After twelve months of war Great Britain became seriously concerned over the changed conditions of her trade with the United States. Before the war the United States, despite its vast resources and commerce, bought more than it sold abroad, and was thus always a debtor nation, that is, permanently owing money to Europe. In the stress of war Great Britain's exports to the United States, like those of her Allies, declined and her imports enormously increased. She sold but little of her products to her American customers and bought heavily of American foodstuffs, cotton, and munitions. The result was that Great Britain owed a great deal more to the United States than the latter owed her. The unparalleled situation enabled the United States to pay off her old standing indebtedness to Europe and became a creditor nation. American firms were exporting to the allied powers, whose almoner Great Britain was, commodities of a value of $100,000,000 a month in excess of the amount they were buying abroad. Hence what gold was sent from London, at the rate of $15,000,000 to $40,000,000 monthly, to pay for these huge purchases was wholly insufficient to meet the accumulating balance of indebtedness against England.
The effect of this reversal of Anglo-American trade balance was a decline in the exchange value of the pound sterling, which was normally worth $4.86-1/2 in American money, to the unprecedented level of $4.50. This decline in sterling was reflected in different degrees in the other European money markets, and the American press was jubilant over the power of the dollar to buy more foreign money than ever before. Because Europe bought much more merchandise than she sold the demand in London for dollar credit at New York was far greater than the demand in New York for pound credit at London. Hence the premium on dollars and the discount on pounds. It was not a premium upon American gold over European gold, but a premium on the means of settling debts in dollars without the use of gold. Europe preferred to pay the premium rather than send sufficient gold, because, for one reason, shipping gold was costly and more than hazardous in war time, and, for another, all the belligerents wanted to retain their gold as long as they could afford to do so.
An adjustment of the exchange situation and a reestablishment of the credit relations between the United States and the allied powers on a more equitable footing was imperative. The British and French Governments accordingly sent a commission to the United States, composed of some of their most distinguished financiers—government officials and bankers—to arrange a loan in the form of a credit with American bankers to restore exchange values and to meet the cost of war munitions and other supplies. After lengthy negotiations a loan of $500,000,000 was agreed upon, at 5 per cent. interest, for a term of five years, the bonds being purchasable at 98 in denominations as low as $100. The principal and interest were payable in New York City—in gold dollars. The proceeds of the loan were to be employed exclusively in the United States to cover the Allies' trade obligations.
The loan was an attractive one to the American investor, yielding as it did a fraction over 5-1/2 per cent. It was the only external loan of Great Britain and France, for the repayment of which the two countries pledged severally and together their credit, faith, and resources. No such an investment had before been offered in the United States.
Strong opposition to the loan came from German-American interests. Dr. Charles Hexamer, president of the German-American Alliance, made a country-wide appeal urging American citizens to "thwart the loan" by protesting to the President and the Secretary of State. Threats were likewise made by German depositors to withdraw their deposits from banks which participated in the loan. The Government, after being consulted, had given assurances that it would not oppose the transaction as a possible violation of neutrality—if a straight credit, not as actual loan, was negotiated. Conformity to this condition made all opposition fruitless.
Toward the close of 1915 an ambitious peace crusade to Europe was initiated by Henry Ford, the automobile manufacturer. Accompanied by 148 pacifists, he sailed on the Scandinavian-American liner, Oscar II, early in December, 1915, with the avowed purpose of ending the war before Christmas. The expedition was viewed dubiously by the allied powers, who discerned pro-German propaganda in the presence of Teutonic sympathizers among the delegates. They also suspected a design to accelerate a peace movement while the gains of the war were all on Germany's side, thus placing the onus of continuing hostilities on the Allies if they declined to recognize the Ford peace party as mediators. The American Government, regardful of the obligations of neutrality, notified the several European Governments concerned that the United States had no connection with the expedition, and assumed no responsibility for any activities the persons comprising it might undertake in the promotion of peace.
AMERICAN PACIFICISM—PREPAREDNESS—MUNITION SAFEGUARD
The Ford peace mission, lightly regarded though it was, nevertheless recorded itself on the annals of the time as symptomatic of a state of mind prevailing among a proportion of the American people. It might almost be said to be a manifestation of the pacifist sentiment of the country. This spirit found a channel for expression in the Ford project, bent on hurling its protesting voice at the chancellories of Europe, and heedless of the disadvantage its efforts labored under in not receiving the countenance of the Administration.
"The mission of America in the world," said President Wilson in one of his speeches, "is essentially a mission of peace and good will among men. She has become the home and asylum of men of all creeds and races. America has been made up out of the nations of the world, and is the friend of the nations of the world."
But Europe was deaf alike to official and unofficial overtures of the United States as a peacemaker. The Ford expedition was foredoomed to failure, not because it was unofficial—official proposals of mediation would have been as coldly received—but more because the pacifist movement it represented was a home growth of American soil. The European belligerents, inured and case-hardened as they were to a militarist environment, had not been sufficiently chastened by their self-slaughter.
The American pacifists, with a scattered but wide sentiment behind them, consecrated to promoting an abiding world peace, and espousing the internationalism of the Socialists to that end, and President Wilson, standing aloof from popular manifestations, a solitary watchman on the tower, had perforce to wait until the dawning of the great day when Europe had accomplished the devastating achievement of bleeding herself before she could extend beckoning hands to American mediation.
In the autumn of 1915 the President inaugurated his campaign for national defense, or "preparedness," bred by the dangers more or less imminent while the European War lasted. "We never know what to-morrow might bring forth," he warned. In a series of speeches throughout the country he impressed these views on the people:
The United States had no aggressive purposes, but must be prepared to defend itself and retain its full liberty and self-development. It should have the fullest freedom for national growth. It should be prepared to enforce its right to unmolested action. For this purpose a citizen army of 400,000 was needed to be raised in three years, and a strengthened navy as the first and chief line of defense for safeguarding at all costs the good faith and honor of the nation. The nonpartisan support of all citizens for effecting a condition of preparedness, coupled with the revival and renewal of national allegiance, he said, was also imperative, and Americans of alien sympathies who were not responsive to such a call on their patriotism should be called to account.
This, in brief, constituted the President's plea for preparedness. But such a policy did not involve nor contemplate the conquest of other lands or peoples, nor the accomplishment of any purpose by force beyond the defense of American territory, nor plans for an aggressive war, military training that would interfere unduly with civil pursuits, nor panicky haste in defense preparations.
The President took a midway stand. He stood between the pacifists and the extremists, who advocated the militarism of Europe as the inevitable policy for the United States to adopt to meet the dangers they fancied.
The country's position, as the President saw it, was stated by him in a speech delivered in New York City:
"Our thought is now inevitably of new things about which formerly we gave ourselves little concern. We are thinking now chiefly of our relations with the rest of the world, not our commercial relations, about those we have thought and planned always, but about our political relations, our duties as an individual and independent force in the world to ourselves, our neighbors and the world itself.
"Within a year we have witnessed what we did not believe possible, a great European conflict involving many of the greatest nations of the world. The influences of a great war are everywhere in the air. All Europe is embattled. Force everywhere speaks out with a loud and imperious voice in a Titanic struggle of governments, and from one end of our own dear country to the other men are asking one another what our own force is, how far we are prepared to maintain ourselves against any interference with our national action or development.
"We have it in mind to be prepared, but not for war, but only for defense; and with the thought constantly in our minds that the principles we hold most dear can be achieved by the slow processes of history only in the kindly and wholesome atmosphere of peace, and not by the use of hostile force.
"No thoughtful man feels any panic haste in this matter. The country is not threatened from any quarter. She stands in friendly relations with all the world. Her resources are known and her self-respect and her capacity to care for her own citizens and her own rights. There is no fear among us. Under the new-world conditions we have become thoughtful of the things which all reasonable men consider necessary for security and self-defense on the part of every nation confronted with the great enterprise of human liberty and independence. That is all."
Readiness for defense was also the keynote of the President's address to Congress at its opening session in December, 1915; but despite its earnest plea for a military and naval program, and a lively public interest, the message was received by Congress in a spirit approaching apathy.
The President, meantime, pursued his course, advocating his preparedness program, and in no issue abating his condemnation of citizens with aggressive alien sympathies.
