The Problem
  • The Problem

    ‘I know we were all glad when Heaton-Ellis was cleared; it was a formality of course, there was never any doubt in my mind’, said the tall Admiral who sat at the head of the table.
    A recent Board of Inquiry had concluded that the Inflexible was lost entire due to enemy action, and that her Captain and crew were to be commended for their actions in attempting to save the ship following the damage at Vieste. There had been calls for a Court-Martial following the loss; the first Royal Navy capital ship to be sunk in action in more than a century.

    ‘Whoever suggested a Court-Martial should be put up against a wall…’, added an intense-looking young Commander, whose expression abruptly changed to a more neutral one, as he noticed the glance the Admiral gave him. He shrank back as he realised that at another gathering, what he’d said could be regarded as gross insubordination.
    ‘Hmm…well, that was retracted from on-high, after Admiral De Robeck said he would stand alongside him. Sometimes the Admiralty shouldn’t be allowed near the Navy, you know’, added the Admiral with a hint of grin. Everyone else took the Admiral’s lead, and there were smiles around the room. They moved on, and the Commander’s hasty statement was instantly forgotten.

    The Admiral continued,
    ‘Gentlemen, our concerns today are over what caused the conflagration that occurred on board Inflexible, and if can do anything to stop it happening again. As you know, the Board did not come to a conclusion in this respect, but the evidence of Commander Follsam, and others, points clearly to a rapid burning of the contents of “A” magazine, some time after a shell hit in the vicinity of “A” turret.’
    Sitting next the Admiral, a senior Captain suggested firmly, ‘Even if a shell hit the turret, it wouldn’t cause a magazine fire.’
    ‘Not if the handling doors were closed’, confirmed another, a man who had made Gunnery a speciality earlier in his career.
    ‘I know Follsam and Heaton-Ellis well – most of us do’, said the Captain, ‘neither of them would tolerate sloppy magazine drill.’
    ‘Yes…’, replied the Gunnery man, not sounding entirely convinced, ‘but in the heat of action you know; someone gets careless, or misses a step to keep the guns firing… it can happen.’
    ‘Not on my ship.’
    ‘Oh, well, you and your perfect crew … how long is it since you rammed Falmouth?
    ‘Now that was her fault, and in the fog, and you know it…’

    ‘Gentlemen!... Enough’, the Admiral interrupted. He wasn’t annoyed. He saw healthy, competitive banter among his officers, but nevertheless they were here for a reason.
    ‘I think the Captain’s point is valid; mistakes do happen, and shortcuts are taken – and don’t tell me you haven’t all done it too, because I know you have!
    Our magazine regulations were laid down some time ago, so perhaps it is time for a revision – as a reminder for all crews. We’ll see about something in the next General Orders.’
    The Admiral nodded to one side, and his aide confirmed, ‘Very good Sir’, as he furiously scribbled a note.

    There was a pause before the Admiral continued,
    ‘There is also another possibility; one that was not emphasised at the Enquiry as it must not become public. It may be that the shell penetrated the armour or missed the top of it and went into the barbette. Commander Follsom had a good view from the gunnery top, and he says the hit was on the hull, not the turret – although I must emphasise that is secret for now, as it suggests the shell may have penetrated the armour.’
    ‘A 12” shell breaking through a 6” belt or a 7” barbette and then exploding inside?’, said the senior Captain incredulously, ‘sounds highly unlikely; at that range, and the fact that the impact wouldn’t have been square-on.’
    ‘The Austrians appear to have been using a heavy 12” shell; an unexploded one was recovered from the Queen Elizabeth.’
    ‘It’s still unlikely to explode inside; or if it did, only just inside…’
    ‘That is the second part … The recovered shell was filled with a different explosive than our Lyddite – less powerful, but more stable. I gather the fuse was wrecked, and obviously it didn’t work on the shell we recovered, but where our shells would explode on impact, this one seems to have been designed with a delay to allow it to enter deep into the ship.’

    There was a moment’s silence in the room while the implications of this sunk in.

    ‘So if the Germans have these shells…’, said the Gunnery man slowly, ‘… and we assume they do, as they probably had a hand in designing them, it means our 6” armour is vulnerable. That is, most of our battlecruisers.’

    ‘Exactly Captain. That is the concern for us, and I gather it’s causing a few ructions at the Admiralty too.
    In my view, De Robeck was quite right in his use of Inflexible; she was at the head of the line, attempting to work around ahead of the enemy, while engaging a battleship that was already under fire. Classic armoured cruiser tactics in a fleet action.

    What we need to consider is, do we need to change those tactics…?’
    Sliding Down the Greasy Pole
  • Sliding Down the Greasy Pole

    To some, the ‘Serbian Strategy’ of 1915 was a good idea, badly executed, to others, it was just a bad idea. After the Battle of Vieste, the Austro-Hungarian Fleet retreated to Pola, and the Allies had naval supremacy in the Adriatic. A mission to reinforce Serbia was possible through Montenegro, and the first Allied troops landed there in early July.
    The second part of the plan was to break Austria-Hungary, firstly by capturing Sarajevo, and fermenting rebellion in Serb-majority areas of the Empire.

    With the exception of coastal gunboats and the efforts of the Monitors and bombardment forces, the war at sea in the Adriatic ground to a halt. The Austrian fleet refused to sortie, and Allied attempts to destroy it met with little success, with the notable exception of E-11’s entry into Pola harbour on the night of 18th August, disguised as an Austrian U-boat. She succeeded in torpedoing the pre-dreadnought Radetzky and a freighter before withdrawing in the confusion, in an action that earned her commander the DSO.

    The start of the plan to defeat Austria was a series of landings on the islands of Solta, Brac and their smaller neighbours, to cover the approaches to the port of Spalato (Split).
    Despite the slow pace of the build-up, which had given the Austrians some time to prepare, the islands were taken with relative ease by British Empire forces at end of July. However, the next step required a much larger invasion, and it took nearly two weeks for a combined force to be assembled.
    Landings to the north and south of Split took place on the 12th August, and met with fierce opposition from well-prepared positions. Over the next few days, despite making four assaults, the Italian troops to the south never established a workable beachhead, while the British, Australians and New Zealanders to the north made it ashore, but were held by the Austrian lines in the hills above.
    A bloody stalemate followed, until further landings were made near Sibenik in early September, this time supported by heavy naval gunfire from close inshore. This assault made better progress, as raw Austrian troops from the periphery of the Empire were faced with determined ANZACs and tough French Foreign Legionnaires. The Austrian lines were pounded every day with guns from 6” up to 12”, from up to six pre-dreadnoughts at a time, besides numerous smaller craft.
    All seemed to be going well for the first three days, until the morning of the 8th September, when Austrian and German submarines managed to sneak close to the landing grounds. Within the space of two confused hours, torpedoes hit two transports and the battleships Ocean, Formidable and Diderot. Ocean exploded moments after she was hit, while the other two limped towards the coast. Diderot capsized before she reached it, but Formidable was successfully beached. She was later patched and re-floated, but she sank in heavy seas while under tow to Taranto.

    By October, most of the battleships had been withdrawn while shallow-draft Monitors took over in support of the troops ashore. Nevertheless, the front lines had hardened, and the situation was as deadlocked as the Western Front. Meanwhile to the East, Serbian forces were collapsing, as the modest influx of Allied troops was overwhelmed when Bulgaria declared war.

    That same month the situation was equally volatile at the Admiralty in London, if rather safer than the battlefields of Serbia. Lobbying by the Admiralty, spearheaded by Admiral Fisher had finally succeeded in persuading the government that there should be a 1915 naval construction programme, to include four capital ships. However in recent months, Fisher’s brusque demands for everything from the use of convoys to extremely fast battlecruisers were starting to turn increasing numbers of people against his leadership. Although he was still much-loved and respected in the Fleet, his treatment of several senior officers and his blind insistence that ‘speed is everything’ was not doing his reputation any good.
    The losses of Allied warships and the total lack of progress on land had finally soured Fisher to the ‘Serbian Strategy’. Through September, he started to tell everyone that his own idea, of landing troops in the Aegean, would have helped Serbia by allowing a direct attack on Bulgaria, while ‘removing the need for us to rely on the Italians’ so-called help’. Late in October, a proposal by Churchill to reinforce the fleet in the Adriatic and use it to force landings near Fiume and support an Italian advance along the coast resulted in one of the pivotal meetings of the war.
    Unfortunately, no-one other than Churchill and Fisher were present in the room, the Admiral having marched into the First Lord’s office, ordering everyone else out as he did. A loud discussion was heard through the door for several minutes by one of Churchill’s aides, a man who would be close to him for many years to come. He later wrote, ‘Fisher entered looking like an enraged bull’, and that upon his departure, ‘it was one of the few occasions when I ever saw Winston sitting quietly, looking white as a sheet.’

    The break between the First Lord and the First Sea Lord seemed irreconcilable, and both men pursued their separate goals. In November, Fisher threatened to resign over the matter of the 1915 capital ships, demanding that they be based on his preferred fast design. He had made such threats before and it had always led to him getting his way, but this time the Cabinet hesitated to give in to his demands, and on November 16th, he resigned and started to move out of the Admiralty.
    Whether he wanted anyone to stop him remains unknown. As the man who had been the driving force behind the modern Navy, he had previously been too valuable to lose. For many years he had been an irascible genius, but now, he seemed merely irascible, while his increasingly erratic behaviour and inability to work with others had led to a loss of confidence in his leadership.

    In the Adriatic, British and French troops would help exiled Serbs hold a line in the south, and near the sea on the borders of Montenegro and Albania, but by the end of 1915, the Central Powers had almost completely conquered Serbia.
    Churchill remained at the Admiralty for a few more weeks, but Fisher’s attacks had damaged his ability to work effectively. The evacuation of troops from the islands off the Dalmatian coast in late December highlighted the total failure of his ‘Serbian Strategy’, making his position ultimately untenable.
    Admiral Fisher’s Admirals
  • Admiral Fisher’s Admirals

    By the winter of 1915, it was clear that the war would last for some time. The Admiralty could not afford to stand still and must also give some consideration to the post-war future. Two Renown-class battlecruisers were already under construction, as well as the unusual cruisers of the Glorious class, and the largest ‘light cruiser’ ever built, HMS Furious.
    The British government finally accepted the need for new capital ship construction in November 1915, but these would be designed and built in accordance with more normal routine rather than the all-out rush of the ‘Renowns’ and the large cruisers. There were no stockpiles of material available from cancelled battleships, and the DNC and the Admiralty wanted the hard-won lessons of the first year of the war to be used in the development of the design. The ships of the 1915 programme would be better planned, but less radical than Furious; a ship that would be truly incomparable for many years to come.

    Since the spring, designers had been working away in expectation of a 1915 or 1916 programme. Once the design of the Furious had been finalised, the DNC's office turned to new ships that might be based on similar technology. Furious' machinery and hull form were both state-of-the-art, but the grouping of multiple sets of cruiser turbines and the large number of boilers was regarded as less than ideal, and better solutions were sought.
    Nevertheless, the baseline concept was a conservative one, with large-tube boilers and ungeared turbines, in a hull derived from the ‘Lions’. Fifty boilers were needed to deliver 32 knots on a ship that had a 9” armour belt over the machinery, tapering to as little as 5” over the forward magazines.

    The first ‘modern’ design, called ‘C1’, was 830’ long and 35,000 tons, with eight 15” guns, an 8" armour belt just 9' wide and a 5" upper belt. With a 102’ beam, the design had a shallow draft and underwater protection was greatly improved. There was also a major advance in the use of small tube boilers and all-new geared machinery intended specifically for capital ships. Relative to the ‘C-class’ cruiser machinery it would be heavier, but it would be tougher and would use larger, slower-turning propellers which would provide greater propulsive efficiency. As a consequence, the DNC estimated that C1 would achieve 31 knots with 120,000shp. The hull was a derivative of the Glorious, deepened as per battleship practice to allow a proper full-length lower deck. As on Furious, the main hull had a 12-degree slope to its side, meaning that the 8" belt would be at least as effective as the 9" belt on the ‘Lions’. It would also be far more extensive than on previous battlecruisers, stretching 560' from A to Y barbettes.
    ‘C2’ added a row of boilers, and the ship was stretched to 860'. Power output was increased to 140,000shp, and improvements in hull form would give 32 knots, the lowest speed that Fisher was prepared to accept.

    However, the DNC wanted more armour, pointing out that no part of C1 or C2 was protected against the 14" or 15" shells now being used on almost all foreign designs.
    His 830’ C3 therefore bore similarities with pre-war ‘fast battleship’ designs. It was a step away from the pure battlecruiser concept and showed the first hints of a British version of the ‘all or nothing’ protection that had been adopted by the US Navy. C3 had a uniform 10" belt that would be 16' deep. Deck armour was to be relatively thick (for the time), a cumulative total of up to 3" on the flat over magazines, split between upper and lower decks. However, this protection came at a price, as load displacement would be 40,000 tons (normal), speed would fall to about 29½ knots and the perceived advantage of shallow draft was gone.

    In the summer, Fisher subtly changed his tactics. Speed was still important, but so was fire – both firepower and fire prevention. The exact cause of the magazine fire on Inflexible remained unknown, but Fisher was in the camp that believed the fire might have spread to the magazine from the turret or its trunk. This view had widespread support among senior officers, partly because it suggested that the loss was down to human error in fire or flash prevention, and not anything fundamentally wrong with the ships. In addition, turrets had been knocked out in several other recent actions, and so suggestions that they should be better protected were popular. The early dreadnoughts had five turrets, but four was now the norm, and so Fisher and others reasoned that it was now more important to preserve each set of guns.

    The long-range action at Dogger Bank emphasised the need to fire and hit at what were unthinkable distances just a few years ago. The 20-degree elevation on the 15" Mk.1 mounts allowed a range of about 24,000 yards, but new designs of turret were prepared to provide 30-degree elevation. The new turrets also addressed the disadvantages of the open sighting hoods fitted to earlier British turrets. These holes on the front roof of the turret allowed blast effects to enter the gunhouses, meaning that the upper of a pair of super-firing turrets could not fire with about 30 degrees of centre without risking concussion to the crew in the turret below. The new design would replace these with sights fitted into periscopes on the rear sides, and there would also be room for new longer-baseline rangefinders built into the upper rear area of the turret, rather than protruding above the roof, as in previous designs.

    Within the fleet, Jellicoe preferred 18" guns for future ships, but only if at least eight of them could be carried, and he repeated his comment (probably at Fisher’s request) that 30-knot ships would be more useful to him than slower battleships.
    In an attempt at a compromise, a concept for a fast battleship evolved; a ship of 760' length, with a 12" lower belt, 8" upper belt and relatively heavy decks; a 1.25" upper deck over the upper belt and a 2.5" main deck (over magazines and engines) near the top of the main belt, with 3" slopes leading down to the base of the belt. Armament would be eight 18" guns, with sixteen 6" as secondaries. The new style of boilers and turbines would permit 72,000shp from just 12 boilers, all trunked into a single funnel, which would make inclination more difficult for an enemy to measure while in action. At a normal load of 38,400 tons, speed would be 26.5 knots, with 25.5 knots achievable at a full load of 43,200 tons. A variation of the design with twelve 15" guns in triple turrets was a few feet longer and about 500 tons heavier, although speed remained the same.
    A third version, with just eight boilers and capable of 23-24 knots, was 40’ shorter and had the 6” battery stacked over two decks, permitting it to be somewhat better armoured.

    Although the DNC and the Treasury liked the designs, Fisher soon killed them off, pointing out that ‘a ship that cannot be completed before 1919 is of little use in the present circumstances’; he knew that it would be four years before sufficient numbers of 18” guns could be available.
    He also thought that while the ships were powerful, they were too slow to catch the enemy. Here, he had an ally in Admiral Jellicoe, who had privately expressed disappointment at the service speed of the new ‘Queen Elizabeths’. As a 25-knot ‘fast squadron’, they would have been ideal to prevent fast enemy units from working around the van of the Grand Fleet. However, the ships were proving to be capable of little more than 23½ knots in service (and therefore probably only about 23 once they sailed together as a squadron), which the C-in-C regarded as too small a margin of speed over the rest of the fleet to fulfil this purpose.
    Almost simultaneously (perhaps rather suspiciously so) there was a scare at the Admiralty that the Hindenburg was armed with 14” guns, while the upcoming ‘Mackensen’ class battlecruisers would be armed with six 15” guns and would be capable of 30 knots. Worse was the news that at least four such ships were under construction, with Mackensen expected to complete in early 1917 and the others in the spring of 1918.
    The ‘Renowns’ would be available to counter the first ships (although by the Autumn of 1915, Beatty, Jellicoe and others were already expressing reservations about their armour), but without new construction, the Battlecruiser Fleet faced being outclassed.

