Part Six - The Conclusion
"Germany Over All!"
8:18 PM and later.
"Herr Kapitan, we still cannot acquire a firing solution on any
target," Came the glum reply. It was past 8:18. Two minutes had passed,
perhaps. H.M.S. Superb was gone. But he'd paid the price; Prinzregent
Luitpold could not acquire a target in time, again. The Grand Fleet
was slipping off into the darkness. But the British do NOT run,
he thought in his mind. And yet they were. A second time.
"Very well," was his nominal, rather quiet response. Inside,
though, the emotions raged. Euphoria, again. It would always be in his
mind's eye; He felt like painting it, indeed, that moment he saw now.
The strike on Conquerer, the flash of the first detonation, and
then the awesome bright light followed by the tongues of flame and smoke
as the thunderous roar rolled across the water. A shell from his ship,
and one British Dreadnought on the bottom.
They were running, yes, but there was work to be done. But in this damnable
darkness...... If only he could turn back the visibility an hour or an
hour or a half. If only God still worked miracles in a most visible way,
that His hand might have stayed the sinking of the sun over the horizon
long enough so that they might finish off the Royal Navy's grandest Line
Even without divine intervention, the battle had still been a glorious
thing. Skaggerak. The name sounded Viking; It was a good sound, for such
an epic event. They had taught the Britisher her lesson. Not since Tromp
and De Ruyter had a Teuton been able to claim such a feat. But the
British do NOT run. That phrase pounded itself into his mind. He had
to wonder. If they did not run.. What would be done next, by that hydra
of a foe?
"Lookouts report hits on Ostfriesland and Thuringen,
sir!" came another report. "Can you see the shooters!?" was the response, clipped, from the Kapitan of the Prinzregent
Luitpold. He did not let the desperation show in that query. Parting
salvoes from the Grand Fleet; Perhaps. But he could not avoid that uneasy
notion.. That steadily building feeling that the Grand Fleet simply would
not turn from the fight so quickly. But they had slashed it. They had
run it ragged. What was it to do? Was there a limit to the pluck and elan
of the British Tar? Had the Hoch See Flotte found that limit? Matthias
hoped to God they had.
Ahead of them, the ships of the lead squadron continued to fire at the
Britishers. Damn their luck. Not the van, then, but he'd gladly take second
in line, any day. A chance to pound the enemy. Any chance. To the starboard,
the van reminded him, lay the Konig, greviously damaged. But as
his looked that way with his binoculars, he saw the fires dying away.
Perhaps she would rejoin the Line. There was still work to be done....
And then he was interrupted with more news.
"Ostfriesland is returning fire, sir, still no clear target
for our own gunners," came the next report. "Can we fire anyway?
Try for a lucky hit, like on the last ship we struck before the Britishers
retreated the first time?" He asked the officer; But he already knew
the answer. Annoyingly, but unsurprisingly, the man answered anyway. "We
could try, sir, but it would just be a waste of ammunition."
Waste of ammunition. So it would be. But for a good cause... Or would
it? Matthias smiled wryly. He could not deny his blood. Wasting ammunition
was anathema, especially in time of war and blockade. They'd wait, then. "Have the gunnery officer hold his fire, then, but tell him not to
hesitate in the very least to fire on any target that presents itself
to our guns.. He is not to even wait for my permission. If he sees a British
target he can hit, I want the main guns in action immediately!"
"Jawohl, Herr Kapitan!"
There was a flash of light to the port quarter.. No.. Directly astern.
Far back. Bigger than the flashes of the guns. Kapitan von Heinz
tensed, and waited. He did not have to wait long. "Lookouts report
explosion on Ostfriesland, sir! It seems serious."
"Find out!" he snapped, and then headed off onto the port bridge
wing, focusing aft with his binoculars; His pace had been a barely dignified
dash. In the gathering, steadily growing darkness, he couldn't tell much,
but the fires from that explosion proved to him that Ostfriesland
was still a ship, floating on the water. Beyond that, he could not know.
A lieutenant was rushing out to report on what Matthias von Heinz had
just discovered when it happened. When that last glorious chance happened,
in clear view of the two men and most of the lookouts and more importantly,
gunners, on the Prinzregent Luitpold.
A vast tongue of fire leapt into the air to the port, distant to the
port. A moment later, an explosion rocked the same ship, and more flames
leapt into the air, along with debris. In those flames were revealed a
Dreadnought-Type Battleship; At this range, even without binoculars, he
could discern that.
He raised the binoculars and focused on the heavily damaged ship, fire
and vast, billowing clouds of black smoke rising from her. No. It was
not a Dreadnought-Type Battleship. It WAS Dreadnought! First of
their kind, most illustrious, if oldest, of the British ships.
