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

The following was the plan for this enterprise against Sunderland: The Fleet was to put out by night, to advance through the North Sea towards the English coast, so that the line of U-boats might come into action, if required. If no collision with the enemy occurred, and there were no indications that the English Fleet would cut off our retreat from the sea, the ships were to push on to the English coast and bombard Sunderland at sunset. After the bombardment, while the Fleet returned in the darkness to the German Bight, the U-boats were to take up their second positions in the direction of the probable approach of the enemy, if, as was expected, he should come up as a result of the bombardment.

On August 18, therefore, at 10 P.M., the Fleet put to sea from the Jade and set out upon the course indicated in the diagram.

Squadrons III and I took part in full force; to Squadron II had been assigned the duty of protecting the German Bight. The cruisers were stationed at a distance of 20 nautical miles in advance of the Fleet and were to maintain this distance throughout the advance They were reinforced by the following battleships: The Bayern, which had only newly joined the Fleet after the battle of the Skagerrak; the Grosser Kurfurst and the Markgraf, because Scouting Division I was short of two battle-cruisers still under repair. A further reason for the reinforcement was the possibility that the fast squadron of "Queen Elizabeth" ships might have joined the English battle-cruisers. The distance of 20 nautical miles between our cruisers and the main body of the Fleet was to ensure immediate tactical co-operation in the event of our meeting the enemy, and to prevent the Cruiser Division, together with the three valuable battleships which had been assigned to it, from possibly failing to join up with the two other squadrons.

Thanks to the clear weather which prevailed during the advance on the following day, August 19, the smoke of the cruisers was visible all the time. Eight airships, among them three of a new and improved type, had taken up their positions encircling the Fleet. I hoped by this means to be able to get early news of the approach of any considerable English force within the area covered by the airships. The advance of the Fleet took place according to plan along the course indicated in the sketch, up till 2.23 P.M.

At 5.30 A.M. our advance guard met a submarine, which induced me to manœuvre the Fleet so as to evade this danger. Nevertheless, the submarine succeeded in getting within striking distance of the last ship of our line. At 7.5 A.M. the Westfalen reported that she had been hit amidships on the starboard side. Though the ship was not seriously damaged, I nevertheless feared that if she were struck by another torpedo she might be sunk, so I gave up the idea of her going on with us. The Westfalen was able to return to the Jade under her own steam, and on her way was attacked a second time, but the torpedo missed. In the course of the morning various items of information as to enemy movements were received from the airships and U-boats. The positions of the various fighting units and groups of the enemy that were notified, are indicated in the diagram.

At 8.30 A.M. the " L 13 " sighted two destroyer flotillas and behind them a cruiser squadron proceeding at full steam on a south-westerly course, and at 10.40 A.M. some small cruisers with three flotillas on a north-easterly course were seen. At our chief wireless station at Neuminster, owing to the many messages intercepted, they concluded that the English Fleet was at sea, and informed us to this effect. "U53"—Lieutenant-Commander Rose—sighted three large battleships and four small cruisers at 10.10 A.M. on a northerly course, and towards noon " L 21 " announced hostile craft on a northeasterly course. At 1.40 P.M. " U 52 " reported that she had sighted four small hostile cruisers on a northerly course at 9 A.M., and had sunk one of them. Thus the line arrangement had already proved effective. But from all the information received no coherent idea of the counter-measures of the enemy could be formed. We could safely assume that he was aware of the fact that we had put to sea, for the submarine that had hit the Westfalen had had ample time since 7 A.M. to send messages to England. Up to this time the remaining airships had reported no movement of larger forces, and the visibility in the locality of the Fleet justified the assumption that our airships commanded a clear view over the whole sea area.

At 2.22 P.M. the "L 13 ' reported that at 1.30 P.M. it had sighted in the south strong enemy forces comprising about 30 units, on a northerly course in Square 156, and I determined to advance against these forces. The Cruiser Division was called up, and when they had joined us, they were pushed forward in a south-easterly direction in column formation. At 2.30 P.M. another report came from the " L 13 " that the hostile forces were now in Square 144 on a course north by east, that they consisted of 16 destroyers, small and large cruisers and battleships. If we and they continued on our respective courses, we might expect to encounter them in two hours. The Scouting Division and Torpedo Flotilla II were sent ahead to reconnoitre. At 3.50 P.M. the "L 13" reported that it had lost touch with the enemy forces because it had been forced to turn aside from its course in order to avoid thunderstorms. Unfortunately the airship failed to get into touch with them again. I hoped, however, soon to get news of the enemy from our ships, since, according to our reckoning, it was now the hour when the encounter should take place; but I received no information from them. Either the enemy had changed his course, because he was disquieted by the presence of the airship which he assumed was scouting for the Fleet, or the airship, owing to its unreliable navigation, had incorrectly reported his position.

