The Battle 24 January 1915.
Positions in the battle
Sighting the smoke from a large approaching force, Hipper headed south-east by 07:35 to escape but Beatty’s ships were faster than the German squadron, which was held back by the slower armoured cruiser Blücher and the coal-fuelled torpedo boats. By 08:00, the German battlecruisers had been sighted from Beatty’s flagship Lion but the older battlecruisers of the British 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron were lagging behind the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron. Chasing the Germans from a position astern and to starboard, the British ships gradually caught up—some reaching a speed of 27 kn (50 km/h; 31 mph)—and closed to gun range. Beatty chose to approach from this direction so that the prevailing wind blew the British ships’ smoke clear, allowing them a good view of the German ships, while German gunners were partially blinded by their funnel and gun smoke blowing towards the British ships. Lion opened fire at 08:52, at a range of 20,000 yd (18,000 m) and the other British ships commenced firing as they came within range, while the Germans were unable to reply until 09:11, because of the shorter range of their guns. No warships had engaged at such long ranges or at such high speeds before and accurate gunnery for both sides was an unprecedented challenge but after a few salvos, British shells straddled Blücher.
The British fire was concentrated on Hipper’s flagship, the battlecruiser Seydlitz, at the head of the line and Blücher at the rear. With five British ships against four German, Beatty intended that his two rear ships, New Zealand and Indomitable, should engage Blücher, while his leading three engaged their opposite numbers. Captain H. B. Pelly of the newly commissioned battlecruiser Tiger assumed that two ships should concentrate on the leading German ship and engaged Seydlitz, leaving Moltke free to fire at Lion. Tiger’s fire was ineffective, as she mistook the shell splashes from Lion for her own, when the fall of shot was 3,000 yd (2,700 m) beyond Seydlitz. At 09:43, Seydlitz was hit by a 13.5 in (340 mm) shell from Lion, which penetrated her after turret barbette and caused an ammunition fire in the working chamber. This fire spread rapidly through other compartments, igniting ready propellant charges all the way to the magazines and knocked out both rear turrets with the loss of 165 men. Only the prompt action of the executive officer in flooding the magazines saved Seydlitz from a magazine explosion that would have destroyed the ship.[c]
German battlecruisers (L–R) Derfflinger, Moltke and Seydlitz en route to Dogger Bank.
The British ships were relatively unscathed until 10:18, when Derfflinger hit Lion with several 30.5 cm (12.0 in) shells, damaging her engines and causing flooding, so that Lion lost speed and began to fall behind. At 10:41, Lion narrowly escaped a disaster similar to that on Seydlitz, when a German shell hit the forward turret and ignited a small ammunition fire, but it was extinguished before causing a magazine explosion. A few minutes later, taking on water and listing to port, Lion had to stop her port engine and reduce speed to 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph) and was soon out of action, having been hit 14 times. At 10:30, Blücher was hit by a shell from Princess Royal, which caused an ammunition fire and boiler room damage. Blücher had to reduce speed to 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph) and fell further and further behind the rest of the German force. Beatty ordered Indomitable—his slowest ship—to intercept Blücher.
Painting of SMS V5 engaging HMS Lion
Hipper, with his ships running short on ammunition, chose to steam for home, leaving the disabled Blücher behind, to save his remaining ships. The annihilation of the German squadron appeared likely to the British until 10:54, when Beatty—believing he saw a submarine’s periscope on Lion′s starboard bow—ordered a sharp, 90° turn to port, to avoid a submarine ambush (It is possible that the “periscope” was actually a surfacing, run-out torpedo which had been launched 15 minutes earlier by the German destroyer V5). At 11:02, realising that so sharp a turn would open the range too much, Beatty ordered “Course NE” to limit the turn to 45° and then added “Engage the enemy′s rear”, to clarify his intent that the other ships, which had now left Lion far behind, should pursue Hipper′s main force. With Lion′s electric generators out of action, Beatty could only signal using flag hoists and both signals were flown at the same time.
