German President Joachim Gauck attends ′Battle of Jutland′ commemorations | News | DW | 31.05.2016
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German President Joachim Gauck attends 'Battle of Jutland' commemorations

The 8,645 naval soldiers killed in the First World War's largest sea battle have been remembered with ceremonies in Scotland's Orkney Islands. The Battle of Jutland in 1916 led to the US entry into the war.

German President Joachim Gauck and Queen Elizabeth II's daughter Princess Anne led ceremonies Tuesday to remember the massive loss of human life, and warships, in the North Sea off Denmark's western coast in 1916.

The queen's son Prince Edward was also expected to attend a ceremony at Laboe, a large German naval memorial erected in 1927, near Kiel in northern Germany.

Gauck, a Protestant-educated theologian, read scriptures at a church service in Kirkwall, the largest town of the Orkneys, which served as a major naval base for the British Royal Navy during World War One.

The maritime confrontation, known in German as the "Battle of Skagerrak," began on 31 May 1916 and involved 250 ships and 100,000 naval personnel.

1. Weltkrieg Seeschlacht vor dem Skagerrak

A German warship nears the site of battle in 1916

It ended 36 hours later with the loss of 24 ships as the damaged rival fleets tried to outmanoeuvre each another amid smoke, fog and the dark of night.

The human toll was put at 2,551 German and 6,094 British naval personnel killed.

On the British cruisers HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary some 2,000 crew members were killed outright when their munitions were detonated by incoming German shells.

Britain had sent its main fleet from the Orkneys and two other Scottish harbors to confront then-Kaiser Wilhelm II's imperial fleet.

It had embarked from Wilhelmshaven toward Norway in a bid to break a British North Sea blockade as land war raged in France and German and food rations dwindled.

1. Weltkrieg Seeschlacht vor dem Skagerrak verletzte britische Soldaten

British survivors on board the HMS Tiger

Victories claimed, no winners

Historians generally agree that the sea battle produced no winners, although both sides claimed victory at the time, despite the loss of 14 British and 11 German ships.

The weakened German fleet returned to port. The British continued to patrol the North Sea, denying supplies sought by imperial Germany for Europe's land war.

Longer-term, the confinement to port led the German navy in 1917 to resort to all-out submarine attacks on merchant ships supplying Britain across the Atlantic, which in turn prompted the decisive US entry into World War One.

Until that point, the US under President Woodrow Wilson had maintained neutrality, a sentiment strongly supported by Irish Americans, German Americans, and Swedish Americans.

Prince Philip absent

The queen's husband the 94-year-old Prince Philip - a former naval officer - had been due to represent Britain at Tuesday's ceremony in the Orkneys but skipped the event "reluctantly" on medical advice, according to the office at the queen's residence in London, Buckingham Palace.

Princess Anne's grandfather King George VI served as a young midshipman in the Battle of Jutland on board HMS Collingwood.

A memorial sculpture park at Thyboroen in Denmark's northern Jutland region is due to open next month.

Last Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined French President Francois Hollande to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Verdun in north-eastern France, which claimed about 300,000 lives.

ipj/jm (dpa,AFP, AP)

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