A mini-sitrep may be helpful. ;-))


DeR has the RN forces on 090 - 18 knots deployed as follows:


- 9 dreadnoughts in columns 3 x 3

- column leaders are (N to S) QE, Warspite, Marlborough

- Napier has 5 flotillas, one 3,000 ahead of each DN column and 1 on either forequarter

- three CL cruiser pairs, one on each flank and one well in the van

- LeMesurier has 4 CLs in trail

- Harwich Force is spread out 15 or more miles to the SSW


Letters has the KM forces on 080 - 15 knots deployed as follows:


- 8 dreadnoughts in Line

- Ehrhart has 4 half-flotillas, one in van, 3 on port flank

- Borys has two TBs in trail

- Conda has Bremen and 3 TBs patrolling out on N flank

- Necki, Hanzik, and Ballin are ~60 miles to the NNW


The closest dreadnoughts are Marlborough, leading the southernmost RN column, and Rheinland at the HSF trail position.  The RN main body is overtaking the KM Line offset to the north (the S-most column currently by about 4,000 yards).



Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug: Homeward Bound? Part XXXVI


July 8, 1915



---- Rostock, course 150, 20 knots


Kommodore von Hoban stood on the bridge with Kapitan Westfeldt, nearly three hours away from the events that were shaping up to their south.  Admiral Necki’s force had been sighted and was now nearly alongside the Hanzik Force.  Though dark and overcast, visibility was still about 5,000 yards and good enough to read signals at almost a mile.  Flags flittered up and down the halyards as Necki asked for and got fuel state data, and the two admirals worked out formations and protocols.  It was taking a considerable amount of time, but the flag officers had much to get set.


“It’d be quicker in Sieg, sir,” Westfeldt quipped easily to the senior officer, who smiled but did not respond.  They had both seen a lot of water - an entire ocean twice! - flow along the hull together these last four weeks.


“Sir, Derfflinger’s hoisted 21 knots.”


“Very well.”


“Kommodore, not 22.5?”  Or even faster, he did not need to add.


“Weiß nicht.  Our fuel state could be better, of course, but it must be that Admiral Necki has calculated precisely where we are to be at dawn and is proceeding accordingly.”


“And if the Britishers have sortied their fleet between us and home?  Does he expect Admiral Letters to have the entire High Seas Fleet there to screen for us.”


They had enough to make a high speed run all the way to Wilhelmshaven, but their margin was not enough by any means to evade and out run the Grand Fleet and still make it back.


“The Baron will have the fleet there,” von Hoban said in a low voice.


Westfeldt did not need to voice his skepticism, instead simply turning towards the senior officer with raised eyebrows.


“He’s come back for me twice,” von Hoban said flatly, looking the other straight in the eye.  “He’ll be there.”



---- S.31, course 080, speed, 15 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 7,300 yards)


“Hard left rudder!”


The enemy apparition was hardly 3,000 yards off the port after-quarter of S.35.  Or had been.  The rainy murk had instantly reclaimed it.  (NOTE 1)


Korvettenkapitan Borys was only on the bridge because he was too hungry to sleep.  His decision to turn to port - and not to starboard - came almost soley from the fact that his remaining propellor was the starboard one, making his turns to port marginally quicker.  From such minutiae does vastness so often follow.


“Signals, for the flag: ‘Enemy cruiser 6,000 yards astern Rheinland, bearing 290, engaging’!”


“Aye, aye, sir!”


“Engineering, maximum speed,” Borys paused as a wave slapped across the bridge.  It gave him the moment he needed to recall that the damage also included the voice tubes.  “Messenger, tell the Engineer …, hell, tell him we’ve got an enemy cruiser right on our ass!  Maybe more than one.”  Maybe THAT would inspire that dour hunk of sausage down there to something more than 16 knots!


The young and bandaged face disappeared.




“Sir?”  The other had been trying to get some rest below but the turn and Borys’ bellow had brought him forth.  The rain overtook them then, droplets easily finding their way into the tiny and shattered superstructure and speckling their uniforms.


