The British guns were ranging. Those deadly waterspouts crept nearer and nearer. The men on deck watched them in strange fascination. Soon one pitched close to the ship and a vast watery pillar, a hundred metres high one of them affirmed, fell lashing on the deck. The range had been found. Damn aber ging’s los!” (With the Battle Cruisers, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis Maryland 1986, by Filson Young, at page 213)

Early on the morning of November 3, 1914, the first reports of the disaster at the Battle of Coronel were just filtering in to the British Admiralty. Admiral John “Jackie” Fisher had just returned as First Sea Lord a mere three days ago. The two primary warships in the German East Asiatic Squadron were the armored cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. These were formidable ships but they were not the newest armored cruiser in the German Fleet. Shortly after dawn the old gunboat HMS Halcyon, converted to a minesweeper, crept out of the port of Yarmouth on the Norfolk coast and shortly thereafter would meet the newest of the German armored cruisers, the SMS Blucher.

The story of the design of the Blucher is an interesting one. This design was the German response to a ruse, perpetrated on the German navy by none other than the same Jackie Fisher newly returned from retirement to the Admiralty. Admiral Fisher in his first tour as 1st Sea Lord had been the driving force behind the design and construction of HMS Dreadnought, the first all big gun battleship to be completed in the world. Although the “Battleship Committee” tasked with selecting a new battleship design for the Royal Navy had its primary mission as selection of a battleship design, they had more on their plates. As soon as the design for Dreadnought was selected for construction, they launched into the task of selecting a new armored cruiser design. In the prior seven years the Royal Navy had built seven classes of armored cruisers. Just as British pre-dreadnought battleships had a mixed battery, so too did the RN armored cruiser designs. Although the County class and Improved County class had mounted all 6-inch guns for the Counties and a combination of 7.5-inch and 6-inch guns for the improved Counties in an economy measure, the other five classes had the tried and true 9.2-inch gun as their main guns with 6-inch or 7.5-inch guns as the secondary. The Imperial German Navy had followed suit but their designs used 8.2-inch guns for the main battery and 5.9-inch guns for the secondary.

If the Dreadnought marked a watershed from previous battleship designs, the new armored cruiser design selected by the committee was an even greater change from prior armored cruiser designs in that it incorporated all big guns in the design but of 12-inch battleship caliber, far larger than the 9.2-inch guns of previous designs. The chief constructor Phillip Watts was in favor of a uniform armament of 9.2-inch guns for the new design, making them an armored cruiser equivalent to the Dreadnought design but Jackie Fisher insisted on the 12-inch gun as main armament. By weight of his personality and position of 1st Sea Lord he got his way and the HMS Invincible class was created. At first they were still called armored cruisers but the novelty of having a uniform 12-inch gun armament on ships faster and larger than previous cruiser designs actually created a new type of warship, the battle cruiser. Although details for the new Dreadnought design were published, Fisher chose to employ a deception operation in regard to the Invincible design. It was deliberately leaked that the new armored cruiser design would have 9.2-inch guns, rather than 12-inch guns. The German navy swallowed the bait and accordingly designed a new armored cruiser with uniform cruiser armament of 8.2-inch guns. This was SMS Blucher. When the German navy finally tumbled to the truth, it was too late. They were committed to a design that was not only significantly slower than the Invincible but also far weaker in armament. They had also lost valuable time and as the Royal Navy added three more battle cruisers of the Indefatigable design, they finally responded with their first battle cruiser SMS von der Tann.  

SMS Blucher was authorized in the 1906-1907 program. In appearance and turret layout, the ship was miniature of the Nassau class battleships in large measure. Built at the Kiel Navy Yard, the cruiser was laid down on February 21, 1907, launched April 11, 1908 and completed March 24, 1910. However, Blucher received a significant alteration in her appearance in 1913, when her original pole foremast was replaced by a substantial tripod, the first such mast mounted on a German warship. In an odd ammunition supply arrangement, the two forward beam turrets had to receive their ammunition from the magazines located under the two aft beam turrets. Each round was placed on an ammunition rail, which provided a conveyor belt type of arrangement. This placed ammunition in transit outside of the armored barbettes and turrets protected only by the thinner side belt armor. This design error was directly involved in the loss of the ship at the Battle of Dogger Bank. Blucher went through a lengthy trials period, starting on October 1, 1909 and latter participated in gunnery experiments.

Disturbing Fisher Folk
The Blucher was placed with the 1st Cruiser Squadron, which comprised the main units of the Scouting Force under Admiral Hipper, which provided the advance guard and reconnaissance for the battleships of the High Seas Fleet. Prior to November 3, 1914 the Blucher and German battle cruisers had not seen any significant action. They were unable to respond in time at the Battle of Heligoland Bight, in which the British battle cruisers under Admiral Beatty had sunk several light cruisers and destroyers. They had put to sea in conjunction with sorties of the High Seas Fleet but there had been no run-ins with the Royal Navy on these occasions. Although Kaiser Wilhelm had ordered the German Fleet to act defensively with the battleships, in late October plans were laid to use the battle cruisers, plus Blucher, offensively in raids on the English coast. This was to serve as bait to draw out the British forces and hopefully attrit it with submarines and mines or draw an isolated component into the guns of the German fleet.

