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Author Topic: Naval Mythologies  (Read 942 times)

Offline Unlucky General

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Naval Mythologies
« on: September 28, 2019, 08:01:03 PM »
Firstly let me preface the following by stating I am not posting this in an intent to be inflammatory. I'm asking some questions on this particular forum because cooler heads seem to prevail here than elsewhere.

I was watching another quick and dirty retelling of the battle of Jutland (and I've seen several over the years) which again claims a technical victory for the German High Seas Fleet (casualties and capital ships sunk etc) but a 'strategic' victory for the Grand Fleet. The basis underpinning the latter claim is that (to paraphrase) the German High Seas Fleet never comes out again, therefor it was a strategic victory. Even a glance at the Wikipedia page (I know) finishes off with an assessment of the German High Seas Fleet effective 'impotence' across the war.

But they did come out, and several times and even at times with the intent of engaging in another decisive contact. It seems that the nature of the North Atlantic during that age of naval technology makes finding one another really difficult and they kept missing each other. Then there was the action into the Baltic against the Russian Fleet for operation Albion. They also planned to strike a decisive action at the end of the war but the fleet mutinied - and frankly, given the prospects of survival during naval actions in WWI in the North Atlantic I'm surprise both fleets didn't suffer more of this.

I am no naval historical buff so there will be those of you far better schooled in the subject that I. It this just another example of twisted tales becoming ill informed and therefor false public memory? I asked because the battle itelf seems to be anything but any sort of British victory but rather a clear German one yet lacking in any strategic advantage.

Offline carlos marighela

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Re: Naval Mythologies
« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2019, 10:40:15 PM »
The Kiel Mutiny is generally ascribed, in part, to a relative inactivity on the part of the High Seas Fleet. In fact, it was the prospect of a general action that sparked it. Given the role of the Kiel Mutiny in hastening Germany’s collapse, I’d say that there is a certain amount of truth to the claim that Jutland was ultimately a strategic victory.

Whatever tooling around off Moon Sound the Germans did*, it didn’t break the naval blockade of Germany. Taken in conjunction with the failure of Germany to strangle Britain’s supply lines with U-boats, it’s fair to arrive at a result of 2-0 to the Royal Navy over successive fixtures.

* Against a much weaker fleet, itself  nigh on the point of revolution.
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Offline Unlucky General

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Re: Naval Mythologies
« Reply #2 on: September 29, 2019, 06:13:08 PM »

In grander strategic terms there's no doubt that the investment by the German Empire in the High Seas Fleet proved to be an ultimate failure. There's also little doubt that the 'Allied' naval blockade proved successful and the German attempts to break it with unrestricted submarine warfare (and I'm not sure who else was restricting themselves) were a significant part of that failure. In fact, I recently heard on a History Hit podcast (I think) that British submarines and submariners proves more effective to their German counterparts at least in that war.

What I'm seeing is public relations or propaganda spin at the time entrenching itself in cultural memory and essentially false history. The blockade included a four year theatre of operations in the North Atlantic - it neither starts of finishes with the battle of Jutland. It's becoming clearer to me that the battle of Jutland of and in itself was simply a contact victory for the Germans. It was of itself indecisive because the Germans failed to achieve their aim - a knock out blow against the Grand Fleet. From what I see their submarine trap failed to make contact and therefor close and in spite of superior gunnery and casualties inflicted they took themselves back to safe harbour. Similarly; however, the deployment of the Grand Fleet to oppose them en masse failed to destroy them in turn - but failed worse becasue they clearly came away worse off.

To ascribe the relative inactivity of the German High Seas Fleet and the success of the blockade across the whole North Atlantic theatre of operations to the results of Jutland looks like a desperate attempt to salvage a naval reputation. Getting back to my orignal comment, in the popular histories this is justified by the comments that the High Seas Fleet never dared to come out again - or words to that effect. But this is just not the case.

To balance the results (and I haven't done this myself) can we measure activity of the fleet before Jutland? Given the action wasn't until 1916 was fleet activity particularly reduced afterwards. If it's essentially consistent then I'd suggest Jutland is a flat out German victory (tactically) and a strategic draw but nevertheless indecisive and of no advantage to the Germans. A bit like most of the battles on the Western front when it comes to that.

Offline fastolfrus

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Re: Naval Mythologies
« Reply #3 on: September 29, 2019, 07:36:14 PM »
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Offline warrenpeace

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Re: Naval Mythologies
« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2019, 03:50:53 AM »
I did a count of sorties by the German High Seas Fleet a few years ago. Here's my list of dates:

Von Ingenohl
Nov. 2-3, 1914
Dec. 15-16, 1914

Von Pohl
Mar. 29-30, 1915
Apr. 17-18, 1915
Apr. 21-22, 1915
May 29-30, 1915
Aug. 10, 1915
Sept. 11-12, 1915
Oct. 23-24, 1915

Mar. 26, 1916
Apr. 2-3, 1916
Apr. 21-22, 1916
Apr. 24-25, 1916
May 31-June 1, 1916
Aug. 18-19, 1916
Oct. 18-19, 1916

No sorties in 1917

Apr. 22-25, 1918
Oct. 29, 1918

That's all, folks!

