The Dash for Home
  • The Dash for Home

    Admiral Souchon could feel the vibration of the engines as the ship began to work up to full speed. Behind him, thick, black smoke belched from the two funnels, although it became almost instantly invisible against the dark western sky.
    Since leaving Gibraltar six days earlier, his two ships had steamed far out into the Atlantic and kept well clear of the shipping lanes while he had decided on the best route home, in accordance with his orders. The Kaiser had given him discretion to attack enemy ships or land facilities in the event of war, but it was not until late on the fifth that he received radio signals telling him that Germany was now at war with Britain, and not just France as his previous information stated.
    His plan to steam to conduct cruiser warfare for a few weeks against French shipping in the Atlantic was now far too risky. Although the number of British targets was immensely greater, so too were the number of Royal Navy warships that could hunt him down. He had therefore decided to return home. Pre-war plans for the replenishment of German Navy raiders were comprehensive, and his ships had been able to partially re-coal from a German merchantman far out at sea before they headed East.

    Souchon knew he was taking a gamble either way. The route North towards Iceland, and across the foggy, storm-ridden Norwegian Sea might have been safer, but it was far longer. His ships would have to coal at least once more if they were to return home that way. Meeting a collier and then coaling at sea was a risky endeavour, while the route would mean passing through hundreds of miles of British-patrolled waters to the north of their homeland.
    He had therefore chosen the other way for his largest and most valuable ship. It was much shorter, but it came within just a few miles of British bases. The Goeben was heading East, straight through the English Channel. He’d hedged his bet, by sending the Breslau via the northern route, where hopefully her smaller fuel needs could be more easily met, and where she might distract the enemy’s attention.

    He looked North, where the dim glow of the pre-dawn light was fast overwhelming the dimmer glow of the lights of English coastal towns. If he chose to head that way, he thought, he could make his name and his ship’s name as famous as any in history. Attacking the home of the Royal Navy at dawn had a glorious appeal, but he knew it would be both futile and suicidal. Most of the British Fleet was far away to the North, and it was unlikely he would do much damaged before the shore defences of Portsmouth would either sink his ship, or cripple it, leaving him to be swarmed by light forces.
    Instead, Goeben turned Northeast, heading for the Dover Strait and home. Two days ago, before they entered the busy shipping lanes leading towards the Channel, canvas had been stretched in front of the ship’s aft mast, creating a false funnel, and above the bridge, giving the ship a profile vaguely resembling a British Indefatigable-class battlecruiser. Yesterday, he had ordered the use of one of the oldest and simplest of ruses; at the ship’s stern, the White Ensign flew stiffly in the breeze.

    He and the ship’s Captain had chosen the route and their timing to maximise the chance of surprise. Overnight, they had maintained a steady 18 knots, far below the ship’s top speed, allowing furnaces to be cleared in sequence ready for the day ahead. They’d been lucky too; at about midnight, they had passed right through the middle of a fishing fleet. The Chief Engineer reported that the port outboard shaft was now making peculiar noises, but they seemed to have escaped an ignominious end by having a net wrapped around their propellers.
    Shortly after 0300, all of the furnaces had been lit and within the hour, Goeben had worked her way up to 24 knots, just as the period of Nautical Twilight dawned and her lookouts could give better warning of other vessels ahead. Fifty minutes later, as the day itself dawned, they were approaching the Dover Strait, and for the first time they were closer to the English coast than the French.

    Admiral Souchon didn’t plan to merely sneak past the British.
    Singeing the King of England’s Beard
  • Singeing the King of England’s Beard

    On the morning of 8th August, the Southern Railways steamer Itchen was heading north on her regular scheduled sailing from Dieppe to Dover. Shortly after sunrise, the crew and those few passengers who were awake were enthralled by the sight of a mighty dreadnought charging past them; her crisp White Ensign flying proudly in the breeze. Far ahead, the Itchen’s Captain could see other British warships; several destroyers of the Dover Patrol. Clear proof, if any were needed, that Britain ruled the waves.

    At 0545, he saw the battleship turn to starboard, putting her on a course to cross the Itchen’s own. He was mildly annoyed that the ship was steering so close to his own and said as much to his First Mate … then again, he thought, the Navy could be a law unto themselves. However, what started out as a constant bearing soon began to slowly change, and it became clear that the big ship was going to pass astern. A few more passengers were on deck now, admiring the sight, and he thought perhaps the battleship had turned to join up with the destroyers a few miles ahead.

    A few minutes later, she had passed and was still less than a mile away, when the admiring chatter on the Itchen’s decks suddenly turned to horror, as the White Ensign at the battleship’s stern was hauled down and was swiftly replaced by the German colours.
    A minute later, Goeben’s ten 11” guns crashed out their first salvo of the war, hurling three tons of steel and explosive towards the destroyers ahead. Aboard the Itchen, the passengers at the rails, stood aghast at the thunder of the guns. Below deck, the sounds were totally unfamiliar; frightened men and women heard the thunder and the subsequent cries of alarm, and assumed the ship was sinking. As the passengers increasingly milled around in panic, Itchen’s Captain swung her away from the battleship and headed west at full speed.
    Much would be made of this by the press in subsequent days, including John Bull’s ridiculously fanciful cover sketch, showing the Itchen passing under the Goeben’s guns, as women fainted on the decks and children were thrown helplessly into the sea by the violent rolling of the ship.

    In truth, the Itchen had never been in any danger; Goeben was firing almost directly away from her, and neither international law nor the honour of her officers would have allowed a sneak attack on an unarmed passenger ship. Nevertheless, both real and imagined stories from her passengers would flood the British press; they were the closest eyewitnesses to the first naval battle of the war.

    Ten minutes later, Goeben and the British destroyers had closed with each other and the German ship was firing rapidly. Her stokers fed the furnaces with renewed vigour as the ship strained to reach 25 knots.
    Admiral Souchon had been expecting a hotter reception than three destroyers. He thought they had been spotted yesterday, when a number of British pre-dreadnoughts had been sighted far to the north, just as the Goeben approached the Cherbourg Peninsula. However, they had made no move to follow, and his concerns had reduced overnight as the ship left the major British bases behind her. The Goeben had been lucky, and her disguise had confused the enemy. She had in fact been sighted by HMS Formidable, whose log merely recorded; ‘1816. Three-funnel French warship sighted steaming east. Did not respond to signals at long range.’

    Having successfully dodged the threat of the slow battleships of the British Channel Fleet, Souchon had decided to attempt a brief bombardment of the English coast near Dover, as he passed by at high speed. However, when British destroyers were sighted during the approach, he decided to abandon the bombardment plan; returning home was more important than firing a few shells at Dover Castle.
    Ahead of the Goeben, the three British ships were now on an intercept course, and her Captain swung her around to allow her guns to bear. Although British patrols were alert to the possibility of a German attack, they hadn’t expected it to come from the West, and Goeben was able to gain time and distance before the destroyers pressed home their attack. These were some of the oldest destroyers in the Royal Navy, and their tiny 12-pdr and 4” guns, obsolete engines and lightweight hulls were being thrown against the battlecruiser’s 11” and 5.9” guns. None executed a successful attack, and Goeben soon left HMS Tartar in a sinking condition, while HMS Amazon was later towed back to base missing her bows. HMS Nubian was damaged early on, but managed to fire a single 18” torpedo, before limping away towards the English coast using saltwater in her boilers.
    The response of coastal batteries was later described as ‘feeble and slow’. 6” artillery couldn’t reach the enemy ship, while crews of the more powerful 9.2” guns took several minutes to answer the call to action, and when they did, their shooting was so poor that it never came close to harming the Goeben. After just 12 rounds, fire was halted, reportedly to ‘avoid risk of damaging other vessels.’
    It was still the early days of the war, and commanders on all sides had a lot to learn about the realities of fighting.

    After another four hours of hard steaming, Goeben was off the coast of Holland, skirting Dutch waters. Even so, she should have been within range of British light cruiser squadrons stationed at Harwich, but due to a mix-up of wireless and telegraphed orders, Commodore Tyrwitt’s forces didn’t sail until 0850. They were still almost fifty miles from the German ship, and although they charged East, they could never catch her.

    The sole remaining ship in the way was the armoured cruiser HMS Bacchante, on patrol in the Broad Fourteens to guard against German torpedo boats and destroyers. Via wireless, she had received news of the attack in the Channel and had readied for action, steaming steadily North, expecting to join up with her sister-ships in the 7th Cruiser Squadron.
    However, the Amethyst, Aboukir and Cressy were near the Dogger Bank, and suffered from the same signal mix-up as the Harwich force. Goeben was heading almost straight for the Bacchante, and shortly after 1000, the two ships sighted each other. Bacchante increased speed to try to stay ahead of the Goeben while gaining time for other ships to join her, but the old cruiser’s engines couldn’t push her at much more than 20 knots. She opened fired with her aft 9.2” gun at 1042 at extreme range; so much so that the Goeben didn’t bother to reply for another ten minutes. By 1054, however, she had closed another mile, and the battlecruiser turned slightly to allow both A and C turrets to bear. From 13,800 yards, she obtained a straddle with her fourth salvo.
    The cruiser’s Captain now had nothing to lose, and Bacchante hauled around to bring both of her 9.2” guns and her port battery of six 6” guns to bear. It was a brave fight, but the 12-year old armoured cruiser was no match for a modern ship more than ten times as powerful.
    The British would later claim that Goeben entered Dutch waters as she turned East-Southeast to bring her full broadside to bear, but it could never be proved one way or the other, and the Dutch government hesitated to press the matter in the face of the ongoing German advance which soon encircled their country.
    By 1125, Goeben had passed the cruiser, leaving HMS Bacchante a blazing wreck. She sank shortly before midday, leaving Tyrwhitt’s squadron to rescue barely half of her crew.

    After hours of hard steaming, Goeben’s clinkered furnaces could give her no more than 22 knots, but Admiral Souchon felt relieved. His gamble had worked; the British had not expected a single ship to make a high-speed run through the Channel from the West. Smoke was visible on the horizon astern, but whoever they were, they were too late. At 1414, lookouts sighted ships ahead. Recognition signals were flashed and it was confirmed that they were German cruisers. Souchon had done what Medina Sidonia and Villeneuve had failed to do; he had run the gauntlet of the Channel, and come out the other side with a battle-ready ship.

    The entire ship’s company would later be commended by the Kaiser himself;
    ‘Your gallantly has confounded the English and brought glory to the Fatherland!’
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    Von Spee's Odyssey
  • Von Spee’s Odyssey

    Before the outbreak of war, other German forces were on the move. Admiral von Spee's East Asiatic Squadron sailed from Tsingtau, bound for the German colonies in the Mariana Islands. Flying his flag in the armoured cruiser SMS Blucher, von Spee had with him two smaller armoured cruisers, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and four supply ships. The two sister-ships were to have sailed for Germany in September at the end of a two-year deployment to the Pacific, but following the assassination of the Austrian Archduke, von Spee's orders were to keep them with him in case of war. As he reached the Marianas he was joined by the light cruisers Emden and Nurnburg, which had been showing the flag around the German, British and French colonies that were dotted across the Pacific.

    In the early days of the war, the British cut the undersea cables that linked Germany with the rest of the world. As a consequence, von Spee could no longer receive orders from Berlin. In anticipation of these events, he had received general orders to conduct cruiser warfare as he saw fit, and to either attempt to return to Germany, or to assist in the defence of German territories. The most recent intelligence he had was that Japan remained neutral, although she might declare war at any time in support of her British ally, while parts of the Dutch East Indies or Chile might provide him with ‘friendly neutral’ ports.
    The Admiral had an unenviable choice; with Tsingtau easily blockaded by the British, he had lost his only base of operations. Returning home meant crossing 20,000 miles of largely British-controlled ocean without access to a network of coaling stations, and he had no illusions about his chances of forcing his way past the British fleet in the North Sea.
    He decided it was his duty to defend German territory, while causing the enemy trouble for as long as possible. He reasoned that together, his three armoured cruisers might just be a match for a lone British battlecruiser, and if he could make them concentrate their forces, they wouldn’t be able to patrol the oceans effectively. With luck, that would give his ships far greater freedom.

    While coaling in Truk Lagoon a few days later, he detached SMS Emden to raid in the Indian Ocean, before taking the rest of his force towards German New Guinea. The light cruiser Nurnburg was sent ahead on the 19th August to scout the harbour at Rabaul, and on confirming that it was clear of Allied ships, the rest of the fleet was able to approach and anchor. Coaling and general maintenance took until the 23rd, and the Admiral made arrangements with the wireless station to broadcast coded signals once Allied ships were sighted. Even if his ships were out of range when that happened, it might confuse the enemy into thinking that he knew exactly where they were.
    The fleet moved out to provide cover as the Scharnhorst and Nurnburg conducted a bombardment of Port Moresby on the 25th, before returning to Rabaul.

