|---- 8:00 pm, bridge of Benbow, course 000, speed 10 knots
“Sir, Bellerophon and Vanguard have acknowledged.”
“Temeraire?” That ship, originally third in the division but now trail, had been hotly engaged with some foe well astern. She seemed to be having trouble getting back into formation, even with the fleet slowed to 10 knots.
"Not yet, sir.”
“Sir, Temeraire’s been hit; hit hard! Two large explosions, sir.”
Studying her through the glasses, the division CO face grew grimmer than even before. About 3,000 yards away to SSE, Erin was firing at something, as was Superb, a little further away to the SE. In the background he heard the captain ask the lookouts again if there were any potential targets. Again, the captain received a negative response. “Was Temeraire gone?” The admiral agonized internally. If so, he had to acknowledge the order immediately and report Temeraire’s loss to the Flag --- there was obviously no point in waiting for her to respond. He kept his glasses focused on the flames. They showed no signs of dying down. Still, she was almost obscured by Bellerophon and Vanguard, and he was looking from dead ahead of her. He was not ready to write her off yet!
---- 8:00 pm, bridge of Superb, course 000, speed 13 knots
“Sir, the acknowledge is up.”
The captain alternated between looking starboard aft at their target --- the lead Konig in the van of the HSF --- and forward, at Dreadnought. They were closing up on her, now just under 1,500 yards abaft her fantail, their proper position was 500 yards astern of her, the oldest ship in the Line. As for the Konig, they’d straddled her at least once and had then clearly hit her at least once, just the minute before.
“Sir, Erin is also firing at our target.”
Right now, the captain thought, as the HSF LOB crept ever closer, he would welcome all the help he could get. That made, best he could tell, three of their ships shooting at the lead German: Temeraire, themselves, and now Erin. No ship could take that for long, he thought, with a bit of satisfaction, or maybe it was just hope, he admitted to himself. It was only a matter of time, one way or another.
He had to move several steps to look back where Temeraire was, astern and to port, but the flashes of light reflecting from waves and the brief shadows cast in the bridge gave him no little measure of foreknowledge as to what he could expect to see. The initial explosions had ceased their fountains of fire by the time he had her in his view, but the evidence was quite enough to tell the tale. His Superb was closer than the admiral’s Benbow was to the stricken ship, he did not have two other dreadnoughts in his line of sight, and he had her in profile vice dead on the bow. It was obvious to his eyes; she was done. Done!
Maybe getting into LOB and giving them a few full broadsides would finally send them off, he thought. He scanned the horizon, looking for screen units. They’d seen off those blasted battlecruisers, right enough, but they really ought to be back by now. Shouldn’t they?
---- 8:00 pm, bridge of Colossus, course 000, speed 10 knots
“St. Vincent acknowledges, sir. That’s all of the division.”
“Very well. Signals, Iron Duke: acknowledge.”
Just as the others on all the other GF bridges, the admiral stared through his binoculars in horror at the funeral pyre that had been Temeraire, just as Emperor had been, a few minutes before. Monarch had been out of sight, but her loss had been reported. Offerings? Sacrifices? And to what, Empire?
They had hit the Germans. Hurt them. He’d seen the glowing hits, tall fires, blasted turrets, ships hauling desperately out of their Line. Why were they still coming on?
What the hell was going on here tonight?!
---- 8:00 pm, bridge of Marlborough, course 000, speed 10 knots
“Not yet, admiral.”
Vice-Admiral Burney suppressed a scowl. Visibility was worsening and Agincourt was trail. She’d acknowledge in a minute, he knew.
“Temeraire, sir, Temeraire’s badly hurt!”
Oh, merciful lord, he knew her ....
“Admiral, the Colossus has acknowledged.”
The scowl began to show in the shadows cast by dying Temeraire.
---- 8:00 pm, bridge of Erin course 000, speed 13 knots
Erin’s fourth salvo pounded through the belt armor of battered Konig causing more flooding.
