June 18, 1915 - Surprises
- Part X
---- 9:20 AM, bridge of Sydney, course 120, speed 23.5 knots
A third large ship emerged from the smoke. After an instant, it was obvious
that it was a liner, perhaps an AMC, but not a third large warship. The
liner turned to the NW, lagging one warship pair. If there were additional
warships, they had not yet appeared, though the ones now in sight seemed
far more than enough....
Captain Dedmundee cast an anxious, expectant look at Vice-Admiral Patey,
who had remained frozen in place staring at the dread apparitions emerging
from the smoke under 9,000 yards away. To the Aussie CO, it seemed that
weeks had passed, not seconds.
The three British cruisers continued on their intercept course. Despite
Dedmundee's pointed glance, Patey gave no sign that he was about to issue
the orders that might enable their survival. What in the hell, thought
the Sydney CO, was he waiting for? This was no phantom menace! The captain
opened his mouth and closed it again.
Great towers of water arose and thrust loudly out of the waves nearby.
He turned to his admiral even as one rating clearly muttered, "Ack!,"
bar of the bridge rail clutched desperately in the young man's grip.
"Our cruisers can't repel firepower of that magnitude," he
said, gesturing with a wave of his large hand, eyes wide in his sun-browned
The second salvos pounded the sea into froth close aboard in punctuation.
The first three had been about 250 yards short, the other four about 300
yards long. These latest ones were closer, nearly straddling them.
The German BCs fired again.
---- 9:20 AM, Kolberg, stopped
"Sir, small boats have been recovered." There was perhaps a
hint of reproach in the voice. The speaker was not certain that all who
could have been found had been, but the new captain had ordered an end
to the search and recalled the craft anyway.
"Very well," LCDR Dahm replied, looking at the smoking bow
of Patia that still poked out of the oily, flotsam-rich, waves.
The acting-CO turned and gazed westward, after their charge. Salamis
had continued to plow on at 15 knots or so after a few flag exchanges
with the damaged light cruiser, engaged in rescue operations. Dahm would
normally have asked the Navigator for a course, but the man was dead.
As were all the others who had been on the bridge.
Kolberg had ended up north of their intended track. Dahm put to use the
seaman's eye he'd gained in too many battles in too few years.
"Ahead Full - make turns for 20 knots. Come to course 245."
He ignored the other's tone. Yes, their own casualties doubtless included
men still missing, but they could tarry here no longer in rescue efforts
that would almost assuredly do nothing more than console themselves. Ask
me for anything but time, he thought, one hand firmly clasping his
"Aye, aye, sir."
---- 9:21 AM, bridge of New York, course 030, speed 6 knots
"Admiral! The British have opened fire!"
Moments before, the American flag officer had turned his attention away
from the British ships and towards the ever-so-slowly approaching Strassburg
and the two liners astern of her. What were these cowboys up to? What
in blazes was he, Alton, going to do about it? The troublesome Germans
had crept to within 4,000 yards off his port bow. The folk on her bridge
and topside were conspicuously visible, especially through his binoculars.
Few were looking in the direction the great American dreadnoughts and
her ample screening forces. He thought that he'd seen flag signals being
readied, but none had been hoisted yet. Instead, all aboard the light
cruiser were staring off into the Atlantic. Well, with what they knew
awaited them ....
"What?!" Alton exclaimed, as the words behind him registered.
Firing on the Germans while they were in American waters?! Literally under
the lee of the American Navy?! Of his force?! He pivoted and looked at
Niobe and the AMCs, about 17,000 yards on his starboard beam. But
... there was no sign of ... wait! Were those sparks of gunfire he saw
on the far more distant ships of Patey himself? He began to fine focus
his binoculars. But ... Patey was far out of range and was even going
in the opposite direction! Just as the images of the distant British cruisers
resolved themselves in his lenses, tall shafts of water appeared in the
sea near them. Very tall shafts of water. He looked further out and, on
the horizon, he saw blinks of light. Like heat lightning. Far, far away.
"Hell and damnation," he muttered.
