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Germany's High Sea Fleet in the World War
Chapter 10a - The Battle of the Skagerrak

THE bombardment of April 25 had not failed to make an impression in England. The expectation that the fleet was bound to succeed in warding off all German attacks on British shores had repeatedly been disappointed. On each occasion the English main fleet had arrived too late—in December, 1914; in January, 1915; and now again this year—so that, to the great annoyance of the English, the German " raiders" got away each time unpunished. Wherefore Mr. Balfour, the First Lord of the Admiralty, felt called upon to announce publicly that should the German ships again venture to show themselves off the British coast, measures had been taken to ensure their being severely punished. However, we were ready to take our chance.

The question was whether it would be advisable to include Squadron II in an advance which in all probability would involve us in a serious battle. Early in May I ordered the squadron temporarily into the Jade Basin that I might have an opportunity of discussing with the Squadron Commander the action to be observed in battle under the most varied conditions. Military reasons entered into the question as to whether the squadron should be taken out or left behind, as well as consideration for the honour and feeling of the crews, who would not hear of being reduced, themselves and their ships, to the second class. For battleships to have their activity limited absolutely to guarding the German Bight without any prospect of getting into touch with the enemy— to which they had been looking forward for a year and a half—would have caused bitter disappointment; on the other hand, however, was the responsibility of sending the ships into an unequal fight where the enemy would make use of his very best material. I cannot deny that in addition to the eloquent intercession of Rear Admiral Mauve, the Squadron Commander, my own former connection with Squadron II also induced me not to disappoint it by leaving it behind. And thus it happened that the squadron played its part on May 31, and in so helpful a manner that I never had cause to regret my decision.

The repairs on the Seydlitz, damaged on April 24, were not completed until the end of May, as the reconstruction of the mine-shattered torpedo tubes necessitated very heavy work. I had no intention, however, of doing without that battle-cruiser, although Vice-Admiral Hipper, Chief of the Reconnaissance Forces, had meanwhile hoisted his flag in the newly repaired battle-cruiser Lützow (Captain Harder, formerly on the Stralsund). The vessels belonging to Squadron III were also having their condensers repaired, as on their last trip there had been seven cases of damaged machinery in that squadron. The advantage of having three engines, as had each of these ships, was proved by the fact that two engines alone were able to keep up steam almost at full speed; at the same time, very faulty construction in the position of the engines was apparent, which unfortunately could not be rectified owing to limited space' Thus it happened that when a condenser went wrong it was impossible to conduct the steam from the engine with which it was connected to one of the other two condensers, and thus keep the engine itself working. It was an uncomfortable feeling to know that this weakness existed in the strongest unit at the disposal of the Fleet, and how easily a bad accident might result in leakages in two different condensers and thus incapacitate one vessel in the group !

The object of the next undertaking was a bombardment of the fortifications and works of the harbour at Sunderland which, situated about the middle of the East coast of England, would be certain to call out a display of English fighting forces as promised by Mr. Balfour. The order issued on May 18 in this connection was as follows:

"The bombardment of Sunderland by our cruisers is intended to compel the enemy to send out forces against us. For the attack on the advancing enemy the High Sea Fleet forces to be south of the Dogger Bank, and the U-boats to be stationed for attack off the East coast of England. The enemy's ports of sortie will be closed by mines. The Naval Corps will support the undertaking with their U-boats. If time and circumstances permit, tradewar will be carried on during proceedings."

The squadrons of men-of-war had made over the command of prizes to the torpedo-boat flotillas, as torpedo-boats are the best adapted for the examination of vessels, but have not a crew large enough to enable them to bring the captured vessels into our ports. The First and Second Scouting Divisions were placed at the disposal of the Chief of Reconnaissance, and the Second Leader of the torpedo-boats with Flotillas II, VI, and IX. Scouting Division IV* and the remainder of the flotillas were with the Main Fleet. Sixteen of our U-boats were told off for the positions of attack, with six to eight of the Flanders boats. On May 15 they started to reconnoitre in the North Sea, and from May 23 to June 1 inclusive were to remain at the posts assigned to them, observe the movements of the English forces, and gain any information that might be of use to the Fleet in their advance; at the same time they were also to seize every opportunity to attack. Provision was also made for the largest possible number of our airships to assist the enterprise by reconnaissance from the air. The fact that the U-boats could only remain out for a certain period put a limit to the execution of the plan. If reconnaissance from the air proved impossible, it was arranged to make use of the U-boats, and so dispense with aerial reconnaissance.

