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

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



At 4.28 P.M. the leading boat of the 4th Torpedo-Boat Half-Flotilla, "B 109," reported that Elbing, the west wing cruiser on the Chief of Reconnaissance's line, had been sent to examine a steamer about go nautical miles west of Bovbjerg, and had sighted some enemy forces. It was thanks to that steamer that the engagement took place; our course might have carried us past the English cruisers had the torpedo-boat not proceeded to the steamer and thus sighted the smoke from the enemy in the west.

As soon as the enemy, comprising eight light cruisers of the "Caroline" type, sighted our forces, he turned off to the north. Admiral Bodicker gave chase with his cruisers. At 5.20 P.M. the Chief of the Reconnaissance then sighted in a westerly direction two columns of large vessels taking an easterly course. These soon showed themselves to be six battle-cruisers, three of the "Lion" class, one "Tiger," and two "Indefatigables," besides numbers of lighter forces. The Chief of Reconnaissance called back Scouting Division II, which he had sent to give chase in the north, and prepared to attack. The enemy deployed to the south in fighting line. It was Vice-Admiral Beatty with the First and Second English Battle-Cruiser Squadrons, consisting of the Lion, Princess Royal, Queen Mary, Tiger, New Zealand, and Indefatigable. That the enemy deployed to the south was a very welcome fact for us, as it offered the possibility of inducing the enemy to fall back on his own main fleet. The Chief of Reconnaissance therefore followed the movement, manœuvred to get within effective firing range, and opened fire at 5.49 P.M., at a range of about 130 hm. [Edward Beatty gave a range of 18,500 yards].

The fighting proceeded on a south-easterly course. The Chief of Reconnaissance kept the enemy at effective distance. The batteries fixed their aim well; hits were observed on all the enemy ships. Already at 6.13 P.M., the battle-cruiser Indefatigable, the last in the line of the enemy cruisers, sank with a terrible explosion caused by the guns of the Von der Tann. Superiority in firing and tactical advantages of position were decidedly on our side up to 6.19 P.M., when a new unit of four or five ships of the " Queen Elizabeth " type, with a considerable surplus of speed, drew up from a north-westerly direction, and beginning at a range of 200 hm., joined the fighting. It was the Fifth English Battle Squadron.¹ This made the situation critical for our cruisers. The new enemy fired with extraordinary rapidity and accuracy' with the greater ease as regards the latter that he met with almost no opposition, as our battle-cruisers were fully engaged with Admiral Beatty's ships.

At 6.20 P.M. the fighting distance between the battle-cruisers on both sides was about 120 hm., while between our battle-cruisers and those with Queen Elizabeth the distance was something like Position at 5.49 P.M. 180 hm. At this stage Torpedo-Boat Flotilla IX was the only one of the flotillas under the Chief of Reconnaissance that was in a position to attack. The Second Leader of Torpedo-Boats, Commodore Heinrich, on board the Regensburg, and some few boats belonging to Torpedo, Flotilla II, were getting up steam with all speed in a diagonal line from the Chief of Reconnaissance's furthest point. The cruisers of Scouting Division 11, together with the remaining torpedo flotillas, were forced by the " Queen Elizabeths " to withdraw to the east to escape their fire and had, therefore, in spite of working their engines to the utmost, not been able to arrive in position at the head of the battle-cruisers.

In view of the situation, the Second Leader of the Torpedo Boats ordered Torpedo Flotilla IX (whose chief, Captain Goehle, had already decided on his own initiative to prepare to attack) to advance to the relief of the battle-cruisers.

At about 6.30 P.M. Torpedo Flotilla IX proceeded to attack, running through heavy enemy firing. Twelve torpedoes were fired on the enemy lines at distances ranging between 95—80 hm. It was impossible to push the attack closer on the enemy, as at the same time that Flotilla IX got to work, eighteen to twenty English destroyers, covered by light cruisers, appeared on the scene to counter-attack and beat off our torpedo-boats. The result was a torpedo-boat fight at close range (1,000—1,500 m.). The Regensburg, together with the boats of Torpedo-Boat Flotilla II that were with her, and the centrally situated guns on the battle-cruisers, then joined in the fight. After about ten minutes the enemy turned away. On our side "'V27" and "V29" were sunk, hit by shots from heavy calibre guns. The crews of both the boats were rescued in spite of enemy fire, by " V 26 " and " S 35." On the enemy side two, or perhaps three, destroyers were sunk, and two others so badly damaged that they could not get away, and fell later into the hands of our advancing Main Fleet. The enemy made no attempt to rescue the crews of these boats.

