On Behalf of the British Government, Winston Churchill Renders Judgment on the Largest Naval Encounter of WWI

Winston Churchill

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"The enemy had been driven into port and that we were safer at home and stronger afloat as a result" The Battle of Jutland, fought off of DenmarkÕs North Sea coast, was the only major naval engagement of World War I. Involving some 250 ships and 100,000 men, the British fleet enjoyed a numerical advantage over the German of 37:27 in heavy units and 113:72 in light support craft. Thus the battle had all the ingredients to be a great British naval victory, but in the event the result was much less clear-cut.It began in the afternoon of May 31, 1916, with a running artillery duel at 15,000 yards between the German and British scouting forces. German ships took a severe pounding but survived due to their superior hull construction. The British lost three battle cruisers due to lack of protection in the gun turrets, which allowed fires started by incoming shells to reach the powder magazines. Commenting that ÒThere seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today,Ó British Admiral Beatty after this initial encounter turned north and lured the Germans over into action with the main British fleet.The second phase of the battle started at 7:15 p.m., when British Admiral John Jellicoe brought his ships into a single battle line by executing a 90-degree wheel to port. Gaining the advantage of the fading light, he cut the Germans off from their home base and twice crossed their fleet making a ÒT.Ó German Admiral Reinhard ScheerÕs ships took seventy direct hits, while scoring but twenty against Jellicoe. Scheer, however, escaped seeming annihilation by executing three brilliant 180-degree battle turns away. He retreated and returned to port. By the full darkness at 10:00 p.m., British losses amounted to 14 ships sunk and 6,784 men, and German losses to 11 ships sunk and 3,058 men.The Royal Navy suffered more loses, and the Kaiser quickly claimed a great German victory. By contrast, the battle caused significant disappointment in Britain, where news of a new Trafalgar had been expected. The official statement on the battle was made on June 2 by First Lord of the Admiralty Arthur Balfour, of Balfour Declaration fame. It was short, and factual, lacking in media savvy, giving details on losses and making no claims whatever, least of all of victory. The most it said was ÒThe enemy's losses were seriousÓ. The lack of characterization of the great battle caused an explosion of outrage in Britain, where many people demanded to understand the results. Of course, the warÕs supporters desired a positive claim of victory to counter the KaiserÕs and enhance the impression that things were going well, even as British troops were gathering in France for the bloodbath at the Battle of the Somme, which was less than a month away.Winston Churchill had been Lord of the Admiralty before Balfour, and been sacked in May 1915 after the disaster at Gallipoli, for which he was held responsible. Churchill was now asked to step in and draft a second and more positive statement about the results at Jutland. He was somewhat hesitant to get involved, no less make a statement that might appear to contradict BalfourÕs. A colleague, Charles Remington, said of a meeting he had with Churchill on June 3: ÒWinston was full of the naval-fight off Jutland. He had been asked to issue the semi-official communique which appeared in Sunday's papers, June 4, and was not quite sure whether he had done right or not. Balfour's private secretary had made the demand, whereupon Winston had consulted Lloyd George and Rufus Isaacs, who said that he could not refuse, so he returned to the Admiralty, and said he would draft something if Balfour personally asked for it. This Balfour did.Ó So Churchill was prevailed upon to make an upbeat assessment, and that day a statement was released in his name by the Admiralty giving an optimistic view that the battle had indeed been a British victory. The press jumped on this statement, demanding to know whether Churchill, the former First Lord, N° de ref. de la librería

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Título: On Behalf of the British Government, Winston...

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