I WOULD like to offer a slightly different perspective on the Battle of Jutland 1914 from that printed in the press and shown on television.
Dreadnoughts and battle cruisers were arguably just potential floating coffins with big guns. The Battle of Jutland bore witness to that with over 8,000 British and German sailors killed in just 24 hours. Many of those who died were uninjured but unable to escape from within their sinking ship.
While studying at Exeter University for an Honours degree in Royal Naval history, I wrote a thesis on the emergence of the dreadnoughts around the time of the Battle of Jutland. During those studies a strange parallel to the equally terrible WW1 land conflict emerged.
People will be aware of the Christmas 1914 football matches which bought about a sense of comradeship between British and German forces through an ‘unofficial’ temporary ceasefire in the senseless killing in some areas of the Front. At Jutland, and despite the obvious dangers, that same comradeship led to sailors on each side observing a ‘ceasefire’ to help their opponents when their ships went down.
This is richly illustrated by the rescue of men from HMS Tipperary by men from the German cruiser SMS Elbing. Perhaps nothing too strange in that except that both ships had been sunk.
The men from the Elbing (which had been badly damaged and subsequently scuttled) deliberately manoeuvred their rescue boats to pick up British survivors struggling in the ice cold water. With not enough room in the boats for everyone the men from the Elbing set off flares to attract the attention of other British ships in the area which would, inevitably, have led to their own captivity. Sadly there was no response and, despite around 100 being saved, many other British sailors drowned.
As a very young sailor I spent 18 months on a naval cruiser in the Far East at the time of the Communist ‘troubles’. I was part of a below decks damage control team and can still remember the ‘clang’ as the heavy steel water tight doors were closed and dogged down virtually sealing us in when the ship was ‘closed up’. I came home and with a medal. The men who went down sealed in their ships at Jutland neither came home nor, I believe, did the majority receive any official recognition except a smattering of posthumous awards.
Despite ‘losing’ over 6,000 men and many more being hideously wounded both Jellicoe and Beattie received high ‘Honours’ after the battle. Unlike their fighting men, the Imperial German Navy High Command retired behind a sofa while the British Grand Fleet maintained its omnipresence so (almost) all was forgiven in Britain.