7:30 pm, bridge of Stettin, course 000, speed 24 knots
Splash-splash! The shells were coming from sources unknown, almost all were DD 4". At first, Captain Lantz could see only small bright flashes all along the forward and port arcs. Then the visibility improved, as though blown out of the way. Actually, the RN DD and other light ships' funnel smoke had thinned as low-slung Stettin advanced in the van and crossed their downwind plume.
"Sir! Lookouts report large contact on bearing 330, range 6,500 yards. Ship is on fire and appears to be superdreadnought class."
Captain Lantz had just then looked aft to check his formation's position. His torpedo boats were properly in a tight echelon to port that let their forward 3.5" guns bear on the RN light. Blucher was almost 1000 yards dead astern, on bearing 160, with Konig leading the HSF LOB about 2000 yards behind the Commodore's ship. Lantz pivoted at this news and stared along that bearing. He could see the flicker of the fire reported from above, but could not make out its source.
All the while his 4.1" guns were hammering back at whatever targets they could see. The retreating light ships were tough to hit, but there were a couple slower ones that offered better chances. Overhead trundled 8.2" shells from Blucher and the 12" shells from the LOB ships. Tall columns continued to rise amidst the RN DD's who twisted and swerved violently, even as they fired with their stern guns. Stettin's far more modest splashes, let alone the still slightly smaller ones from the lighter guns of their half-flotilla, seemed puny by comparison. Still, their gyrations made the RN DDs' shooting wild and inaccurate. Stettin and her flotilla were, in fact, getting a very solid edge from the large caliber misses as the RN DD fire was not hitting anything.
"Hit!" The voices were jubilant, though the hit's shooter had to be indeterminate. Doubtless, many hits would get counted by multiple ships.
The steady course and lack of effective return fire were helping his own ship's accuracy considerably, essentially offsetting their high speed and the generally poor visibility. Until they got hit or straddled, Lantz intended to keep it steady as she goes.
"XO, get me confirmation of that!" Lantz ordered, still unable to get a decent view of the reported BB.
Whack! One RN DD shell had just chewed off a small portion of the other side of the bridge.
"... report the contact as a possible superdreadnought."
Lantz looked back again, they were getting ahead of the others. He noted, with
considerable relief, that Frauenlob was advancing past Konig's starboard bow.
Looking across at the new RN modification to the other side of the bridge, he
hoped she would hurry.
7:30 pm, bridge of Iron Duke, course 000, speed 20 knots
"Sir, fire in the crews mess is out and ..."
"Signals Officer, all divisions, slow to 10 knots."
"Aye, aye, admiral."
"... Lt. Jordan reports that the fire in the ..."
"Captain Dreyer, immediate execute upon acknowledgment."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"... is under control, but requests Repair 3 ..."
"And, Signals Officer, division leaders, report status, expedite, and get reports from the division."
"Aye, aye, sir."
7:30 pm, bridge of Blucher, course 000, speed 18 knots
Shells continued to impact the seas around Blucher. The splashes were smaller than a few moments before. The AC's had discovered other matters to concern themselves with. Besides the 4" of the RN DD's, there were several 6" guns firing at Blucher. The two trail ships in a CL group passing across ahead of the AC's on the larger cruisers' new course could still just make out Blucher's form, aided by her decreasing, but stubborn, topside fires. The CL group was also altering course to starboard, making their accuracy even lower. The RN CL gunners had more or less come to the view of many this day, however, that they were not going to be paid extra for shells brought back to port. Neither Commodore von Hoban nor his lookouts could even see the CL's.
"Commodore, we're losing ground to the forward flooding at this speed. I request, sir, I urge we slow Blucher to let repair teams better access to forward of the bulkhead."
"How slow?" Commodore von Hoban asked, keeping his voice under control.
Even as this bitter conversation played out on the bridge, Blucher's main and secondary guns kept a steady rain of metal at the RN DD's. That is, the guns that were left. Von Hoban had learned just moments before that both port 8.2" turrets were destroyed, as was one of the port 5.9" guns; the results of some of the AC 9.2" hits. There were 200 casualties, some minor flooding aft, and some fires still were not out. Those were bad enough. Slowing much below 18 knots, however, would take them right out of the battle in just a few minutes.
"Well, 8 knots, slower would be better."
"I don't know, Commodore. It depends on just what I find."
"Of course (aber naturlich), but make a guess."
"Commodore, 10 minutes is best case, but I'd think 20 is closer, maybe more."
"And if we stay at 18 knots?"
"Sir, if we stay at 18 knots, the bow will only get deeper and we'll have to slow anyway before long. Meanwhile, I have no idea what damage is being caused forward by the water pushing in."