    News of the bombardment drew British forces, just as von Spee had planned. Far to the East, rather than spending her time searching for von Spee, HMAS Australia had been covering the occupation of Samoa, following the insistence of the Australian and New Zealand governments that the ships be used to guard the troop convoys. To the north, the battlecruiser HMS New Zealand and the armoured cruiser Minotaur had scouted the Marshalls and were heading towards the Caroline Islands. Once they received news of the bombardment and headed south at best practical speed.
    Von Spee knew he would have no more than a few days between the bombardment and the arrival of Royal Navy forces and hastened to re-coal all his ships, before sailing from Rabaul again on the morning of the 28th. The following day, he received news via wireless that the German radio station at Samoa had suddenly gone quiet. Obviously, Samoa had been captured, and in all probability, any covering force was now on its way to the Bismarck Archipelago.
    Provided with this valuable intelligence, he decided there was a new opportunity for his squadron to act together, instead of splitting up to raid shipping independently. Blucher, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Nurnburg were heading Northeast, to avoid any Allied forces heading west from Samoa, and to minimise the risk of encountering anything coming from the north. Nevertheless, he missed HMS New Zealand by less than 150 miles, and he heard feint signals from the wireless station at Rabaul reporting her arrival offshore on the 3rd September. That piece of news confirmed his plans; he knew, or at least suspected, where both British battlecruisers were.

    He stopped to coal at Ellis Island, before heading towards his new target: Samoa

    On the morning of 16th September, the Nurnburg once again scouted ahead of the fleet and confirmed that there were no Allied warships in the harbour off Apia. Admiral von Spee’s squadron steamed in with guns manned and pointed at the town. Shells were fired at the wireless station in a successful attempt to disable it and a small steamer was sunk in the harbour, distracting attention while Marines from all four ships landed to outflank the town and secure the docks and coal stocks. Once this was done, a picket boat was sent in under a flag of truce.
    Faced with such overwhelming firepower, and having his force so quickly cut off from the docks and most of the supplies still sitting on the quayside, the commander of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force surrendered the island, although several hundred men escaped inland, with many later reaching the neighbouring island of Savaii.

    The re-capture of Samoa gave von Spee fresh news of the rest of the world. From prisoners and locals, his crews learned of the ongoing progress of the German armies in Europe. It took several days for outbound wireless messages to reach the rest of the world, but the announcement that his squadron had successfully liberated Samoa and taken several hundred prisoners was trumpeted around the world as further evidence that Germany was winning.
    The Samoan Strategy
  • The Samoan Strategy

    Having liberated Samoa, or rather taken control of the town of Apia, Admiral von Spee’s first act was to resupply from both German and captured New Zealand stores.
    His next decision remains controversial, although most of those involved acknowledged that he treated the prisoners with utmost courtesy and went to great efforts to ensure their safety, despite the ruthless way in which he chose to use them. The captured men of the NZEF were taken on board three of the colliers, and with the decks of all his ships piled high with coal, he sailed away from Samoa, stopping to maroon the prisoners on the island of Manihiki, some 600 miles to the East. However, his behaviour was not entirely callous, as they were left with supplies, two small fishing boats and the assurance that instructions had been left at Samoa to start broadcasting their position in two weeks’ time. He also promised to send a ship back to the island before the end of October, in case the other arrangements went wrong.
    Having planted in the prisoner’s minds what might, or might not, be a piece of misinformation, he sailed away from Manihiki, his ships disappearing over the western horizon.

    The need to mop up German forces in New Guinea meant that troops weren’t available to recapture Samoa until early October, and with the obvious possibility that von Spee was waiting to spring a trap, the troop convoy to the island was guarded by both battlecruisers. When they arrived, Samoa surrendered without a fight.
    The situation on the island was a bizarre one in the days before the fleet arrived. Von Spee had left only a dozen volunteers to hold key positions, somewhat questionably helped by the local police force. The Admiral and the restored German Governor insisted they carry no arms and remained civilians, but they did help in keeping an eye out for the New Zealanders who hadn’t surrendered, and German Marines (possibly helped by their police colleagues) held the wireless station and a few government buildings in the face of two raids. On the 1st October, they were under orders to broadcast the location of the marooned prisoners, but having done so, there was no reason to try to hold the island and risk further damage to German property or lives. On the other side, by this time the New Zealanders who remained on Samoa were in a sorry state – cut off from almost all supplies, they had made themselves decidedly unpopular with the native population by stealing food at night.

    On the 2nd, a truce was agreed. The New Zealanders were allowed back into Apia and were assured that their compatriots were safe a few hundred miles away, with signals sent to ensure their rescue. The Germans remained in control of the wireless station and the Governor’s house, but formally surrendered once Allied ships were sighted offshore on the 8th October.
    Despite the bloodless recovery of Samoa, the brilliance of von Spee’s strategy continued to manifest itself. The men of the NZEF now needed to be rescued from Manihiki, and the British were obliged to continue to use both of their battlecruisers to escort the troopships and sweep the seas around the island, in case von Spee’s ships were waiting in ambush.

    For Admiral Patey, it made for a frustrating few weeks, on top of the time wasted in escorted troops to capture Samoa in the first place. He knew, and had said as much, that the island could have left alone while he cleared the seas, and then captured at the Alies’ leisure once the German squadron had been neutralised. He had been overruled then, but now he knew that von Spee would be long gone from Manihiki by the time he reached it; the German Admiral’s strategy was to distract and evade, not to seek confrontation with superior forces. His Lion-class battlecruiser Australia could handle von Spee’s squadron alone, and even the smaller New Zealand could comfortably outrun and outfight any of the German ships.
    Nevertheless, the Dominion governments had insisted that the troopships be heavily escorted until the various elements of the Australian and New Zealand Expeditionary Forces were back on Samoa. He had interpreted his orders broadly and had sent his ships on wide sweeps on the trip to Manihiki and back, but it was only on the 23rd October that was he free to start the hunt for the German squadron once again.
    New Zealand and a pair of cruisers headed east from Samoa, in case von Spee tried to make his way to Tahiti or the isolated Marquesa Islands, from where she would loop back through the Marshalls and Marianas. Aboard the Australia, Patey decided to scout to the north, then return to the New Guinea area, searching along a route von Spee might follow if he were heading for the Dutch East Indies.

    However, following his departure from Manihiki on the 27th September, no-one had seen von Spee.
    Churchill’s Greyhounds
  • Churchill’s Greyhounds

    ‘We seek him here, we seek him there
    Our cruisers seek him everywhere,
    Is he off China, or far Ponape?
    That damned elusive Graf von Spee…’

    -From a satirical cartoon of October 1914.

    In the minds of the British public, the escape of the Goeben had been avenged in late August, when four battlecruisers led by HMS Lion sailed into the Heligoland Bight and sank three German light cruisers in the space of little more than half an hour. Two weeks later, Goeben’s former companion, SMS Breslau, was intercepted off Norway by the armoured cruisers Warrior and Cochrane. Breslau fled from these slow ships but was intercepted further south by three of Beatty’s battlecruisers, his squadron now including the brand-new HMS Panther, sailing on her first combat mission.
    Nevertheless, there had been other setbacks. Samoa was lost (albeit briefly) to von Spee’s bold attack, and in late September two cruisers were torpedoed by a U-boat just a few miles from where HMS Bacchante had been sunk by the Goeben, resulting in the loss of nearly 1,000 lives. The loss of the battleship Audacious to a mine a few weeks later only underlined that the underwater threat was very real.

    The inability to catch von Spee was causing the British government and the Navy considerable embarrassment, and it prompted the politically engineered downfall of the First Sea Lord, Admiral Battenburg and his replacement with a man who was seen as both 'less German' and immeasurably more dynamic.
    With Turkey neutral and the Austrian Fleet staying quiet, HMS Inflexible was despatched from the Mediterranean to reinforce the East Indies squadron, and she reached Singapore on the 4th November. Despite the concerns of Admiral Jellicoe, HMS Princess Royal was ordered to the Caribbean, where she could assist in the hunt for the light cruisers Dresden and Karlsruhe (both known to be somewhere off the South American coast) and be ready to intercept von Spee should he choose to come through the Panama Canal.
    In the Atlantic, areas of responsibility had been changed following the need for Admiral Stoddart to cover operations against Germany’s African colonies. Admiral Cradock’s squadron was therefore covering South America and was to be reinforced with HMS Invincible. The Admiral, however, couldn’t wait for her and had taken the cruisers Good Hope and Suffolk south to search for the Leipzig, which had been raiding off the west coast of the Americas.

    After leaving Manihiki, von Spee’s ships coaled at uninhabited Christmas Island, where at a ‘council of war’ aboard the Blucher on the 6th October, he decided that the time had come to split up the squadron.
    The following day, Gneisenau and Nurnburg sailed for the Marquesas Islands. With no communications with the outside world they stayed there for six days, allowing their crews to rest and coal in safety while obtaining fresh stores from a German firm, still trading in these French-owned islands. The two ships then sailed on east, stopping at the even more isolated Easter Island, where they bought fresh beef and a small supply of flour from an English rancher, who even after three months, still didn’t know that war had been declared. From there they steamed to the coast of South America, entering the neutral Chilean port of Valpariso on the 16th November.

    Von Spee headed slowly west, sending the supply ship Seydlitz into Pearl Harbour, which she reached on the 21st October. Her Captain had considerable difficulty in persuading the Americans to allow him to coal, as they were suspicious that she was assisting a belligerent warship, and not heading for the Panama Canal as he claimed, but they did allow him to communicate with Berlin during his day in port.
    She rejoined the squadron with news of the ongoing war and the success of Captain von Muller in the Emden, confirming the Admiral’s decision to head West, where he hoped to hide in the neutral islands of the Dutch East Indies, before breaking through to the Indian Ocean and perhaps reaching German East Africa.
    His spoofs and evasions had kept the Allies guessing for three months, and directly or indirectly more than 30 warships were searching for his four cruisers.

    In the south Pacific, HMS New Zealand, Hampshire, HMAS Melbourne and the French Montcalm were on the lookout. To the north, Admiral Jerram’s pre-dreadnought HMS Triumph, with Newcastle and Yarmouth blocked the route into the China Sea, assisted by the Japanese battleship Kurama and cruiser Iwate. The trade routes to Australia through the Java Sea were patrolled by Admiral Pierse, whose pre-dreadnought HMS Swiftsure and light cruiser Dartmouth had just been reinforced by HMS Inflexible. Patey, with Australia, Sydney and HMS Minotaur was in the Bismarck Sea.

    On the 16th November, Admiral von Spee’s luck ran out.
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  • Caught

    Despite his months of escort duties with only occasional search operations, Admiral Patey had realised von Spee’s strategy was to stick to the German and ex-German colonies in the Pacific, succeeding in tying up Allied squadrons while they occupied them. However, with the exception of Ponape, they were now all in Allied hands. He suspected von Spee’s fleet had been in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands when he heard about Seydlitz’s visit to Honolulu. Unlike the Americans, he was certain she was a German auxiliary.
    He hypothesised that if von Spee continued his pattern, the German Admiral might make a final visit to Ponape, before accepting that he had to leave the Pacific. He might do that via South America, or he might attempt to run through the Dutch East Indies.

    Patey therefore acted to cover the route into the Java sea, and on the afternoon of 16th November, his guesses paid off as a large two-funnel ship and a four-funnel ship were sighted to the West as he cruised off the northern coast of New Guinea.
    His squadron consisted of the battlecruiser HMAS Australia, the armoured cruiser HMS Minotaur, the light cruiser HMAS Sydney and the French armoured cruiser Dupleix. The slow Dupleix had been a problem in recent days, but as he assumed von Spee would have all four of his ships with him, Patey wanted to maximise his force. Besides, telling Britain's valued ally to ‘go away’ would have hardly made for good politics.

    Aware that he would probably be facing a superior force, von Spee’s squadron had practiced tactics for engaging a battlecruiser. He couldn’t hope to defeat even one of these powerful cruiser-killers, but with tactics and luck, one of his ships might be able to escape.
    Once the enemy was sighted and it was confirmed that they were facing a major force, the faster Blucher increased speed and turned away, steering Southwest, while the Scharnhorst (now capable of barely 21 knots) headed North. The aim was to split the enemy's fire, perhaps drawing him into crossfire between the two, or at least allowing one to escape while the enemy dealt with the other.

    By 1700, it was confirmed that the enemy had been found and Patey’s ships increased speed. He ordered his cruisers to the Northeast, towards the four-funnel cruiser, while Australia steered East-Southeast to engage the Blucher. Both flagships opened fire at over 18,000yds, but salvoes were sporadic as Blucher soon hauled around through 180 degrees to prevent the faster Australia from cutting her off. Scharnhorst had also turned about, as Minotaur and Sydney attempted to work around ahead of her. Dupleix was also pursuing, but at just 19 knots, she was some way behind and played no role in the battle.

