7:17 pm, bridges of Moltke and von der Tann, course 030, speed 25 knots
Both Captains Mustang and Dirk had seen Derfflinger put her helm over, and both had seen the water column rear up threateningly along her side.
"Hard right rudder," they both shouted on their own bridges 500 and 1000 yards astern of Seydlitz, respectively. Neither had any remaining desire to make this a parade-class turn in column.
"Verdamnt!" Captain Mustang cursed, as he saw another evil wave of water wash up into the air alongside Seydlitz. He tightened his grip on the bridge rail to resist the tilting deck.
The hulls of the first two BC's were suddenly their shield as the RN torpedoes raced towards them unseen.
"Hold it, steady! Steady! Rudder amidships!" Captain Dirk ordered.
"Once again," Captain Dirk commented to the pale young lieutenant beside him, "being the trail ship has become an advantage."
Even more so than Moltke, Von der Tann managed to turn well short of Derflinger's
pivot point. Shortening the turn had taken him wider than expected and well
out of position in the 1SG formation, but he was quite willing to accept that
just now. Others nearby, however, felt somewhat differently.
7:17 pm, bridge of Regensburg, course 030, speed 25 knots
"Hard right rudder!" Captain Wolferin shouted. Intent on Derfflinger, he had the order out just as as soon as the battlecruiser began to heel into her turn.
There had been no warning from the baron, but Wolferin had been expecting the turn anyway. Frankly, he thought the baron had delayed too long. What had he been waiting for, anyway?
Smoke from too many funnels and the tall hulls just 1000 yards on his port kept Blucher's torpedo hit from his sight.
"Sir! Derffinger's been hit!" Heads turned.
"Sir," shouted Lt. Gottziele shouted, his voice cracking, from across the bridge, "Seydlitz's been hit!"
Wolferin looked back on his port side. Yes, the water was just collapsing onto the big BC. She was turning hard, seemingly unaffected by the hit.
"Lt. Gottziele," Wolferin called his Acting-XO.
"XO," Wolferin, "keep track of the other battlecruisers."
"Aye, aye, sir!"
Wolferin tried to put aside just how young his neo-phyte XO looked.
"Officer of the Deck! Can we make more speed this day?"
7:17 pm, bridge of Pilau, course 030, speed 25 knots
"Right full rudder," ordered Lt. Dahm. His CL and 6 torpedo boats were just outboard and offset astern of Regensburg and her charges.
"Aye, aye, sir."
The torpedo hits began to show up.
"Gott!" Lt. Dahm turned back to the helmsman, "hard right rudder!"
Dahm turned and watched in helpless fascination as first Moltke and the von der Tann gave every appearance of trying to run down the light ships of his new command. The torpedo boats began skittering out of the way with frantic nimbleness. Sheepdogs scattering before charging bulls, was the image that came to him. There was not a damn thing he could do.
"Meet her, helm," Dahm ordered noting that Regebsburg had steadied on some course. He didn't even bother to look at the compass card as he watched the succession of near misses astern. His command was in chaos and there was STILL not a damn thing he could do.
"Stay tight on Regensburg's aft starboard quarter."
"Aye, aye, sir." The grizzled PO on the wheel managed to keep any hint of reproach
from his voice. Dahm had given him that same order eight times since the baron
had started his madcap dance across the vans. Unbeknownst to Dahm, the entire
crew was ready to cut him slack, long tonnes of slack, after the gunbattles
in Sturdee's smokescreens.
7:18 pm, bridge of Ostfriesland, course 090, speed 15 knots
"Admiral, report from Admiral Necki, lost port engine, passing division lead to Captain Skorpion and Kaiserin."
Yes, Rudburg thought, Necki had indeed pulled Kaiser out of the LOB. The big BB looked hurt, but game. He blinked as acrid fumes thrust into his eyes and nostrils. Fires from Friedrich der Grosse just ahead ebbed smoke across the bridge, making visibility even worse.
Suddenly, the water spouts that had become a fact of life this last half-hour ceased. It was like a summer shower had just passed.
"Admiral, the British are turning away!"
