A NORTH SEA DIARY 1914-1918

From Battle of Jutland Crew Lists Project
Jump to navigation Jump to search

A NORTH SEA DIARY 1914-1918 COMMANDER STEPHEN KING-HALL

This book was originally published under the title of " A NAVAL LIEUTENANT "
The book can be download, free of charge, here

CHAPTER X

THE BATTLE OF JUTLAND

Page 127

THERE is no doubt that this action at which the most powerful fleets that have ever sailed the seas met in battle, will provide material for discussion for many years.

Trafalgar has been discussed and studied for over a hundred years, and it seems likely that the problems of Jutland will displace the problems of Trafalgar in the minds of the students of naval war. Such being the case, I feel that anything written about Jutland should be written, if it is meant to be a serious contribution to naval literature, with a due sense of responsibility.

In the battle of Jutland, I was by the chance of war placed in certain positions, at certain times, in such manner that in looking back on the action, I do not believe that a single observer could have seen more, except from an aeroplane. Most of the time I was engaged in taking notes, and it is of what I saw that I proposed to write.

It may thus be accepted that, unless otherwise stated, the incidents described are facts for which I am pre- pared to vouch to the extent of my belief in my own eyesight.

On the afternoon of the 3oth May, 1916, we were lying at Rosyth, and I was walking up and down the quarter- deck on watch when a string of flags rose from the Lion's signal bridge.

I recognized it to be a steaming signal, and it turned out to be " Flag : Lion to Battle-cruiser Force and Fifth

Page 128

Battle Squadron. Raise steam and report when ready to proceed."
We at once began to get the ship ready for sea. Our sub-lieutenant, one H. B by name[1], was in the hospital ship close at hand, where he had been sent to, have his tonsils cut out. I had a curious feeling that we were going to have a " show," and quite without authority I sent him this note in our steamboat.

" DEAR H. B [2], I believe we are going out on a stunt, the steamboat is going to be hoisted, but if you want to come and can get away from the hospital ship, nip into her and come over."

The Commodore[3] had just come back from the shore, and I told him what I had done, and though he did not exactly disapprove, I saw that he thought it rather unnecessary.

When H. B [4]arrived straight from bed I believe he practically broke out of the hospital ship our Fleet Surgeon [5] was scandalized, and promptly ordered him to bed. I remember that I felt rather foolish when I went down to see him, and could only reply in answer to his inquiries as to how long the Huns had been out, that as far as I knew they were not out at all.

We sailed at 9 p.m.

The three light cruiser squadrons were up to strength, but the Third Battle-cruiser Squadron was at Scapa doing gunnery exercises ; they were commanded by Admiral Hood [6].

We were reinforced by the Fifth Battle Squadron, consisting of the Malaya, Warspite, Barham, and Valiant, under the command of Rear-Admiral Evan Thomas[7]. The only other absentee was the Australia, away refitting.

We did not know why we were going out, and to this moment I have never been able to find out officially what we hoped to do, but the on dit was and still is,

Page 129

that we were to support an air raid or perhaps a mine- laying expedition in the Bight. At all events our immediate destination was a rendezvous near the Horns Reef.

The Germans stated after the action that their forces were engaged on an enterprise to the North.

I strongly suspect that this enterprise consisted in getting the British Battle-cruiser Force between their battle-cruisers and battle-fleet, for they knew very well that the region of the Horns Reef was a favourite spot of ours when we were making a reconnaissance towards the German coast.

Everything points to the fact that for once they expected us there and laid their plans accordingly ; or else they were out to do a raid on North-sea trade.

It will be seen how very nearly this former state of affairs materialized, though it is impossible to assert definitely whether it was by accident or design. We did not appear to be expecting Huns, as we cruised along to the eastward at no great speed ; I think we were making good either 17 or 19 knots. At noon we received orders to have full speed ready at half an hour's notice, but as we were getting well over towards the Danish coast, this order partook of the nature of pre-cautionary routine. The order of the Fleet was the usual cruising formation by day. Course approximately east.

The battle-cruisers were in two lines and close to them was the cruiser Champion and the attached destroyers. The seaplane-carrier Engardine was also in company. Five miles ahead of the Lion, the light-cruiser screen was spread on a line of bearing roughly north and south.

The squadrons were in groups of two ships 5 miles apart, and the order from north to south was First Light Cruiser Squadron under Commodore Sinclair [8], with his broad pennant in the Galatea ; Third Light

Page 130

Cruiser Squadron under Rear-Admiral Trevelyan Napier [9], with his flag in the Chatham [10] ; and Second Light Cruiser Squadron, consisting of Southampton flying the broad pennant of our Commodore[11], the Birmingham (Captain Duff)[12], the Dublin (Captain Scott)[13], the Nottingham (Captain Miller)[14].

Those of us who were off watch were dozing in the smoking-room after lunch, when the secretary put his head in, and said, " Galatea at the northern end of the line has sighted and is chasing two hostile cruisers."

This was at 2.23 and woke us all up with a jump.

I quickly went to my cabin and made certain preparations which I always did when there was a chance of something happening. These preparations consisted in putting on as many clothes as possible, collecting my camera, notebook and pencils, chocolate, and other aids to war in comfort in case of a prolonged stay at action stations.

At 2.56 the Galatea reported that she had sighted the German battle-cruisers, and we went to action stations, and the ship began to throb as we worked up to full speed.

At about 3 p.m. we all turned to the N.E. to close the reported position of the enemy, who had turned from their original course of north to south.

As the northern edge of our screen only just made contact with the western edge of their screen it will be seen how nearly we missed them.

The turn towards the north-east had brought us (Second Light Cruiser Squadron) on the starboard quarter of the Lion and distant but 2 miles from her.

At 3.55 the Lion turned to south-east and the battle- cruisers assumed line of battle. This placed us before her starboard beam, and without orders we pressed at our utmost speed, followed by our three light cruisers to a position ahead of the Lion.

The First and Third Light Cruiser Squadrons,

Page 131

without signal, took station astern of the battle cruisers.

