Baron Letters never published details of any planning that he surely
did during the late hours of Die Kaiserschlacht. It is historical
fact that 1SG backtracked to the west and swept wide arcs through the
earlier battle area and even points further W and NW. Three or more RN
dreadnoughts had been reported slowed and perhaps crippled, their fates
unknown, and even more cripples were possible. The Baron had previously
vowed publicly to avoid, if at all possible, later having to face again
a repaired cripple. Admiral Letters had risked Derfflinger at Dogger
Bank to put down crippled Lion for just that reason. We know now
that the three ships he sought were most likely King George V,
Erin, and Thunderer, and that all three were beyond the
Baron's reach by 9:00 PM. The Grand Fleet admiral had extricated the first
two and the North Sea had claimed the third. My great-grandfather, however,
had no way to be aware of that fact
The confusion around and following the dusk RN torpedo attack was probably
the most significant single contributor to the notion that there were
cripples nearby. That is, the size and intensity of the attack lent credence
to the theory that crippled RN capital ships lay just west of the smoke
screen. The situation was virtually identical to that of around 7:30 PM,
when Commodore Hawksley had laid smoke just south of crippled Monarch
and had then laid down his command and his life in that most valiant of
efforts to protect her. The apparent organization and synchronization
of the several flotillas' attack with that of the CL squadron in the van
made a lasting impression on all the officers in the HSF main body. They
witnessed the RN TBs splitting into groups and advancing with great resolve
directly into the face of massed defensive fire and screen counter attacks.
It was not until Jonathan Farie's "Torpedoes at Twilight" (MacMillian,
London) and Professor Blue's "Nott in Vain" (University of Aberdeen
Press) were published after the Great War that those outside of Britain
realized what "ad hoc" anarchy the light ship action actually
was. Mr. Farie's detailed reconstruction of his father's last operation
was more sympathetic than Professor Blue's treatment, but both are well
worth study. I should point out, however, that some German authorities
became all the more impressed once they learned the truth. If such success
and elan could be so "ex tempore," they responded, was that
not all the more reason for German caution? This author could not dispute
them nor, I am convinced, would Baron Letters.
Of course, the Baron did not find any of the RN cripples that he so desperately
sought during those tense hours after the HSF main body turned away for
port. The time was well spent, though, in that the 1SG light ships in
the screen saved over 200 men from a watery grave; almost 80 were German,
the crew of a foundered TB. The remainder were the survivors of RN ACs
Minotaur, Shannon, and Cochrane which, ironically,
the 1SG BCs had been responsible for destroying hours earlier, thus casting
those same men into the North Sea.
But what was Vice-Admiral Baron Letters thinking, as his somewhat-risky
night sweep of the North Sea kept finding only dark waves? As his damaged
and depleted 1SG at last set course for Wilhelmshaven? As the messages
piled up, telling of battered German ships and heavy casualties? Accounts
suggest that the Baron managed about two hours sleep that long night.
It is a matter of record that the Baron had used family connections to
make certain contacts and put certain plans into motion after Dogger Bank,
but how much did he revise or adapt them during that period? How much
had been contingencies prepared before the Baron set sail on May 31? Certainly,
the Baron slept little during his first 48 hours back in Germany as he
worked to convince others to support his proposed course of action.
---------------------- Lady Christine Letters, ibid, pages 737-8
---- 4:15 PM, Wilhelmshaven, bridges of 1SG, ahead slow
"No band this time, admiral," commented Flagcaptain Theodor.
"Yes," replied Letters, his glasses on the ships already at
the piers. Smoke still seeped into the sky from several and not from coal.
"This time, we did not all return in one battered, but victorious
formation," stated Letters, his eyes never straying from behind the
lenses as he kept evaluating, assessing, guessing the state of the Fleet.
"The first cripples probably limped in during the night, with others
staggering in every hour on the hour thereafter."
Yes, Theodore thought, I can almost see it. A grim parade of torn ships
and torn men. The first coaxed by tugs into slips, and the second by stretcher-bearers
into ambulances. It's no wonder there's no band, though perhaps there
had been, a few thousand stretchers ago. He started to comment further,
but noted the lines of concentration on the baron's brow above his binoculars
and resisted the impulse.
On Seydlitz, Captain Nick looked back over the hull of his BC
with no little pride. Again, he thought, she was seriously damaged but
got us all back at great cost to the British. He espied the figure of
LT Lionel near the stern turrets. Four months ago, those same turrets
had been a blackened, gutted wound. This time, the damage was hidden below
the waterline but, unfortunately, quite extensive nonetheless. He had
surveyed the damage himself during the night. About two months, Nick thought,
before Seydlitz could get back into action. Two dead and 4 seriously
injured - they had gotten off easy this time, though he well knew that
the families of the two would not agree. An unlucky hit by a 4" shell
had flung splinters through a casemate port. Of the dozen or more light
ship shell hits, that one had been the only one to inflict casualties.