"Very well. Stage your teams. I'll slow to 8 knots in 5 minutes. And, Franz, make those minutes count. If I have to, I'll order 18 knots with you in there. I'll try to give you time, but the Brits may not let me."
"Aye, aye, sir!"
"Signals, Frauenlob, support Stettin."
"Aye, aye, commodore."
"Captain, drift us a couple hundred yards to starboard, and send our two torpedo
boats to join Stettin."
7:30 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 330, speed 25 knots
The baron watched the continued slaughter of the unlucky RN AC's without outward expression. Shannon, the trail AC was dropping back. Cochrane, the penultimate ship was partly hidden by her smoke and the smoke from Hampshire, just ahead of her, and also by the forest of splashes from Captain Mustang's Moltke and Captain Theodor's Derfflinger. The BC's of 1SG had pounced on the older, smaller, slower armored cruisers like so many falcons stooping on rabbits. Here, however, each rabbit contained over 800 fine men. It was brutal; it was war.
The baron turned his glasses away from the AC's, staring instead to the NW. Even falcons had enemies to fear, and the closest GF main body division should be about 11,000 yards dead ahead. Probably. Maybe. If their admiral had slowed them earlier than the baron though possible, they could be just at the edge of visibility off the port fore quarter. Literally at any moment the GF main body could loom out of the mist across his course at a range of 10,000 yards and dropping fast as 1SG chased the AC's into the main body.
The baron had the sudden image that he was galloping a fine charger through the fog, hoping he knew just where the fences were.
"Signals Officer, hoist 090, immediate execute, leave it up on the yards."
7:32 pm, bridge of Pilau, course 330, speed 25 knots
"Sir, flags going up on the flagship!"
"Mein Gott!" Lt. Dahm muttered, his mouth going dry.
"Helm, um, edge us away from Derfflinger. And, Helm, stay alert."
"Those flags on Derfflinger. That's for all four of them to go to 090 at the same time."
Of course, if they did that just then, they were quite likely to bisect Pilau and a couple torpedo boats.
The growing darkness hid the sudden paleness of the grizzled seaman on the ship's wheel.
More open water began to appear between Pilau and the flagship.
Lt. Dahm could not recall any instructor saying that it was more likely be
sunk by friendlies than enemies. He wished he had a few of them aboard; he was
sure he could find topside stanchions to tie them to.
7:32, bridge of Stettin, course 000, speed 24 knots
"Sir, the Brits are laying smoke."
Captain Lantz grimaced. There, just under 5,000 yards away, was the beginnings of a smoke screen on bearing 315. Were there was smoke, there was a torpedo attack, sure as beer at Oktoberfest. He glanced astern. Blucher was almost 1000 yards back. Frauenlob was about 1000 astern of Blucher, with Konig another 1000 yards still further back.
"Signals, Blucher, smokescreen, bearing 315, range 5,000."
Only two RN DD's remained of the stragglers. Sea chase battles are fiercely Darwinistic. Even as he watched, the closest one literally disappeared in a brief smear of flame from a 12" shell from one of the HSF BB's. Historians might later spend chapters arguing which BB, but Lantz didn't care. He just knew there was still one left, and she was shooting at Stettin.
"Shift fire! New target, bearing 330, range 3,500 yards."
7:33 pm, bridge of Regensburg, course 330, speed 25 knots
"Captain," asked Lt. Gottziele, "if 1SG goes to 090, what about us?"
"It depends. Most likely we conform. But, if the threat is close, we must counter-attack, screen the battlecruisers."
Captain Wolferein glanced at his acting-XO.
"Look on the bright side, at least we've gotten a few hundred yards ahead of Derfflinger. All we have to worry about is the British. At least if we're gonna' get killed, it won't simply be by accident!"
The young officer did not appear particularly comforted by that answer. He
kept looking anxiously at the empty waters to starboard. As for Wolferein, he
seemed to recall saying something much like that hours ago to another XO. He
frowned as he raised his glasses back to his eyes.
7:33 pm, bridge of Blucher, course 000, speed 17.5 knots
"Sir, lookouts report that the British destroyers are laying smoke. Bearing 320, range 6,000 yards."
"Commodore," added the deck officer, "they also thought they saw a large ship on that bearing. It appeared to be on fire but underway. The smoke is now blocking their view."
"A cripple?" Commodore von Hoban asked rhetorically. "Yes, that would make sense. That's even about the right place."
"Commodore, Stettin has just reported that same sighting as a superdreadnought."
"Yes," Commodore von Hoban considered, "they would likely defend that."
He looked at Frauenlob, still two hundred yards astern and to port.
"Captain, as soon as Frauenlob's flotilla is clear, I intend to put us on a port tack and take us over to the port side of the main body."
The commodore took another look at the smokescreen.
"Nein, I'm not waiting. Captain, come to 285. Now!"
