Oldham Historical Research Group

'What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
- Only the monstrous anger of the guns.'
from 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' by Wilfred Owen

31st MAY - 1st JUNE 1916

Transcript of Chapter VI.
"Windy Corner" : The Wrecking of Arbuthnot's Cruiser Squadron.
"They pressed forward with great impatience."

from 'The Fighting at Jutland' (abridged edition)
edited by H.W. Fawcett, Royal Navy & G.W.W. Hooper, Royal Navy.
Published 1921

Narrative of H.M.S. "Warrior."

On the afternoon of May 31st the 1st Cruiser Squadron, composed of 'Defence' (flag), 'Warrio'r, 'Duke of Edinburgh', and 'Black Prince', was stationed on the starboard wing of the cruiser screen 10 miles ahead of the battle iieet, in which position it was our special duty to sight and inform the Commander-in-Chief of the position, course, and speed of the enemy's fleet should we at any time make contact with them.

At 3.30 p.m. the signal for action stations was made by Rear-Admiral Sir Robt. Arbuthnot from the' Defence', and when everything had been reported ready for action on board, I sent the ship's company to tea. From this time onwards intercepted signals showed clearly the reported positions, courses, and speeds of our battle cruiser fleet and of the enemy, and after tea I explained the position of affairs to the Commander, and told him to assemble all hands, inform them that an action was imminent, and give them an idea how matters stood so far as we knew them. As the men closed up at their action stations they cheered with enthusiasm.

At 5.40 p.m., while still 10 miles ahead of our battle fleet, and with speed now increased to 20 knots, gunfire was heard and gun flashes seen about 30 degrees before our starboard beam, but on a bearing west of south, instead of the bearing east of south on which, by plotting the reports of the enemy from our battle cruisers, we had calculated that we should join the action. The time also was about half an hour earlier than we hadexpected.

A few minutes later, on almost the same bearing as the gun-flashes, light cruisers belonging to our battle cruiser fleet were sighted closely followed by the battle cruisers, and although no enemy ships were yet. in sight, projectiles were observed to be falling round our ships - generally speaking, short of them. At about 5.47 I sighted three or possibly four enemy light cruisers about 20 degrees on my starboard bow, and I now increased speed to 21 knots to close from 1/2 a mile to 1/4 of a mile astern of 'Defence'. 'Defence' then altered course about 30 degrees to port, bringing the nearest enemy cruiser - the Wiesbaden - on to a bearing of Green 80 (80 degrees from right ahead on the starboard side) and signalled " Open fire, ship interval 12 seconds." Three salvoes were fired by each of us.

at extreme range under the concentrated pair ship fire organisation which. the squadron had worked up, but all the shot falling short, we checked fire, and 'Defence' altered course directly towards 'Wiesbaden'. At 6.1 p.m. the 'Defence' again altered course and brought 'Wiesbaden' on to a bearingĀ· 40 degrees on the port bow. Just after this the light cruisers of our battle-cruiser fleet passed astern, and, we came under fire from the enemy light.cruisers.

'Defence' and 'Warrior' then opened fire, and the second salvo of both ships hit the 'Wiesbaden', setting her on fire, and causing a great escape of steam on board her. In a few minutes she was seen to be stopped, but. as she was still in a position favourable for firing torpedoes at our battle- cruisers, we, Defence and Warrior, continued hitting her again and again with our port guns, closing her to within 6,000 yards before turning away. During this time everything seemed to be happening quite naturally and in order, with nothing surprising nor disconcerting. When both 'Defence's' and 'Warrior's' second salvoes hit the enemy, I remember remarking to the Navigator, "We have never had a practice concentration of fire go off so smoothly and successfully." There seemed to be plenty of time for everything; to give orders, to have them repeated, and to have them reported back executed. .

