How Jutland remembers the thousands who died in the world’s largest sea battle

MAY 31st in 1916 was a cold Wednesday morning.

In the North Sea there were thousands of sailors on warships waiting on the rolling grey waves. The German High Seas Fleet were confronting the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet for supremacy of the seas.

At 4.48pm, the battle began.

Most of us have images of the First World War being fought in muddy trenches but one of its biggest battles took place at sea. There were 6,000 British mariners and 2,000 German seaman onboard hundreds of ships.

They were stationed 55 miles off the west coast of Jutland, Denmark. Squeezed in the middle, the Danes remained neutral.

Those living nearest to land said could they could hear the violent gunshots and later they’d see the bodies of the men who had died wash up on the beaches.

Entire crews drowned by direct hits. Others burned to death as fire ripped through their ships. Those rescued from the water were severely injured and suffered shell shock.

War is a tragedy and should not be glorified but the history must be told and the victims remembered

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The worst news came 12 hours later: 8,645 sailors had perished and 25 ships had sunk. Both sides claimed they’d won even though Britain had suffered the greatest loss of life.

Known as the Battle of Jutland, this became what historians called the greatest sea battle in history due to the scale of lives lost.

Fought in the water, there was has never been burial site to remember those killed.

Today huge granite head stones stand as one of the largest war memorials in Europe.

It’s been built on the site closest to the battle, in a small fishing village in Thyborøn, West Jutland. Twenty-six stones have been positioned on the beach representing the exact location where the ships sank to the seabed.

Each carries the name of a battle ship that went down – HMS Fortune, HMS Turbulent, SMS Pommern, SMS V 4. One extra represents victims who died from other ships.

The memorial park that can be even seen from far away sitting on the landscape is a stark visualisation of the huge loss of life.

Built among the long grass on the sand, it was completed in 2016 to commentate 100 years since the Battle of Jutland.

It will also include 8,645 individual figures – reminiscent of the sea of red poppies at the Tower of London in 2014.

The nearby Sea War Museum includes salvaged remains from the wrecks. Twenty-three of the 25 ships were located. HMS Warrior sank on its way home and SMS V 4 went down farther south – neither have been found.

At the entrance of the museum, a plaque reads: “War is a tragedy and should not be glorified but the history must be told and the victims remembered.”

Inside another explains that this was “the war that changed everything: Three empires were lost, there was revolution in Russia, Germany became a republic, France was seriously weakened, the British Empire fell apart, the United States became a world power and much, much more.”

They thought the battle would decide the outcome of the war but the fighting raged on for another two years.

Ultimately Britain took victory as it still had the larger navy and continued to rule the North Sea. Germany never challenged the fleet again.

About Chalkmarks
Author Natalie Chalk

Natalie Chalk is a journalist and travel writer who has worked on the news desks of the MailOnline and the Daily Express. She has recently written about learning to burlesque in Czechia, surf in Norway and wander the medieval streets of Malta for which she was nominated for the Malta Tourism Award 2014. She’s written for all the UK’s national newspapers with travel features appearing in the Guardian, TNT Magazine and Express Newspapers. She has lived in Peru, Nigeria and Portugal and earlier this year she returned to London after travelling the world for 14 months, visiting 39 cities. In 2017, Chalkmarks.co.uk was named Top 10 UK Travel Bloggers.

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