January 24, 1915  

Enter the Baron

No one knew who the mysterious figure in the admiral's uniform was who'd come aboard last night before the squadrons had sailed, but Admiral Hipper had called him Baron Letters and shown him considerable deference. Captain Theodor's XO had theorized that perhaps the shadowy admiral was a relative of the Kaiser. In any case, the admiral had not left the bridge since the 9:15 report from Kolberg of having exchanged fire with an RN CL nearly four hours ago. The Kolberg and the Straslund had retired upon Hipper's BCs, reporting sighting of three "Arethusa" class CLs and four "Town" class CLs (a goodenough reason). More than 20 torpedo boats were also soon spotted. Great clouds of smoke behind the RN light ships had apparently convinced Adm. Hipper that a superior force was approaching and that the sortie had never had the element of surprise. The HSF units headed SE at 25 knots, light ships were sent to the fore, and the smoke soon resolved into five RN BC's who were clearly overtaking.

It had been four very eventful hours, thought Captain Theodor, whose pride in his ship, the newest of the HSF's BCs, the [Definitive] Derfflinger, had grown with each hour. At first he'd felt frustrated that the RN BC's had been five to Hipper's three --- he didn't count undergunned Blucher because it was no threat to a BC --- because it forced Hipper to continue the high speed withdrawal. Next, he was frustrated to be held to 25 knots, also by Blucher, when the Derfflinger could've done 28 and leave the RN w/o anything for their trouble but a roiled wake.

All that had changed at 8:52 when the lead RN BC had opened fire on Blucher at a range of about 22,000 yards. Blucher, the trail end ship, was quite helpless to return the fire.

At 9:15, the lead RN BC, now identified as Lion, had shifted fire up one ship to Moltke who was just astern of Derfflinger, leaving Blucher to the other BCs. Soon, however, Hipper's BC's had been able to reply. And reply they had! The lead RN BC was hit several times and Captain Theodor was certain that the most telling blows had come from his own ship. It was far from one-sided, however, and the captain had had an all-too close view of the terrible fire that had gestured up higher than the mast heads of Seydlitz after a hit by Lion. He could see that the aft two turrets of Seydlitz were completely burned out, but the flagship showed no signs of slowing. There were, he knew, 13,000 pounds of powder in that magazine, and they had evidently all burned in a mighty rush. Even in the loss, it was a mighty tribute to German design and construction that Seydlitz lived and fought on unslowed! He only hoped his good friend, Commander Nik, the Seydlitz XO, had survived the destruction.

Hipper's BCs were scoring hit after hit on Lion when several things had happened almost at once. The mysterious admiral, almost forgotten by Captain Theodor in the heat of the battle, had been studying it all carefully through powerful binoculars that he must have brought aboard with him. Now, the admiral spoke up, almost to himself:

"No one's shooting at Moltke," was his first statement.

It was true, the Lion had shifted to Seydlitz, the second RN BC -- clearly Tiger -- was also shooting at Seydlitz, the third RN BC (Princess Royal) was shooting at Derfflinger, but no one was shooting at Moltke. The CO of Moltke was the charismatic and redoubtable Captain Martel Unno Stang, who was famous for signing his name in a single flourish as "MUStang." Well, MUStang and his gunnery officer had taken full advantage of the opportunity for undisturbed firing practice all five of Moltke's turrets at Lion. Captain Theodor wished that the British would do him the same favor someday and capriciously decide not to shoot at Derfflinger.

"The British squadron has become strung out and the last two ships are well to the rear," was the admiral's second statement.

This, too, was accurate, Captain Theodor noted to himself. The fourth RN BC was Indefatigable class and was well to the rear of Princess Royal and her 12" guns were still out of range of Moltke. In fact, they could not reach Blucher yet, though Blucher's respite would doubtless not be long because the gap was closing. The fifth RN BC was Invincible class and was well to the rear of the Invincible and did not appear to be making up much ground. Should any German ship falter, however, it would be only a matter of a few dozen minutes before both I's could join battle.

At 10:15, a succession of hits on Lion must have made quite an impression on their admiral, because the RN BCs had begun to zigzag. At their high speed, it surely threw off their aim more than it did that of Hipper's ships, or so the mysterious German admiral/nobleman opined aloud.

"Captain, Blucher is reporting engine trouble!"

All eyes went to the unfortunate trail end ship. Yes, Captain Theodor thought sadly, the gap between Blucher and Moltke was starting to grow. The I class BCs would soon have a very nice target. He had looked at the clock. It was 10:30.

