The Jaws of the Baron - (or "Wolverine Goes White Water Boating")
The British turn at 3:52 pm and the German turn two minutes later caused all
ships to cease fire during the turns and threw off all the gunnery solutions.
Re-ranging was complicated by the speed changes coming out of the turns. No
shells fell within 300 yards until 4:00 pm.
4:00 pm, bridge of Inflexible, course 000, slowing
Captain Heaton-Ellis realized an awful truth moments before the report. The ship was losing speed.
"Sir! Engineering reports that port shaft propulsion has been lost. Port shaft in trail."
"Lost? Estimated time of recovery?"
"None given, sir."
"Very well." The XO would be there by now. He'd report in a minute.
"Signals, flagship, lost port shaft, maximum speed 15 knots."
They were passing Indefatigable. She was clearly dead in the water and already listing badly. He looked at their own list indicator. It showed 5 degrees. It had been 3 degrees when they'd settled onto 000. He looked at the stricken ship again just as 5 columns of water appeared around it.
His ship's guns fired another salvo and he raised his glasses to watch the fall of shot. Three columns of water jetted out of the sea 300 yards ahead of him. He ignored them, just as he ignored the growing gap between him and Invincible about 800 yard ahead.
4:00 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, speed 20 (increasing), course 000
"Sir, their light ships are making smoke and have changed course towards us."
"Yes," agreed the baron, "but is it an attack or just to hide their damaged ships?"
The baron looked to the disengaged side. Two of the CLs (and each's torpedo boat half-flotilla) were ~1000 yards or so off his beam and a third was closing.
"What's the range, Captain?"
"Sir," answered Captain Theodore, "16,500 to their flagship, a couple thousand less to the others."
"They'll have to come a lot closer than that. Maintain this course."
"Aye, aye, sir."
4:00 pm, bridge of Seydlitz, speed 20 (increasing), course 000
"Straddle, rapid fire!"
"Sir, target is now third in line. Shift targets?"
"NO! Captain Nik ordered. "Maintain target."
The target was not returning fire and appeared to be slowing or stopped.
4:00 pm, bridge of Moltke, speed 20 (increasing), course 000
"Go to rapid fire," ordered Captain Mustang.
"Hit! Two hits that salvo!"
The target appeared unaffected.
The Brits had landed their first hit. Captain Mustang waited anxiously for the damage report.
4:01 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, speed 21 (increasing)
"Wham!" Queen Mary had just hit them with a 13.5" RN greeting card.
"Sir, damage report! Hit was in the rearmost casemate area. Damage teams are there fighting the fire. Estimate is 50 casualties."
And a good sized fire it was. It poured smoke across the rear turrets and would be easily visible to the British.
"XO," ordered Captain Theodore, "take control personally at the scene. We're going to need those 5.9" guns very shortly."
"Aye, aye, sir!" Commander Bavaria answered, already halfway out the hatch.
4:02 pm, bridge of von der Tann, speed 22 (increasing)
Unknown to Captain Dirk, Inflexible's gradual then more sudden slowing as they lost port side propulsion was throwing off the German's accuracy.
"Rapid fire!" Captain Dirk ordered.
4:03 pm, bridge of Queen Mary, speed 26 knots, course 000
Admiral Sturdee was admiring the gout of smoke from Derfflinger. His appreciation was short-lived.
"Admiral, from Indefatigable, lost all power, lost all propulsion. From Inflexible, lost port propulsion, maximum speed 15 knots."
Sturdee could see the flotillas churning past between Invincible and Inflexible. Thick black smoke was already coming out of their funnels.
"Signals, hoist ahead standard."
"Captain, execute as soon as Invincible acknowledges."
"Aye, aye, sir."
4:04 pm, bridges of both Seydlitz and von der Tann, speed 23 (increasing)
"Sir, target obscured behind smoke screen."
"Very well, shift targets, new target: second ship, behind the flagship."
"Aye, aye, sir."
4:04 pm, bridge of Derfflinger
"Sir, that hit was on the waterline just ahead of the aft turret."
Von Hase had scored in two consecutive half-salvos. This one had been in the
superstructure behind and below the bridge. There was a small stream of smoke.
4:04 pm, bridge of Moltke
That brought to four the hits scored since the turn, though with no apparent effect.
That brought to three the hits they'd taken since the turn. So far the armor had held. Captain Mustang hoped the same for this last one.
That one may have hurt her, thought Mustang. It looked almost dead amidships near the waterline.
4:06 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, speed 24 (increasing)
"Admiral," said Captain Theodore, "the smokescreen has obscured the two trail ships and the other torpedo boats are closing."
"Agreed, Signals, Regensburg ...."
4:06 pm, bridge of Regensburg
"All ships," ordered Captain Wolverine taking his eyes off the flagship's halyards, "attack, target, enemy light ships."
"Left full rudder, ahead flank. Engineer, I want it all!"
Wolverine shot Regensburg through the gap between Derfflinger and Seydlitz. The CL bounced hard in the prop wash. He watched anxiously as his torpedo boats made the passage without incident. There was a particularly hairy moment as a huge waterspout jumped out of the waves just to starboard. It towered far higher than their masthead.
"Hey, it was nothing personal," he grinned at his shaken XO. "They didn't mean to almost kill us! Not at all! Now, those guys," he said pointing at the oncoming RN light ships, "they mean it."
