The Imperial German Navy after Jutland

by Kent Crawford (

Much is known of the Royal Navy's reactions to the unpalatable results of the Battle of Jutland. Indeed, not only is the Battle itself still the subject of extensive historical inquiry, but so too is the extensive work done to prepare the Grand Fleet for another such encounter.

It is undoubtedly true that the Grand Fleet was much more battle-worthy in 1918 than it had been in 1916. And the improvements were nothing short of a quantum leap in virtually every phase of tactical and materiel applications. So extensive were the improvements that some have hypothesized that the Grand Fleet of 1918 would have been able to make short work of the High Seas Fleet.

This is a twofold presumption. First, that given the halt in heavy unit construction coupled with the transfer of experienced personnel to the U-Boat arm, Fleet strength would remain fundamentally at the 1916 level, but with less competent ratings manning the various units. Second, that the IGN learned virtually nothing from the experience of Jutland, and therefore remained technically at the 1916 level. The former is certainly valid. The latter, however, is essentially incorrect.

Unfortunately, while we know much of the Great Battle, and we know much of what the IGN did subsequently, establishing a cause and effect relationship between the two is basically a matter of conjecture, no matter how logical.


When the High Seas Fleet returned to port on June 1, 1916, the German nation erupted in jubilation. Newspapers carried banner headlines such as 'Great Sea Victory over the English' and 'German Sea Victory between Skagerrak and Horns Reef.' The Kaiser proclaimed that 'The spell of Trafalgar has been broken!" School children were given a holiday. The Austro-Hungarian Naval Attaché reported that "the German Fleet is filled with enthusiasm and elated with victory. Everybody, down to the last seaman, believes in the strength of the Fleet and looks forward to further encounters with confidence."

But Scheer, Hipper, and the other Admirals knew better. They knew that their strategy of reducing the might of the Grand Fleet by overwhelming detached portions of it was the only means by which the Fleet could hope to break the blockade that was starting to strangle the German economy. But Scheer had neither the desire nor the intention of confronting the main strength of the Royal Navy again. When the strategy failed to deliver worthwhile results on August 16, Scheer abandoned it summarily, and advocated unrestricted submarine warfare. But that is beyond the scope of this paper.

The Naval High Command was aware of the potential range advantage the RN enjoyed with the 13.5-inch guns that could elevate to 20-degrees. But it was not until the Battle of the Dogger Bank demonstrated how decisive such long-range fire could be that they determined to take counter measures.

With the exception of those five ships armed with the 28cm SKL/45 gun, which already could elevate their main guns to 20-deg., the rest of the dreadnoughts were limited to 13.5-deg. While the IGN envisioned battle at 10,000 to 15,000 meters, they had not foreseen the practical use of even longer ranges. So they authorized an increase in the elevation of the main and secondary guns, probably as the ships rotated into dockyard hands for periodic refit.

Due no doubt to space limitations, the layout of the ball race and revolving structure, and possibly the dimensions of the gunports, only 2.5-deg. could be added, making the new maximum elevation 16-deg. However, it appears that only Seydlitz had the work done prior to Jutland. This is interesting in light of the fact that the secondary 15cm guns of all the dreadnoughts had their elevation increased to 19-deg. in 1915! So the opportunity to have done the work existed, but was not utilized.

But Jutland provided the impetus needed. While the shooting of the 1st and 2nd BCS may not have been impressive, that of the 5th BS most certainly was. In both range and accuracy, they demonstrated the dangerous potential of long range gunnery. Rene Greger makes a special point of noting how rapidly after the Great Battle the HSF dreadnoughts were modified. Hindenburg and Bayern were completed with 16-deg., the latter being increased to 20-deg. later, and Baden was completed with 20-deg. Turrets in the Mackensen class battlecruisers were altered to 20-deg. from the designed 16-deg., and all new designs incorporated 20-deg. as the standard. By the end of 1916, the IGN had eliminated the range advantage the RN had enjoyed since the beginning of the war.