In one all-important military branch there was small need for anxiety. The United States was already well armed, though not well manned. The munitions industry, called into being by the European War, had grown to proportions that entitled the country to be ranked with first-class powers in its provision and equipment for rapidly producing arms and ammunition and other war essentials on an extensive scale. Conditions were very different at the outset of the war. One of the American contentions in defense of permitting war-munition exports—as set forth in the note to Austria-Hungary—was that if the United States accepted the principle that neutral nations should not supply war materials to belligerents, it would itself, should it be involved in war, be denied the benefit of seeking such supplies from neutrals to amplify its own meager productions.
But the contention that the country in case of war would have to rely on outside help could no longer be made on the face of the sweeping change in conditions existing after eighteen months of the war. From August, 1914, to January, 1916, inclusive, American factories had sent to the European belligerents shipment after shipment of sixteen commodities used expressly for war purposes of the unsurpassed aggregate value of $865,795,668. Roughly, $200,000,000 represented explosives, cartridges, and firearms; $150,000,000 automobiles and accessories; and $250,000,000 iron and steel and copper manufacturing.
This production revealed that the United States could meet any war emergency out of its own resources in respect of supplies. Its army might be smaller than Switzerland's and its navy inadequate, but it would have no cause to go begging for the guns and shells needful to wage war.
How huge factories were built, equipped, and operated in three months, how machinery for the manufacture of tinware, typewriters, and countless other everyday articles was adapted to shell making; and how methods for producing steel and reducing ores were revolutionized—these developments form a romantic chapter in American industrial history without a parallel in that of any other country.
The United States, in helping the European belligerents who had free intercourse with it, was really helping itself. It was building better than it knew. The call for preparedness, primarily arising out of the critical relations with Germany, turned the country's attention to a contemplation of an agreeable new condition—that the European War, from which it strove to be free, had given it an enormous impetus for the creation of a colossal industry, which in itself was a long step in national preparedness, and that much of this preparedness had been provided without cost. The capital sunk in the huge plants which supplied the belligerents represented, at $150,000,000, an outlay amortized or included in the price at which the munitions were sold. Thus, when the last foreign contract was fulfilled, the United States would have at its own service one of the world's greatest munition industries—and Europe will have paid for it.
NAVAL ENGAGEMENTS IN MANY WATERS
The months which brought the second year of war to a close were marked by increased activity on the part of all the navies engaged. Several single-ship actions took place, and the Germans pursued their submarine tactics with steady, if not brilliant, results.
It was during this period that they sent the first submersible merchant ship across the Atlantic and gave further proof of having developed undersea craft to an amazing state of efficiency. On their part the British found new and improved methods of stalking submarines until it was a hazardous business for such craft to approach the British coast. A considerable number were captured; just how many was not revealed.
After a slackening in the submarine campaign against merchant ships, due partly to a division of opinion at home and largely to the growing protests of neutrals, Germany declared that after March 1, 1916, every ship belonging to an enemy that carried a gun would be considered an auxiliary, and torpedoed without warning. (For an account of the negotiations with the United States in relation to this edict, see United States and the Belligerents, Vol. V, Part X.)
A spirited fight took place in the North Sea on March 24, 1916, when the Greif, a German auxiliary of 10,000 tons, met the Alcantara, 15,300 tons, a converted British merchantman. The Greif was attempting to slip through the blockade under Norwegian colors when hailed. She parleyed with the British vessel until the latter came within a few hundred yards of her. Then, seeing a boat put out, the German unmasked her guns and opened fire. Broadside after broadside. In twelve minutes the Greif was on fire and the Alcantara sinking from the explosion of a torpedo. The Greif might have got away had not two other British vessels come on the scene, the converted cruiser Andes ending her days with a few long-range shots. One hundred and fifteen men and officers out of 300 on the Greif were saved, and the British lost five officers and sixty-nine men. Both vessels went to the bottom after as gallant an action as the war had produced. The Greif was equipped for a raiding cruise and also was believed to have had on board a big cargo of mines. When the fire started by exploding shells reaching her hold she blew up with a terrific detonation and literally was split in twain. Officers of the Alcantara spoke warmly of their enemy's good showing. One of them said that they approached to within two hundred yards of the Greif before being torpedoed and boarding parties actually had been ordered to get ready. They were preparing to lash the rigging of the two vessels together in the time-honored way and settle accounts with sheath knives when the torpedo struck and the Alcantara drifted away helpless.
On the stroke of midnight, February 29, 1916, the German edict went into effect placing armed merchantmen in a classification with auxiliary cruisers. The opening of March also was marked by the deliverance of a German ultimatum in Lisbon, demanding that ships seized by the Portuguese be surrendered within forty-eight hours. Thirty-eight German and Austrian steamers had been requisitioned, striking another blow at Teutonic sea power. Most of these belonged to Germany. Coincident with Portugal's action Italy commandeered thirty-four German ships lying in Italian ports, and several others in her territorial waters. All Austrian craft had been seized months before, but the fiction of peace with Germany still was punctiliously observed by both nations. Despite this action Germany did not declare war upon her quondam ally.
Italy brought another issue sharply to the fore in the early days of March. A few of her passenger vessels running to America and other countries had been armed previous to that time. It was done quietly, and commanders found many reasons for the presence of guns on their vessels. Of a sudden all Italian passenger craft sailed with 3-inch pieces fore and aft.
Berlin announced that on the first day of March, 1916, German submarines had sunk two French auxiliaries off Havre, and a British patrol vessel near the mouth of the Thames. Paris promptly denied the statement, and London was noncommittal. No other particulars were made public. Russian troops landed on the Black Sea coast on March 6, 1916, under the guns of a Russian naval division and took Atina, seventy-five miles east of Trebizond, the objective of the Grand Duke Constantine's army. Thirty Turkish vessels, mostly sailing ships loaded with war supplies, were sunk along the shore within a few days.
Winston Spencer Churchill, former First Lord of the Admiralty, on March 7, 1916, delivered a warning in the House of Commons against what he believed to be inadequate naval preparations. He challenged statements made by Arthur J. Balfour, his successor, on the navy's readiness. Mr. Balfour had just presented naval estimates to the House, and among other things set forth that Britain had increased her navy by 1,000,000 tons and more than doubled its personnel since hostilities began. This encouraging assurance impressed the world, but Colonel Churchill demanded that Sir John Fisher, who had resigned as First Sea Lord, be recalled to his post.
An announcement from Tokyo, March 8, 1916, served to show the new friendship between Russia and Japan. Three warships captured by the Japanese in the conflict with Russia were purchased by the czar and added to Russian naval forces. They were the Soya, the Tango and the Sagami, formerly the Variag, Poltava and Peresviet, all small but useful ships. Following the capture of Atina, the Russians took Rizeh on March 9, 1916, a city thirty-five miles east of Trebizond, an advance of forty miles in three days toward that important port. The fleet cooperated, and it was announced that the defenses of Trebizond itself were under fire and fast crumbling away.
On March 16, 1916, the Holland-Lloyd passenger steamer Tubantia, a vessel of 15,000 tons, was sunk near the Dutch coast by a mine or torpedo. She was commonly believed to have been the victim of a submarine. Her eighty-odd passengers and 300 men reached shore. Several Americans were aboard. Statements by some of the crew that four persons lost their lives could not be verified, but several of the Tubantia's officers made affidavit that the vessel was torpedoed.
The incident aroused public feeling in Holland to fever pitch, and there were threats of war. Germany hastened to deny that a submarine attacked the ship, and made overtures to the Dutch Government, offering reparation if it could be established that a German torpedo sank the steamer. This was never proved, and nothing came of the matter. But it cost Germany many friends in Holland and intensified the fear and hatred entertained toward their neighbor by the majority of Hollanders. It served to keep Dutch troops, already mobilized, under arms, and gave Berlin a bad quarter hour.
