Merchant Marine Losses at the Battle of Jutland
National maritime charity, the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society, has marked the 100th anniversary of the Royal Navy’s largest and bloodiest naval engagement in World War I, the Battle of Jutland, by releasing a short video recognising the forgotten contribution and losses faced by merchant seafarers and fishermen during the 1914-18 conflict.
The Battle of Jutland was a naval battle fought by the British Royal Navy's Grand Fleet under Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, against the Imperial German Navy's High Seas Fleet under Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer during the First World War. The battle was fought from May 31 to June 1, 1916, in the North Sea, near the coast of Denmark's Jutland Peninsula.
Both sides claimed victory. The British lost more ships and twice as many sailors but succeeded in containing the German fleet. However, the British press criticised the Grand Fleet's failure to force a decisive outcome while Scheer's plan of destroying a substantial portion of the British fleet also failed.
The video, filmed at the National Museum of the Royal Navy’s 36 Hours Jutland 1916 Exhibition, features Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society Chief Executive, Commodore Malcolm Williams, talking about the 11,900 sailors and fishermen from 1,286 fishing vessels and merchant ships who perished during World War I and have no grave but the sea. A memorial on Tower Hill commemorates their sacrifice but it’s a well-kept secret.
Williams comments: “The battle of Jutland is rightly a natural focus for the losses the Royal Navy sustained in World War I, but for the merchant navy and fishing fleets there is, of course, no such single focus, just individual actions and stories of determination, initiative, courage and endurance. In this video we want to draw attention to these two neglected seagoing species of World War I.”
Britain entered the war with a Mercantile Marine of 9,500 vessels grossing 11.5 million tonnes. With a further 1,500 vessels from the Dominions this made up 48 percent of the world’s shipping. Losses were severe. In August 1915, 84 British merchant ships and fishing vessels were sunk. By April 2017 it had risen to 210 with 1,139 lives lost in that month alone. By May 1917 British warehouses held only six weeks supply of food.
1914-19 – mines were no respecters of peace – the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society assisted some 51,000 sailors: merchant navy and fishermen, by providing clothing, food, accommodation and rail warrants allowing them to return home to their loved ones. It also provided assistance to 2,656 widows, 4,724 orphans and 1,122 aged parents for whom the loss of the family breadwinner was devastating.
Now in its 177th year, the Society continues to provide financial support to fishermen and mariners and their dependants. Last year grants were provided in over 2,000 cases of need at a cost of £1.4 million ($2 million).
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.