"For the first time I experienced the luxury of complete immunity from every form of interference….I was now in a position to enjoy the control officer’s paradise: a good target, no alterations of course, and no ‘next-aheads’ or own smoke to worry one." (Lieutenant Commander Rudolf Verner, Gunnery Officer HMS Inflexible December 8, 1914, Castles of Steel, Random House 2003, Robert K. Massie, at page 269)
"Fore-control out of action. We are all dead and dying up here. Send up some morphia….For God’s sake, put out the fire or we shall all be roasted….Tell my people that I played the game and stuck it out." (Commander Rudolf Verner, Gunnery Officer HMS Inflexible March 18, 1915, Castles of Steel, Random House 2003, Robert K. Massie, at pages 460 and 462)
Rudolf Verner was the gunnery officer of the battle cruiser HMS Inflexible. The two statements quoted above reflect his elation in controlling the fire of one of Fisher’s Greyhounds in a smashing victory at the Battle of the Falklands. His ship was engaged in one of the prime roles envisioned for the battle cruiser by Admiral John Fisher, sweeping the seas of enemy armored cruisers and cruisers of lesser breed. Only slightly more than three months later he made the statements in the second quotation. Upon this occasion, the Inflexible was misused in a mission for which she was not designed, engaging strong land fortifications. The misguided mission was a solely naval effort to force the Dardanelles and HMS Inflexible paid for it with significant damage and Commander Verner paid for it with his life. The battle cruiser as a type and specifically the battle cruisers of the Royal Navy led two lives. From their creation in 1906 until May 24, 1916 they were the darlings of the public and fleet. Almost everywhere triumphant, they were by far the most active capitol ships in the world. As the lines of expensive British battleships swung at anchor in lonely Scapa Flow, H.M. battle cruisers steamed across the seas of the world in search of combat with the ships of H.M. enemies. This all changed at the Battle of Jutland when three of their number blew up. They then became outcasts, creatures liable to kill their own crews due to their weakness in armor.
However, I have always loved these magnificent machines. They were and are still more glamorous than their stodgy, slower battleship cousins, and were never truly put out of business until their speed was combined with battleship armor to produce the fast battleship. HMS Hood is acknowledged as the last battle cruiser but in reality, as her designer acknowledged, she was really the first truly fast battleship. Although the truth will never be known, the loss of three RN battle cruisers at Jutland was in all probability more likely the result of faulty ammunition handling policies and conditions, rather than from thin armor. Hood’s loss was the result of plunging fire through thinner deck armor igniting a magazine and has been used to further condemn the battle cruiser. Yet USS Arizona was destroyed by a bomb penetrating her thinner deck armor and igniting her forward magazine. No one condemned the Arizona for being weakly armored. Given the combat history of the battle cruiser, versus the static battleships, I believe the type was one of the most cost-effective capitol ship types ever created.
The HMS Invincible was the first of a new type of warship, the battle cruiser. As such she represented the first book end of a type of warship that was in existence only for a comparatively short period of time. However, within that period the type was the epitome of the romance and glamour in the Royal Navy. Her sistership, HMS Inflexible, was actually the first of the class to be laid down. Inflexible was built at Clydebank and was laid down on February 5, 1906, a month before Invincible. If she had been faster building, the class might have been known as the Inflexible class. It is entirely likely that this was in Jacky Fisher’s mind. He had commanded the preceding HMS Inflexible, a Barnaby designed battleship with the thickest armor ever carried by a warship. However, this Inflexible was an entirely different creature from Fisher’s Inflexible at the bombardment of the forts of Alexandria. "Fisher called the dreadnoughts ‘Old Testament ships’, and the battle cruisers ‘the real gems’ and ‘New Testament ships’, because ‘they fulfilled the promise of the ‘Old Testament ships." (From Dreadnought to Scampa Flow, Volume I, The Road to War 1904-1914, by Arthur Marder, 1961 , a page 44)
At one time Admiral Jackie Fisher had commanded the 2nd class battleship, HMS Renown and felt such great attachment to his old command that upon being promoted to Admiral the Renown became his flagship. The Renown had lighter guns and lighter armor than the 1st class battleship but it was faster and Fisher loved speed. In 1902 as Commander of the Mediterranean Fleet, Fisher and one of his favorites W. H. Gard, Chief Constructor of the Malta Dockyard, drafted up plans for a superior armored cruiser. The design was armed with a uniform 9.2-inch battery but most remarkably had a top speed of 25 knots. Later the RN produced the Minotaur Class, which featured most of the details of this design except the speed. When Fisher became First Sea Lord in 1904, he organized a committee to consider new capital ship designs. The first order of business was to consider a new battleship design, which became HMS Dreadnought. As soon as this design was agreed upon, Fisher turned his attention to his true love, a new armored cruiser design but an armored cruiser that would reflect his wishes. The result was HMS Invincible.
