---- 8:06 pm, bridge of Iron Duke, course 270, speed 10 knots
"Signals Officer, hoist 13 knots."
"Aye, aye, admiral."
"It looks," observed Captain Smith to Captain Loureiro, "like King George V is angling to take station between St. Vincent and Benbow."
"Yes," agreed the Brazilian attaché. "And Erin, unless I miss my guess, will make use of the gap between us and Vanguard."
--- 8:06 pm, "bridge" of Konig, course ~000, speed 18 knots
"Mein Gott!" LCDR (literally, Korvettenkapitän) Tuerme exclaimed, as he and two sailors pushed aside the crumpled hatch to get onto what had been the bridge. There did not seem to be much left of the compass post, the engine telegraph mounting, or even the starboard bulkhead. Tuerme's memory of polished woods and burnished brass trim just didn't admit to the scene of devastation before him. There was no chance of survivors; later, searchers would recall that even intact body parts were few. What still was there was difficult to recognize in the charred rubble, except for shoes, of which there were several, with feet still inside them. There was no true fire, just smoldering debris.
Tuerme nonetheless checked for wounded, almost mindlessly searching for his captain or the admiral as though they might be playing hide-and-seek with him in the rubble, his superior officers. He was struggling to lift up one sheet of twisted metal that might once have been part of the plotting table, when he heard the sailors calling to him.
"Sir! Mr. Tuerme, the wheel is gone!"
" 'The wheel' is gone?" Tuerme wondered as he looked up. He shook his head, trying to clear it. He picked his way across the jagged deck, itself ripped up, showing dark gaps in the gloom. Whispers, half-spoken words eddied around Tuerme's ears; if he listened, maybe they would tell him what to do. But surely it was only the wind lisping its way across the many serrated edges.
Splassssh! He pivoted instinctively at the noise and got a face full of sulphurous salt spray. Baptism of fire, the thought flashed through his mind, even as he turned back to face his men.
There were five of them now; three were hunched over the twisted, splintered shaft that led to the rudder trunk. A couple more men edged onto the bridge. Tuerme's eye suddenly caught a glimmer of brass and he strode over to it. Clipped off neatly, about two feet from the decking were voice tubes; their rims brightly sharp where they had been severed.
---- 8:06 pm, bridge of Markgraf, course 000, speed 18 knots
Captain Siegfried watched the flare of fire on his target with no little satisfaction. It had been their fourth half-salvo. Siegfried did not know it, but his accuracy had benefited from Konig's wounds, since her last few shots had been so off target as to ease the spotting for the ships behind her. Captain Skorpion, on Kaiserin just astern, was even at that moment exhorting his lookouts to spot a target, having abandoned shooting at the wreck of Temeraire a few minutes before.
His next half-salvo showed a brief spark high in the target's upperworks, but no other effect.
--- 8:06 pm, bridge of Ostfriesland, course 000, speed 18 knots
"Admiral, Konig is having trouble keeping station."
Rudburg had been staring into the darkening horizon to the northwest. Now he focused his glasses dead ahead. Yes, Konig was a couple hundred or more yards to the west of track. He watched for a few seconds. What was happening up there in the van?
"Any report from Admiral Behncke?"
"No, sir. Nothing."
Rudburg frowned as he looked through his binoculars. Konig was battered, badly battered. He ignored the reports on the bridge and the sounds of Ostfriesland's guns, as they tried to finish off long-dead Temeraire. Shell splashes showed that Konig was still under fire, and even as he watched she seemed to take another hit.
Why was Behncke out of the Line? He showed no sign of getting back into position, and seemed even to be having trouble staying on course.
"Signals Officer, to Admiral Behncke: report status."
"Aye, aye sir."
"Lieutenant," the admiral called over his young aide. "Who has Grosser Kurfurst?"
Rudburg asked the question in a low voice, more than a bit embarrassed not to be able to recall each captain's name. He had, however, come aboard practically at the last minute when Vice-Admiral Schmidt came down sick. Perhaps Letters had had something to do with his selection as Schmidt's replacement, but maybe not. In any event, Vice-Admiral Scheer had been in command of the Main Body until perhaps the same mysterious malady had struck down that senior admiral. Anyway, here he was, in charge of the HSF Main Body in probably the greatest battle of the Great War and he did not even know all his captains' names!
"Schnell, sir. Captain Schnell."
