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Jellicoe: The Grand Fleet
Chapter 13a - The Battle of Jutland
The Battlefleet in Action

THE " plot " made on the reports received between 5 and 6 P.M. from Commodore Goodenough, of the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron, and the report at 4.45 P.M. from Sir David Beatty in the Lion giving the position of the enemy's Battle Fleet, showed that we, of the Battle Fleet, might meet the High Sea Fleet approximately ahead and that the cruiser line ahead of the Battle Fleet would sight the enemy nearly ahead of the centre. Obviously, however, great reliance could not be placed on the positions given by the ships of the Battle Cruiser Fleet, which had been in action for two hours and frequently altering course. I realised this, but when contact actually took place it was found that the positions given were at least twelve miles in error when compared with the Iron Duke's reckoning. The result was that the enemy's Battle Fleet appeared on the starboard bow instead of ahead, as I had expected, and contact also took place earlier than was anticipated. There can be no doubt as to the accuracy of the reckoning on board the Iron Duke, as the movements of that ship could be "plotted" with accuracy after leaving Scapa Flow, there being no disturbing elements to deal with.

The first accurate information regarding the position of affairs was contained in a signal from the Black Prince, of the 1st Cruiser Squadron (the starboard wing ship of the cruiser screen), which was timed 5.40 P.M., but received by me considerably later, and in which, it was reported that battle cruisers were in sight, bearing south, distant five miles. It was assumed by me that these were our own vessels.

Prior to this, in view of the rapid decrease in visibility, I had directed Captain Dreyer, my Flag-Captain, to cause the range-finder operators to take ranges of ships on bearings in every direction and to report the direction in which the visibility appeared to be the greatest. My object was to ascertain the most favourable bearing in which to engage the enemy should circumstances admit of a choice being exercised. Captain Dreyer reported that the visibility appeared to be best to the southward.

At 5.45 P.M. the Comus (Captain Hotham), of the 4th Light Cruiser Squadron, which ,was stationed three miles ahead of the Battle Fleet, reported heavy gunfire on a southerly bearing, i.e., three points from ahead, and shortly afterwards flashes of gunfire were visible bearing south-south-west although no ships could be seen.

At about 5.50 P.M. I received a wireless signal from Sir Robert Arbuthnot, of the 1st Cruiser Squadron, reporting having sighted ships in action bearing south-south-west and steering north-east. There was, however, no clue as to the identity of these ships. It was in my mind that they might be the opposing battle cruisers.

At 5.55 P.M. a signal was made by me to Admiral Sir Cecil Burney, leading the starboard ,wing division in the Marlborough, inquiring what he could see. The reply was: "Gun flashes and heavy gunfire on the starboard bow." This reply was received at about 6.5 P.M.

The uncertainty which still prevailed as to the position of the enemy's Battle Fleet and its formation caused me to continue in the Battle Fleet on the course south-east by south at a speed of 20 knots, in divisions line ahead dis posed abeam to starboard, the Iron Duke at 6 P.M. being in Lat. 57.11 N., Long. 5.39 E.

The information so far received had not even been sufficient to justify me in altering the bearing of the guides of columns from the Iron Duke preparatory to deployment, and they were still, therefore, on the beam. The destroyers also were still disposed ahead in their screening formation, as it was very desirable to decide on the direction of deployment before stationing them for action.

At 5.56 P.M. Admiral Sir Cecil Burney reported strange vessels in sight bearing south-south-west and steering east, and at 6 P.M. he reported them as British battle cruisers three to four miles distant, the Lion being leading ship.

This report was made by searchlight and consequently reached me shortly after 6 P.M., but as showing the interval that elapses between the intention to make a signal and the actual receipt of it (even under conditions where the urgency is apparent, no effort is spared to avoid delay, and the signal staff is efficient), it is to be noted that whereas the report gave the bearing of our vessels as south-south-west, notes taken on board the Colossus placed our battle cruisers one point on the starboard bow of that ship, that is, on a south-south-east bearing and distant two miles at 6.5 P.M.

