"The message sent at 12:06 to the Chief of Support that we were engaged with two enemy battle-cruisers on a southeasterly course showed that we had succeeded in meeting the enemy, and that, as we fought we were drawing him closer to our Support Fleet. The duty of the Support Fleet was now to hasten as quickly as possible to support the Main Fleet, and to endeavour to hinder the premature retreat of the enemy."
"The subsequent damage suffered by the flagship might well have been fatal, if not for the daring of the Chief of Support and the bravery shown by the Support Fleet."
-Admiral Reinhard Scheer, GERMANY'S HIGH SEAS FLEET IN THE WAR, 1920 London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne: Cassell and Company, Ltd, p. 146
In the aftermath of Lerwick, the German fleet is victorious, but mauled. Graf Spee, Hindenburg
suffered the most and will need at least three months in the yards to be repaired. Zähringen
has also taken severe damage, but this is mostly limited to underwater compartments and cannot be compared to the Graf Spee's
total loss of her 'C' turret. The docks give a more optimistic estimate for her: work on her torp belt and her watertight compartments should be complete in fifty to sixty days.
Meanwhile, and despite the severe losses inflicted upon the British navy, the naval blockade stays in effect. While the Hochseeflotte
at their best can challenge the blockading ships, the German harbours are now firmly closed to merchant traffic.
Not to mention the delayed launch of the name ship HMS Sutlej
herself. Crap. That's all the Admiralität
needed - another
British 15-inch battlecruiser on patrol.
The end of the month marks the commissioning of the Prinz Heinrich
. She does not, yet, dare to brave the Northern Atlantic waters; her traning cruises take place in the safer waters of the Baltic. She performs to the complete satisfaction of her designers.
New torpedoes are introduced; faster, longer-ranged and packing a larger warhead, just in time for the November submarine offensive.
Which, à propos
, is back to its usually devastating levels.
And to its usual result with respect to the supply situation in the British Isles. Fortress Albion is starving.
The same cannot be said for the British colonies. Arcona
, sailing on long-distance raids from Tsingtao, spots a large convoy making way towards Hong Kong. She attempts to engage...
But then her lookouts spot the Diadem
-class armored cruiser that is escorting the convoy. The Arcona's
6-inch guns cannot reliably hurt the British ship; on the other hand, the four 10-inch rifles that the Brit can bring to bear can very quickly
sink the German cruiser...
...as the Brit immediately demonstrates with a long-range shot that strikes the Arcona's
Discretion is the better part of valor, the Germans decide.
December comes; and on the 1st of the month, reports are submitted to the Admiralität
. First, R & D arrives, with a design for a gun mount that should be able to permit elevating main battery guns up to thirty degrees. The benefit for the Zähringens
is, once again, obvious; unfortunately, prolonging their drydock stay for the four-to-eight-month period that the massive overhaul of their artillery would require is out of the question.
Submarines are continuing to be utter rockstars; the British submariners, on the other hand, only bag a single ship near Tsingtao, as all merchant sea traffic to Germany has been stopped by the blockade. Of course, the blockade still hurts, badly.
Which is why, on the 2nd of December, just before noon, we find ourselves in the North Sea, near Bergen. All active German Schlachtkreuzer
are on the prowl, looking to find, isolate and destroy any part of the blockading force.
The fleet is divided into two task forces. One group comprises of the Mackensen
, which had missed the Battle of Lerwick due to her faulty condensers but is now fully operational. On her, Scheer has his flag. The second ship in the column is Zähringen
herself, her repairs finished and back to action. The third slot would, usually, have been filled by Graf Spee
, but her repairs are still ongoing. Lützow
is called upon to complete the trio.
Hipper is following, this time around, in command of the support force. His flag is on the old Moltke
, which is followed by the Seydlitz
and the Goeben
. Closing the formation are the three old Victoria Louises
, ready to provide anti-cruiser 11-inch fire. Frauenlob
have, once again, sortied as scout elements (hilariously, they are so old, by now, that they are slower than the Schlachtkreuzer
they are supposed to be scouting for).