"Captain, would you please look at this."

It was the mysterious admiral. Well, when admirals (even mysterious ones) speak, captains listen.

"Tiger has yet to score a single hit," he said. "In fact, their shells have yet even to straddle Seydlitz!"

Indeed, it seemed true. While the Lion's splashes were generally near or straddle, the Tiger's were far from the mark. Tiger's shots were some well long, others well short, others off bearing, and some suffering from both distance and bearing inaccuracies.

"Either their equipment is faulty or the crew is untrained," decided the admiral. Captain Theodor could not disagree, and just nodded. The BC duel was, for practical purposes, between the two Lion class BCs and the three BCs of Hipper, though Seydlitz was w/o two turrets. The two 12" RN BC's remained well out of range of Hipper's BCs, but the range was falling.

"Ah!" said several on the bridge at 10:41. A bright hit on the fore of Lion had seemed to destroy her first turret. Certainly, it had not fired again and Lion started to lose her place with Tiger coming abreast and threatening to take the lead. That hadn't spared Lion more hits, however, and a few minutes later, Lion fell out of line and slowed more and began to list. The other RN BCs passed and left her behind. The first I class BC was hitting Blucher, by now almost 10,000 yards behind Moltke and the trail I had also opened fire.

Then, at precisely 11:00, came a startling and distressing report from Seydlitz! It was from Commander Nik who reported that both Admiral Hipper and his CO had been struck down by a shell splinter that came through the bridge opening.

The mysterious admiral strode forward even as Captain Theodor noted numbly that the RN BC's appeared to changing course toward Blucher.

"I am Admiral Letters and I hereby assume command! Signals Officer, raise my flag! Hoist as follows: 'course south, speed 18 knots.' Derfflinger to take lead, Seydlitz assume trail."

"Gentlemen, we're going back!"

The admiral leaned over and signed the log: "Admiral A.S. Letters."


"Right 20 degrees rudder!" Captain Theodor ordered. "Ahead Full, make turns for 18 knots."


The Twelve Minutes of German Numbers Advantage

The squadron executed the turn from their SE course at 11:15 and by 11:18 was on a SW heading at speed 18, with the still-smoking Seydlitz taking the trail position. For those three minutes all firing was ineffectual as turrets swung onto new arcs. The two RN BCs must have been caught by surprise, as they were in the middle of turning from a SE course in chase of Hipper to a northerly one to pounce on helpless Blucher. Now they found themselves fired upon by BCs instead. The two groups were almost on opposite parallel courses, about 16,000 yards apart with the range closing. If no one changed course, the groups would pass abreast at 14,500 yards.

"Yes," exulted Captain Theodor, for Derfflinger hit Tiger within two minutes of steadying on the new course.

The mysterious admiral had ordered the 11" BCs to concentrate on the Lion class target. This put 16 guns on the more dangerous shooter and left Tiger in a duel with Derfflinger.

Tiger had lost one gun in the fore turret even before the turn due to an earlier hit from Derfflinger (historical). Now a burst of fire was visible amidships from one well-placed shell. A closer look with his binoculars showed one secondary gun with its barrel somehow trained to the sky. Perhaps it would be useful for shooting at zeppelins, but not at us today, thought the captain. More hits were observed, but the big RN ship seemed to shrug them off.

The Lion class (Princess Royal), however, was getting beaten like a drum with 11" shells from Captain Stang's Moltke. Seydlitz, even minus two turrets, was firing unopposed and Commander Nik had them scoring with almost every other salvo. No single 11" shell was having the effect of Derfflinger's 12" ones, but small fires were soon visible on and in the superstructure. Twice shells seemed to hit turrets, but at 16,000 yards failed to penetrate.

At 11:21, the tide of battle seemed to turn decisively for the Kaiser. Though it began with Tiger's maiden hit, which produced about 50 casualties on Derfflinger, The Definitive One struck back with another hit that started a new large fire that threatened to join with the first one still burning. Another hit on Tiger hit the thickest part of the tapered waterline belt and, though it dented it severely, the plate held with no flooding.

It was Seydlitz that landed the great blow, as two different shells from the same 3-gun half salvo scored the RN ship deeply. One hit at the waterline under the Princess Royal's bridge and the other left a flaming, gaping hole in the casemate just above. The stricken Lion class BC appeared to begin to list even as it seemed to become wrapped in flame from the rear of the fore turret nearly back to the aft turret. Defiantly, she continued to fire at Moltke and scored a hit of her own, but it did little damage.

