Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Battle of Jutland 5 - Jellicoe and Scheer's encounter

SMS Markgraf. One of Behncke's elite Konig class
Dreadnoughts - pride of Scheer's High Seas Fleet
Beatty's headlong charge to the north was pulling the squadron of Hipper and Scheer's fleet full tilt behind him. The Germans believed they had achieved their ideal scenario. The more potent QE Squadron of Evan-Thomas were the only ships still within German range and the four of them kept up a formidable fire against around twenty pursuing capital ships. Both sides took multiple hits, but fortunately for Evan-Thomas none of his four QE Dreadnoughts was slowed down significantly. Beatty slackened the pace once he was out of Hipper's range to allow his ships' crews to take a short break and repair some of the damage, but within a few minutes he was back in contact with Hipper, exchanging fire as he turned to east across the approaching Jellicoe. The clash of the world's greatest fleet with its nearest rival was only minutes away.

17.30 During Beatty’s run to the south, and for the following hour, Jellicoe increased the speed of the BGF to its maximum of 20 knots, although this would be insufficient to gain on them. However, he also took the decision to detach Hood’s faster (25 knots) 3rd Battle cruiser squadron - already some distance ahead of the main fleet - to hurry south and offer support to Beatty. This apart, Jellicoe was deprived of information and unable to do much else. He could only keep heading south at battle alert, in variable visibility. He signalled ‘fleet action imminent’ to the Admiralty, unleashing frenetic activity there and at every port on the southern and eastern coastlines of Britain.  He was completely unaware of Beatty’s precipitate turn to the north. Indeed, from 16.45-18.06, Beatty failed in his duty to inform his Commander-in-Chief of the GHSF’s whereabouts. Just after 18.00 Jellicoe caught sight of Beatty’s Lion, leading his squadron eastwards across his bow, and firing broadsides to the south at an invisible Hipper. For the first time Jellicoe had clear information on Beatty’s position, and he signalled immediately “where is enemy’s battle fleet?” receiving only a couple of tardy and vague responses. With such poor information Jellicoe now faced the momentous decision regarding deployment of his fleet – moving his six columns of 4 Dreadnoughts into a single fighting line of 24 ships six miles in length.  

17.45 Meanwhile Hood’s force, comprising Invincible (his flagship), Indomitable and Inflexible (I3); light cruisers Chester and Canterbury, and 4 destroyers, had forged ahead south east of the BGF. The I3 battle cruisers were Fisher’s first generation of Dreadnoughts, and so despite their speed were no longer state of the art. Ironically they had been at Rosyth with Beatty, until the exchange with the QE squadron, one week previously, and were now about to meet up in spectacular fashion. At 17.45 the Chester, leading the group, encountered four German cruisers emerging from the mist, and came under concerted fire, suffering 17 hits in less than five minutes. She would surely have sunk but for the arrival of the I3, which chased away the cruisers, sinking one of them. The heroic actions of Chester gunner Jack Cornwell, 16, still firing as the only survivor at his gun turret, became famous after his posthumous VC award (the 3rd youngest to be so honoured).

18.15 At 18.15 Jellicoe made his move, deploying to port, rather than starboard. This was the more cautious option, placing his fighting line 4000 yards further away, but consequently less vulnerable to torpedo attack. (His decision was vindicated post war, including by the official German history, but endlessly criticised at home.) Nevertheless, a smooth deployment ran to plan, and Scheer's advance company of the GHSF, Admiral Behncke's four elite Konig class Dreadnoughts soon appeared in view. At either end of Jellicoe's line tremendous congestion of the smaller flotillas occurred. This was particularly so at the south-western extreme, where Beatty was leading his force across their bows. In the ensuing chaos, Arbuthnot’s cruiser squadron of 4 was dispersed, and his impetuous dash with Defence and Warrior to sink the Wiesbaden (which had been badly disabled by fire from the I3) took him straight at the GHSF, which emerged from the mist at a distance of 8000 yards. Within minutes, Defence was blown up and sunk with all hands. Warrior, similarly vulnerable was saved, fortuitously, by running into Evan-Thomas and the QE Battle Squadron. Of these four Dreadnoughts, Warspite was hit in the stern, damaging her steering so that she too was heading straight for the GHSF. This drew their fire, enabling Warrior to escape. Warspite managed to fix her steering and withdraw from the action, but she was hit 29 times in those few minutes and was ordered by Evan-Thomas to limp back to Rosyth.

