HMS Princess Royal
February 2, 1915
Sir, I have the honour to report that at 7.0 a.m. on January 24, 1915, I passed through the position 55.13 N 3.12 E with the following vessels in company:
The First Battle Cruiser Squadron, consisting of Lion, flying my flag, Tiger and Princess Royal, in the order named.
The Second Battle Cruiser Squadron, consisting of New Zealand, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral Sir Archibald Moore, KCB, CVO and Indomitable. The First light Cruiser Squadron, consisting of Southampton, flying the broad pennant of Commodore W E Goodenough, MVO, Nottingham, Birmingham and Lowestoft, were disposed 5 miles on my port beam. The whole force was steering S 12 W at 18 knots.
Having passed through the position refereed to, I ordered the First Light Cruise Squadron to spread for look-out duties NE by N.
Commander (T) R Y Tyrwhitt, CB, in Arethusa, with a half flotilla, was sighted ahead at 7.10 a.m. and at 7.25 a.m. the flash of guns was observed SSE. Shortly afterwards a report reached me from Aurora that she was engaged with enemy's ships. I immediately altered course to SSE, increased speed to 22 knots, and ordered LCS and Flotillas to chase SSE to get in touch and report movements of enemy.
This order was acted upon with great promptitude; indeed, my wishes had already been forestalled by the respective Senior Officers, and reports almost immediately followed from Southampton, Arethusa and aurora as to the position and the composition of the enemy, which consisted of 4 Battle Cruisers, 6 light Cruisers and a number of Destroyers steering NW. The enemy had already altered course to SE. From now onwards the Light Cruisers maintained touch with the enemy and kept me fully informed as to their movements.
The Battle Cruisers worked up to full speed, steering to obtain the leeward position and if possible to get to the southward between the enemy and their base, with the object of forcing them to the Northward away from it. The wind at the time was NE light, with extreme visibility. At 7.50 a.m. the enemy Battle Cruisers, 4 in number, were sighted on the port bow steaming fast, steering approximately SE, distant 14 miles.
Owing to the prompt reports received, we had attained our position on the lee quarter of the enemy, and so altered course to SE parallel to them, and settled down to a long stern chase, gradually increasing our speed until we reached 28.5 knots. Great credit is due to the Engineer Staffs of New Zealand and Indomitable - these ships greatly exceeded their normal speed, and actually reached 27 and 26 knots respectively.
At 8.52 a.m. we had closed to within 20,000 yards of the rear ship, and the Battle Cruisers manoeuvred to keep on a line of bearing so that guns would bear; Lion fired a single shot, which fell short. The enemy at this time were in single line ahead, with light Cruisers ahead, and a large number of Destroyers on their starboard beam.
Single shots were fired at intervals to test the range and at 9.9 a.m. Lion made her first hit on blucher, No. 4 in the line. The Tiger opening fire at 9.20 a.m. on the rear ship, the Lion
shifted to No. 3 in the line at 18,000 yards, this ship being hit by several salvos. The enemy returned fire at 9.28 a.m. on Lion. Princess Royal, on coming into range, opened fire on
Three of the enemy ships were now concentrating on lion, the range of the leading ship being 17,500 yards, so at 9.35 a.m. I made the signal, "Engage the corresponding ships in the enemy's line." By this time New Zealand was within range of Blucher, which had dropped somewhat astern, and opened fire on her. Princess Royal shifted to the third ship in the line, inflicting considerable damage on her.
Our flotilla Cruisers and Destroyers had gradually dropped from a position broad on our beam to our port quarter, so as not to foul our range with their smoke; but the enemy's destroyers threatening attack, I ordered Commodore (T) to take station ahead. this he was unable to do without passing between us and the enemy and masking our fire with his smoke. The Meteor and "M" Division succeeded later in passing ahead of us by virtue of their great speed, and I fully concur in the remarks of the Commodore (T) as to the able and gallant manner in which Commander Hon. H Meade handled this division.
About 9.45 a.m. the situation was as follows: Blucher, the fourth in their line, already showed signs of having suffered severely from gun-fire; their leading ship and No. 3 were also on fire. Lion was engaging No. 1, Princess Royal No. 3, New Zealand No. 4, while Tiger, who was second in our line, fired first at their No. 1 and, when interfered with by smoke, at their No. 4. This was unfortunate, as it left the second enemy ship unfired at, and she concentrated on Lion.
The enemy's destroyers emitted vast columns of smoke to screen their Battle Cruisers, and under cover of this the latter now appeared to have altered course to the northward to increase their distance, and certainly the rear ships hauled out on the port quarter of their leader, thereby increasing their distance from our line. The Battle Cruisers therefore, were ordered to form on a line of bearing NNW and proceed at their utmost speed.
Their destroyers then showed evident signs of an attempt to attack, and I signalled to the Squadron to that effect. Lion and Tiger opened fire with 4-inch and 6-inch guns respectively, and caused them to retire and resume their original course. The 6-inch guns of Tiger performed very useful service at a long range, and certainly succeeded in placing 2 salvos among them at 12,000 yards.
