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

Windy Corner - Battle of Jutland

"Windy Corner"
Extract from Report of Vice-Admiral Sir D. Beatty, Commanding Battle Cruiser Force : -
" . . . At 5.50 p.m. British Cruisers were sighted on the port bow and at 5.56 p.m. the leading battleships of the Grand Fleet bearing North 5 miles. I thereupon altered course to East and proceeded at utmost speed. This brought the range of the enemy down to 12,000 yards . . . "

Extract from the Report of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, Commander-in-Chief : -
" . . . At 5.45 p.m. the report of guns had become audible to me, and at 5.55 p.m. flashes were visible from ahead round to the starboard beam, although in the mist no ships could be distinguished, and the position of the enemy's Battle Fleet could not be determined . . .

"I formed the Battle Fleet in line of battle on receipt of Sir David Beatty's Report (at 6.14 p.m.), and during deployment the fleets became engaged. Sir David Beatty had meanwhile formed the Battle Cruisers ahead of the Battle Fleet ...

"At 6.6 p.m. the Rear-Admiral commanding 5th Battle Squadron, then in company with the Battle Cruisers, had sighted the starboard wing division of the Battle Fleet . . . On realising the direction of deployment he was compelled to form astern (of the Battle Fleet), a manoeuvre which was well executed by the squadron under a heavy fire from the enemy Battle Fleet. ·An accident to 'Warspite's' steering gear caused her helm to become jammed temporarily, and took the ship in the direction of the enemy's line . . . Clever handling enabled Captain Phillpotts to extricate his ship from a somewhat awkward situation."

Extract from the narrative of a Light Cruiser Officer : -
"The point where all this turning took place has been called 'Windy Corner.' It well earned its name."
It did indeed, for, apart from the risk and excitement of fifteen or twenty large ships and thirty or forty small ships all converging on to· a point from every direction, the Germans were concentrating a heavy fire into the 'brown' of the turning point, so that "the whole ocean was torn up by shell splashes, and the noise was terrific." Every ship was steaming at high speed, and the majority of them were vigorously replying to the German fire by firing their own broadsides over the heads of any light craft that lay between them and the enemy. " We went across the line at 27 knots, the squadron (1st Light Cruiser Squadron) getting over where best they could - a pretty piece of seamanship. Just as we were dashing across the bows of 'Agincourt' she fired a salvo over us which fairly lifted us in the water. I don't know how many of her fourteen 12-inch guns she fired, but I felt as if my head was blown off."

There were also several other incidents occurring simultaneously; for example there was the Grand Fleet, "now well in sight and bearing down in six columns, gradually deploying to port"; and there was "Lion" and the Battle Cruisers "heavily engaged passing us to starboard at full speed and making a wonderful picture, a long cloud of smoke pouring out of a big shell hole in 'Lion's' superstructure forward." 'Windy Corner' indeed from 6.0 to 6.30 p.m. was a strange jumble of ships, shells, and seamanship. "There was handling of ships in that ten minutes of crossing the battle·fleet's front such as had never been dreamt of by seamen before."

Added to all this, there was the incident of H.M.S. 'Warspite's' helm jamming, when "surrounded by shell splashes she steered straight for the German fleet - columns of water from bursting shells completely surrounded her, and hid her from our sight. It seemed inevitable that she would blow up. But then, greatly to our surprise and relief, we saw her suddenly start to go ahead again, turn on to a steady course towards our line, and re-engage the enemy with a salvo from all her turrets as if she was in no way the worse for her little stunt."

Perhaps the whole scene is best summed up in the words of an Officer of the 5th Battle Squadron: - "Sufficient to say, the general effect outdid the most imaginative picture of a naval battle that ever I saw."

The Loss of H.M.S. "Defence."