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Late in the afternoon of November 2, Hipper with Seydlitz, Moltke, Von der Tann, Blucher, light cruisers and destroyers had left the Jade for a high speed run across the North Sea during the night for a dawn raid on the port of Yarmouth . It was the aged Halcyon that unwittingly provided the door greeter for the German Scouting Force. At first Halcyon spotted two unknown ships in the mist, both of which were German light cruisers. Halcyon was totally outclassed by these ships but bad turned to worse as the light cruiser shell splashes were soon joined by the towering splashes of the 11-inch and 8.2-inch shells from the main German ships. There were so many shell splashes around Halcyon that the small target was obscured from the sight of the German gunners. Fortunately for Halcyon, none of the shells hit and she scooted into the mist to escape. The only true RN warships that could respond to the arrival of the Germans were destroyers and submarines but they valiantly put to sea as puny Davids against the German Goliaths. Hipper saw that he was just wasting ammunition on his tiny foes and turned back to Germany . As he left a few haphazard shells were fired off towards Yarmouth but all they did was to churn up some sand on the beach. The only loss was the RN submarine D-5, which struck a mine and sank leaving only four survivors. Three trawlers were also destroyed. The Admiralty had not responded in a timely manner and had been caught flat-footed. First Lord Winston Churchill justified the delay in stating, “The last thing it seemed possible to believe was that first-class units of the German fleet would have been sent across the North Sea simply in order to disturb the fisher-folk of Yarmouth .” Churchill said that it was believed that this was a feint to hide a much more significant operation of the German Fleet and that the Admiralty simply was awaiting developments.

The Baby Killers of the Assassin Squadron
Hipper was bitterly disappointed and embarrassed by the meager results of the raid on Yarmouth and was eager for another mission. Plans were prepared for another raid on the British coastline in December with a number of ports selected as targets. The targets would be further north on the Yorkshire coast, closer to the base of the British battle cruisers. This time maybe they would get a response from British heavy units. As the German force neared the Yorkshire coast they divided with von der Tann and light cruisers moving south to Scarborough and Seydlitz, Moltke and Blucher heading for Hartlepool . At 08:00 on December 16, 1914 the populace of Scarborough were jolted by the explosion of German shells. Von der Tann was back and this time closed to within a mile and a half of the town. Shells were pumped into the town and a medieval castle and resort hotel were also targeted. After half an hour the German ships left, having killed 17 and wounded 99 civilians. At 09:00 the ships appeared off of Whitby , 21 miles south of Scarborough . The main target was a coast guard signal station and the German ships came within a mile of the beach. Civilian losses were 2 dead and 2 wounded. The other two battle cruisers and Blucher had a more important target.

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Sixty miles north of Scarborough was the town of Hartlepool , which unlike Scarborough and Whitby , actually had legitimate military targets. This was in the form of six docks, various foundries and mills, as well as a defensive force of two light cruisers, four destroyers and a submarine. It also had a shore battery of three old 6-inch guns and a battalion of troops. At 07:45 the four British destroyers, Doon, Test, Waveny and Moy were at sea off Hartlepool but the light cruisers Patrol and Forward and the submarine were still in port. Doon spotted three large ships in the mist to the south and closed to investigate. Five minutes later the ships open fire on Doon . These were Hipper’s heavy ships and Doon fired one torpedo at them, which missed, before retiring into the mist with light damage. At 08:10 the Blucher and battle cruisers opened fire on Hartlepool . “When the unfamiliar ships first appeared offshore, the waiting British gunners watched them with admiration; they seemed so large, so close, and so powerful that they could not possibly be anything but British. A group of men belonging to the Durham Light Infantry was standing together near the Heugh Battery , treating the affair as if it were a holiday display, when a shell exploded in their midst, killing seven men and wounding fourteen. Both guns of the Heugh Battery immediately fired at the leading ship. The lighthouse gun engaged the third ship in line, which was smaller than the first two. The three enemy ships were firing 11-inch, 8.2-inch, and 5.9-inch shells at the British batteries. That the batteries were not annihilated was due to a fluke: the ships were firing at such short – almost point-blank – range that there was insufficient time to permit the operation of their delayed action fuses. Also many of the shells were passing over the battery and hitting houses or falling onto the docks and the town behind. Other shells landing near the guns ricocheted, bouncing along intact, before exploding.” (Castles of Steel, Random House, New York, 2003, by Robert K. Massie, at page 323)