The combination of the signal “Course NE”—which happened to be the direction of Blücher—and the signal to engage the rear was misunderstood by Beatty’s second-in-command, Rear-Admiral Gordon Moore on New Zealand, as an order for all the battlecruisers to finish off Blücher. The British battlecruisers broke off the pursuit of the German squadron and attacked Blücher, with most of the British light cruisers and destroyers joining in. Beatty tried to correct this obvious misunderstanding by using the order from Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar “Engage the enemy more closely” but this order was not in the signal book and Beatty chose “Keep nearer to the enemy” as the closest equivalent. By the time this signal was hoisted, Moore′s ships were too far away to read Beatty′s flags and the correction was not received.
The sinking SMS Blücher rolls over onto her side
Despite the overwhelming odds, Blücher put the British destroyer HMS Meteor out of action and scored two hits on the British battlecruisers with its 21 cm (8.3 in) guns. Blücher was hit by about 70 shells and wrecked. When struck by two torpedoes from the light cruiser Arethusa, Blücher capsized at 54 25′ N. Lat., 5 25′ E. Long and sank at 13:13, with the loss of 792 crew. British ships began to rescue survivors but were interrupted by the arrival of the Zeppelin L-5 (LZ-28) and by a German seaplane, which attacked with small bombs. No damage was done but the British ships put on speed and withdrew to avoid further aerial attack, leaving some of the survivors behind. By this time, the rest of the German ships were too far away for the British to catch up.
Lion made 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph), at the beginning of the 300 nmi (560 km; 350 mi) return voyage, escorted by Indomitable. Beatty contemplated leaving a flotilla of destroyers to guard Lion and sending the rest to the German Bight, to make a night attack on the German ships, but the damage to Lion caused more problems. As it crept home, the ship suffered further engine-trouble from salt water contamination in the boiler-feed-water system and its speed dropped to 8 kn (15 km/h; 9.2 mph). Lion was taken in tow by Indomitable, an operation which took two hours, in which the battlecruisers were exceedingly vulnerable to submarine attacks. At 17:00, the voyage resumed, the ships eventually managing 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph) and when the Grand Fleet arrived, Jellicoe increased the screen to thirteen light cruisers and 67 destroyers. A message from the Admiralty arrived that the Germans were planning a night destroyer attack but that the destroyers with the two scouting groups were low on fuel and those with the HSF were too far away.
25 January 1915
Lion and Indomitable slowed to 7 knots (13 km/h; 8.1 mph) overnight when Lion had more engine-trouble and at dawn were still 100 nautical miles (190 km; 120 mi) short of the Firth of Forth. The destroyers reformed into an anti-submarine screen and the ships reached the firth at midnight; the destroyer Meteor was towed into the Humber Estuary. Lion was out of action for four months, Fisher having decreed that the damage be repaired at Armstrong’s on the Tyne, without her going into dry dock, making for an extremely difficult and time-consuming job. The surviving German ships reached port; Derfflinger was repaired by 17 February but Seydlitz needed a drydock and was not ready for sea until 1 April.
1916 advertisement for a viewing of panoramic footage of the Blücher sinking. Proceeds from the event went to orphans of artists and writers lost to the war.
At first the Germans thought that Tiger had been sunk, because of a large fire that had been seen on her decks, but it was soon clear that the battle was a serious German reverse. Kaiser Wilhelm II issued an order that all risks to surface vessels were to be avoided. Ingenohl was sacked and replaced by Admiral Hugo von Pohl. The damage to Seydlitz revealed flaws in the protection of its magazines and dangerous ammunition-handling procedures and some of these failings were remedied in the HSF before the Battle of Jutland (31 May – 1 June 1916). The Germans thought that the appearance of the British squadron at dawn was too remarkable to be coincidence and concluded that a spy near their base in Jade Bay was responsible, not that the British were reading their encrypted wireless communications. (In 1920, Scheer wrote that the number of British ships present suggested that they had known about the operation in advance, but that this was put down to circumstances, although “other reasons” could not be excluded.