    The last design of the Fisher era, simply noted as ‘Design 4’ in the DNC’s diaries, was a further development of C2. Length was increased to 874’, allowing longer boilers to provide a power output of 150,000shp (with the Engineer in Chief promising a 160,000shp ‘planned overload’ rating). Displacement would be 37,000 tons and speed would be 32½ knots, with 33½ hoped for on overload. The belt was the same 8”/5” combination, but the new turrets would be as well protected as on a battleship, with 13” faces and 4” roofs.

    However, Admiral Fisher’s departure from the Admiralty in November 1915 meant that the obsession with speed could become a little more balanced by other factors, and ‘Design 4’ would not be the last in the series.
    Crossing the Pond
  • Crossing the Pond

    The view from Washington at the end of 1915 was a confused one. The European war had threatened to spill over into US domestic affairs as the German’s policy of unrestricted submarine warfare resulted in the loss of American lives. The Ambassador had been instructed to make protests in Berlin, and President Wilson was gaining praise for his firm handling of the matter; he hadn’t heeded the calls of the hot-heads who wanted America to declare war, but nor had he shrunk from protecting American interests.

    What had become clearer since the start of the war was that America needed to be able to control her own trade. First, the British had cut off virtually all access to Germany with their blockade, and then the Germans had destroyed American ships and lives with their indiscriminate submarine warfare. American trade was being permitted only at the pleasure of other nations, and that did not befit a nation whose manifest destiny was to be the greatest power in the world. To secure her trade against all possible threats, America needed a powerful fleet, and there were proposals to pass legislation to bring this about.

    Fleets that might be built in five years’ time were of no immediate help, but at the end of August, following massive diplomatic pressure, the Germans restricted their submarines to traditional cruiser rules. A few weeks later, they were withdrawn from the Western Approaches altogether, following complaints from commanders that it was impossible for them to operate in any meaningful way.

    One of the reasons for this was a decision made by ‘the most hated man in Germany’, Admiral Fisher, who persuaded, over-rode and bullied his colleagues and the government into agreeing to what they regarded as a revolutionary policy: Convoying.
    The idea of convoys dated back centuries, but most modern commanders assumed they were impractical in the age of steam and free trade, when merchant ships worked on tight schedules, bound for hundreds of destinations. Fisher, however, was sure that convoys were not only practical but necessary, and as the First Sea Lord, he could make sure they happened.
    The first convoy was a small affair on the East coast of England in May 1915; it was no-where near the Atlantic U-boats, but it helped to prove the concept. By August, ‘merchant groups’ were sailing from most major West coast ports, usually escorted by an armed trawler or a merchant cruiser until they were a couple of hundred miles off the coast of Ireland.
    Within weeks the argument that such groups of ships merely presented the U-boats with convenient targets was shown to be false, as ships sailing independently continued to be sunk by gunfire, while ships in groups were never targeted by surfaced U-boats. Torpedo attacks still occurred, but the impression at the Admiralty was that there were fewer of them.
    For the German commanders, convoys presented grave difficulties, as they gave fewer opportunities to attack. A U-boat couldn’t risk surfacing to attack a convoy if it was escorted, while staying submerged limited their manoeuvrability, often allowing the convoy to pass. With luck, or careful positioning, torpedo attacks could still be made, but that soon exposed another problem. Even though less than half of all ships in the Western Approaches were sailing in convoys, by the middle of July demand for these largely hand-made weapons was greatly outstripping supply.

    In August there was a slight decline in sinkings. In Britain this was attributed to the success of convoys, and Admiral Fisher wasn’t slow to take the credit. However, there were also a smaller number of submarines being on patrol, as they were held back by slow delivery of torpedoes, or an increasing number of mechanical defects after months of heavy use. The Admiral Staff in Berlin were forced to conclude that the campaign could not be continued at the present rate.

    In Washington, the government was becoming increasingly alarmed. Sinkings which led to the death of American citizens led to strong protests to Berlin and suggestions that diplomatic ties should be severed, or even that war should be declared. At the top of government, there was no appetite for war, but the situation did re-enforce the message that America needed the ability to control her own trade on the high seas.
    Following the torpedoing of another liner and the deaths of more Americans on the 19th August, further protests were made, and the German government re-imposed cruiser rules on their submarine commanders later that month.

    Another British scheme made the U-boats’ position even more difficult, as they had begun a large-scale programme to arm merchant ships themselves. This was still in its early stages, but on 9th September, the lone steamer S.S. Railton surprised U-28 by turning away and opening fire with a 12-pdr gun when the U-boat approached and signalled for her surrender. Both ship and submarine escaped unharmed, but when U-28 returned to base, her report that the British were arming their merchant ships triggered the abandonment of the campaign. German submarine efforts paused for breath, and were then redirected against British warships and isolated shipping areas to the north.

    Meanwhile, back-channel discussions between Britain and America gave the Americans their first view of the capabilities of a fast wing for the fleet, and the US Navy began to agitate for a series of ‘scout cruisers’, or ‘battle scout’ ships to provide an equivalent capability.
    That summer, the US Navy’s 1915 Fleet Problem exercises highlighted the difficulties they would have when faced with fast, powerful enemy scouting forces, while it was shown that the fleet had a limited ability to scout for itself. Blue Force, a fleet of eleven 18-knot and 21-knot battleships and their escorting destroyers, were tasked with defending the East Coast against attacks by Red Force. The attackers were assumed to have four fast battlecruisers and four 21-knot battleships, whose roles were played by modern dreadnoughts and the newest armoured cruisers.
    None of Red Force’s cruisers could exceed 24 knots, but even so the advantage of speed and scouting power became clear as the exercise progressed.
    Without adequate scouting forces, Blue Force had to be deployed over an extended area, giving the numerically inferior units of Red Force the chance to destroy isolated parts of the defenders’ fleet. With Red Force’s speed and superior scouting ability, they were also able to avoid battle in unfavourable conditions.

    Strategic studies based on the results of the manoeuvres would be used to support arguments in favour of a strong scout force for the US Navy, including the battlecruisers that seemed to have been of greatest use thus far in the European war. Further support for these ships came when it appeared that German thinking mirrored the British. American diplomats and less-official sources confirmed that six new battlecruisers had been ordered under the German War Programme, while in the Pacific, Japan now possessed four of this type of ship.
    The US Navy’s Design Bureau would go on to complete a series of 28 ‘Scout Cruiser’ and ‘Battle-Cruiser’ studies, which ranged from ships with 6” guns and of no more than 6,000 tons, up to 16" gunned vessels of more than 1,000' length, likely to displace nearly 60,000 tons when fully loaded. By the end of the year, leading contenders for the ‘Scout Cruiser’ included a ship armed with ten 6" guns and a 4" armour belt. She would be 650' long and capable of 33 knots at a normal displacement of 10,000 tons. At the other end of the scale was a 35-knot ‘Battle Scout’, a ship with four 14” guns and 6" armour, on a displacement of 27,000 tons.
    Designs for more traditional battlecruisers were also underway over the summer, and a ship with eight 14" guns, 5" side armour and capable of 33-35 knots was suggested, with a normal displacement of 32,000 tons.

    1916 would be an election year, and even though a majority of Americans still wanted to remain neutral in what they saw as an Old World war, an increasing number could see that meekly accepting foreign blockades or murderous submarine raids did not befit such a great nation as the USA.
    Back to the Drawing Board
  • Back to the Drawing Board

    Fisher’s chosen design for the 1915 battlecruisers was an 874’ ship, capable of about 33 knots and with an inclined 8” main belt that would be at least as effective as the vertical 9” belt on the ‘Lions’. Following questions over the loss of Inflexible, the design called for the belt to run between end barbettes, while the turrets would have battleship-levels of protection.
    However, in the autumn of 1915 the old Admiral fell out once too often with government ministers, and after his resignation, the Director of Naval Construction pushed for a swift revaluation of the design. His first objection was to the length of the ship, as only Portsmouth and Rosyth could be modified to handle such a long ship. The pressures of war were mounting, as dockyards, materials and manpower were in ever greater demand. Shutting down docks to allow them to accommodate bigger, resource-hungry ships was not an option while the war continued.
    If the new ships could be shorter, none of this highly disruptive work would be needed, even if it meant the one-off freak Furious would have to use commercial docks. A proposal in January 1916 to cancel her was rejected, as a great deal of work had already been done (the hull would be launched in July), and there was no doubt that she would be an impressive ship.

    However, Fisher’s preferred ‘Design 4’ had positives too; the armament was well protected, and the plan to use extra-long boilers, each of which would deliver steam for 6,300 shp was regarded as a useful improvement on the units used in Furious. Given the assumed scale of the German building programme, everyone agreed with Fisher’s desire for the ships to be completed relatively quickly, but there was a limit to what could be built given the limitations of wartime conditions. A ‘perfect’ 42,000-ton ship would obviously use more of everything than a 35,000-ton ship.
    The DNC tried to tempt Admiral Jellicoe with a proposal for a hybrid battleship of 30,000 tons and capable of 26½ knots, but it was again rejected as being ‘too slow to catch current German battlecruisers, and too fast to work with the Grand Fleet’.
    Beatty expressed greater interest in the idea, but his reply to the DNC and the Admiralty (naturally copied to the C-in-C) was suggestive of ulterior motives; ‘A fast squadron to provide close support for the battlecruisers would be of the greatest possible use. In the present circumstances, however, I believe the Queen Elizabeths would serve well in this role’.
    It was also found that reduction in size below 30-35,000 tons would make relatively little difference to construction schedules, as other factors such as the time taken to produce armour plate became more relevant.

    By February 1916 the concept for the ‘Admiral class’ had re-emerged as a battlecruiser equivalent of the ‘Royal’ class battleships. Nominally, these were supposed to be 25-knot ships, and theory suggested that there should be at least a 6-knot margin for a battlecruiser version. However, this was still only 31 knots, and so there could be a significant power reduction from Fisher’s 33-knot ships. If a set of boilers were removed the machinery could still deliver 132,000shp, while the ship could be shortened to 850’, with reductions in size (and therefore weight) of the armoured citadel. Changes to upperworks and masts reduced topweight, and so the beam could be reduced to 101' to maintain the same level of stability. After a series of iterations, the design reached a load displacement of 36,500 tons, but with the reduced weight and a series of detail improvements to the hull, speed would still be at least 31½ knots.

    A 9" belt stretched from the lower to slightly above the main deck between the fore and aft turrets, with a 6" upper belt to the upper deck above it, and a 4" waterline extension fore and aft. All these sloped with the hull at about 12 degrees to the vertical. The main and upper belts were closed with 9" vertical bulkheads. Exposed areas of the barbettes would be 11" thick, with 9” to the upper deck inside the hull and 5” down to the main (armoured) deck. As on Fisher’s design, the four twin turrets would have 13" face plates, 11” sides and 4" roofs. Deck protection would be much as the ‘Royals’, with a 1" upper deck covering the belt and a 1.5" main deck with 2” edges and slopes down to meet the bottom of the belt along its full length. A 2.5" lower deck protected the steering gear and shafts aft, and there was 1.5" of protective plating on the edges of the foc'sle deck under the secondary guns. A 1.5" torpedo bulkhead ran between the turrets. There was splinter protection for the bridge and aft director, and an 11" conning tower and armoured director.

    Despite the plans to use heavier guns on Furious, a sufficient number of large-bore weapons could not be available in time for these ships' expected completion in 1918. It was therefore accepted that the ships would be armed with the current 15" gun, and turrets and barbettes were sized accordingly. Even the new Mk.2 turrets would be based on the design of the Mk.1, with a boxier carapace and internal workings modified for 30-degree elevation.
    It was known that a single 4" hit was highly unlikely to stop a destroyer, and so battleships had been built with 6" secondaries for some years. Fisher's influence had led to 4” guns being mounted on the ‘Renowns’ and the large light cruisers, but with him gone, these new ships would mount twelve 6” guns. However, protected casemates would have imposed a significant weight penalty, and so the guns would be in single mounts on the foc'sle deck, each with a splinter-proof shield.

    When Admiral Jellicoe was shown the plans, they met with his approval, but he requested that the upper belt should be at least 7” thick, and that there be improved splinter protection around the secondary guns. The DNC was eventually able to provide an 8” upper belt, along with a series of detailed changes involved minor strengthening to the hull and a thinning of the end bulkheads in compensation for main deck armour that stretched further forward.
    As the design was settled, concerns over material and labour availability were growing worse. Production of patrol vessels, monitors, destroyers and merchant ships was accelerating, while Fisher’s use of eight sets of machinery on the three ‘large light cruisers’ and the demands for steel for Furious had led to a pair of C-class cruisers being postponed. Nevertheless, commanders wanted more cruisers too, and rumours of German construction had led to the design of larger ‘D-class’ and ‘Atlantic’ vessels.
    It was therefore decided to split the capital ship programme into two. Two ships would be laid down immediately, leaving the other two until to the end of 1916. This first pair could also be slightly accelerated by a few leftovers from cancelled programmes. 9” armour plates from the suspended Chilean battleship Almirante Cochrane would be used on the first ship, while machinery and materials from four 15” gun turrets ordered for cancelled ‘Royals’ would help to speed construction of both ships.

    HMS Hood was laid down at John Brown’s on 18th February 1916 to this design, and her sister Howe followed at Cammell Laird the end of the month.
    Legend - Admiral Class Feb '16
  • Legend of ‘Admiral’ class, 25th February 1916

    Length 850’ oa, 800’ pp
    Beam 101’
    Draught 25’ 11” mean, 28’ 9” mean deep
    Rated SHP 132,500
    Speed 31¾ kts
    Oil Fuel 1,200 tons; 3,950 tons max

    Armament 8 x 15” Mk.1 in Mk.2 gunhouses
    12 x 6” BL Mk.XII
    2 x 3” HA
    2 x .303 Vickers MG
    4 x 21” above water TT

    Armour particulars:
    Belt 9” Main, 8” Upper
    4" Ends (for total of 250’ at waterline fore/aft)
    End Bulkheads 8"
    Barbettes 11" to exposed deck, 9" to upper deck, 5" to main deck
    Gunhouses 13” faces, 11” sides, 4” roof
    Conning Tower 11”, with 6” tube

    Decks 2.5" Lower aft over steering and shafts
    2" Main deck slope
    1.5" Main deck flat (2" sides for 20’)
    1” Upper deck over belt
    1.5" Foc’sle at edges under 6” guns

    Torpedo bulkhead 1.5"

    Hull 14,380
    Machinery 5,250
    Armament 5,220
    Armour 9,485
    Equipment 1,000
    Oil Fuel 1,200

    Total (Normal Load) 36,535 tons
    Deep Load 40,420 tons

    Admiral1 section.png
    Jellicoe’s Nightmare
  • Jellicoe’s Nightmare

    The battlecruiser Indomitable and her sister Invincible had come North to the great anchorage of Scapa Flow at the beginning of May. Like the rest of his crew, Able Seaman Archibald Martins had been told they were joining the Grand Fleet for gunnery practice. So far, Scapa had its ups and downs. There wasn’t much to do here; there were no towns just a mile or two from the ship. No music halls or pubs, no sports fields or cinemas. No little nooks and crannies where local ‘businesses’ made sure a sailor could always have a good time.
    Scapa was dull.
    On the other hand, since they arrived, the ship hadn’t been at four hours’ notice for steam for days on end, as was often the case at Rosyth. As one of ‘Beatty’s Hunters’, they had to be ready to charge out to sea at the first sign of the Hun, and so the crews’ chances of enjoying the delights to be found ashore had been far more restricted than they might have been.
    As a lookout, stationed on the starboard side of the navigation bridge, Martins could overhear the officers’ chatter, and he often knew far more than most of his shipmates. That had been valuable more than once, as he’d been able to lay safe money that the ship would be heading to such-and-such a duty. This time, however, his insider-knowledge hadn’t earned him much; by now everyone on the ship knew his game, except for a couple of new lads who’d lost a week’s grog ration to him.
    The two battlecruisers were the first part of an exchange between the Fleets. While they were here, the C-in-C intended that the Grand Fleet should have faster scouts than the older armoured cruisers, and so the 25-knot ‘Invincibles’ would serve in this role if the fleet put to sea. In the south, Admiral Beatty still had all five ‘Splendid Cats’ and the two ‘Indefatigables’, half-sisters of A/B Martin’s ship. What A/B Martins didn’t know was that Beatty’s pestering of both Admiral Jellicoe and the Admiralty had gained him more than two ships in return. Four fast ‘Queen Elizabeths’ of the Fifth Battle Squadron had been temporarily reassigned to the Battlecruiser Fleet.

