On 31st May and through the night into 1st June 1916, the Battle of Jutland, the biggest ever clash of steel and steam in a single place in the history of naval warfare, took place in the North Sea, between England and Germany. (The Battle of Leyte Gulf during World War II involved far more ships, and also hundreds of naval aircraft, but it was actually four separate battles taking place almost simultaneously across a much wider area.)
The Battle of Jutland was tactically indecisive (although the Germans claimed victory based on sinking more ships than they lost). Strategically it was a victory for the Royal Navy, which kept the German High Seas Fleet bottled up in its bases for the rest of the war. However, that led to the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare by Germany in 1917, which almost brought Britain to its knees . . . but that’s another story.
Here’s a very informative animation of the battle, showing its major elements. I highly recommend watching it in full-screen mode.
At a century’s remove, it’s hard to imagine the impact of this battle at the time. Admiral Jellicoe was later criticized for his conduct of the battle, but his caution was understandable in the absence of hard and fast information. Churchill said of him that he was “the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon”. That just about sums it up. He may not have won the smashing victory for which England longed, but he kept the German navy penned up for the rest of the war. That was enough to ensure a victory for Britain and her allies. If the result of the Battle of Jutland had been different, seaborne supplies to England and France would have been terminally disrupted, probably drastically affecting the entry of the United States into the war. Who knows what might have happened then?