Light Cruiser Frauenlob
Leading the Band
----8:12-8:35 pm, bridge of Frauenlob, course 000, speed 18 knots.
Kapitan Ehrhart watched the battleships of the fast-disappearing British Grand Fleet with equal parts hope and suspicion.
"The British are running." He said it aloud, within hearing of his XO, Bauer, to try it out. The phrase sounded strange on his tongue.
"So it seems, so it seems." Bauer concurred.
The lookouts were silent. Ehrhart's skin crawled. "I cannot believe that it is over. Not yet."
Konig had fallen back far enough that he felt he didn't have to worry about the crippled ship's immediate survival. At least she was no longer taking hits. Astern and to port, Dreadnought supplied a grand and awful glow to the fast-darkening sky.
He could barely see beyond the area around that bright fire. He squinted, catching what he thought might be bits of firelight reflected off the superstructure of another British battleship. Further to the west something blocked his view like a curtain. Smoke, perhaps. With the deepening gloom of night, visibility was problematic.
I have my flotilla of torpedo boats, he thought, gazing speculatively toward the British fleet. We could make an attack run on the laggards as they retreat and perhaps remove a few more threats to the Kaiser.
But still... long-ingrained training kept him where he was. Plus the nagging suspicion that somewhere out there, British light waited for a chance to make a run on the van. He'd been sent to the van to screen; he would continue to do so until ordered otherwise, or unless something happened that made radical movement necessary. He sighed, then shrugged slightly as Bauer looked his way curiously.
The crests of the dark waves of the north sea glinted redly, reflecting the glow of the burning behind them. Like transient rubies, the red fire sparkled across the seas. Expensive jewels, dearly bought, he thought, then shook himself. Again, that crawling sensation on the back of his neck. He paced to the port wing of his small bridge. Just as he opened his mouth to ask his XO for their position, the deep thunder of guns echoed from behind. He turned to look, just in time to see another spit of flame from one of their distant battleships as it fired on something.
[All parts in brackets are exerpted from The Light At Dusk, written by Jim.]
[---- 8:38 PM, bridge of Frauenlob, course 000, speed 18 knots
Captain Ehrhart was out on the port wing, trying to see what Kronprinz had been firing at, or maybe it was Markgraf. From about 4,000 yards ahead, it was difficult to tell anything other than it had not been Grosser Kurfurst.
"Sir, contacts on the starboard bow, bearing 040."
"Starboard bow?" Ehrhart asked, but he lowered his glasses abruptly and went briskly across the tiny bridge to the other side.
"Show me," Ehrhart ordered. He couldn't see a thing. It was practically night off to the east. Only to the west was there much in the way of a dim light. The other pointed carefully.
The knuckle and wakes from ships turning at Flank had been enough to draw the attention of Ehrhart's lookout section.
"Is that Regensburg?" Ehrhart asked. "Pillau?"]
Ehrhart bared his teeth in an expression that was not exactly a smile. From the sound of it, things were getting busy again, back at the rear of the line. Aboard his ship, a quick scan showed everyone manning their stations with grim determination. Sehr gut.
He looked at Bauer and gave him a brief nod. The XO nodded in return.
They were ready.
[---- 8:40 PM, bridge of Frauenlob, course 000, speed 18 knots
"Sir, contacts are 4 CLs, bearing 050, range 5,000 yards."
Well, that settled THAT, thought Ehrhart. There was no such formation in the German OOB today.
"Signals Officer," said Ehrhart, "signal the flagship, you know what to say, just be sure to include that we're attacking. Confirm receipt. And make sure Blu ..., er, I mean Rostock gets it."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Hoist 'Attack' and 090." Ehrhart tried to judge the angle on the bow of the dim shapes, but could not. Even the white water that had betrayed the British had ebbed after they completed their turn. The CLs were on some sort of southerly heading, though, and that would have to suffice for the moment.
"All Ahead Flank."
"Helm, 2 degrees right rudder. Bring us around gently, course 090."
