The battle of Jutland in 1916 was the last major battle fought primarily by battleships. It must have been terrifying and a future Port Vale player was one of the sailors to take part in the conflict.
Harry Anstiss was a member of the brilliant Port Vale 1929-30 side which stormed to the club’s first-ever promotion despite the death of manager Joe Schofield. But his actions on the pitch are overshadowed by events in Anstiss’ early life – especially his involvement in the ferocious battle of Jutland while still a teenager…
About the battle of Jutland
Prior to World War One, Great Britain and Germany had been engaged in a naval arms race with both countries amassing large numbers of battleships and battle cruisers. However, Germany’s fleet was still much smaller and Britain was keen to lure its fleet out and engage it, hoping for a decisive battle to turn the current stalemate in the trenches.
By contrast, Germany planned to lure out a portion of Britain’s fleet and sink it, thus achieving parity in terms of vessels. The Germans planned to use Vice-Admiral Franz Hipper’s fast moving group of five modern battlecruisers as bait to lure Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty’s advance guard battlecruiser squadrons into the path of the main German fleet.
However, when Hipper’s group set sail in May 1916 they encountered Beatty’s squadrons far sooner than they anticipated. Hipper still managed to lure Beatty’s group into the path of the main German fleet. Beatty lost two battleships and four battlecruisers before he retreated to alert the rest of the British fleet.
The Germans made a fateful decision and opted to follow Beatty thus luring their ships into the sights of the hugely powerful British main fleet. For four hours the two fleets, totalling around 250 ships (150 British and 100 German) engaged each other resulting in the loss of 25 ships and over 9,000 casualties.
The two fleets then withdrew and returned to port, the consequence of the action meaning that neither fleet would take the risk of confronting the other again during the war. It was the third and last time that battleships would be the prime combatants in a sea battle.
About Harry Anstiss (part one)
Born in London in 1899, Harry played local football for Hammersmith Athletic before World War One intervened.
Anstiss signed up on the 1st May 1916 – he was just sixteen years and eight months old. It must have been a traumatic start to his naval career for the teenager.
Anstiss served upon the almost brand-new HMS Royal Oak, one of the Royal Navy’s battleships and just thirty days after he enlisted, he took part in the battle of Jutland…
About HMS Royal Oak
HMS Royal Oak was a Renown class battleship which had only just been commissioned earlier in 1916. She cost nearly £2.5m, had a main armament of four fifteen inch guns, was 620 foot in length and was crewed by 909 men.
Royal Oak joined the battle of Jutland at 6.29pm and four minutes later a German barrage narrowly missed her. In return, Royal Oak managed to hit three German ships with her guns but failed to sink any of them. However, Royal Oak did perform a potentially vital duty in the latter stages of the battle as its guns engaged and prevented an attack by German torpedo boats. In the course of the battle, Royal Oak had fired 38 rounds from her main battery and 84 rounds from her secondary guns.
Royal Oak was still used by the Royal Navy in World War Two and was sunk as a German U-boat successfully penetrated the Scapa Flow anchorage. Tragically, 635 men died with the ship or died later of their wounds. Her final resting place is now a War Grave.
About Harry Anstiss (part two)
After that dramatic introduction to naval life, Anstiss changed ships in 1917 joining the crew of another battleship, the appropriately named HMS Powerful. Powerful was a much older ship, having being built before Harry was born and when he finished his spell there in 1919 she was moved to training duties before being broken up.
Anstiss also returned to training duties as he revived his footballing dreams post-war. He turned professional with Brentford, Millwall, Watford and Sheffield Wed before joining Port Vale in 1926. He stayed with the Valiants until 1931 making 117 appearances and scoring a creditable 40 goals. His tally included fifteen as Port Vale celebrated promotion in 1930. Anstiss moved on to Swansea Town, Crewe and Gillingham before retiring in 1935. He had played 370 games and scored 130 goals during his fifteen year playing spell but that promotion with the Valiants was his only major honour.
Anstiss passed away in 1964 in Isleworth, London.
Wounded Sailors – “Wounded From The Battle Of Jutland Aboard A Hospital Ship” by www.WW1photos.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0
HMS Royal Oak – Crown Copyright, copyright expired, now in the public domain
Harry Anstiss – photo ID 8590404 from https://livesofthefirstworldwar.iwm.org.uk/
Other photos – onevalefan.co.uk