Big Guns Of Jutland

This summer the Starfish Enterprise diving team headed for the North Sea to hunt down the 'shallow' (50-60m) wrecks of the world's biggest naval engagement, the Battle of Jutland. Innes McCartney, whose great-uncle was a boy-gunner who took part in the WW1 battle and was rendered deaf for life, tells the story of the groundbreaking expedition.
This summer the Starfish Enterprise diving team headed for the North Sea to hunt down the 'shallow' (50-60m) wrecks of the world's biggest naval engagement, the Battle of Jutland. Innes McCartney, whose great-uncle was a boy-gunner who took part in the WW1 battle and was rendered deaf for life, tells the story of the groundbreaking expedition.

We were diving on the Lutzow, one of the largest wrecks in the Jutland battlefield area.

This 26,000 ton battlecruiser was abandoned by her crew after sustaining major damage in several engagements in the 1916 conflict, and sank in 44m.

As this was the first dive of the Starfish Enterprise Jutland 2000 expedition, we were not sure what to expect.

However, as soon as we jumped into the clear water and looked down, we knew this was going to be a great dive site.


Visibility on the wreck was around 15m and our eyes quickly became accustomed to the light levels.

The main gun turrets on the bow were among the first features to be inspected, and here we found a mass of interesting items, including several dozen 12in shells and a large section of one of the main ammunition hoists, containing many more rounds.

Schools of large Atlantic cod surrounded us as we investigated further. Out on the sand were countless examples of the largest brass shellcases any of us had ever seen, more than 12in in diameter and around 4-5ft long.

We continued along the port side of the wreck, and stumbled across an array of brass carrying-handles, used for hauling shellcases and bags of propellant around the turrets.


These lay piled on top of one another, surrounded by 12in ammunition. On our return to the upline, we passed one of Lutzow’s bronze torpedo-launching doors, the German writing on it clearly visible.

Our return dive on this site provided another fascinating insight into a World War One battleship.

All down the starboard side of the wreck were the 6in gun barbettes, or platforms, lined up with the guns pointing down onto the sand below.

Each barbette appeared to have been fitted with its own small rangefinder, and these made excellent photographic subjects.


As we approached the stern, the evidence of commercial salvage conducted in the 1960s became evident.

The wreck had been conveniently blown open, giving good glimpses into the engine compartments and accommodation areas.

Many condensers lay close to the wreckage, along with more ammunition.

We would stop for a third dive here as we meandered home at the end of the trip, and see one of the massive gun turrets lying upside-down next to the main wreckage, where speaking tubes, telegraphs, ammunition, lights and other features were all clearly visible.

Long way from shore

The Lutzow, 110 miles from the Danish coast, was the furthest offshore that any of the Starfish Enterprise team had ever dived. It was even more remote than the wreck of the Andrea Doria on Nantucket Shoals.

The team had been the first to dive the Lusitania (1994, 1995) and the first amateurs to dive HMHS Britannic (1998).


Now we had consulted with the MoD before taking on the challenge of diving the Jutland war graves.

Our boat Loyal Watcher, operated by Deep Blue Diving, was a 150 ton ex-navy auxiliary vessel equal to the sometimes-hostile waters of the North Sea.

From Ramsgate, the distance to the centre of the Jutland battlefield is 380 miles.

The challenges were to come in the form of deep repetitive diving, bad weather and unreliable wreck-position information.

The first week, during which we carried out the first two dives on Lutzow, was conducted in an average sea state of Force 5-7.


We sheltered in the Danish port of Esbjerg for two days and then the weather cleared to a sunny 2-4, transforming the North Sea from a scary, desolate place into a veritable cruise location!

This weather was to stay with us, and we made hay. At the height of the expedition, we conducted eight dives with an average depth of 55m over four days, requiring good dive-planning and ultra-cautious decompression procedures.

Looking for warships was time-consuming. Primary positional information came from Danish fishermen and the UK Hydrographic Office and, with our Satnav, GPS and Decca-based information checked for accuracy, Loyal Watcher simply had to set up search patterns and keep looking.


Into the gloom

The best information is almost always of local origin, and that provided by Danish fishermen usually provided us with wreckage, although its identity was not always easy to work out from the historic sinking positions.

In the heat of battle, it seems, position-fixing is not a priority!

After the great dives on Lutzow, we looked forward to similar experiences on our next target, HMS Black Prince.

However, being closer to Denmark, this site had a siltier seabed, and the poor visibility made it hard to evaluate what we were looking at.

Black Prince was blown up following combined gunfire from the German battleships Ostfriesland and Thuringen, and went down in fewer than four minutes.


The wreck took us some time to locate, being nearly half a mile from the commonly reported position, at a depth of 49m.

