90th anniversary of Jutland.

Ad: This forum contains affiliate links to products on Amazon and eBay. More information in Terms and rules


Pacific Historian
Jun 4, 2005
Orange County, CA

Jutland survivor recalls horror of sea battle
By Sally Pook
(Filed: 01/06/2006)

Ninety years ago, Henry Allingham was on board a ship bound for the greatest sea battle of the First World War.

The Battle of Jutland, of which he is thought to be the last surviving British witness, cost the lives of nearly 9,000 men in a single day. The losses secured the British command of the seas and the blockade of Germany, but were soon overshadowed by the tragedy of the Western Front.

Mr Allingham was not yet 20. Ninety years afterwards to the day, he boarded HMS Belfast, on the Thames, to commemorate those who were lost.

They were memories he would rather forget, he said when asked about the horrors of the night of May 31, 1916.

"You didn't have much time to think about it. You had a job to do and you just got on with it. You made sure you played your part and did the very best you were able to do.

"People asked if I was frightened. Well I didn't have time to be frightened. We were lucky. There were a lot of dud shells. That saved us from harm."

Mr Allingham, who celebrates his 110th birthday next week, joined the Royal Naval Air Service in 1915 as an aircraft mechanic and acted as an observer and gunner searching for U-boats, Zeppelins and mines in the North Sea.

In May 1916 he was ordered aboard Kingfisher as it set out to join the British Battle Fleet in the North Sea.

In the battle that followed more than 8,600 lives were lost as 250 British and German ships fought for supremacy of the seas.

"I was a very young man," said Mr Allingham. "I stuck my neck out a bit, which was stupid. I soon learned that was not the way to go on. A lot of the ships went straight, but there were mines which were lethal. We went round them. That was a good move."

Asked about the terrible loss of life, Mr Allingham said: "You don't think about how it feels.

"It is later on in life that it comes to you to think about it, and you want to forget. I didn't want to remember the war.

"Those men gave all they had to give, not only in the First World War but in the Second World War. What they did for me..."

The Duchess of Gloucester was in attendance on board HMS Belfast yesterday to open an exhibition, The Ghosts of Jutland, which will run for a year. She said the battle - unprecedented and ferocious - had been heard by farmers 30 miles inland in her native Denmark. Three battle cruisers, Invincible, Indefatigable and Queen Mary, were sunk. After the battle the bodies of British and German sailors washed up on the shores.

"Many lessons were learned that day in May that are still relevant today," she said. "Most acutely that the Royal Naval ships and sailors were not as invincible and indefatigable as those names implied, and the effect of high explosives on the human body was beyond imagining."

Mr Allingham is believed to be the oldest surviving First World War veteran. As well as Jutland, he saw service at the Somme and Passchendaele. Last August he led the nation in the Lord's Prayer at the Cenotaph to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. He joked: "I have become quite sophisticated now."

Asked about the attention he has received, he added: "All this is unbelievable to me. There are lots of men who deserve to be made a fuss of far more than I do."
the BBC news over here said he was the only survivor of the battle on either side? he's turning 110 next week, either way, it cirtainly deserves reconition..........
that was one of the Royal Navy's biggest problems during WWI and i think II, they concentrate more on rate of fire than accuracy, and rarely practiced actually firing the guns, they just practiced loading, why? well a large part of it was actually so they wouldn't have to clean the guns, that's annother big royal naval past time, cleaning.......
There's also some conjecture that the British ships were dangerously overloaded with ammunition going into the battle. It was stored wherever possible and proved deadly when German shells penetrated the lighter armored Battlecruisers. No British Battleship blew up as the three BCs did.
There is a very good book about the War at Sea in WW1. It is called "Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea". Best book I've read on the subject. You can get it used from Amazon for a reasonable price. Definite staple for any book shelf.

Jutland is covered in detail. One of the things it does talk about is the loss of the the three BCs. Covers them very well. The amazing thing about it is when the third one blew up and sank (I think it was the Invincible), hardly anbody on the British side noticed. Everyone was so busy shooting at the Germans that somebody finally figured it out only when they turned around and it wasn't there anymore. Just a cloud of smoke. Some people didn't even know it was gone until they got back to port.

