100 years since the Battle of Jutland: UK exhibitions mark the greatest sea battle of the First World War

By Richard Moss | 12 May 2016

Amazing objects, images and stories as the UK's best museums and heritage sites mark 100 years since the Battle of Jutland

a painting of a smoking gun deck of a battleship with several battleships in the distance
The Second Division at Jutland, Wyllie, W L (RA) IWM Non-Commercial Licence IWM
Debate over the outcome continues to this day but the Battle of Jutland, between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet off the western coast of Denmark on May 31 1916, remains one of the most potent battles in the history of naval warfare, and evokes the era of the dreadnought more than any other.

A total of 279 ships were engaged in the vicious clash of men and warships, with both sides suffering heavy losses in ships and men. When the guns finally fell silent in the early hours of June 1, more than 8,500 people had lost their lives.

Despite being one of the most significant naval surface engagements to date, Jutland was one of the most keenly-felt disappointments of the war, with neither side achieving a decisive victory. The Germans initially claimed success and in Britain news of the losses were met with dismay, but in reality the German objective of luring the British fleet into a trap and destroying it had failed.

After 12 hours of blow and counter blow, the German plan to bring parity to the sea war had resulted in the sinking 14 British ships for the loss of 11 German vessels (five of which were torpedo boats). But such was its strength, the British fleet remained far superior in numbers and in control of the North Sea.


Jutland left the British with 23 dreadnoughts and four battlecruisers still able to fight, while the Germans had only ten dreadnoughts.

German naval actions in the area were eventually forced to move away from battleship to U-boat warfare and the German Baltic trade routes remained effectively blockaded for the duration of the war.

Now, 100 years on, museums are marking this terrible battle with a series of major exhibitions featuring fascinating objects, stories and a range of recreations, re-appraisals and even a project to map all of the survivors.

36 Hours: Jutland 1916, The Battle That Won The War at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth - opening May 19

a photo of a brass lamp with shrapnel holes
The battle damaged lamp of HMS Chester© IWM (EPH 2003)
At the National Museum of the Royal Navy they are remembering one of the Senior Service’s most important battles with a bold blockbuster exhibition called 36 Hours: Jutland 1916, The Battle that Won the War.

This major display highlights the essential role of the British Royal Navy in winning the First World War and, as its title suggests, challenges the belief that the Battle of Jutland was a German victory, even presenting the battle as a British success, both tactically and strategically.

Describing Jutland as the “defining naval battle of the First World War”, Professor Dominic Tweddle, the Director General of the NMRN, says Jutland is “the Royal Navy’s greatest battle” and should be “remembered with the same importance as the Battle of the Somme”.

The story of Jutland’s significance as a battle that turned the tide of the First World War is accordingly delivered with aplomb with the help of a highly impressive collection of artefacts and objects.

Treasures from the museum's own collections come together with key items from the Imperial War Museum, as well as five other public collections and more than 20 private lenders.

They range from British Commander Admiral Jellicoe’s dress uniform to the personal effects of men and women involved in the battle, such as the diary of Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service Nurse, Mary Clarke, which tells of her service as a naval sister in the Grand Fleet hospital ship PLASSY (May-June 1916).

a photo of men in bandages and pajamas on board a ship
Jutland Casualties from HMS Tiger on HMS Plassy 1916.© National Museum of the Royal Navy
The lifebelt belonging to William Loftus Jones, English recipient of the Victoria Cross and commander of HMS Shark which sunk during the battle, is also included. The lifebelt was recovered from Loftus Jones’ body after being washed ashore following the battle, and is displayed alongside a photograph of HMS Shark survivors.

Among the precious symbols of Royal Navy history are a number of ensigns that flew during the battle, including a flag from HMS Bellerophon, which measures around 2.6m by 5.3m.

There are also three guns that saw action at Jutland; the large gun from German destroyer B98 and two smaller deck guns from HMS Opal and HMS Narbourgh, which are usually on display at Orkney Islands Council’s Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum at Lyness. During their stay in Pompey, the guns will be restored.

The museum has also launched an interactive map to create a record of the individuals involved in the Battle of Jutland, chart its impact and convey the ‘human’ story, highlighting its scale and significance to the First World War.

Launched with more than 6,000 entries from across Britain, the map is already showing the national impact of Jutland and providing a comprehensive record

a painting of wounded and bandaged men lying on the floor below decks
HMS Castor. Wounded Received After The Battle Of Jutland, 31st May 1916© IWM ART 2781
a photo of a bras bell with HMS Warspite 1915.
HMS Warspite Ships Bell© IWM (MAR 40)
a side by side portrait of two naval commanders in uniform
David Beatty and John Jellicoe© Courtesy National Museum of the Royal Navy
a black and white photo of ships out at sea - as seen from a gun deck
HMS Warspiute and HMS Valiant seen from HMS Malaya during the Battle of Jutland, 2pm, May 31, 1916.© IWM
36 Hours: Jutland 1916, The Battle That Won The War opens at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth on May 19.