The torpedo boats bobbed like corks in the wakes of the big BCs powering ahead at flank.
Wolverine nodded to himself as Elbing slipped out between Seydlitz and Moltke. Pilau had not quite been in position and had to go astern of von der Tann. He raised his glasses and turned to study the Brits.
"I count 20 torpedo boats and 5 CLs," his XO said.
"Cheer up," Wolverine continued. "It was worse at Dogger Bank. And this time ..."
"Crack, crack, crack!" The BC secondaries had opened fire.
"... we got lots of backup."
4:12 pm, bridge of Southampton, speed 26, course 000
It was worse than Commodore Nott had feared. It was worse than he had even imagined. All of the BCs showed serious damage, while only the German lead ship showed any trace of hurt. The binoculars showed a horrific scene.
"Australia IS gone," he began, may the Lord have mercy on them, he added to himself. "Indefatigable dead in the water with huge list. Inflexible out of action. Invincible listing. Queen Mary looks no better." Even as he watched, the two lead RN BCs fired at the distant foe and were themselves suddenly surrounded by water columns. There was the reddish spark of a hit on the Invincible.
Between the battlelines, it looked like a mass of fireflies as the guns fire sparked here and there in the smoke and haze. There were also amber streaks from fires.
His squadron was still 20,000 yards south of Indefatigable. It looked like a lost cause, but he knew where his duty lay.
"Right full rudder," he ordered. He drew an imaginary line to the center of the fray, "come to course 040."
"Signals, form line abreast."
4:12 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, speed 25 knots, course 000
"Admiral, the range to Queen Mary is 16,000 yards and dropping. They must have slowed."
"Hit!" Smoke was leaking out of QM's casemates.
Whannnng! This one was in the superstructure amidst the lighter secondary guns. More casualties.
"Range to their torpedo boats?" Admiral Letters asked. He was watching the progress of his three CLs and their half-flotillas into the gap between the lines. They were already about 3000 yards on their way. He spotted flashes from the Elbing's 5.9" guns.
"About 11,000 yards, sir, dropping fast."
"Very well, hoist immediate turn to 160. Keep it up there."
The bearing to the RN light ships was to the Brits' advantage. They had started northwest of the baron's force and were now on about a 320 degree bearing from Derfflinger. They'd be able to launch torpedoes in just a few minutes. If the baron turned away, he'd lose sight of the lead two BCs. His rear two ships already were having difficulty seeing the lead BCs.
"Hit on Queen Mary! Sir, hit on Invincible!"
"Sir, the others acknowledge."
4:15 pm, bridge of Regensburg, speed 28, course 320
"A hit!" The RN CL seemed unaffected. Wolverine wished yet again that he had 5.9" guns like Elbing. He did like his rate of fire however.
The Brits were advancing through hell, Wolverine realized. The BCs had 46 5.9" guns and, presumably, half of them were firing on the RN light ships, manned by gunners who'd had nothing to do that day but wait, unable to shoot back from behind casemate armor that was never intended to keep out 11" or 13.5" shells. Now, they had targets and they were pouring shells into the Brits. With the high speed of the BCs, their fire was not very accurate, but there were a lot of guns firing.
Actually, only 21 were firing, as Derfflinger had lost two from the hit by Queen Mary. Shell splashes were constantly around the oncoming RN ships. They were scoring hits and one RN torpedo boat was already poking only her bow into the air. They were not, however, stopping them.
The rumble of shells overhead was continuous. The 5.9" outgoing from the baron's BCs whooshed over and over and over. If the RN pushed this home, friendly fire was going to be a real risk.
Shell splashes. Just off the port bow!
"Hard right rudder!" Wolverine shouted.
"Damn!" Wolverine fought the urge to duck. There was little armor anyway, but he still had the urge to duck. The other shells missed.
"A hit, sir!"
Shell splashes. Whannnng! Damn!
"Hard left rudder!"
Three massive waterspouts amidst one RN group. Five more in front of another. Still they kept coming.
"Sir, B98's gone!"
He had no time to look around. Damn they were close.
Shell splashes straddled him.
"Hard right rudder!"
Damn damn damn!
4:15 pm, bridge of Derfflinger, course 000, speed 25
"Sir, range to Queen Mary, 15,000 yards."
"To the torpedo boats?"
"Execute! Maximum RPM."
"Hard right rudder!" Captain Theodore ordered, fearing the baron had waited too long.
4:15 pm, bridge of Seydlitz
"That last salvo hit, sir! One hit, maybe two."
The fires amidships on Invincible seemed to be growing. Her bow and stern turrets
were still firing, but her starboard turret was silent, trailing its own smoke
"Ah, hard right rudder!"
4:15 pm, bridge of Moltke
"Hit! That one's done for!"
Another torpedo boat that won't launch torpedoes, thought Captain Mustang.
"Sir! It was the OOD. "Flagship ...."
"Hard right rudder!"
---- bridge of von der Tann
Being last in this situation meant no one was shooting at you. Captain Dirk appreciated the difference. They'd lost targeting on the RN BCs, and were trying to hit the light ships. With just three turrets and the longest range, they'd not yet had success. Shooting gnats with rifles. Though, wasps might be more accurate.
The RN were closing fast.
"Down another 300!"
"Hard right rudder!"