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
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
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,
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
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
"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
The Temeraire lived up to her nickname. She fought back, and
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
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,
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.
Back to Part 3 --
Ahead to Part 5