One of the many books released so far covering the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland is Angus Konstam's; Jutland 1916: Twelve Hours to Win thOne of the many books released so far covering the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland is Angus Konstam's; Jutland 1916: Twelve Hours to Win the War. The author is a former naval officer, underwater archaeologist and museum curator so he has the expertise to write a great historical account of this monumental naval action.
Since I am a dedicated landlubber I sometimes have trouble following accounts of naval battles and manoeuvres at sea but in this book I found I could follow the action quite easily, in fact I was hooked. I was even wandering around the house making cannon noises to myself which annoyed my wife no end (I hope other people sometimes do that?).
The book starts with a quick summary of the events prior to the commencement of the Great War which I found provided enough detail to get a good understanding of the respective battle fleets. We then move smoothly into the war and some of the stories in the book made for horrific reading, like this account of the naval action at Dogger Bank:
"At 9.45 a.m., a shell from the Lion pierced the after turret of Seydlitz and it exploded in the hoist. This ignited a powder charge being brought up from the magazine, and a flash fire incinerated almost everyone inside the gun turret. The flash also travelled down the hoist to the magazines, where men tried to escape the rushing flames by jumping into an adjacent compartment. This didn't work. Instead, the fireball swept through the protective door, and roared into the handling room of 'C' turret. The result was an explosion and a second fireball which rose up the shaft into 'C' turret. Only quick thinking saved the ship - at the cost of yet more lives. The after magazine was flooded, drowning the men trapped inside. However, a greater disaster was averted. That one shell hit had claimed the lives of 159 men, all immolated within a few horrifying seconds, or consigned to a slower death by drowning as cold sea water slowly filled the sealed magazine compartments."
Throughout the book there were a number of naval maps/charts showing the movements of the various ships and fleets along with a time line. My only criticism would be that the maps could be a little bit larger but at least they were sufficient to follow the action. There is also a B&W and colour plate section which had some great images of the ships and the battle they fought along with the aftermath.
The author also provides a nice mix of first-hand accounts from participants on both sides, from ordinary seamen to commanders, along with some analysis to assist the reader. Here is a great but disturbing witness account of an incident during the initial action at Jutland:
"Watching the fighting unfold was Commander Alan Mackenzie-Grieve, the First Lieutenant of the light cruiser Birmingham. He was about a mile from the Lion, watching her from the after conning tower of his ship' 'The enemy's shooting at Lion became extremely accurate, and she sheered a little to starboard ... Just as she came back again she was heavily hit, and I saw a large plate, which I judged to be the top of a turret, blown into the air. It appeared to rise very slowly, turning round and round, and looked very much like an aeroplane. I should say it rose some 400 or 500 feet, and looking at it through glasses I could distinctly see the holes in it for the bolts. My attention was drawn from this by a sheet of flame by her second funnel, which shot up about 60 feet, and soon died down, bit didn't immediately disappear.' Mackenzie-Grieves had just watched the aftermath of the hit which immolated virtually the entire crew of the flagship's middle turret."
The author provided some interesting analysis of the first stage of the naval action at Jutland:
"Later - much later - when the fleets returned to port, a detailed analysis of what had just happened would make grim reading in the British Admiralty. There was little doubt that the Germans had won the first round. During the hour-long action, the British had scored seventeen hits, and the Germans fifty-four. Six of these British hits had been made by the fast battleships. This meant that Hipper's battlecruisers had outshot Beatty's by a factor of roughly four to one."
I think the author tried to be impartial and fair in his assessment of the various personalities involved in the fighting at Jutland. I found this comment by the author to be interesting and quite relevant to the final outcome of the battle:
"For several months, in fact ever since the Dogger Bank battle, Jellicoe had tried to impress on Beatty the need to send him regular and timely sighting reports and information on enemy numbers, position, course and speed. When the crunch finally came, Beatty ignored his crucial role of being the 'eyes and ears' of the fleet. Instead, he became engrossed in fighting his own duel with Hipper, a duel he was losing until Evan-Thomas arrived to save him."
It appears that throughout the battle Beatty neglected this most important duty to the British battle fleet.
Throughout the book the author does not forget to mention the uncommon bravery of many of the men on both sides of the guns, including 'boy' Cornwell who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry, he was aged only 16 years.
Here is a great first-hand account from the German perspective of a night attack by British destroyer's on the German battle line at Jutland:
"On the Oldenburg, Warrant Officer Otto Busch, in charge of the after searchlight platform saw the whole thing; 'It was the most gallant fight I have ever seen. She [Fortune] was literally riddled with shell, but clear in the glare of our searchlights I could see a Petty Officer and two seamen loading and firing her after gun until she disappeared'."
In less than thirty seconds, Fortune was turned into a blazing wreck.
Overall I found this book an enjoyable and easy to read account of the Battle for Jutland and would think it would make an excellent first book on the subject for anyone who wished to dip their toes into the water off Jutland. ...more