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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug: Homeward Bound? Part XV

July 3, 1915

---- Warspite, course 150, speed 20 knots


They should have gotten the range sooner, De Robeck thought. The range to the Germans had probably been greater than first reported. Those survivors who’d been with Sturdee had reported that the initial range estimates seemed to have been 2,000 or more yards OVER. Those reports had been widely circulated and he wondered if perhaps Warspite’s lookouts had consciously or unconsciously revised their estimates today because of it. His flagship was shooting at the third German and the temptation was extraordinary to stare at it much as one would at the target at which one’s team members were throwing darts.

But that just wouldn’t do! De Robeck looked ahead, over Warspite’s bows and then astern, the four turrets belched fire and smoke again as he did so. All nine dreadnoughts had finished coming onto the new course.


Damn! He had let his attention wander back to their target, a Kaiser class dreadnought. There were two German battlecruisers with at least two full flotillas somewhere to the south or southeast. The only comforting thought was that he had the superbly steady Commodore Nott marking them.

---- Southampton, course 045, speed 22 knots

“Sir! Contact, bearing 030. Multiple plumes.”

“What?!” Nott practically wrenched his head right off his neck as he pivoted from staring back at the German force on his distant aft starboard quarter to face this new threat on his port bow.

“Range 16,000 yards, sir. They’re inbound on an intercept course.”

The Huns had trapped him between two forces! Despite all he’d .... He could feel his stomach tighten even as his knees loosened, and perhaps his bowels. He drew a deep breath. They’d snuck ....

“Two ships, sir, ... cruisers. Light cruisers. They’re ours, sir. Weymouth class, both of them.”

British? Then ... they weren’t German? Nott’s thoughts seemed to congeal, his mind momentarily unable to process information as his heart hammered the blood through his veins.

“Commodore,” called out a senior staff officer, “that’ll be Captain Hakonson on Falmouth, with Yarmouth.”

Dedmon, who had essentially levitated out on the port wingbridge at the first words of the initial sighting report, stared through the bridge house at the Commodore still out on the other wingbridge. Nott had not deigned to stir a single jot from his vantage, obviously having known all along full well who this would be. Probably a simple deduction from the charts, decided Dedmon, or at least simple to Nott.

---- HMS Falmouth, course 150, speed 20 knots

Captain Hakonson was pretty sure who he was looking at, had expected it, after all.

“Confirmed, sir. First Light Cruiser.”

Hakonson also knew precisely where he was: 12,000 yards south and 1,000 yards west of Marlborough. He could still see her! He also knew that he was the only one who possessed that vital knowledge, and that it was his specific and urgent duty to remedy that.

“Signals Officer!”

It was only when he finished issuing those orders that he recalled that he was rushing down hard onto Commodore Nott’s squadron ... and the German battlecruisers hard on the Commodore’s heels.

“Helm, bring us left ....”

---- Graudenz, course 045, speed 22 knots

Kapitan Niemczyk, along with Kapitan Schneider’s Stralsund, was in the van of Necki’s force, about 5,000 yards ahead of Derfflinger’s prow.

“Sir, lookouts report the Britishers are being reinforced.”

Niemczyk had himself been “reinforced” by the arrival of one of Borys’ apparently-lost TBs, so his initial notion was that something similar might have just happened to the British. It took only a few moments, though, before he realized the more likely implications.

“Flags, for Derfflinger!”

---- Warspite, course 150, speed 20 knots

“Admiral, lookouts report flotillas massing in the German van.”

De Robeck lifted turned his binoculars towards the distant enemy. Yes, a torpedo attack would be the natural next step. He distrusted it for that reason alone. The natural British responses would, of course ....

“Sir, Admiral Napier has hoisted ....”

The red spark interrupted his thoughts and drew his eyes towards the end of the German Line.

“Sir, hit on ....!”

---- Ostfriesland, course 150, speed 18 knots

“... on Helgoland, sir!”

Rudberg tore his eyes away from the well-scattered splashes still several hundred yards short of his flagship to look at Ostfriesland’s sister, just astern. Smoke obscured her forward turret. As he looked aft, another set of splashes fell well short of Posen, though they were so scattered that one pair came as close as perhaps 350 yards. He had just finished his estimate when splashes arose short of Rheinland, his trail ship. They were closer than the most of the ones aimed at Posen, perhaps 400 yards off, and better grouped.

He returned his attention to Helgoland, taking heart that the interval between his ship and her had remained unchanged. The smoke had mostly ceased, the 18 knots of wind having done most of it. There was a mark on the forecorner closest to him - the turret was facing the enemy - but no significant penetration seemed to have occurred. As he watched, he was relieved to see the gun barrels flicker up and down, likely as her Gunnery Officer checked for damage.