    The older German cruiser was now able to engage HMAS Australia from ahead, while Blucher continued to engage her to starboard, meaning that the battlecruiser was under fire from a total of fourteen 8.2" guns.
    Within minutes, Australia was hit eight or nine times, wrecking her middle funnel, boats on her deck and punching an ugly hole forward above the waterline. In return, she hit Blucher just twice, both times for'ard, destroying 12-pdr gun positions and springing rivets with a shell that burst after striking the water just short of the ship. Blucher’s 8.2" guns couldn’t hurt her vitals at any plausible battle range, but unarmoured structures were sprayed with splinters, and a small cordite fire started in the secondary battery abaft the bridge. The most serious hit was on Q turret, where the armour stopped the shell, but splinters entered the sighting ports, killing six of the crew and wrecking the sights of both guns.

    Australia continued to concentrate the fire of her remaining six 13.5” guns on Blucher, still delivering a broadside weight nearly four times that of the German cruiser. Her next hit finally did some real damage, when it opened a 6' hole at the waterline near the bow. As Blucher and Australia maintained nearly parallel courses, the Scharnhorst swung to starboard to keep her arcs open on the battlecruiser and to head back towards the flagship. Forced to turn by Minotaur’s determined fire, her bid to escape to the north had failed, and now the two would fight together.
    Just before her line of sight was blocked by the Scharnhorst, a 13.5" shell from Australia hit the barbette under Blucher's rear wing turret. The armour broke up the shell, but splinters entered the hoist and working space, igniting charges and blowing the roof of the turret off with a jet of flame that shot up higher than the masts. Fire spread down the ammunition passage to the fore wing turret, killing the crew in the working space and igniting more charges. Fortunately for the rest of the crew, there was no magazine explosion, as the ready-use ammunition had long since been used up, while magazine flooding was initiated by an enterprising officer soon after the hit.
    From on board the Australia, it appeared that the whole side of the German ship was on fire.

    Blucher’s fighting ability was fading, but her gunnery had been excellent. She had temporarily put Australia’s aft turret out of action and left the secondary battery amidships almost completely burnt out.
    The two German ships now masked each other, and Australia switched the fire of her two remaining turrets to the Scharnhorst, as both German ships turned away. At just over 9,000 yards, the battlecruiser's heavy shells soon tore into the armoured cruiser, blowing open an 11' hole in her bow. Another shell exploded on her belt, but splinters made it into the ship and wreaked havoc in the secondary battery. A third shell penetrated and exploded inside the armour, in between the two 8.2" casemate guns. Both were instantly knocked out, while fires spread along the battery. Below, splinters entered the damaged secondary battery, igniting yet more charges. Within seconds, Australia’s crew were cheered by the sight of another German ship ablaze over half her length.

    The German reply to all this was relatively weak while Blucher turned south, and she checked fire altogether while masked by the Scharnhorst and the smoke of her own fires. As the battle turned south, German fire was concentrated on the Minotaur, knocking out one of her secondary 7.5" turrets. She suffered splinter damage to a funnel and her boats, but otherwise, she was lucky, as several shells were stopped by her armoured sides.
    Having emerged from her own smoke and with the German ships visible again, a shell from Australia wrecked Scharnhorst's aft turret, while fires effectively cut off the bow from the stern of the ship. Her engines were still at full power, but she was out of command and swung away to the east, pursued by HMAS Sydney. Smoke from Australia's own fires again obscured the view and the standard of her gunnery dropped off before she made a sharp turn to starboard, both to close the German ships and enter clear air once again.

    For the first time in the battle, Minotaur made her presence felt; at just over 10,000 yards she hit Blucher amidships, opening up another hole in her bow and re-igniting fires around the wrecked turrets and superstructure. However, the German cruiser wasn’t done, as she could engage using ready ammunition in her undamaged starboard turrets, giving her a full 8-gun broadside for a few salvoes. Her fire wrecked Minotaur's upper deck for’ard and disabled her forward turret.

    At 1750 aboard the Blucher, Admiral von Spee saw that he had only one option; to fight it out with HMS Minotaur and hopefully escape into the night. The Scharnhorst had swung away astern and was clearly in trouble; in fact, at that moment Captain Schultz gave the order to signal the flagship, ‘Port engine disabled, will fight to the last. Long live the Fatherland’, but the signal was never sent, as Scharnhorst’s radio and electrics were shot to pieces. At ranges down to 6,000 yards, Australia's heavy guns hit Scharnhorst repeatedly, opening up her stern, wrecking what was left of her main armament and springing leaks in coal bunkers and boiler rooms. As the Sydney prepared to finish her with a torpedo, at 1821 she rolled over, the German ensign still flying.

    Blucher herself was down to just 16 knots and only her fore and aft turrets were capable of firing. However, she was by no means finished, and Minotaur was hit several times over the next five minutes by her fire. Once again, the German shells could not penetrate her armour belt, but splinters jammed several of her 7.5” turrets and wrecked communications with the bridge. She turned away, but even in the gathering gloom, the light of her fires illuminated her clearly as a target. Her aft 9.2" turret and two remaining port secondary guns continued to return fire, but to no effect.
    Masked by her own smoke, Blucher disappeared to the south into the rapidly darkening tropical night. Overnight, her crew worked furiously to shore up bulkheads around her bow, which continued to be badly strained as she charged along at full power. She briefly worked her way back up to 18 knots, but around midnight was obliged to slow as her fire bars clinkered and leaks continued to spread. She had only four main and three secondary guns left operational, with just 81 rounds of 8.2” ammunition remaining. She was in no condition to fight a light cruiser, never mind the Australia. Nevertheless, her engines had done their job, and she reached the neutral coast of Dutch New Guinea in the early hours of the 17th.

    It was not difficult for Patey to guess where Blucher had gone. At dawn, he found her lying just a few hundred yards off the coast, but with no Dutch forces in the area to enforce neutrality, the Admiral wanted to finish her for good. He signalled, ‘Abandon your ship and we will transport you to a neutral Dutch port, or we will take action. You have until 1000.’
    Boats were observed leaving the Blucher, but no reply was received, and the German ensign still flew from her stern, and so at 1005, Australia entered Dutch waters and opened fire once she had closed to five miles, while Sydney headed in closer. There was no reply from Blucher. By 1032, she was already heavily on fire when she was hit by a torpedo from Sydney. In shallow water, she couldn’t roll over (according to the German logs, she had grounded in the night), but she soon settled until only her upperworks were visible.

    For Admiral Patey and his crews, it wasn’t quite as satisfying as seeing her sink; but it was close…
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    While the Cats are Away…
  • While the Cats are Away…

    Von Spee’s success in tying down British forces had not passed unnoticed in Germany, and it allowed the Admiralty to persuade the Kaiser that his precious fleet should be used more aggressively, particularly while the British lacked a significant margin of superiority in numbers in the North Sea.
    In mid-November, following the loss of the Audacious, Jellicoe had a maximum of 16 battleships and 5 battlecruisers, usually less one or two ships away for refit or repair. A further two Iron Dukes had just commissioned, but the CinC knew they were not yet fully effective.
    Ingenohl’s fleet had 14 battleships and 4 battlecruisers, plus the Derfflinger, which had commissioned at the beginning of the month.

    Operations started cautiously, with a mining operation off Yarmouth covered by the four operational battlecruisers on 3rd November. The minefield would sink only a small coaster, but the operation suggested more ambitious missions could be attempted, as the heavy ships of the Royal Navy were nowhere to be seen. A grander plan was conceived, in which the battlecruisers would attempt to draw away part of the British fleet by bombarding the English coast.

    Across the North Sea, the Royal Navy was riding high after Admiral Patey’s victory in the Bismarck Sea, which had been followed by the destruction of Germany’s most successful raider, the Emden, in the Indian Ocean. Further good news was not long coming, as in early December, Dresden was hunted to exhaustion by Stoddart’s forces in the Atlantic and forced to accept internment in Brazil, while Karlsruhe had suffered a magazine explosion off the coast of Africa in November (although the British didn’t confirm this until January). New Zealand’s squadron had followed the route taken by Gneisenau and Nurnburg across the Pacific, but had instead found the Leipzig off the coast of Chile on December 2nd.

    The Gneisenau and Nurnburg had avoided Cradock’s forces during November, meeting a collier that had been sent out from San Pedro, and hiding in the isolated bays and maze of channels around the tip of South America. Captain Maerker of the Gneisenau decided to stay away from the Falklands (very wisely – the islands were defended by the battleship Canopus and the cruiser Monmouth, in addition to Cradock’s occasional visits to re-coal), and instead headed for the mouth of the River Plate. There he hoped to raid British shipping before meeting another supply ship to the east of the Abrolhos Rocks and heading back towards Germany.
    On the morning of 11th December, Invincible, Good Hope and Suffolk were to the north of the Plate when they received a radio signal from the refrigerator ship Estrella, which was being pursued by a warship (one of the first ‘raider warnings’ ever broadcast). Judging by the signal strength and the position given, they were right on top of her and Cradock ordered his flagship Invincible to charge ahead.
    Nurnburg had caught and fired on the freighter in retaliation for the distress signal by the time Cradock reached her, and the Estrella would burn and sink. However, she was revenged swiftly as Nurnburg was crippled by the battlecruiser in less than half an hour’s action, before she sailed on, to leave the two armoured cruisers to finish the smaller German ship.
    Gneisenau should have been well away from her companion, as there was no need for both ships to approach an unarmed merchantman. However, with little fuel or time to spare, Maerker had chosen stayed in contact. It was a fatal mistake, as Gneisenau was chased down over the course of the next three hours. Although Invincible ran out of ammunition for her forward turret during the pursuit, and Gneisenau’s gunnery was excellent, the final result was never in doubt.

    Closer to home, the capture by the Russians of German naval codebooks in late August had given the Admiralty in London a crucial advantage. They were forewarned of German plans for a further raid, but even so the information was incomplete, and a range of possible routes and locations had to be covered.
    British co-ordination went badly wrong; signals were missed and sailings were delayed, while scouts from the Second Battle Squadron engaged German light forces, but Hipper’s battlecruisers escaped at speed before the battleships ever sighted him. Poor weather and a mix-up of coded position indicators meant that Beatty’s battlecruisers never came within 30 miles of the Germans, despite their charging south at high speed once the confusion had been straightened out.

    The German raid of 16th December was the most severe blow to the Royal Navy’s prestige in over a century; mainland Britain had been attacked and the Navy had failed to destroy the enemy in return. However, for the British war effort as a whole, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise; to the newspapers and the public, the Germans were now unquestionably ‘brutish Huns’, ‘baby-killing barbarians’ and such like, and the recruiting offices were filled to overflowing with volunteers desperate to do their bit in revenging the victims of Scarborough and Hartlepool.

    By the start of 1915, the Navy had cleared the oceans of German warships, but in the North Sea, the Kaisermarine still had a short period of grace, while scattered British forces returned to home waters.
    Dreadnought’s Back!
  • ‘Dreadnought’s Back!’

    In 1912, the Royal Navy switched from a policy of building fast (27-knot) battlecruisers and slow (21-knot) battleships to building ‘fast battleships’. This resulted in the ships of the Queen Elizabeth class, with 15” guns and a ‘design overload’ speed of 25 knots. However, the Queen Elizabeths were expensive, and after years of building five or more capital ships each year, the government wanted to control spending, resulting in authorisation for only four ships. In summer of 1912, however, a fifth ship was ordered, courtesy of the Malay States.

    The Navy continued to argue that numbers mattered, but British government pressure was remorseless, and so if there was to be any chance of five ships in the 1913 programme, they would have to be cheaper. Cutting back the armament of eight 15” guns was not acceptable, and so various other ideas were suggested, including going back to building 21-knot ships.
    However, a compromise came in the form of design ‘X2’, effectively a value-engineered version of the Queen Elizabeths. By removing three boilers, using cheaper un-tapered 12” armour plate and reducing the secondary battery to twelve 6” guns, naval architects showed that nine ‘X2s’ could be built for the price of eight Queen Elizabeths. A lengthened and finer hull would still allow for 25 knots, despite the reduction to an overload rating of 63,000 shp.
    There was further good news, as the number of ships could be rounded up to ten over the two years of the 1913 and ‘14 programmes, thanks to the passage of the Canadian Naval Aid Bill. Canada’s ambitions to have her own fleet had risen and fallen over the years, most recently in 1912, when a new government was elected. Earlier, more modest proposals for a fleet of cruisers were decried as feeble, and a hugely expensive programme to buy three battleships from Britain was proposed. The programme never stood a chance of passing through Canada’s Senate, but the Prime Minister was made aware of the proposed ‘X2’ design, and the Royal Navy’s desire for an extra ship when he visited Britain in 1913. Despite the acrimony, a face-saving deal was thought to be possible, and ultimately the Canadian government agreed to pay for a single battleship, on the condition that Canadian yards received contracts for several smaller vessels.

    Thus was the ‘Royal’ class born, so named for the first four ships; Royal Oak, Royal William, Royal George and Royal Sovereign. It was perhaps unfortunate that two of these were amongst the most popular names for public houses in the UK, and as a consequence the class acquired the lower-deck nickname of “the drunks”.