Perhaps the simplest lesson the IGN learned from Jutland was that the torpedo nets mounted on all of the dreadnoughts were actually a hazard. Hits from enemy shells had damaged the netting and support structures, which allowed sections of the net to enter the water along the ship's side. It was shear luck that none of the ships had had their screws fouled by the damaged nets, which would have had disastrous consequences. Plus, the German participants in the Battle no doubt noticed that the RN had already removed their torpedo nets. Within a few months time, the IGN had followed suit.

The Battle had also demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the 8.8cm anti-torpedo boat armament against the larger British destroyers. Having no director-pointer control, moderately poor locations, only a moderate range, and a relatively light shell, they lacked the ability to hit and the stopping power when they did obtain a hit. At Jutland, the 15cm secondary guns proved effective in the anti-destroyer role. In general terms, below is a brief description of the disposition of the 8.8cm guns:

Nassau class: originally fitted with sixteen 8.8cm SKL/45. In 1915, this was altered to fourteen 8.8cm SKL/45 and two 8.8cm Flak/45. After Jutland, two 8.8cm Flak/45.

Helgoland class: originally fitted with fourteen 8.8cm SKL/45. In late 1914, this was altered to twelve 8.8cm SKL/45 and two 8.8cm Flak/45. After Jutland, two 8.8cm Flak/45.

Kaiser class: originally fitted with twelve 8.8cm SKL/45. In 1914, this was altered to eight 8.8cm SKL/45 and four 8.8cm Flak/45. After Jutland, only the four Flak/45 were carried.

Konig class: originally fitted with six 8.8cm SKL/45 and four 8.8cm Flak/45. After Jutland, only the four Flak/45 were carried.

Von der Tann: originally fitted with sixteen 8.8cm SKL/45. In 1915, this was altered to twelve 8.8cm SKL/45 and two 8.8cm Flak/45. After Jutland, only the two Flak/45 were carried.

Moltke: originally carried twelve 8.8cm SKL/45. In 1915, this was altered to eight 8.8cm SKL/45 and four 8.8cm Flak/45. After Jutland, only the four Flak/45 were carried.

Seydlitz: as Moltke.

Derfflinger: originally mounted four 8.8cm SKL/45 and four 8.8cm Flak/45. After Jutland, the four 8.8cm SKL/45 were removed, and it was planned to replace them with an additional four 8.8cm Flak/45. But only four were fitted.

Hindenburg: Eight 8.8cm Flak/45 was planned, but only four actually fitted.

Bayern and Baden: originally only four 8.8cm Flak/45 actually fitted. By the end of the War, the planned eight guns were mounted.

It should be noted that the IGN not only completely abandoned the light anti-torpedo boat gun, but also mounted more anti-aircraft guns (on their newer and larger ships) than any other combatant during the Great War. And the weight saved, small though it was, could be allocated to other uses.

Perhaps the most obvious changes made to some of the IGN dreadnoughts were the fore masts. It would be an error to attribute those additions solely to Jutland. After all, Blucher had been fitted with a tripod mast complete with range-finder position in 1913, for service as the Fleet Gunnery Training ship. It is therefore obvious which direction Dr. Raps and the fire control development project were intending. Further, the battleship Kronprinz was completed with a heavy tubular mast carrying an identical range-finder position.

Jutland, however, provided the impetus to both extend and enhance the tops. Several reports from the HSF noted approximately the same as the Derfflinger's experience. Quoting from Campbell, "In the Derfflinger the spotter's glasses in the fore-top were linked to the Director by 'follow-the-pointer' gear, but the spotter could not transmit in this way to the Director. In the latter part of the battle [the second engagement of the battle lines], the British hulls could be made out from the top when only gun-flashes were visible from the GCT, but by then communications with the fore-top had been cut by splinters."

