William Charles Henry Wood.

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The _Emden_ was the most wonderful raider of modern times; and her
captain, von MГјller, behaved much better than the general run of
Germans. Arrived in the Indian Ocean he bagged six ships in five days,
sending all the crews into Calcutta in the sixth after sinking the
rest. But he soon beat this by twice taking no less than seven ships
in a single day! Then he dashed into Penang and sank the unready
Russian cruiser _Jemchug_ on his way in and the ready little French
destroyer _Mousquet_ on his way out. The _Mousquet_ hadn't the ghost
of a chance. But she went straight for the _Emden_ and fought till she
sank; her heroic captain, with both legs blown off, commanding her to
the very last gasp. By this time, however, the net was closing in; and
twelve days later the big Australian cruiser _Sydney_ finished the
_Emden_ on Cocos Island Reef.

Meanwhile von Spee's five cruisers had been pressed south by the clever
network of Japanese warships working over the vast area of the Pacific
under the orders of a staff officer watching every move from his desk
at Tokyo. Sir Christopher Cradock was waiting to catch the Germans.
But his slow battleship _Canopus_ had not yet joined him when (November
1), with only three cruisers and one armed merchantman, he attacked
them off Coronel on the coast of Chili; though they were very hard to
see, being against the mountains, while his own ships were clearly
outlined against a brilliant sunset. Ordering the armed merchantman
away he began the fight between the armoured cruisers: _Good Hope_ and
_Monmouth_ against _Scharnhorst_ and _Gneisenau_. The German ships
were newer, faster, better armed, and the best shooting vessels of the
German fleet. The first of their salvoes (volleys) to get home set the
_Good Hope_ blazing fore and aft. There was a gale blowing and big
seas running; so the end soon came. Cradock's last signal was for the
light cruiser _Glasgow_ to save herself, as she could do no further
service. But she stood by the _Monmouth_, whose own captain also
ordered her away with the signal that, being too hard hit to escape
himself, he would try to close the enemy so as to give the _Glasgow_ a
better chance. Suddenly, like a volcano, the _Good Hope_ was rent by a
shattering explosion. Then the _Monmouth_ began sinking by the head,
and her guns ceased firing. No boat could live in those mountainous
seas. So the _Glasgow_, now under the fire of the whole German
squadron, raced away for her life.

Von Spee then swept the coast; and British vessels had to take refuge
in Chilean harbours. But Captain Kinnear, a merchant skipper, ran the
gauntlet with a skill and courage which nothing could surpass. Off the
dreaded Straits of Magellan a German cruiser chased him at twenty-one
knots, his own _Ortega's_ regular full speed being only fourteen. But
he called for volunteers to help the stokers, whereupon every one of
the two hundred Frenchmen going home to fight at once stepped forward,
stripped to the waist, and whacked her up to eighteen. Yet still the
cruiser kept closing up. So Kinnear turned into Nelson's Channel, the
very worst channel in the very worst straits in the world, unlit,
uncharted, and full of the wildest currents swirling through pinnacle
rocks and over hidden reefs. The cruiser stopped, dumbfounded. The
_Ortega_ then felt her way ahead, got through without a scratch, and
took her Frenchmen safe to France.

Von Spee presently rounded the Horn and made for the Falkland Islands,
the British naval base in the South Atlantic. But, only a month after
the news of Coronel had found Sir Doveton Sturdee sitting at his desk
in London as the Third Sea Lord of the Admiralty, his avenging squadron
had reached the Falklands more than eight thousand miles away. Next
morning von Spee also arrived; whereupon Sturdee's much stronger
squadron sprang out of Port Stanley and began a chase which could only
have one ending. Von Spee turned to fight, with his two armoured
cruisers against the two over-powering battle cruisers of the British,
so that his three light cruisers might "star away" at their utmost
speed, on three divergent courses, in an effort to escape. Vain hope!
Sturdee's battle cruisers sank the _Scharnhorst_ and _Gneisenau_, while
his other cruisers sank two of the three German cruisers. All the
Germans went down with colours flying and fighting to the very last.
Only the little _Dresden_ escaped; to be sunk three months later by two
British cruisers at Robinson Crusoe's island of Juan Fernandez, four
hundred miles off the coast of Chili.