---- 9:21 AM, bridge of Sydney, course 120, speed 23.5 knots (increasing)
"No, Captain," said Patey in a loud, firm voice. "Maintain
the attack! There," he added pointing. "Steer for the one on
the left - the one with the broad pennant!"
"Aye, aye, sir." What else could he say? Dedmundee swallowed.
"His Majesty has many light cruisers," half-shouted Patey,
"and admirals, for that matter. The Kaiser has only a few battlecruisers
left. And here we have two of them. Our duty is there," Patey pointed,
"on our bow. Maximum speed! Close with the enemy! You are free to
"Signals!" Patey barked. "Torpedo attack - concentrate
on the leader!"
"Shift fire," Dedmundee ordered. "New target - enemy battlecruisers."
Maybe it would suppress their fire.
"Left rudder," the deck canted, "midships!"
---- 9:22 AM, bridge of Moltke, course 330, speed 20 knots (increasing)
Rear-Admiral Hanzik and Captain Stang stood side-by-side on the bridge,
staring through their binoculars.
"Gut," said Hanzik. "The British admiral did concentrate.
Now it will be much more difficult for them to disperse, or run into the
American waters and escape."
The enemy cruisers began to weave violently, but showed no signs of breaking
off their rapid advance. Splashes from British shells approached more
"Escape is not his plan," Moltke's commander said darkly.
---- 9:22 AM, Imperator, course 120, speed 5 knots
The distant "heat lightning" had just begun to provoke an equally
excited, though admittedly far different, reaction on the bridge of the
great liner. High in the superstructure of the tall, slowly moving ship,
fairly large telescopes stared out to sea. Voices were calling down to
the bridge area.
The two young American reporters were among those without binoculars
or spyglasses. They could not make out much of anything with their naked
eyes. They also could not make out the words, but something was happening;
that was obvious. Both now suspected that their story might be far different
from anything they might have imagined.
"Whatta' ya think, Blue?" Maxwell asked, as they shaded their
eyes with their hands and stared at the bright eastern horizon, as everyone
else seemed to be doing.
"I dunno, Max. They're sure all ...." Fox paused, as men rushed
out and onto the back of the bridge area and past them. He looked back
along the rail and nudged the other. There, a few yards distant, the Ottoman
potentate was surrounded by his retinue. Several of his dark visaged cut-throats
were all trying to speak to him at once, panting harshly and gesticulating
wildly as they competed for their master's attention.
---- 9:22 AM, bridge of Melbourne, course 120, speed 23.5 knots
Captain Shane Theargus knew only that his orders remained to form on
Sydney, whose stern was just 300 yards ahead of his ship's bow. He'd given
the order to open fire on the German light cruiser they could see - Rostock,
the southern-most of the pair - moments after the flagship's guns had
spoken. The first rounds had gone out after their target had turned onto
a SW heading.
Theargus now caught sight at just what was astern of Rostock. What the
... oh, bloody hell!
"Shift target! New target - enemy battlecruiser."
Next he saw the wake ahead of him bending to the NE.
---- 9:22 AM, bridge of Augsberg, course 330, speed 21 knots (increasing)
The burning, dramatically listing AMC picket now 4,000 yards off their
port bow was no longer a threat, other than to navigation. Speck had turned
his attention to the other, and even larger AMC off their port forequarter,
whose bow was pointed directly at his bridge. All the Brits seemed to
have shifted their fire onto the far bigger targets astern. For the first
time since this engagement began, the enemy was shooting at somebody other
his own command.
This time it was the port side gun crews that added their fire to that
of the bow mounts. Just 6,000 yards away, the tall, 12,000 ton Otway
presented a fine target.
---- 9:22 AM, bridge of Rostock, course 225, speed 21 knots (increasing)
Right when they'd turned, Westfeldt had ordered his gunners to shift
fire to Sydney. The range was down to something like 6,000 yards,
but she was a much tougher target than an AMC. So far, they'd scored no
Melbourne had fired a few rounds at Rostock, but had almost
immediately shifted to von der Tann. Berwick, however, had
just gotten line of sight to Rostock and her guns straddled the
German light cruiser in moments. One near miss close aboard threw splinters
across the forward superstructure. Another had inflicted casualties aft.