Fast on the heels of this incident came the sinking of another Dutch steamer, the Palembang, which was torpedoed and went down March 18, 1916, near Galloper Lights in a Thames estuary. Three torpedoes struck the vessel and nine of her crew were injured. This second attack in three days upon Dutch vessels wrought indignation in Holland to the breaking point. The Hague sent a strong protest to Berlin, which again replied in a conciliatory tone, hinting that an English submarine had fired on the Palembang in the hope of embroiling Holland with Germany. This suggestion was instantly rejected by the Dutch press and people. Negotiations failed to produce any definite result, save to prolong the matter until tension had been somewhat relieved. The French destroyer Renaudin fell prey to a submarine in the Adriatic on the same day. Three officers, including the commander, and forty-four of her crew, were drowned. Vienna also announced the loss in the Adriatic of the hospital ship Elektra on March 18, 1916. She was said to have been torpedoed, although properly marked. One sailor was killed and two nuns serving as nurses received wounds.
German submarine activity in the vicinity of the Thames was emphasized March 22, 1916, when the Galloper Lightship, well known to all seafaring men, went to the bottom after being torpedoed. The vessel was stationed off dangerous shoals near the mouth of the river. The Germans suffered the loss of a 7,000-ton steamship on this day, when the Esparanza was sunk by a Russian warship in the Black Sea. She had taken refuge in the Bulgarian port of Varna at the outbreak of the conflict and attempted to reach Constantinople with a cargo of foodstuffs, but a Russian patrol vessel ended her career.
Another tragedy of the sea came at a moment when strained relations between Germany and the United States made almost anything probable. The Sussex, a Channel steamer plying between Folkestone and Dieppe, was hit by a torpedo March 24, 1916, when about three hours' sail from the former port, and some fifty persons lost their lives. A moment after the missile struck there was an explosion in the engine room that spread panic among her 386 passengers, many of whom were Belgian women and children refugees bound for England. One or two boats overturned, and a number of frightened women jumped into the water without obtaining life preservers. Others strapped on the cork jackets and were rescued hours later. Some of the victims were killed outright by the impact of the torpedo and the second explosion. Fortunately the vessel remained afloat and her wireless brought rescue craft from both sides of the Channel.
The rescuers picked up practically all of those in the water who had donned life belts and took aboard those in the boats. Many of the passengers, including several Americans, saw the torpedo's wake. It was stated that the undersea craft approached the Sussex under the lee of a captured Belgian vessel, and when within easy target distance fired the torpedo. According to this version, the Belgian ship then was compelled to put about and leave the stricken steamer's passengers and crew to what seemed certain destruction. The presence of this third craft never was definitely established, although vouched for by a number of those on the Sussex.
Of thirty American passengers five or six sustained painful injuries. The victims included several prominent persons, one of whom was Enrique Granados, the Spanish composer, and his wife. They had just returned from the United States where they had witnessed the presentation of his opera "Goyescas."
The Sussex, which flew the French flag, although owned by a British company, had no guns aboard and was in no wise an auxiliary craft. She reached Boulogne in tow, and the American consul there reported that undoubtedly she had been torpedoed. (For an account of the negotiations between the United States and Germany in relation to this affair see United States and the Belligerents, Vol. V, Part X.) Ambassador Gerard, in Berlin, was instructed to ask the German Government for any particulars of the incident in its possession, so as to aid the United States in reaching a conclusion. Berlin, after much evasion, admitted that a submarine had sunk a vessel near the spot where the Sussex was lost, but gave it an entirely different description.
The British converted liner Minneapolis, used as a transport, was torpedoed in the Mediterranean with a loss of eleven lives, although this vessel also stayed afloat, according to a statement issued in London, March 26, 1916. She was a ship of 15,543 tons and formerly ran in the New York-Liverpool service. In a brush between German and British forces near the German coast, March 25, 1916, a British light cruiser, the Cleopatra, rammed and sunk a German destroyer. The British destroyer Medusa also was sunk, but her crew escaped to other vessels. In addition the Germans lost two of their armed fishing craft.
Fourteen nuns and 101 other persons were killed or drowned March 30, 1916, when the Russian hospital ship Portugal was sunk in the Black Sea between Batum and Rizeh on the Anatolian coast by a torpedo. The Portugal had stopped and was preparing to take aboard wounded men on shore. Several of those on the vessel saw the periscope of a submarine appear above the waves, but had no fear of an attack, as the Portugal was plainly marked with the Red Cross insignia and was flying a Red Cross flag from her peak.
The submarine circled about the ships twice and then, to the horror of those who were watching, fired a torpedo. The missile went astray, but another followed and found its mark. Although the ship was at anchor, with the shore near by, it was impossible to get all of her crew and wounded to safety.
This attack greatly incensed Russia. She sent protests to all of the neutral powers, calling attention to the deed perpetrated against her. The flame of national anger was fanned higher when Constantinople issued a statement saying that a Turkish submarine had sunk the Portugal, claiming that she flew the Russian merchant flag without any of the usual Red Cross markings upon her hull. It was said that the explosion which shattered the vessel was caused by the presence of ammunition.
On the morning of March 30, 1916, the steamship Matoppo, a British freighter, put into Lewes, Delaware, with her master and his crew of fifty men held prisoners by a single individual. Ernest Schiller, as he called himself, had gone aboard the Matoppo in New York, March 29, 1916, and hid himself away until the vessel passed Sandy Hook, bound for Vladivostok. Then he came out and with the aid of two weapons which the captain described as horse pistols, proceeded to cow the master and crew. Schiller announced that the Matoppo was a German prize of war and that he would shoot the first man who moved a hostile hand. The crew believed him. They also had an uneasy fear that certain bombs which Schiller mentioned would be set off unless they obeyed.
With Schiller in command the Matoppo headed down the coast, her captor keeping vigil. Off Delaware he ordered the captain to make port. The latter obeyed, but also signaled to shore that a pirate was aboard. Port authorities then sent a boat alongside, and Schiller was arrested. He admitted under examination that he and three other men had plotted to blow up the Cunard liner Pannonia. They bought the dynamite and made the bombs, but his companions' courage failed, and the plan was abandoned. Then it was proposed to stow away on some outward bound ship, seize her at sea and make for Germany. With this purpose in mind Schiller got aboard the Matoppo, but the other conspirators deserted him. Not to be foiled, he captured the vessel single-handed. It developed that his name was Clarence Reginald Hodson, his father having been an Englishman, but he was born of a German mother, had been raised in Germany, and was fully in sympathy with the German cause. After a trial he was sent to prison for life, the only man serving such a sentence in the United States on a charge of piracy.
MINOR ENGAGEMENTS AND LOSSES
The beginning of April found growing discontent among neutrals against the British blockade of Germany and the virtual embargo on many other nations. Sweden especially demonstrated resentment. The United States made new representations about the seizure and search of first-class mail. All of this did not deter the Allies from pursuing their policy of attrition toward Germany.
The opening day of the month saw the arrival in New York harbor of the first armed French steamer to reach that port. The Vulcain, a freighter, tied up at her dock with a 47-millimeter quick-firing gun mounted at the stern. Inquiries followed, with the usual result, and the advancing days found other French vessels arriving, some of the passenger liners carrying three and four 75-millimeter pieces, the famous 75's.
On April 5, 1916, Paris announced that French and British warships had sunk a submarine at an unnamed point and captured the crew. In this connection it should be said that many reports were current of frequent captures made by the Allies of enemy submersibles. The British seldom admitted such captures, seeking to befog Berlin as to the fate of her submarines. But there was little doubt that numbers of them had been taken by both French and British.
An Austrian transport was torpedoed by a French submarine and lost in the Adriatic, April 8, 1916. Neither the loss of life nor the name of the vessel was made public by Vienna.
Two days later a Russian destroyer, the Strogi, rammed and sunk an enemy submersible near the spot where the hospital ship Portugal was torpedoed.
Reports from Paris, April 18, 1916, stated that the French had captured the submarine that torpedoed the Sussex. It was said that her crew and commander were prisoners, and that documentary evidence had been obtained on the vessel to prove that she sank the Sussex. The report could not be verified, but Paris semiofficially intimated that she had indisputable proof that the Sussex was a submarine's victim. The two incidents coincided so well that the capture of the vessel was believed to have been made.
Trebizond fell April 18, 1916, the Russian fleet cooperating in a grand assault. This gave Russia possession of a fine port on the Turkish side of the Black Sea and marked important progress for her armies in Asia.