We were in the habit of placing strobe lights on the upline to help us get back to it, and on this dive they were essential, because once all 12 divers had passed the shot at the stern, visibility was down to practically nil.

In bad viz, we had to work in ‘close’ with our cameras, satisfying ourselves with identifying and shooting smaller subjects.

We saw furnace bricks stamped ‘Douglas’ and, in the engine room area, some large electric motors. Out on the sand we found a row of portholes that appeared to be shut and covered.

Divers who ran bottom lines out from the shot managed to fin along the side of the wreck for most of its length, and reported that the bows were in better condition than the stern.


This was an exceptional piece of diving, but we decided not to dive the wreck again because of the viz, and to head north to find battlecruisers.

HMS Invincible blew in half and sank in seconds after intensive shelling by Derfflinger and other German battlecruisers. So shattering was the internal explosion that only six of the 1037 crew were rescued.

Invincible was the third British battlecruiser to be lost in this way.

Admiral Beatty’s exclamation: ‘There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!’ underlines the shock and surprise caused by these tragic events.

The wreckage of this once proud warship was photographed at the time and indicated that she had been blown in two, with the bow and stern sections pointing skyward as the broken midships section rested on the seabed.


This became a defining photograph of the Battle of Jutland.

Our first dive was on a large section of wreckage lying in 54m, some 300m from the other large part of the wreck.

It was hoped that this would prove to be the stern area, reported by the 1991 expedition to be upright. What we found provided an incredible spectacle Ð an entire gun turret, still sporting two 12in guns, lying upside-down on the sand and surrounded by debris.

Only the most devastating of explosions could have caused so much damage to a mighty 17,420 ton warship.

Circling this extraordinary underwater site proved a curious experience, like walking around the outside of a three-storey roundhouse with 6in-thick iron walls.

Mist on the lenses

At the bottom of the turret was a swimthrough that took us beneath the entire structure. From here, we looked up into the cavernous hole to see piles of cordite cases, cables and other items inside.


Passing out the other side, we were confronted with the huge gun breeches lying on the sand, their 2ft bronze doors closed.

Immediately noticeable on the bottom during dives on this northern group of wrecks was the water temperature.

It was a bone-chilling 8°C, which made me particularly pleased with my O’Three drysuit, now well into its third season.

During our ascents we experienced a marked thermocline at 12m, where the temperature rose to 12-13?C in only a few metres.

Such a rapid temperature change played havoc with video and photographic equipment, creating a light mist on the inside of the lenses which took several minutes to clear.

However, it was the visibility on Invincible which was so special, among the best any of the team had encountered in the Northern hemisphere.


With overcast skies, we could still see more than 20m when on the bottom, and view the entire turret with guns from above and below Ð a magnificent sight.

Sadly, the still photographs we obtained on this and other wrecks failed to reflect the sheer clarity of the water.

In half but united

Our second dive here, which led us to the largest piece of wreckage located, was one of the most awe-inspiring dives I have ever done.


It had become apparent that earlier reports of this wreck being broken in two, with the halves separated by a debris field, were incorrect. The two halves lay next to one another.

In towering visibility, we witnessed warship diving at its best. We swam past and into a massive turret ring standing vertically on the sand, its runners clearly visible.

We swam over the main mast, and could see the entry door for the gunnery spotters, and its internal ladder that allowed them to ascend inside the mast.


Finning forward to regain the upline, we passed over a large section of the main deck, still exquisitely laid with teak. Our ascent was a little scary, like the descent, because a large net close to the line had to be traversed.

Our third and last visit to the Invincible proved to be the dive of the expedition. Richie Stevenson, Doug Friday and I swam directly to the stern and found the gun turret.

This is probably the only location in the Northern hemisphere where a diver can see two 12in guns pointing majestically out across the seabed.

Clearer and clearer

Aside from being a reminder of the awesome firepower of the Jutland battleships, this was one of the most imposing underwater sights I had ever seen, akin to my first sight of the Andrea Doria, or the imposing promenade deck of the Britannic.


We swam around the turret, studying its features and capturing the best images we could. The top had been blown off, affording us a great view of the shell-handling equipment and gun breeches.

After our allotted, all-too-short bottom time, we slowly swam back to the upline, passing over some of HMS Invincible’s furnace bricks on the way.

If we thought viz was good over the Invincible, that on HMS Queen Mary was unbelievable!

The vessel was hit by shells from German battlecruisers Derfflinger and Seydlitz during phase one of the Battle of Jutland. Of the crew of 1266, only 20 survived.

Like Invincible and Indefatigable, Queen Mary blew to pieces in seconds, going down bow-first with her propellers still rotating.

