The world’s greatest naval battle took place during World War I on 31 May 1916. More than 240 battleships were involved in this showdown between British and German naval forces.
In the space of just a day, 25 vessels fell victim to a massive exchange of fire. Along with the almost 9,000 British and German seamen who perished, they were left to the fate of the ocean.
Our aim now is – literally – to bring this event to the surface and create one of Europe’s largest war memorials on the west coast of Denmark, next to the site where the battle took place.
The Memorial Park is set to open on the 100th anniversary of the battle: June 1, 2016.
Gert Normann Andersen
Danish Marine Explorer
Gert Normann Andersen has been diving and exploring shipwrecks since 1965. Over the years, he has been responsible for dives in connection with numerous marine archaeological surveys and projects in cooperation with the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, the Danish Maritime Museum at Kronborg Castle and the National Museum of Denmark, among others.
He has also been a major supplier of salvaged effects to, and an initiator and player in the establishment of, the Strandingsmuseum in Thorsminde, where the main attraction is the two British ships of the line, HMS St. George and HMS Defence, as well as the memorial to the almost 1,400 men who lost their lives when the ships went down in 1811.
In 1972, the man behind this great interest and passion in marine archaeology founded JD-Contractors A/S, the biggest industrial diving company in Denmark today.
The company, which has 11 vessels at its disposal, has around 120 employees on the permanent staff. The company’s primary tasks are the laying and burying of undersea cables and pipelines as well as diving operations performed worldwide.
Over the years, Gert Normann Andersen has worked on a myriad of marine archaeological projects, which have led to in-depth surveys of historic shipwrecks and the mapping of underwater monuments, dating from the Viking Age to the present day.
Based on his experience, he is the author of several books, articles and multimedia productions on ships that have run aground, shipwrecks and salvage operations, and he is also the ideas man behind a variety of TV programmes on these topics on both Danmarks Radio (Danish Broadcasting Corporation) and several of TV2’s (Danish commercial station) regional stations.
“In 1965, I read about the Battle of Jutland, the greatest naval battle in world history. Even back then, I saw it as the greatest and most dramatic event ever to take place in the North Sea. And so began my dream of being allowed to dive down to take a closer look at the vast ship’s graveyard at the bottom of the North Sea,” says Gert Normann Andersen.
And continues: “This brought world history right up close. To Denmark. To the west coast of Denmark. And to me!”
The battle was started by the neutral Danish steamer N.J. Fjord, and the roar of the guns could be heard along the entire Danish west coast on those dramatic days in 1916.
This battle, which involved most of the British and the German naval fleets, played a pivotal role in world history, as whoever took supremacy over the world’s oceans would likely also win the war.
The British suffered by far the greatest losses in the battle, but the superior British fleet forced the German High Seas Fleet into port, where it remained for the rest of World War I.
This battle thus gave the British control of the oceans, including the supply routes – a deciding factor in the final outcome of the war.
In 1965, I did not have the advanced equipment or the ships required for such a deep dive in the North Sea. It was not until 1990, in cooperation with Danmarks Radio, that I managed to put together an expedition to some of the shipwrecks of the Battle of Jutland. This resulted in “Inferno”, a fascinating and dramatic TV programme broadcast on both Danish and German television in connection with the 75th anniversary of the battle.
A further programme was produced that looked at the expedition itself and our dives entitled: “Et dykkerskibs dagbog” (Diary of a diving support vessel).
The first dives at the site fulfilled all my dreams of seeing this vast graveyard and ship’s graveyard at close quarters. The wrecks were a spectacle that – in a historical perspective – demanded great respect and reverence.
It is precisely this spectacle and these emotions that I am passionate about bringing to the surface; in stories, in pictures and in tangible items. And what more ideal place to do this than in neutral Denmark, on the coast, right near where the great battle took place?
My dream is finally coming true: the “Sea War Museum Jutland” in Thyborøn will be completed in summer 2015 – the first purely international museum in Denmark.
And right here, off the coast of Thyborøn, close to the museum, will be the perfect place to establish an international memorial park for the greatest naval battle in world history, in which 25 battleships went down and almost 9,000 men lost their lives.
In the middle of World War I, when many of the world’s superpowers were at war with each other, the German High Seas Fleet came face to face with the mighty British fleet, the Grand Fleet.
Since the turn of the century, the two nations had been in intense competition to win the inter-fleet race, which in particular would weaken the British if the German naval forces could cut off imports to Great Britain.
