Into The Great White Open – Introduction - Part one, Two Oceans


A Letterstime  side story



February 23rd 1915 10:25 am SMS Roon course east south east


The short sortie was coming to an end. Fregattenkapitaen von Karpf was standing on the starboard bridge wing looking west. Behind the Roon's four stacks and the mainmast he saw the looming mass of SMS Koenig, Leadship of High Seas Fleet's Third Battlesquadron. Smoke reduced the already limited view due to the foul North Sea weather. Their Squadron mate SMS Prinz Heinrich was just some hundered meters to starboard, smoking badly.


After the battlecruiser clash at Doggerbank back in January the fleet made more frequent sweeps. Yesterday they sortied into the southern North Sea. The force consisted of Third and Fourth Battlesquadons together with Third and Fourth Scouting Groups. Unfortunately, the sortie to the west ended just north of Terschelling. This sweep was so short that fighting with British Forces was nearly an impossibility. But it was a sortie, nonetheless.


"Once again an uneventful journey coming to an end, Paul“, he said to his XO. "I wonder how long this is going on. Unlike First Scouting, our Big Units have not seen any action yet”. Deep inside a voice asked whether he really want to see the teeth of the Grand Fleet. Of course he would neglect the pure existence of this voice to anyone. Another voice fought the first and said that he would love to see those teeth.


"Just seen Schillig's lighthouse. If we hurry we can complete passing third pathway and in about 90 minutes reach our berth.“ his XO said.



February 23rd high noon, Noerenberg, Hinterpommern, Lange Strasse 5, master tailor Adalbert Wudtke's living room


Wilhelm Wudtke was proudly looking at the evening suit he was producing. He had started his journeyman years in September 1914 after receiving his "Gesellenbrief“ (Note [1]), so that he was a real tailor now and he could start to earn money and maybe sometime raise a family. But first he would like to be a master tailor, like his father, for whom he was working now.


"Wilhelm, you have received a letter“, the concerned voice of his mother was heard through the clattering of his sewing-machine. Wilhelm stopped pedaling and laid down his sewing-thread. "Who is the consignor, mother?“ the eighteen year old boy asked. He was a friendly young man, well liked by most inhabitants of this small town in Pommern. He was not a large boy, in his 1meter 60ties. Most prominent where his friendly looking green eyes and his ears, which some teased him about being good for sailing.



April 14th Wilhelmshaven, SMS Roon's bridge


"Kapitaen von Karpf, look at this message, bitte.“ Kontreadmiral von Rebeur-Paschwitz’ voice was strangely flat. Von Karpf took the message and started to read. His heart suddenly pounds heavily.


"Von Karpf, Third Scouting is no more“, von Rebeur-Paschwitz said to his flagcaptain. "Together with the Prinz Heinrich your ship is going to be transferred to the Baltic. It appears we are not needed here anymore.


"Please haul down my flag”. The admiral coughed, and then cleared his throat. “I wonder if SMS Roon is ever going to be a flagship again“, he added after a short hesitation, then turned around and left for his stateroom.


"Tomorrow we are transferring to Kiel“, von Karpf some time later said to his XO. "Get the ship clear, put boilers on two hours notice, we are leaving at first light“.



April 15th north of Memel, SMS Undine, sunrise


"The commander of Memel is requesting it, so there is absolutely no discussion“, Korvettenkapitaen Windmueller said to his XO, who just had suggested caution.


"AO, you see Budendiekshof (Note [2]) off our port bow. Have you memorized those buildings we ought to destroy“?


"Yes Sir“, Maier said.


"I simply do not want to listen to these coastal battery talks. If there are some, we destroy them. We do not have SMS Ostfriesland available,“ Windmüller said, still very angry.


His ship, normally "Kuestenschutzverband Ostsee“(Note [3]) with its crew consisting mainly of reservists, had been sent east to replace the SMS Luebeck, which was on a mine sortie. SMS Undine was launched December 12th 1902 and was first commisioned January 5th 1904. Her active period had ended July 1912, when she was decommisioned. Undine was reactivated August 5th 1914, mobilized after the war broke out. Shortly afterwards, back in September, she suffered an engine breakdown during a lengthy Baltic operation. This was remedied afterwards. Now his ship was considered ready for action.