The old light cruiser HMS Patrol sortied from the harbor and as she cleared the breakwater was smothered in shell splashes. Her nearest antagonist was Blucher and the German armored cruiser pumped two 8.2-inch shells into the much smaller foe. Four men were killed and seven wounded as Patrol sheered away and ran aground. The light cruiser Forward was also in Hartlepool harbor but fortunately for her, the German ships had left before she raised steam. Submarine C-9 followed Patrol out of the harbor but as she reached the harbor exit, she too was straddled. The submarine dove to avoid the gunfire but it was low tide. Only 18 feet of water was over the sand bar and C-9 instantly bottomed and was stuck there until after the action. Only the three old six-inch guns of the shore battery continued to respond against Hipper. As Seydlitz and Moltke steamed slowly across the mouth of the harbor, Blucher glided to a stop to improve her gunnery. Two guns fired at the battle cruisers and a single gun at Blucher. The gunners managed to score some hits but the shells bounced off the armor. At 8:52 Hipper ceased firing and his ships turned back into the North Sea . Although none of the three British guns had been put out of action, German shells had savaged the port with the 1,150 shells expended. Two ships under construction had collapsed as their building ways had been hit. One gas tank had exploded and two others were damaged. In all 86 civilians were killed and another 425 wounded. Blucher had been hit with four 6-inch shells while stationary, damaging one turret and knocking two 5.9-inch guns out of action, while killing or wounding nine of her crew.

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Run Away
By 9:30 the two German forces had joined together and headed back toward Helgioland. The original plan had called for the High Seas fleet to support the battle cruisers but Hipper soon discovered that the fleet had returned to harbor. By the time of this raid the British had deciphered captured German code books and knew something was afoot. On the 14th Jellicoe was informed that there was a strong possibility that the German battle cruisers would appear off of the British coast. Jellicoe wanted to sortie the entire Grand Fleet but this was vetoed by the Admiralty. He was only allowed to use the Battle Cruiser Squadron and one division of battleships. It could have been a tremendous disaster for the Royal Navy if the High Seas Fleet had remained in support of Hipper as originally envisioned and if contact had been made. As it was, contact between Hipper’s ships and Beatty’s battle cruisers was missed by a matter of minutes. The Admiralty did not know where Hipper would strike so Beatty and the battleships steamed to Dogger Bank with the plan to ambush the German battle cruisers of their way back to Germany . Beatty was down to four ships, Lion, Queen Mary, Tiger and New Zealand, as three of his ships had been dispatched to hunt Graf von Spee’s force and others were still in the Mediterranean. The tactical command was with Vice Admiral George Warrender of the 2nd Battle Squadron and he ordered Beatty to stay within five miles of his battleships. As dawn broke on the 16th and Hipper’s ships started shelling the three towns, the ten British ships approached Dogger Bank in ignorance of the fact that the High Seas Fleet was heading straight for them and only a few hours away. At 05:15 the screening forces of both forces
made contact. Three British destroyers were damaged but when HMS Hardy fired a torpedo at the light cruiser SMS Hamburg, a decision point was reached. Fleet commander von Ingenohl was convinced that this was the screen for the entire Grand Fleet and ordered a turn about for the fleet to skeedaddle for home. At that point where von Ingenohl lost his nerve, the ten isolated British capital ships were only ten miles away to the southwest. This was the greatest opportunity that the High Seas Fleet would ever have to decisively engage an isolated portion of the Grand Fleet. Later Sir Julian Corbett, the official RN historian of the First World War, would say of von Ingenohl for this action, “…fairly turned tail and made for home, leaving Hipper’s raiding force in the air.”

  Now the tables were turned and Hipper was isolated with ten capital ships between his force and the safety of home port. By 9:30 Hipper had consolidated all of his forces detached to the two bombardment forces and set course for home, steaming southeast at 23 knots. Initially Hipper thought he was falling back onto the High Seas Fleet. He was unaware that von Ingenohl had cut him off and run. “Where is the main fleet?’ He could scarcely believe the reply: ‘Running into the Jade.’ Hipper let out ‘an old-fashioned Bavarian oath,’ said Captain von Waldeyer-Hartz. Ingenohl had deserted Hipper; he was alone.” (Castles of Steel, Random House, New York, 2003, by Robert K. Massie, at page 331)  Equally as troublesome, reports were coming in from light forces that they were encountering heavy British units in the area of Dogger Bank . As Hipper steamed towards home, he had a light screen of light cruisers in front of his main force. Beatty and his battle cruisers also had a screen of four light cruisers. Visibility was poor and the two screens made contact and started trading fire, with Southampton engaging Stralsund . The cruiser squadron commander, Commodore Goodenough, reported that he was engaged with a light cruiser but failed to report the arrival of Strassbourg and Graudenz in support of Stralsund . The rest of Goodenough’s squadron, Birmingham , Nottingham and Falmouth , turned to steam in support of their flagship. Beatty had to have a cruiser screen for advance guard against the German battle cruisers or to warn of a destroyer attack. Birmingham had already left to support Goodenough and then his last two screening cruisers turned to port to go south without a by or leave to Beatty. 