Even has he recognized this, the gunnery officer obeyed orders with calm,
professional precision. A three gun Half-salvo bellowed from the Prinzregent
Luitpold towards the stricken Dreadnought. Matthias lowered
his binoculars and smiled. They had a target.
Kapitan von Heinz stayed on the port bridge wing, Binoculars focused,
fixed on the burning Dreadnought, as the second Half-salvo bellowed
from Prinzregent Luitpold's operational guns. Other ships were
firing on the Dreadnought; He had trouble telling whose shell splashes
were whose. As the lead six ships of the Hoch See Flotte's Line
of Battle were obscured from firing on other targets by the flames and
smoke of Dreadnought, those same flames and smoke provided the
perfect target for them.
Dreadnought was pounded to pieces by the massed fire of virtually
all of those six ships focusing in on her, and Kapitan von Heinz
was all too glad to stay on the port bridge wing, observing the spectacle
with his binoculars, as they finished off yet another Britisher. The rest
of the British Line of Battle did not enter his mind; It was just this
spectacle of the sinking Dreadnought, becoming the focus of half
a dozen other dreadnoughts which could find no other target.
As the shells continued to pound the wrecked, ruined, stricken H.M.S.
Dreadnought below the waves, Kapitan von Heinz walked back
into the bridge proper, his eyes, though, never leaving that spectacle
of fire on the water. Their last chance to hit the enemy that night, perhaps.
But he doubted it. The voice returned. The British do NOT run!
What could be lurking while Dreadnought burned, while their vision
was obscured even further by the smoke, by the flames? He did not know.
He could only wait, and let his battered but unbowed ship, his eternal
pride, stay in the Line, and stay firing at Dreadnought as long
as she could. Dreadnought was burning and dieing, and Prinzregent
Luitpold gladly helped finish her off, as she had dispatched Conquerer,
so she sought to strike the final blows on Dreadnought, though
the ship had been doomed since the first explosions; They were still making
Perhaps she could have been saved by heroic efforts if the Germans had
not concentrated on her with that secondary explosion, but that explosion
had doomed her by proxy; it gave the Germans a target. And with that,
they poured their fire into the last Dreadnought of the night. They'd
have a chance to sink H.M.S. Dreadnought.
8:30 PM and later.
"Cease fire, Cease fire," the Gunnery officer ordered. As the
minutes shifted to 8:30 PM, S.M.S. Prinzregent Luitpold was the
last ship to cease firing on the burning, sinking wreck of the H.M.S.
Dreadnought. Below, in the bridge, Kapitan von Heinz received
the news with a nod, his binoculars focusing on the burning ruin. All
firing now would do was butcher men attempting to escape that flaming
hulk. For a moment, he was tempted. Trained crewers meant a lot, and there
must be hundreds.. Order the use of HE shells... But then he frowned at
himself. It was not the way a gentleman fought.
No, he certainly would not butcher helpless men trying to escape a ship
even more clearly doomed than Superb had been. That was something
for those who had no respect for the laws of war. But such men were increasingly
common.. And he, a dying breed. But as long as he lived, he would give
that respect, if he could. Damn himself, for keeping fire on Superb
so long. He wouldn't repeat the mistake... Even for a military advantage
like reducing the numbers of available crewers for the Grand Fleet. It
wasn't advantage enough to justify slaughter.
The minutes pass, the big guns fall silent once more. The duties of a
Kapitan of a ship in the Line were those that could be done by
an automaton, Matthias was thinking, as those minutes ticked by... Somewhat
less than five of them.
Markgraf opened fire. The sound of the big guns of that battered
Konig class Dreadnought opening up ahead of them shocked Matthias back
into thinking. And the voice echoed in his head, again. The British
do NOT run! And they had not.
Markgraf had found a target, a British target, and was firing
upon it. Dreadnoughts? Light ships? Verdamnt! He looked toward
the nearest man on the bridge not occupied with conning duties. "Get
me a report from the lookouts! We must know what Markgraf is firing
at, and if we can also engage!"
"Jawohl, Herr Kapitan!"
He waited. But there was no firm answer as the minutes ticked away. Finally..
"Sir, lookouts cannot discern Markgraf's target!" A
sharp nod was the only response then.
He focused; collected his thoughts. "Light ships, then.."
The sounds of guns firing rolled from the stern of the line. Lots of
guns. Mostly smaller ones.. but a heavier sound to them... Lots and lots
of guns, he realized. Secondaries. And main guns booming, thundering through
the lesser sounds.
"Light ships ahead, and more attacking our rear.. Verdamnt!
What's back there!? Kaiser?" Without waiting for answers,
he strode to starboard; bringing up his binoculars. Konig was still
intact; Fires largely put out, and too close to the van to be the target.
