|---- 8:18 PM, bridge of Stuttgart, course 045, speed 21 knots
“Sir, we’ve reached the turn point.”
The report caught Captain Odalb looking backwards, not unusual for a CO in the trail position. There was an historic battle raging up ahead somewhere, and had been for some time, but it seemed he was joining it late --- again the usual complaint of trail.
“Very well,” Odalb answered. He turned his attention to starboard. They were about 1,500 yards aft of Kaiser and about 3,000 yards to starboard of the HSF main body 000 track. Kaiser, herself, trailed the last of the pre-dreadnoughts on 2nd Battle Squadron by almost 2,000 yards. If Kaiser continued to drop behind, Captain Wilhelm Odalb would face a very uncomfortable decision. That is, he’d have to let Kaiser drop back alone. He’d already had to watch Westfalen and Hessen drop back and disappear in his wake. He hated it, but Stuttgart and her half-flotilla had to stay with the main body, sweeping in trail.
“Sir, new contact, ahead and just to port.”
He raised his binoculars. Yes, they were beginning to overtake another large German dreadnought; she must have pulled out of the Line, somewhere near the van, perhaps, and then slowed. She was still several thousand yards north, but she might be a hazard on the way back, next starboard tack. He might be leaving another two dreadnoughts behind, he realized and hid his scowl behind the raised lenses.
“Left 10 degrees rudder, come to course 315.”
“Sir, my rudder is coming left, 10 degrees left rudder, sir, coming to course 315.”
He took a last scan of the starboard quarters, lowered his binoculars, and began to walk across the bridge to the port wing. The sounds and flashes of battle continued ahead. The battle, with all its glory, was essentially out of sight ahead. Back here were only had the bleeding, blazing, lamed cripples for company. Trail’s a bitch, he half muttered. The deck officer shot him a strange look, but Captain Dirk, on von der Tann, would have understood.
---- 8:18 PM, bridge of Thuringen, course 000, speed 18 knots
Captain Kelvin von Kroon was studying what was now apparently the wreck of an RN dreadnought.
“Cease fire! Guns, find us a new target!”
Tall columns of dark frothy water rose from the sea close aboard. Someone had found them first.
“Lookout section! Who is shooting at us?” Captain von Kroon shouted.
Less than 30 seconds later, just after the splashes had subsided, more columns of water jetted up alongside.
Damn! More than one shooter? Mein Gott! How had two shooters picked them out of the Line in this mess?! Mein Gott, they were the eighth in the Line! He looked around almost wildly. Were they showing a light? Had someone turned on a searchlight? Were they on fire somewhere?
It was none of those things, but neither was it entirely coincidence. Thuringen was about the furthest traverse for the ships up in the RN Line to get more than their stern-most turrets to bear on the muzzle flashes that were sparking in the distance, like malevolent fireflies. Bellerophon and Benbow both had been pumping ordnance back at the HSF, undisturbed by anything but the gloom. They had inadvertently shifted targets several times, almost with each salvo, in fact. This time, they had both fired at Thuringen. Worse luck for Thuringen, both straddles had had near-misses that were easily seen and both ships’ spotters had recognized the fall of their own shot. Even as von Kroon was shouting his questions, corrections were being made and the shells for the next RN salvos were being loaded.
---- 8:18 PM, bridge of Deutschland, course 000, speed ~18knots
“Sir, Engineer reports we’re losing oil pressure for the third stage, port shaft, bearing failure imminent. Request stop on port shaft, immediately!”
The captain did not hesitate.
“Officer of the Deck, port shaft Stop!”
“Helm, right 5 degrees rudder.”
“Sir, my rudder is 5 degrees ....”
“Officer of the Deck, bring us 500 yards east of the Line, and put us back on 000.”
“Signals Officer, to Admiral Hanzik: ‘Propulsion casualty, estimate best speed 12 knots.’ “
“XO, I don’t want to distract the Engineer. Get down there. I need answers!”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
“And, XO,” said the captain as the other was on the way out, “I need that shaft back, fast. I know Rudburg. The fleet is NOT going to slow for us. Tell the Engineer that if we’re stuck at 12 knots, we’ll be on our own to get home.”
---- 8:18 PM, bridge of Ostfriesland, course 000, speed 18 knots
Admiral Rudburg was trying to visualize the position of the fleets. His ship’s guns had gone silent as the gunnery officer shifted from the Superb wreck, but had failed to find a new target yet.
