Dogger Bank from the German PoV - Part 1

From the birth of the Dreadnought to the period immediately after the end of World War I.
Byron Angel
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Dogger Bank from the German PoV - Part 1

Post by Byron Angel »

Found this in my files. Given the dearth of information on Blucher's experience at Dogger Bank I thought it made sense to share it. Please read with care, however, as there are (unavoidably) a few incorrect assumptions and errors of recollection. Sometimes, the timeline of events can also be somewhat confusing.


INFORMATION OBTAINED FROM THE SURVIVORS OF THE BLUCHER (Source: Naval Review)

WAS in charge of the ship below the waterline and remained blow until the fumes of the lyddite got too bad. He went up to the upper conning
tower, where he found the fumes also very bad. They had to come outside, only leaving one man inside to steer, and he had to be continually
relieved. Before he came up from below the fore transmitting station had been wrecked; he presumed by a shell and fire. The fore conning tower was untouched by shell, and the steering gear there remained untouched and intact throughout the action. The navigating commander and his assistant, a Lieutenant N., were undoubtedly killed, so that not much navigational information was obtained. The master gyro compass in the lower conning tower remained working correctly till the ship capsized, but several of the outlying receivers were reported broken down during the action. The shock of the shell hitting the ship was described as being terrific, and shook the whole ship. It was not ascertained if this particularly referred to when the arrnour was struck. After the ship was struck by the first three shell all the wooden shores for bulkheads and hatches came down and were useless. He remarked that they fed the fires considerably. Blucher was hit by one torpedo for certain, port side, under the bridge, fired by the Arethusa. One of the other officers stated that she was hit by another torpedo aft.

She had 1,050 men on board, and was supposed to be out on this occasion to capture fishing vessels on the Dogger Bank. Some of the officers stated that they were not supported by the High Sea Fleet, and if any of the ships came out it must have been in answer to urgent signals from their ships in action. Other officers stated that only coast defence vessels would have come
out.

They have eight or 10 Zeppelins of the first class available for work with the High Sea Fleet, but they have not yet got sufficient experience to work with the Battle Fleet. However, they are improving rapidly. The system of signalling between airships is not yet perfected. All officers were very angry with their aircraft for driving off our light cruisers and destroyers when they were trying to save life; some added " German life. " The first lieutenant remarked that he considered it "most unsporting." He stated that he thought that the High Sea Fleet intended to fight very shortly. They have a large number of naval ratings fighting in Belgium.

Blucher took part in the coast raid at Hartlepool, and had 10 men killed by the guns of the shore batteries there.

Communication to the guns became useless after about half an hour from the commencement, awing to breakage and deafness of the operators.
Two rangefinders were damaged, and rate instruments and operators in the fore conning tower were put out of action. A big explosion of T.N.T. shell occurred in one of the turrets, caused by a direct hit from a 12-inch or 13.5-inch shell. He was very surprised at this, as T.N.T. is supposed to be safe. Shell fumes caused a large number of deaths, and prevented breathing for half a minute at a time. There was only one reserve officer on board, an engineer, but a large number of spare men were carried to replace casualties. - When last seen, the Derfflinger had a large amount of damage aft, and the Moltke was on fire aft.

Little trouble was experienced in putting out fires, but he saw one of their battle-cruisers with a large fire. The control tops were not hit, but the officers had to come down, as all communications were destroyed. The fumes from the lyddite were very strong, and men, after getting into the water, found great difficulty in breathing and also in blowing up their life-saving belts, etc. The engineer deer stated that the fumes
below were not so bad as he had expected they would be. Men were not rendered insensible, but experienced great difficulty in breathing.
All the turrets were put out of action by gunfire, and he thought the ship was finally sunk by opening the Kingston valves, but he did not know for certain.

One officer stated that he thought that 500 men had been killed by gunfire.

They left Wilhelmshaven on Saturday afternoon, steered North till past Heligoland, and then in a westerly direction. Blucher fired at two
of our ships, but the range was too great to see if they had done any damage. The senior midshipman stated that he had fired two torpedoes
at Lion, but did not expect to hit, as the range was too great, i.e., ~o,ooo yards, and their torpedoes only run 6,000 yards. Most of our shell appeared to burst on the upper deck. One of them also stated that it was one of the early hits that did all the damage down below, as it burst down the funnel casing. The guns in the battery could not get any ammunition up from below, as all the men were killed and the magazine flooded. Blucher's foremost turret was knocked completely over the side before they left the line. They thought our lyddite was ghastly, but
did not think much of our torpedoes. They stated that some of the latter had been picked up floating, and that they are thought very poor
and inefficient.