    Despite keeping his ears open for the last few days, Martins still hadn’t found out how long they’d be at Scapa. The ship was steaming steadily out of the Flow, on her way to the ranges, and depending on the results of the day’s shoot, he thought might overhear news later in the day. This was another difference from Rosyth; there they’d had drills, but they couldn’t fire the ship’s big guns in the in the confines of the Forth, or off the heavily populated coastline nearby.

    A few minutes after they cleared the channel, they had increased speed when Martins heard a cry, ‘TORPEDO TRACK TO PORT’ come from the other side of the ship. He tensed instinctively, and glanced over his shoulder, but he knew his job was to keep scanning the starboard side. His training kicked in and he turned back to sweep his eyes across the grey sea. Behind him, he heard orders being barked down the voice-pipes; ‘Full Ahead’, ‘Hard a’ starboard’, ‘Signal Flagship torpedo sighted to port’.
    There were more shouts behind him as another disturbance in the water was spotted. He looked at the Invincible, steaming ahead of his ship.
    Then there was an explosion.

    Martins was surprised; the noise was surprisingly muted, it was more of a low rumble and whoosh of water than the thunder of their guns or the blast of a shell. However, the deck seemed to convulse under his feet, followed by a slower shuddering and rocking. Glancing back, he saw a column of water reaching high up to port, just abaft the rear funnel. Moments later, the 4” guns of the ship's secondary armament cracked out, firing at a point where bubbles and a disturbance in the water had been spotted.

    Far below and behind Martins’ station, water flooded into the port engine room as the explosion breached the outer hull and the bulkheads inboard of it. Rivets pinged off plates around the area of the blast as the bulkhead immediately forward was distorted. Water gushed into the wing bunkers abeam No.4 Boiler Room, where it freely flooded into the boiler room itself through open coal hatches. Attempts to close them were quickly abandoned as the water rose swiftly towards the boilers. Stokers hurled themselves up the escape ladders and slammed the hatches shut moments before water reached the hot coals. Cold seawater met the blazing furnaces and flashed to steam, which exploded out of the boilers and up the funnels and ventilators. The ship's list continued to increase as the engine room and wing areas flooded, and five minutes after the explosion, crews in the aft secondary battery reported waves were lapping onto the port side of the quarterdeck.
    On the bridge, Martins heard the voice of the Chief Engineer telling the Captain that water was also entering the port machinery room abeam X magazine, and that the ship was in danger of capsizing. Orders were shouted for boiler room crews to damp their fires, and for preparations to be made to flood starboard wing spaces and bunkers to counterbalance the rising weight of water to port. At 1243, eight minutes after the original explosion, Martins felt a slight shudder course through the ship, and a few moments later the tinny sound of the Third Lieutenant's voice came through on a voice pipe from below. Water was entering the coal bunkers above the engine rooms and a hatch to the ventilator room and distillation plant had failed.
    Below, men tried to hammer the hatch back into place as the water rushed around their legs. Timber baulks were used as levers and wedges, but no matter what they did, the hatch couldn’t be sealed. The flow had been reduced, but as men struggled to move or see what they were doing with seawater up to their waists, the lights failed. Trying to plug a leaking hatch using only a few torches was soon found to be impossible as men slipped under the water and were unable to see where the leaks were with their eyes stinging with the oily seawater.

    The Captain’s face looked grave, as he knew there was nothing more that could be done. Even so, the inevitable could be delayed. His penultimate order was to flood the starboard engine room.
    At 1257, his final order was to abandon ship.

    Stoker George McPherson, who was stationed in the unflooded No.3 boiler room later recalled,
    ‘We were heeled right over when the order came to abandon, and the Chief shouted to get up the ventilator-escape trunk. My boiler was on the port side and I knew we'd been at the deepest point of the ship, but I wasn't prepared for the sight when I got to the top of the trunk.
    The ventilator was on the Foc’sle deck, abaft the second funnel. The ship was heeling even further and when we reached the top, the water was only about 10 feet away from us as we climbed out - water on the deck!
    I ran for’ard, and up towards the starboard side, thinking we'd be rescued from there, but Nobby (Leading Stoker Robert Garth) yelled to get off her now and into the water. We walked down into the sea and swam off towards a float that was just a few yards away. There were some boats about too. I didn't see her roll over, but I heard the roar and when I turned there was this wave coming at us. There was nothing anyone could do and I was pulled under and chucked about. I don’t know how I got back to the surface, but I did and I was right next to a cork float and some other bits of wood.
    I shouted about, but I never found Nobby.’

    Of her crew of 971, 726 were rescued by boats from the escorting destroyers. Indomitable capsized at 1301, twenty-six minutes after the torpedo hit. A few survivors were rescued from atop the upturned hull, before it finally sank at 1328.

    The gunfire that had been directed at the disturbance on the surface was followed by traces of oil being spotted on the sea. Indomitable’s escorts followed up the attack using a new weapon; the depth charge. No obvious results were seen, but after the war German records showed that U-43 failed to return from her patrol, as one of a line of U-boats waiting to attack the Grand Fleet.
    One More Day of Coaling
  • One More Day of Coaling

    The Midshipman was black from head to toe; except for his eyes, which he daren’t rub with his filthy hands or sleeves. Every part of him was ingrained with coal dust, just like everyone in his mess, just like everyone else in the ship.
    Like all his messmates, he’d spent the day aboard a lighter alongside his ship, shovelling coal into sacks and dodging the hoist’s hook as it was repeatedly lowered into the filthy hold of the barge. These days, he knew to avoid the coal sacks as the men on the battleship’s deck above threw them back down after they’d emptied them into the chutes. ‘Bagging a Snotty’ was part of the tradition for the men; trying to test their aim at one of the young gentlemen helped to relieve the boredom of the back-breaking work. There were tactics to the game too; the men above knew it was preferable to throw the empty sack when both the target and the Lieutenant of the watch weren’t looking, but to be caught ‘idling’ while waiting for the perfect opportunity was unsporting, and could easily earn the idler a snarled rebuke.
    The Midshipman was an old hand at this game by now, but two of the ship’s newest and youngest had caught a few sacks on the head today.

    Even once he’d showered, he was still grimy, and he was exhausted, but he still had his diary to write. Lieutenant Smythe would overlook the odd mistake and give him a quiet nudge when he needed it, but not keeping a proper journal was sure to draw his wrath.

    Two days ago, the ship had sailed on another patrol; yet another sweep out of the Flow towards the East. At least this one had been a little out of the ordinary, as they had weighed anchor just after dark and passed the boom at midnight. The rumour in the ship was that the German battlecruisers were out. As the lumbering battleship had ploughed through the lumpy grey North Sea, he’d tried to snatch a few minutes to study for his next navigation exam, while also going about his usual duties of chivvying his men along; not that sailors with a decade or more’s experience at sea could learn much from a lad barely out of Dartmouth.
    But that was another tradition; today, he had charge of a few seamen who knew their places in one of the ship’s five 12” gun turrets. Next year, he could be a sub-lieutenant in a destroyer or a cruiser, then … one day, in command of a ship, or perhaps a fleet of ships, each even mightier than the Collingwood.
    They’d been called to Action Stations in the afternoon, but nothing came of it. Once the turret was manned and reported ready for action, he’d been able to sit on top, staring out over the grey lines of the Grand Fleet’s battle squadrons that stretched across miles of ocean. Even with the ship closed up, the word soon circulated that it was just another drill.

    It all turned out to be another bust. The Germans weren’t out, and rumours had it that they’d just been staging an exercise off the Jade, or that they’d come out and then turned back for some reason.
    Feeling dead tired, he lingered in the mess just long enough to write a simple note in his diary;

    ‘1st of June 1916. Returned to harbour in the forenoon and moored at our buoy. Why doesn’t the Hun come out and fight!
    Expect tomorrow will be one more day of coaling.’
    Battle Scouts
  • Battle Scouts

    In the Spring of 1916, changes in the German command prompted a more aggressive posture from the High Seas Fleet, and a renewed study of the options for breaking the deadlock in the North Sea. After the cessation of the unrestricted U-boat campaign against merchant shipping in the late summer of 1915, the pace of naval operations had temporarily slowed. Meanwhile, the surface fleet had been relatively inactive since the Battle of the Dogger Bank, making only a few sweeps out towards the Horns Reef, or to the East of Terschelling in support of minesweeping operations. However, on the 23rd January 1916, the dying Admiral von Pohl was replaced by the vastly more aggressive Admiral Scheer as C-in-C.

    Scheer started to build up the confidence and performance of his fleet with a series of wider-ranging sweeps. There was a short, sharp battle between German light forces and British destroyers and minesweepers off the Dogger Bank in February, but it failed to attract the attention of the Grand Fleet in time for German heavy ships to make contact. There was an operation in April to shell Lowestoft, but this too failed to draw the British into action.
    In the early hours of 31st May, five ships of Hipper’s 1st Scouting Group left the Jade on a mission to bombard Sunderland, with Goeben being left in dock for repairs to her port turbines. Admiral Scheer followed close behind with the three divisions of the main battlefleet. Intercepted radio signals had forewarned the British, and both Beatty and Jellicoe were already at sea. However, there was no great battle that day. Just hours after they left port, the battlecruiser Derfflinger hit a mine and was forced to turn about. A torpedo attack by British submarine E-23 on the High Seas Fleet failed, but the tracks were spotted and caused Scheer to turn away. When further tracks were spotted a few minutes later, the Admiral suspected a trap, and with only four battlecruisers now serviceable he ordered the fleet to turn south for home.
    Perhaps the idea of submarine traps was already in his mind, as he had set one for the British himself, which only a few days earlier had caught and sunk the battlecruiser HMS Indomitable. The German Fleet returned to port to lick its wounds, while Scheer considered different tactics for his next sortie.


    Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, a new design of 16” gun was successfully fired for the first time at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Although the USA remained firmly neutral, pressure for an ‘emergency programme’ was growing, to aggressively defend American trade and interests around the globe.
    In particular, the Navy was pressing for a full range of new warships, from larger destroyers up to heavy battleships that could mount this powerful new weapon. Battlecruisers were still under consideration, although political pressure meant that only designs with 14” guns were being considered, in an attempt to minimise size and cost. Smaller ‘Battle-scouts’ were also liked in some quarters, although there was some overlap between the two designations. The smallest designs were certainly cruisers, with between eight and twelve 6” guns on displacements up to 11,000 tons. Slightly larger vessels would mount 8” guns instead, while the largest ‘battle-scout’ would displace 22,000 tons and have six 14” 50-cal guns in two triple turrets, making it effectively a battlecruiser.

    Japan had plans for larger warships too. Before the war, Vickers had presented designs to the Japanese Navy for vessels with either eight or ten 16” guns, but by the summer of 1916, Captain Hiraga’s design team had come up with their own designs. The one selected by Navy Minister Admiral Kato bore some resemblance to Britain’s ‘Royal’ class fast battleships, which were just starting to enter service. However, the ‘Nagato’ class would be no simple copy of a foreign design, as Hiraga had vastly improved and expanded the ships to allow for higher speed and a new Japanese-designed 16” gun.


    The discussions regarding effective scout forces had a more urgent tone in Britain than in the ambitious, if long-term, plans of the Americans or the Japanese.
    Since the indecisive action at Dogger Bank in 1915, the British Battle Cruiser Fleet had been both reinforced and reorganised. The need for maximum speed during a pursuit had led Admiral Beatty to group the five 28-knot ‘Splendid Cats’ together in the 1st BCS, with the 25½ -knot ‘I-class’ ships in 2BCS stationed ahead of them, where they would stand a better chance of being able to engage. Concerns over the protection of the smaller ships after the loss of Inflexible in the Adriatic had subsequently led to them being redeployed as scouts ahead and to the sides of the core of the fleet. There, they would still be well placed to support the main fleet in an action or pursuit, but would also be on hand to support the cruiser squadrons as they forced their way through the enemy’s screen.

    As the Germans resumed more aggressive tactics through the spring of 1916, Admiral Beatty became ever more concerned that the slower ‘I-class’ ships might be overwhelmed by the latest German battlecruisers. He knew the Lutzow was operational, and that the Hindenburg couldn’t be far behind. His own fleet would soon be strengthened by two powerful ships, Renown and Repulse, but they would be lightly protected, and pending their arrival he renewed his campaign at the Admiralty to be given the powerful ships of the Fifth Battle Squadron (5BS). Four of the ‘Queen Elizabeths’ had been with him at Rosyth at the time of the abortive German operation in May, and he had lobbied for the transfer to be made permanent. However, it was not until July that Admiral Jellicoe was persuaded of the merits of a new plan involving an exchange of ships that would benefit both the BCF and the Grand Fleet.

    The three surviving ‘I-class’ battlecruisers would go to the Grand Fleet, where they could act as faster and more powerful scouts than the current armoured cruisers. In return, four ships of 5BS would join the Battle Cruiser Fleet to provide it with heavy close support.
    Jellicoe was unwilling to send all nine of the existing 15” ships south, partly because three of them had only just commissioned, and partly out of fear that the loss would weaken the Grand Fleet. He also knew that having such a powerful force might tempt Beatty into engaging the entire German Fleet on his own.

    HMS Invincible and New Zealand moved north in the middle of July, and in return 5BS came south. Jellicoe had been persuaded to temporarily add a fifth ship, the Royal Oak, while HMAS Australia and HMS Indefatigable were being repaired following a collision during an exercise earlier in the month. Indefatigable was scheduled to join the Grand Fleet as soon as she came out of dock, but was delayed by defects found during a brief steaming trial.

    She was coaled and ready to sail from Rosyth when the Battlecruiser Fleet received orders to put to sea in the early hours of the 31st July.
    Order of Battle 31st July 1916
  • Order of Battle, 31st July 1916

    Royal Navy

    Battle Cruiser Fleet – 6 Battlecruisers, 5 Fast Battleships

    HMS Lion (Fleet flagship Vice Admiral Beatty) leads 1BCS

    1BCS - Queen Mary (Flag R-Adm Cradock), Panther, Princess Royal, Repulse

    5BS - Barham (Flag R-Adm Evan-Thomas), Malaya, Valiant, Warspite, Royal Oak

    Indefatigable (nominally '2BCS', cruising station ahead of 1BCS)

    1LCS – Galatea, Phaeton, Inconstant, Cordelia

    2LCS – Southampton, Birmingham, Nottingham, Dublin

    3LCS – Falmouth, Yarmouth, Birkenhead, Gloucester

    1st, 19th Destroyer Flotillas, Units of Harwich Force
    Seaplane Carrier Engadine.

