So many historians have written tomes on how or why the British Fleet commander
should have known to break off the engagement earlier. Those scholars, snug in
their parlours and drawing rooms, generally years or decades after the smoke of
battle had dissipated, rarely pointed out how brief that encounter of the main
bodies really was. The lead divisions had opened fire fewer than thirty minutes
before the order was given. Indeed, some accounts put the figure closer to twenty-five.
And why should the British have fled? This was the battle that the British Royal Navy had yearned for from the time of sail! How could any British Admiral raised on a diet of Nelson and Drake, eager to avenge the losses of Beatty and Sturdee, possibly be expected to turn for Scapa Flow and ignominy before his battleships were fairly tested? No one had stood up to the Royal Navy, fleet-to-fleet, since Trafalgar, and the officers and men of the Royal Navy knew full well what had happened that day. Certainly the British knew that Vice-Admiral Scheer, the commanding admiral of the High Seas Fleet, would countenance no such thing! How could their Lord Admiral have known that it would not be Scheer but my great-grandfather, who would command the High Seas Fleet that day, let alone that he had every intention of putting it all to the touch.
Of course, it fell to Baron Vice-Admiral Rudburg (then Rear-Admiral) to resolutely stand his bridge directly across from that of the British Admiral commanding the Grand Fleet Line of Battle. Baron Letters saw his duty in the van.
----------- Lady Christine Letters, ibid, pages 417-8
7:12 am, bridge of Kronprinz, course 090, speed 15 knots
Captain Wilhelm saw the flash ahead of the base of the forward superstructure of the Iron Duke class BB.
"Was that a turret hit?" Captain Wilhelm asked.
There had been no secondary explosion.
Who is hitting us? Captain Wilhelm wondered again.
The shells were from Orion. Orion, hit thirteen times already, slowing as the starboard propellor lost power, down to three turrets, was still on target. Flames were visible in several locations and growing. With 700 casualties, her damage control was beginning to fail. Not so her guns.
"Sir, casualties ...."
7:12 pm, bridge of Iron Duke, course 090, speed 20 knots
Columns of water were constantly leaping from the sea nearby, roaring by overhead, or ...
"Damn!" Captain Smith exclaimed. It seemed like a massive shotgun had fired into the face of the superstructure. Again, he picked himself up from the deck. The American was cut, but most of the blood had come from those nearer the front of the bridge.
"You all right?" Captain Smith asked Captain Loureiro as he helped him up. The Brazilian also had blood on his uniform. British seamen and ratings were already tending the wounded, and taking their posts. Several of the casualties had been signals personnel. The neutral observers had once again escaped serious injury due to being at the rear of the bridge. For a moment, the Brazilian attache seemed at a loss for words. Later, the American would consider that almost as remarkable as their survival.
"Sir, "B" turret has been severely damaged."
The observers slipped up to take a look. The deck was slippery. Captain Smith declined to dwell on the source of the lubricant.
Ahead and below the bridge, there was a fairly small section of turret roof peeled back from the port corner of the nearest bow turret. It looked, Captain Smith would later recount, like a giant had started to open the great armored box like a sardine can. Apparently the shell had burst there, burrowed only part way into the more rigid geometry of the corner, rather than fully entering the turret itself. A thread of smoke streamed out of the wedge-shaped opening. The shell's explosion had thrown splinters aft in a great spray, as well as into the turret itself.
"Get those flags up," barked a petty officer, out of the observer's view aft.
"Sir, Gunnery Officer reports midships turret back in service."
"And get it out on the wireless!" Captain Smith heard another petty officer order; a rating acknowledged and left.
"Several ships seem to be firing at us," remarked Captain Loureiro, with surprising casualness. The attache brushed at his once-immaculate uniform with a small, sad smile. Several small bits of metal, the size of filings, clinked on the deck. The dark stains remained, visible even in the flickering light from the flames aft and outside on the starboard side of the superstructure.
"Straddled again," said Captain Loureiro, in a cultured tone.
"Shit!" Captain Smith muttered.
7:12 pm, bridge of Hannover, course 090, speed 15 knots
Rear Admiral Hanzik was jubilant. His six pre-dreadnoughts had struggled to stay with the HSF main body all day. They had met the ordered 18 knots bell for close to four hours, and he'd been proud, damn proud. They'd heard their ships called the "Frau's," but the old ladies were here, and here to fight.