The BCs were almost at their closest approach, when the admiral commented to the bridge staff, "the smoke from Princess Royal will begin to obscure the targets in another 6 minutes."

The admiral turned to look over the rest of the battle. Lion was gamely trying to rejoin the action but, with the range now 30,000 yards, at 15 knots it would be another 20 minutes before she could try her luck. The Indefatigable class, just pulling abreast of Lion, was another story. She was making about 26 knots and, even with her shorter range guns, would be in range in under 10 minutes. Her problem was that the two engaged BCs would probably obscure her aim. The Invincible class BC was another few thousand yards further behind.

"Keep it up, Captain," exhorted the admiral. "Pour it on! It's not enough to punish them, we must crush them quickly before the others can help them."

Six more minutes, thought the admiral, then the Is of Britain will be upon us.


The Golden Twinkee Is Served

At 11:32, Tiger scored a second hit on Derfflinger, inflicting another 50 casualties.

It's odd what one will notice in the heat of battle, Captain Theodor mused. He was looking directly at his target and noted that he could see flashes of daylight through a hole in the Tiger's first stack. Then, suddenly there were two, with the new one perforating harmlessly a few feet below the first.

He drew a breath as though to order the guns to lower the range when his visual field was completely obscured. He lowered his binoculars amid an awed "Mein Gott" chorus on the bridge. Tiger had disappeared in a massive explosion. The time was 11:34.

"Captain," reported the OOD, "I saw it. It was a hit right below her second turret, right on the face of the barbette."

"Sir," shouted another bridge officer, "Moltke's been hit hard!"

All eyes turned away from the still growing pillar of smoke from what had been the RN's largest warship to the stricken German BC. Two hits from Princess Royal had gotten through the BCs armor: one just above the thickest part of the belt and another forward near the waterline.

"Shift fire to Princess Royal," ordered Captain Theodor. But before the turrets could even swivel Seydlitz scored two hits in revenge. There was a large jet of flame from a secondary ammo magazine that left Princess Royal in flames. She turned as though to dodge behind the funeral pyre of Tiger, but she was visibly slowing with her turrets frozen in position.

A group of waterspouts appeared just a couple hundred yards short of Derfflinger. The Indefatigable class BC had opened fire at 18,000 yards.

"Belay that last order, Captain!" shouted the admiral. "Fire on her instead," he ordered, gesturing toward the advancing BC. You're too late, thought the admiral at the newcomer as he looked through his glasses at this new foe.

"Also, 10 degrees right rudder on my mark, Captain. I want to finish off Princess Royal before the others get here."


The admiral looked back at Moltke. There was already some list from Princess Royal's final salvo and the fire amidships was far from out, but she was holding formation crisply. "Hold together," he muttered. The turn would bring the other RN ships into range sooner, in just a few minutes, in fact. It was imperative to finish off that crippled BC. He did NOT want to face her again.

"There she goes!" The admiral turned from his study of the RN light ships to the north. So far they seemed content to stay there to bar his way. Moltke's fire seemed erratic as damage control teams fought the fires and list. It was Seydlitz that scored the coup de grace on the almost dead in the water Princess Royal at 13,000 yards. Aflame from stem to stern, she rolled over and seemed to disintegrate when the water reached her boilers.

"A hit!" And indeed, an early hit on the onrushing BC seemed to cool her ardor a bit. There was a small fire on the port side turret, but since the action was shifting to a northerly course, that might be of little help.

The RN BC slowed, turned away briefly to take position ahead of Lion with the Invincible approaching the trail. The duo seemed content to do 15 knots as they waited for their third.

Lion, still showing a list of her own, opened fire at 11:42 at 19,000 yards as did the Indefatigable, 500 yards closer. Invincible would be out of range for another 12 minutes. The RN light ships now out of range, but dead ahead, began to show signs of life. The two BC lines were almost on parallel courses heading north, but were gradually closing the range. Beleaguered Blucher, struggling to make 15 knots, was edging desperately toward the German side of the drama heading their way. He ordered the German light ships to support.

"We should have enough," muttered the admiral, "as long as Moltke can shoot."

"Sir," came a shout from behind him, "Seydlitz reports only 80 shells left for the main guns."


Brave Beatty --- the I's of Britain Are Upon Us

It was 11:42 and the admiral realized the 19,000 yards to Lion was too much for the 11/50's.

"Come left 20 degrees."

"We must get closer!" the admiral explained to Captain Theodor.

