In the early morning of the 15th of May, the German Fleet offered battle off the coast of Finland. The armies of the two nations were already engaged across the border areas, with no territorial gains as of yet; the Admiralty sought to score an early success.
First contact took place shortly after daybreak, at 9:49, when the scouting force of the German fleet encountered their Russian counterparts.
The German fleet was arranged in three separate task forces:
The forward scouting force was comprised of the three heavy cruisers Hertha
, Victoria Louise
, under the overall command of Konteradmiral
Galster, who had chosen Hertha
as his flag.
Following this force, was a screening element of three light cruisers: Hela
, under the command of Kapitän zur See
Henning von Holtzendorff.
Bringing up the rear was the German battle-fleet: the four Schwaben
-class battleships and their destroyer escorts. SMS Braunschweig
served as the flagship of Vize-Admiral
Wilhelm Büchsel, one of von Tirpitz's protégés
Upon confirming contact with the enemy, Galster ordered a turn to port, with the intention of offering battle and delaying the enemy forces until a) their exact composition could be verified and b) Büchsel's battle-line could join him. The Russian ships mirrored his maneuver and the range started slowly closing. The breeze favoured the Russians, as the southern wind blew the Germans' smoke into their own rangefinders.
Twenty minutes after first contact, Galster ordered his ships to turn sharply toward the north, to close the range and get a better look at the enemy force composition. His lookouts reported at least one capital ship in the lead, with a truly massive
escorting force. Galster was unshaken and continued to close - he considered it highly unlikely that the Russians would lead with one of their battleships.
Five minutes later, his prediction proved true, as the lookouts identified the enemy flagship as a Rossiya
-class armored cruiser.
were very good ships: a knot faster than the Victoria Louises
, they mounted a heavier secondary broadside, but were more lightly armored and they only mounted 10'' main armament, in contrast to the German 11'' rifles.
Having confirmed that he was dealing with a Russian scouting / cruiser force, Galster ordered his force to turn away under flank, just out of the Russians' range. As he steamed toward the south-east, he identified several more cruisers, including a second Rossiya
and many lighter ships.
As the Russians pursued, Galster led them directly towards Büchsel's battleships. At 10:30, the Braunschweig
spotted the enemy and started training her guns to engage. Büchsel signalled Galster to "maneuver independently and provide supporting fire"; the heavy cruisers immediately changed their course once again, to flank the enemy force.
The first shots were fired at 10:38; shortly afterwards, the Russian ships reversed course and steamed north in full retreat. Büchsel pursued at flank; Galster maneuvered further to the north, to scout out any potential Russian reinforcements. The Russian battlefleet was suspiciously absent and Galster wanted to make sure that the Russians were not trying to repeat his own baiting operation.
The wild evasive maneuvers of the Russians cost them considerably in speed; meanwhile, the Schwaben's
high speed proved to be a valuable asset. With the Germans catching up, the Russians proceeded to desperately turn towards the south. Büchsel had managed to turn the tables; now it was the Russians who struggled to fire through their own smoke. They still managed to score a hit on Braunschweig
, but the battlewagon's armor was not penetrated.
At 11:20, Wettin
score their first hits on the Rossiyas
. The German battleships engage in a running battle with the Russian cruiser fleet; disappointingly, very few hits are scored. The volume of fire the Russians are receiving makes it impossible to distinguish between shell splashes and to adjust fire.
At 11:33, Galster changes course and cuts through the German battle-line, in hot pursuit of the Russian light cruisers, that are outright fleeing
toward the south. As his ships pass between the battlewagons, he signals to Büchsel "ENEMY CONTACT : ABS-BEAR 355 : CLOSING".
The Russian battle-fleet has deigned to make an appearance at last.
And they're not a minute too soon. The Russian scouting task force has disintegrated completely. Galster is doggedly hunting down two Diana
-class cruisers towards the south, while the German battlewagons are still duelling the Rossiyas
, who are proving to be particularly hard nuts to crack. Highly conscious of the potential torpedo danger, Büchsel is not willing to close the range beyond 5,000 yards.
Eventually, Büchsel decides to abandon pursuit and focus on the light cruiser force as well - perhaps they can be destroyed completely before the Russian battleships can shift the balance?
He turns south, allowing the Rossiyas
to esccape, and engages the Dianas
. Galster, further to the south, shifts his fire to a squadron of Pallada
The German light cruisers join their fire to the fray, and prove to be more successful than the battleships. Their rapid-firing 6-inchers score several hits on the Dianas
Unfortunately, the Russians utilise their speed and maneuverability and drag the German fleet into a large 'hook', back towards the north...
...where enemy contacts are now clearly visible.
Then - more contacts, from an unanticipated direction. Enemy capital ships are silhouetted against the sky, closing in from the west.
Büchsel immediately shifts his battleships to intercept. His light cruisers dart in and identify the incoming battlewagons, before peeling off to a safer distance.
All four known Russian battleships are here!
The Petr Veliki
is an older design: she's only armed with 10-inch guns and she's relatively lightly armored, but she carries a truly heavy secondary armament. Nothing that can truly threaten the Schwabens
, but no light cruiser or destroyer should enter her engagement range.
The two Pavel I
-class ships, on the other hand, are as modern as they come. Again, their secondary armament puts the Schwabens
to shame, their armor is nothing to sneeze at and their guns are massive 12-inchers. They are, however, slower than her German analogues, by a significant 3 knots.
And then there's this...thing. Somebody's been at the vodka again, I see.
The Germans form line of battle. The Russians form...a blob of battle?
Meanwhile, Galster scrapes the paint off one of the Dianas
, at under a thousand yards. No hits. Exasperated, he turns to Kapitän zur See
Markus Geier and exclaims "I should have listened to Tirpitz and asked for more gunnery training. Our men couldn't hit the enemy if they were dancing the Hopak in front of our guns!"
Büchsel's not doing any better. He's crossed the Russians' T in a textbook maneuver; and yet the Schwabens'
to behave. Thankfully, the Russians are once again firing into their own smoke; the German battleline is likewise unharmed.
Von Holtzendorff, similarly exasperated, brings his own cruisers into a knife-fight against the panicking Russian light ships, as light rain begins to fall. At a range of less than 1,000 yards, he scores no hits
. By now, the German commanders are close to pulling their beards off in impotent rage.
And then, a shell penetrates the Nymphe's
engineering, kills thirty crewmen, floods her feed tanks with seawater and drops her speed to five knots. As the other German cruisers cluster around her, the Russians fade into the rain.
The battlewagons are finally
having some more luck. For once, they are not concentrating several ships' worth of firepower onto a single target and their firing control can get clear solutions. Zähringen
are duelling the Petr Veliki
and the Pamyat Azova
and score several hits. Braunschweig
takes some damage in return, but her damcon crews patch her up relatively quickly.
At this point, visibility has fallen to under 5,000 yards. Büchsel decides that continuing the fight is nonsensical, especially given that there are over a dozen unspotted Russian torpedo boats in the area. He signals the fleet to return to base.
The mood is sullen and resentful. The fleet operated by the book; and yet results were disappointing. True, the Russians had been beaten back by what, in paper, was an inferior force; but the Germans had hoped for a decisive victory (especially given the inferior quality of the Russian ships) and they had been denied that.
The Kaiser was not
happy.NOTE: As you may have noticed, I have slightly edited the screenshots, with ship 'trails', to make following the ship movements easier. This takes some time and effort and I want to make sure it's time and effort well-invested. Please let me know what you think; is this noticeably better for you, or confusing?