6:54 pm, bridge of King George V, course 120, speed 20 knots
"Hit! Excellent, Guns, you're hitting with every salvo!"
This was not any exaggeration. The range to Konig was just 10,000 yards and the lead German BB was clearly illuminated by the large fire in the aft superstructure. There was no apparent effect from the latest hit, but Guns had the range and had it rock solid!
The aft fire partially illuminated Grosser Kurfurst, the second in line.
6:54 pm, bridge Grosser Kurfurst, course 090, speed 18 knots
Splashes towered long from Ajax, their adversary in what had become a duel. Both ships were illuminated, but Ajax had one fire glowing behind the casemates aft, and another at the foretop that nicely lit her up much more than the flames from Konig 500 yards ahead.
"Hit!" The shell had gone in near the waterline just ahead of the first turret.
"Another!" Hits had been scored in two half salvos in a row. This one had blasted a channel in the superstructure aft and below the bridge. The flames shot out and seemed to lick at the midships turret.
Whannnng! The big RN BB was still full of fight. The 13.5" shell smashed through the belt under the bridge area. It was too much shell for the belt to resist at just over 10,000 yards.
Flooding reports began to come in quickly.
6:54 pm, bridge of Orion, course 120, speed 20 knots
The fires on Konig let others in on the action, as well.
It was their third salvo. The range had dropped to just over 12,500 yards. The shell glanced off the second turret, gouging the armor, but had no other effect.
"Keep it up!"
6:54 pm, bridge of Monarch, course 120, speed 20 knots
They could just make out Konig. It was their second salvo. The fire atop Markgraf was not quite enough to get them to shift targets. At least not yet.
"Did you spot the fall?" The CO had not and wondered if the gunnery officer could see any better from his position.
"Not sure, sir. I think that was a straddle."
The captain was right to question. The salvos they were spotting were Orion's.
Their own shots were quite long.
6:55 pm, bridge of Regensburg, course 090, speed 18 knots
Captain Wolverine had his ship and his DD's off the aft starboard quarter of von der Tann. It was hard to make out anything, besides the fires burning brightly on Konig. The only reassuring thing was the wall of the vast bulks of the friendly dreadnoughts between him and the closing line of gun flashes he could make out to the north. He was studying the fire that was on what looked to be the third RN ship.
"Damn!" Several on the bridge exclaimed in fear.
"Hard right rudder!" Captain Wolverine shouted suddenly, almost in reflex.
All around the CL, the sea had become a forest full of huge water trunks.
He'd survived an entire day of light ship fire trying to kill him. And, now, as evening began, Monarch's longs had almost nailed him by "accident."
The light ship commander started to mutter out loud, but caught himself and
kept it under his breath. If the bridge crew noticed, they did not let on.
6:55 pm, bridge of Konig, course 090, speed 18 knots
They were taking shells from several ships. This one, however, was clearly from the RN leader. The CO had her timing down. He kept hoping the XO would get that fire under control.
It was their first since the opening moments, an eternity of salvos ago.
"Sir, it was on the face of the second turret!"
This one, too, seemed not to have any effect.
"Sir, that turret did not fire!"
Whannnng! It had not stopped them from scoring hits, however.
"Sir, heavy casualties in the midships turret!"
6:55 pm, bridge of Markgraf, course 090, speed 18 knots
That one had been on the hull just forward of the midships turret. The CO felt the big BB shudder from the vibration. That one had hurt.
It was about time! It was their second hit on Erin. This one, like the first, had no apparent effect.
Whannnng! This hit was closer, in the lower forward superstructure. Actually, Erin had scored two hits with that salvo, but the other had simply punched a 13.5" hole high on a funnel.
"Sir, we've lost at least one 5.9" gun, firefighters are on the scene."
He hoped the fire was not visible to the enemy
This one showed a bit of fire where it had holed the base of Erin's forward
6:55 pm, bridge of Kaiser, course 090, speed 18 knots
New fires gouted out of hard hit Centurion.
It was Kaiser's fourth half-salvo.
Kaiserin, just aft, opened fire on Centurion. The first shells missed short,
but close aboard.
6:57 pm, bridge of Konig, course 090, speed 18 knots
This one was high in the superstructure aft. He turned aft and could see part of the searchlight tower had been heavily damaged. There was no sign of the men who had been stationed there, a few minutes earlier.
"Sir, the XO says we might get the midships turret back, but it'll take time."
His XO had been down there directing the so far unsuccessful attempts to out the fire.
He got a fuller report a few minutes later. Shell splinters had come through the gun mount openings, causing numerous casualties and igniting some ready charges. The fire would be out quickly.
That hit just clipped the edge of the second turret. It took a chunk of steel with it as it crossed the deck and into the sea to starboard. No damage was reported and the turret continued to fire.
More shell splashes rose out of the sea, short, these from some other shooter
taking advantage of Konig's fire-enhanced visibility.
6:57 pm, bridge of Ostfriesland, course 090, speed 18 knots
"Fire!" Rear Admiral Rudburg ordered. At last! he thought to himself.
The target was the hapless Centurion, now visible to the lead ships of the third HSF division.
Ostfriesland scored on the second half salvo, but no effect was visible.
Moments later, Thuringen also opened fire.
