The Battle of Jutland was fought off Denmark’s coast in the North Sea between the British Grand Fleet and Germany’s High Seas Fleet on 31 May and 1 June 1916. It involved some 250 ships and 100,000 men and was the only major naval engagement of World War I. The recent week saw its 100th Anniversary. This critical Battle does not get much mention in the Australian view of WW1; we tend to think of Gallipoli and the Western Front. Most Australians know nothing about important theatres like the Eastern Front or Battles like Jutland where Australia did not play a role. No Australian vessel took part in the battle, although there were Australians on other British Ships; ten died in the battle. (Sad, but few in comparison to the 6,094 British and 2,551 Germans who were lost. Two years later, the last months of the War would be among the bloodiest with 1.8 million killed in the “Hundred Days Offensive’ of 1918 which might obscure Jutland in our minds and hearts). HMS Australia, lunched in 1911, would have been at Jutland save that she was under repair after having collided in fog with her sister ship, HMS New Zealand, both zigzagging to avoid submarine attack. HMS New Zealand was both seaworthy and involved at Jutland firing 420 twelve-inch shells during the battle, more than any other ship on either side. She scored four hits and was hit once.
Reflecting the perceived importance of the Battle of Jutland, Freemason and contemporary First Lord of the Admiralty, Brother Winston Churchill, said of the Battle's Commander, Admiral Jellicoe, that he was ‘the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon’. This was a heavy burden to rest on our Brother, for like Churchill, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe (1859-1935) was also a Freemason. After the War Jellicoe was Governor General of New Zealand (1920-24) and Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New Zealand (1922-1923). Likewise, Germany's Grand Admiral, Alfred Peter Friedrich von Tirpitz (1849-1930) who developed the small German Imperial Navy of the 1890’s into a world class force was also a Freemason, a member of Lodge Zur Aufrichtigen Herzen, Frankfurt. The famous WW2 ship Tirpitz of the Kriegsmarine was named after him. Hence the heads of both the German (Tirpitz) and British (Churchill) Navies at the time of the Battle of Jutland were Freemasons. At Sea, it was Admirals Jellicoe and Germany’s Reinhard Scheer who led their respective forces at Jutland.
Had the Allies lost the Battle of Jutland, the First World War would have been changed. The Allies’ blockade maintained before and after the Battle was strategically critical. It greatly impacted on the German war effort restricting Germany’s naval movements and domestic and war supplies. Allied command of the Sea was part of the reason the Germans resorted to raiding and unrestricted submarine operations just as they would later in WW2. Lacking command of the Sea was part of the reason Germany lost both World Wars. Jutland was a critical event in the German’s defeat.
Many will have heard of the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) when the British Navy under command of Horatio Nelson famously “crossed the T“ of the opposing and combined French and Spanish Navies. This happened twice in a single hour at the Battle of Jutland, although the Germans were able to escape it with quick thinking and good seamanship aided by poor visibility. Crossing the T allows one belligerent to fire a broadside down the full length of ships that can only use their forward guns, if they have them. Admiral Nelson achieved this with devastating results but was killed by sniper fire during Trafalgar. (There are several pieces of circumstantial evidence which suggest Nelson himself was a Freemason, but this has never been proved). In Australia, Jutland is generally forgotten, a bit like Vice Admiral Cutherber Collingwood who first engaged the Spanish at Trafalar and took over when Nelson was killed. I mention him because the suburb Collingwood is named after him and hence our “Collingwood Masonic Centre” also shares the name of this English Naval Hero. Further, Admiral Collingwood Lodge (No.13) UGLV is named in his honour. The future King George VI, saw action during the Battle of Jutland and was mentioned in dispatches, he would be later initiated in December 1919 into Navy Lodge, No. 2612 (UGLE), of which his grandfather, King Edward VII, had been founding Master. He was one of many Freemasons on both sides which took part in the battle.