"The Pre-Dreadnoughts, sir.. Maybe Kaiser, too.. I don't
know, but definitely the Pre-Dreadnoughts, perhaps the Nassaus, Herr
The voice reached him, and he nodded once in acknowledgement.. Before
dashing back over to the Port bridge wing.. If there was so much light.
Could it be Harwich Force, arriving to reinforce the Grand Fleet's screen
and attack en masse, or simply all those remaining torpedo boats
and cruisers that must be out there.. He did not know, he could not know.
He searched the darkness in vain with his binoculars, from the Port bridge
wing again. Only the burning remnants of Dreadnought served as
The Awesome spectacle of the battle behind them; Made visible only by
distant muzzle flashes and roars, and the greater muzzle flashes and roars
of the Big Guns, and then perhaps some of the Dreadnoughts as well. It
was chaos; So chaotic that Kapitan von Heinz never noticed the
action between the van and the four Light Cruisers that was just as close,
perhaps closer, ahead. His eyes were focused to the port and stern.
The reports came in, and he watched, cursing damnable luck that he could
not be involved.. And also blessing it, for he did not like torpedoes
in the very least. Except his own.
"Stand by for possible Light ship attacks," he ordered from
the Port Bridge wing, taking care of all contigencies. "Ready the
Fifteen Centimeter and Eighty Eight milimeter guns, and stand by with
the broadside torpedo tubes!"
The orders were unnecessary, but a wise percaution, considering what
was developing aft. As he watched, as his orders were carried out by exhausted
and nervous crewman, he waited, intently, for some result. A German ship
engaged her searchlights; A Nassau, indeed, the trailing ship of that
division.. Nassau herself, then, perhaps, or Wesfalen.
Matthias considered his own searchlights, but they were too far from
any of the action to do the least of good; Anyway, doctrine would dictate
that the ships to the fore and aft of him would illuminate; It would be
Prinzregent Luitpold's duty to fire, if anything were to attack
The action was getting very hot indeed, though, to the stern of the line,
the rearguard hotly engaging. Some wireless reports started to filter
through, but out of date, too unimportant. He simply watched. Fifteen
minutes had passed since they had ceased fire on the H.M.S. Dreadnought,
but he did not notice the passage of time. He was a frozen spectator watching
events, unable to participate.
The minutes still crept past, and still, Kapitan zur See Matthias
von Heinz could do nothing. He finally had to accept them, even with the
brief flurry of hope of action at the report of Frauenlob engaging
four cruisers; But that was too far away for them, as well, and she was
handling them well.
And so he kept his eyes aft, as more minutes ticked away. Twenty minutes
after Prinzregent Luitpold's guns had ceased firing at the burning,
battered wreck of the Dreadnought, which was now slipping away
beneath the waves, a light flashed in the distance. Not like the beams
of the searchlights, nor the flashes of the muzzles. It was an awesome
Just as terribly awesome as the light that had temporarily blinded him
when Conquerer blew apart. Matthias would never be able to forget
the awesome fate of Conquerer. And so he recognized that light
immediately. The explosion was first just a bright, brilliant half-sphere
of light followed by the awesome tongue of flame and the rolling balls
of fire of the explosion and the smoke.
They were rather far off. It took a few seconds, nothing, in his mind,
moving so slowly, for the awesome sound of the ship exploding to reach
them and shake them. It hurt his ears, even from this distance. It was
a magazine explosion, but worse, a massive detonation of all the ammunition
in the magazine of one of the ships aft.
Steffan had heard the roar; He came dashing up onto the Port Bridge-Wing,
clearly at a run. Matthias was reassured to have his Executive officer
there again, as he numbly brought up his binoculars to focus in on the
ruin, rapidly disappearing into nothing. So did his executive officer.
"By God... We've lost one of our Battleships, Steffan... Perhaps
even a Dreadnought! A Heavy shell must have reached her magazines directly;
That light ship attack was just cover for some division of the Grand Fleet
coming into range again... Verdamnt!"
"What if it's the Channel Fleet, or some new ships that hadn't joined
the Grand Fleet yet, sir? Or could the leaders of the Grand Fleet have
doubled back in time?" his First Officer speculated.
"I don't know... Verdamnt! What is going on back there?"
The explosion had faded; The fire had faded, there was nothing left. He
turned, strode back into the bridge, looking for his navigator. "Lieutenant..
Get a plot. What ship was that? Who did we lose? What are the reports
from the trail?"
He worked in a sort of fear; They had taken casualties, but no losses,
as far as he could tell, that day, while the Grand Fleet's ships lit up
like torches. But then, at the ending of this battle, the most impressive
explosion had come from a ship of the Hoch See Flotte. It suddenly
made him feel very, very vunerable.. Like his steel-armoured titan was
little more than a floating bomb.
