Falkenhayn - Jutland
The door to his office suddenly opened. Only one person could walk in unannounced to the commander of the mightiest army in the world and that person was Kaiser Wilhelm the Second, as usual, dressed in a splendid admiral's uniform. Privately, Falkenhayn doubted the emperor had worn anything but various naval uniforms since January 25.
"Field marshal would you look at this!" the emperor said and waved a telegram. "They have found the Englander!!!" the emperor almost shouted with excitement.
Falkenhayn read the telegram from Wilhelmshaven; it was only a contact report from Vice-Admiral Baron Letters to Scheer that he had sighted enemy battlecruisers and their screening vessels. The 'vice-admiral' part still annoyed Falkenhayn; he had tried to post Letters in Berlin but the Kaiser had used an imperial 'we' to point out that Letters should command the first scouting group. Not even Hindenburg had managed to convince Wilhelm that the risks and consequences involved with a full scale battle with the Grand Fleet were too high, or of the "fleet in being" concept, or the danger of Italy finally deciding to stab Austria in the back.
"This is marvelous, is it not field marshal ?" Wilhelm asked, puzzled by Falkenhayn's reaction or, more likely, the absence thereof.
"Yes, Sire. This day might go down in history." He spoke with an enthusiasm he didn't feel. "Will your majesty be going to Wilhelmshaven?" Falkenhayn hoped for a positive answer.
"Yes my train leaves in 50 minutes, are you coming too?"
"No. There is too much to do here and we have a situation in the east that requires my attention," answered Falkenhayn. "But you should go, your majesty. If the High Seas Fleet is triumphant today, its creator should be there to share the glory."
"You are certain I can't convince you to come with me ?" asked Wilhelm as he walked to the door.
"Yes," replied Falkenhayn.
The Kaiser paused to look at a painting and then left in a hurry. Falkenhayn also looked at the spectacular oil painting. "Derfflinger at Dogger Bank," a small brass plaque stated. How he hated that painting. It had been a personal gift from his majesty so he could not refuse it, but it served as a constant reminder of how wrong everything had gone from that damned day. The guns needed for the Verdun operations were being mounted on ships instead and one can not attack a fortress like Verdun without heavy artillery. And almost worse, with offensives in the west almost impossible to execute all the activity had focused in the east were Hindenburg and the eastern generals were winning ever greater victories against increasingly disorganized Russians.
He started to read a suggestion that tractors with armor plates might be able to breach 'no mans land,' rather a stupid idea but if we can't have guns we must improvise, he thought and stamped "approved" to conduct design and testing of such a vehicle. He looked at the pile of paper all concerning more or less fantastic ideas of how to overcome the shortage of artillery but found it impossible to concentrate, when he was certain the emperor had left he went down to the situation room. There was the war displayed on huge maps that showed everything except what interested him the most at the moment.
"What is the latest from Wilhelmshaven ?" he asked loudly.
"Nothing new since the first contact report, sir," replied one officer.
Well the nothing to do but wait, thought Falkenhayn.
"Wait here comes something!" shouted someone out in the corridor. "Yes, it's from Wilhelmshaven!"
"Well let me have it," growled half a dozen staff officers and Field Marshal Falkenhayn.
Rank counts and no one had more rank there than Falkenhayn. A somewhat confused corporal handed him the message despite the frustrated looks on the faces of dozens of staff officers. Falkenhayn read it slowly adding to the tension.
"Von Hoban reports sighting possible enemy ships northwest of his position," remarked Falkenhayn calmly.
He smiled somewhat at the disappointment that swept through the large room. They should not worry, if Letters had found the enemy there would be plenty of fighting this day. That Letters was a fighter, that there was no doubt about.
"Colonel, inform Wilhelmshaven that they are to relay any news from the fleet here immediately, and get a sea chart. I want to follow this action," he ordered a nearby officer.
He didn't notice the fast practiced way in which the people around him started carrying out his instructions, excellence was expected in the German military and brilliance hoped for. "Are you brilliant enough to pull this off, Letters?" Falkenhayn wondered. He looked at the map, sea chart, he corrected himself where small pins were being placed representing the last known positions off the ships on witch so much of Germany's destiny depended.
A captain entered the situation room where the tension was at extreme
levels, not even during the battle of Marne when Moltke had broken
down had it been worse. Dozens of generals and colonels turned from the
maps when they heard him enter. Not since Letters' original contact report
and later von Hoban's contact report had there been any solid information
from the fleet, only fragments from units unable to communicate with flags
or light. To officers used to lead battles the experience of being spectators
was highly frustrating. He cleared his throat nervously and read.
