Germany's High Seas Fleet in the World War/Chapter 3
Chapter 3 - Awaiting the Enemy's OffensiveEdit
ON August 2 the Commander-in-Chief had summoned all the commanders of the three battleship squadrons, cruisers, destroyers and submarines to the flagship, and there explained to them the task set in the War Orders and his intentions with regard to it. Instructions had just been received from the Naval Staff that on the express wish of the Foreign Office no hostile action should be taken against English warships and merchant ships, as all hope of England's neutrality had not yet been abandoned. In his desire to keep England out of the war the Imperial Chancellor had gone so far as to enter into an obligation, through our ambassador in London, not to conduct operations in the Channel or against the north coast of France if England remained neutral. In this way she would be released from her own obligation to protect the north coast of France with the English Fleet. The same day, however, we received subsequent instructions that the English cable communications with the Continent had been broken off, and that we had to anticipate hostile action on the part of England.
How universal was the conviction that the English Navy would immediately take the offensive is illustrated by the fact that after the conference with the Commander-in-Chief the Commander of Squadron I advised me very strongly to take Squadron II to the Elbe during the night, instead of waiting till next morning as had been arranged, as otherwise we might arrive too late. However, we adhered to the original decision to take up the anchorage appointed for us in the Elbe the next day (August 3), and, as the necessary precautions were taken by sending a mine-sweeping division ahead, the movement was carried out without any mishap.
To take up its anchorage in the Altenbruch Roads, between Cuxhaven and Brunsbuttel, Squadron II had to pass through the minefield which had meanwhile been laid at the mouth of the Elbe. In this river there was a dangerous congestion of vessels which were trying to get out as fast as they could. Among them were some English steamers which would not pay attention to the warnings of the pilot ship, so that there was a dangerous crush in this difficult and narrow channel. The English steamer Wilfred paid for its temerity by running on the mines and was sunk by two explosions following closely on each other. We thus had an opportunity of observing a practical demonstration of the effect of mines. After this occurrence the Commandant of the fortress of Cuxhaven, who was responsible for the security of the estuary, gave orders that all ships were to be sent back to Hamburg so that their knowledge of the position of the minefield should not be turned to the advantage of the enemy.
The next day brought us the English declaration of war. A few hours later the first English submarine was reported in the German Bight. The security of the Heligoland Bight required prompt information of the enemy's intentions so that we could meet him in strength with our naval forces without ourselves suffering from the enemy's counter-measures on our way out. This object could be attained by submarines or mine-layers of which the latter could slip out under cover of darkness and sow the exits from the estuaries with mines. We had also to expect that floating mines would be sown in the mouths of the rivers with a view to their drifting up stream with the tide and endangering our ships lying at anchor. We knew of one type of English mine which drifted with the rising tide only, sank to the bottom when the tide ebbed and then rose again and floated farther up stream. Mines of this kind would have been able to get much farther - in fact to the anchorage of our ships - instead of drifting backwards and forwards in a limited area through the action of ebb and flow, and thereby being stranded in due course.
We had also to anticipate that enemy submarines would penetrate into the rivers. Although the depth of water was not great the passage of submarines, when submerged, was by no means impossible. It was only later, when the depth charge had been evolved, that submarines needed greater depth to escape their effect. Even if the enemy shrank somewhat from such venturesome enterprises as these, it was enough for him to haunt the neighbourhood of the estuaries to operate against our big ships the moment we attempted to gain the open sea.
It is true that we had two types of protection against these dangerous possibilities; first, the initiation of technical defence measures such as mines, nets and so forth, and secondly, the sharpest lookout on the part of the ships engaged in observation duties. If the enemy tried to bring on an action in the neighbourhood of Heligoland - and we assumed he would - we suffered from the outset under a disadvantage if we had to deploy for it out of the estuaries. The narrow exits from the Elbe and the Jade prescribed the line of deployment and compelled the ships to follow in line ahead, a formation which provides splendid opportunities for lurking submarines. For this reason prompt knowledge of the enemy's approach as well as his strength was of particular importance in enabling us to go out and meet him in the open sea with the necessary forces. In the first days of August we attained such a state of preparedness that all the big ships were kept under steam all day, ready to weigh anchor at any moment. We could not concentrate in the outer roads because the submarine obstructions had not yet been laid.
