Germany's High Seas Fleet in the World War/Chapter 11
Chapter 11 - After the BattleEdit
ON June 1 at 3 p.m. the Friedrich der Grosse anchored in the Wilhelmshaven Roads. Meanwhile the crews on all our ships had attained full consciousness of the greatness of our successes against the superior enemy forces, and loud and hearty cheers went up as they steamed past the flagship of their leader. Though they had been under such heavy fire, very little external damage on the ships was apparent; none keeled over or showed an increased draught. On a closer inspection, however, considerable damage was disclosed, but the armour-plating had so thoroughly served its purpose of protecting the vital parts of the ships that their navigating capabilities had not suffered. The König and Grosser Kurfürst went into dock as their anchor cables had been shot away. The battle-cruisers were also docked to find out to what extent repairs would be necessary. In their case the exterior damage was considerably greater. It was astonishing that the ships had remained navigable in the state they were in. This was chiefly attributable to the faulty exploding charge of the English heavy calibre shells, their explosive effect being out of all proportion to their size. A number of bits of shell picked up clearly showed that powder only had been used in the charge. Many shells of 34- and 38-cm. calibre had burst into such large pieces that, when picked up, they were easily fitted together again. On the other hand, the colour on the ships' sides, where they had been hit, showed that picric acid had been used in some of the explosive charges. A technical Commission from the Imperial Naval Department made a thorough investigation of the effects of the shots in order to utilise the experience gained. We arrived immediately at one conclusion - a final decision on the much-debated question of protective torpedo-nets for the Fleet to the effect that the nets must be done away with. On most of the ships they were so damaged as to make it impossible to remove them after the fighting; they hung, for the most part, in a dangerous fashion out of their cases and it was a wonder that they did not get entangled in the propellers, an occurrence which, during the battle - or at any time for that matter - might have greatly inconvenienced the Fleet. The total impression produced by all the damage done was that by their splendid construction our ships had proved to be possessed of extraordinary powers of resistance.
The next step was to make arrangements for the repairing of the ships as the docks at Wilhelmshaven were not able to cope with all the work, and it was essential that the Fleet should be brought as quickly as possible into a state of preparedness for action. The Wilhelmshaven yard was entrusted with the repairs of the Seydlitz, and the ships of Squadron I, of which the Ostfriasland - owing to a mine explosion - and the Helgoland - hit above the water-line - had to be placed in dock. The Grosser Kurfürst, Markgraf, and Moltke were sent to Hamburg to be repaired by Blohm & Voss and the Vulcan Works. The König and the Derfflinger, after the latter had been temporarily repaired in the floating-dock at Wilhelmshaven, proceeded through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal to the Imperial Yard and Howaldt's yard at Kiel.
The Imperial Dockyards at Kiel under the management of Vice-Admiral von Henkel-Gebhardi, and those at Wilhelmshaven under Rear-Admiral Engel, as well as the private yards occupied on repairs, deserve the greatest credit for the excellent work done in restoring the Fleet.
If the English Fleet had fared as well as the English Press accounts led us to believe we might count on their immediately seizing the opportunity for a great attack. But it never came off. Our efforts were centred on putting to sea again as soon as possible for a fresh advance. By the middle of August the Fleet was again in readiness, with the exception of the battle-cruisers Seydlitz and Derfflinger. But a new ship, the Bayern, had been added to the Fleet, the first to mount guns of 38 cm.
Immediately after the battle joyful messages and congratulations on the success of the Fleet poured in from all divisions of the army in the field, from every part of the country and from all classes of the people. I welcomed with special gratitude the many sums received towards the support of the families of the fallen and wounded, which showed in a touching manner the sympathy of the donors, and which, in a very short space of time, reached the sum of one million marks. 
The first honour paid to the Fleet was a visit from His Majesty the Emperor on June 5, who, on board the flagship, Friedrich der Gross, made a hearty speech of welcome to divisions drawn from the crews of all the ships, thanking them in the name of the Fatherland for their gallant deeds. In the afternoon the Emperor visited all the hospitals where the wounded lay, as well as the hospital ship Sierra Ventana, where lay Rear-Admiral Behncke, Leader of Squadron III, who was wounded in the battle, and who was able to give the Emperor a detailed account of his impressions while at the head of the battleships. Several of the German princes also visited the Fleet, bringing greetings from their homes to the crews and expressing pride in the Fleet and the conduct of the men. The Grand Dukes of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and of Oldenburg came directly after the battle and were followed very soon after by the Kings of Saxony and Bavaria.
All this afforded clear proof that no other organisation in the Empire was so fitted to signify its unity as the Navy, which brought together in closest contact those belonging to all classes in the Fatherland and united them by common action in fortune and misfortune. Apart from the inspection of the ships, these visits also offered an opportunity of gaining information respecting the general duties of the Fleet and the plans for the impending battle that was expected, for, as those visits proved, the battle had! greatly enhanced the interest in the Fleet throughout the whole country.
The development of the battle and its lessons were thus summarised by me at the time:
"The battle was brought about as a result of our systematic efforts to attract the enemy out of his retirement, especially of the more drastic operations which culminated in the bombardment of the English coast. England's purpose of strangling Germany economically without seriously exposing her own Fleet to the German guns had to be defeated. This offensive effort on our part was intensified by the fact that the prohibition of the U-boat trade-war made it impossible for us to aim a direct blow at England's vital nerve. We were therefore bound to try and prove by all possible means that Germany's High Sea Fleet was able and willing to wage war with England at sea and thus help to establish Germany's claim to independent overseas development.
"The German idea incorporated in the founding of the Fleet had to hold its own in battle in order not to perish. The readiness to face a battle rests on the fundamental idea that even the numerically inferior must not shirk an attack if the will to conquer is supported by a devoted staff, confidence in material, and a firm conviction of perfect training.
"A preliminary fight between cruisers lasting about two hours, which proved the superiority of our guns, was followed by the engagement with the vastly superior enemy Main Fleet. The clever attempts made by the English to surround and cut us off from home by their Main Fleet were turned into a defeat, as we twice succeeded in pushing into the enemy formation with all our strength, and in withdrawing from the intended encircling movement. In spite of various attacks during the night we forced a way for ourselves to Horns Reef, and thus secured an important strategical point for the following morning.
"The enemy suffered twice as much material loss and three times as many losses in personnel as we did. English superiority was thus wrecked, for the Fleet was unable to keep in touch with us at the close of the day-battle and its own formation was broken.
"After an encounter with our leading ships, as darkness came on the English battle-cruisers lost touch with us in a mysterious way. They advanced into an empty North Sea.
"At the end of the battle the English Main Fleet had lost touch with its other units and they only came together again the following day at 6 p.m.
"After a continuous, and for the English very disastrous, night's fighting, Jellicoe did not seek us out the following morning, although he possessed both the power and the requisite speed to do so.
