Anna – Welcome back to Minimum Wage Historian where I, your provisional hostess, Anna Komnene will guide you through the interesting twists and turns of history. Zach sent a letter from Japan, but I didn’t read it. I’ll post it later or something if I find it interesting.
Matilda – And I, Matilda of Tuscany will aid in today’s topic along with Olga of Kiev, Gaspar Correia and Jane Austen.
Gaspar – Why is Jane Austen here again?
Matilda – Because she has more experience with the British Navy than all of us combined.
Anna – And because I like her books.
Jane – Thank you, my dear Anna. Now lets begin our charming discussion about the Royal Navy.
Anna – Let us begin our story in the few years leading up to the first World War. Europe hadn’t had a large war for a few years and their militaries were confident and eager to prove themselves better than anyone else. The nations felt a war was coming and tension was escalating.
Jane – I hate to be rude but I must interject here. At this time, battle ships had several batteries of small to medium sized guns with only 2 to 4 larger guns of about 12 inches. The British watched the war between the Japanese and Russians with great interest and observed that the smaller guns had little to no impact on the battles at all. Also, the splashes the smaller guns created made it difficult to see the splashes the big guns made. That all means that the smaller, more useless guns made the big guns hard to aim. An Italian designer drew up plans for an “all big gun” ship and several nations took notice. The Japanese tried to make one but lacked the big guns. The Americans started making two but were entirely too slow in their attempt. The British though, in record speed created the HMS. Dreadnaught. Not only was it the biggest and most heavily armored ship, it was also the fastest and the most heavily armed. It sported ten of the 12 inch cannons in turrets. It was the first of a new design philosophy of naval ships. It was so radically different than any other ship before it that all ships created like it were called “dreadnaughts.
Matilda – When Germany saw the HMS. Dreadnaught, they scrambled to build their own. Once the Dreadnaught took to sea, all other ships were obsolete. It was now a race to see who could put more dreadnaughts to see first.
Olga – So, big ship had big guns, yes? Why no do this before?
Matilda – They thought more faster firing guns was better.
Olga- Bigger is always better. Idiots!
Gapsar – I concur. When given the choice between firearms, I always choose the bigger of the two. It’s logic.
Anna – Eventually WWI broke out for moronic reasons and soon England and Germany were facing off over the water. England had a larger navy and a grand tradition of naval supremacy.
Jane – (sings) Rule Britannia!
Britannia rule the waves
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves!
Anna – Yes, they dominated the oceans for the past three hundred years. They were confident with every reason to be so. They took their navy and blockaded Germany. If you remember Zach’s earlier post about logistics, you’d know that all warfare comes down to logistics, the movement of supplies, weapons and personal to where they need to go. England was cutting off supplies to Germany from the ocean and Germany had to do something.
Matilda – Germany had one big problem, that was the Grand Fleet of England. It was larger and Germany couldn’t hope to take them on all at once. So, Germany came up with a plan to lure a part of the British fleet out and destroy it one bite sized piece at a time. So the Germans came up with this elaborate plan to send some of their faster, lighter ships up and lure a squadron of British ships they knew were parked nearby. The British squadron was commanded by Vice-Admiral Beatty. They would let Beatty chase them and bring the British ships into the path of the rest of the German navy. The Germans sent out submarines to act as scouts, but the plan was delayed so long that the subs were either destroyed, were chased off, had to go back to shore for refueling or fell asleep.
Anna – There was also another problem. The German’s super-secret plan wasn’t so super-secret. The British had cracked their codes and were listening in on what the Germans were saying. So, they knew the Germans were planning something big on the 31st of May, 1916. So they positioned their fleet in the area and waited.
Olga – Oooh! Do I get to see ships blow up now? I need to see fighting or I get bored and leave.
Anna – We’re getting there, Olga.
Jane – Admiral Hipper sailed down to look for the Germans and he was unknowingly heading right at them. If he continued on that path he would go right into the middle of the German fleet and be destroyed. But he had previous orders to reach and certain point and turn around, which as a good British sailor, he did. But then the British spotted two German torpedo boats and opened fire. They missed and the torpedo boats sped back to their own fleet which in turn opened fire on the British fleet, scoring a hit from very long range. Lucky hun! The British then launched a sea plane to scout the Germans out. This was the first time a seaborne plane was used in battle for reconnaissance. Of course we British did it first.
Anna – We Byzantines would rather just set our enemies of fire. So chew on that. As I was saying…oh yes. Admiral Beatty’s job was to keep his ships together to concentrate firepower but do to poor communication on his part to his captains and going faster than his slowest ships, he managed to spread his ship out, something he didn’t want to do. And once Beatty had the German ships in range….he held off firing for 10 crucial minutes and he still didn’t get his ships into a fighting formation. What was he doing? I don’t know.
Matilda – Finally the two fleets engaged and began firing. The Germans took off, leading Beatty south towards the awaiting German forces.
Gaspar – And this is where the German plan comes fully into action. The Germans had gone further than the dreadnaught and came up with a new weapon, a giant robot called a “Mobile Suit.” Leading this elite force of super weapons was a guy nicknamed “the Red Comet.” He was waiting with his force of mobile suits to destroy the British fleet.
