5:15 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 315, speed 27
The baron realized he could just make out the enemy light ships that must be
directly astern of the RN BC's. The range to the light ships was about 20,000
"Signals," the baron ordered, "hoist: 'torpedo boats, attack enemy BC's, maximum speed.' "
"Aye, aye, sir."
"As soon as we reach gun range, they'll certainly lay smoke again. We're beginning to lose the light. It is time to settle this. We're close enough to support the torpedo boats now."
"What about the CL's, admiral?" Captain Theodore asked.
"Wiesbaden to remain north in the van, the others to support the attack."
5:16 pm, bridge of Inflexible, course 315, speed 14 knots
"Sir, Champion has just reported to the flagship, enemy BC's 20,000 yards almost dead astern."
"Very well," Captain Heaton-Ellis replied, his worst fears confirmed. In just a few minutes, unless Sturdee did something, Derfflinger would open fire still beyond range of his 12/45's. Even when the range closed, he'd have one turret to the German's two.
"XO, inform the Gunnery Officer to expect enemy targets dead astern, any minute now."
Aye, aye, sir."
5:16 pm, bridge of Southampton, course 080, speed 26
"Sir, lookouts report new contacts, 170, range 22,000 yards."
Commodore Nott walked quickly over to the starboard wing and raised his glasses. He was expecting to open fire in just a couple minutes at the German light ships that had turned a bit away to the north. This appearance of more enemy ships was, however, an immediate concern.
"Sir, Champion has just reported to the flagship that enemy BC's are just behind the light ships."
"Right full rudder!"
He anxiously watched the enemy light ships. If the BC's had turned his way before he'd turned, his ships would've been unable to escape. Just one or two minutes now, and they'd be clear.
"Come to course 235."
He kept his eyes on the receding light ships. Time passed with exquisite sloth. No BC's appeared heading his way.
In the meanwhile, he'd see who these newcomers were.
"Signals, flagship, new contacts bearing 170, range 22,000 yards, have broken
off attack, investigating."
5:18 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 315, speed 27 knots
"Sir, the enemy has begun to lay smoke!"
Derfflinger's forward two turrets fired in unison. It was just under 19,000 yards to the light ships, the edge of the slowly fading visibility. They might, however, get lucky.
A minute later, Seydlitz began to try his luck with his forward turret.
The RN DD's were beginning to weave back and forth across the bearing to the
RN BC's. Once again, Sturdee was covering his wounded ships with smoke and light
5:20 pm, bridge of Blucher, course 330, speed 24 knots
"Sir, the contact on the port bow has changed course towards us."
Acting-Commodore von Hoban was a bit anxious at this development. They couldn't be RN BC's, could they? Were there any others that'd been commissioned that no one knew about?
"What about the other contact?"
"Sir, we've lost sight of them."
Whoever they were, they were as fast as Blucher and, with visibility beginning to drop, may as well have dropped the face of the planet.
"Sir, contact ships are CL's. Looks like four of them, sir!"
"Sir, range 17,000 yards and dropping fast."
Well, thought the Acting-Commodore, at least we now know whom we've been chasing
for the last hour and a half! Now, if they'll just keep coming for a few more
5:22 pm, bridge of Regensburg, course 320, speed 26
Water spouts from the BC guns rose far ahead at the edge of the growing smoke. The RN DD's had kept out of sight after the first couple salvos from the big guns. They didn't have to expose themselves, since the smoke was dead on their track. All they had to do was weave back and forth. That, apparently, was not stopping the BC's from trying their luck.
Captain Wolverine could already see the gap between his ship and his torpedo boats. The smaller craft were making 33 knots or better. He looked to either side and saw the attack craft from the half-flotillas on either flank all surging ahead of their CL leaders. Those from Wiesbaden were more to the north. Even as he watched, those from Elbing's group began to draw abreast of his CL as they strove to catch up to the others.
He counted them. There seemed to be 18. He'd lost one, but what had happened
to the other he had no idea.
5:24 pm, bridge of Blucher, course 330, speed 24 knots
"Sir, they've definitely turned away."
"15,000 yards, sir. They're making to the northwest."
At the edge of gun range, thought von Hoban. He decided to hold his fire. The
RN might think they were just CL's with DD's in support. He wanted to encourage
"Signals, inform the flagship. Wait, Navigator, what course do you recommend?"
"Sir, it looks like a better pursuit course would be 315."
"Come to 315."
"Signals, include our course change in your report."
"Aye, aye, sir."