    The five ships of the 1913 programme, including HMS Canada, were all well advanced in their construction when the war started (Royal William would be launched in November 1914). However three of the five ships of the 1914 programme had not even been laid down, and all five of this second group were suspended on 5th August, in the expectation that none of them would be completed until the later part of 1917, long after the war would be over.

    However, it was not universally accepted that the war would be a short one, and among those who thought that Britain should plan for hostilities lasting into 1917 was the maverick Admiral Fisher, who returned as First Sea Lord in October 1914. Winston Churchill would later be known for his mantra ‘Action this Day’, but Fisher’s could be described as ‘Action this Second’, and his drive would help push through a vast construction programme. During his tenure, he would oversee orders for over 1,000 ships, with nearly 600 in his first few months alone.
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    Designed in a Week, Built in a Year
  • Designed in a Week, Built in a Year

    Admiral Fisher had returned to the Admiralty as First Sea Lord soon after the outbreak of war, following public setbacks for the Navy and political skullduggery in Whitehall. Within weeks of his return, he began to press for the overturn of the ban on building capital ships, and wanted to use existing contracts to build more fast battlecruisers.

    The humiliation of the escape of the Goeben through the English Channel played a part in the removal of Fisher's predecessor as First Sea Lord, and he used the tactical circumstances as an argument to support the construction of new battlecruisers; had one or two of these fast ships been in the Channel, they could have outpaced Goeben and sunk her.
    The widespread use and success of battlecruisers across the globe also showed the value of these ships. Following the Battle of the Heligoland Bight, the interception of the Breslau and the actions of Invincible in the South Atlantic, Admirals Jellicoe and Beatty (no doubt prompted by Fisher) indicated their desire for fast ships, which had to be capable of catching future German battlecruisers, not just the existing versions, which were believed to be capable of 25-26 knots. Jellicoe's fleet of 21-knot dreadnoughts would be increased by the arrival of ten new 15" gunned, 25-knot ships by the end of 1916, but there were no fast battlecruisers under construction.
    This support allowed Admiral Fisher to persuade the government that existing authorisations should be used to build more fast ships. By using existing contracts and stockpiled materials from the suspended ‘Royals’, Fisher planned to replicate the speed of construction of HMS Dreadnought. Reports that he assured the Cabinet that ‘we’ll build them in a year’ are undoubtedly apocryphal, but the haste surrounding the ships was very real.

    By the start of December 1914, the Admiral had an agreement to modify the battleships already under construction. These modifications would be fairly extensive; armament would be halved to four 15" guns, belt armour reduced from 12" to 6”, and machinery power increased by 80%. The ships would be 70' longer and 10' narrower than the Royals, with an estimated speed of 32 knots at 18,500 tons displacement. The design concept was completed on 7th December, but Fisher’s support for it lasted just a few days. By the 11th, he wanted to add an additional pair of 15" guns, and after the weekend, no doubt having carefully considered all the tactical and strategic merits of building the world's largest and most powerful warships, he decided that an armament of eight 15" guns would be even better.
    The first ship, HMS Repulse, was laid down on 28th December 1914. Technically, she would not be authorised for another month, but Admiralty paperwork was far, far slower than a Fisher-driven battlecruiser.

    Even with the world's largest and most efficient yards and a tradition of building new and innovative warships with amazing speed, detailed design of a large ship could not be completed in two weeks. The new ships would therefore draw heavily on earlier designs, most notably the RN's last battlecruiser, HMS Panther, the design of which dated from 1911. In turn, she and her sister Queen Mary had been based on the preceding ships of the "Lion" class, with minor improvements to the armour and machinery. The five "Splendid Cats" (so called because the lead ship was named Lion, with the others being Princess Royal, Australia, Queen Mary and Panther) were the largest ships in the fleet. All were armed with eight 13.5" guns and were built for 28 knots, with Queen Mary and Panther equipped to fire heavier shells and with slightly more powerful engines which allowed them to achieve this speed with relative ease. On her trials in 1913, Queen Mary had achieved 28.7 knots at 27,310 tons (essentially "load" displacement) with 88,110shp. Perhaps more importantly, on special trials in January 1914, she achieved 28.41knots with 91,260shp at 29,550 tons; a displacement that more closely matched a typical wartime load.

    Design studies for battlecruisers had not stopped with HMS Panther in 1911, and an improved version "Tiger" had been proposed in 1912, equipped with the same 13.5" Mk.V(H) guns, but with all the boilers grouped together, leaving Q and X turrets separated only by the engine rooms. Tiger would have had a nominal 85,000shp for 28 knots, with 105,000 shp and 30 knots hoped for.

    With rumours that 28-knot or even 30-knot German battlecruisers were under construction, Fisher wanted his new ships to achieve 32 knots, even with their heavy armament. Fortunately, his designers had an advantage in the form of the change to oil firing, which allowed for more efficient furnaces. The boilers would be taken straight from the cancelled Royals and doubled in numbers, with each ship having forty-two boilers grouped together in five boiler rooms, without the centreline bulkhead that had been fitted to previous battlecruisers. New turbines would deliver 100,000shp without forcing, or at least 125,000shp with it.
    Fisher had originally called his concept "HMS Rhadamanthus", while in a letter written some months later, Admiral Beatty referred to them as "Sabre-Tooth Tigers". These fanciful names aside, they would be commissioned as the Renown class.

    At 28,475 tons load displacement, they would be only slightly heavier than their predecessors, but otherwise HMS Renown and her sister HMS Repulse would be much enlarged versions of the Tiger design. Eight 15" guns would be mounted in the usual twin turrets, the forward pair superfiring, with Q and X separated by the engine rooms, giving Q the ability to fire directly astern. The engine rooms would be larger than Tiger, while the need to accommodate the greater width of the 15" turrets and their larger magazines prompted an innovative internal solution in order to retain the same hull form aft. Some of the secondary machinery (a Dynamo Room and Pump Room) was relocated aft of the turret, resulting in a long quarterdeck that helped to make the ships rather pleasing to the eye. Following favourable opinions of the bows of the British-built Turkish battleship Reshadieh, the traditional "ram" was to be replaced with a "plough" bow.
    Government restrictions and the need for speedy construction meant that material ordered for the 1914 Royals had to be used, including their armour. The Royal-class battleships had a 12" un-tapered lower belt, with a 6" upper belt extending up to the secondary battery. Installing heavy 12" armour on a battlecruiser didn’t fit in with Fisher's thinking, so the Renowns had to make do with a 6" armour belt. However, using almost all of the 6" plates ordered for the Royals on just two ships allowed this belt to be quite extensive, and it would stretch from forward of A turret to aft of X turret and would cover a height of 13' of the ships' side from 3' below the LWL. 6" end bulkheads closed the belt and an 8' wide strip of 4" armour projected forward near the waterline. A 3" deck and slope protected the engine rooms, with a 2” slope and a 1" lower deck running over the rest of the length of the belt. The structural Foc'sle and upper decks were built out of HT steel, and consequently were counted as both structure and armour, with thicknesses of 1" on each.

    Repulse B section.jpg
    Cross section of armour layout
    All this suited Fisher's view that speed was more important than armour, and it avoided the need to order new plates, but it did mean that the ships would be less well armoured than the ‘Lions’. The 6” belt was marginally capable of resisting the German 11" at long ranges (then regarded as over 12,000 yards) for oblique impacts, but it was inadequate in the face of the 12" guns known to be fitted to SMS Derfflinger, and would be hopelessly outmatched by the 14" weapons that the Admiralty believed were being fitted to the next German battlecruiser, the Lutzow.

    Nonetheless, they would be impressive ships. At 795' in length with a beam of 91', yet again a British battlecruiser would be largest warship in the world.

    Renown as completed
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    General Chase
  • General Chase

    After the German attack on Scarborough in December 1914, the Royal Navy sought to minimise damage to its reputation by decrying it as a sneak attack, and by announcing that the Battlecruiser Fleet would be moved south to Rosyth, from where it would be better able to protect the East Coast. In practice, the ships were not going to actively defend the coast; what mattered was the ability to intercept the enemy, if not on the way in, then on the way out.
    In Germany, the negative publicity that flashed around the world caused the Kaiser to order that there be no further raids on the English coast for the time being, but the German Admiralty continued its planning for diversions and coat-trailing operations to try to draw out the Royal Navy. British reactions to a series of feints and patrol operations during December and early January convinced the German staff that the British were obtaining information on the movements of the German Fleet, perhaps from spies ashore, or from disguised spy-ships mixed in with the Dutch, Danish and British civilian vessels around the banks and shoals scattered across the North Sea.

    On 18th January, German forces deployed to patrol around the Dogger Bank. Admiral Ingenohl’s High Seas Fleet would stay 50 miles to the East, ready to support the four battlecruisers of Admiral Hipper's Scouting Group. Led by the flagship SMS Seydlitz, the Derfflinger, Moltke and Goeben would sail around the Bank to the north, observing the British fishing fleet and engaging any light forces that might be encountered. If they encountered British capital ships, they would withdraw southeast, potentially drawing them onto the guns of Ingenohl's vastly more powerful force. If a few British ships could be isolated and sunk, it would give the German Navy parity in numbers, potentially opening the way for a battle that might break the blockade.

    Across the North Sea, the British had forewarning of the operation, thanks to wireless intercepts that were decoded by the Admiralty's Room 40 codebreakers, and Beatty’s battlecruisers had sailed in good time to intercept the Germans as they neared the Dogger Bank. The Grand Fleet also put to sea from Scapa Flow, although primarily to support Beatty rather than to directly seek an engagement with the High Seas Fleet. In a mirror of the German plans, the British hoped that Beatty’s battlecruisers could delay or force their counterparts onto the guns of the Grand Fleet.
    However, despite the strategic advantage provided by the codebreakers, Beatty did not know exactly where the Germans would be - would they sail to the north of the Dogger Bank and around to the west, or just loiter on the eastern edge?
    He therefore decided it would be safest to try to intercept them to the east of the Bank and timed his sailing to be 20 miles off its north-eastern corner at 0830 on the 19th. As luck would have it, Hipper did intend to sail to the north, before doubling back around to the southeast; disrupting British patrols and allowing his light forces to stop and search any suspicious fishing vessels, while maintaining an open line of retreat to the south and east at all times.

    Beatty had the stronger force, but not by as large a margin as the level of pre-war construction would suggest. Britain had completed ten battlecruisers, but half of these valuable fast vessels had been scattered across the globe in the hunt for German cruisers. HMAS Australia was in Melbourne, repairing her damage after the Bismarck Sea. HMS New Zealand and Inflexible were still on their way home from the Pacific, while Invincible was coaling and rearming at Gibraltar following her action in the South Atlantic.
    Princess Royal was so near, and yet so far; as Beatty sailed, she was passing Cape Wrath, on her way to rejoin the fleet after her return from the Caribbean.
    He therefore only had his flagship HMS Lion, her slightly more powerful half-sisters Queen Mary and Panther, and the smaller, slower Indefatigable and Indomitable.

    At 0916, the light cruiser HMS Nottingham signalled that she had sighted smoke to the south and was turning to investigate. Confident that the enemy was out, and in the area, Beatty increased speed to 23 knots and turned his heavy ships south. Four minutes later, he ordered another increase to 25 knots, the maximum speed at which his mixed squadron could hope to keep together. Although this was nowhere near top speed for his three ‘Splendid Cats’, Indefatigable was restricted to about 26 knots, with Indomitable a little slower than that.
    At 0923, Nottingham signalled, ‘Heavy enemy ships sighted to the southeast’, and within a few minutes the plumes of smoke could be seen from the bridge of HMS Lion, while German scouting destroyers were sighted by several ships. At 0928, SMS Derfflinger opened fire on HMS Nottingham from about 17,500 yards, and the cruiser also briefly came under fire from Seydlitz before her Captain beat a hasty retreat to the north.

    It was a perfect, calm, cold winter's day. To the north, Admiral Hipper could see a line of smoke plumes, and Seydlitz’s lookouts soon confirmed that they were British battlecruisers. Although they were still out of range, this was as far as he could go; his orders were not to fight a superior enemy, but to lure them away to their doom. At 0931, he ordered a 14-point turn to port, turning away from the British ships and heading back south-east, towards safety and the guns of the High Seas Fleet. At the same time, he ordered his four ships to make best possible speed.

    Even from an estimated 14 miles away, lookouts on the Lion and Queen Mary could clearly see the Germans turning, and Beatty ordered his ships to turn together two points to port, almost paralleling the Germans' course south-east. By 0938, the two fleets had completed their evolutions and range had dropped to about 12 miles. The abrupt turn had slowed the German ships to barely more than 18 knots, but with regulators fully open and stokers furiously feeding the furnaces, they were soon accelerating towards their top speeds. Meanwhile, the British steamed in a staggered line, unfortunately with their slowest ships furthest from the enemy.