One said that he had seen three of their destroyers hit, and that they were on fire amidships, and wondered if they would have enough
men left to take them back into harbour.

The ship was hit twice by torpedoes.

When in harbour they live ashore in barracks, going on board the ships every day for drills from abut 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. They took part both in Yarmouth and Hartlepool raids; in the latter the ship was hit about six times by the shore batteries, and they had ro (sic) men killed. 'On this occasion they saw four of our destroyers, who fired two torpedoes at them which just missed astern. They also state that later in the day they saw our battle-cruisers and a little later some battleships, but turned away at once; and as the weather was thick, they did not see them again. They thought the visibility was about two miles at the time. They were surprised at the accuracy of the firing of the shore batteries.

In the Cuxhaven raid they said that the Von der Tann was seriously injured, but did not state how, and that the dockyard was wrecked.
Karlsruhe and Dresden are still at sea, but that some of their crews had come home by cargo steamer, and that was why men had been seen
with their cap ribbons on their caps. They are building a large number of small fast destroyers of about go (80?) tons, with two tubes. The Lutzow should be ready very soon, but opinion varied between a fortnight and six weeks. They think that the Kurfurst class of ship will come to their rescue.

The warrant officer in charge of the boiler rooms stated that the ship was fitted with Thorneycroft-Schultz improved naval boilers, with large tubes, and that there were five boiler rooms, of which Nos. I, 2, 3, and 4 were put out of action. Shell, probably fragments, pierced boilers in Nos. I, 2 and 4 rooms, and caused explosions in Np. 3 boiler room. The main steam-pipe was severed, which necessitated shutting the valves in Nos. 2 and 4 rooms. Soon after this happened there was an upheaval under No. 5 room-he supposed from the explosion of a torpedo-and water began to come in so that they had to clear the room. The other boiler rooms were cleared of steam and smoke by large fans, which drove it out, but the ship had to practically stop.

He spoke of opening a door to admit spare or reserve stokers ta assist clearing away the debris (so that they carried extra stokers, apparently
kept in a protected position till required). He opened the door of No. 2 room, but found it all ablaze inside, so had to close up again. All
the electric lights went out. Towards the end of the action the engines had completely stopped. He said it was a ghastly sight as they came through the decks to get on deck - dead and wounded lying everywhere, shockingly mutilated, and very great suffering from fire.

One of the Turret Masters stated:
That his layer could not make out the ship he was laying on once she opened fire, and that throughout the action she was a very bad
target. The great difficulty he experienced was their own gun and funnel smoke, which hung round and would not clear. He laid on the flashes.
Both the guns of the turret were disabled by gunfire, but he did not say if they were actually hit.

Another Master said :
That his turret suffered badly from internal fires, the crew being finally driven out by fire. The magazine exploded. Most of the crew were burnt, and fumes of burning paint prevented the men from working. All the paint caught fire, and the bulkheads got very hot. The men were constantly putting out fires, which made it very difficult to fight the turret properly. He expressed great surprise at seeing our decks covered with corticine. He was thoroughly impressed with the idea that anything would burn. No. I turret layer belonged to the reserve, and had been a pensioner for a year. The warrant officers also state that all the shores were knocked down by the shock of the shell striking the ship.

There are 10 Zeppelins attached to the Navy, but they cannot do much at present on account of the difficulty of hitting a small object from a height. An improvement to overcome this is expected to be in use soon.

The peace complement of the Blucher was 880, but 200 more men are carried in war time. They had no tables, chairs, or hammocks on board. (This differs from other evidence, which states that there were tables in the officers' messes.)

They think that the invasion of England will take place as soon as they can get command of the Channel ? (presumably Channel forts), as they have a large number of troopships at Wilhelmshaven.

They knew nothing of the Cuxhaven air raid till they heard of it in the British wireless signals.

There is plenty of food in Germany, and prices have not risen much, but they are very economical.

One of them also stated that the seacocks were opened to sink the ship.

lnformation from Lower Deck Ratings :

The ship left Wilhelmshaven at 6 p.m. on Saturday, the 23rd, and they thought they were going out to capture some British fishing vessels
on the Dogger Bank.

They all complained of the fumes of the shell, and apparently used wads of wool damped with water as '' respirators," but said they were
only good for a minute or so.

