Superb Ending

---- 8:12 pm, bridge of Ostfriesland, course 000, speed 18 knots

“Admiral, Frauenlob reports that the British have formed Line on a westerly heading!”

Admiral Rudburg could not see anything of the sort.  Ostfriesland was firing steadily at the burning trail British dreadnought about 9,000 yards to the north-northwest. That, however, was all that could be seen from here.  All the ships ahead of his also were firing, but he could not tell what their targets were.  He wished he were in the van with the Frauenlob’s CO; he could see very little tucked back in the, and in this evening air, heart of the Line.  He was finding that it was not the place to control this kind of low visibility battle.  All he had to go on were the large shell splashes near the van ships that indicated that some British remained in range.  At least three shooters, he estimated.

“How far north of us are the British?”

“Sir, based on the time of the report and visibility, I estimate that the British must be between 4,500 and 6,500 yards north, and about the same distance to the west from Ostfriesland.”

“Very well.”

That would likely put the British Line out of visibility except, thought Rudburg, perhaps for the first couple German ships, as they approached and crossed the British track.  It was not clear what he should be doing.  With both Behncke and Necki out of the Line, he had to keep maneuvers to a minimum.  Where were the British light?  He looked around, more than a bit anxiously.

A flash off his starboard bow showed that Konig, though she had visible flames and was pulling out of the Line, was still engaged and still firing her main batteries.  She was badly hurt, though.  Admiral Behncke was wise to get her out of danger, he thought.  Her topside showed significant damage, likely including the destruction of her wireless and signaling equipment.  Nonetheless, Rudburg deeply regretted the loss of the admiral’s leadership in the van; a position now filled by a Captain Schnell.

“Has Admiral Behncke replied, or acknowledged?”

“No, sir.”

---- 8:12 pm, bridge of Konig, course ~030 (3 degree right rudder), course 18 knots

“Sir, engineering requests 12 knots.”  The speaker was an enlisted man on his knees, looking for all the world like he was worshiping the severed copper tubes poking out of the deck.  Tuerme looked at the man, wondering if he should really slow the ship down, in the middle of the battle.  “They’ve got flooding down there, sir,” the man added, licking his lips nervously.

“Yes,” said LCDR Tuerme suddenly, “12 knots.”  He noted, as the sailor bent back over the tube, that there were circular scratches and cuts around the other’s ear.

The young officer tried to estimate the distance to the Line.  About 1,500 yards, he thought.  Not enough.  He wanted at least another 1,000 yards, maybe twice that.

“To after steering, right 10 degrees rudder.”

----8:12 pm, bridge of Southampton, course 270, speed 15 knots

“Commodore,” reported the Signals Officer, “from Admiral Burney, to us and the torpedo boat flotillas: ‘Reinforce screen south.’ “

“Very well,” Commodore Nott replied.  He hesitated a few moments, glancing towards Marlborough, about 6,500 yards to the northeast.  “Left standard rudder, come to course 120,” Nott ordered.

“Sir, my rudder is left standard ....”

“Signals Officer, hoist 25 knots.  Engineer, All Ahead Flank, make turns for 25 knots.”

“Navigator,” Nott called, as he turned to watch the other light cruisers in his group, “get me a course to Commodore Hawksley’s estimated position.”

Satisfied that the others were conforming and noting the speed pennant going up the hoist, Nott turned to look to the southeast even before his bow was fully pointed that way.

Back in the wireless room, a young petty officer was wondering if he should tell his superior officer that, in another message, Commodore Le Mesurier had been recalled to take command of the main body screen.

---- 8:12 PM, bridge of Kronprinz, course 000, speed 18 knots

“Have you identified who is shooting at us?”  Captain Wilhelm shouted from the port wingbridge up to the lookout section, again.  He felt like he had asked the same question several times so far this battle.  In fact, he had.

“Yes, sir!  The shooter is on bearing ....”

“Shift targets!”  Wilhelm shouted into the bridge, interrupting the other.  “Immediately!”

Superb was practically obscured by shell splashes.  It looked like half the main body was shooting at her, Wilhelm thought.  Actually, he was very nearly correct, as half the dreadnoughts in the main body WERE shooting at brightly burning Superb.

“Immediately!”  Wilhelm repeated.

The spotters for Kronprinz had been mistaken, however.  The shooter was Iron Duke.  The ship that they were frantically switching to was Dreadnought who, with just two turrets able to bear (and soon just one), had been sniping ineffectively at Grosser Kurfurst.  Dreadnought was caught in the glow of Superb’s fires, but Iron Duke remained only an intermittent set of muzzle flashes.

