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engaged until reinforcements arrive."

"It may not be so hard, after all," Frank said "They may turn and beat a
retreat when they find they are discovered."

"Not if there is only one of us," said Jack. "Pass the word to the forward
lookout to sing out as soon as he can identify the enemy. I'll flash my
light on them. He may be able to make them out."

The huge searchlight of the Essex flashed forth across the water, and
played upon the approaching ships.

"Germans!" came the cry from the lookout.

"I thought so," said Jack. "Frank, go to the radio room and find out how
close our nearest support is."

Frank was back in a few minutes.

"Lion says to engage," he reported. "Says she'll be with us in less than
an hour. Tiger says she will arrive not more than fifteen minutes later.
Falcon and Hawk report they are less than an hour and a half away."

"Right," said Jack. "Trouble is those fellows are likely to out-range us,
in which event we'll have to retire slowly, trying to draw them after us.
In that way reinforcements may arrive sooner. Hello! There she goes!"

The roar of a great gun came across the water.




CHAPTER XXIV

THE ENGAGEMENT


"If we retire," said Jack, "we will leave the way open to the coast. At
this minute we are in their way."

"But if we try to stick it out here we'll be sunk," said Frank. "And if we
retire toward the coast, we'll be moving away from our supports."

"True enough," Jack agreed. "There's only one thing to do. That is to
retire as slowly as possible and try to entice all six ships after us. But
I'd much rather wade right in."

"Same here. But discretion is the better part of valor, you know."

"Boom!"

Again a gun spoke aboard one of the enemy.

"We're still out of range," said Jack. "Let 'em come a little closer."

As Jack could now see, all six ships had altered their course slightly and
were heading directly for the Essex.

"You may come about, Mr. Chadwick," said Jack.

Slowly the Essex swung about.

"Train your left guns on the enemy," Jack ordered.

This was done.

"Range finders!"

"Still out of range, sir," was the report.

"All right But let me know the minute we can strike."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Half speed ahead, Mr. Chadwick."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Frank signalled the engine room.

"Boom! Boom! Boom!"

Guns spoke simultaneously aboard three of the enemy ships.

"Still beyond range."

It was Lieutenant Hetherton who spoke.

"Trouble is," said Frank, "that they will be within range before we are."

"We'll risk it," said Jack. "It's up to us to keep them busy until the
warships arrive."

The next fire from the enemy resulted in a screaming shell to port.

"They've got the range, sir," said Frank.

"Make it two-thirds speed ahead."

The speed of the Essex increased.

But the German vessels were bearing down on her swiftly, and eventually
Jack was forced to call for full speed ahead.

But still the German warships gained.

"They've the heels of us, too," muttered Jack. "Well, we'll slow down a
bit and trust to luck. We can't do any damage unless we get within
range."

The Essex slowed suddenly to half speed.

The German fleet dashed ahead, now in single formation. This was fortunate
for the Essex, for it meant that the guns of only one ship could be
brought to bear on the British destroyer at one time.

"Range, sir!" cried the range finder at this point.

"Then fire!" shouted Jack to the aft turret battery captain.

The battery spoke sharply, and the men gave a cheer of delight.

The first shell went home. It cleared the bow of the first German vessel
apparently by the fraction of an inch and smashed squarely into the
bridge. The crash of the shell striking home was followed almost instantly
by an explosion. Timber and steel, intermingled with human bodies, flew
high in the air. This much those aboard the Essex could see by the flare
of the searchlight.

"A good shot, men!" cried Jack. "An excellent shot!"

An excellent shot it was indeed.

Something appeared to have gone wrong with the steering apparatus of the
first German ship. She veered slightly to port.

The target thus presented was an excellent one.

"Fire!" cried Jack again.

The aft battery crashed out and once more the British cheered.

Two shells plowed into the crippled German just on the water line.

"A death wound," muttered Frank.

The lad was right.

The German vessel staggered under the force of the impact and seemed to
reel backward. Men leaped to the rails and hurled themselves into the sea.

Suddenly there was a loud explosion and the ship seemed to split in two, a
blaze of red fire stretching high into the heavens from the middle of the
vessel as it did so. Then blackness enveloped it again and the two parts
of the ship fell back into the water with a hiss like that of a thousand
serpents. The first German ship was gone.

