Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by vpsoccer, May 19, 2019.
Je ne le parle bien, mais ce n'est pas dans mon petit dictionnaire.
I am happy that you are enjoying the story.
I hope to get the last piece of Chapter 1 up in a few hours.
After that I may not be able to do much next week - but that is unclear at this time.
CHAPTER 1 Part 7: England Expects that Every Man....
The navigator spoke to Moore. “Sir, you had asked if the other ships were catching up on us. The measurements were showing their speed advantage below one knot and falling, even as we lost a bit of speed ourselves. Not an issue now that we are turned and slowing, but it may tell us something of the extent of their damage.” He turned to Captain Halsey and continued: “engineering has just sent word that they can give us 22 knots if needed but 20 would be better to help them cope with repairs.”
"Sirs! Control tower reports enemy torpedo boats are not closing the range and may be turning into their own smoke."
“Very well. Thank you Lieutenant Commander,” said Moore in response to the navigator's news. “And the torpedo boats apparently turned away as soon as they saw us turn, so we can discount that threat and move to help Indomitable. Flags: signal for the BCF: TURN NNE and SPEED 18 and FORM COLUMN ON GUIDE and NEW ZEALAND AS GUIDE. Get that sent, and as we get into line we will also move toward Indomitable and see how they are doing with Blucher. Captain, judge your speed as you will to put us at the head of the column.”
“Very good, sir. This heading, more north easterly into the wind and swells, will ease the movement a bit, sir, and that'll help damage control on all ships although it may also fan the flames a bit more.” Captain Halsey reminded everyone that their ships had all been hit hard and continued to deal with multiple problems of damage, fire, and flooding.
It didn't take long for the column to re-form, with New Zealand gradually pulling to the lead as they headed toward Indomitable.
“Zeppelin!” sang out a lookout. “Two points on the starboard bow.” Ahead of them, circling the ships clustered around Blucher, they saw it.
“Inform the BCF. Tell them to stand by for anti-air defense.”
Over the next few minutes the Zeppelin moved toward them, circling at a wary distance, then moved back to where the destroyers were launching more torpedoes at Blucher.
Even with the excitement of seeing the Zeppelin, this moment of relative calm was also a pause to take stock, to consider the actions of the last half hour – was that all it was?
“Sir, if I may ask, why?” asked the flag lieutenant. “Why wouldn't they accept three-on-three odds – we would? They were doing well in the shooting, we all took a number of hits, just like they did.”
Moore looked around. “This may be the best for all of us, for both sides. We saw some pillars of flame, I think our heavier shells hurt them, knocked out some guns. They were slowed at least a bit, including loss of draught when funnels went down, and probably had more damage besides. We have had pretty much the same, and all three of us have fires we are just getting under control. We've lost speed due to assorted damage. I am not sure I would be overly happy to continue this match under the present circumstances. They seemed to be hitting one or other of us almost every other salvo.”
Halsey added: “neither side knows how hard they hit the other, although they could see fires on at least two of our ships, and we on theirs. They are close to home and so they fake the torpedo attack, knowing we have to turn away from it, then they make away while they can.”
A few minutes later when they got news. “Signals from Indomitable, sir. ENEMY CRUISER SUNK WITH TORPEDOES and DESTROYERS STANDING BY FOR RESCUE and SUBMIT INDOMITABLE REJOIN COLUMN.”
“Reply: WELL DONE and REJOIN COLUMN and FOLLOW GUIDE. It seems we are zig-zagging all over the ocean, but what is there for us here? Captain, do you think it useful for us to stand by in case the enemy returns? I have doubts myself.”
“No, sir. I think we thumped their heavy ships enough that....”
“Sirs! Excuse me Captain! W.T. from Arethusa. ATTACKED BY ZEPPELIN AND AIRCRAFT STOP NO DAMAGE STOP WILL ABANDON RESCUE IF FURTHER ATTACK FROM THE AIR.”
