Sturdee Learns His Ships
are Not

3:40 PM, bridge of Queen Mary, course 160, speed 26 knots

Vice-Admiral Sturdee, binoculars clamped to his face, stared at the four German BCs that his force was steadily overtaking. The bearing, as well as the range, was dropping. They were on parallel courses, with his ships' track to the west of the German force. The admiral glanced back along the hull. The aft turrets now looked to be bearing on the enemy, but a few more degrees would be better.

"What's the range?" Sturdee asked.

"20,000 yards, sir."

"Very well, Captain Prowse, I intend to open fire at 18,000 yards. That should allow our ships to hit and keep theirs at a disadvantage." He realized he was being excessively voluble. He clamped his jaws shut and looked back at his prey.

3:40 PM, bridge of Derfflinger, course 160, speed 18 knots

"Sir, range is 17,500 yards."

"Very well, hold your fire," Baron Letters ordered. "I don't understand it," he said to Flagcaptain Theodore. "I expected him to open fire five minutes ago."

"Could," suggested Theodore, "he be trying to get close enough to ensure their 12" shells can pierce our thicker armor?"

"Perhaps. Seems wrong to me," the baron replied. "Flags, hoist engage opposite number."

3:40 PM, bridge of Seydlitz

"Lieutenant Lionel," shouted Captain Nik, "I do not CARE if you've checked that hatch twice already! Check it dogged shut again, now! And furthermore, if I order you to check it ten more times all I want to hear from you is 'Aye, aye, sir!' Is that clear?!!"

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Sir, signal from Derfflinger, engage opposite number."

"Very well. Guns, our target is the second ship. Indefatigable class."

Captain Nik gave a look amidships.

"XO, pay close attention to the portside turret. If the British keep coming up that track, it'll have line of sight in a few minutes."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Captain, Lieutenant Lionel reports the hatch between Number 4 and 5 turrets is dogged shut."

"Very well."

He resisted the impulse to order it checked again. For now, at least.

3:40 PM, bridge of Moltke

"Guns, target is third in line, the middle ship. Indefatigable class." Captain Mustang ordered.

"Aye, aye, sir."

"XO, make sure there's nothing blocking the port turret from cross-decking. They're coming hard and we might get a shot."

"Aye, aye, sir."

3:40 PM, bridge of von der Tann

"Engage opposite number?!" Captain Dirk said, trying to focus on the last ship in the British line. "Can we even reach her yet?"

"No, sir, they're still 1000 yards out of range."

"Guns," ordered Captain Dirk, making his decision, "target the leader. Stay sharp. If the Brits give us another five minutes, I'll be ordering a target switch to the trail ship."

"Aye, aye, sir!"

Come a little closer, you guys, Captain Dirk pleaded silently. But, please, don't all of you fire at your closest target. Spread it around, huh. He was all too well aware that von der Tann, the trail ship, must be an inviting target to them all.

3:45 PM, bridge of Queen Mary

"Sir, range 19,000 yards."

"Very well. Flags, hoist: engage opposite number, concentration on the leader."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Sturdee gave a look around. Champion and her flotilla were working hard to get ahead of his BCs. Fearless and her flotilla were well off to starboard. The 9th and 10th (combined) flotillas were spread in trail. The 2nd CL Squadron was well ahead and well to starboard.

3:45 PM, bridge of von der Tann

"Guns," shouted Captain Dirk, "shift targets, I repeat, shift targets! New target is last in line, Invincible class."

"Aye, aye, sir!"

3:48 PM, bridge of Queen Mary

"Sir, range 18,000 yards."

"Open fire." Sturdee was proud of the flat crispness of his tone.

The deep bark of six 13.5" guns shattered the quiet. Other booms quickly followed from the others, as their 12" shells sped into the late afternoon sky.

3:48 PM, bridge of Derfflinger

"Admiral," began Theodore, in his Flagcaptain voice, "the range is down to 15,500 yards." He was trying to sound neutral without prodding the baron, not too much.

"Yes, quite, that's close enough ...."

"Sir, the enemy has opened fire!"


3:49 PM, bridge of Queen Mary

"Long! FAR long!" Sturdee shouted. "You're two THOUSAND yards long!"

Four tall columns rose from the sea 150 yards to port. They'd been long, too. But not by much.