As we closed the 'Wiesbaden', we passed about a mile ahead of our battle cruiser squadron, and came under a heavy fire from the enemy battle cruisers and subsequently from the enemy battleships, but, in spite of being under this heavy fire, we were for some time unable to see the enemy, as they were hidden by mist and smoke, and at no time were there more than three enemy ships visible. It was peculiarly annoying to be having the enemy's heavy salvoes falling close to us without being able either to see the ships which were firing, or make a useful report of the position, course, and speed of their battle fleet to the Commander-in-Chief - always the principal duty of a cruiser. I well remember looking back to the north- eastward, and seeing how clearly our battleships showed up in that direction against a bright skyline.
During this fighting Warrior was 1/4 of a mile astern of Defence, and I twice thought that 'Defence' had been hit by the enemy battle cruisers because of sudden puffs of black smoke which came from her. At 6.19 she commenced to turn away to starboard, and was then hit by two salvoes in quick succession. Then she blew up and completely disappeared.
The 'Warrior' was now between the enemy's battle fleet and our 5th B.S., about one and a half miles from the latter, and steering about 135Ā° to starboard of their course. I decided to withdraw and try to follow the 5th B.S., but finding the 'Warrior' was fast losing speed, I soon decided that it was hopeless to try to keep station on that squadron, and after giving our first antagonist, the 'Wiesbaden', two final salvoes from my starboard guns which appeared to finish her off for she disappeared in a cloud of smoke and steam, I withdrew from the action, zigzagging to avoid the enemy's salvoes.
The Warspite was then about 2 miles astern of her squadron, having made a large circle towards the enemy as her steering gear had jammed. I had intended to pass astern of her, but finding that she was turning to starboard, I also turned to starboard and passed ahead of her. As she came between the 'Warrior' and the enemy battle fleet she drew upon herself all the fire that previously had been concentrated upon us, which undoubtedly saved the Warrior from being sunk then and there. This seemed to us to be a particularly gallant act on her part, and it gave us in the 'Warrio'r much satisfaction to see her replying with all her 15-inch guns to the enemy's fire, in spite of the fact that she was being heavily hit.

After turning away we were still under heavy fire, apparently from three, probably four enemy battleships, judging by the rapidity with which heavy salvoes fell close to us, but due to the small spread of their salvoes which fell in one huge splash, we just escaped time and again being hit although very frequently a whole salvo fell extremely close.
At 6.26 all electrical instruments and hydraulic power for the turrets failed. At 6.30 p.m. I received a report that the starboard engine-room was out of action, but in response to my orders to keep the engines going at all costs, it was reported a minute later that both engines were going ahead slow. Then at 6.35 I received a report that the main topmen's mess deck was on fire, and at 6.40 that the aft deck also was on fire; but by this time we were out of the action steering N.N.W., whilst the rest of our fleet were steering S.E. and soon were out of sight from us.

Receiving the report that all heavy guns were again ready for action in hand-gear - two turrets had been jammed by damage to the deck and there still was no hydraulic power - I ordered submarine look-out stations to be assumed, and soon afterwards a periscope was reported on the port bow, but I could not see it myself nor was any torpedo track observed.

About 6.55 the seaplane carrier, 'Engadine', was sighted to the south- west, and when we recognised her I signalled her to close and stand by the 'Warrior' until we could ascertain our damage. We had been hit at least 15 times by heavy projectiles - 11-inch or 12-inch - and about 6 times by smaller shells. Fires were raging so badly aft that it was impossible to get access to the engine-room; the whole main deck was full of flame, smoke, and gas from enemy shells; the upper deck was torn to pieces, and every boat was damaged beyond repair. The masts still stood, and so did the funnels, although the rigging had been shot away, and there were many holes in both masts and funnels. But the most serious damage was that caused by an 11-inch or 12-inch projectile which struck us on the water-line on the port side, passed through the after reserve coal bunker, crossed the upper part of the port engine-room, and burst as it went through the middle line bulkhead, leaving most of its gas in the port engine-room, while several large fragments of it were deflected downwards and tore a large hole in the double bottom at the after end of the starboard engine-room. On its way it carried away the transverse auxiliary steam pipe, which caused both engine-rooms to fill with steam.

Five or six shells burst on the main deck, and the majority of the ship's casualties occurred here. In all, there were 68 killed and 34 wounded. Another shell burst on the aft deck, and several more on the upper deck. There were many large rents in the upper deck, one 10 feet by 15 feet large, and the whole of the cabins and structure under the after shelter deck close to the main mast were completely blown away.

While ascertaining the extent of our damage, I ordered all the spare hands to rig rafts, as the ship was taking a serious list to starboard, and soon afterwards the Engineer Commander reported to me that both engine-rooms were rapidly filling with water, and that the engines must stop before long; also that, while the fires raged and steam was escaping from several steam pipes, he could not ascertain all the damage nor our prospects of saving the ship.

I then gave orders to draw fires in the boilers and to shut off steam in the boiler-rooms, and signalled to the Engadine to take Warrior in tow. This operation was carried out very expeditiously, although our 6-inch wire towing hawser was stowed on the main deck in a position very difficult of access, due to the smoke, gas fumes, and corpses. Taking in tow was an exercise that Sir Robt. Arbuthnot had frequently made the ships of his squadron practise, and from this we now profited.

By 9 p.m. we were in tow. All the usual steering gear and communications had been destroyed, and the ship was being steered by hand from the tiller flat, with a field telephone rigged up from the bridge as communication which proved quite efficient. I directed the Engadine to shape course for Cromarty and to proceed at her best speed, which gave us about 8 knots at first, though this was reduced to 6 knots the next morning.

HMS Engadine towing HMS Warrior

Narrative of H.M.S. "Warrior." Continued

(Book available to read or download freely from the Internet Archive HERE)

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