Go to WTJ Information Page Go to WTJ Portal Go to WTJ War Series Go to WTJ Archives Go to WTJ Articles Go to WTJ Gaming Go to WTJ Store Go to WTJ Home Page
Jellicoe: The Grand Fleet
Chapter 13b - The Battle of Jutland
The Battlefleet in Action

At about 6.38 P.M. the 6th Division was in line and our deployment was complete. Enemy shells had been falling close to the Colossus and her 5th Division since 6.11 P.M., and these ships opened fire at 6.30 P.M. ; but the conditions of visibility made it difficult to distinguish the enemy's battleships.

At 6.23 P.M. a three-funnelled enemy vessel had passed down the line, on the starboard, or engaged, side of our

Fleet, apparently partly disabled. Her identity could not at the time be clearly established, but her German colours were flying and she was in a position for attacking the Battle Fleet by torpedoes; at 6.20 P.M. the Iron Duke fired a few turret salvoes at her; she was fired at with turret guns by other vessels and was seen to sink at the rear of the line.

At this time, owing to smoke and mist, it was most difficult to distinguish friend from foe, and quite impossible to form an opinion on board the Iron Duke, in her position towards the centre of the line, as to the formation of the enemy's Fleet. The identity of ships insight on the starboard beam was not even sufficiently clear for me to permit of fire being opened; but at 6.30 P.M. it became certain that our own battle cruisers had drawn ahead of the Battle Fleet and that the vessels then before the beam .were battleships of the " Konig " class. The order was, therefore, given to open fire, and the Iron Duke engaged what appeared to be the leading battleship at a range of 12,000 yards on a bearing 20 degrees before the starboard beam; other ships of the 3rd and 4th Divisions (the 4th Battle Squadron) opened fire at about the same time, and the van divisions (2nd Battle Squadron) very shortly afterwards ; these latter ships reported engaging enemy battle cruisers as well as battleships. The fire of the Iron Duke, which came more directly under my observation, was seen to be immediately effective, the third and fourth salvoes fired registering several palpable hits. It appeared as if all the enemy ships at that time in sight from the Iron Duke (not more than three or four, owing to smoke and mist) were receiving heavy punishment, and the second battleship was seen to turn out of the line badly on fire, and settling by the stern. A large number of observers in the Thunderer, Benbow, Barham, Marne, Morning Star and Magic stated afterwards that they saw this ship blow up at 6.50 P.M.

The visibility was very variable and perhaps averaged about 12,000 yards to the southward, though much less on other bearings, but ranges could not at times be obtained from the range-finders of the Iron Duke at a greater distance than 9,000 yards, although at 7.15 P.M., in a temporary clear channel through the mist, good ranges of 15,000 yards were obtained of a battleship at which four salvoes were fired by the Iron Duke before she was again hidden by smoke and mist. The very baffling light was caused principally by low misty clouds, but partly also by the heavy smoke from the funnels and guns of the opposing Fleets. The direction of the wind was about west-south-west with a force 2, causing the enemy's funnel smoke to drift towards our line.

The visibility at the rear of the battle line was apparently greater than in the centre at about 7 P.M., and the enemy's fire, which was probably being concentrated on our rear ships, was more accurate at this period, but quite ineffective, only one ship, the Colossus, being hit by gun-fire, although numerous projectiles were falling near the ships of the 1st and 5th Battle Squadrons.

Whilst observers in ships in the van and centre of the Battle Fleet could see only three or four enemy vessels at any one time, those in the ships of the rear division did occasionally see as many as eight, and were consequently better able to distinguish the formation and movements of the enemy's Battle Fleet. It was not possible, owing to the small number of ships in sight, due to smoke and mist, to distribute the fire of the battleships by signal in the customary manner; the only course to adopt was for the captains to direct the fire of their guns on to any target which they could distinguish.

The course of the Fleet on deployment had been south-east by east, as already stated, but the van had hauled in to south-east without signal shortly after deployment in order to close the enemy, and at 6.50 P.M., as the range was apparently opening, the course was altered by signal to south "by divisions" in order to close the enemy. The King George V., leading the van of the Battle Fleet, had just anticipated this signal by turning to south. The alteration was made " by divisions' instead of "in succession' in order that the enemy should be closed more rapidly by the whole Battle Fleet.

This large turn (of four points) "by divisions" involved some small amount of "blanketing' of the rear ships of one division by the leading ships of that next astern, and at one time the Thunderer was firing over the bows of the Iron Duke, causing some slight inconvenience on the bridge of the latter ship; the " blanketing," however, was unavoidable and the loss of fire involved was inappreciable.

At 6.45 P.M. one or two torpedoes crossed the track of the rear of our battle line, and the Marlborough altered course to avoid one. They were apparently fired, at long range, by enemy destroyers, which were barely visible to the ships in rear and quite invisible to those on board the Iron Duke. They might, however, have been fired by enemy battleships which were within torpedo range, or by a submarine, the Revenge reporting that it was thought that one had been rammed by that ship. The tracks of some of the torpedoes were seen by the observers stationed aloft, and were avoided by very skilful handling of the ships by their captains.

