The Battle of Jutland in 1916 was the only major engagement between the German and British fleets during the Great War. That was partly a consequence of the damage inflicted on the German fleet, effectively neutralising it; but British losses were actually higher, and the victory felt like defeat.
ON 31st May, 1916, the German High Seas Fleet sortied from its North Sea base, hoping to lure the British into a submarine-infested trap, and clear a route to the Atlantic. British intelligence anticipated the ploy, and sent the Grand Fleet to catch the Germans off guard, but the Admiralty’s messages were misreported, and the British were as surprised as the Germans when they met in murky weather near Denmark’s Jutland peninsula.
Admiral David Beatty’s fast but vulnerable Battlecruiser Squadron took a beating before successfully manoeuvring the enemy into the path of Admiral John Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet. That should have proved decisive, but during the night more failures in communication between Beatty, Jellicoe and the Admiralty allowed the Germans to wriggle free and return to base, leaking at every seam.
The Kaiser boasted that ‘the spell of Trafalgar’ was broken; the British press lamented a tragedy. An American journalist was nearer the mark: “The German fleet has assaulted its jailor, but is still in jail”.