The time from the receipt of a report about the enemy to the issue of the appropriate orders, and then again from the first execution of those orders to the arrival at the appointed rendezvous at sea, was not inconsiderable. According to the state of readiness of the ships and the choice of anchorage it might take hours, during which the enemy would continue his approach unimpeded. Thus arose the necessity of getting the report as soon as possible. But the greater the distance from Heligoland of the arc which had to be covered by our reconnaissance and observation patrols, the less carefully could it be watched. The greater distance either demanded more ships or involved less reliable information when the line was held too thinly.
The use of wireless telegraphy came in extraordinarily handy for intelligence purposes. Unfortunately a large number of the older destroyers which had now been attached to the mine-sweeping division had not yet been fitted with this highly ingenious piece of equipment. The result was that in certain circumstances very valuable time might be lost.
The establishment of a protective system was entrusted to the Commander of the scouting forces, Vice-Admiral Hipper, and all the destroyer flotillas, U-boats, mine-sweeping divisions, aero- planes and airships were placed under his orders. From these forces a protective zone was formed which by day consisted of several circles at varying distances from the lightship "Elbe I." The outermost line, 35 nautical miles (of 1,852 metres) was held by destroyers. Six nautical miles behind there were submarines, and a further six miles back the inmost line was patrolled by mine-sweeping divisions. Two to four light cruisers were distributed behind the two wings of this protective zone, east and south of Heligoland. At night the U-boats and the destroyers on the outermost line were withdrawn, and only the inner one was held. The result of this was that we had all the more destroyers at hand for nocturnal enterprises.
This whole system, however, was more useful for protection than for reconnoitring. It did not extend far enough for the latter purpose. Even if the approach of serious enemy forces at a distance of fifteen miles was reported from the outermost line, these ships, by steaming at full speed, could be within range of the fortress of Heligoland in about an hour and a half. In that time only the ships lying in the outer Jade could gain the open sea. The ships lying in the Elbe at Cuxhaven or in the Wilhelmshaven Roads in the Jade needed longer. If we had depended on this system alone we should have found ourselves in the condition either of being surprised by the enemy and having to meet him in insufficient strength, or having to keep the whole Fleet in a perpetual state of readiness. The latter alternative was impossible in the long run. The duties of the destroyers and cruisers in the protective zone and the necessity of relieving them every few days (for the strain of this anxious service on the personnel at sea would otherwise have worn them out) absorbed such a large force of light units that their principal task of seeking out and attacking the enemy far away in the North Sea before he got to close quarters with us was seriously affected.
Our commanders were therefore faced with a many-sided problem which was made more difficult by the limited resources at our disposal : to avoid any chance of surprise, to prevent the safety of the Bight being endangered by mines or submarines in such a way that the Fleet would not have the necessary freedom of movement to get out of harbour, and finally to seek out the enemy himself in the North Sea and do him as much damage as possible by guerilla operations. It was, therefore, a very proper decision to entrust all these tasks to one commander who had to make his dispositions with an eye to wind and weather, breakdowns, injuries and the absences these involve, and question of coaling, as well as the multifarious duties laid upon him. In view of the relatively little bunker capacity of the smaller ships, it was continuously necessary to replenish supplies. Their ships' companies also suffered from heavy weather far more than those of the big ships, and therefore required relief sooner.
Nor was it a simple matter .to regulate the system of transmission of orders and intelligence by wireless in such a way as to be certain of getting messages accurately and promptly, and avoiding confusion through the operations of other stations, especially such as were in a different sphere of command.
In our situation aeroplanes and airships played a particularly important part. Unfortunately, their number was very small at the start. Heligoland was fitted up as an aviation station, but at first disposed of only five aeroplanes. The number was subsequently increased to eight. In the early days we had only the one airship, "L 3," for distance reconnaissance. The most zealous efforts were made to cruise in all kinds of weather, and so praiseworthy was the persistence shown that these cruises often extended to within sight of the Norwegian coast.