Battles were not supposed to happen this way; They were supposed to be
affairs where Ships of the Line pounded each other at close range until
they were wrecked ruins, and one side retreated, and the other finished
off the enemy with torpedoes. But this battle had been if anything like
battles of the old days of sail, and even Lissa and the battles of the
Spanish American War and even the epic Tsushima paled in comparison with
the sheer, violent fury of this day.
"Most likely one of the Pre-Dreadnoughts; Sir. It's just too hard
to tell. The fleet has lost much cohesion," came the report.
It reassured Kapitan von Heinz considerably, though. He had feared
it was a Dreadnought. The old Fraus.. That could be explained.
And then the order came in.
"Signals from Ostfriesland, sir... Battle Turn-Away!"
Steffan looked on in surprise, as Matthias went, and he read the message
himself, and confirmed it. Battle Turn-Away. It had finally come. The
battle was finished. Oh well. They had got their Britisher, and they had
gotten Superb, and they had gotten the first of the Dreadnoughts,
Dreadnought herself, and countless others.
The British do NOT run. The phrase echoed in his mind. The British
might not run; But the Germans could withdraw while the British were still
suffering from the most costly defeat in their history and could do nothing
to pay the Hoch See Flotte back.
That was good enough for Matthias von Heinz. Good enough, indeed.
He finally had real responsibility in maneuvering his ship in Battle
Turn-Away. He turned his thoughts from other matters, and focused on that.
Sometime during the Morning of June the First, 1915.
In the Dawn's early light, the three ships of the organized division
steamed onward, towards home. The casualties had been counted, and Kapitan
zur See Matthias von Heinz read the damage reports, calmly, grimly, of
They had gotten off lightly, though. As far as he knew, no survivors
from Schleswig-Holstein. Wesfalen, Kaiser, Konig,
all safe. He didn't know about Hessen yet, though, one way or another.
The dispatches flying back and forth not intended for him had been exceedingly
hard to work with, but combined with visual observation, it seemed they
had lost one Pre-Dreadnought Battleship, perhaps two.
As for the disastrous explosion of Schleswig-Holstein; It seemed
to be a torpedo hit had set off that magazine explosion, not a shell hit.
It gave Kapitan von Heinz all the more reason to hate the damned
As for the Britishers... Nine Dreadnoughts sunk, perhaps thirteen! The
entire Grand Fleet of the Royal Navy had only Twenty Four dreadnoughts.
If they had sunk thirteen... Then they had won the war. As for Battlecruisers,
Matthias was less clear; Their own Battlecruisers had not been in sight,
nor had the British ones been reliably given an accounting of, but from
all reports they had suffered heavily. The Baron, certainly, still lived.
But battlecruisers did not win wars; Ships of the Line did, and in those,
Germany had come out splendidly, and handed the Royal Navy the greatest
defeat in its history! They were victorious. But at what a price. The
crew of turret number four... Fourty Nine Dead, there. What a price, indeed.
He paused, for a moment, and thought about it. They deserved a fitting
memorial. Turret number four had been one of the two turrets that fired
in the half-salvo that had destroyed the Conquerer. A fifty-fifty
chance... They were dead men. They deserved the notation.
Kapitan zur See Matthias von Heinz headed off to talk with Steffan;
They'd have the time before they arrived in port.
German Port of Wilhelmshaven, later that day.
As the Prinzregent Luitpold steamed slowly into port on her two
shafts, the damage to the ships that had arrived before, and those arriving
behind, was clearly seen. The town was out, but mainly the workers, here.
No band; But the victory was still acknowledged.
The Kaiser and Grand Admiral von Tirpitz were waiting. When news of the
true weight of the victory reached Germany, then all of Germany would
go wild with celebration. That was sure. All of Germany, that is, except
the widows, and the parents whose sons would never return.
For the relatives of Fourty Nine of those gallant dead, however, there
was one memorial.
Painted in white on the side of the battered Turret Number Four, clearly
visible to anyone who looked, in the largest letters that would allow
it to be fit on the turret, were words. A phrase, a statement. A memorial
to Fourty Nine dead men.
Painted on the Starboard side of Turret Number Four were these words:
'THIS TURRET KILLED CONQUERER. GOD REST THE SOULS OF ITS CREW.'
On the bridge of the Prinzregent Luitpold, the ship's stenograph
played 'Deutschland Uber Alles'. Though it played it as loudly
as it could, nobody sung along. The slogan on the side of Turret Number
Four, celebrating and glorifying victory and at the same time giving tribute
to the dead, was reason enough why.
by Marina O'Leary
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