January 25, 1915 -- 4:00 PM
The admiral was feeling the weight of his briefcase by the time he arrived at the entry port. The guard, resplendent in dress uniform, admitted him with only the briefest look at his credentials. A lieutenant in a uniform that put the sentry's to shame greeted him with a parade ground salute and led him down a labyrinth of corridors.
Exhausted after a day of battle, an eve of fetes, and a night of noise, the lieutenant's exuberance only added to the baron's exhaustion and sense of unease. In public, he'd been called the "Nelson of Germany" by bleating burghers and even the Kaiser himself had joined in the accolades. High Admiral Scheer, however, had taken him aside later and had coldly ordered him to report to him at 4:00 PM to relate his "version of the battle" and to "explain his decision to alter from Admiral Hipper's course of action."
They can't do TOO much to me, he thought. I DID win, after all! The problem, however, was that they might keep him away from the HSF. What he'd done, come right down to it, was to countermand the orders of a senior admiral in the face of the enemy. Even a victor, in such a case, might be praised but then beached.
And so the baron and "Temporary Flag Captain Theodor" had spent much of the night and this day gathering what they could.
The Imperial Guardsmen at attention before the great cast bronze doors raised the uniform standard set by the gaudy lieutenant another notch and made it quite clear who was in the room beyond. The Kaiser! The stakes had just gone up, way up! The Kaiser! He wouldn't have him shot, surely not, not a kinsman! A waiting herald briskly relieved the disappointed flag lieutenant of his charge and the doors opened. The baron drew a deep breath and followed him in. The doors began to close ponderously behind him. The deep metallic crunch had an ominous tone of utter finality. "I did win, he thought again, I did!" Still, there'd been 450 more casualties on the BCs after his turn, not to mention the losses on the 3 torpedo boats sunk defending the squadron. The lone destroyed RN torpedo boat was poor recompense.
"Admiral Letters, Baron of . . . " the herald began to announce.
"Oh, that's quite enough," interrupted the Kaiser. "This is hardly a formal audience."
The herald shut up, trying not to look aggrieved, and left the room. The baron brightened a bit.
"Do come in All," continued the Kaiser, "have a seat here."
First names, yet! This is looking better and better, thought Admiral Letters, though Admiral Scheer still looked quite dour and poker-faced.
Small talk and semi-formalities took a few minutes, and then the battle account began.
"Then, Sire, I realized that three things had come together which combined could turn the tide of battle."
"Yes, yes, you said as much before, but please explain."
Admiral Scheer nodded, as well and leaned a bit forward.
"Sire, with no duties, I had had the leisure to study the conduct of the British BC's.
"First, Tiger, their newest and biggest ship, had not scored a single hit in almost three hours of shooting. It seemed clear to me that they were experiencing some technical problems or else their crew was poorly trained. Sire, they'd fired over 100 rounds and not hit anything. So, I felt Tiger could be discounted in any standup battle.
"Second, their admiral had been bold to the point of being rash. The British were so confident that our squadron would only flee that he'd allowed his ships to get separated, as the older ships could not keep pace with the newer as they strained to get into range. His blindness was clearly demonstrated when their shooting left Moltke unfired upon. He had not even realized that his ships were getting separated, and that the lower ranged ships were out of range to fire at the target he assigned them. And Sire, the last ship, Indomitable, was even a bit behind New Zealand.
"And third, his flagship, Lion, had been hard hit, slowed, and had fallen out of range. That left only the ineffective Tiger and Princess Royal chasing Your Majesty's best three BCs. The odds were suddenly greatly in our favor. It was only coincidence that the two RN BCs turned toward Blucher when we began our own turn. Actually, things would have likely gone better if they had stayed on course in pursuit."
"Why," asked Scheer, "do you say that?"
"Well, admiral, it let the other BCs get back into range sooner than otherwise."
"Fine," said the Kaiser, "fine, indeed. Yes, that sounds quite reasonable. Keen thinking, actually. Don't you agree, admiral?"
Well, Scheer agreed, perhaps reluctantly, but the baron felt a great load lift from his shoulders. Scheer would have a very tough time taking action against him now. After all, his sovereign had made his view clear and forced Scheer to agree as well.
The talk then went into specifics, and the baron opened his case and got out his notes.
