Many sayings and quotations have been attributed to Baron Letters over the years,
in attempts to justify things that, if our family records are given credence,
I heartily doubt my great-grandfather actually would have said or supported.
The Kaiser's Battle (Die Kaiserschlacht) has been analyzed by literally hundreds of naval scholars over the decades. Even the choices which may have seemed minor at the time have been seen as sodden with significance. One such was the 1SG's turn back north just before 7:30 pm. Like many others, I've sometimes wondered what the baron really had in mind as he took his vastly-prized battlecruisers back into battle, despite torpedo hits on both Derfflinger and Seydlitz. The Grand Fleet had been forced to retreat; victory was his. Certainly, Montrose's Toast explains his strategy, but not his tactics. Was he simply going with the flow of the battle? Why did he deliberately re-engage when he did, with whom he did, on the course he did? Perhaps the historians have a point in this case. After all, the baron chose the time, the target, and the course - all accounts are clear on those facts.
Here, however, we need not rely on surmise. We have the account of one who was there: an account that addresses this question, if a bit obliquely. And the source is not one who simply claimed to have overheard a stray comment, but from one of the "Battlecruiser Barons," the one with whom the baron shared the bridge that day.
---- Lady Christine Letters, ibid, page 444
7:23 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course (changing), speed 25 knots
"Flags! Target opposite number, from the right!" Vice-Admiral Letters called out.
"Guns! Take the leader!" Flagcaptain Theodor ordered. "Standby, standby!"
Derfflinger was still canted, with rudder on, but was nearing the end of the
7:24 pm, bridge of Seydlitz, course (changing), speed 25 knots
"Sir! Target ...."
"Yes," interrupted Captain Nik, "Guns, ...."
Four armored cruisers against four battlecruisers, he thought, as he gave the
orders. For the first time all day, Nik really liked the odds. He did not even
mind it when he realized his ship seemed to have ended up with the smallest
of the targets.
7:24 pm, bridge of Moltke, course (changing), speed 25 knots
"Guns!" Captain Mustang shouted, "we've got third from right."
"Aye, aye, sir!"
Mustang raised his binoculars. The armored cruisers still were shooting at Blucher, but were not hitting her, it seemed. The enemy was heading north pretty much away from Blucher, who was making herself a tough target anyway.
Didn't the British realize 1SG had turned back, Mustang wondered, and was less than 7,000 yards abaft their starboard beam? Were they so busy trying to make practice with Blucher, who was a couple thousand yards further to the east and north that they failed to see the greater threat?
Actually, the showy topside fires on Blucher, the flashes from many light ship
guns, and the flames on several light ships had occluded the CA's view of 1SG
until two minutes ago, when the northward progress of both formations had cleared
the line of sight. The AC's, however, were firing their guns and were far easier
to spot for it, while hindering their own lookouts somewhat. The 1SG ships also
would be spotted as soon as they opened fire.
7:24 pm, bridge of von der Tann, course (changing), speed 25 knots
"Guns, our target is trail, range about 7500 yards." Captain Dirk ordered.
"Sir, Derfflinger has opened fire!"
Moments later Seydlitz then Moltke added their guns to the chorus of cannons.
"Damn!" Dirk muttered and turned to the lieutenant beside him.
"Once again," Dirk said, "being trail is a bitch!"
Von der Tann settled onto 000 a few moments later.
7:24 pm, bridge of Iron Duke, course 000, speed 20 knots
Damage reports were coming in to the Iron Duke CO.
"Sir, engineering reports the flooding in the starboard shaft alley has been stopped. Shoring on the transverse bulkhead forward has ...."
Other reports were streaming in, as well.
"Admiral, Admiral Heath reports that all German light ships have ceased their advance north and appear to be withdrawing."