“In the lightning.  Britisher cruiser, three - maybe four - thousand yards ... there.”  Borys pointed into the murk, his arm traversing like a gun barrel with the swing of the torpedo boat.


“Mein Gott!”  Without the lightning, visibility had been perhaps 3,000 yards but, looking astern, the rain had already halved it, and was halving it again.  Had they been seen?  After all, a torpedoboat was a lot smaller than a cruiser.


“Make sure the launcher is ready,” there was only one left with torpedoes.  “No gunfire before my order!”  Schinkenbrot acknowledged and ducked aft.  The casualties among S.31's junior officers had been almost total above the waterline, so Borys had not hesitated to dispatch Schinkenbrot.  He most definitely did not want to make it any easier than he had to for the big Brit cruiser to spot them and finish blowing them right out of the water.  What Borys did not know was that not only had HMS Falmouth sighted him, but also that the British had done so one flash earlier.


Wait!  Where was S.35?  The rain?  The turn?


“Oh, Scheiß!”



---- HMS Falmouth, course 120 (changing), speed 19 knots (increasing)


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 7,200 yards)


Captain Wes Welt Hakonson had ordered off a second sighting report, this one of a torpedoboat.  Hakonson had no way to know that his lookout had spotted the torpedoboat one flash before the other had spotted him.  His problem was that he was unsure if it were friend or foe.  After all, there were almost 50 torpedoboats spread out in the van, and certainly one could have become separated from its formation in this weather.  And weather he had aplenty, his lookouts had had to tie themselves off to stanchions as they stared into the gusts of rain. 


Occam’s Razor was working against him, as the alternatives seemed to be either that one of 50 friendlies already known to be nearby and ahead of him had strayed, or that a random enemy torpedoboat had just happened to blunder across his bows.  The missing fact was that two different fleet admirals in possession of the same data had calculated essentially the same ideal dawn position.


Borys, on the other hand, had no doubts as to the nationality of the cruiser that he had sighted.  His problem was that one torpedoboat had indeed strayed: his S.35, which just moments before had been only 300 yards in his wake!


“Sir, steady on course 135.”


“Very well.”


Many men stared into the rain and saw nothing.


“Where in the hell did it go?”  Both commanding officers said the same thing at the same time about the same torpedoboat, but in two different languages.



---- Bremen, course 060, speed 20 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 7,100 yards)


Well out on the HSF’s northern flank, Korvettenkapitän Nugal Conda was seconds away from having quite the opposite problem.  The rain had just begun to fall on Bremen and her three trailing torpedoboats.  Dusk had found him suffering from profound exhaustion.  The day of flight, then battle, then sparring had drained him, following as it had a long night of trying to disengage from those same Brit cruisers.  He’d gone below to try to snatch a couple hours of much needed rest - reasoning that he would need all of his wits at dawn - when the “Captain to the Bridge” messenger had roused him, per his Night Orders.


“Sir, sighting report, sir.”


“I’ll come.”


He looked at the chronometer as he gained his feet.  Ten minutes, he thought in dismay, and it might be all he’d get.


“Sir,” greeted the Deck Officer as Conda came into the bridge.  “Rudder is amidships.”  His orders had been to keep patrolling up and down the flank, zig-zagging at 20 knots.  “Rain started five minutes ago, not real heavy yet but visibility’s dropping.  I’d just completed the trail leg and was coming about to proceed back up the flank.  There’d been some thunder to the west and a bit of lightning and lookouts reported possible sightings ...”  Conda noted the plural.  “... abaft the port beam.  I put the rudder amidships and called.” 


Conda swept the indicated arc, roughly bearing 240 through 300.  The rain was heavy now and the wind was whipping it into his face.  Sightings in this miserable weather?  “Range?”


Lightning strobed massively overhead.




And so, even as Borys and Hakonson were worrying over not seeing one torpedoboat, Conda suddenly had at least 20 in full view to worry about.  Worse, because of his beam-on aspect, many of them could not possibly have failed to have sighted him.


