Jutland Debate blog

By Alan Bush, Jutland Volunteer.

Originally planned as part of the Jutland Commemorations in the long daylight hours of last summer, the re-scheduled ‘Jutland: The Big Debate’ was held on a dark, blustery Thursday evening this 2nd February bringing together historical experts, members of the public and a virtual audience from all over the world.

To begin with, guests had a chance to view the exhibition ’36 Hours Jutland 1916: The Battle that won the War’ with a glass of wine and experts on hand to answer any questions. Soon, around the exhibition could be heard groups of people in concentrated conversation, already discussing points of the Battle, or admiring battle damaged Ensigns. Some were particularly interested in the impact of the Battle on Portsmouth communities as well as items telling the story of Cdr Loftus Jones VC whilst others were quietly immersed in the films – moments inside a battered German battlecruiser or being pinpointed by searchlight in the Night Action. With these images guests then moved on to the theatre in Action Stations to debate the central question: was Jutland the Battle that won WW1?

The debate was held in the style of BBC’s Question Time with questions put to an Expert Panel asked directly from the audience as well as from social media, in real time. The Master of Ceremonies was Dan Snow, and a great screen behind the Panel showed his hugely popular ‘History Hit’ Facebook page as well as the Museums twitter feed. ‘Likes’ flowed across the screen like projectiles across the North Sea – comments and tweets appearing like hits or misses as the debate progressed – especially when contentious statements were made such as Andrew Gordon (The Rules of the Game) claiming that Jutland wasn’t a battle - a claim hotly denied by the NMRN’s own Nick Hewitt citing the nearly 10,000 casualties sustained in 12 hours of fighting. The German perspective was ably given by Stephan Huck visiting from the Marine Museum, Wilhelmshaven and Laura Rowe (University of Exeter) argued persuasively that we should question the received narrative that the Naval Blockade caused the collapse of Germany in 1918 explaining that the real reason was due to a lack of central planning within Germany itself. Time didn’t allow for full debate of the renewed U-boat campaign of 1917 and its connection to the surface war that had culminated in Jutland, or indeed America’s subsequent entry into the war though there was a tantalising comment that America was far from being unready to join anyway.   

Proceedings were brought to a close in the theatre with a show of hands, the debate then continuing on-line. As the lights came up, guests with relatives who had fought at Jutland were invited to locate them on the Museum’s Interactive Map.  The Map’s creator, Dave Barter is himself a Jutland descendant and new stories were made known to him and his team including that of a Wireless Telegrapher from HMS Galatea, the ship that first sighted and reported the German fleet more than a 100 years ago, at 2.20pm 31st May 1916. 

HMS Hermes returning from the Falklands