"Gunnery Officer, hold your fire, await my order. We must get closer than this. If we're fired upon, you may return fire, of course."
He nodded with approval as the torpedo boats turned short and began to shake out into an attack formation ahead of him. Stay on course, he willed at the British, just for 5 more minutes.
---- 8:44 PM, bridge of Frauenlob (~5,500 yards NNE of GrK), course 090, speed 20+ knots
Damn! They're turning away! The aspect of the lead RN CL about 3,500 yards to his NE abruptly changed as the Brit threw his rudder over hard.
The barks from their 4.1" guns were almost immediate. Splashes began to appear near the lead RN CL.
Captain Ehrhart watched his 9 TBs, the nearest already 700 yards ahead of him, begin their run in on the British.
The trail Brit quickly returned fire. A few splashes appeared in front of his ship, then stopped as the others swung into a hard turn. The Brits would bleed off lot of speed with that turn, he realized. His patchwork TB flotilla was already up over 25 knots. They might yet make the Brits regret this encounter.
"Keep firing!" Ehrhart exhorted. He needed to keep the RN gunners off his TBs.
"Gunnery Officer! Unmasking starboard side batteries!"
"Helm! Left 10 degrees rudder. Come to course 030!"]
----Approximately the same time, "Sickbay" of Frauenlob.
Doktor Constans looked up from his task of changing a soaked dressing. The ship's sound had changed in the last few minutes from the steady throb of 18 knots to the deep roar of her flank speed of 24 knots. The noise of her engines had masked the resumption of firing from the HSF from the doctor, but the change in speed signalled that something was up.
Seaman Genscher had heard it as well. "Herr Doktor, I must man my battle station now."
Constans waved him off. "Go quickly then, and... stay well, ja? I'll be fine here."
The sailor sprinted away to his station topside. Genscher gained the deck and ran forward to his place, reaching to grab for the amunition that he helped to feed to the gun, and stopped. His gun was gone! He blinked at the torn stub of blackened metal that marked the last known position of his battle station.
During the rush to get the injured below, Genscher had been told to assist the doctor as per medical drill. Someone else had helped with the ammo feed to the 4-inch gun. But the gun had been blown away while he was occupied. The surviving men who would have manned it, clustered around and looked at the remnant in confusion.
"It... it's gone."
"What now? This is no good."
A CPO, striding down the deck, caught sight of them. "What're you
doing?! Go help the others wherever you can! Take your alternate stations."
He pointed toward Frauenlob's other working guns. The men moved
off at once, leaving the petty officer to shake his head over the wreckage.
Muttering under his breath, he paced to the starboard side.
[---- 8:47 PM, bridge of Frauenlob, course 030, speed 24 knots
The splashes had resumed near them within two minutes of the British completing their turn. Sound gunnery, thought Ehrhart.
His own gunners, however, had gotten their range corrections sooner. Privately, Ehrhart thought they should have managed to hit the British lead ship before she turned but, though there were several near misses, no hits had been observed. Now, just over a full minute after shifting to the closer trail CL, they had gotten their first hit. The range seemed to have steadied for his gunners, though his TBs were still closing.
The trailing CL had seemed to hesitate in the turn. As a result, the TBs had a solid shot at her. Ehrhart saw at least two of his TBs launch their torpedoes.
The enemy gunners seemed to be dividing their attention, half shooting at Frauenlob, with all her muzzle flashes serving to draw their attention, and the other half at the more-dangerous TBs. Ehrhart hoped to punish this error.
"Mein Gott!" The reason for the British trail CL's hesitation
became clear as one of his TBs disappeared in a tower of water. They,
too, had launched torpedoes!]
----Approximately the same time, "Sickbay" of Frauenlob.
Constans looked over the rows of wounded, laid carefully out on the deck of the mess area. Almost everyone was in a drugged sleep, except for the lieutenant from whom he'd removed the metal 'spear'. His name was Eberbach, Constans belatedly remembered, the name surfacing now that the man was no longer one of the many faceless casualties needing immediate care. He'd opened his eyes shortly after Frauenlob had changed speed. The doctor moved to the man's side.