3:49 PM, bridge of Seydlitz

"Straddle!" Captain Nik said, as did several others, more or less in a chorus. "Go to rapid fire!"

No shells landed nearby, for the moment.

3:49 PM, bridge of Moltke

"Straddle!" Captain Mustang shouted. "Guns, rapid fire!"

"Sir, we may have hit her, lookouts report only three spouts!"

Hits, thought Captain MU Stang, we need hits to level the odds.

"Yes!" One of the junior officers exulted, as the second set straddled as well.

"Silence on the bridge!" Captain MU Stang ordered.

3:49 PM, bridge of von der Tann

"Hit! Sir, one hull hit ahead of her bow turret."

"Very well, go to rapid fire."

The others in the half salvo had been long. There did not seem to be any fire. Even as Captain Dirk watched, the Invincible class fired another salvo in reply.

3:50 PM, bridge of Seydlitz

"Sir," said the XO, "we're being skipped."

"What?" asked Captain Nik, his eyes still on the Indefatigable class target.

"Sir," repeated the XO, "their lead pair are on Derfflinger, the next two are firing at Moltke, and the trail ship is on von der Tann. Sir, no one is shooting at us!"

"Fine by me," said Nik. "I hope we can take ...."

"Hit ! Another! Sir, two landed in that half-salvo!"

"Sir, they were near the waterline aft."

3:50 PM, bridge of Moltke

"Mein Gott!"

There were many shouts and exclamations from all over the bridge. This time MU Stang did nothing to quell them. Where a moment before had been the pride of a member of the British Commonwealth, was there now nothing but a towering pillar of smoke.

"Sir, we hit them on the wing turret and they just exploded!"

"Shift fire," ordered MU Stang. "Target the next in line."

"Aye, aye, sir!"

3:51 PM, bridge of Queen Mary

"Oh, my God! She's gone! Admiral, Australia's gone!"

"What?!" Sturdee said incredulously, "Damn!" he said as he looked aft at the smoke column receding at 26 knots.

"Sir, Indefatigable is hard hit!"

"Damn," he muttered again. The binoculars on his face concealed his expression.

"Sir, Indefatigable's hauling out of the line!"

Sturdee needed no one to tell him that, but he remained silent. She was just 500 yards aft of the Queen Mary, and it was obvious she was in trouble. Her turn did little to hide the fact that she was already slowing and listing.

3:52 PM, bridge of Blucher, course 010, speed 18 knots

"Sir, Frauenlob reports smoke, bearing 330!"

Commodore von Hoban could not see any new smoke but then, he didn't expect to. All his CLs were at some distance. He took a second look anyway and went over to the plotting table.

"Where is she?" the commodore asked. Frauenlob, he thought, that would be Captain Ehrhart, good man, solid. This was one sighting report he could have full confidence in.

"Sir, we had a visual of her just 10 minutes ago. She was right here." The navigator pointed to a mark on the chart. It was about 20,000 yards ahead on bearing 340. "Frauenlob was sweeping on this track and should be here." He moved his finger a bit.

Von Hoban studied the map. He had four CLs fanned out in a wide arc ahead of his flagship. Blucher and his own three torpedo boats were in the center. West to east, it was Stettin, Frauenlob, Munchen and Hamburg. Two other CLs were well back on either beam of the main body. Each CL was accompanied by a torpedo boat half-flotilla. He looked aft. The lead Konig was well hull-down and the main body a smudge on the horizon.

He traced his finger along a 330 track from the Frauenlob's mark. The dead reckoning position for Sturdee's BCs was considerably further north and east of where his finger ended.

"Well, XO," began the commodore, "whoever they are, they're not ours and they're not BCs."

The navigator and the XO nodded in agreement.

"Signals, Frauenlob, investigate contact. Munchen, support Frauenlob. Hamburg, move up and assume Munchen screen position."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Signals, inform Admiral Scheer, add that Blucher is proceeding in support."

"All Ahead Flank! Come to course 320!"

3:52 PM, bridge of Queen Mary


That one had been lower in the superstructure than the first. Reports were still coming in from that hit. Nothing serious so far, but there were already about 50 casualties.

Sturdee tried to ignore the bridge sounds. He looked again at Indefatigable. She was still slowing and showed signs of settling. He had to face the fact that he no longer had "superior force." There was a bright wink from Inflexible, the last ship in line. She'd taken another hit. He unconsciously squared his shoulders.