18.15 The next drama occurred at the other (eastern) end of the British formation where Hood, after his intervention with Hipper’s cruisers, pushed west in search of Beatty. Very soon, he encountered Lion heading due east straight towards him, so he had to put about, and lead Beatty’s line back eastwards.
The desperate sight of Invincible, her two halves
wedged on the sea bed in shallower North Sea water
This put him opposite Hipper’s leading battle cruisers Lutzow and Derfflinger and he engaged them in fire. Invincible scored eight hits on Lutzow before at 18.34 she herself was hit directly in the main gun turret and, through the same vulnerability as Queen Mary and Indefatigible, blew up breaking in two. The sea at that point was 180 feet deep, and the Invincible was 570 feet long. Each half rested vertically on the sea bed, leaving 100+ feet of hull sticking in the air – what an image. Only 6 men were saved out of a crew of 1031. One of the 6 was the gunnery officer Dannreuther, who happened to be the godson of Richard Wagner.
This disaster meant that Beatty had now lost three of his nine battle cruisers, but at least his remaining six were in much better shape than four of Hipper’s five. Hipper was now forced to leave his flagship Lutzow, which was barely seaworthy, and via destroyer he visited in turn Derfflinger, Seydlitz and von der Tann, each of which was in a worse state than Lutzow and unable to take his flag. He was forced to stay on the destroyer until 22.00, when he was eventually able to transfer his flag to his remaining battle cruiser Moltke.

18.15 Because of their varying top speeds, the ships of Scheer’s fleet were by now somewhat strung out, and Scheer himself was 13 miles behind Hipper’s vanguard, with as little information as Jellicoe. He was unaware of Hipper's problems, and still ignorant of Jellicoe's proximity. He urged Behncke's Konigs to make maximum speed and secure victory over Beatty. As they did this, they emerged from a patch of mist and ran into withering fire from Jellicoe's leading ships. Scheer belatedly realised that they had ‘crossed his T’ - a classic naval move. He was in mortal danger. At 18.36 he ordered the well rehearsed (now famous) 180 degree turn. This was accomplished so smoothly and quickly that within minutes he had vanished from the view of the BGF, even before Jellicoe's deployment was fully complete. The engagement of the two major fleets had lasted only from 18.15 to 18.36.

18.55 The most extraordinary moment came 20 minutes later at 18.55. Scheer abruptly ordered another about turn, and headed back due east towards the BGF battle line. Scheer’s post hoc explanations covered counter-attack, valiant support for the trailing and badly damaged Wiesbaden, and escape to the east (the further west he travelled, the more likely all his escape routes would be cut off). It meant that once again, Hipper’s badly damaged battle cruisers were in the vanguard of what became known as 'the death ride'. Direction and visibility were now working against the Germans, and within minutes they were in an unprecedented bombardment from the BGF. In addition to further punishment for Hipper’s ships, Scheer’s leading Dreadnoughts also suffered, with five of them receiving direct hits from 15” shells. Although the German gunnery had been superior in the earlier stages, it was now much less effective. Only two hits landed on the BGF battleships, both landing on the Colossus, which was undamaged. 

19.00 A few minutes of this was enough for Scheer. He ordered his Dreadnoughts to make their third 180 degree turn of the evening, while leaving Hipper's battle cruisers on their ‘death ride’ plus throwing a destroyer torpedo attack at the BGF. This lasted only a few minutes during which Scheer’s main ships drew further away from the action; Hipper’s ships received further pounding, and Jellicoe made his decision to turn away to port and guard against the torpedo attack. At 19.17 Scheer permitted Hipper’s ships to break off the action and limp away to starboard. This critical 17 minutes brought Scheer’s salvation. It was worth the cost of crippling Hipper’s fleet and damaging a number of his own Dreadnoughts. His torpedoes did no damage – only two thirds of them reached the BGF and none of them inflicted damage – but provoked Jellicoe’s caution, opening the distance between the fleets. For Jellicoe, his move to port would haunt his reputation, even though as a defensive tactic it was 100% successful.