The easing to 15 knots had been a blessing, however, as it not only gave the black gang a chance to better rotate the stokers, but it also was just in time to give them a fair chance to shoot.
His entire squadron seemed to be firing at one RN BB. She had just appeared,
turning onto the RN GF LOB course. Her guns had let them spot her a minute before.
Actually, Deutschland, the lead ship was firing at Marlborough and had just
hit her, though without apparent effect.
The admiral tried to study his squadron's target in the gloom, a gloom punctuated by the muzzle flashes of more than a score of ships, and the flicker of fires distorted by the mists.
Odd, even in the poor light, she seemed too big to be an older 12" BB. She was visibly bigger than the BB that now seemed to be turning into the LOB behind her. Why then, he wondered, was her midships turret silent?
"Hit!" This one, like the previous one, had no visible effect.
7:12 pm, bridge of Thuringen, course 090, speed 15 knots
"Sir, their aft turret!"
"Yes," agreed Captain von Kroon. The tongues of flame threw their target, Temeraire, into sharp relief. It also illuminated Vanguard, 500 yards astern. Temeraire steamed on, seemingly unaffected by the wound.
Actually, there'd been two hits. The other had smashed a path through the upper superstructure, just aft of the armored conning tower, but then failed to explode.
Aboard Temeraire, the flash doors had held, saving the ship. However, the shock of the explosion had damaged the seals and aft-most bearings for the port shaft. The flooding rate was moderate, for the moment, but problems with the port shaft would not be long in coming. The more immediate threat, however, was the damage to hydraulic systems. Rudder control was not, however, lost but the ship would be a bit sluggish in sharp turns.
Captain von Kroon looked aft. His own ship's topsides had a decidedly chewed look. Holes, peeled back flaps of steel, missing hardware, and stray scraps of metal were clear signs his ship was taking a beating. The key systems, though, remained intact with all main turrets in service, the flooding stabilized, and the fire was coming under control.
Splashes jutted like crystal spears 100 yards short of Thuringen.
"Which ship has us under fire," asked the captain, "can you tell?"
It was Benbow, two ahead of Temeraire.
7:12 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 030, speed 25 knots
"Fire!" Captain Theodore shouted the command as soon as the target became clear, her flames betraying her. The range was shockingly close. The enemy target was just 8500 yards away, on bearing 320.
"Admiral, Blucher has opened fire!"
"Sir, enemy light ships, bearing 350. They're on a southerly course, and coming hard!"
A new, small burst of light showed high in their target's superstructure.
The baron grimly shifted back and forth between north and north-east, assessing
the threat on his port bow, and the targets on his port beam.
7:12 pm, bridge of Seydlitz, course 030, speed 25 knots
"There," shouted Captain Nik, "Guns, take the second ship."
"Captain, there're more ships behind the target. Sir, they're not cripples! That's the whole Line of Battle we're taking on!!"
Captain Nik suppressed the urge to swallow. The Grand Fleet was just 9000 yards away. For the moment, no one seemed to know they were there. The blast of Seydlitz' first half-salvo lit the sea around them, as did the salvos of the other BC's. Obviously, they were a secret no more.
Four battlecruisers against the Grand Fleet at 9000 yards.
"Lt. Lionel," he began ....
There was a flash of flame as an 11" shell pounded through the side armor of
their target's first turret. The powder burned fiercely, but many got out alive.
7:12 pm, bridge of Grosser Kurfurst, course 090, speed 15 knots
"They weren't ours!" Captain Schnell said. "Was that Konig's?"
"No, sir. Konig is down to three turrets. That was four or five splashes."
"Sir, it's First Scouting!"
Captain Schnell turned to look ahead and off his port bow. Yes, the battlecruisers
seemed about 4000 yards away on an NNE bearing. Even as he watched, the trail
pair also opened fire.
7:12 pm, bridge of Prinzregent Luitpold, course 090, speed 15 knots
There had been a bright spark on the target's waterline, just aft of midships.
The BB, Superb, appeared unaffected.
Captain Matthias was disappointed, but he was confident that, at 10,000 yards, the 12" shell had probably gotten through and caused some flooding anyway.