The HSF LOB continued to belch flame out at their targets, but there were silences, as ships tried to shift to new targets as British BB's disappeared from view.
Rudburg studied the other LOB. Yes, there were clear gaps as the division leaders were hidden by those astern already turning onto the new course. As he watched, he saw the flash of one hit and then another on the fleeing Brit BB's.
"Flags! Hoist 18 knots and keep it up there."
If he knew his baron, there'd be orders any moment and they would NOT be to
head for Wilhelmshaven!
7:18 pm, bridge of Blucher, course (various), speed 20 (slowing)
"Sir, we're slowing! Teams are trying to shore ..."
"Sir, the armored cruisers!"
"Cruisers be damned! Keep on the torpedo boats!"
Commodore von Hoban gave one last look at the receding battlecruisers. He turned back to his battle.
He tried to focus. Splashes rose around his big cruiser, all sizes of splashes. He seemed to be a magnet for every British gun, from DD 4" to CL 6" to AC 9.2". Flashes from guns and fires from hits were everywhere as the light ships of both fleets approached to within 1000 yards. As the light ships drew together, his own ship became the natural target of all in doubt as to friend or foe.
A burst of fire shot up from port amidships.
He saw some of the RN DD's begin to turn easterly, as if to follow 1SG.
"Left full rudder! If we can't run ..."
"Guns! Standby! Unmasking starboard batteries!"
"Guns! Take the light ships!"
Rudder amidships! Fire-fire-fire!"
7:18 pm, bridge of Thuringen, course 090, speed 15 knots
"That one hurt!" Captain von Kroon exulted, as a huge burst of fire mushroomed into the evening sky.
Temeraire, just turning onto course 000, had survived a second potentially fatal blow. The shell had landed at the base of the forward superstructure from almost dead astern, and easily penetrated the thinner armor there. The explosion created a fireball several decks below the bridge. The blast knocked everyone down on the bridge. Secondary explosions shook the entire ship.
Almost unnoticed, a second hit pounded through aft below decks, adding to the flooding.
The ship passed from effective visibility, even though the large fires allowed Thuringen to try two extra half salvos.
"Shift targets!" Captain von Kroon ordered as it became clear that the burning ship had escaped.
Thuringen tried vainly to target Vanguard lit by Temeraire's raging fires. They got off two half-salvos, but observed no hits.
Even as von Kroon more or less silently lamented Temeraire's apparent escape,
reports of imminent port shaft loss reached the British captain on her bridge
just as he regained his feet.
7:18 pm, bridge of Kaiserin, course 090, speed 15 knots
"Close up on Markgraf," Captain Skorpion ordered, after receiving the report directing him to take over the division. He watched Kaiser for a moment as they began to draw abreast, with Kaiser shifting onto a SW course to clear the LOB.
"Aye, aye, sir."
They had shifted fire to the trail ship of Iron Duke's division. Just as Captain Abdul Hadi had before him, he could not make her out, not even her class. Whoever she was, she was taking longer than the others to get into her turn. Splashes began to appear around her with increasing frequency as HSF BB's seized upon her as a target, after their own faded from view. So far, she had escaped further damage, though with her starboard engineroom lost and growing starboard list, her troubles were already severe. Her captain could see the gap opening between his command and Superb on his bow. What he did not realize, however, was that Superb was herself slowing, as she also struggled with starboard propulsion damage and flooding. Dreadnought, ahead of Superb, was also slowing some, so Iron Duke's entire division was opening up astern of J[ellic]oe.
Skorpion realized they would lose their target in another two or three minutes.
He stared across the dark waves trying to will another hit.
7:18 pm, bridge of Posen, course 090, speed 15 knots
The captain stared at their new target, St. Vincent. They had shifted from Colossus after finally hitting her on the hull, then losing her in the gloom. Like the mysterious ship that was now baffling Captain Skorpion, St. Vincent was the trail ship of her division.
As had been the case with their hits on Colossus, there was no sign of damage from their hit. Actually, the 11" shell had pounded in the armor belt of St. Vincent with moderate flooding effect, but the armor had held the shell out of the deeper vitals.