The bulk of the fleet continued to advance until stopped by the minefields in the south. It being then 4.35 P.M., our course was altered to E.S.E., and we began our return journey. There was no further prospect of coming up with the enemy in the south, and it had grown too late to bombard Sunderland. While the Fleet was moving in a south-easterly direction, reports came in from "U 53 " and two airships, " L 11 " and " L 31," which indicated that strong enemy forces had assembled at a spot about 60 nautical miles north of our course, and were steaming in such a direction that they would have met the main portion of our Fleet had it held on its course. "U 53 " had followed the hostile fleet until 4.30 P.M., when she lost sight of it as it was on a southerly course. Later, at 9 P.M., by chance she again met the enemy ships, which were then on a north-westerly course. At 10.45 P.M. this enemy squadron passed within range of "U 65," so that this boat had a chance to attack, which it accepted and succeeded in damaging a large battleship with her torpedoes. The British Fleet then disappeared in a northerly direction under full steam.

Another of our U-boats, " U 66 " (Lieutenant-Commander von Bothmer) encountered six battle-cruisers and a number of small, fast cruisers towards 6 P.M.; these were steaming, when first seen, southeast, but later on their course was northwest. She succeeded in hitting a destroyer with a torpedo which sank her, and badly damaged a small cruiser of the " Chatham " class with two torpedoes. This same group was also sighted by the "L31."

From reports received at 6 P.M. from "U53 " and "L31," it was apparent that the British Main Fleet discontinued its advance to the south about 6 o'clock and turned back in a north-westerly direction. As to the movements of the hostile craft reported by " L 13 " at 2.23 P.M., nothing further was discovered, except that from 7.40 P.M. Onwards six small cruisers and two destroyer flotillas accompanied the main German force on its easterly course until darkness fell. They were first reported by "L 11" and then sighted by our ships as their funnels and masts were just visible above the horizon. There was no doubt but that the English light craft must have recognised our big ships with their heavy smoke-clouds, and as they kept on the same course it was to be inferred that they would keep in touch with us until there was a chance of making a night attack. I had to decide whether or not I should send our light cruisers and torpedoboats against them to drive them off, and I relinquished the idea of doing so, because I reckoned that the English would have the advantage of us in speed. Moreover, I thought that after our lucky experience on the night of June 1, I might run the risk of a combined night attack. But so as not to be surprised by torpedo-boat attacks a strong guard of torpedo-boats was placed in our van, for the return journey by night. The English torpedo-boats, however, did not take advantage of this favourable opportunity to make a night attack upon our whole fleet. To our great surprise, "L 11 " reported at 8.10 P.M. that the enemy was sheering off in a south-easterly direction, and that at 10.10 P.M. he had turned completely and disappeared from view. Probably these light craft belonged to the group first reported by "L 13," and had separated from the battleships.

No further special incidents occurred during our return journey. The cruiser attacked by "U 66 " was met by "U 63" the next day while she was being towed into port. "U 63 " attacked the towing convoy, which had strong protection, and succeeded in sending two torpedoes into the cruiser, which then sank. The protecting destroyers immediately gave chase to " U 63 "; one of them ran her down and rammed her slightly, without, however, doing any serious damage. "U66" sent the following report of her encounter with the enemy: At 5 P.M. she sighted small cruisers, two destroyer flotillas, and in the rear six battle-cruisers, all on a south-easterly course, and she managed to attack a four-funnel destroyer, apparently of the " Mohawk " class. Shortly after being torpedoed the destroyer lay with her stern projecting from the water, while her deck was submerged as far as the third funnel. A little later the whole cruiser squadron returned. " U 66 " then attempted an attack on the small cruisers, that were now in the rear, steaming 25 knots. She got within range of a cruiser of the " Chatham " class, and struck her first in the forecastle and then in the turbine room. The ship stopped at once and lay with a strong list. Kept under water by the hostile destroyers, it was two and a half hours before " U 66 " found an opportunity to attack for the second time. Shortly before firing this torpedo, our U-boat sighted a destroyer 300 metres away bearing down upon her at full steam. The U-boat quickly submerged. Immediately after a loud explosion occurred above the boat, the lights went out, the gratings burst off two hatches, the hatch-covers sprang open so that the water poured in fore and aft, but luckily they were closed again by the pressure of the water. The boat was chased by destroyers until dark, and was then out of sight of the cruiser.

"U 65," which encountered the English Fleet towards evening, made the following report. In the twilight she saw the English Fleet approaching on a westerly course. Its formation was three divisions in single line abreast, of which two comprised seven or eight large battleships, and the other five ships of the " Iron Duke " and " Centurion " classes, and a group of three battle-cruisers, one of which belonged to the "Indefatigable" class. The first squadron proceeded on a N.W. course, and the others followed; the battlecruisers, bringing up the rear, were disposed about 500 metres to port. Pushing forward at full speed, "U 65," at an estimated range of 3,000 metres, fired four torpedoes at the leading battle-cruiser. The U-boat was half submerged, and the observers in the conning-tower. After a lapse of some three minutes, the time required by a torpedo to traverse a distance of 3,000—4,000 metres, a column of fire, 20 metres wide and 40 metres high, rose behind the stern funnel of the last battleship and was visible for about a minute, while the funnel itself, white hot, was clearly discernible through the flames. At the same time there was a violent escape of steam. The fire lasted one minute. When the ship became visible again only the hull, without funnels or masts, was to be seen, whereas the silhouettes of the ships near by, with their funnels and masts, were clearly visible. This attack was made at 10.45 P.M., Lat. N. 55° 25', Long. W. 0° 30'. The commander, the officer of the watch, and the U-boat pilot were all unanimous in their description of this phenomenon. After this the U-boat had to submerge very deeply, as the Main Fleet was surrounded by a considerable number of destroyers (about forty). The only difference of opinion among the observers was as to whether the ship that had been hit was the last battleship of the 3rd Squadron or the leading battle-cruiser.