Captain Smith and Captain Loureiro lowered their binoculars as they listened to the reports. They remained shocked at the sight of Monarch. Just a few minutes ago, they had steamed past her at a distance of just 500 yards, and they had kept their glasses on her until that moment. Very heavy in the water, flames raging almost everywhere, Monarch was hardly making better than steerage way north. As they'd watched, she'd taken another couple hits, but they seemed only to rearrange the wreckage on her topsides. Somehow she'd managed to get clear of the battle and had even fired a few brave rounds back at the enemy before the growing gloom finally drew closed the curtains of protection behind her. The observer captains had just lost sight of her back along the starboard side about 4,000 yards aft, in the fires and smoke still streaming out of Iron Duke and the BB's behind her.
Smith had put her speed at 7 knots; Loureiro had thought 8. They agreed on 7.5 which, in fact, was Monarch's true speed.
"Admiral Heath?" Captain Smith asked Captain Loureiro in a low voice.
"He's got 2nd Cruiser Squadron," was the Brazilian attache's reply.
"Oh, right," said Smith, who'd admitted to some trouble keeping straight all the many disparate units in the GF. "He's got the four armored cruisers in the van, right. We just don't deploy that many different kinds of cruisers or cruiser groups in our battle fleet."
They turned instinctively at the nearby sound. It was an RN lieutenant. He had drifted near, unnoticed by the foreign observers. The officer did not actually look at the foreign senior officers, not really.
The observers exchanged glances, sort of shrugged, moved away from the starboard
side, and raised their binoculars to look at the ships to port.
Erin was about 1700 yards east and about half that much south. The smoke from Iron Duke's fires and a lot of stacks made all distance judgements suspect from this low in the superstructure. Erin had previously hauled out of the line north, but the GF was briskly passing her.
"Sir, Gunnery Officer reports that the fire in #2 turret is out, but that the turret will not fire again this day."
Captain Smith edged over to the plot table. The stoic quartermaster was just marking in positions relayed down from the lookouts above.
"Repeat your last," ordered the senior PO, a tiny frown creased his leathery forehead.
"Say again," the PO went. "Was that 700 yards south or 900 yards south? 700 or 900? Understood. Erin, 900 yards south." The PO leaned forward and made precise marks on the plot.
Smith saw a chart that revealed a formation seemingly in the process of becoming a shambles. In Iron Duke's division, the doctrine-specified 500 yard interval was gone, just gone. The division was opening up like an unbuttoned uniform. It would be very difficult to describe to anyone the geometric havoc he saw revealed on the plot.
"There's King George V," said Captain Loureiro, pointing unobtrusively. Smith raised his head and stepped back over to the Brazilian officer.
KGV was along the same line of sight for them as Erin, just on the far side of Benbow's division.
Where Thunderer was, Smith could not determine. In fact, of the eight proud superdreadnoughts that had made up the two lead divisions of the LOB, he knew four were confirmed lost, he could see three badly damaged stragglers. As for the eighth, Thunderer, they had last seen her a dozen or two minutes ago as they passed south of her. At that time, Thunderer had managed to get about 1000 yards north of the LOB, but she was listing badly and making little headway. By now, he thought, she may well have sunk.
"Sir, the fire ..."
"Wait a minute," Smith muttered, "how can we see through that division?"
"... is under control. Lt. Jones reports it should be out in 10 minutes."
"Sir, Lt. Bradford requests Repair 4 assist in ...."
The American captain then realized then that he was looking though a gap in the Benbow division. The third ship, Temeraire, Smith remembered her name belatedly, was just then steering out of the column and Vanguard was moving up. Temeraire was in trouble, with visible fires and clearly slowing.
".... additional ventilation due to gases from smoldering cordite ...."
At least the battle was over, he thought. J[ellic]oe had gotten them clear.
There sure was going to be an uproar when they limped into port looking like
7:25 pm, bridge of Blucher, course 210, speed 18 knots
Another 8.2" shell had found an RN DD. Commodore von Hoban wanted to stay on this course, but two things forced him to change. First, the HSF main body was just 3000 yards south and half that to the west and drawing closer. With speed down to 18 knots, and the engineers were pleading for him to slow further, he had to turn north now to have any chance to stay in the van.
The second reason was that the AC's had just about found the range again.
"Right 20 degrees rudder, come to course 135."
