Jutland Side Stories
Into Glory, Steam!
The Gunnery Officer
The Pasha
Return of the Dutchman

After Jutland
Side Stories
Hammerle and U-14
The Woes of June
A Moment's Respite
Ripples Across an Ocean
Symphony In Black
This is No Place for a Boy
Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen
The Wolves
Into Glory, Steam!  

Part Three  "Charge of the Light Cruiser Brigade"

7:17 PM, Prinzregent Luitpold

The course was ninety degrees. The speed, fifteen knots. The Prinzregent Luitpold steamed on, maintaining formation in the Hochseeflotte. The greatest concentration of German warships since the Hanseatic League, the young upstarts who dared challenge the Royal Navy in the same sea to whose waters had, long distant, held the battle by the name of 'Gravelines'. And they were winning! But a minute, nearly two before, Prinzregent Luitpold had taken a serious hit, lost the number four turret, but otherwise she fought on; Virtually untouched, compared to the pyres of four of the British 'Super Dreadnoughts' left behind them... One, the once proud Conqueror, that they had dispatched themselves with a single shot. 

Euphoria. It was coming again. It was rather hard to avoid it. The very idea.. The very enormity of what they were doing, in very clear violation of doctrine.. But then, they were winning, and victory forgave everything. That, he knew, was what Baron Admiral A. S. Letters was thinking right now, or had at least been thinking when he made this decision... This... Toss of the dice. And they were winning it. For centuries, the Royal Navy had ruled the waves.. Not since Tromp had this happened, this sort of victory, by a continental power. No wonder it made him feel invincible. It was the Royal Navy out there..... And they were winning!

The guns, though, were now thundering out in only half-salvoes of three, not four. A grim reminder of the cost of victory. It was now seven eighteen. Time passed. Matthias von Heinz waited; He had damage reports to still receive, a ship to command, though, in the Line of Battle, Captains were rarely stressed with much except worrying... Until day, he thought, dryly. Until today. 

Another three gun half-salvo bellowed towards their target, towards Superb. Binoculars trained on the target, he caught the flash of flame as one of their shells struck home once again; Fires, he hoped for, but none.. At least, immediately. Still. Another hit. The lookouts called it out at nearly the same time, and he was silent, this time, almost reflective. Lowering the glasses, he looked to one of the talkers. "Go to turret four and ask Commander Kragen for a report." The man saluted. "Jawohl, herr Kapitan," and started off immediately. Sehr sehr gut.. By the time the man actually reached Commander Kragen, there'd be something of substance to report. Another half-salvo was loosed towards distant Superb.

Down in Turret Four, Stefan Kragen, executive officer of the Prinzregent Luitpold, was making a survey of the grim charnel house that the turret had been reduced to. There was no complete penetration of the turret; That would have ruined it. However, splinters of armour had slain over forty men and essentially destroyed the upper sections of the ammunition hoists. They would have to essentially jury-rig new ones to get the turret running again. There were no other survivors.. That had been confirmed by the DC parties moments before. Still.... Lucky. They were very lucky. He could see the bulge that on the outside would be a massive, crater-like dent in the turret armour. It could have been much worse. He thought of the British dreadnoughts. It could have been fatal.

But for some reason.... No. He looked down, towards a powder charge.. Inside its zinc casing. He recalled the silken powder bags the British used. He wondered if there was a connection there. Oh well, enough time worry about that.... There had to be some way to jury-rig hoists. As the other men worked, he thought about that.... As soon as he'd decided on the best way to go about it, he'd have a solid report on when the turret could be repaired, if it could, and how to go about it.. And that was of greatest importance to Captain von Heinz at the moment.. And hence to his first officer. The man probably would have preferred to lose a leg over a turret in a battle like this, all things considered. 

The minute of 7:19 PM started like an eternity on that cold, North Sea day. Each minute was an eternity. Fifteen knots through the mists and smoke and hell of the North Sea. Funny, how such a little patch of ocean was the scene for so many battles that shaped the very course of history. Hundreds of thousands of men could lay down their lives in massive land engagements lasting days, even a series of clashes of weeks, that could be utterly inconclusive. Out here, though, on the North Sea, with a tenth as many men, a few ships could decide the fate of Empires.. In mere minutes. 

The Empire was the closest thing humanity had to an eternal constant. From the banks of the Nile to, now, the banks of the Thames, the capitol of the greatest Empire had been the beating heart of the world. Empire, the eternal constant. Who would hold that title.. That was what decision was made on the North Sea. And so, in that bitter hell where men fought and died, minutes, the determining factor of Empires, became eternities. And as the Grand Fleet began to flee into the night, it seemed as though the arrow pointing to that beating heart of human civilization was slowly, miraculously, shifting to the bank of the Spree.