By 19.15 dusk was approaching; the main fleets were out of contact, and only Beatty was still firing, determined to fight to the finish with his badly damaged enemy Hipper. The main confrontation was over, but not the battle.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Battle of Jutland 4 - Beattie versus Hipper

Beatty and Evan-Thomas. A rare
shot of them together. Beatty un-
accountably made no contact with
Evan-Thomas in the days leading up
to Jutland.
As soon as he learned of Galatea’s contact with the enemy, Beatty changed course to get between Hipper and Horn’s Reef - both to engage with Hipper and to cut off his route of retreat. He did not wait for acknowledgement of his signal to the remainder of his group. His own squadron, knowing him well, followed immediately but Evan-Thomas (QE Squadron) did not receive a signal and was left behind. Evan-Thomas followed Admiralty procedures, à la Jellicoe. Inexplicably, during the week Evan-Thomas had been anchored in Rosyth before the battle, Beatty had at no stage briefed him on his own plans or tactics. (After the war each Admiral would blame the other for this cock-up). The eight minute delay caused by this created a gap of 10 miles between them, so on first engagement Beatty’s capital ships were six, not ten, and his firepower was less than half its maximum. Closing rapidly on Hipper, Beatty compounded his error by disregarding (apparently) his range superiority, and in fact it was Hipper who opened fire fractionally first at 15.48pm. Thus, two of the major factors favouring Beatty were ruled out before the battle started in earnest as the ‘run to the south’, which lasted for the next hour. After what might be conceded as an ‘unfortunate’ start to the undercard clash of the battle cruisers, the next signalling errors were to prove disastrous.

Beatty now had his six battle cruisers in battle line, together with the now gaining QE Squadron (the latter all outgunned Hipper and were as fast in a race to the south). Initially German salvoes were far more accurate than the British, who were firing way too long into gloomy visibility to the east. However, even worse than the gunnery was the signalling from HMS Lion. Beatty intended to take advantage of having six battle cruisers to Hipper’s five, ordering Princess Royal (No 2 in line) to fire with Lion (leading the line) on Hipper’s flagship Lützow, while Queen Mary (No 3fired on Derfflinger the second in the German line instead of the German third in line Seydlitz. Tiger (No 4) was to fire on the German number three Seydlitz, New Zealand (No 5on the number four Moltke; and Indefatigable (No 6) to fire on the number five von der Tann. These last two were the oldest ships in the contest. However, Queen Mary (not receiving the signal) fired on her opposite number Seydlitz in accordance with Grand Fleet standing orders, and Tiger and New Zealand both fired on Moltke. This left Derfflinger, the most powerful German battle cruiser, free from fire for some ten minutes until the British ships saw their mistake. (This was a repeat of the Dogger 1915 error, where Derfflinger had been let free by a similar misunderstanding).
After about 20minutes the British gunners had found their range, recording hits on  Lutzow, Seydlitz and Derfflinger, but by this time Beatty had lost Indefatigible and had serious damage to his own ship Lion and to the Princess Royal. The Lion had been hit amidships in the main gun turret, killing all men except the Captain - Harvey - who was dying, with both legs crushed. The turret was ablaze. Harvey had the presence of mind to flood the magazines, an action which saved the ship and resulted in a posthumous VC award. Indefatigible was not so lucky. One of the oldest Dreadnoughts, she had nevertheless been shooting well and had scored several hits, when she too was hit in the main gun turret. A massive explosion occurred and at 16.04 she disappeared. All 57 officers and 960 seamen of the crew were lost.
It was now five versus five in capital ships, and Lion was so badly damaged she had to withdraw temporarily from the firing line. Beatty’s force was now in serious trouble, but was rescued by the arrival of Evan-Thomas’s QE Squadron, now close enough to disrupt the German attacks. Nevertheless, Seydlidtz and Derfflinger took the opportunity to concentrate their fire on Queen Mary.
The destruction of Queen Mary by an explosion
in the magazine.
At 16.18, she also blew up following a direct hit to her main turret, in exactly the same way as Indefatigible, and sank within 8 minutes. The following battle cruisers Tiger and New Zealand had to take evasive action from the debris. When Princess Royal was straddled by two enormous shell explosions, and appeared to be going the same way as Queen Mary and Indefatigible, the watching Beatty made his famous comment “There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today”. It was more than the ships (bad workmen?.....tools?).  
In desperation Beatty sent in his destroyers to launch torpedoes and disrupt the German fire. These smaller vessels thus became tied up in maoeuvering that slowed them down, making them prey for the German battle cruisers.  Two British destroyers Nestor and Nomad were sunk in this way. At 16.38 the Southampton, furthest forward of Beatty's light cruisers gained the first sighting of Scheer’s approaching GHSF. As soon as he learned this, Beatty put about, reversing roles and seeking to lure both Hipper and Scheer’s fleet towards the approaching BGF. By 5.00 all of Beatty’s ships except for the look-out Southampton were on the ‘run to the north’.