He was right.
Another hit, moments later, high in the superstructure went unnoticed as it
failed to explode. Instead, the wind of its passage knocked down several lookouts,
tumbling one to the deck far below, before it splashed into the sea 200 yards
7:12 pm, bridge of Neptune, course 090, speed 20 knots
"That was near the waterline!"
"Those splashes weren't ours!"
"No, sir. It looks like St. Vincent is also on our target."
"Sir, we're taking water from that one, but it's not too serious."
Back on one funnel, a 11" hole was the only sign that another shell had passed
7:13 pm, bridge of Kaiser, course 090, speed 14 and slowing
"Sir, we're losing vacuum on the port condenser. Between the flooding and losing feed pumps, the port shaft is going to be in trail any minute. We'll be down to about 12 knots, until we can get it repaired."
"Admiral," do you want to shift your flag to Kaiserin?"
Admiral Necki wanted no such thing. What he wanted was to stay in the Line.
The shell had been from Dreadnought, who'd swerved back towards the LOB, her fires still visible but no longer growing out of control. It took out two tertiary guns, killing most of their crews.
"No, Captain, I'll stay ..."
That shell had been from Monarch, fired before Seydlitz had landed her first hit in their second half-salvo.
"... aboard Kaiser. This is no time to try to change ships."
"Signals. Kaiserin, take division lead. Wireless, report that to Derfflinger and Ostfriesland. Confirm receipt."
"Stay in the Line as long as possible."
"Aye, aye, sir."
7:14 pm, bridge of Ostfriesland, course 090, speed 15 knots
"Admiral, we've lost the target."
The five knot differential was causing the lead RN BBs to edge out of sight. Rudburg just hoped that someone was still shooting at her from the divisions ahead. He considered sending a signal to Admiral Necki in Kaiser directing that detail in fire allocation, but immediately rejected it. The chance of confusion was too high. Necki surely had enough to deal with in his own division without odd signals from his unexpected new boss, four ships to his rear. Rudburg was, of course, quite right.
"Very well," Admiral Rudburg replied, "shift targets as needed."
"Guns, take the one on the beam, fire!"
Their new target was Vanguard, still illuminated by the fire just going down in what had been Temeraire's stern turret.
Admiral Rudburg turned his binoculars to the RN LOB. If they were in four-ship divisions, as it certainly appeared. The next division leader should be right about .... there. Yes, he thought, that should be the one. It was the one astern of their new target.
The ship he was staring at was the Colossus. She was unmarked. Splashes rose
short of her. Whichever ship was shooting at her was not hitting her. Though
he did not know it, the shooter was Posen, leading the last dreadnought division.
She was not shooting well this day.
7:14 pm, bridge of Hannover, course 090, speed 15 knots
"Shift targets! Take the next ship!"
The faster RN LOB was beginning to recede ahead.
Admiral Hanzik realized that the battle was going to move out of sight ahead in just a few more minutes. There seemed to be another ship behind their new target but, unless there were still others, his "Fighting Fraus" would soon be without targets.
A massive sheet of flame spewed from the last ship.
"It looks like a battlecruiser blew up," exclaimed one petty officer who, as a Dogger Bank veteran, was in a position to know.
"No," replied Hanzik. "They all already did."
7:14 pm, bridge of von der Tann, course, 030, speed 25 knots
Captain Dirk had seen his ship score one hit earlier on Monarch, near the waterline forward. However, the trail position had taken Monarch out of his safe line of sight with Moltke ahead and the RN LOB advancing across on 090. The target they could see best was Superb. Dreadnought was still swerving in and out of the Line and partially obscured from ahead by the smoke from Iron Duke, who herself was almost continuously obscured by waterspouts from near misses.
Prinzregent Luitpold's earlier hit on Superb had left a fire low on the forward superstructure. It marked Superb well from von der Tann's bearing.
The first half salvo was close, the second a straddle.
The shell flew just over the bow turret and pounded into the front superstructure,
exploding two decks below the bridge. Fire jetted out.
7:15 pm, bridge of Kaiserin, course 090, speed 15 knots
Captain Skorpion watched still another half salvo miss Dreadnought. Their target still sported a fine fire to mark her, but she was swerving in and out trying to evade the shells pounding all around her. She was not hitting anything either, but such a draw was far to the advantage of the RN, and Skorpion knew it.