Memel, Germany's most north-easterly city, had been taken by Russian troops March 18th. After a counterattack, with strong naval support from Second Scouting Group, it was retaken March 21st. But the situation remained insecure since then. At least one "Kleiner Kreuzer was stationed in Memel harbor always. The Russians seem to concentrate troops in Libau, which was their southernmost Baltic harbour.

Budendiekshof, about 5 nm north of the border, had been developed as a Russian outpost.


"Feuererlaubnis (Note[4]) fuer die Zehnfuenf (Note[5]) erteilt“, Windmueller said to Maier.


"All guns, shooooot“, Maier commanded.


"Crack, Crack, Crackcrackcrack, the port broadside guns erupted to life. Windmueller was pleased with these guns, they had a very heavy shell for their bore.


The range was about 40 hm (Note [6]), so just seconds later the 17.4 kilogram shells arrived. The light had much improved during the last minutes, so the erupting fountains could be seen. One of the shells was on target, parts of a wall collapsed. "Have a nice wakeup, my Russian friends, this is from the Kaiser with love“, Windmueller thought grimly, calming down slowly.


"Take aim piecewise, every gun commander knows his target“, Maier's very loud voice as audible behind him.


"Crack, Crack, Crack, Crackcrack, the second salvo went out. This time all shells save one hit their destination.


"Training has helped, Leutnant Maier, good shooting“, complimented Windmueller. "Keep it up“.


Only minutes later smoke from the burning buildings hampered vision. Windmueller was pleased with their success.


Later that day they opened fire again, this time at the very long range of 120 hm at Russian lines southeast of Dorbjanny. That was close to their range limit, which was just a few hundred meters more.


"This was a good exercise for every one of us“, Korvettenkapitaen Windmueller said after their return to Memel in the evening. "They so wetted their pants, that they did not even shoot back. Coastal batteries, I can not stop laughing“, he said without friendliness, especially to his XO.


At that time he did not know that he would have to return to the western Baltic the next day. So it was up patrolling the western Baltic again, like all this long last winter and autumn.



May 07th, 04:00 pm, near Libau, course south, SMS Roon's bridge


"AO, permission to open fire“, the loud voice of Fregattenkapitaen Ziethen was heard on the bridge.


Just some seconds earlier SMS Prinz Adalbert, Kontreadmiral Hopman's flagship had opened fire on the  russian barbed wire factory at the northern part of the city. Directly in front of SMS Roon was the former Third Scouting companion, the SMS Prinz Heinrich. "At least we are not the trail snail“, thought Ziethen. That position was occupied by SMS Beowulf, one of the old Siegfried - Class  coastal defence vessels, although she was more on the port side then behind. Still further astern, much closer to the coast, was SMS Thetis, one of the slower small cruisers.


Much farther south both of "Aufklaerungsgruppe Ostsee“ (Note [7]) fast cruisers, the SMS Augsburg and the SMS Luebeck, where shooting at Libau's southern defences, where the German troops where advancing.


Ziethen had become Roon's new CO after Fregattenkapitaen von Karpf had left upon Roon’s arrival at Kiel two day's after her departure from Wilhelmshaven. Von Karpf’s new assignment was second Admiral of the Baltic Scouting Forces, though acting as Kommodore, now.


Ziethen's previous duty was XO of the SMS Wittelsbach, one of those Fourth Battlesquadron  Predreadnoughts. Originally Fregattenkapitaen Gygas was to assume command, but that was suddenly changed and he was commanded to report to the Blohm & Voss yard at Hamburg. Gygas must have been more than a bit confused, when he had told Ziethen something about "Salamis,“ but what had that meant, that reference to that historical battle site? Soon thereafter Ziethen had enough to do instead of mentally asking questions.


He had not have had that much time to get acquainted to this ship, for Kontreadmiral Hopman on SMS Prinz Adalbert gave the command to leave Swinemuende, sailing east for Danzig. Together with SMS Prinz Heinrich and 19th Half-Flotilla Roon, they had exercised some days after leaving Kiel. During the evening hours of May 2nd he received the above-mentioned orders.


Yesterday with the whole fleet they had left Memel during the noon hours, coal sacks everywhere, to augment their TB's limited range. Ziethen not at all liked that untidiness, but he knew well that it was necessary. Some hours later, after receiving the message of SMS Muenchen:


"Sighted two Armored cruisers with four and two more with three stacks“.


they had hoped to meet the Russian Baltic Fleet in battle. But those turned their tail and turned north. Not even their smoke plume was sighted.