Note the not all sorties went as far as Jutland or Dogger Bank. Some only went as far as Horns Reef. Some were to cover minelaying operations (2) or battlecruiser raids on the English coast (3) or convoys (1). Few were intended to battle the Grand Fleet. Only one, on Dec. 15-16, 1914, actually presented a chance of destroying a portion of the grand fleet.

The High Seas Fleet had high morale after Jutland, but it had suffered so much damage that it wasn't able to sortie again until mid-August 1916. After that operation Scheer concluded that decisive results could not be achieved by such operations, and he recommended the shift to submarine warfare.

In response to the comment about "superior gunnery," my reply is that the superiority was only that of the German 1st Scouting Group over the British 1st and 2nd Battlecruiser Squadrons. The gunnery of 5th Battle Squadron and 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron were excellent, as was that of the British main  battle line. That's because the 1st & 2nd BC squadrons hadn't had the gunnery training time that the rest of the British had at Scapa Flow. If they had then at least a couple more German BC's would have been sunk.

The German fleet was supposed to have been a deterrent to a British declaration of war on Germany. So when that happened it had already failed in its primary strategic purpose. It wasn't big enough to deter Britain, or to win the war, but it was big enough to provoke an arms race that helped lead to war. And it was bigger than what was needed to protect the German coast and control the Baltic.

The only chance Germany had for successful fleet action came during the opening months of the war. But the Kaiser was unwilling to risk the fleet during those months, expecting victory to result from the land campaigns. By May 1915 the superiority of the Grand Fleet was too high for any reasonable chance of a successful challenge by the High Seas Fleet.
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Offline carlos marighela

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Re: Naval Mythologies
« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2019, 04:41:03 AM »
The Royal Navy didn't need to destroy the High Seas Fleet, navies rarely do need to destroy their opponents in their entirety.  The RN merely needed to contain them and as the post above shows the HSF did a pretty good job of that itself.

Offline Admiral Hawke

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Re: Naval Mythologies
« Reply #6 on: October 02, 2019, 09:48:53 PM »
Jutland was a flat out material victory for Germany:
1) German ships were tougher, thanks to small-tube boilers, greater internal sub-division and heavier armour (at the expense of reliability, habitability and bigger guns, respectively);
2) British shells were poor quality, negating the substantial British advantage in both the size and number of guns; and
3) British ships were desperately vulnerable owing to dangerous cordite ammunition handling practices (a lesson the Germans had learnt from the near loss of the Seydlitz at Dogger Bank, which the British had failed to learn from the near loss of the Kent at the Falklands).

Was it really a flat out German tactical victory? Beatty squandered the tactical advantage the 5th Battle Squadron should have given him over Hipper, and then put the same ships at risk of complete destruction through poor signalling of a dangerous instruction to turn in succession. But Beatty then lured Scheer with the entire High Seas Fleet into precisely the position it didn't want to be in, with the whole Grand Fleet crossing its T. Scheer's turn away saved his fleet, only for Scheer to reverse course back into the guns of the Grand Fleet. Jutland was no German tactical masterpiece. The German fleet was saved by nightfall, its own better night training, and the British fear of German mines and torpedoes. But the Germans realized what might have happened.

I think Warrenpeace's list of sorties has answered the strategic question.

Jutland was a material disaster for the British. But the battle made it absolutely clear to the German high command that it could not hope to wrest control of the North Sea from the British, or therefore end the blockade of Germany.

So I say there is no great myth here. As at Borodino in 1812 or the Coral Sea in 1942, the material victor was the strategic loser.
« Last Edit: October 04, 2019, 08:50:56 AM by Admiral Hawke »

Offline warrenpeace

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Re: Naval Mythologies
« Reply #7 on: October 04, 2019, 04:23:48 PM »
A couple of notes in response to Admiral Hawke's post immediately above:

1. When I mentioned smaller and more numerous watertight subdivisions on the German dreadnoughts on TMP, I got a response that post-war tests on the German dreadnoughts had not shown them to have a significant advantage from this factor. The much more knowledgeable fellows on TMP pointed out the number of penetrations in the supposedly watertight compartments by pipes and wiring conduits. They also pointed out that metal science hadn't produced shock resistant materials, so shock would cause breaches of watertight integrity.

So, even though it's obvious that greater beam and a larger number of smaller watertight compartments should lead to greater survival on the part of the German dreadnoughts, the TMP posts made me aware of counter-arguments regarding whether or not this was actually much of an advantage at the time of Jutland.

2. I've read a lot about the state of British shells. The fragile shell casings that might break up on oblique impact and unstable detonators that might cause the shell to detonate prematurely should have produced some advantage for the Germans. But when I read Campbell's book on Jutland, with its lengthy analysis of so many individual shell hits, I realized that these imperfect British heavy shells still caused a hell of a lot of damage on the German ships. So much so that several of the German ships were out of action for months afterwards. I'm sure that those ships being repaired in German ports were a regular reminder of how formidable and dangerous the British navy was. And this in counterpoint to the morale boost of having sunk 3 British BC's.

Offline Unlucky General

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Re: Naval Mythologies
« Reply #8 on: October 06, 2019, 06:22:38 PM »

Thank you all so much for your responses both in their style and content. I knew there would be some aficionados with the data and analysis to hand.