In December of 1914, the High Sea Fleet (HSF) sortied in support of a bombardment of the English coast by the 1st Scouting Group. Alerted by Room 40, the Admiralty ordered the 2nd Battle Squadron, the 3rd Cruiser Squadron, the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron and the Battle Cruiser Squadron to trap what they thought was a raid by the 1st Scouting Group alone. Bad weather, along with tactical choices and signaling errors prevented a major clash. See, for example, References 1 and 2.
This scenario uses an assumption of better weather to examine a potential engagement between the British force and the HSF near dawn on December 16th. Potential encounters which might have occurred if the High Sea Fleet had not turned back during the night are ignored. The 1st Scouting Group is near the coast at dawn and too distant to be involved. The battle is between Warrender (with Beatty under his command) and Ingenohl. For this date and latitude, nautical twilight begins at 0659 hrs (GMT) and sunrise is at 0825 hrs.
The orders of battle are listed in the narrative file:
Approach to contact and deployment (0825-0900 hrs)
The initial cruising formations are taken from Reference 3, Charts 5 and 7. The HSF has turned south after reaching its rendezvous position (labeled as “700 Uhr-Punkt” on Reference 3, Chart 8). The British force has reversed course to the north after passing the cleared minefield lane leading west toward the coast.
When the armored cruisers in the screen of the HSF (Roon and Prinz Heinrich) are sighted, the British force deploys to starboard (0825 hrs). The withdrawal of the British light cruiser squadron to its battle position prevents it from sighting more of the enemy, and it is left to Beatty to report the leading ships of the HSF battle line 23 minutes later (0848 hrs). The (historical) British night cruising formation had the armored and light cruisers in compact columns and not spread out in a search screen. It may have been doctrine to do this only after sunrise. In the actual action, the light cruisers were spread out by 0900 hrs and the armored cruisers by about 1200 hrs (Reference 3, Chart 11, times adjusted to GMT).
The HSF deploys to port at 0835 hrs, based on sighting the British battle cruisers, now about 4 NM ahead of the British battleships. The battleships are not sighted until 0852 hrs (and not engaged until 0903 hrs), so the HSF maneuvers in this phase are based mainly on engaging the battle cruisers.
Main action and disengagement (0900 – 0940 hrs)
Only battleships and battle cruisers are plotted in this phase for clarity.
Heavy damage to the Lion forces her to turn away at 0902 hrs, but it is too late, and she sinks at 0903 hrs. Tiger is also heavily damaged, but leads the remaining battle cruisers to the NE until her reduced speed causes Queen Mary to take the lead . Since the loss of the Lion is clearly visible to Warrender in the King George V, and since the entire HSF is now known to be present, control of the British side by the AI code was stopped and a withdrawal southward was ordered at 0905 hrs. The AI code does not yet have algorithms to decide on a general withdrawal. All units were ordered to make funnel smoke.
The HSF battle line attempts to maintain the current range by reversing course, but not realizing that the enemy is in flight, makes the turn to starboard, i.e., away from the action. It is not until 0920 hrs that the HSF turns to the SE. This allows the British to get out of range. The British are slightly faster and most would have escaped in any case, but an earlier turn to the south by the HSF might have destroyed the Tiger, then only capable of 18 knots.
Plot of the entire battle:
Status at the end of the game:
This (admittedly contrived) scenario shows the difficulty of destroying Warrender’s outnumbered force with a HSF consisting largely of slower heavy ships. The advance of the Battle Cruiser Squadron several miles ahead of the 2nd Battle Squadron, while it resulted in the loss of the Lion, allowed the battleships to escape before being significantly damaged.
1. Goldrick, James, “Before Jutland,” Chapter 12.
2. Marder, Arthur J., “From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow,” Volume II, Chapter VII.
3. Groos, D. “Der Krieg in der Nordsee,” Volume III, Charts 5 – 8 and 11.