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Of all the clashes between the British and German navies in the 20th Century, the Battle of Jutland during the First World War was the biggest and the deadliest. Britain had more ships and superior firepower. The public expected a walkover. But the outcome of the battle shook the nation to its core.
Thousands of British sailors lost their lives in less than 24 hours. In the recriminations that followed, the truth was distorted. Signatures were forged. Documents were tampered with.
The reputation of the Admiral who led the battle was ruined. As the centenary of Jutland approaches, his grandson is determined to put that right. Jutland has been plagued by controversy for a hundred years.
Now, for the first time, an expedition is setting out to find the wrecks of all the ships that were lost in the battle. State of the art technology will be used to scan the seabed and build an accurate map of the battle site, revealing, in forensic detail, what really happened. Piecing together clues from the hundred-year-old debris, new details will be revealed about the final moments of the men who lost their lives by bringing the battleships back from the dead.
In May 1916, World War One had been raging for two years. Jutland took place just a month before the Battle of the Somme. For many, World War 1 meant trench warfare and yet Jutland was the big battle that the Royal Navy had wanted to have with the German High Seas Fleet. It's the battle the Kaiser wanted to have. That epic clash should have been the action that decided the war.
However, in the early 20th century, a naval arms race between Britain and Germany saw the development of Dreadnoughts - the biggest, fastest, most powerful ships the world had ever seen. On the eve of the First World War, Britain led the race and its supremacy was a source of national pride – and anticipation. The public expected that fleet to be used. They expected therefore, if war broke out, that the Royal Navy was going to win a decisive battle, and this would play a major role in the overall victory of the British Empire.
The Admiralty believed the fleet's primary task was to blockade Germany, starving its economy and ensuring its fleet never left the North Sea. Germany wanted to break the stranglehold and, on 31st May 1916, planned to lure the British into a fight. The glorious battle both nations yearned for proved far from decisive. There were huge losses on both sides. Six thousand British sailors died and two and a half thousand Germans. Germany declared a famous victory, as Britain had lost more men and more ships.
Jutland was no Trafalgar. Far from being another Nelson, the admiral who led the battle, John Jellicoe, was sidelined and later sacked; powerless to prevent a version of events being spun that ruined his reputation. A small bust of him lies forgotten in a corner of Trafalgar Square, overshadowed by Nelson’s column, which towers nearly a hundred and seventy feet into the air.
Jellicoe is largely ignored by an indifferent public. But at the family home in Wiltshire, Nick Jellicoe is determined that his grandfather should be remembered for who he really was. Forty-two years later, John Jellicoe was on the receiving end of stinging criticism – accused of being too cautious and blamed for failing to sink Germany’s fleet despite his superior numbers and firepower.
The Navy's official report left his reputation in tatters. But Nick's brother Johnny made an extraordinary discovery. Significantly it's a signed Battle of Jutland navigation chart. John Harper was the Navy’s senior navigation officer.
After Jutland he was asked to conduct an independent investigation into what went wrong and draw up an accurate chart of all the ships’ movements. But in the recriminations that followed the battle, his chart was never published.
Nick has now been offered the chance to join a scientific expedition to unearth new evidence about Jutland. Coupled with his rare, unpublished chart, the expedition could have far-reaching significance for the truth about the battle and his grandfather’s reputation.
Nick is going to be accompanying marine archaeologist, Dr Innes McCartney, the world's leading expert on the underwater geography of the battle site. Innes and Nick will spend a week aboard the expedition vessel. For Innes it's a chance to make new discoveries and for Nick an opportunity to travel in his grandfather’s footsteps.
Together with expedition leader, Gert Andersen, and his Danish crew they will make the most comprehensive map of the battle site ever, surveying an area of 4,000 square miles, which will reveal the resting place of all the ships sunk at Jutland for the first time.
The outcome of the expedition will fundamentally alter our understanding of the biggest naval battle in modern history.
Premiered on Channel 4 on Saturday 21st May 2016 at 8pm.
- Episode Title : Jutland: Search For The Truth
- Format : 1 x 60'
- Production company : Mallinson Sadler Productions
- Year of production : 2016
- Commissioning channels : Channel 4
- Availability : 22/05/2016