Jutland 1916: WWI’s Greatest Sea Battle

Jutland 1916: WWI’s Greatest Sea Battle opens 20 May 2016 at the National Maritime Museum to mark the centenary of the largest naval battle of the conflict – the Battle of Jutland. 

Involving a total of 279 ships on 31 May 1916, the North Sea bore witness to ‘Der Tag’, a major clash between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet. Both sides suffered heavy losses in ships and men, with over 8500 lives lost in the action. Despite being the biggest naval surface engagement to date, Jutland was one of the most keenly-felt disappointments of the war, with neither side achieving a decisive victory.

Jutland 1916: WWI’s Greatest Sea Battle places the battle within the wider context of the war, and examines the action itself through content created with the grandson of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, the commander of the Grand Fleet. Visitors to the exhibition will learn of the battle, its lead-up and the experience of serving aboard British and German warships. The story will be told through objects such as paintings, photographs, ship models and plans, sailor-made craft work and medals, many of which are on display for the first time. One of the first of these objects to be encountered, will be a 14ft long shipbuilder’s model of HMS Queen Mary, one of the largest battle cruisers involved in the action at Jutland and destroyed in the battle, leaving only eighteen survivors of the 1266-strong crew.

The exhibition takes visitors beyond the action of the battle and uncovers stories of the aftermath, from the incredibly personal accounts of the sailors and their families, to the broader views of the nations and navies on either side of the conflict and the media reports driving them.

As well as the sailors in the thick of the battle, those who remained at home were deeply affected by the outcome of the battle - none more so than the families of those who were lost. The exhibition traces individual stories through personal testimonies, notably those of the widows of the action who set up support networks and memorials funds and the sailors involved in the battle itself. One such story is that of boy bugler William Robert Walker who served on HMS Calliope at Jutland and survived. Severely wounded when he was hit by a piece of shrapnel, Walker remained at his post throughout the action. Whilst recovering he was visited by HRH King George V, and was later presented with a silver bugle by commander of the Grand Fleet, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, that will be displayed in the exhibition.

Public morale was hugely impacted upon for both nations following the battle, with conflicting reports on both sides. Confusion and misinformation was spread throughout the realms; where in Germany news of a great victory was reported, in a marked contrast, Britain’s assurance in its navy took a great hit. Through photographs, newspaper clippings and quotes from official communiques, Jutland 1916 relates the public sentiments in both Britain and Germany in the immediate aftermath of the battle, and how it eventually became clear that neither could claim a decisive victory.

The exhibition uncovers how the belief that the war would be won in one decisive, glorious sea battle was shattered in the aftermath of Jutland – a marked contrast from the patriotic sentiments expressed ahead of the battle – and tactics from Germany shifted to the unrestricted U-boat warfare in the latter years of the First World War.

To coincide with Jutland 1916, the National Maritime Museum will be hosting a dedicated events programme, including the Maritime Lecture Series and walking tours. From June 2016, the Museum’s ‘RE·THINK: Navy’ gallery will be host to artist in residence Paddy Hartley, who will be exploring the lives of sailors affected by devastating facial injuries from conflict, including work relating to the surgeries of William Vicarage and Walter Ernest O'Neil Yeo who served at Jutland.

Jutland 1916: WWI’s Greatest Sea Battle is sponsored by BAE Systems.

Exhibition information for visitors:

Venue: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Dates: 20 May 2016 – November 2018

Opening times: every day, 10.00–17.00

Visitor enquiries: 020 8588 4422 

Admission: free

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Notes to Editors:

  • Royal Museums Greenwich incorporates the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory Greenwich, the 17th-century Queen’s House and Cutty Sark. Royal Museums Greenwich works to illustrate for everyone the importance of the sea, ships, time and the stars and their relationship with people. This unique collection of attractions, which form a key part of the Maritime Greenwich UNESCO World Heritage Site, welcomes over 2 million British and international visitors a year and is also a major centre of education and research. For more information visit www.rmg.co.uk.
  • ‘RE·THINK’ gives visitors the space to explore, discover and reflect on the themes of the Museum, and create responses within the gallery. Opening in June 2016 until the end of November 2016, the next display in the NMM’s participation gallery, ‘RE·THINK’, will address Navy - one of the Museum’s seven themes. Artist in residence, Paddy Hartley, will explore the lives of sailors affected by devastating injuries from conflict and in the broader sense the gallery will address the concept of ‘welfare at sea’, from daily life, gender and sexuality to life changing injuries and mental health.
  • BAE Systems provides some of the world's most advanced, technology-led defence, aerospace and security solutions. BAE Systems employs a skilled workforce of 83,400 people in 40 countries. Working with customers and local partners, BAE Systems develop, engineer, manufacture, and support products and systems to deliver military capability, protect national security and people, and keep critical information and infrastructure secure.

Further information and images:

For further information or images for WWI’s Greatest Sea Battle, please contact:

Rhianon Davies, Royal Museums Greenwich Press Office

Tel: 020 8312 6545 | 07983 512 841 or Email: rdavies@rmg.co.uk