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The Battle of the Skagerrak (Jutland)
by Commander Georg von Hase
First Gunnery Officer of the Derfflinger


THE second phase was just as unsatisfactory as the first was successful and interesting from the point of view of gunnery. The enemy had learned a devil of a lesson and acquired a deep respect for the effectiveness of our gun-fire. During the wild dash north they kept as much as possible out of our range, but kept us within reach of their own long-range guns. It will be seen from Sketch I that in this second phase the ranges are scarcely ever less than 18,000 m. I only fired to make quite sure that the enemy were still out of range, and then, to save ammunition, I contented myself with isolated shots from one turret. The guns were again trained on the upper edge of the funnels or the mastheads.

At these long ranges the enemy's shooting was not good either, though their salvoes, it is true, fell well together and always over an area of not more than 300 to 400 metres diameter. The control, however, was not very efficient, perhaps owing to the poor visibility. At any rate, the salvoes fell at very irregular distances from our ship. Nevertheless we suffered bad hits, two or three heavy shells striking us during this phase. When a heavy shell hit the armour of our ship, the terrific crash of the explosion was followed by a vibration of the whole ship, affecting even the conning-tower. The shells which exploded in the interior of the ship caused rather a dull roar, which was transmitted all over by the countless voice-pipes and telephones.

The four English battle-cruisers were travelling at top speed and it was not long before they vanished from our view in mist and smoke. They were steering north and our inferior speed made it impossible for us to keep up with them, though at 7.21 p.m. the Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet signalled: " Follow the battle-cruisers." Our Battle Cruiser Squadron, however, could not maintain a speed of more than twenty-five knots for any length of time, and with their speed of twenty-eight knots the English ships left us standing.

At the time we did not grasp the object of the enemy's manoeuvre. We assumed that they were merely trying to get into touch quickly with their main fleet, whose presence we inferred from the movements of the English battle-cruisers. Actually Admiral Beatty, by completely outflanking us in spite of our highest speed, accomplished an excellent tactical manoeuvre, and his ships carried out an admirable feat of technique. He accomplished the famous " crossing the T," compelled us to alter course, and finally brought us into such a position that we were completely enveloped by the English Battle Fleet and the English battle-cruisers. In the later phases of the battle we were, as a rule, no longer able to tell to which enemy ship we were opposed, and I cannot therefore say with any certainty when we engaged Beatty's four battle-cruisers again, or if we ever did so.

After the gradual disappearance of the four battle-cruisers we were still faced with the four powerful ships of the Fifth Battle Squadron, Malaya, Valiant, Barham, and Warspite.

These ships cannot have developed very high speed in this phase of the battle, for they soon came within range of our Third Squadron, and were engaged by the ships at the head of the line, particularly the flagship, the König. In this way the four English battleships at one time and another came under the fire of at least nine German ships, five battle-cruisers and from four to five battleships. According to my gunnery-log, we were firing after 7.16 p.m. at the second battleship from the right, the one immediately astern of the leader. At these great ranges I fired armour-piercing shell. The second phase passed without any important events as far as we were concerned. In a sense, this part of the action, fought against a numerically inferior but more powerfully armed enemy, who kept us under fire at ranges at which we were helpless, was highly depressing, nerve-wracking, and exasperating. Our only means of defence was to leave the line for a short time, when we saw that the enemy had our range. As this manoeuvre was imperceptible to the enemy, we extricated ourselves at regular intervals from the hail of fire.

I may remark here that these slight alterations of course to get out of the enemy's fire are not shown on the Sketch, as we always took station again in the line at top speed immediately afterwards.

It was not long before the gunnery conditions underwent a fundamental change.

THE previous phases of the battle had been a glorious progress from one triumph to another. We had experienced all the wild splendour of a sea action. Now we were not to be spared its terrors.

During the lull in the fighting I had remained on the bridge without removing my head-telephone. " Where are the enemy ? " I shouted, when I was back at my periscope. " Light cruisers on the port beam ! " was reported. In order to spare the heavy guns for more important targets, I ordered Lieutenant-Commander Hausser to engage the light cruisers with the 15-cm. guns. He opened fire at 7000. Meanwhile I scanned the horizon. As there were no other ships in sight, I also opened fire with the heavy guns at one of the ships reported as light cruisers. The enemy ships were again at the extreme limit of visibility. Now they opened a lively fire, and I saw that the ship I had selected as a target was firing full salvoes from four double turrets. The light round the enemy cleared for a moment and I saw distinctly that they were battleships of the heaviest class, with 38-cm. guns ! Fire was now flashing from them.