"Hit!" The small burst of bright orange was near the base of
the aft mast-like structure.
"Whanng!" The trail Britisher was an older, armored cruiser,
County class, but her age was misleading. Ships of this very same class
- nearly twice Rostock's size and fully twice her broadside weight
in metal - had run down and destroyed at least three German CLs in this
war already. Westfeldt's orders were not to engage warships.
There was a few seconds lull as Rostock's gunners lost their target.
The barrage from Berwick also eased, as she turned to follow in Melbourne's
wake. In seconds, all but her stern guns also shifted fire to the larger
von der Tann.
---- 9:22 AM, bridge of von der Tann, course 235, speed 21 knots
"Damn!" Captain Dirk muttered as their sixth salvo landed close
astern of their erratic and fast moving target. CDR Bavaria, beside him,
grunted in agreement.
The lighter bark of one or two of their secondary guns could occasionally
be heard in between salvos. Where those shells went was anybody's guess.
Nonetheless, 6,000 yards was very low range for their main armament,
and they had expected to hit before this. Meanwhile, Melbourne's
shells had marched right up to them and scored amidships. Berwick's
first shells were already in flight.
---- 9:22 AM, bridge of Sydney, course (changing), speed 24 knots
"Signals," called out Patey, "for Otway, Niobe,
and the other AMCs: Scatter, make way independently'!"
The flashes of their ordnance detonating on the big battlecruiser tight
on their starboard bow were heartening, but Dedmundee had little hope
of achieving much with them. He concentrated on aiming for a position
ahead of the German.
Both he and Patey were unaware of the shell splash trio from von der
Tann just astern to starboard. The closest one had been fewer than
50 yards distant, and shell splinters had struck down several crewmen.
The hit aft from Rostock also had inflicted several casualties
but that, too, was not known to those on the bridge.
They would also remain unaware of the next hit.
---- 9:23 AM, bridge of Moltke, course 315, speed 20 knots (increasing)
Their seventh salvo straddled Sydney but one shell of the four
struck almost flush on the hull below the forward superstructure about
three feet above the waterline. It crushed through the plating and exploded
four feet deep in the hull. The fireball cratered the hull itself and
a blunt, conical wavefront of white hot gas and shards thrust deep in
a shallow downward diagonal. The ship seemed to stagger and the shock
toppled nearly all in the casemates and on the bridge above. Other than
two men who'd been outside off the port side of the bridge, only the helmsman
had kept his feet and a knuckle in their wake evidenced his exertions
to remain standing.
Otway had landed her first hit in the superstructure aft of the
bridge. Her stern gun crew gained line of sight at Rostock and
fired their first shot.
---- 9:23 AM, bridge of Augsberg, course 330, speed 21.5 knots
The first had been high on her tall bow. The second had scored on the
hull, port side, about one-third along her length.
A new explosion ahead drew Speck's glance to their first, earlier foe.
That AMC was stopped, burning and listing, and was fast coming up on their
port bow. In a minute or three, he'd have alter course or accept that
her smoke would degrade their accuracy. If he held to his course for just
a few more minutes, she'd come between him and his current target.
---- 9:23 AM, bridge of Melbourne, course (changing), speed 23
Omigod, thought Captain Theargus, as he watched the fireball recede from
Sydney's hull. Smoke began to stream astern of the flagship within
seconds. Other than the knuckle in her wake, she steamed on without any
other immediate effect. The flags which were certainly the beginnings
of the signal for a torpedo attack remained only partly up the lines.
He knew Patey well enough for that. What else, if anything, the vice-admiral
may have been about to signal was a mystery.
" Sar, we're runnin' up on er! Fast like!"
Theargus drew a deep breath as Patey's stern began to draw closer at
what appeared to be an increasing rate. He looked at Sydney's still
"Yes," he replied. "Standby, there."
"Aye, aye, sar. Standin' by."
Some of Sydney's guns resumed fire. He could see that much even
without the glass from his vantage now just a hundred and a half yards
astern. If he looked towards the dubious safety of the American coastline,
then just beyond visibility to the north, it may only have been to check
his searoom. Certainly, his crew detected no hesitation.