"Guns, unmasking starboard batteries!"
The commodore looked astern, Konig was a bit over 2000 yards back.
7:33 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 330, speed 25 knots
"Sir, light cruisers, just off the port bow, range 6500 yards."
"What course are they on?"
"Sir, they appear to be on a NNE heading."
That would take them across the bows of 1SG in just a few minutes.
"Captain Theodor, bring us back to 000. This is west enough."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Shannon was just over 4,000 yards away and had been hit three more times by Captain Dirk's von der Tann. Shannon was slowing further and her guns had gone silent. Cochrane was about 5,500 yards away and a mass of flames marked her clearly. Hampshire looked to be getting clear, screened as she was by Cochrane's fires and smoke astern. Captain Nik, back on Seydlitz, was cursing under his breath as his shells did not seem to be hitting her.
"Admiral, lookouts report a smokescreen is being laid on bearing 290, range 6000 yards."
The line of sight west to the area just north of the smoke was essentially blocked by the fires and smoke from the unfortunate armored cruisers. However, at 25 knots, 1SG would clear that obstacle in about one minute.
"Captain," said the baron after a moment, "I expect to sight the main body momentarily but, for now, shift your fire to the CL's. I really want to discourage them a bit."
"Aye, aye, sir."
7:34 pm, bridge of Kaiser, course 090, speed 12 knots
"Admiral, standing by to answer bells on the port engine. We've patched several holes, but I don't think we've got them all. But, sir, we've drawn a vacuum of sorts. My engineer thinks it'll hold if you keep the RPM's down. Sir, he requested that we please take her up slowly, and let him see what happens as steam flow increases."
Admiral Necki looked north as the last of Admiral Hanzik's pre-dreadnoughts plowed by about 500 yards to port. He nodded to the Kaiser CO.
"Go ahead then, Captain, start bringing her up."
"Helm, Ahead 1/3 on the port shaft."
7:34 pm, bridge of Stettin, course 000, speed 24 knots
"Sir, Blucher is altering course."
Captain Lantz watched as the battered screen flagship swung across the main body's 000 track. She was dropping back, now nearly 2000 yards astern. Frauenlob had just passed her, but her torpedo boats were scattering out of Blucher's path. As he watched the somewhat frantic maneuvering aft, he realized that the guns astern of him had gone silent. He looked at the big BB's and confirmed that they had ceased fire on the last of the RN light. The survivors were in or beyond the smoke screen. Konig herself was almost 4,000 yards astern.
"This is far enough," he said half to himself.
"Slow to 18 knots. Come to 345."
The new course would allow him to diverge to port and give Frauenlob a clear slot.
He watched the smoke anxiously. The edge was 4,000 yards away on bearing 300.
7:35 pm, bridge of Iron Duke, course 000, speed 20 knots
Standing at the rear of the bridge, the observer captains, Smith and Loureiro, could hear the squeal of the ropes as the flags came down the hoists.
"Ahead 2/3, make turns for 10 knots."
"Admiral, Dreadnought reports stern turret lost, heavy flooding, 300 casualties, and maximum speed of 15 knots. Superb reports heavy flooding, 300 casualties, and propulsion damage limits her to 13 knots. Emperor reports near sinking condition, 500 casualties, maximum speed 8 knots."
The seams deepened on the weathered admiral's face as the litany of disaster was related.
"Very well. The other divisions?"
"No word yet, sir, but from our plot, KGV and Erin are certainly under 15 knots and Temeraire can't be making 12. We can't see Monarch or Thunderer, but Monarch was doing about 8 knots when we passed her."
Left unsaid was the rest of Monarch's obvious condition.
Captain Smith had managed to overhear the report to the admiral.
"Even with that battlecruiser maniac out there somewhere to the SE," Smith said quietly to Captain Loureiro, "he should be able to get everybody back, just as long as he slows up and stays compact."
Whatever the Brazilian attache might have replied was lost as new wireless reports came in.
"Admiral, Commodore le Mesurier, 4th Light Cruiser, reports he is under fire from battlecruisers 6,000 yards to his SE."
"Admiral, Captain Wintour, 4th Flotilla, reports he is attacking enemy battlecruisers!"
Astern there was the unmistakable sound of BB main guns.
"Sir! Superb has just opened fire on targets to starboard!"
"Admiral, Commodore Hawksley, 11th Flotilla, reports that the German main body is 8,000 yards SSW of Monarch and advancing in LOB on course 000, estimated speed 18 knots!"
Captain Smith's jaw dropped for the second time that day. Numbly, he wished
he knew the Portugese word for watermelon.
7:35 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 000, speed 25 knots
"Guns," Captain Theodor shouted, "shift target, shift target, new target, bearing 305, range 8,000 yards, enemy dreadnought!"