"Vice-Admiral Scheer, two Indefatigable class battle cruisers sunk,
three other battle cruisers damaged, light damage to First Scouting, am
in pursuit, Letters."
"This is a great victory Field marshal." one officer dared
Falkenhayn didn't seem to hear him and an uncomfortable silence spread
in the room.
"This is but a cavalry skirmish, colonel." Falkenhayn finally
answered "There is still the entire Royal Navy battleline out there
somewhere and even with the losses in the battlecruiser force they outnumber
our fleet; the real battle hasn't even begun yet." And hopefully
Scheer will not let it go that far. Having Letters in command is not so
bad, as long as Scheer is there to keep him on a tight leash, he thought.
Unpleasant tasks are like water, they flow downwards. After Falkenhayn's reaction to the last message from Letters, no one was in a hurry to bring him this one. The corporal had been looking for a private ever since a lieutenant turned the telegram over to him, without much success, and thus had to deliver this latest report from the fleet himself.
"Yes?" was the short reply to the corporal's knocking.
"A new message from Wilhelmshaven, Field Marshal."
"Admiral Letters reports one more enemy battlecruiser sunk and that he is in pursuit of the remaining two," reported the corporal nervously.
"That will be all," was Falkenhayn's only response and the unwilling messenger fled the room as quickly as possible.
Letters was having a great day out there, so far. Yes, it looked like a repeat of Dogger Bank and that would be of great use to Germany....
The injustice of it all!!!!
Letters had inherited a splendid tactical situation from Hipper against an adversary that had committed every sin a commander possibly could commit; it was his dammed duty to win at Dogger Bank. And since when do you become a national hero and gets promoted for doing your duty? Max Hoffmann was the real hero of Tannenberg, all Hindenburg and that annoying Luddendorf had had to do was show up and nod approval to his plan !!! And Hindenburg is made a Field Marshal for executing someone else's battle plan, and they almost failed in carrying it out. If the first corps commander hadn't disobeyed orders, most of the Russians would have escaped.
But no, they were heroes for keeping the kossacks away and were running the eastern front like it was their own private war with their own personal army. It was I and Conrad that had finally saved the situation in the east. Conrad's plan to outflank the Russians in the Carpathians had been brilliant and I lent him a whole army with which to execute it; the Russians hadn't stopped running yet. Do I get credit for that ? No, I get complaints from Luddendorf for interfering in the defense of the east.
Falkenhayn sighed and locked away his self pity. He had duties to attend to. He picked up a sealed package that had been ready since early April for a situation like this one and left the room.
"Have this sent by courier to Fifth Army Headquarters and inform Crown Prince Wilhelm that I will meet him and his staff in Metz on the sixth and I expect them to be fully briefed on this by then," he told his aide.
Now let's see how much trouble Letters manages to get himself into, he thought as he walked back into the situation room.
Falkenhayn stood silently at the situation board and stared at the latest
known positions before the HSF had commited itself to battle. Letterz
had decided to engage the entire Grand fleet and von Rudburg obviously
had agreed despite Scheers oft stated policy not to risk a full scale
battle until the U-boats and raids had reduced the numerical gap between
the battle lines. Time had passed at a glacial pace, these last few minutes
had seemed like weeks. He desperately regretted not having sent a recall
order himself even if his majesty would have fired him for it. He had
failed in doing his duty, that the order would never have arrived in time
to make a difference was only an excuse in his own opinion.
"Anything new?" he asked his aide quite needlessly since any
messages were rushed to the situation room immediatly on arrival.
"No sir. Not yet." The aide answered, looking out in the corridor.
Damm Letterz, why could he not be content with victory? Why did he have
to risk everything he had accomplished so far by picking a fight with
the most powerful fighting force...
"Sir! There is a new message from the fleet" his aide said
"Here." Falkenhayn said to the signalist just entering the
"They are winning! They have sunk three britts!" the man shouted
as he gave Falkenhayn the paper, unable to restrain himself he any longer.
Chaos erupted in the situation room as people realized what they had
just heard. Falkenhayn forced himself to read the telegram carefully.
When he realized that everyone was looking at him and that the room had
suddenly gone very silent he read the message out loud.
"Wilhelmshaven, have engaged Grand Fleet main body. British losses
- three BB's, at least one badly damaged. HSF losses - none, repeat, none.
Konig and Markgraf moderately damaged. Am closing with the enemy. Letterz."
"Have Wilhelmshaven confirm this." he told his aide and handed
over the paper.