His own guns lost their targets almost immediately. The RN DD's were fast escaping from effective range. His own light ships had been roughly handled. A few were not in sight, presumably sunk. Several others were slowed and were not going to be able to keep up.
"Shift targets," von Hoban ordered. He scanned the sea to the north. Several enemy vessels also were straggling, slowed by their wounds. He'd rally his own lamed light, in a few minutes.
"Target enemy cripples."
Even crippled DD's might still have torpedoes left. Certainly, if they did, they'd shown far more than enough determination to use them.
He watched with some relief as 9.2" and 7.5" shell splashes tattooed the sea around where Blucher would have been without the course change. He kept his grimace small as the splashes began to march closer again. The AC's were a problem, but they were withdrawing at 20+ knots and would soon lose the range in this visibility. They had scored far too many hits for von Hoban's liking.
He needed light ships in his van. The answer was coming up hard on his port quarter.
7:25 pm, bridge of Minotaur, course 000, speed 21 knots
The first indications that Rear Admiral Heath might have had that he could be in trouble were the shell splashes that arose from the sea 800 yards northwest of his flagship. Heath, however, was looking south. The next sign was the splashes that rose to the west of Hampshire, his second ship. At under 11,000 tons, she was smallest and also the oldest of the four armoured cruisers. That set of splashes was about 500 yards from Hampshire.
Heath had turned 2nd Cruiser around shortly after the vast water towers from the main guns of HSF BB's had begun to appear around the RN light ships a couple thousand yards to his south that were beating off the battlecruisers. He had seen 2nd Cruiser score several hits on Blucher and other light ships, but once 1SG had turned away and the HSF BB guns began to reach, it had clearly been time to turn around. He had held his command on its SSE course for a few minutes more to cover the RN light withdrawal, then went to 000. Heath would have preferred to continue the engagement with the HSF screen, since he had them outnumbered and overmatched, especially after the battlecruisers had fled. With a top speed of just barely 21 knots, however, 2nd Cruiser could not quickly rejoin the GF main body, itself making 20 knots on 000. Until the splashes around Hampshire, he'd thought that he'd stayed beyond the visibility of the HSF LOB. Looking through his glasses to the south and west, he could not see the HSF LOB at all. The engagement of the lights covered that entire arc in flashes, fires, and smoke.
The splashes just to the west of his third ship, Cochrane, a moment later worried him. Were the HSF BB's close enough still? The chance that they could see his ships and he could not see them was a small but real one, but Blucher's 8.2" guns seemed the more likely source.
He looked carefully to the SSW. It was tough to be sure, but the two sets of splashes did not seem to be from Blucher, as he'd first thought. Blucher appeared to be firing at withdrawing DD's who, steaming away at 30+ knots, were tough targets.
Splasssh! He turned to see several large columns at their peak about 200 yards to his west. As he faced the water spouts, flashes again dotted the near horizon beyond Blucher's lights. He tuned back in time to see three splashes close aboard Shannon, his trail ship. Von Hase's third salvo was already in flight.
"Sir! The battlecruisers! Bearing 150!"
He turned back and raised his binoculars to the SSE.
7:25 pm, bridge of Kaiser, course 090, speed 12 knots
Admiral Necki impassively watched as Admiral Hanzik's command began to pass by about 750 yards to his north, at something close to 18 knots.
He turned and looked again to the west. Westfalen and Hessen were hardly making steerage way to the SE, about 3000 and 4000 yards away, respectively. Hessen seemed to have a worsening list. Westfalen badly hurt, still seemed to be in a little better shape.
"Admiral! The flooding in the port engine room has been stabilized. Engineer reports the feed path has been re-established and they're trying to draw a vacuum on the condenser now."
He hid his excitement and the sense of urgency he felt so keenly. His spot
to lead his division was something like 4000 yards to the east.
7:25 pm, bridge of Hessen, course 120, speed (slowing) knots
Captain von Mueller watched the HSF LOB head east away from his command. The trail Deutschland was 1000 yards north and 1000 yards east, and receding from his ship at about 10 knots. Westfalen, the other apparent lamed BB was about 1200 yards east, but also seemed to be heading away.
"Captain, the bulkhead is not going to hold much longer."
