J[ellic]oe Almost Does Not Get to Decide
The period just after 7 pm, has always drawn naval historians because the scheer
(sic) numbers of "what if" possibilities have been cited as "virtually endless." In the last few minutes before the GF LOB fully deployed on course 120, the head
of the LOB had already shifted onto 090 and the effect had almost rippled down
the main body by 7:10. Many ships saw targets, fired a few salvos, and then had
to shift targets as the first became lost in the haze. Sometimes a would-be shooter
had no target but had to settle for firing at vague muzzle flashes, and other
times had to choose from among several likely targets. Ships suffered damaging
hits sometimes with no shooter even in sight.
The choices those captains and gunnery officers made in those instants sometimes permitted brief intervals of relief to those momentarily left unfired upon, while local concentrations of naval artillery lashed those on either side with gusts of steel. The effect was not unlike the eye of a hurricane, in which a small spot becomes briefly calm as the storm rages all around. Perhaps no one may ever know what decisions may have been possible if only certain men had had the time to think, or what decisions WERE made by those that did.
What if the Kronprinz had not shifted targets to the Iron Duke?
What if Deutschland had held her fire a few more seconds? What if Thunderer
had been able to stay in the LOB for another 5 minutes, instead of forcing the
Friedrich der Grosse to shift fire to the more dangerous Canada?
Even as these and other life-death dramas continued within the engaged main bodies, my great-grandfather led his 1SG across the no-man's sea in between, ahead of the vans.
--------- Lady Christine Letters, ibid, page 388 (Misspelling (?) in original text)
7:06 pm, bridge of Kaiserin, course 090, speed 15 knots
"Shifting targets," had been the report from the gunnery officer. Their previous target had apparently exploded in a tower of flame.
"Hit!" Captain Skorpion was elated, a small fire was briefly visible. There had actually been two hits, in their third half-salvo, but the other had merely chopped away a small bit of the tiny aft tower of their target.
"Sir, she's not gone."
"What? Oh, yes, I see." Captain Skorpion had also thought the earlier target
gone, but Monarch was continuing to fire despite the flames still gushing
into the sky on her aft quarter.
"Sir, should we shift back?"
"No," Skorpion replied, "stay on current target."
As he watched Monarch, he saw splashes and the flash of at least one
hit on her waterline. Good, he thought, someone was still shooting at her. He
noted, with surprise, that the interval between his ship and Kaiser seemed
to be shrinking. Were they speeding up? Was Kaiser slowing?
The ship shook and the bridge was brightly lit from aft. Skorpion could feel a rush of heat.
Iron Duke had just put a shell into the port side turret with almost
the same results as Kaiserin's hit on Monarch moments before.
Even before the first damage reports came in, Kaiserin shook to another
hit in the superstructure aft.
7:06 pm, bridge of Prinzregent Luitpold, course 090, speed 15 knots
Captain von Heinz knew their previous target had been hit hard, because she
had clearly hauled completely out of the line and disappeared from view to the
north, behind the GF LOB. The hits, however, had been made by Friedrich der
Grosse, directly aft of them. This was particularly galling after his immediate
success destroying Conqueror.
He had ordered shift targets two minutes ago and, of the five momentarily in sight, had selected a BB that seemed not to be targeted. It was an older class, and she had targeted his own ship back almost immediately.
Whanng! The hit had been low on the hull aft.
As Captain von Heinz took the flooding report, he noted flames on his target's superstructure below the bridge.
"Hit!" This one seemed to have no effect.
7:07 pm, bridge of Grosser Kurfurst, course 090, speed 15 knots
Captain Schnell's target was Orion, who was already in serious trouble,
with flames clearly visible at three locations. This latest hit added a fourth
location. He could only guess at the raging inferno that Orion was rapidly
"Hit!" This one was on the midships barbette, already gutted, but the shrapnel took a heavy toll among the fire fighters there.
Orion's return fire, even with just three turrets, was still impressive.
However, Orion was shooting at Kronprinz, just aft of Grosser Kurfurst.
Multiple hits were observed, all high in Orion's superstructure, tearing
up stanchions, cranes, etc., but they were not threats to her survival. The
fires, however, continued to grow.
7:07 pm, bridge of Kronprinz, course 090, speed 15 knots
"Down 500, you are shooting long! Long!" Captain Wilhelm shouted to the gunnery
officer. "You're spotting off Kaiser's shot!"
Actually, the gunnery officer was NOT spotting off Kaiser's shot. He
was spotting off Ostfriesland's, even further aft. Needless to say, this
point of confusion did not serve to improve accuracy. The shot fall "alarm clocks"
were of reduced help when the number of shooters exceeded two.
Splashes rose just short of Captain Wilhelm's bridge. He did not know who was
shooting at them, but it was not Iron Duke, their own target.
Thump! The hit had been been a dud, and a second hit moments later broke up on the armor belt.
"Who is shooting at us?" Captain Wilhelm asked of the bridge team.
The third hit had burst high in the aft superstructure, casting hot steel slivers amongst those stationed there.
"Who's shooting at us?! Captain Wilhelm repeated.
7:07 pm, bridge of Markgraf, course 090, speed 15 knots
Captain Siegfried felt exactly as frustrated as Captain Wilhelm, exactly. Markgraf
still had not recovered from the death of the gunnery personnel earlier when
the station aloft had been destroyed, and her accuracy remained reduced. However,
the gap in the RN LOB had left Markgraf unfired upon, and their accuracy
was showing improvement.