"The raison d’etre of the battle cruiser was threefold: to have armoured ships (1) to act as super-scouting cruisers, ships fast and powerful enough to push home a reconnaissance in the face of an enemy’s big armoured cruisers; (2) fast enough to hunt down and destroy the fastest armed merchant raiders, especially the 23-knot German transatlantic liners, which were known to be carrying guns for commerce destruction in war; (3) to act as a fast wing reinforcing the van or rear of a battle fleet in a general action. The genesis of the type was sound, as the existing armoured cruisers could not fulfill any of these tasks It is unfortunate that Admiralty statistics often included battle cruisers under dreadnoughts and that the ships came to be called, from 1912, battle cruisers (at first they were known as large armoured cruisers or ‘fast battleships’, and, in 1911, as battleship-cruisers’), for they were not intended to stand up to battleships (certainly not dreadnoughts) not already engaged with other battleships." (From Dreadnought to Scampa Flow, Volume I, The Road to War 1904-1914, by Arthur Marder, 1961 , a page 44-45)
The new design reflected the 6-inch armor belt of previous armored cruiser designs but achieved the 25 knots desired by Fisher in 1902. However, the mostly startling characteristic was the uniform main battery, not of 9.2-inch cruiser guns but 12-inch/45 guns, the same as mounted in Dreadnought. Fisher was delighted and had three of them ordered before the second dreadnought class was even designed. However, there were some observers that were skeptical of the new wonder ship. "Of the vessels officially designated as armoured cruisers belonging to the 1905 programme, three have been laid down – the Invincible at Elswick, the Inflexible at the yard of Messrs. John Brown and Co., Clydebank, and the Indomitable at Fairfield…. The Invincible class have been given the armament of a battleship, their superiority in speed being compensated for by lighter protection. Vessels of this enormous size and cost are unsuitable for many of the duties of cruisers; but an even stronger objection to the repetition of the type is that an admiral having Invincibles in his fleet will be certain to put them in the line of battle, where their comparatively light protection would be a disadvantage, and their high speed of no value." (The Naval Annual 1907, The British Navy, by T.A. Brassey1907, at page 9)
Laid down on February 5, 1906 Inflexible was launched on June 26, 1907, the last of the class to be launched. She was finally completed in October 1908, ahead of Invincible but after Indomitable. Upon commissioning on October 20, 1908 Inflexible was named flagship of the Nore Division of the Home Fleet. Trials were undertaken shortly thereafter but during gun trials she suffered some damage. Inflexible went back to the yard for repairs, which were conducted between October 1908 to January 1909. After repairs she joined the 1st Cruiser Squadron with her sisters in March 1909. She soon suffered minor damage due to an accidental coal bunker explosion. In September 1909 she flew the flag of Admiral Sir Edward Seymour for a good will visit to New York. A quick refit followed from October to December 1909. The bad luck of Inflexible followed her in her early service. In May 1911 she collided with the battleship Bellerophon, damaging her bow. Also in 1911 her forward funnel was lengthened.
Arky-Barky Takes Inflexible to the Med
After another visit to the yard she became flagship of the 1st Cruiser Squadron until May 1912. In November 1912 she raised the flag of Rear Admiral Sir Berkeley Milne, newly appointed commander of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet. Admiral Milne was a favorite of King Edward VII, as commander of the Royal yacht, and then in turn King George V. Known as Arky-Barky, the King was very pleased when he was named C-in-C Mediterranean. Not a man of keen intellect, Milne was in the camp of Admiral Charles Beresford, arch-enemy of Jackie Fisher. The fact that Milne offered to testify against Fisher in one hearing did not endear him to the past and future First Sea Lord. Of course Fisher was in retirement when Milne was appointed to Fisher’s old command. Fisher’s description of Milne included phrases such as "backstairs cad", "sneak", "serpent of the lowest type" and "Sir Berkeley Mean who buys his Times second-hand for a Penny". Inflexible was still his flag in August 1914 when Great Britain declared war upon Imperial Germany and was a key part of the first naval hunt of the war.
As Britain and the Royal Navy kept building battleships and battle cruisers in the never ending race with Imperial Germany, no one was quite sure of the true value of the battle cruiser. In June 1912 the new First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston S. Churchill, wrote, "At present the British battle cruisers have an immense prestige in themselves; no one really knows their full value, it is undoubtedly great – it may even be more than we imagine… their speed, their armour, their armament, are all great assets, even their appearance has a sobering effect." (Battlecruiser Invincible, The History of the First Battlecruiser 1909-16, by V.E. Tarrant, 1986, at page 24) However, as can be seen, Churchill expected great actions from the battle cruisers. In that, the first significant operation, the Inflexible was a failure. This was the hunt for the German battle cruiser Goeben.
Inflexible and Sir Berkeley Goeben
The German Admiralty had sent one of their newest battle cruisers, SMS Goeben, to the Mediterranean in 1912 with the light cruiser Breslau. They were stationed there as Germany’s counterpoint to the British Mediterranean Fleet. In 1914 only the SMS Seydlitz was of newer construction. However, in her two years on service without time in a dockyard, Goeben was not in peak condition. Her bottom was foul and many of the small tubes in her boilers were leaking and defective. She had nowhere near her original speed. When the Austrian Arch Duke was assassinated at Serajevo, Goeben was at Haifa. The force commander was the exceedingly efficient Rear Admiral Wilhelm Souchon. Souchon foresaw the coming war and given the boiler conditions of Goeben, immediately steamed to Pola, an Austrian naval base. As he steamed out of Haifa Souchon radioed Berlin to immediately send new boiler tubes to Pola. Goeben anchored at Pola on July 10 and for the next two and ½ weeks crews broke down the boilers of Goeben to replace 4,000 water tubes. On July 28 warning came from Berlin that war was eminent, as Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, but not all the tubes had been replaced. Time had run out for Souchon and he had limited options. He could continue the work of repairing Goeben but then if war came, the Goeben would be stuck in the narrow Adriatic, under Austrian command, easily bottled up by superior British forces. Another course was to sail west attack French troop transports and then break out into the Atlantic with the end state of rejoining the High Seas Fleet. He decided to go after the French transports. On July 29 he raised anchor and steamed south. On August 1, when Germany and Russia went to war, Goeben was at the Italian port of Brindisi. Although Italy was part of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria, Souchon saw that the Italians were nervous. He could not get the Italians to bring colliers to replenish his near empty bunkers. He left and tried Messina but still the Italians would not cooperate in supplying coal. With German merchant ships at Messina, he sailed for Sicily. At least he could get coal from them. The crew of Goeben quickly tore up the decks of the anchored merchant ships to get at the coal in their bunkers as quickly as possible. They were rewarded with two thousand tons of poor quality coal. At night on August 2, with no orders from Germany, Souchon sailed northwards.