“Thank you. Reply: APPROVED. If the Zeppelin can't let us rescue their men then so be it. Commodore Tyrwhitt knows his job and his responsibilities. But my signal might help protect him if anyone gets upset about it later.”
Moore turned to Halsey: “You were saying that we had thumped them enough that they will stay away, I believe?”
“Yes, sir. If their light cruisers come back 1LCS can stand them off, or run back to join the rest of us. We on the other hand have our speed reduced and might do well to see to the safety of Lion. And there is that bothersome Zeppelin. The threat of gunfire seems to have chased him away at the moment, but they can watch whatever we do.”
“Good point on our speed. We'll head back and collect Lion. Navigator: would you please work out the best course for Captain Halsey, also pass it to my staff. The other ships will follow us as guide. Commander, will you just keep an eye out and confirm that they do, if you please.”
“Captain, please set the course as required.”
Heading back toward Lion they saw a destroyer coming up fast. “Sirs! The destroyer has the Fleet Commander's flag. Signaling: WILL BOARD PRINCESS ROYAL, signed VABCF.”
“So Beatty was not seriously hurt. Reply: PRINCESS ROYAL REPORTS BRIDGE BURNT AND KNOCKED OUT. And INDOMITABLE ONLY UNDAMAGED BC. He'll take Tiger. Bigger, newer, and no conflict with me being on hand. Indomitable will be up with us soon if he wants an undamaged ship.”
Moore was right, and the next half hour saw Vice Admiral Beatty transfer to Tiger and reform the line, with Tiger leading Princess Royal, New Zealand, and Indomitable as before, while they went back to cover Lion. Rear Admiral Moore's brief time in command of the Battle Cruiser Force was over.
Moore's going to take the fall for Hipper escaping. Beatty will claim that he would have caught and destroyed them if he had remained in command of the Battlecruiser Force after Lion was hit.
Bloodletting in the admiralty.
Interesting. Perhaps better signaling procedures will be adopted due to the confusion?
Good stuff--I find the Great War era fascinating
This is great!
This is interesting, but I insofar fail to see what real changes to the timeline extending the battle actually brought.
British Battlecruisers are saved from going bang after turret hits because the safety measures removed after Dogger Bank are still present. Also the German Battlecruiser force has been badly mauled.
There's probably also going to be an after-action investigation into signalling; Admiral Moore has arguably disobeyed a direct order from Beatty, or at least he has disobeyed the order that was signalled.
Moore can try to pull a Nelson-esque blindness trick, but dozens of people on New Zealand who saw the actual signal so I doubt that will work. Orders not being followed sounds like the kind of thing the Admiralty will want to ask pointed questions about. This might mean Beatty ends up acting to defend Moore, if only to avoid exposing the fact that his hand picked flag lieutenant (Seymour) doesn't actually know how to send signals.
I am happy to see folks find the story interesting, even enjoyable. Thanks for your comments.
So far we have seen Moore make a different choice than he did in OTL. Why, or what else was different, we don't know.
After that, a few other things followed in the normal course of events.
What we can see is that both sides had their battlecruisers shot up a bit more - how much we don't really know, but there will be dockyard time.
Of course there will have to be some kind of post-action assessment, or at least post-victory festivities for the RN, but that also lies in the future. Right now they are on their way home, Lion crippled and three others damaged. We know less about the Germans, but they also got a few visible lumps as well as losing Blucher.
BTW The critical signal was by flag and thus seen on all the battle cruisers as well as light forces within range. Moore's preoccupation with what he presumes may (should?) have been there but not seen is shown in how he often specifies methods to use for his signals...for better or worse.
CHAPTER 2 Part 1: England Expects that Every Man....
Vice Admiral Beatty was back in overall command, and issuing a string of instructions. Rear Admiral Moore watched from the compass platform, and the Captain and crew of HMS New Zealand got on with tending to casualties, dousing the last fire, and cleaning up damage from the hits they had taken.
