7:49 pm, bridge of Konig, course 000, speed 18 knots
Much better shooting, thought the captain. This time it had taken only two half-salvos to get the range. He eagerly awaited the fall of the next half-salvo. He didn't see the six tall splashes 300 yards off his starboard after quarter. Above, many lookouts did indeed spot them and shouted their reports to their chief. Others noted where the shooter was, but it was a junior officer on the bridge whose report got to the captain first.
"Sir, waterspouts starboard side. We're under fire, sir!"
From the bridge, Emperor was almost squarely across the line of sight to Temeraire. Smoke still lay heavy about the wreck of Monarch, making visibility on that general bearing even worse. At the moment, however, Temeraire could still see well enough to shoot at Konig.
The captain suddenly cared less about his target and more about who was targeting him. The lookout report of the range and bearing to Temeraire was one minute away.
"Who is shooting at us?"
7:49 pm, bridge of Grosser Kurfurst, course 000, speed 18 knots
"Open fire," ordered Captain Schnell, just as the Konig's captain turned to look at the waterspouts on his starboard side. The ship's guns fired immediately.
Above, lookouts were beginning to report the events just ahead. Their line of sight to Temeraire was completely occluded by Emperor after the latter's turn onto 315. They would spot her in about two minutes, as the HSF main body moved north.
Schnell, momentarily oblivious to the Konig's peril, raised his binoculars
and awaited the impact of his ship's shells on Emperor.
7:49 pm, bridge of Kronprinz, course 000, speed 18 knots
The flash of Temeraire's first salvo was spotted by two different lookouts in the upperworks and duly reported. The RN BB herself, at 9,800 yards, was just beyond visibility. The drifting smoke from the many funnels and wrecks did not help.
Emperor, though, was now clearly visible at just over 6,500 yards distance as Kronprinz's progress up the 000 track got Monarch off the line of sight. Without the Emperor's earlier turn, Kronprinz would have opened fire several minutes earlier, as would the HSF BBs ahead in the LOB.
"Fire," ordered Captain Wilhelm. He suppressed a grimace as, just ahead, Grosser Kurfurst's guns sounded as he was giving the command. As he studied his new target, he wondered what ship she was.
"What ship is that?" Wilhelm asked the officer beside him.
7:49 pm, bridge of Markgraf, course 000, speed 18 knots
"Sir, dreadnought! Bearing 320, range 7,000 yards!"
Captain Siegfried had Emperor immediately in his view. He spared an instant to get her in focus.
"Fire!" Captain Siegfried ordered, just after Kronprinz opened fire just ahead.
A puzzled expression came to his face. Just like Captain Wilhelm, 500 yards ahead, he wondered what ship it was that he was shooting at. He tried to better focus the binoculars. It did not seem to help.
"What ship is that?" Siegfried wondered half aloud, echoing the other captain
500 yards ahead.
7:49 pm, bridge of Frauenlob, course 000 speed 20 knots
"Hold your fire!" Captain Dietrich R. Ehrhart shouted. There was no point in announcing their presence. At just over 5,000 yards, their 4.1" guns were no threat to the crippled RN superdreadnought and might interfere with Konig's shooting.
Good, Ehrhart thought, pivoting for a brief look aft. They were about 2,500 yards dead ahead of Konig. Pulling any further ahead just now seemed most unwise. "Boom-boom," sounded dreadnought guns astern again, underscoring both conclusions.
"Officer of the Deck," called out Captain Ehrhart, "18 knots."
He knew his own half-flotilla would conform. Doubtless, the four orphans would, as well. He did not look at gallant Stettin, receding in his wake, or the two crippled torpedo boats. This was no time to be looking back at anything, save to check spacing from Konig. He already felt like his head was on a turnstile. There were a great many RN light ships chasing First Scouting off into the northeast. Odin alone knew if they might turnaround and come his way. Ehrhart had expected far more to come lunging out of the smoke screen than the dozen or so that actually had.
A minute or so ago, Captain Ehrhart had acknowledged the sighting report of Emperor. Third Battle Squadron had promptly opened fire on her, so he'd seen no reason to report her sighting. He looked to port; Monarch's overturned hull was directly abeam. Multiple dreadnought's to port, multiple flotillas to starboard, smoke everywhere.
"Sir, new contact, dreadnought, bearing 300, range 7,500 yards."
Ehrhart raised his glasses.
"Sir, contact has opened fire."
"Flags, report new sighting, immediately!. Signals, confirm wireless receipt by Konig, Ostfriesland and Derfflinger."