"Another!" This one also caused moderate flooding damage, but the RN BB steamed on and into her turn with no apparent effects from the hits.
The sea was torn with splashes around St. Vincent, but she disappeared into
the gloom within another two minutes, without any more damage of note. In the
last minute, four different ships were trying to hit her, but only managed to
degrade the chances for all, as the splashes made it impossible to tell whose
shells were whose.
7:18 pm, bridge of Queen Elizabeth, course 000, speed 20 knots
Captain Dave watched as the only signs that there was an enemy fleet astern were several spots of glowing embers on their aft horizon.
"Damn!" Commander Moyer, his XO muttered beside him. "We had one target, hit her hard, and may have sunk her. Then, before we can range in proper on another, we're off and steaming for the North Pole, it seems."
Captain Dave started to reply, but stopped as two shells landed nearby. The closest was just 50 yards off their starboard aft quarter. It had been Pommern, who'd had a decent line of sight on the Queen Elizabeth's still visible fire. Pommern now shifted to Agincourt, two astern of the QE.
The fire from one hit amidships was coming under control, and expected to be out in about 20 minutes. That was the extent of their damage. Commander Moyer had just reported that the other hits had either been duds or had failed to get through their armor.
"Yes," replied Captain Dave to his XO. "I completely agree. I imagine that Commander Boy will be rather more upset, actually."
"Quite," Moyer agreed.
7:18 pm, bridge of Hannover, course 090, speed 15 knots
Admiral Hanzik watched as visible flames shot out of their target amidships. They were shooting at Hercules, who had just begun to turn onto 000.
Their next salvos missed wide, as Hercules came onto 000 and was lost to view.
There was only one target left. Even as their two turrets tried to find her, the British BB sheeted flame at Deutschland. For two minutes, practically the last third of the HSF LOB tried to hit her.
Agincourt, however, took only a small flooding hit from Pommern, who probably did not even realize they had hit her. In return, Agincourt straddled Deutschland with a forest of splashes, but failed to score. She got off a few rounds from her stern turrets after getting onto 000, but still managed no hits.
On Agincourt's bridge, Captain Hawke just shook his head in disgust. "So many
targets, so many guns," Hawke said to his XO, "but so little time!"
7:19 pm, bridge of Kronprinz, course 090, speed 15 knots
There was no apparent effect.
"What ship is that, XO?" Captain Wilhelm asked.
"I can't tell, sir. It might be an Iron Duke class, but I can't be sure."
This hit had been flush on the front of the aft turret. The shell had penetrated, but failed to explode. Nonetheless, the shell fragments and spalled armor had killed almost all within the turret itself. A couple ready silk bag powder charges burned brightly for a few minutes, but those below in the barbette escaped serious injury.
The big BB left the sight of those on Kronprinz.
"Shift fire!" Captain Wilhelm ordered. Then he turned to his OOD, "What ship
7:20 pm, bridge of Blucher, course (?), speed 18 knots
Large splashes rose among the RN light ships, astern of the ones virtually locked up with the dozen torpedo boats he still had left a minute ago. He looked after the 1SG, but they were still heading east, apparently attempting to clear the tangle of light ships.
"Sir, it's Third Battle Squadron!"
Konig was the first HSF BB to lose sight completely of the RN LOB. They had just shifted fire to the targets that they could still see. Within another two minutes, all four Konig's had joined in shelling the RN light ships, just 7,500 yards off their port quarter. The forest of splashes grew quickly as Kaiserin and the other Kaiser class BB's still in the LOB joined in the firing.
A large flash marked the destruction of one RN light. The large number of shells were bound to get some hits. The casualty list would quickly grow as the HSF BB's began to correct their fire.
"They're breaking off!"
"Keep firing! Come to course 030."
"Commodore, they're running!"
"Like hell they're running!" Commodore von Hoban retorted. "Guns! Unmasking port batteries! Keep firing!"
The commodore turned back to the other officer. "They've done their job. They covered their fleet's turn and kept us off them. They're just heading back to screen."
He wondered how many torpedo boats he had left.