For the time being, the BCF would stand by in case the Germans tried to intervene while Lion worked to get the flooding under control and restore power so she could head north and west for home. The light cruisers and flotillas were spread out in a screen to prevent attacks by both German destroyers and submarines, or a surprise return of German heavy ships. The Grand Fleet was expected to arrive in a few hours, bringing protection and help for any who needed it. At that time, the BCF would gather its own screen and proceed home to have wounded seen to and begin dockyard repairs.
This plan would not last. Lion's damage would make it more and more difficult to maintain speed, and eventually Indomitable would take Lion in tow. But in the meantime Moore and New Zealand were focusing on themselves.
With the ship fallen out from Action Stations, Moore went down to his day cabin for a few minutes, then returned to his chart room behind the bridge. “Davies*, Cooper*, this looks like good work on the tracks, and keeping everything straight. Thank you. Mid, I presume you are able to reconcile our logs of signals and everything with the ship's logs?”
“Yes, sir. So far it all fits together.”
“Good, if anything doesn't match up, you try to sort it. Call on the Commander if you need advice. Thank you, all. Finish up here, please, I will be back to meet with the senior officers in about five minutes. Mid, will you please find Flags and the Commander and ask them to come up here then? You two fetch a jug of kye and some sandwiches for yourselves and for Jones* and MacPherson* – they've been on the signal platform for hours. If you can bring extra for their mates out there it'll not be unwelcome, I'd bet. You're all off duty for half an hour then back on regular watches, unless of course the bugler sends us to Action Stations. The Mid will cover any eventualities and update the chart if necessary.”
“Aye, aye, sir. Thank you, sir,” chorused the two men. They looked to tidy up their papers and equipment as Moore left and went up to the compass platform.
“Captain, may I have a few minutes of your time, and your navigator, too, if you please? In my chart room in about five minutes for a short discussion.”
“Of course, sir. Pilot is below at the moment. I'll send for him.”
“Thank you, Captain. I'm going to take my five minutes to gander about on the signal platforms and bridge wings, and then I'll see you all there.”
As Moore headed out to the searchlight platform he took his hat off and tucked it under his arm, a marker for the signalmen and others so they would know to carry on with their work, that he was there as an individual and not the admiral. He was thinking again. He felt the paper in his breast pocket.
*These four names have been invented for this story, but I presume there must have been a few Leading Seamen or Petty Officers who worked for the Admiral and tended the chart and the signals, kept logs, and so on.
Good so far, this is leading to a different Jutland I hope.
CHAPTER 2 Part 2 -- England Expects that Every Man....
A few minutes of fresh – that is to say 'only slightly smoke-tinged' air - was good for the mind and spirit. Moore delayed his return to the chart room until he heard first his officers and then the navigator come up from below, and that they were joined by Captain Halsey.
As he entered, Moore spoke to the Midshipman: “Sorry, Mid, but I'd like you to stand by on the bridge in case anything comes up.”
“Yes, sir.” The teenager turned and left. He was used to being left out of higher-level meetings, and in general Moore and his Staff Commander were good men to work for and with.
Moore looked at each of the four, then spoke. “Gentlemen, first let me thank you – and you can pass the word to all on board – for your fine work today, and especially this past hour or so. Captain Halsey, it takes a good captain and a better man to do all that you have done while wearing a grass skirt.” All chuckled at this, and Captain Halsey took it like the professional naval officer he was.
“But, why have I called you here? Gentlemen, none of us are accustomed to explaining our orders nor to having orders explained to us, but you few are essentially my staff and you deserve to know, need to know, what I was thinking going into that action. And if you see problems in what I have been thinking, or have anything to add, then I should know, even if it is pretty much all done now. I would have told you sooner but there was no space or time for us to speak before we were fully engaged with the enemy. There is time now.
“Those signaled orders seemed wrong – the enemy would get away maybe unscathed except for that column of flame we saw early on, and it seems against all tradition of running them down and sinking them if possible.
