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 Four  "Steam to the Voice of the Guns."

Time: 7:36 PM

The Chief Gunnery Officer of the Prinzregent Luitpold had his orders; Go for the Light Cruiser. Of course, it was hard to tell exactly what ship was the light cruiser. Aiming was more into theory and guesswork, here, as the Gunnery Officer picked for the lead targets and the main guns commenced firing at them. Speed, he knew, was more important than accuracy at this moment, and it was impossible adjust aim at one particular target with so many shell splashes in the same area; They would just throw up a wall and expect hits by pure percentage, though of course every attempt was made to put the shells on trajectories to provide the best chance of a hit. It was complicated business, as the forests rose and fell, and the Gunnery Officer kept on his work. He saw hits on the enemy from the big guns, but he couldn't tell if they were his or not; it didn't matter, at the moment.

As Blucher and the Light ships also opened fire, the area turned into a hellish mass of falling shells upon the RN Light, charging boldly towards their foe. The massive jungle of shell splashes rose, and would keep on rising as fast as they could be sent up.

Time: 7:37 PM and later.

"Look at it, Stefan, look at it!" Kapitan von Heinz cried in mad admiration of the moment. The RN Light kept coming; The light ships of the High Seas Fleet were dashing out to meet them, and the shells rose in what seemed like mad numbers. Such awesome destructive potential, he thought, could never be equaled by anything again in the world. A Dreadnought hit by that many shells would be reduced to a blazing hulk in an instant. Of course, it was hard to tell if any hit at all. Matthias felt both admiration and envy for that commander out there; Unless the British had far more light ships than intelligence suggested attached to the Grand Fleet, that was almost certainly the same group that had attacked them only briefly before.. On the opposite side of the line! 

"Stand by broadside torpedo tubes," Matthias abruptly ordered. He didn't think the lights and their guns could stop all of the Britishers in time, and if they got within torpedo range of his Prinzregent Luitpold, than they would be in his torpedo range as well, and Matthias would not hesitate to use any weapon down to his officer's sword to defend his command! The order was acknowledged; The mood was tense, as the RN Light rushed towards them. They all feared torpedoes the most of any weapon. Like the wooden giants of old that had fought at boarding distance, a High Seas Fleet Battleship could absorb dozens of major caliber shell hits and limp home. Torpedoes were another matter entirely.

Kapitan von Heinz felt his right hand clench into a gloved fist, the tension was thick in the air, everything seemed.... What happened next was everything, he realized. This attack, if it succeeded, could wreak havoc with the forward ships; Even if it didn't, it might make Rudburg flinch. He didn't want that.. He wanted pursuit. The guns thundered and roared up and down the line as the massive shell splashes rose in the midst of the RN light. Closer.. 

He glanced up. It was now 7:38... Over two minutes had passed. The guns were firing faster than they would at Dreadnoughts, the men exhorted into working like daemons in the hellish turrets to reload the main guns and fire them as fast as they could. Damn the wing turrets, Matthias thought, and damn the Britishers for knocking out one of our turrets. Both might be vital, another four guns to add to the mass. Anything counted.

Well, they might as well throw everything, now. "Commence firing the fifteen centi...." He was cut off by the shout of one of the talkers.

"Captain!" One of the talkers looked to him with a sort of stunned surprise. "Lookouts report that Stettin has hoisted signal: Ram!" Kapitan von Heinz and Commander Kragen both looked to the talker. "Confirm!" shouted Matthias. 

He swung his binoculars to the mass of shells rising, and the ships fighting, and looked. The British and German light were getting infernally close.. It looked..... "Confirmed, sir!" reported the talker. He tensed, and focused... And saw it for himself. Stettin was flying the signal for 'RAM', clearly enough. 

"Gunnery officer has permission to cease fire should he believe he is at risk of hitting our own light ships over those of the enemy!" Captain von Heinz shouted to one of the talkers, to relay the message via the voice tubes, and then he dashed out onto the bridge wing. There were a few sights that one could not miss..