--- 8:13 PM, bridge of Ostfriesland, course 000, speed 18 knots

“Admiral, Konig is turning away and slowing.”

“Very well.”

“Signals Officer, to Admiral Letters: ‘Grand Fleet main body has formed Line on 270, estimated speed 15 knots.  Third Battle Squadron engaged with trail units, range 8,000 yards.  Have sunk three dreadnoughts during pursuit.  Konig heavily damaged, out of Line, slowing.  No report from Admiral Behncke.  Continuing on 000, speed 18 knots.  Estimate will cross Grand Fleet track at 8:20 PM.  Kaiser with Admiral Necki out of Line, slowed, lagging in trail.’ ”

Admiral Rudburg hoped the baron would get back soon, or at least signal.

---- 8:13 PM, bridge of Iron Duke, course 270, speed 13 knots


There was a brief spark high in the upperworks of their target.  There was no visible fire or damage, but the hit would have a significant effect, nonetheless.

“Can you see the target?”  Captain Smith asked Captain Loureiro quietly.

“No, Superb’s fires are too much.”

Only Konig’s fires behind the German Line had let Iron Duke keep on target the last two salvos.  The combination of Konig getting separation, Iron Duke’s westward progress, and Superb’s glare was about to terminate the flagship’s shooting at her current target.

“Damn!”  Smith said, as Superb took another hit.  There was no large explosion, but pieces seemed momentarily thrown into the air as a shell from Friedrich der Grosse pounded into the back of the forward superstructure.  Unseen was the toll on the damage control teams, who suffered another 50 casualties in the midst of fighting one of the more threatening fires.

Another hit near Superb’s waterline on her port side was not visible to the foreign observers.  This hit, from Markgraf, was more damaging, causing moderate flooding forward.  Already struggling to make 10 knots, the additional flooding threatened to slow her further, and even threatened her stability.  Superb had taken over a dozen hits in the last 15 minutes, out of about 300 shells fired at her.  The effects of the low range and Superb’s visibility-enhancing fires were offset by the growing difficulty in adjusting for fall of shot.  Even as Konig’s rear turrets ceased their inaccurate fire and as Kronprinz shifted targets, Thuringen’s Captain von Kroon was giving the order to open fire on Superb

---- 8:14 PM, bridge of Southampton, course 120, speed 18 knots (increasing)

Commodore Nott was staring dead ahead into the growing gloom.

“Commodore, 1st Flotilla is altering course.”  The 1st Flotilla had been directly on the bow of Marlborough on her new course west – distance 4,000 yards.

“Good, what about 9-10 Combined?”  That group had been roughly halfway between Southampton and Marlborough.

“Not yet, sir.”

“Very well.”

“Commodore?”  Nott turned; it was the Signals Officer.

“There’re some messages from the flagship, other addressees, that you, uh, probably should know.”

“Yes?”  Nott mostly concealed his frown; this wireless stuff sometimes seemed like eavesdropping.  Not gentlemanly at all.  The expression on the Signals Officer’s face, however, clearly indicated that he had something of far more import to tell him than simple gossip.

“Yes, sir.  Commodore Le Mesurier has been recalled and ordered to assume command of the screen to the south.”

Emboldened by Nott’s reaction, the other continued.

“Best we can tell, sir, the Navigator and I, 4th Light Cruiser is something like 15 miles west of Iron Duke. Together with 4th and 11th Flotillas, they attacked the German battlecruiser force and drove it off to the east.”

“Could they have turned back before the order from the flag?”

“It’s possible, sir.”

But not likely, both realized.  After a moment, Nott cleared his throat.

“No report from Hawksley?”  The other shook his head.  “No orders to him?” “Commodore,” the other officer replied uneasily, “the exact wording of the wireless was for Commodore Le Mesurier to ‘establish screen south of the main body.’ “

“ ‘Establish’ screen?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Establish,” Nott thought, Hawksley?  Admiral Heath and 2AC?

“And, Commodore?”


“Temeraire was just reported as ‘lost.’ “

“Temeraire!  In addition to Monarch and Emperor?”

“Well, sir, it could’ve been a correction, but ...”

“But you don’t think so,” Nott finished for him.

“Ah, no, sir.  I do not.”

Damn, damn, damn!

“Double the lookouts.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

---- 8:14 PM, bridge of Ostfriesland, course 000, speed 18 knots

Admiral Rudburg had worked out the plot in his head.  If he kept the HSF on 000 at 18 knots, then the trail of the GF would be beyond visibility just before his lead ship crossed the GF’s west-bound track.