During today's early hours some fighting took place in the vicinity of Libau, but the Armored Cruisers did not taken part in it. Later, the big units took their place in the firing-line, ready to open fire. SMS Roon's task was to reduce the beach entrenchments.


"Artillery Officer, I want some quick-firing salvos of heavy and medium Artillery after we have found the  range. Let's train the men in quickly reloading. After some salvos, you are to switch to slow, but well aimed fire“, Ziethen told his AO.


"KABOOOM“, for the first time Ziethen heard his own artillery fire in anger. The full, deep sound of Roon's four 21,0 cm L/40 main guns was easy to distinguish from the loud, hard sound of the 15cm L/40 medium guns. Of those Roon had five on each side, two in turrets on the upper deck and three in casemates on the main deck.


"Achtung, Aufschlag“, (Note[8]) his second artillery officer Oberleutnant zur See Christian Knothe said.


"Over, reduce by 200. Medium Artillery, second salvo, shoooot“, the gunners commando was given.


"CRUMP, CRUMMMMMMP“, they shouted out their defiance.

This time huge fountains erupted in the beach battery works. "You are on target, quick-fire“, Kapitaenleutnant Hoehne's commando was given. The good-looking "Erster Artillerieoffizier“ was well liked by his fellow officers for being good humored and very reliable.


"CRRRRUUMMMP“, the third salvo went out, seconds later. After the shells arrived, a huge explosion took place. One gun's emplacements ready to use ammunition detonated.


"Brilliant shooting, Michael“, Ziethen said. "By the way, do we have big guns“? he asked, teasing his fellow officer.


"21iger, Feuer“, Kapitaenleutnant Hoehne commanded, looked at Ziethen and smiled. "If you want to see the result, look out the other direction“, he teased back.


Ziethen had his binoculars in front of his eyes already.


"KABOOOM“, four heavy shells left Roon's muzzels. Brilliant visible detonations lifted up dust, dirt and other parts of something, some of which, he reminded himself, had once belonged to human beings.


Some minutes later, after they shifted to well aimed fire, Ziethen said "I want the eight-eight to be included as well. Train those gunners, we might need them soon, as well.“



May 10th, Putlos, south of Kiel, Schleswig-Holstein


"Sprung auf, Marsch Marsch“, (Note[9]) Wilhelm Wudtke hears his corporal shout from behind. Up and out of his covering he goes, his rifle, the "Gewehr 98“ in his right hand, dashing forward to that "enemy“ building.


He recalled the 9th of March, his nineteenth birthday ,when he had to follow the call to duty. The LETTER(s) his mother had handed him back that winter day, described the day and place where he was ordered to show up. He knew from that day, that he has to fight for his "Fatherland“ as a sailor of the "Kaiserliche Marine“. So he went to Kiel by train to await his destiny.


"At least it will be warm and I am not to stick in trenches”, he remembered answering his parents. Now he wondered just how naive he was, back then. He was a child of spring and loved warm day's and sunshine. He had not much love for those quite long Pommern winters.


His days had a new meaning now, short nights, marching exercises, rifle exercises, cleaning rooms, and a lot of other "senseless things“. Only when it came to repairing clothes, he was clearly the best and fastest of his platoon.


"One day this will have to end, and then we will have a calm live in one or the other harbor”, he frequently told his comrades. That little what he had seen from Kiel was not that unpleasant. The landscape of Schleswig-Holstein reminded him of his far away home in Pommern. It seems a lifetime ago by now. Yes, he was homesick.



May 11th, 07:00 am, Baltic near Polangen , HMS submarine E 9, periscope depth


Just minutes before they had sighted smoke plumes to the north. Lieutenant Commander Max R. Horton had ordered a course change and shortly thereafter he commanded: “Diving”.


“Lieutenant, bring her up to periscope depth”, Horton's voice was audible.


“Up periscope”, he commanded. ”Slow ahead, Bosun, course 110.”


“Hmm...., there they are. Seems to be a lot of ships”, he said.


Minutes later.


“Well, definitively three really big units. And some destroyers. There, this is a big one. Flood the tubes”. Seconds later:” Open the doors of the bow tubes”.


“Bow Torpedo Room, target is a big Cruiser with four stacks, estimated speed 15 knots, distance 600 yards”.