Whatever ship she was, none of the Third Battle Squadron seemed to have opened fire on her. He awaited the fall of her shot stoically, fully expecting that Frauenlob was her target.
Commanding the HSF van screen would have seemed quite attractive a few weeks or hours ago but Ehrhart, for one, would never again think such. Exciting, perhaps. Challenging, certainly. Not, however, attractive. Not any more. He had watched Commodore von Hoban this day feed far too many fine ships and crews into this meat grinder called "The Van."
"Sir, new contact, bearing 330, range 8,000 yards."
Ehrhart snapped onto that bearing. He could not see this new contact, though looking for it took his mind off the "excitement" of incoming 12" or larger shells enroute to his location. He had the eerie feeling that tonnes of steel were poised directly over his head.
"Sir, contact is dreadnought class."
"Sir, new contact! Dreadnought, bearing 325, range 9,000 yards."
"Flags, Signals, report contacts, immediately! Signals, confirm receipt!" Ehrhart considered that any moment might be his last and getting off the report was crucial.
It was becoming quite plain that they were running right up the kilts of the entire Grand Fleet.
"The van," Ehrhart muttered.
7:50 pm, bridge of Superb, course 000, speed 13 knots
"Sir, Monarch has ceased fire."
"Sir," said the XO, "she was hit several times. She may well be lost."
"He may have not been able to turn the Huns away in time."
"Sir, Temeraire has opened fire!"
"Sir, light ships, bearing 145, range 8,000 yards!"
All over the bridge, binoculars were hastily raised to study the new bumps on the horizon.
"Sir, one light cruiser and eight to ten torpedo boat destroyers, on a northerly course."
"Hawksley! Thank God! But, 'sblood, he lost, what, five?"
"Yes, sir. But, sir, Hawksley would've pressed it home! All the way home!" The burst of enthusiasm was contagious.
"Then Temeraire is giving cover fire! Are they under fire?"
"Canna' tell, sir."
They stared intently into the gloom.
7:50 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 060, speed 25 knots
"Sir, the light cruisers have pulled up."
"Yes," commented the baron, "the Grand Fleet must be just about out of sight from there."
"Ah," said Flagcaptain Theodor, "and the torpedo boats?"
"They won't chase us much longer. Carl Johann should be in sight of their stragglers by now."
The two flotillas had initially matched 1SG's earlier 060 course change, but then had gone to 040 to turn inside them. They were working up the port beam, drawing close to a fair launch position while keeping a respectful 5,000 or so yards separation. They were still about 10 degrees aft of beam.
"Flags," ordered the baron, "hoist 135, immediate. Keep it on the yards."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Just in case," Baron Letters remarked to Theodor, who nodded. Both raised their binoculars.
One thousand yards off von der Tann's starboard side, on a bearing from her
of, in fact, almost exactly 135, Lt. Dahm said, "Oh, damn! Helm ...."
7:50 pm, bridge of Konig, course 000, speed 18 knots
The shell had exploded high in the superstructure, starting a small but visible fire. It was not a threat to Emperor, but the light it cast most definitely was. Grosser Kurfurst and Markgraf both quickly straddled Emperor, scoring one hit each high in her superstructure, but without any visible effect.
Tall columns of water thrust out of the dark waves 200 yards to port of Konig.
"Lookouts! WHO IS SHOOTING AT US!"
7:51 pm, bridge of Rostock, course 000, speed 18 knots
"Ahead Flank!" Captain Josef Westfeldt ordered.
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Navigator, just where IS Blucher? Show me on the plot." He stepped over and leaned forward, gripping the table lip with his hands.
The good commodore sure was the baron's man, thought Westfeldt with a tiny, resigned shake of his head as he tried to make sense of the marked up chart in the poor light. Hours ago, at the first sight of smoke, von Hoban had gone charging over the horizon, leaving Rostock among those plodding along with the main body. He, for one, was not a bit surprised that the commodore had linked back up with First Scouting and then gone gallivanting across the van with the baron. A torpedo in his snout was what he got, and lucky he was it wasn't any worse. Though, it seems to have been bad enough if he now wanted to shift his flag to Rostock.
Rostock was just to starboard of Ostfriesland and the Helgoland division. Westfeldt had moved her up from alongside the Nassaus when Stettin had been called up as the baron went north. Where Blucher was now, was not in the least bit clear but Westfeldt had just been ordered to rendezvous with her, nonetheless.
"Sir, there," said the other officer, his right index finger on a welter of spots and blots in the port van.