"A hit!" shouted one bridge watchstander, but the ship, now identified as New Zealand, seemed undamaged. Nor was Derfflinger immune as the first turret rang with a hit from the NZ. A second hit left a furrow across the deck amidships. The NZ was clearly a better shooter than the larger Tiger had been. Her salvos were constantly near the mark.

It was not too far for the 13.5", however, and Moltke almost immediately began to suffer. With none of the 11" shells yet straddling her, Lion's gunners were able to calmly range in on Moltke, just as Seydlitz had earlier. Already listing slightly from the attentions of Princess Royal, Lion seemed to take up right where her sister had left off.

In all, Lion scored four hits in the six minutes it took for the 11" shells to get the range as the Baron steered closer. Though two hits did no damage, the other two added to Moltke's flooding problems, with the second and more damaging hit coming at 11:47.

"A hit, and another!" came the shouts on the bridge, but the NZ remained unhurt and defiant.

"Hit on Lion, and another, two more!"

Stricken Moltke had found the range momentarily and landed one hit in three straight half-salvos. Then Lion hit back with another 13.5" shell into the battered port casemates of Moltke.

Meanwhile, the duel between Derfflinger and NZ continued with lots of hits but without event.

"She must be living a charmed life, sir! It's almost like magic!"

"Yes," agreed the Baron, "that's what, how many hits?"

"Eight hits, so far, and she still looks brand new!"

"Sir, Lion is pulling out of the line!"

"Yes," said Captain Theodore, looking through his glasses. "That last salvo from Seydlitz hit her right at the waterline. She may be done for!"

"Admiral, report from Moltke, her forward bulkhead is about to go and she can't keep 18 knots. Sir, Captain Stang says they must slow to brace it."

"Mein Gott!" said the admiral. "Very well, signal him to head for Blucher."

"Signals, for Blucher, join with Moltke!"

The admiral knew Kolberg, Rostock and a full flotilla of torpedo boats were approaching Blucher at flank and would be there in a few minutes. His other 2 CLs and their torpedo boats were further away but coming hard.

"Aye, aye, sir."

He looked through his binoculars at the RN BCs. Yes, Lion had apparently gone dead in the water, her list looked bad, and her guns useless. At least, for the moment, he added to himself.

As he studied the wounded Lion, another shape crossed his binoculars in a blur. It belched fire and smoke. The Invincible class BC had joined the battle.

"Won't they EVER run out of ships?" Letters muttered to himself. He drew a deep breath.

"Steady as she goes, Captain," he said grimly.

"Aye, aye, sir," replied Captain Theodor calmly, but inside he wondered just how many shells Nik had left.

It was 11:54, and the two RN BCs, identified as New Zealand and Indomitable, were 17,000 yards off the port bow on a gradually converging northerly course. Moltke had hauled out of the line as had Lion, though Lion was dead in the water and possibly sinking, whereas MUStang's Moltke at least was underway (albeit at under 10 knots).

The admiral looked aft as Seydlitz closed up smartly which also helped Moltke escape f urther hits.

"Why aren't we hitting her?" Captain Theodor asked of no one in particular.

The Derfflinger's captain was starting to fear that nearly three hours of continuous firing had begun to take its toll on his gun crews. The NZ, on the other hand, would be quite fresh, having just joined the battle within the last 30 minutes.

"Oh, well done, Seydlitz!" Letters shouted, at the first hit on Indomitable.

Undaunted, the new RN adversary immediately scored two hits in the same salvo on Seydlitz right on the waterline aft.

"Whang!" Derfflinger's hull rang and the big ship seemed to shudder.

"Sir, flooding forward!"

"How bad?"

"Two compartments hit. One's closed off and they're working to plug the other. The bulkhead's holding fine."

"Have we hit her at all?" asked the captain to the OOD as he turned back from getting the damage report.

"Yes, sir, one more time, but no fire or list."

"Very well." Damn!

The admiral looked calm, but he kept looking back at Seydlitz, drawing comfort from each salvo. He'd lost count of her shells fired. As he watched, Seydlitz was hit again. He looked across at Indomitable. There was smoke coming from one casemate, but no other signs of damage.

"HIT! Oh, good shooting, captain!"

The NZ's forward turret was smashed by a hit flush on the glacis plate. Spurts of flame jetted out at several locations of the turret. The turret went silent but, except for trails of smoke leaking out and back along the ship, there was no other effect. Her two remaining turrets continued to fire.

The admiral looked at his watch; it was exactly noon.

"Admiral, Commander Nik requests we close to 5.9" range."

Seydlitz's guns had gone silent. It was 12:02.

The admiral looked for Moltke, but MUStang's BC was still limping away.