It was no secret that France would transport her North African Army to France in the event of war with Germany. Souchon was determined to attack those transports. If he couldn’t catch the transports at sea, he would shoot up their embarkation ports. The next day he heard from Germany that they were now at war with France. However, Great Britain was still not at war. In addition to Inflexible, Milne had battle cruisers Indomitable and Indefatigable, plus four armored cruisers. As Milne’s ship at anchor, he received no instructions from Churchill until July 30, when told he was to cover the French transports. The directive from Churchill had several injunctions and Milne was perplexed. If possible he was to bring to action Goeben. He was not to bring a general action against superior forces. He was to husband his forces at the outset of war. On August 2 Churchill signaled Milne that Goeben should be shadowed by two battle cruisers. On August 3 it was for him to watch the mouth of the Adriatic but that Goeben was his objective. Of course Goeben had already departed the Adriatic for more than two days when Churchill told Milne to watch the mouth of the Adriatic for Goeben. The previous day Milne had sent Indomitable, Indefatigable and the four armored cruisers under his second in command, Rear Admiral Ernest Troubridge to watch the Adriatic, because Milne, as well as Churchill, thought Goeben still at Pola. The British counsel at Taranto had spotted Goeben and when the Admiralty was contacted, Churchill suddenly had the fear that the German battle ship was going to break into the Atlantic and attack British merchantmen. Milne was immediately ordered to send the two battle cruisers with Troubridge in a high-speed run to block Goeben from passing Gibraltar.
Milne guessed that Goeben might have gone to Messina and dispatched a light cruiser for a reconnaissance of the anchorage. The cruiser missed Goeben by six hours. Goeben and Breslau had disappeared since last seen on August 2 at Taranto. Early in he morning of August 4 they were approaching French African ports when they received a message to steam east to Constantinople. Souchon was not about to put about without shooting up his target. He continued to the Algerian port of Philippeville and for ten minutes used his 5.9-inch secondary guns to light up some targets. After that he took on the 1,200 mile voyage to Turkey. He needed more coal for this trip and set course back to Messina. Finally Milne knew of the location of Goeben. Since two of his battle cruisers were already in the area steaming towards Gibraltar, they were vectored to intercept the German ships. On the morning of the 4th, they made contact. Great Britain was still not at war with Germany so they fell in behind Goeben and Breslau and followed. Souchon increased speed in an effort to shake the two British battle cruisers. Stokers and all four ships endured extraordinarily nasty conditions as they raced eastward. Milne informed the Admiralty that Goeben was being shadowed but forgot to mention they were traveling eastward away from French transports. Churchill was elated but assumed the Germans were still traveling west to go after the French. He ordered the two battle cruisers to attack Goeben if she attacked French troopships but when the cabinet disapproved of this order, he had to retract it and tell Milne he could not attack until Britain’s ultimatum to Germany expired at midnight. As Goeben bent on more speed the crews of Indefatigable and Indomitable were sent to afternoon tea. For six hours the British kept in range but finally the Germans drew out of sight of their followers. At 01:15 on the 5th the word came that Germany and Great Britain were at war. At dawn Goeben was again at Messina and this time managed to wrangle some coal from the Italians as well as from German merchantmen. With the help of 400 German civilians, coaling went on around the clock until 1,500 tons of coal had been loaded. At 17:00 on August 6 Goeben steamed out of Messina and steered a course towards the Adriatic.
Milne, still under the belief that his primary mission was to prevent Goeben from attacking French transports, positioned his battle cruisers to the west of Sicily. Inflexible with Milne aboard had sailed from Malta and joined Indefatigable, as Indomitable went to get more coal. Milne, aware that Goeben was at Messina since early on the 6th, was guarding the northern exit of the Straits of Messina but Souchon had gone south. However, a British light cruiser stationed at the southern end of the Strait picked him up, shawdowed and radioed positions to Milne. At midnight it was reported that Souchon had changed course towards the Aegean.
Troubridge was with the four armored cruisers at the mouth of the Adriatic and was in a position to intercept the battle cruiser. This he intended to do and his four armored cruisers headed south at 19-knots hoping to intercept Goeben at dawn. However, believing that his combined force was no match for the Goeben he called off the chase at 04:00 and so signaled Milne. On the 8th Souchon still thought the British battle cruisers were close behind. As stokers were rotated every two hours, four died of heat stroke anyway. Milne was not just behind Goeben. Inflexible and the other two battle cruisers were at anchor at Malta until 13:00, when he tardily steamed off to the east at a snail’s pace of 12-knots. Milne was convinced that this was a trick and that the Germans would turn back to the west. The next day when informed he could start hostilities against Austria, Milne gave up any semblance of a chase of Goeben and joined Troubridge. The Admiralty message was in error and after spending another 24 hours in loitering about, Milne set off again on the long cold trail of the Goeben. He was very pleased that so far he had kept the Goeben away from the French transports. In the meantime this gave Souchon all the time he needed to coal again. At 03:00 August 10 Milne and his three battle cruisers finally reached the Aegean Sea. Learning of this Souchon raised anchor and negotiated the Dardanelles that evening. Milne was recalled and retired at half pay. However, Troubridge was made the scapegoat for the escape of Goeben. He was subject to a court martial but was acquitted. Even so, Troubridge never had a sea command again. Fisher not yet back as First Sea Lord wrote, "Personally, I should have shot Sir Berkeley Milne". Fisher changed his nickname of Milne from Sir Berkeley Mean to Sir Berkeley Goeben. Milne summed up the fiasco with, "They pay me to be an admiral. They don’t pay me to think."
