Battle of Jutland: The Navy’s Bloodiest Day

 HMS Queen Mary explodes during the Battle of Jutland
wahrscheinlich Deutsches Kriegs-Film- u. Bildamt - Der Weltkrieg 1914-1918 in seiner rauhen Wirklichkeit, München o. J. (um 1925), Public Domain.

First of all a vivid red flame shot up from her forepart. Then came an explosion forward which was followed by a much heavier explosion amidships... A gigantic cloud of smoke arose, the masts collapsed inwards, the smoke cloud hid everything and rose higher and higher... At its base the smoke column only covered a small area, but it widened towards the summit and looked like a monstrous black pine.
from Jutland 1916: The Archaeology of a Naval Battlefield by Innes McCartney

This is the eye witness account of Comander Georg von Hase, first gunnery officer on the German battlecruiser SMS Derfflinger, of the sinking of HMS Queen Mary, which led to the loss of 1,266 officers and men during the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of WW1. But what really happened and would HMS Queen Mary have survived had the massive explosions not occurred? Did HMS Queen Mary sink because of flaws in her design, her operation procedures, or just bad luck?

The end of May marks the centenary of the Battle of Jutland. Earlier this year I was approached by my former university professor ( Prof P Wilson, University of Southampton) to see if I would be interested in undertaking some computer simulations to help investigate the probable causes of the loss of HMS Queen Mary. Along with physical scale model experiments in the University of Southampton's new towing tank facility, these investigations were to form part of a TV documentary by True North to be aired on BBC2 (UK) on the 29th May: "Battle of Jutland: The Navy’s Bloodiest Day".

 SMS Seydlitz heavily damaged during the Battle of Jutland
Naval Historical Center Photo # NH 59637 Image was published on p. 130 of The Fighting at Jutland in 1921, Public Domain.

The scope of the numerical and physical simulations was to determine whether the sinking of HMS Queen Mary could be attributed to poor design or poor operation of the vessel. HMS Queen Mary was designed and built shortly after the RMS Titanic disaster on April 15th 1912. Lessons learnt, particularly relating to the importance of watertight integrety and specifically watertight decks, were applied to the design of HMS Queen Mary. Of particular interest was the comparison of the battlecruisers of British and German fleets: were the German vessels significantly better designed or were other factors at play which led to the loss of HMS Queen Mary? Could HMS Queen Mary have survived the damage inflicted on SMS Seydlitz which despite suffering around 27 hits, causing considerable damage and flooding, was able to limp back to port after the battle? A review of the design drawings of HMS Queen Mary and SMS Seydlitz show that the vessels were very similar in terms of main dimensions and also had similar watertight compartment layout with numerous watertight transverse bulkheads and several watertight decks.

Simulation of recreated damage and counterflooding on HMS Queen Mary

With the aid of the National Maritime museum who supplied digital copies of the original plans of HMS Queen Mary, I was able to generate a suitable model of HMS Queen Mary in Bentley System's naval architecture software package MAXSURF. From a detailed description of the time and damage caused by each of the hits sustained by SMS Seydlitz and some reports on the ingress of seawater into the vessel, I was able to simulate the effect similar damage would have had on HMS Queen Mary. Using MAXSURF Stability I was able to determine the attitude of the vessel in the water at intermediate stages of flooding and also assess the vessel's hydrostatic stability against capsize. These data were most easily visualized by an animation of the progressive flooding of the vessel. The results of these simulations, backed up by the model scale experiments indicated that it was unlikely that HMS Queen Mary would have been in a worse condition than SMS Seydlitz after receiving similar damage, and would most likely have survived the battle had the enormous explosions not occurred. To see the full story, don't forget to watch the documentary on BBC2 at 9pm on 29th May.

Pat Couser is the Product and Development Manager for Bentley’s MAXSURF.

 HMS Queen Mary
Von Symonds & Co. Photograph Q 21661A from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 2107-01), Public Domain.