It was first blood to the Essex and the crew cheered again.

But the other five German vessels came on apace. The gun on the forward
ship spoke, but the shell went wild.

"If they'll keep that formation, we might get away with the whole bunch of
them," said Frank.

"Yes, but they won't," replied Jack.

He was a good prophet.

Even now, the German vessels began to spread out, and within ten minutes
had formed a semi-circle. It was possible now for the forward guns on each
ship to rake the Essex without interfering with each other's fire.

"Train your guns on the ship farthest to port," Jack instructed.

The order was obeyed. Again came the order for range finders, and the
report that the range was O.K.

"Fire!" cried Jack.

Once more fortune was with the crew of the Essex. The range had been
absolutely accurate, and the heavy shell from the Essex carried away the
superstructure of the German. At the same moment came a cry from the
lookout aft:

"Warship coming up astern, sir!"

Quickly Jack looked around.

"The first of our reinforcements," he said quietly.

He gave his attention again to the enemy, who was drawing uncomfortably
close.

"Crash!"

Jack whirled sharply.

A shell had struck the Essex just above the water line on the port side.

"Go below and report, Mr. Chadwick!" Jack ordered.

Frank hurried away in response to this command. He sought the engine room.

"What's the damage, chief?" he asked.

"Slight," was the reply. "Shell passed clear through us, but cleared the
boilers. Better round up the carpenter, though, sir."

Frank hurried back to the bridge and reported the extent of the damage.
Then he sent a midshipman for the ship's carpenter.

"Crash! Bang!"

Another shell had struck the Essex, this time in the aft gun turret.

"Report, Mr. Chadwick," said Jack briefly.

Frank hurried to the turret.

"What's the damage, Captain?" he asked of the chief of the gun crew.

"One gun smashed, sir," was the reply. "Three of the crew killed and five
injured."

"Other guns still working?"

"Can't you hear 'em, sir?"

Frank smiled in spite of himself and cast a quick glance around.

In spite of the death that had overtaken their comrades, the surviving gun
crews in the turret were working like Trojans. The big guns continued to
spit defiance at the enemy.

Now and then a cheer rose on the Essex as a shot went home.

Frank again returned to the bridge to report.

"Boom!"

It was a deeper voice that spoke this time.

The radio operator himself rushed to the bridge.

"Lion firing, sir," he said. "Says she has sighted us and for us to
retire. No need of sacrificing ourselves Captain Jacobs says. The enemy
can't get away."

At the same moment the lookout aft sang out again.

"Warship coming up astern, sir!"

"The second of our reinforcements," said Jack quietly. "I'll bet these
fellows wish they had stayed home."

"I'm betting the same way," declared Frank.

"Well, it's getting too hot here," said Jack. "We'll get back and let the
big fellows get in the game."

"Good idea, sir," said Lieutenant Hetherton.

"Full speed ahead!" Jack ordered.

At the sound of the great gun on the British warship Lion, the German
admiral in command of the flotilla ordered his ships to slow down. Until
that moment he had not been appraised of the fact that the German raid was
known to the British fleet. He supposed, upon seeing the Essex, that he
had encountered a single vessel which just happened to be in that part of
the sea, but when the Lion came into the fight he began to have his
doubts.

As yet, however, there was no other vessel in sight, and as the Germans
heavily outnumbered the British, the admiral decided to continue the
engagement.

"I suppose this fellow happened to hear the firing and came to
investigate," muttered the German admiral. "Our raid can hardly have been
discovered yet."

Accordingly he gave the word to advance again.

And a moment later he was sorry that he had done so.

Far astern of the Lion, and yet not so far that the German admiral could
not have seen her but for the darkness, came two other long gray shapes;
and from farther east, and closer, appeared a third.

The German admiral gritted his teeth.

"Confound these English!" he exclaimed. "Can nobody beat them?"

For a moment he debated with himself. He had half a mind to continue the
struggle, for the odds were still, with the Germans. Then he changed his
mind.

The wireless aboard the German flagship flashed a signal to retire.

But the German admiral had delayed too long for a successful retreat.
Other British ships hove into view - seven of them. There was nothing for
the German fleet to do but fight it out. The admiral gave the order:

"Advance!"




CHAPTER XXV

THE LAST SEA BATTLE


The cannonading became terrific.