And this was definitely one of them. The main guns continued firing; The lines had not quite met, and the Gunnery Officer was in a better place to judge such things. Matthias brought up the binoculars, looked. It was 7:39, now, though he did not know it. It seemed like eternity had passed, though. 

He saw the torpedo hits on the RN light, he saw them burning and keep on coming, all of them that could, the cripples left behind... And then he focused on Stettin.

He saw Stettin's rapidly shifting course.. Aiming. Aiming for something. Ship as a weapon.. He shifted the binoculars, saw the target... Shifted back to Stettin. Gallant Stettin. Who was the commander.. Lantz.... Jeff Lantz. Good man, good sailor.. And here... He watched.

And he saw it, the ramming, as Stettin's bow ripped the Royal Navy Destroyer in half. He watched it in silence, as other rammings were made by German Large Torpedo Boats, as, abruptly, the charge of the RN Light degenerated into nothing. A ramming. He saw Stettin's bow, grievously stove-in, and the Destroyer, sinking rapidly. 

The results were quickly becoming apparent. He was dead silent, it seemed the ship was dead silent, when the main guns had tapered off with a lack of targets, and the realization had sunk in. And then he raised his cap and cried. "Three cheers for Gallant Stettin!" The bridge crew, in that moment of relief, took on with the cheering, which spread; It had already begun on some parts of the ship, the secondary gun crews, the lookouts, where they could see the sacrifice. 

Even after the third cheer, the shouting and wild cries reverberated, as he headed back in to the bridge, grinning to Stefan. "Verdamnt! That cunning old Lantz... He has the Blue Max for sure, now..." and then, rather more grimly. "Alive or dead." 

 Time: 7:44 PM and later.

It was some seven minutes later. The shock of the turning of the RN attack, of the lights ramming the lights, all that had faded. It was back to business, if any of this mad battle, outnumbered, outgunned, could be called business. And yet it was, and they were winning it. 

"Sir, lookouts report burning super-dreadnought ahead." Matthias looked to Commander Kragen. "What the lead Konigs are firing at, definitely." The man nodded once, and Matthias addressed the talker. "Gunnery officer is to commence firing on enemy Super-Dreadnought as soon as he can with any turrets that will bear." 

And with that, he waited. The minutes ticked by, and the bridge crew strained to look ahead with their binoculars and scan the sea for the ship, slowly, surely becoming visible, as the minutes ticked by.... The ship moved ahead, in the line, eighteen knots. Prinzregent Luitpold, despite the lack of a center shaft, still performing wonderfully.

And there was the enemy. He could see the ship clearly, now... Though it had taken minutes. And then the world was jarred to all hell as the main guns fired. He couldn't tell if their shots scored any hits or not, from the guns that could bear. 

The Royal Navy Super-Dreadnought was fighting back most boldly, but also futilely, as she was pounded again and again. The seconds ticked away, and more shells hit her. Prinzregent Luitpold fired again, and the shells raced through the air to splash around the Monarch, though Matthias did not know it was that ship.. And then it didn't matter, for even as the shells were splashing down, it was clear enough to all who watched that she was rolling.. Not settling, rolling. The great ship rolled over, and there, lingered on the surface. Of course, the Gunnery Officer ceased firing. There was no point now; All it would do was possibly kill the masses of men in the water, and that was pointless.

She'd gone over fast, but not so fast as to prevent a large number of survivors from getting off. Still, with the ship as ripped up as it had been.... Prinzregent Luitpold steadily moved towards and past Monarch's grave, the hull still visible above the water.

Ahead, Konig was firing on another target. 

The minutes ticked by, again without incident, as Matthias von Heinz and the crew of the Prinzregent Luitpold waited for another chance. They had not scored any hits on Monarch and had barely engaged at all, really. 

And still the minutes ticked by, the shells from Konig... "Sir! Lookouts report shells straddling Konig ahead!" Matthias blinked, and looked to Kragen. "If it was Konig's target, they would have likely be able to commence fire before this... Another ship?" He got no response except a nod, expected. They were in the dark; Even this far back. He wanted the van. He wanted action. 

