The Light at Dusk

How significant can a miss be? Historians have covered the events at dusk of Die Kaiserschlacht seemingly to exhaustion. The visibility was poor, the main bodies had lost contact, and all waited for orders amidst virtual chaos. For the British, they were doing something essentially unprecedented - withdrawing. Their main body had taken heavy losses, their scouting forces had been devastated, their screen forces had been divided with the original screen commander lost, and their foes kept doing the unexpected. For the Germans, they, too, were doing something unprecedented --- pursuing. The original HSF CO was unconscious, his deputy was over the horizon to the east, the admirals of the two van divisions were absent, and the screen commander was not yet back in the van and in his second ship of the day! Many have been critical of certain decisions, or lack of same. Certainly both sides missed opportunities and pure chance seemed to be the key factor to many of the participants. Perhaps the most scathing work was by Professor Blue (University of Aberdeen) who suffered on TB Justine: "Nott in Vain." In my view, having studied all the surviving logs of the ships that were involved, the events were markedly affected by a salvo or two that hit nothing but water! In fact, the shells involved did not even straddle their target, or any ship, for that matter. The timeline is clear, however: perhaps the most significant shots fired were ones that hit nothing at all.

-------- Lady Christine Letters, ibid, page 632

---- 8:30 PM, bridge of Southampton, course 045, speed 25 knots

"What the bloody ...?"

Commodore Nott clenched his jaw, cutting off what he almost said.

The Germans had ceased fire on Dreadnought, or what was left of her. The burning remnants of the stricken ship were about a point east of north, range something like 7,000 yards. A few minutes before, there had been many muzzle flashes and a bit of a flicker or glow much further away dead on his bow, but the Germans had ceased fire and he could not see evidence of any foe now with the greater glare from Dreadnought. Visibility was somewhere around 6,000 yards, he thought.

Nott looked back towards the GF and realized that he also could not make out Iron Duke anymore. He knew she must be just under 8,000 yards away to the NW, but any chance he had to see her was lost due to the growing gloom and the funnel smoke from the TB flotillas that had just passed him on his port beam. Both fleets, with dozens of dreadnoughts between them, had disappeared from view. It was as if the RN light ships were alone on the ocean.

With his glasses focused again on where the Germans surely had to be, he realized that the TB crews likely could see even less. Their bridges were lower than Southampton's and their smaller hulls were getting pitched around in the waves as they headed to the NE at 30+ knots, making their lookouts' task even tougher. He lowered his binoculars; the lead TBs were already about 2,000 yards ahead on his port bow. Nott wondered again if they could see anything; he doubted it.

---- 8:31 PM, bridge of Stuttgart, course 320, speed 21 knots

Captain Odalb was looking at Kaiser. His trail group was just crossing the LOB 000 track directly aft of her at a distance of just under 1,000 yards. Her topsides showed the effects of her earlier ordeal, but there was no visible fire. Odalb caught himself, gave a quick scan astern, and began to study the empty dark seas to the west.

Aft of the older CL, the 5 TBs began the routine switch to echelon out to port. They had done this drill a few dozen times already and it required little thought.

---- 8:31 PM, bridge of Derfflinger, course 090. Speed 25 knots

"Admiral, the remaining British ships are turning away!"

Letters raised his glasses. Yes, quite correct, and the other flotilla had turned away to the north a couple minutes earlier, with the CL group quite some time before that. He stared at the last of the RN ships for a few moments and then went back to the plot table to look over again the estimated positions. As he walked, he turned to give orders.

"Captain Theodor, report when the last of the RN near the limit of visibility."

"Signals Officer, haul down the 'Course 180 Immediate.' "

"Aye, aye, sir."

At 7:38 PM, from a position several thousand yards north and slightly east of Konig, he had turned onto 090, to evade an immediate torpedo threat. Then had altered to a more NE heading until forced gradually back to 090. The RN light had very effectively prevented any chance that he could do an "end-around" of the GF main body. Dead reckoning was poor under such conditions, but it looked like Konig should be something like 35,000 yards almost due west of Derfflinger. With such low ammo, the baron was not sure that he wanted to engage the RN again unless the opportunity was very attractive. First, however, he had to shape some course to get back near the main body.

"Captain, what course does it appear they are turning onto?"

Captain Theodor acknowledged and relayed the question to the lookout section.

"Signals Officer: '15 knots.' Execute as soon as acknowledged, then hoist '25 knots' and leave it up."

"Baron, lookouts report both flotillas appear to have turned onto 315."

"Very well. Signals Officer, hoist: 'Course 315.' "

---- 8:31 PM, bridge of Deutschland, course ~330, speed 15 knots (increasing, slowly)

The captain had his eyes on the stern of Schleswig-Holstein about 300 yards off his port bow. His helmsman was cutting it a little close, but he approved. They were not back to a full 16 knots yet, and the rudder motion to get to 000 would slow them a bit more.