7:20 pm, bridge of Prinzregent Luitpold, course 090, speed 15 knots
"Shift targets!" Captain von Heinz ordered.
His ship had managed two more hits on Superb even as she neared the edge of visibility. Superb's damage included visible fires and engine damaged that slowed her --- both factors made her a better target. Captain Heinz had seen a small flash of flame high in Superb's superstructure, but had seen no other sign of a hit.
"Sir, lookouts report we hit her a second time. Just before she finished her turn, we had a clear hit on her hull aft."
"Good," Captain von Heinz said as he raised his glasses towards the new target. What ship or class was she, he wondered, as had so many others this day.
His turrets fired a three gun salvo at the ship that still lingered at the edge of visibility behind their former target.
"Any progress on getting back #4 Turret?"
"Sir, we've lost the target."
A deck hit on the now-invisible target showed a bright flash of flame.
7:21 pm, Monarch, course 000, speed 7.5 knots
The shell splashes had stopped, for the moment.
Before Monarch had lurched out of sight, however, she'd had the attention of Konig (three half-salvos), Grosser Kurfurst (6 half-salvos) and Markgraf (5 half-salvos). Konig had scored no hits, soon shifting to the potentially threatening RN light ships mixing it up with Blucher and her torpedo boats. Before retargeting as Konig had, GK scored three hits, but inflicted no new damage of note, with two tearing up abandoned upperworks posts. Markgraf managed two hits, one in the upperworks, and one in the superstructure, with the latter inflicting 50 casualties among fire fighters.
The DC teams led by Ensign Towers, and others, managed to survive a third damage
control test. They now had at least a few minutes free of new incoming shells
with which to work.
7:21 pm, bridge of Ostfriesland, course 090, speed 15 knots
"Admiral Rudburg, from Vice Admiral Letters. 'General pursuit. Good hunting. Montrose's Toast.' "
" 'Montrose's Toast'?" Several on the bridge looked helplessly at each other.
"Signals Officer! Konig, course 000, immediate execute!"
"Flags, the 18 knot pennant, execute!"
"Aye, aye, sir!"
7:23 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 120, speed 25 knots
"Sir, the British light ships have definitely broken off."
"Very well," answered Vice Admiral Letters, but he stayed with the plotting party in the rear of the bridge.
After a minute, the baron straightened up from the plot table. He'd been leaning over it ever since Iron Duke had disappeared astern. His staff had filled in estimated positions of the GF, assuming the British held to Due North in columns. At the baron's orders they were keeping a running dead reckoning plot based on the GF keeping at 20 knots.
"Three hauled out of the Line earlier," the baron stated. "Mark them and give them a track. Assume half speed and Due North."
The baron came over to Captain Theodor and raised his binoculars.
"Good enough, said the baron. "Flagcaptain, bring 1SG onto 000."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Signals Officer, Commodore von Hoban. Well done. Resume command main body screen."
The battlecruiser heeled as she began to come around towards 000.
The baron glanced aft, checking that the other battlecruisers were formed up astern.
"Flags! Captain Wolferin, Regensburg to the van, Pilau close aboard starboard."
The baron took another long look through his binoculars, this time staring to the northwest. He met the heeling deck easily, moving to keep pace with Derfflinger's turn.
"Captain Theodor, those ships about 7,000 yards or so to the NW. Aren't they the British armored cruisers that were firing at Blucher?"
The bridge crew had been attendant to their orders, but they obviously had not cared for the baron's apparent flight from the battle raging astern of them. They had tried to fire on the RN ships, but the high speed and stern aspect had made their secondaries almost completely ineffective. Now, at the baron's words, they almost visibly perked their ears.
The big British cruisers at which the baron was staring had themselves turned away shortly after BB shells began to fountain just ahead of them. They had come around onto a northerly course, perhaps to come up along the flank of the GF main body. All the while they had kept up a steady fire at Blucher, once the battlecruisers had cleared the immediate area. At the moment, the British cruisers were at 21 knots and 1SG was gaining on them on a parallel course about 4,000 yards further east.
"You may open fire at your convenience."
"With pleasure, admiral, with great pleasure!"