It was in these and subsequent movements without signals that the value was exemplified of all the exercises we light cruisers had done with the Lion, The light-cruiser commanders knew exactly what Sir David[15] expected of them, and they did it.

As the battle-cruisers turned into line, I caught a faint distant glimpse of the silvery hulls of the German battle-cruisers, though owing to the great range only parts of their upper works were visible for short intervals. They appeared to be steering a slightly converging course.

As the battle-cruisers came into line, with the Champion, her destroyers, and ourselves ahead of them, both our own battle-cruisers and the Germans opened fire practically simultaneously.

Our line consisted of the Lion, Princess Royal, Queen Mary, Tiger, New Zealand, and Indefatigable, in the order named.

The Germans were almost entirely merged into a long, smoky cloud on the eastern horizon, the sort of cloud that presages a thunderstorm, and from this gloomy retreat a series of red flashes darting out in our direction indicated the presence of five German battle-cruisers.

It was at once evident that though the Germans were but indifferently visible to us, we on the other hand were silhouetted against a bright and clear western horizon, as far as the enemy were concerned.

The German shooting, as has been the case through-out the war, was initially of an excellent quality. Our battle-cruisers about a mile away just on our port quarter were moving along in a forest of tremendous splashes. Their guns trained over on the port beam were firing regular salvos.

At 4.15 (approx.) I was watching our line from my

Page 132

Fig. 3

Page 133

position in the after-control, when without any warning an immense column of grey smoke with a fiery base and a flaming top stood up on the sea, where the Indefatigable should have been. It hung there for I don't know how many seconds, and then a hole appeared in this pillar of smoke, through which I caught a glimpse of the forepart of the Indefatigable lying on its side ; then there was a streak of flame and a fresh outpouring of smoke.

I turned with a sinking heart and watched the remaining five battle-cruisers.

I can nor could I next day remember no noise. We were not, of course, firing ourselves, and it seemed to me that I was being carried along in a kind of dream.

I wondered what would happen next ; each time the splashes rose on either side of the line of great ships it was like a blow to the body. We could not see from our low deck where the 13 -5-inch shells were falling on that sinister eastern horizon from which the maddening jets of flame darted in and out.

At 4.23, in the flicker of an eyelid, the beautiful Queen Mary was no more. A huge stem of grey smoke shot up to perhaps a thousand feet, swaying slightly at the base. The top of this stem of smoke expanded and rolled downwards. Flames rose and fell, in the stalk of this monstrous mushroom. The bows of a ship, a bridge, a mast, slid out of the smoke perhaps after all the Queen Mary was still there.

No ! it was the next astern the Tiger.

Incredible as it may sound, the Tiger passed right over the spot on which the Queen Mary had been destroyed, and felt nothing. The time interval between her passage over the grave of the Queen Mary and the destruction of the latter ship would be about 40-60 seconds.

Just before the Tiger appeared, I saw some piece of

Page 134

debris go whirling up a full 1,000 feet above the top of the smoke it might have been the armour plates from the top of a turret. I remember that I found it impossible to realize that I had just seen 2,000 men, and many personal friends, killed ; it seemed more like a wonderful cinematograph picture.

What did worry me was that we were now reduced to four.

I remember saying to H. B[16], who incidentally had appeared from his sick-bed in pyjamas and a dressing-gown, though he subsequently put on some more clothes, " At this rate, by 5 p.m. we shall have no battle-cruisers."

He nodded solemnly he was so hoarse he could only whisper.

" But," I added, " by the laws of chance one of them will blow up next, you see."

We were by now right ahead of the Lion, and as I watched her, I saw a tremendous flash amidships, as she was hit by a shell or shells. I saw the whole ship stagger ; for what seemed eternity I held my breath, half expecting her to blow up, but she held on and showed no signs of outward injury.

Actually her midship turret, manned by the marines, was completely put out of action, and had it not been for the heroism of the major of marines[17] the ship might have gone. He lost his life and gained the V.C.

Soon after the Lion received this blow the Thirteenth Flotilla was ordered to make an attack on the German line.

It was extremely difficult to see the destroyers after they started, but I could vaguely see that they were coming under heavy fire as they got about half-way across.

It was during this attack that Nestor and Nomad were lost and Commander Bingham gained his V.C.[18]

At 4.38 a very startling development took place.

Page 135

We suddenly saw and reported light cruisers followed by the High Seas Fleet bearing south-east. Sir David Beatty[19] at once signalled to the Battle-cruiser Force to alter course 16 points (180). This manoeuvre was executed by the battle-cruisers in succession.

The German battle-cruisers were doing the same thing at the same moment.

We disobeyed the signal, or rather delayed obeying it for two reasons

Firstly, we wished to get close enough to the High Seas Fleet to examine them and report accurately on their composition and disposition.

Secondly, we had hopes of delivering a torpedo attack on the long crescent-shaped line of heavy ships which were stretched round on our port bow.

It was a strain steaming at 25 knots straight for this formidable line of battleships, with our own friends going fast away from us in the opposite direction.

As we got closer I counted sixteen or seventeen battleships with the four Konig class in the van and the six older pre-Dreadnoughts in the rear.

Seconds became minutes and still they did not open fire, though every second I expected to see a sheet of flame ripple down their sides and a hail of shell fall around us. I can only account for this strange inactivity on their part by the theory that as they only saw us end on, and we were steering on opposite courses to the remaining British ships, they assumed we were a German light cruiser squadron that had been running away from the British battle-cruisers.

Only in this manner can I account for the strange fact that they allowed us to get to within 13,000 yards of their line, and never fired a shot at us.

This theory is supported by the fact that when at 4.45 the calm voice of Petty Officer Barnes[20] on the foremost rangefinder intoned, " Range one, three, five, double ho ! Range, one, three, two, double ho ! "

Page 136

the Commodore[21] saw that we could not get into a position for a torpedo attack, and as we should be lucky if we got out of the place we were then in, he gave the order for the turning signal, which had been flying for five minutes, to be hauled down.

Over went the helms, and the four ships slewed round, bringing our sterns to the enemy. As we turned the fun began, and half a dozen German battleships opened a deliberate fire on the squadron.