When World War I broke out as a result of the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne and his wife in Sarajevo in 1914, the British were leading the fleet race with most battleships, the biggest guns and most vessels of other types.
Early on in the war, there had been minor clashes between the two fleets, and the German naval forces bombed British towns on the east coast in rapid succession, retreating quickly to the German ports.
On 31 May 1916, almost the entire German High Seas Fleet set sail from the German North Sea ports with a view to meeting smaller British naval forces and defeating them.
The British Admiralty knew that something was afoot on the German side. Virtually the whole of the British Grand Fleet sailed from Scotland and the Orkney Islands north of Scotland, but neither of the two naval forces knew anything about the positions or intentions of the enemy.
Together, the two fleets consisted of at least 240 battleships, manned by around 104,000 seamen and 25 admirals. With their massive guns, each of the many battleships was capable of penetrating even the strongest of armour plating and destroying small towns in no time, for example.
Sailing on the North Sea, the small steamer “N. J. Fjord” from neutral Denmark was stopped by the smaller ships of the German Navy out in front. The engine of “N. J. Fjord” was shut down, sending out a great cloud of steam.
This cloud of steam was observed by the British ships at the front, which were sent over to investigate, and so began the first fights between the British and German naval forces in the Battle of Jutland. “N. J. Fjord” left the battlefield without being hit.
For the rest of the day and during the evening, the battle surged back and forth, with the two sides taking it in turns to have the upper hand.
That afternoon and evening, four large battleships exploded causing the loss of more than 3,500 lives. All in all, some 25 battleships were sunk and almost 9,000 seamen lost their lives.
The fighting turned into what would become the greatest naval battle in world history, the Battle of Jutland. The roar of the guns was so powerful that it could be heard 100 km away to the east, along the west coast of Denmark from Hanstholm to Blåvand.
The south-westerly winds on the ensuing days washed many of the deceased ashore at the tip of Jutland near Skagen and along the Norwegian coasts, where they remain buried to this day.
There is still a great deal of discussion about who won – the Germans suffered the smallest loss, but the German High Seas Fleet did not venture out to sea again to any great extent during the rest of the war. Hence the British argument that the British fleet won the Battle of Jutland.
Unable to cut off the British Isles with its fleet, the German Empire introduced its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare whereby German submarines sank any vessels around the British Isles, regardless of their nationality.
This action was instrumental in the US entering World War I – a decision which would have a decisive influence on the outcome of the war. The German Empire surrendered at 11 am on 11.11.1918 – the end of World War I and the staggering loss and suffering it caused worldwide.
Under the leadership of diver Gert Normann Andersen, there have been several major diving expeditions to the Battle of Jutland’s vast graveyards in the North Sea, among others, in collaboration with Danmarks Radio, which produced a major TV programme to mark the 75th anniversary of the battle in 1991.
The programme, “INFERNO”, literally dives beneath the surface, describing in detail the circumstances of the Battle of Jutland, and providing an in-depth understanding of the extent of the battle, from a historical, physical and human perspective.
A Memorial Park for those who died in the Battle of Jutland is to be established on the west coast of Denmark in an area just west of the town of Thyborøn.
The park’s foundation will be the rugged, yet breathtaking and beautiful, dune landscape, with a small coastal road on its east side, and the dune in the foreground to the west. Beyond that, the sea, where the battle actually took place.
The Memorial Park will consist of a large number of sculptures; 26 granite stones of up to 3.5 metres in height will be erected. One for each of the ships lost in the Battle of Jutland.
The granite stones, which symbolise the sterns of the wrecked ships just before they sink into the depths, will be erected in the formation in which the ships lie at the bottom of the North Sea.
Each stone will be inscribed with the ship’s name and other relevant data on the ship.
Around the large granite sterns, one figure for each of those who perished when that exact ship went down will be erected, but in such as way as to give access to the inscription on the large granite stern.
The figures will be modelled in various castings of special concrete with a height of 1.2 metres.
There will be a total of 8,645 figures; individually intended as a memorial to each of the victims, and collectively, as a moving visualisation of the huge loss of human life incurred in the battle.
The figures will be of such a height that visitors to the Memorial Park can view them slightly from above, allowing them to survey the sea of sculptures with the shape and character of the landscape as a backdrop.
