As we approach the centenary of the Battle of Jutland, I am delighted that the National Maritime Museum is opening a major exhibition on this great naval battle from May 20th 2016 – “Jutland 1916: WWI’s Greatest Sea Battle.”
Involving a total of 279 ships on 31 May 1916, the North Sea bore witness to ‘Der Tag’, a major clash between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet. Both sides suffered heavy losses in ships and men, with over 8,500 lives lost in the action. Despite being the biggest naval surface engagement to date, Jutland was one of the most keenly-felt disappointments of the war, with neither side achieving a decisive victory.
Jutland 1916: WWI’s Greatest Sea Battle places the battle within the wider context of the war, and examines the action itself through content created with the grandson of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, the commander of the Grand Fleet. Visitors to the exhibition will learn of the battle, its lead-up and the experience of serving aboard British and German warships. The story will be told through objects such as paintings, photographs, ship models and plans, sailor-made craft work and medals, many of which are on display for the first time. One of the first of these objects to be encountered, will be a 14ft long shipbuilder’s model of HMS Queen Mary, one of the largest battle cruisers involved in the action at Jutland and destroyed in the battle, leaving only eighteen survivors of the 1,266-strong crew.
The exhibition takes visitors beyond the action of the battle and uncovers stories of the aftermath, from the incredibly personal accounts of the sailors and their families, to the broader views of the nations and navies on either side of the conflict and the media reports driving them.
As well as the sailors in the thick of the battle, those who remained at home were deeply affected by the outcome of the battle - none more so than the families of those who were lost. The exhibition traces individual stories through personal testimonies, notably those of the widows of the action who set up support networks and memorials funds and the sailors involved in the battle itself. One such story is that of boy bugler William Robert Walker who served on HMS Calliope at Jutland and survived. Severely wounded when he was hit by a piece of shrapnel, Walker remained at his post throughout the action. Whilst recovering he was visited by HRH King George V, and was later presented with a silver bugle by commander of the Grand Fleet, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, that will be displayed in the exhibition.
Public morale was hugely impacted upon for both nations following the battle, with conflicting reports on both sides. Confusion and misinformation was spread throughout the realms; where in Germany news of a great victory was reported, in a marked contrast, Britain’s assurance in its navy took a great hit. Through photographs, newspaper clippings and quotes from official communiques, Jutland 1916 relates the public sentiments in both Britain and Germany in the immediate aftermath of the battle, and how it eventually became clear that neither could claim a decisive victory.
The exhibition uncovers how the belief that the war would be won in one decisive, glorious sea battle was shattered in the aftermath of Jutland – a marked contrast from the patriotic sentiments expressed ahead of the battle - and tactics from Germany shifted to the unrestricted U-boat warfare in the latter years of the First World War.
To coincide with Jutland 1916, the National Maritime Museum will be hosting a dedicated events programme, including the Maritime Lecture Series and walking tours. From June 2016, the Museum’s ‘RE·THINK: Navy’ gallery will be host to artist in residence, Paddy Hartley, who will be exploring the lives of sailors affected by devastating facial injuries from conflict, including work relating to the surgeries of William Vicarage and Walter Ernest O’Neil Yeo who served at Jutland.
Jutland 1916: WWI’s Greatest Sea Battle is sponsored by BAE Systems.