No. 1396/H.F. 0022.
18th June 1916.
BE pleased to inform the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that in accordance with the instructions contained in their Lordships' telegram No. 434 of 30th May, Code time 1740, the Grand Fleet proceeded to sea on 30th May 1916.
2. The instructions given to those portions of the fleet that were not in company with my flag at Scapa Flow were as follows:
To Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Jerram, with Second BattleSquadron at Invergordon :—
- "Leave as soon as ready. Pass through Lat. 58° 15' N., Long. 2° 0' E., meet me 2.0 p.m. to-morrow 31st, Lat. 57° 45' N., Long. 4° 15' E. Several enemy submarines known to be in North Sea."
- 1930 (Code time)."
To Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty, Commanding the Battlecruiser fleet at Rosyth, with the Fifth Battle Squadron, Rear Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas in company :
- "Urgent, Priority.
- Admiralty telegram 1740.
- Available vessels. Battle-cruiser Fleet, Fifth Battle Squadron and T.B.D.s including Harwich T.B.D.s proceed to approximate position Lat. 56° 40' N., Long. 5° 0' E. Desirable to economise T.B.D.'s fuel. Presume you will be there about 2.0 p.m. tomorrow 31st. I shall be in about Lat. 57° 45' N., Long. 4° 15' E. by 2.0 p.m. unless delayed by fog.
- Third Battle Cruiser Squadron, "Chester" and "Canterbury" will leave with me. I will send them on to your rendezvous.
- If no news by 2.0 p.m. stand towards me to get in visual touch.
- I will steer for Horn Reef from position Lat. 57° 45 'N., Long 4° 15' E.
- Repeat back rendezvous.
- 1937 (Code time)."
3. I felt no anxiety in regard to the advanced position of the force under Sir David Beatty, supported as it was by four ships of the Fifth Battle Squadron as this force was far superior in gun power to the First Scouting Group and the speed of the slowest ships was such as to enable it to keep out of range of superior enemy forces.
4. The operation, however, showed that the ships of the Third Squadron of the High Sea Fleet possess an unexpected turn of speed for at any rate a short period. The "Queen Elizabeth" class are nominally 20-knot vessels. The official Quarterly Return of British and Foreign War Vessels gives the "König" and "Kaiser" classes a designed speed of 20·5 knots. I have always expected that they might reach 22 knots for a short distance, but the fact that the Fifth Battle Squadron was unable to increase its distance from the German ships when steaming at their utmost speed comes as an unpleasant surprise and will have considerable effect on the conduct of future operations. It is quite evident that all German ships possess a speed much in excess of that for which they are nominally designed.
5. When Sir David Beatty sighted the enemy battle-cruisers he adopted the correct and only possible course in engaging and endeavouring to keep between the enemy and his base. Whether the First Scouting Group was supported or not, his duty would be to engage and keep touch with the enemy vessels of similar class to his own, so long as he was not in manifestly inferior force. In this case he had a great superiority, and there could be no question as to his action.
6. The disturbing feature of the battle-cruiser action is the fact that five German battle-cruisers engaging six British vessels of this class, supported after the first twenty minutes, although at great range, by the fire of four battleships of the "Queen Elizabeth " class, were yet able to sink the "Queen Mary" and "Indefatigable." It is true that the enemy suffered very heavily later, and that one vessel, the " Lützow," was undoubtedly destroyed, but even so the result cannot be other than unpalatable. The facts which contributed to the British losses were, first, the indifferent armour protection of our battle-cruisers, particularly as regards turret armour and deck plating, and, second, the disadvantage under which our vessels laboured in regard to the light. Of this there can be no question.
But it is also undoubted that the gunnery of the German battle-cruisers in the early stages was of a very high standard. They appeared to get on to their target and establish hitting within two or three minutes of opening fire in almost every case, and this at very long ranges of 18,000 yards. The German vessels appear to use some such system of fire as the Petravic method as the guns do not go off exactly together, and it unquestionably gives excellent results. The "spread" for both direction and elevation is very small and the rapidity of fire very great.
7. Once we commence hitting, the German gunnery falls off, but—as shown by the rapidity with which the "Invincible" was sunk at a later stage—their ships are still able to fire with great accuracy even when they have received severe punishment.
8. The fact that the gunnery of the German battlefleet when engaged with our battlefleet did not show the same accuracy must not, I think, be taken as showing that the standard is not so high as with their battle-cruisers, as I am inclined to the opinion that we then had some advantage in the way of light, although it was very bad for both sides.
9. The German organisation at night is very good. Their system of recognition signals is excellent. Ours is practically nil. Their searchhghts are superior to ours and they use them with great effect. Finally, their method of firing at night gives excellent results. I am reluctantly compelled to the opinion that under night conditions we have a good deal to learn from them.
10. The German tactics during the action were those which have always been anticipated, and for which provision has been made so far as is possible in my Battle Orders. The "turn away" of the enemy under cover of torpedo boat destroyer attacks is a move most difficult to counter, but which has been closely investigated on the Tactical Board. Vice-Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee has rendered me much assistance in the study of this particular movement and in devising a counter to it. There is no real counter. Nothing but ample time and superior speed can be an answer, and this means that unless the meeting of the fleets takes place fairly early in the day it is most difficult, if not impossible, to fight the action to a finish. In this particular case, thanks to the fact that the enemy did not, as far as can be seen, expect to find our whole fleet present, there was no time for him to lay a prepared mine area, and not much time to place his submarines, although many submarines were present. It is unlikely that in future operations we shall be so favoured in this respect, and the element of time will therefore be still more important. I foreshadowed in my letter of Oct. 30th, 1914, No. 339/HF/0034, in which their Lordships expressed concurrence, A.L. of November 7th, 1914, M.03177/14, the possibility of it being actually necessary purposely to delay bringing the fleet to close action for some time on account of the possibilities which the mine and submarine give for preparing a trap on a large scale, and it should be understood that this possibility still exists and will be increased as the enemy gets stronger in submarines.
11. It was unnecessary for me to give any special orders to the flag officers during the action. Events followed the course that was expected. All squadrons and flotillas took up their stations as directed in the Battle Orders with most commendable accuracy under very difficult circumstances. The torpedo attacks launched by the enemy were countered in the manner previously intended, and practised, during exercises, and the fleet was manœuvred to close again after these attacks by the method which had been adopted for this purpose. The handling of the large fleet was immensely facilitated by the close cooperation and support afforded me by the flag officers.
12. One of the features of the action was the large number of torpedoes that crossed our line without taking effect on any ship except the "Marlborough." Sir Cecil Burney estimates that at least twenty-one torpedoes were seen to cross the line of his squadron. All were avoided by skilful handling, except that single one, and it is notable that the "Marlborough" herself evaded seven. Similarly the Fifth Battle Squadron, in rear of the First Battle Squadron, avoided a considerable number and other squadrons had similar experiences. It is of supreme importance to keep from the knowledge of the enemy the fact that ships were able to avoid torpedoes by seeing the track, as it would not be beyond the ingenuity of the Germans to devise a means of preventing any track being left.
13. The experience and results of the action, particularly the knowledge we now have of the speed of the enemy's Third Squadron, must exercise considerable influence on our future dispositions and tactics. It will, for instance, not be advisable in future to place our Fifth Battle Squadron in a position removed from support. I have these questions under consideration and will submit my conclusions to their Lordships.
14. A narrative of the action is enclosed.
I am, Sir,
Your obedient Servant,
J. R. JELLICOE,
The Secretary of the Admiralty.