One man thought that he was the only one left alive in his turret. He was told by others coming up from below that men were being killed
in the ammunition passages.

Some apparently knew about the Scharnhorst, etc.. but others 'expected to hear of them raiding again. Some didn't believe that the
Emden had come to an end.

One man stated that during the Cuxhaven air raid the Von der Tann got under weigh so as to avoid being caught at anchor, but had a collision with another cruiser and seriously damaged herself.

Asked what he thought of the British Navy, one man said: " Too good. Never expected to be called upon to oppose it, otherwise would have joined the military, which is invincible."

They also said that the firing of the shore batteries at Hartlepool was good, and that they had nine or 10 killed there.

One man claimed to have fired a torpedo at and hit the Lion.

They did not appear to wish to go through another similar experience.

The German squadron was in the following order :-
Derfflinger.
Seydlitz.
Moltke.
Blucher.

The first two salvoes fired at the Blucher were short. The third salvo hit her well down on the water-line, resulting in an appreciable
reduction in speed. The fourth salvo did an enormous amount of damage, both to personnel and materiel. It practically carried away the after superstructure, disabled two turrets aft, and disabled a very large number of men (estimated as varying between 200 and 300). The woodwork
of all the after part of the upper deck caught fire, and sheets of flame spread forward as far as amidships.

The main electric wiring of the ship, which apparently runs under the upper deck, was cut and the ship plunged in darkness. Several men
received severe burns from the molten lead dropping from the fused wires. Considerable confusion occurred till the candle lights were lighted.

After this there was a lull, and only single shots appeared to be fired at her, a few of which hit.

Some little time after they were hit again seriously, the starboard side aft on the middle deck. A shell pierced the ship's side and exploded
a pile of secondary armament cartridges. This explosion blew a large hole in the ship's side, she began to list heavily and make
water, and the engine room and stokeholds began to fill. Eventually the captain telephoned to the engine room, "Every man for himself". As the stokers came on deck a shell struck close to them, but not amongst them (evidence on this point was very positive), and stunned a lot of them. The ship was now listing heavily, and a light cruiser came up and fired a torpedo and a broadside of guns at her. Several of the survivors saw the torpedo coming straight at them, so jumped overboard before it struck.

Damage to Moltke:
A chief petty officer, quartermaster, stationed in the after control position, said he had a good view of Moltke. She was very heavily hit aft, one salvo removing a turret bodily over the side. Heavy smoke was coming up aft from down below when last he saw her, and she appeared to be badly on fire.

General Items :
They were convinced that Lion was sinking when she hauled out of the line.
They have been told by their officers that :- Bulwark had been sunk by a submarine. Formidable by torpedo craft in a fleet action.

On this occasion, the third on which they had been out in the North Sea since war began, they were told that they were going out on the
Dogger Bank to capture some English trawlers there. On each occasion of coming out into the North Sea they had been assured by their officers that they knew that there were no English ships about and that it was therefore "quite safe".

Two days before sailing an airman had dropped a bomb on the Von der Tann and had damaged her considerably, so that Blucher was detailed to take her place, being brought through the Canal for this purpose. She took 250 men of the former's crew, which accounted for her having about 1,100 men on board. They stated that 880 was her proper complement, and that Derfflinger had no less than 1,600 men on board during the action.

Complaints :
They felt that they should have received more help from their comrades. Food on board was very bad, and living very uncomfortable on account of overcrowding. Prices of food had risen so much on shore that the whole of their pay had to be sent to their families to enable them to live. They complained very much of their Government for not making a grant to help their families, who in some cases are little short of starvation, thanks to the English policy of deliberately starving millions of women and children in Germany.

Information from Oficers. General Remarks on Action:
One of the first hits, a shell, exploded in the boiler room, and reduced her speed to 20 knots and subsequently to 12 knots, which she maintained for some time, eventually having to stop. The 1st gunnery officer was originally in the fore conning tower, but, owing to smoke had to go aft to the after conning tower very early in the action and control from there. Finally, he had to return to the fore conning tower. There was a spotter in the fore top, but he had to come down, as all telephones were cut. He then organised a chain of men to pass control orders, so that evidently other communications were also broken down. Both topmasts were shot away, but not the tripod foremast. There were two officers stationed in the after conning tower, one, I believe, being the "after control officer", whilst the other was the "rate officer". They remained there most of the action, but the latter eventually went to the fore bridge.

