Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, December 29, 2017

British Shell Failure at Jutland



After Jutland, Still Afloat

The German battlecruiser SMS Seydlitz (above) survived 24 large shell hits from Royal Naval dreadnoughts during the Battle of Jutland. How was this possible? 

The answer is that British naval armor-piercing shells proved to be utterly inadequate to the challenge. They were brittle and frequently simply disintegrated on contact without penetration. When the explosive content did activate, it proved to be too weak to ensure an effective impact explosion. The Germans shells, in contrast, had delayed action fuses that considerably improved their efficacy. (Source: WFA Website)

12 comments:

  1. Didn't they test the shells in the proceeding years? They had plenty of pre-dreadnoughts to use.

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    1. Jellicoe had for years attempted to have realistic gunnery tests for large calibre British naval shells. The response was always the same 'too expensive' and he was turned down. The British shells were only tested at 'normal' impact angles, however since 1910 improvements in fire control and torpedo range had dramatically increased the expected range of naval combat and thus the impact obliquity. Not only were the shells a problem the cordite was also of highly varying quality thus making shell grouping a problem as well. The problem was not solved until the advent of the 'green shell' in mid 1918.

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  2. And the real reason is far more complex than these few sentences make it out to be. This is a well researched area, I would expect a bit more detail here, like; better armor on German warships, better compartmentalization etc. Of course, that extra armor came at a price; short legs for the German fleet (short range due to heavier design GRT and the lack of space to carry more coal). And, what happened to the Lutzow??

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  3. If the British didn't have the right shells it is then also a failure of Naval intelligence to know what they needed.

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  4. It is hardly a matter for Naval Intelligence. Finding the enemy ships was their job. The Brits got their gunnery problems somewhat resolved because they could generally his what was in range. The shells were an Ordnance problem (like our torpedoes in WW II).
    T. Morgan

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    1. Naval Intel is about more than just finding the ships. It's about discovering their capabilities, weaknesses, trying to analyze movements to anticipate plans, what countermeasures are best vs their guns, quality of crews, temperment of senior officers - - lots and lots of things come under the Intel umbrella.

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  5. It is my understanding the British were using a shell filler called Lyddite which basically is Picric Acid which is known for producing a load and very bright explosion, effective against people but lacking the horsepower needed to destroy armor. In fact, the British were still using black powder in some of their shells, but I would not call them HE (high explosive). I am not sure if the Germans were using TNT which requires oil or coal tar to produce. It certainly has more oomph, which could explain their effects on the British line. Didn’t Adm. Beatty comment: there is something wrong with or ships today?

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    1. Unstable cordite was the problem not Lyddite

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  6. Beatty made his famous comment "Something wrong with our bloody ships today" after the second of three battlecruisers had blown up, and his own HMS Lion had barely avoided the same fate. This was nothing to do with the failure of our shells to sink the enemy, but about the thin armour on British battlecruisers. Battlecruisers were never intended to take part in fleet actions along with Battleships; they were designed to hunt down cruisers (as they did at the Falkland Islands). Admittedly Beatty was using them to engage the enemy battlecruisers, not the battleships, but as the battlecruisers were firing the same shells as battleships, their armour was inadequate. The German battlecruisers were a less extreme design than the British, i.e they didn't go so far in sacrificing armour for speed.
    Beatty's comment must be the ultimate example of British stiff upper-lipped understatement, along with the exchange between Wellington and Lord Uxbridge at Waterloo: "Good God Sir, I've lost my leg!" - "Good God, Man, so you have!"

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    1. But that is begging the question of this post. The Seyditz took 24 British "HE" hits and still made it home. It should have went to the bottom.

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    2. Referring to the British ships exploding. It has now been well reasoned that the sailors were stacking cordite charges and ignoring basic safety rules to ensure a greater rate of fire. Was it not Beatty who wante to emulate Nelson’s achievements.

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    3. Sorry but that is incorrect, the problem was with poor shell and propellant handling due to trying to shoot faster. It almost happened to the Germans at an earlier battle and they stopped the practice. At Jutland the Grand Fleet and the 3rd Battlecruiser squadron comprehensively outshot the High Seas Fleet, but did far less damage due to the defective shells.

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