"We have been able to prove to the world that, the English Navy no longer possesses her boasted irresistibility. To us it has been granted to fight for the rights of the German Nation on the open seas, and the battle proved that the organisation of our Navy as a High Sea Fleet was a step in the right direction. The German national spirit can only be impressed on the world through a High Sea Fleet directed against England. If, however, as an outcome of our present condition, we are not finally to be bled to death, full use must be made of the U-boat as a means of war, so as to grip England's vital nerve."
I expressed these views to the Imperial Chancellor, who visited the Fleet on June 30 in company with the Under-Secretary of State, von Stumm, and laid great emphasis on them in my report of July 4, as I noticed from communications from the Chief of the Naval Staff and the Naval Cabinet that efforts were on foot for resuming the U-boat warfare in its inadequate form. The Imperial Chancellor gave me a detailed but gloomy picture of the situation which forced him for the time to ward off any further enemies from Germany, who, he was convinced, would soon show themselves on the proclamation of unrestricted U-boat warfare. I explained to him the military reasons which would render ineffectual the carrying on of the U-boat war on a cruiser basis.
Whether political circumstances would permit us to employ the most effective weapon against England was, however, a matter for the Cabinet to decide, and for my part as Chief of the Fleet I would not attempt to exert any pressure in that direction, as that was the business of the Naval Staff. But I could not approve of carrying on the U-boat campaign in a milder form, for that would be unsatisfactory from every point of view. The Imperial Chancellor agreed with me, but declared, for various reasons, that he could not embark on a course of unrestricted U-boat warfare, because it was impossible to avoid incidents which might lead to complications, and the result would be that the fate of the German nation might lie in the hands of one U-boat commander. Before leaving Wilhelmshaven he met at dinner all the admirals then stationed there, and on this occasion he expressed the hope that in this war we should succeed in making good use of all the weapons of the Navy.
After this visit, however, it became abundantly clear to me that for the time being we were hardly likely to resume the active U-boat campaign against English commerce. In a long interview with the Imperial Chancellor that afternoon, I gathered from his remarks that he was very anxious not to incense England further, or to provoke that country to "war to the death."
Very soon all sorts of rumours arose concerning this visit: the Chancellor had gone with the object of persuading the admirals to weaken their attacks upon the British; he had more especially objected to the airship raids. All these reports were absolutely unfounded, for these matters were never touched upon, and moreover, I could not have considered it within his province to give me advice as to the manner in which war was to be waged.
Until the active operations of the Fleet were resumed, the torpedo-boats continued their efforts to get in touch with the enemy. As the base in Flanders offered better opportunities for this, while the Fleet was restricted in its activities, a flotilla was despatched there. This arrangement was continued later. At first detachments of the various flotillas were sent in turn, in order as far as possible to afford all boats the opportunity of becoming familiar with the methods of attack from that point. Later on, it appeared more advantageous to place a single flotilla for this purpose under the control of the Naval Corps, so as to make full use of the knowledge they had acquired of the local conditions.
At the beginning of August it was possible to resume the air raids again, as the nights had by then grown darker. The first attack was made in the night of the 2nd and 3rd, and was directed upon the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. London, too, was extensively bombed. In the night of August 8th - 9th there was another attack, this time upon the Midlands; and at the end of the month, in the night of August 24th - 25th, there was a third raid upon the City, and the south-west district of London, as well as upon Harwich, Folkestone and the roads at Dover. One army airship took part in this. In spite of active opposition the airships returned safely from all three expeditions.
We learnt that the English defences had been decidedly improved, which rendered our attacks more difficult. The greater the effort England made to maintain her army on the Continent and in the other theatres of war, in order to do her part in forcing the decision against us on land, the more embarrassing she must have found it to organise a strong defence against airships.
Between these two periods of attack the airships were placed at the service of the Intelligence Department in connection with an attack which was planned as soon as the ships had been made ready, and which was to be again directed towards Sunderland. No change in the strategic disposition of the English Fleet had been observed. The U-boat campaign against commerce in the war-zone round about England was still in abeyance, and the U-boats were ready to be used for military purposes. These two weapons, the airships and the U-boats, would, I thought, make up for the superiority of the English Fleet in other respects.
The disposition of U-boats outside British ports on May 31 in accordance with the plan we had adopted had resulted in no success worth speaking of; it was bound to fail if the English Fleet was already at sea when the flotilla put out. Nor was their method of attack satisfactory. Before the Firth of Forth each of the seven U-boats which had been dispatched thither had a certain sector assigned to it, and these sectors radiated from a central point at the mouth of the estuary. The nearer the boats came to the estuary, the nearer they approached each other in the neighbourhood of this central point, so that they were liable to get in each other's way, or mistake one another for hostile craft. If they stood farther out to sea, the distance between them was increased and they lost their formation, thereby making it easier for the enemy to get through.
The matter was, therefore, reconsidered, and new arrangements made which promised greater success. Trial was first to be made of the method of a movable base line in the direction of the probable approach of the enemy, on which line the U-boats were to take up positions. The boats in commission in the middle of August were divided into three groups, two of which consisted of boats belonging to the Fleet, and the other of boats attached to the Naval Corps in Flanders. The two former were first to take up positions indicated in the accompanying plan by "U-Line I" and "U-Line III." In this way they afforded protection to the Fleet on either flank when proceeding to attack. The U-boats of the Fleet took up a position of defence for flank and rear against possible attacks from the Channel. In addition to the Lines I and III, other positions had been provided, which the boats were to take up either after a certain interval of time, or upon a prearranged signal. In order that the boats should be directed in accordance with the aims and movements of the Fleet, the officer commanding the U-boats was on board one of the battleships for the duration of the Fleet's attack.
The following was the plan for this enterprise against Sunderland: The Fleet was to put out by night, to advance through the North Sea towards the English coast, so that the line of U-boats might come into action, if required. If no collision with the enemy occurred, and there were no indications that the English Fleet would cut off our retreat from the sea, the ships were to push on to the English coast and bombard Sunderland at sunset. After the bombardment, while the Fleet returned in the darkness to the German Bight, the U-boats were to take up their second positions in the direction of the probable approach of the enemy, if, as was expected, he should come up as a result of the bombardment.
On August 18, therefore, at lo p.m., the Fleet put to sea from the Jade and set out upon the course indicated in the diagram.
Squadrons III and I took part in full force; to Squadron II had been assigned the duty of protecting the German Bight. The cruisers were stationed at a distance of 20 nautical miles in advance of the Fleet and were to maintain this distance throughout the advance. They were reinforced by the following battleships: The Bayern, which had only newly joined the Fleet after the battle of the Skagerrak; the Grosser Kurfürst and the Markgraf, because Scouting Division I was short of two battle-cruisers still under repair. A further reason for the reinforcement was the possibility that the fast squadron of "Queen Elizabeth" ships might have joined the English battle-cruisers. The distance of 20 nautical miles between our cruisers and the main body of the Fleet was to ensure immediate tactical co-operation in the event of our meeting the enemy, and to prevent the Cruiser Division, together with the three valuable battleships which had been assigned to it, from possibly failing to join up with the two other squadrons.