“Right rudder!  Signals Officer!”



---- HMS Comus, course 090, speed, 18 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 6,900 yards)


Rear-Admiral Napier had been called after the flash that had shocked Conda.  He appeared quite rested and ignored the rain splashing against the outside of the superstructure.  Napier’s previous day had been fairly routine, basically gaining some experience with the new assignments and formations.  His chief of staff had, per the admiral’s standing instructions, wakened him thirty minutes previously when weather conditions had begun to deteriorate.  It therefore merely a matter of a couple minutes before Napier strode onto the bridge.


“Sir, lookouts sighted a small cruiser off the port bow, northerly heading, estimated range 3,500 yards.  Three stacks.”  Napier reflected on that datum, running the fleet formation and order of battle through his head.  HMS Active and Amphion were ranging far ahead, but they had four stacks, as did Falmouth and Yarmouth far to starboard.  HMS Birkenhead and Chester did have three stacks, but they were quite large as cruisers ran and, in any case, should be well out of sight to port.


“Not Birkenhead or Chester, then,” Napier said, giving the officer a chance to equivocate.  The rain would make both ship identification and station-keeping difficult.


“No, sir,” came the firm reply.


“One man,” the officer added after the admiral had had a moment to digest that, “reported what looked to be torpedoboats at her stern.”


Napier raised his eyebrows at the other.  At two miles in the middle of a rainstorm?  He could barely make out the two adjacent cruisers at the head of their respective flotillas.  He did not even need to voice the question for the other to understand.


“Lightning, sir.  We had a particularly bright one a few minutes ago.”


“Very, well,” Napier acknowledged, frowning.  Still, he had no intention of disrupting Admiral DeRobeck’s formation on the basis of one momentary sighting.  His flotillas comprised the screen for the dreadnought force 3,000 yards in his wake.  Any ship or flotilla he sent off ahead would leave a hole to be filled and compensated for, as well as posing recognition risks and challenges upon return.


“Sir, Falmouth has reported sighting a torpedoboat ahead of her.”


“Very well,” he said and turned to his chief of staff.


“Report the cruiser sighting to the flag, and query the flotilla leaders.”  The last was a reference to the commanders aboard the other flotilla leaders, and would serve to alert them to the sighting, as well.  The leaders of the other flotilla were mostly the survivors of what had been First Light Cruiser Squadron at the May battle.  (NOTE 2)


“Aye, aye, sir.”



---- S.35, course 080, speed 15 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 6,600 yards)


The young commander was furious.  And frantic!  He had been trying desperately to get a couple hours rest and now this!


“How in the hell did you …?!”  He forced his mouth closed, accepting after a moment that he had only himself to blame.  He should have left instructions to call him if conditions deteriorated, and deteriorate they most definitely had as rain was coming down in heavy sheets amidst wind enough to blur the horizon within a couple hundred yards.  The storm contained several high energy cells and many heavy rain zones.  Unbeknownst to the young commander, they had been in one of the former and were now in one of the latter.


Also unbeknownst to the commander was the fact that HMS Falmouth had spotted and turned towards him seven minutes ago, let alone that not one but two British cruisers were just a mile off his port afterquarter and closing fast.


“How long ago was the last sighting?”  His voice came out with a reasonable tone, though thunder rumbled ominously in the distance.  His eyes, and those of nearly all others, were sweeping ahead for any sign of their leader.  No one was looking astern, though the rain would have prevented them from seeing anything past 200 yards anyway.


“Ten minutes, sir.  Maybe twelve.”


“Twenty knots,” the commander ordered.  His leader had reported to the flag that he was limited to sixteen knots.  Twenty should let them close up quickly.  Any faster and he would begin to risk a collision.  He most definitely did not want to collide with that fat madman on his bow.  And mad he most certainly was, as they’d all watched from offshore as Borys had taken it upon himself to invade Great Britain.


“Sir, Engineering acknowledges twenty knots.”