On Moltke, Captain MU Stang found his eyes drawn to Konig;
already cranes, hawsers, and hoses half-concealed the big ship. Trucks
came and went all up and down the quays. The whoop of shipyard derrick
horns and the hoarse howls of steam exhausts were part of a familiar background
noise for him. It was a welcome change from both the booming threats of
big guns and the endless quiet of the fruitless night at sea. The quasi-camouflage
of harbor equipment was not remotely enough to conceal the extent of Konig's
damage. She looked like Vulcan himself had used her as his anvil all last
night. How Admiral Behncke and Konig's captain had gotten her back,
Stang had no idea. He made a note to himself to make an opportunity to
talk about it with the CO over a beer, though it might be quite some time
before the other officer would be free from the duties of his savagely
injured command. Stang hoped the other captain would be willing to discuss
it; it was a professional matter, after all.
"Ambulances," CDR Bavaria indicated on von der Tann,
"lots and lots of ambulances."
"Yes," replied Captain Dirk. "They've undoubtedly made
a lot of runs to hospitals these last several hours. The main body dreadnoughts
have been here since around noon."
"Actually, sir, wouldn't many of the cripples have gotten back even
"True. Yes, of course that's right. My guess from the signal traffic
is that we took between two and four thousand total casualties."
"A lot of ambulances."
Both men silently gave thanks that none of the ambulances need concern
themselves with von der Tann. They had some shrapnel scars, armor
dents, and light shell scorings, but no casualties.
On Regensburg, Captain Wolferein had several of the screen light
still out in the roads. He had asked permission, quickly granted, to send
the ones with seriously injured men on ahead a few hours ago. He could
see the crowded berths, but what struck him were the empty spaces. There,
where he was accustomed to seeing three-score or more TBs tied up, there
were hardly half that number.
"Mein Gott," he muttered. "Not 50% casualties." Then,
"it must have been hell back there."
Beside him, LT Gottziele started to inquire but, with his young mouth
already half-open, he desisted. He was learning. Watching the by-play
from the other side of the bridge, one petty officer smiled and nodded
approvingly to another. Both then turned back to study the barge traffic
that was a little closer than their captain would have tolerated, save
his attention was so caught up on other matters.
LT Dahm, acting-CO of Pillau, had mixed feelings. He freely admitted
as much to himself.
Just off the bridge were low conversations about what folk could see,
and their reactions and opinions. He could almost make out their words,
but not quite. The bridge, in contrast, was as still as the grave. The
panes of broken glass had been entirely removed, the shards of glass and
metal had been swept up, and some canvas had been rigged to cover the
biggest of the bridge holes. There were still bloodstains in the wood
in a few spots, hinting at how he had come to his post. Dahm missed being
in the middle of those discussions. More than anything, though, he regretted
the end of his first command.
Vice-Admiral Baron Letters could see the delegation on the quay. The
late afternoon sun sent shafts of light through breaks in the clouds and
smoke that set of glimmers from the masses of gold braid. He recognized
several, even across the remaining scores of yards of water, as tugs eased
the big battlecruiser into her berth. The long forked beard of Grand Admiral
Tirpritz, for one, was visible at some considerable distance.
As Derfflinger inched into her assigned spot, Letters had ample
time for another sweep with his binoculars. A few dreadnoughts showed
little or no damage, but the vast majority had clearly been hotly engaged.
Smoke marks, holes, torn metal, etc. were in evidence on so many ships
that he found himself counting the hulls again. Nassau was heavily
down by the bow, and Deutschland by the stern. Konig listed
heavily even in her berth. And this was victory. What would they be thinking
in Britain, where so many slips lay so starkly empty? As workers, friends,
and families stared out into the outer roads searching for ships that
were never to appear? It was exhaustion that made him this melancholy,
he knew. It had to be. He had a mighty victory. Don't I? He shook
his head and turned to his aide.
"You have the envelopes?"
Baron Letters gave him an inquiring look, and the young officer recognized
that he was to repeat back the instructions that the admiral had given
him earlier. No matter that he had done so before, not an hour ago. There
was no room for impatience or artistic temperament in a competent Flag-Lieutenant.
"This one is to be delivered first, then this one. Sir, I put this
red ribbon around the one to Ballin to make sure I could not possibly
forget that this was first. I am to identify myself as coming from you,
Vice-Admiral Baron Letters, and am to deliver it only to his hand. Only
to his hand."
The Baron looked back at the pier, the gangways were being brought forward,
but it would be another few minutes yet. The young officer immediately
paused, waiting quite patiently for the return of his principal's attention.
Hero worship was one of the risks of the job, and the LT was profoundly
infected. His closely cropped blonde hair glinted goldly in the afternoon
light as he waited, motionless.
"Aye, aye, sir. I am to tell Mr. Ballin the following: 'Admiral
Letters awaits your response within the next 24 hours.' I am to stay with
him until he has read the contents, in case he has any questions or wants
me to convey any immediate reply. Then I am to deliver the second to Vulcan,
do the same, then return to you and report.' "
"Gut. I do not know where I will be. You'll have to find me."
"Aye, aye, sir."
The gangway was finally down.
The baron drew a deep breath as his next battle approached. Again, he
was going to be fighting for the High Seas Fleet. He would need to impress
his will upon the others to have any chance to keep his command, to win
He had a plan.