This is the furthest the Germans have dared extend so far in this war; and it has taken a toll on the older Schlachtkreuzer
. They have been on patrol duty for weeks before the sortie; and they have not had the chance to refill their coal bunkers. On the one hand, this limits their operational range, and Scheer is very much aware of the fact. On the other hand, they are lighter and slightly faster, which could tip the scale in an engagement. Then again, the coal bunkers themselves are designed to provide a measure of protection to the ship; being empty, that is no longer the case.
Scheer is considering calling the sortie off and retreating back to Home Waters, when the Moltke
signals ENEMY LIGHT CRUISER BEARING 185. Hipper, being his usual daredevil self, does not wait for Scheer to confirm or authorise a pursuit action; he turns his ships to the south and orders flank speed. Scheer vaccilates, for a few seconds; and then follows. Moltke
does not take long to identify the lead cruiser as an Andromache
. A smaller, Champion
-class scout is following her (and now making billy big steps towards the south). Moltke
opens fire at long range with her 11-inchers at 10:18.
Some hits are scored. The Germans fire slowly, to preserve their ammunition for a potential fleet action. An hour later, however...
...with Scheer's force joining in the action, the Zähringen
scores two hits close to the waterline. And the little scout cruiser vanishes into a cloud of fire and splinters, that fall from the sky like macabre hail.
There is little time to celebrate, or collect survivors. Zähringen's
lookouts identify at least two capitals, approaching from the east. Scheer curses - he still has no idea about the distribution of the enemy forces, or their composition. Is this the main enemy force? Does it make sense to engage?
The enemy ships are still just
outside the range of his Schlachtkreuzer
, and he is still deliberating, when the British battlecruisers open fire.
One 15-inch shell splashes right next to the Mackensen
and explodes underwater, denting the ship's double bottom with the force of the explosion. A second shell strikes her belt, at an obliue angle, and ricochets off, screaming like a banshee. A third smashes
into her aft engineering spaces and explodes.
And the ship dies; her electrical power disabled. Turrets jam on their bearings. The big steam turbines spin uselessly. The ammo hoists grow quiet. And her propellers slow, and stop.
The German flagship is dead in the water, and the British have already bracketed her, with what looks to be 15-inch guns.
Oh crap. 15-inch guns indeed. That's an Australia
, Hipper realises, as he brings his own forces closer: the first implementation of the 15-inchers in British naval design, but by no means less dangerous than a more modern Sutlej
, especially for a crippled German ship. She must
be driven away from the flagship.
Hipper signals ALL SHIPS FORM LINE OF BATTLE ON SUPPORT FLAG and follows it up with his own order from the Ireland raid: SCHLACHTKREUZER RAN AN DEN FEIND. The signal is taken up by the rest of the German ships; and, still not knowing whether the battlecruisers are an advance force for a larger British fleet, the Germans charge
down the barrels of the 15-inchers, hoping to get the enemy into the range of their 12-inchers and old 11-inchers.Lützow
, her own fuel bunkers now more than half-exhausted responds and pushes in first, overtaking the Zähringen
, which follows as close second. Behind them, but quickly catching up, are Hipper's ships.
The Brits oblige them. Goeben
, the old berserker of the Russian wars, scores first blood for the Germans, with an insane shot at the extreme limit of her range. The Brits fire right back, and their superior guns pump three hits into Seydlitz
. The first penetrates her aft turret and kills the entire turret crew. The second bounces off her belt; but the third punches through her thin bow armor and detonates under the waterline. Seydlitz's
speed immediately drops to 22 knots and her forward compartments start flooding.
A second Andromache
now joins in, peppering the Schlachtkreuzer
with high-explosive shells. Thankfully, they are defeated by the German armor. Meanwhile, Moltke
finds the range, and drills an 11-inch shell into the trailing Australia's
And then a 15-inch shell smashes the Moltke's
bow to kindling; and a torpedo, spotted far too late, hits her on the starboard side.
Both German flagships are now crippled, the Moltke
, in particular, suffering severe flooding, as a grim reminder of her old war-wound. But the mad charge of the old Schlachtkreuzer
has drawn its measure of blood.
The trailing Australia
, on which the German fire was mostly concentrated, has been effectively mission-killed. One of her turrets has been cracked open and is now burning merrily; two more are jammed on their bearings.