Hipper had unquestionably won the ‘run to the south' encounter. His own flagship Lutzow was seriously damaged and his other battle cruisers had been hit, but he had sunk two capital ships and badly damaged two more. The QE class Dreadnoughts could probably have destroyed his squadron, but now Scheer was on the scene. Scheer and Hipper did not know about the BGF. They thought they had Beatty isolated and that they would be able to catch and destroy him, but in fact both both Beatty and Jellicoe had received Commander Goodenough’s signal from the Southampton, sighting Scheer. Beatty was now turning the tables on Hipper, and luring the GHSF towards the BGF. Hipper responded immediately, continuing his running battle with Beatty, now on the run to the north. Also, Scheer’s most advanced Dreadnoughts were almost in range of Beatty’s battle cruisers (now down to four). Again, the QE Squadron did not receive (or perhaps see) the signal to turn, and within ten minutes Beatty and Evan-Thomas were passing each other, less than a mile apart, at a combined speed of nearly 60 knots. Yet another error by Beatty’s signal officer Seymour meant more delay before Evan-Thomas turned north, by which time he was in range of the leading GHSF battleships. Three of his four ships were hit directly, although they were better protected than Beatty’s battle cruisers, and continued unaffected. Beatty’s remaining ships continued to take hits, but their speed saved them, gradually pulling out of range of Hipper. This left the four QE Dreadnoughts of Evan-Thomas - Barham, Valiant, Warspite and Malaya - on their own against Hipper’s force and the advance party of Scheer’s GHSF. For almost an hour, before linking with the BGF line, it was them against twenty German capital ships. Britain was close to a major defeat at this stage, but the four were able to maintain their course and speed, all the time firing effectively, and they inflicted damage on six of the German Dreadnoughts, of which Seydlitz suffered the most severely.
German fire had less impact now, on account of damage they themselves had suffered, but Scheer – still unaware of Jellicoe’s proximity – scented victory and urged his ships on to the north. The British ships outpaced them and drew away out of sight.

Then, at 17.30 Beatty, anticipating Jellicoe’s arrival, changed course to NE. This soon brought him back within sight of Hipper, who was forced also to change course to NE by Beatty’s smart move. At 17.45 Beatty caught sight of Jellicoe’s advanced ships to his NW. He pushed further east to prevent Hipper from realising what was about to happen, and so it was, that in deteriorating light at 17.59, the GHSF almost ran into the BGF. They saw each other at a distance of 16,000 yards, and the clash of the Titans was imminent.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Battle of Jutland 3 - The morning of May 31st

The BGF leaves Scapa Flow 1916
We have seen how Scheer single-mindedly pursued his plans to bring about the definitive fleet action. The British side was no less anxious for the confrontation, which they believed would convincingly deal with German pretensions. Beatty's continuous chafing for actions to provoke the Germans was echoed in other quarters, and tested Jellicoe's prudence to the limits. The boredom and frustration of officers and men cooped up in Scapa Flow or Rosyth for weeks at a time added to the tension, and numerous ploys were evaluated. In fact, Jellicoe had planned a sweeping action of his cruiser squadrons in the Kattegat and Skagerrak waters off Denmark for 2nd June to tempt Scheer out. Before that however, they learned from various sources, including Room 40, of unusual activities indicating German preparations. At noon on 30th May the Admiralty informed Jellicoe and Beatty of the likely emergence in force of the Germans. At 5pm the Admiralty ordered the fleet to raise steam. By dusk, the BGF in Scapa Flow was beginning to move. At 10.30pm Beatty's six battle cruisers and the four Queen Elizabeth class Super Dreadnoughts of Admiral Evans-Thomas slipped under the  great Forth railway bridge towards the North Sea.
So - ironically - before Scheer's fleet had even weighed anchor, the BGF was at sea. Jellicoe's orders to Beatty were to head for Horn's Reef** off Jutland, to reach there by 2pm on 31st, by which time Jellicoe's Dreadnoughts would be around 60 miles to the north, and within easy reach.  

