Sure, I had heard of the Battle of Jutland but I knew nothing about it and I had no particular interest in it. I had an uncle killed on the Somme and a granduncle who came home injured and that was enough of a connection with WWI to be going on with.
Anyway, I had given up history in school after Inter Cert as it was just a list of names, dates and battles and I was hopeless at rote learning.
So the Battle of Jutland was just a name floating around in an amorphous space called history.
That is until a hitherto unknown branch of my family found me on the internet a month or two ago. They are living in Neath, near Port Talbot in South Wales so I wouldn't exactly run in to them in the street. As it happened they discovered a common pair of ancestors and we took it from there. Here's how it goes and how it gets to Jutland.
My grandfather, Patrick Mortimer, had a brother, Francis. Francis Mortimer had a son, Patrick Joseph. Patrick Joseph Mortimer took a wife, Catherine. Catherine Daly had a brother, Patrick Joseph. Patrick Joseph Daly, was an Able Seaman who went down with the HMS Tipperary in the Battle of Jutland on 1 June 1916.
For the non-genealogists among my readers, that makes him the brother in law of a first cousin once removed.
In naval terms, the battle of Jutland was the clash of the titans, with the British navy confronting its German counterpart over about 12 hours on 31 May 1916.
The battle involved about 100,000 sailors in 250 ships (151 British and 99 German). Almost 9,000 sailors died, two thirds of them British. Twenty five ships were lost (14 British versus 11 German) but if you look at the tonnage, losses by the British were twice those of the Germans (113K versus 62K).
Nevertheless both sides ended up claiming victory. The Germans claimed they'd won on the basis of the statistics above. The British (rightly) claimed they'd won as, despite the heavier casualties, they had bottled in the German fleet and ensured that it would no longer be able to take part in the war.
Things then got sort of complicated with the Germans relying on intensive submarine operations and the Americans coming into the war, but you get the general message about Jutland.
The Tipperary had been built at Cowes, originally ordered for the Chilean Navy and launched in March 1915. In the circumstances the British acquired it and its sister ships and at Jutland the Tipperary was the leader of a flotilla of destroyers.
There was a lot of confusion during the battle and various sections of the British fleet fell out of contact with one another and were operating blind, so to speak.
The last hours of the Tipperary are graphically described below by members of the HMS Spitfire which actually made it back to port after the battle.
At 9.30pm they [the flotilla of destroyers] were forming up 5 miles astern of the Battle Fleet. They did not know the outcome of the battle, where the enemy were or even where most of their ships were – only that they should form 5 miles astern of the Battle Fleet. By 10.00pm they were settled in line ahead – Tipperary leading, Spitfire, Sparrowhawk, Garland and Contest of the 1st Division following.
It was a very dark night as there was no moon, and the sky was overcast and the atmosphere hazy.
They were very nervous of running into their own ships by mistake and had been ordered to keep a sharp lookout for the enemy. In the darkness they could make out ships closing them from astern, Tipperary made the challenge; they were British. Shortly before midnight they saw again the dark shape of a line of ships on their starboard quarter, occasional glare in their funnel smoke. Some thought they were friends, but they could just as well be the enemy, so 21” torpedo tube and 4” gun were kept trained on them.
But here visibility was under 1000 yards and when the dark outlines were nearly abeam, at a range of between 500 and 700 yards Tipperary again made the challenge…
The reply was all three ships switching on a blaze of searchlights. The majority of these lights were trained on the Tipperary and only a few stray beams lit on us and on our next astern. Then these lights went out, and after an extraordinarily short pause were switched on again, and at the same moment a regular rain of shell was concentrated on our unfortunate leader, and in less than a minute she was hit and badly on fire forward.
At the same moment we fired our 2 torpedoes and saw one of them hit. But I saw the most infernal storm of shells hitting the water just ahead of us, and all around the Tipperary.
as soon as we resumed our course, we saw Tipperary behind us, a dreadful, burning torch. She was stopped and being fired at under the concentration of the enemy’s searchlights. So back we went to attack the ships attacking her.
The Captain decided to go to the assistance of the Tipperary and, if necessary, carry on action with their guns. As they got near he felt maddened at seeing their leader disabled and being so fiercely attacked. He gave what seemed the hopeless order to fire at searchlights, which, as if at target practice, winked, and went out.
We closed the Tipperary, now a mass of burning wreckage and looking a very sad sight indeed. At a distance her bridge, wheel-house and chart-house appeared to be one sheet of flame, giving one the impression of a burning house, and so bright was the light from this part that it seemed to obliterate one’s vision of the remainder of the ship and of the sea round about, except that part close to her which was all lit up, reflecting the flames.
(The account of HMS Spitfire at Jutland is courtesy of Alan Bush, grandson of Lt. Athelstan P Bush)
The Tipperary sank in the early hours of 1 June 1916. Of her complement of 197, 185 died, 4 were wounded and 8 taken prisoner. Her Captain, Charles J Wintour, went down with his ship.
Jutland Memorial Park
Photo: The Telegraph
As the centenary of the battle approaches we find two major memorials on the west coast of Jutland near where the sea battle took place. The first is Sea War Museum Jutland which displays artifacts from the battle and also functions as an interpretive centre. The second is a novel memorial park where each lost ship is represented by a large stone monument and the hope is to add some 9,000 anonymous sculpted figures representing each of the sailors lost in the battle and grouped around the monument to their ship.
Map showing relative position of wrecks
HMS Tipperary highlighted
Click on image for a larger version
The ships' memorials are laid out relative to their positions on the seabed. You can see the Tipprary highlighted in the map above.
Here are some useful links if you want to follow up on any of this.
Animation describing the Battle (24 mins)
The Battle in Wikipedia
The Tipperary in Wikipedia
The Telegraph (UK) on the Battle & Memorial
General information on the memorial site
Ronan McGreevy on the Irish at Jutland