During the attack by the torpedo-boats, the English battlecruisers were effectively held in check by the Scouting Division I with heavy artillery, which at the same time manœuvred so successfully that none of the numerous enemy torpedoes observed by Torpedo-Boat Flotilla IX hit their objectives. Towards 6.30 P.M. a powerful explosion was observed on board the third enemy cruiser— the Queen Mary. When the smoke from the explosion cleared away the cruiser had disappeared. Whether the destruction was the result of artillery action or was caused by a torpedo from the battlecruisers or by a torpedo from Torpedo-Boat Flotilla IX can never be ascertained for certain, but most probably it was due to artillery action which caused an explosion of ammunition or oil on board the enemy vessel. It was not until night that I heard of the destruction of the two battle-cruisers.

The attack by Flotilla IX had at all events been successful in so far that for a time it checked the enemy's fire. Admiral Hipper took advantage of this to divert the cruisers to a north-westerly course and thus secure for himself the lead at the head of the cruisers in the new phase of the fight. Immediately following on the attack by the torpedo-boats, the German Main Fleet appeared on the scene of battle just in the nick of time to help the reconnaissance forces in their fight against considerably superior numbers.



At 4.28 P.M.² about 50 nautical miles west of Lyngoig, on the Jutland coast, the first news of the sighting of enemy light forces was reported to the Main Fleet proceeding in the following order: Squadrons III, I, II, the flagship at the head of Squadron I, on a northerly course, speed 14 knots—distance between the vessels, 7 hm., distance between the squadrons, 35 hm., the torpedo-boats as U-boat escort for the squadrons, the light cruisers of Scouting Division IV allotted to the Main Fleet to protect their course.

At 5.35 the first report was sent that heavy forces had been sighted. The distance between the Chief of Reconnaissance and the Main Fleet was at that time about 50 nautical miles. On receipt of this message, the fighting line was opened (that is, the distance between the squadrons was reduced to 1,000 m., and between the vessels to 500 m.), and the order was given to clear the ships for action.

In the fighting line the Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet is not tied to any fixed position. When there is a question of leading several squadrons it is not advisable to take up a position at the head of the line, as it is not possible from there to watch the direction in which the fight develops, as that greatly depends on the movements of the enemy. Being bound to any such position might lead to the Commander-in-Chief finding himself at the rear instead of at the head of his assembled line. A position in the centre or at a third of the line (according to the number of units) is more advantageous. In the course of events the place of the eighth ship in the line for the flagship has been tested and approved of.

During the whole time that fighting was going on I had a clear look-out over the whole line and was able to signal with great rapidity in both directions. As the fighting line of the warships was more than 10 km. long, I should not have been able to overlook my entire line from the wing, especially under such heavy enemy firing.

The message received at 5.45 P.M. ,from the Chief of Reconnaissance that he was engaged with six enemy battle-cruisers on a southeasterly course showed that he had succeeded in meeting the enemy, and as he fought was drawing him closer to our Main Fleet. The duty of the Main Fleet was now to hasten as quickly as possible to support the battle-cruisers, which were inferior as to material, and to endeavour to hinder the premature retreat of the enemy. At 6.5, therefore, I took a north-westerly course at a speed of 15 knots, and a quarter of an hour later altered it to a westerly course in order to place the enemy between two fires, as he, on his southerly course, would have to push through between our line and that of the battle-cruisers. While the Main Fleet was still altering course, a message came from Scouting Division II that an English unit of warships, five ships (not four!) had joined in the fight.

The situation thus was becoming critical for Scouting Division I, confronted as they were by six battle-cruisers and five battleships. Naturally, therefore, everything possible had to be done to get into touch with them, and a change was made back to a northerly course. The weather was extremely clear, the sky cloudless, a light breeze from N.W., and a calm sea. At 6.30 P.M. the fighting lines were sighted. At 6.45 P.M. Squadrons I and III opened fire, while the Chief of Reconnaissance, with the forces allotted to him, placed himself at the head of the Main Fleet.

The light enemy forces veered at once to the west, and as soon as they were out of firing range turned northwards. ,Whether the fire from our warships had damaged them during the short bombardment was doubtful, but their vague and purposeless hurrying to and fro led one to think that our fire had reached them and that the action of our warships had so surprised them that they did not know which way to turn next.

The English battle-cruisers turned to a north-westerly course; Queen Elizabeth and the ships with her followed in their wake, and thereby played the part of cover for the badly damaged cruisers. In so doing, however, they came very much nearer to our Main Fleet, and we came on at a firing distance of 17 hm. or less. While both the English units passed by each other and provided mutual cover, Captain Max Schultz, Chief of Torpedo-Boat Flotilla VI, attacked at 6.49 P.M., with the Eleventh Torpedo-Boat HalfFlotilla. The result could not be seen.