"Helm, take us by on her unengaged side," Theargus ordered.
Then, in a louder voice, "Torpedo attack! Signals! Hoist it!"
"Aye, aye, sir!"
---- 9:23 AM, bridge of Rostock, course 190, speed 20 knots (increasing)
"Right rudder," ordered Westfeldt. Yes, his and Speck's orders
had been not to remain engaged with warships, unless it absolutely could
not be avoided. With the explosion on the lead Britisher, however, the
big County had shifted her fire away from Rostock. To von der
Tann, it seemed. It was time to get back into the battle.
There was still an occasional splash off their beam, from Berwick's stern
mount. Otway's stern gun was also getting rounds off in their direction,
but Westfeldt did not know that.
"Target, trail cruiser."
---- 9:24 AM, bridge of Augsberg, course 330, speed 21.5 knots
Damn! Speck nearly cursed, once he turned back, following his glance
at the fireball on the lead British cruiser. That last explosion amidst
the bonfire that had been Val's Tract had expelled fresh, dense
billows of black smoke which were moments away from obscuring their aim.
Even hors de combat, the resolute AMC picket was posing problems for him.
There was also some risk of flotsam. He could go around the hulk, to the
north, but that would effectively take them right out of this battle for
several minutes. He could turn to port now; that would put his small cruiser
essentially bow-to-bow with their much larger target barely 4,000 yards
"Left rudder," he ordered, hating the sudden quiet as his guns
ceased fire in the turn. The large AMC had absorbed something like a half-dozen
hits with little outward effect, save threads of smoke from two places
amidships. Speck was certain she'd shift fire to Augsberg once
they turned toward her.
Damn, this AMC was big, he thought. For an instant, he recalled Stettin,
as she had looked on the end of her tow, and his friend Jeff Lantz, as
he looked in the hospital the day before they'd left.
---- 9:24 AM, bridge of von der Tann, course 235, speed 21 knots
Berwick was scoring hit after hit without reply, but Dirk was
not about to change targets at this point.
"Yes, that one hurt her!"
It had taken von der Tann ten salvos to land her first solid hit,
but the results seemed decisive. The slowing Sydney had slewed
about less in the minute or so after Moltke's hit, making her a
somewhat easier target. The 5,000 yards range made it akin to aiming a
deer rifle across a parlor. The eleven inch shell struck near the waterline
below the base of the third stack and, best Dirk could tell, might have
broken her back.
---- 9:24 AM, bridge of Rostock, course 330, speed 20 knots (increasing)
Westfeldt watched as his shell splashes tightened up on the Brit cruiser.
His light shells seemed not to have any effect whatsoever. No wonder,
he realized, the Counties had had such successes with Nurnberg,
Leipzig, and Dresden. He was profoundly thankful for the
big battlecruisers off his starboard side.
A splash right alongside made him draw breath, but the County off his
starboard bow kept her fire on von der Tann.
Damn, Westfeldt thought, it was as though they were shooting blanks.
---- 9:24 AM, bridge of Melbourne, course (changing), speed 24
Their guns ceased fire as the second Australian cruiser overtook Patey's
flagship, drawing nearly abreast on Sydney's port side. Theargus
looked for any sign of the admiral as he began to gain some view of her
bridge. So far, there'd been no new signals hoisted on the crippled warship.
"Give me a sign, Admiral," he pleaded, under his breath. A signal,
anything, anything at all. He was ready to act on even a gesture from
the doughty admiral.
"Oh, my God!" The exclamation was involuntary, and from more
than one throat.
They were mostly shielded from the blast wave from Sydney by the
flagship's own mass. Nonetheless, Theargus and the others could feel the
heat on their faces, as the last two stacks went over and a fireball erupted
where they had stood.
"As you were! Steady there!" Theargus barked. Debris began
to land noisily on the foc'sle - an horrific, metallic summer shower.
---- 9:25 AM, bridge of Moltke, course 315, speed 20.5 knots (increasing)
"Shift fire! Shift fire!"
Captain Stang orders were louder than was his custom, as Melbourne
burst through the pall of smoke cast by Sydney.
"New target: leading cruiser!"
