6:44 pm, bridge of Blucher, course (changing), speed 25 knots
The almost-sudden absence of RN light ships could mean only one thing, the commodore thought.
Tall, very tall columns of water jumped up behind them as they headed for Derfflinger.
"Obeying orders promptly was never better rewarded!" Commodore von Hoban said half under his breath.
"Mind your helm, I want to slide across Derfflinger's bow if I can." They
were enough in the van to manage it, by von Hoban's seaman's eye, as long as
the rudder was not put over too hard. The three torpedo boats had also escaped
damage and hung close aboard the big cruiser as they closed up on the battlecruisers.
His two CL's and their half-flotillas had already made their turn.
6:45 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 090, speed 25 knots
"Admiral, the Grand Fleet main body must be just beyond visibility and closing, based on their track and those shots at Blucher," Flagcaptain Theodore stated carefully. They were both watching the light ships as they approached close aboard.
"Yes," Admiral Letters responded, "it's time for the Third Battle Squadron to earn their pay. Captain, alter course, First Scouting Group will assume van, just off Konig's starboard bow."
"Aye, aye, sir. Right 20 degrees rudder! Come to course 135!"
"And, Captain, when you reach station, slow to 18 knots."
6:48 pm, bridge of King George V, course 120, speed 20 knots
The lead ships of the HSF had suddenly loomed out of the gloom, at the edge of visibility, 12,000 yards away. Flashes from the other's turrets left no doubt that that they were almost broadside to broadside with the lead ships of the German main body.
Seconds later, Ajax joined in. The second German ship suddenly was visible from the flashes at their turrets.
Whannng! The Konig had scored first, with a hit aft in the superstructure.
"Yes! Guns, you're on target! Great shooting!"
There was a murmur from the men as a large fire was soon visible on the aft of the enemy ship.
6:50 pm, bridge of Ajax, course 120, speed 20 knots
Their first hit had been high on the second German Konig with no visible effect.
This one was in the forward deck area, also with no indication of damage. They
were hitting, though, it was only a matter of time.
6:52 pm, bridge of Kronprinz Wilhelm, course 090, speed 18 knots
"Hit, sir, right at the waterline!"
The third British ship was their target and the brief spark of the hit had been almost dead amidships.
They had gotten the range in the first half salvo and scored in the second.
6:53 pm, bridge of Ajax, course 120, speed 20 knots
Hit a minute ago, the CO awaited his first damage reports.
"Sir, the XO says about 50 casualties."
"Very well, any guns damaged?"
The bridge shuddered as two hits landed from the same half salvo, one just aft of the bridge area. The other was lower and more amidships.
"Sir, the line is dead."
"Very well, send a runner."
"Aye, aye, sir."
The next half salvo also landed a hit. This one hit flush on the armored top, killing all inside, and leaving a small but plainly visible fire like a Very flare atop the masts.
In one of those incredible coincidences that historians hate but students
relish, Erin scored a virtually identical hit on the fourth Konig 30 seconds
later. The spectacle of fairly brief, small flare-like fires simultaneously
illuminating their own ships in the otherwise growing gloom was one that would
crease the brows of skeptics for generations.
6:53 pm, bridge of Kronprinz Wilhelm. Course 090, speed 18 knots
"Hit, maybe two, sir!"
"Yes, that one hurt her!"
Fire gouted from the casemate area just aft of the bridge. Even as the next half salvo straddled their target, now identified as Centurion, the flames shot almost as high as the mastheads, then died down some. Those on the bridge almost thought they could feel the heat from 12,000 yards away.
Another fireball amidships, but this time it was the Centurion's midships turret that erupted like a fire fountain into the evening sky.
Together with the fire still raging just ahead of the turret, the light cast
the ships ahead and astern into stark relief.
6:54 pm, bridge of Konig, course 090, speed 18 knots
"Sir, XO reports fire fighters have gotten hoses on the flames, and estimates they'll be under control in about 15 minutes."
That hit was near the waterline. The CO had seemed to feel it from within the ship, as well. That would mean flooding.
He sure hoped they'd get that fire out. Soon.
6:54 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 090, speed (slowing to 18 knots)
"Sir, the Kaisers have opened fire, and so have the next British ships!"
"Captain, the lookouts must keep close watch ahead. If there is to be a torpedo attack, it should come from there."
"Aye, aye, sir." There might have been a note of reproach in the other officer's voice. The baron, however, was unmoved.
So far, the baron thought, two British ships showed visible damage and only Konig seemed hurt in reply. He was not eager to attempt to intervene with battlecruisers against a division of superdreadnoughts. He would do no such thing, if he could possibly avoid it.
"What course do you make them on, captain?"
"Sir, it looks like 120."
"I tend to agree. That means the lines should begin to converge."
The range was going to drop, even faster than the visibility. Soon the other divisions would be engage and the range would drop below 10,000 yards in the van.
Who would flinch first, the baron wondered.