This hit, however, was well in the upperworks and there were no visible effects.
---- 8:01 pm, bridge of Benbow, course 000, speed 10 knots
Well, he could deny it no longer. Temeraire’s guns had gone silent and she was dropping back fast, apparently dead in the water. Her head was swinging off course, as though there was no hand at the wheel. Damn. That fine crew! Bloody Huns, the division admiral railed in silent anguish.
“Signals Officer, acknowledge for the division. And, to Iron Duke: ‘Temeraire presumed lost.’”
“Division acknowledge, Temeraire presumed lost, aye, aye, sir.” The man’s tone was neutral, as though he were about to signal that it was raining. Professional, very correct, stiff upper lip, thought the admiral. He looked again at Temeraire, fighting down the urge to hammer his binoculars against the railing.
--- 8:01 pm, bridge of Superb, course 000, speed 13 knots
Three jets of water spouted about 300 yards to the southeast.
The captain realized then that their free ride had come to an end. He studied the lead Konig and saw her fire again, the shells were still short, but only about 150 yards short this time. With Temeraire a blazing wreck, the rest of that dark Line would soon shift their aim, as well.
“Sir, hit on target, from Erin.” His own guns seemed to have lost the target, having missed the last two salvos. “Another!”
The Germans continued their advance.
---- 8:01 pm, bridge of Marlborough, course 000, speed 10 knots
“Sir, Erin has opened fire. To the south, it looks, sir.”
The officer making the report had added that last bit so as to make it clear that Erin was not firing east at the battlecruisers that had apparently been out that way a while ago.
“Admiral, Agincourt acknowledges.”
“Very well. Signals Officer, make the acknowledge to Iron Duke.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
“Temeraire’s slowing, sir. She’s stopped firing and appears to be going dead in the water.”
Even as they watched, however, waterspouts continued around her and fresh flashes marked new hits pounding into her hulk. Mercilessly, the ships behind the leaders of the HSF LOB opened fire at the only target they could see. And, with tall flames at two separate locations amidships, Temeraire was in clear view of all. Few could survive that, he knew. He had not really hated the Germans until today. Instead, to his mind they’d been bumbling tyros in some fine ships who had been lucky enough to catch Beatty out, back at Dogger Bank. Now, watching helpless Temeraire get hit again and again, even though she was clearly dead in the water, he could feel real, gut-deep anger and a growing hatred of all things German.
---- 8:02 pm, bridge of Superb, course 000, speed 13 knots
He was not sure, as he saw several splashes about the Konig, if they’d been from Erin. He thought his should be landing right about ...
Konig’s shells splashed close aboard short, masking his view and throwing spray onto the bridge. There was a fresh glowing spot on the German when the water subsided.
Superb had scored two hits in that salvo, but the other had perforated the first Konig stack. There were already two other holes up there. Her stacks were beginning to resemble great rounds of Swiss cheese.
---- 8:03 pm, bridge of Superb, course 000, speed 13 knots
A flash of fire came and went on the forward superstructure of the German. The other’s shells had raised water columns well long of Superb a moment before. The German’s accuracy seemed to be dropping off.
Another set of splashes impacted nearby.
“Sir, we’ve been straddled!”
They had been taken under fire by a second shooter, he realized, with a sinking feeling. Actually, that was Grosser Kurfurst’s second half-salvo. The first had been quite long and its fall had been missed by both Superb’s lookouts and the German’s.
As the captain looked again at the German Line, he saw that it looked like the third ship’s turrets had pivoted away from Temeraire and were now foreshortened to virtual invisibility. They were almost certainly aimed towards his own ship. Oh, bloody hell, he thought, as they belched fire.
---- 8:03 pm, bridge of Grosser Kurfurst, course 000, speed 18 knots
“Sir, Konig’s hurt! She took that last one on the bridge!”