Schnell, Schnell, he couldn't place the man. Rudburg raised his glasses again. Konig was weaving, sure as hell. Not for the first time, not even for the twenty-first time, Rudburg regretted that Admiral Necki had fallen out of the Line with Kaiser. Schnell, he thought quickly, "Signals Officer."
"Any report from Admiral Behncke?"
"No, sir." The Signals Officer, who also had not planned to be on board the bridge of the HSF Main Body CO, forbore to comment that he'd answered that same question just a minute earlier. One did not cross strange admirals, and certainly not in battle.
Rudburg fixed the other man with a hard look. "Did they acknowledge the signal?"
"Not yet, sir."
Very well, then. He really, really hated to undercut an admiral, especially one just three spots junior and in the middle of battle, but he decided he had no choice.
"To Captain Schnell: maintain course and speed."
---- 8:06 pm, bridge of Erin, course 000, speed 13 knots
"Sir, she's hauling out of the Line!"
"Are they turning?" My God! Have the Germans had enough?
"We can't tell, sir."
The lead German showed a new flash of flame to join the others still burning. Another present from my king to yours, the CO thought fiercely. He just hoped it was a going away present.
---- 8:07 pm, bridge of Frauenlob, course 000, speed 18 knots
"Sir, the British are turning."
Ehrhart frowned, thinking: "Turning?" Before he could query, the call came again.
"Sir, the two ships ahead of the closer shooter have turned onto a westerly heading."
"What of the ones," he shouted back to the lookout section, "in the other line?"
"Can't see them, captain. They must have turned also."
His own glasses revealed only gloom along the bearing towards the leaders of the second division. Funnel smoke, perhaps, had cloaked them as they turned. He thought he could see ahead of the smoke, where the ships ought to have been if they had remained on 000.
As he gave the orders, he looked sternwards. He wished Rostock would hurry up.
---- 8:07 pm, bridge of Rostock, course 000, speed 18 knots (increasing)
It had taken longer than Captain Westfeldt had hoped to get back underway and close to formation speed. The last of the pre-dreadnoughts had just edged past and there was about a 1,000 yard or so gap between her and Kaiser.
"Commodore, " he began, "recommend we go back through the Line to get on the disengaged side."
"Jawohl, " agreed von Hoban. "Visibility for our gunners is bad enough as it is. Certainly, we should try not to make it worse."
Westfeldt sized up the positions with a seaman's eye.
"Right 15 degrees rudder. Helm, take us through the Line."
As his ship and his half-flotilla pivoted sharply and headed for the gap, Westfeldt had a moment to reflect. The large dark, boxy shapes looming ahead reminded him of a long ago day in Rostock, the city, that is. There, ten year old Westfeldt, with a dark, cold rain pelting off his greatcoat, had gotten his first look at the massive cruciform cathedral in the heart of the city. Indeed, the experience of going back and forth through the Line seemed not so different from scooting across the majestic aisle from one pew to another. Here, instead of the hewn stone blocks worn smooth by the feet of generations of worshipers, were the North Sea swells leveled by the wakes of a score of battleships.
"Helm, as soon as we get our distance, bring us back onto 000."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Westfeldt glanced over at von Hoban, whose demeanor was one of great gravity. The commodore was not watching the huge battleships, nor was he watching the eventful horizon. Instead, he had his eyes back on Blucher, whose shattered superstructure still showed flickers here and there from internal smoldering fires through the black holes.
---- 8:07 pm, bridge of Dreadnought, course 090, speed 11 knots (increasing)
"Yes, I see it," said the captain.
They had drawn ahead of the flames on Superb that had been blocking their line of sight. The muzzle flashes of what must be the HSF Line were becoming distinct, instead of diffuse ripples of light. Any minute now, those same flashes would be briefly illuminating the forms of the enemy, of targets.
He looked at the deck officer.
"No, sir." The midships turret had been damaged earlier. By now, the captain had only to look at the deck officer for him to know his CO's question.
The captain nodded curtly, considering that four guns were better than none.
"Guns, stand by. Prepare to target the enemy Line. Estimated range 8,500 yards, estimated bearing about 145."
The captain had seen far too many good British sailors die this day. Before, he had taken pride in the old girl standing tall in the Line of Battle like a royal oak; now he wanted revenge.
---- 8:07 pm, bridge of Kaiser, course 000, speed 17 knots
Admiral Necki looked over Stettin as they passed. Steam and smoke seeped out of hatches and holes. Her bow, though badly damaged from her smashing success, did not appear to him to be so opened to the sea as to pose a threat to her survival. Blucher was already back underway and approaching the light cruiser.
