NOTE: Some language in this report does reflect the prevailing attitudes of the time
Paula Bird - 21st April 2016
"I have recently discovered in my late father’s effects an album of photos of the Battle of Jutland in progress. These seem to be taken from the deck of one of the battle ships. I also have a typed ‘Summary of the notes made immediately after the action on the 31st May 1916’ which is 8 pages of foolscap paper documenting the battle minute by minute.
This all belonged to my grandfather Frederick Alderton who I think was in the merchant navy on HMS Malaya."
Summary of notes made immediately after the action of the 31st May, 1916.
The following is not meant as an account of the Battle, but merely a rough summary of my impressions, written in the hope that it will pass the Censor and perhaps interest some of my Friends who were not so fortunate as I.
On the 31st May I had the afternoon watch, which promised to be very dull and uneventful. Contrary to usual practice during these sweeps of the North Sea there were no rumours of any sort as to our own movements or those of the enemy. I do not believe that at Noon even the most optimistic of us had any hopes of meeting the enemy. We were steaming East by South approximately and as usual zigzagging to avoid a possible Fritz. The 5th B.S., in the order of "Barham" , "Valiant" , "Warspite" and "Malaya" , were about 5 minutes to North of Sir David Beatty and his six Battle Cruisers. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Light Cruiser Squadrons were spread ahead with the 13th T.B.D. Flotilla.
2.30 p.m. Saw an intercepted signal from "Galatea" to "Lion" stating that a large amount of smoke had been sighted. Apparently a Fleet under way. Shortly afterwards we heard that our Light Cruisers and T.B.Ds. were in touch with the enemy's Light Cruisers and T.B.Ds. As this was our first intimation that any Germans were on the ocean at all our surprise and excitement may well be imagined. Faces at once brightened and glasses scanned the horizon for a sign of the enemy. The pessimists still held out and declared that in all probability it was some wretched Hun Light Cruisers which would easily escape us.
3.0 p.m. Sounded off action. About 3.15.p.m. passed the "Engadine" with a seaplane in the water alongside. Officers and men doubled to their stations, most of them never even guessing that a German had actually been sighted, thinking that it was merely the same old game, i.e.'Be ready'. When I arrived in my Turret B I knew that the Light Cruisers had been in action and that there was no time to spare. I had a hurried look round to see that all was well and told the men what I could viz. that we might expect to meet anything from a German Light Cruiser to the High Sea Fleet, and that B Turret had got to get in the maximum number of rounds allowed by the Control. We had up to date been favoured by good luck but we must now be ready for anything and still not miss a salvo. The men were greatly cheered by the news, assured me that no chance would be missed to ease off a round at the Huns and at once began to make little extra preparations, taking off superfluous clothing etc. They made all sorts of weird and wonderful jokes as to what would happen to a German ship that should be so fortunate as to come within range of us.
3.50 p.m. Our Battle Cruisers were heard firing, so I thought it was time to get to my perch in the Silent Cabinet. I saw nothing until about 4 p.m. when I sighted a German Light Cruiser at which our leading ships were firing. Now things were beginning to look busy. Surely we would sight something bigger soon. About 4.10 p.m. we turned to approximately S.S.E. I then sighted the German Battle Cruisers steaming on a parallel course to us. There were five of them and I thought their order was as follows:- 3 Derflinger class leading the line, followed by the 'Moltke' , and lastly the 'Seydlitze' and not the 'Moltke' for I carefully compared the two and saw that the rear ship had a raised forecastle, which is about the only way of distinguishing the 'Seydlitze' from the 'Moltke'.
4.15 p.m. We opened fire of the 'Seydlitze'. We were the last ship to commence as we were the last in the line. The range was 1,900 yards and the enemy bearing about two points before the beam. The visibility was then good for ranging but I thought it bad for spotting, as the background was misty and of exactly the same shade as a splash, thus making them difficult to distinguish. Remembering my experience on the Belgian coast I started with the intention of keeping as full notes as possible throughout the action. They would at least have been interesting for me, even if they should not prove to be of use as evidence. This I managed to do, with the exception of the occasions when I had to go into the Turret to attempt to rectify a defect. By a misfortune, which I shall never cease to regret, these notes became detached from the signal pad and were thrown away by an enthusiastic boy as waste paper. I made notes of what I thought was the fate of every salvo that I saw, the target and anything of interest. Practically the only definite thing that I remember about the fall of our shot is the fact that we hit with our fourth salvo. All the rest is jumbled up in my head and I cannot pick out the times at which various incidents happened.