The fighting which now ensued developed into a stern chase; our reconnaissance forces pressed on the heels of the enemy battlecruisers, and our Main Fleet gave chase to the Queen Elizabeth and the ships with her. Our ships in Squadron III attained a speed of over 20 knots, which was also kept up on board the Kaiserin. Just before fire was opened she had succeeded in repairing damage to one of her condensers. By the Friedrich der Grosse, the Fleet Flagship, 20 knots was achieved and maintained. In spite of this, the enemy battle-cruisers succeeded soon after 7 o'clock in escaping from the fire of Scouting Division I. The Queen Elizabeth and her sister ships also made such good way that they were only under fire from the ships of Scouting Division I and of the Fifth Division (First Half of Squadron III). The hope that one of the ships pursued would be so damaged as to fall a prey to our Main Fleet was not fulfilled, although our firing was effective, and at 7.30 P.M. it was seen that a ship of the " Queen Elizabeth " type after she had been hit repeatedly, drew slowly out of the fighting line with a heavy list to leeward. Two modern, destroyers, the Nestor and Nomad, were all that fell to the share of the Main Fleet; they were hit and badly damaged in the attack by Torpedo-Boat Flotilla IX, and were overtaken and sunk by us; the crews were taken prisoner.

At 7.20 P.M., when the fire from Scouting Division I and from the ships of the Fifth Division appeared to grow weaker, the leaders of the Fleet were under the impression that the enemy was succeeding in getting away, and gave orders to the Chief of Reconnaissance and to all the fighting forces "to give chase." Meanwhile, the previously clear weather had become less clear; the wind had changed from N.W. to S.W. Powder fumes and smoke from the funnels hung over the sea and cut off all view from north and east. Only now and then could we see our own reconnaissance forces. Owing to the superior speed of Beatty's cruisers, our own, when the order came to give chase, were already out-distanced by the enemy battle-cruisers and light craft, and were thus forced, in order not to lose touch, to follow on the inner circle and adopt the enemy's course. Both lines of cruisers swung by degrees in concentric circles by the north to a north-easterly direction. A message which was to have been sent by the Chief of Reconnaissance could not be dispatched owing to damage done to the principal and reserve wireless stations on his flagship. The cessation of firing at the head of the line could only be ascribed to the increasing difficulty of observation with the sun so low on the horizon, until finally it became impossible. When, therefore, enemy light forces began a torpedo attack on our battle-cruisers at 7.40 P.M., the Chief or Reconnaissance had no alternative but to manœuvre and finally bring the unit round to S.W. in an endeavour to close up with the Main Fleet, as it was impossible to return the enemy's fire to any purpose.



I observed almost simultaneously that the admiral at the head of our squadron of battleships began to veer round to starboard in an easterly direction. This was in accordance with the instructions signalled to keep up the pursuit. As the Fleet was still divided in columns, steering a north-westerly course as directed, the order "Leader in Front" was signaled along the line at 7.45 P.M., and the speed temporarily reduced to 15 knots, so as to make it possible for the divisions ahead, which had pushed on at high pressure, to get into position again.

As long as the pursuit was kept up, the movements of the English gave us the direction, consequently our line by degrees veered round to the east. During these proceedings in the Main Fleet, Scouting Division II, under Rear-Admiral Bodicker, when engaged with a light cruiser of the "Calliope" class,³ which was set on fire, sighted several light cruisers of the "Town " class, and several big ships, presumably battleships, of which the Agincourt was one. Owing to the mist that hung over the water, it was impossible to ascertain the entire strength of the enemy. The group was at once heavily fired on, returned the fire, discharged torpedoes, and turned in the direction of their own Main Fleet. No result could be observed, as artificial smokes was at once employed to protect the cruisers. In spite of the fog theWiesbaden and Pillau were both badly hit. The Wiesbaden (Captain Reiss) lay in the thick of the enemy fire, incapable of action.

The Chiefs of the 12th and 9th Torpedo-Boat Half-Flotillas who were stationed behind the cruisers, recognising the gravity of the situation, came to the front. Both came under fire from a line of numbers of big ships on a N.W. course, and fired their torpedoes from within 60 hm. of the enemy. Here, too, it was impossible to observe what success was achieved, as dense clouds of smoke hid the enemy from view directly they veered round. But both the above-mentioned commanders reckon that they met with success, having attacked under favourable conditions.