Now that assistance arrived, Jack ordered the Essex, which still was the
nearest British vessel to the enemy, back into the fray.

"The big fellows will look out for us," he confided to Frank.

The revolving turrets of the Essex were kept on the move and guns crashed
as fast as they could be brought to bear. Shells struck on all sides of
the destroyer and occasionally one came aboard. But thanks to Jack's
maneuvering of the vessel, so far she had not been struck in a vital part.

The main British fleet bore down on the enemy from two sides, and to
protect themselves against these new foes, the Germans were forced to turn
their attention elsewhere than the Essex. Already big shells from the
British warships were striking aboard the enemy. The range had been found
almost with the first fire from the approaching war vessels and the
Germans were replying as fast as they were able.

The fighting was at such close range now that Jack was able to distinguish
the names of the German battleships. In the center, flying the flag of
Admiral Krauss, was the Bismarck. On the right of the flagship were the
Hamburg and the Potsdam, while on the left the flagship was flanked by the
Baden and the Wilhelm II.

The fire of all five German vessels, at order of the admiral, was now
directed upon the Lion, which bore down swiftly and was perhaps a quarter
of a mile closer to the enemy than any other British craft except the
destroyer Essex, commanded by Jack.

The forward guns of the Lion roared angrily and spat fire in the darkness
as she bore down on the Germans at full speed. As yet no enemy shell had
struck the Lion, but she had put several shells aboard the nearest German
battleship - the Baden.

Now that the German fire had been momentarily lifted from the Essex, Jack
ordered his ship in closer; and a veritable hail of shells were dropped on
the Potsdam. For a moment or so the Germans paid no attention to the
destroyer, but the fire from Jack's men became so accurate that the
captain of the German ship found it necessary to disregard the admiral's
orders and turn his attention to the Essex in self-defense.

The first shell from the Potsdam flew screaming over the bridge of the
destroyer, but did no damage. The second was aimed better. It struck the
bow of the destroyer on the port side and plowed through. The destroyer
quivered through her entire length.

"Go below and report, Mr. Chadwick," Jack commanded.

Upon investigation, Frank learned that the shell had plowed through the
forward bulkheads and that the outside compartments were awash. But the
inner compartments had not been penetrated. He rounded up the ship's
carpenter, who announced that the damage could be repaired in half an
hour. There had been no casualties.

Jack accepted Frank's report with a brief nod; then gave his attention
again to fighting his ship.

Forward and to the right of the Essex there sounded a terrific explosion,
followed by a blinding glare. The Baden, one of the largest of the German
warships, sprang into a mighty sheet of flame. A shell from the Lion had
penetrated the engine room and exploded her boilers. Came wild cries from
aboard the vessel and escaping steam and boiling water poured on the crew
and scalded them.

With the searchlights of the British ships playing on her, the Baden
reared high out of the water, and as men jumped into the sea for safety,
she settled by the head, and sank.

This left only four of the enemy to continue the struggle and opposed to
these the British offered eight unwounded vessels. Admiral Krauss gazed in
every direction, seeking a possible avenue of escape. And at last he
believed he saw it.

To the east - back in the direction from which he had come - the space
between the British battleships Peerless and Falcon seemed to offer a
chance. The German admiral calculated rapidly. To the eye it appeared that
the German ships could pass through that opening before the British could
close in.

The wireless aboard the German flagship sputtered excitedly. Instantly the
four remaining German ships turned and dashed after the flagship, which
was showing the way.

Instantly the commander of every British ship realized the purpose of the
enemy. Even the distant Falcon and Peerless seemed to know what was
expected of them. Their speed increased and they dashed forward in an
effort to intercept the enemy.

It was nip and tuck. The Lion was the first to dash in pursuit, followed
by the Tiger and the White Hawk. The Brewster and Southampton, closely
followed by the more or less crippled Essex, brought up the rear, each
doing its utmost to pass the other in order to get another chance at the
enemy.

Slowly the Lion, the Tiger and the White Hawk gained on the enemy; and it
became apparent now that the Germans would be unable to get through the
space between the Peerless and Falcon without a fight.

Aboard the Bismarck, the German admiral gritted his teeth.

"It will have to be fight now," he muttered, "and the odds are all against
me."

