Today marks the centenary of the Battle of Jutland, the only major fleet engagement of World War I and the biggest battleship action of all time. To commemorate the occasion we will be focussing on Jutland throughout the day, with this blog looking at the German admirals.
The extract below is taken from Duel 31: British Dreadnought vs German Dreadnought by Mark Stille.
Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer
On 18 January 1916, Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer assumed command of the High Seas Fleet. Scheer was an aggressive and confident 53-year-old officer who was determined to take a different course than that of his predecessor.
Scheer joined the navy at 15 from a middle-class background. His early career featured two African tours followed by four years ashore in technical schools, where he specialized in torpedoes. In 1900, he returned to sea as the commander of a destroyer flotilla. Following promotion to captain, he was given command of a battleship in 1907. In 1909, Scheer was appointed to the position of Chief of Staff for the High Seas Fleet, followed the next year by promotion to rear admiral. After a tour as the Chief of the Naval Department, he assumed command of II Squadron, composed of pre-dreadnoughts. In December 1914, he took command of III Squadron consisting of the High Seas Fleet’s most powerful dreadnoughts.
Scheer was respected by his peers and subordinates for having a cool and clear mind in action. He was also known for his optimistic outlook. Perhaps this outlook contributed to his determination to seek action with the High Seas Fleet. While an advocate of unrestricted submarine warfare, he did not think that this would be sufficient to defeat Britain. Here was where the High Seas Fleet came into play. It had to put pressure on the British blockade by offensive action. He was not optimistic enough to believe that the High Seas Fleet could defeat the Grand Fleet in an all-out battle, but he was confident that when the time was right to commit the High Seas Fleet to action that its superior ships would allow it to more than hold its own. With this in mind, Scheer presented a more aggressive operational plan to the Kaiser in Wilhelmshaven on 23 February 1916. With the Kaiser’s consent, the course was set that would lead to the clash of dreadnoughts at Jutland.
Vice Admiral Franz Hipper
Born in Bavaria in 1863, Hipper joined the navy at age 18 against his mother’s wishes. He served briefly overseas, but returned to home waters in 1890 to fulfil his desire to be assigned to the battle fleet. From this point on he served in various units of the High Seas Fleet’s scouting forces. He specialized in torpedoes, and commanded a torpedo boat division. In October 1913, he received command of the High Seas Fleet’s Scouting Force composed of battlecruisers, light cruisers and destroyers. He served in this role for most of the war up until August 1918, when he succeeded Scheer as commander of the High Seas Fleet.
Hipper was regarded as a tough sea dog, never having served in the Navy Office (the German Admiralty) or attended Staff College. He hated paperwork and was described as being cheerful and light-hearted. His performance during the war was generally excellent. He commanded two raids on the British coast in 1914, before being caught by Beatty in January 1915 at Dogger Bank. Of the four principal admirals at Jutland, only Hipper left the battle with his reputation enhanced – his finely trained and fought battlecruiser force had inflicted most of the damage suffered by the Royal Navy.
We have a number of books available that look at the Battle of Jutland. If you are interested in reading more then take a look at the titles below:
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