4:18 pm, bridge of Regensburg, course and speed changing constantly, frantically
... was Captain Wolverine, though he did not think of it in quite those terms.
The lead RN light ships were under 3000 yards away, knife-fighting range for guns between 4" and 6." Hits tended to be high on the hull or in the superstructure such that no one hit was mortal. Regensburg had already taken four or five hits and dealt out many in return.
Whannng! Five or six. That one had struck directly on a midships gun mount, killing all around it. Smoke eddied out of the rubble.
"Left full rudder!" Wolverine ordered to shelter that side and bring the other side more into play. "Midships," he added after 45 degrees course change. We can't take many more like that, he thought. As he looked at their present target, he saw the bright sparks of at least one hit of their own, and maybe two. The torpedo boat turned hard away.
He looked around, so were the other RN ships.
"They're turning back!" Wolverine shouted and pivoted to order pursuit.
"Sir, the battlecruisers have turned away."
Wolverine looked back, and saw new flags on the signal halyards.
"Left full rudder. Come to course 160," he ordered and watched the others turn back as well. Elbing seemed to lag a moment as she sent a few more 5.9" shells after the retiring RN light ships. Pilau lagged even longer. A few more hits were scored by both sides, but they didn't seem to be stopping them getting away.
"Mein Gott!" Wolverine said, as a cluster of tall spouts from BC main guns surrounded an RN torpedo boat, then broke it in half. He looked around and saw evidence that several light ships had been destroyed. The only debris readily identifiable as pieces of ships were a few bows pointing into the air, like great blowing whales. As to what navy they had belonged to, he could not tell. If he'd had time, he might've reflected on how the sunken are all one fleet, but the RN light ships were still getting straddles even during the mutual withdrawal. Tall water columns began to stalk another RN torpedo boat. This one was straggling at half speed. He watched as it disappeared in the spray to re-emerge a shattered hulk.
He looked ahead and saw the BCs were changing course again.
4:24 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 160, speed 26 (increasing)
"Captain," ordered the admiral, "turn onto 270. Signals, Derfflinger resume lead."
"Aye, aye, sir. Right standard rudder."
"Sir, new contacts on bearing 235."
All eyes went to the newcomers.
"Sir, contacts are 4 CLs, range 18,000 yards."
"Admiral," offered Captain Theodore, "they're definitely not ours." He even more definitely did not like the appearance of four torpedo-capable ships on his port fore quarter, especially with the other RN light ships ahead to starboard.
The admiral looked around for a moment. The other RN light ships had run back into the smoke. The wind was dispersing it about as fast as new smoke was being laid down.
"You may open fire."
4:25 pm, bridge of Southampton, course 040, speed 26 (increasing)
"Sir, the enemy has opened fire," came the quite unnecessary report.
Commodore Nott swallowed quietly. "Very well."
"Sir, recall, flagship has issued attack recall."
The commodore looked north in disbelief. Literally, he was dumbstruck. He'd spent the last several minutes steeling himself for the suicidal lunge into the enemy. But, how? The flagship, indeed all the BCs, were behind the pall of smoke. "Repeat your last," he barked to the officer on the wingbridge.
" 'Attack recall,' sir, repeat from Fearless."
Oh, the Fearless was simply repeating an order that they themselves had spotted.
"Hard left rudder," he shouted. "Come to course 315."
He might yet live. The sharp turn gusted a fresh, hard breeze through the open
bridge. He savored its salty tang. He hardly noticed the huge splashes that
marked about where his ships would have been.
4:30 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 270, speed 26 (increasing)
"They've definitely turned away, admiral," said Captain Theodore.
"Come back to due north."
"Aye, aye, sir!"
"Signals, light ships, maintain station."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Oh, Signals, Wiesbaden, maintain station 20,000 yards north of flagship."
4:32 pm, bridge of Regensburg, course about to change, speed 22 (increasing)
" 'Maintain station?' " asked the XO.
"Jawohl," answered Captain Wolverine. "What that really means is stay well
between the BCs and where the verdamnt torpedo boats will poke their noses out
of their smoke."
"Right full rudder!"
"There's a war on and here I am doing nothing but making U-turns in the middle of the North Sea."
"Nichts. Helmsman, come to course 310."
"Aye, aye, sir."
4:36, bridge of Pilau, course 330, speed 24 (increasing, slowly)
"Sir, torpedo boat, bearing 315, range 10,000 yards."
"Open fire," said the Lt. Karl Dahm, the new CO. He raised his binoculars and turned to look at the target. He had not started the sortie as the CO or even the XO, but he had gotten a battlefield promotion the old-fashioned way: everyone senior was dead. A shell had burst on one wing of the bridge and killed all in the area, including the CO and XO.
Pilau had been the southernmost CL when the first "Attack" order had been executed. They'd had to cross behind von der Tann. Due to the shell hit nearly at the last, they'd also been very late to "Recall." They'd made this last turn smartly enough, but they were easily the furthest west and south of the three light ship groups. Now, they were getting an unanticipated windfall from their position. No other ship could see their target, as the residual smoke was mostly along lines to the northeast.
"Sir, the target appears stopped."
That changed as the Pilau began to walk 5.9" shells closer.
"Sir, there're two small boats in the water there, both look empty."
Lt. Dahm walked over to the side to get a better look. He had to step over several holes and around a piece of bulkhead that was bent over like some sharp-edged sculpture.
"They must have been picking up men in the water!" Lt. Dahm exclaimed, after a moment. "Lookouts, be alert for any sign of ...."
"Sir, there's a hull there. It's turned turtle, sir!"
The torpedo boat may have tarried just a bit too long, CO Dahm thought to himself.
4:36 pm, bridge of von der Tann, course 000, speed 24 (increasing)
"Sir, lookouts report smoke, bearing 210."
All eyes pivoted abruptly onto that bearing.
"Range?" Captain Dirk asked.
"Sir, it's well hull down, at least 25,000 yards. Looks like several plumes, sir."
"Who the hell are these guys?" Dirk muttered.
"Signals, Derfflinger, smoke bearing 210, range 25,000 yards, multiple ships."
"Aye, aye, sir!"