"Steady as she goes, captain," he said. If Derfflinger can't finish off the RN BCs, he thought, I'll not even get a chance to apologize to my ....

"Hit, and another!"

The admiral lifted his binoculars, but almost dropped them as still another shell smacked into Derfflinger. By the time he recovered and got them focused, another half-salvo was straddling NZ, and there was a bright red spark of another hit near the waterline under the bridge. It was as though the turret hit at high noon had opened the floodgates. The NZ was already visibly lower in the bow.

"Another turret hit!" The stern turret also went silent and grudgingly leaked smoke plumes.

Indeed, and still another hit on the bow one already destroyed, apparently without further effect.

There was no explosion, but the NZ almost seemed to drive silently under the waves. In seconds, only her stern poked out of the sea.

"Shift targets, captain!" ordered the admiral needlessly. The turrets were already pivoting.

"Signals, for Seydlitz, join Moltke!"

"Aye, aye, sir!"

The admiral looked north. There was a gathering of smoke columns, but he could see Kolberg and Stralsund leading their half-flotillas past Blucher to interpose themselves. He looked again, a set of smallish but unfriendly columns were heading his way from the northwest.

A shell rumbled by overhead, but he ignored it as he looked through his glasses toward the east and the mouth of the Bight.

"There," he said still looking east, "that must be Rostock or Graudenz and their ships."

"What do you make their range, flags?"

"Admiral, they look to be more than 20, maybe 25 thousand yards away."

It was clear that the oncoming RN light ships were closer. He tried to count the enemy smoke columns to the north and the northwest. There were a lot more than the 20 RN torpedo boats reported earlier, a lot more. Derfflinger was alone as they tried to finish off the ships of Beatty.

"Come left 30 degrees, captain. I want to finish this quickly!"

  The Final Insult

It was 12:06 and it was left to Derfflinger, low on ammo, to try to complete the triumph of the German BC's. It was up to Indomitable to turn the tide. Silencing Derfflinger would be enough to give the RN BC the chance to kill the cripples that the Baron would need to shelter all their slow way up the Bight. With Derfflinger's ammo shortage, simply lasting another two dozen minutes would suffice.

Nor was the larger and more powerful German BC holding all the other cards. Indomitable was fresh, she had shifted fire to Derfflinger more quickly, and the Baron's course change toward the RN ship had thrown off his own gunners more than those of the Indomitable.

"WHANG!" The Baron found himself on the deck. That one had crashed into the armor around the conning tower. The armor had held, but the impact had shaken them all. Numbly, he realized his nose was bleeding.

Majestic splashes rose near the RN ship, but no hits.

"Krump." That hit was deeper sounding. Quite ominous in its tone, thought the Baron.

"Sir, flooding reported in engineering, at least two coal bunkers have been opened to the sea."

The glass showed no list yet, so the admiral thought it might not be too serious. Yet.

More splashes near Indomitable, but these were straddles. Von Hase had found the range after 4 half-salvos.

"Krump!" The Indomitable was out shooting them badly, having scored three hits to their none. The latest one was more flooding. The damage control teams sounded worried this time.

"A hit!" The Baron looked at the RN ship, but there was no effect that he could see.

"Krump!" Damn, another hit. Captain Theodore was barking orders for counterflooding. The glass bead showed that Derfflinger was listing three degrees. As the Baron watched, the bead of mercury edged to four and was still moving.

He turned his head to watch the Derfflinger's next salvos.

"A hit!" Yes, this time it must have hurt the Brit. The hit had sparked red like striking a flint right at the waterline under the funnel. The Indomitable seemed to stagger.

The splashes from the next RN salvo were 200 yards short.

Could they be listing that quickly, wondered the baron.

"Another!" Yes, Von Hase had scored again, and again it was on the waterline, though about two-thirds back along the hull.

"Mein Gott," shouted Captain Theodore. "She's done for!"

It was true; those two half-salvos must have opened her starboard side like a great can opener. Even as they watched, the proud BC clearly went DIW (dead in the water), there was a gush of steam, and the ship took a 30 degree or greater list.

Instead of watching Von Hase finish off the Indomitable, the Baron looked for Lion.

"Captain Theodore, where's Lion and what's her status?"

The RN light ships were coming hard, but were still about 20,000 yards to the NW.

"Admiral, lookouts report Lion is West by Southwest, range 24,000 yards."

"Captain Theodore, change course immediately, head for Lion, as soon as you finish of Indomitable, go to all ahead flank."

"Aye, aye, sir!"

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