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SECONDARY FEATURES OF THE
NE of the most inexplicable incidents of the day occurred as
Jellicoe's fleet approached the battle area and shortly before the leading ship of his column passed through the opening in Beatty's column as already described. The four armored cruisers, Duke of Edinburgh, Defence, Warrior, and Black Prince, under Rear Admiral Arbuthnot, were in company with Jellicoe, but separated from his main force by several miles. These ships were lightly armed and very lightly armored, and had absolutely no excuse for taking part in the main battle. Yet they now appeared, somewhat in advance of the main fleet and to the westward of it, standing down ahead of Evan-Thomas's division of battleships, which, as has been explained, had dropped back to allow Jellicoe to pass ahead of them. As Arbuthnot appeared from the mist, several German ships opened on him at short range, and within a very few moments three of his four ships were destroyed. The Defence and Black Prince were sunk immediately. The Warrior was so badly damaged that she sank during the night while trying to make port. The Duke of Edinburgh escaped.
Another incident belonging to this phase of the battle was the jamming of the steering gear of the Warspite, of Admiral Evan-Thomas's division of dreadnoughts. Apparently the helm jammed when in the hard-over position, and the ship for some time ran around in a circle. Through the whole of this time she was under heavy fire, and is reported to have been struck more than one hundred times by heavy shells, in spite of which she later returned to her position in column and continued the fight, In the course of her erratic maneuvers, while not under control, she circled around the Warrior and received so much of the fire intended for that ship as to justify the belief that her accident saved the Warrior from immediate destruction and made it possible, later, to rescue her crew before she finally sank, as she did during the night following the battle. It was for a time believed that the Warspite had deliberately intervened to save the Warrior, and there was much talk of the "chivalry" of the Warspite's commander in thus risking his own ship to save another—this from those who overlooked the fact that the duty of the Warspite, as one of the most valuable fighting units of the fleet, was to keep place in line as long as possible, and to carry out the general battle plan; which, of course, is exactly what the Warspite did to the best of her ability.
It is an interesting fact that of the small number of capital ships lost or disabled, four were flagships. Two rear admirals, Hood and Arbuthnot, went down with their ships. Two vice admirals, Von Hipper and Burney, shifted their flags in the thickest of the fight, Von Hipper from the Lützow to the Moltke, Burney from the Marlborough to the Revenge.
A large part of Admiral Jellicoe's official report deals with the work of the light cruisers and destroyers, which, while necessarily restricted to a secondary rôle, contributed in many ways to the operations of the main fighting forces, securing and transmitting information, attacking at critical times, and repelling attacks from the corresponding craft of the enemy. All of these tasks took on a special importance as the afternoon advanced, because of the decreasing visibility due to fog and darkness. The light cruisers were constantly employed in keeping touch with the enemy, whose capital ships they approached at times to within two or three thousand yards. And the destroyers of both fleets were repeatedly sent at full speed through banks of fog within which the enemy battleships were known to be concealed. It is rather remarkable that so few of either type were lost, and still more remarkable, so far as the destroyers are concerned, that so few of the large ships were torpedoed.
The Marlborough was struck and badly damaged, but she made her way safely to port. The Frauenlob, Rostock, and Pommern were sunk. And that is the whole story so far as known at present. Yet several hundred torpedoes must have been discharged, most of them at ranges within 5,000 yards. It looks a little as if the world would be obliged to modify the view that has been held of late with reference to the efficiency of the torpedo or at least of the torpedo as carried by the destroyer.
