Remembering Jutland and the lives it cost

Kitchener and Jellicoe on board HMS Iron Duke, on June 5, 1916.

Kitchener and Jellicoe on board HMS Iron Duke, on June 5, 1916.

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On December 6, 1915, the inter-allied conference convened at Chantilly in France was asked to support a French proposal for a co-ordinated strategy and offensives in 1916. In reality only the British forces would launch a major offensive in 1916 and attempts by others would be designed merely to distract German and Austro-Hungarian commanders to take pressure off an ally under severe pressure.

Before the bloody, but ultimately inconclusive, offensive launched on the River Somme by General Sir Douglas Haig on July 1, 1916 – brought forward to relieve pressure on the French being ‘hammered on the anvil of Verdun’ – the greatest naval engagement of the war would take place off the Danish coast at Jutland.

The British Grand Fleet raced down from Scapa Flow to meet a large German force looking to break British command of the seas. If German surface ships could get out into the open seas of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans, the threat to British lines of sea supply and communication would be extremely great and the war could be turned in favour of the enemy.

The Battle of Jutland is one of the key actions of the war to be commemorated in the government’s programme from 2014 to 2018. Locally, we hope to have an exhibition at the Old Low Light Heritage Centre to reflect the connection of Tyneside to the battle and the vital role of the naval shipbuilding and repairing industries of the North East.

The battle was fought over less than 24 hours from the afternoon of May 31 to June 1, 1916. It cost the Royal Navy heavier losses than the German High Seas Fleet, but resulted in the latter withdrawing to the safety of its home ports. Four British capital ships and many smaller vessels were lost or crippled at a cost of more than 6,500 British sailors’ lives.

Five days later Earl Kitchener, the Minister for War, met with Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Jellicoe, at Scapa Flow, as Kitchener set out for Russia, only to die as a result of the loss of HMS Hampshire a few hours later, most likely having struck a recently laid German mine. Of more than 650 on board, only 11 survivors scrambled ashore on West Orkney after four hours in raging seas.

One survivor was Richard Simpson of Edith Street, Tynemouth. Sadly he would lose his life just 14 months later in the North Sea off Grimsby. His story can be found at www.northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk

Jellicoe would have been quizzed by Kitchener about the conduct of the Jutland battle, seen by some as a defeat for the Royal Navy, but as time would show, the German Fleet never again tried to break out of imprisonment in its home ports. Jellicoe, who had been described by Churchill as “the only man who could lose the war in an afternoon”, was soon replaced by his subordinate Beatty. At the war’s end Beatty got the plaudits and Jellicoe was ignored when honours were being bestowed.

Anyone with information about anyone who died as a result of the war from homes across North Tyneside is asked to contact the project. The Project Workroom at Room B9, Linskill Community Centre, Trevor Terrace, North Shields, is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday. We are closed until Monday, January 4.

The Memorial Garden is open after January 3, from 9am to 5pm, at the Linskill Centre. Royal British Legion poppy crosses can be obtained at the workroom to place in memory of casualties of the Great War. Our address for correspondence is c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields, NE30 1AR.