In September Inflexible, newly returned from her fruitless hunt for Goeben in the Mediterranean, and Invincible became the 2nd Battle Cruiser Squadron (BCS) as New Zealand was transferred to the 1st BCS to join the three Lions. Another foray into the area of the Heligoland Bight was undertaken in early September by the now, six battle cruisers, backed up by the entire Grand Fleet, but no contact was made. On October 3, 1914 Invincible and Inflexible were dispatched on another mission for which they were designed. The Royal Navy had received intelligence that two German passenger liners, converted to armed merchant cruisers (AMC), were in Norwegian waters waiting to break out into the Atlantic. It was an especially dicey time as a Canadian troop convoy was scheduled to cross the Atlantic at that time. Since the original battle cruiser concept envisioned the type chasing down armed liners, they were perfect for going after the Prince Friedrich Wilhelm and Brandenburg, if they attempted to run the blockade. As it transpired, the two German liners never attempted to leave the safety of coastal waters and the two battle cruisers spent a very disagreeable ten days cruising a North Sea that was continuously wracked in a gale during the time. At the end of October the pair were assigned the mission of providing heavy support for seaplane carriers tasked to undertake a seaplane raid on the Zeppelin sheds at Cuxhaven. Because of bad weather, which prohibited the use of the seaplanes, the operation was cancelled on October 25. "Meanwhile 9,000 miles away, on the western seaboard of South America, events were taking place that would give Invincible’s crew the glory they craved." (Battlecruiser Invincible, The History of the First Battlecruiser 1909-16, by V.E. Tarrant, 1986, at page 40)
Battle of the Falklands
"Received news that Admiral Sturdee was to hoist his flag in Invincible. Admiral Moore to shift his flag to New Zealand. Invincible and Inflexible to go to Devonport at once. We first of all thought that we were booked for the Mediterranean, but later received the following signal from Cromarty: ‘Unofficial. Monmouth and Good Hope attacked off Valparaiso by German ships. Monmouth sunk all hands lost. Good Hope ran ashore in burning condition. Glasgow seriously damaged but is thought she was able to make for the nearest port. The report comes from the Germans and therefore must not be accepted as reliable." (Battlecruiser Invincible, The History of the First Battlecruiser 1909-16, by V.E. Tarrant, 1986, at page 41) Actually, the report of the action on November 1 was not quite reliable, as the reality was worse than the initial German report. Not only was the 9,500-ton County Class armored cruiser Monmouth sunk with all hands at the Battle of Coronel, but also the flagship of Rear Admiral Christopher Craddock, HMS Good Hope, an armored cruiser of 14,000-tons was also lost with all hands. The German East Asiatic Squadron had crossed the Pacific from their prewar base at Tsingtao China and sunk the two cruisers with minimal damage to themselves. The force under the command of Vice Admiral Graf von Spee was centered on the two armored cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, as well as four light cruisers. However, Glasgow was not seriously damaged. Aboard Invincible the purpose of their detachment from normal operations became clear. "Putting two and two together, we came to the conclusion that we were obviously going out to settle things."
It was one thing for the Royal Navy to loose three armored cruisers to a skulking German submarine off the Dutch coast, but quite another matter to loose two armored cruisers with their entire complements in a stand up fight with two German armored cruisers. Jackie Fisher who gave birth to the Invincible, had returned from retirement to be First Sea Lord on October 29, 1914. Less than an hour of hearing of the disaster at Coronel, Fisher had ordered two of his beloved Greyhounds to go to South America and crush the German force. Fisher and Churchill wasted no time. The pair were immediately sent to Devonport dockyard for a quick refurbishment. When the admiral commanding the dockyard reported that work could not be finished on them until midnight of November 13, Churchill fired back, "Invincible and Inflexible are needed for War Service and are to sail Wednesday 11th November. Dockyard arrangements must be made to conform. You are held responsible for the speedy dispatch of these ships in a thoroughly efficient condition. If necessary dockyard men should be sent away in the ships, to return as opportunity offers." (Battlecruiser Invincible, The History of the First Battlecruiser 1909-16, by V.E. Tarrant, 1986, at page 43)
On November 11, 1914 promptly at noon, Vice Admiral Doveton Sturdee hoisted his flag aboard Invincible. The two greyhounds left Devonport at 4:45 PM that evening. It was cold and dreary when Invincible left England but by the 16th the ship was in a much warmer environment. So warm in fact that a canvas bathing pool was set up on the foc’sle. "It is pleasantly warm. It was funny to see the two fore 12-inch guns used to support a big sail for the bathing pool!" The next day the battlecruisers pulled into Porto Grande in the Cape Verde Islands for coaling, having traveled 2,500 miles, and left there on the 18th. At 4:15 AM on November 21 the Invincible sped across the equator. At dawn on the 26th the two battlecruisers were joined by the armored cruiser Kent and the trio reached Abrolhos Rocks off Brazil at 7:31 AM. Waiting there for them was the 5th Cruiser Squadron under the command of Rear Admiral Stoddart. This force consisted of the armored cruisers Carnarvon and Cornwall, light cruisers Glasgow and Bristol and AMC Orama. Additionally there were nine colliers and an oiler with the squadron. It had been another 2,300 miles since leaving Cape Verde so the ships again had o coal. A fresh directive from the Admiralty reported that the German cruisers were still off Chile and for Sturdee, now in command of the combined force, to proceed to the Falkland Islands, 2,200 miles further south, which were to be used as a base for future operations.