My action station was aft, but I could hear every thing that passed on the fore-bridge, as I was in direct communication by voice-pipe. I heard the imperturbable Petty Officer Barnes [22]continuing his range taking " Range one, three, two, double ho ! Range one, double three, double ho ! "

Crash ! Bang ! Whizzzz ! and a salvo crumped down around us, the fragments whistling and sobbing overhead. Suddenly I heard Petty Officer Barnes [23] say, with evident satisfaction, " Range hobscured ! "

I took a general look round, and the situation was as follows (see Figs. 3 and 4).

About three or four miles north of us our battle-cruisers were steaming along, making a good deal of smoke and firing steadily at what I imagined to be the German battle-cruisers' distant hulls on our starboard bow.

Then came a gap of two miles between the battle- cruisers and the Fifth Battle Squadron.

These latter four ships had passed the battle-cruisers on opposite courses when Sir David Beatty[24]turned north, and as soon as they had passed him, Rear-Admiral Evan Thomas[25] turned his squadron to north-by-west, and followed up the battle-cruisers.

It will be remembered that whilst this was going on we (Second Light Cruiser Squadron) had still been going south. When we turned to north, we found ourselves about a mile behind the last ship of the Fifth

Page 137

Battle Squadron. Our squadron was not in line, but scattered as shown in Fig 5.

As flagship we had the post of honour nearest to the enemy. We maintained this position for one hour, during which time we were under persistent shell-fire from the rear six ships of the German line.

But we had them under observation, and we were able to transmit news of great importance to Sir John Jellicoe [26], whom we knew to be hurrying down from the north to our support.

We had experienced one shock to the system, on sighting the German Fleet right ahead, and we all anticipated that the Huns would shortly enjoy the same sensation

The Fifth Battle Squadron just ahead of us were a brave sight. They were receiving the concentrated fire of some twelve German heavy ships, but it did not seem to be worrying them, and though I saw several shells hit the Warspite just ahead of us, the German shooting at these ships did not impress me very favourably. Our own position was not pleasant.

The half-dozen older battleships at the tail of the German line were out of range to fire at the Fifth Battle-cruiser, but though we had gradually drawn out to 15,000-16,000 yards, we were inside their range, and they began to do a sort of target practice in slow time on our squadron.

I was in the after-control with half a dozen men, H. B[27] , and the clerk[28]. We crouched down behind the tenth-of-an-inch plating and ate bully beef, but it didn't seem to go down very easily. It seemed rather a waste of time to eat beef, for surely in the next ten minutes one of those 11-inch shells would get us, they couldn't go on falling just short and just over indefinitely, and, well, if one did hit us light cruisers were not designed to digest 11-inch high explosives in their stomachs.

Page 138

Fig 4

Page 139

The sub[29], who was practically speechless owing to his bad throat, and I agreed that we would not look at the Hun line. But we could never resist having a peep about once a minute, and somehow we always seemed to look just as two or three of the great brutes flickered flames from their guns at us, and we knew that another salvo was on its way across.

We knew the time of flight was twenty-three seconds, and the sub[30]had a wrist-watch with a prominent second- hand we almost agreed to throw it overboard after three-quarters of an hour's shelling ; at the twenty- third second the sub would make a grimace, and as if in reply a series of splitting reports and lugubrious moans announced that the salvo had arrived. Frequently they were so close that torrents of spray from the splashes splattered down on the boat-deck. Each shell left a muddy pool in the water, and appeared to burst on impact.

We all compared notes afterwards and decided that during this hour about fifty to sixty shells fell within 100 yards of the ship, and many more slightly farther off.

I attribute our escape, as far as we were able to contribute towards it, to the very clever manner in which " I ," our navigator [31], zig-zagged the ship according to where he estimated the next salvo would fall. It was possible to forecast this to a certain extent, as it was obvious that the Huns were working what is technically known as " a ladder."

That is to say, the guns are fired with an increase of range to each salvo until " the target is crossed," and then the range is decreased for each salvo until the splashes are short of the target once again. It is thus a creeping barrage which moves up and down across the target.

The best way to avoid it, is to sheer in towards the enemy when the groups of tall splashes are coming

Page 140

towards the ship, and as soon as they have crossed over and begin once more to come towards the ship, then reverse the helm and sheer away from the enemy.

The fascination of watching these deadly and graceful splashes rising mysteriously from the smooth sea was enormous. To know that the next place where they would rise was being calculated by some Hun perched up in one of those distant masts, and that he was watching these " leetle cruiser ships " through a pair of Zeiss binoculars and I was watching his ship through a similar pair of Zeiss was really very interesting. It would have been very interesting indeed if I could have been calculating the position of the splashes round his ship ; but he was 16,000 yards away, and our gun-sights stopped at 14,500, so we just had to sit and hope we'd see the Grand Fleet soon. At 6.17 p.m. the news that the Grand Fleet had been sighted right ahead spread round the ship like wild-fire.

Forgotten was the steady shelling now we'd give them hell. The battle drew on to its dramatic climax when as faintly ahead in the smoke and haze the great line of Grand Fleet battleships became visible curling across to the eastward (Fig. 4).

They had just deployed.

Then two armoured cruisers appeared from right ahead between ourselves and the German line . They were steering about south-west, and were moving in an appalling concentration of fire from the German battleships.

Whom could they be ?

As I watched, the leading ship glowed red all over and seemed to burst in every direction. Our men cheered frantically thinking it was a Hun. Alas ! I had caught a brief glimpse of a white ensign high above the smoke and flame, it was the Defence flying the flag of the gallant Sir Robert Arbuthnot[32].

The ship astern was the Warrior, and it was evident that she was hard hit.

Page 141

The Huns redoubled their efforts upon her, when a most extraordinary incident amazed both sides. The Warspite, just ahead of us, altered course to starboard and proceeded straight for the centre of the Hun line (Fig. 5). For some moments she was unfired at, then as she continued to go straight for the Germans the tornado of fire lifted from the Warrior, hovered as it seemed in space, and fell with a crash about the Warspite.