    Grand Fleet – 23 Battleships, 2 Battlecruisers

    HMS Iron Duke (Fleet flagship Admiral Jellicoe), stationed ahead of Monarch

    2BS – Ajax (Flag V-Adm Jerram), King George V, Centurion, Orion, Monarch, Conqueror, Thunderer

    4BS – Superb (Flag V-Adm De Robeck), Newfoundland, Bellerophon, Temeraire, Emperor of India, Vanguard, Royal William

    1BS – Colossus (Flag V-Adm Burney), Royal Sovereign, Collingwood, St Vincent, Neptune, Marlborough, Hercules, Dreadnought

    3BCS – Invincible (Flag V-Adm Sturdee, also V-Adm commanding cruiser forces), New Zealand

    1CS - Cochrane, Warrior, Duke of Edinburgh

    2CS – Minotaur, Shannon, Defence, Black Prince

    4LCS – Comus, Caroline, Royalist, Chatham

    4th, 11th, 12th Destroyer Flotillas
    Seaplane Carrier Campania
    Relay ships and C-in-C's private tender – Cruisers: Boadicea, Active, Blanche, Destroyer: Oak

    Notes and key differences:
    -HMS Panther is the 1911 battlecruiser and is a sister-ship to Queen Mary.
    -Royal Oak, Royal William, Royal Sovereign are ‘Royal’ class fast battleships of the 1913 programme, equivalent to design ‘X2’ – a cheaper version of the Queen Elizabeths. It had a 12” belt, less powerful machinery but was longer and was still designed for 25 knots ‘on overload’.
    -HMS Newfoundland is the ex-Chilean Latorre.
    -HMS Repulse is described <in this post>; she’s a ‘Sabre-toothed Cat’ with eight 15” guns and a 6” armour belt, capable of 31 knots.
    -HMS Benbow, HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMAS Australia are in dock.
    -HMS Canada exists, but is a Royal-class battleship only just commissioned and did not sail with Jellicoe.

    Imperial German Navy

    Scouting Force – 6 Battlecruisers

    I SG - SMS Lutzow (Fleet flagship V-Adm Hipper), Derfflinger, Seydlitz, Moltke, Goeben, Von der Tann

    II SG – Frankfurt (Flag R-Adm Boedicker), Elbing, Pillau, Wiesbaden

    2nd, 6th, 9th Torpedo Boat Flotillas

    High Seas Fleet – 17 Battleships, 6 Pre-Dreadnoughts

    SMS Bayern (Fleet Flagship Adm Scheer), stationed behind Konig

    III Geschwader – Grosser Kurfurst (Flag R-Adm Behncke), Markgraf, Kronprinz, Konig, Kaiser, Kaiserin, Friedrich der Grosse, Konig Albert

    I Geschwader – Ostfriesland (Flag V-Adm Souchon), Thuringen, Helgoland, Oldenburg, Nassau, Posen, Rheinland, Westfalen

    II Geschwader – Deutschland (Flag R-Adm Mauve), Hessen, Pommern, Hannover, Schleisen, Schleswig-Holstein

    IV SG – Stettin, Munchen, Fraunlob, Stuttgart, Hamburg

    1st, 3rd, 6th, 7th Torpedo Boat Flotillas

    Notes and key differences:
    -Prinzregent Luitpold is in dock, all other major German ships are present.
    -Goeben made it home at the beginning to the story.
    -Bayern is present and is the same ship as in reality.
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    Stavanger 1 - The Fleets Converge
  • Stavanger 1 - The Fleets Converge

    After the abortive sortie of 31st May, repairs to Derfflinger took six weeks, and there was a further pause for training and to await a more favourable phase of the Moon. There was frustration as the British launched a second seaplane attack on the islands of Sylt, using the carriers Campania and Vindex. Like the first attack, it produced mixed results for both sides, as bombs started a fire in an airships shed and damaged the radio station nearby. However, the shed was empty, and the radio was repaired within two days, while the Royal Navy lost four seaplanes; one due to German fire, the others wrecked by rising seas as they landed near their motherships.
    By the 30th July, the Imperial Navy was ready for another sortie. Submarines were once again in position off the British coast, and the six battlecruisers of Admiral Hipper’s 1st Scouting Group sailed from Wilhelmshaven that night, on a mission to interfere with the shipping routes between Norway and Britain.

    In the early hours of the 31st July, Admiral Scheer stood on the bridge of his new flagship, SMS Bayern, as the High Seas Fleet passed the bar of the Jade. Despite the short summer nights, it was still dark, and only the half-power stern light of the battleship Konig showed her position ahead. He had sailed a few hours after Hipper, and he would maintain a lower speed than his subordinate to arrive about 100 miles West of the mouth of the Skagerrak by the evening of the 31st to cover the retreat of the battlecruisers.
    Bayern was the most powerful ship in the fleet, and the first of her class. Her 15” guns could send 750-kilogram shells out to 23,000 metres, and the latest 8-metre rangefinders were installed in all four of her turrets. She was also the first ship to be built with a plotting room behind the bridge, in which his staff could maintain charts of the location of all German forces, and the estimated positions of the enemy. That had been one of Hipper’s suggestions after Dogger Bank, where the two German forces hadn’t been able to rendezvous as quickly as they should, leaving Hipper exposed and robbing the High Seas Fleet of the chance to cut off the isolated British battlecruisers.
    Even so, in his own mind, Scheer wasn’t entirely convinced about the necessity of the plot; the fault that day had been Admiral Ingenohl’s for not steaming as far East as he said he would. Having a plot wouldn’t have changed that. Nevertheless, today the two forces would be operating far out of each other’s sight, but with a co-ordinated plan. If the British scouting forces could be lured sufficiently far east and south, his trap could snap shut.

    Ahead of him steamed the Konig class ships of III Geschwader, all fast, modern dreadnoughts with ten 12” guns that had recently been adapted to fire out to 20,500 metres. Behind him were four of the equally powerful Kaisers, then the slower but nonetheless study ships of I Geschwader, the Helgoland and Nassau classes, whose guns were restricted to somewhat shorter ranges.
    That fact had caused Scheer some irritation since he took command of the fleet. After the action at the Dogger Bank, where Admiral Hipper’s ships had been fired on at extreme range by the British, it was concluded that the German fleet should prepare to fight at longer ranges, and designs had been prepared to increase the maximum elevation of gun turrets to allow shells to be hurled further. However, when he was appointed Commander-in-Chief, he saw that programme had been carried out with a degree of slackness and slowness that belittled German efficiency. In the last year, only two ships had been modernised. He had taken his complaints to the Admiral Staff, and to the Kaiser himself, and since the spring all the modern dreadnoughts and battlecruisers had been refitted with the new elevation mechanisms and the director firing equipment required for long-range shooting.

    If only his predecessor, Admiral von Pohl, hadn’t sat in harbour and relied exclusively on the U-boats, he thought ruefully. If the conclusions reached after Dogger Bank had been put into effect earlier, his older ships could also have been refitted by now. As it was, he had to regard them as less useful, and they were in the centre of the fleet, where hopefully they would only have to engage older British battleships or battlecruisers.
    Still, he thought fatalistically, at least they were better than the ‘five-minute ships’ in the rear, whose commander, Admiral Mauve, had begged him to include with the fleet. He’d chosen to bring the obsolete pre-dreadnoughts as he had only seventeen modern battleships, whereas the latest intelligence suggested the British had 26-28. His only comfort was that some of those were still very new, and the enemy must have their maintenance problems, just as he did. He’d had to leave Prinzregent Luitpold behind with condenser troubles, so with any luck, the British Grand Fleet might number as few as 24 on any given day. The six obsolete ships therefore gave him a near-parity in numbers, but he knew the only time they would be of any use was either to finish off a crippled enemy, or as a rear-guard to give the British five minutes’ target practice while he tried to escape from a superior force. For now, he tried to keep that thought firmly to the back of his mind.

    Both sides sought to bring a portion of their enemy's forces to battle, probably the respective battlecruiser squadrons, although he knew the British with their superior numbers were probably not averse to engaging his entire Fleet if the tactical situation was favourable. Admiral Scheer knew he had to be more cautious; he had authority from the Kaiser for aggressive raiding operations, but he was still under orders to avoid risking the German battlefleet in an all-out action with the entire Royal Navy.


    Across the North Sea, the Admiralty’s Room 40 coding station had decoded German wireless traffic, although changes to the enemy’s grid coordinate system meant that they didn’t know exactly where the Germans planned to sail. They suspected that the operation involved Norwegian traffic, and it therefore did not take a tactical genius to work out that the German battlecruisers would be involved in some sort of raid or minelaying operation, with the High Seas Fleet covering them to try to bring the British to battle. In all probability, the Germans would seek to allow themselves clear lines of retreat, either back south to Wilhelmshaven, or east around Denmark. With relatively little need to cover the East coast of England, the British fleet could therefore sail out to attempt to intercept the Germans.

    The Grand Fleet was stronger than at the start of the war, and so in return for the slower ‘I-class’ battlecruisers to act as scouts, Admiral Beatty had been given the 5th Battle Squadron, consisting of five of the most powerful battleships in the world. Four ‘Queen Elizabeth’ class fast battleships were joined by HMS Royal Oak, the first of the ‘Royals’; cheaper versions of the Queen Elizabeths which traded a larger, improved hull form for 12" armour and less powerful engines. In addition, his fleet had been bolstered just three days earlier by the arrival of HMS Repulse, the largest warship in the world. She was still working up and was a largely untested ship, but when sailing flags were hoisted on the evening of 31st July, her Captain signalled Beatty for permission to sail with the squadron.
    One of his other powerful ships, HMAS Australia, was dock for minor repairs to collision damage, but her refit had been extended to allow her condensers to be overhauled. Beatty was therefore without one of his five ‘Cats’, and so the fast and well-armed Repulse was a welcome addition. Just before the fleet sailed, he ordered her to join the rear of the line.
    Eleven heavy ships steamed out under the Forth Bridge, led by the sole ship in 2BCS (Indefatigable), which would later take station about five miles ahead of the rest in support of the scouting cruisers. The main force of Lion (flagship) and 1BCS (Queen Mary, Panther, Princess Royal and Repulse) was followed by 5BS (Barham, Malaya, Valiant, Warspite, Royal Oak).

    Two hundred miles to the north, Jellicoe had the entire Grand Fleet, less the battleship Benbow in refit. Ahead of him, his armoured cruiser scouts were reinforced by two ‘I-class’ battlecruisers of 3BCS. His fleet also had several relative newcomers; the ‘Royal’ class fast battleships Royal Sovereign and Royal William. Their sister HMS Canada had commissioned only five weeks earlier, and unlike his subordinate at Rosyth, Jellicoe considered such a new ship to be too inexperienced to sail with the fleet.


    As the two great fleets headed north and east, thousands of sailors prepared themselves for battle, although after two years of war, few of them firmly expected to see it today. As the day wore on and the ships ploughed through the North Sea chop, there was the usual mix of excitement and boredom. As lunch was taken to messes and brought up to those on watch, even the keenest young recruits began to wonder if it was just another sweep after all.

    At 3:06 that afternoon, the German cruiser Pillau turned to investigate a sighting on her port beam.
    At 3:08, ships of the British Battle Cruiser Fleet's 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron sighted smoke almost dead ahead.
    At 3:12, HMS Southampton signalled to the flagship, ‘Two ships sighted ENE’ and turned to port to close. Within just three minutes, Southampton had signalled again, ‘Two Enemy cruisers sighted’. The Pillau signalled Hipper that she had enemy cruisers in sight, and that there was heavy smoke behind them. Ahead of the main body of the Battle Cruiser Fleet, HMS Indefatigable went onto full ahead to close and support the cruisers.
    At 3:19, Admiral Beatty ordered his First Battlecruiser Squadron to increase to 27 knots.

    Two minutes later, Leading Seaman Albert Jones squeezed the trigger of HMS Nottingham’s port forward 6” gun, and a hundred-pound shell was hurled towards SMS Pillau.

    The Battle of Stavanger had begun.
    Stavanger 2 - Twists and Turns
  • Stavanger 2 - Twists and Turns

    Supported by the heavy guns of HMS Indefatigable, the light cruisers Nottingham and Birmingham wrecked the Pillau and a German destroyer and were able to press home their reconnaissance. Shortly after 3.30, it became certain that German battlecruisers were ahead, heading broadly North, while the British were steaming broadly East. Keen not to miss out on another chance to intercept, Beatty ordered his fleet to turn North-northeast, to cut-off and close the Germans as fast as possible. The two main groups were still far out of range and had yet to even spot each other, but they were now on converging courses.

    Beatty's abrupt turn and high speed left some of his screen behind to starboard, while the slower ships of 5BS could not hope to keep pace. Worse, they had not accelerated to top speed when 1BCS did, due to a signalling error. The last ship in the line (normally Princess Royal) was supposed to repeat Beatty’s orders by signal lamp to the battleships, as flags were often obscured. Today however, Repulse was last in the line. She had joined the fleet at the last minute, and her command crew didn’t know to relay the signals. Aboard HMS Barham, Admiral Evan-Thomas knew that Beatty planned to close at high speed in the opening phase of an action, and that he was to stay as close to the battlecruisers as possible, but by the time he realised that Beatty’s ships were accelerating away, they were at close to 27 knots, while he was still at 20. By the time his ships worked up to full speed, he was five miles astern of the battlecruisers, and they were still faster than him.

    Aboard SMS Lutzow, Admiral Hipper could see the smoke plume of the Indefatigable to the West, and the burning wreckage of the Pillau. The British were still far off, and he was in no hurry to waste ammunition on agile cruisers at the limit of his guns’ range. He was puzzled at the appearance of a lone battlecruiser, but his scouts on the port beam reported smoke to the Southwest; undoubtedly the rest of the British force. Steaming at 22 knots, he knew he risked being caught if he kept heading towards Norway. Nevertheless, his objective was to lure the British as far as possible, and at 3.34, he ordered his ships to increase to 24 knots and turn two points to starboard, steering almost exactly due North and further away from the British, hoping to extend the chase and draw them further to the Northeast.
    For the next half-hour, very little changed as Hipper headed North and Beatty chased him. The ships of 1BCS worked up to 27½ knots, the maximum speed at which they could realistically keep together in line. In the fleet, nervous and expectant sailors felt the vibrations of engines being forced to their limits, while stockers and engineers monitored their fireboxes and gauges, as they set about extracting every last horsepower from their engines. The only exception was the Repulse, whose oil-fired boilers required far less attention, and with revolutions for only 28 knots, her massive engines weren’t even being forced.
    Men whispered to each other, and those who had communication with anyone who could see out of their ship asked if the Hun was finally in sight. They were, but even so, there was disbelief that battle was about to commence. Perhaps the enemy would turn away again, and after two long years of skirmishes and manoeuvres, the opening moves seemed more like a battle exercise.
    Ahead, but slowly being caught by the rest of the line, HMS Indefatigable maintained contact with the German Scouting Group, with each side trying a few ranging shots. At about 19,000 yards, it was very long range for both sides’ guns, and Indefatigable's Captain maintained an uneven course to throw off any German attempts to find the range. His mission was to keep them under observation and beat back any of their scouts, not charge in to attack single-handed.

    At 4.01, at a range of about 24,000 yards, HMS Lion opened fire. There was little hope of hitting, these were merely range-finding shots, and they were observed as ‘short’, despite the guns being elevated to maximum. Nevertheless, it would only be a few more minutes before 1BCS was in range.
    There had been great changes since the Chase at the Dogger Bank, just over 18 month earlier. All the British 13.5" battlecruisers had new sights, allowing their turret layers to keep the enemy in view at any elevation. Below decks, their fire-control tables and transmitting units had been adapted to cope with ranges up to 25,000 yards. Each ship now had an additional hydraulic pump, allowing them to run out and load the guns without the ‘stalling’ that had occurred previously at high elevations, meaning the gunlayers could focus on keeping the guns on the enemy. In addition, HMS Queen Mary, Panther and the brand-new Repulse had 15' rangefinders at their foretops and above their armoured directors, allowing them to read long ranges with greater accuracy than the 9' units on other ships. Attempts had also been made to improve spotting; there were now dedicated observers equipped with timers and sights to help ensure they spotted their own salvos and not someone else’s. To help the spotters, and to allow range to be re-acquired more quickly than at Dogger Bank, salvo ‘brackets’ were now more formalised, and the distance between initial corrections (up or down) had been set at 400 yards. Nevertheless, most of these rules and this equipment were still newm. None of it had been tested in battle, and the battlecruisers had little chance to practice at their otherwise comfortable home at Rosyth.