Side by side with the organisation of the protective zone, the organisation of the defences of the North Sea islands, the most important of which was Heligoland, was completed under the direction of the Headquarters of the North Sea Naval Stations, Vice-Admiral von Krosigk, at Wilhelmshaven. It was also the duty of this authority to carry out the evacuation of the native population, who did not at all like leaving their island, and arranging their transfer to the mainland. They had been previously prepared for this eventuality, and their transport presented no special difficulties. The establishment of minefields and the substitution of buoys to mark the war channels for those of the peace-time channels was also the business of the Naval Stations Headquarters.
Another of its duties was the removal of landmarks which could be seen far out to sea, and would thus be known to the enemy and might enable him to find his bearings.
One victim of this bitter necessity was the venerable old church tower of Wangeroog, the island adjacent to the Jade channel. From time immemorial it had been an object of affectionate familiarity to seafarers. It had stood so long that the whole island had gradually slid past beneath its feet, in consequence of the movement from west to east which is peculiar to the sands of the North Sea. It was now so close to the west side of the island that its walls were washed by the waves.
Harbour flotillas were formed to watch the minefields and guard the entrances to our own rivers. These flotillas were within the sphere of action of the fortresses, and therefore were likewise under the command of the Naval Stations Headquarters. The release of the Fleet from such duties definitely proved a sound idea, and thanks to the understanding and co-operation of all services, all further requirements which cropped up as time went by were generously met.
The organisation of the lightship system was of great importance. As soon as war threatened, all the lights in the lightships were extinguished, and the light-buoys removed, so that the whole coast was in darkness. It was impossible to do without lights at night altogether when cruising by the dangerous North Sea coast and navigating the strong current off the mouths of the Elbe, Weser and Ems. Further, lights that were easily recognisable had to be shown to indicate the position of the minefields and the channels through them. Yet in spite of the difficulties of navigation, darkness had the immense advantage that it enabled us to slip out unnoticed, and therefore without great risk, so that night time was preferred for such operations. Of course, the lights must not be shown a moment longer than was necessary for the purposes of navigation. Further, it must be possible for incoming ships to show their lights and be safe against any tricks on the part of the enemy. The main thing was that the light should be shown exactly at the right moment. The outer lightships at the mouths of the Jade and Elbe, which also served as observation stations and had military personnel, certainly had no easy task in the long and stormy nights of the four and a half years' war. We depended on their reliability just as much as on that of all the other posts which existed to assist the navigation of our Fleet, whether the safety of a single steamer or that of a whole squadron was at stake. Special thanks are due to the officers of the Imperial Pilot Service and its chief, Commander Krause. They were always reliable advisers to the commanders of squadrons and ships.
Our view of the whole situation and the War Orders issued to the Fleet made it imperative to get at the outset data as to the movements of the enemy. While the North Sea islands and the estuaries were being put into a state of defence, the primary requirement was security against surprise. The battleship squadron and battle-cruisers (at their anchorages) used these few days to prepare for action. With Squadron II, in the construction of whose ships less importance had been attached to the use of fireproof material than in the later ships, it was a question of removing everything that was dangerous from that point of view and could at all be dispensed with. This had a very adverse effect on the comfort of the wardrooms and cabins as well as the men's quarters, in which all the wooden beams were removed from the thin sheet-iron partitions as well as the sides of the ship.
The removal of wooden chairs, tables, curtains, tablecloths, easy chairs and such like, the scraping off of paint which was too thick, the transfer of clothes and supplies of all kinds to the space under the armoured decks where they could not easily be got at, took up a lot of time and produced a good deal of noise and discontent. However, the work of destruction was carried out with as much devotion as if it were the enemy himself who was being destroyed, and in the certain expectation that we should not have to wait long for the actual meeting.
Although in peace time everything possible had been thought of which might prove useful or necessary in the emergencies of action, there were always fresh possibilities of perfecting measures and preparing for all conceivable occurrences with things such as rafts, steel nets, anchor cables, lifebelts, and so on. As the Flag Officers of .the squadron passed from ship to ship in order to supervise the work that was in progress and make further suggestions, they noted what seemed to them useful on any particular ship and handed the information on to the others.