The other is, essentially, untouched; but she is running as quickly as she can towards the east, for she has seen a new threat. Her electrical systems restored, Mackensen
is bearing down on the fight like an avenging god, her guns on double-time.
Hipper tries to get an idea of the damage his ship has suffered. The news are not as grim as he expected. True, the Moltke
has suffered severe underwater damage (a result of her total lack of any torpedo defense system), but her crew are truly elite; and they know how to deal with flooding. Damcon crews have already limited the influx of water considerably; they should be able to stop it completely in, perhaps, half an hour. But the ship cannot do more than 14 knots and two of her turrets (half of her guns) are inoperable. Hipper decides to move his flag to the Goeben
; and is ferried over under sporadic fire from the Andromache
This close to the Arctic cycle, night falls early in December. In the twilight gloom, the combatants lose track of each other. Mackensen
flashes recognition signals, as she approaches, to avoid any friendly-fire incidents; and the German ships respond in good order. But a dark shape to the Mackensen's
north does not
respond; and Scheer does not hesitate.
guns flash in the darkness, at a target around three thousand yards away. Her secondaries fire star-shells, to better illuminate the enemy ship. Fourteen 12-inch rifles boom again, having acquired the range; and seven
shells pound the Brit's aft to shreds. This is a Zähringen
-class warship at her element; broadsiding an enemy at close range.
The star-shells wink off; and the British fire back, in the darkness, aiming for the German gun flashes. Goeben
, from where Hipper is leading the support squadron, is hit, badly. Two of her turrets are penetrated, with massive casualties; her rudder jams on a tight turn to port and she is left circling, uncontrollably. She is also flooding, from an underwater hit near her engine spaces; she has lost a boiler and she can only do 19 knots.
But, in return, Scheer has brought Mackensen
in close, crossing the aft T of the Australia
is quicker on the trigger, and pumps two shells into her. Mackensen
aims more carefully and has more guns ready. Seven 12'' shells pummel the British ship.
At this range, its armor might as well not have existed. Three of her four turrets go up in flame and smoke; the fourth one jams on its bearings. Secondary explosions turn her insides into a charnel house. Finally
her guns go silent, and she drifts away in the darkness, a lifeless hulk.
Scheer will not
pursue, not with his ships mauled as they are. He flashes RÜCKZUG to his ships, and the German battlecruiser force begins the long, arduous trek back home.
His reluctance spares the second Australia
. The British ships were, actually, alone, against six German Schlachtkreuzer
, but Scheer's ships had received such a beating that he was reluctant to take the chance that a backup force of Dreadnoughts (or, heaven forbid, more 15-inch battlecruisers) might have been in the vicinity. The HMS Monmouth
, therefore, manages to reach Scapa Flow in good condition.
It is a testament to the durability of the old, relatively small, under-armed Schlachtkreuzer
of Hipper's force that they managed to stand up to the beating they received by the British 15'' guns at such close range, and still claim a kill. For, on the morning of the 3rd of December, while the German ships are still at sea, the British Admiralty makes public the loss of the Australia
-class Princess Royal
. Having received more than ninety (!)
12'' shells on her hull and superstructure, many at point-blank range, the British ship was an unsalvageable mass of twisted metal and blood.
The Germans were quick to claim a victory and, tactically, they were right. Their ships had suffered significantly, true. The Goeben
in particular, true to her 'berserker' rumour had performed better than the more modern Lützow
, with 19 confirmed main battery hits; but she had also taken 9 15'' shells on her turrets and belt, more than any other ship in the German fleet. She would need at least three months in drydock to be fully repaired.
It was this battle (and the near-crippling of the Moltke
and the Goeben
, going up against significantly superior opponents in the defense of the crippled Mackensen
) that earned Hipper the nickname 'Jagdhund' (i.e. 'Hunting Dog'), for his clear tendency to go for the throat and always bring back a kill.
But one thing was important, in the Battle of Bergen, something that the Germans did not notice at the time. The Princess Royal
had taken massive
amounts of damage. More than half of her crew had died on their stations; three out of her four turrets had been penetrated
by German shells. And yet, despite all that-
-she had not