    Admiral Hipper had one more trick up his sleeve to prolong the chase and help complete his real mission. At 4.04, with splashes from British shells erupting just a few hundred yards off his port quarter, he ordered a 14-point turn to starboard, away from the enemy and to put 1SG onto a course back towards home. To avoid losing too much speed, the turn was a slow one, while a longer period stern-on to the enemy also served to keep the range open.
    Hipper's turn was noticed immediately by the British, and once they were sure he had committed to a course for home, rather than just feinting, or turning East for the Skaggerak, Beatty ordered his ships to follow suit, with a 12-point turn to starboard. By 4.15, both fleets were heading in a southerly direction, with the lead ships about 22,500 yards from each other. On slightly converging courses, the British recommenced fire as their plots stabilised, while the Germans still had to wait for a few minutes to be sure their guns were in range. The Lutzow had been built to be capable of firing out to 22,300 yards, and her sister Derfflinger’s turrets had been modified to shoot that far too. The older ships with 11" guns had previously had a slight advantage, as their mounts could elevate to 20 degrees, which allowed their guns to fire to 20,500 yds.
    By 4.30, all six German ships were engaged.

    On the British side, the weaving courses had thrown the scouting forces into disarray, and the position of Indefatigable had been abruptly reversed. Nominally, she was under orders to join up with the main force once the fleets engaged. Originally ahead and slightly to port of the main fleet, Indefatigable had kept an eye on the Germans as they headed North, with Beatty slowly gaining on her. The sudden reversal of course left her in the rear, steaming a mile or so behind 1BCS, struggling and failing to match their speed.

    Shortly after it was confirmed that the Germans were heading broadly south, Beatty realised it could mean only one thing – that Admiralty intelligence was right, and the High Seas Fleet was out in force. If the German battlecruisers had simply wanted to run away, as they did at Dogger Bank, they would have headed East through the Skagerrak; a risky place for any British squadron to follow. The fact that they were heading South suggested that they were trying to lure the British onto the guns of the entire German fleet.

    At 4.32, Beatty ordered 1LCS to take station ahead and to starboard of his battlecruisers, with the scout cruisers Cordelia, Galatea, Phaeton and Inconstant to make best possible speed to provide warning of the HSF's approach. By 5.00, the squadron was 5 miles to starboard of the line, but barely a mile ahead as Beatty’s ships continued to thunder along at maximum speed.
    In those few minutes after 4.30, the realisation that the German fleet was out and probably nearby meant that Beatty’s force had a very limited time to try to hit the German battlecruisers hard, before he might be forced to withdraw. Until now, he had used top speed to gain on the Germans, to try to work around them and cut them off, while steadily closing the range. However, with the High Seas Fleet perhaps only minutes ahead, there was no time for that, and the turn south had put the fleets more-or-less abeam of each other.

    It was time to engage the enemy more closely.
    Stav 1.png
    Stavanger 3 – Hit First, Hit Hard!
  • Stavanger 3 – Hit First, Hit Hard!

    At 4.32, the battle of Stavanger was more than an hour old. The two battlecruiser squadrons had been firing at each other on-and-off for nearly half an hour, but very little damage had been done. A German cruiser had been crippled, and a few near misses had sent splinters and splashes over various ships, but the long ranges and rapidly changing courses had not made for accurate gunnery.

    Admiral Beatty knew he might not have long to fight Hipper’s ships before they ran into the main body of their fleet; but could it be as much as two hours? Or as little as half an hour?
    All he could be certain of was that his scouts ahead and to starboard had yet to sight any other enemy ships. Now was the time to close to decisive range with the German Scouting Group. He ordered a four-point turn to port, taking his squadron into the enemy's path. By 4.40, ranges had fallen to under 17,000 yards and he ordered a four-point turn to starboard, in line, bringing the fleet back onto a gently converging course with the enemy. A mile or so astern of the rest, Indefatigable ‘cut the corner’, temporarily stopping her from falling further astern. At 4.41, she too entered range, and opened fire on the rearmost German battlecruiser.
    Six German ships were now engaging six British, but there was a significant British advantage in terms of weight of broadside, slightly counteracted by the Germans' ability to fire salvos more quickly.

    In the next few minutes, both sides rapidly found the range, as British plots converged, and the instincts of the German range-takers quickly showed their worth. An early hit by Lion exploded on Lutzow's belt under A-turret, but it caused little damage. Queen Mary and Panther achieved several straddles, but their targets, the Derfflinger and Seydlitz were lucky to avoid any hits, while Princess Royal's gunnery was completely thrown off by the change of course, and she didn't come close to hitting Moltke for some time. At the rear of the British line, the Repulse had had no time to work with the fleet, and her Captain though it best to engage the rear of the German line, as she was last in the British line. Some way astern, the Indefatigable was also firing at the rearmost German ship, and so the Von der Tann had to endure the fire of two ships, while the next ship ahead, the Goeben, sailed on unmolested. Worse, this led to confusion as each of the British ships corrected for the other’s salvoes. Indefatigable's experienced crew noticed it first, but it was some time before the problem was noticed by Repulse's spotters, most of whom had joined from other ships and training units just two weeks earlier. Repulse had only ever conducted a single gunnery practice, and in those opening minutes, her fire-control and loading procedures were chaotic, at best.

    Meanwhile, the Germans made their presence felt as Lion was hit aft. The deck armour kept splinters out of the engine rooms, but the 4" gun battery was wrecked. Nevertheless, the lessons of the fires at Dogger Bank had been learned, and damage control teams soon had the hoses playing on them, while piles of soaking wet fire-suppression blankets sealed off sources of draught and smoke.

    What happened at 4.51 could perhaps have been predicted, and in later years, some claimed to have done so. A minute earlier, Queen Mary's B-turret had been hit by a shell which fortunately failed to explode, although it sent debris flying into the interior. Next, observers on Panther directly astern clearly saw a hit aft, underneath X-turret. Just seconds later, the stern of the Queen Mary erupted in a burst of yellow flame, leaving a column of grey-black smoke.

    In Queen Mary’s Q-turret, Petty Officer Arthur Giles sat in command of the right-hand gun. His gun crew had closed up for action almost two hours earlier, and at 3.30 the guns had been loaded. Giles had kept an eye on his men, who’d been inclined to rush the loading sequence as they tensed themselves for the action ahead. He’d told them to steady themselves, just as they’d all trained for, and through the intermittent firing as the ship turned first to port, then made a big turn to starboard, his crew had performed well.
    Then they were in action for real, firing in steady salvoes and hearing crackles and booms of the enemy’s shells exploding in reply. Just after 4.40, the rammers of both guns failed, stuck mid-way between the in and out positions. Giles’ over-keen No.3 had opened the breech too quickly, and caught the rammer head a whack as the gun was still running out.
    Giles nipped out of his seat and grabbed a pinch-bar from the rack at the edge of the turret. Heaving the solid steel rod under the equally solid steel of the rammer head, he could see it was just slightly out of line. He pushed down and the links flexed, before he grabbed onto a pipe above to steady himself while he jumped on the bar. The whole thing flexed nicely, and a second look showed it to be back in line, so he stopped and pushed the lever to ‘Run out’ the rammer. It smoothly wound itself out into the breech. He ran it in and out a few times, and the machine was working properly again. They’d missed two salvos, but the gun was back in action and they wouldn’t have to resort to the slow and exhausting process of manual loading.

    A voice from below called up, ‘Petty Officer Giles, can you see what we’re up against’.
    Since the action began, they’d been on director firing and Giles hadn’t had the need or the time to look through his periscope. He had been too busy listening and following the rhythm of the loading or following the pointers to look out at the enemy. Now, however, he bent forward to the eyepiece and saw a line of German ships through the haze. Between them were what looked like a small fleet of destroyers, although he didn’t have time to count them.
    ‘There’s a few big German ships and a couple’a destroyers’, he shouted back, understating the number of ships he saw so as not to alarm his men, ‘looks like we’re shooting at the Derfflinger maybe, giv’in ‘em back what they did to Scarborough.’
    There was a cheer from below, but it was cut short by the thunder of the guns.
    A few seconds later, the next shell was being rammed home when he saw a white flash and a sparkle of debris from the ship in his sights. ‘We’ve hit her lads!’, he shouted, ‘Keep it steady’.

    Giles felt the turret turn a little, presumably as the Gunnery Officer in the foretop trained his sights on a new target, then there was a thump from within the ship. The whole turret vibrated and was then still for a moment. Then the lights went out.
    ‘Torches there!’, he yelled through the ongoing rumble.
    There was another lurch and he grabbed hold of a roped strap above his head. He was glad he did as the turret lurched upwards, or so he thought, and he heard the yell of a man falling down on the other side, under the guns. The dim emergency lights came on, and suddenly there was quiet. The dust that had been shaken up started to settle, and he glanced at the gauges on the right bulkhead.
    ‘No hydraulic pressure on right gun’, he shouted to Lieutenant Wells, the Turret Officer. He looked through his scope again, then added, ‘Range obscured. There’s something blocking the sight.’
    ‘What’s happened Gilesy?’, asked his gun's No.2.
    Giles wasn’t sure, and asked Lieutenant Wells, ‘What do you think, Sir’
    ‘God knows, Giles’, came the reply, ‘we’re finished in here though’.
    Giles turned back and for the first time saw that the breech of the left gun was poking up towards the roof of the turret, depressed to minimum. Through the sudden quiet, there was a distant roaring, rumbling sort of a noise from below.
    ‘Can you see if the four-inch are still firing?’, asked Lt. Wells.
    Giles poked his head out of his sighting slot at the top of the turret and looked to his left, towards the after 4” battery. He was horrified at what he saw and practically fell back into the turret with shock.
    ‘The mainmast’s down Sir, over the port side. Dunno about the four-inch battery, but there’s a lott’a smoke.’
    ‘Well … Giles, I think we ought to get them out. Maybe we can help with damage…’
    The Lieutenant’s voice trailed off, as they both noticed simultaneously that the ship now had a fair list to port. The motion had changed too, she wasn’t riding the sea, she was wallowing.
    ‘Get them out Arthur!’, called out the Lieutenant as they both felt the list increasing.
    ‘Clear the turret’, shouted Giles, and yelled down to the working chamber.
    He asked A/B Fredricks, who was coming up from the chamber below, ‘Is the order passed to the magazine?’
    ‘No use there’, replied Fredricks glumly, ‘water’s coming up the hoist. They must have bought it.’
    ‘Come on’, said Giles, pulling Fredricks towards the cabinet at the back of the turret, ‘Out you go Lad.’
    Giles knew he was the last man who would be leaving the turret as he followed Fredricks and Lt. Wells out of the top hatch. ‘All clear Sir’, he confirmed when the Lieutenant poked his head back into the turret. They climbed down the ladder at the side and had to jump the last few feet to the sharply sloping deck. It was soaking wet, and the No.4 of the left gun missed his footing and slid down, hitting the water which Giles was surprised to see was already coming over the scuppers. It was just too shallow to slow his fall though, and the man crashed into the rail. He slumped down, either stunned or perhaps even dead, before the ship lurched again and a wave carried his body over the rail.

    There were a couple of dozen men either at the rail or clinging to the side of the barbette. Giles saw the guns of the 4” battery were all askew, and the deck beyond sloping down into the sea.
    ‘Well lads, who’s for a swim?’, he asked with a mock cheeriness to the assembled crowd.
    ‘F… off’, was the loudest of the replies, ‘she’s still afloat.’

    She was still afloat, but some sixth sense told Giles to follow the spirit of his shipmate’s suggestion. Lowering himself down on a loose line, he entered the water slowly, or as slowly as the urgency driven by his sense of fear permitted. There was plenty of floating debris aft, and he swam for it. A few moments later, he didn’t know what caused him to go under, probably a wave, but at that moment there was a thunderous bang in the water all around him, and even under the sea he saw the brilliant flash of an explosion from behind him. Objects began to splash into the water above his head, and he struggled to stay under, instinctive knowing that the debris-filled air would be more deadly than the sea. Then he felt his lungs start to burn, and he struggled even more vigorously to reach the surface. He burst above the sea, propelling himself almost half out of the water before crashing back and finding himself in a grey, acidic-tasting mist. He floated, trying to clear his eyes, and then shouted around.
    There was no reply, and he looked around for something to hang onto. Quite what happened next, he was never able to recall, but he awoke lying on a canvas stretcher, with someone bending over him and speaking in English.
    Stavanger 4 – One Down, Five More to Go
  • Stavanger 4 – One Down, Five More to Go

    On the Flag Bridge of the Lutzow, Admiral Hipper couldn’t believe the combination of luck and the achievement of his sailors over the last few minutes. The second ship in the British line had been badly hit, before it rolled over and exploded. For the first time ever, he now had numerical superiority over a British squadron. Even though the British still had the advantage of heavier guns, he had more of them, and two of his ships could concentrate their fire. The High Seas Fleet could only be half an hour ahead, and if he could draw the British far enough south, they would be trapped between his ships and Admiral Scheer’s.
    However, even as the thrill of these thoughts flowed through his mind, there was reason for doubt. Apart from a straggling ‘I-class’ battlecruiser that was some way astern, the last ship in the British line didn’t appear in the Imperial Navy’s current recognition manual. She was obviously one of the rumoured ‘Renown’ class, and she was huge. Even through his handheld Zeiss glasses, he could see that she was much longer than the ‘Lions’ that made up the rest of the British fleet, and periodic flashes told of her four turrets, making her armament most likely to be eight 15” guns. Even so, the fact that she was big and powerful didn’t worry the German Admiral so much as the fact of her mere presence in the line. He knew she hadn’t been in the British Navy’s pre-war construction programme. If the enemy could build ships like that in eighteen or twenty months, it boded ill for the future of the Imperial Navy.

    Sixteen thousand yards to the East, HMS Panther had been forced to swerve to starboard to avoid the rapidly sinking bow of the Queen Mary. Panther had other problems too, as an 11" shell from Seydlitz went through the roof of Q-turret, exploding inside. Charges in the guncages and hoist ignited, sending the damaged roof of the turret up and overboard. As a jet of flame shot up above the masts, fire hissed through supposedly "flash-tight" hatches several decks below, close to charges that were ready to be sent up the hoist. A quick-thinking Royal Marine sergeant hurled two bags of Cordite back away from the jets of flames near the scuttle and ordered the magazine to be flooded. His actions may well have saved the ship, as the flames never touched the volatile Cordite inside the magazine, and the cool water rapidly overwhelmed the rising heat.
    Princess Royal lived a charmed life, despite being hit twice in the next few minutes. One shell destroyed searchlights and punched holes in her aft funnel; hardly critical damage, while another was kept out by her 9" armour belt. Repulse was not so lucky; two shells from Goeben were barely kept out by her 6" belt, with armour plates being displaced in both cases. When a third shell hit just 8' forward and slightly lower than one of these earlier hits, the damaged supports broke and allowed splinters to puncture bulkheads, causing flooding abeam B-turret. A few splinters clanged against the bulkhead next to the hoist below the turret, and it was later described as a miracle that these did not do any significant damage. A fourth hit failed to explode in the superstructure between Q and X turrets. Heavily engaged by both Repulse and Indefatigable, Von der Tann fired at the larger British ship, but failed to inflict any damage.
    Lion's next hit on Lutzow did little damage, as it penetrated the secondary battery aft but failed to explode. Panther was first to do some real damage to the Germans, as a shell entered above the Seydlitz's forward belt, exploding inside the ship and sending splinters into A-turret’s trunk. A fire soon developed that mirrored the recent inferno on Panther, burning out the turret. Princess Royal had also finally found the range, hitting Moltke’s belt just forward of A-turret, the shell exploding as it passed through the plate, shattering it and sending splinters through bulkheads, allowing the sea to gush into the ship through dozens of small holes. By this stage, two of Repulse's guns were out of action, not due to the enemy but due to jams caused by her inexperienced crew. However, the mighty ship finally drew blood, as one of her 15" shells exploded inside Von der Tann's forward superstructure, sending a shock back down the forefunnel and blowing back out of some of the forward boilers. Unluckily, several furnace doors were open while stokers tended to them, and burning coals were blown into the engine rooms, killing an unlucky stoker and starting fires in two of the forward boiler rooms.