"Beschissen," Westfeldt muttered.
He looked up at the line of dreadnoughts to port, and back down at the plot.
"Signals, for Blucher: acknowledge, enroute."
"And, Signals, inform Stuttgart, confirm receipt."
Westfeldt realized that her captain just might like to know that he had the entire HSF main body starboard side and trail all to himself to screen.
The deck trembled as the cruiser began to pick up speed.
"Officer of the Deck, take us through the Line."
"Aye, aye, sir. Helm, left standard rudder, come to course 270."
Westfeldt took a last scan-sweep of the starboard horizon; the deck tilted
as Rostock began her turn to port.
7:51 pm, bridge of Iron Duke, course 000, speed 10 knots
The heavy thuds of cannon from astern had drawn the attention of many of the lookouts and those on the bridge. The only ship back there was Monarch, unless the guns were from the ACs. The quick consensus, however, had been that the guns firing were much larger than 9.2". The firing had died off a couple minutes ago.
Captain Smith had overheard several whispered conjectures among the RN junior officers on the bridge. Monarch was covering Hawksley. Monarch was beating off German light ships. The battlecruisers had doubled back to the south and had run into Monarch. No one, and he thought this was significant, had suggested that it was the German main body still in pursuit. It was in all their minds, he was sure, but no one wanted to be heard to say it.
"Sir, Temeraire has opened fire."
"Sir, from Emperor, Monarch under fire from the south!"
But Monarch had ceased fire, Smith thought. Could she have driven off the Germans? Could Emperor be mistaken? But then why was Temeraire firing? Smith did not like the most likely answer.
"Monarch must be sunk, no?" Captain Loureiro half-whispered.
Smith shrugged, but nodded in reluctant, pained agreement.
"Sir, from Temeraire, Monarch under fire from the south."
Well, that pretty much confirmed that Hawksley had been correct and also that he had been unable to stop the German pursuit. Or, wait, could there simply have been a brief, unlucky rift in the smokescreen? Another salvo sounded from Temeraire, basically ruling out that theory. She was certainly still shooting at something, so obviously the screen had not stopped the Germans.
"Hawksley?" Loureiro asked quietly.
Smith could only shrug again.
7:51 pm, bridge of Konig, course 000, speed 18 knots
The roar of impacts on the sea close aboard followed just after the report.
"Sir, we've been straddled!" The CO opened his mouth to shout again.
"Sir, dreadnought, 315, range 8,500 yards. She's the shooter, sir!"
"Guns, shift fire, shift fire! New target 315, range 8,500 yards!"
7:51 pm, bridge of Ostfriesland, course 000, speed 18 knots
Admiral Rudberg watched as Rostock pivoted neatly and began to approach the bow of his dreadnought. She and her half-flotilla had already noticeably picked up speed and were still accelerating. He felt a twinge of envy for her young captain, able to pile on knots and throw rudders this way and that. The thick braid on his own sleeve seemed poor recompense just then for having to sit nose-to-stern at 18 knots deep in the Line of Battle.
He was especially anxious because the Third Battle Squadron was engaged with something more than light ships and he still was not sure just what.
"Admiral, from Konig, dreadnought cripple destroyed."
There was another wave of smiles, quickly suppressed as he did not join them.
"Then who are they shooting at now? Any reports on that?"
7:51 pm, bridge of Frauenlob, course 000, speed 18 knots
"Sir, Konig is under fire!"
Ehrhart realized that Frauenlob was not the one the RN BB was firing at, after all. His first rush of relief left him feeling oddly guilty.
"Sir, Konig is straddled!"
"Did that report get acknowledged?" Ehrhart demanded.
"Not yet, sir."
"Repeat it, now!"
"Aye, aye, sir."
7:52 pm, bridge of Grosser Kurfurst, course 000, speed 18 knots
A bright flash of flame gushed high out of Konig's casemates port-side aft.
Captain Schnell tried not to stare at the flames just ahead. If any Brit had harbored doubts just where the HSF main body had gotten to, well, that was over. The aft position of the flames would silhouette Konig clearly even to those to the north. He realized that the shadows flickering plainly on his bridge meant that his ship also was clearly illuminated.
"Lookouts, can you make out what ship is shooting at Konig?"
There was a long pause.
"Sir, contact, bearing 320, range 9,000 yards." Temeraire's gun flashes had marked her, as Grosser Kurfurst had cleared Monarch's smoke pall. "That's the shooter, sir!"
Schnell hesitated, torn by the need to finish off the closer cripple and ....
