The Rules of War 
Table of Contents
Part 1 The Rules of War - May 31, 1915
Part 2 Nike's Golden Chariot - June 1 (early)
Part 3 The Glorious First of June - June 1 (late)
Part 4 Homecomings - June 5
Part 5 The Quick and the Careful, or the Dead - June 5
Part 6 Opportunities and Obligations, Dark Corners and Crowded Bunks - June 6
Part 7 Pipe and Sword: The Two Symbols of a Warrior Scot - June 9
Part 8 The Legacy of Vice-Admiral Sir John Benbow - June 9

1909, May 31, 1915. Starboard Casemate, HMS Benbow, course 09

Sub-Lieutenant Dobson staggered to his feet. The compartment stank of cordite, scorched flesh, burned cotton and charred wool. He shook his head and hoped his ears would stop ringing. He tried to pat himself down, looking for wounds. His left arm obeyed perfectly. His right did not. He quickly ripped away the jacket sleeve and examined his wound. A small piece of steel hung in his forearm. Further down, he felt bruises and blood. When he reached the break, pain surged up his nerves and into his head. He nearly passed out from the pain. He did collapse.

Further forward, Petty Officer Harlston pushed himself off the deck. He saw Dobson fall. He looked forward. The casemate was eerily lit by the burning of teak decks and human flesh. Bodies littered the decks. Some were moving. Most did not. As he looked, Harlston saw orange and red flames through hatchways and holes in the bulkheads. He looked aft. Where Dalrymple and Connor had been standing, he saw a single body on the deck. Other crewmen, those fortunate enough to survive, began to pull themselves up off the deck.

Harlston began giving orders. The able bodied were to help the wounded. They did not need to serve the six inch guns any longer. None of the six inch guns could be served any longer. Harlston counted heads. Close to one hundred bodies lay on the decks. Of that, thirty were clearly dead.

A young able seaman reached Dalrymple. "He's alive! MEDIC!"

"Stretcher bearers!"

The stretcher bearer party had been in the passageway belowdecks. They quickly returned and began to remove the wounded. A young medic ran from man to man, checking wounds and administering morphine.

Harlston stepped to the phone line to report the damage and casualties.

1910, Main One

Like every other department on Benbow, Main One was short handed. Lieutenant Dawson was dead in the starboard casemates. Lieutenant Commander Dalrymple was forward supervising the damage control party, and Sub-Lieutenant Connor was running stretcher-bearer parties. Several crewmen had gone with them. That left Chief Petty Officer Charles Jessen to run Main One and Damage Control Central with less than half the enlisted and none of the commissioned support he expected. Why did Dalrymple have to run out? He's supposed to run DCC, not me. He could have at least left Dawson.

The line that Dawson had been manning rang. Great. Another damage report. Just what we need. We're shorthanded already! Petty Officer Granby answered it. As he heard the report, his face went into shock.

"Chief! Hit forward in the starboard casemate! It's bad! Commander Dalrymple and Sub-Lieutenant Dobson are down. Lieutenant Garland and Sub-Lieutenant Connor are missing. One hundred casualties, over thirty dead. All the starboard six inch guns forward are knocked out. Major fires, Chief."

"Dammit! Granby, take twenty men to fight the fire. Smalling! Get stretcher bearers forward! Kerwin, call sick bay and report the casualties. Tell Doc Browne to expect shrapnel injuries and burns. Move people! Move!" Damn! Damn! Damn! Unbeknownst to Jessen, the duties he had assigned his petty officers were the light ones. He picked up Connor's phone to report the damage to the bridge.

1911, Bridge

Commander George Callaghan stood inside the bridge. He and Captain Lord Robert Herrick had fought about this many times. At the start of the action, Herrick had ordered him into the conning tower. Callaghan refused. He sent the Navigator, Lieutenant Grace, instead. He and his captain would fight their ship from the bridge. Herrick hadn't had the time to order him back to the conning tower. I'm not going to miss this scrap for anything. It's high time to put the Germans in their place. The bottom of the North Sea.

