Skagerrak: The Battle of Jutland Through German Eyes
By GARY STAFF
(Pen & Sword – £25)
ISBN 978 1 78383 123 4
It can be extremely interesting to look at a battle or campaign from the other side; recent books on Dunkirk and Operation BARBAROSSA give a radically different view of the evacuation and World War 2 on the Eastern front. They give a balanced view of these campaigns, but from the perspective of the other side of the fence. A German angle on the most contentious naval battle of the 20th century should be very welcome.
The author has been let down by his publisher. This would have been a much better book if it had been better edited. The translation of many of the sources is stilted, and for some reason the author has retained some words (e.g., ‘Flottille’, ‘offizier’, ‘torpedobootes’, etc.) in the original language, and the use of ‘cannons’ for guns is at best anachronistic. On the plus side, the maps are good, including mist banks and the wind and sun direction. Many of the photographs are new to this reviewer. Overall, this book contains a lot of interesting material, but often so badly presented that it is a difficult read.
The author includes what can only be speculation. For example, 5th Battle Squadron’s delay in turning to the SE, thus “One reason for this failure of communication was that flags alone were used for the signal…The message should have been repeated by searchlight’. (p44). There is no supporting reference for this assertion, and Marder records that it actually was passed by searchlight (Marder vol 3 p52), but delayed. Similarly, with no supporting references, Beatty’s delay in opening fire is ascribed to his being “…busy issuing final manoeuvring orders to his ships, ordering fire distribution and giving a report to Admiral Jellicoe…” Surely his staff would have dealt with most of this, even allowing for an incompetent signals officer? A fire eater like Beatty wouldn’t have been delayed in opening fire by administration!
There is no bibliography; study of the endnotes is the only way to see what sources the author has consulted. Regrettably the English language sources are far from eclectic, they appear to be confined to a book by an American Commander H. Frost (a Scheer admirer), Beesly’s book on Room 40, Jellicoe’s memoir and one reference to Marder as well as frequent references to ‘Jutland Despatch’ with no more detail, which makes the page numbers given useless.
A glossary would have been helpful, it was only possible to identify 1AG as the First Reconnaissance Group from the (admittedly exhaustive) appendix listing all the ships involved on both sides and the principal officers of German ships. Some explanatory details would have been helpful, particularly with regard to gunnery. Some passages are almost incomprehensible, with a lot of superfluous detail.
While some damage to British ships is described in detail, in a book on the German viewpoint, more on German damage would have been helpful, for example diagrams to help place Lutzow’s “flooding of compartment XIII from compartment XIV…through the un-tight [sic] sides of bulkhead 249”. More could have been made of the of the extract from Lutzow’s ‘trials final report’ “[o]nly the ship’s structural water tightness and closing of the drainage, flooding and feed water shutters give cause for complaint because of numerous leakages”. It is well known that Seydlitz tended to leak after firing her main armament, and the examination of Baden after the war suggested that this might have been a generic problem due to differing naval architectural standards and practices; this could have been discussed.
Unfortunately, this book lacks balance, it reads at times almost like an apologia for Admiral Scheer; for example, few would agree with the author’s contention that Scheer “took the initiative for the entire battle” (p.248) and similarly the discussion of the blockade does not bear deep examination. It’s a pity, but a book with an interesting viewpoint is also let down by poor editing and presentation.
 Robert Kershaw, Dunkirchen 1940: The German View of Dunkirk (Oxford: Osprey, 2022).
 Johnathan Trigg, Barbarossa Through German Eyes: The Biggest Invasion in History (Stroud: Amberley, 2022).