He waited, and waited. The distant shell splashes on Konig.. If only they could see a target... "Sir! Lookouts report Konig might have been hit; Damage unknown." 

"Very well," he replied, fuming. What he would do for more light. Just to know what was going on ahead... And then he didn't really need daylight. 

Even from this far back in the line, the number six ship, Matthias could clearly see the pillar of flame that brought to mind the great pillar that had protected the Israelites from the Egyptian army in the Bible. And it was not in the right position for a German ship; It was Royal Navy. Not fatal, though. His binoculars to his eyes, eyes straining, he looked towards the target. It could now be seen; But there was not much of it left to see. A massive, flaming hulk. It seemed aflame from stem to stern, out of control, sinking as it burned. 

He could only guess at the class; A Super-Dreadnought. They'd laid into those big Britishers hard. Iron Duke class, perhaps, he thought. There was no telltale funnel ahead the foremast, or at least he thought. His memory provided more details than his eyes at that range, in those conditions, with those flames on the target. But it definitely hadn't been firing at Konig, for the shells continued to rise around her. 

7:55 PM and later.

The minutes had past again with agonizing slowness as they steamed forward, the wreck of the ship, whatever class it was, that had been a flaming ruin, sinking into the sea, as the lead ships fired and were fired upon, and they could do nothing. 

"Sir! Lookouts report Dreadnought type Battleship sighted; She's the ship firing on Konig!" 

"Give me a bearing!" He shot back. As he heard it.. Verdamnt! "We can't fire yet, XO.. Not for a bit, at least. Unless we were to try just the forward turret.. No. We hold fire." 

He brought his binoculars up, and watched, and watched. It took a minute or so, but he caught sight of the target, now being fired on by what seemed all the Konigs, and now the Kaisers joining in.... Definitely an older Dreadnought type ship. He wondered if it was the same one that had damaged Prinzregent Luitpold badly, that he had crippled with the help of the First Scouting Group. But, likely not. He thought that ship could well be on the bottom, or did not seem to be in the right place to be this target... 

"Second turret can bear, now, sir." Stefan spoke from behind him. It was 7:57. That news could not be any greater.. Sehr sehr gut, indeed. "Gunnery ... prepare to commence fire!" He looked through the binoculars again. Four guns had been enough before dreadnought, it would be enough now. "Fire!" 

The four guns of Prinzregent Luitpold's that could bear commenced firing, sending their shells off towards the Fighting Temeraire, which was striking back against the Konig, blow for blow, in a gallant show which was not to be repeated ever in terms of that mad gallantry. Six dreadnoughts, and soon seven were firing on the Temeraire, soon eight.

"Short 100 yards!" Came the report next, from the salvo..

And then.. "Hit!"  Matthias searched with his binoculars; Other than a brief spark, nothing. The number of shells raining down on the Temeraire made it hard to tell who's was who's now.

"Hit!" again.. But.. "Not ours, sir, Could've been Konig's.. Hard to tell." Kapitan von Heinz nodded once, and studied the target all the more intensely.

The Temeraire lived up to her nickname. She fought back, and hard.

However, behind the Prinzregent Luitpold, the Friedrich der Grosse had definitely commenced firing. Matthias smiled. Full weight of the new ships. But, at the same time, grudging admiration grew into full-fledged respect. This dreadnought did not explode, this one did not roll over and sink. She stood her ground and fought back. 

Further back, Kapitan von Heinz could hear yet another ship opening fire; Ostfriesland was joining in. Eight ships were now pounding at the Temeraire

The shells rose their geysers all about the Temeraire, as she fought back, minute after minute, unceasingly, pounding back at the enemy. Matthias was now searching for the distinctive funnel bands. He wanted to know if it was Superb or not.... 

And then two massive geysers of flame rose from the Temeraire, instead of geysers of water around her. "Mein Gott!" exclaimed Stefan, as Matthias closed his eyes, and the sound of the explosions reverberated across the water, louder, it seemed, than the guns. 

But as the flares faded from his eyes, he could see the target, and looked all the more intensely as the flames gushed from her.. And in doing so, provided the means for the identification he sought. "Temeraire!" he exclaimed. "That's Temeraire." 