The Falcon and the Peerless, from either side and forward of the Germans,
now opened with their big guns almost simultaneously. Every available gun
aboard the German vessels replied. From astern, the guns of the Lion were
pounding the sterns of the fleeing enemy battleships. The Brewster and the
Southampton, together with the Tiger and the White Hawk, also were hurling
shells after the Germans, although with little effect, for they were
trailing too far behind.

Jack urged the Essex forward in the wake of the others. He was far behind
and was rapidly being outdistanced by the larger ships, but he determined
to see the thing through if possible.

The last German ship in line, struck by a shell from the pursuing Lion,
staggered and fell to one side. The Lion darted on, pouring a broadside
into the crippled enemy as she passed, then dashed after the vessels
ahead.

The Tiger, White Hawk, Brewster and Southampton, also poured broadsides
into the Wilhelm II as they passed, but they did not even slacken their
pace.

But the Wilhelm II apparently had not received her death blow. Her crew
continued to fight the ship heroically, and as the Essex approached she
was greeted with a heavy fire from the German.

"The big fellows don't seem to have made a very good job of this," said
Jack to Frank. "We'll finish it for them."

The Essex slowed down and turned sharply toward the Wilhelm II. Her guns
still in condition to fight burst forth anew. The British showed
excellent marksmanship. Shell after shell was poured into the crippled
foe. Jack ordered "cease firing."

Taking a megaphone that lay nearby, he put it to his mouth and called:

"Surrender!"

His answer was a shell that came crashing aboard aft from one of the
Wilhelm II's big guns. Jack turned quietly to Frank.

"Sink her!" he said.

Frank dashed across the deck to where the crew of the forward gun turret
was anxiously awaiting some command. He addressed the captain of the crew.

"See if you can put a shell into her engine room," he said. "Take your
time."

The latter did so; and it was several seconds before the big gun spoke,
but when it did Frank uttered an exclamation of satisfaction.

The shell had gone true. Watching eyes aboard the Essex saw it plow its
way through the side of the Wilhelm II. Then came the explosion and the
Wilhelm II seemed to part in the middle. She sank in less than five
minutes.

Meanwhile, the Peerless and Falcon had headed off the other three German
ships, which, forced to fight, now stood at bay, with every gun pounding.
The Lion, Tiger and the other vessels bore down on them rapidly from
astern.

For the space of half an hour the view of those aboard the Essex was
obscured by the smoke from the big guns, which could not be penetrated
even by the bright lights of the searchlights. They could hear the boom of
the big guns, the crash of the shells as they struck home and occasional
sharp explosions that told of irrepairable damage aboard the enemy
vessels, but they could see nothing.

"This will be the last of the enemy," was Frank's comment.

Jack nodded.

"I should think so," he agreed. "If they let one of those fellows get away
now they should be court-martialed."

"Don't fret," said Frank, "they won't get away."

They didn't get away.

Firing ceased just as the first streak of light appeared in the eastern
sky, and when the smoke of battle cleared away, Jack and Frank saw that
the British victory had been complete.

Only two German ships were still above water. These were the Bismarck,
flagship of Admiral Krauss, and the Hamburg. The others had all been sunk.

The Hamburg, the lads could see, was slowly sinking by the head. She was
being abandoned by her crew, who, in small boats, some even swimming, were
hurrying to the side of the Bismarck, where they were lifted aboard.

"Why didn't they sink her, too?" demanded Frank pointing to the German
flagship.

"Why?" repeated Jack. "Why should they? Can't you see that white flag
flying at the masthead?"

"By George! I hadn't noticed that."

"And there," said Jack, pointing, "goes a prize crew from the Lion to take
over the vessel."

A launch loaded with British tars had put off from the Lion and was making
toward the German flagship.

Admiral Krauss and his officers and men were soon transferred to the Lion
and a British crew was in possession of the Bismarck.

Thus ended the last sea battle of the great war. In all the times that
Germany had tested the naval power of Great Britain and her allies, she
had found it great - too much for German naval tactics to overcome. And now
that the great war was drawing to an end, she did not test it again.




CHAPTER XXVI

THE END APPROACHES


With the coming of November, it became apparent to every officer and man
in the Grand Fleet - as well as the rest of the world - that the beginning
of the end was at hand - that the German war machine was disintegrating and
was about to break.

