A Battle of Jutland Report believed to have been written by Able Seaman James William Hayman J15047 on board HMS Iron Duke
An email received on 11th October 2020 from Tim Bullimore
"The letter was among some papers belonging to my mum. My dad can't shed any light on the name."
"There is a signature of the final page, but I cannot make it out."
“A rough account of the ‘naval Engagement’ between the ‘British and German Fleets’ off the coast of Jutland on the afternoon and evening of 31st May & early morning of 1st June 1916.
May 30th 1916
A beautiful summer morning, and the “Grand Fleet” lies peacefully at anchorage at its dismal northern base, the water is like a millpond, only a very slight breeze is blowing the smoke from the funnells of these ships of war, only a slight breeze, a very unusual coincidence for a place that holds the name of ‘Scapa Flow’. Sailors of “His Majesties Warships” are already astir, cleaning the decks of these majestic monsters, who in a few hours time would be upholding the traditions of the “Royal Navy”. They go about there duties as usual, with that determined look on there faces, for has not nearly two years of ceaseless vigil, and anxious waiting, hardened & bittered the hearts of these men, towards the germans, and made them more determined that when they did get the chance to have a tussle with the barbarians, they would see that they would see that they did not escape very lightly. So the day wore on, and evening with its cooling breezes
relieves the heat of a hot summers day, yet a dull and monotonous one to these men, whose profession is on the sea, and who are now sitting, walking, or lounging about smoking on the decks of lazy, tire looking grey hulks. But suddenly the still evening air is pierced by the sound of bugles, echoing there note of obedience, throughout the ships, and by the sounds of the tramping of many feet as the men run to obey the bugles call. But why all this disturbance? And why all this quietness broken? Why, because the fleet flagship. “H.M.S.Iron Duke” is flying at her masthead, a string of flags, which denotes that all ships are to raise steam, and prepare to leave harbour. On looking at these ships again, one see’s boats being hoisted inboard, all things movable on deck are being lashed down, so that in case rough weather is encountered, things will not get lost or damaged. One also see’s clouds of thick black smoke issuing from all these funnells, for the ‘black squad’ whose work is right down in the bowels of the ship, are working hard to get steam, which will send these mammoth ships through the water, at an average speed of twenty three miles an hour. Suddenly a new sound is detected
all around, another string of flags has been hauled down, and the ships anchors and cables are being hoisted from there muddy bed, to there stowages in the fore part of the ship. In a few moments everything will be ready, for these ships we see, are the main bodyguard of Englands shores, and they are about to proceed on one of there periodical sweeps of the great north sea, to clear it of any of the enemies craft that may be lurking there, and come within its gigantic sweep. Slowly at first, but withever increasing speed, until the required speed is reached, these monster ships that were lying idly at there anchors all day but are now full of life and vigour, begin to move through the water, and proceed to there station allotted to them by the flagships before leaving harbour, and these stations they retain until further orders are received from the flagship “Iron Duke” who carries the flag of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, the man to whom England has entrusted her well being as far as the defence of her shores are concerned. The men in whom all the sailors have placed there trust, who they love for his considerations & thoughtfulness which are always for his men. The man who holds the lives of thousands of men
in the hollow of his hand, who as but to speak, and his word of command is communicated to the fleet, which is spread for miles around, but is received & carried out within a few minutes of his having spoke it. So the fleet steams on through the night, and one looking at these great monsters, wonders that there are no serious accidents occur, for not a single light is to be seen, because in war, no light of any sort whatever is allowed above decks. All is quiet and still save for the swish of the water as it is parted, and thrown into confusion, by the knife like bow’s of these mammoth ships, that are eating up, mile upon mile, the great expanse of the great north sea, and so the night creeps on, and the dawn of another day approaches.
