REPORT OF REAR-ADMIRAL SECOND BATTLE CRUISER SQUADRON
Enclosure No. 6 to Battle Cruiser Fleet Letter No. B.C.F. 01 of 12/6/16
2nd Battle Cruiser Squadron.
3rd June 1916.
SECOND BATTLE CRUISER SQUADRON
REPORT ON ACTION OF 31ST MAY 1916
HEREWITH I have the honour to submit observations on the engagement between British and German Fleets, on 31st May 1916. Time table in Appendix I. was compiled by
2. On sighting the enemy, Second Battle Cruiser Squadron was ordered to form astern of First Battle Cruiser Squadron, a position retained throughout the action. Fire opened steadily, both sides using simultaneous firing. The director proved invaluable. Though the merit of German salvoes was unequal, yet many pitched all shots together. As fire continued, concentrated falls became less frequent; whenever shots again began to fall together, it was taken as a sign that a fresh enemy was being encountered.
3. Steep angles of descent reduced ricochet and splash. Visibility was generally good, though I was never able personally to identify the enemy vessel under fire. Her position in the line was the most I could make out. Smoke and spray interference were slight.
4. Within a few minutes of entering action, two of three shots falling together hit INDEFATIGABLE about outer edge of upper deck in line with after turret. A small explosion followed, and she swung out of line, sinking by the stern. Hit again almost instantly near "A" turret by another salvo, she listed heavily to port, turned over and disappeared.
5. As the number of ships in each line was now equal, NEW ZEALAND shifted target from the fourth to the rear ship. Deterioration in enemy fire was remarked, though one of his ships, probably the third, was still delivering salvoes, close in fall and apparently containing a full number of projectiles. Soon splashes other than those due to fire of NEW ZEALAND could be seen round her target, thus showing Fifth Battle Squadron was within range. NEW ZEALAND accordingly resumed fire at the fourth enemy ship, a change recommended also by the catastrophe to QUEEN MARY.
6. In the Battle Cruiser Fleet it had been constantly assumed that German battle cruisers would never be found far from adequate support, and thus no surprise was felt when their battle fleet was sighted. This was the moment when the aid of a powerful fighting force was indispensable if the Battle Cruiser Fleet was to be able to avoid engagement with the battle fleet. Here the Fifth Battle Squadron played its part nobly, and as elsewhere during the action it proved itself a tower of strength.
7. After this disengagement the fleets again came together, both steering northerly, fighting as obscuration and range allowed, but with the British always bearing heavily on the head of the opposite line. The Third Battle Cruiser Squadron dashing gallantly into action ahead of LION, increased pressure on enemy leaders, checking their advance and compelling them continually to turn away. Thus when the Grand Fleet was
observed to port, turning to parallel course and with rear apparently well engaged, it was felt that decision was at hand.
8. Nothing now remained but for the Battle Fleet to reap the fruits of a situation brilliantly prepared by the Battle Cruiser Fleet and by the Fifth Battle Squadron. Jointly, this body had performed a magnificent feat of arms. Its position relative to the enemy could not have been improved. It had inflicted severe punishment upon him, and was ready to supplement the frontal attack of the principal forces. For such an attack light was necessary; and visibility had already begun to fail. The Germans may have used smoke screens; but from whatever cause or causes, the atmosphere was thickening, and this, together with the turning away of the enemy fleet, resulted in touch being lost. Hope remained that the decisive operation had only been deferred until the morrow. Here fresh disappointment awaited us, but as search was conducted under orders from Grand Fleet, account is unnecessary.
9. It was evident the Germans had suffered severely, but their full loss could only slowly become known. The British felt that although an unlimited success had been earned, only a limited one had been obtained. The Germans had more cause to rejoice, as they had escaped annihilation. From such a point of view they might well congratulate themselves; but in its nature such success is essentially different from victory, even though some of the benefits of victory accompany it. By the many who have ignorantly believed that any and every meeting of the fleets must prelude a sweeping British victory, the inconclusive nature of this battle will be deeply felt; yet inconclusive actions are the rule in naval warfare, and of all the greater military events recorded in history, the least common has been the naval victory in which the whole force of the enemy has been obliterated.
I have the honour to be,
Your obedient Servant,
W. C. PAKENHAM,
The Vice-Admiral Commanding
Battle Cruiser Fleet.
APPENDIX I. TO REPORT FROM REAR-ADMIRAL COMMANDING SECOND BATTLE CRUISER SQUADRON, DATED 2ND JUNE 1916.
ACTION OF 31ST MAY 1916.
TIME TABLE COMPILED BY CAPTAIN AND OFFICERS OF H.M.S. NEW ZEALAND
2.20. Course N. by E. 19½ knots.
2.30. Sounded off action.
2.35. Course S.S.E. 19½ knots gradually increasing to 25 knots.
3. 0. Course E.
3.13. Altered to N.E.
3.24. Observed smoke of five ships bearing starboard 40.
3.30. Made out five enemy battle cruisers escorted by destroyers, bearing E.N.E., steering N.W. course. We altered course to E., speed 26 knots.
3.36. Altered to take station astern of 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron.
3.45. In station astern of TIGER, course E.
3.49. Enemy altered course about 16 points to starboard (away).
3.51. Our speed 25 knots. LION altered course to starboard to parallel course of enemy. Formed on line of bearing N.W.
3.54. Speed 26 knots. Enemy, LION, and 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron opened fire. Range 19,000 yards.