That's pretty wild. A 20,000 ton BC blows up and everyone is too busy to notice.
I guess everbody would have been busy keeping their heads down. Can you imagine how much metal must have been flying around with about 250 ships involved.:shock:
Dac said:
Can you imagine how much metal must have been flying around with about 250 ships involved.:shock:

Yeah, and the size of the stuff. No .303 rounds to bother about (although they were doubtless there), we're talking 11 through 15 inch shells wizzing around.

Also notes in the book that while the British were flinging the stuff as fast as possible, the Germans tended to be deliberate and methodical in their shooting. Usually got a straddle within the first 3-4 salvos. The Brits opening shots were sometimes 2+ miles over the Germans and found the range only slowly. Talking the BattleCrusiers here. Of the 6 ships in Beatty's BC squadron, 50% end up at the bottom of the North Sea with HMS Lion a hair away from joining them and the Tiger with serious battle damage. Only the HMS New Zealand came out of it with little battle damage. Germans BCs were hit, but not destroyed. German BC design sacrificed gun size and speed to survivability. Looks like it paid off.
Had the Royal Navy gunners kept to regulations the battle would have not been as bad for the Royal Navy on that day. Removing the blast doors, and packing the turrets full of cordite for a faster rate of fire sealed the fates of those ships. In the end, the German High Seas Fleet was defeated and the Royal Navy held the sea though.

Much bravery on both sides, and a well deserved salute. :salute:
True. After all, that's why they have the blast doors in the first place. As the old saw goes, "Ordinance instructions are written in blood". Too true.

One thing about the BCs, they were more "Cruisers" than "Battleships". Unfortunately, the powers that be frequently forgot that point and sent them into situations where they got in slugging matches with Battleships and lost. Not so much in WW1, but in WW2, every BC that went at it hammer and tongs with a Battleship ended up on the losing side:

Hood V Bismark
Kirishima V Washington
Scharnhorst V Duke of York

All of them ended up with the BCs on the bottom of the ocean and the BB usually sailing away with little damage (points for the Kirishima putting a major league hurting on the South Dakota before getting clobbered).
I am more shocked by the British misuse of the Battlecruiser. Britain invented the Battlecruiser and the doctrine for the type, yet time and time again it is Britain that misuses it.
In my little view, the problems of the RN can be summarized as following:

1.) -most important- :
Shell deficiancies. All in all, the RN managed to get an equal number of hits compared to the HSF (BC and BB). They had advantages in firecontroll (FC directors, plotting table), hence HMS QUEEN MARY was reputated for beeing the most accurate RN vessel at Jutland) but:
The shell designs were absolutely crap. Very brittle shellbody combined with instantious fuze delay and insufficiant means of soft AP caps (if even). Hitting a german KC-type face hardened plate, these shells regularly broke into pieces, even at distances, at which they should achieve full penetration, several shells failed to detonate. Low armour piercing capabilities, esspeccially at range compared to the lighter, and more reliable fuze delayed german shells.
It wasn´t well after ww1 that the RN generally introduced a proper APCBC design (1918 Greenboy) for BB and BC shells, but even they were inferior (altough only slightly) compared to the german APCBC design since 1913

2.) low temp igniting (unstable) cordite in silk bags:
As the main propellant for guns, these bags were responsible for blowing up the 3 BC. SEYDLITZ got all her 5 turrets knocked out by 13.5 and 15"ers (12"ers didn´t made it through the barbettes) but the use of a more stable propellant in metall brass cases prevented that any HSF ship blew up (possible exception: the predreadnought POMMERN rapidly disappaered after torpedohits, but no explosion is reported).
Regarding RoF: Only the british BC had ammo stroed up in the barbettes and turrets, the BB were adaequately secured. I cannot see how this improved the RoF either.

3) communication:
...what if...(...Jellicoe would have been informed properly by his subcommanders?)