Zeebrugge, Belgium, was shelled by the British fleet, April 25, 1916, the city sustaining one of the longest and heaviest bombardments which it had suffered since its capture by the Germans. As a convenient base for submarines it was a particularly troublesome thorn to the Allies, and the bombardment was directed mainly at buildings suspected of being submarine workshops, and the harbor defenses. Several vessels were sunk and much damage wrought, the German batteries at Heyst, Blankenberghe, and Knocke coming in for the heavy fire.
Naval vessels on guard engaged the Germans and succeeded in driving them off, although outnumbered. Two British cruisers were hit, without serious injury. The attack was part of a concerted plan which contemplated a smashing blow at the British line, while the Irish trouble engaged attention.
One British auxiliary was lost and her crew captured and a destroyer damaged in a scouting engagement off the Flanders coast on April 25, 1916. The identity of the vessel was never learned. The E-22, a British submarine, went down April 25, 1916, in another fight. The Germans scored again when they sank an unidentified guard vessel off the Dogger Bank after dusk April 26, 1916.
Reports from Holland, April 28, 1916, told of the sinking by an armed British trawler of a submarine near the north coast of Scotland. The enemy vessel had halted two Dutch steamers when the trawler appeared. The submersible was said to be of the newest and largest type and sixty men were believed to have been lost with her. The British announced the sinking of a submarine on the same day off the east coast, one officer and seventeen men being taken prisoners. It was believed that the two reports concerned the same craft.
London also admitted the loss on April 28, 1916, of the battleship Russell, which struck a mine or was torpedoed in the Mediterranean. Admiral Freemantle, whose flag she bore, was among the 600 men saved. The loss of life included one hundred and twenty-four officers and men.
The Russell was a vessel of 14,000 tons, carried four 12-inch guns, twelve 6-inch pieces, and a strong secondary battery. She belonged to the predreadnought period, but was a formidable fighting ship.
The quality of Russia's determination to win victory, despite serious reverses in the field, was well indicated by an announcement made in Petrograd, May 1, 1916. A railroad from the capital to Soroka, on the White Sea, begun since the war started, had just reached completion. It covered a distance of 386 miles and made accessible a port that hitherto had been practically useless, where it was proposed to divert commercial shipments. This left free for war purposes the port of Archangel, sole window of Russia looking upon the west until Soroka was linked with Petrograd. German activity had halted all shipping to Russian Baltic ports. At the moment announcement was made of this event more than 100 ships were waiting for the ice to break up, permitting passage to Archangel and Soroka, which are held in the grip of the north for many months of each year. A majority of these vessels carried guns, ammunition, harness, auto trucks and other things sorely needed by the Czar's armies. Additional supplies were pouring in through Vladivostok for the long haul across Siberia.
May 1, 1916, witnessed the destruction of a British mine sweeper, the Nasturtium, in the Mediterranean along with the armed yacht Aegusa, both said to have been sunk by floating mines.
The Aegusa formerly was the Erin, the private yacht of Sir Thomas Lipton, and valued at $375,000 when the Government took it over. The craft was well known to Americans, as Sir Thomas, several times challenger for the international cup held in America, had made more than one trip to our shores on the vessel.
The French submarine Bernouille was responsible for the sinking of an enemy torpedo boat in the Adriatic, May 4, 1916.
Washington received a note from Germany, May 6, 1916, offering to modify her submarine orders if the United States would protest to Great Britain against the stringent blockade laid upon Germany. This offer met with prompt rejection, President Wilson standing firm and insisting upon disavowal for the sinking of the Sussex and search of merchantmen before attack. (See United States and the Belligerents, Vol. V, Part X.)
Laden with munitions, the White Star liner Cymric was torpedoed and sunk May 9, 1916, near the British coast with a loss of five killed. The vessel remained afloat for several hours, and the remainder of her 110 officers and men were saved. She had no passengers aboard.
An Austrian transport, name unknown, went down in the Adriatic, May 10, 1916, after a French submarine torpedoed her. She was believed to have had a heavy cargo of munitions, but few soldiers, and probably was bound for Durazzo, Albania, from Pola, the naval base.
The M-30, a small British monitor, was struck by shells from a Turkish battery upon the island of Kesten in the Mediterranean and sunk on the night of May 13, 1916. Casualties consisted of two killed and two wounded.
The sunny weather of May brought a resumption of attacks by British and Russian submarines in the Baltic. May 18, 1916, London announced that four German steamers, the Kolga, Biancha, Hera and Trav, had been halted and destroyed in that sea within a few days. Other similar reports followed and German shipping was almost driven from the Baltic, thereby cutting off an important source of supply with Sweden and Norway, the only neutrals still trading with Germany to any considerable extent. For her part, Germany alleged that several merchant ships torpedoed by the British were sunk without warning and some of the crews killed. London denied the charge and there was none to prove or disprove it.
An Italian destroyer performed a daring feat on the night of May 30, 1916, running into the harbor at Trieste and sinking a large transport believed to have many soldiers aboard. Scarcely a soul was saved, current report stated. The raider crept out to sea again and made good her escape.
THE BATTLE OF JUTLAND BANK—BEGINNING
A great naval battle was fought in the North Sea off Jutland, where, in the afternoon and evening hours of May 31, 1916, the fleets of England and Germany clashed in what might have been—but was not—the most important naval fight in history. Why it missed this ultimate distinction is not altogether clear. Nor is it altogether clear to which side victory leaned. To pronounce a satisfactory judgment on this point we need far more information than we have at present, not only as to the respective losses of the contending fleets, but as to the objects for which the battle was fought and the degree of success attained in the accomplishment of these objects. The official German report states that the German fleet left port "on a mission to the northward." No certain evidence is at hand as to the nature of this mission; but whatever it was, it can hardly have been accomplished, as the most northerly point reached was less than 180 miles from the point of departure, and the whole fleet, or what was left of it, was back in port within thirty-six hours of the time of leaving.
It has been surmised, and there is some reason to believe, that the German plan was to force a passage for their battle cruisers through the channel between Scotland and Norway into the open sea, where, with their high-speed and long-range guns, they might, at least for a time, have paralyzed transatlantic commerce with very serious results for England's industries, and still more serious results for her supplies of food.
Another and a somewhat more plausible theory is that the plan contemplated the escape to the open sea, not of the battle cruisers themselves, but of a number of very fast armed merchant cruisers of the Moewe type, which were to repeat the Moewe's exploit on a large scale, serving the same purpose that the submarines served during the period of their greatest activity. Color is lent to this theory by what is known of the controversy now going on in Germany between those who advocate a renewal of the submarine warfare against commerce, and those who are opposed to this. It is evident that if fast cruisers could be maintained on England's trade routes they might do all that the submarine could do and more, and this without raising any question as to their rights under international law.
Whatever the plan was, we must assume that it was thwarted by the interposition of the British fleet; and from this point of view the battle takes on the aspect of a British victory. The German fleet is back behind the fortifications and the mine fields of the Helgoland Bight, in the waters which have been its refuge for nearly two years of comparative inactivity. And the British fleet still holds the command of the sea with a force which makes its command complete, and, in all human probability, permanent.
From the narrower point of view of results on the actual field of battle, it appears from the evidence at present available that, although the Germans were first to withdraw, they had the advantage in that they lost fewer ships than their opponents and less important ones. This is not admitted by the British, and it may not be true, but we have the positive assurance of the German Government that it is so, and no real evidence to the contrary. It must therefore be accepted for the present, always with remembrance of the fact that the first reports given out by the German authorities are admitted to have been understated "for military reasons." Only time can tell us whether the world has the whole truth even now. But taking the situation as it appears from the official statements on both sides the losses are as follows:
Battleships Battleships None One
Battle Cruisers Battle Cruisers Three One
Armored Cruisers Armored Cruisers Three None
Light Cruisers Light Cruisers None Four
Destroyers Destroyers Eight Five
It is certain that the British losses as here given are substantially correct. It is possible, as has been said, that the German losses are much understated. British officers and seamen claim to have actually seen several large German ships blow up, and they are probably quite honest in these claims. They may be right. But it is only necessary to picture to one's self the conditions by which all observers were surrounded while the appalling inferno of the battle was at its height to understand how hopelessly unreliable must be the testimony of participants as to what they saw and heard. Four or five 15-inch shells striking simultaneously against the armor of a battleship and exploding with a great burst of flame and smoke might well suggest to an eager and excited observer the total destruction of the ship. And an error here would be all the easier when to the confusion of battle was added the obscurity of darkness and of fog.