Meanwhile the Commander-in-Chief had realized the danger to which our fleet was exposed. The van of our fleet was shut in by the semicircle of the enemy. We were in a regular death-trap. There was only one way of escape from this unfavourable tactical situation : to turn the line about and withdraw on the opposite course. Before everything we must get out of this dangerous enemy envelopment. But this manoeuvre had to be carried out unnoticed and unhindered. The battle-cruisers and the destroyers had to cover the movements of the fleet. At about 0.12 p.m. the Commander-in-Chief gave the fleet the signal to turn about on the opposite course and almost at the same time sent by wireless to the battle-cruisers and destroyers the historic order : " Close the enemy." The signal man on our bridge read the message aloud, adding the words, which stood against it in the signal book : " And ram ! The ships will fight to the death." Without moving an eyelid the Captain gave the order : " Full speed ahead. Course S.E." Followed by the Seydlitz, Moltke, and Von der Tann, we altered course south at 9.13 p.m. and headed straight for the enemy's van. The Derfflinger, as leading ship, now came under a particularly deadly fire. Several ships were engaging us at the same time. I selected a target and fired as rapidly as possible. At first the ranges recorded by my faithful log-keeper in the transmitting station were 12,000, from which they sank to 8000. And all the time we were steaming at full speed into this inferno, offering a splendid target to the enemy while they were still hard to make out. Commander Scheibe, in his description of the battle, describes this attack as follows: " The battle-cruisers, temporarily under the command of the Captain of the Derfflinger, while Admiral Hipper was changing ship, now hurled themselves recklessly against the enemy line, followed by the destroyers. A dense hail of fire swept them all the way."

Salvo after salvo fell round us, hit after hit struck our ship. They were stirring minutes. My communication with Lieutenant-Commander von Stosch was now cut off, the telephones and speaking-tubes running to the fore-top having been shot away. I was now left to rely entirely on my own observation of the splashes to control the gun-fire. Hitherto I had continued to fire with all four heavy turrets, but at 9.13 P.M. a serious catastrophe occurred. A 38-cm. shell pierced the armour of the " Caesar " turret and exploded inside. The brave turret commander, Lieutenant-Commander von Boltenstern had both his legs torn off and with him nearly the whole gun crew was killed. The shell set on fire two shell-cases in the turret. The flames from the burning cases spread to the transfer chamber, where it set fire to four more cases, and from there to the case-chamber, where four more were ignited. The burning cartridge-cases emitted great tongues of flame which shot up out of the turrets as high as a house; but they only blazed, they did not explode as had been the case with the enemy. This saved the ship, but the result of the fire was catastrophic. The huge tapering flames killed everyone within their reach. Of the seventy-eight men inside the turret only five managed to save themselves through the hole provided for throwing out empty shell-cases, and of these several were severely injured. The other seventy-three men died together like heroes in the fierce fever of battle, loyally obeying the orders of their turret officer.

A few moments later this catastrophe was followed by a second. A 38-cm. shell pierced the roof of the " Dora " turret, and here too, exploded inside the turret. The same horrors ensued. With the exception of one single man, who was thrown by the concussion through the turret entrance, the whole turret crew of eighty men, including all the magazine men, were killed instantly. The crew of the " Dora " turret, under the leadership of their brave turret officer, Stuckmeister Arndt, had fought heroically up to the last second. Here, too, the flames spread to the cartridge chamber and set fire to all the cases which had been removed from their protective packing. From both after-turrets great flames were now spurting, mingled with clouds of yellow smoke, two ghastly pyres..