Callaghan watched the shells fly and the guns fire. He saw the huge fireball as Conqueror exploded, and he saw the eye-tearing flash of Ajax's death. Shortly thereafter another streak of light lit up the sky to the east. It was the brilliant spear of light and energy released by the 13.5" shells in Orion's magazine. Thankfully, we are not in the van. We have only taken three hits. The flash of the cordite in the starboard casemates was concealed by Benbow's armored deck and the light from dying ships forward.

The phone rang. Callaghan answered.

"Sir, Chief Jessen in Main One. One hit forward in the starboard six-inch casemates. All six are knocked out. One hundred of the starboard gunnery watch are casualties. Major fires belowdecks. Sir, Lieutenant-Commander Dalrymple and Sub-Lieutenant Dobson are down. Lieutenant Garland and Sub-Lieutenant Connor are missing and presumed dead."

Callaghan's face broke. The calm mask was shattered as a tide of emotions swept over him. I never expected this . . . Not Dan. It can't be. He's just a kid. Just a little kid. A tear or two rolled down his face. Callaghan turned toward the bridge wings to hide his grief and emotion from the crew.

Captain Herrick chose this moment to walk back onto the bridge. He saw the tears and pain on Callaghan's face. He saw his dapper executive officer shake as the emotion quickly claimed him. Oh no! Please God, no!

Herrick summed up his courage. "George?"

Callaghan somehow pulled together a measure of composure as he reported. "Ssir, we took a major hit forwward. One hundred casualties. . . . All starboard six-inch guns are inoperative. . . . Major fires, sir. Lieutenant Commander Dalrymple is down. Same with Sub-Lieutenant Dobson. Lieutenant Garland is missing . . . sir . . . and presumed dead."

While Dalrymple was a good friend, he knew that his injury was not causing Callaghan's pain. He knew what it was, but he had to ask. "Dan?"

Callaghan's reply did not contain any of a Naval Officer's reserve. It contained the pain of a parent who's lost their only child. "Missing . . . and presumed dead, Sir"

NO! Not him! Charlotte asked me to take care of him right before we sailed. He's too young. He's too young. Pain welled through the usually strong Captain. Sub-Lieutenant Dan Connor was more than just any junior officer. He was George Callaghan's nephew. More importantly, Callaghan thought of Dan as his son. Dan Connor was also Davin Herrick's best friend. They had grown up together, played together, gone to school together, and joined the navy together. Herrick too thought of Connor as one of his own sons. NO! I just promised to keep him safe! And now he's gone!

"I'm sorry George. I truly am. But we do not have time to mourn. Dalrymple is down. We don't have any more Damage Control officers. Get down there and get that fire under control. I can't spare anyone else. Go!"

Callaghan regained his composure, "Aye sir." He turned and ran out of the bridge.

Herrick turned back to the battle. Anger raged within him. DAMN THE GERMANS! Damn them for taking Dan! Damn them for taking my son! Damn them for taking my crew!He picked up the phone to the armored range finder above.


"Aye sir!" Lieutenant-Commander Spaulding's voice resonated over the phone. I'll get those bastards for you, Captain.

Benbow shook as another German shell found her.

1912, Gunnery Control

This German shell came in high, passing well over the bridge before it hit. The charge burst, and high explosive vented its fury against Benbow's superstructure. Splinters flew everywhere. Searchlights were shattered by the blast. The crewmen unfortunate enough to be manning them were shaken like dolls. They landed on the deck, their broken bodies twitching for a minute before they were still.

Further up, the shock shook Benbow's armored range finder. Part of the armor spalled as the shockwave slammed into the soft steel. Most of the fragments went over the heads of the crewmen in the range finder. One did not. This particular fragment took a lower trajectory. It flew through the air, glowing red hot. It buzzed like a saw, twirling as it passed. Finally, it found resistance. This single fragment transferred it's energy into the soft flesh. Yet, the flesh was not strong enough to absorb it. Instead, it merely slowed the fragment as it reveled through a human leg, slicing sinew, butchering bone and tearing flesh before the fragment embedded itself in the opposite bulkhead.