It seemed he was about to achieve a rare feat.  He was going to cross the “T” of the British Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet, but it was going to do him not one bit of good!

Again, Rudburg lamented the absence of an admiral in the van.  Behncke?

---- 8:15 PM, bridge of Phaeton, course270, speed 15 knots

“Sir, 1st Flotilla is turning.”

Captain Cameron turned to study the torpedo boats, about 4,000 yards off, abaft his port beam.   From the looks of their wakes, they had gone to a higher bell.  With the death of Commodore Alexander-Sinclair and the crippling of Galatea, he had been plunged into command of 1st Light Cruiser, comprised now of just three CLs. “Is 2nd Light Cruiser in sight?”  Cameron asked of the lookout section.

“No, sir.”  Cameron’s brow furrowed at that, because they had been in view a few minutes ago, at a little under 8,000 yards, though just barely.  Was visibility that low already?  It could be, he thought.

“Sir, they may have turned away.  They were there a minute ago.”

“Captain,” the Signals Officer reported, “Admiral Burney just dispatched 2nd Light Cruiser and the flotillas to reinforce Commodore Hawksley and the south light screen.”

“We were not named in those orders,” Cameron mused.

“No, sir.”

“What was the time of that order?”

“About 10 minutes ago, best I can tell, sir.”

“Very well.”  Nott may well have already turned, he realized.  The van is almost open, especially to the SW.

“Helm, left 10 degrees rudder, course 210.  Ahead Full, make turns for 18 knots.”

---- 8:15 PM, bridge of Erin, course 270, speed 13 knots


It was not a very good target, hardly more than muzzle flashes, but a target it was, nonetheless!

The flash of the big guns on Grosser Kurfurst had drawn Erin’s attention back to her.

The first salvo was probably long, as no splashes could be seen from Erin.  How long was a mystery, and the orders to lower the elevation were based more on guesswork than anything else.

---- 8:15PM, bridge of Kronprinz, course 000, speed 18 knots


The target showed no effect.  Dreadnought’s captain had watched helplessly as the shell splashes had laddered towards his command.  The bow turret could not even bear on the only visible targets, so he was down to his port wing turret.

“Sir, we’ve lost the spotting top!”

Ironically, the hit scored by Iron Duke moments ago had duplicated the hit suffered by Markgraf during the initial meeting of the Lines, and had taken out the primary position in the upperworks used to spot the fall of shell.  Kronprinz had just lost the target solution.  In fact, the last half-salvo that had scored the hit on Superb had been fired without correction from the previous one.  Accuracy now deteriorated quickly and would not be restored for some time.

Several German historians would later assert that this hit on Kronprinz had saved Dreadnought from destruction at this point in the battle.

---- 8:15 pm, bridge of Calliope, course 000, speed 15 knots

Commodore Le Mesurier had just been given the “Recall” message from the flagship.  Admirals, full admirals, in the middle of a major fleet battle, don’t just replace commanders by a simple wireless!   Hawksley?  The last Le Mesurier had had in the way of orders was to attack the battlecruiser force, to drive them away from the flank of the main body.  Certainly he had done that.  The Germans had shown no sign of stopping their eastward flight.  Indeed, just a few hours more on their present course would see them beaching themselves!  Calliope and his light cruisers had fallen behind the flotillas’ pursuit so he had pulled up around the edge of visibility from the east-most GF division, partly to stay in contact and partly to make sure no other force slipped in behind him onto the main body flank.  Commodore Hawksley, the screen CO, had broken off and turned back to screen the main body trail.

What in bloody hell had happened back there?!  He drew a deep breath.

“Left full rudder.  All Ahead Flank!  Hoist 25 knots!”

The main body dreadnoughts had been lost from view for the last dozen or so minutes, but Le Mesurier remained close enough to be sure that no force could slip between his squadron and the dreadnoughts.  In particular, he wanted to prevent any screen unit from splitting off from the battlecruiser force and working its way around the RN pursuit.  He was confident that he could regain visual contact with the main body in a very few minutes.  The commodore, however, had slightly over-estimated the GF speed and was not yet aware that the main body had formed Line on 270 several minutes before.

“Lookouts, are 4th and 12th Flotillas in sight?”  They had been reported out of sight about 10 minutes ago, but might have turned back.

“No, sir.”

“Very well.  Repeat the flag signal to them.  They are to form on us.  To Iron Duke: 4th Light Cruiser proceeding at Flank.”  He considered for a moment.  “Signals, to 11th Flotilla: ‘Report status.’ “

“Aye, aye, sir.”

“Commodore, at the same time we were signaled, Admiral Burney was ordered to reinforce the screen south of the main body.”