    Once the enemy’s course was clear, the Beatty ordered an increase to 26 knots, but he then thought better of it and at 0943, one of the most exciting signals in the book was hoisted to Lion's mast;

    ‘General Chase’.
    The Chase at the Dogger Bank
  • The Chase at the Dogger Bank

    Within minutes of ‘General Chase’ being hoisted, the three leading British battlecruisers had worked themselves up to nearly 27 knots. By 1000, Queen Mary was clearly gaining on Lion as her improved engines allowed her to out-steam the flagship. HMS Panther had not been docked for several months and merely kept pace with Lion, her view of the enemy now blocked by her slightly faster sister.
    It was soon clear that the British ships were not swiftly closing on the enemy, and fresh efforts were made to increase speed. However, in the period to 1020 counters in Lion's engine room only registered a 1-2 rpm increase in shaft speed, and it is unlikely that the ship was making much more than 27 knots. Ranges remained uncertain; it was at the extreme edge of the instruments' capabilities, with the best estimate being 22,000 yards.
    To the surprise of the bridge crew on Lion, at 1018, Queen Mary opened fire, with a pair of two-gun salvoes from her forward turrets. By this time, the more powerful ship had drawn level, and her own estimate of range was a little shorter, at about 21,500 yards. Even so, gun range would be at least 22,000 yards due to the motion of the German ships while the shells were in flight. It was beyond the distance at which any of Queen Mary's fire-control systems had been designed to take or transmit ranges, and it was even beyond the maximum elevation of the guns' sights. Nevertheless, her fire-control team could still plot range estimates and calculate elevation and training angles. The first shells fell short, and so, without any means of making accurate measurements, her gunnery officer tried increasing the gun range in 200-yard increments. However, by the time it had reached 22,400 yards, the shots were falling well to the side of the German ships, and more trial-and-error firings had to be made to reacquire the line. Not to be outdone, Lion opened fire at 1023. Her first shots were well off for line, but by 1027 she seemed to be getting close.

    Aboard the German ships, 1030 was an unnerving time. The two leading British battlecruisers were firing at them from outside the range their own guns could achieve, and the last salvo had actually straddled the Goeben. All Hipper’s ships were forcing their engines, with the Goeben's log reading 26.5 knots, while ahead, the Derfflinger was at 26.8 knots. The only relief was that the best estimates of the rangefinders suggested that the British were closing very slowly.
    Moltke’s gunnery officer would later write in this diary; ‘The enemy’s shooting was superb. They opened fire at over 200hm and rapidly found our ships. Their line was very good, and it took only three or four salvos for them to find the range. It is clear that the British must have far superior range-finders than ours.’

    With no ability to fire at the enemy in return, Hipper’s squadron could take evasive action, and aside from individual manoeuvring, he changed course two points to starboard, putting his squadron effectively stern-on to the British. This threw off the shooting completely for the next few minutes, as splashes erupted out of the sea to port, falling astern as the Germans moved away from the course the British plotters thought they were following.
    By 1050, estimated gun ranges were down to under 20,000 yards for the Germans, and both Moltke and Goeben opened fire. They were still slightly out of range, but there was always the chance of a lucky shot, it was thought the splashes might help to confuse the British gunners. Despite efforts to throw off the British shooting, the three trailing German ships had all been hit; even if perhaps more by luck than judgement. A spectacular flare-up from Goeben's port turret was clear evidence to the British spotters of a hit, while there were clearly fires burning on the other two ships. Goeben's midships magazine had been flooded to prevent fires spreading from the turret, but otherwise Hipper's squadron was still in fighting condition. Most importantly, it was still maintaining speed.

    On the British side, demands for ever more steam were being met with the furious activity of the stokers and engineers, who had succeeded in pushing Queen Mary up to what seemed at least 28 knots, with Lion now falling slightly astern. Panther had joined the battle at 1030, adding her four forward guns to the steady rhythm of methodically observed salvoes. The older Indefatigable and Indomitable were now more than two miles astern, with the enemy far out of range of their 12” guns.
    At 1054, the Moltke scored first blood for the Germans, when one of her shells hit HMS Lion at an estimated gun range of 19,000 yards. The shell punched clean through the foc'sle and upper deck, before coming to rest in a coal bunker above Boiler Room 2, where thankfully, it did not explode. A few minutes later, a second hit bounced off the 5” armour belt abeam A turret, before on the next salvo, a shell both hit and exploded. Lion’s armour deck kept splinters out of the engine room, but cabins, workshops and storerooms above it were set alight, and smoke billowed over the after part of the ship, adding to the thick black plume from the furiously stoked boilers.

    A few minutes after eleven, the British gunners found the range again, and hits were observed in quick succession on both the Goeben and Derfflinger, triggering another series of course changes. In engine rooms, needles were jammed against the stops, as they had been for more than an hour and a half. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before something went wrong, or the British hit something vital.

    On Seydlitz’s bridge, Admiral Hipper was seriously worried. Heading southeast at top speed, the High Seas Fleet should be in sight somewhere ahead, even in only as a smudge on the horizon.
    Not so Full Ahead
  • Not so Full Ahead

    Aboard HMS Lion, problems and frustration were mounting. Smoke from her fires was entering the port engine room, making conditions inside almost impossible. The ship was maintaining speed, but crew were taken from the aft gun turrets to help fight the flames as paint lockers and stores filled with flammable materials led to the fires spreading steadily aft.
    On the bridge, the focus was on the enemy, but the slow rate of closure shocked everyone. Over the past few minutes the range seemed hardly to have changed, and Admiral Beatty reportedly said to his Flag Captain, ‘Why aren’t gaining; can’t we go faster, Chatfield?’, to which the Captain seems to have replied merely 'No, Sir'. German battlecruisers were supposed to be 25 or 26-knot ships, and yet the faster British vessels were proving unable to swiftly overhaul them.

    Every fifty seconds or so the guns thundered, sending another four 13.5” shells at the enemy, and every few minutes anyone with a telescope would be rewarded by the sight of a white flash as one of them struck home. After two flashes occurred in the space of a minute, the Admiral asked,
    ‘What’s the range’.
    ‘Nineteen thousand two hundred yards Sir’, came the reply from a sub-lieutenant at a voice-pipe a moment later.
    ‘Excellent shooting gentlemen. If we can’t catch the buggers, at least we’re hurting them.’

    Nevertheless, in the minutes after 1115, events conspired to start to bring the battle to its conclusion. Still unable to see the High Seas Fleet, Hipper’s concern was acute. Despite the extreme range, his enemy had been scoring hits for over 40 minutes, and yet his own guns were barely able to reply. If a shell were to slow or cripple one of his ships, he would have to either fight it out as a squadron or abandon it to its fate.
    With only the fastest three British battlecruisers engaging his four ships, it was tempting to turn and try to cripple them now, but he hesitated. It would be against his orders, and British gunnery was clearly superior to that of his own fleet. The other two British battlecruisers were behind, but only by a few miles. If he turned, he would only have ten or fifteen minutes before they caught up and engaged, putting him back at a 5:4 disadvantage.
    Nevertheless, the situation was growing worse; Goeben had lost the use of two turrets, and Derfflinger had lost one, while he could see Moltke was badly on fire, even though she was holding her place in the line for now.
    He decided to buy a little more time; and ordered his destroyers to turn and engage the British battlecruisers to try force them to break off, or at least to turn away for a few minutes.

    At 1116, the bridge officers of Lion were informed that the range had hardly changed in the last 10 minutes (it had probably fallen by no more than 200 yards), and while a further hit had been observed on the Goeben, the Germans had turned again and were now steering south-southeast. Given the distance covered during the battle so far, it seemed likely that the German squadron might have sighted reinforcements ahead of them and had turned to lead the British into a trap. Beatty knew he would be badly outnumbered if the action developed, and so if he was to knock out a German ship or two, it had to be within the next few minutes. Again, the Admiral asked if Lion could go faster, and was told both ‘no’, and that conditions in the port engine room meant that the current speed could not be sustained for much longer.
    As he was digesting this bad news, a jet of white vapour erupted from HMS Panther. A few seconds later, the sound reached them, and the roaring screech of escaping gas drew everyone’s attention. For a heart-stopping moment, everyone wondered what had happened, and if Panther was about to explode, but Lion’s First Lieutenant was first to observe, ‘She’s venting steam’. She was also turning to starboard, and visibly slowing down as she did.
    As steam continued to be blown out of the vents on her funnels, she started to turn back towards her original course, but was now visibly falling behind. A signal lamp flashed to say, ‘Port engine out of action’.

    Casting his eye back at the burning stern, where half-choked men were staggering in and out of Lion’s own port engine room, Beatty saw the lagging Panther beyond and the Indefatigable and Indomitable far astern. He turned to his Flag Captain and uttered one of the most memorable phrases of the war,
    ‘There's something wrong with our bloody ships today, Chatfield.’

    Lion’s forward guns crashed out their measured salvoes twice more, before at 1120, enemy destroyers were spotted ahead, on a closing course. The Admiral ordered British destroyers to counterattack, and the three battlecruisers to turn six points to port, followed by a further two points a few minutes later.

    Although the pursuit was clearly over, the battle was not, and the German destroyers faced a barrage of 13.5" and 4" shellfire, as the full weight of the British fleet was brought to bear on them. None of the German ships pressed home their attacks, as their main job was to disrupt the pursuit, but even so V39 and V64 were stopped dead by heavy shells on their way in, while V40 was hit repeatedly by the 4" guns of British destroyers and was left crippled. She was a sitting duck and would have been torpedoed if she hadn’t been obliterated by Queen Mary’s guns as she passed less than 6,000 yards away. There were no survivors.
    The Germans had their revenge in the form of the destroyer HMS Turbulent, which was hit by 4.1” gunfire, before she crossed the path of one of the few torpedoes the Germans actually launched.
    The battle with the destroyers lasted less than a quarter of an hour before the survivors withdrew; the Germans under smoke, the British under the threat of German torpedoes. By midday, Beatty was heading north, and the two I-class ships were able to re-join the squadron. Lion’s fires were now under control and her port engine was restarted, but Panther reported herself capable of no more than 18 knots, as her port engine was entirely out of commission. Her fighting ability was also reduced, as X turret shell room was partly flooded.

    Despite the various levels of damage, the remaining ships safely returned to Wilhelmshaven and Rosyth, and there would be important lessons for both sides.
    It was no glorious victory, but the British could claim success. They had stopped another raid and put the enemy to flight, and the jingoistic press had a field day about how the ‘baby-killing Hun turned and ran as soon as the Royal Navy appeared’, with follow-up reports suggesting ‘heavy damage to German ships, while little was sustained by our own’.
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    More Power
  • More Power

    Back in Britain, the mood of senior naval commanders following the Battle of the Dogger Bank was far less triumphant than the bombastic articles in the press. After the Fleet's return, Admiral Beatty’s frustration at not being able to overhaul the Germans had turned to anger when he was told that HMS Panther had slowed down due to a mechanical failure, and not due to a shell hit as he had supposed during the battle. At the Admiralty, Fisher’s wrath immediately fell on Panther's Captain for allowing his ship to be so poorly maintained that she broke down in the middle of the battle.
    Beatty’s anger cooled once Panther was docked, and he even played a part in convincing Fisher not to have her Captain court-martialled once it had been established that cracked bolts had led to her losing her port inboard propeller. Panther had been completed in August 1914 and was rushed into service just as the war started, with little time for trials or a proper work-up period before she joined the Fleet. Shipwrights concluded that the fault might have been there for months, unnoticed until the demands of maximum power put it under heavy strain.
    Her engine room crew had managed to shut off steam before the turbine dangerously over sped, but seals must have been damaged as the prop came off, leading to flooding in the shaft tunnel and in adjacent compartments. With full power on the starboard engine, she had initially turned that way before the bridge was told what was happening and took action. With the furnaces still at full power, steam had to be vented, leading observers on Lion’s bridge to assume she had been hit.
    It was no fault of the Captain or crew, and Fisher soon dropped his demands for a Court-Martial. To preserve the fiction that there was little damage to British ships, the problem was subsequently hushed-up and Panther was only docked briefly, to be fitted with a spare propeller.

    By contrast, Beatty praised the fleet's gunners, whose ‘steady firing and observation resulted in numerous hits, despite the extreme range at which we engaged the enemy’. Despite this, it was clear that fire-control equipment and techniques needed to be improved. Although director fire had been used throughout the battle, both the Admiral and his Captains demanded changes that would allow gunsights to operate at elevations greater than 15.5 degrees, and there were complaints that the run-out of the guns sometimes ‘stalled’ at high elevations due to lack of hydraulic pressure. Crews had to lower the barrels to reload, slowing the reloading process. At long ranges, with salvoes fired every 45-50 seconds, it hadn’t had much effect, but at shorter ranges the delay caused by having to elevate and re-sight the guns could slow the rate of fire.
    Beatty took this problem very seriously, as in a closer-range action, continuous aim and a high rate of fire would be much more important. Within weeks an extra hydraulic pump was ordered for each ship and all the battlecruisers in home waters were fitted with these by the end of May.