On the German side, one of the notable characters who was a Freemason was Count Felix Von Luckner (1881-1966). Luckner was an amazing fellow and I will digress to give you a summary of this Brother's adventures; they are quite remarkable. Known as The Sea Devil he was known for the “habit of successfully waging war without casualties which made him a hero and a legend on both sides”. In the great battle of Jutland, von Luckner commanded a gun turret on the Kronprinz with “skill and cunning’. As a boy of 13, he had run away from home to the sea but finding life aboard ship comprised dealing with latrines and pigsties , he abandoned that ship in Freemantle Australia and then “roamed the world in a great and bewildering series of jobs, including selling the Salvation Army’s War Cry, assistant lighthouse keeper, kangaroo hunter, circus hand, professional boxer, fisherman, seaman, Mexican army guard for President Diaz, railroad construction, tavern keeper and barman. He even spent time in a Chilean gaol accused of trying to steal pigs; won a wrestling competition in Hamburg; twice suffered broken legs, was thrown out of a hospital in Jamaica for lack of funds, but was lucky enough to be befriended by some German sailors. A visit to German territories in Africa saw him engaged on an elephant hunt.
World War I broke out in 1914. Von Luckner’s world travel, life's experience and adventurous nature , combined with the fact that he had served ‘in sail’ singled him out for a unique command which “sailed him into the history books of the world”.
Count von Luckner is best known as the captain of The Seeadler (Sea Eagle). A 1,570 ton three masted sailing ship, built in Glasgow 1888 and captured by the Germans while under a British flag. Seeadler was converted under von Luckner’s directions to an auxiliary cruiser, heavily armed and equipped with two 500 H.P. engines, but carefully disguised as a Norwegian timber ship “Inna”. During a violent gale in the North Sea 23 December 1916, Von Luckner managed to slip through the British blockade maintained after the Battle of Jutland. The “Inna” was then inspected and passed—and sailed north around Scotland into the Atlantic.
Over the following 88 days his ship, disguise removed, captured eleven Allied ships in the Atlantic, and sank ten without a single loss of life... Even the ships’ cats were safe, at one time there were 144 on board his ship! At times up to 400 persons, men and women, were held … until transferred ashore in South American ports. “I had the courage to sink ships”, he said, “but I had not the courage to deprive a mother of a child. I fought the war without killing anyone . . . I always thought of my mother, and imagined what tears and sadness I would cause if I killed the son of some other mother.” It is claimed that he once delayed sinking a sailing ship until the Captain’s false teeth had been saved!
In April 1917 he rounded Cape Horn and entered the Pacific sinking three more ships before his good fortunes ran out on 2 August when the Seeadler was cast ashore by a tidal wave onto remote Mopelia Island in the Tahiti group. Some American prisoners alleged that the ship drifted aground while the prisoners and most of the crew were having a picnic on the island. Von Luckner tells of Sunday services conducted by himself to “worship the Great Ruler of the Waves”. Beside the Bible rested the German flag plus those of the prisoners. “I wanted our prisoners to feel that the service was as much theirs as ours, and that we did not feel ourselves any more a chosen people before Cod than any other people.” Sounds quite Masonic ! From Mopelia he sailed 3,700 km (2,300 mi) in an open boat, on one occasion claiming to be Dutch-American mariners crossing the Pacific for a bet and was allowed to proceed. He was later captured but escaped in December 1917 but was again captured, spending the rest of the War in New Zealand POW Camps. He was repatriated to Germany in 1919 as a hero.
In 1926 he sailed his yacht Vaterland on a goodwill mission around the world including the USA. Later in 1937 & ’38 in his yacht Seeteufel he returned to Australia and New Zealand. Although too old for active service in World War II, Hitler attempted to use him for propaganda purposes but demanded that he renounce Freemasonry. Our hero who had been initiated in Zur Goldenen Kugel Lodge No. 66, Hamburg on 26 May 1921, refused. In 1943, in Berlin, he saved the life of a Jewish girl by finding her shelter and giving her a passport picked up on a bomb site. She managed to reach a neutral country and then the United States. After the war, when the Count again visited the U.S.A. appealing for the expulsion of the hatreds engendered by the war, she opened previously shut doors by her influence. “I was given an opportunity of reaching the hearts of men and women who had previously rejected me in their own sorrow and refused to listen to what I had to say. They had refused to give me a hearing because I was a German and came from that country whose government had once brought them such terrible sorrow.”