Even as he issued the orders, Melbourne's bow gun fired, and her
forward starboard mounts were only moments behind.
The first of his guns to reply was one of his secondaries, but he knew
no amount of 15 cm shells was going to stop them. The second Britisher
was hardly 4,000 yards away and coming hard at their bows.
"Right rudder! Come to 350."
---- 9:25 AM, bridge of von der Tann, course 235, speed 21 knots
"Whanng!" Berwick had the range and was firing nearly
undisturbed from about 5,000 yards. The old armored cruiser had the seven
of her 6" guns that could bear firing with marvelous rapidity, even
as she strained to stay astern of the smaller, but newer Melbourne.
She was scoring far more hits than either Captain Dirk or Commander Bavaria
knew, as they were aware only of those that hit nearby or forward.
"Shift fire!" Captain Dirk ordered with relief. "New target..."
"... trail cruiser!"
Before their guns could fire, however, Berwick had slipped behind
Sydney's pyre, fast in Melbourne's wake. The battle was
beginning to move away from them, to the north and east.
"Rostock has already turned to the north," CDR Bavaria
commented quietly, in the odd little lull.
"Yes," Dirk acknowledged. "Right rudder!"
---- 9:25 AM, bridge of Augsberg, course 300, speed 21 knots (increasing)
"Hit! Hit again!"
Finally, there seemed to be sign of fires on, "Otway," Speck
read her name from 3,000 yards off.
Melbourne had just emerged from the smoke of Sydney just
off their port bow. She was close, far too close, herself not much further
than the 3,000 yards to Otway. He'd gotten too close, lured by
the large AMC. Even as the deck tilted, and tilted hard, one of the Brit's
port guns opened fire, joined quickly by others.
Splashes began to mark the waves along their previous path.
The third British cruiser was just astern of the second, and soon opened
fire with her portside guns as well.
Speck looked at the foul, greasy smoke still spewing from Val's Tract.
Now it looked quite welcoming, and it was only a few hundred yards away.
Her starboard deck edge was already below the waves. He looked astern,
the shell splashes seemed to be following them, like the footsteps of
some invisible giant.
---- 9:26 AM, bridge of Moltke, course 350, speed 19.5 knots (increasing)
The turn partially away had not helped much. The pair of Brit cruisers
were angling ahead and were already down to about 3,500 yards.
"Concentrate," Stang thought to himself, almost in disgust,
"he wanted the British to concentrate."
Hanzik had deployed to catch the Brits whichever way they turned to flee.
Only they had done nothing of the sort. Splitting their own force had
resulted only in splitting their own fire.
That was their second salvo. The first had been short, after their turn.
A couple of their secondaries fired, but with no visible results.
Should he turn away? He did not look at Hanzik. If the admiral wanted
him to do something, Stang expected he'd make it quite clear.
---- 9:26 AM, bridge of von der Tann, course (changing), speed
18 knots (slowing)
"Sir, my rudder is coming left. Rudder amidships. Sir, steady on
"They're pressing the attack on Moltke," Bavaria commented
"Yes, we're out of position, but the range can't be more than 6,000
Their guns fired and both raised their glasses and waited for the fall
---- 9:26 AM, bridge of Melbourne, course 100, speed 24 knots (increasing)
There, almost dead ahead on their starboard bow, was Patey's target.
Proud Patey. Theargus did not even glance back at what was left of Sydney.
He barely flicked his eyes at the light cruiser to the northeast practically
disappearing into the smoke of Moore's funeral pyre. He noted several
small threads of smoke from the big Hun battlecruiser, but he was not
fooled. They had not hurt her. Not yet.
Tall spouts punched out of the water just ahead. They had very little
time. He accepted it.
Theargus grimaced as he watched the barrels of their target move to track
them. And fire again.
---- 9:27 AM, bridge of von der Tann, course 350, speed 18.5 knots
Bavaria looked at the remains of the British leader's ship. Her stern
was not visible; presumably it had sunk. The bow and even a bit of the
forward superstructure were lifted well out of the water, still pointing
Their target, the larger cruiser, had just turned inside of the track
of the new leader. Their shells had landed between the ships, along their
Their second salvo went out.
