I might mention that we were well within range of the Germans during this time, who apparently could not spare one of their 11-inch guns for us, which was a good thing, as one from them would not leave much of the Arethusa, I think. Their shells were beginning to fall a little too near us for safety, and we really thought we were in for it as first one big one fell just short -- this was my side (port). The next came with a horrible, shrieking noise and passed over the ship just abaft the mast and damaged our port aerial. I then began to think that the next would find the range, but fortunately it passed just astern. We had a very warm time for awhile, and you must understand that the Arethusa is quite unprotected, and we have no protection but only light shields at our guns-- in fact, the shield of my gun has twice been burst in by the sea.
The German ships appeared to be on fire more than once, and at last there was no doubt about one of them -- the Blücher. It was then that our turn came, and as her fire slackened we quickly came up with her and started with our bow six-inch with lyddite. This is a terribly destructive shell, and when our big ships were firing, their shells on exploding caused clouds of yellow smoke. Our starboard battery of four-inch also came into play, but unfortunately all this time I had to stand idly by with a shell in my arms, as none of the guns on our side got a chance; this was rather trying.
The Blücher was now out of action, and the Arethusa gave the coup de grâce by slipping in two torpedoes at her just as we slewed around. These caused frightful havoc, one bursting in the engine-room and the other just below the fore turret, and rapidly caused her to capsize. She was before this a battered wreck on deck, practically all her gun crews were killed, and her officers drove the men from the stoke-hole at their sword points to reman the guns. This was told us by the German prisoners aboard, and one or two of them have wounds which they said had been caused by their own officers' swords . . .
The Blücher, which had capsized, was lying awash, with her side just out of the water and men standing on it, while all around there seemed hundreds swimming and drifting in cork jackets toward us. We were very close; in fact, it seemed dangerously so. I shall never forget the sight, nor what followed later. I think it was more affecting than anything Anyway, we started to drag them in up the ship's side, and in this way and by the boats we got 123 on board, while the destroyers also saved a lot. Some were badly burned. We got six officers in the above.
Shortly after we got our boats a terrible sight came along, which was a lot of Germans being swept along in the water and who had evidently drifted off in another direction when we picked the others up. In this case they were sweeping by the ship, and we could only save one or two -- several drowned before our eyes, although having life-belts on. Then the destroyers came up and picked up a lot. By this time our battle cruisers had disappeared after the Germans, and we turned about and started to go for all we were worth back to the Lion, the Indomitable having already gone back. There was, of course, great danger to her from submarines, and it was a very anxious time from Sunday night until we got to Rosyth about 4 a.m. on Tuesday.
We had a beastly night on Saturday; you could not see a thing except at intervals and you had to look out as best you could. Our next ahead's stern light went out and it was an awful job to keep touch with the flotilla. We joined up with the flotilla at 6.50 and at 7 a.m. we sighted some craft in the demi-light on our starboard bow. As the light got better we made out the enemy battle cruisers making our way, and none of us felt very happy as we appeared to be up against a strong force of battle and light cruisers and torpedo craft. I was wet through, having come up quickly without an oil-skin, which I won't do again even though I am a bit late on the forecastle; also suffering a bit from seasickness. I suppose at a pinch one can fight well even though it's on an empty stomach and no sleep and wet through, but I am blowed if you can if you are feeling seasick.
A bit later we made out some heavy ships on our port side (we were steaming north). These might have been Germans for all we knew in the Sandfly. The German ships came on for a bit as we were screening the big ships, being between them and the enemy, but as soon as they caught sight of the Lion and that lot they altered course 16 points and made off towards the Fatherland as quick as they could. We could not get at their flotilla, so we had to form astern of our battle cruisers and leave it to them. After this we were only spectators of the fight.
About 9 a.m. our leading ships fired ranging shots from the fore turrets, but they fell short; about 9.30 it seemed that the enemy were within range, and at 9 45 the Tiger and Lion seemed to be firing their whole broadsides regularly, and about 10 a.m. the Lion, Tiger, New Zealand, and Princess Royal were all in action. It was very hard to see much from where we were, as our bridge was washing down, and one could not keep binoculars dry. As far as we could see our shots were straddling them all right, and theirs seemed to be all around our two leading ships, especially the Tiger. We could not make out the hits, though we knew some shots must be hitting. The light was very good indeed and just suited us, as we could use the superior range of our guns.