Lieutenant-Commander Thomas Spaulding, Benbow's Gunnery officer didn't know what hit him. One minute he was standing by the range finder. The next, he was on the deck. He tried to get up. His left leg obeyed his mental commands. His right leg did not. Instead, it twitched uncontrollably. He ran a hand down his right leg. It came to a stop a few inches below his knee. The rest of his leg below that was a sodden wreck of flesh, bone and blood.

His deputy, Lieutenant Thompson, rushed to the telephone. "Main One, this is Gunnery Control. Send Stretcher Bearers. Commander Spaulding is . . ."

"BELAY THAT!" Spaulding's shout interrupted Thompson's report. "Get me up. The Captain wants a target. Find one!"

A petty officer helped Spaulding to the range finder. He was a sight, blood pouring from his leg as he searched the sea. The sky behind them streaked as another German shell, so similar to the ones that had wreaked their vengeance on Benbow thudded home. All but Spaulding were distracted by the plume of fire rising from Temeraire Spaulding kept looking, every second precious as his life's blood stained the deck. He did not have much time left. Finally, he found something.

"Captain! Target to starboard. Helgoland Class Dreadnought."

Over the telephone, he could hear the vengeance in his captain's voice. "FIRE!"

Benbow's 13.5" guns rang out. Spaulding watched the shells land. "Short! Up two hundred!"

Down in her turrets, gunners raced to correct. Another salvo quickly followed the first. A Helgoland would make a nice down payment on the Captain's revenge. Spaulding's thoughts began to cloud as he grew weaker. Yet he clung more fiercely to consciousness. He clung to the range finder. The Captain needs me here. My men need me here. I will not leave.

Benbow pitched as she took another hit and kept on charging.

1915, Starboard Casemates

Commander Callaghan looked through the hatch into the starboard casemate. It was a small patch of hell. Fires burned brightly. Medics and stretcher bearers swarmed over men lying on the deck. A team hustled a badly burned petty officer past him to Sick Bay. As he entered the compartment, he was amazed that anyone was alive. With every body he passed, he feared that one would be Dan. Every bloodstain could be where he died. Callaghan's measured strides quickly covered the distance to Petty Officer Granby.


"Sir, we have removed most of the remaining six-inch ammunition and sealed the hoists. I have twenty men containing the fire forward, and another twenty here with me. Below, I have a crew patching the hole in the armor. It won't keep enemy shells out, but it will keep out the splinters."

"There is no fire below?"

"No sir. Apparently it is just on this deck. We'll have it out in twenty minutes." As if to emphasize Granby's point, one of his teams put out the last fire in that particular compartment and turned their hoses on the blaze forward.

"Very good, Granby. Carry on."

"Aye sir! Watkins, Kelley! Get that bucket up here! Malcolm, help with the stretchers! Move! We don't have all day!"

Callaghan moved aft to supervise the stretcher bearers. Smalling's party were moving the last of the critically injured out of the compartment. A few medics went from man to man, removing wooden splinters and checking on cuts and bruises. Yet these men were the walking wounded. They would be fine in a few minutes.

He continued moving aft, deep in thought. How am I going to tell Charlotte and Alan? How am I going to tell Caroline? How do you tell someone their son is dead? How do I deal with it? I am the reason he went into the Navy. He wanted to be just like his Uncle George. He was so proud to be in the Navy. He was so young. Just barely sixteen. How can he just be gone? A tear rolled from his eyes where nobody could see it.

"SIR!" A shout broke his ruminations. "We found him!"


"Sir, come here." It was Petty Officer Smalling. He was standing at the bottom of the hatch the stretcher bearers had been using to carry the wounded aft. With his right hand he gestured to a small figure in blue lying crumpled on the deck. A medic bent over him, and a stretcher team prepared to carry him to Sick Bay. His brown hair was mussed and his wool uniform scorched. A large bruise decorated his right temple. Yet his blue eyes were open and moving, and no blood turned his blue uniform black. George Callaghan recognized those blue eyes and the cut face.

He walked to the phone on the bulkhead and picked it up.

1920, Starboard Casemates

The phone on the Bridge rang. A petty officer answered. He quickly called to Captain Herrick. The Captain entered the bridge and took the phone from the petty officer.

