Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

Memorial Day, 2016 has the unusual occurrence of falling close to the 100th anniversary of one of the most terrible naval battles of all time. Therefore, to mark both, I'm going to devote this year's column to a service member from another country.

The WWI Battle of Jutland was the first, and only, large scale battle between the massive dreadnought battleships that had come to exist in 1906. There were other clashes of them, but none on this scale.

HMS Dreadnought, when built in 1906, immediately made all previous battleships obsolete. Her existence set off a massive naval arms race that involved the British Commonwealth, America, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Spain, France, Japan, the Ottoman Empire, Russia, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile.

On the night of May 30th-31st, 1916, both the German and British battle fleets left harbor, each thinking they were luring the other into a trap. All together there were 250 ships, carrying 105,000 men, on a collision course. Surprisingly, both fleets almost missed each other, and the battle was started by a small Danish freighter innocently blundering between them. Both sides sent small ships to investigate her, which sighted each other.

The battle raged on & off into night and early morning. When it was over 25 ships of various types had been sunk and 8,645 men killed. Although these losses were small compared to the terrible land war being fought in France, they were shocking for naval combat. And the battle, surprisingly, changed very little. Germany won a tactical victory, but the overall strategic victory went to Britain. The course of WWI hadn't changed.

And that's my summary. For those who want to learn more, I recommend watching this. Otherwise, just skip to the next paragraph.

The flagship of the British battlecruiser fleet was HMS Lion, led by Vice Admiral David Beatty. It was his division that had the first main contact with the Germans.

On board Lion was Major Francis Harvey of the Royal Marines. Born in Kent to a family with a long military tradition, he joined the navy at age 14. There he was quickly recognized for his proficiency in languages, gunnery, and debate.

He worked his way up through a series of ships, eventually becoming a gunnery instructor and in charge of training the crews of the navy's Channel Fleet. When World War I started, he was assigned to Lion, commanding one of her main gun turrets.

At Jutland, midway through the battle, Lion was hit several times by Admiral Hipper's flagship Lutzow. One shell penetrated the armor of Harvey's turret and exploded inside. The result blew the roof & front off the turret, killed or seriously wounded every man inside, and set fire to the bags of cordite explosive that were being readied for the next round.

Harvey was still alive. He'd had both his legs blown off, and was losing blood rapidly. Death was coming quickly. But he saw that the hatch separating the turret from the ammunition magazine below was jammed open by a piece of metal. When the burning cordite exploded the fire would spread down into the magazine and destroy the entire ship.

He dragged himself to the speaking tube and ordered the magazines below him flooded with sea water. When the fire did indeed spread a moment later, the ship was saved by his action.

The order was issued with Harvey's last breath. Immediately after giving it he collapsed dead.

Winston Churchill later wrote "In the long, rough, glorious history of the Royal Marines there is no name and no deed which in its character and consequences ranks above this."

Harvey was posthumously awarded his country's highest decoration, the Victoria Cross. His wife and son received the medal from King George V at Buckingham Palace. In 1973 his son loaned it to the Royal Marines Museum, where it can be seen today.

Harvey himself was buried at sea the day after the battle. His name is inscribed at the Chatham Naval Memorial. He was 43.


Ms. Donna said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The epitome of selfless

Anonymous said...

Once again, Grumpy, you outdid yourself. If you ever quit your day job of herding Mongolian yaks, please consider taking up the quill and becoming an author. Reflecting on this all but forgotten battle, there must have been hundreds of such acts of courage and valor that Harvey was recognized for on both sides of the conflict, but there were no survivors to testify. What a waste of human life and resources.....

Anonymous said...

Thanks for choosing to remember all veterans of all wars, and those that did not survive.

Roy said...

Thank you. That link was very interesting.

The Battle of Jutland was the largest battle between those dreadnought battleships. The Battle of Surigao Strait, during the Pacific campaign of World War II, was the last action of this type in history. Ironically, several of the battleships on the American side during that battle were survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack.

Anonymous said...

I wish everyone would stop glorifying the Great War. It is this pointless, cruel war that made possible Lenin, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, the Ayatollah, Osama Bin Laden, ISIL.

Cathie from Canada said...

Yes but other than that, what did you think of the play Mrs Lincoln?
Seriously, I'm not sure I would see a WW1 connection to the Asian dictators like Mao or Pol Pot - unless you blame this war for the rise of communist regimes world wide?

Shash said...

A thoughtful, courageous act. Many have acted similarly but never remembered for it. (Despite the stupid arrogance of war, Anon.)

Thank you for the story and for reminding us who Memorial Day is about.

Mage said...

The video is most moving and fascinating. Thank you for taking the time to post this on our holiday.

Anonymous said...

Late joining in but to the person commenting about "glorifying WWI" I am not sure how you got that this is glorifying WWI. By relating an incident of individual valor one does not glorify the entire war. WWI is a great example of the futility and insanity of war and should be studied to understand that. From the continued fighting on the day of the surrender until 11:00 when they were supposed to stop to the use of the same military tactics used in the civil war despite the development of machine guns to chemical weapons to the system of alliances that brought in an entire continent into what should have been a small local war there are numerous examples of folly that should be studied.

Locations of visitors to this page