In this work were associated the newly-joined seamen ratings, mostly reservists, who had served on the same ships not long before, and among whom I recognised many old acquaintances, for, with the exception of a break of one year, I had been with the Fleet continuously since 1907. My pleasure at meeting them again was mingled with a feeling of pride at the sight of the manly, healthy, and robust figures which had developed out of the former recruits or ordinary seamen. It went to my heart to see with what a straightforward sense of duty these men, whose resolve to stand on their own feet through industry and efficiency was plain to the eyes, had left behind them everything they loved and cherished in order to be present when the day came to meet the foe.
We spent the first days of suspense and expectation in this essential work. The opening days of the war gained a particular interest from the varying reports of home-coming steamers or our patrols, the series of false alarms about aeroplanes and submarines, firing at night, or the showing of lights in improbable directions, the explosion of mines in shallow spots in the Elbe (phenomena which subsequently found a natural explanation, though at first attributed to enemy activity), our isolation from all human intercourse - although we could see the cows grazing peacefully on the banks of the Elbe 300 yards away - and the organisation of the watches. In the further distance there was no visible sign of any change in the wonted scenes of peace, for there was still a lively movement of ships in the Elbe, and every incoming German steamer had a particularly warm welcome for having succeeded in getting safely home. But the wireless messages flashing to and fro might at any moment summon us out to meet the foe.
Preparations for the offensive were not neglected during the days in which England was making up her mind what her attitude was to be, and when at 7.47 p.m. on August 4 we received the message, "Prepare for war with England," we also heard the order to the auxiliary cruiser Kronprinz Friedrich Wilhelm to put to sea immediately. At 9.30 P.M. the auxiliary minelayer Konigin Luise also left the Ems on the way to the Thames estuary. Thus began the first essay in cruiser warfare and the introduction of guerilla operations on the English coast. In the wireless room of the Flagship we listened hopefully for further news of the progress of the first two enterprises against the enemy. Would the great ocean greyhound be forced back, or would she succeed in getting unchallenged into the ocean? She remained dumb, and that could justly be taken as a favourable sign.
The wireless message to the Konigin Luise had run: "Make for sea in Thames direction at top speed. Lay mines near as possible English coasts, not near neutral coasts, and not farther north than Lat 53." The task assigned to the Konigin Luise gave little ground for the hope that she could escape the watchfulness of the English; but, with a supreme contempt of death, the ship, under the command of Commander Biermann, held on her way. The steamer which usually plied in summer to the watering-places of the North Sea islands was engaged about 11 a.m. next morning by enemy cruisers and destroyers, and was sunk by a torpedo.
She had had time to sow her mines, however, with the result that the cruiser Amphion (3,500 tons, launched 1911), which was pursuing her, fell a victim to them and followed the Konigin Luise to the bottom with a loss of 131 men. Thus the first day of the war (August 5) had brought losses to both sides, and the first attack on the English coast had been a success for us.
However, the sacrifice it had involved had not been incurred in vain. It was not merely that it had cost the enemy a new cruiser. Far more important was the impression that this proof of a bold spirit of enterprise must have made on friend and foe alike. The situation at the outset thus appeared in such a light that in view of these aggressive operations the enemy thought that he could best protect himself by withdrawing to northern waters, and did not take the other alternative of closing our sally ports himself. Throughout the whole war not a single mine was sown in our estuaries, notwithstanding the thousands upon thousands which were employed in the open waters of the North Sea.
As the next few days passed without incident, and aeroplanes and airships had made no discoveries, while incoming steamers reported that English battleships were only to be seen at a great distance (by Aberdeen) from the German Bight, our business was now to discover the whereabouts of the enemy and get to close quarters with him if we were to bring about an equalisation of strength. For this purpose we had at our disposal the destroyers and submarines which could be spared from the defensive organisation of the Heligoland Bight.
Commander Bauer, in command of the U-boats, was convinced that the defensive employment of submarines in a narrow circle round Heligoland was useless, as there was only a slight probability that the enemy would approach so close, and even if he did it was doubtful whether the boats would get a chance to shoot. The necessity of perpetually coming in and going out of the harbour of Heligoland, a difficult process in view of the methods employed in the defensive system, led to a useless strain on the material and injury to the boats. He therefore represented to the Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet that only the offensive use of U-boats could bring about a change. The number of boats employed must certainly be larger, but the prospects of success would be greater still.