While this encounter with the advance guard of the English Main Fleet was taking place, we, on our flagship were occupied debating how much longer to continue the pursuit in view of the advanced time. There was no longer any question of a cruiser campaign against merchantmen in the Skagerrak, as the meeting with the English fighting forces which was to result from such action had already taken place. But we were bound to take into consideration that the English Fleet, if at sea, which was obvious from the ships we had encountered, would offer battle the next day. Some steps would also have to be taken to shake off the English light forces before darkness fell in order to avoid any loss to our Main Fleet from nocturnal torpedo-boat attacks.

A message was then received from the leader of Scouting Division II that he had been fired on by some newly arrived large ships. At 8.2 p.m. came a wireless: " Wiesbaden incapable of action." On receipt of the message I turned with the Fleet two points to larboard [port] so as to draw nearer to the group and render assistance to the Wiesbaden. From 8.20 onwards there was heavy fighting round the damaged Wiesbaden, and good use was made of the ship's torpedoes. Coming from a north-north-westerly direction, the "Queen Elizabeth" ships and also probably Beatty's battle-cruisers attacked (prisoners, however, stated that after 7.0 P.M. the latter took no part in the fight).

A fresh unit of cruisers (three "Invincibles" and four "Warriors ") bore down from the north, besides light cruisers and destroyers. A further message from the torpedo-boat flotillas which had gone to support Scouting Division II, stated that they had sighted more than twenty enemy battleships following a southeasterly course. It was now quite obvious that we were confronted by a large portion of the English Fleet and a few minutes later their presence was notified on the horizon directly ahead of us by rounds of firing from guns of heavy calibre. The entire arc stretching from north to east was a sea of fire. The flash from the muzzles of the guns was distinctly seen through the mist and smoke on the horizon, though the ships themselves were not distinguishable. This was the beginning of the main phase of the battle.

There was never any question of our line veering round to avoid an encounter. The resolve to do battle with the enemy stood firm from the first. The leaders of our battleship squadrons, the Fifth Division turned at once for a running fight, carried on at about 13,000 m. The other divisions followed this movement on orders signalled from the flagship. By this time more than a hundred heavy guns had joined in the fight on the enemy's side, directing fire chiefly at our battle-cruisers and the ships of the Fifth Division (the " König " class). The position of the English line (whose centre we must have faced) to our leading point brought fire on us from three sides. The " Queen Elizabeths " fired diagonally from larboard [port]; the ships of the Main Fleet, which Jellicoe had brought up, from the forecastle starboard. Many shots were aimed at the Friedrich der Grosse, but the ship was never hit.

During this stage of the fight the cruisers Defence, Black Prince, and Warrior came up from the north, but were all destroyed by the fire from our battleships and our battle-cruisers. Fire from the Friedrich der Grosse was aimed at one of the three, which in a huge white cloud of steam was blown into the air, at 3,000 m. distance. I observed several enemy hits and consequent explosions on the ships at our leading point. Following the movement of the enemy they had made a bend which hindered free action of our Torpedo Boat Flotilla II stationed there.

I could see nothing of our cruisers, which were still farther forward. Owing to the turning aside that was inevitable in drawing nearer, they found themselves between the fire of both lines. For this reason I decided to turn our line and bring it on to an opposite course. Otherwise an awkward situation would have arisen round the pivot which the enemy line by degrees was passing, as long-distance shots from the enemy would certainly have hit our rear ships. As regards the effectiveness of the artillery, the enemy was more favourably situated, as our ships stood out against the clear western horizon, whereas his own ships were hidden by the smoke and mist of the battle. A running artillery fight on a southerly course would therefore not have been advantageous to us. The swing round was carried out in excellent style. At our peace manœuvres great importance was always attached to their being carried out on a curved line and every means employed to ensure the working of the signals. The trouble spent was now well repaid; the cruisers were liberated from their cramped position and enabled to steam away south and appeared, as soon as the two lines were separated, in view of the flagship. The torpedoboats, too, on the leeside of the fire had room to move to the attack and advanced.

While the veering round of the line was proceeding, two boats of Torpedo-Boat Flotilla III ("G88" and "V73 ") and the leading boat of Torpedo-Boat Flotilla I (" S 32 ") had attacked. The remaining boats of Torpedo-Boat Flotilla III had ceased the attack on an order to retire from the leader. The weakening of the enemy fire had induced the First Leader to give the order, being persuaded that the enemy had turned away and that the flotilla, which would be urgently needed in the further development of the battle, would find itself without support. Owing to the shortening of the line at the head, the boats of the other flotillas were not able to attack. One division (Torpedo-Boat Flotillas IX and VI) had just returned from the 8 o'clock attack. The enemy line did not follow our veer round. In the position it was to our leading point, it should have remained on, and could have held us still further surrounded if by a simultaneous turn to a westerly course it had kept firmly to our line.


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