Part Five "My pound of flesh!"
8:06 PM and later, Prinzregent Luitpold.
"Confirmed, sir, confirmed," the talker repeated, grimly. "Konig is continuing to have trouble maintaining course, and is taking heavy damage." Matthias frowned, looking out to the starboard. Who was firing on Konig..
And from where. He thought Konig's bridge was gone, but he couldn't
know for sure, and he could hope.
Well, he could do nothing. The battle for the survival of the Konig
was up to the crew of the Konig, now. Prinzregent Luitpold
was now the fifth ship in the Line of Battle. She had been the seventh.
The only good thing about it, Matthias reflected, was that neither Kaiser
nor Konig was sunk.. Though he had his doubts about Konig,
if she stubbornly tried to remain in some resemblance of formation with
the rest of the fleet.
There was a time when saving one's ship was the priority. Matthias wondered
if the man who commanded Konig, be it still his friend, or someone
who had taken over... a fear that grew.. would know when. It was always
a tough call to make.
There was the distant rumble across the water of a shell striking a
target, the explosion as perhaps around half a ton of flying steel crashed
down into a target and then detonated. It was a sound that Kapitan von
Heinz had become so used to that it was ignored. A moment later, however,
the report came through that was not ignored. "Sir, Konig has ceased
Verdamnt! She was hit bad, then, though God only knew how bad. He'd
give a lot to figure out just what the damage to Konig was. But
he could only guess it was severe, and the last hit was on her. Whoever
was in command.. He should turn away now, von Heinz decided. But he was
not on Konig's bridge. He could not make that decision. For the
moment, all he could do was think. His mind raced; His ship was not engaged
currently, and the battle seemed to be decreasing in intensity.
But someone was still firing on Konig, and it was not the target
that Konig had been firing on.. Who. That was the more important
question. There might be targets to port. He would leave his worries of
Konig to fate. "Double the lookouts to port," he ordered abruptly.
"Jawohl, herr Kapitan," was the response, and the order was given.
Kapitan Matthias von Heinz raised his binoculars and focused to port,
now. Striding over to that section of the bridge, calmly, straining out
into the growing darkness. The British were there. There was a flash. He
focused on it. Kronzprinz, or one of the other ships engaging that
target, she'd just scored a hit. He could not make out the shape, except
the very brief evidence of a ship from that flash.
The confirmation came shortly. "Lookouts report probable British battleship
ahead, under fire from Kronzprinz and Grosser Kurfurst. Type
or class unknown." Matthias looked sharply to the lieutenant. "Can we get
a firing solution?"
The response came soon enough. "No, sir. We can barely even see her
when she fires and when she's hit. Definitely not enough for trying to
shoot at her, and the angle is bad, sir." Matthias nodded once, and waited,
intensely, straining. He thought he could see it, now, without the hits
to help guide him.. Flames, perhaps.. Yes! He was starting to see that
ship... Soon, soon, they could engage.
8:10 PM and later.
"Kaiserin has commenced firing at the target, sir, first salvo
already." Matthias nodded again. It had been about two minutes, the target
growing more clear, as the fires illuminated it.. Soon, soon. "Order main
guns to stand by to commence fire. The Gunnery officer is to fire as soon
as he has a clear solution, even if only one turret, even only one gun
He strained through his binoculars. Kaiserin fired again. He
thought he caught the shell splashes... Was the target aspect changing?
He couldn't quite tell... Yes, it was, he decided. Soon, now. The target
was becoming more visible.. For the lookouts...
"Report from lookouts on British unknown!" he ordered, focusing all
the more into his glasses.
But the first report from the lookouts came from another source. "Sir,
starboard lookouts report Konig is turning; Definitely hauling out
of the line of battle!" He was about to ask about Grosser Kurfurst.
The lieutenant had anticipated that well. "Lookouts report Grosser Kurfurst maintaining course."
He cast a glance at the man. "Very well. Thank you, Lieutenant." With
that, he turned his focus back to the Britisher, now definitely visible.