    The German reply continued with steady fire; Lutzow penetrated Lion's upper belt, but mercifully the shell failed to explode, while another exploded behind the forward secondary battery, wrecking cabins and stores but doing little real damage to the fighting ability of the ship. Having so rapidly dispatched the Queen Mary, SMS Derfflinger switched her fire to Panther, the next ship in the British line, and after acquiring the range, she scored three hits with successive salvos. Two had little effect, as one was kept out by the belt, while another hit the deck behind X turret, dishing the deckplates and splintering the scrubbed teak, but doing no serious damage. The third missed the top of the belt and exploded below the aft secondary battery. The shell was broken up by the shallow impact with the armour deck, but fragments still managed to penetrate, causing minor damage in the engine room below and started a fire among ready charges for the 4” guns.
    Meanwhile, Seydlitz was also still firing at Panther, and one of her shells hit the wrecked Q-turret, re-igniting the fire. Princess Royal's charmed life continued, as an 11" shell from Moltke was kept out by the 5" belt abeam X turret. The plate failed as the shell broke up, but other than a chunk of armour later found embedded in a bulkhead, the effects were largely kept out of the ship. Repulse suffered a near-miss that punched through the forward funnel, severing rigging and sending one of the cranes crashing down onto a 35' motorboat, smashing it to matchwood.
    Von der Tann had switched her fire to Indefatigable, with quick effect. She obtained a single hit on the stern of the ship, wrecking lines and storerooms, before two shells from the same broadside hit together. One was deflected by the armour belt abeam P-turret, and the second hit the upper edge of the belt abreast of the engine rooms, exploding in the plate. The slope of the deck kept the fragments out of vital areas, but a fire was started below which quickly spread through cabins and up into galleys and storerooms.

    It was just after five o’clock, and on Lutzow’s flag bridge, Admiral Hipper’s sense of optimism was at a high. One British ship had been destroyed and the others were clearly suffering the effects of his Scouting Group’s accurate fire. The High Seas fleet must now be only minutes ahead to the southwest, and he was holding the British on a southerly course that should lead them straight into Scheer’s heavy ships.

    However, doubt and concern surged back into the Admiral’s mind as he saw what was unfolding astern. Irrationally, he thought for a moment that it wasn’t fair, and he felt a little cheated. He’d destroyed one enemy ship and seemed to be gaining the upper hand over several others, but the smoke of coal, cordite and burning ships had covered the approach of a powerful new enemy.
    One by one, the ships of the Fifth Battle Squadron were turning into line behind HMS Indefatigable.
    Stavanger 5 - The Dash to the South
  • Stavanger 5 - The Dash to the South

    Having been left behind during the opening phases of the battle, Rear-Admiral Evan-Thomas' Fifth Battle Squadron had been able to catch up with Beatty's faster ships by avoiding his detour to the North. As the battlecruisers turned and charged South, he put his battleships on an interception course to bring them behind the ships of 1BCS.
    As the new squadron swung into line and fired their first ranging shots, Admiral Hipper’s estimation of the situation was changing fast. He had previously held a steady course at just 22 knots, allowing for accurate gunnery and for ranges to steadily reduce. Now, however, he was completely outgunned, and he clearly needed to either withdraw or bring the enemy swiftly into contact with the High Seas Fleet. His mission was to do the later, and while his ships were still fighting, he was determined to proceed with it.
    Hipper ordered 1SG to increase to 25 knots, the best possible speed that would maintain the line. He also turned a point to port, to allow the range to open between him and this dangerous new enemy. He didn’t want to allow them to think he was fleeing East, and therefore break off their southerly pursuit which was bringing them ever closer to the battlefleet. His attempt to signal Scheer as to the enemy’s strength and position was frustrated by temporary damage to Lutzow’s wireless, and it had to be flashed to Derfflinger astern for transmission.

    Meanwhile, the battlecruiser squadrons continued to engage each other. One of Princess Royal’s shells punched a neat hole through Moltke's bow which did no real damage, before on the next salvo, A-turret was hit squarely in the middle of its face. The shell failed to penetrate but exploded as it entered, shattering the plate, blowing both guns out of their cradles and starting a fire that blazed through the turret and down into the working chamber, killing everyone inside. A further hit right aft sent links of anchor chain hurtling out into the sea, and started a small fire, but again little real damage was done to the fighting efficiency of the ship.
    Repulse's gunners had finally realised that both they and Indefatigable were engaging the last ship in the German line, and so they shifted their target to the Goeben, bringing the German ship under fire for the first time in the battle. In the next few minutes, they scored two hits on the German ship, both amidships and just underwater on the belt. The immense 15" shells failed to penetrate, but shock from the two impacts, which were within 11' of each other, stove in plates and broke rivets in dozens of seams, leading to water steadily flowing into coal bunkers.
    Indefatigable's shooting at Von der Tann finally registered a couple of hits, although the only significant damage was to the rearmost port 5.9" gun, which was put out of action by splinters. Quick work by the German battlecruiser’s crew had controlled her stokehold fires, and men were taken from her secondary guns to help redistribute coal to the other boiler rooms, allowing their crews to keep her remaining furnaces burning fiercely. Even with two boilers out of action, the ship just managed to keep up with the line, helped by the fact that the ships ahead were themselves no longer capable of reaching their maximum speeds.

    In the rear of the British line, the Fifth Battle Squadron were slightly closer to the German ships, as the battlecruisers had pulled slightly ahead as Admiral Beatty attempted to cut off the German line of retreat. Rear-Admiral Evan-Thomas ordered that his squadron engage the rear of the German line, meaning his flagship HMS Barham fired at SMS Derfflinger, bringing her under fire for the first time since the destruction of the Queen Mary. At just over 15,000 yards, the long-baseline rangefinders and accurate guns of the fast battleships soon found their targets, and after a few ranging shots, Barham scored two hits in her first half-dozen full salvos. The first exploded on the armour deck above the battery, sending splinters inside. With the German secondary guns firing fast, exposed charges were ignited and the entire starboard forward battery was soon ablaze. The second 15” shell exploded near Derfflinger’s C barbette, inside the ship where the armour was just 3.9" thick. Splinters entered the workings of the turret, wrecking machinery, although mercifully there was no fire. Nevertheless, with the turret out of action and the secondary battery ablaze just a few feet away, no chances were taken, and the order was given to flood C-turret’s magazine.
    Malaya's fire on Seydlitz was equally accurate, although the results were not so effective. One shell exploded harmlessly against the armour belt amidships, while another burst on D-turret's barbette. The shock shattered the armour plate and disrupted operations inside, but the effects didn’t enter the ship and the turret was back in action a few minutes later. The rest of 5BS had less time to find the range, and their total effect was a shell that burst on Goeben's foc'sle deck amidships, resulting in scars and small fires, but little real damage.

    Ranges between the battlecruisers now began to open more rapidly as Beatty pulled ahead. Nevertheless, the duel between the flagships continued. Lion drew blood from Hipper's flagship as a 13.5" shell penetrated one of her 5.9" casemates and exploded inside the battery. As had happened on her sister a few minutes earlier, the shrapnel ignited charges but this time the effects were worse as the complete port battery was burnt out, claiming the lives of 75 of her crew, while smoke from the blaze began to make sighting difficult for gunlayers in her aft turrets. Another hit aft, penetrating the weak belt and opening up a hole near her shafts, while a shell shattered on C barbette, but the splinters wrecked a nearby anti-aircraft gun.

    Up to this point, Lutzow's shooting had been excellent. A hit aft of Lion's belt caused leaks near her shafts and rudders, although armour kept the steering gear itself safe. Another went straight through at the joint of her aft 4" and 5" belts, then through the slope of the armour deck, before coming to rest halfway through the 1.5" torpedo bulkhead that protected the magazines. Mercifully, it didn't explode; if it had, Lion would have been blown to pieces. A third shell was kept out by the 9" belt, although leaks started around unsupported plate edges, while another hit entered the water and exploded as it hit the 5" belt forward of X turret, breaking seams and allowing water into a hydraulic pump room and the port engine room.
    The German flagship’s shooting then began to deteriorate due to the smoke of her fires obscuring rangefinders in her aft turrets, and the only hit she scored in the subsequent few minutes was deflected by Lion's 9" armour. However, on the British ship, the effects of earlier fire were starting to be felt, as X-turret lost electrical and hydraulic power as flooding continued to increase aft.

    Over the next few minutes, there was further flooding in Panther’s wing compartments and Moltke’s bow as shells struck home. Repulse lost her Q-turret and the magazine was flooded, but in return her fire killed almost everyone on Goeben’s bridge as a 15” shell hit the compass platform.

    With the range now down to as little as 14,500 yards, 5BS were now all engaged with the German line. Barham's fire opened a hole on the waterline just forward of Derfflinger's A-turret, while Seydlitz's unlucky D-turret was hit square on. It had only just resumed firing but was now wrecked as the 15" shell smashed the faceplate, igniting everything in the trunk and turret and sending a jet of white flame up higher than her masts. Below, frantic crewmen tried to escape the flames, allowing them to spread into E turret's trunk. Although the fire there was less spectacular, it rapidly moved up into the turret, disabling that out too. Seydlitz was now down to just her four wing guns.
    Although neither of the two shells exploded, Valiant's hits on Moltke added to the ships problems as the shock of the heavy projectiles shook her up, while even a dud shell nonetheless added to the leaks and holes forward of A-turret. Warspite continued to straddle, but the Goeben proved an elusive target, while the Royal Oak landed four heavy blows on the little Von der Tann. The first penetrated her aft belt, wrecking her remote steering and causing leaks in a dozen small compartments. The next went over the main belt and exploded near D turret barbette, sending splinters into the trunk below. Smouldering propellant soon developed into a full-blown fire, but by that time the magazine had been flooded and even the turret's crew had time to escape the flames. A third hit on the bow destroyed two of the worthless 88mm guns, while the fourth didn’t explode but did punch a series of holes in the extreme stern of the ship, adding slightly to the flooding there.

    By now, the German reply was becoming noticeably weaker and less accurate than it had been in the devastating opening minutes of the battle. Princess Royal's luck held as two shells that struck her failed to penetrate or explode, with one defeated by X barbette's armour and the other by the belt. The only serious damage was to Repulse, as an 11" shell went over her belt and exploded inside the ship, sending fragments into her No.4 boiler room. Despite steam leaks, stokers were able to shut off oil valves and steam lines as a damage control team fought the fires. The boiler room was out of action, but with four others still working, the powerful ship could easily keep her place in the line.

    If the Battle Cruiser Fleet had been given another fifteen or twenty minutes, they could perhaps have finished off Hipper’s squadron, but at 5.08, HMS Cordelia was seen signalling the flagship. Through the haze and smoke, it was not until 5.12 that her message was received and rushed to Admiral Beatty. He suspected what it would say, and the timing was almost more important than the message. His scouts had been well-placed to starboard and ahead of the line, and had signalled,
    ‘Enemy battlefleet sighted, bearing Southwest’.
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    Stavanger 6 - The Turn
  • Stavanger 6 - The Turn

    At 5.13, Admiral Beatty had just minutes to make one of the most important decisions of the battle, and indeed, of his life; which way should he sail?
    Ahead of him to starboard were the battleships of the High Seas Fleet. On his port beam were the battlecruisers of the 1st Scouting Group. Logically, he could only do one of three things, a fact that the bridge plot promptly confirmed, even if some of the exact positions were still vague.

    He could charge ahead, perhaps turning a few points to port, to try to cut off the German battlecruisers. This was what he had been trying to do for the last hour, and it was still at least an idea to consider. His ships were faster than the Germans, and he could outrun the HSF, even if he closed with it for a short while in the interim. That, however, assumed that he could sustain current speeds. His ships were already damaged, and a lucky hit could leave any of them helpless in the path of the oncoming battleships.
    Alternatively, he could turn to port, to immediately close to shorter ranges with the German battlecruisers. With the powerful fast battleships of 5BS in support, he should be able to smash them, or at least cripple them for despatch by destroyers. However, even if 1SG were wiped out a short-range battle would be risky, and his squadron might be left as a collection of lame ducks.
    The last option, of turning about to starboard and heading North could be called ‘retreat’, and that was not the way the Admiral naturally thought. However, he still had the sea room to do it; to turn around, briefly steering towards the HSF, but staying out of its range, or at extreme range. This option would only be possible if it were done within the next few minutes. It would probably disengage him from the German battlecruisers, or at least convert that battle to a maximum-range action. However, it might also encourage the High Seas Fleet to pursue him, and it therefore stood a chance of fulfilling one of his primary roles. He wasn't here to win a new Trafalgar on his own (although that would be incomparably glorious), but rather to lure the German fleet - all or part of it - onto the guns of the Grand Fleet, which he knew was steaming south-east somewhere around 50 miles to the north-west.

    To charge ahead was far too risky; it meant sailing straight for the German coast. Aside from the enemy fleet, there might be submarines, new minefields or supporting torpedo-boats ahead. For a few tantalising moments, he considered ordering his squadrons to turn together to port. In a few minutes, he could be within 10,000 yards of the enemy battlecruisers, where his 15" and 13.5" guns should be able to deal death blows to anything in their sights. However, he could see the enemy’s flotillas of destroyers, which would no doubt be launched at his ships in a desperate bid to disrupt any such attack. A short-range, pell-mell action would be a gamble; could he sink a few German battlecruisers without losing more ships himself?
    Maybe he could, but not when there was a greater chance; to lure the entire German fleet - battleships and battlecruisers - into the same sort of trap that they had clearly prepared for him.

    At 5.15, orders were passed, and flags were soon hoisted to Lion's mast, to ‘Turn in line 14 points to starboard’. The signal was executed just a minute later. Even if the whole fleet hadn't read it, it would be repeated, and the Admiral knew that any sensible Captain would see what was intended.

    During these moments of deliberation, the battle continued to rage. Both squadrons were more active in their evasive manoeuvring, which threw off their own shooting as much as their enemy's. Repulse hit Goeben on the thin forward belt just forward of A-turret, but internally there was little damage. Behind Beatty's squadron, 5BS was still shooting at shorter range. One of Barham's shells opened up another hole in Derfflingers' bow and broke yet more seams, including a bulkhead to the torpedo flat, while another sent splinters around the forepeak. Parts of a 15" shell penetrated Seydlitz's belt abreast E-turret, although the neighbouring magazines were flooded by this stage anyway. Another broke up on her belt amidships, resulting in no damage. Valiant's shooting at Moltke continued to do serious harm, as B-turret was hit between the barbette and the face. The shell failed, but splinters and damage to the armour plates jammed the turret. A near miss (or possibly an underwater hit) shook up the bow once again, breaking more rivets and bending plates. The sea was now making its way into almost all her bow compartments. Another hit the roof of D-turret, bursting inside and blowing the side and rear of the turret off. There was a severe fire in the working chamber, but fortunately the survivors in the magazine were quick enough to close doors and flood the compartment.
    Goeben was hit on her midships secondary battery, knocking out the two forward guns, while a shell punched a neat hole through her bow, fortunately well above the waterline. The newest ship in the squadron, HMS Royal Oak, was having turret and communication problems, and the few salvos she fired didn’t worry the Von der Tann.

    By now, Admiral Hipper had recognised that the threat lay in the mighty super-dreadnoughts, rather than in the battlecruisers that he knew he had already damaged. Although his flagship continued to fire at the Lion, with no obvious result, the rest of the squadron turned their guns on 5BS, now at closer range than the British battlecruisers. Barham was soon hit both fore and aft, although with little effect on her fighting ability. With just four operational guns, Seydlitz had little effect on Malaya, but at least her splashes might help to throw off the battleship's deadly accurate shooting. By now, the damaged Moltke was having communication problems, and though she once straddled Valiant, she did not hit home.
    Despite her bridge and one of her directors being destroyed, Goeben's shooting continued to be very good, and she hit Warspite twice. One shell wrecked accommodation spaces aft, while the other hit above the waterline near the bow. The shock cracked open seams and the explosion started a fire in a mess in front of A turret.
    Remarkably, it was the Von der Tann that did the most damage, as a shell penetrated Royal Oak’s hull aft and exploded close to Y barbette. The shock and sound stunned the crew inside, but the armour prevented anything entering and the deck kept splinters out of the magazine. Nevertheless, a fire began to rage on the mess deck around the barbette.

    At the front of the line, the British battlecruisers followed each other in their starboard turns north. As they did so, each briefly headed directly towards the plumes of smoke and the lumpy outline of ships that lay to the southeast; the entire German fleet.

