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Germany's High Sea Fleet in the World War
Chapter 11a - After the Battle

ON June 1 at 3 P.M. the Friedrich der Grosse anchored in the Wilhelmshaven Roads. Meanwhile the crews on all our ships had attained full consciousness of the greatness of our successes against the superior enemy forces, and loud and hearty cheers went up as they steamed past the flagship of their leader. Though they had been under such heavy fire, very little external damage on the ships was apparent; none keeled over or showed an increased draught. On a closer inspection, however, considerable damage was disclosed, but the armour-plating had so thoroughly served its purpose of protecting the vital parts of the ships that their navigating capabilities had not suffered. The König and Grosser Kurfürst went into dock as their anchor cables had been shot away. The battle-cruisers were also docked to find out to what extent repairs would be necessary. In their case the exterior damage was considerably greater. It was astonishing that the ships had remained navigable in the state they were in. This was chiefly attributable to the faulty exploding charge of the English heavy calibre shells, their explosive effect being out of all proportion to their size. A number of bits of shell picked up clearly showed that powder only had been used in the charge. Many shells of 34- and 38-cm. calibre had burst into such large pieces that, when picked up, they were easily fitted together again. On the other hand, the colour on the ships' sides, where they had been hit, showed that picric acid had been used in some of the explosive charges. A technical Commission from the Imperial Naval Department made a thorough investigation of the effects of the shots in order to utilise the experience gained. We arrived immediately at one conclusion—a final decision on the much-debated question of protective torpedo-nets for the Fleet to the effect that the nets must be done away with. On most of the ships they were so damaged as to make it impossible to remove them after the fighting; they hung, for the most part, in a dangerous fashion out of their cases and it was a wonder that they did not get entangled in the propellers, an occurrence which, during the battle— or at any time for that matter—might have greatly inconvenienced the Fleet. The total impression produced by all the damage done was that by their splendid construction our ships had proved to be possessed of extraordinary powers of resistance.

The next step was to make arrangements for the repairing of the ships as the docks at Wilhelmshaven were not able to cope with all the work, and it was essential that the Fleet should be brought as quickly as possible into a state of preparedness for action. The Wilhelmshaven yard was entrusted with the repairs of the Seydlitz, and the ships of Squadron I, of which the Ostfriesland—owing to a mine explosion-—and the Helgoland—hit above the water-line—had to be placed in dock. The Grosser Kurfurst, Markgraf, and Moltke were sent to Hamburg to be repaired by Blohm & Voss and the Vulcan Works. The König and the Derfflinger, after the latter had been temporarily repaired in the floating-dock at Wilhelmshaven, proceeded through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal to the Imperial Yard and Howaldt's yard at Kiel.

The Imperial Dockyards at Kiel under the management of Vice-Admiral von Henkel-Gebhardi, and those at Wilhelmshaven under Rear-Admiral Engel, as well as the private yards occupied on repairs, deserve the greatest credit for the excellent work done in restoring the Fleet.

If the English Fleet had fared as well as the English Press accounts led us to believe we might count on their immediately seizing the opportunity for a great attack. But it never came off. Our efforts were centred on putting to sea again as soon as possible for a fresh advance. By the middle of August the Fleet was again in readiness, with the exception of the battle-cruisers Seydlitz and Derfflinger. But a new ship, the Bayern, had been added to the Fleet, the first to mount guns of 38 cm.

Immediately after the battle joyful messages and congratulations on the success of the Fleet poured in from all divisions of the army in the field, from every part of the country and from all classes of the people. I welcomed with special gratitude the many sums received towards the support of the families of the fallen and wounded, which showed in a touching manner the sympathy of the donors, and which, in a very short space of time, reached the sum of one million marks.

The first honour paid to the Fleet was a visit from His Majesty the Emperor on June 5, who, on board the flagship, Friedrich der Gross, made a hearty speech of welcome to divisions drawn from the crews of all the ships, thanking them in the name of the Fatherland for their gallant deeds. In the afternoon the Emperor visited all the hospitals where the wounded lay, as well as the hospital ship Sierra Ventana, where lay Rear-Admiral Behncke, Leader of Squadron III, who was wounded in the battle, and who was able to give the Emperor a detailed account of his impressions while at the head of the battleships. Several of the German princes also visited the Fleet, bringing greetings from their homes to the crews and expressing pride in the Fleet and the conduct of the men. The Grand Dukes of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and of Oldenburg came directly after the battle and were followed very soon after by the Kings of Saxony and Bavaria.