Throughout most of the HSF, the spotting arrangements had been improved in 1914, so it was not merely a question of protecting the communications facilities with the tops. In the case of Derfflinger cited above, even could the spotters have communicated with the Director via follow-the-pointer gear, they could not have provided range and deflection data needed for a valid fire control solution. The solution was not merely to duplicate the range-finder positions a la Blucher and Kronprinz, but to provide the position with Director-Pointer gear.

Therefore, while Derfflinger was under repair following the Battle, she shipped a tripod foremast. Bayern and Baden were both completed with tripods. Initially, they only included the range-finder position, but in 1917-18, the Director was fitted. Hindenburg completed with the full fire control suite. In 1917, the Konig, Markgraf, and Grosser Kurfurst shipped a heavy tubular mast with the full fire control suite (Richtungsweiser), and Kronprinz fitted with the fire control gear. Kaiser and Friedrich der Grosse were so fitted in 1918. These and the spotting position had splinter proof protection.

The spotting arrangements on the foremasts of most of the rest of the dreadnoughts were also altered following Jutland. The Nassaus, some of the Helgolands, the remaining three Kaisers, Von der Tann, Moltke, and Seydlitz were all fitted with a new, enlarged crow's nest mounted on the front of the mast. In addition, the three Kaisers, Moltke and Seydlitz were fitted with a second, lower position, which may have been sufficient for a simple bearing instrument. British Intelligence referred to these as "Control Positions", so given the location, timing, and circumstances, some form of gunnery control seems logical. However, the structure was of limited size, and was substantially smaller than the bona fide FC positions mentioned above.

But the most interesting alterations to the HSF were potentially equally important, though much less visible, than the changes to the tops. The standard range-finder through Jutland had been the Zeiss 3-meter stereoscopic instrument, which could give good results in the 15 ­ 16,000 meter range. There is some evidence that the Konigs and the Derfflingers carried 4-meter instruments. However, after the Great Battle, all of the sets mounted in the fore- and aft- GCTs were changed. In most cases, the 3-meter instruments were replaced by 4-meter equipment. It appears that the Kaisers, Konigs, Derfflinger and Hindenburg, and Bayern and Baden were fitted with 5-meter equipment. This includes the range-finder mounted in the position in the fore-tops. These were quite sufficient to give good results at the new battle ranges made possible by the increased gun elevations. Peter Padfield states that "shooting to the correct range forms perhaps 90% of the art of naval gunnery" so the longer instruments would surely have had a positive effect on the IGN's long range accuracy.

Further, the designs for the Sachsen, Wurttemberg, Mackensens, and the so-called Ersatz Yorcks were altered to mount an 8-meter instrument on the fore GCT, and the new designs, L20ea and GK4542 for example, would have carried 8-meter equipment throughout.

Indeed, some sources state that Bayern and Baden carried the 8-meter instrument in 1918, but this cannot be confirmed. But there is photographic evidence that Von der Tann carried one on her after GCT at that time.

Of considerable interest, from the examination of photographs, there appears to have been small 1.5- or 2-meter range-finders mounted on the new crow's nests of those dreadnoughts that were not fitted with tubular or tripod masts. Coupled with the Control position, with which many of the same ships had been fitted, those units could have had the facilities and capability to direct the main armament in conditions such as had occurred at Jutland late in the day. Those units with the full FC suite mounted aloft most certainly could have.

The Battle had also revealed a number of FC equipment shortcomings that demanded corrective action. Campbell notes that the earlier pattern telescopes fitted to the Director-Pointer "were far from meeting requirements," though given some of the gunnery performances, it seems to have been sufficiently functional. Likewise, the older pattern Range Clocks proved of limited value, and some Gunnery Officers made corrections based on readings from the range-finders, or more appropriately corrected based on the changes from the averaged range provided by the mittlungs apparat. Communications from various positions, such as range-finders and spotting tops, needed to be enhanced. Of particular interest was the request for a simple gyro device that tract the target through rapid or radical changes in own ship's course.

