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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

Under orders to join Jellicoe at sea


style="text-align: justify;"> CHAPTER XVII

THE WORLD WAR [_Continued_]: THE BATTLE OF JUTLAND

There was only one action between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet in the World War, the battle of Jutland. This was indecisive, but even in a history with the limits of this book it deserves a chapter of its own. In the magnitude of the forces engaged, a magnitude less in numbers of ships--great as that was--than in the enormous destructive power concentrated in those ships, it was by far the greatest naval battle in history. Moreover, this was the one fleet battle fought with the weapons of to-day. Any discussion of modern tactics, therefore, must be based for some time to come on an analysis of Jutland. Finally, the indecisiveness of the action has resulted in a controversy among naval critics that is likely to continue indefinitely. Meanwhile the debatable points are rich in interest and suggestion.

In earlier wars the nation with a more powerful fleet blockaded the ports of the enemy. In this war the sea mine, the submarine, the aircraft and the long-range gun of coast defenses made the old-fashioned close blockade impossible. Such blockade as could be maintained under modern conditions had to be "distant." The British made a base in the Orkneys, Scapa Flow, which had central position with relation to a possible sortie of the German fleet toward either the

North Atlantic or the Channel. The intervening space of North Sea was patrolled by a scouting force of light vessels of various sorts and periodical sweeps by the Grand Fleet. On May 30, 1916, the Grand Fleet, under Admiral Jellicoe, set out from its base at Scapa Flow for one of these patrolling cruises. On the same day Vice Admiral Beatty left his base at Rosyth (in the Firth of Forth) with his advance force of battle cruisers and battleships, under orders to join Jellicoe at sea. On the following day the High Seas Fleet took the sea and the two great forces came together in battle.

It is not certain why the German fleet should have been cruising at this time. Having declined to offer battle in the summer of 1914, on account of the British superiority of force, the High Command could hardly have contemplated attacking in 1916 when the odds were much heavier. From statements published by German officers since the war, the objects seem to have been, first, to prevent a suspected attempt to force an entrance into the Baltic; secondly, to fall upon Beatty's Battle Cruiser Squadron, during its frequent patrolling cruises, when it was detached from the main force; and, thirdly, to destroy the British trading fleets which were conducting an important volume of commerce from the ports of Norway with England and Russia. It is not easy to see, however, why the High Seas Fleet should be sent out on a mere commerce destroying raid. The Germans had been out twice before, since April 1st of that year, and probably it was considered good policy to send the fleet to sea every now and then for the moral effect. The people could not relish the idea of their navy being condemned to inaction in their own harbors, and there was bad feeling over the fact that the government had just yielded to President Wilson's protest on ruthless submarine warfare. A victory over Beatty's battle cruisers, or some other detached unit of the British fleet, would have been very opportune in bracing German morale. At the same time Admiral von Scheer had probably reckoned on being able to avoid battle with the Grand Fleet by means of a swift retreat under cover of smoke screens and torpedo attacks. Certainly the odds were too heavy to permit of any other policy on his part.


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