3.57. NEW ZEALAND opened fire, 18,000 yards on fourth ship from the right.
4. 0. Our course S.S.E. 25 knots. Straddled enemy. Commenced lyddite common.
4. 8. INDEFATIGABLE blew up.
4.10. Shifted fire on the fifth (rear) battle cruiser. Our course S.
4.22. Altered course a little to port.
4.26. "X" turret reported hit, but still in action. Ship now straddling.
4.32. QUEEN MARY blew up.
4.37. LION kept away to starboard.
4.44. Sighted enemy battle fleet ahead on port bow.
4.45. Altered course 16 points to starboard in succession. Enemy battle fleet opened fire on us. Our course N. by W. 25 knots.
4.52. Unable to fire though being heavily fired at, owing to being unable to get enough elevation on. Range 19,000 yards.
5. 0. Fifth Battle Squadron passed us on our port hand and turned to northward soon after under heavy fire from enemy's battle fleet.
5.42. Observed flashes of firing from enemy's battle cruisers.
5.47. Opened fire on battle cruiser (second from left, all that were visible). Range 17,200 yards. Firing till 5.58. Intermittent firing owing to mist and smoke.
5.56. Sighted Grand Fleet bearing N. by E. Our course and speed being N.N.E., 25 knots.
6. 8.} Altered to E.N.E., 24 knots. Enemy gradually turning away.
6.30.} Heavy fire from enemy battle cruisers and battle fleet. INVINCIBLE sunk. DEFENCE and WARRIOR crossed ahead and under very heavy fire passed down starboard side of Battle Cruiser Fleet. Firing as continuously as mist and smoke allowed.
6.30. Altered course to S.E. 26 knots.
6.41. Ceased fire. Enemy obscured. Passed wreck of INVINCIBLE.
6.45. Commenced to circle gradually to starboard.
6.52. Submarine reported on starboard bow, hauled out of line and then back.
6.59. INDOMITABLE and INFLEXIBLE took station astern. Speed 18 knots. Gradually circling round to starboard. Enemy out of sight or screened by mist and smoke.
7.10. Course S. 18 knots.
7.28. Enemy destroyers attacked, bearing starboard 80. Our course S.S.W. Range 17,800 yards. Fired two salvoes at them, and then 4th Light Cruiser Squadron (I think) went out at them and drove them off.
8.20. Course altered to W. 17 knots. Sighted enemy battle cruisers, five ships, starboard 60.
8.21. Opened fire on third ship. Range 13,000 closing.
8.31. She appeared to be hit and heeling over, on fire and hauled out of line. Then shifted fire on to the fourth ship.
8.41. NEW ZEALAND appeared to strike something under water, but no damage. Observed what appeared to be a burst of air under water about 50 yards on starboard beam. Ceased fire. Enemy obscured.
9.35. Course S. 17 knots
CAPTAIN'S REPORT ON ACTION OF 31st MAY 1916. H.M.S. NEW ZEALAND.
Enclosure No. 7 to Battle Cruiser Fleet Letter No. B.C.F. 01 of 12/6/16.
No. 96/A. 4.
H.M.S. New Zealand,
2nd June 1916.
I HAVE the honour to make the following report on the action which took place on Wednesday, 31st May 1916, between our fleet and the German Fleet.
2. The day was hazy and fine with practically no wind. I should put the visibility down as between 7 and 10 miles, varying in patches. Smoke also added occasionally to the haziness, but I was rather impressed by the little smoke interference there was.
3. Range-taking and Spotting were difficult. It was very difficult to distinguish hits, but occasional bursts of smoke with a salvo seemed to denote a hit.
4. The firing of the enemy was extremely good, their salvoes having very little spread, and they seemed to pick up the range quickly and correctly, and their salvoes were rapid.
5. We were fortunately only hit once by a heavy projectile, about 1 foot above the deck on the port side of "X" Turret (the after turret) which punched a hole about 2 feet in diameter. It also went through the tongue of the towing slip which was secured round the turret. The shell must have burst on deck as there were sputterings round about there. It also damaged the deck, cutting through it and through the deck below into the Engineer's Workshop.
6. I attach a timed account of the various incidents as they occurred. All these times are G.M.T. and are, I consider, absolutely reliable, as they come from 3 different sources.
8. I consider that the Battle Cruiser described at 8.31 p.m. to be heeling over and on fire, was in a sinking condition when she hauled out of line. The different reports received by Officers in this ship agree that our last 2 or 3 salvoes fired at her hit her heavily. She appeared to be a SEYDLITZ class.
* * * * *
I have the honour to be,
Your obedient Servant,
JOHN F. E. GREEN,
The Rear-Admiral Commanding,
Second Battle Cruiser Squadron,
H.M.S. "New Zealand".
"NEW ZEALAND "—ACTION OF 31st MAY 1916.
Vice-Admiral Commanding Battle Cruiser Fleet,
W. C. PAKENHAM,
6th June 1916.
"NEW ZEALAND" - ACTION OF 31st MAY 1916.
Battle Cruiser Fleet,
W. C. PAKENHAM,
6th June 1916.
- (original footnote) Plates 9a and 31
- (original footnote) See note on p. 381
- (original footnote) Part omitted here referring solely to personnel, recommendations, &c., in no way bearing on the course of the action.