"Slowing further won't help?"
"No, sir. The shoring won't hold it. The struts and other reinforcing members must be broken in several spots and the water is getting past in places we can't get to. Engineer also thinks the bulkheads may be sprung right at the hull joins."
"Very well. Do what you can."
Twelve rounds. His crew had practically carried the old girl on their backs all day to meet 18 knots. For twelve misses. They had straddled that four-turret ship, but von Mueller did not think they'd hit her. The ship that had hit Hessen had had an impossible number of shells in each salvo.
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Signals, to Westfalen: 'Request assistance.' Officer of the Deck, get some men started going over our small boats. Looks like we may need them."
Von Mueller watched the HSF LOB steam away. To continue the battle of the ages, the one for the history books. The one that every naval officer for the next century would study and long to have been there, been here. He'd been in that battle, for twelve rounds.
He kept his thoughts to himself.
7:26 pm, bridge of Friedrich der Grosse, course 000, speed 18 knots
A few minutes ago, one lookout had thought he'd seen a plane. So, Captain Abdul Hadi had been somewhat nervously looking into the sky for any sign of a plane, as he still found the idea of an air ship unsettling. The accursed thing could fall anywhere! In fact, he had been so preoccupied that he'd missed the rudder command to follow the ship ahead onto 000.
He had heard the pursuit command relayed earlier and there had been some low-voiced comments on the bridge, as the staff of Vice-Admiral Scheer continued to find themselves at loose ends. Still, only now was it sinking into Captain Hadi that the HSF LOB was actually pursuing the GF, though the officer of the navy of the Ottoman Empire would have been discomfited at the metaphor. Do rabbits attack mastiffs, he might have thought, though perhaps when the RN waterships down go, anything was possible.
At the moment, he could see nothing beyond the haze of the fading light ship action. The BB's guns continued to bark balefully at the RN light, but he could see nothing to indicate that they had actually hit any of them. Certainly, there had been no elation among those on the bridge, though the Germans aboard Friedrich der Grosse were proving to be a dour bunch indeed.
He looked up again into the dismal sky.
7:26 pm, bridge of Regensburg, course 000, speed 26.5 knots
"Van!" Captain Wolverine muttered.
At a questioning glance from the pale too-young face beside him, he tried to explain.
"Lieutenant Gottziele, " he began, "how can we get to the van if he keeps 25 knots? We can't do much better than that! We might, just might, get 2000 yards ahead of him in half an hour!"
The neo-phyte XO nodded his head and opened his mouth to speak.
"Lookouts!" Wolverine shouted, interrupting whatever his acting-XO might have said.
"Pay close attention to anything ahead of us," he ordered. "And to starboard," he hastily added.
Wolverine turned back to his acting-XO.
"I do not want to get ambushed by some would-be-Nelson to starboard while we're all facing to port!"
Lt. Gottziele blanched, and stared to starboard, as though a monstrous beast might emerge from the waves at any moment. He swallowed, visibly.
Slowly, Regensburg edged ahead, 700 yards to starboard of Derfflinger's bow.
Wolverine kept his eyes mainly on that knife-edged prow, wary of it turning
hard at him just as it had, not many minutes before. Even simple station keeping
with the baron was hazardous duty!
7:27 pm, bridge of Iron Duke, course 000, speed 20 knots
Vice-Admiral J[ellic]oe stood at the port side of his bridge viewing his damaged command. Captains Smith and Loureiro had eased out of his way when he had approached where they had been standing.
"I'd not want to be in his shoes," thought Smith to himself. "No one would have believed this to be possible, not myself, certainly. But, here we are." As he expressionlessly surveyed the shattered, smoking battleships that had so proudly steamed out for the Empire, in Smith's eyes, J[ellic]oe seemed suddenly to be weighted down by the mass of gold braid. A full minute went by.
The GF CO turned to face his staff.
"Admiral! Minotaur's been hit! She's gone, sir!"
J[ellic]oe walked across the bridge.
"Torpedo?" One of the staff officers asked.
"Gone?" Captain Smith thought. "What now?"