“Very well,” he replied, then turned back to the junior officer.  “Did they speed up?  Turn?”


“Sir, I don’t know,” the Deck Officer admitted miserably.  “The rain was just started to come on hard and we damn near got hit by lightning.  It was blinding!  When we – here on the bridge - got our night vision back.  They just weren’t there.  I delayed a couple minutes calling you checking with the lookouts in case one of them knew.”



---- HMS Warspite, course 090, speed 18 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 6,400 yards)


Admiral DeRobeck had set out for the bridge after the initial u-boat sighting report from Falmouth.  He arrived coincident with the first drops of the advancing storm system, glanced at the dreadnoughts on either side, and went to the chart table.


“Here, sir,” indicated LT Hereford.


The mark lay well out on their southern flank and somewhat ahead of them.  As the admiral stood there, the rain began to noisily announce its burgeoning presence.  The visibility had already degraded enough to discount much of any threat from a u-boat at the reported distance.


“Sir, from Falmouth, an update, their contact was a torpedoboat.  Captain Hakonson is attempting to re-establish contact.”


A torpedoboat?  As DeRobeck knew full well, there were 48 of them spread across the van.  Had one become separated due to the weather?  Right then, thunder boomed astern and to the south, as if to underscore the conjecture.


“Admiral,” suggested Hereford, “interrogative to Admiral Napier?”


“Yes,” agreed DeRobeck, unaware that Napier’s own wireless operator was just then keying in the first of that admiral’s own messages.



---- Grosser Kurfurst, course 080, speed 15 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 6,300 yards)

Kapitan Schnell and Vice-Admiral Letters had both come to the bridge upon the receipt of the sighting report from, of all the unlikely sources, 17 Halbflotille der 9 Flotille.  Schnell’s face bore what appeared to be a scowl but, despite this grave development, the Baron’s expression was one of almost rueful amusement.  Bory’s crippled and mostly expended command had been assigned there, 3,000 yards in trail, precisely because that had been the spot deemed the one LEAST likely to become the touch point.


“Possibly the one that Herr Borys tangled with before,” commented Schnell.  Ehrhart had reported that cruiser’s dogged attempts to regain sight of the German dreadnought force.  The stubborn Britisher had been foiled, however, and had never gotten into a position to see their turn to the east northeast.  (NOTE 3)


“Yes,” agreed Letters.  “But it could also be the Harwich Force.  If so, there could be more cruisers and several flotillas out there.”


Mars knows his cues.


“Sir, from Bremen, ‘sighted two cruisers, twenty torpedoboats ...’.”  (NOTE 4)



---- S.31, course 000, speed 16.5 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 6,200 yards)


No one was asleep any more, not even the off shift.  Borys had rousted every man Hans of them out of their racks and out onto the rain-swept decks.  If they cursed the burly korvettenkapitän - and let us be honest, most did - they did so most guardedly under their breath.


“Afraid of a little water?  Think you’re spun sugar?!  You two, get aft!  S.35's back there somewhere.”


Borys was ravenous.  And when he got hungry, he got mean.  Stomach pangs left him completely callous to the discomforts of others.


“You sniveling snots!  Get up there!  Schinkenbrot!  I want three men right up in the bows.  Tie them off if they’re afraid of going over.  Mein Gott!  There’s a Brit cruiser out there wanting to chop you all into little pieces, grind you up into hamburger, and you’re bitching about a little rain?!”


Borys did not realize that his hunger was even driving his imagery.

“On your arcs!  Brit cruisers operate in pairs, so there’s another one out there somewhere.  Maybe more.  Hell!  The entire Grand FLEET could be out there looking for a snack!”


Another lightning flash greeted this pronouncement.


“Oh, Scheiß!”


It wasn’t the Grand Fleet, but HMS Undaunted and her flotilla, and they were steaming right across his bows at under 1,000 yards!



---- Warspite, course 090, speed 18 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 6,100 yards)


“Sir, from Admiral Napier, ‘sighted three-stack cruiser, bearing 070, range 3,500 yards.  Possible torpedoboats in company.’  Sir, the admiral has messaged the other flotilla leaders to report status of their commands.”