On the 30th Sturdee undertook gunnery practice at the range of 12,000 yards, which was the distance from which he wished to engage the German armored cruisers. Firing 32 rounds, four from each gun, at a target towed by Inflexible, Invincible hit only once. Inflexible hit with three of her 32 rounds on the target towed by Invincible. Early on the morning of December 7 the lookouts of Invincible spotted the Falklands. At 10:26 Inflexible dropped anchor at the deep-water anchorage of Port William, having traveled the 7,000 miles from Devonport in 27 days. On the evening of the 7th Sturdee had a conference of his captains aboard Invincible. Although all reports that he had received indicated that von Spee’s squadron was still in Chilean waters, German colliers had bee observed moving into ports on the eastern side of South America, which Sturdee concluded was an indicator that the Germans would round Cape Horn. His plan was to coal his battle cruisers early on the 8th and leave that evening and to race west around the Horn to catch the Germans as they traveled south along the coast of Chile. At 08:00 December 8 the Gneisenau and a light cruiser were spotted approaching from the south. Sturdee ordered the colliers to cut free and for his squadron to raise steam for full speed. Only the armored cruiser Kent had steam up and she was ordered out steam out of harbor. With those orders given, Sturdee went to breakfast. "It was an interesting fight off the Falklands Islands…a good stand-up fight, and I always like to say I have a great regard for my opponent, Admiral von Spee. At all events he gave me and our squadron a chance by calling on me the day after I arrived. He came at a very convenient hour because I had just finished dressing and was able to give orders to raise steam at full sped and go down to a good breakfast." (Admiral Doveton Sturdee, Coronel and the Falklands, 1962, by Geoffrey Bennett, at page 135)
Admiral Sturdee would not have to search the South Atlantic looking for von Spee, as the German squadron arrived at exactly the same spot on the globe that the British battle cruisers reached 24 hours earlier. Von Spee at 5:30 a.m. had detached Gneisenau and Nurnberg to reconnoiter the Port Stanley and Port William anchorages. The weather, which was normally misty, rainy or occluded with sleet or snow in the area of the Falklands was abnormally clear and bright that morning. The Germans were sighted at more than ten miles from Sapper Hill. At 8:45 the smoke of the rest of the German squadron was reported as coming up behind the first two ships. As the German ships continued to close, Sturdee ordered the old battleship Canopus, which had grounded herself as an immobile fort, to fire on the Germans when they were within range of the predreadnoughts 12-inch/35 guns. At 9:20 just as Gneisenau and Nurnberg trained their guns on the wireless station, Canopus fired her first shots at a range of 11,500 yards. Another twist of fate came into play at this point. The Canopus had planned a practice firing for the morning of the 8th to show Admiral Sturdee how she could fire her guns blind over a spit of land under the directions of a spotter on Sapper Hill. The gun crews of both turrets were fiercely competitive with each other. On the night of the 7th crewmen from the after turret sneaked out and loaded practice ammunition into their guns, replacing the standard rounds. Even at maximum elevation the guns of the old Canopus still couldn’t reach the German ships. The two shells of the forward turret burst on impact, a mile short of the Germans. However, the practice rounds loaded in the aft two guns hit the sea and skipped onward, right into the Germans. One of these two practice rounds hit at the base of the Gneisenau’s aft funnel. The Gneisenau had spotted the Kent leaving harbor and was steering towards her when she was hit by this round from an unseen assailant, because the Kent hadn’t fired and the Germans were well outside the range of the six inch guns on the County Class cruiser. With the hit the Germans turned to rejoin the rest of their squadron. Without this hit the Germans had the opportunity to close the British force and perhaps damage the immobile ships sufficiently to allow the German squadron to escape.
Aboard the Gneisenau, the Germans spotted huge clouds of coal smoke, which they assumed was coming from coal stocks set on fire by the British to deny them to the von Spee’s squadron. At 09:00 warship funnels and masts were made out in the inner harbor. This did not bother Captain Maerker of the Gneisenau, his ship and the Scharnhorst had easily handled British armored cruisers a month earlier. "He was not, however, willing to believe the next report which came from his gunnery officer: across the low-lying neck of land which linked Cape Pembroke with Stanley, Busche saw tripod masts, four of them. But the possibility that there were a couple of dreadnoughts in the South Atlantic was something undreamed of even in the cautious Maerker’s philosophy: Busche was curtly told that the nearest battle-cruisers were as far away as the Mediterranean." (Coronel and the Falklands, 1962, by Geoffrey Bennett, at page 133) Gneisenau signaled von Spee that the British apparently had three County Class armored cruisers, one light cruiser and two larger ships, which may be predreadnought battleships. With this report and the solitary hit from Canopus, von Spee ordered Maerker to avoid action. There were no repair facilities available for the East Asiatic Squadron to repair battle damage and the squadron certainly could easily outrun predreadnoughts.
With the Germans breaking contact, all Sturdee could do was wait until his squadron had sufficient steam to get underway. By 09:50 Sturdee’s squadron was underway with Inflexible leading Invincible. Finally at 10:00, forty minutes after Gneisenau and Nurnberg had turned away, Inflexible was underway. By 10:30 the two battle cruisers, three armored cruisers and the light cruiser Glasgow had reached the open sea, while Bristol was still at anchor trying to raise steam. By this time the Germans were 19 miles away with their presence indicated in the sunny day by huge inverted pyramids of coal smoke.
By 11:15 the British force was considerably strung out. The two battle cruisers had considerably cut in to the German lead, as the German ships’ funnels and superstructures were above the horizon. However, the British armored cruisers had really started to lag and were five miles behind the Invincible and Inflexible. With perfect visibility and plenty of daylight left Sturdee slowed the battle cruisers to 19 knots to allow the armored cruisers to catch up with the greyhounds. Inflexible hoisted five battle flags. At 11:32 he directed that the crews of his squadron should serve the noon meal. Finally at 12:20 Sturdee decided not to wait further. "Captain Richard Phillmore came aft on Inflexible and told his men that the admiral had decided ‘to get along with the work.’ The crew cheered and the battle cruisers again moved up to 25 knots." The armored cruisers were not catching up and he decided that it was time to bring von Spee to action. With the two battle cruisers steaming parallel to each other, they went to action stations at 12:30. "At full speed Invincible and Inflexible made an impressive sight to all who witnessed them. Ram bows foaming into the steely green sea, sterns leaving boiling wakes, five white ‘battle’ ensigns fluttering from the yards standing out in stark contrast to the thick black, oily smoke pouring from their funnels, the huge guns searching out the enemy at full elevation." (Battlecruiser Invincible, The History of the First Battlecruiser 1909-16, by V.E. Tarrant, 1986, at page 57-58)
The light cruiser Leipzig had fallen 3,000 yards behind the rest of von Spee’s force. Fidgety Phil Phillimore, captain of the Inflexible, fired first from the guns of A turret with the guns at maximum elevation at 16,500 yards at 12:55. The shells fell 1,000 yards short of Leipzig. Invincible opened up at 12:57 from her A turret but was also short. By 13:15 the range had closed to 15,000 and Leipzig was being bracketed by huge geysers produced by the shells of the two battle cruisers. At 13:20 von Spee made a tactical decision. The courageous German admiral turned the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau into the path of the Invincible and Inflexible and ordered his three light cruisers to separate and break contact to the south. Following Sturdee’s established battle plan, the smaller British cruisers took out after the German light cruisers while the battle cruisers charged towards the two German armored cruisers. Sturdee’s plan also directed that the battle cruisers engage the German ships outside the range of their 8.2-inch guns, which was 13,500 yards. So when the British ships the 14,000 yards range they swung parallel to the German armored cruisers.
