Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug
- Meeting Engagements, Part XXIII
hôdan no temane mo miete natsu kodachi - Kobayashi Issa, year unknown
---- Scapa Flow
It had been a very warm day and in many unexpected ways, reflected Captain
Stinson. Looking around, it did not escape him that the others were guarding
their expressions well. They probably had just as good a reason to be
chastened as he did. At least, he hoped that was the case. His only secure
knowledge was what had happened to him. It was odd to meet out of doors,
but the sky was clear, the grove gave good dappled shade, and the admiral
clearly could have them assemble wherever he chose. Was that last the
point? Or was it that they had to prepare to think differently?
It could even be that De Robeck wanted them to speculate like this. Stinson
certainly did not know, but what he did know was that he would never forget
this meeting, and how he had gotten here. Huh, he thought, maybe THAT
was the point?!
"What strength?" Acting-Commodore Stinson had asked, many hours
earlier, upon getting the "enemy in sight" report on bearing
115, range 19,000 yards. His command was on course 170, speed 16 knots.
"Sir, lookouts report enemy strength one light cruiser - Graudenz
class - and five torpedo boats. Course due North, speed estimated at 15
Four-inch guns versus his six inchers and he had twice as many torpedo
boats. The other flotilla was beyond visibility to the west, out of position
to participate before the Germans could make good their escape.
"Come to 090. Ahead Flank, maximum RPM. Signals, ready 'Attack'."
He waited, directing a sighting report be sent, along with his turn to
"Enemy is turning away," came the report, and a few moments
later the OOD announced 20 knots. In the present seas, their best speed
would be nearer 27, but it would take several more minutes to work up
"Onto what heading?" Stinson demanded, as he considered if
he should hoist the flag that would launch his faster TBs ahead and into
South-south-westerly was the best estimate. That much of a turn would
slow the Germans, letting him close, since he could cut the corner with
far less rudder. He decided to wait a few more moments.
"Come to 135. Hoist 'Attack,' but leave it up."
The announced range continued to drop, but he needed to get it under 14,000
to have any chance to hit. Nonetheless, he was resolved to begin ranging
shots at 15,000, just in case. He studied the plot as he waited. The dots
and lines indicated that the enemy had come onto something like 170 -
Stinson's own original base course. The converging course he'd just ordered
would bring them into gun range in a few minutes, unless the Huns turned
again to make it a stern chase.
"Range 15,000 yards," came the report.
"Short, 1,000 yards."
The range estimate had apparently been accurate enough. Within a minute,
the reports had the shells within 500 yards.
"Enemy is altering course away." Disappointing, but hardly
"Come left to 120." This should come closer to the Huns' new
course, letting them get within gun range despite the others' maneuvers.
Another couple minutes, no more. It was time, Stinson decided.
"Signals, execute." His flotilla would quickly draw ahead.
The Graudenz class could not out run them, any turn would expose them
to his closing flotilla, and his own cruiser's guns would have the range
very shortly. Five TBs against his full ten.
"Lookouts report possible new contacts, bearing 115."
"What?" Stinson flushed guiltily, even now, hours later. He'd
been unable keep the surprise from his voice. And it had only gotten worse.
"Confirmed. Estimated range, 16,000 yards. Contact has opened fire."
He hesitated. Another half-flotilla? Reciprocal course? Headed by a light
cruiser with 5.9" guns? Even if so, his TBs were already into the
"A very large splash 200 yards astern."
They had the range to do that? Wait, a "very large splash"?
They were coming right down his throat! But who ...?
"New force is altering course to the northwest. Three battlecruisers,
two Derfflinger class, and one Seydlitz class. Estimated speed, 25 knots.
The others have opened fire. Additional light ships, estimated ...."
"Gentlemen," De Robeck began, his wide inclusive gesture drew
everyone's attention back to the moment. "Today's exercises have
reaffirmed that much remains to be done. Much to learn. The Hun has made
a study of us. Our history and tradition is an open text with centuries
of pages to draw upon. It has been our rock, our strength, just as His
Majesty's Royal Navy has been the rock of the Empire.
"That shall not change. Will not change. But some things must.
" 'No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that
of the enemy.' (NOTE 2) We cut our teeth on that. The Hun watched, and
learned, as we have discovered at such great cost. They didn't have any
naval tradition of their own worth mentioning - though they may now. Thanks
to us. And ours."
The CO - Grand Fleet surveyed the somewhat-chastened assembly. Each commanding
officer had had posed to him a scenario in which his every fiber had cried
out for attack. Each had responded in keeping with the finest of Nelsonian
tradition. Each had met a similar fate.
"What you faced here today, gentlemen, was not simply the vaporous
imaginings of some moribund chairwarmers. Indeed, the Huns tried quite
a similar gambit on Commodore Alexander-Sinclair last month. (NOTE 3)
They tried it with greater success several other times that day, and,
sadly enough, succeeded with it again just last week off The United States.
"Gentlemen, initiative and aggressive tactics are well and good,
but only if it is INTELLIGENT aggression. Cavalry charges by forces entrusted
with scouting duties do NOT come under the heading of intelligent initiative.
I DO hope I have made myself entirely clear on this point."
It appeared he had.
Certainly, Stinson knew that HE was having trouble meeting the admiral's
eye, and he presumed his case was typical. His mistake was easy enough
- in hindsight! He'd not recognized that the enemy's north-then-south
courses had allowed the half-flotilla - and their attendant smoke plumes
- to remain straddled across the same general bearing. Thus, he had not
thought to maneuver sufficiently to see past them down that bearing. Perfidiously,
that had concealed the countercharging BC force.
De Robeck stared at Stinson and the rest of them without mercy. They
were being forced to adapt. It made many very uncomfortable and, just
weeks ago, would have been virtually unthinkable. Defeat changes everything.
1 - Kobayashi Issa was a very prolific Japanese poet who authored thousands
of haiku. The one featured here translates roughly as:
with hand gestures
in the summer trees
It is not clear that any of his haiku involved ships or, using the Japanese
word, Maru. That did not, of course, stop Gene Roddenbery, so I did not
let it stop me.
2 - Admiral Horatio Nelson. A famous, even seminal, quotation.
3 - The beginning of Die Kaiserschlacht. See http://www.thequickbluefox.com/JutlandPage2.html
Commodore Alexander-Sinclair would be killed later that same day by a
bridge hit on Galatea, as reported at: http://www.thequickbluefox.com/JutlandPage13.html