As I have written many times previously, historians have penned numerous tomes on each and every “phase” of Die Kaiserschlacht. British scholars, in particular, have scrutinized all accounts, seemingly searching for omens or portents in all the events of the battle. The ordeal of Dreadnought, the prime progenitor of all the British capital ships who fought that day, has always drawn the most such attention, by far. Indeed, her contribution in the minutes after 8:21 PM has been solidly enshrined in Royal Navy mythology. One author, whom I shall not name here, called Dreadnought the “Mother of all capital ships in [Die Kaiserschlacht].” Admiral Hanzik, not one for British vaporous hyperbole, claimed to have been insulted by that assertion. In his wry rebuttal, he offered the author a duel, at close range, and in poor visibility. Sadly, there is no record of the any response.
Nonetheless, I cannot deny that the image of Dreadnought, fire fountaining from her ruptured hull, spreading wings of blazing fire behind her retreating offspring, protecting them with her own body, is a vastly powerful one. It has inspired poets, as well as historians, with the most famous poem being, of course, “Dread Nought My Children.” British school children still memorize those 44 lines, and they still make grizzled men weep.
The facts are that all the captains of the HSF main body reported that they could not see to engage any ships beyond the towering inferno that the British archetype in the trail spot had become. Several continued to shell Dreadnought, who slowed, stopped, and appeared destroyed, but she did not immediately sink, despite additional hits at close range. However, the British gunners also lost sight of their targets. Even the best-positioned GF ship, Benbow, under the command of the noted navigator, Captain Sir Herrick, failed to find a target in the minutes after the explosion on Dreadnought.
Lady Christine Letters, ibid, pages 603 - 604
---- 8:24 PM, bridge of Falmouth, course 250, speed 15 knots
(4,000 yards north of Benbow)
All previous GF dreadnought explosions had been south of the Grand Fleet’s westward track. The explosion on Dreadnought in the Line itself and the hostile muzzle flashes now plainly north of the GF west track were the final factors. Rear-Admiral Trevylyan D. Napier, MVO, could stand it no longer. He made his decision.
“Signals Officer! Hoist: ‘Flank, Immediate Execute.’ Captain Edwards, bring the squadron onto 120!”
“Aye, aye, sir! Helm, left full rudder!”
“Sir, my rudder is coming left ...”
“... rudder is left full ...”
“Signals Officer: ‘Prepare to make smoke.’ ”
“... passing 180 ...”
“Engine room answers Ahead Flank.”
Still another RN light formation headed for the High Seas Fleet.
---- 8:24 PM, bridge of Rostock, course 000, speed 25 knots
Captain Westfeldt shifted his attention from Kaiserin to Markgraf as Rostock drew up alongside her. Who was winning this battle? There had been reports of RN ships destroyed, but they were fragmentary. The last five dreadnoughts they had passed in their own Line, however, had had battered, holed, and smoking topsides. Twisted cranes, shattered small boats, crushed searchlight platforms, holed funnels, sinister bits of internal glow, threads of smoke leaking out of casemate slots, all hinted at terrible destruction and loss of life. Nearly each one had a silent turret, or worse, a gaping, smoking crater where one had been. Kaiser was missing entirely! He saw immediately that Markgraf was not any exception. If anything, she looked worse than the others! If they were indeed winning this battle, it was at a terrible cost. Junkyards, floating junkyards, all of them! How long would they keep steaming headlong into this?!
He tried to resist it, but his breath still caught with pride in his throat at every defiant broadside the big ships fired back at the Englishers. Too many brave German boys had died this day, many of them in the van his Commodore strained so to get back to.
Commodore von Hoban had his glasses focused not on where the HSF dreadnoughts were, but where they were not. He hated when each one they overtook obscured his view to the west.
