The Battle of Jutland (German: Skagerrakschlacht; Danish: Søslaget ved Jylland / Søslaget om Skagerrak) was a naval battle fought between the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet and the Imperial German Navy's High Seas Fleet, and was fought on 31 May through 01 June 1916, in the North Sea near Jutland, Denmark. The battle was the largest naval battle of World War I, and the only full-scale clash of battleships in that war. It was the third major fleet action between steel battleships, following the battles of the Yellow Sea and Tsushima during the Russo-Japanese War.
The German fleet was commanded by Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer, and the British Royal Navy's Grand Fleet by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. The German fleet's intention was to lure out, trap and destroy a portion of the Grand Fleet, as the German numbers were insufficient to engage the entire British fleet at one time. This formed part of a larger strategy to break the British blockade of Germany and to allow German mercantile shipping to operate. Meanwhile, the Royal Navy pursued a strategy to engage and destroy the High Seas Fleet, or keep the German force contained and away from Britain's own shipping lanes.
The Germans' plan was to use Vice-Admiral Franz Hipper's fast scouting group of five modern battlecruisers to lure Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty's battlecruiser squadrons through a submarine picket line and into the path of the main German fleet. However, the British had learned from signal intercepts that a major fleet operation was likely, and on 30 May Jellicoe sailed with the Grand Fleet to rendezvous with Beatty, passing over the locations of the German submarine picket lines while the U-boats were unprepared.
On the afternoon of 31 May, Beatty encountered Hipper's battlecruiser force long before the Germans had expected, which eliminated any submarine influence. In a running battle, Hipper successfully drew the British vanguard into the path of the High Seas Fleet. By the time Beatty sighted the larger force and turned back towards the British main fleet, he had lost two battlecruisers from a force of six battlecruisers and four battleships, against the five ships commanded by Hipper. The battleships, commanded by Rear-Admiral Sir Hugh Evan-Thomas were the last to turn and formed a rearguard as Beatty withdrew, drawing the German fleet in pursuit towards the main British positions. Between 18:30 hrs, when the sun was lowering on the western horizon, backlighting the German forces, and nightfall at about 20:30, the two huge fleets — totalling 250 ships between them — were twice heavily engaged.
Fourteen British and eleven German ships were sunk, with great loss of life. After sunset, and throughout the night, Jellicoe manoeuvred to cut the Germans off from their base, in hopes of continuing the battle next morning. But, under cover of darkness, Scheer crossed the wake of the British fleet and returned to port.
Both sides claimed victory. The British lost more ships and twice as many sailors, and the British press criticised the Grand Fleet's failure to force a decisive outcome. But Scheer's plan of destroying a substantial portion of the British fleet also failed. The Germans continued to pose a threat that required the British to keep their battleships concentrated in the North Sea, but the battle confirmed the German policy of avoiding all fleet-to-fleet contact, and they never again contested control of the high seas. Instead, the German Navy turned its efforts and resources to unrestricted submarine warfare and the destruction of Allied and Neutral shipping. Subsequent reviews commissioned by the Royal Navy generated strong disagreement between supporters of Jellicoe and Beatty, and the two admirals' performance in the battle; this debate continues today.
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