As the weather each day continued to be unfavourable and the airship commander could only report that it was impossible to send up any airships, the plan was so far changed, though without altering other preparations, that it was decided to embark on a campaign against cruisers and merchantmen outside and in the Skagerrak, with the expectation that the news of the appearance of our cruisers in those waters would be made known to the enemy. With this object in view, they had been told to keep in sight of the coast of Norway, so that the enemy might be notified. In further describing the course of this undertaking, which led to the Battle of the Skagerrak, I shall keep strictly to the official report I sent in.

In judging the proceedings it must be borne in mind that at sea a leader adapts his action to the events taking place around him. It may possibly reveal errors which can only be accounted for later by reports from his own ships or valuable information from enemy statements. The art of leadership consists in securing an approximately correct picture from the impression of the moment, and then acting in accordance with it. The writer of history can then form a tactical inference where obvious mistakes were made, or where a better grasp of the situation would have led to a more advantageous decision. In this event a certain reticence should be observed in making definite assertions that a different movement would have been more successful, for armed efficiency plays the chief part in success and cannot be determined with mathematical precision. I have in mind one hit that did so much damage to our battle-cruiser Seydlitz on January 24, 1915, that one almost came to the conclusion that such ships could not stand many shots of such heavy calibre, and yet the following battle proved the contrary. At all events, a good hit can seal the fate of a ship, even one of the strongest. A naval battle may be open to criticism as to why it happened thus, but anyone who asserted that it might have happened otherwise would be in danger of losing his case.


On May 30, as the possibility of a long-distance aerial reconnaissance was still considered uncertain, I decided on an advance in the direction of the Skagerrak, as the vicinity of the Jutland coast offered a certain cover against surprise. An extensive aerial reconnaissance was an imperative necessity for an advance on Sunderland in the north-west, as it would lead into waters where we could not allow ourselves to be forced into giving battle. As, however, on the course now to be adopted, the distance from the enemy points of support was considerably greater, aerial reconnaissance was desirable, though not absolutely necessary. As already stated, our U-boats were in position, some of them in fact facing Scapa Flow, one boat off Moray Firth, a large number off the Firth of Forth, several off the Humber and the remainder, north of the Terschelling Bank, in order to be able to operate against enemy forces that might chance to come from a southwesterly direction. The combination of our total forces taking part was as follows:

A list of warships which on May 30 to June 1, 1916, took part in the Battle of the Skagerrak and the operations connected therewith:

Chief of the Fleet: Vice-Admiral Scheer in Friedrich der Grosse.
Chief of Staff: Captain von Trotha (Adolf). Chief of the Operating Section: Captain von Levetzow. Admiralty Staff Officer: Captain Quaet-Faslem (Hans). Commander of "Friedrich der Grosse" : Captain Fuchs (Theodor).
Chief of Squadron: Vice-Admiral Ehrhard Schmidt, Ostfriesland. Admiralty Staff Officer: Captain Wegener (Wolfgang). Admiral: Rear-Admiral Engelhardt, Posen.
Ostfriesland: Captain von Natzmer.
Thüringen: Captain Küsel (Hans).
Helgoland: Captain von Kameke.
Oldenberg: Captain Höpfner.
Posen: Captain Lange.
Rheinland: Captain Rohardt.
Nassau: Captain Klappenbach (Hans).
Westfalen: Captain Redlich.
Chief of Squadron: Rear-Admiral Mauve, Deutschland. Admiralty Staff Officer: Captain Kahlert. Admiral: Rear-Admiral Baron von Dalwigk zu Lichtenfels, Hanover.
Deutschland: Captain Meurer (Hugo).
Pommern: Captain Bölken.
Schlesien: Captain Behncke (Fr.).
Schleswig-Holstein: Captain Barrentrapp.
Hannover: Captain Heine (Wilh.).
Hessen: Captain Bartels (Rudolf).
Chief of Squadron: Rear-Admiral Behncke, König. Admiralty Staff Officer: Captain Baron von Gagern. Admiral: Rear-Admiral Nordmann, Kaiser.
König: Captain Brüninghaus.
Grosser Kurfurst: Captain Goette (Ernst).
Markgraf: Captain Seiferling.
Kronprinz: Captain Feldt (Constanz).
Kaiser: Captain Baron von Kayserling.
Prinz Regent Luitpold: Captain Heuser (Karl).
Kaiserin: Captain Sievers.

