By Dr Jen Novotny, Research Assistant, Glasgow University’s Great War Project
Today we mark the 99th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland, the only full-scale naval battle of the First World War, which saw Admiral Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet meet the German High Seas Fleet in the North Sea on 31st May 1916. While the losses of ships were comparable, the Allied fleet suffered the greatest loss of personnel. The impact of the battle on the war has been debated by historians, but it is agreed that the battle failed to shift the balance of power and the Royal Navy remained dominant; the High Seas Fleet spent the rest of the war bottled up in the Baltic, unwilling to risk another costly engagement. Instead, Germany’s naval strategy for the North Sea and Atlantic concentrated on U-boat action.
Jutland: Glasgow’s Contribution
It is worth highlighting just some of the many connections between the battle and the West of Scotland: the Clydebuilt ships at Jutland that were the work of the men and women of the industrial sector, as well as looking at several individuals who fought in the battle. The First World War is so often spoken of in statistics – numbers that tend towards hyperbole and become meaningless. It is useful to personalise these numbers, contextualising the Battle of Jutland by evoking places with which we are familiar and learn about persons with whom we can identify.
Clydebuilt ships at Jutland
There were a number of Clydebuilt ships at the battle, including the Queen Elizabeth-class battleship HMS Barham, and battlecruisers HMS Tiger and HMS Inflexible built by John Brown Engineering at Clydebank. William Denny & Brothers of Dumbarton produced the destroyers HMS Petard, HMS Ardent, and the HMS Engadine, the seaplane carrier from which the first heavier-than-air reconnaissance flight during a naval battle was launched.
William Beardmore’s shipyard, also in Govan, produced light cruisers HMS Falmouth and HMS Galatea, while Beardmore’s Parkhead forge produced naval guns (along with field guns, tanks, aeroplanes, and air ships).
The expertise of shipbuilding on the Clyde is exemplified by individuals like Sir John Harvard Biles. Born in Portsmouth, Biles served his apprenticeship at Portsmouth Dockyard and in 1875 graduated from the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. He joined the Admiralty and in 1880 he was appointed chief designer at J&G Thomson’s Clydebank shipyard. He also took up a post as Professor of Naval Architecture at the University of Glasgow in 1891. He was a consultant for the Admiralty on numerous occasions. During the First World War he helped to develop river and shallow-draft vessels for use in Mesopotamia and he sat on the ship designs committee (1904–5) that resulted in the Dreadnought and the subsequent eponymous class of battleships so important at Jutland.
Equally important to the war effort were firms like Barr and Stroud optical instrument makers in Anniesland, who made rangefinders. Barr and Stroud supplied equipment to navies around the world – and in fact had to withhold orders meant for Austria and Hungary at the outbreak of war. Their rangefinders were on board many of the ships of the Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland.
At the outbreak of war in 1914, Bar and Stroud’s inventory was immediately appropriated by the Admiralty and War Office, forcing them to meet the demand of increased output while losing staff who were called up with the Territorials and later conscripted.
Students at war
What were the experiences of those who fought at Jutland? Highlighting a few stories from the over 4,500 individuals on the University of Glasgow’s First World War Roll of Honour offers an insight into young lives interrupted by the war.
Engineering: Thomas Hutchison and Charles Tanner
Thomas Mclaren Hutchison was the son of a shipyard manager from Greenock. At the age of 18 he enrolled at the University of Glasgow in 1912 to study Engineering, taking classes in Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, Maths, Naval Architecture, and Drawing. At the end of his second year he left University and was commissioned in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a Sub-Lieutenant on 6 May 1914. He served with the Nelson Battalion at the Siege of Antwerp in autumn of 1914 and in December was posted to HMS Excellent. He then joined the Armoured Cruiser Black Prince on 20 January 1915. The Black Prince was part of the forward screen at Jutland and was damaged by a heavy shell. Though having to withdraw from action, she followed in line with Jellicoe’s fleet, lagging behind where she was a ripe target for five German battleships. German Vice-Admiral Scheer described her destruction as ‘a grand but terrible sight’ (Bennett 1964). The Black Prince was sunk sometime around midnight. Hutchison and the rest of the Black Prince’s crew were lost. Their names appear on the Naval Memorial in Portsmouth.