"Sir, flags going up on Kaiser!"
Odd, thought Captain Skorpion. Admiral Rudburg was aft in Ostfriesland. What would Admiral Necki be signaling?
"Anything on the wireless?" Skorpion asked.
7:15 pm, bridge of Friedrich der Grosse, course 090, speed 15 knots
Captain Abdul Hadi did not know who they were shooting at. That is, he knew which shape on the gloomy horizon they had under fire. Indeed, the same ship was firing at them. He just did not know which ship she was. Neither, apparently, did any of the others on the bridge.
The visibility was poor, but the class of the RN BB should at least be discernible.
That, however, was not the case.
Most felt she was the Canada, a BB not thought completed. A very vocal minority thought she was an Iron Duke class BB. A few had even held that she was a Queen Elizabeth, until it was confirmed that she was firing from five turrets.
The strange BB seemed to shimmer in the mists, as though changing from one class to the other.
Whoever she was, they were not hitting her. Nor, did it seem, was she hitting
7:15 pm, bridge of Derfflinger
A large explosion marked the end of Orion. The last hits had not been on a turret or barbette, and they had been too high to probe deeply into her vitals.
Out of control flames had reached a magazine.
Von Hase sighted on Superb, brightly lit by the fire kindled by Captain Dirk's von der Tann.
Flagcaptain Theodore looked at the RN LOB, looked at the RN DD's 5000 yards away and about to launch full spreads of torpedoes, and looked at the baron. The baron had his binoculars hard on Iron Duke and did not even look up.
"Stay on course, Captain."
"Aye, aye, sir."
7:15 pm, bridge of Blucher, course 045, speed 24 knots
The lead RN DD's were 3000 yards away. Commodore von Hoban's CL's and DD's were 1000 yards ahead of him and the engagement was about to become a collision not a battle. He had ordered his own trio of DD's ahead, but that left it 13 DD's against more than twice that number.
Crack crack! His 5.9" guns joined the louder 8.2" guns in firing at the RN onslaught. His big guns had sunk one DD outright, but it did nothing to daunt the others. The battlecruisers, 1500 yards behind him opened fire with the few secondaries that could be served under the high speed conditions.
A few large spouts rose amongst the RN ships. The battlecruisers were joining in with their starboard turrets. It was not going to be enough, von Hoban realized.
The sea churned from 4" and 6" shells landing among his command. The poor visibility
and high speed had kept down the number of hits, though several ships had already
been hit. Larger spouts suddenly rose near Blucher.
"Commodore! Armored cruisers!"
About 3000 yards behind the RN DD's, the larger forms of the RN cruisers could
be seen joining the fray.
7:15 pm, bridge of Queen Elizabeth, course 090, speed 15 knots
"Great shooting!" Captain Dave shouted to Commander Boy.
A large fireball jetted out of the hull of Westfalen. The ship staggered visibly even in the poor visibility.
The 15" shell had penetrated the deck and detonated high in engineering. One set of triple expansion hardware was completely slagged, and damage to other machinery was extensive. Steam helped put out the fire even as it significantly added to the casualties.
The next salvo missed ahead and short. Westfalen's loss of speed had been immediate, and her captain ordered hard rudder to take her out of the path of Admiral Hanzik's pre-dreadnoughts directly behind her.
"Sir," said Commander Moyer, "she's hauling out of the line!"
"Stay on target!"
Captain Dave wanted to finish her off quickly.
7:15 pm, bridge of Agincourt, course 090, speed 15 knots
Captain Hawke waited for the fall of shot. Fourteen splashes ought to be easy
They had the range right off!
Their target, Hessen, staggered as one, or possibly two, shells smashed through near the waterline.
Like Westfalen, two ships ahead, she'd just taken massive damage in propulsion machinery. Hessen also began to lose speed almost immediately.
Captain von Mueller did not know just how badly Hessen, his command, was hurt. The old ship shook from the hit, but there was no fire to tell part of the tale. The gap between Hessen and Deutschland was beginning to grow, but it would take another minute to be noticeable. Anxiously he waited for damage reports. It would be the list that he noticed first.