"After we turned, the flagship, Seydlitz, then under command by Commander Nik, the senior surviving officer, fired 208 rounds from the main guns. Hits were scored on Princess Royal (11), Lion (4) and Indomitable (2) before running out of ammunition.
"Sire, with only three turrets, Seydlitz's performance was magnificent. Their 8th hit on Princess Royal was the one that silenced her and his last hit on Lion seemed to be the one that made her drop out of line a second time. Commander Nik, when the 11" shells were gone, requested that I close the range so that his secondaries could be effective!"
The Kaiser made appreciative sounds. Admiral Scheer only raised his eyebrows. Too bad, thought the baron at Admiral Scheer, but it looks to me like the Kaiser will "Insist" that Nik be the new Seydlitz CO.
"And Moltke," continued the baron. "Moltke was fired on all battle. That's what left Seydlitz undisturbed several times in their gunnery. Captain Stang's excellent gunners hit Princess Royal 10 times and Lion 4 times. The British admiral cleverly turned his ships so that for a few minutes Lion could shoot undisturbed at Moltke before I could get the range down enough to return the fire with the 11" guns. Lion hit Moltke almost immediately and forced her out of the line before Moltke and Seydlitz could overcome her."
"And Derfflinger?" asked the Kaiser.
"Derfflinger's shells were decisive, Sire. It showed the superiority of the greater gun, as the British could not outrange the 12" as they did the 11". Derfflinger hit Tiger 11 or 12 times, Sire, but the great explosion that destroyed her at 11:34 made the counting difficult. Six hits were scored on New Zealand, though that understated the accuracy of the shooting, as there were many salvos that raised splashes on both sides w/o a hit. Then, at 12:12, two or three hits on her waterline must have literally ripped her side open, as she sank in just a couple minutes. It took three hits for Derfflinger to sink the Indomitable, but she'd already been damaged by Seydlitz before Commander Nik ran out of ammo."
"And what of the hits on your own ships?" asked the Kaiser.
"Your own ships," exulted the baron internally, for a heartbeat.
"Seydlitz suffered only three hits, Sire. As I said earlier, much of the time the British were forced to leave her alone. The effect of stringing out their ships left them with only two shooters until Lion recalled her 12" consorts to make another try. There was considerable additional flooding, but no combat effect at the time.
"Moltke was hard hit by the Britishers' biggest guns. In all, there were 13 hits, 6 by Princess Royal and 7 from Lion. There were 350 casualties and the flooding left her very low in the bow. Counterflooding and two hours of damage control by Captain Stang and his crew let Moltke get back to 15 knots and regain the 11" guns, but she would have sunk if the forward bulkhead had gone. I believe Moltke had almost 4000 tons of flooding.
"Derfflinger was hit 12 times. Two by Tiger did little damage to the ship, but did inflict almost 100 casualties. The New Zealand scored 6 hits which caused almost 1000 tons of flooding, but did not slow the ship or degrade her effectiveness. The British 12" shells rarely penetrated the Derfflinger's armor, Sire. Indomitable hit 4 more times and, again, the damage was almost all from waterline hits beyond the armored belt. Unfortunately, the last hit did get through and led to engineroom flooding and the Derfflinger had to counterflood to avoid a dangerous list. I believe Derfflinger had a bit more flooding than even Moltke, but Derfflinger is new and bigger and was able to continue fighting."
"For such a victory, you took precious few prisoners, it seems," commented the Kaiser.
"Yes, Sire. I regretted leaving them. There must have been two or three thousand men in the water, but I decided not to risk Derfflinger to try to get them. The damnable British torpedo boats would have been upon us. They broke off their first attack to pick them up themselves."
Yes, thought the baron. The presence of three thousand partly drowned and freezing men crammed aboard the tiny craft may well have been the reason the British light ships had not pressed home their later attacks in full strength.
"Well," said the Kaiser after a moment. "It was a glorious victory, without precedent, actually. I don't like to interfere in the affairs of the navy, of course, but I'm sure Admiral Scheer will keep you in mind for future positions of responsibility."
"Yes, Sire," agreed Admiral Scheer, "that is definitely the case."
"Well, that's good. After all, with poor Hipper lost, you will need another admiral to command the large cruisers, won't you?"
Suddenly, the baron did not feel tired at all.