Flags to the Rescue
Suddenly, even these two ships began to leave him. With chagrin and dismay, Beatty watched from the bridge of Lion as his two remaining light cruisers steered across his bow on their way to join Southampton . He did not understand. He believed that Southampton and Birmingham were engaging a single German light cruiser.” (Castles of Steel, Random House, New York, 2003, by Robert K. Massie, at page 347) If Goodenough had signaled that he had encountered three light cruisers not just one, Beatty probably would have realized that this was the screen for Hipper’s force. Because of Goodenough’s error, Beatty now made his own mistake. Beatty told Flag Lieutenant Ralph Seymour, “Tell that light cruiser to resume station.” But he did not specify which light cruiser and Flags Seymour did not seek clarification. Flags was a congenital bumbler and here was the chance for his first major gaff and he took advantage of it in spades. With unerring skill in misadventure Flags simply told the signal man to flash a message to “light cruiser” without identifying which light cruiser to return to the battle cruisers. It was aimed towards Nottingham and Falmouth but since there was no identifier, the message was passed on to Goodenough where Southampton and now Birmingham were in action. Goodenough thought the order was for his entire squadron and against his better judgment ordered Southampton and Birmingham to break off action and return to the north to join Beatty. This gaff allowed Hipper to evade Beatty and then in turn Warrender’s battleships and they safely made it back home. Beatty blamed Goodenough for the German escape, rather than accept that his order to the light cruisers was ambiguous and was greatly magnified by his bumbling Flags. Jackie Fisher pronounced Goodenough a fool and stated that heads would roll. As it was Goodenough had more powerful friends in his corner in Jellicoe and Churchill and he was not relieved. However, Flags had now demonstrated his skill at a faux pas and this talent would again come to the fore in the story of SMS Blucher

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The British papers went into a rage and the Germans were branded as baby killers and as an assassin squadron. However, one London newspaper, although condemning the shelling of Scarborough and Whidby, correctly observed that Hartlepool was a legitimate target. A jury wanted to indict the German officers of the ships until it was pointed out to them that it would be rather difficult for the local police to arrest the culprits. Everyone in the RN was bitterly disappointed about the failure to bring Hipper’s ships to justice but they would be even better prepared for the next of Hipper’s raids. Hipper was disturbed by the fact that heavy British ships always seemed to appear when he was on a raid. Neither he nor any other admiral of the High Seas Fleet thought that the reason was through capture of code books and that the German naval code had been broken, nor that German wireless discipline was extraordinarily lax. For Hipper he thought that the reason was the British fishing smacks operating on Dogger Bank . They had to be spies, radioing the Admiralty every time his ships passed nearby. For his next operation Hipper was determined to wipe out this nest of spies. His goal would be to destroy the multitude of fishing boats operating around Dogger Bank .

  Wipe Out the Nest of Spies
This mission was designed by Hipper to wipe out the British fishing fleet operating around Dogger Bank , as well as any other suspicious vessels. The fleet’s involvement was just to support the return of the battle cruisers to port. On the evening of January 23, 1915 Hipper sortied with Seydlitz, Derfflinger, Moltke, Blucher, four light cruisers and 19 destroyers. The Royal Navy had been caught by surprise by the Yarmouth raid. They had partial information through code breaking about the Scarborough raid but by now code-breaking was in fine form and the Grand Fleet was made aware of the steaming of Hipper’s force without von der Tann, which was in drydock. After missing the Germans in November, Beatty was spoiling for a fight. The British battle cruisers left harbor at 6:00 PM January 23 within an hour of the departure of Hipper. Their mission was to intercept the German force at Dogger Bank . Beatty had Lion, Tiger, Princess Royal, Indomitable and New Zealand , as well as supporting light cruisers and destroyers. It was not only Beatty’s force in motion. The King Edward VII class battleships and three armored cruisers followed Beatty at 8:30PM, the Channel force of three light cruisers and 35 destroyers steamed northeastward and the Grand Fleet left Scapa Flow at 6:30, all to converge on the Dogger Bank on January 24. It was an all out effort to catch and destroy Hipper’s battle cruiser and possibly the High Seas Fleet if it came out in support. Everything was working to perfection as dawn broke on the 24th. Beatty called action stations at 7:00AM even before the Germans were sighted. His battle cruisers were in position and Harwich force of the channel reported that they had reached position. The weather was clear and Beatty felt confident of bagging the entire German force. At 7:20 the light cruiser Aurora of the Harwich force reported contact and engagement with the German screen. Gun flashes were seen to the southeast and Beatty ordered his cats to steam to the gun flashes. Shortly after this Goodnough in Southampton , five miles in front of Beatty, sighted the Harwich force to the south and the German screen to the east. It was not long before the main targets, Hipper’s battle cruisers, were sighted. 

