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Portsmouth Naval Memorial Portsmouth Naval Memorial
First Name: William Henry Last Name: CLARKE
Date of Death: 01/06/1916 Lived/Born In: St. Luke's
Rank: Able Seaman Unit: HMS Sparrowhawk
Memorial Site: Portsmouth Naval Memorial

Current Information:


4A New Street, St Luke's

The Battle of Jutland was a naval battle fought between the Royal Navy and the German High Seas Fleet on 31 May and 1 June 1916 in the North Sea near Jutland in Denmark. It was the largest naval battle of the the war. The German plan was to use their fast scouting group of battlecruisers to draw Vice-Admiral Beatty’s battlecruiser  squadron onto the main German fleet and there, destroy them. The two opposing forces met on the afternoon of 31st May 1916. A running battle ensued, during which the Royal Navy lost two battlecruisers, until the main German fleet was seen.  At this point Beatty’s battlecruiser squadron turned back and brought the pursuing German ships towards the main British fleet of Admiral Jellicoe. That night these two main fleets of 250 ships engaged each other twice before the Germans, recognising that they were outnumbered, broke off the engagement and returned to port. Both sides claimed victory. The British lost more ships (14) and three time as many sailors (6,000), but the Germans never brought out their main fleet again, preferring to concentrate on submarine warfare. Over 500 of those who were killed were men from London.

The 4th  Destroyer Flotilla, which included HMS Broke, HMS Sparrowhawk, and HMS Contest, were part of the main fleet. On the night of 31st May, 1916, they were guarding the main fleet from attack when, just before midnight, they were approached by a number of bigger and more powerful German ships: cruisers and battleships. The British destroyers managed to fire off some torpedoes but then the German ships opened fire. HMS Broke was hit at very short range. Her helmsman was one of the many killed and he fell across the wheel which caused the ship to plough into HMS Sparrowhawk in such a violent collision that some of HMS Sparrowhawk’s crew were thrown onto the deck of HMS Broke. In the confusion HMS Contest then collided with HMS Sparrowhawk causing further damage. HMS Broke and HMS Sparrowhawk were locked together but after half an hour they managed to separate and HMS Broke left the scene taking with her most of HMS Sparrowhawk’s crew. The ship had a damaged rudder and was only able to go round in circles. An attempt was made by HMS Marksman to tow her to safety but the hawser broke and as there were fears of enemy submarines approaching, the rest of the crew were taken off and a number of shells were then fired into HMS Sparrowhawk and she sank. Remarkably only six members of her crew were killed throughout this whole incident, one of them being William Clarke.

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