Military Naval History: Lessons From the Battle of Jutland


May 31st marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland. There, off the Danish coast, British and German naval forces fought as the Royal Navy sought to bottle up the German battle fleet in the North Sea and the Germans aimed to cripple the Royal Navy. In The World Crisis, Winston Churchill’s eloquent and controversial account of the Great War, the future prime minister describes the transition of the Royal Navy from its peacetime bases in southern England to its war station in Scapa Flow, Orkney:

We may now picture this great fleet with its flotillas of cruisers steaming slowly out of Portland harbor, squadron by squadron, scores of gigantic castles of steel wending their way across the misty, shining sea, like giants bowed in anxious thought.

More importantly for the officers and men aboard Churchill’s “castles of steel,” the two greatest fleets ever assembled were unknowingly steaming toward the only fleet action between dreadnought battleships.

Over eight thousand men died, many entombed in ten or twenty thousand-ton sunken steel coffins. Both Imperial Germany and the United Kingdom immediately claimed victory in the clash, but the Battle of Jutland more closely resembled a draw. Recriminations flew between high-ranking British officers for decades afterwards, which, combined with the carnage of the continental war, obscured Jutland’s valuable lessons.

A century later, as the United States allows its power to wane while its rivals strengthen, this great naval clash provides insight in three areas: strategy, technology and fleet design, and command. Applying these insights to modern strategy will help the U.S. Navy navigate an environment that is not only volatile, but could easily create multiple high-level conflict situations.

Read the Remainder at War on the Rocks

World War I History: Did The Battle of Jutland Really Matter?

I have been breaking my WWII reading order lately with a couple of WWI History Books by Peter Hart which I wanted to tell you about. The First is The Somme: The Darkest Hours on the Western Front. This book is about one of the bloodiest and some would argue, the most senseless battle’s of WW1 ever fought. The Other book is Jutland 1916: Death in the Grey Wastes. What I like about Peter Hart is that he is one of those old school historians that sticks to the facts and does not waste your time with theories. His use of letters and diaries from the actual participants of these battles give his books a personal feel that I really like too. Check them out today. -SF


One of the largest naval battles in history occurred nearly 100 years ago — but the war wasn’t going to be lost in an afternoon.

A century ago, the two greatest fleets of the industrial age fought an inconclusive battle in the North Sea.

The British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet fielded a total of 58 dreadnought battleships and battlecruisers, ships over the twice the size of most modern surface combatants. Including smaller ships, the battle included 250 vessels in total.

The two fleets fought to a draw, with the Germans inflicting more casualties, but still being lucky to escape alive. The Grand Fleet could very easily have annihilated the Germans, an outcome which, however tragic, would not have moved the needle on the rest of the war.

Battle situation

First things first, how could the Germans have won?

The High Seas Fleet faced very tough odds at Jutland. It only enjoyed a numerical advantage near the opening stages of the battle, when the German battlecruisers (commanded by Adm. Franz von Hipper) drew a contingent of British battlecruisers and fast battleships (commanded by David Beatty and Hugh Evan-Thomas) within range of Reinhard Scheer’s German battle line.

We can imagine a different outcome if we alter some of the events at the opening of the battle.

HMS Lion, the flagship of the British battlecruiser squadron, nearly exploded in the early minutes of the battle, after suffering a devastating hit from SMSLutzow, Hipper’s flagship. The early detonation of Lion would have allowed the Germans to build advantage upon advantage; guns targeted at the lead battlecruiser would have focused on the next in line, and so forth.

Read the Remainder at War is Boring


Military Naval History: The Last Battle of CPO 1st Class George Palmer Saunders


Offshore where sea and skyline blend
In rain, the daylight dies;
The sullen, shouldering swells attend
Night and our sacrifice

The Destroyers, by Rudyard Kipling

In 1988 I was invited to give a lecture on AIDS and surgery in the city of Örebro, Sweden. I knew that my grandfather, Chief Petty Officer 1st Class George Palmer Saunders, had been buried in the Norwegian city of Egersund soon after his body washed ashore following the Battle of Jutland that raged between May 31 and June 1, 1916.

After the meeting, I took a few days off and flew to Norway to find his grave. I eventually landed in Stavenger on the southwest coast, rented a car and drove for about three hours through beautiful countryside to Egersund.

It was a Sunday morning. I made inquiries and was directed to a church. Fortunately, the deacon was working in the graveyard and spoke excellent English. When I explained the situation, he asked my grandfather’s name.

When I replied, “Saunders,” he lit up and said, “G.P.”

He took me straight to the grave. Standing with a skullcap, I found myself in the curious position of reciting Kaddish over a grave bearing a cross 72 years after his death in the frigid waters of the North Sea.

Who was he? No member of my generation seems to know much about him. He was born on Oct. 20, 1876 and lived in Wandsworth in southwest London. Information obtained by my cousin Peggy Adam indicates that he held the rank of “boy 2nd class” in the Royal Navy in 1892, at the age of 16.

My mother said he had been a hard-hat diver in the Royal Navy during the Boer War from 1899 to 1902. In fact, he held the rating of “diver” in 1897 and remained in the Royal Navy until 1906, when he was discharged as medically unfit.

He married my grandmother Jane Elizabeth Welsh in 1904 at the St. Thomas a Becket Catholic Church in Wandsworth.

My grandfather re-enlisted after the 1914 assassination of Franz Ferdinand by the Bosnian nationalist Gavrilo Principe in Sarajavo — the spark that ignited World War I.

Read the Remainder at War is Boring