“We’ve drawn almost even with their track,” von Hoban stated, as he lowered his glasses with Markgraf now fully across their line of sight west. He rubbed his eyes; hours of adrenaline were taking their toll on him. Would this battle ever end? It seemed like months, not hours, had passed. He looked over the light cruiser’s bow. So strange not to be Blucher’s. Five minutes, he estimated, with decades of sea time backing his guess. Yes, five minutes and they’d draw ahead of Konig, er, Grosser Kurfurst, he corrected himself. A quick glance starboard aft showed the flickering form of Admiral Behncke’s battered flagship receding behind them.
---- 8:24 PM, bridge of Konig, course (changing), speed 11 knots
“Sir, After Steering reports rudder amidships, course 000.”
LCDR Tuerme looked around, as though to check the course himself. The hardware was in ruins, unrecognizable in the gloom, or maybe just gone. He shrugged his shoulders in defeat. Okay, they were on something like 000. Fine. As long as they didn’t actually run over someone friendly, it was not like it really mattered or anything. The Kaiser’s Regatta, this certainly was not. He looked suddenly at the muzzle flashes still marking the ongoing battle. Maybe it is, he thought absently, still half in shock. Maybe it really is.
“Sir, from LT Lionel, the roller path on the second turret is damaged. Turret #2 is locked in place and cannot fire.”
“Very well,” Tuerme answered in reflex. That explained, in part, why the bow turrets had gone silent.
“To LT Lionel: ‘Interrogative status of Turret #1.’ “
The messenger repeated back and headed off what was left of the bridge.
LT Lionel, Tuerme reflected, had been bragging, just a couple hours ago, about his brother on Seydlitz. Hmm, he thought, and looked around. Odd. Where WERE the battlecruisers?
---- 8:24 PM, bridge of Derfflinger, course 090, speed 25 knots
“Admiral,” reported Acting-Flagcaptain Theodor, “the estimate is 25 to 35 shells per gun for the squadron.”
“Very well, thank you,” replied Letters, who had asked for the estimate several minutes earlier. He kept his binoculars focused on the nearest enemy flotilla. He’d have to turn another 30 degrees to starboard in a few minutes, he considered.
“Signals Officer,” the baron called.
“Change the ‘Immediate’ course to ‘180,’ and kept it up as before.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
Letters hoped that Admiral Rudburg would continue to exploit the window of opportunity 1SG had inadvertently provided by leading the bulk of the GF light screen off on this chase. So far, he thought Rudburg had done just that. Just 30 rounds per gun, almost imperceptively, he shook his head.
---- 8:25 PM, bridge of Deutschland, course 340, speed 9 knots
The captain watched, tight-lipped, as Hannover passed by about 700 yards to port.
“Helm, ordered station was 500 yards east of the Line on course 000.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” The helmsman was mortified. “Sorry, sir, but they’ve slowed the starboard shaft some, too, and she’s very sluggish, sir. Doesn’t want to stay on any course at all.”
Schlesien was drawing up on their beam. The rudder swings had cut their speed even a bit more.
“Sir, on course 000.”
---- 8:25 PM, bridge of Stuttgart, course 325, speed 22.5 knots
Captain Wilhelm Odalb noticed some on the bridge grab onto stanchions and other items as Stuttgart crested the east edge of the Line’s propwash. The torpedo boats echeloned starboard aft bobbed like powered corks. Odalb easily rode it out with both hands on his binoculars, not even shifting his feet. Not enough sea time, he thought. The younger officers and men needed more formation turns, turn aways, and wake crossings. There would be a lot of wakes tonight.
“Make turns for 21 knots.”
Odalb had gone to a pattern as he swept in trail. The older reciprocating engines needed to be pampered. He “sprinted” to top speed outside the Line’s wake. Within, he kept to a slightly more sedate 21 knots.
“Aye, aye, sir.”
He looked sternwards. His half-flotilla would begin to switch to port echelon as they crossed the Line’s due-north track.
---- 8:26 PM, bridge of Southampton, course 090, speed 23 knots (increasing)
Commodore Nott reached a decision of his own, just minutes after Admiral Napier did.
“Helm, come to course 060.”