Thanks to the clear weather which prevailed during the advance on the following day, August 19, the smoke of the cruisers was visible all the time. Eight airships, among them three of a new and improved type, had taken up their positions encircling the Fleet. I hoped by this means to be able to get early news of the approach of any considerable English force within the area covered by the airships. The advance of the Fleet took place according to plan along the course indicated in the sketch, up till 2.23 p.m.
At 5.30 A.M. our advance guard met a submarine, which induced me to manoeuvre the Fleet so as to evade this danger. Nevertheless, the submarine succeeded in getting within striking distance of the last ship of our line. At 7.5 a.m. the Westfalen reported that she had been hit amidships on the starboard side. Though the ship was not seriously damaged, I nevertheless feared that if she were struck by another torpedo she might be sunk, so I gave up the idea of her going on with us. The Westfalen was able to return to the Jade under her own steam, and on her way was attacked a second time, but the torpedo missed. In the course of the morning various items of information as to enemy movements were received from the airships and U-boats. The positions of the various fighting units and groups of the enemy that were notified, are indicated in the diagram.
At 8.30 a.m. the "L 13" sighted two destroyer flotillas and behind them a cruiser squadron proceeding at full steam on a south-westerly course, and at 10.40 a.m. some small cruisers with three flotillas on a north-easterly course were seen. At our chief wireless station at Neuminster, owing to the many messages intercepted, they concluded that the English Fleet was at sea, and informed us to this effect. "U53" - Lieutenant-Commander Rose - sighted three large battleships and four small cruisers at 10.10 a.m. on a northerly course, and towards noon "L 21 " announced hostile craft on a north- easterly course. At 1.40 p.m. "U 52" reported that she had sighted four small hostile cruisers on a northerly course at 9 a.m., and had sunk one of them. Thus the line arrangement had already proved effective. But from all the information received no coherent idea of the counter-measures of the enemy could be formed. We could safely assume that he was aware of the fact that we had put to sea, for the submarine that had hit the Westfalen had had ample time since 7 a.m. to send messages to England. Up to this time the remaining airships had reported no movement of larger forces, and the visibility in the locality of the Fleet justified the assumption that our airships commanded a clear view over the whole sea area.
At 2.22 p.m. the "L 13" reported that at 1.30 p.m. it had sighted in the south strong enemy forces comprising about 30 units, on a northerly course in Square 156, and I determined to advance against these forces. The Cruiser Division was called up, and when they had joined us, they were pushed forward in a south-easterly direction in column formation. At 2.30 p.m. another report came from the "L 13 " that the hostile forces were now in Square 144 on a course north by east, that they consisted of 16 destroyers, small and large cruisers and battleships. If we and they continued on our respective courses, we might expect to encounter them in two hours. The Scouting Division and Torpedo Flotilla II were sent ahead to reconnoitre. At 3.50 p.m. the "L 13" reported that it had lost touch with the enemy forces because it had been forced to turn aside from its course in order to avoid thunderstorms. Unfortunately the airship failed to get into touch with them again. I hoped, however, soon to get news of the enemy from our ships, since, according to our reckoning, it was now the hour when the encounter should take place; but I received no information from them. Either the enemy had changed his course, because he was disquieted by the presence of the airship which he assumed was scouting for the Fleet, or the airship, owing to its unreliable navigation, had incorrectly reported his position.
The bulk of the fleet continued to advance until stopped by the minefields in the south. It being then 4.35 p.m., our course was altered to E.S.E., and we began our return journey. There was no further prospect of coming up with the enemy in the south, and it had grown too late to bombard Sunderland. While the Fleet was moving in a south-easterly direction, reports came in from "U 53 " and two airships, "L11" and "L31," which indicated that strong enemy forces had assembled at a spot about 60 nautical miles north of our course, and were steaming in such a direction that they would have met the main portion of our Fleet had it held on its course. "U53" had followed the hostile fleet until 4.30 p.m., when she lost sight of it as it was on a southerly course. Later, at 9 p.m., by chance she again met the enemy ships, which were then on a north-westerly course. At 10.45 P.M. the enemy squadron passed within range of "U 65," so that this boat had a chance to attack, which it accepted and succeeded in damaging a large battleship with her torpedoes. The British Fleet then disappeared in a northerly direction under full steam.
Another of our U-boats, "U66" (Lieutenant-Commander von Bothmer) encountered six battle-cruisers and a number of small, fast cruisers towards 6 p.m.; these were steaming, when first seen, south-east, but later on their course was north-west. She succeeded in hitting a destroyer with a torpedo which sank her, and badly damaged a small cruiser of the "Chatham " class with two torpedoes. This same group was also sighted by the "L31."
From reports received at 6 p.m. from "U53 " and "L31," it was apparent that the British Main Fleet discontinued its advance to the south about 6 o'clock and turned back in a north-westerly direction. As to the movements of the hostile craft reported by "L 13" at 2.23 p.m., nothing further was discovered, except that from 7.40 p.m. onwards six small cruisers and two destroyer flotillas accompanied the main German force on its easterly course until darkness fell. They were first reported by "L 11" and then sighted by our ships as their funnels and masts were just visible above the horizon. There was no doubt but that the English light craft must have recognised our big ships with their heavy smoke-clouds, and as they kept on the same course it was to be inferred that they would keep in touch with us until there was a chance of making a night attack. I had to decide whether or not I should send our light cruisers and torpedo-boats against them to drive them off, and I relinquished the idea of doing so, because I reckoned that the English would have the advantage of us in speed. Moreover, I thought that after our lucky experience on the night of June 1, I might run the risk of a combined night attack. But so as not to be surprised by torpedo-boat attacks a strong guard of torpedo-boats was placed in our van, for the return journey by night. The English torpedo-boats, however, did not take advantage of this favourable opportunity to make a night attack upon our whole fleet. To our great surprise, "L11" reported at 8.10 P.M. that the enemy was sheering off in a south-easterly direction, and that at 10.10 P.M. he had turned completely and disappeared from view. Probably these light craft belonged to the group first reported by "L 13," and had separated from the battleships.
No further special incidents occurred during our return journey. The cruiser attacked by "U66" was met by "U63" the next day while she was being towed into port. "U 63" attacked the towing convoy, which had strong protection,- and succeeded in sending two torpedoes into the cruiser, which then sank. The protecting destroyers immediately gave chase to "U 63"; one of them ran her down and rammed her slightly, without, however, doing any serious damage. "U66" sent the following report of her encounter with the enemy: At 5 p.m. she sighted small cruisers, two destroyer flotillas, and in the rear six battle-cruisers, all on a south-easterly course, and she managed to attack a four-funnel destroyer, apparently of the "Mohawk" class. Shortly after being torpedoed the destroyer lay with her stern projecting from the water, while her deck was submerged as far as the third funnel. A little later the whole cruiser squadron returned. "U 66" then attempted an attack on the small cruisers, that were now in the rear, steaming 25 knots. She got within range of a cruiser of the "Chatham" class, and struck her first in the forecastle and then in the turbine room. The ship stopped at once and lay with a strong list. Kept under water by the hostile destroyers, it was two and a half hours before "U 66" found an opportunity to attack for the second time. Shortly before firing this torpedo, our U-boat sighted a destroyer 300 metres away bearing down upon her at full steam. The U-boat quickly submerged. Immediately after a loud explosion occurred above the boat, the lights went out, the gratings burst off two hatches, the hatch-covers sprang open so that the water poured in fore and aft, but luckily they were closed again by the pressure of the water. The boat was chased by destroyers until dark, and was then out of sight of the cruiser.