At almost the same time the four ships opened fire. They were steaming to the northeast with a wind blowing in from the northwest. The wind carried the huge quantities of coal and oil smoke produced by the battle cruisers downrange, significantly obscuring the vision from the British ships. In the two British ships only the range finders in A turret of Invincible and the personnel in the fore control top had a clean view of the German ships. Inflexible was hampered by her own smoke as well as Invincible’s smoke. Invincible engaged Scharnhorst and Inflexible engaged Gneisenau. The first two German salvos fell short but von Spee closed range to 12,000 yards and the shells of the third salvo straddled Invincible. "Five columns of water simultaneously shot into the air all round the ship,’ Duckworth recalled. ‘At the noise of the approaching shells I involuntarily ducked my head!" In spite of the design in which cross deck fire from the amidships turret on the unengaged side, the 12-inch guns of P turret did fire across the ship at von Spee’s cruisers. Of course every time P turret fired, the marine crew of Q turret were dazed by the concussion. British fire was slow and inaccurate, hindered by their own smoke and the constant splashes of German 8.2-inch shells. Additionally the fire control station on the foretop of Invincible couldn’t use the stereoscopic rangefinder because of vibration caused by speed and the firing of A turret, as well as the smoke. The spotters had to resort to binoculars and observe fall of shot. This was also hamstrung in that shots that were over could not be observed because of the smoke of Scharnhorst. Sturdee who was directing the battle from the platform below the foretop ordered his ships to open range. He also slowed to 22 knots to lessen smoke. In the first 30 minutes Inflexible hit Gneisenau three times. One hit below the waterline and a second temporarily disabled one of the 8.2-inch guns. By 14:00 the guns on both sides had fallen silent. The Germans turned south again as clouds were observed in that direction. If they could find the mist and rain found normally in that area of the world, they could make good their escape. Because of the battle cruiser’s smoke, it took awhile before it was clear that the Germans were again making off to the south. Sturdee immediately turned his battle cruisers towards the Germans and increased speed to 24-knots. The chase lasted 40 minutes before the range had closed back to 15,000 yards. Again Sturdee turned to port to present a broadside and at 14:53 the German pair turned to present their broadsides.
The range continued to close until at 15:03 it was at 11,000 yards and the German secondary 5.9-inch guns were within range. The shooting of Inflexible was especially handicapped because her view of the target was obscured not only by her own smoke, but also by the smoke on Invincible. Only Lieutenant Commander Rudolf Verner, gunnery officer high in the foretop could get fleeting glances of Gneisenau. For the next fifteen minutes the Invincible became the punching bag for 8.2-inch and 5.9-inch shells from Scharnhorst, as the battle cruiser was hit repeatedly by the crack German gunners. However, Verner finally had sufficient observation to allow Inflexible to get hold of Gneisenau. "A shell grazed the third funnel and exploded on the upper deck above….’said Gneisenau’s Commander Pochhammer. ‘Large pieces of shrapnel ripped down and reached the coal bunkers, killing a stoker. A deck officer had both his forearms torn off. A second shell exploded on the main deck, destroying the ship’s boats. Fragments smashed into the officers’ mess and wounded the officers’ little pet black pig. Another hit aft entered the ship on the waterline, pierced the armored deck and lodged in an ammunition chamber…[which] was flooded to prevent further damage….These three hits killed or wounded fifty men." (Castles of Steel, 2003, by Robert K. Massie, at page 267)
However, the Invincible had also been hitting home, crippling the Scharnhorst. By 15:12 Scharnhorst was on fire forward and her fire had slackened significantly. Her steering was also affected as she suddenly veered away and opened range. Three minutes later Sturdee ordered a full turn to port and the battle cruisers turned in a circle until at 15:30 they were steering to the southwest. This maneuver placed the British ships clear of their smoke and for the first time they had a good view of the German armored cruiser. During the turn two more 8.2-inch shells from Scharhorst hit the bow of Invincible but caused no significant damage. A 5’9-inch shell struck right between the guns of A turret. With smoke interference reduced greatly, the British 12-inch shells really started tearing the guts out of the German armored cruisers. Scharnhorst was down by three feet from her waterline, her third funnel gone and almost hidden in explosions and smoke from her onboard fires. "Her upper works were a shambles of torn and twisted steel and iron, and through the holes in her side, even at the great distance we were from her (12,000 yards) could be seen the dull-red glows as the flames gradually gained mastery between decks" Inflexible put in a crippling blow. A 12-inch shell exploded in the Gneisenau’s starboard engine room. Pumps could not control the intake of water and the crew abandoned their machinery as the large compartment flooded. At 15:30 the two British battle cruisers were to windward of the Germans with Inflexible in the lead. Verner finally had an unobscured line of sight to von Spee’s cruisers. With engine rooms flooded Gneisenau was now down to 16 knots with list that precluded the use of her port 5.9-inch guns.
By 16:00 Scharnhorst had it. Her guns were silent, all of her funnels were down, she was afire forward and aft and water was coming over her forecastle. She was listing to port and drifting without steerageway. Scharnhorst with von Spee and his entire crew, heeled slowly to port and went down by the bow. Now it was just Gneisenau against Invincible, Inflexible and the armored cruiser Carnarvon that had caught up with the battle. However, Gneisenau proved to be a tough nut to crack. Limited to 16-knots due to under water damage caused by Inflexible, she made for rain clouds now clearly seen to the south. For the next hour and forty minutes, shell after shell tore into her. Gneisenau appeared to be concentrating her fire on Invincible. Sturdee’s flagship suffered hits at 16:29, 16:38, 16:43 and 17:15. However, Gneisenau couldn’t make it to the cover of the rain clouds. Again Inflexible had her guns masked by smoke. At 16:45 Fidgety Phil could no longer stand fighting blind. He reversed Inflexible’s course, charged through the smoke and caught the crawling Gneisenau in bright sunlight at 11,000 yards. Inflexible’s fire was devastating. Her speed continued to fall until by 17:30 she was dead in the water. By 17:49 could only fire the guns from one turret. Sturdee called cease fire at 17:53 as the British squadron watched Gneisenau settle. It was then that mist and rain made it to the sinking Gneisenau, too late to help. By 18:00 she was on beam ends and two minutes later, she plunged to follow her sister to the bottom of the south Atlantic.