At 6.54 P.M., however, a heavy explosion occurred under the fore bridge of the Marlborough, abreast the starboard forward hydraulic engine-room. The ship took up a list of some seven degrees to starboard, but continued in action so effectively that she avoided three more torpedoes shortly afterwards, re-opened fire at 7.3 P.M., and at 7.12 P.M. fired fourteen rapid salvoes at a ship of the " Konig " class, hitting her so frequently that she was seen to turn out of line.

The signal from Sir Cecil Burney of the damage to his flagship stated that the vessel had been struck by a "mine or torpedo." It was assumed by me that a torpedo had hit the ship, as so many vessels had passed over the same locality without injury from mine. This proved to be the case, the track of this torpedo not having been sufficiently visible to enable Captain Ross to avoid it.

The fact of the tracks of so many of the enemy's torpedoes being visible was a matter of great surprise to me, and I think to other officers. Reports had been prevalent that the Germans had succeeded in producing a torpedo which left little or no track on the surface. The information as to the visibility of the tracks did not reach me until the return of the Fleet to harbour, as although one torpedo was reported by observers on board the destroyer Oak to have passed close ahead of the Iron Duke at about 7.35 P.M., finishing its run 2,000 yards beyond that ship, and a second was observed by the Benbow to pass apparently ahead of the Iron Duke at 8.30 P.M., neither of them was seen on board the flagship by the trained look-outs specially stationed for the purpose.

Some ten minutes after the alteration of course to south, a signal was made to the 2nd Battle Squadron to take station ahead of the Iron Duke and for the 1st Battle Squadron to form astern. This signal had, how ever, been already anticipated by the vessels ahead of the Iron Duke in accordance with the general battle orders giving discretionary powers to the commanders of squadrons, and the line had been partly reformed before the signal was made.

An incident occurred at about 6.47 P.M. which was an indication of the spirit prevailing in the Fleet, of which it is impossible to speak too highly. The destroyer Acasta, which had been badly hit aft during her attack on enemy light cruisers in company with the Shark and had her engines disabled, was passed by the Fleet. Her commanding officer, Lieut.-Commander J. 0. Barren, signalled the condition of his ship to the Iron Duke as that ship passed, leaving the Acasta on her starboard or engaged side. The ship's company was observed to be cheering each ship as she passed. It is satisfactory to relate that this destroyer and her gallant ship's company were subsequently brought into Aberdeen, being assisted by the Nonsuch.

Shortly after 6.55 P.M. the Iron Duke passed the wreck of a ship with the bow and stern standing out of the water, the centre portion apparently resting on the bottom, with the destroyer Badger picking up survivors. It was thought at first that this was the remains of a German light cruiser, but inquiry of the Badger elicited the lamentable news that the wreck was that of the Invincible. It was assumed at the time that she had been sunk either by a mine or by a torpedo, and the latter appeared to he the more probable cause of her loss. Subsequent information, however, showed that she was destroyed by gunfire, causing her magazines to explode, as already recorded.

At 7 P.M. Sir David Beatty signalled reporting that the enemy was to the westward.

Our alteration of course to south had, meanwhile, brought the enemy's line into view once more, and between 7.0 and 7.30 P.M. the Battle Fleet was again in action with battleships and also battle cruisers, as they could be distinguished in the haze, which at that period was very baffling. The range varied from as much as 15,000 yards at the van to as little as 8,500 in the rear, this difference in range indicating that the enemy's Fleet was turning to the westward, as shown in the plan facing

In spite of the difficult conditions, the fire of many of our battleships was very effective at this period. Some instances may be given. At 7.15 P.M. the Iron Duke, as already mentioned, engaged a hostile battleship at 15,000 yards range and on a bearing 74 degrees from right ahead. At 7.20 she trained her guns on a battle cruiser of " Lutzow" type, abaft the beam, which hid herself by a destroyer smoke screen; at 7.17 P.M. the King George V. opened fire on a vessel, taken to be the leading ship in the enemy's line, at a range of about 13,000 yards; the Orion at a battleship ; the St. Vincent was " holding her target (a battleship) effectively till 7.26 P.M., the range being between 10,000 and 9,500 yards " ; the Agincourt at 7.6 P.M. opened fire at 11,000 yards on one of four battleships that showed clearly out of the mist, and judged that at least four of her salvoes "straddled" the target; the Revenge was engaging what were taken to be battle cruisers, obtaining distinct hits on two of them; the Colossus from 7.12 to 7.20 P.M. was engaging a ship taken to be a battle cruiser, either the Derfflinger or Lutzow, at ranges between 10,000 and 8,000 yards, and observed several direct hits, two being on the water line; whilst the Marlborough, as already mentioned, "engaged a ship of the 'Konig' class. " Other vessels reported being in effective action during this period. The Royal Oak, the ship next astern of the Iron Duke, opened fire at 7.15 P.M. on the leading ship of three vessels taken to be battle cruisers, at a range of 14,000 yards; this ship was hit and turned away, and fire was shifted to the second ship which was lost to sight in the mist after a few rounds had been fired. It was difficult to be certain of the class of vessel on which fire was being directed, but one or more of the enemy's battle cruisers had undoubtedly dropped astern by 7 P.M., as a result of the heavy punishment they had received from our battle cruisers and the 5th Battle Squadron, and were engaged by ships of the Battle Fleet.

