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Blockbuster exhibition opens at the National Museum of the Royal Navy
Jutland Casualties from HMS Tiger on HMS Plassy, 1916, Image courtesy of the NMRN.

PORTSMOUTH.- On 19th May 2016, in the centenary year, The National Museum of the Royal Navy opened a major exhibition to commemorate the largest naval battle in history, the Battle of Jutland. ‘36 Hours: Jutland 1916, The Battle That Won The War’ is the most comprehensive exhibition ever staged on the subject, and highlights the essential role of the British Royal Navy in winning the First World War.

Through never-before-seen displays and immersive galleries the exhibition challenges the belief that the Battle of Jutland was a German victory. The National Museum of the Royal Navy presents the battle as a British victory, both tactically and strategically.

Working with IWM (Imperial War Museums), the exhibition provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to view the National Museum of the Royal Navy’s collection together with objects from 21 private lenders and five public organisations. The Jutland exhibition is the largest ever and is part of a wider NMRN First World War centenary programme, The Great War at Sea. The exhibition launch coincides with the NMRN’s other major contribution to the Jutland centenary, the opening of the battle’s only survivor HMS Caroline, in Belfast 2016.

Head of Heritage Development at the NMRN, Nick Hewitt, comments: “The Battle of Jutland is the Royal Navy’s defining moment in The Great War, and perhaps the largest sea battle in history. It’s the only event in the national First World War centenary programme which is wholly naval in character, and at the NMRN we’ve pulled out all the stops to put together a blockbuster exhibition that captures this epic, tragic story and ensures that it will never be forgotten.”

The Battle of Jutland was the defining naval battle of the First World War, fought over 36 hours from May 31st to June 1st 1916. It is often considered a German victory due to the number of British lives lost; the British lost 6,094 seamen and the Germans 2,551 during the battle. However these figures do not represent the impact upon the British and German fleets. At the end of the battle the British maintained numerical supremacy; only two dreadnoughts were damaged, leaving twenty-three dreadnoughts and four battlecruisers still able to fight, whilst the Germans had only ten dreadnoughts.

Most British losses were tactically insignificant, with the exception of HMS Queen Mary, and the Grand Fleet was ready for action again the next day. One month after the battle the Grand Fleet was stronger than it had been before sailing to Jutland. By contrast, so shaken were the Germans by the weight of the British response that they never again seriously challenged British control of the North Sea.

The British had taken control of the North Sea from 1914 imposing a ‘distant blockade’ on the High Seas Fleet and restricting German trade. The Grand Fleet was stationed at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands, ready to prevent any threat of the Germans breaking out to the north. After a series of smaller, unsuccessful attacks, Admiral Reinhard Scheer eventually decided to engage in full-scale battle with the Grand Fleet hoping to weaken it. He was unsuccessful in achieving this, and an American newspaper of the time commented: “The German fleet has assaulted its jailor, but is still in jail.”

Director General of the NMRN, Professor Dominic Tweddle, comments: “One hundred years after the fleets of the Imperial German and Royal Navies fought the defining naval battle of the First World War, it is essential that we mark and commemorate the incredible sacrifice made. In a year of commemoration it is imperative that the Royal Navy’s greatest battle, the Battle of Jutland, is remembered with the same importance as the Battle of the Somme, and alongside other anniversaries including Shakespeare 400 and the Battle of Hastings. Jutland’s significance in turning the tide of the First World War must not be underestimated. We are proud to be able to tell its story.”

Diane Lees, Director-General of Imperial War Museums said: ‘The Battle of Jutland had a huge impact on the war; never again during this landmark conflict did the Germans challenge British control of the North Sea. Yet it is one of the lesser known Battles to be commemorated this year. IWM is delighted to be working in collaboration with the National Museum of the Royal Navy on this amazing exhibition, which will tell the story of this great naval battle. Over 80 items from our collections are being loaned to the Museum, some of which have never been seen before. They will reveal to generations today the stories of the brave sailors who fought in terrifying conditions at Jutland, and allow people to reflect and remember the 6000 men who lost their lives at sea.’

Alongside this are personal effects from men and women involved in the battle. The diary of Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service Nurse Mary Clarke tells of her service as a naval sister in the Grand Fleet hospital ship PLASSY (May-June 1916). The diary is part of the Imperial War Museum’s collection, and includes a good description of the reception and treatment of British casualties after the Battle of Jutland. Also included is the lifebelt belonging to William Loftus Jones, English recipient of the Victoria Cross and commander of HMS Shark which sunk during the battle. The lifebelt was recovered from the body after being washed ashore following the battle, and is being displayed alongside a photograph of HMS Shark survivors.

Also on display are three guns that saw action at Jutland; the large gun from German destroyer B98, and two smaller deck guns from HMS Opal and HMS Narbourgh, usually on display at Orkney Islands Council’s Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum at Lyness. As part of this loan arrangement, the NMRN carried out extensive conservation work on the guns. The exhibition also showcases ensigns flown by British warships at the Battle of Jutland. The largest flag from the dreadnought battleship, HMS Bellerophon, measures around 2.6m by 5.3m.

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