He couldn’t be sure what was happening in the GF van, but sobeit. What really bothered him, and had been for some time, were the several missing pieces of this puzzle of a battle. They were all British, and they all carried torpedoes, and he could not for the life of him figure out why they had not attacked or even simply screened the retreating Grand Fleet units.
Well, Baron Letters had led some off to the east, and Commodore von Hoban’s screen forces had repelled one limited attack, inflicting heavy losses. Nonetheless, that meant there were at least three flotillas and a like number of CL squadrons flatly unaccounted for. Had they gone off after Westfalen and Hessen? If so, there was nothing to be done for it.
If the RN light were gone, then a LOB turn to continue the pursuit seemed indicated. Though, he thought, not yet, not yet. First, he had to let his van get well north of the GF Line.
His contemplation was interrupted by splashes close aboard. Several splashes. Very close.
“Sir! We’ve been straddled!”
“Who is shooting at us?” Ostfriesland’s CO shouted to the lookout section. “Identify shooter!”
The shooter was Erin, who was spotting off a bit of reflection from the fires on Konig, even though the damaged German dreadnought was almost a full 3,000 yards to the east and 1,000 yards north. The lookouts, however, had no chance of working out the shooter. There were too many RN dreadnoughts firing at muzzle flashes, or on anything resembling an excuse at all.
---- 8:19 PM, bridge of von der Tann, course 090, speed 25 knots
“Sir, report from the main body, to the baron!”
“Bring it here,” ordered Captain Dirk. Commander Bavaria came closer, leaving his vantage on the port wing of the bridge, where he had been staring at the threatening RN flotillas still apparently creeping up on the port quarter.
Captain Dirk read it, smiled, then handed it to his XO.
After a quick scan, his XO began to laugh, loud and long, perhaps a bit odd in his tone.
Dirk looked at him sharply. “Commander, are you well, man?” Dirk asked him in a low voice.
“Yes, this commander is a well man,” his XO replied. “It’s just that, ach, Captain, I’d always seen First Scouting as the shwerpunkt of the HSF, and here the main body has been destroying the Grand Fleet while we’ve been steaming for a neutral shoreline!”
He laughed again. “Captain, may I read this aloud?”
Dirk nodded, giving his XO another quick look, and there were low exclamations as Rudburg’s message was read.
“Sir,” inserted a rating, extending a slip of paper, “from the gunnery officer.”
Dirk read the note. Basically, it reported that main gun ammo was running low, about 25 rounds per barrel. It had been the occasional salvos that had been key to keeping at bay the RN light, as they would swerve away from the huge splashes. He handed the note silently to his XO.
---- 8:19 PM, bridge of Ostfriesland, course 000, speed 18 knots
“Who is shooting at us!”
This time the shells had been so close as to have the dark North Sea water pound down on the ship as the columns fell. Even on the bridge, Rudburg could feel the spray from the near misses.
Ostfriesland’s guns finally fired back, but at what the gunnery officer could see. He was firing at Iron Duke, however, so Erin continued her late night target practice undisturbed.
Actually, Vanguard also was shooting at Ostfriesland. So far her salvos had been a bit wide astern and quite long. One salvo had landed within 200 yards of the torpedo boat in the trail slot behind Rostock, as Captain Westfeldt and Commodore von Hoban worked their way towards the van. More than one of the light ship sailors had suddenly made an effort to recall childhood prayers, but there was no other effect. Vanguard’s spotters were shouting “over” again, and again the guns were readied.
---- 8:19 PM, bridge of Thuringen, course 000, speed 18 knots
Whannng! Bellerophon had scored despite the gloom.
“Damn!” Captain von Kroon cursed, quite unconsciously. “Guns! Do you have a target?!”
It would be a few minutes, but the hit had pounded through the hull aft, causing major flooding in the port propulsion spaces. There was no loss of propulsion. Yet.
---- 8:20 PM, bridge of Konig, course 060, speed 12 knots
LCDR Tuerme had his glasses on the Line to the west. He thought the separation was about right, something like 3,000 yards.
“To After Steering, 5 degrees left rudder, bring us back to 000.”
“Sir, LT Schmidt requests additional personnel for damage control and repair parties.”
Why is he asking me? Uh, though, whom else could he ask? Where do I find men?
“How many is LT Schmidt trying to get?”
“I don’t know, sir, but there’re still two fires not much under control, one’s to port, just aft of amidships and t’other in the port aft casemates. The LT has hoses on the magazine bulkheads but ....”
“Sir?” It was the rating kneeling at the tubes. He looked like he wanted to get up again, after all, Tuerme thought, was he ever instructed how to address an officer from a kneeling over position? The man had circular welts around his mouth, Tuerme noted. Whatever from?