The British quickly moved in to rescue survivors but the icy cold water was claiming them very quickly. About 300 of the German crew made it into the water. Cutters were lowered and ropes thrown over the high sides of the battle cruisers as well as the Carnarvon. Although the battle cruisers had landed their anti-torpedo nets and booms, they still were fitted with the shelves, which jutted out from the hull. It proved to be particularly difficult to get the survivors over these shelves. Invincible picked up 111 of the crew but only 91 survived. Inflexible picked up 63 and Carnarvon 33.
The German East Asiatic Squadron had been crushed. Of the three light cruisers that made a run for it, Leipzig and Nurnberg were sunk and only Dresden made it clear. The battle had taken about four and ½ hours and for many of the victorious British, the most troubling aspect was that it had lasted that long. Admiral Fisher criticized Sturdee for being "dilatory and theatrical" but then Sturdee had been in the sphere of Fisher’s arch rival Admiral Charles Beresford and Fisher hated anything or anybody associated with Beresford. A total of 1,174 12-inch shells had been expended in the battle. The British claimed 40 hits on Scharnhorst and 34 on Gneisenau, although both figures were probably to great as a survivor from Gneisenau recorded the battle, minute by minute, and chronicled that only 23 hits were scored on his cruiser. The low percentage of hits was said to be caused by the extreme range and the fact that the battle cruisers smoke caused great interference in observing the target. Sturdee simply and telling stated that he saw no need of giving away his advantage of a greater range for his armament. To close to save ammunition would merely have increased the damage to his ships and loss to his crews. The argument about the smoke interference was indeed correct but since the battle was primarily fought well within the extreme range of 16,500 yards of the 12-inch guns of the battle cruisers, that portion of the argument does not ring true. However, British training was partly responsible for the low number of hits. Since 1912 Invincible had carried out only one firing practice at targets over 6,000 yards.
Other, even greater systemic problems, were not even examined. The performance of the foretop fire control station of Invincible had been greatly degraded by the vibration caused by high speed and the firing from the guns of A turret. The stereoscopic ranging devices had been rendered useless because of this. Commander Dannreuther, gunnery officer of the ship, had been in the foretop and had made note that many of the shells fired by Invincible, did not explode upon striking the water, as they should have. This observation clearing pinpointed a fault in British heavy caliber ammunition, but nothing was done and that same fault was still present 1 and ½ years later at Jutland. In turn Invincible had been struck with a total of 22 German shells, twelve 8.2-inch, six 5.9-inch and four unidentified. Except for some flooded compartments forward and the flooded coal bunker, all of the damage was superficial. There was additional self-inflicted blast damage caused by the cross-deck firing of P and Q turrets at different stages in the battle. Total casualties on the flagship amounted to two injured, one with a bruised foot and the other with a cut on the arm. The fact that Invincible received so little damage in spite of being the target of one of the crack gunnery ships in the German fleet certainly seems to vindicate Sturdee’s tactics and paint Fisher as just being vindictive over past associations. Although Inflexible had received only three hits, shrapnel from one explosion had killed one of the crew and injured three others. In addition to sinking two armored cruisers and two light cruisers, Sturdee’s force also bagged two German colliers. On the 9th he ships spent their time looking for the armored cruiser Kent, which had taken off after the Nurnberg during the battle and had not reported thereafter. By 15:00 Kent was sighted and the report came in that she had sunk her quarry at 19:27 the previous evening but due to damage to her wireless could not use it to report her status.
Sturdee still wanted to catch the Dresden and kept up a search for her for the next few days. On the 13th the German cruiser was reported to be at Punta Arenas, a port in the Straits of Magellan and Sturdee planned to take his whole force after her, as Invincible had patched the holes in her hull and pumped out the flooded compartments. However, this was vetoed by the Admiralty and the battle cruisers were directed to come home. On December 16 Invincible raised her anchor and made for Montevideo, which she reached on the 20th. On the 19th Inflexible had received a separate order to proceed to the Dardanelles. While at Montevideo rumors were received that the German battle cruisers Seydlitz, Moltke and von der Tann were close and searching for Invincible. A telegram was sent to the Admiralty asking for confirmation of this information and the quick reply was that on December 16, these ships were still in the North Sea and consequently couldn’t be in the South Atlantic. The probable reason for this these frantic rumors lies with the change of color of the British battle cruisers. Before steaming for the Falklands, they had been painted in a light gray, which was much more effective at concealment in the misty conditions of the North Sea than the prior dark gray used by RN warships. As the pair had steamed south, every merchantman had steered clear of them and reported German battle cruisers, as the light gray paint was almost identical to the color of German warships. Once started the rumors took on a life of their own.
In the Shadow of Troy
As the two battle cruisers parted company, Inflexible steamed to the Mediterranean. It was here that Inflexible was given and experimental three color camouflage job with white splotches on her hull and a white second funnel. Again one of her missions would be to get at the Goeben, now snugly operating in the Black Sea against the Russian fleet. Troubridge had been scheduled to become the next commander of the Mediterranean Fleet after Milne finished his tour. But the escape of the Goeben changed all of that. Milne was recalled for retirement and Troubridge for Court Martial. Vice Admiral Sackville Carden was selected to command the force outside the Dardanelles awaiting Goeben. Originally he had Indomitable, Indefatigable and two French predreadnoughts. War was not officially declared between Turkey and Great Britain until October 31, 1914. On November 3 Carden bombardment the outer forts to the Dardanelles and then for the next three months did nothing. Fresh from her victory in the Falklands Inflexible was tasked to join Carden’s squadron, as the other two battle cruisers were recalled home. On January 2, 1915 the British Foreign Office received a plea from Russian Grand Duke Nicholas for the British to undertake some form of action that would force Turkey to withdraw some of her troops confronting the Grand Duke’s army in the Caucasus. The cable was taken to Churchill by War Minster, Field Marshall Lord Kitchener, who asked Churchill for naval action. Churchill asked if he could have troops to support a naval operation and was told that the army did not have a man to spare.