No doubt the time will come when we shall know, if not the full truth, at least enough to justify a conclusion as to the comparative losses. Until that time comes, we may accept the view that, measured by the narrow standard of ships and lives lost, the Germans had the advantage. This may be true, and yet it may be also true that the real victory was with the British, since they may have bought with their losses, great as these were, that for which they could well afford to pay an even higher price.
According to the statement of Admiral Jellicoe, the British fleet has for some months past made a practice of sweeping the North Sea from time to time with practically its whole force of fighting ships, with a view to discouraging raids by the German fleet, and in the hope of meeting any force which might, whether for raiding or for any other purpose, have ventured out beyond the fortifications and mine fields of the Helgoland Bight.
On May 31, 1916, the fleet was engaged in one of these excursions, apparently with no knowledge that the German fleet was to be abroad at the same time.
In accordance with what appears to have been the general practice, the Grand Fleet was divided; the main fighting force under the command of Admiral Jellicoe himself occupying a position near the middle of the North Sea, while the two battle-cruiser divisions under Vice Admiral Beatty, supported by a division of dreadnoughts of the Queen Elizabeth class under Rear Admiral Evan-Thomas, were some seventy miles to the southward (Plate I). Admiral Jellicoe had a division of battle cruisers and another of armored cruisers in addition to his dreadnoughts, and both he and Admiral Beatty were well provided with destroyers and light cruisers.
The day was pleasant, but marked by the characteristic mistiness of North Sea weather; and as the afternoon wore on the mist took on more and more the character of light drifting fog, making it impossible at times to see clearly more than two or three miles.
At two o'clock in the afternoon Admiral Beatty's detachment was steaming on a northerly course, being then about ninety miles west of the coast of Denmark, accompanied by several flotillas of destroyers and with a screen of light cruisers thrown out to the north and east.
At about 2.20 p. m. the Galatea, one of the light cruisers engaged in scouting east of Beatty's battle cruisers, reported smoke on the horizon to the eastward, and started to investigate, the battle cruisers taking up full speed and following. The Galatea and her consorts were soon afterward engaged with a German force of similar type, and at 3.30 p. m. a squadron of five battle cruisers was made out some twelve miles farther to the eastward.
Beatty immediately swung off to the southeast in the hope of getting between the German squadron and its base; but the German commander, Vice Admiral von Hipper, changed course correspondingly, and the two squadrons continued on courses nearly parallel but somewhat converging until, at about 3.45 p. m., fire was opened on both sides, the range at that time being approximately nine miles. About ten minutes after the battle was fully joined, the Indefatigable, the rear ship of the British column, was struck by a broadside from one or more of the enemy ships, and blew up; and twenty minutes later the Queen Mary, latest and most powerful of the British battle cruisers, met the same fate. The suddenness and completeness of the disaster to these two splendid ships has not yet been explained and perhaps never will be. Their elimination threw the advantage of numbers actually engaged from the British to the German side, but very shortly afterward the leading ships of Rear Admiral Thomas's dreadnought division came within range and opened fire (Plate II), thus throwing the superiority again to the British side. For the next half hour or thereabouts, Von Hipper's five battle cruisers were pitted against four battle cruisers and four dreadnoughts, and Beatty reports that their fire fell off materially, as would naturally be the case. They appear, however, to have stood up gallantly under the heavy punishment to which they must have been subjected.
Beatty was drawing slowly ahead, though with little prospect of being able to throw his force across the enemy's van, as he had hoped to do, his plan being not only to cut the Germans off from their base, but to "cap" their column and concentrate the fire of his whole force on Von Hipper's leading ships. Had he been able to do this he would have secured the tactical advantage which is the object of all maneuvering in a naval engagement, and would at the same time have compelled Von Hipper to run to the northward toward the point from which Jellicoe was known to be approaching at the highest speed of his dreadnoughts. With this thought in mind, Beatty was holding on to the southward, taking full advantage of his superiority in both speed and gunfire, when a column of German dreadnoughts was sighted in the southeast approaching at full speed to form a junction with Von Hipper's squadron (Plate II). Seeing himself thus outmatched, Beatty made a quick change of plan. There was no longer any hope of carrying out the plan of throwing himself across the head of the German column, but if Von Hipper could not be driven into Jellicoe's arms it was conceivable that he might be led there, and with him the additional force that Von Scheer was bringing up to join him. So Beatty turned to the northward, and, as he had hoped, Von Hipper followed; not, however, until he had run far enough on the old course to effect a junction with Von Scheer, whose battleships fell in astern of the battle cruisers as these last swung around to the northward and took up a course parallel to that of Beatty and Thomas. Thus the running fight was resumed, with the difference that both forces were now heading at full speed toward the point from which Beatty knew Jellicoe to be approaching. Von Hipper's delay in turning had permitted Beatty to draw ahead, and the relative positions of the engaged squadrons were now those shown in Plate III.
It is during this part of the fight that the British accounts speak of Beatty as engaging the whole German fleet and as being thus tremendously overmatched. A moment's study of Plate III will make it clear that this claim is not tenable. Without fuller information than we have of positions and distances, it is impossible to say exactly how many of Von Scheer's ships were able to fire on Beatty's column, but certainly the total German force within effective range could not have been materially larger than the British force it was engaging.
As far as can be figured out from Beatty's own report, the only time when he was actually pitted against a force superior to his own, within fighting range, was after he had lost the Indefatigable and the Queen Mary, and before the dreadnoughts of Admiral Thomas's force had reached a point from which they were able to open an effective fire. He entered the fight with six battle cruisers opposed to five. He then, for a short time, had four opposed to five. A little later he had four battle cruisers and four dreadnoughts opposed to five battle cruisers, and a little later still, as has just been stated, the forces actually opposed within firing range became practically equal.
About six o'clock, having gained enough to admit of an attempt to "cap," Beatty turned his head to the eastward, but Von Hipper refused to accept this disadvantage and turned east himself, thus continuing the parallel fight on a large curve tending more and more to the east (Plate IV). It was about this time that the Luetzow, Von Hipper's flagship and the leader of the German column, dropped out of the formation, having been so badly damaged that she could no longer maintain her position in the formation. Von Hipper, calling a destroyer alongside, boarded her and proceeded, through a storm of shell, to the Moltke, on which he resumed his place at the head of the fleet.
Jellicoe, seventy miles to the northward with the main fighting force, received word about three o'clock that the scouting force was in contact with the enemy, and started at once to effect a junction with Beatty. He may well have wished at that moment that his forces were separated somewhat less widely. Under his immediate command he had three squadrons of the latest and most powerful fighting ships in the world, twenty-five in all, including his own flagship, the Iron Duke. His squadrons were led by three of the youngest and most efficient vice admirals in the service, Sir Cecil Burney, Sir Thomas Jerram, and Sir Doveton Sturdee (Plate V). With him also were Rear Admirals Hood and Arbuthnot, the former commanding three of the earlier battle cruisers, Invincible, Inflexible, and Indomitable, the latter commanding four armored cruisers, of which we shall hear more hereafter.
A majority of the battleships were capable of a speed of 21 to 22 knots, but it is improbable that the force, as a whole, could do better than 20 knots. Hood, with his "Invincibles," was capable of from 27 to 28 knots, and Jellicoe appears to have sent him on ahead to reenforce Beatty at the earliest possible moment, while following himself at a speed which, he says, strained the older ships of his force to the utmost. The formation of the fleet was probably somewhat like that shown at A, Plate V, which doubtless passed into B before fighting range was reached.
Of the southward sweep of this great armada, the most tremendous fighting force the world has ever seen on sea or land, we have no record. They started. They arrived. Of the hours that intervened no word has been said. Yet it is not difficult to picture something of the dramatic tenseness of the race. The admirals, their staffs, the captains of the individual ships, all were on the bridges, and there remained not only through the race to reach the battle area, but through all the fighting after they had closed with the enemy. The carefully worked-out plans for directing everything from the shelter of the conning tower were thrown aside without a thought. So there we see them, grouped in the most exposed positions on their ships, straining their eyes through the haze for the first glimpse of friend or foe, and urging those below, at the fires and the throttle, to squeeze out every fraction of a knot that boilers and turbines could be made to yield.