4.) BC/BB Design:
The RN put emphasis on a steady gunplatform with reduced metacentric height. A tradeoff lies in poor stability once flooding occured. This directly
led to rapid sinking of the AC. Tell this survivors of CL WIESBADEN, which survived the whole battleline of the QE´s (after beeing crippled by 15"ers) and the whole battleline of the GF. Ship sunk during the night.
Good post delcyros. All the pertinent points. Good job.

Was unaware of the metacentric height details. Could you explain further?
plan_D said:
I am more shocked by the British misuse of the Battlecruiser. Britain invented the Battlecruiser and the doctrine for the type, yet time and time again it is Britain that misuses it.

Think the Admirals had a problem of "It looks like a Battleship, it's armed like a Battleship, is displaces like a Battleship so... it drifts into the job of the Battleship" with lousy results.

Looks so much like a Battleship that it's hard to think of it like a Cruiser. But that is essentially what it was. A Cruiser with honkin' big guns on it.
For a general explenation of how metacentric stability works look at Stuart Slades article at the naval techn. board:


The metacentric concept was understood quite well in the late 90´s of the 19th century but design philosophys drifted away in Britain and Germany early in the 20th. century. The "Q"´s were the last british BB to have an adaequate metacentric height, the following "R", NELSON and KGV classes all had greatly reduced metacentric height (check out Friedmann´s or Breyer´s book for details) in order to achieve a steady gun platform.
However, each flooding reduces the metacentric height (counterflooding also always reduce the metacentric height), the roll of the ship will be longer and longer and once no metacentric height is left (whether or not buoyancy reserve is left doesn´t matter), the ship will not be able to recover from a list and/or yaw, thus even slight beauforts will cause the ship to capsize.
The HSF designs put emphasis on a very "stiff" design with a metacentric height generally beeing nearly twice of what was typical for RN ships and three-four times as large as later RN ships ("R" and later). Higher metacentric height= more stability= better. This made them unpleasent lively at worse seastate (altough they didn´t took on that much list), reducing their gunnery effectiveness but it also made them really hard to sink. Lutzow had +6000 t. seawater in the ship and waves washed up to Barbette B but she still was afloat for 25 min. Two torpedoes finished her off. The higher metacentric height directly contributed to the survive of SEYDLITZ with 5000 t. water in the ship.
-It should be noted that no buoyancy reserve left rarely caused a ship to sink (it would sink with even keel). Most ship capsized, indicating that the metacentric reserve was depleted.
I had always my problems to understand why Britain sticked to their shelldesign when Germany, Austro-Hungary and even Russia already shifted to the hardcapped and delay fuzed shells. They knew the specifications for them but it wasn´t until very late 1918, in other words after end of ww1, that Britain began to introduce a decent APCBC design.
With what happened at Jutland, Scheer could be statisfied. Other circumstances would see a decisive british victory...
delcyros said:
I had always my problems to understand why Britain sticked to their shelldesign when Germany, Austro-Hungary and even Russia already shifted to the hardcapped and delay fuzed shells.

I think part of it is the natural, cautious approach that Fleets (across the world) take towards changing anything. While "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" may not quite cover it, a perspective of "It works ok and we know that while the new jobby has flaws we don't know about" might be closer to it. Admirals rarely change a perspective until the object is proven to be a loser. They may think the product is less than effective but it works to a certain extent. So get on with the job using what you have.

The point at which you realize the product is a loser is a relative one. Lack of use is generally the most common reason why nobody finds our a weapon doesn't work well (aka, American Torpedoes in the begining of the Pacific War) while other nations may've taken a more interested, costly and time intensive approach to developing the weapon.

Similarly, and again I am just putting out my .02 on this thing, the Japanese at Tsushima (only 11 years earlier) did not have rounds that penetrated while the Russian rounds did, for the most part. At least that was what I have heard. The British Admirals may've heard the same thing. Hence, bursting wasn't as big a deal versus the penetration. As long as the round hit, that might've been more important.
Renrich said:
It was my understanding that the Crews in Indefatigable, Queen Mary and Invincible may not have been following the latest procedures regarding flash proof doors between the handling rooms and magazines. I don't know how anyone could know for sure under the circumstances.

