Friday, June 03, 2016

Fullbore Friday

For the SMS Seydlitz, it is tempting just to say that her story is the story of the Battle of Jutland - but that is too easy. There is a lot more to her story than that - but because it was her finest hour - when I do talk tactical, we'll stick to Jutland.

First though, I want you to think about warship design in the USA since the late '90s, then read the following with a close eye to the timeline.

SMS Seydlitz was a 25,000-metric ton battlecruiser of the Kaiserliche Marine, built in Hamburg, Germany. She was ordered in 1910 and commissioned in May 1913, the fourth battlecruiser built for the High Seas Fleet. She was named after Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz, a Prussian general during the reign of King Frederick the Great and the Seven Years' War.

Seydlitz represented the culmination of the first generation of German battlecruisers, which had started with the Von der Tann in 1906, and continued with the pair of Moltke class battlecruisers ordered in 1907 and 1908. Seydlitz featured several incremental improvements over the preceding designs, including a redesigned propulsion system and an improved armor layout. The ship was also significantly larger than her predecessors—she was approximately 3,000 metric tons heavier than the Moltke class ships.
Here are the details of the timeline above.
Despite the success of the previous German battlecruisers designs—those of Von der Tann and the Moltke class—there was still significant debate as to how new ships of the type were to be designed. In 1909, the Reichsmarineamt (Navy Department) requested Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the State Secretary, provide them with the improvements that would be necessary for the next battlecruiser design. Tirpitz continued to push for the use of battlecruisers solely as fleet scouts and to destroy enemy cruisers, along the lines of the battlecruisers employed by the British Royal Navy. The Kaiser, Wilhelm II, and the majority of the Navy Department argued that due to Germany's numerical inferiority compared to the Royal Navy, the ships would also have to fight in the line of battle. Ultimately, the Kaiser and the Navy Department won the debate, and the battlecruiser for the 1909–1910 building year would continue in the pattern of the previous Von der Tann and Moltke class designs.
Debate based on recent experience with a proven platform ... and resulting action. All in less than half a decade. Yes, to us the technology is simpler - but 100 years ago it was no less "new" than the electric drive and other "new" systems we talk about now.

Remember - the average Navy Commander in 1910 was a Midshipman in the 1880s, if not earlier with the slow promotions of the pre-war period. No, the "you can move faster then" excuse does not hold water for me. These men also did not have computers and the raft of information technology that we have .... perhaps that was an advantage too? No, I don't buy that excuse either.
Shipbuilding pressure from the legislature? New? Snort.
Financial constraints meant that there would have to be a trade-off between speed, battle capabilities, and displacement. The initial design specifications mandated that speed was to have been at least as high as with the Moltke class, and that the ship was to have been armed with either eight 305 mm (12.0 in) guns or ten 280 mm (11.0 in) guns. The design staff considered triple turrets, but these were discarded when it was decided that the standard 280 mm twin turret was sufficient.

In August 1909, the Reichstag stated that it would tolerate no increases in cost over the Moltke-class battlecruisers, and so for a time, the Navy Department considered shelving the new design and to instead build a third Moltke class ship. Admiral Tirpitz was able to negotiate a discount on armor plate from both Krupp and Dillingen; Tirpitz also pressured the ship's builder, Blohm and Voss, for a discount. These cost reductions freed up sufficient funds to make some material improvements to the design. On 27 January 1910, the Kaiser approved the design for the new ship, ordered under the provisional name "Cruiser J".
Enough lessons for now - lets get to the role that defined her; in the thick of it at Jutland.
On the night of 30 May 1916, Seydlitz and the other four battlecruisers of the I Scouting Group lay in anchor in the Jade roadstead. The following morning, at 02:00 CET, the ships slowly steamed out towards the Skagerrak at a speed of 16 knots (30 km/h). By this time, Hipper had transferred his flag from Seydlitz to the newer battlecruiser Lützow. Seydlitz took her place in the center of the line, to the rear of Derfflinger and ahead of Moltke The II Scouting Group, consisting of the light cruisers Frankfurt, Rear Admiral Bödicker's flagship, Wiesbaden, Pillau, and Elbing, and 30 torpedo boats of the II, VI, and IX Flotillas, accompanied Hipper's battlecruisers.

An hour and a half later, the High Seas Fleet under the command of Admiral Scheer left the Jade; the force was composed of 16 dreadnoughts. The High Seas Fleet was accompanied by the IV Scouting Group, composed of the light cruisers Stettin, München, Hamburg, Frauenlob, and Stuttgart, and 31 torpedo boats of the I, III, V, and VII Flotillas, led by the light cruiser Rostock. The six pre-dreadnoughts of the II Battle Squadron had departed from the Elbe roads at 02:45, and rendezvoused with the battle fleet at 5:00.