Shortly after 6 P.M. we sighted strange vessels bearing south-west from the Iron Duke at a distance of about five miles. They were identified as our battle cruisers, steering east across the bows of the Battle Fleet. Owing to the mist it was not possible to make out the number of ships that were following the Lion.

At this stage there was still great uncertainty as to the position of the enemy's Battle Fleet; flashes of gunfire were visible from ahead round to the starboard beam, and the noise was heavy and continuous. Our cruisers ahead seemed to be hotly engaged, but the fact that they were not closing the Battle Fleet indicated to me that their opponents could hardly be battleships.

In order to take ground to starboard, with a view to clearing up the situation without altering the formation of the Battle Fleet, a signal had been made to the Battle Fleet at 6.2 P.M. to alter course leaders together, the remainder in succession, to south (a turn of three points). Speed was at the same time reduced to 18 knots to allow of the ships closing up into station. Immediately afterwards it became apparent by the sound of the heavy firing that enemy's heavy ships must be in close proximity, and the Lion, which was sighted at this moment, signalled at 6.6 P.M. that the enemy's battle cruisers bore south-east. Meanwhile, at about 5.50 P.M., I had received a wireless report from Commodore Goodenough, commanding the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron, to the effect that the enemy's battle cruisers bore south-west from their Battle Fleet ; in other words, that his Battle Fleet bore north-east from his battle cruisers.

In view of the report from Sir Cecil Burney that our battle cruisers were steering east, and observing that Sir David Beatty reported at 6.6 P.M. that the enemy's battle cruisers bore south-east, it appeared from Commodore Goodenough's signal that the enemy's Battle Fleet must be ahead of his battle cruisers. On the other hand, it seemed to me almost incredible that the Battle Fleet could have passed the battle cruisers. The conflicting reports added greatly to the perplexity of the situation, and I determined to hold on until matters became clearer.

The conviction was, however, forming in my mind that I should strike the enemy's Battle Fleet on a bearing a little on the starboard bow, and in order to be prepared for deployment I turned the Fleet to a south-east course, leaders together and the remainder in succession, and the destroyer flotillas were directed by signal, at 6.8 P.M., to take up the destroyer position No. I for battle. This order disposed them as follows:

There was, however, a very short interval between this signal to the destroyers and the signal for deployment, and consequently the destroyers did not reach their positions before deployment. The subsequent alterations of course to the southward and westward added to their difficulties and delayed them greatly in gaining their stations at the van of the Fleet after deployment. The correct position for the two van flotillas on deployment was three miles ahead of the Fleet, but slightly on the engaged bow.

At 6.1 P.M., immediately on sighting the Lion, a signal had been made to Sir David Beatty inquiring the position of the enemy's Battle Fleet. This signal was repeated at 6.10 P.M., and at 6.14 P.M. he signalled: ' 'Have sighted the enemy's Battle Fleet bearing south-south-west "; this report gave me the first information on which I could take effective action for deployment.

At 6.15 P.M. Rear-Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas, in the Barham, commanding the 5th Battle Squadron, signalled by wireless that the enemy's Battle Fleet was in sight, bearing south-south-east. The distance was not reported in either case, but in view of the low. visibility, I concluded it could not be more than some five miles. Sir Cecil Burney had already reported the 5th Battle Squadron at 6.7 P.M. as in sight, bearing south-west from the Marlborough.

The first definite information received on board the Fleet-Flagship of the position of the enemy's Battle Fleet did not, therefore, come in until 6.14 P.M., and the position given placed it thirty degrees before the starboard beam of the Iron Duke, or fifty-nine degrees before the starboard beam of the Marlborough, and apparently in close proximity. There ,was no time to lose, as there was evident danger of the starboard wing column of the Battle Fleet being engaged by the whole German Battle Fleet before deployment could be effected. So at 6.16 P.M. a signal was made to the Battle Fleet to form line of battle on the port wing column, on a course south-east by east, it being assumed that the course of the enemy was approximately the same as that of our battle cruisers.

