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100 Years On – Jutland

On May 31 to June 1, 1916, the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet faced off in a battle both had been preparing for over the course of a generation.  The naval arms race between the European powers has long been noted as a cause for the First World War, and the Battle of Jutland pitted the cream of the crop on both sides against each other.

The German fleet, with the exception of submarines and commerce raiders, had been a virtual non-entity in the war so far.  The British Navy, on the other hand, was slowly strangling Germany through blockade.  The Germans hoped to lure the British into a smashing defeat at sea.  This would release their grip on the German home front’s throat and allow the Germans to more effectively use their heavy ships to impact the ever-increasing shipment of Allied supplies from North America.

Reading accounts of Jutland show how being prepared, paying attention to all information, not just what you think is important, and having a little luck on your side can sway the critical moments in life.  At any given moment, either side could have smashed the other, or been smashed in its turn. Larger British ships and guns were able to bring more firepower to bear, but better German gunnery effectively countered them.  Commanders on both sides made both mistakes and showed genius.  In the end, the British had greater losses, but it was the British Grand Fleet that held the sea lanes at the end of the battle.

Jutland was the only large sea battle of the war, and while the British came through it with a bloody nose, both in loss of ships and men, the German High Seas Fleet returned to port and stayed there until the end of the war.  The return to the status quo eventually led to mutinies in the High Seas Fleet and the political and social conditions that forced the Germans to the bargaining table in 1918.

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