From this time forward not a single enemy warship sailed the outer
seas. The Austrians were blockaded in the Adriatic, the Germans in the
North Sea, and the Turks at the east end of the Mediterranean. Now and
then a German merchantman would be armed in the German colonies or in
some friendly neutral harbour and prey on British trade routes for a
time. But very few of these escaped being sunk after a very short
career; and those that did get home never came out again. So 1914
closed with such a British command over the surface of the sea as even
Nelson had never imagined. The worst of the horrible submarine war was
still to come. But that is a different story.

The joint expedition of French and British against the Turks and
Germans in the Dardanelles filled 1915 with many a deed of more or less
wasted daring. Victory would have meant so much: joining hands with
Russia in the Black Sea, getting the Russian wheat crop from Odessa,
driving the Turks from Constantinople, and cutting right through the
Berlin-to-Bagdad line. But, once the Allied Governments had given the
enemy time to hold the Dardanelles in full force, the only right way to
reach Constantinople was the back way round by land through Greece and
Turkey, combined with attacks on the Dardanelles. This, however,
needed a vastly larger army than the Governments could spare. So,
despite the objections of Fisher, their naval adviser, they sent fleets
and armies to wear themselves out against the Dardanelles, till
Kitchener, their military adviser, got leave to take off all that were


The politicians had blundered badly over the whole campaign. But the
French and British soldiers and sailors, after fighting gloriously
against long odds, managed their retirement in a way which might serve
as the perfect model of what such retirements should be. The Turks and
Germans, though eager to crown their victorious defence by smashing the
fleet and army which had so long attacked them, were completely
hoodwinked. The French and British kept up the cleverest show of force
till the last streak of daylight had died away. Then, over the worst
of broken ground, down terrific slopes, and across the puzzling
beaches, the gallant armies marched, silent as the grave and regular as
clock-work. The boats were loaded and taken off to their appointed
places as skilfully as Wolfe's were brought down the St. Lawrence the
night before the Battle of the Plains. Next morning the astounded
enemy found an empty land in front of them; while the sea was swarming
with crowded transports, safe beyond the retiring men-of-war.




At four o'clock in the morning of the 4th of August, 1914, Lord
Jellicoe opened the secret orders appointing him Commander-in-chief of
the Grand Fleet, which was then ready waiting in Scapa Flow, the great
war harbour in the Orkney Islands off the far north coast of Scotland.
Twenty-two months later, off the Jutland Bank of Denmark, he fought
that battle of the giant navies for which the Germans had so long
prepared. Of course the Germans did not want Jutland at the time it
came. For, as we have seen already, they wished to have two quite
separate wars, the first against the French and Russians, the second
against the British; and, if the British had only kept out for as many
months as the Americans did years, the Germans and their allies would
certainly have won this first war, besides gaining an immensely better
chance of winning the second war as well. Even as it was, they were
not only very strong on land but also very strong at sea. They were
easily the second sea-power in the world, in regard to both their navy
and their merchant shipping. Moreover, they had many advantages, even
over the British. This is so little known, and it is so important for
a proper understanding of what took place at Jutland, that we must
begin by looking a little more closely into the strong and weak points
of the two great rival navies.

[Illustration: JELLICOE.]

So far as fitness for battle depended on the officers and men of the
Navy itself the Grand Fleet was as nearly perfect as anything could be.
Sprung from the finest race of seamen in the world, trained for a
longer time than any foreigners, and belonging to what everyone for
centuries has known to be the first of all the navies, the British
bluejackets formed the handiest crews you could have found in any age
or country. Their officers knew how to handle men, ships, and fleets
alike; and every one had been long "tuned up" for instant action. The
gunnery stood every test, as the Germans know to their cost; and it
actually got better as the fight grew worse, partly because the British
keep so cool, and partly because length of expert training tells more
and more as the storm and stress increase. It was the same in the
engine room, the same in everything, right up to the supreme art of
handling a fleet at racing speed in the midst of a battle on which the
fate of freedom hung.