“Indomitable and destroyers could settle the crippled German, which is what we were ordered to do, and so I sent them to do that.
“If Vice Admiral Beatty had wanted us to hang back so we could shield Lion in case the enemy had battle fleet support and turned back upon us, I believed we could do that better if we went out to find the enemy first. We were still faster and could run back to Lion if necessary, and outrun their battle squadron if they threatened to outflank us. I believed, and still do, that in the event enemy had had support we should find it sooner. And then fighting a withdrawal would likely buy more time for Lion. In any case the critical issue then as now was the best speed of Lion if we were to become the pursued.
“We don't know what else the admiral was trying to tell us to do, but this seemed logical and we could do it better by continuing the pursuit. And, it is in line with what we all learned from the time we were the snottiest of snotties.” He gave a thin smile as he paused – he had more to say.
“Nelson sent three signals that mattered at Trafalgar – we usually forget the other one. We all remember two: England expects etc. etc... and Engage the enemy more closely, that flew throughout the battle. But before he sent them he saw the probability of a storm coming in and sent Prepare to anchor at the end of the day. That all says to me that after Engage the enemy... he didn't expect to send many more – he knew that they all knew what to do. And we all know what to do with the enemy in our sights and running from us – we trained for it long enough. So that's what I set out to do. Once we got everyone remembering why we got into this business, and how to do it, we might not have had to send many signals either.
“Now. I want you to know all of that because higher authority might very well not see it the same way I did. In official reports in an office ashore, it might...it will...look like I failed to obey precisely a direct order, and I got three ships shot up in the process. So there may very well be some adverse reaction. The full responsibility for any such reaction will be mine. I will do all in my power to shield all of you from any of that.” He squared his shoulders and drew a full breath.
“Now unless you have any comments, I'll thank you all for your outstanding service in the recent action, and we can all get about our work.”
Having an admiral's thinking and orders explained in detail was so unusual that none had anything to say, no matter what was racing through their minds or how much they had to think about.
CHAPTER 2 Part 3 -- England Expects that Every Man....
At the desk in his cabin Admiral Moore was working on the reports. The first, a brief summary of the action with more detail for the period while he was in command, was mostly completed. He had said what he needed to, but wondered what was missing. His dark mood compelled him to close his desk and seek a moment to talk with Captain Halsey.
Moore came onto the bridge looking as gloomy as he had since the battle. “Captain, would you like to take some air with me? It'll be bracing on the windward wing.” He continued on out the door without waiting.
It was not an invitation that could be deflected – so Captain Halsey followed, careful not to glance around at his officers and show any surprise or curiosity.
When they were both in the full blast of the wind Halsey spoke first “Sir, here is the freshest air in the world,” he said with a small smile, a vain effort to prompt a reaction from his Admiral who was showing if anything a deepening depression.
“Lionel, you need to hear what I am going to say. If you wish to ask questions, or have anything to say, you may do so in complete freedom once I am finished. If you feel there is anything you want to have as written orders, now or anytime before we make Rosyth, then I will draft it forthwith.” In response to Halsey's questioning expression he held up his hand. “Hear me out.
“First. I fully expect to be relieved or retired, or perhaps even dismissed the service, when we get in. I see your surprise – but look at it their way. As you know I made a broad interpretation of Beatty's order. It worked out, even if we didn't sink all the Germans. We beat them up pretty badly and just maybe sank another, but I didn't follow orders and we got thumped about in return. I might get off the hook if we had sunk a couple more, and circled them and took pictures as they went down, but we didn't.
“I have a decade more than you in the Victorian RN, those years before Fisher and others started to rattle the bones, and I know. They'll get me for not doing exactly as I was told no matter what. So I will take that like a man knowing that I did my best for King and Country – and for my shipmates.” He held up his hand again.