Both at this period and earlier in the action, the ships of the 1st Battle Squadron were afforded more opportunities for effective fire than the rest of the Battle Fleet, and the fullest use was made of the opportunities. This squadron, under the able command of Sir Cecil Burney, was known by me to be highly efficient, and very strong proof was furnished during the Jutland battle, if proof were needed, that his careful training had borne excellent results. The immunity of the ships of the squadron from the enemy's fire, whilst they were inflicting on his vessels very severe punishment, bears eloquent testimony to the offensive powers of the squadron.

At 7.5 P.M. the whole battle line was turned together three more points to starboard to close the range further; immediately afterwards two ships ahead of the Iron Duke reported a submarine a little on the port bow; at 7.10 P.M. a flotilla of enemy destroyers, supported by a cruiser, was observed to be approaching on a bearing S. 50 W. from the Iron Duke, and the Fleet was turned back to south in order to turn on to the submarine and bring the ships in line ahead, ready for any required manoeuvre. A heavy fire was opened on the destroyers at ranges between 10,000 and 6,500 yards. At the latter range the destroyers turned and passed towards the rear of the line in a heavy smoke screen. One destroyer was seen by several observers to sink from the effects of the gunfire.

At a sufficient interval before it was considered that the torpedoes fired by the destroyers would cross our line, a signal was made to the Battle Fleet to turn two points to port by subdivisions. Some minutes later a report was made to me by Commander Bellairs (the officer on my Staff especially detailed for this duty, and provided with an instrument for giving the necessary information) that this turn was insufficient to clear the torpedoes, as I had held on until the last moment; a further turn of two points was then made for a short time. As a result of this attack and another that followed immediately, some twenty or more torpedoes were observed to cross the track of the Battle Fleet, in spite of our turn, the large majority of them passing the ships of the 1st and 5th Battle Squadrons at the rear of the line. It was fortunate that, owing to the turn away of the Fleet, the torpedoes were apparently near the end of their run, and were consequently not running at high speed. They were all avoided by the very skilful handling of the ships by their captains, to whom the highest credit is due, not only for their skill in avoiding the torpedoes, but for the manner in which the ships, by neighbourly conduct towards each other, prevented risk of collision and kept their station in the line. The captains were most ably assisted by the admirable look-out kept by the organisation that existed for dealing with this danger. I doubt, however, whether the skill shown would have saved several ships from being torpedoed had the range been less and the torpedoes consequently running at a higher speed. Frequent exercises carried out at Scapa Flow showed conclusively that the percentage of torpedoes that would hit ships in a line when fired from destroyers at ranges up to 8,000 yards was comparatively high, even if the tracks were seen and the ships were manoeuvred to avoid them. One very good reason is that torpedoes are always a considerable but varying distance ahead of the line of bubbles marking their track, making it difficult to judge the position of the torpedo from its track. Many ships experienced escapes from this and other attacks; thus the Hercules reported that she " turned away six points to avoid the torpedoes, one of which passed along the starboard side and 40 yards across the bow, and the other passed close under the stern "; the Neptune reported that "the tracks of three torpedoes were seen from the fore-top, one of which passed very close and was avoided by the use of the helm " ; in the Agincourt's report, a statement occurred that " at 7.8 P.M. a torpedo just missed astern, it having been reported from aloft and course altered " ; and again, " at 7.38 P.M. tracks of two torpedoes running parallel were observed approaching ; course altered to avoid torpedoes which passed ahead ; and at 8.25 P.M. torpedo track on starboard side, turned at full speed; torpedo broke surface at about 150 yards on the starboard bow " ; the Revenge remarked, "at 7.85 P.M. altered course to port to avoid two torpedoes, one passed about ten yards ahead and the other about twenty yards astern, and at 7.43 P.M. altered course to avoid torpedoes, two passing astern "; the Colossus stated, " at 7.35 P.M. turned to port to avoid a torpedo coming from starboard side" ; the Barham at this period reported that "at least four torpedoes passed through the line close to the Barham " ; the Collingwood reported, " torpedo track was seen 20 degrees abaft the beam and coming straight at the ship; large helm was put on and the torpedo passed very close astern; at the same time another was seen to pass about thirty yards ahead. " The captain of the Collingwood, in remarking on the destroyer attack, added, " the great value of this form of attack on a line of ships is, to me, an outstanding feature of the Battle Fleet action."

  Copyright © 1996-2003 by The War Times Journal at www.wtj.com. All rights reserved.