"U65," which encountered the English Fleet towards evening, made the following report. In the twilight she saw the English Fleet approaching on a westerly course. Its formation was three divisions in single line abreast, of which two comprised seven or eight large battleships, and the other five ships of the "Iron Duke" and "Centurion" classes, and a group of three battle-cruisers, one of which belonged to the "Indefatigable" class. The first squadron proceeded on a N.W. course, and the others followed; the battle-cruisers, bringing up the rear, were disposed about 500 metres to port. Pushing forward at full speed, "U 65," at an estimated range of 3,000 metres, fired four torpedoes at the leading battle-cruiser. The U-boat was half submerged, and the observers in the conning tower. After a lapse of some three minutes, the time required by a torpedo to traverse a distance of 3,000 - 4,000 metres, a column of fire, 20 metres wide and 40 metres high, rose behind the stern funnel of the last battleship and was visible for about a minute, while the funnel itself, white hot, was clearly discernible through the flames. At the same time there was a violent escape of steam. The fire lasted one minute. When the ship became visible again only the hull, without funnels or masts, was to be seen, whereas the silhouettes of the ships near by, with their funnels and masts, were clearly visible. This attack was made at 10.45 p.m., Lat. N. 55° 25', Long. W. 0° 30'. The commander, the officer of the watch, and the U-boat pilot were all unanimous in their description of this phenomenon. After this the U-boat had to submerge very deeply, as the Main Fleet was surrounded by a considerable number of destroyers (about forty). The only difference of opinion among the observers was as to whether the ship that had been hit was the last battleship of the 3rd Squadron or the leading battle-cruiser.
The disposition of our U-boats in a movable line had met with the desired success, and certainly was more advantageous than stationing them outside the enemy ports of issue, a proceeding which must be worthless if the ships were at sea beforehand. The U-boats also accomplished good service in scouting on this occasion, and the perseverance with which "U53" clung to the enemy was especially praiseworthy. Unhappily, her speed was not sufficient to enable her to follow the enemy all the time.
The reports from the airships were not entirely reliable, chiefly because they were only eight in number and were expected to keep such a large area in view. Scouting by airships is, in any case, somewhat negative in character, since the fleet is only informed by them that the main hostile fleet is not within their field of vision, whereas the important thing is to know where it actually is.
Although on this occasion the expected naval action with the enemy did not take place, and we had to content ourselves with the modest success of two small cruisers destroyed and one battleship damaged, while on our side the Westfalen received injuries, yet we had conclusively shown the enemy that he must be on the watch for attacks by our Fleet. From English reports received subsequently we know that the British Admiral, when he ran up against our line of U-boats, felt as if he were in a hotbed of submarines and consequently quickly retired to the north.
There was a possibility that we might have joined battle with the enemy fleet at 4 p.m., if the report of "L 13" had not induced me to turn south with a view to attacking the ships sighted in that direction. The main object of our enterprise was to defeat portions of the English Fleet; the bombardment of Sunderland was only a secondary object, merely a means to this end. Therefore, when an opportunity seemed to offer to attack hostile craft in the south, I had to seize it and not let it slip.
A similar enterprise was planned for the beginning of September. The disposition of the U-boats was again based on the idea of protecting our flanks. But this time there was to be a modification, because with the single base-lines there was no guarantee that the U-boats on the line would be sure of a chance to open fire if the enemy should run into the line. The enemy's protective craft were in a position to prevent that U-boat which first sighted the enemy from attacking, and the other U-boats of the line would be too far away to take a hand. A new disposition was consequently made, in which only the enemy's probable direction of approach was taken into account; the U-boats covered a larger area, altogether 100 nautical miles, and were placed in three rows, opposite the gaps between the leading craft. Unfortunately, we were prevented from carrying out this plan because unfavourable weather made scouting impossible.
When, at the beginning of October, orders were given to carry out the same scheme, a new obstacle arose, owing to the issue of instructions from the Supreme War Council for an immediate resumption of the U-boat campaign against commerce. Lacking U-boats, I was forced to adopt quite a different scheme; instead of making for the English coast and luring the enemy on to our line of U-boats before the actual battle took place, I had to make a widespread advance with torpedo-boats to take stock of the commercial traffic in the North Sea and capture prizes. The Fleet was to serve as a support to the light craft that were sent out. As I was not in a position to reinforce the fighting power of the Fleet with U-boats, I had to try and choose the battle-ground so that we might join battle under the most favourable conditions to ourselves as possible.
Judging by the experience gained in the Battle of the Skagerrak, the position with regard to wind and sun must play an important part in the outcome of the artillery battle; again, the interval of time before darkness fell after the commencement of the battle was important, since the enemy had strong reserves at his disposal which, as yet untouched, could enter the fight when our ships were already damaged.
The sinking of the Pommern had unfortunately proved that this class of ship could not be risked in heavy fighting, owing to their being insufficiently protected against the danger of being sunk. The tactics of the British made it unlikely that our Squadron II would be able to take part in another big battle, on account of its artillery and its old type of torpedo, which had a range of less than 6,000 metres. I did not, therefore, take these ships with me, but assigned to them, the duty of guarding the German Bight in the absence of the Fleet. When the Fleet went out in this way, a torpedo flotilla was sent on ahead to the probable vicinity of the guard-line of English submarines, the object being to keep the latter under water and so prevent them from giving too early a warning of our approach.
On October 10 the Fleet advanced according to this plan to the centre of the North Sea, but the torpedo-boats were unable to go as far afield as had been arranged, owing to adverse weather conditions. There was no encounter with the enemy.
The resumption of the U-boat campaign against commerce, which was to begin early in October, had to be supported as far as possible, even though it was little to the taste of the Navy, and had also been adversely commented upon by Admiral von Schroder, the head of the Naval Corps in Flanders.
After our sortie on October 19, two torpedo-boat flotillas were sent to Flanders, and from that base they were to attack the guard-boats at the entrance to the Channel, so as to make it easier for our U-boats to get through. The First Leader of the Torpedo-Boats, Commodore Michelsen, was sent to Flanders for the same purpose, and to gather information about the local conditions there. On October 23, 1916, the Flotillas III and IV started for Zeebrugge, which they reached without incident before dawn on October 24. The carrying out of these voyages to and from Heligoland and Zeebrugge marks the change in the development of conditions between that time and October, 1914, when the seven half-flotillas were sent out from Ems and utterly destroyed. From now on, there was frequent traffic between these points, as the flotillas were changed and new boats were sent to Flanders. As a rule the movements took place without incident, so that they came to be looked upon more and more as ordinary trips and not as risky enterprises.
