May 31st – 1st June marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland. This was to be the only major sea battle of the First World War and was to prove indecisive, with no clear victor emerging.
It was the intention of the German High Seas Fleet to lure the British Grand Fleet battle cruisers, under the command of Vice-Admiral Beatty, into the path of the German Navy in the North Sea, off the Jutland peninsula, to seriously weaken the British fleet, her shipping lanes and to stop the blockade of Germany.
German radio transmissions were being intercepted, although not entirely accurately, which sent word that the German fleet was leaving port. In response, Admiral John Jellicoe sailed to rendezvous with Beatty. Whilst on the way to the rendezvous point, Beatty spotted two German cruisers and took an early initiative to try to strike before the German fleet was ready. Due to problems with communications, Beatty ended up 10 miles ahead of his fleet without support, being led into the path of the German High Seas Fleet. Less than 20 minutes later the fleets engaged and resulted in the loss of the British battle cruisers HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary.
Realising the extent of the German fleet, Beatty did an about turn and attempted to lure the German fleet into the path of the Grand Fleet and Admiral Jellicoe, who were on their way to support Beatty. Communication proved problematic again, leaving ships in Beatty’s fleet unaware of the need to about turn, and exposing them to attack by the pursuing German fleet.
Heavy fighting ensued between Beatty’s fleet and Vice-Admiral Scheer’s, (Commander-in-Chief of the German fleet). This allowed enough time for Jellicoe to position the rest of the British Grand Fleet in an arc to await the arrival of the enemy. The British fleet engaged, forcing Scheer to retreat. For unknown reasons, however, Scheer turned back to face Jellicoe and ordered a torpedo attack to protect them in a second retreat. This lead to Jellicoe making the decision to protect his fleet by also doing an about turn, heading away from the German fleet.
Debate immediately began over who had taken the strategic victory. British losses far outweighed those sustained by the German fleet but as time went on, Britain claimed the victory as the German fleet was to remain in port for the remainder of the war.
Amongst the ships taking part in the naval battle was HMS Birmingham, a Town-class light cruiser launched in 1913 and commissioned in February 1914. HMS Birmingham had been the first to destroy a German U-boat in 1914, ramming U-15 and splitting her in two while she was making repairs. HMS Birmingham survived the Battle of Jutland, sustaining damage caused by splintering.
The ensign that was flown on HMS Birmingham was presented to St. Philips Cathedral on Nelson Day in 1921.