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When Kolberg reported engaging the Aurora , Hipper first thought that there were isolated British light forces in the area, which could easily be mopped up. Then ominous reports started coming in. Kolberg reported a large mass of smoke to the southwest and shortly thereafter Stralsund reported large masses of smoke to the northwest. Then Blucher reported seven light cruisers and more than 20 destroyers to the northwest. These were not isolated light units and Hipper quickly realized that he was in an ambush. At 7:35 Hipper ordered his force to turn towards home at a speed of 20 knots, which was sufficient to outrun battleships but of course the pursuers were not dawdling battleships, these were the Splendid Cats. Hipper’s maximum squadron speed was 23 to 24 knots, which was dictated by the speed of his slowest ship, the Blucher.

7.47 A.M. Southampton to Lion: ‘ Enemy sighted are 4 battle cruisers, speed 24 knots.” Beatty had a significant edge in speed. Even his oldest battle cruisers were faster than the Blucher and as long as Hipper kept the Blucher in his formation, the British could close. By 8:28 some British M class destroyers had closed to within 7,000 yards of Blucher. HMS Meteor opened fire and after ascertaining the exact locations of the German warships, fell back to clear the line of sight of the onrushing Splendid Cats and follow at a discreet distance behind the German formation. In large part the withdrawal of the seven M class destroyers of the Harwich force was due to the firing of Blucher, which raised a forest of shell splashes among the British light forces. At 8:34 Beatty ordered speed increased to 27 knots, followed nine minutes later to 28 knots and at 8:54 to 29 knots. A gap appeared in the British formation, as the Splendid Cats surged forward, the older New Zealand and Indomitable could not keep up. At 7:50 Hipper finally saw his nemesis. “The pace at which the enemy was closing in was quite unexpected.’ he said later. ‘The enemy battle cruisers must have been doing twenty-six knots. They were emitting extraordinarily dense clouds of smoke. ” (Castles of Steel, Random House, New York, 2003, by Robert K. Massie, at page 385)

It was now a stern chase, although Beatty was parallel not dead astern of Hipper, in order to avoid any mines that might be launched from the quarry. As the British gained distance, Beatty went and had breakfast. At 8:45 the Lion was in 20,000 yards range of the rear German ship, the Blucher. Lion opened fire and the poor Blucher became the punching bag for all of the pent up frustration of the Splendid Cats. The first shot was short, the next over. Blucher had been marked. At 9:00 AM Tiger joined in the one sided contest. Princess Royal opened up soon thereafter but Indomitable and New Zealand were still out of range. Lion drew blood at 9:09 and soon Blucher was smothered in shell splashes. The third salvo hit Blucher below the waterline and reduced her speed and the fourth salvo wrecked the aft superstructure and disabled two aft turrets. Princess Royal found the design weakness in Blucher as one of her 13.5-inch shells exploded amidships. The charges and shells on the ammunition rails, which ran from the magazines of the aft beam turrets to the forward beam turrets, exploded and Blucher instantly had a raging fire amidships.

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 Now the shells came thick and fast with a horrible droning hum. At once they did terrible execution. The electric plant was soon destroyed, and the ship plunged in a darkness that could be felt. ‘You could not see your hand before your nose,’ said one. Down below decks there was horror and confusion, mingled with gasping shouts and moans as the shells plunged through the decks. It was only later, when the range shortened, that their trajectory flattened, and they tore holes in the ship’s sides and raked her decks. At first they came dropping from the sky. They penetrated the decks. They bored their way even to the stokehold. The coal in the bunkers was set afire. Since the bunkers were half empty, the fire burned merrily. In the engine-room a shell licked up the oil and sprayed it around in flames of blue and green, scarring its victims and blazing where it fell. Men huddled together in dark compartments, but the shells sought them out, and there death had a rich harvest.” (With the Battle Cruisers, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis Maryland 1986, by Filson Young, at page 213)

As Tiger and Princess Royal pounded Blucher, Lion shifted fire to the battle cruisers ahead. Still Blucher was game. At 9:28 one of her 8.2-inch shells hit Lion’s A turret. Although it did not penetrate the armor, the crew was concussed and the left gun put out of action. At 9:35AM New Zealand was also within range of Blucher. Beatty issued an order for each of his ships to fire on its opposite number. However, Tiger made a mistake. Thinking that Indomitable was in range of Blucher, which she was not, Tiger joined Lion in firing of the lead German ship, the Seydlitz. This left the second German ship in column, the Moltke, free of fire. Even though Blucher now was the target of New Zealand alone, she was still being savaged. “The terrific air-pressure resulting from explosion in a confined space, left a deep impression on the minds of the men of the Blucher. The air, it would seem, roars through every opening and tears its way through every weak spot. All loose or insecure fittings are transformed into moving instruments of destruction. Open doors bang to, and jam – and closed iron doors bent outward like tinplates, and through it all the bodies of men are whirled about like dead leaves in a winter blast, to be battered to death against the iron walls.” (With the Battle Cruisers, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis Maryland 1986, by Filson Young, at page 213)

