On 31 May 1916, the greatest naval battle in history took place at the Skagerrak, the waters between Denmark and Norway. John Jellicoe commanded 28 battleships and 8 battle cruisers of the British Grand Fleet; opposing him were Reinhard Scheer’s 16 battleships and 5 battle cruisers of the German High Sea Fleet. There were four distinct phases of the battle: first, Franz Hipper attempted to lure David Beatty’s battle cruisers onto the High Sea Fleet; Beatty then turned north and sought to lure the High Sea Fleet onto Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet; next, Jellicoe attempted to cut Scheer’s battleships off from their home base; and finally, a confused night engagement between light craft brought the battle to an end. The British had lost 3 battle cruisers and 6,784 men, the Germans 1 battle cruiser and 3,039 men. Almost fifty warships had been damaged. The next morning Scheer limped home.
The British public saw the battle as a defeat. There had not been the expected “second Trafalgar” of 1805. Still, while a German tactical victory, Jutland was a British strategic triumph. Scheer never challenged the entire Grand Fleet again, and instead recommended unrestricted submarine warfare to Kaiser Wilhelm II—a course of action that brought the United States into the war on the Allied side in April 1917.
The author, Jellicoe’s grandson, suggests a double entendre in the subtitle. Not only was the actual naval battle “unfinished,” but the postwar war of words over who had “lost” Jutland, Jellicoe or Beatty, also remained “unfinished.” The author apportions equal blame to both British admirals. The issue at stake, he concludes, “had been sea power” rather than a single battle. After Jutland, the Royal Navy exercised sea power; the Germans still sought it.