Squadron came into action and opened fire at a range of 20,000 yards. The enemy’s fire now seemed to slacken. The destroyer Landrail (Lieutenant-Commander Francis E. H. G.. Hobart), of 9th Flotilla, who was on our port beam, trying to quarter. Though causing considerable inconvenience from smoke, the presence of Lydiard (Commander Malcolm L. Goldsmith) and Landrail undoubtedly preserved the battle cruisers from closer submarine attack. Nottingham (Captain Charles B. Miller) also reported a submarine on the starboard beam.

“Eight destroyers of the 13th Flotilla, Nestor (Commander the Hon. Edward B.S. Bingham), Nomad (Lieutenant-Commander Paul Whitfield), Nicator (Lieutenant Jack E. A. Mocatta), Narborough (Lieutenant-Commander Geoffrey Cortlett), Pelian (Lieutenant-Commander Kenneth A. Beattie), Petard (Lieutenant-Commander Evelyn C. O. Thomson), Obdurate (Lieutenant-Commander Cecil H. H. Sams), Nerissa (Lieutenant-Commander Montague C. B. Legge), with Moorsom (Commander John C. Hodgson), and Morris (Lieutenant-Commander Edward S. Graham), of 10th Flotilla, Turbulent (Lieutenant-Commander Dudley Stuart) and Termagant (Lieutenant-Commander Cuthbert P. Blake), of the 9th Flotilla, having been ordered to attack the enemy with torpedoes when opportunity offered, moved out at 4.15 p.m., simultaneously with a similar movement on the part of the manner, and with great determination. Before arriving at a favourable position to fire torpedoes, they intercepted an enemy force consisting of a light cruiser and fifteen destroyers. A fierce engagement ensued at close quarters, with the result that the enemy were forced to retire on their battle cruisers, having lost two destroyers sunk, and having their torpedo attack frustrated. Our destroyers sustained no loss in this engagement, but their attack on the enemy battle cruisers was rendered less effective, owing to some of the destroyers having dropped astern during the fight. Their position was therefore unfavourable to torpedo attack.

“Nestor, Nomad and Nicator, gallantly led by commander the Hon. Edward B.S. Bingham, of Nestor, pressed home their attack on the battle cruisers and fired two torpedoes at them, being subjected to a heavy fire from the enemy’s secondary armament. Normad was badly hit, and apparently remained stopped between the lines. Subsequently Nestor and Nicator altered course to the S.E., and in short time, the opposing battle cruisers having turned 16 points, found themselves within close range of a number of enemy battleships. Nothing daunted, though under a terrific fire they stood on, and their position being favourable for torpedo attack fired a torpedo at the second dish of the enemy line at a range of 3,000 yards. Before they could fire their fourth torpedo, Nestor was badly hit and swung to starboard, Nicator altering course inside her to avoid collision, and thereby being prevented from firing the last torpedo. Nicator made good her escape and subsequently rejoined the Captain (D), 13th Flotilla. Nestor remained stopped, but was afloat when last seen. Moorsom also carried out an attack on the enemy’s battle fleet.

“Petard, Nerissa, Turbulent and Termagant also pressed home their attack on the enemy battle-cruisers, firing torpedoes after the engagement with enemy destroyers. Petard reports that all her torpedoes must have crossed the enemy’s line, while Nerissa states that one torpedo appeared to strike the rear ship. These destroyer attacks were indicative of the spirit pervading His Majesty’s Navy, and were worthy of its highest traditions. I propose to bring to your notice a recommendation of Commander Bingham and other Officers for some recognition of their conspicuous gallantry.

“From 4.15 to 4.43 p.m. the conflict between the opposing battle cruisers was of a very fierce and resolute character. The 5th Battle Squadron was engaging the enemy’s rear ships, unfortunately at very long range. Our fire began to tell the accuracy and rapidity of that of the enemy depreciating considerably. At 4.18 p.m. the third enemy ship was seen to be on fire. The visibility to the north-eastward had become considerably reduced, and the outline of the ships very indistinct.

“At 4.38 p.m. Southampton (Commodore William E. Goodenough M.V.O., A.D.C.) reported the enemy’s Battle Fleet ahead. The destroyers were recalled, and at 4.42 p.m. the enemy’s Battle Fleet was sighted S.E. Course was altered 16 points in succession to starboard, and I proceeded on a northerly course to lead them upwards the Battle fleet. The enemy battle cruisers altered course shortly afterwards, and the action continued. Southampton, with the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron, held on to the southward to observe. They closed within 13,000 yards of the enemy Battle Fleet, and came under a very heavy but ineffective fire. Southampton’s reports were most valuable. The 5th Battle Squadron were now closing on an opposite course and engaging the enemy battle cruiser with all guns. The position of the enemy Battle Fleet was communicated to them, and I ordered them to alter course 16 points. Led by Rear-Admiral Evan-Thomas, in Barham (Captain Arthur W. Craig), this squadron supported us brilliantly and effectively.