At 9.13 p.m. I received a message from the transmitting station : " Gas danger in the heavy gun transmitting station. Station must be abandoned." This gave me a shock. Things must be in a pretty bad way in the ship if the poison gases had already penetrated the transmitting station, which was so carefully protected. I gave the order : " Connect with the fore-control," and at once received the report that the gunnery apparatus was actually connected with the forecontrol before the transmitting station was abandoned. I could now control the guns by shouting my orders through a speaking tube to a messenger who sat under a grating. The latter passed on the orders direct to the gun-turrets by means of his gunnery telephones and telegraphs. This, of course, added to the noise of the shouting in the forecontrol, but made it possible to go on with the fire control. wtj

Now hit after hit shook the ship. The enemy had got our range excellently. I felt a clutch at my heart when I thought of what the conditions must be in the interior of the ship. So far we in the armoured tower had come off very well . . . my train of thought was sharply interrupted. Suddenly, we seemed to hear the crack of doom. A terrific roar, a tremendous explosion and then darkness, in which we felt a colossal blow. The whole conning tower seemed to be hurled into the air as though by the hands of some portentous giant, and then to flutter trembling into its former position. A heavy shell had struck the fore-control about 50 cm. in front of me. The shell exploded, but failed to pierce the thick armour, which it had struck at an unfavourable angle, though huge pieces had been torn out. Poisonous greenish-yellow gases poured through the apertures into our control.

I called out : " Down gas-masks ! " and immediately every man pulled down his gas-mask over his face. I went on controlling the fire with my gas-mask on, which made it very difficult to make myself understood. But the gases soon dissipated, and we cautiously took off the masks. We assured ourselves that the gunnery apparatus was still in order. Nothing had been disturbed. Even the delicate mechanism of the sighting apparatus was, strange to say, still in order. Some splinters had been flung through the aperture on to the bridge, where they had wounded several men, including the navigating officer.

The terrific blow had burst open the heavy armoured door of the tower, which now stood wide open. Two men strove in vain to force it back, but it was jammed too tight. Then came unexpected assistance. Once more we heard a colossal roar and crash and with a noise of a bursting thunderbolt a 38-cm. shell exploded under the bridge. Whole sheets of the deck were hurled through the air, a tremendous concussion threw overboard everything that could be moved. Amongst other things, the chart house, with all the charts and other gear, and—" last but not least " —my good overcoat, which I had left hanging in the charthouse, vanished from the scene for ever. And one extraordinary thing happened: the terrific concussion of the bursting 38-cm. shell shut the armoured door of the forecontrol. A polite race, the English ! They had opened the door for us and it was they who shut it again. I wonder if they meant to ? In any case it amused us a good deal.

I looked towards the enemy through my periscope. Their salvoes were still bursting round us, but we could scarcely see anything of the enemy, who were disposed in a great semicircle round us. All we could see was the great reddish-gold flames spurting from the guns. The ships' hulls we saw but rarely. I had the range of the flames measured. That was the only possible means of establishng [sic] the enemy's range Without much hope of hurting the enemy I ordered the two forward turrets to fire salvo after salvo. I could feel that our fire soothed the nerves of the ship's company. If we had ceased fire at this time the whole ship's company would have been overwhelmed by despair, for everyone would have thought : " A few minutes more and it will be all up." But so long as we were still firing, things could not be so bad. The secondary armament were firing too, but of the six guns on that side only two could be used. The barrel of the fourth gun had burst, and the third gun had been completely shot to pieces. The two 15-cm. guns still intact kept up a lively fire.

Unfortunately the direction-indicator in the "Bertha" turret now failed us. I was left with one single turret that I could train on the enemy by means of my periscope. The direction of my periscope as indicated by the control apparatus had to be continually shouted from the transmitting station to the " Bertha " turret, which meant a certain amount of delay for the turret officer, and was, of course, inadequate while the ship was under weigh. The turret officer was not in a position to keep the enemy under continual observation with his telescope. Nothing could be seen of the monster facing us but the flickering fiery eyes it opened alternately—when it fired a salvo. I was now concentrating my fire on a ship which was firing alternately from two double turrets. The flashes from the muzzles looked like the opening of two wide blazing eyes and suddenly I realized where I had seen something of the sort. Sascha Schneider's picture, " The Feeling of Dependence," had created an impression something similar to that I was now experiencing. It depicts a black monster of shadowy outline, turgidly opening and shutting its smouldering eyes and fixing a chained human form, which awaits the fatal embrace. Our present position seemed to me similar. But the monster had to be fought. The " Anna " turret, under the brave Stuckmeister—I had sent the turret officer to the after-control to replace the Fourth Gunnery Officer who was wanted elsewhere—went on firing undisturbed as also the doughty " Schulzburg," though it is true the latter frequently fired at another target than that ordered. Without a direction-indicator it was impossible to keep both turrets firing at the same enemy flashes.

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