The Memorial Park will not distinguish between British and German seamen in its design. The idea of the project is to erect a memorial to the fallen seamen on neutral ground; one sculpture for each person who died in the Battle of Jutland.
The Memorial Park will give pause for thought, encouraging reflection on the narrative and course of history.
Paul M Cederdorff
Paul Madsen Cederdorff (b. 1938) is a Danish painter, graphic artist, ceramicist and sculptor who has produced a large number of sculptural and artistic works for churches, parks, squares, etc.
He draws his inspiration from far and wide: Etruscan tombs, Nordic rock carvings, Stone Age fertility figurines, the granite in churches, Celtic culture, pre-Columbian artefacts and Viking art being just some of his sources. All ancient pictorial expressions.
The visual impression left by history is thus a cherished mentor and source of inspiration – but that is as far as it goes. The results, the works, are independent expressions which do not seem to be “stuck in the past”, but are highly contemporary.
Cederdorff’s pictorial expression is not subject to the plastic and naturalistic demands that prevailed in Western European art until Picasso and, in the case of sculpture,
Constantin Brancusi, Alberto Giacometti and Henry Moore looked back, partly to the time before the Renaissance and partly to non-European art. He makes no secret of the fact that his early acquaintance with Henry Moore had a major influence on his work.
With the great affiliation to cultures past, his many sculptures are all in his own typical contemporary, assured style – highly textured and with a feel for the force of the materials.
As a sculptor – member of the Danish Sculptors’ Society – he has worked in granite, cement, bronze and several other materials, always with great respect for the material and subjects alike.
At the age of 75, he has taken on yet another major project: the Memorial Park in Thyborøn for those who died in the Battle of Jutland in 1916. He has worked long and hard on the project, and, as always, on the basis of a humanistic and universally human philosophy; his trademark.
Mayor, Lemvig Municipality
For several years, Lemvig Municipality has been working on its vision of creating a unique museum and discovery centre between the coast and the town of Thyborøn on the west coast of Jutland in Denmark. With the Memorial Park for the Battle of Jutland and the coming Sea War Museum Jutland, the vision is now set to become a reality.
The plan has been adopted by the district council of Lemvig Municipality, and Realdania – one of the world’s largest foundations funding architecture and building culture – has joined the project for Sea War Museum Jutland. The Memorial Park is expected to be inaugurated on June 1, 2016, the 100th anniversary of the world’s greatest naval battle.
Sea War Museum Jutland in the foreground with the Memorial Park and the North Sea in the background.
“The entire project is a great gift to the site, and the 700,000+ tourist bed nights in the area every year,” says Mayor Erik Flyvholm, emphasising that this figure will increase significantly when the area and all the additional attractions are completed.
“It is absolutely fantastic that we have now moved a piece of world history that took place just off our coast onto Danish soil. It will give present and future generations the opportunity to gain a unique historical insight. And its location right on the coast of the North Sea, with its harsh maritime environment, is perfect.
Combined with the existing maritime activities, the Memorial Park and Sea War Museum Jutland will be an attraction of international calibre,” says the Mayor, pointing out that the municipality will work determinedly to strengthen the area and brand it internationally.
In the future, the area is expected to be a match for visitor centres, such as Pearl Harbour, the Normandy coast and a number of World War I battle monuments along the German–French border. The Memorial Park will be open to the public with free admission.
Panoramic illustration of the upcoming area of the Memorial Park in the foreground and the maritime museum and discovery centre in the background.
Site plan for the vision around the overall project with the Memorial Park at the core:
1. Memorial Park for the Battle of Jutland
2. Sea War Museum Jutland
3. The Jutland Aquarium
4. Kystcentret (the coast centre)
5. Historical Diving Society Denmark
6. Sea Art Museum
7. The Danish Coastal Authority
Former Danish Minister of Defence
Søren Gade is an ambassador and fund raiser working to raise capital of approximately EUR 3.5 million for the realisation of the Memorial Park for the Battle of Jutland, which involved at least 240 German and British battleships and more than 100,000 seamen during World War I.
The ambition is to create a full-scale, international work of art that focuses on the nearly 9,000 lives lost, victims of the world’s greatest naval battle.
The Memorial Park is to be built on “neutral ground” on the west coast of Denmark, next to the site where the battle took place around 100 years ago.
“The Memorial Park will serve as a visualisation of the enormous loss of life and encourage historical reflection in the understanding of our present, regardless of nationality,” points out the former Danish Minister of Defence.