"No, sir, at least I don't think so, sir. 'Course, it could've been a torpedo, sir, but all 2nd Cruiser is under fire."
The stricken ship was about 7,000 yards to the SW of Iron Duke, but that still put them something like 12,000 yards north of the HSF, and with a huge light ship battle going on in between.
Captain Loureiro nudged Smith, as again they had to get out of the way. "The battlecruisers," he said quietly.
Captain Smith turned to face the Brazilian attache.
"Melons," the American replied.
The Brazilian nodded.
Before they had to abandon their spot on the starboard side, they witnessed
the flash of another hit on 2nd Cruiser.
7:28 pm, bridge of Stettin, course 345, speed 24 knots
"Look sharp!" Captain Lantz shouted up to the lookouts. "We're taking the van!"
The van! His command was now leading the entire High Seas Fleet into battle!
They'd been stuck in trail all day as the newer CL's had kept pace with 1SG and Blucher. Now, Lantz spared a moment to scan battered Blucher as his CL powered by at her no-longer-slow top speed. Battered Hamburg was slowing and he could not see Munchen. Stettin and her half-flotilla had been summoned from beside the Kaiser divison by von Hoban when the baron had succumbed to the notion to take on the entire Grand Fleet van and screen with 1SG and whatever light he could drag along. Odin alone knew where the baron was now!
For the last 20 minutes, however, all hell had broken loose in the waters between the fleets. Lantz, in trail and with Stettin's shorter-ranged 4.1" guns, had joined in late and had spent much of the time avoiding torpedoes and shell splashes from the far larger guns of the armored cruisers, unable to reply effectively. The fire from the armored cruisers had ceased, though Lantz did not specifically notice it.
"Guns, DD, bearing 030, range 3000! Fire!"
The damaged RN light, doing 20 knots, had fallen far behind her flotilla.
At shorter range, however, the firepower of the greater number of guns was impressive. Splashes rose all around their target.
A plume of smoke or steam gushed out of their target.
Behind Stettin, his five torpedo boats also opened fire.
"Come to 000."
"Aye, aye, sir."
He began to look for another target.
7:29 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 000, speed 25 knots
"Admiral," reported Flagcaptain Theodor, they're turning away."
The RN AC survivors apparently had had enough. With Minotaur gone, the others had hesitated only another minute before the second ship had put on left rudder to head for the shelter on the main body. Of the three AC's only the last ship remained unscathed.
A few scattered splashes were the only evidence of the RN effort to return fire. There appeared not to be any ships directly north of them, as the light on the east side, then the van, had committed to the attack/counter-attack and were now withdrawing to their main body screen slots.
"Flagcaptain, bring 1SG to 330."
"Helm, come to 330!"
"Aye, aye, sir."
The battlecruisers continued to hammer away at the fleeing armored cruisers.
"And Captain, lookouts alert to the north. If torpedo boats appear in our van, I want to know instantly!"
On the bridges of Regensburg and Pilau, Captain Wolverine and Lt. Dahm, respectively,
watched the flagship's turn warily. Very warily.
7:29 pm, bridge of von der Tann, course 000, speed 25 knots
Shannon, last to turn, took an 11" shell near the waterline aft. Her armor had no chance whatsoever to keep out the shell. Her starboard shaft power train was heavily damaged, and water rushed in to finish what the shell had begun.
Captain Dirk was focused on his target when the OOD called out to him.
"Sir, Derfflinger is altering to port."
Very well, indeed.
7:29 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 330, speed 25 knots
"Sir, on course 330."
"Excellent shooting!" Baron Letters said to Flagcaptain Theodor. "Dirk has crippled the trail ship."
Even as they watched, splashes nearly straddled the middle ship. Captain Mustang had almost regained the target solution. The RN ships began to weave, evasively and the smoke from their fires helped reduce the BCs' accuracy.
"Flagcaptain, I intend to chase them all the way in. I want to catch sight of the main body. Give them a few salvos."
"Do you intend to engage the main body, Admiral?"
"No, but when I deal with somebody, I want them thinking about what I might
do them rather than what they might do to me."