The Warrior, burning in several places, battered and wrecked, with steam escaping from many broken pipes, dragged slowly out of the battle to the westward ; she passed about 400 yards under our stern.

Meanwhile with sinking hearts the sub[33] and I watched the Warspite and wondered what her amazing career portended. I focused her in my reflex camera, but so certain did I feel that she would be destroyed that I could not bring myself to expose the plate. I should guess that she reached a position about 8,000 yards from the German line when to our relief she slowly turned round, and still lashing out viciously with all her 15-inch guns she rejoined the British lines. At our end of the line there was a distinct lull. In fact, the speed of the tail of the Fleet became so slow that our squadron turned 32 points (a complete circle) in order not to bunch up on the battleships. In the course of this manoeuvre we very nearly had a collision with one of the Fifth Battle Squadron, the Valiant or Malaya.

It was now possible to try and take a general survey of the battle (Fig. 5).

It was evident that the day of days had dawned, though too near sunset to suit us. At last the Grand Fleet and High Seas Fleet were up against each other, and the fate of nations was being decided.

For a seemingly endless distance the line of Grand Fleet battleships stretched away to the east. To the south, the German line, partially obscured in mist, lay in the shape of a shallow convex arc.

Page 142

The Grand Fleet were loosing off salvos with splendid rapidity.

The German shooting was simply ludicrously bad. Looking up our line, I sometimes saw a stray shell fall short of our battle fleet, and every now and then I saw a few fall over. Otherwise nothing anywhere near them.

I remember seeing the Agincourt, a few ships ahead of us, let off a 10-gun salvo a truly Kolossal spectacle, as a Hun would say.

It was about now that I noticed that though the surface of the sea was quite calm, yet the ship was rolling quite appreciably. I then discovered that the whole surface of the sea was heaving up and down in a confused swell, which was simply due to the wash created by the two-hundred-odd ships which were moving about at high speeds.

Far ahead, rapid flashes and much smoke indicated that furious attacks and counter-attacks were taking place between the rival destroyer flotillas and their supporting light cruisers. The battle area of these desperate conflicts between gun platforms of 1/4 -inch steel, moving at the speed of an express train, was the space between the vans of the two Fleets.

We were too far off to see any details of this fighting ; but at 6.47 we reached the spot where it had taken place. The first thing we saw was a German three funnel cruiser, the Wiesbaden. She was battered badly, as she had been lying inert between the two lines, and whenever a British battleship could not see her target she opened on the Wiesbaden.

We were simply longing to hit something, and this seemed our chance. Increasing speed to 20 knots we turned and led our squadron in to administer the coup de grace.

Turning to bring our broadsides to bear at 6,000 yards, we directed a stream of 6-inch on the Hun, who replied

Page 143

Fig 5

Page 144

feebly with one gun. There is no doubt that the men who worked that gun had the right spirit in them.

Beyond the Wiesbaden, at a range of about 14,000 yards, our old friends the pre-dreadnoughts were toddling along at the stern of the German line. During our approach to the Wiesbaden they had preserved an ominous silence. It did not remain thus for long. The six of them opened a rapid fire on us, and we were at once obliged to open the range without delay.

We scuttled back to the tail of the British line as hard as we could, zig-zagging like snipe, with n-inch crumping down ahead, on both sides, and astern of us. (See our track, Fig. 5-)

I counted a bunch of three about 40 yards on the starboard beam of the ship, and H. B [34] , who was hanging out over the other side of the after-control, reported a group of seven close to the ship on the port beam. At this period (7.5 p.m.) twilight was beginning and the visibility was partly spoiled by low-lying clouds of funnel and brown cordite smoke, which hung like a gloomy pall over the scene.

It was apparent from the curve of our line that we were gradually working round to the eastward of the Huns, and at 7.30 p.m. the Germans decided to make a supreme effort to get out of the nasty position they were being forced into, viz. the centre of a semicircle, of which the British Fleet was the circumference.

That they got out very cleverly must be admitted.
A few destroyers crept out at the head of their line, and almost immediately afterwards a dense smoke- screen unfurled itself between us and the enemy.
Before this screen had reached its full length the Germans were altering course 8 points together to starboard, and escaping from the deadly fire of the British battleships.

One of the minor incidents of battle now took place. A German destroyer, part of the debris of the destroyer

Page 145

actions some twenty minutes earlier, was lying, incapable of movement, between the two Fleets. Unfortunately for her, she was in such a position that the smoke-screen rolled to the southward of her. She was alone for her sins in front of the British Fleet.

No battleship fired at her ; but we gave her a salvo at 6,000 yards as we came abreast of her. We hit, and a large explosion took place amidships. However, she still managed to float, and the Faulkner and some destroyers, who were hanging about near us, went over and finished her off. It rather annoyed us, as we intended to do some more target practice on her.

The Germans had disappeared somewhere to the south-west behind their smoke, and for a few minutes everything was strangely calm.

At 8.25 the Birmingham sighted a submarine, and I saw that the Grand Fleet had got into five columns for the night. Four columns were abreast of each other, and the fifth, composed of the Valiant, Malaya, and Barham, was astern of them. We were on the starboard beam of this latter column (see Fig. 6). The course of the Fleet was south, and the Germans were somewhere to the westward of us in the growing darkness.

At 8.50 p.m. we sighted four German destroyers approaching us on the starboard bow, apparently intending to deliver an attack on the Fifth Battle Squadron.

We opened fire at once, and hit the leading destroyer amidships. All four turned round and, pursued by our shells, disappeared behind a smoke-screen.

Curiously enough I met the captain of this damaged destroyer, at a later period in the war, under different circumstances. For he left the German destroyer service soon after Jutland, and entered submarines. In the fullness of time his boat was destroyed, and he was the only survivor. Under my care he journeyed to

Page 146

London and a prison camp but I am straying from Jutland.

This feeble little destroyer attack may be said to mark the conclusion of the day action as far as we were concerned. Directly afterwards we went to night defence stations, and nerve-strings were tightened up another turn.