He took a short round sweep with the periscope. No destroyer interfering.


“Tube One and Two ready to fire”. The silence in the boat was “hurting”.


“Tube One, ...Fire”.


“Tube Two, ...Fire”.


Both torpedoes sped off.


“Torpedoes are running well”, the voice from the torpedo officer in the bow room reported.


“Down Periscope”?, the voice of an NCO was heard.


“Keep it up”.


“Captain, screw sounds red 15”! the alarmed voice from the hydrophone room.


Sweep with the periscope. “Shit, destroyer combing the wakes, emergency dive”!





May 11th, 07:07 am, Baltic near Polangen, SMS Roon, speed 16 knots


“Torpedoes from starboard! Two tracks fast approaching!!” cried the lookout.


Officer of the watch was Kapitaenleutnant Jens Trapp, Roon's Second Officer. “Emergency left rudder, full speed ahead!, Alle Schotten dicht”!


Crack, Wumpf”.



May 15th, Ems estuary, Germany, SMS Arcona' s bow 10,5 cm guns


"Same procedure as yesterday, Stephan“, the gun-commander of the port bow 10.5 cm gun said to that one of the starboard. "Same procedure as every day, Johannes“, that one replied in earnest.


Together with the old destroyer D-9 and the Torpedo-Boats T-85 and T-87 SMS Arcona forms the "Kuestenschutzverband Ems“ (Note[10]) and is the "flagship“ of Korvettenkapitaen Wilhelm von Hippel.


SMS Arcona was launched April 22nd 1902. Her first commision date was May 12th 1903. She was an active part of the fleet until she had been rebuild as a mine cruiser from 1910 onwards. Korvettenkapitaen von Hippel recommisioned her in October 1912. Her original armament was reduced to 8 guns, but the missing two 10.5 cm L/40 where replaced when war broke out. So she has been an “active” ship after all.


Their duty is to guard the mouth of the Ems river and to hinder enemy forces to lay ambushes there and to lay tactical minefields, should the need arise for those. Often together with two of those "Kuestenpanzern“ (Note[11]) of the Siegfried - Class  they are standing watch, day after day, week after week, month after month. Waiting for the British, which simply do not come.


Tristness as the best word to describe that situation.


Only in last August, when the British attacked Heligoland Bight, those units on duty back then could give battle. One of the attacking cruisers, SMS Mainz, which started from the Ems river, was sunk during that engagement. SMS Mainz was not part of Kuestenschutzverband Ems but SMS Arcona was, but she was left behind. Mainz had paid dearly for that mistake.



May 16th, CO's room, SMS Roon


Ziethen thought back of last weeks "highlights“. Only with difficulty did they escape those torpedoes fired at them in the early morning hours of May 11th. The torpedoes passed Roon's stern only by some meters. S 141, one of their escorting torpedo boats had combed the tracks and fired with its bow gun, but lost aim soon after. So much for those who say older units to the Baltic. The danger of enemy subs and mines was as great as in the north sea.


They had fulfilled their duty, Libau was in German hands now. Two firing periods took place, one from 4 pm until 4:24 pm and the second one from 5:30 to 5:41 pm. In the evening hours of the 7th, large parts of the city where taken.


10:30 am May 8th Oberst von der Schulenburg, commander of third cavalery brigade made the announcement by wireless:


"3rd Cavalry-Brigade, thanks to the support of the fleet, is now completely in control of Libau. Hope for future common successes.“


Ziethen was not totally satisfied with his artillery, not that they had been bad, slow or inaccurate. It was more the fact that the results were not excellent. He knew that one day they would meet enemy units in anger, and that their Artillery would be their live preserver, but only if they shot better with it. In fact, this had become a common theme in his discussions with Kapitaenleutnant Hoehne.


Roon was launched June 27th 1903. After fitting out she was commisioned April 5th 1906. “That was a long fitting-out period”, Ziethen thought. After a relatively short active period she was decommisioned 1911. Mobilization changed that August 2nd 1914.


Ziethen was Roon's CO a month time now. Not much time, but an active one. Already he felt that the crew’s  performance had shown good progress. Another month or two and his goal to have an elite crew seems to be achievable. "Armored Cruisers“ he said to himself, "what have we achieved with those units“.


