Canadians at the Naval Battle of Jutland, May 31–June 1, 1916

By Alex Comber

A century ago, the largest naval battle of the First World War took place off the coast of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula. More than 250 warships of the Royal Navy and the Imperial German Navy manoeuvred to get ready for action.  The first salvoes of long-range cannon fire were discharged at 14:30 on May 31, 1916, and the ensuing clash lasted into the morning of June 1. With three British battle cruisers and 11 other ships destroyed, and more than twice as many sailors killed and injured, British naval power seemed to have suffered a setback. However, in a strategic sense, the smaller German fleet could not afford its more modest losses, and Kaiser Wilhelm II’s military commanders avoided a similar fleet battle for the duration of the War, focusing instead on submarine attacks.

A black-and-white photograph showing three large warships.

HMAS AUSTRALIA, HMS NEW ZEALAND, HMS INDOMITABLE, Second Battle cruiser Squadron ca. 1917–1919. This unit was at Jutland, where one of its ships, HMS INDEFATIGABLE, was destroyed (MIKAN 3400004)

In many regions of Canada, there were very strong pro-imperial sentiments and cultural ties to Britain. Many had recently emigrated, and still had family back in the “old country.” Though there was a small Canadian Navy (created in 1910), many residents of Canada and of the Dominion of Newfoundland volunteered to serve with the Royal Navy in a variety of roles. With ports across the British Empire and the prospect of an alternative to a soldier’s life in the trenches of the Western Front, there was much to appeal to recruits.

A black-and-white recruitment poster showing the silhouette of a sailor with ship’s guns and the following words: Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve – Overseas Division wants men ages 18 to 38, seamen & stokers. Join today. No previous experience necessary. Apply at nearest recruiting office.

Recruitment poster for the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve Overseas Division, appealing to Canadians to serve in British ships overseas (MIKAN 3635562)

Careful searching of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s online casualty database reveals that at least a dozen of the approximately six thousand sailors killed serving in the British Fleet at Jutland came from Canada or Newfoundland. Stanley de Quetteville, a member of the Royal Canadian Navy, was attached to the Royal Navy and served in the massive battle cruiser HMS INDEFATIGABLE. He was originally from the English Channel island of Jersey and had emigrated to Canada in the years before the First World War in search of opportunities. A qualified engineer, he enlisted in 1910 and had served on the cruiser HMCS NIOBE, one of Canada’s first ships. He married Phyllis Fisher of Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1915.

A black-and-white photograph showing a group of men sitting or standing on the deck of a ship. The photo is mounted on a black background with the words “Gun Room” written at the top and a list of names at the bottom.

Members of the Gunroom, HMCS NIOBE, Halifax, N.S. Taken 1910–1911. Several of these young men went on to become important figures in the Royal Canadian Navy. Stanley Nelson De Quetteville is shown standing, the third officer from the right (MIKAN 3398852)

De Quetteville died at 16:03 on May 31, when HMS INDEFATIGABLE exploded after being hit by accurate shellfire from the German Dreadnought VON DER TANN. Of the crew of 1,019 men, there were only two survivors. The Minister of the Naval Service, J. D. Hazen, sent his widow a letter of condolence, which reads: “I wish to express to you not only my personal sympathy, but that of the whole Canadian Naval Service, which, in his death, has lost an Officer of undoubted ability and great promise. That he died a sailor’s death, in action against the King’s enemies, and in defence of the Empire, must be to you some consolation in your great sorrow.” Today, Mount Indefatigable in the Canadian Rockies stands as a tribute to de Quetteville and his fellow crew members.


Alex Comber is a Military Archivist in the Government Archives Division.

5 thoughts on “Canadians at the Naval Battle of Jutland, May 31–June 1, 1916

  1. Wonderful pic of a younger Mr. German. His is a remarkable story, young man left Welland, Ontario to join with the first group to be trained as officers in the Canadian Navy.
    Lost his arm due to an accident during training and had to leave the navy only to rejoin in WW1 and be given command of a ship. He rose through the ranks to become a Captain. Capt German donated the ships bell to 141 RCSCC Bellerophon of Welland which was closed down in 2010. This bell along with a plaque and photo reside in the public library in Welland.

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