That, as far as I can see, is a directed opinion. It was not without reason. While beeing attrective as an explenation, it also implies that no german shell penetrated into any british BC vitalia. I personally believe, that´s why these thesis are so widespread, You may trace them down to the early 20´s.
I am not going to say that this hadn´t happened nor that these relaxed procedures didn´t played a role (I firmly believe they did) but records are giving another image:

In all cases the explosion followed beeing hit, in no case the explosion was without a recorded hit at turret/barbette or close to them on the hullstructure.

I will now look how probable penetrations are:
The germans fired in all cases either 11"/50 (Von der Tann: 11"/45), 305 Kg APC or 12"/50, 405 Kg HE projectiles. The distances of the fatal hits are given with:

A) Indefategable
At 16:04 Von der Tann achieved successive hits (using 11"/45), one beeing close to or at X-barbette below the upper deck, the following violent explosion destroyed the ship. The distance according to Campbell was ~15.500-16.000 yards.
The target angle according to the battle charts was in between 15 and 20 deg (I assume 20 deg for Target angle).
B) Queen Mary
At 16:26 Queen Mary was hit by several impacts from either Seydlitz (using 11"/50) or Derfflinger (using 12"/50) or both. The sources give either A or B barbette /turret and a hit on Q turret with a subsequent explosion of the forward magazines and a cordite fire in Q handling rooms (which did not reached the magazine) When Queen Mary blew up, Seydlitz gunnery report gives a range of 14.750 yards, Derfflinger, which also fired at Queen Mary (with 12"/50), logged a range of 14.400 yards. The target angle was probably the same, something in between 15 and 20 degrees (I use 20 degrees).
C) Invincible
At 18:32, one or more 12" shells from either Lützow or Derfflinger or both hit the Q turret or in it´s vicinity at only 9.800-9.600 yards. Several hits are believed to have occured earlier in between 10.400-9.600 yards. The target angle was quite low according to most battle charts (I use 10 deg. TA).

As You may see, the diffculty to achieve penetration is in reversed order. The most difficult one belongs to Indefatigable, it was at longest distance and with the less powerful gun.

Indefatigables main belt had a thickness of 6" (laminated over 4" wood and 0.5" non armour grade construction steel) over the magazines + an additional shielding of 2.5" behind the main belt (the torpedo bulkhead), sufficiant to stop even heaviest fragmentation.
At the given distance the ballistics for Von der Tann´s 666lbs main projectiles reveal a striking velocity of ~1300 fps (taken into account an average gunwear) and an angle of fall of 17.2 deg. The netto impact obliquity therefore is 26.15 deg. Our computations show that under such circumstances, 6" of armour are piercable with the given APC-round. The projectile remains 309 fps velocity behind the plate, the windscreen and AP-cap will be stripped off and there is some probability that the lower body of the projectile undergoes damage (defusing the projectiles), altough the estimated probability is ~33%. However, even an intact projectile usually would fail to defeat the 2.5" torpedo bulkhead behind (433 fps are needed to do so). A simple belt penetration into magazines therefore seems to me unconvincing.
Another possibility is a deck penetration of the 1" weather deck followed by the 2" armour deck:
The weather deck get´s penetrated with a remaining velocity of 1180 fps, the projectile looses windscreen (but not AP-cap), get´s deflected downwards by some1.5 degrees and remains otherwise intact. The fuze will be set (35.4ft. to go at 0.03 s. normal fuze delay).
Even the lower 2" main armour deck get´s defeated with 762 fps remaining velocity. The projectile therefore will have enough time to move deep into the magazines before exploding.

So I conclude, yes- a direct magazine penetration (by deck), even at those comparably long distances, has a convincing probability. In this case any precautious measures couldn´t have helped.

Users who are viewing this thread