On the night of October 26-27, the two flotillas, reinforced by the half-flotilla attached to the Naval Corps, carried ,out an attack on the ships guarding the entrance to the Channel and on the transports west of this line. According to previous observations, the boats on guard consisted of a few destroyers, but chiefly of small craft and trawlers, some of which had nets. These were always a very great hindrance to our U-boats when they wanted to get through, for they were forced to go under water and thus run the risk of getting entangled in the nets. An advance farther west beyond this line was an enterprise in which strong opposition was always to be expected. Even if our boats succeeded in reaching the line of guard-ships unnoticed,, from the moment the Admiral in command at Dover heard of our approach, we had to reckon that in a short time strong forces would be assembled in the Straits between Dover and Calais.
A glance at the map will show that vessels which penetrated farther west could be cut off from their base at Zeebrugge both from Dover and Dunkirk; so they could, if they went to the southern end of the Downs to attack the mouth of the Thames. For this reason the half-flotilla in Flanders was not strong enough to carry out such expeditions unaided.
The following orders were issued relative to any ships that might be met with:
Ships without lights crossing the Channel were to be regarded as military transports and torpedoed without warning; ships with prescribed lights were to be treated according to prize law, unless they were convoyed by warships or became involved in a fight by their own fault.
Torpedo-Boat Flotillas III and IX and the Flanders Half-Flotilla set out at 6.30 p.m. from Zeebrugge; Commodore Michelsen was on board the leading boat of the Fifth Half-Flotilla. It was a clear starlit night, with a new moon. The surprise of the enemy was complete. The results we achieved were: eleven hostile guard and outpost ships sunk, and some other guard-ships badly damaged, from one of which ten men were taken prisoners. Besides this two enemy destroyers were sent to the bottom, and an English steamer, the Queen, was sunk, eight miles south of Folkestone. This steamer, according to English information, was a transport, but she declared herself to be a packet-boat. She could make 25 knots. On our side we sustained no loss. The only damage done was to a torpedo-boat with which a rudderless and burning guard-ship collided while her engines were still running.
As usual this surprise resulted in greater watchfulness on the part of the enemy. Commercial traffic eastward bound from the Channel was stopped, and aeroplane reconnaissance to observe movements in Zeebrugge harbour were considerably increased. When therefore in the afternoon of November 1 our boats intended to repeat the enterprise, everything pointed to the fact that the enemy was informed of our intentions, so that it was probable the blow would either miscarry or be turned into a reverse. Consequently when the flotillas had been at sea for some hours, and flash signals had shown that the enemy was on the watch, they were recalled. In these circumstances it was not desirable to keep the two flotillas any longer at Zeebrugge, especially as the nights were getting lighter and on that account unsuitable for such enterprises. Flotilla III was, therefore, sent back to Wilhelmshaven. Nevertheless, we decided to keep similar raids in mind, since the sudden appearance at considerable intervals of torpedo-boat flotillas in the Channel and near the south-eastern coast of England might bring about favourable results.
One difficulty connected with the sending out of large numbers of torpedo-boats from Zeebrugge was, that in order not to expose them to aerial bombardment, they were not allowed to lie by the Mole, but sent up to Bruges. This entailed very considerable delay, on account of the lock, for it took 2^ hours to get four torpedo-boats through.
As soon as they left Bruges harbour it was not possible, as a rule, to conceal the movements of the boats from the enemy.
The behaviour of the enemy after the battle of the Skagerrak showed clearly that he intended to rely entirely on economic pressure to secure our defeat and would continue to keep his fleet in the northern waters of the British Isles. Nothing but serious damage to his own economic life could force this opponent to yield, and it was from him that the chief power of resistance of the hostile coalition emanated. As English economic life depended on sea trade, the only means of getting at it was to overcome the Fleet, or get past it. The former meant the destruction of the Fleet, which, in view of our relative strength, was not possible.
But so long as the Fleet was not destroyed, we could not wage cruiser warfare - which alone could have badly damaged British trade - on a large scale. The U-boats, however, could get past the Fleet. Free passage to the open sea had been gained for these in the naval action on May 31, for the English Fleet stayed far North and did not dare to attack our coast and stamp out the U-boat danger at its source.
The recognition of this necessity to attack British trade as the only means of overcoming England, made it very clear how intimate was the connection between the conduct of the war by land and by sea.
The belief that we could defeat England by land had proved erroneous. We had to make up our minds to U-boat warfare as the only means we could employ that promised a measure of success. The ultimate decision was left to the Supreme Army Command, which was taken over on August 30, 1916, by Field- Marshal von Hindenburg. After the discussions with Romania, however, it did not seem advisable to the Supreme Command to begin an unrestricted U-boat campaign at once, in view of the fact that no additional troops were available in the event of neutral nations, such as Holland and Denmark, joining the enemy.
On October 7 the Fleet Commanders received the order to resume cruiser warfare with U-boats in British waters, and also to send four U-boats to the Mediterranean, where submarine warfare had been carried on during the summer months with quite good results. In September the Chief of the Naval Staff had been of opinion that the general situation would permit of the full development of the U-boat campaign at latest by the middle of October. I had counted on the co-operation of the U-boats with the Fleet up to that date.
When, however, orders came through that the economic war against England was to be resumed in a modified form, although it was known that I considered the scheme to be useless, there was no chance of my opposition having the least effect in the face of this definite order, and in view of the fact that the Supreme Army Command considered it as a matter of principle. Unfortunately, I could adduce no great successes achieved by the Fleet in conjunction with the U-boats, and I could hardly take the responsibility of prolonging the immunity which British trade had enjoyed since the end of April.
