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Commemorative Events Mark The Centenary Of The Battle Of Jutland

The centenary of the biggest naval engagement of World War One is being marked by commemorative events.

A service at St Magnus Cathedral in Orkney will pay tribute to the 8,648 sailors who died during the Battle of Jutland. A service of remembrance will also take place on board HMS Duncan at Jutland Bank, the site of the battle.

The battle was fought near the coast of Denmark on 31 May and 1 June 1916 and involved about 250 ships. It saw the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet, based at Scapa Flow in Orkney, clash with the German High Seas Fleet.

Prime Minister David Cameron and German President Joachim Gauck are attending the service at St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, along with the Princess Royal and her husband Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, representing the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Events will continue with a service at Lyness Cemetery on the island of Hoy – the final resting place for more than 450 service personnel who died in the war, including sailors killed at Jutland.

The Duke of Edinburgh had also been due to attend the events, but has pulled out following medical advice. Representatives of all the other nations connected to the battle – Australia, Canada, Ireland, Japan, Malta, New Zealand and South Africa – will also be at the cathedral. The commemoration is being led by the minister of the cathedral, Fraser MacNaughton. He has been be joined by the Royal Navy’s chaplain of the fleet, the Venerable Ian Wheatley, and a German naval chaplain.

In the North Sea, The German ship FGS Schleswig-Holstein will join HMS Duncan at Jutland Bank.

Many relatives of those who took part in the battle are in Orkney to join the commemorations.

Alexander Nicol’s grandfather John drowned when HMS Invincible exploded and went down with the loss of more than 1,000 men. He left a wife and eight children. Mr Nicol said: “I’m fortunate enough to be a grandfather in my own right… My grandfather didn’t live to see any of his children get married, let alone to see any of his grandchildren. So to me it’s a privilege that he missed out on.”

Michael Mulford’s father Mark survived the battle as a teenager aboard the HMS Malaya, which was hit eight times with the loss of more than 60 men. Mr Mulford said his father, then 19, had watched as the bodies were sewn into hammocks and released over the side. “I can’t really imagine it because what he ever said about it was absolutely nothing – which speaks volumes for the horror of raw naval warfare,” he said. “This was duty, this was service, but whatever else, it was nothing you could talk about at the dinner table. It was not something to regale the grandchildren with. It was long ago, it was dreadful but it had to be done and was done.”

Mr Mulford added: “Today is a day for peace and reconciliation. Today, 100 years on we wonder what our forefathers were doing. “They were fighting each other across in the North Sea. Today we are at peace and we should be really grateful and defend that for all time.”

How The Battle Of Jutland Unfolded

The Battle of Jutland was the only major sea battle of World War One. It was a battle that Britain, with its long naval tradition, was widely expected to win. Germany’s fleet, under the command of Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer, was aware of the Royal Navy Grand Fleet’s superiority in terms of numbers, and wanted to lure Britain’s battle cruisers into a trap.

The German admiral’s strategy was to draw portions of the British fleet into battle with a strike at Allied shipping off the Norwegian coast. However, British admiralty intelligence intercepted a German radio message saying the High Seas Fleet was preparing to leave port and the commander of the British fleet, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, sailed from Scapa Flow in Orkney to intercept it.

There were a series of clashes throughout 31 May, including the loss of HMS Indefatigable which was hit by German shellfire and exploded in a ball of flame. From a crew of 1,019 men, only two survived.

HMS Queen Mary was also sunk, with the loss of 1,266 crew. The main battle began at about 18:30 on 31 May when Vice-Admiral Scheer realised he was up against the entire British Grand Fleet.

At the end of the engagement, the British had lost more in terms of ships and men, but it later emerged the Germans had concealed the scuttling of two of their ships, and it soon became seen as a strategic victory for the Royal Navy.

In a message on the St Magnus order of service, the Duke of Edinburgh said that, whatever the judgement on the outcome, the commemorations were focused on the “endurance and gallantry” of all those who took part. “War may be senseless and the Battle of Jutland may have been inconclusive, but there can be no doubt that their sacrifice was not in vain,” he said. “Historians may differ in their opinions about who won and who lost, but the fact remains that the German High Seas Fleet was unable to effectively challenge the Royal Navy’s dominance at sea for the rest of the war.”