The U.S. Naval War College conducted a wargame based on the much-studied World War I Battle of Jutland at the Queen’s House at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, U.K., Nov. 8.
Participants included officials from the U.S. Naval War College, which has long and historic ties to the Battle of Jutland, according to a release from the college. The reenactment utilized the same methods and technology from a century ago to understand the maritime strategy of what was the largest naval surface engagement of World War I.
The Battle of Jutland pitted the British Grand Fleet under Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, against the Imperial German Navy's High Seas Fleet under Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheeragainst, on May 31, 1916 in the North Sea, off the mainland of Denmark.
Although it was the only major naval battle of World War I, it became the largest sea battle in naval warfare history in terms of the numbers of battleships and battlecruisers engaged, bringing together the two most powerful naval forces in existence at that time.
The British broke German signal codes and made good use of ship-handling and a strategy to force the German admiral into retreat. Germany claimed that Jutland was a victory for them because they had sunk more capital ships than the British. Jellicoe claimed that the victory belonged to the British because his fleet was still sea worthy while the German High Seas fleet was not. Close to 10,000 lives were lost in the battle, and 14 British and 11 German ships sank. Study over their performance and the significance of the battle continues to be widely debated.
The battle was studied closely between the two world wars at the Naval War College, including by the legendary Fleet Admirals Chester W. Nimitz, Ernest J. King and William F. Halsey. The lessons learned were the basis for much of the naval strategy used in World War II, according to the War College.
“The Battle of Jutland inspired U.S. Navy professionals to develop new tactics, techniques and procedures for exploiting the technical innovations of radio communications, naval aviation
and submarine operations,” said Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley, Naval War College president.
“The lessons derived from the Battle of Jutland were critically important to the five-star admirals who won the Second World War,” said Harley, who attended the event.
The reenactment served as a valuable tool to underscore the importance of emerging technologies and how to exploit them, according to the college.
“British and German operations during the Battle of Jutland directly reflected the revolutionary influence of radio communications and intelligence,” said David Kohnen, director of the Hattendorf Historical Center at the Naval War College.
“For the British, ‘Room 40’, the U.K. Navy’s information analysis arm, provided indications and warnings of German fleet locations which provided a decisive advantage for the British,” said Kohnen, who helped arrange the reenactment.
This month, the 100-year anniversary of World War I’s end, provides an important opportunity to highlight how the U.S. Navy used the battle as a learning tool, said Quintin Colville, senior curator of research at Royal Museums Greenwich.
“As part of our program to highlight the human costs and legacies of the war at sea, this is a remarkable opportunity for the National Maritime Museum to host experts from the U.S. Naval War College -- an institution that has advanced the strategic and tactical understanding of the Battle of Jutland since the 1920s,” Colville said.
“It is also very fitting that the Naval War College’s analysis of how American naval officers interpreted Jutland can be shown during these centenary commemorations.”
From the historical perspective, the Battle of Jutland inspired the U.S. Navy to gain a fresh approach to grand maritime strategy, Kohnen said.
“During the 1920s and the 1930s, they studied the battle in such detail that they were able to glean strategic, operational and tactical lessons that they were able to apply in the Second World War.”
The Battle of Jutland happened at a turning point in naval history, said Angus Ross, professor in the joint military operations department of the Naval War College’s College of Distance Education.
“World War I heralded a new age in Sea Power -- the industrial age, where victory was going to be determined more by economic domination as opposed to a purely Mahanian victory on the seas,” Ross said.
“Times had moved on and the meaning of sea control had widened considerably. The Royal Navy had formerly been the prime instrument of winning battles for Great Britain,” he said.
“You couldn’t just defeat a fleet of battleships at sea and expect that victory would be complete. That said, Britain couldn’t afford to ignore the Kaiser’s High seas fleet either.”
The U.K. National Maritime Museum , Naval History and Heritage Command , and the Naval War College Museum all supported the Jutland reenactment.