When the 'Seydlitze' was hit she at once turned about 5 points away, but shortly afterwards resumed her course. Very soon after this I remember thinking that the enemy must be zigzagging, at any rate on several occasions we found our shots going wrong for deflection. During this time the enemy were firing quickly, but it seemed to me wildly. We fired quickly for the first few salvos but as the light gradually became worse our firing became more deliberate and the range closed. I did not have much time for observing how the shooting of the other ships faired. All I remember is that the enemy's ships all seemed to be having a severetime, and that they appeared to be obliterated by the splashes of shell. I distinctly remember make a note that the 'Seydlitze' was badly on fire soon after we hit her, and that the third ship was also on fire.
The Battle continued in this manner until 4.50 p.m. The visibility was rapidly becoming worse and at times we could only see the flare of the enemy's guns. Notwithstanding this, however, the enemy must have been able to distinguish us very plainly for the horizon on our starboard side was very definite.
The German Battle Cruisers were zigzagging rapidly, which, together with the light, probably accounts for the fact that they were not hit more often, and for the erraticness of their own shooting. I saw the Battle Cruisers turning 16 points together. I then looked to the southward of them to see if I could discover the reason for this manoeuvre. I saw just distinguishable in the mist a warship of sorts coming from the S.E. I pointed this out to the Commander, who was in my Turret for the purpose of conning the ship should any-thing happen to the main position, and because it is a good central position for keeping in touch with outside depart-ments. We were not long kept in suspense as to the nature of this new ship for very shortly after sighting her I saw following her a long line of others, which we soon recognised as German Dreadnought Battleships of the 'Koenig' and 'Kaiser' Classes. I could not see in what formation they were but they appeared to be in three divisions in line ahead, disposed quarterly.
Up to this time the shooting had for us been very like a peace battle practice. I felt that according to all rules of the game the German Battle Cruisers ought not to remain much longer afloat if the light would only hold. I had not up to date thought much about the danger of being hit by a projectile, except, perhaps, just before the action began, when my mind certainly did wander on the gruesome possibility of a Naval action. Now, however, matters took quite a different complexion. We were closing the High Sea Fleet at a rate of about 40 knots, and there was every prospect of becoming engaged with them in a very short space of time. My feelings at that time are rather hard to analyse, for as things were then happening quite quickly I had not much time for thinking whether I was frightened or not. I do not think I was really frightened, but I dare say that if I had stopped to think I should have been. It merely flashed across my mind that we were now if for a busy time, if not for an extremely warm one.
4.55 p.m. Our Battle Cruisers passed between us and the enemy, steaming approximately North. It was then that I realised that we must have lost two, and that the wreckage that we had passed at about 4.30 must have been ours. We had seen the Destroyer - the 'Laurel' I believe - stopped amongst some wreckage and picking up a few survivors from the water. So small an mount of gear was there in the water that I had hoped that it was a German Light Cruiser, or at the worst one of ours. The 'Laurel' was about 2 1/2 cables from our line and was under considerable fire. It was a fine sight to see her boats' crews carrying out their work as though they were doing any peace evolution. As we were going on opposite course the Battle Cruisers passed us very rapidly and we did not get much chance to see how matters were going with them. We could see 'Lion' , 'Princess Royal' , 'Tiger' and 'New Zealand'. They were all firing very quickly at the enemy Battle Cruisers and the only damage seen was Q Turret in the 'Lion' which was turned away from the enemy and appeared to be badly hit. We continued on our course after the Battle Cruisers had passed us for what seemed an eternity but which in reality was only about 5 minutes.
everyone very cheery and full of go. They had no thought that we should come off worse than the enemy, but only wanted to know how many German ships were left afloat requiring to be finished off. They were full of confidence that every shell was doing its bit, and many and varied were the benedictions sent with them. When things were at their hottest I heard one man in the Gunhouse call out to the others "Do not get rattled you are putting your ---- feet all over the ---- paintwork" [as original report] . Those in the Shellroom had a fairly good shock when the salvo pitched abreast them, several being actually knocked down. However, they treated it as a joke and their one idea was to send up as many projectiles as possible. I think the lot of those in the Magazine was the hardest, for it is no easy job to handle cordite for a 15" gun, and the atmosphere becomes extremely oppresive.