The support to be given by the Fleet to this form of warfare became a question of increasing importance, as the enemy recognised the danger of the U-boats, and strained every nerve to get the better of it. A curious incident early in November emphasised the necessity for the co-operation of the Fleet in this phase of the war. On November 3 at 8 a.m. "U30," then on her way home and about 25 miles north-west of Udsire (an island off the south-west coast of Norway), reported that both her oil engines were not working. The question for the Fleet was, how to get help to this boat so as to enable it to reach the Norwegian coast? A few hours later there was a report from "U20," commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Schwieger, who was returning from a three weeks' long distance trip off the west coast of England, that he had hastened to the assistance of "U30." The two boats then continued their journey in company, first to the latitude of Lindesnaes and then on November 3, at 10 p.m., they made for Bovsbjerg, on the coast of Jutland, where "U30" could be met by tugs. The charts of both boats, compared at frequent intervals, indicated that the next day at 10 p.m., they should be about 15 miles from Bovsbjerg. Towards 7 p.m. on November 4 a fog came up, and at 8.20 p.m. both boats ran aground. As appeared later, they lay 5 sea miles north of Bovsbjerg; they had steered considerably more to the east than, according to their observations, they thought they were doing,, and in the fog, they had not been able to see the land properly. After two hours "U 30" succeeded in getting clear by reducing her load by about 30 tons, but she was no longer able to submerge freely, and could not be steered under water. Her commander remained in the neighbourhood of "U 20." This boat, owing to the prevailing swell, had got on the farther side of a sandbank, and in spite of efforts continued throughout the night, was unable to get off. The Fleet received the news of their stranding soon after 10 p.m. Hostile patrols of cruisers and destroyers had repeatedly been reported in the neighbourhood of Bovsbjerg, so it seemed desirable to send a considerable protecting force with the light craft which were despatched thither. The Danes would certainly notice the stranded boats at dawn, and we might assume that the news would quickly find its way to England, and that in consequence enemy ships which happened to be near by would hasten to the spot. It was not to be supposed that the whole English Fleet would just happen to be at sea, but single groups might well be cruising in the neighbourhood. Assistance must, therefore, be as swift and as well protected as possible. The officer in command of the scouting craft received the order to send the Fourth Half-Flotilla of Torpedo-boats ahead immediately, and to cover them with the Moltke and Squadron III. If we did not succeed in getting "U 20" off quickly, it was to feared that the Danish Government would intervene and intern her. At 7.20 a.m. on November 4 Commander Dithmar arrived on the scene of the accident with the Fourth Half-Flotilla. The leading vessel anchored 500 metres from "U 20." A strong swell was running from the south-west, which increased greatly in the course of the morning, and caused a ground swell on the sandbank. Three times attempts were made to tug the U-boat off, and each time the ropes and chains broke. "U 20," in spite of all efforts and favourable con- ditions^ - it was high tide at 11 a.m. - did not budge. She lay too high on the shore. As further efforts seemed hopeless she was blown up, her crew taken on board and the return journey was begun.
The cruisers and Squadron III, in the meantime, had followed to the spot and patrolled near by until the attempts at rescue were abandoned. At 1.5 p.m. the Grosser Kurfürst, and immediately afterwards the Kronprinz, were each hit by a torpedo just as the squadron was executing a turning movement. Both torpedoes must have been fired by a submarine. The submarine itself was not sighted, owing to the waves; the course of the torpedoes was not observed until it was too late to avoid them. The Grosser Kurfürst was hit in the steering gear and the helm on the port side rendered useless. The Kronprinz was hit under the bridge and sustained only slight damage in her bunkers and gangway. The Grosser Kurfürst, which at first had to fall out because of her difficulty in steering, was able to follow the squadron later at 19 knots, and the Kronprinz was able to keep her place in the line, steaming at 17 knots.
Upon receipt of the news of this incident, His Majesty the Emperor expressed the opinion that to risk a squadron for the sake of one U-boat, and in so doing almost lose two battleships, showed a lack of sense of proportion and must not occur again. Now this dictum might easily have imposed too great a restraint upon the Fleet merely for fear of submarines. We should have lost the confidence in our power to defend the Bight which we had gained as a result of the sea fight, and which became manifest when we sent these scouts 120 nautical miles from Heligoland, a distance which had hitherto been regarded as the ultimate limit to which our Fleet could advance.
On November 22 I received a summons to General Headquarters at Pless, and had the opportunity to submit my view of the case to His Majesty, to which he gave his concurrence. It was as follows:
"In view of the uncertainty of naval warfare, it is not possible to determine beforehand whether the stakes risked are out of proportion or not. England, threatened anew by the U-boat campaign, as the increase in shipping losses in October clearly proved, is very anxious to allay popular anxiety on the score of this new danger. No better means to achieve this can be imagined than the news that they had succeeded in destroying a German U-boat close to the German coast. If, in addition to this, the number of the U-boat were ascertained - in this instance 'U 20/ which had sunk the Lusitania - this would indeed be glad tidings for the British Government. On the other hand, the dangers that threaten our U-boats on these expeditions are so great that they are justified in demanding the utmost possible support that our Fleet can give them in case of need. On no account must the feeling be engendered amongst the crews that they will be left to their fate if they get into difficulties. That would diminish their ardour for these enterprises on which alone the success of the U-boat campaign depends. Moreover, English torpedoes have never yet proved fatal to our big ships, a statement which was again confirmed in this case.
"The temporary loss of the services of two ships while under repair is certainly a hindrance, since, for the time being, the Fleet cannot undertake any considerable expedition. But, on the other hand, incidents such as occurred on the occasion of the stranding of these boats afford the junior officers an opportunity to develop their independence. There is no doubt that in this case a few torpedo-boats would have sufficed to drag the stranded U-boats free and tow them home. But if they had been surprised by a larger force of English boats that happened to be passing, or had been notified of their whereabouts, then further losses were possible, and the expedition would have failed in its aim. You can only make each expedition as strong as the means at your disposal at the moment permit. Fear of loss or damage must not lead us to curb the initiative in naval warfare, which so far has lain mainly in our hands.
"The bombardment of the enemy coast, airship attacks, the U-boat campaign, as well as the sea-fight itself, have shown that our Fleet has hitherto taken the offensive to a far greater extent than the English Fleet, which has had to content itself entirely with defensive action. Apart from a few unsuccessful aeroplane raids - the last was on October 21 of this year and made no impression - the English Fleet cannot boast of its achievements. The whole organisation for holding the Fleet in readiness is directed towards affording every enterprise the greatest possible security, and towards leaving out of account those ships which have come to port for necessary rest. It is of great value to uphold this principle, because in the course of the U-boat campaign, upon which, in my opinion, our entire naval strategy will sooner or later have to be concentrated, the Fleet will have to devote itself to one task - to get the U-boats safely out to sea and bring them safely home again. Such activities would be on precisely the same lines as the expedition to salve 'U20.' To us every U-boat is of such importance, that it is worth risking the whole available Fleet to afford it assistance and support."
While at Pless I took the opportunity of making myself known to Field-Marshal von Hindenburg, and also to have an interview with General Ludendorff. I discussed the U-boat campaign with both officers, and it was agreed that if the war should drag on for so long, February 1, 1917, was the latest date at which to start the unrestricted U-boat campaign, that is to say before England could revictual.
The Field-Marshal, however, added that now that matters had taken such a favourable turn in Romania, he could not for the moment face the possible complications that the declaration of unrestricted U-boat warfare might entail, although, at the same time, he was convinced that it was the right step to take. He went on to say that he had charged our ambassador at the Hague, Herr von Kuhlmann, on his honour, to give his candid opinion as to Holland's attitude, and had received a definite assurance that an aggravated form of the U-boat campaign would force Holland to come in against us.
It was of great importance to me, to have found complete understanding of the circumstances and conditions of our naval warfare at Headquarters, and to be assured that those in authority were determined not to let the suitable moment slip for the employment of all means that would lead to a speedy termination of the war.
In order to resume cruiser raids on the open sea, the auxiliary cruisers Moewe and Wolf were sent out at the end of November, the former under the officer who had commanded her on her first cruise, the latter under Captain Nerger, and both reached the high seas without hindrance from the enemy.