"That was Temeraire," replied Commander Kragen. Matthias looked back, and nodded. "She's doomed, all right." He watched intently, there, the death-throes of the valiant ship, as the guns kept on pounding at the sinking hulk... Temeraire. The ship that had aided Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar, raking the Frog with which Victory had been entangled. Temeraire; Captured from the French, but a symbol of the Royal Navy. They'd struck her down, the High Seas Fleet. It was... A melancholy sort of pleasure, if such a thing could exist. 

"The Fighting Temeraire.." he whispered. And then, louder. "Guns.. Cease fire! She's finished, and we need to conserve the ammunition now!" As that order was carried out, and Prinzregent Luitpold's guns ceased firing at the clearly stricken ship, Matthias focused on her, on the Fighting Temeraire, as she gave up for Neptune's cold embrace... Her guns fought until the end. He would have raised a salute to her, but the men wanted victory, they did not think of such gallantry as the officers would, so he stayed silent. 

Temeraire. The English had done their duty that time. Matthias just watched the Death Throes of the Temeraire, waited for further reports, further requirements of his duties, while he contemplated that. A sign and a portent, perhaps.  It was 8:01 PM, on the last day of May, of nineteen fifteen. 

Time: 8:02 PM and later.

"Sir, lookouts report two ships firing on Konig. They cannot locate the vessels." 

"Confirm," Kapitan von Heinz replied, calmly. His eyes were still on the stricken Temeraire. "Captain," began Commander Kragen, "If there are two ships up there... Perhaps we have swept through the remains of one division and we are steaming into another." 

"We don't know if there's two ships, Commander, though the Britishers don't use half-salvos, so I'm inclined to think so... You could well be right. If the Grand Fleet is strung into divisions, we can sweep it up, and that is very good indeed....." He lowered his voice. "Verdamnt. What I'd do to be in the Van at this moment... Konig's Captain must feel like a God out there, leading the fleet." Stefan, ever the devote Catholic, remained silent at the remark of his classical-obsessed Captain. 

The entire concept of the battle was something that was still driving Kapitan von Heinz on the edge of manic desperation; They had fought the Royal Navy, line to line, and sunk four dreadnoughts in the process without a loss, and now they were in hot pursuit and had put another three on the bottom. Discipline was a tenuous thing at a time like this, especially since his ship was not under fire. He wanted information desperately. What victory had been wrought now was enough for celebration for weeks to come, but he didn't know what was going on ahead, what could make this day their own greatest. Would the thirty-first of May be remembered throughout history as the day that Germany ruled the waves, that the German Empire became a true Empire, unchallengable? What would they even call the battle.... The Battle of the North Sea? No.. To long.... He thought for a moment. Skaggerak. Yes, that's what it would be. Skaggerak. 

"Sir, lookouts confirm, two ships firing on Konig; Still no sighting of the vessels, though one lookout reports he might have seen muzzle flashes. Konig has taken hits."  Matthias nodded. "Very well, Carry on."

He raised his own binoculars, and strained out into the growing darkness. Damn the darkness. If only the visibility could be frozen at that of which it had been when the first guns of the Lines spoke; But they were not the Jews of the Old Testament. They'd have to make do in the misty darkness of the North Sea. Grosser Kurfurst had commenced firing, he realized, a moment later, as the echo of more guns once again rumbled across those deadly, dead-filled waters. They had sighted the enemy.. How long until he would?

The seconds seemed to be eternities. Temeraire, now, was definitely going down. Fatally, sinking fast. The guns of the third Konig bellowed fire just after Grosser Kurfurst's second half-salvo. It would not be long until his lookouts got sight of this enemy.. Not much longer. Then.. Just a bit longer, and Prinzregent Luitpold's guns could join the battle against the Britishers again. He wondered what the old heroes of lore would think of this day, when the guns thundered like the angry gods; What Achilles or Agamemnon would do on this mighty iron giants. Things had changed since the Trojan War, since Salamis.. But men still went down to the sea in ships to fight and die, and that much could be recognized and respected, no matter the gulf; Enemy or friend, or the span of centuries.

