The Battle of Jutland31 May – 1 June 1916
The Battle of Jutland was the largest naval battle of the First World War. Approximately 100,000 men in 250 ships fought in the battle, which took place in the North Sea off the coast of Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula. Although Britain’s Royal Navy sustained heavy losses, British forces were crucially able to retain control of the North Sea in the wake of the fighting.
At the start of the First World War, the British navy was the strongest in the world. Its core was the Grand Fleet, based at Scapa Flow in Orkney, under the command of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. In spring 1916, Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer, commander of the German navy’s High Seas Fleet resolved to attack Sunderland, far from the Grand Fleet’s base at Scapa Flow.
When poor weather led Scheer to call off the Sunderland attack, he instructed his forces to head north to Skagerrak, a 150-mile strait between Norway and Denmark. By attacking merchant ships, Scheer planned to lure British warships into an ambush that would destroy part of the British fleet. The British, however, suspected that an attack was imminent after intercepting and decoding German signals, and dispatched the Grand Fleet from Scapa Flow on 30 May 1916.
The two sides confronted each other on the afternoon of 31 May. The Germans had the better of the battle’s early exchanges, destroying two British battlecruisers and inflicting serious damage on HMS Lion, a British flagship. However, spearheaded by Jellicoe’s 28 powerful dreadnought battleships, the British fought back strongly as darkness fell, and the Germans eventually turned to retreat. Although Germany claimed victory on account of the greater losses suffered by their enemy (6,094 men and 14 ships, compared to 2,551 men and 11 ships lost by the Germans), the battle allowed the British to maintain control of the North Sea. As a result, the Allies’ maritime blockade of Germany remained in place and was never again seriously threatened, contributing to the Allies’ eventual victory in 1918.
What is Dazzle?
‘Dazzle’ is a style of ship camouflage characterised by brilliant, glaring geometric patterns. Widely used in the First World War and into the Second, ‘dazzle’ does not strive to make a ship invisible to its enemies, but rather to confuse their attempts to sink it by making it difficult to accurately gauge the distance, direction and speed at which it is travelling.
‘Dazzle’ was developed by the British marine artist Norman Wilkinson to counter the threat posed by German U-Boats. He employed techniques that resembled those of avant-garde British painters such as Wyndham Lewis and David Bomberg. Artist Edward Wadsworth, who supervised the application of ‘dazzle’ patterning to over 2,000 ships, later made a series of paintings on the subject.
The close relationship of ‘dazzle’ technology to British art extended right through its manufacture. Each British pattern was unique, and many of the designs were invented by women from the Royal Academy of Arts in London. These were then tested on wooden models, viewed through a periscope in a studio to assess how they would work at sea. Though the practice has largely (but not entirely) fallen out of fashion in the military, ‘dazzle’ remains a source of inspiration to artists today.
- Steel, Nigel; Hart, Peter (2004). Jutland 1916: Death in the Grey Wastes. London: Cassell.
- Gordon, Andrew (1996). The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command. London: John Murray.
- Massie, Robert K. (2003). Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea. Random House.