5:26 pm, bridge of Inflexible, course 315, speed 14
"Sir! Galatea has just reported to the flagship that she's sighted the van screen of the main body!"
"What bearing and range are they reporting?" Captain Heaton-Ellis asked.
"Sir, dead ahead of the flagship, range 19,000 yards."
That probably put J[ellic]oe another 15,000 yards away, though the screen could have been extended towards Sturdee.
The captain looked straight ahead, his binoculars at his face. Yes, he realized
after a minute, he could just make out the smoke plumes.
5:28 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 315, speed 27
"Sir, Wiesbaden reports new contacts, bearing 300, range 21,000 yards."
"Very well," the baron said. "I thought Sturdee was heading for support. The question is, what group is this?"
He raised his glasses to watch the DD's approaching the smoke screen. They seemed to be within 2000 yards of the edge.
"Captain, I don't want to get closer than 10,000 yards of that smoke screen. When we reach that point, turn west and skirt the southern edge of the smoke."
He did not want to get caught between the RN light ships and whatever was coming from the northwest.
"Aye, aye, sir." Flagcaptain Theodore answered.
"Signals, inform Wiesbaden and the others of our intentions."
5:30 pm, bridges of Pilau and Regensburg, course 315, speed 26
On their separate, equally battered bridges, LT Dahm and Captain Wolverine watched their DD's disappear from sight into the swirling smoke. Their own vessels were still about 8000 yards short of the screen edge.
Captain Wolverine looked back on his starboard side; Elbing was 2000 yards behind and 1000 yards off his beam. Elbing's four torpedo boats were still 2000 yards short of the edge.
The wall of haze grew quickly as they approached.
The CLs' lookouts and gunners were staring at the edge, expecting RN light
ships to burst out at any second. In a few minutes, when they drove into the
smoke, their visibility would drop to one or two thousand yards, if this one
was like the last screen.
5:30 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 315, speed 27 knots
"Left 10 degrees rudder, come to course 270."
The guns of the BC's had been firing into the smoke at any sign of a possible target. They all fell silent. With the German DD's in the screen, there'd be no telling what ship any possible target was until it clearly came free of the smoke.
Captain Theodore looked back as Seydlitz followed the turn, his barrels pivoted to bear on the screen. Moltke and von der Tann followed crisply in their tracks a few moments later.
5:36 pm, bridge of Inflexible, course 315, speed 14 knots
"Sir, Galatea has reported sighting the main body, range from the flagship is 19,000 yards, bearing 315."
Captain Heaton-Ellis raised his glasses and looked dead ahead, past the listing, straining QM.
He could not see them yet.
5:36 pm, bridge of DD Nicator, course 020, speed 25 (on northern leg of smoke laying)
"Sir! Sir! Contact!"
LT Mocatta had been staring ahead and to starboard, not wanting to collide with Nerissa, which was somewhere close on that bearing. He turned abruptly back towards the shouting lookout.
The sailor was pointing astern. Mocatta followed the gesture as the man's words registered.
"Contact, dead astern!"
The other ship was in his view for a moment, then it was gone. Had it been a lighter color?
"Lookouts, report! Was that Laurel? German?"
Laurel had been the closest DD in that direction, at least Mocatta's lookouts had reported sighting her in their last southern leg.
There was a moment hesitation.
"Sir, not Laurel. Definitely not Laurel!"
Damn! He wished he'd gotten a better look!
The LT agonized for another few heartbeats, though at the rate his heart was going, that wasn't long.
"Left full rudder, all ahead flank!"
"Signals!" Mocatta shouted.
5:37 pm, bridge of DD Landrail, course 275, speed 25 (southern leg of laying smoke)
...abaft the port beam!"
"Hard right rudder! Fire!" LCDR Hobart shouted, harboring no doubt that the other was German.
The other ship was under 1000 yards away, crossing their stern, though the hard rudder would bring him on the beam in seconds.
Crack! His ship returned fire. The shot went wild, as the DD heeled from the rudder at 25 knots. It'd be his bow and starboard guns that'd get the best chance, but they had no line of sight to the target yet.
Whang! The German's guns were lighter than Landrail's, but at under 1000 yards he was taking damage and casualties with almost every hit.
Whang! Damn, the hit was near the bow gun, bodies flew from the men crewing the gun. Shrapnel sleeted across the bridge area. A lookout not 15 feet away was knocked off his feet.
The gun fire lightened suddenly, mercifully. With a final shot from a gun near the stern, the German torpedo boat was lost from view.
"Rudder amidships! Engines, maximum speed! Signals!"