I can't say I was very impressed with the action, as it looked just the same as any squadron firing one has ever seen in peace time. I have no doubt it was quite exciting enough, though, in the battle cruisers or to anyone who had not seen ships engaged before. At 11.50 we sighted a Zepp. Our ships seemed to have edged in and headed them off to the northwards a bit. All this time we had been following up astern and only able to look on and watch the flashes and fall of shot. About the progress of the action and damage each side was doing we could tell very little, except that their shooting seemed jolly good.
At 11.10 we came up to the Lion, who had fallen out of the line and was listing a good deal to port. Otherwise she seemed perfectly all right. However, she was obviously out of action, and it did not cheer us up at all as, for all we knew, our other three might be getting the worst of it. The first flotilla boats formed a screen round the Lion and after this we were out of the fighting altogether, and much to our annoyance we had to let the whole concern drift away to the eastward, spitting out flame and smoke at each other quite in the approved style. Our main care was now guarding the Lion from torpedo attack, and we steamed slowly northwest. No one tried to attack us though, as I fancy after Heligoland they are a bit chary of our destroyers. Certainly our new boats are beautiful boats, with three 4-inch guns. The admiral shifted his flag to the Acheron. At 2 p.m. the remainder of our ships appeared astern of us and overhauled us, and the Acheron as she passed signaled that the Blücher was sunk, which bucked us up. Later the Indomitable took the Lion in tow and all destroyers screened her from submarine attack, and we all steamed home slowly. None of our other ships showed the least signs of having been engaged.
The destroyers that went on had the most interesting time, as they saw the Blücher sink and picked up the survivors. Had bombs dropped at them while doing it. They (our destroyers) say the Derfflinger and Seydlitz were both badly on fire and awfully badly knocked about, and they wonder how they managed to steam away, but they have 13-inch armor, which must have saved them.
Shots came slowly at first. They fell ahead and over, raising vast columns of water; now they fell astern and short. The British guns were ranging. Those deadly waterspouts crept nearer and nearer. The men on deck watched them with a strange fascination. Soon one pitched close to the ship and a vast watery pillar, a hundred meters high one of them affirmed fell lashing on the deck. The range had been found. Dann aber ging's los!
Now the shells came thick and fast with a horrible droning hum. At once they did terrible execution. The electric plant was soon destroyed, and the ship plunged in darkness that could be felt. 'You could not see your hand before your nose,' said one. Down below decks there was horror and confusion, mingled with gasping shouts and moans as the shells plunged through the decks. It was only later, when the range shortened, that their trajectory flattened and they tore holes in the ship's side and raked her decks. At first they cane dropping from the skies. They penetrated the decks. They bored their way even to the stoke-hold.
The coal in the bunkers was on fire. Since the bunkers were half empty the fire burned merrily. In the engine-room a shell licked up the oil and sprayed it around in flames of blue and green, scarring its victims and blazing where it fell. Men huddled together in dark compartments, but the shells sought them out, and there death had a rich harvest.
The terrific air-pressure resulting from explosion in a confined space, left a deep impression on the minds of the men of the Blücher. The air, it would seem, roars through every opening and tears its way through every weak spot. All loose or insecure fittings are transformed into moving instruments of destruction. Open doors bang to, and jamb -- and closed iron doors bend outward like tin plates, and through it all the bodies of men were whirled about like dead leaves in a winter blast, to be battered to death against the iron walls.
In one of the engine rooms -- it was the room where the high velocity engines for ventilation and forced draught were at work -- men were picked up by that terrible Luftdruck, like the whirl-drift at a street corner, and tossed to a horrible death amidst the machinery. There were other horrors too fearful to recount.
If it was appalling below deck, it was more than appalling above. The Blücher was under the fire of so many ships. Even the little destroyers peppered her. 'It was one continuous explosion,' said a gunner. The ship heeled over as the broadsides struck her, then righted herself, rocking like a cradle. Gun crews were so destroyed that stokers had to be requisitioned to carry ammunition. Men lay flat for safety. The decks presented a tangled mass of scrap iron....
The Blücher had run her course. She was lagging lame, and with the steering gear gone was beginning slowly to circle. It was seen that she was doomed. The bell that rang the men to church parade each Sunday was tolled, those who were able assembled on deck, helping as well as they could their wounded comrades. Some had to creep out through shot holes. They gathered in groups on deck awaiting the end. Cheers were given for the Blücher, and three more for the Kaiser. 'Die Wacht am Rhein' was sung, and permission given to leave the ship. But some of them had already gone. The British ships were now silent, but their torpedoes had done their deadly work. A cruiser and destroyers were at hand to rescue the survivors. The wounded Blücher settled down, turned wearily over and disappeared in a swirl of water.
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