As the last salvo of the minute thundered out from the Prinzregent Luitpold's guns, it ended, changing to 7:20. The realization was striking home. More than a simple fact.. A sensation. The Grand Fleet was breaking off. Deutschland held the North Sea. Superb was fading out of view, damaged but still afloat, still moving. Verdamnt.. It wasn't enough, now, simply to have forced them to break off. He wanted the Grand Fleet on the bottom. They all did. It was a desperate war; It seemed like all the world was against them, except for weak allies to the south. They could win it now. Another target, then, while there was still time..

"Shift targets!" The order was given.

There was a spark of light from the Superb from the last half-salvo. A lookout caught it, von Heinz did not. 

"Sir, lookouts report we hit her a second time. Just before she finished her turn, we had a clear hit on her hull aft."

"Good," It was just muttered, as he waited for the guns to finish shifting... They fired. The target.. He searched for it with his binoculars... Five turrets. He couldn't tell anything else definite. And even that was only a fleeting glimpse. 

The man had returned from the number four turret; He'd ran all the way there, and all the way back, and was virtually out of breath. Von Heinz looked to him. "Any progress on getting number four turret back?"

"No, sir," he panted.. Before he could continue, interruption... The thunder of the guns from another half-salvo... Then, moments later..

"Sir, we've lost the target." Matthias hid the desire to curse out loud at that. He brought up his binoculars to search personally.. "Very..." There was a flash. He grinned. "Hit!" He called it out himself. That was an incredible stroke of luck.. Good to get in another pounding on the enemy. For a brief moment, he'd seen the target again, and then all was invisible.. But that image, the damaged ship limping off into the dark, burned into his memory deeply. This night would never be forgotten as long as he lived.. Not a single detail of it.

"Are there any more Britishers in sight.. Anything? I don't even care if it's a torpedo boat.. Do we have a target?" Matthias asked, slightly irritably.. He wished the British had stayed and fought. Four of their super-dreadnoughts destroyed did not make a victory, at least, against the Grand Fleet. 

"Nien, sir, nien.. Nothing. I'm sorry, sir." Captain von Heinz lowered his binoculars and nodded once. It wasn't the man's fault the British were fleeing. What would come next... Well, he had delayed the full report from the runner to long. He turned to the man.

"What is the Commander's full report on turret four?" The runner had recovered his breath, straightening to attention. "Commander Kragen reports the ammunition hoists have been destroyed by armour fragments; No penetration. At least fourty dead. He's organizing the jury-rigging of hoists, sir, but he says not to expect them before daybreak... At the best, sir." 

"Very well, man.. Get back to turret four and give them any assistance you can. Tell Commander Kragen to return to the bridge as soon as possible." The man saluted. "Jawohl, herr Captain."

And so Kapitan zur See Matthias von Heinz turned back, to look out to the leading ships of the High Seas Fleet.. And waited. 

Two minutes passed... Perhaps three, when a messenger came up from the wireless room, rather excited and confused. Strange combination.

"Report," ordered von Heinz crisply. "Sir.. We've intercepted a rather unusual message from Admiral Letters to Admiral Rudburg, sir..." Matthias turned to face the messenger directly, suddenly interested. "What was the text of the message?"  The messenger straightened himself, and gave it, letter for letter. "Admiral Rudburg, from Vice Admiral Letters. 'General pursuit. Good hunting. Montrose's Toast.' "

Matthias was absolutely silent for a long, long moment. And then he clenched a gloved fist, and laughed, and then slapped his hands together, forgetting it all in that moment... The Baron. He'd be inclined to call him a brilliant madman at the moment. "Gentlemen!" he announced to the bridge, forgetting, uncaring, that they were not all gentlemen there. "We are going hunting... For dreadnoughts. Prepare for a possible order for flank speed and a turn to the north! Lookouts! Sharp eyes there; I expect a signal any minute!" Matthias rubbed gloved hands together slowly, now, clenching them, bringing them up, looking out into the gathering darkness, and waiting, eyes alight. Pursuit course. No escape for the Grand Fleet. It was the only thing it could mean. And he.. He was quite prepared to win or lose it all. He didn't have to wait long.

EIGHTEEN Knots. Course, due North. It was what he had expected.. Sort of. He'd wished for twenty-two knots himself, though it would have left the Pre-Dreadnoughts far in their wakes and the Nassaus struggling to keep up if they could at all. Prinzregent Luitpold's two shafts churned water as she headed North, after the Grand Fleet. They were in pursuit, one line of battle, flying the German flag. United Germany, fighting together, winning together. This was the baptism of fire of the young German Empire, Der Tag. Prinzregent Luitpold was in the center of what was now a three ship division, sixth back in the line. The former flagship was behind them; The honour of that title now went to the Battlecruiser Derfflinger. Somewhere. Ahead.

