THE BATTLE CRUISERS IN THE VAN.
Sir David Beatty reports :-
“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 First and Third Light Cruiser Squadrons to sweep to the westward and locate the head of the enemy’s line, and 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 eight 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 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 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 the fact that our strategically 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.”
DETAILS OF BATTLE FLEET ACTION
As was anticipated, the German Fleet appeared to rely very much on torpedo attacks, which were favoured by the low visibility and by the fact that we had arrived in the position of a “following” or “chasing” fleet. A large number of torpedoes were apparently fired, but only one took effect (on Marlborough), and even in this case the ship was able to remain in the line and to continue the action. The enemy’s efforts to keep out of effective gun range were aided by the weather conditions, which were ideal for the purpose. Two separate destroyer attacks were made by the enemy.
The First Battle Squadron, under Vice-Admiral Sir Cecil Burney, came into action at 6.17 p.m. with the enemy’s Third Battle Squadron, at a range of about 11,000 yards, and administered severe punishment, both to the battleships and to the battle cruisers and light cruisers, which were also engaged. The fire of Marlborough (Captain George P. Ross) was particularly rapid and effective. This ship commenced at 6.17 p.m. by firing seven salvoes at a ship of the “Kaiser” class, then engaged a cruiser and again a battleship, and at 6.54 she was hit by a torpedo and took up a considerable list to starboard, but reopened at 7.30 p.m. at a cruiser and at 7.12 p.m. fired fourteen rapid salvoes at a ship of the “Koenig” class, hitting her frequently until she turned out of the line. The manner in which this effective fire was kept up in spite of the disadvantages due to the injury caused by the torpedo was most creditable to the ship and a very fine example to the squadron.
The range decreased during the course of the action to 9,000 yards. The First Battle Squadron received more of the enemy’s return fire than the remainder of the battle fleet with the exception of the Fifth Battle Squadron. Colossus (Captain Alfred D. P. R. Pound) was hit but was not seriously damaged, and other ships were straddled with fair frequency.
In the Fourth Battle Squadron – in which squadron my flagship Iron Duke was placed – Vice Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee leading one of the divisions – the enemy engaged was the squadron consisting of “Koenig” and “Kaiser” class and some of the battle cruisers, as well as disabled cruisers and light cruisers. The mist rendered range-taking a difficult matter, but the fire of the squadron was effective. Iron Duke, having previously fired at a light-cruiser between the lines, opened fire at 6.30 p.m. on a battleship of the “Koenig” class at a range of 12,000 yards.
The latter was very quickly straddled, and hitting commenced at the second salvo and only ceased when the target ship turned away. The rapidity with which hitting was established was most creditable to the excellent gunnery organisation of the flagship, so ably commanded by my flag Captain, Captain Frederic C. Dreyer.
The fire of other ships of the squadron was principally directed at enemy battle cruisers and cruisers as they appeared out of the mist. Hits were observed to take effect on several ships.
The ships of the Second Battle Squadron, under Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Jerram, were in action with vessels of the “Kaiser” or “Koenig” classes between 6.30 and 7.20 p.m., and fired also at an enemy battle cruiser which had dropped back apparently severely damaged.
During the action between the battle fleets the Second Cruisers Squadron, ably commanded by Rear-Admiral Herbert L. Heath, M.V.O., with the addition of Duke of Edinburgh (Captain Henry Blackett) of the First Cruiser Squadron, occupied a position at the van, and acted as a connecting link between the battle fleet and the battle cruiser fleet. This squadron, although it carried out useful work, did not have an opportunity of coming into action.
The attached cruisers Boadicea (Captain Louis C. S. Woollcome, M.V.O.), Active (Captain Percy Withers), Blanche (Captain John M. Casement), and Bellona (Captain Arthur B.S. Dutton) carried out their duties as repeating-ships with remarkable rapidity and accuracy under difficult conditions.