Speed was at the same time reduced to 14 knots to admit of our battle cruisers passing ahead of the Battle Fleet, as there was danger of the fire of the Battle Fleet being blanketed by them.

During the short interval, crowded with events, that had elapsed since the first flashes and sound of gunfire had been noted on board the Iron Duke, the question of most urgent importance before me had been the direction and manner of deployment.

As the evidence accumulated that the enemy's Battle Fleet was on our starboard side, but on a bearing well before the beam of the Iron Duke, the point for decision was whether to form line of battle on the starboard or on the port wing column. My first and natural impulse was to form on the starboard .wing column in order to bring the Fleet into action at the earliest possible moment, but it became increasingly apparent, both from the sound of gunfire and the reports from the Lion and Barham, that the High Sea Fleet was in such close proximity and on such a bearing as to create obvious disadvantages in such a movement. I assumed that the German destroyers would be ahead of their Battle Fleet, and it was clear that, owing to the mist, the operations of destroyers attacking from a commanding position in the van would be much facilitated; it would be suicidal to place the Battle Fleet in a position where it might be open to attack by destroyers during such a deployment.

The further points that occurred to me were, that if the German ships were as close as seemed probable, there was considerable danger of the 1st Battle Squadron, and especially the Marlborough's Division, being severely handled by the concentrated fire of the High Sea Fleet before the remaining divisions could get into line to assist. Included in the 1st Battle Squadron were several of our older ships, with only indifferent protection as compared with the German capital ships, and an interval of at least four minutes would elapse between each division coming into line astern of the sixth division and a further interval before the guns could be directed on to the ship selected and their fire become effective.

The final disadvantage would be that it appeared, from the supposed position of the High Sea Fleet, that the van of the enemy would Have a very considerable " overlap" if line were formed on the starboard wing division, .whereas this would not be the case with deployment on the port wing column. The overlap would necessitate a large turn of the starboard wing division to port to prevent the "T" being crossed, and each successive division coming into line would have to make this turn, in addition to the 8-point turn required to form the line. I therefore decided to deploy on the first, the port wing, division.

The further knowledge which I gained of the actual state of affairs after the action confirmed my view that the course adopted was the best in the circumstances.

The reports from the ships of the starboard wing division show that the range of the van of the enemy's Battle Fleet at the moment of deployment was about 13,000 yards. The fleets were converging rapidly, with the High Sea Fleet holding a position of advantage such as would enable it to engage effectively, first the unsupported starboard division, and subsequently succeeding divisions as they formed up astern. It is to be observed that it would take some twenty minutes to complete the formation of the line of battle.

The German gunnery was always good at the start, and their ships invariably found the range of a target with great rapidity, and it would have been very bad tactics to give them such an initial advantage, not only in regard to gunnery but also in respect of torpedo attack, both from ships and from destroyers. A subsequent study of the reports and the signals received has admitted of the diagrams which will be found in the pocket being drawn up.

The reports on being reviewed fit in very well, and show clearly how great would have been the objections to forming on the starboard wing divisions. The bearings of the enemy Battle Fleet, as given by the Lion and the Barham at 6.14 and 6.15 respectively, give a fair "cut," and the bearing on which the Marlborough opened fire enables the position of the Battle Fleet to be placed with considerable accuracy. Assuming that the German Battle Fleet was steaming at 17 knots on an easterly course between 6.14 and 6.31, it would be at the latter time bear approximately some 21 degrees before the starboard beam of the Iron Duke at a range of 12,000 yards. The Iron Duke actually engaged the leading battleship at this time on a bearing 20 degrees before the starboard beam at a range of 12,000 yards. The accuracy of the diagram is therefore confirmed, so far as confirmation is possible. It appears certain that between about 6.0 P.M. and 6.16 P.M. the German battle cruisers turned 16 points towards their Battle Fleet, and again turned 16 points to their original course. This is borne out by observations on board the Warrior, which ship was being engaged by the starboard guns of enemy vessels. The German account also shows such a turn at this period.

