Jutland: The Day Before
The Grand Fleet, pictured the next morning, steaming for Jutland.
May 30 1916, London–For the last month, Admiral Scheer had been planning to use Hipper’s battlecruisers in a raid on Sunderland to draw British battlecruisers into a U-boat trap. Delays due to bad weather and repairs forced this to be a sortie into the Skagerrak instead, so that the trap could be sprung before the U-boats ran out of fuel. The British, however, were well aware that the Germans were up to something, even before Hipper departed.
Room 40 was able to decode a large amount of German wireless traffic that gave clear indications as to the German plans. Over the last few days, the sheer number of messages between U-boats at sea and the mainland was notable. At 9:52 AM on May 30, Scheer ordered the High Seas Fleet to assemble in the outer reaches of the Jade basin. At 10:08 AM, the U-boats were warned to “reckon with [undeciphered] forces at sea” on May 31 and June 1; whether the message referred to British or German forces did not much matter; something was clearly afoot. At 3:36 PM, Scheer signaled “31 G.G. 2490″; Room 40 took the 31 to refer to May 31, and the latter portion some highly secret written order.
At 5:16 PM, the Admiralty ordered Jellicoe and Beatty out to sea, telling them a half hour later “Germans intend some operations commencing tomorrow morning leaving via Horns Reef. You should concentrate to eastward of Long Forties ready for eventualities.” The Grand Fleet began to leave Scapa Flow at 9:30 PM, as Beatty’s force left Rosyth. In all, they had 28 dreadnoughts and nine battlecruisers; the original Dreadnought herself was guarding the Thames Estuary along with some pre-dreadnoughts. One of those dreadnoughts was the Collingwood, aboard which was Prince Albert (later King George VI); at the time, he was recovering from an incredibly severe hangover.
Jellicoe was eager to take advantage of aerial reconnaissance to find the Germans, but the aircraft carrier Campania somehow did not get the order to raise steam and was left behind by accident.
The Germans did not set out themselves until later, with Hipper’s battlecruisers not departing until 1AM and Scheer’s 16 dreadnoughts not leaving until 2:30 AM. Tomorrow, they hoped, would be Der Tag, the day they finally met some sizable portion of the British fleet in battle.
Today in 1915: King’s African Rifles Attack Across Lake Nyasa
Sources include: Patrick Beesly, Room 40; Robert K. Massie, Castles of Steel.