Hitler made life difficult for von Luckner, and his bank account was frozen. Living in the remote German city of Halle, The Count was asked by the Mayor and others in April 1945 to contact the approaching American troops and seek terms. The German General in command disclaimed any responsibility, but permitted him to try. The control officer from Berlin remarked disdainfully: “There’s another international Freemason.” He did manage to find and negotiate with the Americans, among whom were Masonic friends, and they agreed not to bomb the city. On hearing that Hitler had condemned him to death, he went into hiding. He died in 1966. These are but just a few of our Brother's exploits.
Reading of Jutland led me to Count Felix Von Luckner’s “boys own” story. The above hardly recounts all his adventures, I recommend you google him. It was a refreshing break from reading from the strategic importance of the British Blockade and the horror of Jutland.
During the Battle, fourteen British and eleven German ships were sunk. Several were destroyed in catastrophic explosions when their magazines ignited with the loss of almost all hands. There were no survivors of the HMS Black Prince (857 men) nor HMS Defence (903 men). Only two from HMS Indefatigable survived (1,019 men), Rear-Admiral Hood went down with HMS Invincible with 1,026 men and only six survivors. Eighteen survived when the HMS Queen Mary blew up exploded "like a puffball" with 1,266 crewmen lost. The Kaiserliche Marine did not suffer as many lost, but SMS Pommern was torn in half by a magazine explosion and her full complement of 839 perished, SMS Wiesbaden had only one survivor of the 589 crew.
Via the Great War Project, we know of 67 confirmed British Brethren who lost their lives at Jutland. No doubt there were some on the German side as well as more unidentified brothers among the British..
Some lodges would have felt the impact of the battle keenly, for instance three Brothers from UNITED SERVICE No. 1428 went down on HMS Invincible and another brother from the same lodge was lost on HMS Defense. In total United Service Lodge lost 16 members in the Battle. Sixteen !
HMS Defence was the flagship of Rear Admiral Sir Robert Arbuthnot, leading the First Cruiser Squadron. HMS Defence was engaged in the follow up attack on the German Light Cruiser SMS Wiesbaden which had been disabled by a shell from HMS Invincible (which had many Freemasons on board who died in the battle). While closing for the kill, Defence drew the combined firepower of the German battlecruisers, whose proximity was hidden by smoke and mist. After initial damage she was struck by a salvo which blew up her aft magazine, within seconds, another salvo immediately hit forward, and she blew up in a spectacular explosion. Not a single member of her 903 crew survived and 12 known Freemasons are were amongst that number; Brothers Alton, Boggia, Dyer, Howes, Mclean, Moss, Reynolds, Roberts, Sandham, Shapter, Taylor, Wharmby.
HMAS Invincible broke in two and sank with the loss of all but six of her crew of 1,021. Admiral Hood was among the dead. 16 Freemasons were amongst those who were lost in the Invincible, 6 were from United Service Lodge No 1428. Lost were Brothers Best, Bowditch, Clapson, Dunnaway , Embling, Harris, Harvey, Hunt, Johnson, Jones, Luker , Main, Melvin, Mortimer, Potter & Seelleur.
The German’s plan under the forces commander Admiral Scheer at Jutland was to overcome the numerical superiority of the British commanded by Jellicoe by engaging only part of the fleet but they were met in force, mainly due to their codes having been broken. Many say that strategically, Jutland proved as decisive as the Battle of Trafalgar.
The German High Sea Fleet had been driven home and would put out to sea only three more times on minor sweeps.. In his after-action report to the Kaiser, Admiral Scheer advised avoiding future surface encounters with the Grand Fleet because of its “great material superiority” and advantageous “military-geographical position,” and instead advised “the defeat of British economic life–that is, by using the U-boats against British trade.”