The battle zone, in the eastern North Sea
off the coast of Jutland

The scene was thus set for the greatest confrontation in naval history. In reality it was like a complicated ritual dance, in which neither side knew what the other was doing or planning. Controversy and debate still follow on as we arrive at the centenary.
Both great fleets operated with two components - a strong, but relatively small advance force, followed by the main fleets with their greatest capital ships.

The BGF sections were:
North. Jellicoe from Scapa Flow 
             24 Dreadnought battleships in 3 battle squadrons
               1 Battle cruiser squadron (3rd, led by Hood)
               2 Cruiser squadrons (1st Arbuthnot, 2nd Heath)
               1 Light cruiser squadron (4th, Le Mesurier)
               3 Destroyer flotillas (4th, 11th, 12th)

South. Beatty from Rosyth        
              2 Battle cruiser squadrons (6 ships)
              1 Battleship squadron (5th, Evan-Thomas) of 4 QE class Super dreadnoughts
              3 Light cruiser squadrons (1st, 2nd, 3rd)
              4 Destroyer flotillas (1st, 9th, 10th, 13th)

The GHSF, also in two sections, comprised:
              15 Dreadnought and 6 preDreadnought battleships
              3 Cruiser divisions
              7 Destroyer flotillas

Hipper’s 1st Scouting force       
              5 Battle cruisers

              Light cruiser and destroyer flotillas.

In overall numbers the BGF fielded 150 versus 99 of the Germans. The Dreadnought count was 37 British versus 21 German. All the forces were in play, but nobody yet had caught sight of the opponent, although they were sailing on direct collision course.

Light Cruiser HMS Galatea. Her captain
Commodore Edwyn Alexander-Smyth ordered the
first shots of the Battle of Jutland
As the southerly of the two British groups, Beatty had sent his scouting cruisers further to the south to look for the enemy. Beatty himself was zig-zagging for several hours, both to avoid submarines and to search for the enemy. By late morning nothing had been sighted. The distance of Beatty's scouting force from the main fleet of Jellicoe was becoming an issue and at 2.10pm Beatty, late for the rendezvous, sent orders for his scouts to head north eastwards - closer to the designated area.
Signalling was still an imprecise science in 1916. Beatty had had problems with haphazard and incompetent signalling at Dogger Bank in 1915, but done little about it. His flagship HMS Lion had the same signalling officer in charge as then. At the north east extreme of Beatty's force the light cruiser HMS Galatea did not receive the signal immediately, and as she continued to the southeast spotted smoke on the horizon to the east. Within minutes Galatea was sure she had sighted two German battle cruisers, and at 2.20pm signalled "Enemy in sight" to the rest of the squadron. At 2.28pm it fell to the Galatea to fire the first shots of the Battle of Jutland as she approached Hipper's cruisers at a speed of 28 knots. 

Meanwhile Jellicoe, to the north, had no information to suggest to him the the GHSF was out in the North Sea. To make matters worse, at 12.48pm he received completely erroneous information from the Admiralty to reassure him that Scheer was still anchored in the Jade (from Robert Massie: Castles of Steel). This howler was the responsibility of the aforementioned Operations Division in the Admiralty, who had not troubled to check information coming in from Room 40. Captain Thomas Jackson of Admiralty OD had previously stated that the Room 40 staff were "a party of very clever fellows who could decipher coded signals" but they should never be allowed to interpret them. So, Jellicoe continued on his set course to the east, unaware of what was unfolding to the south. Had he known, he could have changed course and increased speed to the British advantage. When, less than two hours later, Jellicoe heard that Beattie was in direct contact with the GHSF, his fragile confidence in information from the Admiralty was broken.

** Horn's Reef off Esbjerg, Western Denmark, is today a giant wind farm. In 1916 the sandbanks there guarded a gateway to a safe, mine free passage for the German ships to travel north from or south to their home ports