A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

By C. R. M. F. Cruttwell | Go to book overview

XVIII THE WAR IN THE NORTH SEA UNTIL JUTLAND

THE principal theatre of naval war presented a very singular contrast with its military counterpart in France. In the latter contact was close and incessant, fighting activity seldom quenched, many consecutive months consumed in the inexorable development of gigantic battles. In the North Sea, which is slightly larger in extent than the British Isles, as many months might elapse without an enemy's smoke appearing upon the waste of waters. In more than four years only three considerable cruiser actions occurred. Even in the one great general encounter, the battleships of the Grand Fleet, apart from the swift squadron detached with Beatty, were engaged for a bare half-hour. During this period their crews suffered the only casualties incurred throughout the war in battleship action against German gun-fire, two killed and four wounded. The total casualties of the Navy, of which perhaps three-quarters were in the North Sea, amounted to 39,812, or two-thirds those inflicted upon the British army on July 1st, 1916.1 The maintenance of security at sea, of which the Grand Fleet bore the prime burden, was thus achieved with an extraordinary economy of life.

The passive policy adopted by the High Seas Fleet on the outbreak of war has been already described. It was illustrated and intensified by the enterprising incursion into the Heligoland Bight on August 28th of our light forces, with battle-cruiser support. The scheme was conceived and its execution aided by Commodore Keyes of the Harwich force, whom we shall constantly see originating deeds of daring and surprise. His submarines regularly on watch off Heligoland had reported the routine by

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1
640,000 men served in the Navy during the war. The strength at the Armistice was 407,000. The total military casualties in France were about 2,750,000.

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