Until about 4.50 the enemy's firing continued to be very brisk and to fall all round us. The visibility had for us been getting steadily worse, in fact ever sing 5.15 we had very rarely been able to see anything but the flashes of the German guns. During this time we were several times hit, to what extent I could not tell, but I saw that the ship had dropped astern of station and that we had a bad list to starboard. Reports were continually coming by means of a special system of communications to the Commander, so we were not kept so very long in suspense as to the damage done to the ship. The whole organisation of patrols, repair parties, fire parties etc. seemed to work extremely well. Information about this or that part of the ship was constantly coming through, and it seemed to take a surprisingly short time to obtain an answer to the Commander's questions about any part of the ship. I heard reports coming through of a fire, that it was being satisfactorily dealt with; about certain compartments being flooded, of water leaking into others; about casualties, dressing stations being full, clearing of wounded and dead etc. It all came through in the most matter-of-fact way, and it seemed nothing out of the ordinary and as though we made and heard these sort of reports and orders every day of our lives. The Commander had to go and investigate on two or three occasions, but as a general rule he was able to control every-thing from 'B' Turret.
Until 6 p.m. the action continued in a Northerly direction, the light gradually becoming worse and the range shorter. After 5.40 p.m. the firing became intermittent, the light being then bad for the Germans as well as ourselves. By this time the atmosphere in the 'silent cabinet' was extremely hot and uncomfortable so the Commander and I, taking advantage of an unusually long pause, took an airing on the top of the Turret. The visibility was about 8,000 yards, but I could see no other ships except the other three of our squadron whom we were again overtaking.
I do not remember seeing the German Battle Cruisers after the turn at 5.0 p.m. I am told that they fired at us during the run North but my attention was taken up with the High Sea Fleet when I could seem them.
After 6 p.m. firing again became more general, until at 6.10 it was quite brisk.
4.59 p.m. The 5th B.S. turned 16 points to starboard in succession. I must admit to a feeling of relief when I realised that we were to turn round, though not at it being done in succession. When it was time for the 'Malaya' to turn the turning point was a very hot corner, as the enemy had of course concentrated on that point. The shells were pouring in a a very rapid rate and it is doubtful whether we, the last ship in the line, could have got through without a very severe hammering. However, the Captain decided this point for use by turning the ship early. When we had turned, or rather as I was turning my turret round to the starboard side, I saw our Battle Cruisers, who were proceeding Northerly at full speed, were already quite 7 or 8 thousand yard ahead of us engaging the German Battle Cruisers. I then realised that the four of us, the 5th B.S., alone would have to entertain the High Sea Fleet. The enemy continued to fire rapidly at us during and after the turn but did not really get near until about 5.15 when their salvos began to arrive thick and fast. From my position in the turret I could see them falling just short, could hear them going just over and several times saw a great column of black water fall on top of the turret. I do not know that I thought very much at the time for I was trying hard to make out our target. But I expected at any moment that we should get a nasty knock and I realised that if any one of those enemy shells falling around us should hit us in the right place our speed would be sadly reduced, and that we should not then stand a very good chance.
The salvos were at this time coming at a rate of from 6 to 9 per minute. Soon after the turn I had counted the number of enemy ships firing at us and the ninth ship was the rearmost that I thought I saw open fire. I believe that this was at times increased by the German Battle Cruisers, though I cannot say that I noticed them.
5.20 p.m. I saw a large column of water rise up between my guns and felt the turret shake heavily. We had been hit abreast the turret below the water line. So heavy was the shock that I feared that our own fighting efficiency must have been gravely impaired. Not so much that the shell had burst into any part of the turret, but that the shock of the impact had seriously damaged our loading arrangement. I went into the Gunhouse to enquire whether all was well below and received the report that they had been somewhat shaken by the blow but that everything seemed alright. This proved too optimistic an estimate, for when the main cage arrived in the working chamber it was found that the shell could not be withdrawn and there was a proper jam up. I dashed down and we had to work like ******* to clear it. After what seemed an age, but could not really have been so long, we succeeded and by extemporary means managed to get the cage into working order. During this time the secondary method of loading was in use for the right gun, and although five rounds had to be loaded in this manner the turret never missed a chance to fire. This was very pleasing, as the secondary method is generally considered very slow. The men had to work at tremendous pressure to keep the guns going, everybody available assisting at the right gun, the midshipman, armourer, torpedoman etc. I thought their success a great credit to them. On going into the turret I found
The report was passed round the ship that the Grand Fleet was in sight and would shortly deploy into action. This was extremely welcome news for matters were not looking very cheery for us. It could hardly be hoped that we could continue to engage the German Battle Fleet much longer without sustaining very serious damage to say the least of it. At about 6.20 I could just see the Grand Fleet deploying into action in magnificent style. They seemed to e to be in an ideal position, almost across the head of the enemy line. I remember thinking that the position seemed so advantageous that if the light would only hold for half an hour there would be hardly a German ship left in action. "Now" I thought "our part of the work is done; we have brought the High Sea Fleet to the C in C, the Grand Fleet has deployed in exactly the correct position (between the Battle Cruisers and ourselves) and apparently the head of the line is even now bending to starboard crossing ahead of the enemy, and the outlook is indeed good". Matters turned out differently, however. When the Fleet deployed the light was better than it had been for some time, but it quickly deteriorated again, so much so that only one Battle Squadron really became engaged to any extent - the rearmost one - the first B.S. They fired very rapidly, especially the 'Agincourt' , who made a most impressive sight firing her 14 12" guns at full speed.