Both sides claimed victory at Jutland. Perhaps the saying “won the battle but lost the war” could be applied here, despite the controversies about Jellicoe not pushing home a decisive victory because he knew his current superiority would prevail if not compromised by a defeat, but the fact remains that British losses amounted to 6,784 men and 111,000 tons, and German losses to 3,058 men and 62,000 tons. Yet despite this, Britain retained control of the North Sea and a numerical advantage forcing the German’s to maintain a “fleet in being” meaning in port it presented a strategic threat the Allies forcing them to continually deploy forces to guard against it. A "fleet in being" can be part of a sea denial doctrine, but not one of sea control and there is no doubt the British had control of the sea.
Although the British public was disappointed with Jutland for it did not bring a decisive victory, Winston Churchill perceptively noted that Jellicoe was the one man who could have lost the war in an afternoon. Jellicoe’s judgement might have been that even excellent odds in his favour were not good enough to bet the British Empire. The former criticisms of Jellicoe also fails to sufficiently credit Scheer, who was determined to preserve his fleet by avoiding the full British battle line, and who showed great skill in effecting his escape. Despite this, twenty-five ships were still lost in the Battle.
The two phases of Jutland and the details of the same make for interesting reading. The first began at 4:48 p.m. on May 31, 1916 when the scouting forces of Vice Admirals David Beatty and Franz Hipper commenced a running artillery duel at fifteen thousand yards. Hipper’s ships took a severe pounding but survived due to superior design. Beatty lost three battle cruisers due to lack of antiflash protection in the gun turrets, which allowed fires started by incoming shells to reach the powder magazines. Commenting that “[t]here seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today,” Beatty after this initial encounter turned north and lured the Germans onto the Grand Fleet. The second phase of the battle started at 7:15 p.m., when Admiral John Jellicoe brought his ships into a single battle line by executing a 90-degree wheel to port. Gaining the advantage of the fading light, he cut the Germans off from their home base and twice crossed the High Sea Fleet’s “T.” Admiral Reinhard Scheer’s ships took seventy direct hits, while scoring but twenty against Jellicoe: Scheer’s fleet escaped certain annihilation only by executing three brilliant 180-degree turns.. By early afternoon on 1 June, most of the High Seas Fleet reached the safety of German harbours with Scheer's flagship, SMS Friedrich der Grosse, arrived at Wilhelmshaven at 3pm.
Four Victoria Crosses were awarded at Jutland, three posthumously.
Captain Loftus Jones VC (1979-1916) died at Jutland commanding HMS Shark. He was awarded the medal “for his heroism in continuing to fight against all odds” continuing to give orders after being hit by a shell which took off his leg above the knee.
Major Francis John William Harvey VC (1873-1916) , a Marine, was aboard HMS Lion and although mortally wounded and almost the only survivor after the explosion of an enemy shell in "Q" gunhouse, “with great presence of mind and devotion to duty ordered the magazine to be flooded, thereby saving the ship. He died shortly afterwards.” His actions saved the ship from blowing up and 1,092 lives
Rear Admiral (then Commander) Edward Barry Stewart Bingham VC, OBE (1881-1939) commanding the destroyer HMS Nestor closed within 2,750 metres of the opposing German battle fleet at Jutland so that he could bring his torpedoes to bear. The Nestor was sunk and Bingham was taken prisoner.
John Travers Cornwell VC (8 January 1900 – 2 June 1916), commonly known as Jack Cornwell or as Boy Cornwell, is remembered for his gallantry at the Battle of Jutland. Having died at the age of only 16. Cornwell is the third-youngest recipient of the VC after Andrew Fitzgibbon and Thomas Flinn.
After the action, ship medics arrived on deck to find Cornwell the sole survivor at his gun, shards of steel penetrating his chest, looking at the gun sights and still waiting for orders. He died on the morning of 2 June 1916 before his mother could arrive at the hospital
The recommendation for citation from Admiral David Beatty, reads:
"the instance of devotion to duty by Boy (1st Class) John Travers Cornwell who was mortally wounded early in the action, but nevertheless remained standing alone at a most exposed post, quietly awaiting orders till the end of the action, with the gun's crew dead and wounded around him. He was under 16½ years old. I regret that he has since died, but I recommend his case for special recognition in justice to his memory and as an acknowledgement of the high example set by him."
Lest We Forget
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