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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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