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



"L" 11, 13, 17, 22 and 22 had gone up during the night for an early reconnaissance. At 5.10 A.M. "L 11 " reported a squadron of twelve English battleships, numerous light craft and destroyers on a northerly course about the centre of the line Terschelling—Horns Reef, and immediately afterwards enemy battleships and battlecruisers north of the first unit. The airship was heavily fired at but kept in touch until compelled to retire and lost sight of the enemy in the thick atmosphere. The airship's reports taken from its we. diary are as follows:

Reconnaissance Trip of " L 11 " on June 1, 1916

"On June 1 at 1.30, after midnight ' L 11' went up at Nordholz with the following orders: As fourth airship to cover flank of High Sea forces, course N.W. to W. by Heligoland. Full crew on board, fresh south-westerly wind, visibility limited owing to ground fog and later to a fog-like atmosphere high up extending over 2 or at most 4 nautical miles. Heligoland was not visible through the fog. At 5 A.M. clouds of smoke were seen north of the ship in Square O 33 B and were made for. At 5.10 it was possible to make out a strong enemy unit of twelve large warships with numerous lighter craft steering north-north-east full speed ahead. To keep in touch with them ' L 11 ' kept in the rear and sent a wireless report, circling round eastwards. At 5.40 A.M. east of the first unit the airship sighted a second squadron of six big English battleships with lighter forces on a northerly course; when sighted, they turned by divisions to the west, presumably to get into contact with the first unit. As this group was nearer to the Main Fleet than the first one, ' L 11 ' attached itself to it, but at 5.50 a group of three English battle-cruisers and four smaller craft were sighted to the north-east, and, cruising about south of the airship, put themselves between the enemy Main Fleet and ' L 11.' Visibility was so poor that it was extremely difficult to keep in contact. For the most part only one of the units was visible at a time, while, apparently, the airship at an altitude of 1,100—1,900 m. was plainly visible- to the enemy against the rising sun.

"At 5.15, shortly after sighting the first group of battleships, the enemy opened fire on the airship from all the vessels with antiaircraft guns and guns of every calibre. The great turrets fired broadsides; the rounds followed each other rapidly. The flash from the muzzles of the guns could be seen although the ships were hidden by the smoke. All the ships that came in view took up the firing with the greatest energy, so that ' L 11 ' was sometimes exposed to fire from 21 large and numbers of small ships. Although the firing did not take effect, that and the shrapnel bursting all around so shook the ship's frame that it seemed advisable to take steps to increase the range. The firing lasted till 6.20 A.M. At that time the battle-cruisers bearing down from S.W within close distance of ' L 11 ' forced her to retire to N.E. to avoid their fire. At the same time the visibility became worse and the enemy was lost to view.

"' L 11 ' again took a northerly course and went as low down as 500 metres, in the hope of better visibility. It was impossible to see beyond 1 to 2 nautical miles, and as under these conditions no systematic plan for keeping in contact could be made, N. and S. course was followed so as to keep between the enemy and our own Main Fleet. The enemy did not come in sight again.

" At 8 A.M. the Commander-in-Chief of the High Sea Fleet dismissed the airship, and ' L 11 ' returned. On the way back the ship came across a number of our own torpedo-boats exchanging bases, and messages were given for further transmission. The airship remained close to those boats as far as Sylt. Landed at Nordholz at 2 P.M."

At 4 A.M., 50 nautical miles west of Bovbjerg, "L 24" sighted a flotilla of enemy destroyers, was fired at and returned the fire with bombs, then got away further north, and at 5 A.M. discovered a unit of twelve ships in Jammer Bay, steaming rapidly to the south. It was impossible to keep in contact for further reconnaissance as there was a bank of cloud as low down as 800 m.

From the Main Fleet itself no signs of the enemy were visible at daybreak. The weather was so thick that the full length of a squadron could not be made out. In our opinion the ships in a south-westerly direction as reported by "L 11 " could only just have come from the Channel to try, on hearing the news of the battle, to join up with their Main Fleet and advance against us. There was no occasion for us to shun an encounter with this group, but owing to the slight chance of meeting on account of visibility conditions, it would have been a mistake to have followed them. Added to this the reports received from the battle-cruisers showed that Scouting Division I would not be capable of sustaining a serious fight, besides which the leading ships of Squadron III could not have fought for any length of time, owing to the reduction in their supply of munitions by the long spell of firing. The Frankfurt, Pillau and Regensburg were the only fast light cruisers now available, and in such misty weather there was no depending on aerial reconnaissance. There was, therefore, no certain prospect of defeating the enemy reported in the south. An encounter and the consequences thereof had to be left to chance. I therefore abandoned the idea of further operations and ordered the return to port.