The peace proposals of Germany and her Allies, made on December 12, had little prospect of finding acceptance with our enemies; but the fact that they had been made would tend to simplify the situation and, in case of refusal, to rouse the will of the people to strain themselves to the uttermost for the final conflict. There was no hope of yielding on the part of those who had recently come into power in England - Lloyd George, with Carson as First Lord of the Admiralty. Thus the die was cast in our country for the employment of the most extreme measures, which it had been Bethmann's policy hitherto to avoid.
Towards the end of the year I regrouped the High Sea Fleet and took Squadron II out of the tactical group. One ship, the Lothringen, had already been put out of commission, and another ship of this same squadron was permanently needed to guard the Sound in the Baltic and had to be relieved from time to time. Thus for one reason and another (e.g. repair work) the squadron only consisted of five, or even fewer, ships. The fighting value of the ships had decreased with age, and to take them into battle could have meant nothing but the useless sacrifice of human life, as the loss of the Pommern had already proved. The creation of a new U-boat fleet demanded numerous, efficient young men, with special technical knowledge, and these could only be drawn from the Fleet. As Squadrons IV, V, and VI had already been disbanded for similar reasons, the reduction of Squadron II was only a question of a short time, as we were bound to have recourse to their crews. The U-boat flotilla had by this time a greater number of officers than all the large battleships of the Fleet.
When the two new battleships, the Baden and Bayern (with 38-cm. guns), joined up, it was possible to dispose the battleships in the High Sea Fleet in the following manner:
Baden, Flagship of the Fleet.
Squadron I - Vice-Admiral Ehrhardt Schmidtt.
Ostfriesland. Thiiringen. Heligoland. Oldenburg. Posen. Rheinland. Nassau. Westfalen.
Squadron II - Vice-Admiral Behncke.
König. Bayern. Grosser Kurfürst. Kronprinz. Markgraf.
Squadron IV - Rear-Admiral Mauve.
Friedrich der Grosse. König Albert. Kaiserin. Prinzregent Luitpold. Kaiser.
When in column formation, Squadrons III and IV formed a division and Squadron I was divided into two divisions. These three squadrons had their headquarters in the Jade. Squadron II lay in the Elbe when, as was often the case, it was not sent to the Baltic to provide target-ships for the torpedo-boat flotillas and U-boats which practised there, and to undertake manoeuvres in common with them.
The chief duty at this time was to protect the Bight when the Fleet put to sea. During the winter the number of large battleships in the English Fleet had been materially increased, and by the spring of 1917 we should have to reckon with 38 large battleships (of which 14 had 38 cm. guns) and 10 battle-cruisers (of which 3 had 38 cm. guns). On our side we had 19 battleships (two with 38 cm. guns) and five battle-cruisers whose biggest guns were 305 cm. In place of the Lützow, which had been lost, we had the Hindenburg. This relative strength indicated, from a tactical point of view, the desirability of our making as much use as possible of the advantages to be derived from the short days and long nights of winter. The long nights afforded our torpedo-boats good chances of success and prolonged the time during which our Fleet could approach unperceived. On the other hand, the short days had this advantage: that we could time a battle so that our munitions did not give out and so that the enemy could not bring up fresh reserves against our damaged ships.
At the close of 1916 the idea prevailed among the commanders of our Fleet, that England, anxious about her future, and pressed by her Allies, intended to develop greater activity at sea. The fall of the old Ministers, and the change in the command of the Grand Fleet might be looked upon as steps to prepare the way for this.
It was decided that the U-boats were to carry on the campaign against commerce in accordance with Prize Law during the winter, and a number of these were detailed for special duty off the east coast of England. It was possible to connect these up with an advance of the Fleet, whenever a fair number of U-boats was ready to put to sea or had been at sea a short time. By the middle of January we had ten ready for this purpose, and they received orders, in addition to their campaign against trade, to take up two lines south-west of the Dogger Bank on a certain date, when the Fleet was to undertake an advance to the west, south of the Dogger Bank. Support by the U-boats of the Naval Corps was arranged for in the usual way. The bad weather which prevailed in January prevented the realisaton of this scheme, which was again to depend on airship scouting.
As we had to reckon on the possible failure of airship scouting within the time available for such an enterprise - boiler-cleaning in the flotillas, repairs on the wharves and the preparedness of the U-boats also influenced our arrangements - another plan was drawn up in which the weakness of airship scouting was not of such importance as to necessitate the abandonment of the enterprise on that account. This was not to be carried out until March, and was to take place during the light nights at the period of full moon - which would last until March 12.
The idea was to make a raid into the Hoofden to interfere with the convoyed traffic between England and Holland - from Rotterdam to the Thames. In the meantime unrestricted U-boat warfare had commenced on February 1, but our U-boats could not get at this traffic very well. At night it was difficult for them to get an opportunity to open fire, especially when the vessels were protected, and by day the shallowness of the water made submarine attacks impracticable, especially if the accompanying ships used depth charges. As the crossing took so short a time, and moreover could be carried out by night, this traffic was exposed to no risks worth speaking of and there was a noticeable increase on this route.
Our boats were to advance to a line Schouwenbank - Galloper, make a night raid through the Hoofden, and then at 6 A.M. steam in a northerly direction to meet the Main Fleet which would follow them. The Main Fleet itself, consisting of Squadrons I, III and IV, was to lie off Braune Bank at 6 a.m., and for that purpose would have to leave the Jade at 2.30 p.m. on the previous day. It was not expected that the enemy would notice our putting to sea in the afternoon before dusk. Success in this case depended entirely on surprise, for otherwise the steamers would simply postpone their journey. The raid by night through the Hoofden was designed to cover the whole area.
The officer commanding the scouting craft had at his disposal Scouting Divisions I, II, and IV - with the exception of two small cruisers which had to remain as vanguard with the Main Fleet - and 22 torpedo-boats. In view of the large number of boats taking part, it was necessary to choose a light night for the enterprise, so that the ships should not foul each other, and should be free to act so as to hold up the steamers.
Though the heads of the Fleet enjoyed complete independence in organising and arranging their operations, they nevertheless had to inform the Naval Staff of them. This was imperative, if only because all information was collected and we might consequently receive valuable hints in good time. In this case it was especially important for us to know whether there was any news of the Anglo- Dutch traffic, and if so, what. The remark in my orders to the effect that the enterprise was to be carried out even if air-scouting were lacking gave rise to direct intervention on the part of the All Highest, who declared we were on no account to do without air-scouting.
The stormy spring weather made it extremely doubtful whether we could carry out the plan under these conditions, and in fact, when the time fixed for the enterprise arrived, the weather was quite unsuitable for airships and thus the scheme collapsed.