SMS Blucher Vital Statistics

Dimensions: Length - 530 feet 6 inches oa (161.7m); 498 feet 8 inches pp; Beam - 80 feet 3 inches (24.5m); Draught - 26 feet 3 inches mean, 28 feet 6 inches deep load (8m-8.7m); Displacement - 15,590 tons normal, 17,250 tons deep load: Armament - Twelve 8.2-inch SKL/45 (180mm)(6x2);  Eight 5.9-inch SKL/45 (150mm) (8x1); Sixteen 3.45-inch SKL/45 (88mm); Four 17.7-inch (450mm) submerged torpedo tubes:

Armor: Belt - 7-inches to 2.4-inches (180mm-60mm); Turrets - 7-inches to 2.4-inches (180mm-60mm); Barbettes - 7-inches (180mm); Casemate Battery - 5.5-inches (140mm); Bulkheads - 6-inches to 3.2-inches (150mm - 80mm); Conning Tower - 10-inches to 3.2-inches (250mm - 80mm): Machinery: Three shafts, 4 cyl Vertical Triple Expansion (VTE) engines, 18 Schulz-Thornycroft boilers, 34,000ihpbMaximum Speed - 24.25 knots


Flags to the Rescue Again
was falling astern. With the damage she sustained her speed had dropped to 17 knots and she started veering away to the northeast because of steering damage. Goodnough closed with his four light cruisers but accurate fire from Blucher soon forced him to retreat. Blucher wasn’t road kill yet. At 10:30 New Zealand knocked out the forward turret of Blucher. One minute later Indomitable opened up on the crippled German cruiser. However, events came to the aid of the other German ships. Seydlitz holed Lion at 10:01 and in-rushing seawater shorted out her electrical system. This started a cascade of events, which would save all of the German ships, except for the unlucky Blucher. At 10:18 Lion was rocked by two simultaneous hits from either Seydlitz or Derfflinger. These hits allowed saltwater to contaminate the fresh water feed to the Lion’s boilers. By 10:52 Lion had received 14 hits. She had 3,000 tons of saltwater in her hull and had lost all electrical power. Shortly thereafter the port engine stopped and she dropped out of line at 15-knots. Beatty knew that he was temporarily out of the fight but he was going to make sure that Blucher wouldn’t get away. He ordered the Indomitable to destroy the enemy breaking away to the north, which was Blucher. Perfect until now, Beatty now committed two errors. He thought he saw a periscope and order the squadron to turn 90 degrees to port. With no electricity for the radio and only two signal halyards intact, Flags Seymour again came to the rescue of the German battle cruisers. With the signal to attack the rear of the enemy column still on the halyard, Flags raised the squadron signal to turn to the north. The officers and crew of the other battle cruisers were perplexed. Why was Beatty letting the battle cruisers go to concentrate on the crippled Blucher? Oh well, he is the Admiral, I guess he knows what he is doing.  

Clubbing the Baby Seal
At 11:09 Tiger, Princess Royal and New Zealand shifted fire from the battle cruiser to join Indomitable in the slaughter of Blucher. Hipper had been considering going to the aid of Blucher but when all of the British battle cruisers shifted fire to her, he realized she was doomed but that he could now extricate his remaining ships and he continued to run for home, leaving the battered Blucher to face four battle cruisers. “There were shuddering horrors, intensified by the darkness or semi-gloom. As one poor wretch was passing through a trap-door a shell burst near him. He was exactly half-way through. The trap-door closed with a terrific snap. In one of the engine-rooms - it was the room where the high velocity for ventilation and forced draught were at work – men were picked up by that terrible Luftdruck, like a whirl drift at a street corner, and tossed to a horrible death amidst the machinery. There were other horrors too fearful to recount. ” (With the Battle Cruisers, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis Maryland 1986, by Filson Young, at page 214)  

As Tiger took out after Blucher, all the others followed. “The eight-point turn to port had enabled the New Zealand and Indomitable to cut off a corner and to fall in astern, although a long way astern, of the Princess Royal. She and the Tiger now proceeded to circle round the Blucher, firing all the time and the other two ships fell in line astern of them. The doomed Blucher, already shot to pieces and in act of dissolution, might well have been left to the squadron of light cruisers and the flotillas of destroyers which were rapidly closing her; but her actual destruction seems to have been a kind of obsession with the captains of the two British battle cruisers. The psychological effects attendant upon ‘blooding of the pack’ must be ignored.” (With the Battle Cruisers, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis Maryland 1986, by Filson Young, at pages 201-202)  

