7:42 pm, bridge of Iron Duke, course 000, speed 10 knots
Captain Smith could see that the GF main body was beginning to close up, as the stragglers to port began to catch up to the rest. Only Temeraire seemed not to be noticeably improving her position. The American was almost alone on that side of the bridge, as the others had their glasses fixed on the starboard aft quarter. Erin was beginning to block his view of Temeraire, so he leaned around a post at the rear of the wing to try to get a better view. He put his hand on the rail to steady himself and recoiled. It was wet, and sticky. He looked down; there were white threads stuck on the metal. Smith swallowed, took one more glance to port, and went across the bridge.
Smith nudged Captain Loureiro. "The battlecruisers?" Smith asked quietly. The two foreign observers stood well away from the rope that had been rigged to serve as a safety line at the ragged hole on the starboard side of the bridge. RN officers stood there and had not moved since that strange seemingly fragmented report from Commodore Hawksley. Some faced southeast, but most had their glasses aimed directly astern.
"They turned to the east, away from the destroyers," Captain Loureiro replied. "They've just stopped shooting at the destroyers, so they can't have gone far yet."
"Think they're gone, then?"
"No, they'll be back."
The Brazilian simply nodded, as a couple of British junior officers sent sharp
looks their way. Smith noted that Superb, Dreadnought, and Monarch had all ceased
fire and so must no longer have the battlecruisers in sight. He tried to look
back at Monarch, but she was visible only as a glow astern. Any attempt to get
a decent view would require him to literally shoulder aside one of the RN officers
there, and that would not be tolerated.
"Admiral, from Benbow: Bellerophon lost forward turret, Temeraire lost stern turret, Temeraire lost port shaft, slowing, heavy casualties."
"From Colossus: Collingwood, heavy casualties; Neptune, lost stern turret."
"Admiral, from Marlborough: no significant damage."
"From Admiral Jerram: King George V lost bow turret, heavy flooding, maximum speed 13 knots; Erin, lost #4 turret, lost starboard engine, maximum speed 12 knots."
"Very well. No reports from Monarch or Thunderer?"
"Signals, Monarch, and Emperor: proceed independently, make best speed, course
The foreign observers watched the British admiral remain impassive to the reports.
Captain Loureiro turned to the American. "Any more from Hawksley?"
"I've heard nothing, but it's far too soon. He just went back through his own smoke screen a couple minutes ago."
They both faced aft, as best they could, and raised their own binoculars.
7:42 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 090, speed 25 knots
"Flags," ordered the baron, "course 060."
"Aye, aye, admiral."
"Admiral," noted Flagcaptain Theodor, trying for a carefully cautionary tone. "I make the closest flotilla at about 5,000 yards and in pursuit."
"Yes," agreed Vice-Admiral Letters. "I want to keep their attention."
7:42 pm, bridge of Queen Elizabeth, course 000, speed 10 knots
"They're there, captain," stated Commander Boy. "I know it!"
"They're where, Guns?" Captain Dave asked.
"There," Commander Boy said, pointing almost exactly southeast. "I can feel them," he added.
"Maybe so," inserted Commander Gates, who had joined them on the bridge, "but night is coming and I bet visibility is down under 5 miles by now, and it'll get worse."
"Aye, laddie," Boy agreed sadly, "that's the rub. I nae doubt at all, though, that if it 'twere bright morn, all of the Hun fleet would be under me guns, this very instant."
They all looked southeast, and could see nothing.
Boy's face had a stolid look, but inside he wanted to scream.
7:42 pm, forward turret of Neptune, course 000, speed 10 knots
SubLt. Williams fingered the slender bit of rope around his neck that was his talisman from another ship. He had given up trying to get the lads to play a different bit of music. The ship had slowed, he could tell that, and there were none to shoot at or to be shot by. The battle seemed to be over.
It had lasted, best the young officer could tell, only about half an hour. That was how long it had been from the first sounds of the big guns from the ships ahead of Neptune, to the point when all had gone quiet.
Williams looked down at his tally chart. His turret had opened fire at 7:10
and had gotten off 8 salvos, before they had turned onto 000 at 7:18 and had
had to cease fire. The ship's guns had reportedly scored three hits and the
men were still arguing over whose turret had scored what hit. For the last 24
minutes, they had had little enough to do, once they'd reported guns ready.
