THE major encounter at sea during World War One was in the North Sea off the coast of Denmark on May 30 and June 1, 1916. Who won the Battle of Jutland between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet has always been contentious but in terms of the loss of men and ships the British were trounced. But the sacrifice rendered the High Seas Fleet impotent for the rest of the war. Clive White looks at how this battle had its impact on landlocked Skipton.

WITNESSING the disintegration of HMS Defence through his telescope, a German sailor later wrote how he would never forget the horrific "gruesomeness". He says in his vivid description how "the ship was blown into atoms and every living soul destroyed".

And he adds: "The ship broke asunder and there was an enormous explosion. Black smoke and pieces whirled upward and flame swept through the entire ship which then disappeared before our eyes beneath the water.

"Nothing was left to indicate the spot where a moment before a proud ship had been fighting, except an enormous cloud of smoke".

Accounts say The Defence, an armoured cruiser, was attacked by six German battlecruisers and four dreadnoughts and was hit by two salvoes which detonated her rear magazine, the fire spreading to two secondary magazines.

Almost 1,000 men perished in that explosion, several of them lads from South Craven including Carleton. Their names are honoured in Carleton Church.

By the time the fighting had finished the British had lost more ships and men than the Germans. German casualties numbered 2,551 killed compared to 6,094 British. The British lost 28 battleships compared to 16 German and in every other sphere of the battle, the British came off worse.

But the German fleet was so badly damaged that it offered no threat throughout the rest of the war, the Kaiser turning instead to targeting the British economy by concentrating on using U boats - submarines - to strike at commercial vessels.

Among the dead was Seaman George Earnshaw, son of Mr and Mrs Thomas Earnshaw of Church Street, Carleton. By the time of the 18-year-old's death when HMS Defence was obliterated he had been in the Royal Navy four years.

He was in the transmitting station in the bowels of the vessel "a responsible job sending messages to the gunners" he told his mum in a letter just three weeks before he perished.

Also dying on the same 15,000-ton ship was career sailor Lieutenant Stephen Slingsby, of Carla Beck, who had served on a number of ships before joining the Defence for the battle. Three of his brothers had already died in the conflict and Stephen had been on leave at home just three weeks before his death.

Seaman Frank Collins, a 1st Class Petty Officer, who originated in Cross Hills, was serving on the Indefatigable which was blown to smithereens. He was a married man with a child.

A week after the battle, the squabble over who had actually won was perpetuated in the Craven Herald with the editor lashing out at the "mendacious" Hun claiming victory.

But, he says, they were not clever enough to be good liars and were sticking to their fabled victory a month after it was all over. He blasted the German admiralty for issuing a semi-official record of the engagement in "high falutin verbiage".

He says the German report spoke of victory "leaping forth from the deep darkness of the sky". They were sticking to the fiction that the British fleet had retired in hot haste before the German fleet which in fact fled back to their ports.

"Meanwhile, the whole earth knows that while the British Fleet is abroad and about, the German port of Wilhemshaven is closed to visitors and no outsider can see what is left of the German fleet," he concludes.

Even though the war at sea was not as significant as that being waged in the Western Front in Europe, ironically it was one of the issues which was at its heart.

The British believed they were invincible on the ocean, a position which had been the kernel of the nation's psyche for 100 years, ever since the days of Nelson.

Take the words of Rule Britannia, the passionate anthem next in popularity to God Save the Queen - “Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves, Britain never, never, never shall be slaves.”

So there was never any doubt that when it came to a sea battle the Brits would be victorious.

It was a stand that Kaiser Bill, the German king deeply resented and in those years leading up to the assassination of Grand Duke Ferdinand and the outbreak of World War One, he had amassed a German navy to match that of his British cousins.