“At 4.57 the 5th Battle Squadron turned up astern of me and came under the fire of the leading ships of the enemy Battle Fleet. Fearless (Captain (D) Charles D. Roper), with the destroyers of 1st Flotilla, joined the battle cruisers, and, when speed admitted, took station ahead. Champion (Captain (D) James U. Farie), with 13th Flotilla, took station on the 5th Battle Squadron. At 5 p.m. the 1st and 3rd Light Cruiser Squadrons, which has been following me on the southerly course, took station on my starboard bow ; the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron took station on my port quarter.

“The weather conditions now became unfavourable, our ships being silhouetted against a clear horizon to the westward, while the enemy were for the most part obscured by mist, only showing up clearly at intervals. These conditions prevailed until we had turned their van at about 6 p.m. Between 5 and 6 p.m. the action continued on a northerly course, the range being about 14,000 yards. During this time the enemy received very severe punishment, and one of their battle cruisers quitted the line in a considerably damaged condition. This came under my personal observation, and was corroborated by Princess Royal (captain Walter H. Cowan, M.V.O., D.S.O.) and Tiger (Captain Henry B. Pelly, M.V.O.). Other enemy ships also showed signs of increasing injury. At 5.5 p.m. Onslow (Lieutenant-Commander John C. Tovey) and Moresby (Lieutenant-Commander Roger V. Alison), who had been detached to assist Engadine with the seaplane, rejoined the battle cruiser squadrons and took station on the starboard (engaged) bow of Lion (Captain Alfred E. M. Chatfield, C.V.O.). At 5.10 p.m. Moresby, being 2 points before the beam of the leading enemy ship, fired a torpedo at a ship in their line. Eight minutes later she observed a hit with a torpedo on what was judged to be the sixth ship in the line. Moresby then passed between the lines to clear the range of smoke, and rejoined Champion. In corroboration of this, Fearless reports having seen an enemy heavy ship heavily on fire at about 5.10 p.m., and shortly afterwards a huge cloud of smoke and steam.

“At 5.35 p.m. our course was N.N.E., and the estimated position of the Battle Fleet was N. 16 W., so we gradually hauled to the north-eastward, keeping the range of the enemy at 14,000 yards. He was gradually hauling to the eastward, receiving severe punishment at the head of his line, and probably acting on information received from his light cruisers which had sighted and were engaged with the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron.

“Possibly Zeppelins were present also. At 5.50 p.m. British cruisers were sighted on the port bow, and at 5.56 p.m., the leading battleships of the Battle Fleet, bearing north 5 miles. I thereupon altered course to east, and proceeded at utmost speed. This brought the range of the enemy down to 12,000 yards. I made a report to you that the enemy battle cruisers bore south-east. At this time only three of the enemy battle cruisers were visible, closely followed by battleships of the ‘Koenig’ class.

“At about 6.5 p.m. Onslow, being on the engaged bow of Lion, sighted an enemy light cruiser at a distance of 6,000 yards from us, apparently endeavouring to attack with torpedoes. Onslow at once closed and engaged her, firing 58 rounds at a range of from 4,000 to 2,000 yards, scoring a number of hits. Onslow then closed the enemy battle cruisers, and orders were given for all torpedoes to be fired. At this moment she was struck amidships by a heavy shell, with the result that only one torpedo was fired. Thinking that all his torpedoes had gone, the Commanding Officer proceeded to retire at slow speed. Being informed that he still had three torpedoes, he closed with the light cruiser previously engaged and torpedoed her. The enemy’s Battle Fleet was then sighted, and the remaining torpedoes were fired at them and must have crossed the enemy’s track. Damage then caused Onslow to stop.

“At 7.15 pm Defender (Lieutenant-Commander Lawrence R. Palmer), whose speed has been reduced to 10 knots, while on the disengaged side of the battle cruisers, by a shell which damaged her foremost boiler, closed Onslow and took her in tow. Shells were falling all round them during this operation, which , however, was successfully accomplished. During the heavy weather of the ensuing night the tow parted twice, but was re-secured. The two struggled on together until 1.p.m. 1st June, when Onslow was transferred to tugs. I consider the performances of these two destroyers to be gallant in the extreme, and I am recommending Lieutenant-Commander J. C. Tovey, of Onslow, and Lieutenant-Commander L. R. Palmer, of Defender, for special recognition. Onslow was possibly the destroyer referred to by the Rear-Admiral Commanding 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron as follows :- ‘Here I should like to bring your notice the action of a destroyer (name unknown) which we passed close in a disabled condition soon after 6 p.m. She apparently was able to struggle ahead again, and made straight for the ‘Derfflinger’ to attack her.””