The justice of this argument was recognised, and a decision was taken which was extremely important for the further course of the war. Nor was there much hesitation in carrying it into execution, for the U-boats received orders to proceed on August 6 against English battleships, the presence of which was suspected in the North Sea. These ships were supposed to be about 200 nautical miles from Heligoland and charged with the duty of intercepting some of our battleships which ought to be on their way from Kiel round Skagen into the North Sea because the passage of the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal presented too great difficulties Ten U-boats were assigned to this enterprise, and six days were allowed for it.
This cruise was to carry the ships across the entire North Sea and as far north as the Orkneys. The boats were left to their own devices, as the cruisers Hamburg and Stettin, parent ships of the U-boat flotilla, could, of course, not accompany it the whole way. They were only to cover the first run of the boats, a hundred miles or so, and endeavour to draw off any enemy light craft from the U-boats in the direction of Heligoland. The submarines themselves were not to pay any attention to such ships, as their goal was the enemy battleships. It was only for the return journey that the boats were left a free hand to do the enemy all the damage they could. The weather being thick and rainy, and the visibility poor, was not favourable for the enterprise, and indications pointed to its becoming worse. As the latter eventuality did not materialise, however, the commander gave the order to put to sea.
In so great an area, and taking into account the rapid) changes which experience shows may be expected, it is very difficult to forecast the weather in the North Sea. The decision was, therefore, a brilliant tribute to the fiery enthusiasm of the new weapon, which had never been faced with a task of such magnitude in peace. The course was to be taken in such a way that the submarines, in line ahead with seven-mile intervals between them, first negotiated a stretch of 300 nautical miles in a north-westerly direction, then turned and went back to a line directly between Scapa Flow and Stavanger, which they were to reach about seventy-two hours after putting to sea. They were to remain on this line until 6 o'clock in the evening of the next day - in all about thirty-nine hours - and then return to Heligoland. One boat had to return when 225 nautical miles from Heligoland, on account of trouble in her Diesel engines. Two others, commanded by Lieutenant-Commanders Count Schweinitz and Pohle, were lost. All the rest carried out their allotted task and were back by August 11.
Nothing was seen of the enemy, with the exception of a four-funnelled cruiser which emerged out of the mist for a short time. All that was known of the lost boats was that one of them was still in wireless communication early on August 8. On the 9th the region in which the U-boats were lying was shrouded in mist, and the wind was blowing with force 6. It was only on August 15 that we learnt that a large part of the English Fleet had been in the same area and had there destroyed six German herring-boats after taking their crews on board. Fog and the amount of sea that wind of a force 6 means are the most unfavourable conditions conceivable for a submarine, in view of the fact that the conning-tower is so low down in the water. It is to be assumed that the missing boats had been surprised by English cruisers in weather of this kind and rammed before they had time to dive.
It was certainly regrettable that at the very moment of meeting the English Fleet was protected by mist, that two of our boats had fallen victims, and that this first enterprise, so smartly carried out, had not been crowned by the success it deserved. The loss of two boats had no depressing effect whatever on the crews. It rather increased their determination to do even better.
The course of this six-day cruise cleared the way for the further exploitation of the U-boat weapon, the great importance of which lay in its power of endurance and its independence, two characteristics which appeared at their true value for the first time in this cruise under war conditions. In these two respects the U-boats were superior to all surface vessels in the Fleet. The destroyers, in particular, were not to be compared with them for their ability to remain at sea. Their fuel capacity was too small for that purpose, and when going at high speed the consumption of coal increased out of all proportion. Further, as the big ships needed the co-operation of the smaller as submarine-screens and mine-sweepers, these, too, were dependent on their smaller consorts for the length of time they could remain at sea, especially when they were in areas in which regard had to be paid to the submarine danger.
Our naval operations took a decisive turn as a result of this cruise, and though the change was gradually introduced, it dates from this enterprise. For that reason it has been described in rather more detail than would be justified, seeing that a tangible success was not achieved. The first proof of the ability of the submarine to remain at sea for a long time had been given, and progress was made along the lines I have mentioned, thanks to the greatest perseverance, so that the submarine, from being merely a coastal-defence machine, as was originally planned, became the most effective long-range weapon.
