Admirals’ failures – Battle of Jutland – May 31st, 1916

Naval fighting caused fog and mist – which
should have been expected.

Posted: May 12th, 2017

This post is about meteorology, respectively about the impact of the sea on the weather during a major clash of two naval fleets in the North Sea, and whether the Admirals were well enough trained for such an event. They were not! The battle itself was fought late in the day of May 31st, 1916. About 250 naval ships and 100.000 sailors took part.

Soon the visibility was appalling, induced by a combination of North Sea fog, lingering cordite fumes and chemical smoke screens. Often, only two ships could be seen at any moment. None of the parties did foresee it. Neither party had prepared for it. None of the ship-leaders had been meteorologically trained for this situation thus missed the opportunity to handle poor visibility, and to turn it into an advantage.






The two Admirals John Jellicoe and Reinhard Scheer should have known, that a huge armada of warships at the entrance of the Skagerrak in early summer would inevitably cause severe visibility problems, due to the temperature structure of the sea. Before explaining this in more detail, a brief instruction to the sea battle itself.

Just fought over a few hours on May 31 1916 (starting about 02 p.m. plus 15 hours), the Battle of Jutland was the only major battle of First World War (WWI) fought at sea, but became known as perhaps the largest surface battle in naval history due to the numbers of battleships and battlecruisers engaged. Although the battle itself produced no winner, it nevertheless changed the course of WWI, because the Imperial German High Sea Fleet, was never been seen  at sea again.

The battle began ignominiously with the destruction of two British battlecruisers, Indefatigable and Queen Mary. Of the HMS Indefatigable crew of 1,019, only two survived; 1,266 crewmen of HMS Queen Mary were lost; eighteen survivors were picked up by several GB and GER destroyers.  At the beginning of the battle the firing range was between 10,000 and 18,000 yards (about 9-16 km). That applied only for a short time. Soon visibility changed on a wide range and at all battle areas. Occasionally ships in the West of the major scene could be better targeted (fired at) than those more easterly of the fighting center. Those vessels were more hidden in smoke, dust, mist and fog.  This difficult fighting condition was clearly expressed by the First Lord of the Admiralty John Jellicoe:
“The whole situation was so difficult to grasp, as I had no real idea of what
was going on and we could hardly see anything except the flashes of guns,
shells falling, ships blowing up, and an occasional glimpse of an Enemy vessel.”
This situation continued with fog and mist patches until the navies separated in the early morning hours on June 1st, 1916.

Meanwhile 101 years have passed and presumably many 100 books and several 1000 analysis and articles been written. On the other hand the anthropogenic weather-making aspect by churning the sea with screw driven vessels, many thousand shells and several sinking ships that contributed significantly towards miserable fighting conditions, has never received any attention. During the last 101 years meteorology has not undertaken any attempt to analyzes, whether the navies had been insufficiently trained to expect and handle such a situation. After 101 the navies are still not trained to prepare and handle such situation today.  Until now meteorology has still not recognized that even brief activities at sea, as the Battle of Jutland, may show a significant impact on weather, and over a longer period on the ‘climate’. The Battle of Jutland would have been an excellent event to study the correlation. Here is our assessment:

The North Sea at 56°42 North and 5°52 East is about 250 km off the shore of Jutland, and at the South/West entrance to the Skagerrak. The area of the major engagement in the afternoon of Mai 31st exceeded 100 km in diameter. The water depth is about 50-70 meter and the water temperature in May between 6 to 8°C in June between 7 to 12°C (Fig. 8 and 10). The upper sea surface layer of several meters was certainly a few degrees warmer. Before the major fighting started the weather was fine, a light breeze, calm sea, and the visibility was good. That change quickly dramatically, with greatest variations.

That should not come as surprise. Actually the North Sea water is still cold. Only a thin surface layer is significant warmer than the lower water body. The numerous battle ships had a drought of 10 meter and a speed of close to 50 km/h. Instantly the sea water structure changed. The warm surface layer was plugged under and replaced by colder water. Instantly the air temperature cooled down as well supporting a downgrading of the visibility. There are many reports from eyewitnesses available. A Turret Officer of HMS “Malaya” noted for the time 05:40 p.m. this:

   Until about 5.40 the enemy’s firing continued to     be very brisk, and to fall all around us. The visibility for us had been getting steadily worse; in fact ever since 5.15 we had rarely been able to see … (cont.)

This problem remained. The sea was flat calm but the sight hazy. Although the two armada sailed on a crossing line southwards during the night only random fighting occurred.  Sea fog often only 10 to 20 meters high prevented more clashes. After daybreak on June 1st, the High Fleet was in the east of The Royal Navy, and thus on the safe side. The Battle of Jutland was history.

The lessons the battle could taught meteorology and naval commanders with regard to weather making have not been investigated and learned yet. The message is:

Those who do not understand anthropogenic weather making
can hardly explain climatic changes !

More concerning WWI & Weather/Climate:

[1]   Warming before Cooling – 1918 to 1939; The trace to the First World War;
Europe Weather–Influence by WWI

This post hopefully encourages investigation in man-made weather aspect of the Jutland Battle now. Your input is welcome!

36 hours that won the war at the Battle of Jutland
Destroyers generating a smoke during the Battle of Jutland


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