I busied myself in getting the notes I had taken into shape, and testing communications to the guns. I have a curious little note on a crumpled signal pad. It is dated 8.50 p.m., and says
" I see I've smoked five ounces of tobacco since half -past three."

CHAPTER XI

NIGHT ACTION [35]

Page 147

AT 9 p.m. heavy firing started and the south-eastern horizon was lit by flashes.

I subsequently discovered that this was the Third Light Cruiser Squadron and our battle-cruisers still worrying and harassing the head of the German line and forcing them farther and farther away from their bases and out into the North Sea.

H. B [36]and I were fortunate enough to discover a slab of chocolate and some strong tea, which refreshed us greatly. We were drinking, about our tenth cup, when some dark shapes appeared on the starboard bow and in a couple of minutes resolved themselves into a flotilla of destroyers approaching on opposite courses and at a high speed. We held our fire, and when they were about 1,000 yards off recognized them as our own.

There had been no time to get the cumbersome challenge and recognition signal started. They flashed past us, and as the last one passed her after-gun fired a solitary 4-inch shll in our direction. It whistled harmlessly overhead.

I account for this rude behaviour by supposing that at this gun some gunlayer was dozing away, and happened to wake up as we were passing. Seeing the dim outlines of some light cruisers, he obeyed his first instinct and pressed the trigger. We quietly steamed on astern of the Fleet ; there was nothing to do except

Page 148

Fig. 6

Page 149

stare out to starboard and imagine vague shapes. It was very easy to imagine ships on the night of the 31st May, 1916.

At about 10 p.m. searchlights criss-crossed on the far western horizon ; they rose and fell, turned and twisted, and finally fixed their implacable and relentless light on a group of destroyers.

Fascinated, we watched the destroyers rushing up the bright paths of the lights. The white splashes gleamed all round them, and then a great red lurid stain started in one of the attacking craft and spread to a vast explosion of fierce white flame, beside which the cruel searchlights seemed pale. Instantly the search- lights were extinguished, the attack was over, and once more all was dark.

We had probably witnessed one of the many and glorious attacks in which the British destroyer flotillas threw themselves without stint upon the German Fleet throughout this strange night.

The sudden disappearing of all signs of this attack ever having been made, left a curious feeling of emptiness in the atmosphere.

I groped my way on to the bridge and had a chat with B , the gunnery lieutenant [37], as a result of which he arranged that in the event of night action he would control the guns from the forebridge and I would be in general charge aft.

A signalman[38], and R. I. the navigator[39] suddenly whispered, " Five ships on the beam."

The Commodore[40] looked at them through night glasses, and I heard a whispered discussion going on as to whether they were the enemy or the Third Light Cruiser Squadron.

From their faint silhouettes it was impossible to discover more than the fact that they were light cruisers. I decided to go aft as quickly as possible.
On the way aft I looked in at the after-control, where

Page 150

H. B [41]said to me, " There are five Huns on the beam. What on earth is going on ? "

They were evidently in as much doubt as we, for as I got down into the waist by the mainmast, a very great many things happened in a very short time.

We began to challenge ; the Germans switched on coloured lights at their fore yardarms.

A second later a solitary gun crashed forth from the Dublin, who was next astern of us. Simultaneously I saw the shell hit a ship just above the water-line and about 800 yards away.

As I caught a nightmare-like glimpse of her interior which has remained photographed on my mind to this day, I said to myself : " My G , they are along-side us."

At that moment the Germans switched on their searchlights, and we switched on ours. Before I was blinded by the lights in my eyes I caught sight of a line of light grey ships. Then the gun behind which I was standing answered my shout of " Fire ! "

The action lasted 3 1/2 minutes. The four leading German ships concentrated their lights and guns on the Southampton ; the fifth and perhaps the fourth as well fired at the Dublin.

The Nottingham and Birmingham, third and fourth in our line, with great wisdom did not switch on their lights and were not fired at.

In those 3 1/2 minutes we had 89 casualties, and 75 per cent, of the personnel on the upper deck were killed or wounded.

It is impossible to give a connected account of what happened. Many strange and unpleasant things happen when men find themselves in hell on earth. Men strong men go mad and jump overboard. Wounded men are driven to the oblivion of death in the sea by the agony of their injuries. It is not good to look too

Page 151

closely into these things which are the realities, the plain facts of battle.

The range was amazingly close no two groups of such ships have ever fought so close in the history of this war. There could be no missing. A gun was fired and a hit obtained the gun was loaded, it flamed, it roared, it leapt to the rear, it slid to the front there was another hit.

But to load guns, there must be men, flesh and blood must lift the shells and cordite and open and close the hungry breeches. But flesh and blood cannot stand high explosives, and there was a great deal of H.E. bursting all along H.M.S. Southampton's upper deck from her after-screen to the forebridge.

The range was so close, the German shots went high, just high enough to burst on the upper deck and around the after superstructure and bridge. And in a light cruiser that's where all the flesh and blood has to stand.

So in a very few seconds my guns stopped firing, all through lack of flesh and blood it was a great pity. In fact, the sergeant-major, with a burnt face, and myself seemed to be the only bits of flesh and blood left standing.

Where on earth were the others ?

Why had the men on each side of me fallen down in such funny heaps ? It was curious, very curious ; as a matter of fact, daylight revealed that it wasn't so very remarkable. The really remarkable thing was that the sergeant-major, with his burnt face, and myself were still standing about and representing flesh and blood.

One shell had burst on the side just below the gun, and the fragments had whipped over the top of the low bulwark and mowed the men down as standing corn falls before the reaper.

Another shell had burst on the searchlight just above us, and hurled the remains of this expensive instrument

Page 152

many feet. Three men who looked after it and had guided its beam on to the enemy died instantaneously.

The fragments from this shell descended upon " the waist " like hail, and scoured out the insides of the gun- shields of the two 6-inch, manned by marines, one gun each side. And then I seemed to be standing in a fire. The flash of some exploding shell had ignited half a dozen rounds of cordite.