Jane – I’m afraid Gaspar is feeling ill today. He must have a brain fever. He has confused Gundam for history. Though the show is most entertaining, it is far from factual.
Anna – He does that. You’ll get used to it.
Jane – I certainly hope not.
Anna – As the fleets sailed south they continued to fire at each other but the weather was in the Germans’ favor and caused nothing but visibility problems for the British. The HMS. Lion was struck in a turret and avoided being blown up completely by the quick action of a morally wounded Marine who ordered the magazine doors shut and flooded before the whole thing could go up and take out the entire ship. But another British ship was sunk. The HMS. Indefatigable was hammered by the Germans until a shell finally blew up one of its ordinance magazines and the ship exploded, killing all but two men.
Matilda – A little while later another British ship was blown completely up by another magazine hit. It wasn’t looking good for the British and they were almost to the awaiting German fleet. I can’t stand those Germans. Why, when they dared come down into Italy and march through…
Anna – Matilda, Calm down. We talked about this.
Matilda – Where’s my sword?
Anna – We’re professional historians. We have to keep our cool at all times. Remember. Fear is the mind killer.
Jane – While they are working on….whatever it is they are doing, let us continue with the battle, shall we? When another ship was feared blown up, Beatty said, “I fear there may be something wrong with our bloody ships!” That’s a stiff upper lip! But soon they spotted the German fleet in its entirety and immediately turned north to where Admiral Jellicoe awaited. Finally they spotted Admiral Beatty and Jellicoe used signals to ask the location of the German flotilla. Beatty, again with no explanation, did not answer for fifteen minutes. But in order to deploy his fleet to counter the Germans, he had to know where the Germans were and for 20 minutes he was without that information while the Germans steamed right at him. A very dire situation for an admiral to be in.
Olga – This getting good. (opens bag of dorritos.)
Anna – Meanwhile the Germans are completely unaware that a fleet of dreadnaughts are waiting for them. Finally the two fleets spot each other and two of the British ships foolishly wander into range of the German dreadnaughts. They blow up one of the ships and severely damage that one and another one that had rudder problems causing it to go in circles. The British couldn’t catch a break.
Matilda – The heavy capital ships fired and soon the battle was on. The flagships of the admirals were stuck in it exchanging salvos from their giant cannons. The British damaged the German flagship but the Germans blew up another British ship, the unfortunately named Invincible.
Anna – Because of poor visibility the Germans couldn’t see the entire British navy and were soon caught in a trap. They were in a position to only fire a few of their ships while the British could fire everything they had. The German admiral saw this and ordered a difficult but well practiced 180 degree turn and got out of dodge in a hurry. The British followed but only carefully.
Jane – I must add that at this time the HMS. Shark was severely damaged and was fighting a losing battle against four torpedo boats and a damaged U-boat. Against all odds he continued fighting until his ship was sunk. He won the Victoria’s Cross for heroism for his valiant effort.
Anna – The Germans were desperately trying to get away but knew they wouldn’t make it to nightfall unless they did something. The the German admirals launched a massive torpedo attack and sent four battle cruisers out to draw British fire in a suicidal mission to save the rest of the fleet. This “death ride” was a brave move by the Germans. The battle cruisers were pounded by heavy guns and all where severely damaged, but they lived and turned south again to catch up with the German fleet just as night fell.
Matilda – But the battle wasn’t over. The British continued to chase the Germans during the night and several short range and intense fights happened that saw more ships sunk. The German ship Nassau rammed the British ship HMS. Spitfire and fired its guns point blank, blowing away the superstructure tower because they couldn’t lower the guns enough to hit the ship. Another British dreadnaught accidentally rammed a German cruiser and sunk it.
Olga – Dah! Dah! Very good. (Continues to crunch away at her chips.)
Gaspar – This was when the Germans…
Jane – Mr. Gaspar, could you be so kind as to bring us all some of that lovely pizza from the oven?
Gaspar – Anything for a lady.
Jane – Thank you, Gaspar.
Anna – Thank you Jane.
Jane – Please don’t mention it.
Anna – So, during the bloody night the Germans managed to slip away due to several blunders on the Brit’s part, including the failure of the admiralty in London to telegraph intercepted messages that said exactly where the German fleet was going. One would think that sort of thing would be important.
Olga – Wait, wait. Who won?
Anna – That’s hard to say. At first both sides reported a German victory and the Germans even celebrated it as a holiday until after WWII. But in reality, neither side won. The British lost far more ships than the Germans but the Germans completely failed to destroy the English navy and for the rest of the war the Germans avoided another head on battle like that and stuck to submarine warfare.
Matilda – This was Britain’s once chance to destroy the German fleet and they failed to do so. Both sides did not achieve their goals.
Jane – I believe, ‘indecisive’ is the word. How droll. The British lost 113,300 tons of ship to the Germans’ loss of only 62,300 tons. Though outnumbered, the Germans came out on top but didn’t have the numbers to continue fighting head on. But do not worry my dear readers, the British shall return in the second World War for more daring heroics on the high seas!
And, just because…