"Yes sir." the aide replied and hurried to the signaling room.
Falkenhayn felt strange, never had he belived that Letterz might actually win. Scheer certainly hadn't thought it possible to take on the full might of the Royal navy and win. The implications were staggering, if the British could be defeated then everything would change... But the British still had an enormous fleet out there and things could change, he looked at the clock and realized that whatever would happen had happened several minutes ago. For the first time this evening he was waiting with anticipation for the next wire.
The gray military train slowed and stopped perfectly outside the station house. A major half ran over to the telegraf office to fetch something and rushed back. The station manager who had been forced to halt traffic to let this train by could have sworn that the same face that was staring at him from the picture on the wall had been staring at him from the train window.
---- Imperial special train enroute to Wilhelmshaven
"Did they have anything?" asked kaiser Wilhelm impatiently.
"Yes Sire. Im taking it over to the decoding room now." replied
"Bring it straight in when they are done." said the kaiser
and went into his personal wagon.
It had not been an amusing trip, the onboard wireless had malfunctioned
and Kaiser Wilhelm had been furious at being unable to follow the fleet
battle as it progressed. The officer in charge had almost been thrown
of before the train had stopped earlier with orders to instruct Wilhelmshaven
to report what had happened at sea today over a civilian wire. Fortunately
his message had gotten through and a telegram had been waiting for them
The mood in the decoding room was quiet, like when you walk into a conversation
you are not meant to hear, when the major picked up the decoded telegram.
After a brief knock he entered the private imperial wagon.
"Good. Now we will finally see what's been hapening out there"
said the kaiser to an empty room and started to read, making little notes
in the margin as he read.
The writing suddenly stopped and the kaiser hurried through the rest of the text, a look of disbelief on his face. This was Der TAG, Falkenhayn had been right the war could be won today. Four battlecruisers and three battleships confirmed sunk and one more of each seriously damaged, this was better than he thought possible. England's era as THE world power was beeing destroyed while he was reading by the weapon he had forged. None would dare to frown at his navy now, they were doing what the army had so far failed to do, earning Germany a place in the sun. He went back and read more carefully continuing to make notes, the one next to the line reporting Scheers illness read "Possibly the greatest fortune ever to befall Germany".
"Wilhelmshaven have confirmed the earlier message sir"
"Thank you, Leutenant." Falkenhayn said.
So it was true, Letterz was actually winning. He still had difficult
to comprehend that the Grand Fleet might be outright defeated, what if
it was? There were no plans for that situation so unlikely had it been.
He looked at the clock, time seemed to crawl by, minute by minute without
anything new from the fleet.
"Anything new?" Falkenhayn asked for the fourth time.
"No. Nothing yet sir." his aide answered.
Damn! Damn! Damn! What was happening out there? Was Letterz really winning
as he himself obviously thought he was. But the sheer size of the Grand
Fleet made Falkenhayn nervous, it could take the losses inflicted on it
and still be an immensly powerful fighting force like a Russia at sea.
Easily a match for the HSF even with the casualties it had suffered lately.
The speed by which things happened also made him uncomfortable, on land
battles lasted days and could be carefuly controlled and monitored. Just
bringing the troops into position to start operations could take weeks.
Now at sea a battle was being fought that could have a huge impact on
the war and it would be over in hours or minutes and he could do nothing
except waiting for the crumbs Letterz threw him occationally.
"Sir! A new message, sir!" the signalist said and handed him
a note. "Its a wireless from Admiral Letterz to Admiral Rudburg sir"
The staff looked at him with anticipation as he read the note.
"They are retreating." Falkenhayn said with a faint note of
relief in his voice, as he read the note: "The British are retreating,
Letterz has ordered the fleet to pursue."
A wave of relief swept through the room followed by more cheering, now
it was confirmed the HSF were indeed winning. Falkenhayn handed the note
to his aide who read it aloud for all to hear.
"What is this 'Montrose's Toast' thing, general?" Falkenhayn
asked the officer in charge of the transport command.
"I don't know sir. Major Hintze, you have studied litterature haven't
you? Are you familiar with that term?" the General asked.
"Yes, I believe I have heard it. It means to take a great risk for
potentially a great gain or something like that sir. I can't quite recall
it sir," the major replied.
"They will try to annihilate the british, that's what it must mean
sir. They are exploiting their victory." the General said.
"Perhaps, it could also be a warning to Admiral Rudburg that the
british aren't defeated just because they retreat. The latest reports
only stated that four british battleships are out, that means there must
be over 20 still in action." the major disagreed.