“Very well.”


As the bridge crew aboard Warspite puzzled over the possible identity of the reported cruiser, both Amiral Gaunt and Admiral Keyes were being awakened by their senior staffs.


“Sir,” Captain Swafford offered, “the cruiser Birmingham pursued during the day was reported as having three stacks, and she had torpedoboats with her.”


DeRobeck nodded.  It was as good an hypothesis as any.



---- HMS Comus, course 090, speed 18 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 6,000 yards)


“Sir, from Commander - Grand Fleet, interrogative status.”


“Very well,” Napier kept any sign of irritation off his face and out of his voice.  This wasn’t thinly-veiled criticism.  Their wireless messages had simply crossed in the ether, hardly a surprise under the circumstances.  With the flag signals he had grown up on, one seldom encountered this problem.  Yes, that was all this was, he repeated to himself as he breathed deeply and willed his pulse to slow.


A stray torpedoboat becoming separated form its command in the middle of a rainstorm was eminently plausible.  And even understandable.


But - by God! - it was embarrassing.  He’d have that man’s HIDE, see if he didn’t, and his flotilla leader’s, too.  Oh, wait!  What if the boat was from his own flotilla?  Sweet Saviour!  Let it not one of his own ten.


“Have all of ours been accounted for yet?”  Napier’s voice was mild.


“Six ‘s all we can see, sir.  Word’s bein’ passed back now, sir.”


“Very well.”


Probably one of Undaunted’s, he thought.  Her flotilla’s closest to the sighting.  He found that he was tapping his foot and forced it to stillness.  He’d half-expected to join Admiral J[ellic]oe on the beach.  Doubtless, his career still hung by a thread.  Having torpedoboats of his start tuning up like lost lambs or truant first-formers ....”


“Sir, all tenna’ ours accounted for.”


“Very well.”  That was a relief.  At least it was not from the very flotilla he flew his flag from.  Still, he mused, brow creasing, there was that cruiser that no one had gotten any other glimpses of.  Could it be one of hers?  A German stray and not one of his at all?


“Sir, from Phaeton, all accounted for.”  That was the northernmost flotilla.


“Very well.”  It wouldn’t really matter, though.  He’d get a reprimand no matter which of his flotillas it belonged to.


Yes, he thought.  If only it’d turn out to be German.



---- S.31, course 000, speed 16.5 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 6,000 yards)


Borys had screamed for the signals officer to get off a new sighting report, but had done little else.  He didn’t dare.  The all-too-fast approaching forms ahead remained visible after the flash.


The enemy cruiser had already been past his bow when first spotted, and Borys was not about to waste his last torpedoes trying to hit another torpedoboat under these conditions.  They were almost as good as dead if recognized, so maybe he’d have to try it anyway.  In the meanwhile, though, low cunning seemed to be in order and, in that category, Borys took a back seat to no one.


“Helm, bring her right.  Gently, now.  We’re just rejoining.  Keep ‘er right on line with that cruiser’s ass.  Yesssss.”


The hoary aphorism, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” did not really translate into Deutsch very well, but that was not about to stop the heavy-set German officer.


“Gently,” he repeated to the helmsman.  “Gently.”



---- S.35, course 080, speed 24 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 5,800 yards)


The young commander wondered if this was what a nervous breakdown felt like.  The rain squall had eased some, visibility at the moment was about 800 yards, but there still were no ships anywhere to be seen.




Less than a half-hour ago he’d been in his bunk, trying to snatch a few minutes of hard-earned rest, with his leader and the entire High Seas Fleet on his bow.  Now, his might as well be the only ship in the entire North Sea.  He had again increased speed a few minutes ago and was about to concede defeat by sending a wireless which, more or less, would admit that he was lost.  Guter Gott, but he’d never live this down!


“Signals Officer, are you sure there was no signal?”  Could they have missed a fleet course change?  If not, they should be damn near running up Rheinland’s stern by now!