He turned to watch Rostock throw over her rudder into a crisp turn across Kaiser's bows. For some reason, the neatly pivoting light cruiser and the torpedo boats turning in sequence behind her reminded him suddenly of a class of school boys genuflecting one at a time as they crossed a church aisle.
"Admiral, 17 knots is our limit."
"Yes?" Necki pressed.
"The feed pump for the restored train is running hot. Admiral, any more RPMs and we risk losing it altogether."
The admiral looked at the slowly growing gap to the pre-dreadnoughts and back at the Kaiser's CO.
"Admiral, we have a hose on the pump bearing casing," the CO added, his voice showing strain. "The Engineer started with wet rags, but they were steaming dry in minutes. Lose that pump, sir, and we're back to 12 knots." Mighty Thor! Those bearings could seize any minute as it was, couldn't he see that?
"Very well." Necki tried to hide his scowl behind his binoculars. He trained them on the frustratingly-perky light ship group flitting across his bow. There, just off the starboard bow, Rostock pivoted again and began to move up the Line. Necki yearned for just two of the knots the CL and her charges were flashing at him as their wakes began to broaden, and he'd've settled for one.
Admiral Hanzik's old battleships were steaming away from him, towards the battle of the ages. Necki's scowl seamed his leathered cheeks. It was a cruel jest, he thought. One fit for Loki himself.
---- 8:07 pm, bridges of 1SG, course 075, speed 25 knots
"Come right another five degrees, captain." Baron Letters ordered quietly.
"Aye, aye, sir." Flagcaptain Theodor replied, and gave the order.
"Is that light cruiser group beyond visibility? If so, when did they disappear?"
"I'll check with the lookout section, baron."
Moments later the report was that they had been out of sight since about 8:00pm.
"By now," commented Theodor, "they must also be out of sight of those torpedo boats."
"Yes," agreed the baron.
"Helm," ordered LT Dahm, "they're using right rudder again! Maintain distance."
The baron had obviously forgotten how to signal. The "Course 135 - Immediate" flags were still up on the hoists of Derfflinger, and acknowledged by the others, but that's not at all what was happening. Dahm wished again that he had some of his instructors aboard. n all THEIR exercises the admiral signaled with meticulous precision. Yes, those braided buffoons would make good fenders, he considered, strapped right across his port forequarter, the one nearest von der Tann's threatening bow.
"Aye, aye, sir."
The helmsman stoically turned the wheel an eighth of a turn or so, then back to midships.
"On course 080, sir." He was not about to ask the powder-burned lieutenant why he was grinning.
Well, the baron had gone from 045 to 060 to 075 and now 080 and without any flags other than that damn 135. Yes, it simply must be, Dahm decided, that vice-admirals just thought that signals were beneath them. He stared a bit nervously at the gap of water between him and von der Tann, whose bow he flanked to the south. Fenders, yes, the whole academy of them. Pilau's stolid helmsman, flicking a quick glance at his new CO from time to time, continued to keep station without comment. Astern, Dahm's six torpedo boats were in echelon to the south, averting most of the issue. Doubtless their captains were also more than a bit wary, remembering dodging out of the way of Moltke and von der Tann during the first torpedo attack not that very long ago.
Captains Nik, Mustang, and Dirk were more matter of fact about it. After all, they had operated with Letters before. The baron simply did not tend to signal what he considered to be the obvious, expecting 1SG to conform. Bavaria delicately hid a belch behind a manicured hand. Actually, they appreciated the 135 flag, especially with the flotillas trying to work up on their port beam. In fact, they were far more concerned with their main gun ammo situation. Their 5.9" guns had scored only a couple hits, and they had almost ceased trying to hit the light with their main guns, as they were down to 35 - 40 rounds per barrel. If they did not husband their ammo carefully, LT Lionel realized, they'd shoot themselves dry and that damn hatch could stay open and the hell with it.
Captain Wolferin matched the turn without much comment. His attention was more on the RN light, though he watched ahead, as well. On the northern bow of Derfflinger, his Regensburg and the seven torpedo boats echeloned to port astern of her were the most likely ones to be ordered to protect or contest the port beam position that the two dozen RN light were jockeying for. LT Gottziele, though, remained exhilarated as they steamed into the dark unknown.