The other splendid quality of the submarine is its independence, by which I mean that it is not dependent on the support and co-operation of ships or craft of other types. Whilst a force of surface ships comprises various classes, according to the presumed strength of the enemy, the submarine needs no help to attack, and in defence is not so dependent on speed as the surface ships, as it has a sure protection in its ability to dive. This again increases its radius of action, for whereas a surface ship, meeting a superior enemy, has no other resource but to make use of its speed - and that means a large consumption of fuel - diving means a very great economy in engine-power. In the submarine there is no question of driving the engines too hard in such a situation, as the boat can escape from the enemy by diving. The engines need not therefore be constructed to stand perpetual changes of speed.
It is not surprising that the special importance of these technical advantages was not recognised until the war came, for they first came to light thanks to the energy of the personnel, who seemed to despise all difficulties, although going to sea in these small craft involves incredible personal discomforts of all kinds. The advantages of the submarine service first became of practical value through the fact that human strength of will brought men voluntarily to display such endurance as was shown in our boats. Patriotism was the motive-power of the ships' companies.
The fact that an English offensive did not materialise in the first weeks of the war gave cause for reflection, for with every day's grace the enemy gave us he was abandoning some of the advantage of his earlier mobilisation, while our coast defences were improved. The sweep of light-cruisers and destroyers which, starting out star-wise from Heligoland, had scoured the seas over a circumference of about 100 sea miles had produced nothing. Yet while the U-boats were on that cruise to the north which has already been discussed, four other U-boats went on a patrol about 200 miles west, until they were on a level with the Thames estuary. They discovered several lines of destroyers patrolling on about Lat. 52, but of larger ships nothing was seen. The impression must have been forced on the Commander-in-Chief, as indeed all of us, that the English Fleet was following a strategic plan other than that with which we were inclined to credit it. It appeared probable that the 2nd and 3rd Fleets were concentrated to protect the transport of troops in the English Channel.
The bulk of the 1st English Fleet must be supposed to be in the northern part of the North Sea, to which our light forces had not yet penetrated. Further, we had not yet heard anything from the ten U-boats sent out in that direction, so apparently they too had seen nothing. Should we now attempt to bring the English 1st Fleet to action? We had at our disposal 13 "Dreadnoughts," 8 older battleships, 4 battle-cruisers (counting in Blücher), a few light cruisers, and 7 destroyer flotillas. With these the Commander-in-Chief intended to give battle, with full confidence in victory. What held him back was the reflection that the whereabouts of the 1st English Fleet was absolutely unknown, and it was therefore questionable whether it could be found in the time at pur disposal - which could not be more than two days and nights on account of the fuel capacity of the destroyers. In the meantime, the German Bight would be without any protection against minelaying and other enterprises, and there would be no flank protection on the west. On the other hand, our ships might suffer losses from the operations of enemy submarines, for which there would be no compensation in the way of victory if the English Fleet were not found. We knew from various sources that we had to reckon with English submarines. Such an attempt was therefore abandoned, and in its place a series of patrolling and minelaying operations were set on foot which carried the war right to the English coast in the following weeks.
With this decision began the trying period of waiting for the battleship squadrons, and a start was made with the operations intended to equalise the opposing forces, operations which, apart from mine successes, rested on the anticipation that our destroyers would find opportunities for attack in their nocturnal raids. The lack of scouts - for the new battle-cruisers Seydlitz, Moltke, and Von der Tann could not be put to such uses if they were to be held ready for battle - made it essential that U-boats should be employed on reconnaissance duties.
As early as August 14 new tasks were assigned to the U-boats which had returned from their cruise to the West on the 11th; and, indeed, the boats under the command of Lieutenant-Commanders Gayer and Hersing were to cross the North Sea from the Norwegian Coast (by Egersund) in the direction of Peterhead, while a third U-boat (Hoppe) observed the English forces patrolling before the Humber with a view to securing data for mine-laying. They brought valuable information about the enemy's defensive measures, but they had not seen any large ships. The length of time they had spent under water was remarkable. For instance, Gayer's ship had been compelled by destroyers to remain under water six and a quarter hours on August 16, eleven and three-quarters on the 17th, and eleven and a quarter on the 18th.