It took an hour to find the wreck and work out that it lay north-west to south-east and was around 150m long.

The highest point stood up 15m, and it was here that we chose to dive. Our dive was characterised by the most spectacular underwater visibility I have seen in the North Atlantic area Ð in excess of 30m.

This was helped when the sun put in an appearance from behind the usually overcast sky. At 45m, it was possible to see features on the sand at 60m.

At the deepest part of the wreck, off on its port side, we located one of Queen Mary’s turrets upside-down on the sand, the guns buried under the main body of the wreck.

Lying beneath it at 61m were the remains of one of the vessel’s tenders, the propellers clearly visible.

This fitted with the contemporary account of a tender seen flying through the air 200ft above the exploding wreck.

Shell room on tiptoe

Our second dive here took us slightly further along the wreck. I dived with Tim Elley, our first job to secure the shotline into the wreck with rope.

On arriving, we saw that the grapnel had fallen down into one of the shell rooms, and I found myself surrounded by 13.5in armament, gingerly tying the shot to a girder and trying not to disturb anything.

My reward was some great video footage of one of the warship’s magazines.

Tim and I came across a number of Queen Mary’s 42 boilers scattered around on the lowest areas of wreckage. Viz was again extraordinary, currents benign and the water cold!

The sun broke through during the dive, illuminating the wreck 60m below Ð fantastic!

Towards the end of the dive, we located a temperature sensor for one of the boilers, marked Fire Furnace No 1.


This and the 13.5in shells proved beyond doubt that this was the British battlecruiser we believed it to be.

Many believe the North Sea to be a barren stretch of water, but during the expedition we saw much interesting marine life from the boat alone, including seals, dolphins and at least one minke whale.

On the wrecks, all the divers reported seeing the largest cod they had ever seen, even larger wolf-fish and many a whopping crustacean.

During the decompression phase of the dives, huge, multi-coloured jellyfish of many species surrounded us, offering fascinating close-up views and some close-up stings.

But it is the sight of those intact guns on Invincible that will remain forever etched into my memory.


Fought in the summer of 1916, Jutland was the only major encounter between Britain and Germany at sea during WW1, and remains the largest naval conflagration ever to have ever taken place, bigger even than the massive battles in the Pacific in WW2. Twenty-five ships Ð 14 British and 11 German Ð were sunk, and 8645 sailors died.

British Naval intelligence got wind of the German High Seas Fleet’s plan to sail from its bases in the Jade River to bombard England’s east coast, and Britain’s Grand Fleet was sent to intercept it.

Churchill summed up the significance of the situation when he said that the British commander, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, was the only man who could ‘lose the war in an afternoon’.

In the first phase of the battle, Admiral Beatty’s battlecruiser fleet and the 5th battle squadron met the advance battlecruiser units of the High Seas Fleet in an intense engagement in which the Queen Mary and Indefatigable were sunk.

Realizing that the entire German battlefleet was approaching, Beatty turned and attempted to lure it under the guns of Jellicoe’s battlefleet, hurrying to the scene from the north.

Jellicoe was able to ‘cross the T’, the classic naval deployment. It was during this phase of the battle that the most intense gunnery duels broke out.

The German fleet received significant damage, though another British battlecruiser, Invincible, was sunk. Under Admiral Scheer’s guidance, the Germans were able to disengage and head for home.

The third phase of the battle was a series of confused actions from late afternoon into the night. The German battlecruiser Lutzow, the pre-dreadnought battleship Pommern and three light cruisers were sunk. The British lost several destroyers and the armoured cruiser Black Prince.

Neither side won a conclusive victory, but the High Seas Fleet never again menaced the Royal Navy’s supremacy in the North Sea. In strategic terms at least, Jutland could be regarded as a British victory.

However, the British lost more ships and discovered serious design problems among the battlecruisers and in the larger-weight armour-piercing shells, as many as 50 per cent of which proved to be duds.

Some historians claim that Jellicoe was unable to force his advantage into a major victory because his light forces were too undisciplined to provide regular scouting and positional reports.

High-quality German gunnery, ship design and seamanship challenged the worldwide perception of Royal Navy invincibility at Jutland. The German fleet was first back to port and to broadcast the results of the battle, portraying it as a German victory.

Jellicoe’s masterful control of the Grand Fleet in testing circumstances seemed to the public less glamorous than Beatty’s foolhardy scrap with the battlecruisers. Jellicoe’s career languished, while Beatty became First Sea Lord, the final irony of the Battle of Jutland.

Throughout this month Deep Blue Diving is running five-day mixed-gas dive training courses out of Plymouth aboard Loyal Watcher, which is the company’s own liveaboard. For details call 01260 297990 or visit Deepblu website.


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