The Fourth Light Cruiser Squadron, under Commodore Charles E. Le Mesurier, occupied a position in the van until ordered to attack enemy destroyers at 7.20 p.m., and again at 8.18 p.m., when they supported the Eleventh Flotilla, which had moved out under Commodore James R. P. Hawksley, M.V.O., to attack. On each occasion the Fourth Light Cruiser Squadron was very well handled by Commodore Le Mesurier, his captain giving him excellent support, and their object was attained, although with some loss in the second attack, when the ships came under the heavy fire of the enemy battle fleet at between 6,500 and 8,000 yards. The Calliope (Commodore Le Mesurier) was hit several times, but did not sustain serious damage, although, I regret to say, she had several casualties. The light cruisers attacked the enemy’s battleships with torpedoes at this time, and an explosion on board a ship of the “Kaiser” class was seen at 8.40 p.m.
During these destroyer attacks four enemy torpedo-boat destroyers were sunk by the gun-fire of battleships, light cruisers and destroyers.
After the arrival of the British Battle Fleet the enemy’s tactics were of a nature generally to avoid further action, in which they were favoured by the conditions of visibility.
At 9.0 p.m. the enemy was entirely out of sight, and the threat of torpedo-boat destroyer attacks during the rapidly approaching darkness made it necessary for me to dispose the fleet for the night, with a view to its safety from such attacks, whilst providing for a renewal of action at daylight. I accordingly manoeuvred to remain between the enemy and his bases, placing our flotillas in a position in which they would afford protection to the fleet from destroyer attack, and at the same time be favourably situated for attacking the enemy’s heavy ships.
NIGHT ATTACKS BY FLOTILLAS
During the night the British heavy ships were not attacked, but the Fourth, Eleventh and Twelfth Flotillas, under Commodore Hawkesley and Captains Charles J. Wintour and Anselan J. B. Stirling, delivered a series of very gallant and successful attacks on the enemy, causing him heavy losses.
It was during these attacks that severe losses in the Fourth Flotilla occurred, including that of Tipperary, with the gallant leader of the Flotilla, Captain Wintour. He had brought his flotilla to a high pitch of perfection, and although suffering severely from the fire of the enemy, a heavy toll of enemy vessels was taken, and many gallant actions were performed by the flotilla.
Two torpedoes were seen to take effect on enemy vessels as the result of the attacks of the Fourth Flotilla, one being from Spitfire(Lieutenant-Commander Clarence W. E. Trelawny), and the other from either Ardent (Lieutenant-Commander Arthur Marsden), Ambuscade (Lieutenant-Commander Gordon A. Coles) or Garland (Lieutenant-Commander Reginald S. Goff).
The attack carried out by the Twelfth Flotilla (Captain Anselan J. B. Stirling) was admirably executed. The squadron attacked, which consisted of six large vessels, besides light cruisers, and comprised vessels of the “Kaiser” class, was taken by surprise. A large number of torpedoes was fired, including some at the second and third ships in the line; those fired at the third ship took effect, and she was observed to blow up. A second attack made twenty minutes later by Maenad (Commander John P. Champion) on the five vessels still remaining, resulted in the fourth ship in the line being also hit.
The destroyers were under a heavy fire from the light cruisers on reaching the rear of the line, but the Onslaught (Lieutenant-Commander Arthur G. Onslow, D.S.C.) was the only vessel which received any material injuries. In the Onslaught Sub-Lieutenant Harry W. A. Kemmis, assisted by Midshipman Reginald G. Arnot, R.N.R., the only executive officers not disabled, brought the ship successfully out of action and reached her home port.
During the attack carried out by the Eleventh Flotilla, Castor (Commodore James R. P. Hawksley) leading the flotilla, engaged and sank an enemy torpedoboat-destroyer at point-blank range.
Sir David Beatty reports:-
“The Thirteenth 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 3.3.0 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 streaming 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.”
There were many gallant deeds performed by the destroyer flotillas ; they surpassed the very highest expectations that I had formed of them.
Apart from the proceedings of the flotillas, the Second Light Cruiser Squadron in the rear of the battle fleet was in close action of about 15 minutes at 10.20 p.m. with a squadron comprising one enemy cruiser and four light cruisers, during which period Southampton and Dublin (Captain Albert C. Scott) suffered rather heavy casualties, although their steaming and fighting qualities were not impaired. The return fire of the squadron appeared to be very effective.
Abdiel, ably commanded by Commander Berwick Curtis, carried out her duties with the success which has always characterised her work.