Restored Jutland survivor HMS Caroline opens in Belfast, June 1

a photograph a warship painted in light grey
HMS Caroline opens to the public on June 1© NMRN
Incredibly, there is a surviving warship from the Battle; the light cruiser HMS Caroline, which after 90-odd years moored in Belfast’s Alexandra Dock, has been comprehensively restored by the National Museum of the Royal Navy for the anniversary.  

The historic vessel opens to the public on June 1, 100 years to the day the Battle of Jutland ended with a series of chaotic night actions and the withdrawal of the German fleet.

Caroline has been in Belfast since 1924, and has been meticulously restored to its appearance during the Battle and fitted out with exhibition areas and interactive suites to highlight the role of men who joined the Royal Navy, including 10,000 Irishmen, during the First World War.

Inside, a range of historic spaces including the Captain’s Cabin, Royal Marines Mess, Seamen’s Wash and the very important engine room, sick-bay and galley kitchen reveal what life at sea was like for more than 300 crew who served on board Caroline during 1916.

The June 1 opening is preceded on May 31 by a Commemoration of The Irish Sailor and Belfast’s Centenary of Battle of Jutland ceremonies and events at Alexandra Dock.

HMS Caroline opens to the public on June 1 2016. For tickets and information visit the NMRN website.

Jutland 1916: WWI’s Greatest Sea Battle at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich from May 20

Photo of a dog with his head cocked to one side peering through a life ring with HMS Warspite painted on it.
HMS Warspite’s bulldog mascot.© National Maritime Museum, London
In London, at the National Maritime Museum, they are placing the battle within the wider context of the war by examining the action in an exhibition created with input from the grandson of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, the Commander of the British Grand Fleet.

Valued objects from the National Maritime Museum collection, including paintings, photographs, ship models, plans, sailor-made craft work and medals, go on display – many of them for the first time – in a show that brings individual stories and powerful personal testimonies to the fore. 

Boy bugler William Robert Walker served on HMS Calliope at Jutland and survived despite being severely wounded when he was hit by a piece of shrapnel.

Silver-plated bugle inscribed on top 'PRESENTED BY THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF TO W.R.WALKER, HMS "CALLIOPE”, 31st MAY 1916.'
Bugle presented to boy bugler William Walker, who served in HMS 'Calliope' at the Battle of Jutland. © National Maritime Museum, London
Having remained at his post throughout the action, he was visited by HRH King George V during his recovery and was later presented with a silver bugle by commander of the Grand Fleet, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, which is displayed in the exhibition. 

The effect of the war on the British home front is also explored through the stories of the widows of the sailors killed in the battle who set up support networks and memorial funds.

The exhibition also explains how the battle was reported and received at the time, through photographs, newspaper clippings and quotes from official communiques and investigates how public sentiments in both Britain and Germany in the immediate aftermath of the battle eventually made it clear that neither could claim a decisive victory.

a photo of a large bass drum with a lions motif and scrolls
Bass drum, HMS 'Lion', painted with battle honours for Heligoland, Dogger Bank and Jutland.© National Maritime Museum, London

a photo of a rectangular flag with a cross of St George and Union Jack in the corner
A British naval ensign used as a battle ensign by HMS 'Chester' 1915 at the Battle of Jutland 31 May 1916.© National Maritime Museum, London
a photo of an ensign flag with a black cross and eagle motif at its centre and an 'iron cross' in its corner.
Imperial German naval ensign from SMS 'Moltke' 1912 that was present at Jutland. The battlecruiser 'Moltke' took part in the bombardment of Hartlepool, Yarmouth and Lowestoft and the Battle of Jutland. At the end of the war she was interned at Scapa Flow and was scuttled there ten months later. The ensign is likely to have been acquired at this time. © National Maritime Museum, London
a round bronzed medal with a bulldog attacked by an eagle
German medal commemorating the Battle of Jutland, 1916. With a bulldog (Britain) swimming in the sea attacked by an eagle (Germany)© National Maritime Museum, London
a mounted black and white photo of men in dinner jackets at a long table
Jutland anniversary dinner in the gun room of HMS Lion, May 1918© National Maritime Museum, London
Jutland 1916: WWI’s Greatest Sea Battle is at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich from May 20 2016 until November 2018.

The Navy’s Air War: Jutland 1916 at the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Museum - opening May 18

a photo of the relic forward fuselage, engine and cockpit area of an old plane in a large illuminated display case
The remains of the Short 184 aircraft at the Fleet Air Arm Museum© National Museum of the Royal Navy
At the Feet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton, they are looking at Jutland as a pioneering era of aviation by telling the story of the only aircraft to fly during the battle, the Short Type 184, and its pilot, the fascinating Frederick Rutland, who became known as ‘Rutland of Jutland’.

Flying with his co-pilot observer, Assistant Paymaster G. S. Trewin, Rutland’s exploits during the battle included a daring sortie over the German fleet, ditching his plane to make repairs to a fuel line and then taxiing across the waves back to his carrier HMS Engandine. He later jumped into the water to save an injured crewman during the transfer of sailors from the sinking cruiser HMS Warrior.