7:52 pm, bridge of Kaiser Wilhelm, course 000, speed 18 knots
"Mein Gott!" Captain Wilhelm muttered, half in awe.
A vast pillar of fire geysered up from Emperor. The shell had pounded through Emperor's aft turret, detonated, and there, for a split second, the roof of the turret appeared atop the bright column of fire.
Thirty seconds later, the next half-salvo landed, and a deck hit just aft of the forward superstructure set off another explosion deep in the hull.
Captain Schnell, 500 yards ahead, gave the order to shift targets. Emperor
was slowing, swinging about with no rudder control, a mass of flames, helpless.
At the van, Konig got off her first half-salvo at Temeraire, all rounds were
short by 200 yards or so.
7:53 pm, bridge of Superb, course 000, speed 13 knots
All on the bridge were staring, rapt with horror, at the deadly, fatal pyrotechnics display that had been Emperor. The light was so strong that it made shadows at even the distance to Superb. It also had other effects.
"Sir! That's not Hawksley!"
"What?! Are you sure?"
"Sir," said one shockingly young looking SubLt in a rush, "my brother's on Castor, and that's not her!"
"Sir! Confirmed. Cruiser is German: Frauenlob class!"
And Hawksley? Brave, aggressive, charismatic Hawksley? Damn.
"Guns! Target ..."
"Sir! Dreadnought, bearing 145, range 10,000 yards. Sir, appears to be Konig class!"
There were several small sounds of surprise, oddly clear amidst the ship and battle noises.
"Guns! Target, dreadnought, bearing 145. Open fire!"
"Signals Officer, Iron Duke: have opened fire on Konig class dreadnought. Add the range and bearing."
"Lookouts! Can you make out her course?"
"Sir, target is on course almost due north."
"Christ, they're running right up our backsides!"
The captain turned to the other officer, "Add the course. And ..."
The deep bark of his guns surprised him, interrupting his order.
"And confirm receipt!"
"Aye, aye, sir!"
The SubLt turned away, his face to the North Sea.
7:53 pm, bridge of Rostock, course 3000, speed 21 knots (increasing)
"Gott in Himmel," muttered some on the bridge.
"Quiet on the bridge!"
They were through the Line.
"Right 15 degrees rudder," ordered Captain Westfeldt. "Come to course 330."
All of Third Battle Squadron were firing at targets to the northwest. Right where they were heading. The huge pillar of fire off the port bow had looked to be taller than the lighthouse in Warnemuende. In one of war's odd coincidences, Captain Westfeldt's hometown was just north of Rostock, and he'd been her CO for just a few months. As a youth, he had watched that lighthouse being built, thinking nothing in the whole world could possibly be taller.
"Sir, Blucher, bearing 350."
"Very well. Officer of the Deck, bring us up alongside her."
"Aye, aye, sir. Helm, come to 350."
Westfeldt had a thought.
"And come up on her south side," he added.
"South side. Aye, aye, sir."
7:53 pm, bridge of Konig, course 000, speed 18 knots
The 12" shell had pounded through the hull, causing new flooding.
Konig's second half-salvo had returned the favor with a similar below-deck hit, inflicting similar flooding.
Astern, Grosser Kurfurst's turrets had finished pivoting and her gun barrels began to elevate.
Konig's lookouts did not spot the flash almost dead 10,000 yards ahead on the
7:53 pm, bridge of Kaiserin, course 000, speed 18 knots
Captain Skorpion could see plainly the burning wreck that was all that was left of proud Emperor. He could see little else, however.
"Sir, Rostock and her torpedo boats are coming up to port."
Skorpion spared the trim cruiser a long look. She bobbed a bit as she crossed the bow waves of the dreadnoughts in the LOB. She, at least, was heading up to the van.
He suppressed a sigh, and turned back to face the horizon off the port bow.
7:53 pm, bridge of Frauenlob, course 000, speed 18 knots
"Sir, the contact on 325 -- 7,500 yards -- has opened fire."
"Signals Officer, report to Konig, and the others, immediately."
"Has our earlier reports been acknowledged?"
Was the Brit shooting at him, or were these shells, too, aimed at Konig?
Where were the British light?
7:53 pm, bridge of Iron Duke, course 000, speed 10 knots
There was no longer any doubt that Hawksley had been accurate, that Hawksley had not forced the Germans to turn away, and that the HSF main body was in pursuit.
"Signals Officer," ordered Vice-Admiral J[ellic]oe, "hoist form Line of Battle,