Word must have been received by wireless of the loss of the Indefatigable and the Queen Mary, while the battleships were still fifty or sixty miles away, for Beatty at this time was running south faster than Jellicoe could follow. It was perhaps at this time that Hood was dispatched at full speed to add his three battle cruisers to the four that remained to Beatty. They arrived upon the scene about 6.15 p. m., shortly after Beatty had turned eastward, and swung in ahead of Beatty's column, which, as thus reenforced, consisted of seven battle cruisers and four dreadnoughts (Plate IV). Admiral Beatty writes in terms of enthusiastic admiration of the way in which Hood brought his ships into action, and it is easy to understand the thrill with which he must have welcomed this addition to his force.
But his satisfaction was not of long duration. Hardly had the Invincible, Hood's flagship, settled down on her new course and opened fire than she disappeared in a great burst of smoke and flame. Here, as in the case of the Indefatigable and the Queen Mary, the appalling suddenness and completeness of the disaster makes it impossible of explanation. The survivors from all three of the ships totaled only about one hundred, and none of these are able to throw any light upon the matter.
By this time Beatty's whole column had completed the turn from north to east, and Jellicoe was in sight to the northward with his twenty-five dreadnoughts, coming on at twenty knots or more straight for the point where Beatty's column blocked his approach. Jellicoe writes of this situation:
"Meanwhile, 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 around to the starboard beam, although in the mist no ships could be distinguished, and the position of the enemy's fleet could not be determined.
"... At this period, when the battle fleet was meeting the battle cruisers and the Fifth Battle Squadron, great care was necessary to ensure that our own ships were not mistaken for enemy vessels."
Here is a bald description of a situation which must have been charged with almost overwhelming anxiety for the commander in chief. He knew that just ahead of him a tremendous battle was in progress, but of the disposition of the forces engaged he had only such knowledge as he could gather from the few fragmentary wireless messages that Beatty had found time to flash to him. He could see but a short distance, and he knew that through the cloud of mingled fog and smoke into which he was rushing at top speed, all ships would look much alike. That he was able to bring his great force into action and into effective cooperation with Beatty without accident or delay is evidence of high tactical skill on his part and on that of every officer under his command; and, what is even more creditable, of supremely efficient coordination of all parts of the tremendous machine which responded so harmoniously to his will.
As Jellicoe's leading ships appeared through the fog, Beatty realized that he must make an opening in his column to let them through. Accordingly, he called upon his own fast battle cruisers for their highest speed and drew away to the eastward, at the same time signaling Admiral Evan-Thomas to reduce speed and drop back (Plate VI). The maneuver was perfectly conceived and perfectly timed. As Jellicoe approached he found Beatty's column opening before him. As he swept on through, steering south toward the head of the German line, Beatty also swung south on a course parallel and a little to the eastward, and, by virtue of his high speed, a little ahead. The result was that neither force blanketed the other for a moment, and the head of the German column a little later found itself under the concentrated fire of practically the whole British fleet. It may well have "crumpled" as Jellicoe says it did; and whether it is true or not, as British reports insist, that several of the leading ships were destroyed at this time, it appears to be true, at least, that a second battle cruiser dropped out, leaving only three of this type under Von Hipper's command.
The situation quickly passed from that shown in Plate VI to that shown in Plate VII. The British had succeeded in establishing a cap, and their position was so favorable that it looked as if nothing could save the Germans from destruction. But night was coming on, the mist was thickening into fog, and the only point of aim for either fleet was that afforded by the flash of the enemy's guns. Von Scheer, who, as Von Hipper's senior, was in command of the German forces as a whole, turned from east to west, each ship swinging independently, and sent his whole force of destroyers at top speed against the enemy. It would be difficult to imagine conditions more favorable for such an attack. Jellicoe saw the opportunity and acted upon it as quickly as did Von Scheer, with the result that as the German destroyers swept toward the British fleet they met midway the British destroyers bent on a similar mission, and a battle followed in the fog between destroyers, which broke up both attacks against the main fleets and saved the capital ships on both sides from what must otherwise have been very serious danger. Meantime, as the German fleet drew off to the westward, Jellicoe and Beatty passed completely around the German flank and reached a position to the southward and between the German fleet and its base at Helgoland (Plate VIII). By the time this was accomplished it was nearly ten o'clock, and the long day of that high northern latitude was passing into darkness rendered darker by the fog. Contact between the main fleets had been lost, and firing had ceased. Both sides continued destroyer attacks through the night, and some of these were delivered with great dash and forced home with splendid determination. The British claim to have sunk at least two of the German capital ships during these attacks. But this the Germans deny.
The Battle of Horn Reef, if that is to be its name, was at an end. The German fleet, now heading west, evidently soon afterward headed south toward the secure waters of the Helgoland Bight, which it was allowed to reach without interference by the British main fleet and apparently without discovery. The British may well have been cautious during the night about venturing far into the fog, which, as they knew, if it concealed the capital ships of Von Hipper and Von Scheer, concealed also their destroyers, and possibly a stretch of water strewn with mines laid out by the retreating enemy. It must not be forgotten, however, that the British were between the German fleet and its base when they ceased the offensive for the night, and that only a few hours, in that high latitude, separate darkness from dawn.
With daylight, which was due by two o'clock or thereabouts, and with the lifting of the fog, Jellicoe reports that he searched to the northward and found no enemy. The following day, June 2, 1916, his fleet was back in port taking account of its losses, which were undeniably great, though whether or not they were greater than those of the enemy, only the future can prove.
SOME SECONDARY FEATURES OF THE BATTLE
One of the most inexplicable incidents of the day occurred as Jellicoe's fleet approached the battle area and shortly before the leading ship of his column passed through the opening in Beatty's column as already described. The four armored cruisers, Duke of Edinburgh, Defence, Warrior, and Black Prince, under Rear Admiral Arbuthnot, were in company with Jellicoe, but separated from his main force by several miles. These ships were lightly armed and very lightly armored, and had absolutely no excuse for taking part in the main battle. Yet they now appeared, somewhat in advance of the main fleet and to the westward of it, standing down ahead of Evan-Thomas's division of battleships, which, as has been explained, had dropped back to allow Jellicoe to pass ahead of them. As Arbuthnot appeared from the mist, several German ships opened on him at short range, and within a very few moments three of his four ships were destroyed. The Defence and Black Prince were sunk immediately. The Warrior was so badly damaged that she sank during the night while trying to make port. The Duke of Edinburgh escaped.
Another incident belonging to this phase of the battle was the jamming of the steering gear of the Warspite, of Admiral Evan-Thomas's division of dreadnoughts. Apparently the helm jammed when in the hard-over position, and the ship for some time ran around in a circle. Through the whole of this time she was under heavy fire, and is reported to have been struck more than one hundred times by heavy shells, in spite of which she later returned to her position in column and continued the fight. In the course of her erratic maneuvers, while not under control, she circled around the Warrior and received so much of the fire intended for that ship as to justify the belief that her accident saved the Warrior from immediate destruction and made it possible, later, to rescue her crew before she finally sank, as she did during the night following the battle. It was for a time believed that the Warspite had deliberately intervened to save the Warrior, and there was much talk of the "chivalry" of the Warspite's commander in thus risking his own ship to save another—this from those who overlooked the fact that the duty of the Warspite, as one of the most valuable fighting units of the fleet, was to keep place in line as long as possible, and to carry out the general battle plan; which, of course, is exactly what the Warspite did to the best of her ability.
It is an interesting fact that of the small number of capital ships lost or disabled, four were flagships. Two rear admirals, Hood and Arbuthnot, went down with their ships. Two vice admirals, Von Hipper and Burney, shifted their flags in the thickest of the fight, Von Hipper from the Luetzow to the Moltke, Burney from the Marlborough to the Revenge.
A large part of Admiral Jellicoe's official report deals with the work of the light cruisers and destroyers, which, while necessarily restricted to a secondary role, contributed in many ways to the operations of the main fighting forces, securing and transmitting information, attacking at critical times, and repelling attacks from the corresponding craft of the enemy. All of these tasks took on a special importance as the afternoon advanced, because of the decreasing visibility due to fog and darkness. The light cruisers were constantly employed in keeping touch with the enemy, whose capital ships they approached at times to within two or three thousand yards. And the destroyers of both fleets were repeatedly sent at full speed through banks of fog within which the enemy battleships were known to be concealed. It is rather remarkable that so few of either type were lost, and still more remarkable, so far as the destroyers are concerned, that so few of the large ships were torpedoed.