“Second, let me say you are an outstanding officer and ship's captain, and I will do everything I can to take any and all blame – to keep your yardarm clear of anything that befalls me. They'll call it responsibility, but they will be looking for someone to blame for the Germans escaping, or for something. And I am utterly convinced that it will be me. So once they swing the sandbag I will accept it with open arms and gather up all the blame they are tossing around. Not how I wanted to end up, but I am sure that I did what was right.
“I do not want my fall to take you or anyone else with me. When that happens and I am gone, all I can do is offer to you as a fine officer and shipmate that I will understand if you find it necessary to push more bits of responsibility onto my shoulders. If it saves you, then it is well worth the cost for I shall be gone, retired. And in that spirit, if it comes the way I expect, please do what you can for my staff officers and men. I hope you agree they did well and don't deserve to be tarred along with me.” He held out his hand and a stunned Captain Halsey took it.
“Sir, sir, I, … you, … I can't see it happening that way, sir.” He paused. “We saw at least three, maybe four mast-high towers of flame from the three Germans, maybe even one over top of the smoke from their torpedo boats as they began their attack to turn us away. There's a chance one or more of them won't make it home, or blew up even as we turned back. We turned away from their flotilla attack, that is the basic battle plan of the Grand Fleet. And, we were too close to their bases and their battle fleet, and too far from our own, to risk being crippled by a stray torpedo.
“We did well sir, and only because you took the correct course of action and were not distracted by the safe choice of settling for the one we had in the bag. Sir, thank you, but I won't ask for anything in writing because it won't be needed. You did the right thing. I have spoken with a few of my senior officers and they share my views.
“Finally, sir, I thank you for your generous compliments – I have a good crew, sir.” They shook hands again. There was no more to be said.
A few things have cropped up so this will be the last post for a few days.
Moore et al will return next week. / VP
CHAPTER 2 Part 4 England Expects that Every Man....
Moore was in his chart room reviewing the chart of the day's action with all the movements and timings added and corrected. Thinking again, but with some satisfaction for once. He did his duty as he saw it, and that would have to be enough.
His Staff Commander came from touring the ship, tallying the damage received by New Zealand, and was reviewing some notes on what he had found. “Damage in each case is about what you would expect sir, a few surprises about what turns out to be connected to what else, but that's to be expected when great bloody lumps of steel come bashing their way through. Water seems to be as clever as it ever was in finding ways to get in and move to places you wouldn't think. I'll flesh out my notes and give you the list, the ship's own report will have the details. I can tell you there is something odd about the hits around 'Q'. Yes, hits. Two hits there. The first is the one that raised the fireball and another came later, after the magazine was flooded. The Gunnery Officer and the Gunner are crawling in and around that mess with great...fervour. Wouldn't tell me what they are finding, but I know they were coming up to see the Captain soon. They called the Assistant Gunnery Officer and the Turret Officers as I was leaving, and went into a serious conference in the burnt-out lobby of 'Q'.”
“Well done. Thank you. I'll give it a moment and then see what Captain Halsey can tell me about that.” He finished a few notes on a slip of paper which he put in his pocket before he went out to the bridge.
The Commander had been prophetic. The Gunnery Officer and the Gunner were huddled with Captain Halsey, and the Gunnery Officer was talking excitedly. The striking thing was the Gunner, Mr. MacDougall. The oldest man in the ship, Lauchlin MacDougall* was normally a prototype for the dour Highlander, never seen to smile and always the most serious and punctilious of men. Even the other senior Warrant Officers, the closest he had to friends on board, would scarce have believed that his family called him Lauchie. But right now Mr. MacDougall was beaming with satisfaction. He was not smiling, not quite, but he was looking like a particularly wise and well-fed owl. Moore's curiousity and his gold braid propelled him to the huddle.
“Sir!” exclaimed the Gunnery Officer when he saw Moore come close.
“Admiral – you should hear this.” said Captain Halsey. “Continue.”