His ship had been struck at least twice, Williams knew. One had destroyed the aft turret and killed all within it. The accounts they had heard of it were frightening, though Williams had seen much about the same at Dogger Bank. So far, the shells had always missed the turret he was in. The flaming towers had always risen elsewhere.
He fingered the grassy loop some more.
7:43 pm, bridge of Grosser Kurfurst, course 000, speed 18 knots
"Fire!" Captain Schnell ordered.
"Boom-boom." The deep reports were from Konig, just ahead, as the lead ship got her rounds off first.
Captain Schnell alternated his attention between the wrecked RN light off his port bow and the target ahead. As soon as his own guns fired, though, he had eyes only for the RN BB. He watched waterspouts appear near the RN BB as the first of Konig's shells impacted the sea.
There was a burst of flame on the RN BB, but it was not from a hit. The Brit
had herself opened fire.
7:43 pm, bridge of Kronprinz, course 000, speed 18 knots
"Sir, new contact, dreadnought, bearing 325, range 6,500 yards. Sir, that appears to be Konig's target."
The lookouts would have spotted the RN BB in a minute or two, no matter what, but the flash of her guns had marked her well.
Just ahead, Grosser Kurfurst opened fire. Captain Wilhelm figured that it was presumably at the same ship.
Gunnery Officer, open fire."
"Aye, aye, sir!"
Just astern, Captain Siegfried and the lookouts on Markgraf still could not
see around the edge of the remnants of the smokescreen.
7:43 pm, bridge of Kaiser, course 090, speed 17 knots
The pre-dreadnoughts ahead of Kaiser had just made the turn onto 000. The turn point was about 1,500 yards due east of Kaiser.
"Captain," ordered Admiral Necki, "turn short, take an inside track."
"Aye, aye, sir."
The CO was relieved. He'd desperately wanted to do that, to make up some of the distance but, with an admiral aboard looking over his shoulder, he'd been reluctant to try it.
"Helm, left 10 degree rudder, come to 045."
"Sir, my rudder is left 10, coming to 045."
The starboard shaft was currently somewhat just above Ahead 2/3. With some luck, they might yet back to 18 knots, or better.
Admiral Necki again heard the sound of guns ahead in the LOB. He raised his glasses. Best he could tell, just one or two of the Konigs had opened fire again. It was not like the massed volleys he had heard a few minutes ago. Those had died away after about 5 minutes. He could not see much beyond brief flashes from those ahead. He hated being at the trail of the LOB, but there was not a damn thing he could do about it. Perhaps of all those in the entire HSF, Captain Dirk of von der Tann would've best understood just how the admiral felt just then.
It was the unmistakable sound of another BB ahead joining the out of sight battle.
"Damn!" Admiral Necki, muttered, glasses hard against his scowling face.
7:44 pm, bridge of Emperor, course 000, speed 8 knots
The CO had his eyes on the southeastern horizon. The battlecruisers had seemingly come out of nowhere, and his ship had been unable to reply. The deck was sharply canted, badly listing to starboard.
"Sir, the fire is contained, fire fighters are on the scene. We should have it under control in a few minutes."
Thankfully, the Germans had scored only one hit with any effect, inflicting another 50 casualties and starting a moderate fire amidships. Another flooding hit or two would have been the end of his command. The rest of the GF had driven them off, however, so it had seemed she would get away after all. The ominous report of the HSF pursuing seemed unreal. He hoped it had been a mistaken sighting, easy enough in the growing gloom.
"Status of flooding?"
"Sir, so far we've been unable to reduce the list. The engineer reports that ...."
Three tall water columns rose into the air near Monarch. The CO missed whatever else the other officer had to say.
Could those be a last parting salvo from the trail BC?
He could not see the BCs at all, however. There was nothing at all on the eastern horizon. Monarch was about 2,000 yards off on bearing 160, thus essentially blocking the view of whatever was transpiring to the south-southeast
Another set of splashes appeared near Monarch. Then another.
Monarch opened fire, aiming southward. More splashes rose around her.
"Left 10 degrees rudder. Come to course 045."
He had no guns; he had no orders. He could, however, stretch this out in hopes
that something would save them. The new course might let them stay keep them
from view for a few more minutes, he hoped.
"Signals, to Iron Duke: Monarch under fire from the south, dreadnoughts."
"Pass the word to the Engineer, we're about to come under fire. Whatever can
be done to get us back guns or speed, it's now or never!"
