Smoke Gets in Your I's

4:40 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 000, speed 27

"Sir, Pilau has opened fire."

"Can you see her target?"

"No, sir. Target is behind the smoke from our current position."

"Signals, query Pilau."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Sir, von der Tann reports smoke, bearing 210, range 25,000 yards, multiple ships."

"Very well."

They could not see anything themselves. That bothered the baron. Neither what von der Tann could see to the south nor whatever Pilau was firing at to the WNW. The light ships to the NW were still laying smoke, it appeared, but he couldn't really see them either.

Wiesbaden, what about Wiesbaden? He glanced at the plot. Yes, Wiesbaden should be well to the north of the smoke. First, however, he'd better send support to Pilau. Whatever the ships were to the south, they would just have to wait.

"Signals," the baron began, "Regensburg ..."

"Sir, from Regensburg, proceeding support Pilau."

"Very well." Excellent! Intelligent initiative, Odin be praised!

"Signals, Wiesbaden: 'interrogative, enemy battlecruisers.' "

4:40 pm, bridge of Pilau, course 320, speed 27

"Hit!" That one hurt the torpedo boat. A burst of flame was visible amidships aft.

"Sir! Enemy ships on the starboard bow!" Waterspouts appeared in front of Pilau. The crack overhead of shells sounded just like they had a few dozen minutes before.

"Right full rudder!" LT Dahm turned into the foe almost in reflex.

"Midships," Dahm said after a moment, seeing the target. It was not a capital ship so he wanted to keep his guns clear. A CL had leapt out of the smoke just 6,000 yards away. Even as his five torpedo boats returned fire and swept to meet her, RN torpedo boats began to emerge close behind their flotilla leader.

Oh, damn, thought the new CO.

4:41 pm, bridge of von der Tann, course 000, speed 27

"Sir! ...." Commander Bavaria said, pointing.

"Yes," interrupted Captain Dirk, "I see them. Open fire!"

Once again, Dirk realized that being trail sometimes had advantages. He could just glimpse the action at the southern edge of the thinning smoke.

The barks of three 11" guns punctuated his conclusion. Thirty seconds later, another three.

He raised his glasses to watch the fall of shot.

4:41 pm, bridge of Regensburg, course changing, speed 26

Wolverine had already ordered "hard left rudder, come to course 260," before he signaled the flagship. In fact, he'd done that just after Pilau had opened fire.

The edge of the smokescreen was patchy and they were now less than 2000 yards away as he shouted more orders.

"Signals, Elbing: 'remain on station.' "

He could have sent Elbing. Later he would be credited with having correctly concluded that the other's 5.9" guns would serve better in the clear, while his more numerous 4.1" guns were better in the smoky close quarters. Actually, that did not occur to him.

"Damn," is what he actually thought, "I'm getting too old for this."

"Sir, on course 260."

"Very well."

They were at the fringes of the smoke. It stank.

4:43 pm, bridge of Pilau, course 335, speed 27

Whannng! It was the second 4" hit. Both had been in the superstructure below and aft of the bridge. There was smoke back there and Dahm had no intention of answering the baron right now, danke vielen schon.

"Hit!" Yes, he thought, that might cool them!

"Ah!" It was a chorus from those on the bridge. Support had arrived, in the form of three tall columns of water amidst the RN ships.

"They're turning away!"

Maybe it'd been the quick reception by Pilau and the half-flotilla, maybe the RN had meant all along to exchange only a few salvos, but Dahm would put his marks on the heavy caliber splashes.

"Oh!" Three more large splashes appeared near them.

His own 5.9's suddenly seemed tiny, but Pilau sent several more salvos after the RN ships as they reached the edge of the smoke. As he watched, unsure if he should follow, he observed a 4.1" hit on the trail torpedo boat from one of his own torpedo boats. Three more mighty splashes rose up where the RN ships were disappearing back into the smoke, then a last three.

Quickly, he took stock. Pilau had been the main target and it appeared his torpedo boats had escaped further damage. The preliminary damage reports indicated that the fire was under control, and that casualties had not been severe. Standing on Pilau's decimated bridge, he was numb to that.

He turned towards his original target. "Damn," he said, the damaged torpedo boat had apparently made it into the smoke as well. With no targets in sight, Dahm decided he should resume scouting.

"Come to course 310."

He would see what the sunken ship was. If they'd hurt it enough, the torpedo boat may not have gotten far anyway. He'd forgotten all about the baron.

4:45 pm, bridge of Regensburg, course 260, speed 26

Wolverine's eyes were tearing from the oily haze. The smell seemed to be easing. He suspected it was his nose going numb. Visibility varied moment by moment, bearing by bearing.

"Sir, port bow!"

The flicker of flames burned through the gloom. It was moving port to starboard almost dead ahead. Fast. He had no idea what the range was, but it was close. He looked around quickly. His half-flotilla had closed up tight in an effort to stay in sight. He could easily see all four of the torpedo boats that he had left, so he decided they should be able to follow a turn.

"Helmsman, 10 degrees right rudder."

"Ready, steady, hold your fire!"

4:46 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 000, speed 27

"Sir, from Wiesbaden, no BCs in sight."

"Mein Gott! Where are they?"

"Captain Theodore, what course were they on when first sighted?"

"Not clear, admiral. From the first Wiesbaden report, it looks like it was 145 or so, maybe 160."

"Signals, to Wiesbaden and Elbing, shift to NNW." Regensburg was not in sight.

"Captain, when they acknowledge, come to 330."

"Sir, from Pilau, found Indefatigable, sunk."

The mood lightened immediately. The baron fought the urge to relax or celebrate. He did have the duty to report, however. He'd put it off while the action was hot, but that excuse had elapsed.

"Admiral, that's two BCs down. The others were hurt, also." Theodore had put his Flagcaptain hat on, no doubt about it.

"Yes, Signals, Vice-Admiral Scheer: 'Two Indefatigable class BCs sunk, three other BCs damaged, light damage to First Scouting, am in pursuit, Letters' ."

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