Captain Hawke had scored another hit, further forward, but still on the hull. More flooding hastened Captain Mueller's decision, and he hauled out of the Line while he still had some speed.
The large number of splashes just about where Hessen would've been confirmed
the correctness of his decision.
7:15 pm, bridge of Iron Duke, course 090, speed 20 knots
"Admiral, lookouts report large caliber gunfire ahead on the starboard bow."
Captains Smith and Loureiro were stunned! Heavy German units were off the forward quarter?! Yes, several sets of flashes were there, well apart from the German LOB! A full division!
"Admiral, signals acknowledged."
"Hard left rudder!"
Captains Smith and Loureiro breathed deep sighs of relief. They looked at the German LOB as the hull began to tilt in response to a very motivated helmsman. Visible fires marked almost every German ship in the dim light.
"The battlecruisers," said Captain Loureiro.
"What?" Captain Smith asked.
"Those ships on the fore quarter must be the German battlecruisers. I'm sure
of it." He paused and frowned, then added, "Whoever took them straight into
the van must have balls the size of melons!"
It was the closest that Smith would ever hear the dapper attache come to vulgarity.
7:16 pm, bridges of Markgraf, Seydlitz, Moltke, and von der Tann
Monarch, trying to turn, wallowed in the wave troughs, heavily.
With Orion gone, she had the undivided attentions of all three shooters. Markgraf's caused the most outright damage. The deck hit as the BB turned detonated high in an engineroom. The hits from the battlecruisers took a heavy toll on the damage control teams in several locations, halting their efforts, and adding to the fires. The shooters quickly began to lose track of which shells were theirs. However, they were all close enough to being fine on target as not to matter for a few salvos.
Monarch lost way and began to pitch, even as splashes surrounded her.
7:16 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 030, speed 25 knots
Superb rocked to the 12" shell hit near the waterline just aft of the starboard wing turret. The hit was a near copy, in effect, of the hit on Hessen. One engineroom was briefly filled with steam, with flood water pouring in the gaping hole in the hull.
A few more salvos would surely finish her off.
"Hard right rudder!" Baron Letters shouted, binoculars still on his face.
"Signals, von Hoban, conform!"
"They've broken off!"
The baron paused a moment, his head turning to keep his eyes on Iron Duke.
"Signals, Admiral Rudburg, general pursuit. Good hunting, Montrose's Toast.
7:17 pm, bridge of Friedrich der Grosse, course 090, speed 15 knots
What ever ship that was, Captain Hadi thought, that one had hurt her.
The hit had been on the waterline aft. The bright spark seemed to leave a momentary
glow at the point of impact, suggesting it had penetrated and detonated.
7:17 pm, bridge of Kaiser, course 090, speed slowing
"Yes, get us out of the way."
"Right full rudder!"
The starboard wing turret gushed fire and the big ship shuddered.
It was Monarch's last salvo before her attempt to turn.
7:17 pm, bridge of Pommern, course 090, speed 15 knots
The Queen Elizabeth showed a burst of flame where the 11/40 shell, at just over 10,000 yards, had pounded through the deck and into the secondary guns there.
Admiral Hanzik, 500 yards astern, admired the flames. He turned back towards
Hessen. She was being stalked by fountains of shell splashes as she tried to
get behind the LOB.
7:17 pm, bridge of Blucher, course changing, quickly, speed 24 knots
Whanng! A 9.2" shell smashed into the aft part of the ship. Unlucky, thought von Hoban. They'd taken 4" and one 6" shells without too much damage. He thought he'd managed to avoid the larger guns at the last moment. He hoped it wasn't bad.
He watched as his flotillas sheered off. One DD near him was suddenly hidden in a large column of water.
Damn! The RN DD's had gotten off their fish!
Whummmmmpf! The hit was forward of the bow turret.
Damn, damn, damn!
He was splashed heavily as the column fell onto the deck. Already the feel of the big cruiser was different.
7:17 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course changing, quickly, speed 25 knots
"Sir, Blucher's ..."
The battlecruiser powered on.
Captain Theodore was not fooled. He could only wait for the damage reports.
7:17 pm, bridge of Seydlitz, course changing quickly, speed 25 knots
"Captain! Derffinger's been hit by ..."
The water column was just aft of the bridge. The ship shook as it fell onto the deck amidships.