---- 8:07 pm, bridge of Grosser Kurfurst, course 000, speed 18 knots
"Sir, Konig's stopped firing!"
Captain Schnell cast another worried glance at his division leader. As he faced her, though, she fired her main guns. Initially he was relieved but, after a moment, he realized only her stern turrets had fired; the two bow ones had remained silent. Her wake continued to twist and turn even as she generally held onto 000. She had begun to drop back, as the constant rudder motion seemed to slow her some, and was edging to the east.
The British seemed to have lost the range on Konig for a few minutes, but the salvos had crept closer.
Schnell flinched as another hit flashed on Konig's lower forward superstructure. The shell had detonated inside, and the flames were visible for a moment before they subsided.
---- 8:08 pm, bridge of Kronprinz, course 000, speed 18 knots
Captain Wilhelm saw the bright flash on the deck just forward of the stern turret.
"Great shooting, Guns. Keep it up. That one hurt her!"
The hit had indeed hurt Superb and, in its own way, looked to be the mortal blow. The shell had hit squarely on the deck at the starboard base of the structure between the two aft-most turrets. The shell penetrated the deck at a shallow angle and detonated, rupturing the next deck lower and sending supersonic sleet into the engineering spaces below. Superb had lost her outboard starboard shaft earlier but, now, steam for the inboard shaft was lost, as well. In just a few seconds, Superb began to slow.
Actually, that was the second hit, but the earlier one had holed the top on the aft tripod. There'd been no explosion, but that had not saved the spotting party there. Another hit immediately followed. This one perforated the fore stack just above the top stripe.
Wilhelm noticed that his shells seemed to be drawing ahead of the target. In fact, Kronprinz had become a "victim" of her own success, losing the gunnery solution as Superb slowed. It would take several minutes to correct.
--- 8:08 pm, bridge of Dreadnought, course 270, speed 12 knots (increasing)
I've waited long enough, the captain decided.
"Target the lead ship. Open fire!"
The two turrets that could bear fired.
He looked at the deck officer again.
Both men suppressed sighs.
---- 8:09 pm, bridge of Iron Duke, course 270, speed 13 knots
"Admiral, Dreadnought has opened fire."
Just a few minutes ago, Captains Smith and Loureiro had nearly been rammed and run over by the flotilla of staff officers and watchstanders when Iron Duke's turn onto 270 had shifted the German fleet from the starboard stern-quarter to abaft the port beam. The bridge denizens had pretty much sorted themselves out again, but there was a ripple of sorts as stances shifted at that announcement.
"Muzzle flashes," commented Smith to the Brazilian attaché. The other looked at him inquiringly.
"We're drawing away from their Line of Battle, almost perpendicular, it seems. Their muzzle flashes are starting to spot them for us."
"Captain, the gunnery officer requests permission to open fire."
The four-striper shot a look at the admiral and got a small, but distinct, nod in return.
The Grand Fleet flagship was back in the battle.
---- 8:09 pm, bridge of Superb, course 000, speed 11 knots (slowing)
"Sir," spoke up the helmsman suddenly, "needing more left rudder to stay on course." He swallowed. "She feels sluggish, sir, I, uh, I think we've lost the starboard shaft."
The captain looked north. The Line of Battle track was less than 800 yards away.
"Left standard rudder, put us astern of Dreadnought." It was turning short but, oh dear God, if they were slowing ....
---- 8:09 pm bridge of Grosser Kurfurst, course 000, speed 18 knots
Captain Schnell turned away from Konig in time to see a large gout of flame burst from the base of the Superb's forward superstructure. A hit one half-salvo earlier had gone unnoticed, holing her aft stack, almost in line with the one in the forward one.
A bright spark high in the upperworks of the ship ahead of him drew his attention back to the weaving Konig. Here he was, in the midst of battle, having to pay more attention to what his division leader might do to him, than the British!
"Any signal from Admiral Behncke?"
A valiant warrior, Admiral Behncke, Schnell realized. Only such a one would be struggling to stay at the head of the Line with his ship in that condition! Another flash high on her stack aft drew his eyes. A man of parts, that Behncke!
---- 8:10 pm, bridge of Kaiserin, course 000, speed 18 knots
The fires on Superb made her stand out of the gloom. Captain Skorpion had opened fire on her over a minute ago. They'd been unable to spot the first salvo, presumably long. The second had been 300 yards short.
No hits, though. At least none they could see.