How much longer?
It was then that he saw the hit on Kronzprinz; From yet another
target. Where was that one, he wondered.. Which one? There were a lot of
British cripples out there.. And one was firing. The first battle squadron
was taking the brunt.
"Sir, lookouts report that British unknown is a Dreadnought type Battleship,
appearing to be heavily damaged and turning and slowing." Matthias pondered
that for a moment... Was it Superb? Or Dreadnought herself..?
Superb... Matthias silently cursed that ship. She was the one that
had inflicted the damage on his Prinzregent Luitpold. Sometimes
war got personal. He knew what the inside of turret four must look like,
after all. Those were his men. Superb had done that to them.
"Sir, lookouts report ship is either Bellerophon or Saint Vincent class,
not Dreadnought herself," the next report came. That got more attention
from Matthias. Though he did not realize it, he was becoming quite obsessed.
Was it Superb? He wanted that ship...
"Gunnery officer reports that he has firing solution on Dreadnought
type Battleship and two turrets can bear, sir!" came the next report, more
excited. Matthias allowed himself a feral grin. "Good enough! Open fire!"
Prinzregent Luitpold's guns bellowed their first; Four shots
towards the Superb. If Matthias had known it was the target he was
hoping for, he would have been all the more excited. Probably better that
he did not. He had taken pride in his crew. All their casualties had been
inflicted by that one Britisher, and Matthias was more than determined
to see her low.
The Gunnery Officer of the Prinzregent Luitpold aimed for the
next salvo. As soon as three turrets could bear, he'd switch to half salvoes
of three guns each.
"Sir, hit on the target, I think by Kaiserin, but spotting is
difficult." Matthias did not nod; He was concentrating with the binoculars.
"Very well." He focused.. The hit, yes, it could be seen.. The flames.
If only he could see the funnel bands, confirm what that ship was..
8:12 PM and later.
"Sir, report from lookouts, Konig is continuing to veer away
and is now slowing." Matthias could have been a statue, focused with his
binoculars on their target, for all the world. But he still spoke. "Acknowledged." Well, the man commanding Konig has finally made the right decision.
It was not his concern, anyway.
He searched the target. The Saint Vincent or Bellerophon class Dreadnought
that was under fire, he could tell, as it burned, it was definitely one
of the two, was far more visible now. A forest of shell splashes seemed
to arise from around her; The Konigs and Kaisers, minus their namesakes,
were all firing at her.
Matthias suspected the Ostfrieslands, at least some of them, were firing
at her, as well. He focused. There was another topside hit, or so he thought,
on the target at which his ship was firing. The thunder of Prinzregent
Luitpold's guns sounded in his ears.
There was an explosion on the target. He didn't know if it was a hit
or a secondary gun exploding from the fires or ammunition or whatever.
But the flames grew.. And then he saw what he had seen before, confirming
Like a modern day Ahab, he had found his white whale. He'd not lost
his leg to her, but he'd lost his men, and to Matthias von Heinz, that
was far, far worse. "Superb! That's Superb we're engaging!" he roared abruptly.
"Order the gunnery officer to continue firing on his current target
until he is no longer able; No matter what." His voice was controlled,
but the order was clear. The Lieutenant used to have a friend in turret
four, anyway, though Matthias did not know that. It was a reaction, that
was understood by at least one on the bridge, and in a way, all of them.
That ship had been the one who had hurt their comrades, their shipmates.
It would pay. "Jawohl, herr Kapitan," the lieutenant answered. The order
was relayed quite quickly.
Prinzregent Luitpold continued to viciously pound at the Superb
as the British, their Line of Battle reformed, began to strike back. But
that was at the lead ships. Prinzregent Luitpold, now the number
five ship, was not engaged by a Brit, yet, and so she was free to continue
blasting away at the H.M.S. Superb as fast as she could.
Matthias saw another shell pound into the Superb, and smiled.
Silently, unnoticed to him, Commander Kragen had returned to the bridge.