The Marlborough was struck and badly damaged, but she made her way safely to port. The Frauenlob, Rostock, and Pommern were sunk. And that is the whole story so far as known at present. Yet several hundred torpedoes must have been discharged, most of them at ranges within 5,000 yards. It looks a little as if the world would be obliged to modify the view that has been held of late with reference to the efficiency of the torpedo—or at least of the torpedo as carried by the destroyer.
The loss of the three large battle cruisers, Indefatigable, Invincible, and Queen Mary is, and will always remain, the most dramatic incident of the battle, and the most inexplicable. It is doubtful if we shall ever know the facts, but that something more than gunfire was involved is made clear by the fact that in each case the ship was destroyed by an explosion. Whether this was due to a shell actually penetrating the magazine, or to the ignition of exposed charges of powder, or to a torpedo or a mine exploding outside in the vicinity of the magazine, it is impossible to do more than conjecture. There is a suggestion of something known, but kept back, in the following paragraph from a description of the battle by Mr. Arthur Pollen, which is presumably based upon information furnished by the British admiralty:
"As to the true explanation of the loss of the three ships that did blow up, the admiralty, no doubt, will give this to the public if it is thought wise to do so. But there can be no harm in saying this. The explanation of the sinking of each of these ships by a single lucky shot—both they and practically all the other cruisers were hit repeatedly by shots that did no harm—is, in the first place, identical. Next, it does not lie in the fact that the ships were insufficiently armored to keep out big shell. Next, the fatal explosion was not caused by a mine or by a torpedo. Lastly, it is in no sense due to any instability or any other dangerous characteristic of the propellants or explosives carried on board. I am free to confess that when I first heard of these ships going down as rapidly as they did, one of two conclusions seemed to be irresistible—either a shell had penetrated the lightly armored sides and burst in the magazine, or a mine or torpedo had exploded immediately beneath it. But neither explanation is right."
One of the most striking and surprising features about the battle is the closeness with which it followed conventional lines, both in the types of vessels and weapons used and in the manner of using them. Neither submarines nor Zeppelins played any part, although both were at hand. Some effective scouting was done by an aeroplane sent up from one of the British cruisers early in the afternoon, and the British report that they saw and fired on a Zeppelin early in the morning of June 1, 1916. But this is all.
There have been stories for many months of a 17-inch gun of marvelous power carried by German dreadnoughts, but no such weapon made its appearance on this occasion.
And the tactics employed on both sides were as conventional as the weapons used. The fight was a running fight in parallel columns from the moment when Beatty and Von Hipper turned simultaneously toward the south upon their first contact with each other, until night and fog separated them at the end. Beatty's constant effort to secure a "cap" contained no element of novelty, and Von Hipper's reply, refusing the cap by turning his head away and swinging slowly on a parallel interior curve, was the conventional, as it was the proper, reply. Unfortunately, as we shall presently have occasion to note, the German fleet ultimately allowed itself to be capped, with results which ought to have been far more disastrous than they actually were. The destroyers availed themselves of the opportunities for attack presented from time to time by smoke and fog, and their drive was stopped by opposing destroyers.
So little is known of the German injuries that there is hardly sufficient ground for comment on the British marksmanship, but it does not appear to have been what the world had expected. Exactly the reverse is true of the German marksmanship, especially at long ranges. It was surprisingly good, and the most surprising thing about it was the promptness with which it found the target. The Indefatigable was blown up ten minutes after she came under fire. Hood, in the Invincible, had barely gained his place in line ahead of Beatty's column when the ship was smothered by a perfect avalanche of shells. If it is true that the Germans had the best of the fight so far as material damage is concerned, the explanation must be sought in their unexpectedly excellent marksmanship, with, perhaps, some sinister factor added, either of weakness in the British ships or of amazing power in the German shells, yet to be made known. It should be noted that the sinking of the Indefatigable and the Queen Mary belongs to a phase of battle in which Beatty had a distinct advantage of force, his six battle cruisers being opposed to five.
While the torpedo, as has been said, played no important part in the action, the destroyers on both sides appear to have been active and enterprising, and if they accomplished little in a material way, the threat involved in their presence and their activity had an important moral effect at several critical stages of the battle. When Jellicoe decided not to force his offensive during the night he was no doubt influenced in a large degree by the menace of the German destroyers.
Destroyers, too, contributed indirectly to the loss of Arbuthnot's armored cruisers. When Jellicoe's fleet was seen approaching, "appearing shadowlike from the haze bank to the northeast," the German destroyers were thrown against them, and it was apparently to meet and check this threat that Rear Admiral Arbuthnot pushed forward with his armored cruisers into the area between the two main battle lines. It may be that he could not see what lay behind the thrust he sought to parry. Both the British and the German stories of the battle assume that he was surprised. But whether this is true or not, the fact is that it was in seeking to shield the battleships from a destroyer attack that he came under fire of the main German force and lost three of his ships almost immediately; for the Warrior, although she remained afloat for several hours, was doomed from the first.
LOSSES AND TACTICS
The British losses as reported officially, and no doubt truthfully, are as follows:
BATTLE CRUISERS: Tonnage Officers and Men
Queen Mary 27,500 1,000 Invincible 17,250 790 Indefatigable 18,750 780
Defence 14,600 850 Black Prince 13,500 750 Warrior 13,500 750
Tipperary 1,850 160 Turbulent 980 100 Fortune 950 100 Sparrowhawk 935 100 Ardent 950 100 Nestor 950 100 Nomad 950 100 Shark 950 100
The reported German losses are as follows. The actual losses may be much greater:
BATTLE CRUISERS: Tonnage Officers and Men
Luetzow 28,000 1,150
Pommern 13,040 736
Wiesbaden ...... ... Frauenlob 2,657 281 Elbing ..... ... Rostock 4,820 373
Five .... ...
Total Tonnage Lost
British 117,150 German 60,720 (acknowledged)
Total Personnel Lost
British 6,105 German 2,414 (acknowledged)
When the losses above given are analyzed they are found to be much less favorable to the German side than they appear to be on the surface. To begin with, we may eliminate the three armored cruisers on the British side as of no military value whatever. This reduces the effective tonnage lost on the British side by more than 40,000 tons.
The Queen Mary and the Luetzow offset each other.
If we accept the German claim that the Pommern, which was lost, was actually the old predreadnought of that name, it is fair to say that she offsets the Invincible. There is, however, very good reason for believing that she was a new and very powerful dreadnought. If this is the case, her loss easily offsets that of both the Invincible and the Indefatigable. Accepting the German statement, however, as we have done at all other points, we may say that so far as effective capital ships are concerned, the British lost one more than the Germans. This, after all, is not a very great difference, and it is to a large extent offset by the loss of four light cruisers which the German admiralty admit. In destroyers the advantage is with the Germans.
With regard to the armored cruisers already referred to, it is interesting to note the fact that these three ships were practically presented to the Germans, thus paralleling the fate of their sister ships, the Cressy, Hogue and Aboukir, which, as will be remembered, were destroyed by a submarine in September, 1914, under conditions of inexplicable carelessness. The military loss represented by all six of these ships was small (disregarding the loss of personnel), but they all selected a fate which was so timed, and in its character so spectacular, as to contribute enormously to the lessening of the prestige with which the British navy had entered upon the war.
As bearing still further upon the comparative losses of the battle, account must be taken of ships seriously injured. Of these, reports from sources apparently unprejudiced insist that the German fleet has a large number and that the number includes several of the most powerful ships that took part in the battle. It is known that the Seydlitz, one of the latest and largest of the German battle cruisers, was so badly damaged that it will be many months before she can take the sea again. There are stories of two other large ships which reached port in such a condition that it was necessary to dock them at once to keep them from sinking. Contrasted with this is the fact that the British ships which reached port were but little injured. This gives an air of probability to the story that the German fire tactics provided for concentrating the fire of several of their ships on some one ship of the enemy's line until she was destroyed. This would explain the otherwise inexplicable fact that, while the Indefatigable and the Queen Mary were being overwhelmed, the ships ahead and astern of them were hardly struck at all.