Although the Grand Fleet was to a certain extent in touch with the enemy util about 7.30 p.m. they never had a real chance to inflict a crushing blow. Whenever the enemy was visible the utmost use was made of the opportunity, and undoubtedly very great damage was inflicted; but these opportunities were few and far between.
6.30 p.m. We (the 5th B.S.) took station in rear of the 1st B.S. In doing so we must have been going too fast for we ran up on to the last ship of the line and we actually overlapped eachother, thus presenting an excellent target for the Huns who were extremely quick in taking advantage of it.
At the rear of our line was a regular bunch of ships; the 5th B.S., a Light Cruiser Squadron and a Destroyer Flotilla, gathered together in a remarkably small area, into which the enemy we concentrating all available fire. Amidst this perfect deluge of shells the Light Cruisers and Destroyers were twisting and twining, endeavouring to avoid eachother and the big ships, who themselves had to perform various manoeuvres.
I cannot go into details, but suffice it to say that the general effect outdid the most imaginative picture of a Naval Battle that ever I saw. It will never cease to be a source of wonder to me that so few ships were hit, and that there were no collissions. I think it must have been one of the most wonderful displays of seamanship and clear headedness that ever existed, and as such is very comforting in these days of science and machines.
One may account for the very little damage done to the rear of our line during this period by:-
(1) The Grace of God - for it is indeed extraordinary that so few hits were obtained, considering the number and proximity of the shells that fell amongst us.
(2) No time was lost in straightening out the middle.
(3) The enemy's firing was after a time drawn off us to a certain extent by the 'Warspite' , 'Defence' and 'Warrior'.
There are probably other reasons but one cannot here discuss them.
The 'Warspite' received a hit which jammed her helm, or so it appeared, for when last I saw her she was heading straight for the enemy, almost obliterated by splashes, and firing hard. I do not think I felt very troubled about her for she was so very full of go. Whenever the splashes cleared 'bang' would go all her guns together. On the other hand it was perfectly dreadful to see the 'Defence' and 'Warrior'. Even when first I sighted them I felt they were doomed. They were steaming at their utmost speed between the lines, endeavouring to get clear round us (i.e. the end of the Grand Fleet) smoking very heavily, being continuously stranded and frequently hit. They were soon badly on fire in several places, especially the 'Defence' , but still they continued to fire to the very last.
When the Germans saw these three isolated ships the volume of fire at us considerably decreased, as a great deal had been concentrated on them. The 'Defence' suddenly disappeared completely in an immense column of smoke and flame, hundreds of feet high. It appeared to be an absolutely instantaneous destruction, the ship seemed to be dismembered at once. Wreckage continued to fall into the water for quite a considerable time after the explosion, but when the smoke etc. had subsided there was absolutely nothing to be seen where only a minute or so previously had been the 'Defence'.
The 'Warrior' was just able to get clear, and the 'Warspite', after turning a complete circle, followed the line, but had eventually to fall out and return to harbour.
6.40 p.m. After this I only saw the enemy for short intervals, though some of the other ships must have been better off for the 1st B.S. continued to fire quickly for some time. After this time I observed an enemy ship (leading the line I thought) which I had not seen before, and did not recognise as one of any known class. She seemed appreciably larger and appeared to be firing heavier guns. I saw her hit amidships, where there was a very heavy explosion. For some reason or other I had then to go into the Gunhouse and on my return could not longer see the stranger. I believe she dropped astern, for a ship very like her was seen astern of the line and stopped.
This practically completes the day's action. The enemy were seen at intervals until about 7.40, when I last saw them disappearing in a cloud of smoke. They did not stay longer than they could help after the arrival of the Grand Fleet, and as soon as they could discover in which direction the danger lay they emitted a cloud of smoke and turned to S.W.