A shell exploding in the half-deck had severed the connexion to the upper deck fire main. I put my head down a hatch and shouted for a good hose. The wine steward came up on deck with one, someone turned on the water down below, and the fire was quickly out.

The wine steward forgot his servitude, he rose to the heights of an officer, he was my right-hand man. He spoke words of fierce exhortation to the wounded ; those who could get up did so.

Then it became lighter than the day.

I looked forward.

Two pillars of white flame rose splendidly aloft. One roared up the foremast, the other reached above the tops of the second and third funnels.

This then was the end ! The heat warmed the cheek. It was bad luck, just after we had got the small fire aft extinguished. But there could be no doubt ; the central ammunition hoist was between those two funnels.

What was it going to feel like to blow up ?

Let me see, how had the Queen Mary looked ?

Of course we were a smaller ship, perhaps we would blow up in a gentler manner.

Might as well take one's greatcoat off, just in case one fetched up in the water. I took it off.

What ought one to do?

Could not be more than a few seconds now. What could one do in a few seconds ?

Could not fire a gun no men.

Fascinating sight, those two pillars of white flame.

Page 153

By Heaven, the centre one had turned red.it wavered, it decreased in height, it grew again ; but the spell was broken and I rushed to the ladder which led from the waist to the boat deck in order to get up to the fire and assist.
I ran a few steps and tripped up, over a heap of bodies. I got up, tried not to tread on soft things, and arrived on the boat deck.

The firing had ceased, the Commander and H. B were at the central fire. It suddenly went out, so did the foremost one.

Everything was pitch black.

Where were the Germans ?

Nothing but groans from dark corners.

Though I did not know it at the time, the Germans had fled.

They fled because A , our torpedo lieutenant, had fired a 2i-inch torpedo. At 41 knots the torpedo had shot across and, striking the Frauenlob, had blown her in half. Out of 300 Huns in her 7 survived.

I have their account of the action before me.

They say, " The leading ship of the British line burst into flames and blew up . . . then we were torpedoed." They were wrong their friends sheered off just a few seconds too soon.

I will admit that they probably think they saw us blown up.

A friend of mine, McG , who was five miles away in one of the Fifth Battle Squadron, read a signal on the bridge by the light of our fires.

In the ships of our squadron astern they thought we had gone, and took shelter from the bits they expected to come down.

It was a near thing.

It is after the firing is over that the real horror of a night action begins. We did not know where the Germans were, our guns' crews were practically non-

Page 154

existent, the voice-pipes and telephones to the guns were in shreds. We simply had to have time to reorganize, so we didn't dare show a light.

Yet the upper deck was strewn with dead and wounded. One stumbled on them as one walked. By the aid of discreetly struck matches and shaded torches the upper deck was searched.

I heard a groan and came upon a poor boy named Mellish[42]. He could only say, " My leg my arm." Another man and myself got him down one of the two steep hatches that led to the lower deck. His injuries were sickening, but with a smile he said : " It's no good worrying about me, sir ! " and then he died. I don't think he felt any pain.

I went up to the bridge to see B[43] about reorganizing the men left for guns' crews and rigging up temporary communications. As I passed the chart house a well-known voice called me in. It was the Commodore[44].

He told me to go down to the fleet surgeon[45] and find out what our casualties were. And once more I went below.

I went down the foremost hatch and along the central passage nicknamed the twopenny tube which in this class of ship runs down the centre of the ship above the boiler and engine-rooms. There was about six inches of water in this passage, which had slopped in from some holes almost exactly on the water-lines.

The operating room at the after end of this passage was the stokers' bathroom.

Imagine a small room which a shore-goer might hesitate to use as a dark room in his house, it might get so stuffy. The size of this room was about 8 feet high, 12 feet broad and 12 feet long. The centre of the room was occupied by a light portable operating table. A row of wash basins ran down one side, and the steel walls streamed with sweat.

Four bright electric lights were fixed to the roof,

Page 155

but with its faults the stokers' bathroom had some advantages. It had a tiled floor and a drain in the corner.

Stepping carefully between rows of shapes who were lying in lines down each side of the passage-way, I put my head inside the narrow doorway.

Bare-armed the fleet surgeon[46] and C [47], the young doctor, were working with desperate but methodical haste. They were just taking a man's leg off above the knee, so I did not interrupt. When they had finished and the patient had been carried out, I gave the P.M.O.[48] the Commodore's[49] message, whilst his assistants went outside to get another man. " About 40 killed and 40 or 50 wounded," he said. I thanked him, and went back to the bridge.

He was hard at it for eleven hours : truly the doctor[50] is one of the finest products of modern civilization.

I told the Commodore[51] what I had learned. He made a remark. I realized we were only one light cruiser in a very big fleet.

I went aft again and down to the ward-room. The mess presented an extraordinary appearance. As it was the largest room in the ship, we placed all the seriously wounded cases in it. The long table was covered with men, all lying very still and silently white.

The young doctor[52] was in charge, and as I came in he signalled to the sick-berth steward[53] to remove one man over whom he had been bending. Four stokers, still grimy from the stoke-hole, lifted the body and carried it out.

Two men were on top of the sideboard, others were in arm-chairs.

A hole in the side admitted water to the ward- room, which sploshed about as the ship gently rolled.
In this ankle-deep flood, bloodstained bandages and countless pieces of the small debris of war floated to and fro.

Page 156

All the wounded who could speak were very cheerful and only wanted one thing cigarettes. The most dreadful cases were the " burns " but this subject cannot be written about.

An hour's work on deck connected with the reorganization of the guns' crews, the impressment of stokers off watch for this duty, and the testing of communications followed. Then H. B[54] and myself decided we'd sit down somewhere. We went up to the fore-bridge, and rolled ourselves up in the canvas cover of a compass.

Horrors ! it was wet. We hastily shifted to a less gruesome bed.

We had just lain down when fresh gun-firing broke out right astern, and every one was on the qui vive with a jump. It died down I wasn't sorry, we were not as ready for action as we could have wished.