5:38 pm, bridge of Laurel, course changing, speed 25 (changing smoke laying legs)
"Sir! Contact, dead ahead!"
LT Stanistreet had a good look at the newcomer. If he hesitated, it was hardly
Less than 10 seconds later his 4" guns took the German under fire.
The German swerved toward him and returned fire.
The ships passed side-by-side, just 200 yards apart. For perhaps 20 seconds, even pistols could have inflicted casualties. The German gunners matched the RN ones hit for hit, but the RN's heavier guns were smashing holes right through the superstructure and decking.
Flames were visible on the German as it disappeared into the smoke, with the reciprocal courses making the separation speed almost 58 knots.
"Hard rudder!" Stanistreet ordered. "Engineer, maximum flank speed!" He had every intention of following the German. With the flames, he should not be too hard to track.
5:39 pm, bridge of Regensburg, course 315, speed 26 knots
As they entered the screen, the smoke blew through the open bridge.
"I really am getting too old for this," Captain Wolverine muttered.
This time, the others on the bridge ignored him.
5:40 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 270, speed 27 knots
"Sir, Wiesbaden reports many dreadnoughts directly behind the screen units. At least 12 capital ships and maybe more."
"Very well. Wiesbaden to shadow if possible, but keep his distance."
"Well, admiral," offered Theodore, "it looks like the GF main body is at sea! And here!"
"Yes, we'll have to inform Admiral Scheer. Signals, draft a message, but I
want to review this one before it's sent."
"Aye, aye, sir."
5:44 pm, bridge of Inflexible, course 315, speed 14
Captain Heaton-Ellis had been watching the main body loom over the horizon. The column leaders were just over 11,000 yards away.
Sturdee, according to Inflexible's signals officer, had begun reporting to the flagship five minutes ago.
Suddenly, his signals officer got a surprised look on his face.
"What is it?" Heaton-Ellis demanded.
"Sir, Champion is trying to make a report, but it seems confused. They've sighted German torpedo boats."
"Sir, contact! Bearing 130."
Heaton-Ellis turned to face his wake.
"New contact! Bearing 090!"
"Sir, bearing 180!"
The smoke screen ended about less than 5000 yards away. It was suddenly crystal clear. Clear also was what Champion had been trying to report. German torpedo boats were already out of the smoke edge, well within torpedo range of his crippled ship.
"Open fire!" Heaton-Ellis ordered.
5:45 pm, bridge of Pilau, course 315, speed 26 knots
"Sir, contact on the starboard bow, flames!"
"Right 10 degrees rudder!"
"Hold fire! Repeat, hold fire! LT Dahm repeated. "He's one of ours!"
The torpedo boat was clearly in some difficulty. Besides the visible fire, it was making just about 15 knots or so.
Shell splashes suddenly rose near it.
Whannng! The hit was visible behind the last funnel.
"Fire!" The bright winks of the gun blasts on the RN DD's bow gave a target and then the vessel itself jumped into view.
The 5.9" shells out of nowhere were a rude surprise indeed.
5:46 pm, bridge of Inflexible, course 315, speed 14 knots
Crack! Crack! His guns were not going to stop them, Heaton-Ellis realized grimly.
Shell splashes churned the waters near some of the torpedo boats. The numbers grew as the screen ships from the main body added their fire.
The torpedo boats suddenly began to turn away. They were already laying smoke of their own. In moments they would escape completely back into the RN's own screen.
Sturdee had given no orders.
"Left full rudder!" Heaton-Ellis commanded. The most dangerous attacks seemed
to be from starboard. Damned if he was not going to at least TRY to save his
5:47 pm, bridge of Regensburg, course 315, speed 26 knots
The RN DD opened fire almost at the same instant. The other ship had been on a converging course from starboard and ahead.
Shells flashed over both ships and splashed close aboard.
The RN DD reacted quickly and turned away and was lost in the murk in seconds. No hits were scored by either ship in the 30 seconds fire fight.
"Left 15 degrees rudder." Wolverine wanted some distance himself.
5:48 pm, bridge of Inflexible, course (changing) speed 14 knots
Heaton-Ellis watched one torpedo track pass close ahead. He'd made that one, at least, miss with his turn. His small satisfaction, not unexpectedly, was short-lived.
Everyone on the bridge but the helmsman was knocked to the deck. A column of water reared alongside.
As he clawed his way up, he saw one, then another, column rise alongside the QM.
His deck was already tilting.
Again, he was smashed to the deck. As he lay there, dazed, he realized that he would not have to change his opinion of Vice-Admiral Sturdee, after all.