Chief of the Reconnaissance Forces: Vice-Admiral Hipper, Lützow. Admiralty Staff Officer: Captain Raeder (Erick).
Seydlitz: Captain von Egidy (Moritz).
Moltke: Captain von Karps.
Derfflinger: Captain Hartog.
Lützow: Captain Harder.
Von der Tann: Captain Zenker.
Leader of Scouting Division II: Rear-Admiral Bodicker, Frankfurt. Admiralty Staff Officer: Commander Stapenhorst.
Pillau: Captain Mommsen.
Elbing: Captain Madlung.
Frankfurt: Captain von Trotha (Thilo).
Wiesbaden: Captain Reiss.
Rostock: Captain Feldmann (Otto).
Regensburg: Captain Neuberer.
Leader of Scouting Division IV: Commodore von Reuter, Stettin. Admiralty Staff Officer: Captain Weber (Heinrich).
Stettin: Captain Rebensburg (Friedrich).
München: Captain Böcker (Oskar).
Frauenlob: Captain Hoffmann (Georg).
Stuttgart: Captain Hagedorn.
Hamburg: Captain von Gaudecker.
First Leader of the Torpedo-Boat Forces: Commodore Michelsen, Rostock. 'Admiralty Staff Officer: Captain Junkermann. Second Leader of the Torpedo-Boat Forces: Commodore Heinrich, Regensburg.
Chief of Flotilla I: Commander Conrad Albrecht, "G 39."
Chief of 1st Half-Flotilla: Commander Conrad Albrecht, "G 39."
Chief of Flotilla II: Captain Schuur, "B 98."
Chief of 3rd Half-Flotilla: Captain Boest, "G 101."
Chief of 4th Half-Flotilla: Captain Dittamar (Adolf), "B 109.''
Chief of Flotilla III: Captain Hollmann, " S 53."
Chief of 5th Half-Flotilla: Commander Gautier, "V 71"
Chief of 6th Half-Flotilla: Commander Karlowa, "S 54."
Chief of Flotilla V: Captain Heinecke, "G 11."
Chief of 9th Half-Flotilla: Commander Hoefer, "V 2."
Chief of loth Half-Flotilla: Commander Klein (Friedrich), "G 8."
Chief of Flotilla VI: Captain Max Schultz, " G 41."
Chief of 11th Half-Flotilla: Commander Rümann, "V 44."
Chief of 12th Half-Flotilla: Commander Laks, "V 69."
Chief of Flotilla VII: Captain von Koch, "S 24."
Chief of 13th Half-Flotilla: Commander von Zitzewitz (Gerhard), "S 15''
Chief of 14th Half-Flotilla: Captain Cordes (Hermann), "S 19."
Chief of Flotilla IX: Captain Goehle, "V 28."
Chief of 17th Half-Flotilla: Commander Ehrhardt, "V 27."
Chief of 18th Half-Flotilla: Captain Tillessen (Werner), "V 30."
Leader of the Submarines: Captain Bauer, Hamburg. Admiralty Staff Officer: Captain Lützow (Friedrich).
"U24"—Commander: Lieut. Schneider (Rudolf).
"U 32 "—Commander: Lieut. Baron Spiegel von und zu Peckelsheim.
"U 63 "—Commander: Lieut. Schultze (Otto).
"U 66 "—Commander: Lieut. von Bothmer.
"U 70 " Commander: Lieut. Wünsche.
"U 43 "—Commander: Lieut. Jürst.
"U 44 "—Commander: Lieut. Wagenführ.
"U 52 "—Commander: Lieut. Walther (Hans).
"U 47 "—Commander: Lieut. Metzger.
"U 45"—Commander: Lieut. Hillebrand (Leo).
"U 22 "—Commander: Lieut. Hoppe.
"U 19 "—Commander: Lieut. Weizbach (Raimund).
"U B 22 " —Commander; Lieut. Putzier.
"U B 21"—Commander: Lieut. Hashagen.
"U 53 "—Commander: Lieut. Rose.
"U 64 "—Commander: Lieut. Morath (Robert).
"L 11 "—Commander: Captain Schutze (Viktor).
" L 17 "—Commander: Lieut. Ehrlich (Herbert).
"L 14"—Commander: Lieut. Bocker
"L 21 "—Commander: Lieut. Dietrich (Max).
"L 23 "—Commander: Lieut. von Schubert.
" L 16 "—Commander: Lieut. Sommerfeldt.
" L 13 "—Commander: Lieut. Prölt.
"L 9 "—Commander: Captain Stelling.
"L 22 "—Commander: Lieut. Dietrich (Martin).
"L 24 "—Commander: Lieut. Koch (Robert).