“Sir,” the man got out, “Engineer requests additional repair teams. To help shore up some bulkheads and plug holes, they’re saying, sir.”
“Very well, to the Gunnery Officer ....”
Tuerme stopped at the look in one rating’s eyes.
“Um, he’s dead, sir.” Damn! LCDR Tuerme had known that; he’d just forgotten. He shifted his feet. There was a gritty feel from glass bits and splinters. Where could he come up with 100 or so men?
Tuerme reached a decision. “Evacuate the main turrets,” he ordered. “Men from the forward turrets report to LT Schmidt. Men from the aft turrets report to the Engineer. LT Schmidt and the Engineer are both to dispatch two men to me for messengers.”
He hoped to get them back in the turrets later. First, though, there had to be a “later.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
Ignoring looks from the ratings, Tuerme looked west to where the battle flashes continued. The main guns would be worthless right now, he repeated to himself internally, and I must first save the ship.
---- 8:20 PM, bridge of Thuringen, course 000, speed 18 knots
Bellerophon had scored a second hit, high in the aft upperworks. The spark of the hit was visible only for an instant. Lost were part of the searchlight platform, and the men on it and nearby.
This time, however, the spotters had worked out who and where the shooter was and were reporting to the gunnery officers. They would be able to return fire within a minute.
---- 8:20 PM, bridge of Benbow, course 270, speed 13 knots
There was a brief flare of fire in the aft casemates of their target. The glow remained for several seconds longer.
“Yes!” Captain Herrick exclaimed. “Guns, keep it up, that one hurt her!”
It had been their fourth salvo. The initial straddle had been on their second, and the next had been seen to be short.
---- 8:20 PM, bridge of Grosser Kurfurst, course 000, speed 18 knots
Captain Schnell was relieved when his guns fired, finally. They had ceased fire on Superb minutes ago, but had not been able to see a target. Crossing an enemy’s “T” from astern is a mixed blessing, Schnell had realized. The funnel smoke made spotting a target in already poor visibility even that much harder.
Finally, the muzzle flashes from her port turret had let them try. As they crossed the GF Line track, however, they would obviously lose sight of the port turret muzzle flashes.
The first half-salvo was long, very long. In fact, they landed half-way between the trail ship they had targeted (Dreadnought) and the next in the Line (Iron Duke). Unable to see splashes, they dropped the range, but they were again over. Again, the splashes went unspotted. The second half-salvo’s splashes were just 150 yards ahead of Dreadnought, but the funnel smoke from her and those ahead of her made spotting “long” shells virtually impossible for Grosser Kurfurst, who was firing from dead astern.
Similarly, Captain Skorpion on Kaiserin and Captain vin Heinz in Prinzregent Luitpold had been late to shift fire from Superb and had both been unable to acquire a new target.
In one of war’s many ironies, Dreadnought and her Line mates were actually benefiting from NOT being modern oil burners like QE was, near the van!
---- 8:20 PM, bridge of Kronprinz, course 000, speed 18 knots
“Short! Up 200!”
Captain Wilhelm’s gunnery crew, having shifted fire from Superb early, had acquired their current target before the plume had degraded things too mauch. As a result, Kronprinz been firing at Dreadnought for several salvos, though with no success after the loss of their lead spotting team aloft. They had achieved one straddle, three half salvos ago but had not managed a hit in the last dozen half-salvos, after scoring the one minor superstructure hit earlier.
No one was shooting back, however, as the RN Line could not see the van of the HSF Line. Dreadnought, who likely could see them all too well, had lost her aft and midships turrets earlier in the battle. Thus, she was helpless to reply.
Wilhelm wanted to pound on the rail in frustration. Immediately astern, however, Captain Siegfried’s gunners on Markgraf had landed their first shots close to the target and short, letting good spotting. As a direct result, they had managed a straddle on their second salvo. They still had enough deflection to better see the port turret muzzle flashes about 9,000 yards away and they were still out of the coal smoke plume.
---- 8:20 PM, bridge of Ostfriesland, course 000, speed 18 knots.
The rush of fire aft was visible on the bridge, and cast shadows onto the front of the compartment.
“Sir, the forward port turret!”
Admiral Rudburg joined the others at the side rail. The 13.5” shell (from Erin) had pierced the turret glacis at about 10,500 yards and killed the 50 men within. The resulting fire had consumed all the ready ammo in their cases, but had not spread into the magazine.