"Britishers.. Light ships!" The man rattled off the estimated position as Captain von Heinz brought up his binoculars, searching. He could barely make out the dim forms.. To far for the secondaries, thankfully.. Main guns, however, even six... "Main Guns... Commence fire at the light ships; Targets of your choosing!"

They'd swat the British cruisers and destroyers like gnats. Matthias von Heinz had other prey on his mind, as the main guns spoke in half salvos, and he watched the flashes of shells striking some of the light targets. He had no way to know if they were from the Konigs, or other Kaisers, or his own ship, but they were all firing, and they were all hitting, of that he was sure.. And that was all that mattered. If the light ships couldn't organize for a torpedo attack, they'd be useless against Dreadnoughts, and pickings for the big guns to slaughter. 

It looked like they were pulling back, retreating through smoke. He could not tell if cripples were left behind, very well, at least. Excellent, though. No torpedo attack this time. Northward.. Northward! It was much, much more exciting than any other hunt. 

Commander Kragen was back on the bridge, repair efforts on turret number four under way.. Painfully slow, as far as Captain von Heinz was concerned. It was nearly thirty minutes after the hour. They'd chase down the cripples first.... Matthias hoped for an accounting with Superb. He did not think that copy of the first Dreadnought would be making eighteen knots.. Or nearly it. He wondered about the mystery ship, as well. The light ships were gone, driven off. He wondered, also, if the Grand Fleet would flee at best possible speed, leaving the cripples for them. So many variables in a battle like this... He was lucky he was 'only' the captain of a dreadnought. He envied the Baron, but not by much. Due North, Eighteen Knots. It had an exciting air.

NOW.  It was the time of waiting. 7:35 PM..  The minutes ticked by with horrific slowness. The Smokescreen to the starboard bow occupied all his attention. Not very far off, at all.. Less than ten thousand yards. Well, almost all his attention. "Any improvement on the time estimate for turret four," he asked the junior officer out of the corner of his mouth, binoculars focused on the smokescreen. "No sir," the man answered, edging away. Von Heinz accidentally bit his tongue. Verdamnt. But the pain made him concentrate a bit more, focusing... Commander Kragen, behind him, smiled faintly. It was the smile of a nervous man. 

Von Heinz would have been infinitely happier if light ships and torpedoes did not exist. Ach vell. There was the smoke screen, and there was the threat. All four operational turrets were trained on it, though the order for cross-deck firing had not been given. He just wanted the fourth turret trained that way, anyway.. If light ships attacked, well, they might need every gun. And if some crippled dreadnought was revealed through the smoke, and the angle was right.. He'd risk it. Hell, the Baron had broken every rule in the book. They weren't going to crucify him for trying to fire cross-deck. And it wasn't like there was anything there to ignite anymore.

The minute past. 7:36 PM.. Der Tag. The Hochseeflotte bore down upon the Grand Fleet. And the Smokescreen was ever closer.

The foe that led 'The Charge of the Light Cruiser Brigade' was the H.M.S. Castor, a near brand-new Cambrian class light cruiser armed with four 6in, eight 4in, and multiple light guns, along with two 21in torpedo launchers in a single twin mount. It had a rather ridiculously tall foremast, like most light cruisers intended for operations with fleets. And it burst out of the smokescreen, leading a gaggle of other light cruisers and all the destroyers that could be scraped together. It was a proper cavalry charge at sea, each Dreadnought, a square of infantry... With big guns. Then again, there were a lot of torpedoes out there, too. 

"Multiple incoming light ships, bearing, three hundred and thirty degrees!" came the shout, relayed from the lookouts. But Kapitan zur See Matthias von Heinz had already seen them. "Fire!" he shouted.. Then, a moment later, as things became clearer.

"Target the light cruiser! Go for the leader, main guns! I repeat, target the lead light cruiser! Hold fire on turret three." Moments later, the main guns spoke the first half salvo.

The next order was given. "Fifteen centimeter and eighty-eight millimeter batteries stand by to commence firing!"  And, finally.. Just in case...  "Stand by for maneuvering; Starboard shaft to standby for all astern flank." If things got too thick for them, if the order to break the line of battle was given and they maneuvered to evade torpedoes, Matthias wanted to be ready. If they did, he was betting on the order being given to turn into the attackers. He did not think it would come, though. They'd ride through it, win or lose, on the strength of their own guns. The British had just tossed their own dice.

Back to Part 2    --  Ahead to Part 4

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