4:48 pm, bridge of Regensburg, course changing, speed 26
"Ready, ready! If it's a cruiser or bigger, standby for torpedo launch!"
Wolverine glanced back quickly to check on his half-flotilla. The four torpedo boats were tucked in tight and going with his turn. He saw pointing on some of the bridges as the others spotted the flicker of flames through the smoke. The four were lining up in an arc on his stern port quarter.
He looked ahead again. They were drawing closer on a converging course.
Any moment, he thought.
4:50 pm, bridge of Pilau, course 310, speed 26
"Sir! Contacts, bearing 225. Looks like the four CLs that Derfflinger fired at."
"Sir, estimate is 20,000 yards. They seem to be on a roughly parallel course."
"Sir, smoke on bearing 180."
LT Dahm looked over the small smudge on the horizon. "Range?"
"Sir, estimate 25,000 yards or better. Looks like multiple ships."
"Sir, smoke on bearing 340! Looks like a ship on fire! Range 15,000 yards!"
The Pilau had just cleared one part of the smoke and had some line of sight north.
"Come to 330." He wanted to check out the ship, but stay at least a few thousand yards from the smoke edge.
"Signals, flagship ..."
"Sir," came an urgent interruption, "the CLs have turned to intercept!"
Damn! He had a few minutes no matter what. He had a lot to report!
"Signals, flagship ...."
4:50 pm, bridge of Regensburg, course changing, speed 26
"Fire-fire-fire!" Wolverine yelled.
The barks of his 4.1" guns were immediately echoed from his torpedo boats.
There, at 2000 yards or less, were a CL and several torpedo boats. One moment they were but vague forms in the murk detectable only by a couple small fires visible on their superstructure, and the next they were in plain view. They were making fresh smoke, but it did them no good on this vector, at this range.
It had been the CL whose small flicker of flames they had first spotted. A torpedo boat several behind the CL also had a small fire on her after quarter.
Caught them cold! Wolverine exulted, perhaps to himself, but probably not.
The RN ships were slow to respond. The hits were smashing into superstructures and most of the superstructure of a light ship was the bridge area. One torpedo boat yawed out of line and almost fouled another, obviously victim of a bridge hit.
The range closed for a few moments more, then the RN CL turned away from the hurricane of shells sweeping her decks. Perhaps the CO thought to escape into cover of smoke. It might have worked, since that would've put their smoke generators between them and their foe. Yes, it might have worked, but the maneuver ended with a water column near the CL's stern. The ship was broken in two.
"Shift target, shift target," he yelled quite unnecessarily. Wolverine wondered for a split second if Regensburg had launched it or a torpedo boat. Had he ordered it?
Crack! A 4" shell whipped past. There were few shots being fired at them. It was just that Regensburg was the obvious target.
The RN torpedo boats began scattering into the smoke. Shell splashes tracked them as they fled, with bright red sparks marking new hits. The torpedo boat that had lost its helm control was being pounded, flames were growing on it.
He didn't hear the shell that struck his own bridge.
4:54 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 330, speed 27
The admiral, Captain Theodore, and a few others were trying to make sense out of Pilau's reports.
"Those contacts to the south must be the same ones von der Tann caught a glimpse of earlier," Captain Theodore said.
"Yes," agreed the admiral. "And the CLs are the ones that turned away when fired upon."
The burning hulk was still a mystery.
The bigger mystery, however, was where the RN BCs had gone.
4:56 pm, bridge of Pilau, course 330, speed 26
"Sir, starboard bow!"
"Fire!" Dahm shouted.
A lone had torpedo boat burst out of the smoke. It was about 4,000 yards away and shell splashes quickly appeared near it.
Dahm had his glasses on it, trying to spot a torpedo launch.
The torpedo boat fired once, as it slammed hard right rudder, and turned to
flee back into the murk.
Dahm felt exposed. Terribly exposed. He was in excellent torpedo range of a ship lurking inside the smoke near the edge. He had 4 CLs that would be in their 6" range in a few minutes. He had ....
"Sir, starboard bow!"
"Fire!" Dahm shouted again.
Another torpedo boat had leapt out of the smoke. The group got their shots off quicker this time. They had had their guns still trained in that direction and the lookouts were nervous as hell.
This torpedo boat was slower to turn away.
"Sir, target is already damaged and on fire."
Dahm again watched carefully for any torpedo launch. He saw a shell burst on the bow area.
Belatedly the torpedo boat spun hard and lunged back into the smoke. It fired one shot in defiance as it disappeared. The shot went wild and the torpedo boat might have taken another hit before it was gone. What was going on in the smokescreen? The RN light acted like they'd been flushed, like a covey of quail.
Dahm shook his head and turned back to look at the wreck they were approaching.
It was an inferno. It'd take hours to burn out, he thought. The profile came
5:00 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 330, speed 27
"Sir, from Pilau, abandoned wreck is Invincible class BC."
Three down, but where were the other two? Could they, the admiral considered, have sunk? Could they be in that smoke?
As he pondered that still again, Derfflinger reached the northern edge of most of the smoke.
He raised his binoculars to check Wiesbaden's position. He was in position 20,000 yards ahead and slightly to port of their track.
"Sir, from Wiesbaden, smoke, bearing 260, range 25,000 yards."
"Sir, Wiesbaden is altering course to investigate."
Could that be the missing RN BCs wondered the baron.
"Any sign of Regensburg?"
"No, sir, not since she went into the smoke."
5:02 pm, bridge of Regensburg, course 340, speed 26
"Captain Wolverine! Sir! Sir!"
Wolverine opened his eyes. The momentary blur resolved into the too-young face of LT Gottziele. There was a roaring sound in his ears, or at least his left ear.
Strong arms dragged Wolverine from beneath the wreckage that had buried him from the shell hit on the port side of the bridge. There was blood all over his uniform. Most of it seemed not to be his. His left side was numb and his left arm didn't seem to work right.
"Status report!" Wolverine ordered as he regained his feet.
"On course 340, speed 26 knots."
"Fill me in XO."
"XO is dead, sir. He was out on the port wingbridge."
"Sir, we sunk the RN CL and one torpedo boat. The others got away. The only damage was the one hit on Regensburg, sir."
"Sir, port bow!"
"Fire!" Wolverine and the OOD shouted together as an RN torpedo boat suddenly came into view. The RN thankfully used a darker paint than the HSF, making the two navy's ships easily distinguishable under low visibility conditions. Wolverine had always thought the HSF gray shade to be tougher to spot in low light.
In any case, the target torpedo boat spun like a top as emergency rudder bit into the water at high speed. The ship disappeared without firing a shot.
"Really," said Wolverine, "I am really getting too old for this."
5:06 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 330, speed 27
"Sir! Wiesbaden reports that contact is two large ships and multiple light ships."
We've found them! Baron Letters exulted. Word spread quickly.
"Wiesbaden, interrogative course and speed of contact."
"Sir, Wiesbaden estimates course 315, speed 15 knots."
Only 15 knots?
"Well, Captain, I think we're well clear of the smoke. Come to course 315."
The baron looked at the plot and made a measurement.
"Signals, Vice-Admiral Scheer: 'Invincible class BC sunk, am in pursuit of remaining two BCs, Letters.' "