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Blucher was now an immobile punching bag of four vastly superior ships, which continued steaming in circles around her, firing at point blank range. “If it was appalling below deck, it was more than appalling above. The Blucher was under fire of so many ships. Even the little destroyers peppered her. ‘It was one continuous explosion’, said a gunner. The ship heeled over as the broad-sides struck her, then righted herself, rocking like a cradle. Gun crews were so destroyed that stokers had to be requisitioned to carry ammunition. Men lay flat for safety. The decks presented a tangled mass of scrap iron. In one casement, the only one, as they thought, undestroyed, two men continued to serve their gun. They fired it as the ship listed, adapting the elevation to the new situation. Yet through it all some never despaired of their lives. Others from the beginning gave themselves up as lost. The disaster came upon them so suddenly that few had time to anticipate their plight or to realize it when it came.” (With the Battle Cruisers, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis Maryland 1986, by Filson Young, at page 214) Finally, mercifully, after receiving between 50 to 200 large caliber hits and two torpedo strikes, Blucher rolled over, being filmed as she went at 12:07PM. Only 234 of her 1200 man crew were rescued. Beatty had transferred to a destroyer but when he boarded the Princess Royal at 12:33, Hipper was long gone. As for Flags, he went on to botch two signals at the Battle of Jutland. After the war he killed himself in a matter of unrequited love. Beatty said of him at that time, “He lost three battles for me.” In spite of her limitations and design flaws, Blucher was a fighting ship to the end. The massive amount of punishment she sustained is tribute to the skills of the German naval designer and maximizing defense at the expense of offence. In spite of being inferior to any of the battle cruisers, it took four of them to finally sink her.  

The Combrig Blucher
As with almost all new Combrig releases, the Combrig Blucher includes excellently cast resin parts as well as a ship specific photo-etch fret. As befits the best of all armored cruisers, the Combrig kit is large and impressive. The hull clearly shows a marked resemblance to a cruiser version of the Nassau class battleships, although longer and leaner for her cruiser role. The primary reason for the resemblance is the identical turret layout of fore and aft turrets with two beam turrets on each side. The ship has a cleaver bow with an interesting assortment of curves and planes for the hull sides. Two anchor hawse are found on the port and one on the starboard. Portholes are deeply drilled and the hull tertiary casemate positions have clearly defined armored shutters. The casemates provide the curving positions, which add relief from the slightly tumblehome sides. Additionally the embrasures to allow end on fire for the hull mounted guns add even more interest to the hull sides. The armor belts are clearly delineated. Starting just in front of the forward turret, the upper deck continues in a straight line towards the stern, ending amidships, as the lower hull continues outboard. This creates lower weather decks, which further creates a further visual focus on the hull.

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Amidships on each side are four secondary casemate positions for the 5.9-inch guns. The rounded gun shields are sharply differentiated from the angular planes of the hull sides. The casting is very crisp and all angles are very sharp in differentiation. This also creates an even lower walkway along the casemate positions. The hull sides of the gun deck are a series of angles as taper towards or expand from the gun positions. As the stern gradually tapers to the stern, two more tertiary gun positions swell outboard from the hull sides, almost at the very stern. From a top-down view the detail is equally impressive. Again the assortment of curves and angles is readily apparent. The deck anchor hawse are very noticeable with metal anchor chain plates running back to the windlass positions a very good distance to the rear. There are locator holes for two large windlasses with deck plates running to rounded fittings where the anchor chain goes through the deck to the chain locker. On the forecastle are two centerline twin bollard fittings followed by two more abreast of A turret. Four small open chocks are on the deck edges of the bow. All six turret positions have prominent barbettes.

Many model companies cast as much of the superstructure as integral to the hull, but with their Blucher, Combrig follows their standard format with separate superstructure parts, which fit within wells on the deck. Both approaches have merits and demerits but probably the greatest merit of this approach is the ability to get perfect lines in painting the ships sides from the deck. If you paint the parts before assembly, you’ll have perfect paint lines with no spill-over of the gray sides onto the deck or wood deck paint onto the superstructure sides. Another feature of Combrig kits is the presence of locator outlines on the deck. This very good feature is sometimes not found in the kits from other manufacturers but is really important to correctly align separate superstructure parts to the deck/hull casting. There is a small amount of play in fitting superstructure parts into the wells. Therefore you should consider using a slower drying adhesive than super glue to provide some time to correctly align the parts to the deck. Deck detail includes fittings extending amidships from each beam turret. Also there are square coamings, two on each side of the aft funnel base. Two rectangular skylights or coamings are found just forward of the aft superstructure well. Another excellent Combrig feature found on Combrig models of coal burning ships are the numerous sharply defined circular coal-scuttles on the deck planking. Other amidships deck details are bulkheads running from the aft corners of the forward superstructure to the forward beam turrets, more open chocks at deck edge and curious circular positions on each side between the beam turrets. There are also locator holes for the cranes and ventilator fittings. Of all areas of the ship, the most deck detail is found on the quarterdeck. It is dominated by a long series of skylights on the centerline. There are three deck access coamings running in an asymmetrical line from starboard of the aft barbette to the port side at the stern. Another asymmetrical feature is the placement of the twin bollard fittings. Four are symmetrical but a fifth fitting is offset to port. Four other fittings are clustered around the aft barbette and there are more open chocks at deck edge.