Actually, Rheinland was nearly in sight about 30 degrees to starboard.  Without a ship to follow, the storm winds and rudder corrections had pushed them about 300 yards north of track.


Guter Gott, but he wished they’d sight a ship.  Any ship!


Again, Mars smiled, or perhaps it was Loki this time.


“Sir!  Contact, bearing 300!”


Damn, thought the officer, though he felt relief as he turned to face aft.  They must have gone right past S.31 in the rain.


“Oh, Gott!”



---- HMS Falmouth, course 090, speed 24 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 5,600 yards)


“Sir, lookouts report torpedoboat, bearing 120, range 800 yards.”


Hakonson had turned to parallel his original course once he thought he had reached the track of the sighted torpedoboat.  Their turn had been 400 short, leaving them a bit to the north, but it would be close enough.  He’d been about to give it up and drop back into his original position.  Actually, the current range had held steady for the last few minutes; it had been the slight improvement in visibility that had let them make the sighting.


Yes, there it is, thought Hakonson, as he raised his binoculars.  Now, maybe we can figure out just whose this is and direct the stray back to his flotilla.


“Can you ....”  What?


“Sir, contact has put her rudder over ... starboard rudder ... and is increasing speed!”


Hakonson could not repress a bit of a grin.  They’d quite obviously scared the piss out of them!  Serves them right, falling out of formation like that.

“Sir!  Contact is German!  Sir, that’s a German torpedoboat, not one of ours!”


What?  “Are you certain of that?”



---- HMS Comus, course 090, speed 18 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 5,500 yards)


“Sir, Undaunted reports all accounted for.”


Napier opened his mouth, then closed it again without saying anything.  This was lunacy!  Wasn’t it?  No, he decided after just a couple seconds.  Surely, his flotilla commanders wouldn’t get the count wrong for their own commands.  Would they?  Could they?!


“Relay that to Commander - Grand Fleet,” Napier instructed.  “And to Falmouth,” he added, just in case Hakonson happened to stumble over that presumably German stray again.


“Aye, aye, sir.”



---- Bremen, course 080, speed 20 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 5,500 yards)


Conda had altered course and awaited developments.  Perversely, there had been none.  Maybe the British had not sighted Bremen after all.  Certainly, there was no evidence to suggest they had.  He would have thought that the British would have sped up and investigated.


Why hadn’t they?  Surely, they had sighted Bremen?


“Sir, Fleet Flag has acknowledged.”


“Very well,” he acknowledged.  Well, his sighting report had been confirmed received so, in the absence of new orders, he decided it was high time he tried to find out more about what was back there.  “Right rudder, come to course 150.”



---- Grosser Kurfurst, course 080, speed 15 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 5,400 yards)


Admiral Letters was staring at the chart when Borys’ latest wireless started being transcribed back in the wireless compartment.


“Harwich Force probing us?”  Kapitan Schnell suggested, with reports of British cruisers and flotillas along the port flank.


“It seems likely, though it’s not clear they’ve located us yet.”  The rain remained steady, but the heavy squall had passed, at least for the moment.


“They block the way,” Letters continued, “but best to come right for now and let the range open.” He would inform Ehrhart first, to give him time to sort out the screen.



---- Frauenlob, course 080 speed 15 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 5,300 yards)


Ehrhart had been called to the bridge and was just reviewing the plots from the reports of Bremen and S.31.  His own half flotilla was in the van of the dreadnought force, with the three other close screen units spread out along the port flank at a distance of about 2,000 yards from the dreadnoughts.


There was not a damn thing he could do about the cruisers reported somewhere astern, but the possibility that the rest of the Harwich Force could be just a few thousand yards off the port beam  was very troubling.  The Necki Force had the newest and most powerful cruisers and torpedoboats still a couple hours away.  In the meanwhile, Ehrhart’s screen force would be grossly overmatched in numbers if Harwich Force threw its full strength against them.  The one positive aspect was that the Harwich Force was generally comprised of older torpedoboats, such as Ehrhart had here.