He received the first of his two Distinguished Service Crosses and an Albert Medal for Lifesaving for his exploits in the battle.

But Rutland went from a hero in the First World War to being interned as a traitor in the Second World War after being recruited by the Japanese in the 1920s to covertly help them develop aircraft carriers in the interwar years. With Japanese funding he set up businesses in Los Angeles and Honolulu and provided his paymasters with technical details about deck landings in the run up to the attack on Pearl Harbour.  

As well as the chequered story of a hero turned renegade the museum also has a full size replica of another classic seaplane from the First World War, The Sopwith Pup, a single seater bi-plane, which the irascible Rutland flew from a gun turret platform of HMS Yarmouth in June 1917.
a photo of two men in naval uniform, scarves and leather flying helmets
Rutland of Jutland (left) pictured in 1915.© Courtesy NMRN
a photo of a biplane taking off from a ship
Rutland of Jutland takes off from HMS Yarmouth in June 1917
The Navy's Air War: Jutland 1916 - Opens at the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Museum on May 18.

Jutland 1916 : Remembering the Forgotten Battle, at Hartlepool Museum, opening May 21

a photo of five Royal Navy sailors sat in a row on a bench
Hartlepool Lads at Sea
In Hartlepool in County Durham, the town’s museum is partnering with the National Museum of the Royal Navy for an exhibition exploring the part the communities of the North East played in the Battle of Jutland, via artefacts, ship models, audio-visuals, photographs and hands-on interactives for families, and a supporting event and activity programme.

Nearby, The Heugh Battery Museum, will have a three metre model of HMS Warspite on display for the anniversary. At Jutland Warspite inflicted damage on the German vessels Seydlitz and Moltke - two of the three battle cruisers which had been involved in the Bombardment of Hartlepool in December 1914.

One of the shells fired by a German cruiser landed less than 100 metres from the battery and caused the first death of a serviceman on British soil during the First World War.

Jutland 1916 : Remembering the Forgotten Battle is at Hartlepool Museum, May 21 — September 18.

Ciara Phillips' 14-18 NOW Dazzleship, Leith Harbour, from May 25 2016

a photo of a ship painted in a bold black and white design with a swathe of pink
Ciara Phillips' Dazzle Ship© Photo Ross Fraser Mclean
In Scotland the First World War Centenary art programme, 14-18 NOW, continues its mission to bring Great War themed art to the masses by dazzling local residents with dazzle camouflaged historic ships by commissioning Turner Prize nominee Ciara Phillips to “dazzle” a ship in the historic port of Leith as part of the 2016 Edinburgh Art Festival Commissions Programme.

Phillips, a long-term resident of Scotland, has painted the iconic vessel MV Fingal with a design that also marks the role of women during the First World War.

The ship is a former northern lighthouse tender now owned by The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust and Phillips' take on the tradition (the fourth in the Dazzle Ship series) includes a cypher marking the role of WWI women telegraphers amidst the distinctive pattern recalling the dazzle camouflaged battle-ready ships in Leith one hundred years ago.

Also in Edinburgh, at South Queensferry Museum, which overlooks the Firth of Forth where the British fleet set sail from as they headed to battle, Queensferry at War (until September 30 2016) looks at the local stories of people caught up in the First World War and the Battle of Jutland.

The exhibition includes medals, uniforms, photographs, artefacts and stories including the remarkable tale of a 15-year-old local boy who ran away to join the navy and fired a torpedo that sunk a German gun boat during the battle.

Dazzle Ship by Ciara Phillips is unveiled on May 25, at LEWIS, 1 Rennie's Isle, Edinburgh, EH6 6QT

Orkney's Museums remember Jutland and HMS Hampshire

a photo of three warships in a line at Scapa Flow
Warships of the 4th Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet exercising at Scapa Flow.© IWM (Q68697).
The Scapa Flow Visitor Centre is welcoming visitors over its summer opening season (until October 31) with a new First World War display that includes additional material relating to the Battle of Jutland and the sinking of HMS Hampshire.

At The Orkney Museum The Battle of Jutland, Scapa Flow and the War at Sea (until September 30 2016) focuses on the War at Sea and Orkney’s involvement in it with a new exhibition featuring the first-hand accounts of them the men and women whose lives we shaped by the presence of the British Fleet at Scapa Flow.

As well as photos and stories, the exhibition includes rarely-seen historic model boats from the museum’s collection together with artefacts loaned by the family of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe.

Over at Stromness Museum the focus shifts to the loss of HMS Hampshire in 1916 with an exhibition boasting a fascinating selection of artefacts, from 'death pennies' to memorial Lord Kitchener toby jugs charting the impact of the loss of the warship.

For more information on the loss of HMS Hampshire see the Orkney Heritage Society website http://hmshampshire.org/ which features more on their campaign to name and remember all 737 men lost in her sinking on June 5 1916.

For events taking place at Commonwealth War Graves Commission sites see www.cwgc.org/jutland/events.aspx

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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