We increased speed to 20 knots, and as dawn slowly grew the ghostly shapes of some battleships loomed out of the mist. I heard a pessimist on the upper bridge hazard the opinion that we were about to take station astern of the German Battle Fleet, but as the light grew brighter we saw that we had rejoined the British Fleet.

Complete daylight enabled us to survey the damage.

The funnels were riddled through with hundreds of small holes, and the decks were slashed and ripped with splinters. There were several holes along the side, but the general effect was as if handfuls of splinters had been thrown against the upper works of the ship. The protective mattresses round the bridge and control position were slashed with splinters. The foremast, the rigging, the boats, the signal lockers, the funnel casing, the mainmast, everything was a mass of splinter holes.

Our sailors firmly believed, and continued to do so up to the day on which I left the ship, that we had been

Page 157

deluged with shrapnel. It was certainly surprising that anyone on the upper deck remained unhit.

The flag lieutenant, one P by name[55], had a remarkable escape. The secretary [56]asked him what he had done to his cap during the night. P [57]took it off, and there was a large rent where a splinter, which must have been shaped something like a skewer, had entered his cap just above his ear and gone out again through the crown. P[58]had felt nothing. This sounds almost impossible, but I can vouch for its absolute truth.

There were other curious escapes.

O , the paymaster[59], was sitting in the decoding office under the waist when the action began. A shell came through the side, passed through the canvas walls of the decoding office and burst near the ward-room, taking a man's head off en route. O "[60]felt a wind " ! <br
H. B[61] was leaning over the ledge of the after-control when a shell passed through a bracket supporting the ledge he was leaning over. From here it went through the funnel and burst with deadly effect in the inside of a gun shield of one of the guns on the disengaged side.

The Commodore[62] walked round the upper deck at about 9 o'clock, and was loudly cheered.

The morale of the crew was splendid.

It suddenly occurred to me that I might as well go and have a look at my cabin. I got through the water-tight doors and discovered an extraordinary scene of confusion in the foremost cabin flat. Three shells had burst therein, and one had apparently chosen my cabin for its final effort. The place was smashed to pieces, and water was splashing in through a small hole in the ship's side.

I've only seen one sight comparable to it, and that was the inside of a German submarine after a strong

Page 158

party of souvenir hunters had been invited to go round her.

I paddled about, feeling like a lost soul, for a few moments in what had been a rather fashionable cabin, and then retired, closing the water-tight door on the beastly scene.

My first impulse, which I obeyed, was to find S. B[63] and one or two others and invite them to look at their cabins even thus can joy be extracted from the sorrows of others.

To return to the movements of the ship.

As soon as it was daylight, squadrons had sorted themselves out, and we searched about until we discovered the Lion and other battle-cruisers, to whom we attached ourselves.

A Zepp passed overhead at 10 a.m., but otherwise we saw no signs of the enemy, though we cruised about in different directions.

At noon it became evident that the Huns had got in, and so the signal was made for the Fleet to return to its bases.

Soon after lunch on our way north we passed the bow of a destroyer sticking up out of the water, and near by we steamed through an immense oily and smooth pool of water, which doubtless marked the resting-place of some great ship.

In the afternoon the Commodore[64]held a short service in the waist. It was a moving scene. Overhead the main-top mast, which had been half-shot through, swayed giddily about and seemed likely to go over the side or come down on the boat deck at any moment. In serried lines the officers and men stood bare-headed round the Commodore[65], who read a few of the wonderful prayers for the use of those at sea. I think we all felt strangely moved.

That night the weather became nasty, and we had trouble with the temporary shores and plugs that had

Page 159

been improvised for the holes near the water-line. We had to heave to for short periods. I spent most of the night either on the bridge or searching for a sleeping billet.

Next day we continued on our course for Rosyth, which place we reached at 2 p.m. We were the last ship of the Battle-cruiser Force to enter harbour, and as the battle-cruisers had been in since 2 a.m. our belated appearance caused much relief amongst certain ladies ashore.

On our way in we had buried a poor fellow, who had lain like a marble statue on the ward-room table for thirty-six hours. There were no injuries upon him he died of shock. I used to go in and look at him ; he seemed so peaceful and still that it was almost impossible to believe that in that body life was yielding inch by inch to death.

The burial service at sea is the most poignant of all ceremonies. Doubtless he had welcomed the sight of May Island many times as we returned from trips in the North Sea, and as his body slid from beneath the Union Jack into the waters bubbling along our side there was a silence in which as if by a prearranged signal the voice of the lookout floated aft " Land on the port bow." It was May Island.

As soon as we had anchored, hospital drifters came alongside, and the wounded were lifted out in cots and transferred to an adjacent hospital ship.

It was this afternoon that a reaction began to set in. Everyone was very snappy and irritable, there were horrible rumours (with a basis of truth, I regret to say) that men landing from ships like the Warspite, that had been in some time, had been the object of hostile demonstrations ashore.

It was impossible to find out any facts as to what damage the Germans had sustained ; and our own losses had been only too apparent. There were de-

Page 160

pressing gaps in the lines of battle-cruisers where the three lost ships had been in the habit of lying.

I felt very miserable, largely due, I think, to lack of sleep, and to the fact that the ward-room being uninhabitable, and my cabin wrecked, I had nowhere to go to. There was also the official communique a bit of a damper. I felt I wanted to burst into tears, hit somebody, or do something equally foolish.

At 5 p.m. a definite order to go into the basin of Rosyth dockyard relieved the strain, and, with a job in hand, everyone became cheery again. As we were slowly wharfed through the lock gates, large crowds assembled to greet us, chiefly composed of dockyard men, and men from the Warspite, and survivors of the Warrior, which had sunk some 80 miles from the action, after being towed by the Engadine.

The survivors of the Warrior were garbed in a mixture of uniform and plain clothes, and were in great spirits. They were making much of the men of the Warspite, to which ship they rightly ascribed their salvation, as had the Warspite not turned in towards the German line when she did, there is little doubt the Warrior would have followed the Defence in a very short space of time.

Next day most of the officers and crew went on leave, a few men under my command being left to superintend the refit.

