The Battle of Jutland, fought 80 miles west of Denmark on the 31 May 1916, can be termed the greatest naval battle in modern times. Not since the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 had the Royal Navy faced an amassed fleet of warships in a contest for mastery of the seas.
Both sides claimed it as a victory, but after it was over, the German High Seas Fleet was forced to seek its base and never again engage with the Royal Navy. During it, 250 warships contested the battle, and whilst they were in contact for eight hours, they engaged for only 30 minutes. The British suffered 6,945 casualties, the Germans 2,921.
Admiral Reinhard Scheer, in command of the German High Seas Fleet, set out from Wilhelmshaven toward the Norwegian coast in the early hours of 31 May. The Admiralty, using its extensive intelligence network, was aware of the fleet movement and ordered Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty to make a scouting sweep. The Grand Fleet, commanded by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, remained about 70 miles to the north.
During the opening salvos of the battle the Indefatigable was blown up. Beatty's flagship, the Lion, was critically damaged, and the Queen Mary sunk in less than a minute. The advantage was undoubtedly Scheer's, for he had destroyed or disabled five British ships for the loss of a light cruiser. However, the unsuspecting Germans had been brought within range of the Grand Fleet.
With shells falling around Scheer's leading warships, he was heading into a trap set by Jellicoe, who had massed his battleships across the approaching German column.
Using a daring and untested maneuver, Scheer signalled his ships steaming in column at full speed to make a turn in unison. Within minutes, his fleet had retreated out of range. Using convential tactics, his ships would have been destroyed one-by-one as each made its turn at the head of a long column under concentrated British gunnery.
The maneuver is depicted in this painting by Montague Dawson. In the foreground, leading German ships are making their about-face turn behind the destroyers' smoke-screen, which guards them from the British warships on the horizon.
The German High Seas Fleet put to sea for the last time when 70 ships surrendered to the Grand Fleet off the Firth of Forth, on 21 November 1918. Seven months later, the interned ships were scuttled by their German crews in Scapa Flow.