Any attempt on our part to close the enemy by altering course to port was met by the enemy's torpedo craft steering more to starboard, and so putting us in a position of having to cross their track – this had to be avoided owing to the danger of their minelaying. We had, therefore, to depend on maintaining our speed sufficiently to force them to the northward or bring them to close action.
The First Light Cruiser Squadron maintained an excellent position on the port quarter of the enemy's line, enabling them to observe and keep touch or attack any vessel that might fall out of the line. They were also in a good position to mark the effect of our fire and the fall of shot. Southampton reported that one ship, probably Tiger, was firing consistently 'over'. This might have enabled her to correct her range.
From 10.00 a.m. onwards Lion suffered considerably from the concentrated fire of the enemy's two leading ships, and two alterations of one point inwards were made accordingly, ships turning together. Lion then zigzagged to throw out the enemy's range. About 10.40 a.m. Lion received heavy punishment. By 10.51 a.m. her port engine was stopped, all lights were out, she was making water rapidly, listing heavily to port, and was unable to maintain her place in the line.
At 10.48 a.m. the Blucher, which had dropped considerably astern of enemy's line hauled out to port, steering North, with a heavy list, on fire, and apparently in a defeated condition. I consequently ordered Indomitable, which was astern, to attack enemy breaking to the Northward.
At 10.54 a.m. submarines were reported on the starboard bow, and I personally observed the wash of a periscope, 2 points on our starboard bow. I immediately signalled 'Turn 8 points to port together' – this signal was hauled down at 11.00 a.m. As this turn would take us across the track of enemy destroyers, it was important that it should be sufficiently large to take us
clear of it before we reached a position they were in at this moment so as to avoid the mines which they would probably take the opportunity of dropping. Indomitable subsequently reported that a torpedo had been fired at her, crossing her bows 40 yards ahead after the vicinity of the sinking Blucher – so it may be assumed that the enemy submarine had closed and attacked her.
It was now clear that Lion could no longer remain 'Guide' of the Fleet, and as our zigzagging might have caused doubt as to the actual course to be steered, I hoisted the signal 'Course NE' at 11.2 a.m. This course would have cut the enemy Battle Cruisers off from Blucher should they turn and support her, as I anticipated they would. Should they leave her to her fate, our ships could have again turned to a parallel course when clear of track of their torpedo craft.
At 11.5 a.m. I hoisted the signal 'Attack the enemy's rear', hauled down the course signal, and hoisted 'Keep nearer to the enemy'. At this time Lion's wireless apparatus was out of action and only two signal halliards remained, preventing me from informing Admiral Moore of the reason fro my sudden 8-point turn or from exercising any further command. I kept the signals, 'Attack the rear' and 'Keep closer', flying till the remainder of the Squadron had passed out of sight.
At 11.3 a.m. the injury to the Lion being reported as incapable of immediate repair, I semaphored to Commodore (T) to close and to detail destroyers as a submarine screen and directed Lion to shape course NW. At 11.20 a.m. I called the Attack alongside, shifting my flag to her at about 11.35 a.m. I proceeded at utmost speed to rejoin the Squadron, and met them at noon retiring NNW.
Having made a signal to turn 16 points, to resume pursuit of the enemy, I boarded and hoisted my flag in Princess Royal at about 12.20 p.m. Captain Brock aquatinted me of what had occurred since Lion fell out of the line, viz. that Blucher had been sunk and that the remaining enemy Battle Cruisers had continued their course to the eastward in a considerably damaged condition. He also informed me that a Zeppelin and a seaplane had endeavoured to drop bombs on the vessels which went to the rescue of the survivors of Blucher. Realizing then that the opportunity of effecting the total destruction of the enemy had passed, I re-formed the Squadron and proceeded to pick up Lion.
The good seamanship of Lieut.-Commander Callaghan in placing his vessel alongside the Lion and subsequently the Princess Royal, while both ships were under way, enabled the transfer of flag to be made in the shortest possible time with the minimum risk of submarine attack.
At 2.0 p.m. I closed Lion and received a report that her starboard engine was giving trouble owing to priming, and that possibly she would not be able to steam for more than 12 hours. At 3.38 p.m. I ordered Indomitable to take her in tow, which was accomplished by 5.0 p.m.
I directed the Destroyer Flotillas to surround the two ships to form a submarine screen. Throughout the homeward journey this duty was performed under the direction of the Commodore (T) in a most masterly and skilful manner, providing almost complete security from submarine attack.
The greatest credit is due to the Captains of Indomitable and Lion fro the seamanlike manner in which the Lion was taken in tow under difficult circumstances and brought safely to port.
The Second Light Cruiser Squadron, which had now joined me, was stationed SE 10 miles, and First Light Cruiser Squadron E 10 miles, to act as screen from destroyer attack, the Battle Cruisers taking station to be in a position where necessary.
Before concluding this report, I desire to remark that during the critical moments of uncertainty as to the condition of Lion the officers and men of that ship exhibited a coolness and indifference to danger worthy of the best traditions of the Service.
The excellent steaming of ships engaged in the operation was a conspicuous feature.
I attach an appendix giving the names of various officers and men who specially distinguished themselves. I also enclose from officers under my orders.
I have the honour to be Sir,
Your obedient Servant,
David Beatty, Vice-Admiral.