"Captain, hard right rudder, come to due North!"

Instantly the ship heeled as the helmsman began to spin the wheel even as he acknowledged.

"Signals, Flotillas 9, 10 and 13, Attack! Fearless, cover Indefatigable. All units, make smoke!"

To his credit, he did not think of a duchy lost. Not then.

3:53 PM, bridge of Derfflinger

"Sir, they're going about!"

"Did we hurt others beside the one that exploded?" Captain Theodore wondered half to himself. "Admiral, do you wish to pursue?"

"Let us see what he does for a few minutes," replied the baron.

3:53 PM, bridge von der Tann

"Hit! Another!"

That's the problem with being the trail ship, thought Captain Dirk with grim satisfaction. You're the last to turn. There was a trace of fire as his target swept into the turn.

3:54 PM, bridge of Derfflinger

"Yes," said the baron, "he's definitely turning away." Just where he's going, I don't know, the baron thought. But it clearly was going to be north of west.

"Captain, bring us smartly onto a course due north."

"Right full rudder," ordered Captain Theodore.

"Sir, my rudder is right full."

"Very well, come to course 000."

"Captain, once on course, go to Ahead Flank. I don't want them getting out of range."

The baron well remembered the interval four months previous when Princess Royal pumped 13.5" shells into Moltke while the 11" gunned ship was unable to reply. Doubtless, Captain MU Stang remembered it even better.

"Signals," ordered the baron, "Elbing, Pilau, and Regensburg, conform, close aboard, starboard side. Wiesbaden, van, starboard side."

"Aye, aye, sir!"

3:54 PM, bridge of Indefatigable, turning, slowing

"Sir," said the OOD, "no response from engineering. No response from repair teams."

The XO had left on the run two minutes ago. Captain Sowerby wanted to pound the rail in frustration and anger. He was staring at the barrels of the 12" guns, unable to fire due to power loss and the 20+ degree list. Lucky hits! But how had they gotten through his armor so easily? He tried not to think of the Australia as his ship's wake dwindled.

3:54 PM, bridge of Inflexible, turning, 26 knots

"Sir, engineering reports heavy flooding."

"Very well," acknowledged Captain Heaton-Ellis. "XO," he said with a gesture.

"On my way, sir," answered the XO already half out the hatch.

The captain watched with relief as the von der Tann's shells landed a few hundred yards to port. Right where we'd've been without the turn, he realized. Personally, he thought the would-be-baronet was a pompous ass but he promised, staring at the trio of waterspouts, that he would revisit that opinion if the "Hero of the Falklands" got him out of this alive.

bridge of Southampton, course 160, speed 26 knots

"Commodore, from Admiral Sturdee, recall."

"Very well, right standard rudder, come to course 000."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Commodore Nott suppressed any sign of emotion and gave the southern horizon a last look as the cruiser heeled as the rudder bit into the water. The other three CLs turned in perfect formation. His question as to why the sudden change of heart by the admiral went unspoken.

"Sir?" It was one of his signals ratings.


"Sir, it's the Australia. That's what the smoke is. She's blown up, she has, sir."

"Omigod," exclaimed the commodore without thinking.

But would one setback, even that, make Sturdee turn away from the enemy and, hence, his well-known aspirations? Nott didn't think so. There must be other bad news. He was sure of it.

He raised his binoculars again, this time towards the battle he was steaming back into.

3:54, bridge of Regensburg, turning, 18 knots

"Right full rudder," ordered Captain Wolferin. "Ahead Flank."

Wolferine looked across at Elbing and Pilau. He nodded as they began their turns at the same time. The three torpedo boat half-flotillas scattered slightly as the turn began, but they'd reform quickly enough. Wiesbaden had been the last to rejoin from the north, so they were already a few thousand yards in the new direction. He was not surprised that the admiral had chosen to send them ahead.

He was senior to Elbing's CO, so that made him CO of the flotilla the two CLs shared. The Wiesbaden CO was senior of the other flotilla. Per the baron's operating instructions, once Wiesbaden detached, the other flotilla CO would direct the other half -flotilla, tactically.

"XO," he announced, "I intend to put us 1000 yards off his starboard bow. That course change means the Brits will launch a torpedo attack, I know it."

Silently, he added, things are about to get interesting for us.

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