May 31st 1916
Although keeping the sea’s clear of would be trespassers, the fleet has its practices to do for we are told that practice makes perfect and when the time comes to show what these practices have done for us, no doubt it will be shown that they have brought us up close to the mark. So we see them in the early hours of the morning of 31st May exercising there battle tactics, little knowing that within
a very few hours, they would be doing the self same thing in real earnest, for the cause of justice and right. And so during the whole of the forenoon these exercises were carried out, and ships were steaming, sationed line abreast each side of “Iron Duke” The first intimation of any liviness on the enemies part was received at about 3pm, when a wireless message was received by “Iron Duke” from “H.M.S. Lion”, flagship of Sir David Beatty, who was in command of the Battle Cruiser Fleet, which was also on a periodical sweep in conjuction with the Battle Fleet. The message received was as follows “Am in contact with enemies battle cruiser fleet” and later “Enemies Battle fleet sighted & am engaged with enemies battle cruisers”, and am drawing them on to you”. So here we find the enemies Battle Fleet and Battle Cruiser Fleet engaging our Battle Cruiser Fleet alone, with odds against us as three to one. But never yet has it been known that a Britisher has run away without leaving its mark behind, and so Beatty fought on, until such time as help should arrive from the main forces, who were hasening as fast as there engines could drive them, to the scene of action. At 4pm, action stations was sounded, & within two minutes, everything and
everybody was ready. Men were in high spirits, for had they not waited nearly two years for this opportunity, and now it had arrived, everybody was determined that the result should be victory, for it was this that they were fighting. Probably the only time that any man felt nervous was between 4pm and 6.25 pm, the time elapsing before the first gun was fired. Just before 6pm guns were heard firing, and the flashes could be faintly seen, shooting from those monstrous weapons, slightly off the starboard bow, but the ships could not be seen owing to a slight haze which had arisen, but has the ships drew nearer, so the ships showed out indistinctly through the haze, and here was where ships had to approach with great caution, for it had to be ascertained whether the ships we had seen, were our own or the enemies. After ascertaining our ships, we steamed into battle formation into the action, “Iron Dukes” first target, was a german light cruiser, which suddenly appeared, but was soon put out of action and set on fire by the “Iron Dukes” light guns. Soon afterwards a wreck could be seen at some distance from the ship, which was at
first mistaken for a wrecked enemy zeppelin, but on closing in towards it we were informed by a destroyer which was standing by, that it was the battle cruiser “Invincible” which had been hit & sunk in the early part of the engagement. Only about a dozen men out of a ships company of fifteen to sixteen hundred being alive to tell the tale of her short lived prowess. The action was a starboard side action, but the “Iron Duke” having centre line guns, was able to us all of her 13.5 armament with very good effects. The port side light guns assisted the starboard ammunition numbers to feed there light calibre guns. The next target that “Iron Duke” fired at was a ship of the “Kaiser” or “Koenig” class. She fired five salvos of 13.5s at her which hit each time, when the enemy craft blew up and sunk. Owing to the mist, which is a very great draw back to a man of the sea, we unfortunately lost sight of the enemy for a time, but it gave all hands a few minutes respite, and a chance to gain a second breath, as it were. But later we again encountered ships to the same class as before, and one of these at which “Iron Duke”
fired was heavily it, and listed violently at the same time turning from the line, heavily on fire and was later was reported sunk by a British destroyer. During the latter part of the action, enemy destroyers attacked out squadron, but were repulsed, “Iron Duke” adding to her credit two of the craft which she sunk with her light guns. There were no survivors from these two destroyers, so that they had gained nothing by that little episode. By now the huns were well on the run, and so the action drew in to a running fight, and the enemy was fleeing for its very existence, to its naval basis again. But there was still great hopes, that during the night, they would be cut off, and brought to action again in the early morning for our own ships were only running into danger by following them up now and it is just what the huns would have wished us to do, to follow them and probably strike there mine fields, and then there would have been disaster indeed. But unfortunately we did not cut them off as was hoped. But our light forces, consisting of light cruisers and destroyers, were able to keep up
and in touch with the returning enemy craft and do an enormous amount of damage to them. The whole British fleet remained at general action stations all night.
1st June 1916
At 2am a zeppelin was sighted & reported, and she was fired at by one of our battle ships who failed to hit her owing to the mist, and altitude at which she was flying. Great disappointment prevailed throughout the fleet, at being unable to bring the enemies fleet to action again, owing probably , to the zeppelin on escaping, communicating our position to her other naval forces. But we had the satisfaction of knowing that the enemy had been seriously harassed by our lighter forces, up to an early hour. I myself witnessed at a great distance, some of the lighter forces engaged, and my impression was, that it must have been ‘hell upon earth’ to have been in the midst of such a tornado of shell and fire. It was a glorious scene, yet horrible, and one which will live in my memory for ever. To think that every sound of the gun heard & flash of the gun seen was but only a part of the work being done what were the shells which
had left those guns doing, why, dealing death on all sides, but is is war, and death lurks near every mothers son, in such times as this.
There is no doubt that the “German Fleet” must have suffered something terrible in these short yet sharp engagements, and we to had lost some good ships, and worse still, men whose lives could not be brought back in this world again, men who had given there lives for justice and liberty and who had left dear ones to mourn there great loss. Fortunately only one of our Battle Fleet received any damage and that was “H.M.S. Colossus” she was hit in her upper structure, and there was nobody killed and only a few minor casualties. All that could be done now was to sweep the area in which the action had taken place, to pick up survivors and stray ships. Survivors were found but no ships. We then turned our ships bows towards home and arrive a based early on the 2nd July [sic]. We then coaled, oiled, ammunition & was ready for sea again by the evening of the same day.
2nd June 1916
So on the 2nd June, we again find
the ‘British Grand Fleet” anchored at its dismal northern base, little the worse for its short, but bitter encounter with the ememies fleet. The mens hearts were much lighter, for they had had what they had waited many weary months for, and the tradition of the “Royal Navy” which had never yet been broken, still remained unbroken. The dreadful monotony of waiting had been severed by a few hours of high pressure excitement and all felt all the better for it. But now as ships lay straining at the [paper torn] as a [paper torn] its leash as the men [paper torn] ork with were us[paper torn] alacrity one has time to think what he has really been through although at the supreme moment, he fears nothing he suddenly thinks what might have been. He has perhaps lost mess-mates or perhaps a chum, but after all it might have been himself, and then he would have left dear ones at home, to mourn over there loss, of one who had died for the cause of liberty and justice. So the usual routine goes on as if nothing had happened, each knows that he has done his best, and all are satisfied, and that if the chance comes again he will do his best to do better still for liberty & justice