---- 9:27 AM, bridge of Moltke, course 350, speed 20 knots (increasing)
Almost dead on their beam, five towering shafts of water almost surrounded
their target, but there were no signs of a hit.
There was a brief flash on the Brit. Some smaller gun had scored, either
theirs or Augsberg's. He had no way to tell. It did not matter.
Actually, two hits had occurred. One shell whipped by above Melbourne's
center, perforating her forward stack. The other 11-inch shell struck
high on her hull, about 30 feet back from the edge of the bow. The explosion
tried to kick the bow sideways, massively deforming it, cratering it upwards
even as it blew off a huge section of plating all the way down to and
below the waterline. The waves were an avalanche of stone and the bow
failed catastrophically, folding back upon itself.
The deceleration was almost instantaneous, dashing everyone onto the
deck and forward.
---- 9:28 AM, bridge of von der Tann, course 350, speed 18.5 knots
"Damn!" Dirk said in a low voice.
Their second salvo also had missed and, now, so had their third.
They saw the flash of the hit on Melbourne, but could not discern
Berwick, meanwhile, had begun to return fire from her rear and
after port mounts. The County's gunners were already on target.
The flash of a hit and fireball showed clearly on the after quarter of
the 10,000-ton armored cruiser.
---- 9:28 AM, bridge of Moltke, course 350, speed 20 knots (increasing)
Their next salvo had missed ahead of the crippled British cruiser.
"Whanng!" The third British cruiser was still firing at them,
and still hitting. The flash on her after quarter drew Stang's eye, then
Again two hits had been scored on Melbourne, range 2,800 yards.
These were much more obviously decisive, as great gouts of fire burst
from the stricken light cruiser. They seemed almost to crush her, as though
she'd been trodden upon by some monstrous, invisible being. Even as Stang
watched, the flames seemed to spread all over her hull. Smaller flashes
marked fresh hits from lighter guns, and her stern seemed to be slightly
out of the water.
"Shift fire!" Stang ordered, as Berwick ran past the
shattered light cruiser. Before his orders could get relayed, another
main gun salvo smashed into the flaming ruin.
"Whummmpf!" Their own deck shuddered as a tower of water alongside
surged up from just aft of the bridge.
Hanzik's first thought was, "The Baron's not going to be happy about
---- 9:29 AM, bridge of von der Tann, course 350, speed 19 knots
"Sir, Moltke's been hit by a torpedo!"
The tall column of water could be seen even from their vantage, about
8,000 yards away.
"Verfluch!" Dirk exclaimed in what he hoped was a low voice.
"Indeed," replied Bavaria, suggesting that it had not been
Another burst on their target, but with little obvious effect.
---- 9:30 AM, bridge of Moltke, course 350, speed 20 knots
Huge fireballs staggered the final British warship, and silenced all
but a single gun. She began to slow, but did not waver from her course.
Another hit from von der Tann added to the great fires aboard
the gallant County.
Suddenly, the battle was over. Here.
---- 9:40 AM, bridge of von der Tann
"This is victory?" Commander Bavaria asked, a bit incautiously.
Dirk silently agreed with the feelings of his noble XO. The pair were
studying the other three German warships. Small boats were in the water,
looking for survivors.
"We have 28 dead, another six missing," Bavaria continued.
"Two dozen other casualties, and the fire in the aft superstructure
is only now being reported as under control."
"Yes," Dirk replied. "Both lights took hits, as well.
Rostock looks okay, but Augsberg is still smoking."
Smoking shattered hulks marked what remained visible of the British force
which had challenged them. The County had taken a dozen hits almost point
blank before capsizing.
Both men looked at the flagship. Trails of smoke eddied out of a dozen
places, and she appeared to already have a slight list. Bright squares
began to rise from abaft her bridge.
"Uh-oh," Bavaria remarked.
"Sir, signal from Moltke."
"Very well," both men answered, without lowering their binoculars.
They could read the signals quite adequately as they lay to, 1000 yards
away from their flagship.
"Our number, and Rostock's," Dirk murmured. " Continue
"Here we go again," said Bavaria.