    Gunnery Officers and control table operators had their own list of requirements; in particular, their transmission and plotting systems needed to be capable of handling ranges greater than 17,000 yards. Queen Mary’s Gunnery Officer observed that his 200-yard corrections while trying to find the range were too small, and that a quicker process to establish the range and line of shot was needed. Several improvements to methods of spotting and the use of range-finding salvoes were suggested. Spotters needed to be able to inform the table operators of the fall of shot more easily, while their ‘spots’ needed to be recorded on the plot in some way.

    Equally importantly, there were the consequences of Beatty's famous comment about his ‘bloody ships’; what he’d meant was that they hadn’t been able to close with the Germans, and that therefore his ships weren’t fast enough.
    The first reason for this was that the German battlecruisers were obviously faster than had been thought, although there had been evidence of their true top speed available before the war. At Dogger Bank, they had fled at 25-26 knots; once course changes were allowed for, this suggested a true ship speed of somewhat over 26 knots. Analysis of logs and plots suggested that the fastest British ship (Queen Mary) only reached 27 1/2 knots in the later stages of the battle, and Lion and Panther barely reached 27.
    Most immediately therefore, the British ships had not achieved their potential maximum speed. Even allowing for wartime displacements, the two later ‘Cats’ should be capable of over 28 knots in service, while Lion could be forced up to near that speed. However, steam logs suggested that none of the ships achieved more than 82,000 shp, despite pre-war trials which showed that they were capable of over 90,000.
    The vast clouds of black smoke that had poured from the funnels suggested ships straining to reach their maximum possible speed, however besides making life more difficult for the gunners, unburned fuel could degrade the performance of the ships. Unlike their German counterparts, the British ships were expected to burn both oil and coal, allowing them to sustain high speeds for longer without taking crews from the guns, as well as boosting their maximum power output. However, during the battle, both oil and coal had been used liberally - it seemed too liberally - as furnaces failed to burn all the fuel they were being fed. Too much fuel led to a reduction in power, as unburned particles were carried out of the boilers, while low-temperature gases laden with soot were not quite as effective at transferring heat to the tubes.

    This was a training problem, not an engineering one, and so could be fixed relatively quickly. The cause lay in the rapid expansion of the Navy and the call-up of reservists, which had left the RN short of stokers and engineers who were experienced with mixed-fuel boilers. Stokers used to coal-firing had performed as they had been taught, but the use of oil required different techniques.
    Within weeks, a stokers' training ship had moved to Rosyth and instructions was also underway on-board the battlecruisers themselves. Over time, there would also be improvements to the oil-sprayers inside the furnaces, and to help offset heavier wartime displacements, orders were given for oil loads to be reduced from 800 to 500 tons.

    By the middle of April, all seven battlecruisers (Princess Royal and New Zealand had by then re-joined the Fleet) had completed steaming trials. The four available ‘Cats’ demonstrated over 88,000shp and 27.75 knots, with Panther and Queen Mary both achieving over 92,000shp and 28 knots, all while loaded to normal wartime displacements. Not only did this increase the speed of Beatty's fleet by about 1/2 knot, the improved firing of the furnaces allowed the crews to achieve quicker increases in power, meaning in any future battle, there would be less time spent working up to maximum speed.

    It could be argued that this extra ½ knot would not have helped at Dogger Bank, but in the minds of the C-in-C and the First Sea Lord, it reinforced the need for faster ships; if current German battlecruisers could reach 26-27 knots, it seemed certain that their future vessels would be capable of 30.
    Admiral Fisher’s opinion that ‘speed is everything’ was confirmed; in order to hit the enemy hard, you needed to catch him first. His concept for swift ‘large cruisers’ moved forwards, and he asked whether the ‘Renowns’ could lose their Q turret in return for an additional four boilers. Superficially, the answer was yes, and the result would be machinery capable of delivering about 138,000 shp, with a reduced displacement and a top speed of about 32.5 knots. However, there was some question as to whether the engines could handle the additional steam, and the construction of eight new boilers would delay completion of the ships. With the expectation that the Lutzow and Hindenburg would be in service by mid-1916, both probably armed with 14” guns, Admirals Beatty and Jellicoe wanted the ‘Renowns’ as soon possible, and trading 1/4 of their firepower for an extra knot was not thought worthwhile.

    Ultimately, the ships would complete with their original machinery design, and on trials in September 1916, Renown would make 31.54kts with 129,400shp at 29,760 tons; about 1,300 tons over her design load displacement. In actual service, at closer to 31,000 tons, they could reliably achieve 30 knots without unduly straining their engines.
    Playing Musical Turrets
  • Playing Musical Turrets

    Ezekiel Schmitt of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation felt satisfied as he stepped off the boat in New York. In fact, he was returning from the Netherlands feeling more than just satisfied, he felt like a million bucks. In no small part thanks to his wheedling, he’d just secured an order worth far more than that.

    The declarations of war in Europe had made one of his firm’s contracts, for four twin turrets, impossible to fulfil; even though the weapons were intended for a Greek ship, a neutral nation, just like the USA. However, the ship was being built in Germany, and the guns would have had to cross 4,000 miles of Royal-Navy-infested ocean to get there. Even on a neutral American ship, he’d been told that wasn’t ever going to happen.
    His bosses had kicked up a fuss at the State Department, and had met with support from other American businesses, who’d seen their links with Germany and Austria cut off. Even foodstuffs and non-military stores were being stopped, but as one official had put it informally; ‘The Limeys control the oceans and what goes over them. You might not like it, but it’s a fact.’
    Nevertheless, grievances had been placed before the British, and Bethlehem Steel had benefitted. The guns and turrets had been bought by the British, and delivery was now underway.

    What made Schmitt so pleased was that he’d just completed the sale of another set of identical turrets, intended for the same ship. The Hamburg yard couldn’t complete the ship, and once the Greeks realised that, they’d cancelled the contract, whereupon the Germans sold the ship to the Dutch. Schmitt suspected there’d been a few back-room deals somewhere in there, but even as he’d boarded an American steamer in Holland, they had towed the incomplete hull to Amsterdam, where they planned to complete it themselves. His trip had been a success; they’d ordered another set of guns, turrets and ammunition, which his company confirmed they could deliver in 1916. This would be neutral to neutral, so there should be no problems.

    Schmitt had no liking for the English, but he had to admit they’d done his career a power of good. Over in Europe, he’d learned the Dutch had wanted their own battlefleet for some years, but had chosen to act following the violation of their neutrality in the Indies a few months ago. He’d seen the pictures of the wreck of the Blucher, lying just a few yards off some Dutch island, and the stories in the press of how the German Admiral said that he was seeking internment when the Limeys had opened fire.
    The Dutch had bought the ship and were talking about buying more; supposedly to protect their colonies, although Schmitt suspected they’d also got a pretty good deal for the purchase of the incomplete ship. Like many of his fellow Americans, their traders obviously saw the promise of war profits. He wondered if they secretly planned to sell her on to the Greeks, at a profit, or maybe even back to the Germans. Good for them, he thought.

    A few months later, Schmitt was feeling the benefits of his good fortune. Promotion and the accompanying pay rise had made his family’s life easier. Nevertheless, seniority carried its burdens; he’d been charged with a new overseas mission, this time to England. He wasn’t overjoyed to be dealing with those people, but when he’d hinted that, it had been made clear to him that his recent promotion could always be reversed. He was well acquainted with the 14” turrets that had been re-sold to the British Navy, and he was needed over there to supervise their erection and checkout after they were shipped, and to act as liaison between Bethlehem Steel and the British shipyards.
    Even so, it wasn’t all bad. The company was giving him a generous allowance for the trip, and a first-class ticket aboard the fast and luxurious Lusitania.
    Fisher’s First Follies
  • Fisher’s First Follies

    Once construction of the ‘Renown’ class was underway, Admiral Fisher turned his attention to other ways of building large warships. The ban on battleship construction could yet be lifted, but in January 1915, it was still in force with no immediate end in sight. However, while new construction of capital ships had been suspended, construction of cruisers had not, and so Fisher went back to an earlier version of ‘HMS Rhadamanthus’ and used this administrative loophole to build ‘large light cruisers’.
    The first two of these, HMS Courageous and HMS Glorious, would be quite literally that; 770' long, with light framing and construction, and an armour belt no more than 3" thick. Their high speed and shallow draught were intended to make them useful in any future operations in shallow coastal areas, while their high speed would be ideal for catching German cruisers. Each ship would be armed with four American-built 14” guns, allowing Fisher to avoid the need for any ‘battleship’ type orders in the UK.

    The official designation ‘large light cruisers’ meant that these ships would use cruiser-type machinery, copied from HMS Champion. After years of advocacy, the DNC was able to include small-tube boilers and geared turbines in a major warship. Instead of the 42 boilers of the Renowns, they would have just 18, although nominal power did fall from 98,000shp to 90,000shp.
    Nevertheless, this lightweight machinery combined with a long, fine hull made for fast ships. On trials in 1916, Glorious achieved 31.56 knots at 91,200shp, even through her displacement had risen from a design load of 17,800 tons to a trial figure of 21,060 tons. With exhausts open to increase the accuracy of steam consumption measurements, this did not represent the maximum power available from the engines, and model tests suggested that the ships would be capable of 33 knots if pushed to their real limits.

    The formal cancellation of the Royal-class battleship HMS Ramilles on 12th January 1915 provisionally made four more 15” turrets available, and three were initially earmarked for a third ‘very large light cruiser’. Tentatively named HMS Furious, she would have been an enlarged version of Glorious, with two turrets forward and one aft. Fisher proposed to fit her with 12 of a new type of 5” gun, which it was hoped would be easier to work in a seaway than the 6” guns fitted to pre-war battleship designs and more effective against destroyers than 4” guns. Her armour would apparently have been improved, but still relatively light.
    However, by the end of February, the maverick Admiral was pursuing other ideas.
    The Soft Underbelly of Europe
  • The Soft Underbelly of Europe

    Italy entered the war in May 1915 on the side of the Allies, following months of diplomacy by both sides. To put it more bluntly, it involved a bidding war between the Central Powers and the Allies. Once again, control of the seas had played its part, as Italy was certain that her colonies in Africa would be snatched by the British if they should choose to side with Germany and Austria.

    There was a strong desire in the British establishment to take the fight to the enemy around the periphery of his territory, stretching his forces and relieving the pressure on the Western and Eastern Fronts. In naval circles, the ideal would be to defeat the German Fleet, allowing Russian troops to be ferried across the Baltic to attack Berlin. Alternatively, there were ideas for landings along the Belgian coast to turn the flank of the German army, a Black Sea mission to lend support to Russia in the south, a landing in the Adriatic to knock Austria out of the war, or a mission to the Aegean to support Serbia.
    All these ideas were supported to varying degrees, with the ever-keen Churchill even expressing a desire to lead an expedition to recapture Antwerp, a city he’d wanted to hold in the autumn of 1914.

    Relations with the Ottomans were still shaky, so a mission to support Russia in the Black Sea was inadvisable, while the prospect of any landing in the Baltic or North Sea depended on the RN winning a major battle with the German Fleet. However, the opportunity offered by the Italian entry into the war meant that a new ‘Serbian Scheme’ was devised.
    The Serbs had successfully held off the Austrians through 1914. If they were reinforced, while the Russians continued their early successes against Austria, the two armies might break through to Budapest, knocking Austria-Hungary out of the war.
    Furthermore, if the Austro-Hungarian Navy could be crushed or contained in the Adriatic (not a difficult task, it was assumed), then their entire coast would be open for an Italian army to land in Croatia or Bosnia, supported by Allied troops.

    The first task was therefore to contain or destroy the Austrian Fleet, which had swiftly acted to bombard Italian east coast towns following the outbreak of war. The French were still worried about their northern coast following the Goeben’s escape at the start of the war and insisted on keeping three of their modern battleships in the Channel, much to the disgust of Churchill who wanted the French to commit them to this new mission.
    However, the French did commit three ‘semi-dreadnoughts’, and there were three modern Italian battleships available and two more were nearly ready; an adequate match for the Austrian fleet of three powerful pre-dreadnoughts and three modern battleships, plus another nearly complete.

    Since the beginning of the war, the Grand Fleet had been reinforced with two more ‘Iron Dukes’, two of the fast ‘Queen Elizabeths’ and HMS Newfoundland, the ex-Chilean Almirante Latorre. She had been under construction in Britain and was bought by the government shortly after the outbreak of war. However, the Germans too had received new ships, in the form of three ‘Konigs’ and the battlecruiser Derfflinger.
    Britain therefore had 21 dreadnoughts and 8 battlecruisers in home waters against Germany’s 17 and 6. Admiral Jellicoe was therefore unwilling to part with even two modern ships, and so it was decided to send a single powerful unit. The new Queen Elizabeth could outrun and outfight anything in the Austrian Navy, and would reinforce the battlecruiser Inflexible which was already in the Med alongside a French squadron of pre-dreadnoughts.

    By the end of May, the heavy ships were sailing north to bottle up the Austrian Navy, while numerous older British and French vessels, including twelve pre-dreadnoughts, were preparing for bombardment operations prior to landings on the Dalmatian coast.
    Fur Kaiser und Konig!
  • Fur Kaiser und Konig!