He sure wished the Baron would turn away, or that Necki would be closer, or that the rain would get even harder, or that Conda would lead the British astray, or ....


He never got to finish whatever else he would have wished for.


“Sir, ...!”



---- S.31, course 000, speed 16.5 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 5,200 yards)


Borys’ sly maneuver might have worked under most poor visibility circumstances; it was still raining steadily, after all.  Unfortunately for him, the ripple of admiral-ordered flotilla head counts following the sighting of S.35 had not only brought Undaunted’s CO to the bridge, but they had also confirmed for that senior officer that - at that precise moment in time - every single one of  Napier’s torpedoboats was accounted for.  And the one approaching his starboard flank was not one of them.


The first indication Borys had that his ploy was not going to be unsuccessful was the blinks of light on the RN flotilla leader.  And they were not signal lights.


Splash!  Splash-splash!


“Left rudder.  Hard!”  Borys did waste a second cursing; there wasn’t time just then.  “Hold fire!  Hold fire!”  They were not going to be able to shoot themselves out of this.  Their only hope was to open the range and slip back out of sight.  Firing off his ineffectual 88's would blaze nothing other than the trail for pursuit.


“Oh, Scheiß!”  The big cruiser was turning their way!  He couldn’t see it, but he knew that her CO was calling for full speed and that his lamed boat was already crawling its best.  Damn all incompetent engineers!


Mercifully, Undaunted’s guns went silent as her rudder spun her around.  Her coterie of torpedoboats belatedly opened fire, as well.  Their leader had not scored a single hit, but her splashes were effectively a pointer on the black chalkboard of the North Sea.  Their shots were mostly wild, but the two trail boats had a much better vantage and were at lower range.


Splash!  Splash-splash!  Whanng!  Splash!  Whanng!  Borys heard cries from the crew, not surprising since he had stationed all he could find topside.


“Uh!”  Borys grunted as something smashed into his lower back.  He staggered and reflexively reached behind with one hand, but stayed on his feet.  There seemed to be wetness everywhere, blood.


Splash-splash!  It was hard to breathe.


“Midships!”  He managed hoarsely, stopping the swing at something like 225, remembering somehow that he had wanted a mostly reciprocal course away to the south.


The splashes stopped, and Borys fought for air.  His back was wet with blood, but it turned out not to be his.  Most of it, anyway.  What had struck him remained on the bridge with him, a leg, but whose it had been he did not know.


He looked astern, using both hands to stay upright.  The Britishers would have a tough time finding him again.  He’d been lucky.  So very lucky, he thought, as his breath wheezed in his chest.


The British had been luckier.  Borys had gotten to within 1,800 yards of Marlborough and not sighted her, or the two dreadnoughts in her wake.



---- HMS Falmouth, course 090, speed 24 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 5,100 yards)


“Open fire!”  Hakonson ordered, after taking a minute to get confirmation from the one who claimed the contact was German.  He held course and speed steady.  The German was still in sight and its movement to starboard had essentially just exposed it to his broadside.


The two bow guns that would bear fired immediately.  Shell splashes dotted the dark waves before the other two on that side joined in.  The range was still under 1,000 yards, but the target began to jink presenting an elusive target.


Engineering, 25 knots.”  It wasn’t much, but it would help.  Falmouth had touched 27 knots during trials, but anything over 25 would degrade accuracy, especially in this weather.




Hakonson had his binoculars trained tightly on the fleeing torpedoboat, his hands rotating the lenses to improve the focus.  He wanted to be able to detect instantly any sign that their target was launching torpedoes.  What Hakonson didn’t know was that S.35 had only one torpedo left and that one of his shells had already wiped out the crew at the launcher.


Then, suddenly, his world went white.


Blindingly white.