The meaning of the 'toast' rapidly became a topic for heated debate in
"Well whatever it means the important thing is that Letterz is pursuing
the enemy and that the enemy is retreating." Falkenhayn said. "Lets
hope that Letterz remembers the lesson from Dogger Bank so we all will
have a chance to toast for Germanys victory." he continued in a lower
Cryptic references to ancient books or whatever wasn't the way to give orders Falkenhayn thought disapprovingly; it might be amusing to the historians and romantics but it didn't really belong in modern professional warfare. He looked at the clock again, impatiently waiting for the next report from the fleet.
The news of the great victory at sea had spread on the imperial train,
the Kaiser himself had gone around informing everyone he could find about
the good news. As a result everyone on the train was in high spirits,
except the one responsible for repairing the wireless.
"How is it coming along?" 'It' being the wireless onboard the
Kaiser's train and the one impatiently asking the question was the Kaiser
"We are missing a few parts your majesty, the spare vacuum tubes
must have been left in Spa. We cannot get it working without new parts,
Sire." a very nervous Lieutenant replied.
"You said you could repair it!" the Kaiser said.
"Yes sire but..." the Lieutenant shrank before the Kaiser's
disapproving glare "... then I thought we would have the parts we
This was extremely frustrating, his fleet was at this very moment fighting
the greatest naval battle in history and despite all the modern signalling
devices he was as much in the dark as they had been in the older days
of sail and wood. This was quite intolerable.
"Can you get it repaired if you had the needed parts?" the
"Yes sire! We have fixed the short-circuit that burned out the tubes
in the first place but we don't have replacements for them." the
Lieutenant replied confidently.
"Well then we will just have to get those... tubes." the Kaiser said and returned to his private wagon.
"Tell the engineer to stop in the next town with a telegraph."
the Kaiser said as he finished writing a message. "I want these sent
and whatever parts needed to get our wireless operational requisitioned."
"Yes sire, I will see to it." the Major replied.
"Good." the Kaiser leaned back in his chair and re-read the messages from Letters that they had received earlier, four, probably five British battle cruisers and three battleships. Scheer had said it couldn't be done, fortunately Letters obviously hadn't been listening.
The major read the some of the names on the messages he was delivering
to be coded. Tirpitz, orders to come to Wilhelmshaven. Bethmann-Hollweg,
instructions to prepare the country for the news of the victory. It would
seem that the fleet was doing so well this day that perhaps...
No, hoping for the war to be decided today was probably too much, but his oldest son was seventeen years old, so he hoped anyway.
----Telegraph office somewhere between Spa and Wilhelmshaven
A receipt!!! Thats all that was left of his telegraph!! After twenty
two years of spotless service his whole world had crumbled in minutes!
All destroyed by a pack of armed savages that had barged in and taken
over his telegraph without even asking permission! Didn't those idiots
realise who he was, one of the most respected persons in town, he couldn't
be treated like a common worker or peasant.
If it hadn't been for the messenger boy standing nearby trying very hard
not to laugh, the office manager might never have got over the shock.
Now however the boy's grin snapped him out of shock. The boy saw the slap
coming and managed to avoid the worst of it and then escaped out the back
His self respect somewhat restored by the messenger boy's frightened escape he began to survey the damage. It would take days to get the station back in working order, he thought despairingly and everyone in town would blame him for not getting through with important and urgent messages. The lights would be burning all night as he would examine and document every detail of how his station had been damaged down to the last paper clip.
There had been no solid information coming from the fleet for almost
an hour now. The only news coming from Wilhelmshaven had been confused
messages from minor ships trying to restore contact with the fleet or
simply trying desperately to stay afloat and call for help. The situation
board was nothing more than the uneducated guesses of dozens of army officers
trying to guess how a naval battle had developed from a situation that
they weren't really sure of.
Falkenhayn glanced at the clock, the silence from the sea was ominous.
One of the most dangerous but necessary military operations was the pursuit
and annihilation of a defeated enemy. His earlier enthusiasm had diminished
with each passing minute. There were much that could have gone wrong and
the longer this silence lasted...
"A message!" the signal officer shouted from the doorway so
loudly that it drowned out even the heated debate regarding whether the
Grand fleet was on a northerly or north-westerly course.
All eyes turned expectantly towards Falkenhayn as he started to read
the message aloud.