High in the upperworks, a young sailor stiffened his shoulders, more in puzzlement than alarm, and called out to his leading seaman.

---- 8:32 PM, bridge of Southampton, course 045, speed 25 knots

They were passing directly south of flickering fires on the wreck or debris field that had been Dreadnought. There were no British capital ships in sight and none of the enemy. For all he knew, the Germans had turned away. As for the German BCs that had almost got him twice today, he did not know where they were either. The GF main body he was ordered to screen was steaming off to the west, out of his sight.

"Left 5 degrees rudder, come to course 000."

"Sir, my rudder is left 5 degrees ...."

Commodore Nott had not been ordered to attack or scout, but to screen. Nott intended to obey orders. He considered trying to order the flotillas to conform, but decided it would exceed his authority.

---- 8:32 PM, bridge of Schleswig-Holstein, course 000, speed 16 knots

"Chief," asked a senior rating of his supervisor as he pointed out the aft starboard beam, "look there, on bearing 235."

The chief of the lookout section in the aft upperworks raised his glasses.

"I don't see anything," he said.

"Chief, a little further aft. Range maybe 6 or 7,000 yards."

"Oh, yes, I think I see ...."

---- 8:33 PM, bridge of Phaeton, course 210, speed 18 knots

Captain Cameron was out on the starboard wingbridge, checking his position with respect to Marlborough. The lead dreadnought was about 3,000 yards to the NE. It was almost time to sweep back across the van. He paused a moment more to watch the three ACs finish pivoting south of the Line and settle, for the moment at least, on an ESE heading.

"Sir! Lookouts report visual contact dead ahead, range 7,000 yards. Sir, contact appears to be on fire."

Cameron strode quickly back onto the bridge. There was no lack of cripples this day. Which ship or ships had he stumbled upon?

---- 8:34 PM, bridge of Markgraf, course 000, speed 18 knots

"Sir, enemy light ships, bearing 250, range 7,000 yards."

Admiral Napier was closing on the wreck of Dreadnought, laying smoke as he went. From directly east, however, the smoke did not help yet. Dreadnought, whose fire and smoke had hid so many dreadnoughts from each other, now bathed Napier's command in reflecting light.

Captain Siegfried did not hesitate.


A few moments later the big guns sent their shells into the night.

---- 8:34 PM, bridge of Derfflinger, course 090, speed 25 knots

"Admiral, all ships acknowledge '15 knots.' "

"Very well, execute."

"Ahead Standard, ordered Theodor. "Make turns for 15 knots."

"Sir, '25 knots' hoisted."

"Very well."

---- 8:34 PM, bridge of Kronprinz, course 000, speed 18 knots

"Sir, Markgraf has opened fire!"

The report was quite redundant since the rolling booms of fire from 500 yards aft had already drawn Captain Wilhelm to the port wingbridge. Captain Wilhelm liked redundancy, and so made no complaint.

"Who are they firing at?" Wilhelm asked.

There was no immediate answer. The angle was just off enough to hide Falmouth from their view.

"Who are they firing at?" Wilhelm repeated.

---- 8:34 PM, bridge of Ostfriesland, course 000, speed 18 knots

Admiral Rudburg was at the map table. General Pursuit was still in effect, but he wanted to time the next main body turn to reduce risk while ensuring re-engagement.

"Navigator," Rudburg said, "I will want to put the Line onto 270 about 10,000 yards north of the last sighted position of the British Line. Plot that, and advise me when the turn should be ordered."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Admiral, Markgraf has opened fire!"

"What? At what target?"

"Can't tell, sir, but her guns seemed to be aimed just abaft her port beam."

"Admiral," reported the Navigator, "the 270 order should be given in about 3 minutes."

"Very well."

---- 8:34 PM, bridge of Stuttgart, course 335, speed 21 knots

"Make turns for 22.5 knots," ordered Captain Odalb.

They were approaching the east edge of the large "V" coming off Kaiser's stern.

"Make turns for 22.5, aye, aye, sir."

The dull booms from far ahead did not concern him. He looked aft again, then focused his attention back to the port side.

He could not see anything at all like a ship.

---- 8:35 PM, bridge of Southampton, course 000, speed 25 knots

"Sir, the enemy has opened fire."

"Can you make out their target?"

"Sir, target appears to be almost directly north of us, on the other side of Dreadnought."

Nott looked at the next set of muzzle flashes. They were well to the NE. The flotillas had obviously spotted the flashes, as well. Any chance that they would have broken off likely ended at that point. Even as Nott watched, their wakes bent more to the north. Their new course appeared to be something like 020. Already several thousand yards to the NE of Southampton, the TBs were overtaking the enemy Line from astern on the Germans port beam. The muzzle flashes were still well beyond any range for their torpedoes, especially from astern.