But when we come to those things that depended on the Government there
is a very different tale to tell, because no government can get money
for the Navy without votes in Parliament, and men cannot become Members
of Parliament without the votes of the People, and most people will not
spend enough money to get ready for even a life-or-death war unless
they see the danger very close at hand, right in among the other things
that press hard upon their notice. Looking after the country's safety
needs so much time, so much knowledge, and so much thinking out that it
has to be left, like all other kinds of public service, to the
Government, which consists of a few leaders acting as the agents of
Parliament, which, in its turn, consists of a few hundred members
elected by the People in their millions. Whatever government is in
power for the time being can, as the trusted agent of the People's
chosen Parliament, do whatever it likes with the Army and Navy. The
great soldiers and sailors, who know most about war, can only tell the
Government what they think. The Government can then follow this expert
advice or not, just as it pleases. Now, even in time of approaching
danger, the trouble is that governments are always tempted to say and
do what costs the least money and gives the least cause for alarm,
because they think the People like that best. This was the case with
the British governments in power during the fourteen years before the
war, when Germany was straining every nerve to get the better of the
British Navy. They were warned again and again. But they saw that
most of the People, who were not watching the coming German storm,
wanted most of the money spent on other things. So they did not like
to hear the expert truth; they feared to tell the People; and they
hoped the worst would never happen. But it did happen; and it found
many a weak spot due to the Government; though not one that was due to
the Navy itself. "Well, it's all going just as we expected," said Sir
Charles Madden to Lord Jellicoe in the conning tower of the _Iron Duke_
in the middle of the Jutland battle. So it did. Everything that
really mattered was foreseen by the real naval experts. You never
catch the Navy napping.

But you do catch governments, parliaments, and people napping very
often. Yet here we should not be unjust either to governments in
general or to those of our Mother Country in particular. Governments
of free countries depend upon the People; so we must all take our share
of the blame for what our own elected agents do wrong or fail to do
right. And as for the Mother Country; well, with all her faults, she
did the best of any. We cannot fairly compare her with the
self-governing Dominions, like Canada and Australia, because she had so
very much more to do. Her war work was more than twice as hard as
theirs, even in proportion to her strength; and she led the whole
Empire in making the greatest efforts and by far the greatest
sacrifices. But we can compare her with our Allies; and, if we do, we
shall find her stand the test. For if her Government made mistakes
before the war, so did that French Government whose Prime Minister,
Caillaux, had to be tried as a traitor during the war. So, too, did
that party in Italy which favoured the Germans against the true Italian
patriots. And how about the Peace Party in the United States that kept
the Americans out of all but the end of the war, gaining a whole world
of money and almost losing the nation's soul?

Great Britain gave the Navy what most voters think are needed for a
war, especially such things as the papers talked of most, like
dreadnoughts, guns, and torpedoes. But there was a lack of light
cruisers and destroyers to fight off the same kind of German craft,
guard the seaways, and kill the sneaking submarines. The docks in
which ships are built and mended make little show for the money spent
on them; so the Government never asked Parliament for enough till the
war broke out, which meant that some dreadnoughts had to be more or
less cramped so as to fit into the old-fashioned docks. The decks of
the battle cruisers were not strong enough to keep out armour-piercing
shells; so two of them were sunk at Jutland that might have otherwise
been saved. The means of guarding the big ships against mines and
submarines wore not nearly good enough at the start. There were
fishing craft enough, and fishermen who were as good sailors as the
world has ever seen, and dockyard hands enough to build new boats to
fish for the deadly mines and spread the nets for nosing submarines.
But they were not used in time.

Now look at the Germans. Their officers knew their navy had no chance
in a fair stand-up fight with Jellicoe's Grand Fleet. But even these
officers hoped that their mines and submarines, with a streak of good
luck, might make the odds more even. Apart from their naval experts
the Germans had no doubt at all. Their bluejackets and the German
people as a whole thought everything German the best in the world; and
long before the war the million members of the German Navy League had
been persuading the people to vote most of the money the Kaiser wanted
for his fleet. The Kiel Canal let the German High Sea Fleet play
hide-and-seek between the North Sea and the Baltic without the
slightest risk on the way. The British, on the other hand, could only
get into the Baltic by going round between Denmark and Sweden, both
being neutrals whose territories could not be touched. The way through
is so narrow that the water is all "territorial," that is, it belongs
to the countries beside it, and was, therefore, as neutral as they
were. But even if Denmark and Sweden had let the Grand Fleet go
through, it would have gone to certain defeat; for a weaker navy inside
the Baltic could have crushed the British as they came through one by
one - the only possible way.