The Commodore[66] shifted his broad pennant to the Birmingham whilst we were out of action.

Before our ship's company went on leave Sir David Beatty[67] came on board and made us a very charming and complimentary speech.

During the three weeks in which we were being repaired at Rosyth, we had a great many visitors on board, including His Majesty the King, to whom I had the honour of being presented.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Asquith) and a party also

Page 161

visited the ship. I was showing him my cabin, and he commented on the damage to my private effects. I was about to strike when the iron was hot, and hint at the desirability of bringing pressure to bear on the Treasury to treat all claims in a broad-minded manner, when I suddenly recollected that, as my guest was First Lord of the Treasury, he might think it somewhat pointed if I enlarged on the iniquities of that department.

Large parties of technical sight-seers came up from the Admiralty, the gunnery school (Whaley), and the torpedo school (Vernon), and swarmed over the ship, asking innumerable questions and taking notes.

The Tiger, Princess Royal, and Warspite were in dock alongside us, and I had a good look at all their damage, and heard many interesting stories of their share in the action.

On the 17th June I went on leave, and was more than glad to see dear old London again. When I returned in a penniless condition, on the 29th June, we were once more back in our old billet off Charles-town and flagship of the Second Light Cruiser Squadron.

In one way we were changed. There were sixty new faces amongst the ship's company, and as these new arrivals had joined no ordinary ship, but a ship with a reputation, we started as hard as we could to train them up in the way they should go.

Footnote

  1. Sub-Lieutenant Francis A.B. Haworth-Booth
  2. Sub-Lieutenant Francis A.B. Haworth-Booth
  3. Captain William E. Goodenough (Commodore 2nd Class)
  4. Sub-Lieutenant Francis A.B. Haworth-Booth
  5. Staff Surgeon Arthur R. Schofield
  6. Rear Admiral Horace L.A. Hood (HMS Invincible)
  7. Rear Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas (HMS Barham)
  8. Captain Edwyn S. Alexander-Sinclair (Commodore 2nd Class)
  9. Rear Admiral Trevylyn D.W. Napier (HMS Falmouth)
  10. this appears to be incorrect as HMS Chatham was not at the Battle of Jutland and Napier flew his flag in HMS Falmouth
  11. Captain William E. Goodenough (Commodore 2nd Class)
  12. Captain Arthur A.M. Duff
  13. Captain Albert C. Scott
  14. Captain Charles B. Miller
  15. Vice Admiral David Beatty (HMS Lion)
  16. Sub-Lieutenant Francis A.B. Haworth-Booth
  17. Major Royal Marines Francis J.W. Harvey
  18. Commander Edward Barry Stewart Bingham (HMS Nestor)
  19. Vice Admiral David Beatty (HMS Lion)
  20. Petty Officer Joseph Edward Barnes 211994
  21. Captain William E. Goodenough (Commodore 2nd Class)
  22. Petty Officer Joseph Edward Barnes 211994
  23. Petty Officer Joseph Edward Barnes 211994
  24. Vice Admiral David Beatty (HMS Lion)
  25. Rear Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas (HMS Barham)
  26. Admiral John R. Jellicoe (HMS Iron Duke)
  27. Sub-Lieutenant Francis A.B. Haworth-Booth (HMS Southampton)
  28. Assistant Paymaster Henry N. Stoddart (HMS Southampton)
  29. Sub-Lieutenant Francis A.B. Haworth-Booth (HMS Southampton)
  30. Sub-Lieutenant Francis A.B. Haworth-Booth (HMS Southampton)
  31. Lieutenant (N) Ralph Ireland (HMS Southampton)
  32. Rear Admiral Robert K. Arbuthnot (HMS Defence)
  33. Sub-Lieutenant Francis A.B. Haworth-Booth (HMS Southampton)
  34. Sub-Lieutenant Francis A.B. Haworth-Booth (HMS Southampton)
  35. See Fig. 6.
  36. Sub-Lieutenant Francis A.B. Haworth-Booth (HMS Southampton)
  37. Unable to identify this officer
  38. Unable to identify this Signalman
  39. Lieutenant (N) Ralph Ireland (HMS Southampton)
  40. Captain William E. Goodenough (Commodore 2nd Class) (HMS Southampton)
  41. Sub-Lieutenant Francis A.B. Haworth-Booth (HMS Southampton)
  42. Boy 1st Class Thomas Charles Mellish J30028
  43. Unable to identify B at present
  44. Captain William E. Goodenough (Commodore 2nd Class) (HMS Southampton)
  45. Staff Surgeon Arthur R. Schofield (HMS Southampton)
  46. Staff Surgeon Arthur R. Schofield (HMS Southampton)
  47. Temporary Surgeon Richard Carey (HMS Southampton)
  48. Staff Surgeon Arthur R. Schofield (HMS Southampton)
  49. Captain William E. Goodenough (Commodore 2nd Class) (HMS Southampton)
  50. Staff Surgeon Arthur R. Schofield (HMS Southampton)
  51. Captain William E. Goodenough (Commodore 2nd Class) (HMS Southampton)
  52. Temporary Surgeon Richard Carey (HMS Southampton)
  53. Unable to identify at present
  54. Sub-Lieutenant Francis A.B. Haworth-Booth (HMS Southampton)
  55. Unable to identify at present
  56. Secretary Walter H. Medd (HMS Southampton)
  57. Unable to identify at present
  58. Unable to identify at present
  59. Paymaster Harry S. Orchard (HMS Southampton)
  60. Paymaster Harry S. Orchard (HMS Southampton)
  61. Sub-Lieutenant Francis A.B. Haworth-Booth (HMS Southampton)
  62. Captain William E. Goodenough (Commodore 2nd Class) (HMS Southampton)
  63. Unable to identify at present
  64. Captain William E. Goodenough (Commodore 2nd Class) (HMS Southampton)
  65. Captain William E. Goodenough (Commodore 2nd Class) (HMS Southampton)
  66. Captain William E. Goodenough (Commodore 2nd Class) (HMS Southampton)
  67. Vice Admiral David Beatty (HMS Lion)