On the way back, west of List, the Ostfriesland, at 7.30 A.M., struck a mine, one that evidently belonged to a hitherto unknown and recently laid enemy minefield. The damage was slight; the vessel shipped 400 tons of water, but her means of navigation did not suffer, and she was able to run into harbour under her own steam. I signalled, " Keep on." The last ships passed through the area without coming across further mines.

Several submarine attacks on our returning Main Fleet failed entirely, thanks partly to the vigilance of the airmen who picked up the Main Fleet over List, and escorted them to the mouth of the river. During the course of the day all the ships and boats were safely in their haven, Special mention must be made of the bringing-in of the Seydlitz (Captain von Egidy) badly damaged at her bows. That the vessel ever reached the harbour is due to the remarkable seamanship of her commander and crew. Finally she was run astern into the dock at Wilhelmshaven.

The U-boats lying off English harbours were told to remain at their posts a day longer. At 6.20 P.M., 60 miles north of Terschelling, the " U 46 " came across a damaged vessel of the "Iron Duke" class (the Marlborough). She was, however, so well protected that it would have been impossible to get within firing distance of her. A torpedo was fired, but failed to reach the objective. Among the U-boats lying off enemy harbours the " U 21 " on May 31 and "U 22 " on June 1 both succeeded in hitting a destroyer. In each case, however, the sinking could not be observed owing to enemy counter-action. Besides this, one of our minelayers, occupied in laying mines west of the Orkney Islands, achieved an important success. The English armoured cruiser Hampshire (11,000 tons) struck one of these mines on June 5 and sank; with her perished Field-Marshal Lord Kitchener and all his Staff.


According to careful estimation made by us the enemy lost:

1 Dreadnought of "Queen Elizabeth" class 28,500
3 Battle-cruisers(Queen Mary, Indefatigable and Invincible) 63,000
4 Armoured Cruisers (Black Prince, Defence, Warrior and one of the "Cressy" type) 53,700
2 Light Cruisers 9,000
13 Destroyers 15,000
TOTAL 169,200
We lost:
1 Battle-cruiser (Lützow ) 26,700
1 older Battleship (Pommern) 13,200
4 Light Cruisers (Wiesbaden, Elbing, Rostock and Frauenlob) 17, 150
5 Torpedo-boats 3,680
TOTAL 60,730

The enemy's were almost complete losses, whereas we had rescued the crews of the Lützow, Elbing, Rostock and half of those of the torpedo-boats. [In my first report of the battle sent to the Admiralty at Berlin the loss of the Lützow was mentioned. The announcement of this loss was suppressed by the Naval Staff, though not at my request. The enemy could not have seen the ship go down. In the interests of naval warfare it was right to suppress the news. Unfortunately the secrecy observed produced the impression that it was necessary to enlarge our success to that extent.]

Our losses in personnel amounted to: 2,400 killed; 400 wounded. The enemy's losses may be estimated at over 7,000 killed. According to a list which he added to his report of June 18, 1916, Admiral Jellicoe endeavoured to exaggerate our losses in the following manner:

Correct facts
2 Battleships, "Dreadnought" type (certain) none
1 Battleship, "Deutschland" type (certain) one
1 Battleship or Battle-cruiser (probable) one
1 Battleship, " Dreadnought " type (probable) none
4 Light cruisers (certain) four
1 Large ship or light cruiser (certain) none
6 Torpedo-boat destroyers (certain) five
3 Torpedo-boat destroyers (probable) none
1 Submarine (certain) none
3 Submarines (probable) none

With regard to the submarines he was totally mistaken, as none took part in the battle. I sent my final impressions of the battle in a written report of 4/7/16 to H.M. the Emperor as follows:

" The success achieved is due to the eagerness in attack, the efficient leadership through the subordinates, and the admirable deeds of the crews full of an eminently warlike spirit. It was only possible owing to the excellence of our ships and arms, the systematic peacetime training of the units, and the conscientious development on each individual ship. The rich experience gained will be carefully applied. The battle has proved that in the enlargement of our Fleet and the development of the different types of ships we have been guided by the right strategical and tactical ideas, and that we must continue to follow the same system. All arms can claim a share in the success. But, directly or indirectly, the far reaching heavy artillery of the great battleships was the deciding factor, and caused the greater part of the enemy's losses that are so far known, as also it brought the torpedo-boat flotillas to their successful attack on the ships of the Main Fleet. This does not detract from the merits of the flotillas in enabling the battleships to slip away from the enemy by their attack. The big ship— battleship and battle-cruiser—is therefore, and will be, the main strength of naval power. It must be further developed by increasing the gun calibre, by raising the speed, and by perfecting the armour and the protection below the water-line.

" Finally, I beg respectfully to report to Your Majesty that by the middle of August the High Sea Fleet, with the exception of the Derfflinger and Seydlitz, will be ready for fresh action. With a favourable succession of operations the enemy may be made to suffer severely, although there can be no doubt that even the most successful result from a high sea battle will not compel England to make peace. The disadvantages of our geographical situation as compared with that of the Island Empire and the enemy's vast material superiority cannot be coped with to such a degree as to make us masters of the blockade inflicted on us, or even of the Island Empire itself, not even were all the U-boats to be available for military purposes. A victorious end to the war at not too distant a date can only be looked for by the crushing of English economic life through U-boat action against English commerce. Prompted by the convictions of duty, I earnestly advise Your Majesty to abstain from deciding on too lenient a form of procedure on the ground that it is opposed to military views, and that the risk of the boats would be out of all proportion to the expected gain, for, in spite of the greatest conscientiousness on the part of the Chiefs, it would not be possible in English waters, where American interests are so prevalent, to avoid occurrences which might force us to make humiliating concessions if we do not act with the greatest severity."

I followed up my report on the battle with a more detailed account on July 16, 1916, after Admiral Jellicoe's report had appeared in the English Press. I quote here from the above mentioned account:

" Admiral Jellicoe's report, published in the English Press, confirms as follows the observations made by us:

Grouping of the English Forces

Under Vice-Admiral Beatty:
1st and 2nd Battle-Cruiser Squadrons.
5th Battle Squadron (" Queen Elizabeths ").
1st, 2nd and 3rd Light Cruiser Squadrons.
1st, 9th, 10th and 13th Destroyer Flotillas.
Admiral Jellicoe led:
1st, 2nd and 4th Battle Squadrons (Fleet Flagship at the head of 4th Battle Squadron).
3rd Battle-Cruiser Squadron (" Invincibles ").
1st and 2nd Cruiser Squadrons.
4th Light Cruiser Squadron.
4th, 11th and 12th Destroyer Flotillas.


Intervention in the Battle by the English Main Fleet

" When he first had news that the enemy was sighted, Admiral Jellicoe was north-west of Admiral Beatty's forces. He thereupon advanced at full speed in column formation on a S.E. course, put the 1st and 2nd Cruiser Squadrons for reconnaissance at the head of his formation, and sent forward the 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron (apparently reinforced by the Agincourt ), to support Admiral Beatty. The 3rd Battle-Cruiser Squadron passed east of Admiral Beatty's leader at 7.30 P.M.; they heard in the south-west the thunder of guns, and saw the flashes, sent out the light cruiser Chester to reconnoitre, and themselves took a N.W. course. Shortly before 8 o'clock the Chester encountered our Scouting Division II and was set on fire by them. After pursuing the Chester, Scouting Division II came across the 3rd Battle-Cruiser Squadron, which opened fire on them. The attacks at 8 P.M. by our Torpedo-Boat Flotilla IX and the 12th Half-Flotilla were launched against this 3rd BattleCruiser Squadron.

" Admiral Beatty sighted the 3rd Battle-Cruiser Squadron at 8.10 P.M., and at 8.21 P.M. had it ahead of the 1st and 2nd BattleCruiser Squadrons he was leading.