Now look at the North Sea, which was the real battleground. The area
is about a hundred and twenty-five thousand square miles. But the
average distance you can see clearly, taking one day with another all
the year round, is only five miles. This was very nice for lurking
mines, sneaking submarines, and sudden cruiser raids against the
British coasts. The coastline of the British Isles is more than twenty
times as long as the North Sea coast of Germany, much easier to
navigate and very much harder to defend - another advantage for the
Germans. The Grand Fleet could not attack the German coast, which has
only three good seaways into it, which has a string of islands off it,
and which, difficult for foreign ships in time of peace, is impossible
in time of war. The whole of the shore and off-shore islands were full
of big guns in strong forts - and remember that you can sink a fleet,
though you can't sink a coast - while the waters were full of mines and

Moreover, in destroyers, which are as dangerous out at sea as they are
round a base, the German "High Sea Fleet" began with no less than
eighty-eight against the forty-two in the British "Grand Fleet." The
British had so many narrow seaways to defend that they could not spare
Jellicoe nearly enough light cruisers or destroyers. It was only after
Jutland that the Grand Fleet became so very much stronger than the High
Sea Fleet. Before Jutland the odds in favour of the British battle
squadrons were only about four to three; and the Germans had special
advantages in searchlights that showed up everything except the
position of the ships that carried them, in wonderfully bright and
bewildering star-shells, in the gear for bringing all the quick-firing
guns of the big ships to bear at once on light craft trying to torpedo
them, and in very cleverly made delay-shells, which could go through
all but the thickest armour and then burst inside the vitals of a ship.
It was one of these shells that blew up the _Queen Mary_, the finest of
all the British battle cruisers.

Then, as we have seen already, another German advantage, and a very
great advantage, was that, while most British men-of-war had to be
built for general service all round the world, the German High Sea
Fleet (which meant nine-tenths of all the German Navy) could be built
specially for one great battle close at home. Not nearly so much room
was needed for the men to live in, because they were always near the
naval barracks at Wilhelmshaven; and not nearly so much space was
required for fuel. The weight and space saved in these two ways could
all be used for extra shells, thicker armour, and other kinds of
special strength. Thus the Germans were even stronger than the number
of their men-of-war would lead you to think; and they were strongest of
all for battles at night or in misty weather near their own base. The
battle of Jutland seemed to have been made on purpose to suit them.

In 1914 the Germans had been very much encouraged by the sinking of the
three British cruisers, _Hague_, _Cressy_, and _Aboukir_ in the North
Sea, by the _Emden's_ famous raid in the Indian Ocean, by von Spee's
victory at Coronel in the Pacific, and by the way the Kaiser and all
the German papers boasted. In 1915 they were encouraged by the French
and British failure against the Turks and Germans at the Dardanelles.
In 1916, however, they began to feel the pinch of the British blockade
so badly that they were eager for a sea-fight that would ease it off.
If they had the finest navy in the world, why didn't it wipe the Grand
Fleet off the North Sea altogether? At the same time the British
public and the Allies wanted to know why the Grand Fleet didn't wipe
the Germans off.

We have just seen why the Grand Fleet could not force on a battle round
the German base. But the reason why the Germans could not try to
snatch a victory out of some lucky chance at the beginning of the war,
when the odds were least against them, was of quite a different kind.
The fact was that thousands of their trained seamen were hopelessly cut
off from Germany by the British Navy. Nearly every German merchant
ship outside of the North Sea or the Baltic was either taken by the
British or chased into some neutral port from which it never got out.
The crews were mostly reservists in the German Navy. They were ready
for the call to arms. But they could not answer it. So new men had to
be trained. Meanwhile the one good chance slipped away; for by the
time these recruits had been trained the Grand Fleet had grown much
stronger than before.