Beatty had lost control of the battle and he judged that the opportunity of an overwhelming victory had been lost and the Admiralty—erroneously believing that Derfflinger had been badly damaged—later reached the same conclusion. Jutland later showed that the British battlecruisers were still vulnerable to ammunition fires and magazine explosions, if hit by plunging fire. Had Moore’s three fast battlecruisers pursued Hipper′s remaining three (leaving the slower Indomitable behind as Beatty intended), the British might have been at a disadvantage and been defeated. Blücher demonstrated the ability of the German ships to absorb great punishment; all of Hipper′s remaining ships were larger, faster, newer, more heavily armed, and far better armoured than Blücher; only Seydlitz had suffered serious damage. Apart from the sinking of Blücher, the Germans out-hit the British by over three to one, with 22 heavy-calibre hits—16 on Lion and six on Tiger—against seven British hits.
The battle, although inconclusive, boosted British morale. The Germans learned lessons and the British did not. Rear-Admiral Moore was quietly replaced and sent to the Canary Islands and Captain Henry Pelly of the Tiger was blamed for not taking over when Lion was damaged. Beatty’s flag lieutenant Ralph Seymour—responsible for hoisting Beatty’s two commands on one flag hoist, allowing them to be read as one—remained. The use of wireless allowed centralised control of ships from the Admiralty, which cramped the initiative of the men on the spot. Signals between ships continued to be by flag but there was no revision of the signal book or the assumptions of its authors. Signalling on board Lion was again poor in the first hours of Jutland, with serious consequences for the British. The battlecruisers failed to improve fire distribution and similar targeting errors were made at Jutland.
Royal Scots Territorials firing a salute over the grave of Captain Erdmann, Commander of SMS Blücher
In 1929, the naval official historian, Julian Corbett, recorded 792 men killed and 45 wounded out of the 1,026 crew on Blücher, 189 of the men being rescued by the British. Seydlitz lost 159 men killed and 33 wounded and Kolberg lost three men killed and two wounded. In 1965, Marder wrote that over 1,000 German sailors had been killed or captured for British casualties of fewer than 50 men killed or wounded. In 2003, Massie wrote that German casualties were an estimated 951 men killed and 78 wounded, most in Blücher; 153 men were killed and 33 were wounded in the fire in the two after turrets of Seydlitz. The British rescued 189 unwounded prisoners and 45 wounded from Blücher. British casualties were 15 killed and 80 men wounded. On Lion, two men had been killed and eleven wounded, most by a shell hit in the A turret lobby. Ten men were killed on Tiger with nine men wounded and on Meteor, four men were killed and two were wounded.
Ship Shells Fired Target Hits Hits Received Casualties
Lion 243 × 13.5-in Blücher 1
Seydlitz 2 16 × 11- and 12-in
1 × 8.3-in 1 killed
Tiger 355 × 13.5-in Blücher —
Seydlitz 2 6 × 11- and 12-in
1 × 8.3-in 10 killed
Princess Royal 271 × 13.5-in Blücher —
Derfflinger 1 0 0
New Zealand 147 × 12-in Blücher — 0 0
Indomitable 134 × 12-in Blücher 8 1 × 8.3-in 0
Seydlitz 390 × 11-in Lion and Tiger 8, 3 × 13.5-in
(1 Tiger, 2 Lion) 159 killed
Moltke 276 × 11-in Lion and Tiger 8 0 0
Derfflinger 310 × 12-in Lion, Tiger, and
Princess Royal 5 or 6 3 × 13.5-in
(1 each Lion
Tiger and Princess Royal) 0
Blücher 12 × 8.2-inch Lion 1
Indomitable 1 about 70
7 torpedoes 792 killed
Jump up ^ All data from Campbell (1998) unless specified.
Jump up ^ All data from Campbell (1998) unless specified.
Jump up ^ Supposedly, a sailor Wilhelm Heidkamp saved the ship, when he flooded the magazine by opening the red hot valves, burning his hands and lungs, injuries from which he never recovered, leading to his early death in 1931. The Kriegsmarine named the destroyer Z21 in his honour.
More info https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Dogger_Bank_(1915)