On each occasion on which I had a good view of the High Sea Fleet, after the arrival of the Grand Fleet, they appeared to be disorganised.
7.40 p.m. Fired our last salvo at Destroyers. I saw four enemy Destroyers suddenly appear out of the smoke as though attacking the rear of our line. We opened fire with our remaining 6" guns, also firing 2 15" salvos. The attack was not pressed home and on coming under fire they soon turned and fled, with exception of one who remained stopped and an easy target for us and our Light Cruisers and Destroyers, who came on to the scene and finished her off.
As regards to the damage done to the Germans during the day action I can say very little. I cannot definitely say that I saw any big ships sink, but only one Light Cruiser and one Destroyer. My impression at the time, however, was that the Huns were in a very bad way when they disappeared in a cloud of smoke. They were certainly very disorganised and several were seen to fall out. Our disappointment at the intervention of the mist may readily be imagined, when one considers that we knew the High Sea Fleet was already beginning to feel the strain, and that the disposition of our own ships was so nearly ideal.
Several times during the day action, I had looked for my brother Maurice's Destroyer 'The Nicator', but could never distinguish her amongst all the other boats. I felt fairly confident as to his safety, for I had not seen any daylight action by our T.B.Ds., except the repulse of the half-hearted German attack. I little knew that he had followed Commander Bingham at about 4.30 p.m. to within 3,000 yards of the High Sea Fleet, and had only escaped by the greatest good fortune and his Captain's wonderful handling of the ship.
We steamed S. during the night, which was full of incident. Officers and men remained at their action stations, for the enemy were very near and close action might be expected at any moment.
9.0 p.m. I remember that I had not eaten for some time and was very glad of a sandwich of bread and tinned salmon which was served out. Nothing warm could be obtained as the galley was out of action. The men managed to get a little sleep during the night, but I was not so fortunate, my perch not being very comfortable; also I hardly dared sleep for it seemed so absolutely necessary to be ready. I cannot go into any detail of the happenings during the night, for that would involve several things which have not yet been published. Suffice it to say that we heard and saw several Destroyer attacks on the Germans, one especially we had an extremely close view of. Some of the German shells fired at our Destroyers fell around us. I have a very vivid impression of those Destroyers dashing into the blinding searchlights and light, and into a perfectly furious fire. The leading ship was hit badly and was soon ablaze from stern to stern. The others seemed to make good their escape after having fired their torpedoes. On this occasion, as during other attacks, we heard and felt heavy explosions as though a torpedo had hit, and one ship was actually seen to sink. On of these explosions lit up the whole sky. No English ship blew up during the night. Ir seemed absolutely impossible to know what was going on all around us, and where was friend or foe, but as so much was happening we thought it absolutely certain we should meet in
the morning. It is not easy to express our feelings (in fact I shall not attempt to) when with dawn came the mist. We could see no more than two miles and not a German was in sight. We cruised about until nearly noon hoping against hope that the weather would clear and allow us to complete the day's work. At noon I was not sorry to get out of my turret for lunch, for I had no rest and no food for the last 24 hours and I was quite ready for both, especially the latter.
The next and most trying duty was to discover the casualties of my division, which had suffered heavily. The majority of the wounded were unconscious, for they had been dreadfully burned, but those to whom I spoke only wanted to write to their people saying that all was going well, and to know about the action.
At 8 p.m. June 1st, the most mutilated of the dead were buried at sea.
I need hardly say that the behaviour of the men was perfectly splendid. From the Shell Room to the Gunhouse and Control Cabinet they all did their jobs with the utmost cheeriness, often under very uncomfortable conditions. They could feel the ship being hit and take up an unpleasant list, but they had no other thought than to keep the guns going and eventually thereby to annihilate the whole German Fleet.
The other Officers in the Turret beside myself were the Commander, who was there as second in command of the ship, and three midshipmen - one in the Gunhouse, another in the Control Cabinet and the third with the Commander.
This rough account has become much longer than was originally intended, in spite of the fact that many of the most interesting points have been omitted. To an NO. it might have been interest to hear some local ideas of the effect of shell fire on the ship. The efficiency of our control of fire and that of the enemy, something of the torpedoes fired by and against us, the Destroyer work by day and night, the handling of ships and tactics in general etc. etc. I can, however, claim one merit, for it is at least a true though not complete account of what I saw and thought at the time. To the best of my knowledge and belief it is free from outside influence, for when I made the notes from which it is taken I had heard none of the hundreds of stories now in circulation.