All this afforded clear proof that no other organisation in the Empire was so fitted to signify its unity as the Navy, which brought together in closest contact those belonging to all classes in the Fatherland and united them by common action in fortune and misfortune. Apart from the inspection of the ships, these visits also offered an opportunity of gaining information respecting the general duties of the Fleet and the plans for the impending battle that was expected, for, as those visits proved, the battle had greatly enhanced the interest in the Fleet throughout the whole country.

The development of the battle and its lessons were thus summarised by me at the time:

" The battle was brought about as a result of our systematic efforts to attract the enemy out of his retirement, especially of the more drastic operations which culminated in the bombardment of the English coast. England's purpose of strangling Germany economically without seriously exposing her own Fleet to the German guns had to be defeated. This offensive effort on our part was intensified by the fact that the prohibition of the U-boat trade-war made it impossible for us to aim a direct blow at England's vital nerve. We were therefore bound to try and prove by all possible means that Germany's High Sea Fleet was able and willing to wage war with England at sea and thus help to establish Germany's claim to independent overseas development.

" The German idea incorporated in the founding of the Fleet had to hold its own in battle in order not to perish. The readiness to face a battle rests on the fundamental idea that even the numerically inferior must not shirk an attack if the will to conquer is supported by a devoted staff, confidence in material, and a firm conviction of perfect training.

" A preliminary fight between cruisers lasting about two hours, which proved the superiority of our guns, was followed by the engagement with the vastly superior enemy Main Fleet. The clever attempts made by the English to surround and cut us off from home by their Main Fleet were turned into a defeat, as we twice succeeded in pushing into the enemy formation with all our strength, and in withdrawing from the intended encircling movement. In spite of various attacks during the night we forced a way for ourselves to Horns Reef, and thus secured an important strategical point for the following morning.

" The enemy suffered twice as much material loss and three times as many losses in personnel as we did. English superiority was thus wrecked, for the Fleet was unable to keep in touch with us at the close of the day-battle and its own formation was broken.

" After an encounter with our leading ships, as darkness came on the English battle-cruisers lost touch with us in a mysterious way. They advanced into an empty North Sea.

" At the end of the battle the English Main Fleet had lost touch with its other units and they only came together again the following day at 6 P.M.

" After a continuous, and for the English very disastrous, night's fighting, Jellicoe did not seek us out the following morning, although he possessed both the power and the requisite speed to do so.

" We have been able to prove to the world that the English Navy no longer possesses her boasted irresistibility. To us it has been granted to fight for the rights of the German Nation on the open seas, and the battle proved that the organisation of our Navy as a High Sea Fleet was a step in the right direction. The German national spirit can only be impressed on the world through a High Sea Fleet directed against England. If, however, as an outcome of our present condition, we are not finally to be bled to death, full use must be made of the U-boat as a means of war, so as to grip England's vital nerve."

I expressed these views to the Imperial Chancellor, who visited the Fleet on June 30 in company with the Under-Secretary of State, von Stumm, and laid great emphasis on them in my report of July 4, as I noticed from communications from the Chief of the Naval Staff and the Naval Cabinet that efforts were on foot for resuming the U-boat warfare in its inadequate form. The Imperial Chancellor gave me a detailed but gloomy picture of the situation which forced him for the time to ward off any further enemies from Germany, who, he was convinced, would soon show themselves on the proclamation of unrestricted U-boat warfare. I explained to him the military reasons which would render ineffectual the carrying on of the U-boat war on a cruiser basis.

Whether political circumstances would permit us to employ the most effective weapon against England was, however, a matter for the Cabinet to decide, and for my part as Chief of the Fleet I would not attempt to exert any pressure in that direction, as that was the business of the Naval Staff. But I could not approve of carrying on the U-boat campaign in a milder form, for that would be unsatisfactory from every point of view. The Imperial Chancellor agreed with me, but declared, for various reasons, that he could not embark on a course of unrestricted U-boat warfare, because it was impossible to avoid incidents which might lead to complications, and the result would be that the fate of the German nation might lie in the hands of one U-boat commander. Before leaving Wilhelmshaven he met at dinner all the admirals then stationed there, and on this occasion he expressed the hope that in this war we should succeed in making good use of all the weapons of the Navy.