Visibility was so poor in the conning tower, and it had not exactly been
an order to remain there. Finally, news spread fast on a ship. He knew
they were engaging Superb. From the back of the bridge, he watched
It was hard to tell how anyone would react to true combat situations.
Matthias did his duty, but skirted that edge between genius and madness
in the process. Not true madness, of course, but the combat lust. He had
too much of that ancient Teutonic blood in him; He was more warrior than
8:16 PM and later.
Some four minutes had passed since Matthias had confirmed his target,
the target of virtually the entire German line, now.
Superb was aflame stem to stern, it seemed, and listing badly.
Her guns were silent. The main guns of the Prinzregent Luitpold,
as per orders, continued to fire. Matthias watched her steadily.
Finally, Stephen approached. "Sir, the lead ships are coming under more
intense fire, now.." He tried to draw his Captain's attention away from
the Superb. "You should be in the conning tower, Stephen," not quite
reproachful, really. The binoculars didn't move.
A minute or so passed in vocal silence on the bridge. Audio was another
matter, as the guns thundered from so many ships; Only when the lines had
been together had more thundered that night. And then one massive
explosion lit up the H.M.S. Superb, but did not sink her. "Was that
us!?" Kapitan von Heinz cried. "I can't tell for sure," Stefan replied,
his own binoculars focused on the Superb. "Report it as possible,
then, from us. They can sort it out at Wilhelmshaven." That order, of course,
wasn't directed at Stefan, but he tensed a bit. Bloodlust, indeed.
Seconds passed, as the main guns fired again. It seemed like a whole
fusillade of shells crashed down on Superb, then, as a second massive
explosion tore through her, and she tilted crazily and began to sink, rapidly.
With those hits, most ships began to shift fire to other targets revealed
by the explosions.
"Sir, lookouts report multiple British Battleships sighted!" came the
word from the talker. Matthias gave no response. Superb was clearly
doomed.. "Shall we shift fire, sir?" Stefan asked, cautiously. "Nein,"
Matthias responded sharply. He gave another order.. "Gunnery officer is
to continue firing until target is no longer in sight!"
Many of the ships of the German line began to abandon the stricken Superb
for other targets. Prinzregent Luitpold did not, her guns thundering
again, to send shells crashing down into the wreckage of the sinking Superb,
causing carnage as the men aboard her tried to abandon ship.
"Sir, there are other targets, now.. That one is all but gone, sir," Stefan said, again, cautiously. Surprisingly, Matthias lowered his binoculars,
and took a step back, then looked to Stefan.
Stefan spoke softly. "Vengeance is mine, thus sayeth the Lord."
Matthias gazed back. "This isn't vengeance, Stefan. It's my pound of
"You're not a Jewish money lender, sir," Stefan replied, with a wry
Matthias returned a hooded one. "You saw Turret four."
Stefan looked back. "And you did not."
The main guns fired again. As the roar finished reverberating around
the ship, Matthias nodded once. "Order to gunnery officer.. Cease firing
on target. Lookouts.. Find us another target! Quickly, now!"
Shells from that salvo, too, pummeled into the wreckage of the Superb.
Matthias once again raised his binoculars, and watched. It took a bit less
than forty seconds from the point he found her towards when the ruins of
the H.M.S. Superb slipped beneath the waves.
His pound of flesh. In the name of his men, to whom he had a duty, who
lay dead in Turret Four. He felt satisfied. Impartiality returned. He'd
fixated every emotion he had at this, his first engagement in history,
the euphoria of dispatching Conqueror with but one shot, all focused
onto revenge against Superb. As she slipped below the waves, so
slipped the gleeful bloodlust of one new to combat. He hardened his heart,
and went to his duties, mind clear.
"You'd better head back to the conning tower, Stefan. We might not be
under fire now, but that could change fast."
A pause. "Very well, sir." With that, Stefan headed back below. Matthias
went to his duty.
by Marina O'Leary
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