Vice-Admiral Hipper, Chief of the Reconnaissance Forces was ordered to leave the Jade Basin with his forces at 4 a.m., May 31, to advance towards the Skagerrak out of sight of Horns Reef, and the Danish coast, to show himself off the Norwegian coast before dark, to cruise in the Skagerrak during the night, and at noon the next day to join up with the Main Fleet. The ships under his command comprised the Scouting Division I and II. To the latter was attached the light cruiser Regensburg, flagship of the Second Leader of the torpedo-boats; under his command were the Flotillas II, VI, and IX. The Main Fleet, consisting of Squadrons I, II, and III, of Scouting Division IV, the First Leader of torpedo-boats, in the Rostock, and Torpedo-Boat Flotillas I, II, V, and VII, were to follow at 4.30 A.M. to cover the reconnaissance forces during the enterprise and take action on June 1. The sailing order of the battleships was as follows: Squadron III in van, Squadron I following, and Squadron II in the rear.

The König Albert was absent from Squadron III, having been incapacitated a few days previously through condenser trouble. Notwithstanding the loss of this important unit, I could not bring myself further to postpone the enterprise, and preferred to do without the ship. Squadron II was without the Preussen, which had been placed at the disposal of the Commander-in-Chief of the Baltic forces to act as guard-ship at the south egress from the Sound. Lothringen was deemed unfit for service. Scouting Division IV, and the Leader of Torpedo-Boats in the light cruiser Rostock, together with the Torpedo-Boat Flotillas I, II, V, and VII, were attached to the battleships.

To the west of the Amrum Bank a passage had been cleared through the enemy minefields which led the High Sea forces safely to the open sea. Visibility was good, with a light north-westerly wind, and there was no sea on. At 7.30 A.M. "U 32 " reported at about 70 miles east of the Firth of Forth, two battleships, two cruisers, and several torpedo-boats taking a south-easterly course. At 8.30 a second wireless was received stating that she had intercepted English wireless messages to the effect that two large battleships and groups of destroyers had run out from Scapa Flow. At 8.48 A.M. a third message came through from "U 66 " that about 60 nautical miles east of Kinnairel [sic., ? Kinnaird Head], eight enemy battleships, light cruisers, and torpedo-boats had been sighted on a north-easterly course.

These reports gave no enlightenment as to the enemy's purpose. But the varied forces of the separate divisions of the fleet, and their diverging courses did not seem to suggest either combined action or an advance on the German Bight or any connection with our enterprise, but showed a possibility that our hope of meeting with separate enemy divisions was likely to be fulfilled. We were, therefore, all the more determined to keep to our plan. Between 2 and 3 P.M. "L 9", 14, 16, 21 and 23 ascended for long-distance reconnaissance in the sector north to west of Heligoland. They took no part in the battle that so soon was to follow, neither did they see anything of their own Main Fleet, nor of the enemy, nor hear anything of the battle.


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