---- 8:35 PM, bridge of Schlesien, course 000, speed 16 knots

"Sir, light ships, bearing 235, range 6,500 yards."

There were a lot of light ships. It wasn't the hulls that were initially seen, but their wakes. A lot of ~1,000 ton ships at 30+ knots make a lot of white water. Even in the gloom, it can usually be spotted. The actual number of RN light was much greater than it appeared.

"Are they British?"

"Sir, we don't have confirmation one way or another."

The captain looked over the strangers. "They sure look to be on a parallel course," he said to his XO. "They appear to be screening us to port. Where is Stuttgart? Do we have a confirmed visual on her?"

Several moments passed.

"Sir, lookouts report Stuttgart was in position in trail starboard five minutes ago. They're looking for her now, sir."

"Rostock? No, it can't be. She went up the starboard side of the Line some time ago."

"Sir, 1SG went off to the NE, didn't they?"

"Yes, who ARE those guys? Why hasn't anyone fired on them, or even challenged them?"

"Sir, Schleswig-Holstein has trained their turrets to port."

"Yes. Yes, indeed. Guns!"

---- 8:35 PM, bridge of Rostock, course 000, speed 20 knots

Commodore von Hoban had slowed to Ahead Full as soon as he realized that the British Fleet was, apparently, all to the SW. Rostock had pulled about 500 yards ahead of Grosser Kurfurst and von Hoban was weighing the trade offs between reinforcing the van screen and keeping some light force in mid-Line. He was all too well aware that he'd started this sortie with Blucher, 6 CLs, and 33 TBs, of which only 3 CLs and 19 TBs were still available. Thin, the German light forces were stretched very, very thin.

"Commodore, Markgraf has opened fire on targets, aft port."

"Can you see anything?" Commodore von Hoban asked.

"Not a thing, commodore, answered Captain Westfeldt. "Recommend we drift to port ourselves, right across Grosser Kurfurst's bow.

"Ja, do it."

"Helm," ordered Westfeldt, "3 degrees left rudder."

"Aye, aye, sir, my rudder is left three degrees. Passing 355, passing 350 ...."

"Rudder amidships."

"Sir, my rudder is amidships, steady on course 340."

Westfeldt did not want to get too close to the bow of Grosser Kurfurst and was mindful that his 5 TBs would have to have some sea room.

---- 8:35 PM, bridge of Derfflinger, course 090, speed 18 knots (slowing)

"Admiral, they're almost out of sight."

"Very well. Signals Officer, execute 'Course 315.' "

Captain Theodor waited for the signal.

"Left standard rudder, come to course 315."

"Sir, my rudder is coming left ...."

"Captain, once Regensburg is back in van, go to 25 knots."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Signals Officer, prepare a message to Admiral Rudburg. It should give him our position and that of the two British flotillas. It should inform him that the two flotillas are approaching his position at high speed with an intercept time estimate. It should also give our course and speed as 315 and 25 knots, and our intercept estimate. I will want to review it before transmission."

"Aye, aye, sir."

---- 8:35 PM, bridge of Falmouth, course 150, speed 23 knots (increasing)

"Admiral, we're under fire!"

A set of very large splashes about 200 yards off the port beam indicated that their foe mounted capital ship guns. A considerable number of them, in fact.

"Admiral, the shooter is there," the deck officer was pointing. "Bearing 070, range 9,000 yards."

"Very well. Alter course one point to starboard."

He looked back to the SE at the burning, sinking wreck of Dreadnought. In one fleet exercise, he'd thought she'd be the death of him during one formation turn. With her fires obviously marking him for the German gunners, he realized she might well be yet.

"We can do no good here, now," he said. "Come to course 230."

Maybe the smokescreen will confuse the Germans a bit. Make them hesitate.

"Signals Officer, to Iron Duke: "Enemy in LOB on course 000, 10,000 yards NE of Dreadnought."

---- 8:36 PM, bridge of Regensburg, course 090, speed 19 knots (slowing)

"Well," said Captain Wolferein, "here we go again."

"Sir?" Young LT Gottzielle, the Acting-XO, had not yet learned the lessons known to the rest of the bridge crew. The others had learned long ago to appear not to hear their captain's almost sotto voce commentary.

"Nichts. Helm, left standard rudder."

"Sir, my rudder is coming left ...."

"Ahead Full, make turns for 20 knots."

Cling-cling, went the Engine Order Telegraph.

Wolferein sized up the relative positions of the formations.

"Helm, come to course 345. Engineering, expect Flank bell in 5 minutes."

---- 8:36 PM, bridge of Pillau, course (changing), speed 20 knots

LT Dahm was relieved that, this time, the BCs were making their turn to port. His group was tucked along the starboard side of the baron's domain and the "Immediate" flags of the last hour had all been poised to point those big bows right at him and his 6 TBs.