Major Superstructure Parts
There are a number of major superstructure parts to this kit. The funnels are very prominent. They are cased halfway up the stacks with a prominent apron at the top of the casings and with strong funnel bands. Additionally each funnel has four curious fittings extending upwards from each apron. The forward superstructure has two casemate positions on each side plus a two level conning tower with sharply incised vision slits. The forward funnel housing has four ventilator fittings on the crown. The aft superstructure is another strong feature. It has solid bulkheads at the edge surrounding four skylight fittings. Each side also features a large curved ventilator. The lower portion of superstructure flare outwards. The six main gun turrets come in two patterns. Two of the turrets are for the fore and aft turrets with large rangefinders centered at the rear crown of each turret. The four beam turrets have smaller rangefinders located at the right and overhanging the sides of each turret. Each turret has an apron along the sides and a combination of curves and angles along the sides and angles on the crown. A command position is centered between the guns at the forward edge of each turret. Another design feature of the Blucher are the two large curved goose-necked cranes placed amidships.

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Smaller Resin Parts
The resin film contains platforms. The largest of these parts is the platform on top of the aft funnel housing. This part features a catwalk running forward to the forward funnel housing. There are also two observation catwalks running to port and starboard. It also has a skylight, ventilator, and ladder well outlines. A separate long asymmetrical catwalk is also on the sheet. Other parts on the sheet are a series of searchlight platforms, superstructure platforms and bridge wings. One of the best features in the entire kit is the resin runner with five exquisitely cast ventilators. These are top-notch parts with very finely cast slats. There are a number of resin runners, all of which have no to a minute amount of flash. The parts are all crisp. Fittings include cable reels, windlasses, searchlights with horizontal shutter pattern, anchors, main guns, secondary guns, light deck guns with separate mounts & shielding, small ventilators, bulkheads, steam pipes, seven styles of ship’s boats, masts, yards and superstructure rangefinders.

Brass Photo-Etch Fret
In common with most Combrig kits, their
Blucher contains a brass photo-etch fret of ship specific parts. The most striking parts are the inclusion of brass torpedo net shelves. In the part these shelves were cast as part of the hull. But resin, no matter how fine cannot duplicate the thinness and strength of brass. You can get very thin resin castings but they would be very fragile. With brass you get the thinness but also strength. There are two such shelves on each side, two on the bow and two on the stern. Each funnel top grating has an unusual design with a circular design in the center. Many of the ship’s boats were mounted on raised boat skids and these are part of the fret, as well as individual boat propellers and rudders. Davits and deck boat chocks are also present. There is a lot of bracing for the numerous searchlight and other platforms found on this design, as well as top rigging on the cranes. The fret even includes relief-etched ship’s nameplates. Anchor chain, inclined ladders and vertical ladders are included but you may wish to replace the inclined ladders with individual trainable treads.

Blucher instructions are in the common Combrig format. There are two back-printed sheets. The first sheet has a 1:700 scale plan and profile and plan, as well as the ship’s history and specifications in Russian. Use of the included plan and profile as a reference is essential. They are absolutely necessary in the specific placement of various parts. On the back of the sheet is a photograph of all of the parts that should be included in the kit so it easy to see if you are missing something. The second sheet includes the assembly diagrams. Step one on the front side concentrates on the funnel housings, catwalks, aft superstructure, aft funnel, boat platforms, torpedo net shelves and deck ventilators. A detailed inset drawing provides a blown-up view of the aft funnel assembly. There is a disconnect between the first page and second page as the first page already shows the aft superstructure in place and yet shows attaching that part on the second page. The second sheet actually shows assembly of the major sub-components of the model, excluding the aft funnel. Detailed inset drawings are found for the forward superstructure, ship’s boats, searchlight platforms, raised boat platforms and deck guns.  

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Combrig has done another admirable job in producing a 1:700 scale replica of the best of the armored cruisers. Although a World War One warship, this
Blucher kit is not for the beginner. With its numerous searchlight platforms and raised boat skids, there are some delicate subassemblies found here. However, for everybody else the Combrig Blucher is recommended without reservation.