PROCEEDINGS OF BATTLE FLEET AND THIRD BATTLE CRUISER SQUADRON

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 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, commanded by Rear-Admiral the Hon. Horace L. A. Hood, C.B., M.V.O., D.S.O., 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 south-westward. Rear-Admiral Hood sent the Chester (Captain Robert N. Lawson) to investigate, and this ship engaged three or four enemy light cruisers at 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 6.5 p.m. she rejoined the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron.

The Third Battle Cruiser Squadron had turned to the north-westward, 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. He reports as follows :-

“I ordered them to take station ahead, which was carried out magnificently, Rear-Admiral Hood bringing his squadron into action ahead in a most inspiring manner, worthy of his great naval ancestors. At 6.25 p.m. I altered course to the E.S.E. in support of the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron, who were at this time only 8,000 yards from the enemy’s leading ship. They were pouring a hot fire into her and caused her to turn to the westward of south. At the same time I made a report to you of the bearing and distance of the enemy battle fleet.

“By 6.50 p.m. the battle cruisers were clear of our leading battle squadron then bearing about N.N.W. 3 miles, and I ordered the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron to prolong the line astern and reduced to 18 knots. The visibility at this time was very indifferent, not more than 4 miles, and the enemy ships were temporarily lost sight of. It is interesting to note that after 6 p.m., although the visibility became reduced, it was undoubtedly more favourable to us than to the enemy. At intervals their ships showed up clearly, enabling us to punish them very severely and establish a definite superiority over them. From the report of other ships and my own observation it was clear that the enemy suffered considerable damage, battle cruisers and battleships alike. The head of their line was crumpled up, leaving battleships as targets for the majority of our battle cruisers. Before leaving us the Fifth Battle Squadron was also engaging battleships. The report of Rear-Admiral Evan-Thomas shows that excellent results were obtained, and it can be safely said that his magnificent squadron wrought great execution.

“From the report of Rear-Admiral T. D. W. Napier, M.V.O., the Third Light Cruiser Squadron, which had maintained its station on our starboard bow well ahead of the enemy, at 6.25 p.m. attacked with the torpedo Falmouth (Captain John D. Edwards) and Yarmouth (Captain Thomas D. Pratt) both fired torpedoes at the leading enemy battle cruiser, and it is believed that one torpedo hit, as a heavy underwater explosion was observed. The Third Light Cruiser Squadron then gallantly attacked the heavy ships with gunfire, with impunity to themselves, thereby demonstrating that the fighting efficiency of the enemy had been seriously impaired. Rear-Admiral Napier deserves great credit for his determined and effective attack. Indomitable (Captain Francis W. Kennedy) reports that about this time one of the ‘Derfflinger’ class fell out of the enemy’s line.”

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 (Captain Frederic C. Dreyer, C.B.) 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, under Rear-Admirals Herbert L. Heath, M.V.O., and Sir Robert Arbuthnot, Bt., M.V.O., were seen to be in action, and reports received show that Defence, flagship (Captain Stanley V. Ellis), and warrior (Captain Vincent B. Molteno), of the first Cruiser Squadron, engaged an enemy light cruiser at this time. She was subsequently observed to sink.

At 6 p.m. Canterbury (Captain Percy M. R. Royds), which ship was in company with the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron, had engaged enemy light cruisers which were firing heavily on the torpedo-boat destroyer Shark (Commander Loftus W. Jones), Acasta (Lieutenant-Commander John O. Barron), and Christopher (Lieutenant-Commander Fairfax M. Kerr) ; as a result of this engagement the Shark was sunk.

At 6 p.m. vessels, afterwards seen to be our battle cruisers, 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 battle cruisers and the Fifth Battle Squadron, great care was necessary to ensure 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.

The divisions of the battle fleet were led by :-

The Commander-in-Chief
Vice-Admiral Sir Cecil Burney, K.C.B., K.C.M.G.
Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Jerram, K.C.B.
Vice-Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee, Bt., K.C.B., C.V.O., C.M.G.
Rear-Admiral Alexander L. Duff, C.B.
Rear-Admiral Arthur C. Leveson, C.B.
Rear-Admiral Ernest F.A. Gaunt, C.M.G.

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 (Captain Thomas P. Bonham), 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 6.6 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 realising 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 place us between the enemy and his bases.

At 6.55 p.m. Iron Duke passed the wreck of Invicible (Captain Arthur L. Cay), with Badger (Commander C.A. Fremantle) 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 such 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.

Part 2 - The Battle Cruisers In The Van

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