6:57 pm, bridge of Iron Duke, course 120, speed 20 knots
Almost due north of Rear Admiral Rudburg, Captain Smith, USN, jerked his attention from trying to make sense of the flashes ahead and off the starboard bow. There! Directly south! He raised his glasses in the growing gloom. The ships were briefly visible just after they fired.
Admiral J[ellic]oe kept his attention on the greater battle ahead of Iron
Duke. Should he turn? What course was Scheer on? Was he turning away?
6:57 pm, bridge of Grosser Kurfurst, course 090, speed 18 knots
The fire on Ajax continued to rage, but despite several straddles, there had been no hits in the last five half-salvos. If there had been one, it'd been a dud or otherwise had no effect.
A towering ball of flame burst into the sky, beneath it was the shattered hull of Ajax.
At 9,800 yards, a shell had pounded through the face of the midships turret,
partly at the opening for one gun barrel. It had exploded on impact against
the rear bulkhead. The blast had gone right down the powder train to the magazine.
It was actually too bright for the range takers and spotters on the lead ships.
King George V, ahead, failed to hit Konig on their next salvo, breaking an
incredible string of scoring a total of seven hits in five successive salvos.
Konig, who had straddled King George V twice in a row, failed to hit or straddle
on their next half-salvo, as well.
6:57 pm, bridge of Kaiser, course 090, speed 18 knots
Both the Kaiser and Kaiserin had been firing at the burning Centurion. The explosion of Ajax, however, revealed the Orion division who had been shooting at them. The Germans had not even caught decent sight of their muzzle flashes.
While the Kaiserin correctly took the second ship under fire, initially, the
three other Kaiser class BB's all concentrated on Orion herself.
6:57 pm, bridge of Seydlitz, course 090, speed 18 knots
"Sir, Lt. Lionel reports ...."
The spectacle that Captain Nik had already seen before repeated itself. This time, however, it was not a BC but a BB that had exploded. Frankly, he had not thought it possible.
More to the point, for Nik, though, was that the RN lead ship was suddenly clearly in view from the fire behind her.
6:57 pm, bridge of Moltke, course 090, speed 18 knots
Laying a few hundred yards closer to the target, Captain Mustang had already tried a few half salvos at the ship pounding Konig. He had been firing mainly at the muzzle flashes, however, and had not scored any hits. There, at no more than 11,000 yards, was King George V.
The target was sharply outlined.
6:57 pm, bridge of von der Tann, course 090, speed 18 knots
"What ship was that?" Captain Dirk asked.
"Lookouts can't tell, sir. It looks to be the second or third in the British
line, or maybe the fourth."
Just 10,600 yard away was King George V. The RN BB was sharply illuminated.
"Lookouts! Can you see Moltke's target?"
"Sir, Sedlitz is also firing!"
"Who are they shooting at!?"
"We can't make it out, sir!"
Konig, flames still alight, was brightly and squarely across his line of sight!
Captain Dirk stared helplessly through his binoculars.
6:58 pm, bridge of King George V, course 120, speed 20 knots
It was a nightmare! First, the Ajax blows up, and so close it shook the entire ship! And now shells were coming out of nowhere at them!
"Who's shooting at us? Lookouts," shouted the CO, "where is that fire coming from?"
It was not from the Konig.
"Sir, the XO says the turret will be ready to fire in just a few minutes."
"Lookouts! That's more than one shooter!"
Damage reports were mounting, fast.
"Sir, the shooters are ahead of Konig!"
It was hard to think, especially when one has to get back off the deck. The armor had held, but his nose and forehead were bleeding.
The first thing he saw, as he got up, was the first bow turret jetting fire out all around the base and out the barrel ports. He didn't think that one was going to come back, nor would the 100 dead that were sure to lie within.
"Sir, severe flooding forward and in aft engineering!"
6:58 pm, bridge of Grosser Kurfurst, course 090, speed 18 knots
"Shift fire! New target is the second in line."
That was Centurion.
6:59 pm, bridge of Kaiser Wilhelm, course 090, speed 18 knots
For the second time that night, a towering fireball shot into the evening sky. Centurion had exploded. Possibly the raging fires had reached a magazine. Possibly any of several hits she took had been the cause. Certainly, at 10,000 yards the last hits by the Kaiser Wilhelm could have done it. In fact, the last one had been at the juncture of the midships turret and barbette.
"Shift fire! New target is the next in line!"
On Grosser Kurfurst, a stunned CO was about to order the same thing. They
had not even gotten a single ranging salvo off at Centurion.
6:59 pm, bridge of Prinzregent Luitpold, course 090, speed 18 knots
They had fired five half salvos at Orion, with no hits.
Fire had been shifted, per procedure, to the third ship in the opposing division.
Their first half salvo had been short, but close.
The second half salvo, however, had included a hit flush on the face of the barbette of the second turrret. At 11,500 yards, it had some chance to penetrate. The hit was almost perfectly square, impacting on the deck just before the barbette. The shell punched through the armor and detonated inside the barbette.
Two ships ahead of Iron Duke, 1000 yards from the binoculars of Vice-Admiral Sir J[ellic]oe, Conquerer blew up in a massive explosion.
Captain Smith, USN, felt his jaw drop.