Let us now cast a glance at the chances for attack which presented themselves to the enemy. It could not possibly be unknown to him that the German Fleet was concentrated in the North Sea. The reports of spies from Holland and Denmark could not have left any doubt about that. If the English Fleet made a demonstration against Sylt or the East Frisian Island's it would have compelled our Fleet to come out of the estuaries unless we were prepared to allow them a bombardment without retaliation, and they would thus have an opportunity of using their submarines which were patrolling at the mouths of the Jade and Elbe. A success for their submarines would be satisfaction enough for them if we did not follow them out to sea. They could arrange their approach in such a way that they took up a favourable position in the early morning hours to offer battle to our fleet as it came up, or if they appeared with only part of their forces they could promptly retire before a superior German force and limit themselves to the operations of their submarines. The only danger in such an attack lay In the possibility of a nocturnal meeting with our destroyers. This danger was not to be overestimated, as the English could plan their entrance into the German Bight in such a way that our destroyers, which were dependent on darkness, would be already on their way back to the Bight at the time the enemy was approaching. Further, no very serious danger was to be anticipated from our U-boats, as most of them were away on distant enterprises.
The English High Command, however, must have had a much higher estimate of the damage our destroyers and U-boats could do than was actually the case. It appears also that their confidence in the achievements of their own submarines, which were the foundation for the execution of any such plan, was not very great. At the outset, therefore, considerations prevailed on both sides which led, the Commands to hold back their fleets from battle. The over-estimate of the submarine danger played a most important role.
The German Commander-in-Chief, Admiral von Ingenohl, gave expression to his view of the general situation on August 14 in the following Order of the Day :-
- "All the information we have received about the English naval forces points to the fact that the English Battle Fleet avoids the North Sea entirely and keeps far beyond range of our own forces. The sweep of our brave U-boats beyond the Lat. 6o° in the north and as far as the entrance to the English Channel in the south, as well as the raids of our destroyers and aeroplanes, have confirmed this information. Only between the Norwegian and Scottish coasts and off the entrance to the English Channel are English forces patrolling. Otherwise in the rest of the North Sea not a single English ship has been found hitherto.
- "This behaviour on the part of our enemy forces us to the conclusion that he himself intends to avoid the losses he fears he may suffer at our hands and to compel us to come with our battleships to his coast and there fall a victim to his mines and submarines.
- "We are not going to oblige our enemy thus. But they must, and will, come to us some day or other. And then will be the day of reckoning. On that day of reckoning we must be there with all our battleships.
- "Our immediate task is therefore to cause our enemy losses by all the methods of guerilla warfare and at every point where we can find him, so that we can thus compel him to join battle with us.
- "This task will fall primarily to our light forces (U-boats, destroyers, mine-layers and cruisers) whose prospects of success increase the darker and longer the nights become.
- "The bold action of our mine-layer Kbnigin Luise, which did the enemy material damage before she came to her glorious end, and the audacious cruises of our U-boaits have already made a beginning. Further enterprises will follow.
- "The duty of those of us in the battleships of the Fleet is to keep this, our main weapon, sharp and bright for the decisive battle which we shall have to fight. To that end we must work with unflinching devotion to get our ships perfectly ready in every respect, to think out and practise everything that can be of the slightest help and prepare for the day on which the High Sea Fleet will be permitted to engage a numerically superior enemy in battle for our beloved Emperor who has created this proud Fleet as a shield for our dear Fatherland, in full confidence in the efficiency whioh we have acquired by unflagging work in time of peace.
- "The test of our patience, which the conduct of the enemy imposes upon is, is hard, having regard to the martial spirit which animates all our ships' companies as it animates our army also, a spirit which impels us to instant action.
- "The moment the enemy comes within our range he shall find us waiting for him. Yet we must not let him prescribe the time and place for us but ourselves choose what is favourable for a complete victory.
- "It is therefore our duty not to lose patience but to hold ourselves ready at all times to profit by the favourable moment."