    The ships of 5BS were still heading south, but in Valiant’s Y-turret, the British position seemed very hopeful. Midshipman Coles had been snatching glances at their target through his periscope, in between feeding rates to the Lieutenant seated next to him. As he later wrote,
    ‘At about 5.20, we had a Moltke-class battlecruiser in our sights, and we were hitting her hard. There was a lot of smoke about, but I could see her heavily on fire aft and down by the bow.
    Lt. Ericson kept adjusting the inclination and I was busy with range-rate, so I could only glance at her. The next time I had a clear look, I saw she was falling out of line, and then a minute or so later, I couldn’t see her. She must have gone, and we all cheered.’

    The last few minutes of what was later called ‘The Dash to the South’ were characterised by rather poor shooting as the visibility worsened, British ships began their turns and Hipper took evasive action. The only notable exception was HMS Malaya, who hit Derfflinger three times. The German ship’s belt barely defeated a shell abreast B-turret, while a hit on the belt underwater fractured seams close to the starboard aft boiler room, letting water into wing bunkers. The last exploded near her stern, putting the steering gear out of action. Despite her damage, Derfflinger was still fighting hard, as one of her shells exploded near Malaya's water line aft, leading to flooding in stern compartments abaft the rudder. Goeben's fire on Warspite was good too, as a shell that glanced off the side of A-turret buckled the framing and jammed the turret, while another shattered harmlessly against the battleship's thick armour belt.

    As the battlecruisers began to turn, Admiral Evan-Thomas debated whether to turn his squadron immediately. The flags on Lion’s mast were indistinct through the smoke, but the fact that the battlecruisers were turning spoke for itself. Equally importantly, the message had been relayed to Barham that the German battlefleet had been sighted to the southwest.
    He had fallen nearly three miles astern of Beatty's fast ships, and a turn now would put him ahead of them on their new course. However, he was still closely engaged with the Germans and obviously doing damage, while to take station ahead of the flagship was unlikely to be what Beatty intended. As Lion completed her turn to the north and closed rapidly on the starboard side, signals were repeated, and Evan-Thomas began his turn, to take station immediately astern of the battlecruisers.

    Some fifteen thousand yards away, Hipper’s smoke-filled view meant that his reaction was slower, but he followed the British in their turn to starboard, trying to stay in contact. If he could remain in action, they would have to fight on both sides of their line. However, as the rest of 1SG started to turn, SMS Moltke was no longer an effective fighting ship. She had been hit hard, with flooding in every compartment forward of the magazines. A, B and D turrets were out of action, and any of their surviving crews were trying to plug leaks. Her bow wave was starting to wash over the deck, and at 5.28, she signalled the flagship, 'Am unable to maintain speed'.
    Her battle with the British was over, and Admiral Hipper responded by ordering her to continue south and make for home. Her battle with the sea had just begun.
    Stavanger 7 - Jaws
  • Stavanger 7 - Jaws

    When he received the news that Admiral Hipper had sighted British forces to the north of him, Admiral Scheer had turned the High Seas Fleet north, having previously sailed north-east to gain sea room in the hope of being able to trap part of the British fleet between himself and Hipper. At 3.28, he had ordered his squadrons up to 18 knots, the fastest that they could reasonably achieve while staying together. Even then, the pre-dreadnought ships of II Geschwader would struggle; 18 knots was their absolute top speed, even in the best conditions. By 4.15, he had completed his turn to the north, he knew that Hipper was engaged with the British Battlecruiser Fleet and that he had succeeded in turning them to the south. The trap was set, and the sooner his ships joined battle, the better. However, even now, he decided to keep the modern ships together, and he signalled the dreadnought battleships of I Geschwader to make their best speed of about 20 knots. His flagship, and the other ships of III Geschwader could go faster than that, but an extra knot or two was not worth the price of leaving over a third of his firepower behind.

    Just before five o'clock, Scheer’s scouting destroyers sighted ships ahead to starboard, and at 5.05, they reported being engaged by an enemy light cruiser. A few minutes later, they reported being in action with a cruiser squadron and were withdrawing in the face of heavy fire. Not all of them were quick enough, as G22 was left sinking by at least three 6" shells. By 5.20, the British scouts were pushing their reconnaissance as far as they dared; even though they had seen the German line, HMS Cordelia and HMS Inconstant kept closing to reconnoitre in depth and establish the enemy’s strength. In doing so, they came within range of the guns of the leading German ships. The four ships of the ‘Konig’ class opened fire on them, and remarkably managed a hit, despite the range never being less than 17,000 yards. The shell exploded forward of Inconstant’s foredeck mount, killing the gun’s crew, blowing open a hole on the foc’sle and wrecking the winch room below. The nimble cruiser promptly turned away, and despite being regularly drenched by splashes and with leaks near the bow, she managed to escape out of range. However, new and better targets beckoned, in the shape of Beatty's battlecruisers.
    As his battleships opened fire on the British scouts, Scheer received reports of Beatty's ships turning away from Hipper and reversing course, so the sooner he closed and engaged, the better. At 5.22, he ordered all ships to make best possible speed, allowing the newest ‘Konig’ and ‘Kaiser’ classes and his brand-new Bayern to increase to over 22 knots. As the British battlecruisers completed their turns, the two fleets were left on slowly converging courses, with the faster British drawing ahead; but only very slowly. Speed lost in the turn and the damage to various ships left Beatty's squadron at little more than 24 knots, while Scheer's leading ships were by this time pushing their engines hard to reach close to 23 knots. The British battlecruisers remained elusively out of range, but the length of the British line meant that their rear was not so lucky.

    At 5.36, the leading German battleships opened fire on the five ships of the Fifth Battle Squadron. They were shooting at extreme range and for the first few minutes the shells fell short, but at 5.45, one of Kurfurst's shells finally connected with HMS Barham.
    Evan-Thomas’ slower turn and his slower ships meant that the range to the rearmost ships was down to just under 19,000 yards, and both sides found their targets. The ships of 5BS clearly saw the threat to the southwest, and the German battlecruisers were becoming elusive targets as they swung around to the North to follow the British. Drifting smoke from the run south obscured sights for both sides, so soon after they completed the turn, they were ordered to turn their guns around and direct their fire at the High Seas Fleet.

    The first to connect was a stray shell, probably from Kronprinz, which punched through Valiant's stern above the waterline without exploding. The gunnery of the newest and most powerful German ship, the Bayern, soon proved to be excellent. She had the largest rangefinders of any ship present, and her powerful 15" guns were aimed at HMS Royal Oak. Her first hit failed to explode, but the shell entered under the conning tower and punched through the armoured communications tube inside the superstructure, severing most of the lines and wires leading to the ship's main director. From now on, Royal Oak would be firing using her aft control position, and it took her relatively inexperienced crew several valuable minutes to sort out the change of director control, meaning that for some time, her gunnery was largely ineffective.
    The fire of the other British ships was good, and the crews of 5BS soon settled into a routine of steady salvos. The lead German ship, Grosser Kurfurst, was hit by a 15" on her belt abreast A-turret, but this was easily defeated by the thick armour. Markgraf was not so lucky; a shell was defeated by the main belt, but another went over her thin aft belt and burst inside, starting a fire in crew quarters, with smoke being drawn down into the starboard aft engine room, where the crew were forced to don gas masks to continue with their duties. Perhaps the worst hit was on Kronprinz, where the director and rangefinder atop the conning tower were smashed by a direct hit on the thickly armoured structure. Splinters went back, killing almost half the bridge crew, but control was soon re-established from aft. Konig was hit once, although the shell broke up on the belt between D and E-turrets.
    With control re-established from aft, Royal Oak’s gunnery rapidly improved and she hit Bayern twice, on C and D barbettes. The thick Krupp armour kept the shells out, but a chunk of shattered shell knocked the port gun of C-turret out of its cradle, while D-turret was out of action for several minutes as the crew dealt with the effects of shock on both men and machines.

    At the head of the British line, Beatty's flagship Lion was suffering the unfolding effects of Lutzow's earlier gunnery. Her port engine room was flooding slowly, and broken seams and leaky bulkheads in a half-dozen other compartments were adding to a pronounced list to port. Orders had been given to flood several starboard wing compartments, but it was the engine room that was the problem. The loss of the aft dynamo room had plunged the entire aft end of the ship into darkness, including the engine rooms. Emergency lights and lanterns were available, but their dim light made plugging leaks in oily water all the more difficult. With the list and increased draught, the ship's speed had fallen, and in the port engine room, some of the men were up to their waists in water as they struggled to plug leaks or to keep the engines turning.
    At 5.41 the guns had been silent for several minutes, following a sharp turn. The electric pumps had failed, and the steam-powered ash expulsion pumps were clogged. If the battle had temporarily subsided, slowing down for a few minutes would allow crews to connect lines and unclog vents instead of desperately trying to keep the semi-submerged engines running. On the voice-pipe to the bridge, the Chief Engineer asked if Lion could reduce speed, or preferably stop the port engine for a few minutes.
    Captain Chatfield's reply remains iconic even today;
    'Reducing speed would not be convenient at present, Chief; the whole German Fleet’s behind us'.

    Amid the flickering of oil lamps and the glint of torches on the wet, oil-covered gangways of the port engine room, Lion's crew kept the shafts turning. Nevertheless her speed continued to fall, and at 5.47 Beatty signalled the next astern, HMS Panther, 'Take the lead. Pass me to port'. However, Panther could do no better herself. Her own engine rooms had suffered damage, and flooding forward was limiting her speed too. Her crew also failed to pass on the instruction to the next astern, and so all the battlecruisers slowed down to the new top speed of Panther and Lion; just over 24 knots.

    Much as the Admiral wished to press on as fast as he could and work his way ahead of the German fleet, this damage kept the battlecruisers in range of the Germans. However, it also gave them more targets to shoot at, and increased the amount of fire they had to bear in return.
    It would provide a valuable distraction at a crucial point in the battle.

    Stav 3.png
    Stavanger 8 – The Channel
  • Stavanger 8 – The Channel

    ‘Guns to the Right of them, Guns to the Left of them … through the Channel of Death sailed the Fifth Battle Squadron’ - anon.

    On Royal Oak’s bridge, Captain Earle had heard only sketchy damage reports relayed to his officers through the voice-pipes and Navy-phones. However, his ship was noticeably down by the stern and had a list to starboard. He was engaging the fifth in the German line to port, a solid-looking ship with two closely spaced funnels, obviously one of their new ‘Baden’ class. Meanwhile, the German battlecruisers were turning and would soon re-engage with him to starboard. Obviously, the situation was grave and his men were hard-pressed, but he wasn’t satisfied with the information he was receiving, and he decided to send his Executive Officer aft, to inspect the damage and oversee any emergency repairs.

    For Commander Farrington, that would not be as simple as trotting down a few ladders and walking back through the ship. He was stationed in the ship’s auxiliary control position inside B-turret and had a choice between the direct route outside along the deck, or an indirect one down through the turret and magazine and along inside the ship. Despite the thunder of the guns and the occasional ping of shrapnel outside, he decided on the quick route. However, this was a decision he almost instantly regretted, as a helpful gunner opened the turret’s rear top hatch. The man gave him a cheery, ‘Good Luck Sir’ and was in the process of helping him through the hatch when the ship shuddered under an impact, and the ‘help’ abruptly turned into a firm shove which propelled him out onto the top of the turret and sent him rolling head-over-heels. He just had time to look back up at the range-finder cupola as the gunner yelled ‘Sorry Sir’, before slamming the hatch shut.
    As he raised himself to a crouch and made off down the ladder at the side, both 15” guns went off. He wasn’t sure if it was the noise or the actual blast that threw him to the deck, but when he got up and scrambled back aft towards the superstructure, he couldn’t hear anything other than a ringing in his ears. All external hatches were all clipped shut from the inside, and as he made his way aft an enemy shell screeched through the fore-funnel, sending splinters whirring off the steel structure around him. He stopped, hunched down and pulled up his collar, before thinking what a stupid action this was. Even Grieve’s best cloth wouldn’t do anything to stop a German shell.
    He stayed hunched down as he continued to head aft towards the widest part of the ship, when he thought he smelled food. A few steps further on and the smell was stronger, like freshly roasted lamb. Then he saw smoke drifting from a hole in the superstructure ahead, and bits of reddish meat scattered across the deck. In an instant he felt his blood run cold, suddenly sick with the realisation that it might not be cooked lamb that he was smelling. Summoning the determination to drag his feet forward, the relief was just as physical a feeling as the sickness had been, when he realised that it wasn’t what he’d feared. The forward meat store had been hit, setting a fire and sending fragments of carcasses across the side of the shelter deck.
    He half-laughed, half-dry-heaved with sudden joy as he saw a perfectly undamaged pork pie sitting in the middle of the deck. Almost instinctively, he picked it up, noting that his hands were shaking violently as he tried to open the flap of his jacket pocket to secure it for later. The thought of eating now made him feel ill, but allowing the pie to be lost to the sea or the German fire just didn’t seem right.
    Twenty yards further back, almost to the fore-funnel, he found a hatch cracked open with a half-dozen Marines behind it peeking out to watch the battle. As they noticed him, they pushed open the hatch and pulled him in, and once he’d regained his feet and taken a deep breath, he ordered them to close it, and keep it closed. The irony that they should never have opened the hatch that had allowed him to enter and order them to seal it was not lost on anyone, as he made his way down and aft, now inside the relative safety of the ship’s hull.

    Once the German battlecruisers had completed their turn, Hipper's five remaining ships resumed firing at the rear of the British line. Partly shielded by the smoke and haze, Hipper had made a wide turn when the British had made a sharp one, and even though the Germans had fallen behind, the two battlecruiser fleets were now at a much closer range. It was now as little as 12,500 yards, and Hipper had continued the turn to take his battered ships steadily away from the British. However, with the British engaged to both port and starboard, he was not in as much danger as he might otherwise have been.
    The relative positions of the two lines had changed and visibility was patchy, so his ships resumed firing at whoever they saw. HMS Indefatigable was the subject of Lutzow's accurate fire and sustained her first significant damage of the battle as an underwater hit abeam A-turret flooded wing compartments. Derfflinger made an immediate contribution as she hit Lion twice in her first half-dozen salvos, ripping open feedwater tanks, flooding a shaft tunnel and wrecking the auxiliary steering gear. Splinters from the second hit ignited secondary charges aft and destroyed hoist machinery, but the decks and armour kept the fragments out of the engine room.
    With only four guns operation, Seydlitz's contribution could not be great, but she claimed two hits on Barham, one of which exploded forward, starting a fire. In between the clouds of smoke, Goeben fired at one of the ships of 5BS (after the war, it was confirmed as the Valiant), hitting her a remarkable four times in ten full salvos. Unfortunately, three of the shells failed to explode, although one of these obliterated the second starboard 6" gun by hitting it directly. The one that exploded did so just above the waterline near the bow, leading to holes in both sides of the ship and minor flooding through the chain lockers.
    At the closest range of all, Von der Tann's six remaining guns were aimed at Royal Oak, and she scored three hits. Two shattered harmlessly against the battleship's thick armour belt, but the last opened up a hole astern, leading to more localised flooding.

    Aboard Royal Oak, the effects of fires and earlier damage were becoming increasingly perilous, as a crewman in the magazine of Y-turret was scalded by liquid lead dripping down from the ceiling. As his crewmates tended to him, more liquid could be seen falling through seams and out of cable ducts, dripping down next to a bundle of exposed Cordite that was on its way up to the guns. In one corner of the compartment, the deck plates above their heads were almost red hot, and just seconds later, acrid smoke started to pour into the magazine. Fortunately for the rest of the ship's crew, no time was lost in opening the valves and starting to flood the compartment. Above them, fire surrounded part of Y-turret’s barbette and the compartments next to it, melting electrical cables that led down into the ship, and setting fire to the insulation as it did so.

