Stoker 1st Class K/14962
H.M.S. “Invincible” Royal Navy
Charlie Wake was the son of Samuel and Sarah Mary Wake (nee Chandler)
The 1901 census records the family as living at 6. Blenhiem Gardens, Reading. The family comprised five childre – William 16 was a kitchen porter and Samuel 15 a bake house assistant. Rose, Charlie and kate aged 10, 9, and 8 respectively were probably in school. Father, Samuel, worked at the biscuit factory.
In 1911, aged 19, Charlie was working as a pot man in a public house which was being run by Thomas and Florence Mellet at 124. Broad Street, Reading. He was recording as boarding at that address. The family home was then 88, Erleigh Road, Reading.
Charlie is commemorated on one of two scrolls with the words “In Memory of C[?] W Killed in Action HMS Invincible Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916 Aged 24. The Berkshire Family History Society have recorded the inscription but as yet the author has not been able to locate the grave. Their classification is 30A32. Research by the society of the burial register identified the family name “Wake”. Charlie was lost at sea in the action which is described below and which came to be known as the Battle of Jutland. His name is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, panel 19.
The H.M.S. “Invincible” was among the Battle Cruisers of the Grand Fleet which was reviewed by the King in July 1914. The Britain Empire ruled the seas and was superior to any other Empire in the number of vessels at its disposal. Charlie Wake would have been proud to serve as an stoker in this navy.
In 1916 with a stalemate on land it became the turn of the navies to try and break the deadlock at sea. The British Grand Fleet was based in the Firth of Forth, Moray Firth and Scapa Flow; the German High Seas Fleet at Wilhelmshaven. On the morning of 31st May 1916 Mary Clarke, a young nursing sister on board the Grand Fleet Hospital Ship Plassy, watched the cruisers steaming up and with the other nurses “wondered if there is really anything doing this time, there have been so many false alarms.” She recorded in her diary that “this evening after dinner two or three officers arrived in board with note books etc to find out what accommodation we had got for the wounded, how many cots, how many stretchers etc & later on we got a signal to get full steam going, so as to sail at a moments notice.” The battle cruisers she had watched in the morning had been setting out for Jutland, a Danish territory, by evening two of them had already been sunk by the German navy. The “anything doing” turned out to be Battle of Jutland, the only major sea battle of the Great War.
Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer the Commander-in -Chief of the Imperial German High Seas Fleet, had persuaded the Kaiser that it was important for his navy to adopt an aggressive policy after the German fleet had been kept in port for most of 1915. On the morning of 31st May 1916 Scheer set sail, ready to put his plans into action, his aim to lure the British Fleet into a trap and destroy it. His strategy, given that the British Naval fleet greatly out numbered that of Germany, was to dispatch the German battle cruiser fleet under the command of Admiral Franz von Hipper, as bait, towards Jutland. Scheer would follow with his battleships. However, what Scheer did not know was that the British had cracked the German Naval code and were not only aware of the plan but were already at sea. The Grand Fleet, under the command of Admiral Jellicoe, were ready to intercept the German fleet even before they had left their home port of Wilhelmshaven.
However, as on land good communication and intelligence was crucial and the technology required for this had not kept pace with the development of either armament or ships. Although their ships were heavier than Nelson’s and could throw projectiles ten time further, they still relied heavily on masthead look-outs and to a great extent on flag signalling. The fleets, strong in armour and destructive power were weak in sensory and control systems. In the hazy weather conditions of the day neither side used air reconnaissance. Jellicoe reached the sea area off Jutland thinking that Scheer was still in port, but, Scheer was in fact sailing towards Jellicoe having transferred his flagship’s call sign to a shore station before leaving Wilhelmshaven, to avoid administrative distractions.
So, poor communication and an imperfect grasp of the tactical situation on both sides resulted in a confused series of encounters beginning in the beginning at 4 p.m. in the afternoon. The British Battlecruiser Fleet under the command of Admiral Beatty, clashed with the German battle cruiser fleet, Hipper immediately turned south. German gunnery was more accurate and their shells more effective than the British. The British battle cruisers had been designed to carry heavier guns for protection with a reduction in the strength of their armour plating. As a result in the running battle that ensued between the two forces the British battle cruisers, the ‘Indefatigable’ and the ‘Queen Mary’, were blown up and sunk. Hipper drew the remainder of the British cruiser fleet south towards the German main fleet. When eventually, Admiral Beatty spotted Scheer’s battleships ahead, the British forces then turned rapidly north. In the face of superior numbers the British cruisers, now acting as bait themselves, engaged in a another running battle. At first the British ships were slow to find their range then the German ships were hit time and again but failed to sink as defective shells which broke on impact before piercing the German armour. At 6.15 p.m. Beatty brought the German fleet into contact with the full might of the British Navy, which had earlier sailed from positions in the Moray Firth and Scapa Flow. Scheer had no idea that the British Navy was in position as they sailed out of the north sea mists. Battleships of both sides exchanged fire and smaller fleets of cruisers and destroyers engaged in their own battles. Some 200 ships in total. For ten minutes the battles raged before Scheer reversed course to the west. But, in that short time the German ship Derfflinger opened up on the battlecruiser the ‘Invincible’ which was with the Grand Fleet and after a brief gun duel at short range, ‘Invincible’ blew up and sank with only six survivors.
Thus ended the first major encounter between the fleets. Jellicoe did not pursue but took up a position that would prevent the German fleet from returning to base. At 6.55 p.m. the German fleet ran into Jellicoe’s line and the German commander ordered a charge by his battle cruisers and a torpedo attack. Jellicoe at that point turned away from the enemy and lost contact. The firing of the second encounter died down. Between 8 p.m. and 9.30 p.m. the third clash took place as both fleets were heading southwards on a converging course. Although there was long range firing neither side wanted to gamble and head straight for the other. In the early hours of the morning Scheer broke through the outer forces of the British fleet and by 4.30 a.m. the German’s were back in base.
British losses were heavy, 111,980 tons of British warships sunk and casualties of 6,945 as opposed to 62,233 tons of German ships and 2,921 casualties but, the Grand Fleet was still superior to that of the Germans. The Germans claimed a moral victory but from that time kept their surface fleet as far away from the British as possible so as not to sustain any more capital losses. The Allied ship building programme further accentuated the inferiority of the Central Powers. Despite an inconclusive outcome the British Navy was able to maintain command of the North Sea. This meant that the blockades of German ports continued, putting a strain on the German economy which was deepened by a series of poor harvests leading to the ‘turnip winter’ of 1916 -17. These difficulties lead the Germans to press home a submarine war. This aimed to cut essential supplies and force the UK to the conference table, but widened the conflict by killing neutral citizens, it brought America in to the war. At the end of the war the German fleet was first interned at Scapa Flow and then scuttled by its own crews to prevent it being divided among the victors.