Now, Kontreadmiral Hopman has all three operational units of this type under his command. He never counted SMS Bluecher a "true“ AC, more a hybrid battle cruiser, "She survived an encounter with five British battle cruisers, three of them those dreaded "Cats“, even though she was badly damaged. Same to be said of Hipper's battlecruisers.“ "Stop“, he corrected himself, "that are now Vice Admiral Letters Battlecruisers“. He admired Letters greatly, having won that battle. A brilliant success, and one whose echoes were still reverberating all across the world. How he longed to have been there! Ziethen was Bluecher's artillery officer before he was assigned to be Wittelsbach's XO when war broke out.


"What are the results and what are the fates of these ships?“ Ziethen considered. The first loss, and the most unnecessary one, was the loss of Roon's sister SMS Yorck. After her shelling of Yarmouth, she was lost November 4th, due to foggy conditions she blundered into a “friendly” minefield in the inner Jade. Striking two mines, she had capsized due to asymmetrical flooding, taking 336 of her crew with her to a watery grave.


"How can one lay mines that far inshore and how can one return home if one can not see due to foggy conditions?“ Ziethen was speaking nearly silently, a lonely figure sitting in his only chair in a nearly dark room. He felt the responsibility of his command heavy on his shoulders and in his stomach. He never imagined that Kapitaene were that lonely.


Then there was the loss of SMS Eitel Friedrich, sinking after striking two mines near Memel November 17th. The crew fought heroically to save their ship, but it was in vain. Finally, after nearly 6 hours, she went down. Luckily only seven crew members lost their lives.


"So one of them survived two mines for hours and the other capsized after only a few minutes”. And the types were quite similar. After the loss of SMS Yorck the yards cut a big door in the bulkhead in the middle of the boiler-rooms. This door could be opened quickly in emergency to buy buoyancy for time.


Then came the loss of SMS Scharnhorst and SMS Gneisenau December 4th. They fought gallantly against Sturdee's HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible, trying to save their small cruiser companions. That outcome had been certain from the start, but they had lasted for many hours. Not much was known how many brave sailors demised, but lately the rumors told that Scharnhorst had been lost with all hands. "Poor von Spee, he definitely had deserved a better fate.“ Ziethen could not get rid of the feeling that "Ostasiengeschwader“ (Note [12]) did not receive the support they needed. Both big AC's definitely would make a difference here.


His thoughts went back to SMS Bluecher. That one survived heavy damage. "That makes four against one.“   He thought about good performance against bad performance.


Not that much seems wrong with German designs.


"So what the hell are these valuable assets doing in the Baltic, where the war at sea was won from the first second of the war? The Russians will never have a chance to change their strategical situation, even with their four Gangut-Class Dreadnoughts which might enter service this year“! He was nearly shouting to himself by this time.


"Why is it not obvious for the strategists to see, that efforts have to been taken in the North Sea? Just as this Letters“ - what a funny name for a German, he wondered not for the first time (Note[13]) - "seems to be suggesting frequently.“


Finally he tried to find some rest, but the thoughts kept on coming.

Introduction, Part 2


Written for Letterstime by Uwe Ziethen.

Story is permitted to be placed on Jim Byrds “” server.

Uwe likes to thank Jim very much for his encouragement and support.





Note 1: Having finished his education and could start a work on his own responsibility

Note 2: small village north of Memel, already in Lithunia

Note 3: Coastal defense unit Baltic

Note 4: Permission to open fire

Note 5: 10,5 cm, 4.1 inch

Note 6: hm, Hektometer, 1 hm is 100 meter

Note 7: Scouting Group Baltic

Note 8: "Attention, here they come“.

Note 9: "Jump, to the attack“

Note 10: Coastal defence unit

Note 11: Coastal defence ships

Note 12: East Asia Squadron

Note 13: Sorry Jim :-)

[1] Having finished his education and could start a work on his own responsibility.

[2] ) small village north of Memel, already in Lithunia.

[3] ) Coastal defense unit Baltic

[4] ) Permission to open fire

[5] ) 10.5 cm, 4.1 inch

[6] ) hm, Hektometer, 1 hm is 100 meter

[7] ) Scouting Group Baltic

[8] ) Attention, here they come.

[9] "Jump, to the attack“

[10]              ) Coastal defence unit

[11]              ) Coastal defence ships

[12]              ) East Asia Squadron

[13]              ) Sorry, Jim