“Britain Defeated at Sea!”
As it was, the Germans claimed a great victory at Jutland. Few observers would have given the German fleet a fighting chance against the British. The naval battles of the war up to this point had gone poorly for the Germans. Great Britain reigned supreme on the oceans. But with the German fleet sinking 14 British ships and claiming a staggering 6,600 casualties, including 6,097 killed, German newspapers exulted that Trafalgar had been reversed. In a limited sense, they were correct. The German High Fleet had certainly given as good as it got. But the British still maintained a great numerical superiority in ships over the Germans, and they were building new ships faster than the Germans. Even though Queen Mary and Indefatigable had been lost, there were already ships to take their place. Nor was there a change in the relative position of the two navies. The German fleet was still stuck in its corner of the North Sea and British ships still blockaded it.
To the British public, unaware that a major sea battle had even taken place, Jutland came as a bombshell. Within an hour, London newsboys were on the streets shouting, “Great Naval Disaster! Five British Battleships Lost!” Flags were lowered to half-staff, stock exchanges closed, and theaters darkened. Overseas, on breakfast tables from New York to Chicago to San Francisco, the headlines read, “Britain Defeated at Sea!” and “British Fleet Almost Annihilated!” Soon, however, the British newspapers put things into cold perspective. “Will the shouting, flag wagging [German] people get any more of the copper, rubber, and cotton their government so sorely needs?” asked the British press. “Not a pound. Will meat and butter be cheaper in Berlin? Not by a pfennig. There is one test and only one, of victory. Who held the field of battle at the end of the fight?”
Even Scheer seemed to lose hope in the ability of the High Seas Fleet to have a definite impact on the war. In a confidential report to the Kaiser, he stated his opinion that most of the ships would be ready for action by August, but that he doubted whether even a successful attack could reduce Great Britain’s control of the North Sea. Then he added ominously, “A victorious end to the war within a reasonable time can only be achieved through defeat of the British economic life—that is, by using U-boats against British trade.” The German Navy had put up a valiant fight against the superior British Navy at Jutland, but by resuming unrestricted submarine warfare, Germany would foolishly antagonize a powerful neutral nation, the United States, and bring it into the war. By threatening America, Germany needlessly made a new enemy. When Scheer convinced the Kaiser to allow unrestricted U-boat activity to resume, Germany in effect threw away her victory at Jutland and planted the poisonous seeds that eventually would lose Germany the war.
Originally Published October 20, 2018.
This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.