The loss of the three large battle cruisers, Indefatigable, Invincible, and Queen Mary is, and will always remain, the most dramatic incident of the battle, and the most inexplicable. It is doubtful if we shall ever know the facts, but that something more than gunfire was involved is made clear by the fact that in each case the ship was destroyed by an explosion. Whether this was due to a shell actually penetrating the magazine, or to the ignition of exposed charges of powder, or to a torpedo or a mine exploding outside in the vicinity of the magazine, it is impossible to do more than conjecture. There is a suggestion of something known, but kept back, in the following paragraph from a description of the battle by Mr. Arthur Pollen, which is presumably based upon information furnished by the British admiralty :
"As to the true explanation of the loss of the three ships that did blow up, the admiralty, no doubt, will give this to the public if it is thought wise to do so. But there can be no harm in saying this. The explanation of the sinking of each of these ships by a single lucky shot both they and practically all the other cruisers were hit repeatedly by shots that did no harmis, in the first place, identical. Next, it does not lie in the fact that the ships were insufficiently armored to keep out big shell. Next, the fatal explosion was not caused by a mine or by a torpedo. Lastly, it is in no sense due to any instability or any other dangerous characteristic of the propellants or explosives carried on board. I am free to confess that when I first heard of these ships going down as rapidly as they did, one of two conclusions seemed to be irresistible-either a shell had penetrated the lightly armored sides and burst in the magazine, or a mine or torpedo had exploded immediately beneath it. But neither explanation is right.”
One of the most striking and surprising features about the battle is the closeness with which it followed conventional lines, both in the types of vessels and weapons used and in the manner of using them. Neither submarines nor Zeppelins played any part, although both were at hand. Some effective scouting was done by an aeroplane sent up from one of the British cruisers early in the afternoon, and the British report that they saw and fired on a Zeppelin early in the morning of June 1, 1916. But this is all.
There have been stories for many months of a 17-inch gun of marvelous power carried by German dreadnoughts, but no such weapon made its appearance on this occasion.
And the tactics employed on both sides were as conventional as the weapons used. The fight was a running fight in parallel columns from the moment when Beatty and Von Hipper turned simultaneously toward the south upon their first contact with each other, until night and fog separated them at the end. Beatty's constant effort to secure a "cap" contained no element of novelty, and Von Hipper's reply, refusing the cap by turning his head away and swinging slowly on a parallel interior curve, was the conventional, as it was the proper, reply. Unfortunately, as we shall presently have occasion to note, the German fleet ultimately allowed itself to be capped, with results which ought to have been far more disastrous than they actually were. The destroyers availed themselves of the opportunities for attack presented from time to time by smoke and fog, and their drive was stopped by opposing destroyers.
So little is known of the German injuries that there is hardly sufficient ground for comment on the British marksmanship, but it does not appear to have been what the world had expected. Exactly the reverse is true of the German marksmanship, especially at long ranges. It was surprisingly good, and the most surprising thing about it was the promptness with which it found the target. The Indefatigable was blown up ten minutes after she came under fire. Hood, in the Invincible, had barely gained his place in line ahead of Beatty's column when the ship was smothered by a perfect avalanche of shells. If it is true that the Germans had the best of the fight so far as material damage is concerned, the explanation must be sought in their unexpectedly excellent marksmanship, with, perhaps, some sinister factor added, either of weakness in the British ships or of amazing power in the German shells, yet to be made known. It should be noted that the sinking of the Indefatigable and the Queen Mary belongs to a phase of battle in which Beatty had a distinct advantage of force, his six battle cruisers being opposed to five.
While the torpedo, as has been said, played no important part in the action, the destroyers on both sides appear to have been active and enterprising, and if they accomplished little in a material way, the threat involved in their presence and their activity had an important moral effect at several critical stages of the battle. When Jellicoe decided not to force his offensive during the night he was no doubt influenced in a large degree by the menace of the German destroyers.
Destroyers, too, contributed indirectly to the loss of Arbuthnot's armored cruisers. When Jellicoe's fleet was seen approaching, "appearing shadowlike from the haze bank to the northeast," the German destroyers were thrown against them, and it was apparently to meet and check this threat that Rear Admiral Arbuthnot pushed forward with his armored cruisers into the area between the two main battle lines. It may be that he could not see what lay behind the thrust he sought to parry. Both the British and the German stories of the battle assume that he was surprised. But whether this is true or not, the fact is that it was in seeking to shield the battleships from a destroyer attack that he came under fire of the main German force and lost three of his ships almost immediately; for the Warrior, although she remained afloat for several hours, was doomed from the first.