As Captain Theodor waited for von Hase to open fire, he heard Seydlitz astern open fire.
"Sir, lookouts report another dreadnought, bearing 295, range 7,000 yards!"
That, Theodor realized, must be the target of Seydlitz.
Further astern, Moltke and von der Tann continued to shell the flaming derelicts of the two DIW armored cruisers. Sparks flew with each hit, but the ships had so far refused to sink.
"Well, Captain," said the baron, "we appear to have found the Grand Fleet."
Bright muzzle flashes bloomed on Derfflinger's target. The Grand Fleet had also found 1SG.
"Sir, enemy torpedo boats, bearing 330, range 7,000 yards. They appear to be turning toward us, sir!"
The baron looked up at the "Immediate 090 flag," but remained silent, and then raised his binoculars to study the RN light preparing to attack.
Von Hase fired his first four 12/50's towards the GF.
7:35 pm, bridge of Regensburg, course 000, speed 26 knots
The CL's had appeared to sheer off when tall water spouts fountained near the leader.
"Sir, enemy torpedo boats, bearing 330, range 6,000 yards!"
Captain Wolferein saw that about a dozen RN DD's were beginning to swing towards them. He had seven and Regensburg, and the big battlecruisers behind him. Some of the RN ships showed traces of fire on them. The CL's had not been pulling away, instead they had swerved to let the Doubly-Damned DD's begin the attack.
"Sir, new torpedo group, bearing 315, range 7,500 yards!"
Hastily, Wolferein looked for this new threat. There! Another 15 or so DD's and coming hard, bows on to Regensburg! Mein Gott!
"Signals, report new group to flagship, schnell!"
"Aye, aye, sir!"
He turned to Lt. Gottziele.
"Sir," his acting-XO continued, with a broad grin, "I really think I'm too
young for this."
7:35 pm, bridges of HSF main body BB's, course 000, speed 18 knots
Over half of the main body had made the turn onto 000. The lookouts on the first dozen were paying close attention to the smokescreen looming off the starboard bow. At 7:35 pm, the edge was about 7,000 yards away from Konig, on bearing 330. That placed the edge within visibility of the first 8 BB's with another couple able to see any ship that opened fire. All the ships had their guns trained on the screen edge. There were no other targets.
Blucher, on almost a due west course, had put the HSF track 1000 yards astern and increasing. He had cleared the main body's line of sight to the smokescreen. When reminded that it was time to slow to 8 knots, all he said was, "No, so I lied."
Konig's CO anxiously stared into the smokescreen, trying to spot any sign of an RN DD.
Captain Schnell on Grosser Kurfurst was glad Konig's fires were out so he could see and not be so easily seen as earlier.
Just astern, Captains Wilhelm and Siegfried both wondered just what the GF was going to do. Would they attack through the smoke? Or, was it just a tactic to gain time to evacuate the crew from the crippled BB behind the smoke? Both sighed, at the identical instant.
Back further, on Kaiserin, Captain Skorpion had managed to close up tight on
Markgraf's stern. He looked back and checked that the other two Kaiser class
BB's were in proper formation behind him. This division leader job, he had decided,
was growing on him.
One back further, Captain von Heinz remained unsatisfied with efforts to restore his 4th turret. Even as he exhorted his damage control folk to greater efforts, he stood rigid at the forward bridge rail, his binoculars tight on his face, eyes fixed on the edge of the smokescreen. He spoke partially out of the side of his mouth, but neither his position nor his glasses seemed to slow his torrent of words. The junior officer left eagerly, far preferring the attention of the British over that of his captain, with a turret dead. The young man would later swear his CO's teeth seemed unnaturally long and sharp in the fading light.
On Friedrich der Grosse, Vice Admiral Scheer was still out of action and Captain Abdul Hadi was still looking for falling airships. He had seen smokescreens before. He hadn't seen a falling airship. This could be the day.
On Ostfriesland, Admiral Rudburg wondered what Montrose would have thought of steaming close aboard an enemy smokescreen. On the 8th ship in the LOB, he could make out the ominous wall of black quite clearly.
Behind him, on Thuringen, Captain von Kroon could not see the screen edge clearly, but he would, in moments.
Further back in the LOB, Admiral Hanzik had his Fighting Frau's line dancing into the turn.
Aft of the Deutschlands, Admiral Necki's Kaiser had been coaxed to 15 knots.
On Hessen, Captain von Mueller grimly greeted Westfalen, and steeled himself
to give that most hated of shipboard orders.
7:36 pm, somewhere in the gloomy North Sea, visibility 9,800 yards, 6,800 yards from Konig's battered hull
Out of the smoke charged Commodore Hawksley aboard CL Castor, at the head of 11th Flotilla, the DD's already at 33 knots.
Then, out of the mouths of many: