19th June, 1916
SIR, - I have the honour to report that at 2.37 p.m. on 31st May, 1916, I was cruising and steering to the northward to join your Flag. The Light Cruiser Screen was disposed from E. to W.
At 2.20 p.m. reports were received from Galatea (Commodore Edwyn S. Alexander-Sinclair, M.V.O., A.D.C.) indicating the presence of enemy vessels. The direction of advance was immediately altered to S.S.E., the course for Horn Reef, so as to place my force between the enemy and his base. At 2.35 p.m. a considerable amount of smoke was sighted to the eastward. This made it clear that the enemy was to the northward and eastward, and that it would be impossible for him to round the Horn reef without being brought to action. Course was accordingly altered to the eastward, and subsequently to north-eastward, the enemy being sighted at 3.31 p.m., Their force consisted of five battle cruisers.
After the first reports of the enemy the 1st and 3rd Light Cruiser Squadrons changed their direction, and, without waiting for orders, spread to the east, thereby forming a screen in advance of the Battle Cruiser Squadrons and 5th Battle Squadron by the time we had hauled up to the course of approach. They engaged enemy light cruisers at long range. In the meantime the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron had come in at high speed, and was able to take station ahead of the battle cruisers by the time we turned to E.S.E., the course on which we first engaged the enemy. In this respect the work of the Light Cruiser Squadrons was excellent and of great value.
From a report from Galatea at 2.25 p.m. it was evident that the enemy force was considerable, and not merely an isolated unit of light cruisers, so at 2.45 p.m. I ordered Engadine (Lieutenant-Commander C. G. Robinson) to send up a seaplane and scout to N.N.E. This order was carried out very quickly, and by 3.8 p.m. a seaplane, with Flight-Lieutenant F. J. Rutland, R.N., as pilot, and Assistant Paymaster G. S. Trewin, R.N., as observer, was well under way; her first reports of the enemy were received in Engadine about 3.30 p.m. Owing to clouds it was necessary to fly very low, and in order to identify four enemy light cruisers the seaplane had to fly at a height of 900 ft. within 3,000 yards of them, the light cruisers opening fire on her with eve gun that would bear. This in no way interfered with the clarity of their reports, and both Flight-Lieutenant Rutland and Assistant Paymaster Trewin are to be congratulated on their achievement, which indicates that seaplanes under such circumstances are of distinct value.
At 3.30 p.m. I increased speed to 25 knots and formed line of battle, the 2nd Battle Cruiser Squadron forming astern of the 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron, with destroyers of the 13th and 9th Flotillas taking station ahead. I turned to E.S.E., slightly converging on the enemy, who were now at a range of 23,000 yards, and formed the ships on a line of bearing to clear the smoke. The 5th Battle Squadron, who had conformed to our movements, were now bearing N.N.W., 10,000 yards. The visibility at this time was good, the sun behind us and the wind S.E. Being between the enemy and his base, our situation was both tactically and strategically good.
At 3.48 p.m. the action commended at a range of 18,500 yards, both forces opening fire practically simultaneously. Course was altered to the southward, and subsequently the mean direction was S.S.E., the enemy steering a parallel course distant about 18,000 to 14,500 yards.
At 4.8 p.m. the 5th Battle Squadron came into action and opened fire at a range of 20,000 yards. The enemy’s fire now seemed to slacken. The destroyer Landrail (Lieutenant-Commander Francis E. H. G. Hobart), of the 9th flotilla, which was on our port beam, trying to take station ahead, sighted the periscope of a submarine on her port quarter. Though causing considerable inconvenience from smoke, the presence of Lydiard (Commander Malcolm L. Goldsmith) and Landrail undoubtedly preserved the battle-cruisers from closer submarine attack. Nottingham (Captain Charles B. Miller) also reported a submarine on the starboard beam.
Eight destroyers of the 13th Flotilla, Nestor (Commander the Hon. Edward B. S. Bingham), Nomad (Lieutenant-Commander Paul Whitfield), Nicator (Lieutenant Jack E. A. Mocatta), Narborough (Lieutenant-Commander Geoffrey Corlett), Pelican (Lieutenant-Commander Kenneth A. Beattie), Petard (Lieutenant-Commander Evelyn C. O. Thomson), Obdurate (Lieutenant Cecil H. H. Sams), Nerissa (Lieutenant-Commander Montague C. B. Legge), with Moorsom (Commander John C. Hodgson) and Morris (Lieutenant-Commander Edward S. Graham), of the 10th Flotilla, Turbulent (Lieutenant-Commander Dudley Stuart), Termagant (Lieutenant-Commander Cuthbert P. Blake), of the 9th Flotilla, having been ordered to attack the enemy with torpedoes when opportunity offered, moved out at 4.15 p.m. simultaneously with a similar movement on the part of the enemy’s destroyers. The attack was carried out in the most gallant manner and with great determination. Before arriving at a favourable position to fire torpedoes they intercepted an enemy force consisting of a light cruiser and 15 destroyers. A fierce engagement ensued at close quarters, with the result that the enemy were forced to retire on their battle-cruisers, having lost two destroyers sunk and having their torpedo attack frustrated. Our destroyers sustained no loss in this engagement, but their attack on the enemy battle-cruisers was rendered less effective owing to some of the destroyers having dropped astern during the fight. Their position was therefore unfavourable for torpedo attack.
Nestor, Nomad and Nicator, gallantly led by Commander Hon. E.B. B. Bingham, of Nestor, pressed home their attack on the battle cruisers and fire two torpedoes at them, being subjected to a heavy fire from the enemy’s secondary armament. Nomad was badly hit and apparently remained stopped between the lines. Subsequently Nestor and Nicator altered course to the S.E., and in a short time, the opposing battle cruisers having turned 16 points, found themselves within close range of a number of enemy battleships. Nothing daunted, though under a terrific fire, they stood on, and their position being favourable for torpedo attack, fired a torpedo at the second ship of the enemy line at a range of 3,000 yards. Before they could fire they fourth torpedo Nestor was badly hit and swung to starboard Nicator altering course inside her to avoid collision and thereby being prevented from firing the last torpedo. Nicator made good her escape and subsequently rejoined the Captain D, 13th Flotilla. Nestor remained stopped, but was afloat when last seen. Moorsom also carried out an attack on the enemy’s Battle Fleet.
Petard, Nerissa, Turbulent and Termagant also pressed home their attack on the enemy battle cruisers, firing torpedoes after the engagement with enemy destroyers. Petard reports that all her torpedoes must have crossed the enemy’s line, while Nerissa states that one torpedo appeared to strike the rear ship. These destroyer attacks were indicative of the spirit pervading His Majesty’s Navy and were worthy of its highest traditions. I propose to bring to your notice a recommendation of Commander Bingham and other Officers for some recognition of their conspicuous gallantry.
From 4.15 to 4.43 p.m. the conflict between the opposing battle cruisers was of a very fierce and resolute character. The 5th Battle Squadron was engaging the enemy’s rear ships, unfortunately at very long range. Our fire began to tell, the accuracy and rapidity of that of the enemy depreciating considerably. At 4.18 p.m. the third enemy ship was seen to be on fire. The visibility to the north-eastward had become considerably reduced, and the outline of the ships very indistinct.
At 4.38 p.m. Southampton (Commodore William E. Goodenough, M.V.O., A.D.C.) reported the enemy’s Battle Fleet ahead. The destroyers were recalled, and at 4.42 p.m. the enemy’s Battle Fleet was sighted S.E. Course was altered 16 points in succession to starboard, and I proceeded on a northerly course to lead them towards the Battle Fleet. The enemy battle cruisers altered course shortly afterwards, and the action continued. Southampton, with the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron, held on the southward to observe. They closed to within 13,000 yards of the enemy Battle Fleet, and came under a very heavy but ineffective fire. Southampton’s reports were most valuable. The 5th Battle Squadron were now closing on an opposite course and engaging the enemy battle cruisers with all guns. The position of the enemy Battle Fleet was communicated to them, and I ordered them to alter course 16 points. Led by Rear-Admiral Evan-Thomas in Barham (Captain Arthur W. Craig), this squadron supported us brilliantly and effectively.
At 4.57 p.m. the 5th Battle Squadron turned up astern of me and came under the fire of the leading ships of the enemy Battle Fleet. Fearless (Captain (D) Charles O. Roper), with the destroyers of 1st flotilla, joined the battle cruisers and, when speed admitted, took station ahead. Champion (Captain (D) James U. Farie), with 13th Flotilla, took station on the 5th Battle Squadron. At 5 p.m. the 1st and 3rd Light Cruisers Squadrons, which had been following me on the southerly course, took station on my starboard bow; the 2nd Light Cruisers Squadron took station on my port quarter.
The weather conditions now became unfavourable, our ships being silhouetted against a clear horizon to the westward, while the enemy were for the most part obscured by mist, only showing up clearly at intervals. These conditions prevailed until we had turned their van at about 6 p.m. Between 5 and 6 p.m. the action continued on a northerly course, the range being about 14,000 yards. During this time the enemy received very severe punishment, and one of their battle cruisers quitted the line in a considerably damaged condition. This came under my personal observation, and was corroborated by Princess Royal (Captain Walter H. Cowan, M.V.O., D.S.O.) and Tiger (Captain Henry B. Pelly, M.V.O.). Other enemy ships also showed signs of increasing injury. At 5.5 p.m. Onslow (Lieutenant-Commander John C. Tovey), and Moresby (Lieutenant-Commander Roger V. Alison), who had been detached to assist Engadine with the seaplan, rejoined the Battle Cruiser Squadrons, and took station on the starboard (engaged) bow of Lion (Captain Alfred E.M. Chatfield, C.V.O.). At 5.10 p.m. Moresby, being 2 points before the beam of the leading enemy ship, fired a torpedo at a ship in their line. Eight minutes later she observed a hit with a torpedo on what was judged to be the sixth ship in the line. Moresby then passed between the lines to clear the range of smoke and rejoined Champion. In corroboration of this Fearless reports having seen an enemy heavy ship heavily on fire at about 5.10 p.m. and shortly afterwards a huge cloud of smoke and steam.
At 5.35 p.m. our course was N.N.E., and the estimated position of the Battle fleet was N. 16 W., so we gradually hauled to the north-eastward, keeping the range of the enemy at 14,000 yards. He was gradually hauling to the eastward, receiving severe punishment at the head of his line, and probably action on information received from his light cruisers, which had sighted, and were engaged with, the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron. Possibly Zeppelines were present also. At 5.50 p.m. British cruisers were sighted on the port bow, and at 5.56 p.m. the leading battleships of the Battle Fleet, bearing north 5 miles. I thereupon altered course to east, and proceeded at utmost speed. This brought the range of the enemy down to 12,000 yards. I made a report to you that the enemy battle cruisers bore south-east. At this time only three of the enemy battle cruisers were visible, closely followed by battleships of the “Koenig” class.
At about 6.5 p.m. Onslow, being on the engaged bow of Lion, sighted an enemy light cruiser at a distance of 6,000 yards from us, apparently endeavouring to attack with torpedoed. Onslow at once closed and engaged her, firing 58 rounds at a range of from 4,000 to 2,000 yards, scoring a number of hits. Onslow then closed the enemy battle cruisers, and orders were given for all torpedoes to be fired, at this moment she was struck amidships by a heavy shell, with the result that only one torpedo was fired. Thinking that all his torpedoes had gone, the commanding officer proceeded to retire at slow speed. Being informed that he still had three torpedoes, he closed the light cruisers previously engaged, and torpedoed her. The enemy’s battle fleet was then sighted, and the remaining torpedoes were fired at them, and must have crossed the enemy’s track. Damage then caused Onslow to stop.
At 7.15 p.m. defender (Lieutenant-Commander Lawrence R. Palmer), whose speed had been reduced to 10 knots while on the dis-engaged side of the battle cruisers by a 12-inch shell, which damaged her foremost boiler, closed Onslow and took her in tow. Shells were falling all round them during this operation, which, however, was successfully accomplished. During the heavy weather of the ensuing night the tow parted twice, but was resecured. The two struggled on together until 1 p.m. 1st June, when Onslow was transferred to tugs. I consider the performances of these two destroyers to be gallant in the extreme, and I am recommending Lieut.-Commander J.C. Tovey of Onslow and Lieut.-Commander L. R. Palmer of Defender for special recognition. Onslow was possibly the destroyer referred to by Rear Admiral Commanding 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron as follows:-
“Here I should like to bring to your notice the action of a destroyer (name unknown) which we passed close in a disabled condition soon after 6 p.m. She apparently was able to struggle ahead again and made straight for the ‘Derfflinger’ to attack her.”
At 6.20 p.m. The Third battle Cruisers Squadron appeared ahead, steaming South towards the enemy’s van. I ordered them to take station ahead, which was carried out magnificently, Rear-Admiral Hood bringing his squadron into action ahead in a most inspiring manner, worthy of his great naval ancestors. At 6.25 p.m. I altered course to the E.S.E. in support of the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron, who were at this time only 8,000 yards from the enemy’s leading ship. They were pouring a hot fire into her and caused her to turn to the Westward of South. At the same time I made a report to you of the bearing and distance of the enemy Battle Fleet.
By 6.50 p.m. the battle cruisers were clear of our leading Battle Squadron then bearing about N.N.W. 3 miles from Lion, and I ordered the 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron to prolong the line astern and reduced to 18 knots. The visibility at this time was very indifferent, not more than 4 miles, and the enemy ships were temporarily lost sight of. It is interesting to note that after 6 p.m., although the visibility became reduced, it was undoubtedly more favourable to us than to the enemy. At intervals their ships showed up clearly, enabling us to punish them very severely and establish a definite superiority over them. From the reports of other ships and my own observation it was clear that the enemy suffered considerable damage, battle cruisers and battleships alike. The head of their line was crumpled up, leaving battleships as targets for the majority of our battle cruisers. Before leaving us the 5th Battle Squadron was also engaging battleships. The report of Rear-Admiral Evan-Thomas shows that excellent results were obtained, and it can be safely said that his magnificent squadron wrought great execution.
From the report of Rear-Admiral T.D.W. Napier, M.V.O., the 3rd Light Cruisers Squadron, which had maintained its station on our starboard bow well ahead of the enemy, at 6.25 p.m attacked with the torpedo. Falmouth (Captain John D. Edwards) and Yarmouth (Captain Thomas D. Pratt) both fired torpedoes at the leading enemy battle cruiser, and it is believed that one torpedo hit, as a heavy underwater explosion was observed. The 3rd Light Cruisers Squadron then gallantly attacked the heavy ships with gunfire, with impunity to themselves, thereby demonstrating that the fighting efficiency of the enemy had been seriously impaired. Rear-Admiral Napier deserves great credit for his determined and effective attack. Indomitable (captain Francis W. Kennedy) reports that about this time one of the “Derfflinger” class fell out of the enemy’s line.
At 7.6 p.m. I received a signal from you that the course of the Fleet was South. Subsequently signals were received up to 8.46 p.m. showing that the course of the Battle Fleet was to the South-westward. Between 7 and 7.12 p.m. we hauled round gradually to S.W. by S. to regain touch with the enemy, and at 7.14 p.m. again sighted them at a range of about 15,000 yards. The ships sighted at this time were two battle cruisers and two battleships, apparently of the “Koenig” class. No doubt more continued the line to the Northward, but that was all that could be seen. The visibility having improved considerably as the sun descended below the clouds, we re-engaged at 7.17 p.m. and increased speed to 22 knots. At 7.32 p.m. my course was S.W., speed 18 knots, the leading enemy battleship bearing N.W. by W. Again after a very short time the enemy showed signs of punishment, one ship being on fire, while another appeared to drop right astern. The destroyers at the head of the enemy’s line emitted volumes of grey smoke, covering their capital ships as with a pall, under cover of which they turned away, and at 7.45 p.m. we lost sight of them.
At 7.58 p.m. I ordered the 1st and 3rd Light Cruiser Squadrons to sweep to the westward and locate the head of the enemy’s line, at 8.20 p.m. we altered course to West in support. We soon located two battle cruisers and battleships, and were heavily engaged at a short range of about 10,000 yards. The leading ship was hit repeatedly by Lion, and turned away 8 points, emitting very high flames and with a heavy list to port. Princess royal set fire to a three funnelled battleship; New Zealand (Captain John F. E. Green) and Indomitable report that the third ship, which they both engaged, hauled out of the line heeling over and on fire. The mist which now came down enveloped them, and Falmouth reported they were last seen at 8.38 p.m steaming to the Westward.
At 8.40 p.m. all our battle cruisers felt a heavy shock as if struck by a mine or torpedo, or possibly sunken wreckage. As, however, examination of the bottoms reveals no sign of such an occurrence, it is assumed that it indicated the blowing up of a great vessel.
I continued on a south-westerly course with my light cruisers spread until 9.24 p.m. Nothing further being sighted, I assumed that the enemy were to the North-westward, and that we had established ourselves well between him and his base. Minotaur (Captain Arthur C.S. H. D’Aeth) was at this time bearing North 5 miles, and I asked her the position of the leading Battle Squadron of the Battle Fleet. Her reply was that it was not in sight, but was last seen bearing N.N.E. I kept you informed of my position, course and speed, also of the bearing of the enemy.
In view of the gathering darkness, and of the fact that our strategical position was such as to make it appear certain that we should locate the enemy at daylight under most favourable circumstances, I did not consider it desirable or proper to close the enemy Battle Fleet during the dark hours. I therefore concluded that I should be carrying out your wishes by turning to the course of the Fleet, reporting to you that I had done so.
The 13th Flotilla, under the command of Captain James U. Farie, in Champion, took station astern of the Battle Fleet for the night. At 0.30 a.m. on Thursday, 1st June, a large vessel crossed the rear of the flotilla at high speed. She passed close to Petard and Turbulent, switched on searchlights, and opened a heavy fire, which disabled turbulent. At 3.30 a.m. Champion was engaged for a few minutes with four enemy destroyers. Moresby reports four ships of “Deutschland” class sighted at 2.35 a.m., at whom she fired one torpedo. Two minutes later an explosion was felt by Moresby and Obdurate.
Fearless and the 1st Flotilla were very usefully employed as a submarine screen during the earlier part of the 31st May. At 6.10 p.m., when joining the Battle Fleet, Fearless was unable to follow the battle cruisers without fouling the battleships, and therefore took station at the rear of the line. She sighted during the night a battleship of the “Kaiser” class steaming fast and entirely alone. She was not able to engage her, but believes she was attacked by destroyers further astern. A heavy explosion was observed astern not long after.
The 1st and 3rd Light Cruiser Squadrons were almost continuously in touch with the battle cruisers, one or both squadrons being usually ahead. In this position they were of great value. They very effectively protected the head of our line from torpedo attack by light cruisers or destroyers, and were prompt in helping to regain touch when the enemy’s line was temporarily lost sight of. The 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron was at the rear of our battle line during the night, and at 9 p.m. assisted to repel a destroyer attack on the 5th Battle Squadron. They were also heavily engaged at 10.20 p.m. with five enemy cruisers or light cruisers, Southampton and Dublin (Captain Albert C. Scott) suffering severe casualties during an action lasting about 15 minutes. Birmingham (Captain Arthur A. M. Duff), at 11.30 p.m., sighted two or more heavy ships steering South. A report of this was received by me at 11.40 p.m. as steering W.S.W. They were thought at the time to be battle cruisers, but it is since considered that they were probably battleships.
The work of Engadine appears to have been most praiseworthy throughout, and of great value. Lieutenant-Commander C. G. Robinson deserves great credit for the skilful and seamanlike manner in which he handled his ship. He actually towed Warrior for 75 miles between 8.40 p.m., 31st May, and 7.15 a.m., 1st June, and was instrumental in saving the lives of her ship’s company.
It is impossible to give a definite statement of the losses inflicted on the enemy. The visibility was for the most part low and fluctuating, and caution forbade me to close the range too much with my inferior force.
A review of all the reports which I have received leads me to conclude that the enemy’s losses were considerably greater than those which we had sustained, in spite of their superiority, and included battleships, battle cruisers, light cruisers, and destroyers.
This is eloquent testimony to the very high standard of gunnery and torpedo efficiency of His Majesty’s Ships. The control and drill remained undisturbed throughout, in many cases despite heavy damage to material and personnel. Our superiority over the enemy in this respect was very marked, their efficiency becoming rapidly reduced under punishment, while ours was maintained throughout.
As was to be expected, the behaviour of the ships’ companies under the terrible conditions of a modern sea battle was magnificent without exception. The strain on their moral was a severe test of discipline and training. Officers and men were imbued with one thought, the desire to defeat the enemy. The fortitude of the wounded was admirable. A report from the Commanding Officer of Chester gives a splendid instance of devotion to duty. Boy (1st class) John Travers Cornwell, of Chester, was mortally wounded early in the action. He nevertheless remained standing alone at a most exposed post, quietly awaiting orders till the end of the action, with the gun’s crew dead and wounded all round him. His age was under 16.5 years. I regret that he has since died, but I recommend his case for special recognition in justice to his memory, and as an acknowledgement of the high example set by him.
In such a conflict as raged continuously for five hours it was inevitable that we should suffer sever losses. It was necessary to maintain touch with greatly superior forces in fluctuating visibility often very low. We lost Invincible, Indefatigable and Queen Mary, from which ships there were few survivors. The casualties in other ships were heavy, and I wish to express my deepest regret at the loss of so many gallant comrades, officers and men. They died gloriously.
Exceptional skill was displayed by the Medical Officers of the Fleet. They performed operations and tended the wounded under conditions of extreme difficulty. In some cases their staff was seriously depleted by casualties, and the inevitable lack of such essentials as adequate light, hot water, etc., in ships damaged by shell fire, tried their skill, resource and physical endurance to the utmost.
As usual, the Engine Room Departments of all ships displayed the highest qualities of technical skill, discipline and endurance. High speed is a primary factor in the tactics of the squadrons under my command, and the Engine Room Departments never fail.
I have already made mention of the brilliant support afforded me by Rear-Admiral H. Evan-Thomas, M.V.O., and the 5th Battle Squadron, and of the magnificent manner in which Rear-Admiral Hon. H. L. A. Hood, C.B., M.V.O., D.S.O., brought his squadron into action. I desire to record my great regret at his loss, which is a national misfortune. I would now bring to your notice the able support rendered to me by Rear-Admiral W. C. Pakenham, C.B., and Rear-Admiral O. de B. Brock, C.B. In the course of my report I have expressed my appreciation of the good work performed by the Light Cruiser Squadrons under the command respectively of Rear-Admiral T. D. W. Napier, M.V.O., Commodore W. E. Goodenough, M.V.O., and Commodore E. S. Alexander-Sinclair M.V.O. On every occasion these officers anticipated my wishes, and used their forces to the best possible effect.
I desire also to bring to your notice the skill with which their respective ships were handled by the Commanding Officers. With such Flag Officers, Commodores and Captains to support me, my task was lightened.
The destroyers of the 1st and 13th Flotillas were handled by their respective Commanding Officers with skill, dash and courage. I desire to record my very great regret at the loss of Captains C. F. Sowerby (Indefatigable), C. I. Prowse (Queen Mary), and A. L. Cay (Invicible), all officers of the highest attainments, who can be ill spared at this time of stress.
I wish to endorse the report of the Rear-Admiral Commanding the 5th Battle Squadron as to the ability displayed by the Commanding Officers of his squadron.
In conclusion, I desire to record and bring to your notice the great assistance that I received on a day of great anxiety and strain from my Chief of the Staff, Captain R. W. Bentinck, whose good judgement was of the greatest help. He was a tower of strength. My Flag-Commander, Hon. R. A. R. Plunkett, was most valuable in observing the effect of our fire, thereby enabling me to take advantage of the enemy’s discomfiture; my Secretary, F. T. Spickernell, who made accurate notes of events as they occurred, which proved of the utmost value in keeping the situation clearly before me; my Flag Lieutenant, Commander R. F. Seymour, who maintained efficient communications under the most difficult circumstances, despite the fact that his signalling appliances were continually shot away. All these Officers carried out their duties with great coolness on the manoeuvring platform, where they were fully exposed to the enemy’s fire.
In accordance with your wishes, I am forwarding in a separate letter a full list of Officers and Men whom I wish to recommend to your notice.
I have the honour to be Sir,
Your obedient Servant,