"Herr Lieutnant, are you in pain? You should be sleeping, if you can."
"No, I'm fine," he said, struggling to sit up. "I should be at my post; we're going into combat, can't you tell?"
Constans frowned at that. "I don't care if we are sailing into Hell
itself, you are staying right where you are, young man!"
[---- 8:48 PM, bridge of Frauenlob, course 030, speed 24 knots
The trail British CL staggered under a tower of water of her own. The stricken CL slowed immediately and perhaps began to settle. Her guns went silent for a minute, then a couple fired back in continued defiance. Gun hits sparkled on the almost-stopped Brit.
"Ach!" One of his other TBs flashed from a hit from one of the other fleeing CLs. The enemy ships were weaving all over the ocean. How they had managed to hit the tiny TB, Ehrhart had no idea.
"Recall!" Ehrhart ordered. The odds of any more success were very slim, they were almost out of torpedoes, and their job was to screen van.
The rest of his TBs were already past the now obviously mortally wounded CL. Her guns had gone silent, possibly from hits, loss of power, or even deck angle. As Frauenlob approached, her stern was already below the surface. He saw men clustered on the somewhat frilly foc'sl. She was "Royalist," he noted; a pretentious name, he opined to himself. He looked back for his own TB that had been hit by a torpedo. There. He spotted her anonymous overturned hull; even in life she had gone only by a letter and a number. He ordered another one of his unpretentious TBs to pick up survivors and rejoin.
"Helm, come to 000, make turns for 15 knots."
"Navigator, plot me a course back to our position."
"Signals Officer, to Ostfriesland and Rostock: 'Enemy driven off to the NE, sunk one CL, lost one TB, returning to van screen.' "]
"I tell you, I must go!" The lieutenant struggled in vain, his protests somewhat muffled due to the fact that Dr. Constans was sitting on his head. Years ago, the doctor had learned the technique worked equally well on horses and humans and it left his hands free to fill a syringe, which he was now doing. At the sounds of the ship's guns firing, the young man had tried to leap up and run out, like some poor broken-legged firehorse upon hearing the alarm-bell. Constans had put a hasty stop to that.
"You have done quite enough for this day, Lieutnant. For now, your orders are to rest. You will have ample time to fight again some other day, I think." Outside, the sounds of Frauenlob's guns firing tapered off and ceased.
"But!" The protest was cut off as the officer suddenly quit fighting him. "Oh. We've stopped." A pause. "Doktor? I think I hurt my shoulder."
Constans sighed deeply. "Yes, I imagine you did. If you will now hold still, I'll see what I can do about it." He shifted his position to sit by the lieutenant's side and began the job of changing the dressing. Somewhere down the row of wounded, someone groaned. Constans got to work. If this was any indication, it promised to be a long night.
The doctor looked up as a pair of hands entered his field of view and began to pass him bandages and a scissors. Genscher had returned and taken up his duties quietly.
"Ah, I am glad to see you obeyed my request to return safely," he smiled as he worked.
Aboard Frauenlob, the guns had fallen entirely silent.---------------------
---- 8:59 PM, bridge of Frauenlob, course 320, speed 18 knots
Captain Ehrhart read the message carefully. Battle turnaway. Speed 15 knots. Course SSE.
"Helm, left standard rudder, come to course 160. Ahead flank."
"Admiral Rudburg has decided to call it a night," Ehrhart commented
to his XO. "We have a van to catch."]
"Lookout! A sharp eye now. Let's be sure we find any British 'surprises' before they find us. And... well done, everyone." His men continued their tasks, like the well-trained sailors they were, but the sensation of pride was palpable. The night air suddenly felt a little warmer to Ehrhart.
The High Seas Fleet steamed toward Wilhemshaven with her truncated screen of light keeping careful watch.
By Colleen Winters