"At 7.55 P.M. Admiral Jellicoe sighted the fire from the guns. It was impossible for him to make out the position of our Fleet. The difference between his and Admiral Beatty's charts added to the uncertainty in judging of the situation. The report says it was difficult to distinguish between friend and foe. At 8.14 P.M. the battleship squadrons turned east into the line between the 1st and 2nd Battle-Cruiser Squadrons and the 5th Battle Squadron. At 8.17 P.M. the 1st Battle Squadron opened fire on the leaders of our ships of the line. Up to 10.20 P.M. those squadrons, with some few pauses, took part in the fighting.

" Shortly before the battleship squadrons arrived, the 1st Cruiser Squadron, together with light forces from the Main Fleet, joined in the fighting. At 8.50 P.M., therefore, between our first and second blows, Admiral Beatty put the 3rd Battle-Cruiser Squadron in the rear of the 2nd. At 9.6 P.M. the leaders of the battleships made for the south. The total impression received by us of the battle is made more complete by the statements in the English Press, and is not altered.


The Enemy's Action during the Night

"At 9.45 P.M. Admiral Beatty had lost sight of our forces. He sent the 1st and 3rd Light Cruiser Squadrons to reconnoitre in the west, and at 10.20 P.M. went to their support with the 1st and 2nd Battle-Cruiser Squadrons, also on a westerly course. Immediately after came the encounter described in my report with the leading ships of our Main Fleet, consisting of Scouting Divisions IV and I and Squadron II. The fact that our forces turned westward must have led the English Admiral to assume that our Main Fleet had taken a westerly course, and made him follow in that direction. The fact that we at the same time put Squadron II in the rear, and with the new leader, Squadron I, again took a S.E. course, resulted in Admiral Beatty's forces passing west in front of us and ultimately losing contact. It was obvious that after the battle the English Main Fleet was divided into two. Admiral Jellicoe's report makes no mention of this. The one portion, consisting of large battleships and light craft, took apparently northerly and easterly courses, as one group of ships was sighted by 'L 24 ' at 5 A.M. on June 1 in Jammer Bay, close under land. It may perhaps have been both those rear squadrons which made off on the attack by our TorpedoBoat Flotillas VI and IX, and then apparently lost touch with the Main Fleet. The other portion, under Admiral Jellicoe, consisting, according to observations by ' L 11,' of eighteen large battleships, three battle-cruisers (probably the 3rd Battle-Cruiser Squadron) and numerous light forces, had, up to 10.46 P.M., been steering south and then south-west. It would appear, from intercepted English wireless messages, that he covered 15 nautical miles. Based on these courses and the speed, he must have crossed our course at midnight, 10 to 15 nautical miles in front of us, and have taken later a course to the centre of the line Horns Reef— Terschelling, where he was seen at 5 A.M. by ' .L 11 ' on a N.N.E. course..


The Consequence of the Enemy's Action during the Night

"Admiral Jellicoe must have intended to resume the battle with us at dawn. It is inexplicable, therefore, why a portion of the Main Fleet made for Jammer Bay during the night. Nor can it be understood how it was that the enemy's light forces, which were engaged with our Main Fleet up to 4.36 A.M. and thus were in touch with us the whole night, could find a way to inform Admiral Jellicoe and Admiral Beatty of our course and navigation. But even apart from that, it must be assumed that the fire from our guns and the enemy's burning cruisers and destroyers would have pointed out the way to the English Main Fleet. In any case it is a fact that on the morning of June 1 the enemy's heavy forces were broken up into three detachments; one in the North, a second with Admiral Beatty in the North-west, and the third with Admiral Jellicoe South-west of Horns Reef. It is obvious that this scattering of the forces—which can only be explained by the fact that after the day-battle Admiral Jellicoe had lost the general command—induced the Commander to avoid a fresh battle."

¹ According to English accounts, it comprised the Barham, Warspite, Valiant and Malaya. Mention is made of four ships only. According to various observations on our side (by Squadron III and the leader of Scouting Division II) there were five ships. If Queen Elizabeth, or a similar type of ship , was not in the unit it is possible that another recently built man-of-war replaced her

² In comparing the time given in the German and English accounts it must be remembered that there is a difference of two hours, for the reason that we reckon according to summer-time in Central Europe, while the difference between ordinary Central Europe and Greenwich time is one hour. Therefore 4.28 German time corresponds to 2.28 English time.

³Admiral Jellicoe admits that torpedoes reached his line, but claims to have escaped further damage by the clever handling of his ships. Our assumption that he had already turned back before the attack by the torpedo-boats is thus confirmed


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