Inside the turret, several charges continued to smolder in their individual zinc casings. Heavy smoke poured out the turret ports and wrapped itself along the entire port side. An American would have likened the flickering glow inside the ruined turret to resemble a monstrous jack-o-lantern. Rudburg recognized it to be a hugely threatening beacon for naval artillery.
Mein Gott, Mein Gott, he thought, but he said nothing.
---- 8:20 PM, bridge of Iron Duke, course 270, speed 13 knots
Tall waterspouts jetted up from close aboard port.
“Straddled!” Captain Smith exclaimed, drawing glares from the stolid RN bridge staff.
“I think that came from well back in their Line,” Captain Loureiro commented much more quietly.
The Brazilian attache was correct. The shells had been from Ostfriesland, and they had been fired just before Erin had destroyed her forward port turret. The German now could fire just three on targets to port, and the smoke streaming into the aft port turret was degrading their performance, as well.
Iron Duke’s current target was Friedrich der Grosse. The Grand Fleet flagship had hit and hurt Kronprinz several minutes before, but had had to shift targets after losing their line of sight to the current HSF van dreadnought. A single salvo at Grosser Kurfurst had followed, but then they had had to shift again. The threatening splashes had come as an unwelcome surprise to Captain Hadi. Although the straddle had been on Iron Duke’s third salvo at the original HSF flagship, the others had been long enough not to be noticed.
---- 8:21 PM, bridge of Markgraf, course 000, speed 18 knots
The shell had struck Dreadnought just ahead of the silent midships turret and flush on the after face of the casemate structure, close to the centerline between the two wing turrets. A vast spear of flame thrust into the night sky. Coming from so far aft, the shell’s effects were magnified as it bored a track of destruction nearly 40 feet long before it detonated. It cast out a virtual wave front of white hot fragments from the thin casemate armor and light internal surfaces along its flight path.
The explosion in a secondary magazine was the cause of the fire visibly venting through the decking amidships. The explosion also ruptured the deck between the funnels, rending bulkheads like tissue, dismounting machinery, and flooding spaces with hot water and steam.
Captain Siegfried and the others on Markgraf did not see all that, of course. The explosion and fire was enough to see that they had badly hurt their target.
Dreadnought had not exploded in a vast fireball, but she was likely mortally wounded.
---- 8:21 PM, bridge of Rostock, course 000, speed 25 knots
They had passed by Konig a couple minutes before. Now, both Captain Westfeldt and Commodore von Hoban were staring to the west-northwest through the gap in the Line between Prinzregent Luitpold and Kaiserin. The flashes from the guns of the 3rd Battle Squadron degraded visibility substantially, but they could still make out muzzle flashes on the RN ships trying their luck in reply in the gloom.
There seemed to be very few hits, but there were several disconcertingly close splashes near Rostock, as they made their way up the supposedly disengaged side of the Line.
Kaiserin’s stern almost blocked their view when they saw the flash of an explosion, on some ship in the GF. They could not tell which ship it had been.
---- 8:21 PM, bridge of Hannover, course 000, speed 18(minus) knots
“Hoist 16 knots,” ordered Admiral Hanzik.
“Aye, aye, sir.”
He still hated to slow, even by just a couple knots. The battle was just ahead.
He raised his glasses. The flashes off to port and well ahead showed that the GF Line was heading somewhere off to the east, and away. Slowing now would mean that the Battle Squadron would likely not see more fleet action.
Hanzik especially hated that his slowing might force Admiral Rudburg --- and what a surprise he’d been! --- to slow the entire main body.
The enemy trail ships looked to be something like 12,000 to 14,000 yards to the northwest. If they could se them, they could shoot even now. All he could see, however, were many dim flashes. Damage was being done, however, to both sides. The evidence was there to see in the glow from small fires on floating wreckage ahead and to port from an obviously destroyed British ship, and the flickering fires still visible on slowing Konig, ahead and well off to starboard.
“Admiral! Deutschland is pulling out of the Line!”
He turned to look ahead, and almost missed the explosion on Dreadnought.
---- 8:21 PM, bridge of Iron Duke, course 270, speed 13 knots
“Oh, my God!”
Captain Smith thought the exclamation had come one of the formerly unflappable RN junior officers. There had been other RN ship explosions, but Dreadnought was just 500 yards away. Actually, it could have been himself that said it. Certainly, he had thought it. No one seemed disposed to make a point of it.