Shortly before 16:00, Hipper's force encountered Vice Admiral Beatty's battlecruiser squadron. The German ships were the first to open fire, at a range of approximately 15,000 yards (14,000 m). The British rangefinders had misread the range to their German targets, and so the first salvos fired by the British ships fell a mile past the German battlecruisers. As the two lines of battlecruisers deployed to engage each other, Seydlitz began to duel with her opposite in the British line, Queen Mary. By 16:54, the range between the ships decreased to 12,900 yards (11,800 m), which enabled Seydlitz's secondary battery to enter the fray. She was close enough to the ships of the British 9th and 10th Destroyer Flotillas that her secondary guns could effectively engage them. The other four German battlecruisers employed their secondary battery against the British battlecruisers.

Between 16:55 and 16:57, Seydlitz was struck by two heavy caliber shells from Queen Mary. The first shell penetrated the side of the ship five feet above the main battery deck, and caused a number of small fires. The second shell penetrated the barbette of the aft superfiring turret. Four propellant charges were ignited in the working chamber; the resulting fire flashed up into the turret and down to the magazine. The anti-flash precautions that had been put in place after the explosion at Dogger Bank prevented any further propellant explosions. Regardless, the turret was destroyed and most of the gun crew had been killed in the blaze.
By 17:25, the British battlecruisers were taking a severe battering from their German opponents. Indefatigable had been destroyed by a salvo from Von der Tann approximately 20 minutes before, and Beatty sought to turn his ships away by 2 degrees in order to regroup, while the Queen Elizabeth-class battleships of the 5th Battle Squadron arrived on the scene and provided covering fire. As the British battlecruisers began to turn away, Seydlitz and Derfflinger were able to concentrate their fire on Queen Mary. Witnesses reported at least 5 shells from two salvos hit the ship, which caused an intense explosion that ripped the Queen Mary in half. Shortly after the destruction of Queen Mary, both British and German destroyers attempted to make torpedo attacks on the opposing lines. One British torpedo struck Seydlitz at 17:57. The torpedo hit the ship directly below the fore turret, slightly aft of where she had been mined the month before. The explosion tore a hole 40 feet long by 13 feet wide (12 m × 4.0 m), and caused a slight list. Despite the damage, the ship was still able to maintain her top speed, and kept position in the line.

The leading ships of the German battle fleet had by 18:00 come within effective range of the British ships, and had begun trading shots with the British battlecruisers and Queen Elizabeth-class battleships. Between 18:09 and 18:19, Seydlitz was hit by a 380 mm (15 in) shell from either Barham or Valiant. This shell struck the face of the port wing turret and disabled the guns. A second 380 mm shell penetrated the already disabled aft superfiring turret and detonated the cordite charges that had not already burned. The ship also had two of her 150 mm guns disabled from British gunfire, and the rear turret lost its right-hand gun.

As the evening wore on, visibility steadily decreased for the German ships. Seydlitz's commander, Kapitän zur See von Egidy, later remarked:

"Visibility had generally become unfavorable. There was a dense mist, so that as a rule only the flashes of the enemy's guns, but not the ships themselves, could be seen. Our distance had been reduced from 18,000 to 13,000 yards. From north-west to north-east we had before us a hostile line firing its guns, though in the mist we could only glimpse the flashes from time to time. It was a mighty and terrible spectacle."
At around 19:00, Beatty's forces were nearing the main body of the Grand Fleet, and to delay the discovery of the Grand Fleet's location by the German fleet, he turned his ships towards the German line, in order to force them to turn as well. This reduced the distance between the British and German battlecruisers from 14,000 to 12,000 yards (13,000 to 11,000 m). Visibility continued to favor the British, and the German battlecruisers paid the price. Over the next several minutes, Seydlitz was hit six times, primarily on the forward section of the ship. A fire started under the ship's forecastle. The smothering fire from Beatty's ships forced Hipper to temporarily withdraw his battlecruisers to the southwest. As the ships withdrew, Seydlitz began taking on more water, and the list to starboard worsened. The ship was thoroughly flooded above the middle deck in the fore compartments, and had nearly lost all buoyancy.
The German fleet was instead sailing west, but Scheer ordered a second 16-point turn, which reversed course and pointed his ships at the center of the British fleet. The German fleet came under intense fire from the British line, and Scheer sent Seydlitz, Von der Tann, Moltke, and Derfflinger at high speed towards the British fleet, in an attempt to disrupt their formation and gain time for his main force to retreat. By 20:17, the German battlecruisers had closed to within 7,700 yards (7,000 m) of Colossus, at which point Scheer directed the ships to engage the lead ship of the British line. Seydlitz managed to hit Colossus once, but caused only minor damage to the ship's superstructure. Three minutes later, the German battlecruisers turned in retreat, covered by a torpedo boat attack.
A pause in the battle at dusk allowed Seydlitz and the other German battlecruisers to cut away wreckage that interfered with the main guns, extinguish fires, repair the fire control and signal equipment, and ready the searchlights for nighttime action. During this period, the German fleet reorganized into a well-ordered formation in reverse order, when the German light forces encountered the British screen shortly after 21:00. The renewed gunfire gained Beatty's attention, so he turned his battlecruisers westward. At 21:09, he sighted the German battlecruisers, and drew to within 8,500 yards (7,800 m) before opening fire at 20:20. In the ensuing melee, Seydlitz was hit several times; one shell struck the rear gun turret and other hit the ship's bridge. The entire bridge crew was killed and several men in the conning tower were wounded.[
At 00:45, Seydlitz was attempting to thread her way through the British fleet, but was sighted by the dreadnought Agincourt and noted as a "ship or Destroyer". Agincourt's captain did not want to risk giving away his ship's position, and so allowed her to pass. By 01:12, Seydlitz had managed to slip through the British fleet, and she was able to head for the safety of Horns Reef. At approximately 03:40, she scraped over Horns Reef. Both of the ship's gyro-compasses had failed, so the light cruiser Pillau was sent to guide the ship home. By 15:30 on 1 June, Seydlitz was in critical condition; the bow was nearly completely submerged, and the only buoyancy that remained in the forward section of the ship was the broadside torpedo room. Preparations were being made to evacuate the wounded crew when a pair of pump steamers arrived on the scene. The ships were able to stabilize Seydlitz's flooding, and the ship managed to limp back to port. She reached the outer Jade river on the morning of 2 June, and on 3 June the ship entered Entrance III of the Wilhelmshaven Lock. At most, Seydlitz had been flooded by 5,308 tonnes (5,224 long tons) of water.