7:45 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 060, speed 25 knots
Baron Letters kept his eyes on the pursuing RN flotillas. In the moderate swells out here, the RN torpedo boats were laboring to sustain much over 30 knots, and their turn in pursuit had cost them some momentum a few minutes ago. Nonetheless, they had already made up several hundred yards of the 5,000 - 6,000 they'd been behind him. On the new 1SG course, they were beginning to close the gap a bit more quickly. The only thing that had stopped them from launching so far had been the fact that being dead astern made their torpedo runs too long for any hope of accuracy. A great many motivated lookouts were aloft looking for any sign of launch.
He saw gun flashes from the RN CL squadron that was just to the north and slightly to the rear of the more northern RN flotilla.
"Captain, shift your fire to the CL group."
"Aye, aye, sir," Captain Theodor acknowledged.
The other three BCs of 1SG continued to send rounds at the two flotillas, but
they had scored no hits so far.
7:45 pm, bridge of Temeraire, course 000, speed 10.5 knots
"Sir, the port shaft seals are gone, the shaft alley is flooded, including the aft shaft bearings."
Damn, the CO thought.
"And, sir, the reduction gears are ...."
"Sir, lookouts report Monarch is under fire from the south!"
" 'The south?' Not from the battlecruisers to the southeast?"
"No, sir. The BCs stopped firing several minutes ago and headed over the horizon to the east."
Well, thought the CO, they were well and truly in trouble. Monarch was just under 5,000 yards to the southeast. Anything coming up from the south would have them in range in just minutes.
"XO, tell the Engineer that if he wants to see port again this day, he'd better find us another couple knots. The whole High Seas Fleet is coming up from the south right at us."
The CO raised his own binoculars just in time to catch another salvo landing around Monarch.
"Signals! Iron Duke, Monarch under fire from the south!"
"Guns, standby, expect targets shortly to the southeast."
With the stern turret lost, they could bring only three turrets to bear, but
so be it.
7:45 pm, bridge of Emperor, course 045, speed 8 knots
"Sir, I can try to counterflood some more but, sir, it just might sink us."
"Do it! We're done for otherwise!"
"Aye, aye, sir."
7:45 pm, bridge of Blucher, course 000, speed 6 knots
"10 knots!" Commodore von Hoban said in a loud voice.
"Yes, sir. Maybe 12 once we get the worst of the hole blocked off."
"And the shoring bolstered." Another DC officer added quickly. "There's more to be done there, as well."
"Yes, that is so." The first officer hastened to agree with the other.
"10 knots, maybe 12!" Von Hoban was wroth.
"Sir, the hatches are sprung, warped so badly that we almost couldn't get them shut again. The decking forward is crumpled like ...."
"Enough," von Hoban interrupted. "Do what you can, report your progress to the bridge."
The others hastily left the battered bridge.
"Captain," the commodore said, "make for Stettin. Rig for tow. Try to get both of you back to port. We're going to need all the light we can manage when this day is over."
"And you, commodore?"
"Blucher's battle today is done, it seems. Mine is not."
7:45 pm, bridge of Grosser Kurfurst, course 000, speed 18 knots
Captain Schnell was jubilant, though he felt it had taken too many salvos to score on such a slow moving target.
Actually, there had been another hit earlier, but it had been into the twisted upperworks and had failed to explode.
The second observed hit had been Konig's. Fresh flames burst out of the Monarch.
Water columns jumped out along her hull. One waterspout collapsed onto her amidships, putting out some of the fires, and splashing men overboard.
The shells from Kaiser Wilhelm began to straddle Monarch.
7:46 pm, bridge of Emperor, course 045, speed 8 knots
"She's gone. Monarch's gone!"
"Engineer, report status of counterflooding!"
He hardly heard the reports from the lookouts. He could see for himself the first of the HSF light screen, poking around and out of what little was left of the smokescreen.
He kept his glasses on them, wondering if they would mount a torpedo attack. Some of his secondaries could probably fire, but they'd do precious little good.
7:48 pm, bridge of Grosser Kurfurst, course 000, speed 18 knots
Captain Schnell had his glasses on the upturned hull of the RN ship they'd just put down. She'd fired back right to the end. He noted many men in the water, some already out of the waves on large pieces of wreckage. They stared numbly at the line of dreadnoughts steaming down upon them.
Schnell hoped they'd get picked up. The sea was father and the enemy of them all.
"Sir, new contact!"
Konig had again opened fire.
7:48 pm, bridge of Temeraire, course 000, speed 10.5 knots