Rear-Admiral Evan-Thomas, commanding the 5th Battle Squadron, had sighted the Marlborough at 6.6 P.M. and the remainder of the 6th Division of the Battle Fleet a little later. Not seeing any other columns, he concluded that the Marlborough was leading the whole line, and decided to take station ahead of that ship. At 6.19 P.M., however, other battleships were sighted, and Admiral Evan-Thomas realised that the Fleet was deploying to port, the 6th Division being the starboard wing column. He then determined to make a large turn of his squadron to port, in order to form astern of the 6th Division, .which by this time had also turned to port to form line of battle. During the turn, which was very .well executed, the ships of the 5th Battle Squadron were under fire of the enemy's leading battleships, but the shooting was not good, and our vessels received little injury.

Unfortunately, however, the helm of the Warspite jammed, and that ship, continuing her turn through sixteen points, came under a very heavy fire and received considerable injury. The disabled Warrior happened to be in close proximity at this time, and the turn of the Warspite had the effect for the moment of diverting attention from the Warrior, so that the latter vessel got clear.

The Warspite was well extricated by Captain Phillpotts from an unpleasant position and was steered to the northward to make good damages, and eventually, in accordance with directions from Rear-Admiral Evan-Thomas, returned independently to Rosyth, considerably down by the stern owing to damage aft, but otherwise not much injured.

By 6.38 P.M. the remaining ships of the 5th Battle Squadron .were in station astern of the Agincourt (1st Battle Squadron), the last ship of the line.

At 6.33 P.M., as soon as the battle cruisers had passed clear, the speed of the Battle Fleet was increased to 17 knots, and this speed was subsequently maintained. The reduction of speed to 14 knots during the deployment caused some "bunching" at the rear of the line, as the signal did not get through quickly. The reduction had, however, to be maintained until the battle cruisers had formed ahead.

Experience at all Fleet exercises had shown the necessity for keeping a reserve of some three knots of speed in hand in the case of a long line of ships, in order to allow of station being kept in the line under conditions of action, when ships were making alterations of course to throw out enemy's fire, to avoid torpedoes, or when other independent action on the part of single ships, or of divisions of ships, became necessary, as well as to avoid excessive smoke from the funnels; for this reason the Fleet speed during the action was fixed at 17 knots. In the 1st Battle Squadron, some ships had at times to steam 20 knots, showing the necessity for this reserve. Up to 7.10 P.M. also the flotillas were not in station ahead.

At 6.14 P.M. the enemy's salvoes were falling near ships of the 1st Battle Squadron, and the Marlborough^s Division of the Battle Squadron became engaged with some ships of the enemy's Battle Fleet at 6.17 P.M. immediately after turning for the deployment. At this time fire was opened by the Marlborough on a ship stated to be of the " Kaiser " class, at a range of 13,000 yards and on a bearing 20 degrees abaft the starboard beam; this knowledge enables us to deduce the position of the van of the German Battle Fleet at this time.

Our rear ships were now able to make out the enemy's Fleet steering to the eastward, the battle cruisers leading, followed by the Battle Fleet in single line, the order being, four ships of the "Konig" class in the van, followed by ships of the "Kaiser" and "Helgoland" classes, the rear of the line being invisible. A report that had reached me at 4.48 P.M. from the Commodore of the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron indicated that ships of the "Kaiser" class were in the van of the Battle Fleet. The order of the Fleet may have been changed subsequent to this report, but there is no doubt that ships of the "Konig" class led during the Fleet action. The point is not, however, of importance.

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