Skorpion's gunners had gotten the range of Superb, and after she had begun slowing and turning.
---- 8:10 pm, after steering of Konig, course ~000, speed ~18 knots
"After steering! After steering, do you hear me?"
"Yes!! Captain! This is ..."
"The captain's dead," the voice interrupted him. "This is LCDR Tuerme. Do you have rudder control in after steering?"
"Uh, yes. Yes, sir." Of course we do, the young officer thought. If Tuerme was on the bridge, he obviously knew HE didn't have it!
Actually, this was the second voice tube that Tuerme had tried. The first had been to engineering and it had taken a full minute for them to convince the stressed officer that they could not, repeat not, comply with a rudder order.
"Gut! I want a little right rudder. Uh, three degrees right rudder."
"Aye, aye, sir. My rudder is coming right. Sir, my rudder is right three degrees."
There was no answer. The officer looked at the enlisted men. They looked back.
"Well," the young officer commented quite unprofessionally, "at least we got someone up there who can see where we're going."
The men nodded, quite soberly.
---- 8:11 pm, bridge of Grosser Kurfurst, course 000, speed 18 knots
"Sir! Konig's turning!"
Yet again, Schnell had to turn away from dealing the British to cope with his leader. Yes, Behncke had begun a gradual turn to starboard. But that was AWAY from the battle.
"Any signals?" He looked around. Was there a light ship attack from ahead?
He began to study where his turn point would be, uncertain what to do.
"Captain! Captain! Signal, from Admiral Rudburg to Captain Schnell: 'Maintain course and speed.' "
"Jawohl!" Schnell said, glad of the direction. He almost began to relax, but then he saw two waterspouts rise just 300 yards to port.
---- 8:11 pm, "bridge" of Konig, course 010 (changing), speed 18 knots
"Standby, standby," Tuerme shouted. He hoped 25 degrees rudder would head them back towards the Line quickly enough to limit the catastrophe he was risking.
The desperate officer had his glasses tight on the bow of Grosser Kurfurst. His grip threatened the rugged casing. He tried to ignore the doubts whispered by the wind pouring through the ragged hole in the port front of the bridge.
"Ah, sehr gut! Sehr, sehr gut!" Tuerme breathed in reverent disbelief. It was going to work! He waited another long moment, then another.
"It's okay! They're NOT following us," he called.
The enlisted man he had poised at the after steering voice tube sagged onto his heels. He'd been hunched over, his mouth inches from the sharp brass rim of the voice tube to after steering.
Tuerme shakily picked his way across the bridge, adrenaline flushing out of his system. Now, he thought, I've got to slow the ship down and get the fires out. And the guns. Why had the forward turrets stopped firing? What course?
---- 8:11 pm, bridge of Iron Duke, course 270, speed 13 knots
It was the flagship's third salvo. With no one shooting at her, she had been able to spot her shell fall decently from the many German muzzle flashes and the light being cast involuntarily by Konig.
The bright spark had been near the waterline of what appeared to be the second ship in the German Line.
The hit had been on Kronprinz, causing much flooding and about 100 casualties.
Just ahead of Iron Duke, Erin had turned into the Line, interrupting her shooting. Just ahead of Erin, Vanguard's guns were trained back along her port side in hopes of getting into the action. The fires on Superb kept the German eyes blind to the much smaller flashes from the Grand Fleet's muzzles.
---- 8:11 pm, bridge of Prinzregent Luitpold, course 000, speed 18 knots
"Good enough, open fire!" Captain von Heinz ordered.
Superb's fires, like those of Monarch and Temeraire before her, were like a beacon to opportunistic shooters. With Konig's guns silent, Pr. Luitpold became the fifth shooter on Superb.
"Sir, hit on the target, I think by Kaiserin, but spotting is difficult."
Just astern, the gunners of Friedrich der Grosse almost had a shot at Superb. Captain Hadi had praised Allah when they passed the overturned Monarch, and then again when Temeraire was destroyed. From the looks of the fires on the British ship they were all shooting at now, he thought he'd soon be offering praise again. That was fine, excellent, as far as he was concerned. This Baron Letters was a cunning warrior, but this Rudburg who he had never even seen was proving to be like Nimrod himself! Yes, he thought, as he saw a new flash of fire on the vague outline of the Britisher, he was eager to praise Allah again. This Rudburg had even been thoughtful enough to stay on course long enough for him to work out the bearing to Mecca!