It is likely that all but the last were remedied with all dispatch. The last, however, was no doubt one of the gyro projects Dr. Raps could not address in wartime. Raps and the Siemens & Halske engineers had experimented with gyroscopic devices for FC, but had been forced to discontinue the work when war broke out.

However, Julius von Petravic had developed a gyroscopic device that kept the guns on target through the roll of the ship; in essence, mechanically assisted continuous aim via a gyro-sight system. This was known as the Abfeuerungs Gerat in IGN service. Though it had already been adopted by the K u K Marine, it was only under field test at the time of Jutland. Indeed, Lutzow had a unit mounted in each of three of her four turrets, but they had immediately failed from the shock of her own guns firing. By 1918, however, the equipment was in use throughout the HSF.

One final change in the HSF was tactical rather than technical. An interesting incident during the Battle may very well have been the impetus for a re-organization of the HSF.

Friedrich Ruge has mentioned that at about 1826 or so, Admiral Scheer, noting the events at the 'Windy Corner' entertained the idea of an attack from two directions. Hipper and the 1st SG, supported by the 3rd Squadron, would deal with the British forces to the east, while he would take Friedrich der Grosse and the 1st and 2nd Squadrons to the north-west. Had he done so, it surely would have meant the destruction of Warspite and Warrior at the very least. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, such a move would also have placed half of the HSF behind the Grand Fleet battle line, which had deployed toward the east, though Scheer could hardly have known that.

According to Ruge, this promising plan was briefly discussed with Scheer's staff, and then abandoned in the face of communications difficulties. Such an explanation, however, does not seem more than superficially satisfactory. First because, as Keith Yates points out, individual initiative was highly regarded and expected in the IGN. This meant that, with minimal instructions, Scheer could count on Hipper and Behncke to fight their squadrons without him holding their hands, as it were. And second, wireless communications within the HSF had been effective for the entire battle. Scheer could have briefly and quickly informed his subordinates of his intentions.

A more likely explanation has to do the very nature of the 'line of battle' in the context of large fleets. Almost by definition, it lacks flexibility. In that, it more resembles the ancient Greek Phalanx as opposed to the articulation of a Roman Legion. So while Scheer was no doubt willing to play Nelson, and attempt unorthodox tactics, his staff was likely aghast at the thought.

After Jutland, the HSF was re-organized along tactically more flexible lines. Instead of the orthodox Battle Squadron of eight ships in two divisions, the old divisions became squadrons. In other words, the Nassaus made up the 1st Squadron and the Helgolands the 2nd (the pre-dreadnoughts having been de-mobilized), with the Fleet Flagship, Baden, attached. The 3rd Squadron was Bayern and the four Konigs, while the five Kaisers comprised the 4th Squadron. The 1st Scouting Group, comprised of the five battle-cruisers, in essence would serve as a fifth squadron or fast wing of the fleet. Thus, squadrons, with their attached screening units, could be handled as proto task groups, applying tactical pressure where needed without regard to the battle line type formation.

This organization was used in late 1917 during Operation Albion, in the Baltic against the Russians, which was no doubt a field test. The Fleet that sortied in April 1918 was a much more flexible and formidable weapon then it had been at Jutland, both technically and tactically.

The author later adds...

In my recent mini-article[above], I mentioned only the RFs that were visible, and as a general rule, mounted higher than the turret instruments. I was also under the impression that the turret instruments were the same 3-meter 'standard'. Turns out this was not the case. Schmalenbach notes that the instruments in the 28cm [sic. and 30.5cm] turrets were 6-meters, while those for the 38cm [sic. and 35cm?] were 8.2-meters.

My guess is that the 42cm designs must have been planned for 10-meter instruments. I've often felt that the Third Reich offered little in technological impovement.

Last Updated: 16 October, 2000.

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