The water spouts shot out of the water near his ship again, maybe a little closer but still quite scattered. He frowned; there were a lot more of them than he’d’ve expected in a single salvo. Were multiple ships targeting him? There seemed to be two different sets approaching the dreadnought flying Letters’ flag. Had the British doubled up on their two ships because they flew the pennants of vice-admirals? Were their optics really that good at 20,000 yards?

---- Warspite, course 150, speed 20 knots

“Admiral, from Falmouth.” That would be Captain Hakonson, De Robeck realized; he also had Yarmouth with him. ‘Sighted First Light Cruiser. Enemy 30,000 SSE from Flagship, course 045, speed 23.’ “

Damnation! The irony almost overpowered his professional demeanor. He’d gone to extraordinary lengths to catch the German battlecruisers and bring them to battle and now, here they were, racing to meet him.

And he was going to have to ....

“Sir, another ...!”

---- Konig Albert, course 150, speed 18 knots


Kapitan Aurich saw flame erupt from Frederick der Grosse’s aft starboard side. The shell had smashed into the casemates about half-way between the second stack and the fourth turret. The smoke poured out of the gun ports and the hole. He couldn’t see much more, but one barrel pointed in an obviously impossible direction, much like a badly broken finger out of line with the rest.

“Range?” Aurich put the question harshly to his navigator. If his XO had been there, he’d doubtless been sharper still.

“19,000 yards, sir. Dropping slowly.”

---- Kronprinz, course 150, speed 18 knots


Kapitan Wilhelm felt the shell hammer into the superstructure a few dozen yards behind him. He looked back from the wingbridge but saw no smoke, though he heard the cries of the damage control teams. The shell had broken up and failed to fully explode, but he would not learn that for several minutes. Meanwhile, another salvo straddled them with one shell landing so close long that it threw water onto the deck.

Why wasn’t the Baron firing back?!


There! The bellowing guns from Grosser Kurfurst made the latest signal quite clear.

“Fire!” The first half-salvo went out instantly.


The second salvo went out.

“Sir, flagship has taken down 135 and hoisted ....”

---- Grosser Kurfurst, course 150, speed 18 knots

Holding the wireless slip, Vice-Admiral Letters also was struck by the irony of the situation. Even more than had De Robeck, he had gone to extraordinary lengths this day, also on account of the battlecruisers, risking both his navy’s dreadnoughts as well as his personal and professional hide to ensure their escape.

And now this! He had intended to fire a few salvos as he sent in Ehrhart’s light, more in bluff than in earnest. It was the next and obvious move in this sea chess. Still, he’d fully expected the British to respect the torpedo attack and come off their line, drawing up, in effect. The book moves in chess are in there for very good reasons, after all. Then he could hoist the recall and put his own dreadnoughts onto a course due east. And away.

Well, unless, of course, good things happened. Nice surprises. Letters didn’t expect any would, though, as German AP shells would be ineffective at this range, so his gunners would be relegated to firing HE.

Necki’s wireless, though, had changed everything!

“Sir, all ships have acknowledged 180.”


---- Warspite, course 150, speed 20 knots

De Robeck’s expression was grim. Yes, the Germans had finally broke their gunnery fast, but their first shells had splashed short. Most of them had been quite distant, though a few shooters had been unexpectedly close. His own guns seemed to have just found the range. He held no illusions that the Germans would find it too, and soon, but his would get the better of it, he was quite confident. And meanwhile ....

“Sir, the Germans have altered course! New course looks to be 180.”

Yes, of course. The range would drop quickly, now. His natural reaction would seem to be to match the Germans 180 - to keep them at full arm’s length. Thanks to Commodore Nott, though, he knew full well that the Huns had two battlecruisers and two or more flotillas about to slam into his van at 23 knots or more from the south. Right into the bows of Marlborough. A surpassingly shrewd and diabolical trap!

Damn them! Had this, then, been their plan all along? Well, no matter.

---- Ostfriesland, course 180, speed 18 knots


“Sir, the British are ... turning away?!” The officer’s voice betrayed his surprise.

They were going to get away. Rudberg let out his breath. How long had be been holding it?


Damn! And they had just gotten the range.


---- Kronprinz, course 180, speed 18 knots

A brief spark flickered on one of the Britishers. But not just any Brit, she was THEIR target!


Vanguard, last in her three-ship column, had been among the last to turn with her division. Thus, she had held her course a couple minutes longer.

Wilhelm eagerly waited for the next shells to land.

“Short!” Damn!

---- Ostfriesland, course 180, speed 18 knots

More salvos were fired, but Rudberg spotted no more hits, neither by the Britishers or upon them.

“Sir, flags going up on Grosser Kurfurst.”

Yes, thought Rudberg, time to head for home.

And reflect on lost opportunities. All of us.

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