    At 1344 on the 17th June 1915, the British cruiser HMS Drake was steaming northeast in the Adriatic ahead of an Anglo-Italian battle squadron, when she spotted smoke to the West.

    Twenty minutes later, both sets of battleships were within visual range, even though the weather was poor, with squalls and low cloud obscuring the horizon.
    SMS Tegetthoff and Admiral Njegovan’s flagship Viribus Unitis were already returning to Pola, having unsuccessfully tried to evade Allied patrols and break through to Cattaro, where they would have stood a better chance of preventing reinforcements from entering the Adriatic.

    The line of command for the allies was an awkward one, as the Italians had the largest number of ships. With the Austrian Fleet relatively weak, it had been decided to split the available forces into two squadrons, one Italian-led, one British-led.
    When the Austrians were sighted, Admiral De Robeck was in command aboard his flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth. Just a mile ahead was the battlecruiser Inflexible, while behind him was the Dante Aligheiri, the fastest of Italy’s dreadnoughts. The mixed squadron caused De Robeck a problem, as the Dante’s performance was proving to be lower than expected. She could barely exceed 21 knots, and in an engagement he would therefore have to decide whether to leave her behind during the opening phase, or accept a slow rate of closure.

    On sighting the Drake, the Austrian ships held course while the destroyer Tatra investigated. They soon hauled away to starboard and increased to maximum speed as the Drake opened fire on the destroyer with both her 9.2” and 6” guns, and heavier plumes of smoke were spotted behind the British cruiser. The Austrians could make only 20 knots, but they hoped to be able to avoid a fight, or at least fight a running action until they reached the relative safety of the islands closer inshore.

    Unwilling to miss the chance to wipe out the naval threat in the Adriatic, De Robeck ordered Queen Elizabeth to catch up with Inflexible, and the two ships headed off at 24 knots, leaving the Aligheiri to slowly fall behind.
    Both sides opened fire as soon as they could, although on a cloudy, misty day at ranges of up to 16,000 yards, there were no hits scored in the first few salvos. The British ships continued to close the range, allowing the Austrians to come close to crossing the ‘T’. Daft as it sounded, it could have been the right tactic; the British had the advantage of speed, and Inflexible’s guns could only reach out to 16,400yds, while shooting at maximum range in poor conditions was unlikely to produce a result. At 14,000 yards, the two British ships turned to port to expose their full broadside, while Aligheiri cut the corner to close as fast as she could. Over the next few minutes, both sides began to find the range, and Queen Elizabeth was hit, once ineffectively on the armour belt, and a near miss for’ard which only caused a few strained rivets.

    After another few salvos, Unitis scored a hit on Queen Elizabeth’s X turret. The shot was kept out by the 13” faceplate, but splinters found their way into sighting hoods, killing the two gunlayers. The turret crew's training was good, and it was back in action within two minutes, taking replacements from the crew in the working space. Shots fell around Inflexible, and one punched a neat hole in her after funnel, but there was no real damage.
    Queen Elizabeth's initial shooting was poor and she scored no hits for several minutes. By that time, Aligheiri had joined the battle from 17,000 yards, the weather having cleared slightly. She scored a lucky hit with her second salvo, although the shell struck Viribus Unitis's armour belt and did no damage.

    The Austrian shooting continued to improve, and near misses caused small leaks near Queen Elizabeth’s bow and stern. With Aligheiri now in the fight, the two British ships concentrated on Tegetthoff, although the change of target and confusion over spotting meant slowed the battleship’s progress in finding the range. The Austrian ship suffered a few sprung rivets and dents to her armour, but the pair of 12” shells had done no serious damage. In return, Inflexible's belt caused an Austrian shell to fail on its way through, and she was peppered with splinters from near misses, but again there was little damage to her fighting ability.

    At 1432, a 15” shell hit the face of Tegetthoff's X turret. It broke up as it penetrated the armour, but the explosion blew the roof off the turret, and charges in the hoist caught fire sending flames shooting up higher than the masts. Quick action by the magazine crew probably saved the ship from blowing up, but X and Y turrets were out of action with their magazines flooded. Y fired off 6 ready-use charges in the handling room but was then silenced.

    Aboard Viribus Unitis, the bridge crew saw the stern of the Tegetthoff ahead covered in smoke and flame, but to their relief, the ship was still there when the smoke started to clear, and Tegetthoff's forward guns were seen to fire again a few seconds later. Clearly, she was not fatally injured. Just seconds later, they saw a puff of flame from the front of the leading British ship (the Inflexible). What just happened to the Tegetthoff now seemed to happen to their enemy, as a burst of flame shot from the area of the forward turret. The fire shot up higher than her masts and the ship was blanketed, but a few seconds later, she emerged from behind the pall of black smoke.
    Their attention was distracted by a 12” hit from Aligheiri, but the Unitis's aft belt managed to keep it out with only minor damage to below-water plating.

    What happened next changed the battle. Crews of the secondary guns on Queen Elizabeth’s disengaged side saw what one later described as; ‘a huge black jet; it looked like our main guns firing, but bigger and coming straight up out of the ship’.
    Aboard the Unitis, Admiral Njegovan saw Inflexible once again covered in black smoke, which formed a towering cloud near the front of the ship. Her aft turret fired again and she continued to steam on, but was soon visibly slowing and was obviously in trouble.

    Aboard Inflexible, the Gunnery Officer in the foretop felt the blast of heat as gas poured out in front and behind him. As later said, ‘the forefunnel [directly behind the top] was behaving as if it had a thousand boilers suddenly connected to it. Thick black smoke roared out of it, deafening all of us and scorching anything that was exposed. We dived for the deck, and even when the roaring stopped we could scarcely see a hand in front of our faces.’
    On the bridge, men were a little scorched and stunned, but otherwise still in the fight. The voice-pipe to the Transmitting Station below had done a passable imitation of a firework, and thick black smoke continued to pour from it until the First Lieutenant kicked its cover shut. Below decks, the ship was ablaze from the forepeak back to No.1 Boiler Room, but water was gushing into the area around what was once ‘A’ magazine, and through cracked bulkheads into the Torpedo Flat, Boiler Room 1 and a dozen other compartments.
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    Disunited Forces
  • Disunited Forces

    Queen Elizabeth’s spotters had noted the severe damage to Tegetthoff and she was continuing steady fire even as Inflexible burst into flames ahead. Admiral Robeck’s flagship had the range, and a further hit wrecked Tegethoff’s A turret. In return, the second Austrian ship, the Viribus Unitis was firing at her, and a seam opened near Queen Elizabeth’s steering gear as a shell exploded just short of the ship. Unitis herself was under fire from Dante Aligheiri, and her forward barbette defeated an Italian 12” shell (although crew messes beside it were burnt out), while another hit ruined damage control efforts aft, resulting in further flooding through splinter holes and damaged seams.

    As Inflexible’s firing had ceased and the British ship was blanketed in smoke, Admiral Njegovan signalled Tegetthoff to switch targets towards the more powerful Italian dreadnought. However, he received no immediate reply, and there was little sign of any significant fire from Tegetthoff, who by this stage had only two main guns left notionally operation, inside a smoke-filled turret. Njegovan’s flagship was still fighting, although with only eight guns still in action, each firing slower than before.

    Queen Elizabeth's starboard forward secondary battery was destroyed at 1443 by a 12” shell which set fire to numerous charges and burned out adjacent messes. However the guns were only sporadically in action, and her fighting ability was therefore largely unaffected.
    Almost simultaneously, something happened to Tegetthoff's rudder. A shell explosion aft bent plating, flooding several small compartments around the steering gear. Although the rudder was amidships at the time, distortion or the shock of the explosion caused the ship to start to turn to port, towards the Allied ships. Astern, the flagship saw her starting to turn, but Njegovan’s signals went unanswered as smoke from Tegetthoff’s fires obscured the view, and her command crew were preoccupied. The Austrian Admiral had a choice to try to protect the damaged ship by following her turn, or he could attempt to escape. Guessing that she was out of command, or had rudder damage, he made the ignoble, but correct, decision to pass behind her and head for the relative safety of the coast.

    As Tegetthoff turned out of control toward the British and cleared the smoke of her own fires, Inflexible had slowed and was clearly down by the bow. Queen Elizabeth had to turn to avoid her, and as she passed by on the engaged side, Inflexible started to turn to port, away from the enemy.
    As they passed, Admiral De Robeck and the observers on Queen Elizabeth probably had a better idea of Inflexible’s condition than her own crew. A signal was sent by lamp, telling her to break off action, but with no power to the bridge and the flag halliards burned to cinders, her Captain could make no reply. Smoke was pouring from everywhere along front of the ship, and efforts to re-establish command from aft were still underway. No-one could get below the upper deck anywhere forward of the second funnel, and a Stoker who had been ordered to make his way aft and up through the engine room vents reported that a stokehold fire in No.2 Boiler Room had been extinguished, but that there were leaks through the forward bulkhead.

    Just after three o’clock, the battle entered its final deadly phase, as Queen Elizabeth had closed the enemy (partly to avoid Inflexible) and was pounding the slowing Tegetthoff. She was soon hit twice astern, adding to the heavy damage from previous shells and the magazine fire. Bulkheads were riddled, and water started to leak forward into shaft passages and the port engine room. As her list increased and she continued to turn around, a 15” shell ripped open coal bunkers to starboard that were normally below the waterline (ironically, probably saving her from imminent capsize). Another hit finally jammed B turret and shrapnel went through more bulkheads aft, letting flooding slowly spread along the ship.

    Viribus Unitis had been shooting at Aligheiri with ever-diminishing effects. As she passed behind the clouds of smoke from her sister-ship, she had no choice but to cease fire as her targets were lost to view. She was down by the stern, but was still able to maintain 16 knots, and Admiral Njegovan hoped to slip away into a nearby squall and reach shelter behind one of the inshore islands.
    However, De Robeck and Queen Elizabeth’s Captain had other ideas. After signalling the Aligheiri to finish off the Tegetthoff, the British fast battleship accelerated to close the range, and as soon as she had a clearer view, she switched to firing at the Austrian flagship. Two of her 17-hundredweight shells exploded on Unitis’ belt, driving plates inward but failing to penetrate, before a third punched through the forward belt and exploded just inside. Water flooded into the capstan engine compartment and the forward torpedo room. The ship had been down by the stern, but was soon back on an even keel; although much lower in the water than before.
    To avoid certain destruction, Njegovan ordered his destroyers to attack the Queen Elizabeth. Tatra and Dukla responded and soon passed ahead and behind the flagship, heading straight for the enemy.

    Several miles astern, the demolition of Tegetthoff was underway. Her armoured conning tower was penetrated by a 12” shell, and other hits by from Aligheiri wrecked the few secondary guns she had left. She sank lower and heeled to port as fires raged across her battery deck. By 1515, her engines were still turning, but she was barely making way. All her turrets were out of action and most of the command officers were dead or wounded. She was helpless.
    There was no formal order to abandon ship, although the increasing list and the silence from her own guns told her crew what they needed to know. At 1520, waves were washing onto her quarterdeck and she was ablaze ‘from stem to stern’, in the words of the British liaison officer aboard the Aligheiri.

    Ahead, Queen Elizabeth had no choice but to turn away. Her secondary battery was damaged, and only two 6” guns could engage the enemy destroyers.
    Since she first spotted the Austrians, the armoured cruiser HMS Drake had been ordered to stay out of the way of the vastly more powerful battleships. However, with Inflexible clearly in trouble, she had been attempting to close on the flagship during her pursuit of the Unitis. The cruiser’s old engines hadn’t allowed her to catch up, but now she tried to assist by firing at the destroyers from near the maximum range of her 6” guns. Even so, only the upper four of her casemate guns could engage, as the lower four were washed out by the swell.
    Faced with the imminent threat of torpedoes, Queen Elizabeth had trained her main armament on the destroyers and had turned almost due west to avoid them. The two little Austrian ships charged on, until Tatra was hit by a 6” shell that burst open plating near her bow. A second shell passed through the bridge and exploded just behind, killing half of the crew there. Her Torpedo Officer assumed command, but he could see it was hopeless to continue. The ship was slowing and now severely down by the bow, as vast columns of water thundered up around him; the results of 15” shells striking the sea close by. Dukla fared a little better, as she made it into torpedo range and launched two of her 53cm weapons towards the British ship, before fire caught her as she turned, wrecking the aft 10cm gun and shattering her steam pipes amidships. Rapidly slowing, she tried to limp away, but was caught by Drake’s fire and was reduced to a sinking wreck within minutes.

    Nevertheless, the bravery of the destroyers’ crews had bought Viribus Unitis the time she needed to open the range and disappear into the haze. Within half an hour, she had reached the safety of the inshore islands, but with flooding worsening and the threat of capsize growing worse, her Captain was ultimately forced to beach her just 20 miles short of Fiume. She was later salvaged, but would never fight again, and her guns were used in coastal fortifications.