Captain Schnell snapped away from studying his target, to stare anxiously at his division leader.
For a moment, nothing seemed to be happening. The big ship, the king of German dreadnoughts, continued on her way. Aber ... ach nein ...!
“Sir, Konig’s turning!”
Yes, the wake showed a definite curve to it.
“Was there a signal? Any flags?”
“Wireless? Signals Officer!”
“No, sir, nothing!”
“Confirm that, NOW!”
“Aye, aye, sir.” The normally stolid officer left on the run, his clipboard and notes strewn on the deck.
Grosser Kurfurst’s station was 500 yards astern of Konig. Eighteen knots. Schnell watched the point at which the wake curved. He estimated that he had about a minute to make a decision.
“Lookouts,” he called out after a scary thought, “any torpedo sighting reports?”
What should he do?
---- 8:03 pm, bridge of Marlborough, course 000, speed 10 knots
“Admiral, to you, from Flag, ‘Reinforce light screen south.’ “
Admiral Burney did not need to consult the plot. Third Light Cruiser, with Rear-Admiral Napier aboard Falmouth, had gone north to the van when Fourth Flotilla had left that position, steaming to the sound of guns to the east and south.
“Signals Officer! All flotillas and Second Light Cruiser, support Commodore Hawksley, screen south.”
He left First Light Cruiser and First Cruiser under his close supervision because earlier they had both lost their leaders. Admiral Arbuthnot had been lost along with Defence, and Commodore Alexander-Sinclair had been killed when Galatea was crippled in that point blank firefight in the smoke around Sturdee. With the bulk of the High Seas Fleet astern and to the east, he was quite confident that they’d suffice to screen his west flank, even though it was about to become the van.
---- 8:03 pm, after steering of Konig, course (changing), speed 18 knots
“Sir! Rudder has going right! Currently 6 degrees right rudder!”
The junior officer in charge jumped as though jabbed with a hot poker.
“Word from the bridge?”
Always, ALWAYS, the helmsman repeated his orders; those repeats were monitored in after steering. By procedure, the seaman in after steering called them out for all there to hear. He had said nothing.
“No, sir.” The man was aghast, perhaps fearing he’d be blamed for not dutifully repeating the helmsman's words.
“Confirm with helmsman.”
“No answer from the bridge!” No longer aghast, he was almost in shock.
---- 8:04, bridge of Kronprinz, course 000, speed 18 knots
Captain Wilhelm saw a bright gust of flame amidships-aft on his target. Two half-salvos to get on target; it was good shooting, he thought, not a little pleased. He was completely unaware of the dramas in progress 500 and 1,000 yards ahead.
The bright flash on the aft turret seemed to have no effect. Actually, the stern turret had just been penetrated and essentially gutted. The flash doors had held, averting immediate destruction. There were few, if any, survivors within. The smoke threading out into the growing gloom could not be seen from Kronprinz.
---- 8:04 pm, bridge of Frauenlob, course 000, speed 18 knots
“Sir, new contacts ....”
Captain Ehrhart had lost track of the contacts. Clearly, the Grand Fleet main body was spread out on his port bow in divisions. They could see two of the divisions, and it was a virtual certainty that two or three more divisions were in steaming in parallel off to the east.
“Signals Officer, make the reports.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
Ehrhart did not in the least regret his decision to refuse permission to open fire. His guns were no threat to the big dreadnoughts. And, so far, they still had not shot at him. Under these conditions, “live and let live” seemed a fine motto indeed!
They were almost in range to let the torpedo boats sprint to launch their fish. Where were the British light?
He scanned the forward quarters anxiously.
---- 8:04 pm, Konig after steering, course (changing), speed 18 knots
“Left full rudder!”
He was supposed to take local control. He knew he was. They’d even practiced it. Once, anyway, that he could remember.
They leapt to follow his orders. Mein Gott! Suppose he was wrong! He clenched his fists as his men worked. The groans of the steering engines vibrated deep in his body. He watched the rudder indicator slow its motion to the right, then stop.