This was strengthened by the announcement on November 2 that the preceding
day England, France and Italy had concluded an armistice with Turkey, thus
depriving Germany of her second ally. This left only Germany and Austria
to continue the struggle, and upon the same day that the armistice with
Turkey was announced came word that Austria also had made overtures for
peace.

"You can take it from me," said Jack, as the destroyer Essex continued her
patrol of the North Sea, "that this war is about to end. I'm willing to
bet that Germany will sue for peace within a couple of weeks."

Frank expressed his doubts.

"She's likely to continue the struggle for some time yet," he said.

"But that would be foolish," declared Jack. "She can hope to gain nothing
thereby."

"Perhaps not. But if Germany sues for peace now there is likely to be such
an internal upheaval in the Empire that the French revolution will look
like a house party."

"Maybe you're right, but I stick to my opinion nevertheless."

Events proved that Jack was right.

On the morning of November 5, word reached the Grand Fleet that an
armistice had been concluded with Austria the day before.

"As I expected," said Jack. "What did I tell you, Frank?"

"Well, I anticipated that myself," said Frank. "But Germany hasn't asked
for peace yet, you know."

"True, but I can tell you something you don't know. I just got word this
morning."

"What's that?"

"Why Germany, through Chancellor Ebert, already is in negotiations with
President Wilson."

"What?"

"Exactly. President Wilson has replied that he will stick to his original
principles of peace, announced some time ago. Germany is requested to
announce whether she will accept such terms."

"But it seems to me," said Frank, "that if Germany wants peace she should
be made to ask it on the field of battle."

And that is exactly what happened, for when the armistice negotiations
were finally begun it was at a conference between Marshal Foch,
commander-in-chief of all the allied forces, and a commission of German
officers.

It was on November 8, that news of the armistice conference was flashed to
the Grand Fleet.

"Armistice commission will meet November 10 at Hirson, France," read the
message, flashed to every vessel in the fleet.

All that day and the next, every man in the fleet waited anxiously for
further word of the approaching armistice conference. None came. Neither
had any word been received on the evening of November 10.

"Must have been a hitch some place," said Frank, as they sat in the
latter's cabin that night.

"Not necessarily," replied Jack, "You know these things take time. A
matter like this can't be fixed up in an hour, or a day."

"Well," said Frank, "I'd like to know what terms Marshal Foch will impose
on the foe."

"They'll be stringent enough, don't you worry," said Jack. "He'll impose
terms harsh enough to make sure that Germany doesn't renew the struggle
while final peace negotiations are in progress."

"I hope so. But I'll tell you one thing I hope he does."

"What's that?" Jack wanted to know.

"I hope he insists on the surrender of the whole German fleet."

"Whew!" exclaimed Jack. "You don't want much, do you?"

"Well, he should insist on it," declared Frank.

"But he probably won't," returned Jack. "I figure, however that he will
insist that a large share of the ships be turned over to the allies,
including their most powerful submarines and battleships and cruisers. But
you can't expect them to give up the whole business, particularly when the
entire High Seas Fleet is practically intact."

"Maybe not; but I'm for taking all we can get."

"So am I," Jack agreed, "all that we can get without danger of causing a
hitch in the armistice proceedings."

"Seems to me," said Frank, "that by this time we should have had some word
of the proceedings at Hirson to-day."

"It would seem so, that's a fact. However, I guess we will get the
information all in good time."

"That's all right. But I'm anxious to know what's going on."

"Well, we won't know to-night; so I am in favor of turning in."

"Guess we may as well."

But early the next morning, an account of the first day's proceedings of
the armistice delegates was flashed to the fleet. This, however, did not
bring much jubilation, for the announcement simply said that the German
delegates had refused the terms offered by Marshal Foch and had returned
to their own lines for further instructions.

"Told you so!" exclaimed Frank. "This war is not over yet."

"Don't you believe it," declared Jack. "These Germans may do a little
bluffing - I'd probably try the same thing under similar conditions - but
you mark my words, they'll accept the terms, all right."

"The conference is to be resumed some time this afternoon," said Frank.
"That means that we will hear nothing before morning."


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Online LibraryRobert L. DrakeThe Boy Allies with the Victorious Fleets The Fall of the German Navy → online text (page 10 of 12)