He had decided to tighten up with the flotillas he could see coming up abeam, to port. Nott would have preferred to turn more sharply north, perhaps to 045 or even 030, but visibility was too poor to steam one formation across another at these speeds. This was especially true in the current situation, because the flotilla overtaking him was the combined 9th and 10th and 13th Flotillas who had been with Sturdee, as Nott had been. Unlike Nott’s 2nd CL, however, the torpedo boat formations had fought and taken damage and losses. Once they neared each other, they’d change course again, together.
The rippling muzzle flashes from both fleets appeared to form a backward, upside-down “L” in the dark waves. He did not like it, but it appeared they would soon be bisecting that angle.
---- 8:27 PM, bridge of Frauenlob, course 000, speed 18 knots
Captain Ehrhart was scanning the fore quarters. With the GF main body now WSW, though, he wondered if he should be changing position.
“Lookout section, is Rostock in sight?”
“Sir, Iookouts report Rostock appears to be just east of Kronprinz.”
Explosions to the west, gun blasts astern, but it was still too quiet. The British screen had to be near. Had to be! But where? He could almost feel their bow waves. He wished von Hoban would get up here.
“Keep sharp up there,” Ehrhart called.
“Aye, aye, sir!”
---- 8:27 PM, bridge of Deutschland, course 000, speed 10 knots
“Sir, Engineer reports ready to answer bells on the port shaft!”
“Make turns for 16 knots!”
The captain looked to port. Schleswig‑Holstein, the trail ship of 2nd Battle Squadron, was coming up, now nearly abeam.
“Captain, the XO.” He turned to get the report.
“Sir,” came the voice up the tube, “it was a clogged lube oil strainer. It could not be shifted or cleared in time. I think some bearing damage had occurred upstream, shedding babbit flakes and fines into the flow. Too much, the filter exceeded its differential pressure rating and vented through the gasket. We trailed the shaft in time to prevent damage in the third stage gearing.”
“Any sign of bearing damage?”
“No, sir. Not yet, but that material came from somewhere.”
Yes, thought the captain, we’re all too likely to see a temperature rise soon.
“Good work. Tell the Engineer. And advise him that I want to hear of any bearing problems early.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
He looked at the RPM indicator. Up to 12 knots. Close enough.
“Helm, put us directly aft of Schleswig‑Holstein.”
“Sir, my rudder is coming left ....”
“Signals Officer, to Admiral Hanzik: ‘Repairs complete, taking station aft of Schleswig‑Holstein.’ ”
---- 8:28 PM, bridge of Southampton, course 060, speed 24 knots
“Helm, come to course 045.”
To Nott’s vast relief, the flotilla alongside conformed. He looked to the NW and saw that the other flotilla, the 1st Flotilla, had neared the port side of the 9+10+13th and were also beginning to turn to the NE.
The torpedo boats soon began to edge ahead. In another minute, they had clearly begun to pull away. The dozens of wakes widening as scores of propellers flailed the North Sea to further accelerate the many thin-hulled attackers towards the battle ahead.
Nott turned back, faced the flickering guns to the NE, and raised his glasses. He doubted that there’d be a recall this time.
---- 8:29 PM, bridge of Rostock, course 000, speed 25.5 knots
“Commodore, Frauenlob is 3,000 yards north.”
Von Hoban was looking across Grosser Kurfurst’s bow, 800 yards west.
“The Brit main body is south of us!”
“Yes, I make it about 1,500 yards south.”
They were all gauging it from the burning hulk of what had been the trail RN dreadnought.
Okay, he was getting back into van, but was that where he should be? With the GF main body to the west, would not their screen units be there, as well?
---- 8:29 PM, bridge of Derfflinger, course 090, speed 25 knots
“Admiral! One flotilla has turned back!”
“The other is still there.”
I wonder what wireless messages THEY just got, thought the baron.
“Carl Johann,” said the HSF CO under his breath, “ ‘to the touch.’ “
“Navigator,” he said aloud, “show me the plot.”
“Aye, aye, sir. I assumed 18 knots on 000, just as you said, my lord, er, sir.”
“Jah, jah, and where are they (“und wo sind sie, bitte”)?”
The other pointed to the plotted location.