It may well be that the total damage done the German ships by the steady pounding of the whole line vastly exceeds the total received by the British ships. Something will be known on this subject when it becomes clear that the Germans are, or are not, ready to take the sea again. If their losses and their injuries were as unimportant as they would have the world believe, if their victory was as great as they claim that it was, they should be ready at an early date to challenge the British again, this time with a fleet practically intact as to ships, and with a personnel fired with enthusiastic confidence in its own superiority. If, instead of this, they resume the attitude of evasion which they have maintained so long, the inference will be plain that they have not given the world the truth with regard to what the battle of May 31, 1916, meant to them.
A significant fact in this connection is that, regardless of what others may say on the subject, the officers and men of the British navy are convinced that the victory was with them, and are eager for another chance at the enemy, which they fully believe they would have destroyed if night and fog had not intervened to stay their hand.
The net result of the battle as seen by the world, after careful appraisement of the claims and counterclaims on both sides, is that England retains the full command of the sea, with every prospect of retaining it indefinitely, but that the British navy has, for the moment, lost something of the prestige which it has enjoyed since the days of Nelson and Jervis. There is nothing to support the belief that the control of the North Sea or of any other sea has passed, or by any conceivable combination of circumstances can pass, into the hands of Germany during the present war, or as a result of the war.
All accounts of the battle by those who participated in it represent the weather as capricious. The afternoon came in with a smooth sea, a light wind, and a clear, though somewhat hazy, atmosphere. The smoke of the German ships was made out at a distance which must have been close to twenty miles, and the range-finding as Beatty and Von Hipper closed must have been almost perfect, as is proved by the promptness with which the Germans began making hits on the Queen Mary and the Indefatigable. But this did not continue long. Little wisps of fog began to gather here and there, drifting about, rising from time to time and then settling down and gathering in clouds that at times cut off the view even close at hand.
As the sun dropped toward the horizon it lighted up the western sky with a glow against which the British ships were clearly outlined, forming a perfect target, while the dark-colored German ships to the eastward were projected against a background of fog as gray as themselves. It is interesting to recall the fact that these are exactly the conditions which existed when the British and German squadrons in the Pacific met off Coronel. In that case, as in the present one, the British fleet was to the westward, clearly silhouetted against the twilight sky. And the fate of the Indefatigable and the Queen Mary was not more sudden or more tragic than that of the Good Hope and the Monmouth. It may be that the unfavorable conditions were a matter of luck in both cases. But it may be also that the Germans chose the time of day for fighting in each case to accord with the position which they expected to occupy.
The British complain much of their bad luck, but there are well-recognized advantages of position with regard to light and wind and sea, and the Germans seem to have the luck, if luck it be, to find these advantages habitually on their side.
The British call it luck that both in the battle off Horn Reef and that off Dogger Bank the Germans escaped destruction through the coming on of night. But how would this claim look if it were shown that the Germans timed their movements with direct regard for this—allowing themselves time for a decided thrust, to be followed by withdrawal under cover of night before they could be brought to a final reckoning? A careful study of the operations of the present war shows, on both sea and land, a painstaking attention on the German side to every detail, however small; and instances are not rare in which they have benefited from this in ways which could hardly have been anticipated.
There has been much discussion of the tactics of the battle. And critics, not in foreign countries alone, but in England, have pointed out errors of Beatty and Jellicoe, while many more have come to their defense and shown conclusively that everything done was wisely done, and that the escape of the German fleet and the losses by the British fleet were due not to bad management but to bad luck.
The first point selected for criticism by those who venture to criticize is the initial separation of Beatty's force from Jellicoe's by from sixty to seventy miles. This certainly proved unfortunate, and if it was deliberately planned it is undoubtedly open to criticism. A reference, however, to the letter which Mr. Balfour addressed to the mayors of Yarmouth and Lowestoft on May 8, 1916, suggests an explanation which makes the separation of the two forces seem a reasonable one. Mr. Balfour states, for the reassurance of the mayors and their people, that a policy is to be adopted of keeping a force of fast and powerful ships in certain ports near the English Channel, where they will be ready to sally forth at short notice to run down any force which may venture to cross the North Sea, whether for raiding or for any other purpose. This foreshadows the assignment of a force of battle cruisers to the south of England, and it is altogether probable that Beatty, instead of having been detached by Jellicoe for operations to the southward, had, in fact, gone out directly from the mouth of the Thames to sweep northward toward a junction with the main fleet. This view of the matter is confirmed by the opening sentence of Beatty's official report to Jellicoe:
"I have the honor to report that at 2.37 p. m. on 31st May, 1916, I was cruising and steering to the northward to join your flag."
Another point which has been criticized is the action of Beatty in turning south instead of north when he first found himself in touch with Von Hipper.
It is not clear from the evidence at hand whether he followed Von Hipper in this move or whether Von Hipper followed him. If Von Hipper headed south, Beatty could not well refuse to follow him. Beatty was there to fight if there was a chance to fight, and there is no question that in heading south, whether he was following Von Hipper's lead or taking the lead himself, he took the one course which made the existing chance a certainty.
From this point of view he was right. From another point of view he was wrong, for he was running at full speed directly away from his own supports and directly toward those of his opponent. He thought, and Jellicoe appears to have thought, that the Germans did not wish to fight. But when Beatty finally turned north, both Von Hipper and Von Scheer followed readily enough, although they must have known pretty accurately what lay ahead of them. Beatty's error, then, if error it was, seems to have been not so much in judging the tactical situation as in judging the spirit of his opponent.
Very severe criticism has been directed against Beatty for fighting at comparatively short ranges—9,000 to 14,000 yards—when he had a sufficient excess of speed to choose his distance. This is hardly a fair criticism of the early stages of the battle, as he was then opposed to ships of the same type as his own, so that if he was accepting a disadvantage for himself, he was forcing the same disadvantage upon his opponent. And after all, 14,000 yards is not a short range, though it is certainly much shorter to-day than it would have been ten years ago.
When, in the later stages of the battle, he was opposed to dreadnoughts, it would perhaps have been wiser to maintain a range of from 18,000 to 20,000 yards, but the situation was complicated by the necessity of holding the enemy and leading him to the northward, and it is not possible to say with any confidence that he could have done this if he had held off at a distance as great as prudence might have suggested. Circumstances placed him in a position where it seemed to him desirable to forget the distinction between his ships and battleships, and this is exactly what he did.
Broadly speaking, it must be said that Beatty's course throughout the day was, to quote the favorite expression of British writers on naval matters, "in keeping with the best traditions of the service." And while it was bold and dashing, it was entirely free from the rashness which the British public has been a little inclined to attribute to him since the Dogger Bank engagement.
The only further criticism of the conduct of the battle is that which insists that the German fleet should not have been allowed to escape. And here it is difficult to find an explanation which is at the same time an excuse. Of the situation at 9 p. m. Admiral Jellicoe writes that he had maneuvered into a very advantageous position, in which his fleet was interposed between the German fleet and the German base. He then goes on to say that the threat of destroyer attack during the rapidly approaching darkness made it necessary to dispose the fleet with a view to its safety, while providing for a renewal of the action at daylight. Accordingly, he "maneuvered so as to remain between the Germans and their base, placing flotillas of destroyers where they could protect the fleet and attack the heavy German ships."
Admiral Beatty reported that he did not consider it desirable or proper to engage the German battle fleet during the dark hours, as the strategical position made it appear certain he could locate them at daylight under most favorable circumstances.
Here, then, is the situation between nine and ten o'clock at night, when the approach of darkness made it seem desirable to call a halt for the night—a huge fleet, of more than thirty capital ships, was interposed between the Germans and their base. The general position of the Germans was known, and destroyers, of which the British had at least seventy-five available, were so disposed as to keep in touch with the Germans and attack them during the night. The German fleet was slower than the British fleet by several knots, and if the statements by Jellicoe and Beatty of the damage done are even approximately true, Von Hipper and Von Scheer must have been embarrassed by the necessity of caring for a large number of badly crippled ships. The night is short in that high latitude—not over five hours at the maximum.