"Sir, I think that was two hits."
Monarch battling visible flames in two locations, now had some flooding
to worry about.
Markgraf's own fires were slowly yielding to fire fighters, but they'd
soon need to counterflood to reduce the list, if it grew any more.
"Sir, XO has a damage report."
"Yes," said Captain Siegfried, "yes?"
7:08 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 045, speed 20 knots
"Sir," said Flagcaptain Theodor," the screen units are almost all in position.
Stettin remains astern."
"We're waiting no longer," replied the baron.
"Flags, hoist 25 knots. Immediate execute."
Captain, as soon as it's up, go to 25 knots."
"Aye, aye, sir!"
7:08 pm, bridge of Ostfriesland, course 090, speed 15 knots
"Shift target to ..." the CO began.
"Belay that," growled Admiral Rudburg, the officer in tactical command of the
HSF main body now in LOB. Ostfriesland had not been fired upon these
last six minutes. The admiral had taken the opportunity to study their target
"Sir? The target has three shooters, and some aft of her are firing undisturbed."
"Captain," Admiral Rudburg replied, "that's an Iron Duke class heading the division in the center of the Line of Battle. That's "J[ellic]oe's flagship! I'm sure of it! Stay on that target until I order otherwise!"
"Jawohl, Herr Admiral!"
7:09 pm, bridge of Friedrich der Grosse, course 090, speed 15 knots
Captain Abdul Hadi Pasha had been disappointed that the RN BB that had knocked him down had disappeared, undestroyed, behind the rest of that vile litter of sea curs. He had taken some comfort in the fact that she appeared well thrashed before she left his sight.
Tall splashes marked the shifting of fire on the part of the GF, and unpleasantly guttural shouts from the lookouts had led them to return the fire from a tall ship further back in the GF LOB.
Captain Pasha hadn't seen the hit on their foe, but the reports of fire and casualties on the German BB in the secondaries amidships were clear enough.
Captain Pasha was too stunned to feel fear. A tower of flame marked where the port wing turret used to be. Where the roof had gone, he couldn't tell. One place it was NOT, however, was where it had been a few minutes ago.
He noted a second, thread of smoke from further aft, out of one of the tertiary mountings. That had been a second hit in the same salvo, but had gone practically unnoticed by others than those who had been near it. The hole where the great wing turret had been gaped like a dragon's mouth at the sky. For a moment, he was so numb with fascination that he forgot that the battle continued.
The next incoming salvos were well short, and failed to break his concentration.
He went back to the middle of the bridge.
The next several salvos from their foe were even shorter.
The bridge crew were wondering if their own hits had so desperately hurt the
opponent as to be the cause. There was no flames on the other ship, but the
hits had seemed to be near the waterline. Flooding?
7:10 pm, bridge of Iron Duke, course 090, speed 20 knots
Captains Smith and Loureiro were stunned by the report just delivered to Vice-Admiral
J[ellic]oe. Three new BB's lost! King George V, Erin, and Thunderer
had hauled out of the Line, desperately hurt! The Germans were taking damage
too, but surely not THIS bad!
The two foreign officers turned to each other, shocked looks not able to be held behind false stoicism.
Fires blazed on numerous Germans, but they were staying firmly in LOB and pouring return fire into the Brits.
"Sir! Dreadnought's badly hurt! She's hauling out, sir."
"Signals!" Admiral J[ellic]oe called.
For a moment, a long moment, Captain Smith thought he was the only one alive
on the bridge. The starboard side was open to the evening gloom, though the
flames just outside obscured the view. With a groan and some more Portugese,
the Brazilian attache got back up, also. Others then began to stir, with muted
expressions of pain. Captain Smith wished again that he knew the other's language,
because any cursing by Smith would be understood by the British.
Men rushed to aid the admiral.
"Signals," J[ellic]oe continued as he shook off the help, "course North, by divisions!"
"Aye, aye, sir!"
7:10 pm, bridge of Thuringen, course 090, speed 15 knots
"Hit! Sir, that last one was not ours!"
Dreadnought looked hurt, and seemed to stagger under multiple hits.
"That was not Dreadnought's," Captain Kroon shouted. "Where is that
fire coming from?"
"Sir, there are at least two other shooters. One is three ships behind Dreadnought,
and I can't make out the other."
7:11 pm, bridge of Marlborough, course 120, speed 20 knots
"Come to course 090."
The last GF division was turning onto 090.
"Sir, Nassau class!"
Neptune had hit Nassau two minutes earlier, starting a visible
7:11 pm, bridge of Queen Elizabeth, course 120, speed 20 knots
"Can you make out that ship, XO?" Captain Dave asked.
"No, sir, but she's not one of ours!"
"Indeed, open fire!"
7:11 pm, bridge of Deutschland, course 090, speed 15 knots
St. Vincent had opened fire at Nassau moments before.
He had not come this far to stay out of battle, thought the CO. The muzzle flashes were at least something to start with.
7:11pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 045, speed 25 knots
"Sir, lookouts report intermittent glow, bearing 330."
"Very well. Captain, come to 030."
7:11 pm, bridge of Blucher, course 045, speed 24 knots
"Sir, multiple contacts, bearing 340! Enemy light ships!"
Multiple was right! Bearing 340, hell! They weren't on any one bearing, they were in a damn wide arc, about 9000 yards away and coming down their throat!
"Signals! Report to the flagship!"
"Sir, how many?"
"All of them, I think. Open fire!"