What if? - Battle of Jutland

Let us suppose for the purpose of this thread, that for this battle Jellicoe was in command of the Battle Cruisers and Beatty was in charge of the Grand Fleet.

However, it was for this battle only, so we can’t argue that with Jellicoe in charge the German battle cruisers would have been destroyed at Dogger Bank and no Jutland yadda yadda yadda.

We also accept that Jellicoe took over after Dogger Bank, so he had four months in charge of the battle cruisers. However, the ships available to each commander were exactly the same at Jutland as they were historically. So Jellicoe had the 5th Battle Squadron with the powerful units of the Queen Elizabeths.

My potted view would be as follows:

As the battle cruisers collide, Jellicoe (more cautious than Beatty) allows time for the 5th Battle Squadron to catch up. They pursue the German battle cruisers who under the combined fire are taking heavy punishment. (Two points- the Queen Elizabeths with Jellicoe and the battle cruisers have had 4 months of Jellicoe training to improve their lousy shooting).

One point I don’t think can be resolved is whether the British battle cruisers would be more resilient to German fire- Beatty was alleged to have ordered removed flash doors so the battle cruisers could shoot faster to make up for bad accuracy. Anyway, gven that the German battle cruisers are under far more sustained and accurate fire it is probable that their accuracy would suffer.

The British battle cruisers are lead on to the High Seas Fleet. They turn and make for the Grand Fleet. Jellicoe - methodical and organised- feeds Beatty updates on the positions of the fleets. Beatty has no great decisions to make re deployment as he has it all at his fingertips.

The Grand Fleet gradually starts pounding the High Seas Fleet. With the reporting of Jellicoe , Beatty knows their position and mauls them. There is no death ride, there is no escape, and Beatty with his flair pursues them relentlessly with no care of the consequences. The shooting of the Grand Fleet is not great but because of the numbers, they are victorious.
At the end of the day, the High Seas Fleet is destroyed. Beatty is a hero, and Jellicoe passes as a footnote to history.

Let the arguments commence. :smiley:


Or perhaps Beatty discovers caution when he is given that greater responsibility and hesitation again allows the German fleet to escape back home.

And Germany still loses the war anyway.

WWI was highly notable for a near-complete lack of decisive actions anywhere, on sea or on land, so I have difficulty seeing how a commander switch would have significantly altered the outcome at Jutland.

I would have thought that the Coronels and Falklands were pretty decisive (not on the scale of Jutland of course; but then again no naval battle was). Historical as in the results - not so much in a strategic context).

You are correct-had Jellicoe been less cautious, the German High Seas Fleet would have been destroyed.
But it was pretty irrelevant-the only part of the German Navy that mattered was the submarines.
Of course, the psychological effect of such a defeat would have shaken the Germans badly-was it enough to make them throw in the towel? Doubtful.
It is interesting that Germany invested so much in their navy-when it had no chance of ever defeating the British-being blocked up in the Baltic and East North Sea made it certain that the HSF would ever play anything but a minor role in WWI.

Maybe he wasnt looking for a decisive moment (apart from Germany managing to break French lines in the very first part of the war, there are no real turning points in this war. Which is what makes it so nightmarish, in my opinion), but a “let’s shave a few years off this war” moment.

To my mind very unlikely the High Seas Fleet would have been completely destroyed whoever was commanding the Grand Fleet. German battleships were just too tough for them all to be sunk before they got back into waters too dangerous for the Grand Fleet to enter.

You could argue that the destruction of the HSF would have actually strengthened Germany by removing the distraction of a major surface fleet - more emphasis on U-boats maybe with major consequences in 1917. Also, no fleet, no mutinies in 1918 with incalculable consequences for the end of the war and the post-war period.

Good point-I remember seeing photos of German ships-hit multiple times by British 12" shells. Most of the shells broke up without exploding (bad detonators?)
However, bad as the shells were, Jellicoe and Beatty could have fired enough of them to destroy the german fleet.:frowning:

Massie’s Castles of Steel addresses the construction differences between the Germain and British fleets several times. The British were emphasizing speed and gun size while the Germans felt keeping a ship afloat was paramount, so sacrificed gun size and speed for increased armor. The Germans also had a better compartment design within the ships, and had a better flash-tight gun design to prevent hits on the guns from leading to a magazine explosion.

I recommend the book for anyone interested in warfare at sea and/or WWI, though I haven’t read anything similar that I could compare.

I forgot to add, Massie did also write about problems with British shells. I seem to recall that they addressed the problems at some point during the war, but don’t remember details.

I thought of those battles (which is why I mentioned a near-complete lack of decisive actions), but on reflection I guess you could say that the Falklands was decisive in that Germany didn’t get to do any more commerce-raiding or harassing of British interests in South America, for what that was worth.

I think it’s far from certain that destruction of the High Seas Fleet would have had any impact as far as shortening the war. It’s possible that in such an event the Germans would have plowed the money saved on unkeep of all those battleships and crews into a more all-out submarine offensive, which potentially could have forced the British to throw in the towel before convoys were discovered so effective, and if your grandma had wheels, etc.

I thought the German fleet was what kept the British from launching an invasion of Germany by sea. Could Germany have relied solely on minefields and coastal batteries?

Strangely enough, guess which book I am reading for the third time? :cool:

It was what really made me think of the question.

Just for clarity, the OP does not posit whether the destruction (or not) of the High Seas Fleet would have shortened the war. IMHO it would have made little difference- just a bit of an ego slap for the Kaiser.

Probably- and fear of submarines. It was these far more than the fleet which made it a long distance blockade.

However, I believe the possibility of small units of the Royal Navy being ambushed by (for instance) the German battle cruisers was a worry.

I’ve read Massie’s book but not recently. I seem to recall that Beatty had problems. He did not coordinate the ships under his command well, which is a fatal flaw for a fleet commander. A fleet commander has to be able to see the battle as a whole without getting too focused on the part of the battle he’s personally in.

After seeing many references to Massie’s book I’ve finally got around to ordering it.

As to the OP; I’m in agreement with those who are saying - yes, it’s possible the High Seas fleet could have been mauled but it probably wouldn’t have changed much in the grand scheme of things. Less interesting diving opportunities in Scapa Flow though I suppose.

You should read Dreadnought first. It describes the events before World War I. (Castles of Steel is about World War I.) And, in my opinion, it’s the better of the two books.

While I agree with Little Nemo, the topics of the books cover different topics. Both are very good reads.

Lisiate, I have both books. f you have any difficulty obtaining copies I’d be happy to post either.

Thanks very much for the offer Cicero, but I’ve already ordered both now (there goes the book budget for the next couple of months). The cost of postage to NZ and back is probably comparable to the cost of buying them from the Book Depository anyhow (it amazes me how they manage to make money despite having free delivery).

I got Castles and probably Dreadnought from Ebay.