"It's from admiral Rudburg to admiral Letters. Grand Fleet main
body has formed line of battle on course 270 at an estimated speed of
fifteen knots. Third Battle squadron is engaged with trail units at a
range of eight thousand yards. Have sunk three Dreadnoughts during pursuit,"
he was forced to pause as the staff officers celebrated that piece of
news with loud cheers and then he continued, "König heavily
damaged and out of the line she is slowing and there has been no report
from admiral Behnke. Continuing on course 000 speed eighteen knots.
Estimates that we will cross Grand Fleet track at 8:20 PM." Several
cast glances at the clock, that had been over twenty minutes ago. "Kaiser
with admiral Necki is out of the line and slowed, lagging in trail."
The cheering for the latest triumph had passed quickly when the news
of König and Kaiser came, solemn junior officers hurried
to reset the situation board with the latest positions. Falkenhayn had
a slightly uncomfortable feeling, that Rudburg sending this message meant
that Letters must be out of sight from the main body and that their forces
had become separated from both the leading division commanders. Scheer
was out of the fight and that meant that the commander down on seventh
or eight place in the line would have trouble
"That's four battle cruisers sunk and one probable and six dreadnoughts,
with one more heavily damaged and we have only two ships out of line,
this is a great victory, sir." Falkenhayn's aide said enthusiastically.
"Yes it is, but the latest intelligence reports says that the British
have some 26 Dreadnoughts. So the question is, will it be enough? And
the damaged Dreadnought was probably among the ones sunk by Rudburg."
Falkenhayn replied thoughtfully. Even with its losses the Grand Fleet
would be even in numbers to the High Seas Fleet. "Draw a line eight
thousand yards distant from the main battle line." Falkenhayn instructed.
Letters should be out there somewhere beyond that line in the gloom, north or east of the main engagement. But where? And what was he planning to do? Once again Falkenhayn cursed the fact that he was unable be where the action was even if it meant having to board one of the Kaiser's damned boats. But at least it didn't seem as if Letters and Rudburg would be able to outright win the war today. They were running out of time and the British could always outrun them, thus avoiding a second line engagement. That actually suited him perfectly, Falkenhayn smiled coldly, the honour of winning this war could still be his and his alone.
"Sire, the wireless is now back in operation. They are sending a
request for more information to Wilhelmshaven as your majesty ordered."
"Excellent major, when the reply gets here I want to see it immediately,"
Kaiser Wilhelm replied.
"Yes sire," the major acknowledged.
He didn't have to wait long, Wilhelmshaven responded quickly to the Kaiser's
request and the major was soon knocking on the Kaiser's door.
"This is the latest message, but it seems to have been garbled in
transmission." the major said hesitantly.
"Let me see that," the Kaiser said.
The major handed over the note. Kaiser Wilhelm quickly read it and smirked.
"No it has not been garbled major, Montrose's toast is one of Baron
Letters' favourite quotes." the Kaiser said "He says it is something
every military commander should remember."
The rest of the message was even better. Letters had ordered the fleet
to pursue the retreating British, RETREATING!!!! The Royal Navy was actually
running from a fight, that had not happened in centuries.
They had all thought he was foolish when he decided to build the fleet,
but he had seen the power that had to be overcome, at Spithead all those
years ago, if Germany was to become the supreme power in the world. The
French and Spanish armies had once reigned supreme on the continent but
England, safe behind the oceans and their fleets, had always been able
to survive and continue to fight. Well, not this time. Before the might
of his empire even the British would have to bend their stiff necks. He
started to make notes in the margin of the message. The note next to the
pursuit order read 'they must not be allowed to escape' and next to the
toast he wrote 'Yes, and I'm buying All!'.
A knock on the door disrupted his pleasant dream of victory and glory
"Yes! Enter." He said.
"A new message from Wilhelmshaven sire." the major said and
handed him a new note.
"They have sunk three more British, major. Five at Doggerbank and
at least ten today, that's almost half the Grand fleet destroyed in less
than six months," the Kaiser said as he read the note. He frowned
suddenly as he got to the part concerning the damaged König
and Kaiser, he also noted that it was Rudburg, not Letters that
had sent this message. Where was Letters?
"That will be all major. No wait, notify Wilhelmshaven of our expected
time of arrival. I will want a full briefing when we arrive and I will
want to see admiral Letters as soon as the fleet returns," he said
and continued contemplating the grave news concerning König
and his favourite ship SMS Kaiser. But regardless of those ships
this was indeed 'der Tag'. Tomorrow when people awakened it wouldn't
be the same as the world as they had gone to sleep in. The Kaiser remembered
the arrogant pride the British had for their fleet, tomorrow they would
awaken in a nightmare.
"Yes, tomorrow will be different indeed," he told the empty