    As Unitis was lost to poor visibility, her sister was finally losing her battle with the sea. Dante Aligheiri had ceased fire shortly before 1530, when it was clear that she was finished. Nevertheless, she had not struck her colours, and a torpedo was fired to finish her off. Despite presenting a near-stationary target, it missed, but that was of little relevance as flooding continued to spread aboard the wrecked Austrian ship. At 1537, she rolled over, and the Aligheiri later rescued 169 survivors from her crew.

    Behind and further west, HMS Inflexible’s Captain had resumed command from the aft conning tower shortly after three o’clock. Among his first orders were to slow down, turn away and signal the flagship as to his ship’s condition. P, Q and X turrets were undamaged, but there was no hydraulic power to work them until valves could be closed below, which soon proved to be impossible. Efforts moved towards trying to save the ship, but unfortunately, there was little that could be done. Some progress was made fighting the fires below, but every gallon pumped onto the flames only added to the water that the ship was taking on for’ard. The bow section was still cut off by fire, and there was nothing that could be done to stop the flooding there.
    By 1600, many of the fires had been mastered, more by the sea than by the hoses. Smoke and steam still poured from the ship and waves were breaking over the foc’sle. Water was rising in No.2 Boiler room, and the Captain concluded that the boats should be launched. Floats were thrown overboard and dozens of men scrambled down ropes and swam away, as Queen Elizabeth and Drake closed on the stricken ship.
    A series of cracking noises from within the hull were followed by lurches down by the bow and over to port. The blades of her propellers could be seen for a while, before at 1638, the stern of HMS Inflexible rolled over to port and quickly disappeared beneath the waves.


    The opening 11 months of the war had been difficult ones for the Royal Navy. There had been embarrassing setbacks, and victories too; but the sinking of a few enemy cruisers and a couple of indecisive skirmishes in the North Sea hadn’t been the ‘new Trafalgar’ that the public expected.
    The Battle of Vieste was an indisputable victory; the press could report two enemy battleships sunk for the loss of the ‘armoured cruiser’ Inflexible, most of whose crew had been saved. Even the revelation that the Unitis had survived to be beached did little to dispel the mood.

    More importantly, with the threat of the Austrian fleet firmly contained, landings along the Dalmatian coast could begin.
    Fisher’s Dreams and Tedious Realities
  • Fisher’s Dreams and Tedious Realities

    In the spring of 1915, Admiral Fisher had yet to secure authorisation to build more capital ships. Even the backing of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, had failed to convince Cabinet to allow the construction of new battlecruisers or battleships. In the Fleet, Admiral Jellicoe kept an eye on future needs, but he was just as interested in ensuring that the 15” battleships then under construction (3 ‘Queen Elizabeths’ and 5 ‘Royals’) were completed as soon as possible.

    The ‘Renowns’ and the ‘large light cruisers’ Courageous and Glorious were also under construction and were due to be completed in near-record time. Although in some ways an improvement over older designs, the DNC firmly believed that these latest ships were under-armoured. He had wanted to build a proper new type of fast battleship, with thicker armour and new machinery. However, without authorisation for new contracts and materials, there was a limit to what could be done, while Fisher's forceful management of the projects had pushed his preferred lightweight designs through. The facts also supported the First Sea Lord; over the first six months of the war, fast ships were more useful than slow ones.

    More widespread doubts about the level of protection started to surface when Inflexible was lost, and Repulse’s performance at the Battle of Stavanger would confirm that the ships were vulnerable. Even with additional 1" plating on turret tops and magazines, Beatty’s successor as C-in-C of the Battlecruiser Fleet would reshape the force to keep these powerful but flawed ships away from the front of the battle line.

    The ‘Renowns’ and three monitors had used 11 of the 16 gun turrets that were on order, so three or four more were available for a fifth ship, HMS Furious, which would have been an enlarged version of Glorious.
    However, all those designs were regarded as interim ones by Admiral Fisher, a man who had not revolutionised naval warfare by standing still. Theoretically, a radically new design could only be built once the government's restriction on capital ship construction was lifted, but the concept of these fast, aggressive hunter-ships fitted in with Churchill's gung-ho spirit, while ideas including Fisher's Baltic operation appealed to him. In March and April 1915, these two and others at the Admiralty conspired to build another ‘large light cruiser’ … and very, very large she would be.
    Even before the war, Fisher had wanted to move on with new hull forms, engines and a more capable armament. The Royal Navy had ordered ships armed with eight 15" guns in 1912, 1913 and 1914, and so he considered it was time for a change. His pre-war ideas for hybrid battleship-battlecruisers had long since been drowned out by the need for speed, and he had come up with a new Dreadnought – a ship that would be superior to everything else afloat. She would be 1,000’ long, armed with 20” guns and equipped with the latest and most precise fire-control systems.

    Remarkable as she would have been, tedious reality intervened.
    The 20” gun existed only in Fisher’s mind, and even Armstrong’s advised that they would have difficulty in building such a weapon. There was no authorisation for the vast amounts of armour and steel that would be needed for the 48,000-ton ship, and the Navy didn’t have any docks that could accommodate her if she were built. A few larger commercial docks existed, but the best Portsmouth or Rosyth would be able to manage was about 880’, and then only by reconfiguring existing pontoons and gates. Such real-world limits could not be ignored, and Fisher’s designers therefore turned to slightly more modest proposals and came up with some new tricks.

    What was needed was a ship that used only cruiser-type resources, plus whatever odds and ends could be scraped up from the remains of the 1914 battleship programme. Steel plates and framing were easy; more could be ordered for ‘cruisers’, and a deeper hull with thicker layers of top and bottom plating could take care of the stresses experienced by a large ship. Machinery wasn't difficult either, as sets were now on order for ‘C-class’ cruisers. As in Glorious, this machinery could be grouped to produce the higher powers needed by a larger ship.

    A design using four of the 15” turrets in a long, fine hull was proposed, with a design speed of 32 knots (with 33 expected under forcing). Some 6” plate was still available, and there would also be a quantity of 9” armour from the suspended Chilean battleship Almirante Cochrane. A 6-shaft layout using 3 sets of ‘C-class’ machinery was suggested, but even in a beamier ship, it was found to be too difficult to arrange the shafts and propellers, and Fisher still wasn't happy with the amount of power that would be produced. For strength, the design incorporated a flush-deck layout, and the wide beam allowed for useful improvements in underwater protection; another lesson of the opening months of the war.
    A three-turret version was a little faster, at 33½ knots, and the reduction in stresses aft meant that weight could be saved by lowering the quarterdeck along with X turret.

    Neither of these schemes appealed greatly to Fisher (although the design for the four-turret ship would later be developed in other ways), as they would take long to build and wouldn’t produce anything that was significantly better than Renown.
    He was on the verge of accepting a modified Glorious instead, as that could be built quickly, when the Engineer-in-Chief came up with a new way of combining turbine power, and Armstrong’s works came back to him with a proposal for a new 15” Mk.2 gun.
    Unlike Anything Else
  • Unlike Anything Else

    The few weeks between the end of April and the middle of May 1915 saw new heights in the speed and purpose of the design department. The DNC and Admiral Fisher had found something to agree on, even if it was driven by circumstance rather than any great meeting of minds.

    The design of the third ‘large light cruiser’ was recast again. A ship with three turrets emerged, each of which would mount two guns on a 34' diameter barbette and would be of a boxier appearance than the sloped-top turrets of recent years, due to the need to increase the maximum elevation of the guns to 30 degrees. As the 15" Mk.1 entered service with the Navy aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth, it was clear that the step up from 13.5" was an unqualified success. The risk had paid off, and Fisher took the same risk again, as Armstrong’s Elswick works were ordered to deliver a set of 15” 48-cal Mk.2 guns as soon as possible. As with the 15” Mk.1, the first of these would be hurried through in order to test it and to produce a set of range tables.

    In the wider naval community, and even in places at the Admiralty, it would remain unclear for some time as to what this new gun was, and what it was for. However, the 15" 48-cal designation did not fool seasoned observers for long, as most could see that Fisher was taking the next step up in firepower, from 12" a few years ago, to 13.5", then to 15", then to what came next.

    The hull form of Glorious was enlarged, with plating and frames being stiffened (even this early, there were doubts about the strength of the first two ships). To further help accommodate the stresses of such a long ship, the hull was deepened by 3' 6", with positive results for the feel of mess decks and the space available for the engines. Hull frames also extended up to the shelter deck, forming a "spine" in the centre of the ship, extending from ‘B’ barbette to just aft of the break in the hull where the foc'sle deck tapered away from the sides. In service, the centre section of the ship was found to be both strong and reasonably stiff, but stresses tended to concentrate between A and B and just forward of X barbettes, resulting in damage when she was driven fast into heavy weather early in her career. Strengthening beams and additional plating later mitigated the problem, but she was always a highly stressed ship.

    In place of three boiler rooms with 6 boilers each on Glorious, there would be four with a total of 32 boilers. By widening boiler and engine rooms, much more power could be delivered without greatly lengthening the vessel, although at some cost to desired improvements in torpedo protection. Each boiler room was to be 65' wide to allow four boilers to be placed alongside each other, with an extra foot added to the outer double-skin of the internal bulge, resulting in a 98' beam. Fisher's worries over underwater defence had grown more acute in recent months, and the ship would be fitted with a 1.75" torpedo bulkhead, in place of the 1.5" fitted to Glorious.
    Machinery consisted of four sets of ‘C class’ geared turbines, with a unique arrangement of double turbines fitted to four shafts. Each shaft had two independent sets of reduction gears and turbines. The arrangement was fine, if a little cramped, for the outer shafts (the forward engine room), but the inner shafts had to be split between Nos 2 and 3 engine rooms, with a machinery room to port of No.2 and to starboard of No.3.

    With new guns and machinery ‘borrowed’ from cruiser construction, much of the ship's armour had to come from leftovers or from plating intended for smaller, lightly armoured ships. Here, Fisher was forced to accept something that he would never have done otherwise. Without new orders, the only face-hardened armour available in sufficient quantity was from the now-cancelled Royal-class battleships. Armour plate takes a long time to produce, and the orders for their belt armour had merely been allocated a lower priority when the ships were put on hold at the start of the war. Most of their 6" upper belts had already been claimed by the ‘Renowns’, so with no other options available, designers used the 12" plates ordered for their main belts. Under the ruse that these immense chunks of armour might be needed to repair battle-damaged ships, the order took on a higher priority.

    There were also some genuine innovations and improvements. For the first time on a major RN ship, all electrical power would be provided by turbo-generators rather than a mixture of turbine and reciprocating engines. Hydraulic plant was increased to cope with the heavier guns and to avoid problems with elevation and run-out during action. Although the hull was derived from that of the Glorious, it was beamier, which allowed a slight increase in the depth of the ‘internal bulge’, a curved section of the double hull that protruded from the side of the ship itself. Additional crushing tubes would also be added to help reduce the force of underwater explosions and to preserve some of the buoyancy in otherwise flooded sections.

    The armour belt would cover 515' of the 878’ length of the ship, from near the front of A to the rear of X barbettes. The belt itself would be 12" thick and inclined at 12 degrees with the side of the hull. However, it was only 8' deep, and there was no upper belt above it, only 3" of protective plating on the sides that extended to the upper deck over the machinery spaces. A splinter-proof 3" of plating also extended fore and aft of the belt for a total of 275' at the waterline, to provide some protection near the bow and stern. The main belt would be closed by 12" end bulkheads, again just 8' high. As detailed designs were being prepared, concerns over weight growth led to the entire belt being raised by 15", meaning that it projected slightly above the main deck.
    The armament would be well protected. Turrets had 13" faces, 4" roofs, with 10" sides and rears, while the barbettes were 11" thick to where they entered the hull, with 7" extending down to the main (armour) deck. Inkeeping with their cruiser heritage, there was no full-length lower deck, and the main deck was therefore directly above the engines, magazines and boilers. As with the earlier Royals, the belt did not therefore protect the armour deck (the main deck) and consequently this was relatively heavy, with a 2" flat and 3" slopes extending down to project 18” below the bottom of the belt. Slopes over the machinery were 4”. The lower deck aft over the shafts and steering gear was 3", and there was a 1.5" lower deck running 125' forward to match the waterline protective plate. The foc'sle forward carried 1" of HT protective plate (increased to 1.5" within 15' of the sides), and the exposed upper deck aft was 1.5”, all of which also contributed to the strength of the ship.

    Furious section.png
    The design reached 34,690 tons at load displacement, and an estimated 39,190 tons deep, for a draught of 25' 5" at load, or 28' 8" deep. At load draught, most of the belt was above the waterline, but at deep load the top was 3' 3" above the waves, with the rest of the huge exposed side of the ship unarmoured against anything more than 6" fire. Following minor revisions to the height of the bulge and to internal stiffening, the ship was laid down on 22nd May.

    Fisher's name for his original gargantuan concept had been ‘HMS Incomparable’, however, as the third ‘large light cruiser’, she already had a name that was accepted by the government and Admiralty, and she would be built as HMS Furious.