"Helm, use rudder as necessary to keep station," Dahm ordered.

"Aye, aye, sir," replied the helmsman politely.

Dahm shot a quick glance at the weathered visage of the helmsman only partly visible behind the ship's wheel. Had there been a note of resigned patience in that reply? Dahm shook his head slightly and looked again at the bows of the nearest BC.

---- 8:36 PM, bridge of Calliope, course 270, speed 25 knots

"There! Sir, there it is again. Muzzle flashes!"

The officer was pointing to the SSW.

"Any range estimate?" Commodore Le Mesurier asked, binoculars to his face.

"Commodore, 10,000 yards, maybe closer, maybe a lot closer."

Yes, thought Le Mesurier, it depends if we're facing the guns or seeing them from another angle. Also, if we're on the broadside, bow, or stern, or if other ships are partly masking the flashes. But whose guns were these? The Grand Fleet? The Germans? Surely, they SHOULD be British, but who were they shooting at? Yet, he had been recalled quite curtly; maybe they WERE Germans. His binoculars showed no clues.

Enough. His orders were to assume command and "establish" a screen. Whatever was happening, it was happening south of his current position.

"Put the squadron onto 150," he ordered.
"Left 10 degrees rudder ...."

---- 8:37 PM, bridge of Hannover, course 000, speed 16 knots

Admiral Hanzik eyed the growing gap between Pommern, just ahead, and Nassau, the trail dreadnought. Already it was over 1,000 yards by his guess. The battle was ahead and he was stuck back in trail. If Rudburg didn't slow the main body, his command would end up a straggler group. Damn!

The booms of big guns ahead and the small reflections of muzzle flashes off the dark waves only reinforced his belief. Some sort of re-contact had begun, in the van, of course. He had not badgered Scheer to let 2nd Battle Squadron accompany the sortie just to watch battles from afar. Damn-damn-damn!

"Admiral! Multiple contacts, close aboard, on the port beam! Light ships!"


---- 8:37 PM, bridge of Southampton, course 000, sped 25 knots

"Sir, 3rd Light Cruiser! The enemy's target is 3rd Light Cruiser. That's Falmouth; they're on course 230 and laying smoke."

Admiral Napier! Nott thought. The admiral's command was about 4,000 yards to the NW.

"Commodore, 3rd Light Cruiser is laying smoke."

That was enough for Nott.

"Lay smoke, come left to course 315."

---- 8:38 PM, bridge of Frauenlob, course 000, speed 18 knots

Captain Ehrhart was out on the starboard wing, trying to see what Kronprinz had been firing at, or maybe it was Markgraf. From about 4,000 yards ahead, it was difficult to tell anything other than it had not been Grosser Kurfurst.

"Sir, contacts on the starboard bow, bearing 040."

"Starboard bow?" Ehrhart asked, but he lowered his glasses abruptly and went briskly across the tiny bridge to the other side.

"Show me," Ehrhart ordered. He couldn't see a thing. It was practically night off to the east. Only to the west was there much in the way of a dim light. The other pointed carefully.

The knuckle and wakes from ships turning at Flank had been enough to draw the attention of Ehrhart's lookout section.

"Is that Regensburg?" Ehrhart asked. "Pillau?"

---- 8:38 PM, bridge of Pommern, course, 000, speed 16 knots

"Captain, an odd thing. Hannover's turrets are turning. Uh, they're aiming directly to port."

"Sir!" The lookout section officer called down, "contacts, multiple contacts, light ships, port beam!"

The captain could see that his own bow turret had also begun to rotate. His GO, never the trusting type to begin with, was apparently quite suspicious and was not waiting for orders. The captain was not going to object, not one bit.

He raised his glasses.

---- 8:38 PM, bridge of Derfflinger, course 315, speed 15 knots

Vice-Admiral Letters looked over the dispositions of his screen. Good enough, he thought.

"Signals Officer, 25 knots, execute."

"Ahead Flank," called out Captain Theodor, "make turns for 25 knots."

"Admiral, that message," offered the Signals Officer.

"Ah, yes, let me look at it."

Baron Letters made a few changes and started to hand it back. He stopped himself, frowning.

"No, that is not sufficient," he said in a low voice. "I no longer know enough."

He drew a line roughly through part of the message. At the top he added, "Use own discretion. All previous orders canceled." He signed it with a flourish and handed it back.

"Send that immediately and confirm receipt."

"Aye, aye, sir."

---- 8:39 PM, bridge of Hannover, course 000, speed 16 knots

Admiral Hanzik was staring at the strange apparitions that Fate had brought alongside about 6,000 yards away.

"I do not know who they are, but they're not ours," Hanzik declared.

"Should we," asked the Signals Officer uncertainly, "make our challenge sign, admiral?"

"Indeed we shall," Hanzik replied. "Gunnery Officer!"

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