6:00 pm, bridge of Fredrich der Grosse, course 010, speed 18 knots
"Admiral! Report from Admiral Letters! Torpedo attack on remaining BC's successful. One sunk, one probably sunk. Grand Fleet main body 25,000 yards NNW of my position - 45,000 yards NNW of your position. Enemy is in at least three columns. Engaging screen."
Vice-Admiral Scheer managed not to gasp. Others on the bridge did, indeed, gasp. Audibly! Another two BC's sunk, with no major loss!
The HSF CO, however, was in shock. The entire Grand Fleet was less than 50K away, with a two or three knot fleet speed advantage! His stomach spasmed and his already moist face felt cold and clammy. The RN had not sighted them yet. Had they? He could turn for port now, change course, and probably slip away.
Yes. Letters had his victory. They had again carved off a piece of the GF w/o serious loss. It was enough, more than enough. Another sortie or two with such success, and the nature of the sea war would change. But not yet, not today.
First, order Letters to break off, no more risks. Tell Letters that the main body was turning back. His knees felt weak and his breath rasped in his throat.
He turned to give the critical orders.
6:05 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 270, speed 20
"Captain Theodore," Letters began, "this is west enough. I'll be reversing course shortly. I'll want us to use normal left rudder, bitte."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Flags, hoist reverse course."
"Signals, Commodore von Hoban, prepare to assume close screen to the NW, distance 5000 yards."
"Captain Wolverine, assume position close aboard, south."
The baron turned to the plot again. Wiesbaden's last report had the GF main body due north now. He'd give it another few minutes.
"Any more from Wiesbaden?"
6:06 pm, bridge of Wiesbaden, course 160, speed 26
"No sign of them, sir."
The CO and the others breathed a sigh of relief. Their attackers had pursued them for several minutes and then had either lost them in the failing light, or they had simply turned back.
"Sir, Admiral Letters requests a sighting update."
"Report engaged by multiple armored cruisers, temporarily lost contact."
"Right full rudder, come to course 270."
The DD followed along in formation. Perhaps the DD CO wondered as to the value
of the shelter of Wiesbaden's 5.9" guns now that the CL appeared to be risking
them both re-engaging ships with 9.2" ones.
6:10 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 270, speed 20 knots
The BC's completed their third U-turn of the day without incident. The lookouts had been instructed to be alert for the 4 CL's who'd been lurking to the west in their van, but none had been sighted.
Captain Theodore looked aft as the squadron began to settle onto 090. He could
see Captain Nik on the bridge of Seydlitz. He saw him with binoculars trained
aft, presumably checking Captain Mustang and Moltke's position. Doubtless, Captain
Mustang was doing the same thing and looking at Captain Dirk's von der Tann,
while Dirk was likely taking a suspicious look west himself. Theodore was briefly
amused at the picture of all four CO's staring backwards at the same moment.
The things one thinks of in battle, he mused.
6:11 pm, bridge of Blucher, course 000, speed 24 knots
Von Hoban's two CL's with their half-flotillas had already crossed the wake of the BC's and Blucher was 2000 yards behind them.
"Commodore, we're almost in position," reported the ship CO.
Von Hoban had his eyes on Derfflinger. The BC's rather leisurely wide turn was giving them the time they needed.
He shifted his attention to the battered ships that were crossing ahead of the BC's and forming up on the south side.
"They certainly have seen battle this day," von Hoban remarked. "While we chased a will-of-the-wisp CL group," he added to himself. Truth be known, however, the Commodore was not at all displeased with this turn of events. If he'd stayed in main body screen, he might well have missed this battle and, no matter what, Vice-Admiral Baron Letters clearly had welcomed his arrival.
"Hoist come to 090."
6:15 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 090, speed 20 knots
"Sir, light ships are in position."
"Very well." The baron expected RN screen units to begin to appear on his port bow any moment. He raised his glasses. If the first ones to show were BB's, he might try another torpedo attack, but more likely he'd turn away. Wiesbaden, where are you, he thought.
"Sir! Signal from Ostfriesland ...."
"Ostfriesland?" Baron Letters interrupted, lowering his binoculars.
"Yes sir. Ostfriesland. Vice-Admiral Scheer has collapsed. They're requesting instructions, sir!"
The baron was suddenly disoriented. Why were they asking HIM for instructions?
"Captain Theodore, Vice-Admiral Schmidt is senior ..., oh," the baron halted. "Of course, Vice-Admiral Schmidt's illness kept him in port."
"Yes, sir," said Flagcaptain Theodore, "you're senior. Baron Letters, you now command the HSF."
"Um," temporized the baron. "Who is next in line?" For the life of him, he could not remember, his mind full of dead-reckoning positions, not names.
"Rear Admiral Rudburg, I believe, sir. He boarded Ostfriesland when Admiral Schmidt went into the hospital."
"Carl Johann!" Baron Letters exclaimed with relief. Admiral Rudburg was one of the few admirals who had agreed with Letters that it was time for the HSF to fight or yield its place for resources to the army.
"Signals, Ostfriesland, Admiral Rudburg, assume tactical control of the main body." Letters looked again at the plot. "Continue on 010, speed 18 knots."
After he studied the plot some more, he looked over at his Signals Officer.
"Signals, when that is acknowledged, send the following: 'Estimate main bodies
will engage at 6:40 pm. Prepare to form LOB. Letters.' "