Some of the best things learned for us are from the Seydlitz's CO, Kommandant Kapitän zur See von Egidy's report. As important in 2010 as they were a century ago.

Training and the importance of questioning established procedures.

The first hit we received was a 12-inch shell that struck Number Six 6-inch casemate on the starboard side, killing everybody except the Padre who, on his way to his battle-station down below, had wanted to take a look at the men and at the British, too. By an odd coincidence we had, at our first battle practice in 1913, assumed the same kind of hit and by the same adversary, the Queen Mary. Splinters perforated air leads in the bunker below and gas consequently entered the starboard main turbine compartment.

Somewhat later the gunnery central station deep down reported: "No answer from 'C' turret. Smoke and gas pouring out of the voice pipes from 'C' turret." That sounded like the time of Dogger Bank. Then it had been "C" and "D" turrets. A shell had burst outside, making only a small hole, but a red-hot piece of steel had ignited a cartridge, the flash setting fire to 13,000 pounds of cordite. 190 men had been killed, and the two turrets had been put out of action. Afterwards, a through examination showed that everything had been done in accordance with regulations. I told the gunnery officer: "If we lose 190 men and almost the whole ship in accordance with regulations then they are somehow wrong." Therefore we made technical improvements and changed our methods of training as well as the regulations. This time only one cartridge caught fire, the flash did not reach the magazines, and so we lost only 20 dead or severely burned, and only one turret was put out of action.
The importance of inspections - and the love of the hardest ones once you are in harm's way.
In the conning tower we were kept busy, too. "Steering failure" reported the helmsman and automatically shouted down from the armoured shaft to the control room: "Steer from control room." The order: "Steer from tiller flat" was the last resort. We felt considerable relief when the red helm indicator followed orders. The ship handling officer drew a deep breath: "Exactly as at the admiral's inspection."
... and as is my experience as well - the Liberty Risk Sailor is often the Indispensable Warrior.
The helmsman was a splendid seaman but every six months or so he could not help hitting the bottle. Then he felt the urge to stand on his head in the market square of Wihlemshaven. Each time this meant the loss of his Able Seaman's stripe. At Jutland he stood at the helm for 24 hours on end. He got the stripe back and was the only AB in the fleet to receive the Iron Cross 1st Class.
The need to stress individual action in response to unforeseen challenges - act without orders if needed - and leaders should let their Sailors know you trust their judgement to act.
The first casualty in the conning tower was a signal yeoman, who collapsed silently after a splinter had pierced his neck. A signalman took over his headphone in addition to his own. In our battle training we had overlooked this possibility.
Our aerials were soon in pieces, rendering our ship deaf and dumb until a sub-lieutenant and some radio operators rigged new ones. The anti-torpedo net was torn and threatened to foul the propellers, but the boatswain and his party went over the side to lash it. They did it so well that later, in dock, it proved difficult to untie it again.
To h3ll with regulation written by those who don't fight.
According to regulations our paymasters were expected in a battle to take down and certify last wills, but we preferred them to prepare cold food forward and aft, and send their stewards round to battle-stations with masses of sandwiches.
Combat leadership. Are your LTJG's ready to do this?
"In 'B' turret, there was a tremendous crash, smoke, dust, and general confusion. At the order "Clear the Turret" the turret crew rushed out, using even the traps for the empty cartridges. Then they fell in behind the turret. Then compressed air from Number 3 boiler room cleared away the smoke and gas, and the turret commander went in again, followed by his men. A shell had hit the front plate and a splinter of armour had killed the right gunlayer. The turret missed no more than two or three salvoes."
Finally - damage control.
During the course of the battle, Seydlitz was hit 21 times by heavy-caliber shells, twice by secondary battery shells, and once by a torpedo. The ship suffered a total of 98 of her crew killed and 55 wounded. Seydlitz herself fired 376 main battery shells, but only scored approximately 10 hits.

This FbF first published in 2010.

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