---- Rheinland, course 080, speed 15 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 5,000 yards)


Rheinland’s kapitan had been called to the bridge within minutes of the first sighting reports.  His was the trail dreadnought in the Line, and the wireless about possible Britisher cruisers astern of the force had been of particular interest.  Thus, it was hardly any surprise that his eyes and those of many on the bridge were trained aft when Falmouth opened fire from 1,500 yards astern.  The near simultaneous flashes about 4,000 yards away as Borys fled for his life were less than fireflies in the rain and missed by all aboard.


Visibility was no more than 1,100 yards there, but Falmouth’s muzzle flashes made the cruiser visible for twice that.  Any doubts there might have been on the nationality of the shooter were rendered moot when two of the long splashes rose up within a few hundred yards of Rheinland’s hull.


Doctrine was clear under these circumstances and multiple searchlights blinked on and their beams quickly found Falmouth, especially her bridge.




“Crack-crackcrack!”  The tertiary guns - 88s - were quick on the mark; the “stern chasers” in particular could well see the target, followed in seconds by the ones mounted up in the aft superstructure.  Then the after pair of 150s on the port side joined in, their reports deeper, though muted by their positions in the rear of the casemates.


They were all then dwarfed by the bellow of the 280s from the aft and after port wing turrets, whose muzzle flashes blinded anyone watching nearby.  The first shells went very high whistling well over the lit-up target and splashing nearly two thousand yards in its wake.  The second was lower, but still high.



---- HMS Marlborough, course 080, speed 15 knots


(Range Marlborough - Rheinland: 4,800 yards)


“Sir, searchlights, bearing ....  Sir, large muzzle flashes!  Bearing, 140, range 6,000 yards!”


Admiral Gaunt and most of those on the bridge had had their attention on the mini-drama going on just off their starboard beam, as Borys fled into the mists little more than a mile away with Undaunted and her flotilla in hot pursuit, guns blazing.  They could not see the German torpedoboat, because Borys had been successful in keeping his guns silent.  What they could see, though, was Undaunted illuminated by her own muzzle flashes, as she hauled about and charged after her prey.  Between that and the wireless reports to head count torpedoboats, the situation had not been hard to work out.


That had just all changed, once the trail German dreadnought flicked on her searchlights and opened fire on Falmouth.  The German 88s would have been invisible, as would perhaps the 150s.  The searchlights would have been a strong clue, but the main guns had just announced the presence of enemy dreadnoughts as nothing else in the world could.



Author’s NOTEs:


1) As this chapter and engagement is dominated by weather factors, a bit of explanation of those elements (yes, pun intended) is in order.  The storm system here is essentially the same one that the story first encountered on July 3 in the opening scene here:




The storm has, in effect, followed Hanzik home, and he and the rest of the cast is being forced to keep it!  He might have outrun it, but he had to do a wide dogleg around Iceland, and Mother Nature did not.  The storm is also historical and records document its effects between July 4 - 12, 1915.  Here is one reference to it on the web:




The author postulated (with the help of dice) a certain number of high energy cells and heavy rain zones and plotted their tracks across the affected area of interest.



2) The British are going west-to-east.  The five flotillas under the command of Rear-Admiral Napier are headed by, north-to-south:


- Phaeton

- Inconstant

- Comus (Napier)

- Cordelia

- Undaunted



3) Nottingham had been ordered by Admiral DeRobeck, whose (LT) policy forbade detached singletons, to temporarily join Commodore LeMesurier’s three ship squadron.  This created another odd bit of symmetry so beloved by historians, as LeMesurier was in the trail position of the Grand Fleet.  Thus, Dalrymple and Borys, who had fought each other just hours earlier, were consigned to identical spots in their respective fleet formations.



4) Postwar, once translations became available, many historians were astonished at the degree of misapprehension suffered by both sides in the minutes leading up to the engagement.  The German commanders thought they had been discovered by Commodore Tyrwhitt’s Harwich Force, while the British thought the German torpedoboats were their own storm-tossed strays.  Neither side apparently gave any thought to the possibility that enemy dreadnoughts were anywhere nearby, much less already at short gun range and drawing closer at almost 100 yards each minute.