After this visit, however, it became abundantly clear to me that for the time being we were hardly likely to resume the active U-boat campaign against English commerce. In a long interview with the Imperial Chancellor that afternoon, I gathered from his remarks that he was very anxious not to incense England further, or to provoke that country to " war to the death."

Very soon all sorts of rumours arose concerning this visit: the Chancellor had gone with the object of persuading the admirals to weaken their attacks upon the British; he had more especially objected to the airship raids. All these reports were absolutely unfounded, for these matters were never touched upon, and moreover, I could not have considered it within his province to give me advice as to the manner in which war was to be waged.

Until the active operations of the Fleet were resumed, the torpedo-boats continued their efforts to get in touch with the enemy. As the base in Flanders offered better opportunities for this, while the Fleet was restricted in its activities, a flotilla was despatched there. This arrangement was continued later. At first detachments of the various flotillas were sent in turn, in order as far as possible to afford all boats the opportunity of becoming familiar with the methods of attack from that point. Later on, it appeared more advantageous to place a single flotilla for this purpose under the control of the Naval Corps, so as to make full use of the knowledge they had acquired of the local conditions.

At the beginning of August it was possible to resume the air raids again, as the nights had by then grown darker. The first attack was made in the night of the 2nd and 3rd, and was directed upon the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. London, too, was extensively bombed. In the night of August 8th - 9th there was another attack, this time upon the Midlands; and at the end of the month, in the night of August 24th—25th, there was a third raid upon the City, and the south-west district of London, as well as upon Harwich, Folkestone and the roads at Dover. One army airship took part in this. In spite of active opposition the airships returned safely from all three expeditions.

We learnt that the English defences had been decidedly improved, which rendered our attacks more difficult. The greater the effort England made to maintain her army on the Continent and in the other theatres of war, in order to do her part in forcing the decision against us on land, the more embarrassing she must have found it to organise a strong defence against airships.

Between these two periods of attack the airships were placed at the service of the Intelligence Department in connection with an attack which was planned as soon as the ships had been made ready, and which was to be again directed towards Sunderland. No change in the strategic disposition of the English Fleet had been observed. The U-boat campaign against commerce in the war-zone round about England was still in abeyance, and the U-boats were ready to be used for military purposes. These two weapons, the airships and the U-boats, would, I thought, make up for the superiority of the English Fleet in other respects.

The disposition of U-boats outside British ports on May 31 in accordance with the plan we had adopted had resulted in no success worth speaking of; it was bound to fail if the English Fleet was already at sea when the flotilla put out. Nor was their method of attack satisfactory. Before the Firth of Forth each of the seven U-boats which had been dispatched thither had a certain sector assigned to it, and these sectors radiated from a central point at the mouth of the estuary. The nearer the boats came to the estuary, the nearer they approached each other in the neighbourhood of this central point, so that they were liable to get in each other's way, or mistake one another for hostile craft. If they stood farther out to sea, the distance between them was increased and they lost their formation, thereby making it easier for the enemy to get through

The matter was, therefore, reconsidered, and new arrangements made which promised greater success. Trial was first to be made of the method of a movable base line in the direction of the probable approach of the enemy, on which line the U-boats were to take up positions. The boats in commission in the middle of August were divided into three groups, two of which consisted of boats belonging to the Fleet, and the other of boats attached to the Naval Corps in Flanders. The two former were first to take up positions indicated in the accompanying plan by "U-Line I " and " U-Line III." In this way they afforded protection to the Fleet on either flank when proceeding to attack. The U-boats of the Fleet took up a position of defence for flank and rear against possible attacks from the Channel. In addition to the Lines I and III, other positions had been provided, which the boats were to take up either after a certain interval of time, or upon a prearranged signal. In order that the boats should be directed in accordance with the aims and movements of the Fleet, the officer commanding the U-boats was on board one of the battleships for the duration of the Fleet's attack.


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