On the 31st of May, 1916, Jellicoe's whole force was making one of its
regular "drives" across the North Sea in two huge but handy fleets.
The Battle Cruiser Fleet under Beatty was fifty miles south of the
Battle Fleet, which was under Jellicoe himself. Jellicoe and Beatty,
the chosen leaders of the greatest fleet of the greatest navy in the
greatest war in the world, had long been marked men. They were old
friends, having fought side by side against the Boxer rebellion in
China in 1900, the year the German Navy Bill was passed by the German
Parliament on purpose to endanger the "mightiest" of foreign
navies - that is, the British. They had both been wonderfully keen
students of every branch of naval warfare, from the handling of a
single gun or ship to the supreme art of handling this "mightiest" of
fleets; and both they and Sir Charles Madden, the Chief of Staff, were
looked upon as being the very fittest of the fit.

But even the best of men and ships will not make the best fleet unless
trained and "tuned up" to act together; and here, in its combined
manuoeuvres, lay the crowning glory of the vast Grand Fleet. One day a
visitor was watching it fight a sham battle against an enemy firing big
guns at long range, when up came a real enemy, in the form of a German
submarine, much closer than the sham. Of course the visitor turned his
glasses on the "sub" and on the destroyers racing after it, like
greyhounds slipped from the leash. But when, a few minutes later, he
looked round at the fleet, he could hardly believe his eyes; for there
it was, moving, mile upon mile of it, in a completely new formation,
after a sort of magic "general post" that had made light craft and
battle-line entirely change places, over an area of a hundred square
miles, without a moment's slackening of speed. Hundreds of vessels had
been in the best formation to fight each other on the surface. Now
they were in the best formation to fight submarines. Then came four of
those "sea-quakes" that make you feel as if your own ship had been
torpedoed, but which really were depth-charges dropped round the
submarine. Then an anxious pause, quickly followed by "all clear," and
that by another fleet order which changed the whole formation back
again as easily as if the lines of wheeling ships had been a single
piece of clockwork and their two million tons of steel had simply
answered to the touching of a single spring.

_First Round of the Great Fight: 2.30 to 4.38 P.M. Beatty and Hipper
with their Battle Cruisers._

At noon on the fateful 31st the Grand Fleet turned north and the German
Fleet turned south, each having come to the end of its "drive," and
neither knowing that the other one was there. The weather had been
very warm and fine; but the North Sea mists had risen in time to veil
the fleets from Zeppelins and other aircraft. Jellicoe's Battle Fleet
was going north within a hundred miles of southern Norway, and von
Scheer's Battle Fleet was going south within a hundred miles of the
Jutland coast of Denmark, when the two Battle Cruiser Fleets under
Beatty and von Hipper suddenly saw each other's smoke, half way between
Jellicoe and Scheer, and a hundred miles west of the Skager Rack.
Jellicoe and Scheer were then more than a hundred miles apart. But the
_Galatea's_ wireless report to Beatty, that there was smoke to the
eastward, was caught by the wireless receivers aboard the _Iron Duke_,
Jellicoe's flagship; whereupon Jellicoe ordered steam to be raised for
full speed.

Beatty at once turned east and made straight for Hipper, to cut him off
from his base, force him to fight, and lure Scheer back to save him.
This would give Jellicoe time to come up and get in the knock-out blow
for which he prepared by ordering the Battle Fleet to clear for action
at 3.10. At 3.30 a British seaplane, sent up by Beatty, and flying
within two miles of the nearest German craft, reported five battle
cruisers steaming south. At the same moment Jellicoe thrilled his own
command by signalling that a battle was expected. Hipper was hurrying
to join Scheer's battle fleet, which now was racing north as Jellicoe's
was racing south. Beatty then formed his six battle cruisers in
line-ahead ("follow-my-leader") while his four fast _Queen Elisabeth_
battleships followed as hard as they could. He thus had ten
dreadnoughts to fight Hipper's five. But he and Hipper were racing
south toward Scheer and away from Jellicoe. Yet that could not be

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Online LibraryWilliam Charles Henry WoodFlag and Fleet → online text (page 15 of 19)