Another minute had passed, perhaps, when the talker reported the confusing news. Prinzregent Luitpold's lookouts had spotted Konig's turn, as they strained for enemy ships. "Sir.. Lookouts report Konig has turned to starboard." Again, he asked, "Confirm!" Though this time it was far more sharp.. He glanced back to Stefan. "What the devil...?" His first officer was just as confused.

"Signals... Were there any signals at all? Blinker light, flag, wirelass? Find out now!" 

"Sir," The talker reported, again, "Confirmed. Konig is turning to starboard." Matthias was aghast. What was going on here... "Sir," the talker continued, "One of the lookouts reports that Konig took a hit in the bridge area just before she started to turn." 

Kapitan von Heinz blinked. "Bridge hit? Verdamnt.."

"Sir, There's been no signals at all.." came the next report. 

"And what of Grosser Kurfurst?" He was about to finish, but decided better of it, and started out onto the starboard bridge wing himself. Walking all the way out, he brought up his binoculars and looked through them. Sure enough, Konig was hauling out of line... He shifted his view. Grosser Kurfurst was holding to the line... Bridge hit... Bridge hit. He focused again on Konig. She was damaged, chewed up, all right, but it was hard to tell.. No, impossible to tell, that far ahead. But in his gut he knew what happened, even as Konig began to turn, regain course...

He headed back into the bridge, quickly. Decorum ignored. The first report to greet him.. "Sir, Grosser Kurfurst is maintaining course." He nodded once. "Very well." And then he looked to Stefan, walking close to him, speaking in low tones. "If I'm right in my guess, commander, Konig took a hit directly to the bridge. Get down to the Conning tower, my friend... Regulations have always been rather lax on the subject, well, in practice, at least, but the Prinzregent Luitpold cannot afford to lose us both if such a hit were to happen.." Stefan nodded once. "Very well, sir." 

"It appears," Matthias muttered, softly, "The van is not such a nice place, after all. Go, Stefan." The XO of the Prinzregent Luitpold headed for the conning tower, as Matthias brought up his binoculars again. A bridge hit.. It had to be the only explanation. He felt a pang of sympathy for whatever poor junior officer was controlling Konig now; The man had the most enviable position in the fleet, commanding the lead Dreadnought of the Line of Battle, but he'd gotten it without any forewarning or training. He wouldn't have wanted the same as a junior officer. It made him think of his own time on the Scharnhorst in aft steering, years and years before the war.. The Scharnhorst that now rested somewhere on the bottom of the South Atlantic.

It was Eight oh Five PM. He waited, and waited, for the first sighting of the enemy, for the chance for his own guns to fire again, to make the Britishers pay for that hit. Konig's Captain had been a friend. A friend Matthias doubted he had anymore. Even if they had disagreements over how to fight the war.. Well, it was a friend, a fellow captain, a comrade. Perhaps dead out there.. Damn the Britishers. Damn the Superb for her own hits, inflicted among his own men. Then again, they were due some for the Fighting Temeraire. War. Blow and counterblow. One couldn't let it get personal.. But how could one stop it from getting personal? 

He was as stiff as a statue on the bridge, as he waited. For the next report. For his own ship to find the range to the enemy, for the guns of his Prinzregent Luitpold to thunder again. What happened ahead.. That was important, now. The fleets were almost even in Dreadnoughts. Seventeen to sixteen, now. It was the cold realization, then, that this was more than a glorious battle, or a glorious victory. Events now, even if not immediately decisive... They could decide the war. 

The minute of 8:05 PM turned over to 8:06 PM. Ahead, the British were reforming the Line of Battle for their final stand against the Germans. They would turn and fight. Kapitan zur See Matthias von Heinz did not know this. But it wouldn't have mattered if he did; He would fight the ship, no matter the odds, no matter the condition. In that way, they were all like the captain of the Fighting Temeraire, now a distant but oh so valiant memory. Ahead lay the thunder of the guns, the crash of the shot against metal hulls, the screams of the wounded and the dying.. And the fate of Empires.

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