“Sir, local control established, my rudder is coming left.”
Yes, the indicator now showed 2 degrees left rudder. Slowly, it continued to swing left.
“Very well.” The answer came out automatically. This was not supposed to really happen. It just wasn’t.
“Uh, sir? What course, sir?”
What course? Mein Gott! He had them steaming absolutely blind! They could be about to ram literally anything! Mein Gott! Mein Gott! What course??
There was a long moment of silence. It stretched.
“Sir, we were on 000,” offered one grizzled NCO over at the port steering engine. Carefully, neutrally.
“Ja. Come to course 000.”
“Course 000, aye, aye, sir. My rudder is right 5 degrees, sir, coming to course 000.”
“Right rudder,” the junior officer almost said aloud. Mein Gott, he realized, his delay had let them get all the way to 330!
“Steady on course 000.”
“Very well,” he replied, again automatically. Fine. No one had started screaming at him from the bridge. Nobody had opened the hatch to arrest him. He had even somehow managed not to ram anyone.
Fine. Except he was steaming, completely blind, straight at the British Grand Fleet!
This was really not supposed to be happening.
---- 8:04 pm, bridge of Grosser Kurfurst, course 000, speed 18 knots
“Konig is back on 000, sir.”
She was about 200 yards east of track and the gap was only about 300 yards north-south from his ship. Her wake looked like a snake. What was all that about? Had she, in fact, spotted a torpedo? Had the admiral intended to haul out of the Line and then changed his mind? That was preposterous!
Had the bridge hit killed or wounded the helmsman? But why hadn’t she gotten back into position?
He turned back to the battle with a small shake of his head.
“Sir,” asked the OOD, “maneuver to resume station?”
“Nein,” Schnell replied.
Konig’s behavior had been too suspicious, he’d finally judged.
“I intend to wait for further orders.”
---- 8:05 pm, bridge of Iron Duke, course 000, speed 10 knots
“Admiral, all divisions have acknowledged. Benbow reports Temeraire lost.”
“Very well. Signals Officer, execute.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
“Helm, 15 degrees left rudder, come to course 270.”
---- 8:05 pm, bridge of Rostock, course (n/a), speed 0
“Sir, Commodore von Hoban is aboard.”
“Very well,” replied Captain Westfeldt.
He checked again that his bow was clear. Blucher was 60 yards off his port side to the north.
“All Ahead Flank.”
One thing he knew, von Hoban would be anxious to get back to the van. The deck vibrations told their tale. They were already easing past the smoking hulk of what had been the Commodore’s first flagship. His Rostock was the second.
“Signals Officer, to Ostfriesland, Commodore von Hoban aboard Rostock, proceeding to van at maximum speed.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
Westfeldt watched as Rostock got into the gap between Blucher and the pre-dreadnoughts plowing by in the Line, just a few yards to starboard. He stared at them almost suspiciously. He rubbed his ears again --- they were still ringing from Ostfriesland’s earlier salvo, fired over his head from just a couple hundred yards away.
“Come to 000.”
He watched as the light cruiser pivoted neatly and headed north.
“Sir, steady on course 000.”
“Very well. Signals Officer, hoist the Commodore’s flag, bitte.”
Rostock began to slow the rate the big ships went past. In a moment, his ship would begin to overtake then. He heard words from just aft of the bridge. The Commodore was arriving. Before he turned to greet his superior officer, he took another look at the ships in the Line just yards away to starboard and rubbed his ears again.
---- 8:05 pm, bridges of Benbow, Colossus, and Marlborough, course 000, speed 10 knots
“Very well. Signals Officer, acknowledge. Captain, put the division onto 270.”
“Aye, aye, sir. Helm, left 15 degrees rudder, come to 270.”
“Sir, my rudder is left 15 degrees, coming to 270.”