“Bloody hell!”

What had startled Le Mesurier was a simple matter of arithmetic.  He and his staff had realized immediately that the various orders, when considered together, translated into four or five flotillas and two light cruiser groups all being ordered to reinforce the screen to the south of the main body.  What was there, the entire High Seas Fleet?  But the Grand Fleet Main Body had turned north and disengaged!

“Bloody hell!”  Le Mesurier repeated.

---- 8:15 PM, bridge of Frauenlob, course 000, speed 18 knots

Captain Ehrhart did not really consider that he was crossing the GF 270 track dead astern.  All he knew was that he was passing about abreast of the burning, struggling dreadnought that was Superb, at about a range of 5,000 yards or so.

He had considered signaling an attack several times in the last handful of minutes, but had rejected it each time.  The astern aspect was unfavorable, and his ordered job was to screen in the van.  Maybe Commodore von Hoban might do differently, but there were an awful lot of British light ships unaccounted for that might show up at any moment.  With only his one CL and 9 torpedo boats, he considered a simple screen was the limit of his command’s capabilities.

On the other side of Superb, the rest of the GF main body was in Line dead west.  It was potentially a magnificent spectacle, but he was more interested in the small ships that were not there.

---- 8:16 pm, bridge of Hannover, course 000, speed 18 knots

“Admiral, Schliesen reports unable to maintain 18 knots.”

Damn, Admiral Hanzik thought.  Should I order her to pull out and follow at best speed?

“Admiral, we’re starting to pull up on Pommern; she also appears to be slowing.”

Admiral Hanzik did not like the sound of that.  Not at all.  Though, to be honest, the Fraus had maintained 18 knots for far longer than he had ever expected.

“Admiral,” said Hannover’s captain, “our own engineer is saying we can’t stay at this speed much longer.  There’re at least three or four bearings running hot.  And getting hotter.  Much longer, admiral, and we’re going to take hardware casualties.  Engineer has requested 16 knots, though 15 would be better.”

Left unsaid was that wiped bearings, broken shafts, or whatever probably meant 12 knots or slower.  The battle, however, was just tantalizingly out of reach.

“Admiral, the others are almost certainly in the same condition.”

“Very well,” Hanzik forced the words out with great difficulty.

“Signals Officer, for Admiral Rudburg on Ostfriesland: ‘2nd Battle Squadron unable to maintain 18 knots.  Best speed 16 knots.’ ”  The words hurt.  To Hanzik, they seemed to burn in the dank air on the bridge. “Captain, keep station on Pommern.  As soon as we get the word to Admiral Rudburg, I’ll slow the Battle Squadron to 16 knots.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”  There was a muted “cling-cling” as the Engine Order Telegraph ordered a 3 RPM drop.

“Five minutes, captain.”  The CO’s face continued to show concern, so Rudburg added, “We’re already slowing a bit even now to keep from running up on Pommern.  Five minutes, captain.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

---- 8:16 PM, bridge of Iron Duke, course 270, speed 13 knots

The Iron Duke’s guns had fallen silent, as the flagship lost sight of Kronprinz in the glare of the fires on Superb.

“Omigod,” breathed Captain Smith as Superb took another hit.  Again, a more damaging hit on her hull was not visible to the observers on Iron Duke.  The hull hit was from Ostfriesland and finished flooding out an area only partly lost before.  Superb’s list had grown to 18 degrees, but the latest hits on the port side had had the effect of counterflooding.  She was getting low in the water, however, and she was down to 8 knots.

It was like Temeraire or Monarch again, though Superb’s guns had gone silent several minutes before.  Brightly illuminated by her fires, unable to disengage, slowed, she was being run down by the German main body like wolves and a lamed deer.

The growing chorus of British fire from ahead in the Line, thought Smith, seemed unlikely to be enough to save her.

---- 8:17 PM, bridge of Southampton, course 120, speed 21 knots (increasing)

“Commodore, 9th and 10th Combined are turning onto a SE heading.”

“Very well.  Navigator, that course to Hawksley?”

“Sir, Commodore Hawksley’s last position, best I can tell, would bear something like 145 from us.  If the commodore stayed somewhere in trail screen, then anything between 120 and 135 could be right.”


Commodore, recommend course 135 until we get to the edge of visibility to the Line, then come to 090.”  That would have them parallel the Line back towards trail.

“Very good, then.  Captain, bring the squadron onto 135, if you please.”

“Course 135.  Aye, aye, commodore.”

---- 8:17 PM, bridge of Benbow, course 270, speed 13 knots

“Sir, Vanguard has opened fire!”