Charles Philip Tanner was born at the rectory at Cold Overton, Leicestershire, where his father was a clergyman in the Church of England. He enrolled to study engineering at the University of Glasgow in 1913, a year after Hutchison, following largely the same course schedule. Unlike Hutchison, Tanner stayed on after the outbreak of war, graduating on 25 April 1916. He was immediately commissioned as an Engineer Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, serving on the HMS Indefatigable. The Indefatigable was hit by two shells on the foc’sle and the fore turret at Jutland. The hit to the fore turret meant that crew were not able to close the magazine doors or flood the magazine, and an enormous explosion shortly followed. The ship was lost with all hands. Tanner’s name appears on the Naval Memorial in Plymouth.
Medicine: John MacIntyre and John Hislop
Two classmates, John MacIntyre and John Hislop, both medical students were also at Jutland. MacIntyre was from Gairloch, the son of a merchant. Hislop from Wishaw entered the University of Glasgow at the age of 16. Both men enrolled in 1912 to study medicine and took the same courses: first year consisted of Chemistry, Zoology, and Anatomy; followed by Physiology and Anatomy in year two; then Pathology, Materia Medica, and Clinical Surgery in third year. Both left university in 1915 to join the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. As third-year medical students, they were commissioned as Surgeon Probationers, the most junior of the Royal Navy’s Medical Branch. Surgeon Probationers gained practical experience by performing GP duties, in addition to attending battle casualties. In fact, MacIntyre and Hislop were receiving on-the-job training much as they would have if they stayed in Glagow, where third-year medical students worked on the wards of the city’s hospitals.
MacIntyre was posted to HMS Ardent. The Ardent was an Acasta-class destroyer built by William Denny & Brothers in Dumbarton. After initiating contact with a German ship, she found herself facing an entire division of battleships. According to the Official History, Ardent was reduced to “a mere mass of scrap-iron” in “a minute or so” with only two survivors. Lieutenant-Commander Marsden, one of the survivors, described “Our guns were useless against such adversaries; we could do no more than wait for the first salvo. … Shell after shell hit us, our speed diminished and then we stopped. Our three guns ceased firing one by one.” (Bennett 1964: 142) John MacIntyre’s body was recovered along with a number of other British and German casualties by a Norwegian submarine commander. They are interred at Tonsberg Old Cemetery on the Norwegian coast. Marsden said of his crew, “ All hands fought the ship with the utmost gallantry till she sank beneath them” (Ibid.: 143).
Meanwhile, Hutchison’s classmate, Hislop, was on HMS Nessus. Nessus saw heavy fighting just before dawn on 1 June, but Hislop was one of only a handful of crew lost during the battle. The Nessus survived Jutland, but was later sunk after a collision with the cruiser HMS Amphitrite while the ships were zig-zagging through the North Sea in a fog bank in September 1918. His name appears on Plymouth Naval Memorial.
Hutchison, Tanner, MacIntyre, and Hislop: these are men whose paths would have crossed in Glasgow – all of the same age, studying the same subjects, and largely following the same paths into naval service. Their stories are meaningful but not unique; they are just a few examples of individuals studying at institutions throughout the UK whose lives were interrupted by war.
Contrast their stories to that of Surgeon Lieutenant Alexander Bisset, from Islay, who enrolled at the University of Glasgow to study medicine in 1913 – just one year after MacIntyre and Hislop. In 1916 he interrupted his studies to enlist with the Royal Navy and his family later recalled how fond he was of relating how, on 31st May 1916, he was aboard the first ship to sail from Scapa Flow to the Battle of Jutland. The ship, HMS Gentian, a fleet minesweeper, was one of several sweeping the exit from Scapa Flow for the battleships and cruisers. Bisset survived the battle, and the war, completing his medical degree in 1919, and building a successful practice in Springburn. Bisset died in 1979 at the age of 83 surrounded by his family. This, perhaps, illustrates the true cost of the First World War better than any statistical analysis. What would the lives of Hutchison, Tanner, MacIntyre and Hislop have been like had they not been cut short at Jutland? What would they have gone on to accomplish?
Over the course of the next few years, the First World War Centenary is an opportunity to reflect upon the past: not only the battles, the strategies and the policies, but more importantly on the many men and women whose lives were impacted by war. We remember them not just as statistics in history books, but as individuals with hopes, fears and meaningful lives who walked the same streets as we do today, and who, despite the distance of one hundred years, were not so very different from us.
This paper was written as an address to the Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities Royal Naval Unit for their Jutland Dinner on 22 May 2015
Work cited: Bennett, G.M. 1964. The Battle of Jutland. London: Batsford.