    Two decks above them, Commander Farrington had reached the after barbettes and soon ordered hoses to be diverted onto the holes in the deck above the fires. Steam spattered up from the hot plates, before the water poured down towards the fires below. Unfortunately, with everyone’s focus on the hoses and the rising steam and smoke, no-one saw what happened to Marine Cooper, they just heard a,
    ‘Whoa … Ahh … Thud …’, and the muffled language that followed these noises.
    On turning around and looking back for the man who had been feeding the hoses forward to the firefighters, it soon became very clear what happened. Cooper hadn’t been looking where he was standing and had fallen through a hole in the deck made by a German shell. Mercifully, he hadn’t fallen into the fire that was still raging below.
    There was near-hysterical laughter from men who desperately needed some relief from the stress of battle. The fire crew let the hose wander as they looked back, redoubling their laughs as Cooper poked his head up through the shell hole he had just fallen through, and said with a broad grin, ‘there’s not s’posed ‘be an hole there, is there?’.
    He then grabbed at the fire hose to pull himself up, unhelpfully as it turned out, as the pull on the hose turned the jet of water around and hit Commander Farrington straight in the chest, knocking him over. He too had been distracted by Cooper’s antics and was laughing just as hard as the men, so he couldn’t blame them when they grinned and sniggered at his bad luck with the hose.
    Picking himself up, he bellowed, ‘Steady there’, and the hose was rapidly trained back through the holes in the deck, renewing the plumes of steam and smoke that came up through them, but this time producing a satisfying hiss as the fire was overwhelmed by the water.

    Then there was a flash that momentarily blinded him, and he fell to the deck again as a ‘whumppph’ of pressure, heat and sound pulsed through the compartment. Stunned, he didn’t even feel himself fall to the deck, and with his eyes full of water and dust, the first thing he was aware of was a sailor kneeling over him, asking him if he was alright. He tried to speak and managed to groan something as he started to haul himself upright, his ears still ringing. His vision slowly cleared as he blinked, and he started to pay attention to the compartment around him. The firefighting team were still aft, but their hoses weren’t working. Looking for’ard, he could see why. There was a jagged hole in the bulkhead and the hoses were shredded. He rose to his feet, still a little unsteady but with his senses returning fast. No-one in the compartment was laughing any more, as amid the jagged steel and shattered fittings, there was a man, or what was left of him.
    Cooper wouldn’t be cheerily poking his head through any more holes in the deck. He no longer had one.

    While the battleships of the Fifth Battle Squadron were firing at the High Seas Fleet, Beatty's leading battlecruisers kept shooting at Hipper's ships, which were now on starboard quarter. Despite their recent enforced reduction in speed, the British were still faster than the Germans, as the accumulated effects of damage and clinkered firebars had slowed the ships of the 1st Scouting Group to about 22 knots. At increasing range, with damaged and listing ships being pushed to their utmost speed, the British fire was not very effective. Beyond a few minor leaks aft, Lutzow suffered little from two hits by Lion, while Indefatigable managed a single hit on Von der Tann, destroying two of her port 88mm guns and completing the destruction of the upper deck near the bow. However, as the damage was well above the waterline, so far it had little effect on her speed.
    Stavanger 9 - Speed IS Everything
  • Stavanger 9 - Speed IS Everything

    The leading battleships of the High Seas Fleet were steaming at beyond their nominal design speeds, and although their British opponents in the Fifth Battle Squadron were faster, it was not by much. Each of the four Queen Elizabeth-class ships were steaming at about 24 knots, but Royal Oak, the last ship in the line, and a member of the cheaper ‘Royal’ class, was struggling to keep up.

    Commander Farrington had made it to the damaged sections near Royal Oak’s stern, and was satisfied that damage control efforts were underway. He’d diverted one of the aft 6” gun crews, whose guns had nothing in range to shoot at. They had been contentedly sitting on the deck, playing cards, until Farrington ordered them to fall out and assist in damage control, sending one man to the bridge to report that the flooding aft was under control.
    Concerned at the number of holes he saw in the decks and bulkheads, Farrington made his way down towards the engine room. Broken bits of tables and chairs, cloth, curtains and uniforms had been stuffed into dozens of holes; anything seemed to have been fair game, including the contents of several wrecked officer’s cabins. Even so, there was water sloshing about on the main deck above the engine room, and he wondered what he would find below.

    He found the engine room was still brightly lit and mostly dry. Once he reached the control platform above the huge turbines, the Chief Engineer was busy keeping an eye on the various dials and gauges, all of which were at the top of their ranges and noting the details in his log. Farrington loudly said ‘Hello’ and smiled, before he asked,
    ‘Well Chief, how’s she doing? The Captain’s after a damage report.’
    ‘Damage!’, said the Chief with an expression of surprise, ‘No damage down here, but there will be if we keep this up for too long...’
    Farrington was still worried about damage further aft, and jumped in with his next question, ‘What about the steering gear?’
    ‘Ohh, a bit of water in there, nothing serious, the pumps are handling it.’
    Much relieved, Farrington grabbed a phone that would connect him with the bridge. The Captain had sent him aft to report on damage, and that fact that it didn’t look too serious was worth reporting immediately. He shouted the report to the Midshipman on the other end, before the Captain’s voice came on the line. He relayed the question to the Chief,
    ‘The Captain asks if we can go faster?’
    The Commander(E) glanced down at his logbook, ‘Well…’, he said with a fainted amused expression, before stabbing at the scribbled notes with his finger, ‘we’re rated for 49,000 shaft horse, plus overload. Right now, I reckon we’re at about 66,000 horsepower.’
    Farrington spoke into the phone, reporting that Royal Oak's engines were being forced harder than they had ever been designed for.
    ‘Captain says well done Chief, and that the log is showing 23.6 knots. He also says give us everything she’s got; damage acceptable.’
    The Chief nodded and then motioned for one of his engineers to come back to the platform, before turning back to Farrington.
    ‘I reckon she might have a bit more to give’, he said, ‘… if old Ralph thinks it’s alright.’
    The Chief glanced aft and Farrington followed his gaze. As was his habit, the Stoker’s Mess cat was asleep on one of the cast-iron brackets that held one of the propeller shafts as it disappeared into its tunnel. Perhaps it was the warmth of the bearing, or maybe it was the vibration that brought him here, but whatever it was, Ralph was famous throughout the ship for spending most of his time there.
    Farrington was reassured. The cat sat on the shaft bracket, better proof than any other that all was normal in the engine room.

    By 6.00, the leading ships of the HSF had closed the range with the British by maintaining a course slightly towards them. The four Kaiser-class ships were now firmly in range and added their weight of fire to the rain of shells being directed at 5BS. British luck, or the poor explosive performance of German shells continued, as hits on both Barham and Malaya failed to explode, resulting in only superficial damage. Warspite’s belt resisted two 12” hits, and even a 15" shell from Bayern that hit Royal Oak failed to explode as it passed through the deck near her stern. The Kaiser had more luck, as one of her 12" shells hit Malaya's thin forward belt, opening two compartments to the sea. One of Konig Albert's four hits on Warspite entered the upper deck aft before bursting close to Y barbette, starting a fire in two compartments. Her speed was slightly reduced by a hit forward, which had similar effects to the recent hit to Malaya, while the third came to rest in a chain room, having failed to explode. The fourth sent splinters around her stern, leading to minor flooding above the shaft tunnels and behind the steering compartment.
    While having to endure such heavy fire, the British response was patchy. Barham hit Markgraf a remarkable four times in the few minutes around 6 o'clock. Two shells were defeated by the belt, but one wrecked three of the starboard 5.9" guns and started a fire, while the next hit just a few feet forward, obliterating a bulkhead and allowing the fire to spread most of the way along the battery.
    Konig was hit just once, but the shell hit just below the bridge, killing everyone there and destroying the forward rangefinder and signalling gear. The ship kept firing and steamed on, but for several minutes was effectively out of command until control was re-established from aft. A single hit on Bayern (debatably from either Warspite, or from Royal Oak's increasingly erratic gunnery) exploded near her A barbette, starting a fire that led to parts of the secondary battery being evacuated.

    Aboard the Lion, there was a glimmer of hope. Above the horizon off the port bow was a tiny dark speck, gently moving in and out of view between the clouds. Lookouts on Admiral Behncke’s Flagship Kurfurst had spotted it too, but no-one thought to relay such a trivial sighting back to Admiral Scheer. The action was all to starboard, where the British ships were slowing, only fractionally, but still slowing. However, in a race between a 23-knot ship and a 24-knot ship, fractions count, and the Germans were barely losing ground.

    In the minutes after 6pm, the ‘Dash to the North’ reached its peak. The nine leading battleships of the HSF were engaging the British 5BS, while Hipper had switched his fire back towards the British battlecruisers, which were slowly outrunning him as they headed north-northwest to escape back to their home. At longer range and with his ships damaged and crews tired, the German battlecruisers' results were variable. HMS Panther's B-turret was put out of action by a hit on the barbette, which knocked out the turret's hydraulics and started a fire in the secondary battery below. Another hit opened a hole near her stern. Hits from Goeben wrecked Repulse's decks amidships, leaving her funnels full of holes and the rest of her boats and cranes in a tangled mess. Von der Tann's fire on Indefatigable resulted in a wrecked set of secondary guns and flooded the aft torpedo flat, which slowed her by about a knot.
    Meanwhile, the Fifth Battle Squadron continued to bear the brunt of fire from the HSF. Numerous hits were kept out by armour, but Malaya's port battery was burned out following a hit from Markgraf, and Valiant's X-turret sights were wrecked as splinters entered through the sighting ports.

    Half of Warspite's Warrant Officer's Quarters were smashed to matchwood by a hit amidships, causing an outburst of language from one of their former occupants that stuck in the minds of even the seasoned gunners under his command. Annoyed at losing both his best uniform and his dinner, the man vividly expressed his feelings as to the enemy’s likely parentage, his personal habits, his romantic inclinations and his general appearance. He then proceeded to try to do something about them, by ordering the section of the secondary battery he oversaw to open fire at anything even vaguely likely to be in range. The ship’s action report merely stated that ‘the secondary battery engaged an enemy destroyer to starboard at extreme range’. No hits were observed, but in the battery, the sudden action had at least energised the men, and the W.O. calmed down. There’s nothing like a pair of 6” guns for relieving tension.

    Astern of Warspite, despite her Chief Engineer’s best efforts, Royal Oak's speed began to fall as another hit by Bayern led to flooding spreading to the torpedo flat aft of her magazines.
    Stavanger 10 – Into the Trap
  • Stavanger 10 – Into the Trap

    As the ships of the Fifth Battle Squadron struggled for every tenth of a knot, Beatty’s battlecruisers were slowly pulling ahead. Beatty had signalled his position and the enemy’s strength shortly after he turned north, but he still did not know exactly where the Grand Fleet was, other than to the northwest. The scouting aeroplane sighted a few minutes earlier at least meant that Jellicoe knew where they were, but for now Admiral Beatty could only press on, and hope.

    Just over an hour earlier, somewhere to the northwest, Admiral Jellicoe had faced a difficult decision. He knew Beatty's ships were away to the southeast, but he did not know exactly where. Positions given in battle could be out by miles, and Beatty's radio signals put the battlecruisers some way to the southeast. Judging by the strength of the signals, that was probably wrong.
    Shortly after 5.30, Jellicoe received new information from the seaplane carrier Campania, which had been ordered to launch a pair of her Short 225 aircraft an hour earlier. One of the planes had spotted ‘British battlecruisers pursued by numerous German vessels to port, bearing 35-40 miles East-Southeast’. This suggested that the Germans were closer to him than Beatty was.
    Beatty’s signals put his position as about 50 miles away, and that he was being pursued by the German battlefleet. However, dead reckoning estimates could easily be wrong. Whoever these ships were, they were closer than 50 miles, and so he urgently needed to deploy the Grand Fleet. His first action was to order Admiral Sturdee’s scouting forces, led by the battlecruisers Invincible and New Zealand, to make best possible speed to the south-southeast. In visual contact with the fleet, Sturdee could fix the enemy’s position, and might then be able to assist Beatty’s force.

    Despite the lengthening range and patchy visibility, the battlecruisers were keeping Hipper's Scouting Group under fire. Results from the four larger ships were minimal, while the smaller guns of Indefatigable were now at the extremes of their range against the Germans.
    Around three miles astern of the flagship, the ships of 5BS continued to reply admirably to the heavy German fire. Barham hit Grosser Kurfurst, burning out two of her forward secondary guns, while a hit on Markgraf at the waterline abeam B-turret shattered armour plate and allowed splinters to penetrate bulkheads inside the ship. With only six guns now operational, Warspite's fire on Konig can be considered as exceptional, as a hit on D-turret's roof burned out the gunhouse, another completed the destruction of much of her forward superstructure, while a third defeated her main armour belt, sending a plug of steel into the ship and leading to flooding of wing bunkers. A further hit started a fire just forward of A barbette.
    In return, Barham’s B-turret was jammed by a hit at 6.05, while another smashed her third starboard 6" gun, sending splinters around the battery killing or injuring several dozen sailors. Malaya and Valiant were each hit too, but with little effect beyond a wrecked torpedo rangefinder on Valiant. Warspite continued to be a magnet for shells (she had been hit 13 times by this stage of the battle), but once again the armour kept out a 12" shell from Konig. Royal Oak was hard hit by Bayern, although two of the four shells failed to explode. One of the others defeated her 12" belt, exploding just inside the plate and sending fragments into the ship. Most of these were stopped by the 2" deck slope, but there were oil fuel leaks into the engine rooms and several wing compartments. Another shell exploded as it hit the curved back of B-barbette, although the plate kept the effects out, while a dud shell made a neat hole in the forward belt, before coming to rest in a storeroom. A 12" shell from Konig Albert exploded above Warspite's port battery, wrecking four of the guns and destroying signal lamps and a secondary rangefinder, although the fire was quickly brought under control.
    Damage and the effects of smoke and splash were now affecting the fire of 5BS, although Malaya managed to hit Markgraf, damaging auxiliary machinery around B barbette. Kronprinz lost a secondary gun aft, and the battered Royal Oak managed a pair of hits on Bayern, although nothing vital was destroyed.

    On the other side of the British line, the German battlecruisers were in a sorry state. With only two operation guns, Seydlitz was hardly a fighting ship any more, while Goeben and Von der Tann were little better. Despite the mediocre gunnery of Beatty’s ships, they were suffering the effects of accumulated damage, and were now falling astern as the British battlecruisers managed to maintain around 24 knots, to the Germans' 21.

    At 6.14, Panther scored a hit on Derfflinger which finally knocked her out of the battle. The shell entered the side of the ship just forward of A-turret and burst inside, blowing out an upper deck bulkhead and punching holes in compartments below. The shock was transmitted through flooded areas of the bow to pop rivets and dislodge plugs that were being used by her damage control teams to prevent water from making its way aft. By now there was about 4,500 tons of water in the ship, and this shell opened new compartments to the sea and allowed flooding to start to overwhelm the pumps in others. In struggling to maintain close to 20 knots, the ship had further injured herself, but now her Captain had to reduce speed as waves started to wash over the foc'sle. At 6.18, he signalled Admiral Hipper in Lutzow ahead that he could not stay with the line, and slowly turned his ship away to starboard using the auxiliary steering gear.
    Princess Royal re-ignited fires around Seydlitz's aft turrets with a hit a few moments later. Repulse scored two hits on Goeben, with one aft defeating the upper belt and starting a fire that soon caused E-turret to be abandoned, although the crew had time to fire off charges that were already in the trunk and safely shut magazine doors.

    Although all the action was on the starboard side, the scouts and lookouts of the High Seas Fleet had not forgotten their duty. At 6.12, they spotted ships ahead, and by 6.16 they had been identified as enemy battlecruisers; the pair of missing ‘I-class’ ships that both Scheer and Hipper had noted were not part of Beatty's line. However, the ships were steaming hard to the East, clearly trying to join the British Battlecruiser Fleet. They were little threat to the battleships of the HSF, although they might yet provide more targets.

    For Admiral Beatty and the crews of the leading British ships, the joy at the sight of Admiral Sturdee’s two old battlecruisers was far out of proportion to the firepower they would soon be able to bring to the fleet. They could see that help had arrived.

    Shortly after 6.20, the entire German position changed. As they sailed north, the murky of the early evening haze and the smoke of the dozens of ships and their guns began to clear ahead of them, revealing a line of smudges that covered half the horizon.
    They had found the Grand Fleet, or rather, the Grand Fleet had found them.