"George?" He braced for the worst.

"We found him, sir." Callaghan's voice was light with relief. "Dan's alive."

That moment, the Vice Admiral commanding the 4th Battle Squadron chose to enter the bridge. He saw Captain Herrick receive Commander Callaghan's news. He saw Herrick try to turn and hide his tears of joy. He saw Herrick's shoulders buck as his Captain's countenance broke down. He turned to block the view of the Captain from the Bridge. He would protect Captain Herrick's secret. His son was ALIVE!

2304, Sick Bay

It was late in the night of May 31, 1915 before Commander Callaghan and Captain Herrick could find the time to make the trip to sick bay. Surgeon Commander Kevin Browne saluted as they entered Sick Bay.

Browne too bore the signs of the engagement. His apron was red with blood. Blood from those he had managed to save in backbreaking surgery. Blood from those who had died on his table. Blood from those who never lived long enough to make it to his table.

Browne knew that the Captain and Exec were here to visit the wounded. He led them past the ruins of surgery and triage, into the ward. Here, Benbow's wounded filled the room. Those who could sat up, trying to eat. Others just lay on their cots. A few were asleep. Most of the men were from the starboard gunnery watch. They bore gauze to cover burns, casts for broken bones, and bandages of all kinds. Lieutenant-Commander Spaulding lay on one of the bunks. He wasn't conscious. Blood stained the sheets where his right leg should be. Herrick looked at Browne. Browne shook his head. "He lost too much blood, sir. If we had gotten to him earlier, sir, we might have been able to save him. It would be a miracle if he lived out the night. If the blood loss doesn't claim him, he is too weak to fight off infection. I'm sorry sir. We did the best we could." And we failed. We failed all too many times. Browne's enemy wore no uniform. Browne fought him to the last, and had lost all too many times. More times than he would ever comfortably live with.

The trio continued down the row. They arrived at a bunk that contained a body too small and too young to be an officer. All three knew who it was. Dan Connor. The blue eyes that carried so much hope were closed. The face that was so expressive lacked one. From their vantagepoint, the knot on Connor's temple looked bad. So did the scrapes on his arms and the bruises on his chest. Both Callaghan and Herrick looked at Browne. Please let him be all right. Please God, let him be all right. "He's fine, sir. He took a nasty blow to the head, but he will be fine in a day or two. He's asleep now." Thank you God. Thank you very much. Browne led them further down the row

They arrived at Dalrymple's bed. While his face was uninjured, both arms bore horrible burns. While Herrick couldn't see it, the backs of his legs were equally burned. His back and legs had bore many shrapnel wounds. Browne's face was a mask. Herrick looked at him. "If he makes it through the night. We are worried about so many things. Burns are infected too easily. Even without the burns, there is serious damage to his back and legs. I don't know, sir. I just don't know."

Callaghan stayed at Dalrymple's berth while Herrick and Browne continued. Earlier that night, Callaghan had learned from Dobson and Harlston exactly what happened when the German shell went off in the casemate. I owe you so much. I owe you more than I can ever repay. If you hadn't thrown Dan down that hatch, I don't know what I would have done. I don't know how I would have coped. Two words crossed Callaghan's lips as he knelt beside Dalrymple:

"Thank You."

Herrick and Browne left the ward and entered another compartment. Here there were also many men on cots. However, in this room, every man had a sheet pulled over his head. "How many?"

"Fifty, sir." Herrick managed to keep his composure, but his mind rankled at the number. Fifty men? Fifty good men? And for what? What did they die for? Why couldn't I have saved them? If I had been better, or faster, or smarter, these men would still be alive. They would not leave widows, orphans, and parents behind. If only I were better.

Browne could not read his captain's thoughts. Yet, he knew what was running through Herrick's mind. It was the same thing running through his own. If only I had been better. "Sir, I learned one thing at a medical conference before the war. A US Lieutenant Colonel said there were two rules to war. The first rule is: young men die. The second rule is that doctors and captains can't change rule number one." Browne saw that his words were of little comfort to his captain. They are of little comfort to me either.


by Rob Herrick

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