But there was one incident of "Windy Corner" which, alas, was more prominent than even the jumble of ships, or the "stunt" of H.M.S. 'Warspite' - "From ahead out of the mist there appeared the ill·fated 1st Cruiser Squadron, led by the 'Defence' ... At first the 'Defence' did not seem to have been damaged, but she was being heavily engaged, and salvoes were dropping all around her. When she was on our bow three quick salvoes reached her, the first one 'over,' the next one 'short,' and the third all hit. The shells of the last salvo could clearly be seen to hit her just abaft the after turret, and after a second a big red flame flashed up, but died away again at once. The ship heeled to the blow, but quickly righted herself and steamed on again. Then almost immediately followed three more salvoes. Again the first was 'over,' the second one 'short,' and the third a hit, and again the shell of the hitting salvo could be clearly seen to strike, this time between the forecastle turret and the foremost funnel. At once the ship was lost to sight in an enormous black cloud, which rose to a height of some hundred feet, and, quickly clearing, showed no signs of a ship at all."
(Narrative of H .M .S. "Obedient" of 12th Destroyer Flotilla.)

Dramatic in its suddenness and completeness, the loss of H. M .S. 'Defence' must have been witnessed by fifty or more ships of the British Fleet, and stood out perhaps as the most impressive incident of Jutland.
"At about 6.15 p.m. we witnessed the action of the lst Cruiser Squadron and the blowing up of 'Defence' We thought she had gone about a minute before she finally blew up, as she completely disappeared in a mass of spray, smoke, and flame. But she came through it apparently still intact, only to disappear a few seconds later in a tremendous belch of vivid flame and dense black smoke, from which some dark object, possibly a boat or a funnel,was hurled through space, twirling like a gigantic Catherine-wheel."
(Narrative of H. M .S. " Colossus," Battleship.)

"Between 6 and 6.30 p.m. was for us the most eventful time of the whole day. First of all, the 1st Cruiser Squadron (' Defence,' etc.) broke through the centre of our Squadron as we made to the eastward. Admiral Arbuthnot's Squadron then wheeled round to starboard on to a westerly course and opened fire on a German light cruiser which hove in sight on our starboard bow. Apparently Admiral Arbuthnot was anxious to engage any enemy that might turn up, and pressed forward with great impatience. His squadron looked a very fine sight, turning and firing in succession, but almost immediately they found themselves within close range of the German battle cruisers and battleships, and before they could turn away - there was practically no direction clear to which they could turn - they were being concentrated upon by overwhelming gunfire from the enemy ships. The 'Defence' and 'Black Prince' were beaten and blew up.1 'Warrior' drifted out of action helpless and in flames, and the only ship of the squadron to escape was the ' Duke of Edinburgh which hauled away to the northward in time ...."
(Narrative of H.M.S. "Yarmouth," 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron.)

"A few minutes after we opened fire, the 'Defence' and 'Warrior' appeared on our engaged side steaming on an opposite course. The ships were practically continuously hidden by splashes, they were being repeatedly hit by heavy shell, and must have been going through hell on earth. The 'Defence,' which was leading, was just about abeam of the 'Neptune,' and barely a mile away, when she was hit heavily and blew up in one fearful cloud of smoke and debris. The foretop fell with a sickening splash into the water, and then the 'Warrior,' herself damaged, listing to starboard and in places on fire, raced over the spot where the ' 'Defence' had been, through the smoke-cloud of her flagship's explosion"
(Narrative of H .M .S "Neptune," 6th battleship from. the rear of the line.)

Mercifully this death by which the 900 officers and men of the 'Defence' perished was an instantaneous one, causing them probably no suffering. We may remember as their epitaph, "They pressed forward with great impatience"
In the following chapter are narrated the experiences of H .M .S. 'Warrior' and of the seaplane carrier H.M.S. 'Engadine' from the time when this ship took H.N.S. 'Warrior' in tow and endeavoured to bring her back to harbour, until the time when she was forced to abandon 'Warrior' owing to the rising gale.

1H.M.S. Black Prince did not actually founder until several hours later.

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

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