The disposition of our U-boats in a movable line had met with the desired success, and certainly was more advantageous than stationing them outside the enemy ports of issue, a proceeding which must be worthless if the ships were at sea beforehand. The U-boats also accomplished good service in scouting on this occasion, and the perseverance with which "U 53 " clung to the enemy was especially praiseworthy. Unhappily, her speed was not sufficient to enable her to follow the enemy all the time. The reports from the airships were not entirely reliable, chiefly because they were only eight in number and were expected to keep such a large area in view. Scouting by airships is, in any case, somewhat negative in character, since the fleet is only informed by them that the main hostile fleet is not within their field of vision, whereas the important thing is to know where it actually is.

Although on this occasion the expected naval action with the enemy did not take place, and we had to content ourselves with the modest success of two small cruisers destroyed and one battleship damaged, while on our side the Westfalen received injuries, yet we had conclusively shown the enemy that he must be on the watch for attacks by our Fleet. From English reports received subsequently we know that the British Admiral, when he ran up against our line of U-boats, felt as if he were in a hotbed of submarines and consequently quickly retired to the north.

There was a possibility that we might have joined battle with the enemy fleet at 4 P.M., if the report of "L 13'' had not induced me to turn south with a view to attacking the ships sighted in that direction. The main object of our enterprise was to defeat portions of the English Fleet; the bombardment of Sunderland was only a secondary object, merely a means to this end. Therefore, when an opportunity seemed to offer to attack hostile craft in the south, I had to seize it and not let it slip.

A similar enterprise was planned for the beginning of September. The disposition of the U-boats was again based on the idea of protecting our flanks. But this time there was to be a modification, because with the single base-lines there was no guarantee that the U-boats on the line would be sure of a chance to open fire if the enemy should run into the line. The enemy's protective craft were in a position to prevent that U-boat which first sighted the enemy from attacking, and the other U-boats of the line would be too far away to take a hand. A new disposition was consequently made, in which only the enemy's probable direction of approach was taken into account; the U-boats covered a larger area, altogether 100 nautical miles, and were placed in three rows, opposite the gaps between the leading craft. Unfortunately, we were prevented from carrying out this plan because unfavourable weather made scouting impossible.

When, at the beginning of October, orders were given to carry out the same scheme, a new obstacle arose, owing to the issue of instructions from the Supreme War Council for an immediate resumption of the U-boat campaign against commerce. Lacking U-boats, I was forced to adopt quite a different scheme; instead of making for the English coast and luring the enemy on to our line of U-boats before the actual battle took place, I had to make a widespread advance with torpedo-boats to take stock of the commercial traffic in the North Sea and capture prizes. The Fleet was to serve as a support to the light craft that were sent out. As I was not in a position to reinforce the fighting power of the Fleet with U-boats, I had to try and choose the battle-ground so that we might join battle under the most favourable conditions to ourselves as possible. Judging by the experience gained in the Battle of the Skagerrak, the position with regard to wind and sun must play an important part in the outcome of the artillery battle; again, the interval of time before darkness fell after the commencement of the battle was important, since the enemy had strong reserves at his disposal which, as yet untouched, could enter the fight when our ships were already damaged.

The sinking of the Pommern had unfortunately proved that this class of ship could not be risked in heavy fighting, owing to their being insufficiently protected against the danger of being sunk. The tactics of the British made it unlikely that our Squadron II would be able to take part in another big battle, on account of its artillery and its old type of torpedo, which had a range of less than 6,000 metres. I did not, therefore, take these ships with me, but assigned to them the duty of guarding the German Bight in the absence of the Fleet. When the Fleet went out in this way, a torpedo flotilla was sent on ahead to the probable vicinity of the guard-line of English submarines, the object being to keep the latter under water and so prevent them from giving too early a warning of our approach.

On October 10 the Fleet advanced according to this plan to the centre of the North Sea, but the torpedo-boats were unable to go as far afield as had been arranged, owing to adverse weather conditions. There was no encounter with the enemy.

The resumption of the U-boat campaign against commerce, which was to begin early in October, had to be supported as far as possible, even though it was little to the taste of the Navy, and had also been adversely commented upon by Admiral von Schröder, the head of the Naval Corps in Flanders.


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