Dreadnought was hurt, grievously hurt. More than that, though, the flash had blinded Iron Duke’s spotting parties, and those on Erin, Vanguard, and even Bellerophon. The German main body also would be affected, as the first six ships, the remaining Konigs and Kaisers, lost all hope of finding any target ahead of Dreadnought’s ongoing fireworks. The lead German ships were just too much directly astern to see past the brightness. Only Captain Herrik’s gunners on Benbow were relatively unaffected.
---- 8:22 PM, bridge of Ostfriesland, course 000, speed 18 knots
“Admiral, from Admiral Hanzik: ‘2nd Battle Squadron unable to maintain 18 knots. Best speed 16 knots.’ “
Rudburg looked away from the large fire in the RN Line. He had been half-listening to the damage reports on his ship.
“Very well, acknowledge please.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
Westfalen and Hessen gone, First Scouting disappeared, Konig and Kaiser out of the Line, Blucher left behind, and now 2nd Battle Squadron dropping behind. Even his own ship was hurt; how badly he was not yet certain. Here he was, in the middle of the battle the High Command had never wanted, under the command of a Vice-Admiral the High Command had tried to beach, and with himself, a Rear-Admiral added at the last minute, in command of the main body. Yes, and here he was, almost within reach of a vast victory, and the main body was coming apart.
He had the sudden image that the British Grand Fleet was running deep into a dark forest of massive tree trunks, leaving a trail of bread crumbs. Like a wolf, he was snapping up those morsels, here RN cripples among the taller-than-trees water columns. A lame wolf, he thought, or at least one going lame, and his prey was on the verge of getting away into the gloom.
---- 8:23 PM, bridge of Southampton, course 135, speed 21 knots (increasing)
For Commodore Nott, it had a terrifying taste of deja vu. Once again, he found himself steaming back towards battle only to see British fiery disaster ahead of him.
“Helm, bring us onto 090.”
The distant flashes from dozens of dreadnought guns had begun to mark the fleet dispositions pretty clearly. The German’s had somehow gotten their own Line east of the Grand Fleet. So much for “screen south,” he thought. The HSF is not south of them at all! How in the devil had it gotten so far north? My God! The Germans actually were north of his squadron! The enemy was already BETWEEN his “south screen” and the Grand Fleet itself! He estimated the distance to the enemy to be something like 15 - 18,000 yards, almost directly NE.
He looked off his port beam. The flotillas had almost caught up with him. He was not Commodore Le Mesurier, but someone had to DO something!
---- 8:23 PM, bridge of Hannover, course 000, speed 18(minus) knots
“Execute,” Hanzik ordered. Slowing, he hated it. The battle was going to flow out of his sight like an underground spring.
The sound of the halyards in the blocks abraded his nerves, and he almost snapped at the Signals Officer and the signalists. He did not recall ever noticing that noise before.
“Cling, cling,” went the engine order telegraph as the deck officer dialed in the new, lower RPM order. He decided he hated that noise, too.
“Sir, from Deutschland: ‘Propulsion casualty, estimate best speed 12 knots.’ “
Hanzik studied the latest disaster to beset his command. Deutschland had already steadied up on a parallel 000 track just 500 yards to the east. As he watched, he noted that she was losing ground to the others, but only slowly as the rest of 2nd Battle Squadron eased to 16 knots.>
---- 8:23 PM, bridge of Warrior, course 270, speed 13 knots
“Sir, from Marlborough: ‘Concur.’ “
“Left Full Rudder! All Ahead Flank!”
Captain Molteno had already warned engineering to expect a Flank bell. He fully expected that the other AC COs had done the same, after his request to the Flag. Nonetheless, with Warrior about 2,000 yards north and the same to the west of Marlborough at the head of the Line, this would have to be done in two stages. Taking 1,000 ton torpedo boats though the Line was one thing, but taking 14,000 ton ACs through the Line in a battle was another.
“Helm, steady up on 060.”
“Steady up on 060, aye, aye, sir.”
Once south of the Line, he would head to the SE. He turned to check that the other two ACs had tuned to follow. Already, he could feel the increase in vibrations that indicated that the Engineer was on the ball. The Duke of Edinburgh, second in the formation, had already put her helm over. They had opened the gap between them only a little, suggesting that they’d been ready for Flank. Good, he thought, and turned back to watch their progress across Marlborough’s bows.
---- 8:23 PM, bridge of Iron Duke, course 270, speed 13 knots
“Admiral, Commodore Le Mesurier reports that 4th Light Cruiser is enroute at 25 knots.”
There was a moment of silence.
“Very well,” said the admiral, grimly.
Dreadnought was already visibly falling back.