“Aye, sir. We were just getting to the point of everything we found. We need to do some calculations to be sure, as far as HMS Excellent and the Constructors Department are concerned, but the end story is that if 'Q' had not been partially secured because it was wooded at those angles, then we would most likely have blown up. The whole magazine could easily have gone up in that fireball. Pieces might still be falling out of the heavens.”
“Aye, sirr. I have been a bit auld school in treating this cordite like it was black powderr. It might not be set off so easily, but it is powerful and w' ha'e many tons of it. I am indeed grateful that the Gunnery Officer has supported me in this, sirr. He saved us all.”
“Sirs, the credit is due entirely to Mr. MacDougall and his insistence upon proper handling. Now, I have the junior officers doing some calculations on the amounts of powder on hand, and some additional measurements on how and where the fire flashed through the barbette. We can go take a look if you wish, and Mr. MacDougall can show you the details of what happened.”
Mr. MacDougall led the way, and spent the next 15 minutes showing them the effect of the first hit. He proved to be a good instructor as he ran through the damage and its effects.
While at action stations the protocols were for an unengaged turret to be partially secured, that is crewed and ready to go into action, but with barbette and magazine hatches and doors all secured and no ammunition in the supply chain except the minimum that would be there to open fire and start more up the chain. This amounted to one round per gun loaded, one per gun at the top of the hoists and about to enter the loading mechanism, and one in the hoists. Even this amount had flared up into the fireball many had seen. Mr. MacDougall showed where the burn marks were, and where the fireball had pushed along passages and into unexpected places. This included a look at where it was going, and would have gone had it been any larger...in other words where it would have gone into the magazine had there been a stack of propellant charges in the barbette, as was customary across the BCF in the pursuit of a high rate of fire.
“The calculations for that many charges, sirrs, tell us that the firrreball would have been fourr to five times largerr, and mostly in one continuous blast instead of in two stages as here. And so here we see where the fireball was held back by the closed doors – it would have gone through here and here, and caught the charges that would normally be stacked there. We try to keep that to a minimum, like some of them in the Grand Fleet, but we sometimes do have a few,” his eyes barely twitched sideways toward one of the young turret officers – who hung his head and pulled the peak of his hat down and forward as his cheeks burned. “Even a few would have been serious. And in addition, you can see along here that if the flash reached more than two yards further it would have entered the supply chain for the secondary armament. And that would not be something we could ever tell our grandchildren.” No one aboard had ever heard him make a joke, ever.
“One last thing, sirrs. We'll go back into the magazine and if we look to port – which was toward the enemy, we can see this wreckage overhead and continuing downward. Sirrs, this second shell came in along the path of the damage there, from port, the engaged side. But it penetrated through the ship to this, the starboard barbette. So it hit the in-board side of the barbette, not the out-board side as you might generally expect. It went along to the flooded magazine and it detonated there."
There was no more to be said on that point. Halsey and Moore were seeing this for the first time, and felt the cold chill run down their bodies and the cold sweat forming between their shoulder blades. That was a one-shot kill if they had not had the first hit which led to the magazine being flooded. Reading their faces, Mr. MacDougall spoke again: “Yes, the first is a bit of a story to get our attention, but 'tis a mortal chill we are all feeling when we see the second. ... Sirrs.”
The gunnery officer summed it up yet again: “Heart of the matter is that if we had had more propellant and open doors then the first hit would have blown us up. If we had not flooded the magazine from the first hit, the second would have blown us up. Mr. MacDougall has informed me that no other ship in the BCF secures an unengaged turret the way we do.” The wise old owl stood by, now not looking smug so much as deep in thought.
*Mr. MacDougall has been invented for this story, but there must have been a Warrant Gunner who was very much like this man – at least he was if he was much like the MacDougalls I have known, who were stalwart and upstanding, and as stubborn as necessary when they knew they were right.
Haha, their final report will certainly raise a few eyebrows.
Excellent writing, love the characterisation and the sense of confusion of the battle itself.
Separate names with a comma.