The 1st gunnery officer withheld his fire at the commencement of the action, as the range was too great for-much effect from the 8-inch guns. The "after control officer" stated that the range of their 8-inch guns was nearly 20 kilometres (21,900 yards), and volunteered the information
that the maximum range of their latest 6-inch guns is from 16 to 17 kilometres (17,500 yards to 18,600 yards).

The Effect of Plunging Fire:
Owing to the long range and steep angle of descent, the shell plunged through the decks and did much damage below. The "after control
officer" stated that very early in the action he lost communication with the 8-inch guns, due to something having happened in the transmitting
station; he presumed a shell had wrecked it. It was situated directly under the conning tower and below the waterline. It is interesting to note, however, that he did control the 6-inch guns from aft, which shows that they are or can be controlled otherwise than through the transmitting
station. The 8-inch, as far as can be gathered, were controlled most of the time by their own officers. The "rate keeper" said it was very difficult to see any effect of the Blucher’s fire, and he only saw two 8-inch hits.

Armour and Effect on Personnel when Armour is Hit:
The conning towers, at least the after one for certain, were not pierced on the side, but the turrets are more lightly armoured, and all guns were put out of action, either through gunfire or being unable to get ammunition on account of its " blowing up." The "after control officer" said that he thought that direct hits were made on the after conning tower, but he could not be certain if it was on the amour itself or on the supports and surrounding superstructure. The effect was to " knock him about." One shell hit the roof and made a hole 2 feet in diameter. It killed one man (the rangefinder operator) who was standing alongside him and wounded another in the legs, whilst of the officers one was uninjured and the other had a small splinter wound in the leg. This explosion he described as a "big flash and concussion", which knocked him down, but he was not sensible of any great heat.

Explosion of Lyddite :
The effect was to shake the ship severely. The torpedo which hit the ship had apparently no more shaking effect than a shell. The heat of the explosion does not seem to be felt unless it is fairly close. All officers mention the very bad effect of lyddite fumes; they drove the 1st lieutenant up from below, stupefied him, and finally made him nearly unconscious. The officer in the after conning tower said that they frequently had to put their mouths to the slits, and sometimes had to come outside for fresh air. The fumes came up the voice pipes.

Mouth Pads:
They found mouth pads useful, and even a handkerchief over the mouth was better than nothing. The explosion of shell caused considerable
deafness.

Fires :
Fires were not bad, and apparently soon burnt themselves out, except when their own ammunition burnt. They had practically no woodwork
on board. Tables only in the officers' messes, and no mess tables or stools for the men. This at first was very unpopular till it was pointed out that their soldiers had many more hardships to put up with. During the last few minutes, when they were attacked from all sides, it was quite impossible to put the fires out.

Director :
It could not be ascertained whether this was used or not. (From the information gained from the turret masters it would not appear
that it was, as the layers complained of the difficulty in seeing from the start.) They fire " salvoes " of half or quarter of the armament, but never from all guns together, as the materiel would not stand it.

Range finders :
No big ships have sextant rangefinders; only light cruisers and T.B.D.'s. They are not popular, as the necessary corrections are too variable. Blucher had Barr and Stroud rangefinders on the same principle as ours, but with different mechanism. They are said to be very good and reliable, but the operators soon get tired, and need to be relieved every half hour. Presumably all their turret rangefinders are armoured, as they expressed great surprise that ours are not. They thought the consequent hole in the roof very dangerous.

General Information :
The ship had come from Wilhelmshaven and knew that, if attacked, she would probably be sacrificed. They were very pleased our ships
ceased firing directly they did. They thought it very " foolish " of the Zeppelin to drop bombs on our destroyers when they were trying
to pick up Germans. Blucher had been out for "evolutions" a few days ago at the mouth of the Weser with a nm (?) ship. Nos. I and 2 of her guns' crews were " professional," the remainder being short service men, who did excellently. Two torpedoes were fired at our ships as they crossed astern, but the after control officer thought that the range was too great, as no result was seen. His rangefinder was out of action by then. Another officer stated that all their torpedoes had been fired.

A large number of cork jackets and swimming belts had been issued; the latter were found difficult to blow up in the water, as their lungs
were affected by the lyddite fumes.

They only had one cutter on board.

The war is popular in Germany; the nation could not fight an unpopular war, as the men would not fight.

It was noticeable how much the officers had read about our Navy in British journals. They expected us to go to war. (/b]


Byron