In a petition to the Kaiser, I clearly showed that from a military point of view my plan was practicable, and urgently requested him to withdraw his restriction, pointing out that such a restriction even in one direction only, would paralyse the power of a leader to carry out an enterprise which he had carefully planned, and which was well within the scope of the Fleet. The only reply I received was that the order had been issued after due consideration and must stand. I did not carry away the impression that when this decision was arrived at the Chief of the Naval Staff had presented the point of view of the Fleet with sufficient emphasis to dissipate the Supreme War Lord's fears - which was a pity. These fears were probably due to the idea that now that our ultimate success was entirely dependent on the results of the U-boat campaign, there must be no deviation from the course on which we had embarked, or any risk incurred which might force the Fleet to give up its support of the U-boats, before the goal had been reached.
It must be admitted that in principle these considerations were sound, for events might occur - e.g. the loss of the U-boat base in Flanders - which would confront the Fleet with tasks for which it would require all its strength. On the other hand, there was the consideration that every successful fight stimulates the confidence of those who take part in it. In a Fleet there are numbers of men who, in a certain sense, are merely onlookers in a fight, who are unable to join in as individuals, as soldiers do on land, and thus develop each man's pride in having "done his bit." On the other hand, in a sea fight, perhaps to a greater extent than anywhere else, the intervention of an individual may have a decisive influence, if he has the presence of mind to ward off some great danger by re- solute and skilful action, and thereby save the whole ship and her crew and ensure victory for his side.
So long as there is no actual fighting, these men, who take no immediate and active part, are very apt to criticise the initiative and resolution of the leaders of the Fleet and of individual ships. They want no cravens at their head, for they know that cowardice in their leaders may prove fatal to themselves and because each man feels in a measure responsible for the ship to which he belongs. When battle is once joined, ship against ship, each man's strength must be strained to the utmost, whether he be a member of a gun-crew or a stoker, a munition man or a man on look-out duty who gives timely warning of the course of a torpedo. Cooperation on the part of all these, of whom no single one can be dispensed with, is absolutely essential in an action if success is to be achieved.
The Fleet had little rest in 1917, even though the success of its activities was barely apparent. It found expression in the effect of the U-boat campaign, for the work of the Fleet was from that time onward chiefly directed to the support of the campaign.
The U-boat could only prove effective against British trade if the boats succeeded in going to and fro unharmed between their base and their areas of activity. To achieve this, strong opposition on the part of the enemy in the North Sea had to be overcome. This opposition was planned on a large scale. We know from Lord Jellicoe's own lips that at the beginning of 1917 he had ordered 100,000 mines to be placed round the Heligoland Bight, and we were very soon to feel the effect of this. The belt of mines which curved round from Terschelling to Horns Reef grew closer and closer. At the same time our mine-sweeping operations were subjected to closer scrutiny on the enemy's part, so that very often, by the sowing of fresh mines in the path we had cleared, the work of many days was undone in a single night. As the enemy laid his mines in concentric circles west of the line originally laid, the area over which our mine-sweepers had to work was constantly enlarged. Unhappily we never had the luck to catch the enemy mine-layers at their work, which they probably mostly undertook when darkness shielded them, at any rate when the mines were not laid by submarines.
To explain what might appear to be crass incompetence on our part, we may remark that, so far as we know, the enemy's efforts in this direction met with little more success. I remember that on the return of one of our submarine mine-layers I was told that this boat had laid her two thousandth mine on this journey. How many difficulties she must have overcome before that work was achieved! The cruiser Hampshire, on which Lord Kitchener went down, was sent to sea in a heavy storm in the belief that in such weather little danger was to be apprehended west of the Orkneys from mines or U-boats; and yet one of our boats (Lieutenant-Commander Curt Beitzen) had been at work, and had made use of the opportunity provided by the bad weather to lay the mines to which this ship was to fall a victim. We, too, often noticed that after stormy days, when the mine-sweepers' work had to be interrupted, new mines had been laid in places which had been cleared just before the storm began.
Another difficulty that our mine-layers had to contend with was that they had to lay their mines quite near the British coast or the entrance to ports, where closer watch was kept and defence was more effective than in the open North Sea. There, at a distance of 100 sea miles from Heligoland, we had to keep watch on what was being done at night on the extreme edge of the wide curve which stretched from the East Frisian coast right up to Jutland. The great distance at which the mine-sweepers had to work made it necessary for us to send a strong protective force with them, for fear they should be surprised by a squadron of destroyers, which were greatly superior to them in armament and speed, and would make short work of them. A few attempts at catching them unawares had been made by the English, but these had been so half-hearted that our boats had got away with very slight damage and loss. After we had opened fire, the enemy ships soon gave up the pursuit.
We could, however, not rely on the mine-sweepers getting off so lightly on every occasion. The more the English felt the unpleasant effects of the U-boat campaign, the more they would be likely to make great efforts to combat the U-boat danger in all its manifestations, wherever they had a chance. Only our light cruisers could afford effective protection to the mine-sweepers, because their guns were superior to those on the English destroyers. Just so many torpedo-boats were assigned to them as appeared necessary for their protection from submarines. If we had had to protect the mine-sweepers by torpedo-boats alone, we should have had to employ the latter in greater numbers than was compatible with their other duties. From the very beginning of the war the importance of the work of mine-sweepers was recognised, and much time and care were devoted to developing these flotillas and equipping them with increasingly better material.
Instead of the old boats that had been turned out of the torpedo service, which found a place in our first mine-sweeper flotillas, and the trawlers which were used provisionally to assist in this work, new craft were built specially designed for mine-sweeping; moreover, they were built in such numbers that in the course of 1917 almost all the mine-sweeping divisions were provided with them. We also had large demands for similar craft from the Baltic, where they were needed to enable us to maintain commercial traffic, and the more so as the offensive activities of the Russians were entirely devoted to mine-laying operations.
The development of seaplane activity in the North Sea afforded good support to the mine-sweepers. At the beginning of the war the number of really efficient seaplanes was so small as to be of no value, for the only seaplane station we then had at Heligoland boasted but five machines, to which after a time three more were added. Both pilots and observers had to be trained. Thanks to the energy of those at the head of the Air Service (Rear Admiral Philipp as Chief of the Naval Air Service and Captain Brehmer as officer commanding the North Sea Seaplane Division), this arm of the service developed tremendously and rendered us invaluable services as scouts, thereby relieving the fighting forces on the water of a great burden.
Bases for seaplanes were constructed on the North Sea at List (Sylt), Heligoland, Norderney, Borkum and, in addition to these, at Zeebrugge and Ostend. Further, the small cruiser Stuttgart was arranged as a seaplane carrier, after the necessary experiments had been made on the auxiliary cruiser Santa Elena, and when, as the flying machines were perfected, it seemed desirable not to confine their activities to the coast of the North Sea, but to make use of them at sea as well. This development of flying became necessary, and was encouraged by the urgent need of the mine-sweeping service.
Thus the requirements of the U-boat campaign demanded many-sided service from the Fleet; this applied more particularly to officers and men, for in addition to the existing Navy a second one had to be created for submarine warfare, one which had to be developed out of the old Navy sailing on the water, and which was dependent on it in every respect, although it represented an absolutely new creation.
- The fund, called "The Skagerrak Gift," is now administered by the Imperial Naval Institute, Berlin.