Like the other captains in the 4th Division, Captain Herrick had his lookouts and spotters striving to acquire a target on their port after quarter, the apparent position of the HSF main body.  It was only the “apparent position” because the gloom has so far kept the division from opening fire or, for that matter, being fired upon.  Now, it seemed, the trail ship had spotted something worth shooting at.

Like the captain of Bellerophon, just astern, Herrick was out on the port bridge wing and had his ship’s guns trained aft and to port.  Earlier, he had seen a steady glow of some sort, but that had faded and only vague muzzle flashes could be seen, not good enough to aim at.  As more of the German Line joined in on Superb, however, the images were getting a little better.

“Sir, Bellerophon has opened fire.”

The report was unnecessary, as the big guns were just 500 yards astern and Herrick was staring right at her.  Her captain couldn’t have much of a target, thought Herrick.  He just couldn’t.

Captain Herrick looked at the 4th Division admiral, who had also drifted out onto the wing.  The senior officer remained silent, letting Herrick fight his own ship.

“Guns!”  Herrick called, as he went back onto the bridge.

---- 8:17 PM, bridge of Kaiserin, course 000, speed 18 knots

“Ach, ja!”

There was a large explosion on their target.  Superb had apparently been destroyed, or perhaps she had capsized and exploded.  Captain Skorpion was not sure, and historians would debate it, but the shells that had been the final blow might have come from Kaiserin.

He looked towards the British Line.  The momentary flash from Superb had briefly illuminated them while blinding the GF spotters.  Their muzzle flashes seemed to reveal them further.  It should be enough to at least fire back.

“Gunnery Officer,” Skorpion called.

---- 8:17 PM, bridge of Friedrich der Grosse, course 000, speed 18 knots


“Gott!”  “Mein Gott!”

The large secondary explosion on Superb had come from the former flagship, or so the voices on the bridge declared, as far as Captain Hadi could make it out.

Historians generally would credit the great blow to her; they may have been right.

Almost lost in the glare were multiple hits from Markgraf, one of which punched a sizeable hole in Superb’s port after-quarter, near the waterline.  If the hit low in the superstructure had not doomed her, the flooding would have.  In either case, Superb’s life above the waves had ended, though several more hits would plow into the settling wreckage.  A few miles to the west, Commander Boy swore dreadful oaths mostly under his breath and mostly in Gaelic; his right hand twitched, as he unconsciously eased his razor-edged claymore in and out of its scabbard.  The others there with him were silent, but the veins in their hands stood out as gripped the rail on the aft portion of the port wingbridge of Queen Elizabeth.  They did not know which ship had lost her bid for life, but the position meant she was British.

---- 8:17 PM, bridge of Rostock, course 000, speed 25 knots


Six tall waterspouts had lurched menacingly out of the dark water just ahead and to the east.

Captain Westfeldt was just as startled as the others, as he lowered his glasses.  His ship was about 1,300 yards to the east of Friedrich der Grosse’s starboard bow.  Westfeldt had had his binoculars on Konig, who they were rapidly overtaking.  Then he found something blocking and blurring the picture in his lenses.  Konig, slowed and with visible flames, was another 1,500 yards or so to the east of their track.  Essentially, Westfeldt had aimed his command midway between the crippled dreadnought and the Line.  The waters collapsed noisily.

Why am I under fire back here?  Westfeldt first thought.  It’s the van that’s the consumer of light ships.  To the captain’s disgust, Commodore von Hoban seemed oblivious to it.  Instead, the light force commander had his binoculars scanning the east and northeast quarters.  This is not an over-built AC, Westfeldt thought; doesn’t he realize that just one of those shells that splashed there could have sunk us?  He would have had to signal for another ride!  Though, only Stuttgart and her half-flotilla were left back astern.

Westfeldt did not know who had fired the shells, but post-battle analysis would conclude that they likely were from Vanguard.

---- 8:17 PM, bridge of Marlborough, course 270, speed 13 knots

“Admiral, from Captain Molteno, Warrior: ‘Request 1st Cruiser proceed in support of screening units.’ ”


Admiral Burney did not hesitate.  Admiral Arbuthnot had been surprised by the German battlecruiser force, but those vessels were all far to the east.  For whatever screen units the Germans might have with their main body, the ACs would be an unwelcome surprise!

“Splendid idea,” the admiral related to the Marlborough CO.  “Should have thought of it myself, actually.  Not surprising at all that Molteno would want to get back into it, eh-what?!”

“Yes, sir.  Agree completely,” replied the captain.  However, he kept his binoculars trained back to the ESE.

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