Still Churchill was enthused. When Jackie Fisher saw the cable, he too was enthused. He immediately outlined a plan to use 100,000 British troops, the Greek Army, the Bulgarians and a force of predreadnought battleships to seize the Dardanelles and then Constantinople. Of the four ingredients to the plan only the ships were available at that time. Eight ships of the Canopus class and eight of the Majestic class, already classified in the category of "His Majesty’s less valuable ships" could be used. It would be a simple run up the Dardanelles past ancient guns in the forts, overwhelm Goeben and overawe the Turks. Churchill cabled Carden about a solely naval effort to force the Dardanelles. On January 12 Carden responded with a methodical plan to slowly advance up the Dardanelles knocking out one fort at a time. He said he would need 12 battleships and 3 battle cruisers. The battle cruisers were to deal with Goeben. Fisher suggested that the new Queen Elizabeth be sent with the predreadnoughts. She was due for gunnery trials. Why not shoot at the Turks instead of the empty sea? Fisher also threw in the two Lord Nelsons. The following day the War Counsel approved the operation. Fisher was against a solely naval effort as he considered a ground component crucial, which he expressed in a letter to Churchill on January 25. Fisher almost resigned on January 28 when the War Counsel decided to go with a solely naval operation but Kitchener and Churchill talked him into staying.
Carden was provided with 12 British predeadnoughts, 4 French predreadnoughts, Queen Elizabeth, Inflexible and many smaller vessels. Carden started his operations against the Dardanelles on February 19. Inflexible was his flagship as the battle cruiser and nine predreadnoughts anchored 12,000 yards from the outer forts and slowly bombarded them. In the afternoon Carden reduced range to 6,000 yards. It was not until some predreadnoughts closed to 3,000 yards that Turkish guns opened fire. Although British battleship fire could pin down gunners, it took a direct hit to knock out a gun in the forts. In spite of the hours of gun fire, there was not much damage on either side. On February 25 it was the turn of Queen Elizabeth and four predreadnoughts to bombard the forts. The British fared better this time as four guns were knocked out with direct hits. On the 26th the British adopted a very effective tactic. While gun crews were evacuated from the forts during bombardment, Royal marines were landed. Fire ceased and the marines would demolish surviving guns with explosives. One party of marines advanced further up the Gallipoli peninsula than would ever be achieved in the subsequent army ground operation. The marines blew up 31 heavy guns with 19 more to follow until the marines withdrew on March 4. The War Counsel, as well as Carden, was buoyed by the success and Carden reported that he thought he could be through the Strait in about two weeks. It was not just the British that saw the operation as being a Triumph. Neutrals started leaning towards the British and the German and Turkish governments were despondent and pessimistic.
Carden wisely asked for 10,000 ground troops to occupy abandoned forts so that the Turks could not reenter them. He was told by the War Office troops were not needed for his mission. Lord Kitchener mandated that even the 4,000 troops at the advance base of Mudros, 60 miles from the Dardanelles, could not be removed from the island for combined operations on the peninsula. This lunatic piece of army idiocy would cost the Royal Navy and subsequently the Commonwealth dear. For the next task positions were reversed. For the attack on the outer forts Carden’s battleships could use the Aegean for maneuvering. The next major set of forts in the Dardanelles was at the Narrows, fourteen miles up the strait from the outer forts. At this point Carden’s battleships would be in a very constrained space as the straits are only a mile across. The Turks had mobile howitzers and they had an almost limitless number of positions in which to hide. On February 26 Carden made his first bombardment of the forts at the Narrows. It was conducted from long range and neither the forts nor the battleships did much damage to each other. However, it was the light-weight mobile batteries that made the greatest impact. These guns couldn’t disable a battleship but were dangerous to unprotected crew and could wreck unarmored upperworks. Even when the British could identify their positions, they batteries would just move to a different position. Like gnats, they were maddening and with no troops to permanently take them out, they kept coming back like the Energizer Bunny.
In addition to the big guns in the forts and the mobile howitzers, there was a third leg to the Turkish defense on the Narrows. Eight rows of mines were sited so that their locations could be covered by fire. The Admiralty had considered this threat and as a remedy, they sent 21 North Sea fishing trawlers, manned by civilian fishermen classified as reserve ratings, and equipped as makeshift minesweepers. They were equipped with some jury-rigged armor plate to protect the crew against a rifle bullet but were easy meat for the light howitzers, much less the big fortress guns. Additionally, they drew more water than the depth at which the mines were laid and so could "sweep" a mine by running into it. Against the current they could only manage 2 to 3 knots in mine sweeping. Carden sent the minesweepers in at night in an effort to hide them from fire. On March 1, 1915 seven trawlers, one light cruiser and four destroyers went into the Narrows. The trawlers were still short of the minefields when they were suddenly illuminated by four searchlights. Ten artillery batteries opened up on these slow targets and they precipitously reversed course and scrambled back down the straits. The next night the trawlers were back with the same results, as happened as well on the night of March 3. After three forays into the Narrows with the same dismal results, Rear Admiral de Robeck, commanding the assault force expressed his belief that one side or the other had to be in control of ground troops for the Straits to be forced.
More night time attempts were made with warship support increasing to two predreadnought battleships. However, it was always the same result. The searchlights would bath the trawlers in light, batteries would open fire, and the trawlers would retreat. British warships did not manage to hit either the searchlights or the batteries. For their 7th attempt on March 10, the plan was changed. To allow a faster passage for the minesweepers the sweep gear would not be deployed until the trawlers were upstream of the minefields. Then they would deploy their sweeps and traveling with the current sweep the fields from upstream to downstream. Again seven trawlers were dispatched as there was no more room in the Narrows for more. The predreadnought HMS Canopus, last in action at the Battle of the Falklands, would provide fire support. Steaming in a single file, the trawlers did get above the minefields but in the welter of shell splashes, four did not deploy their sweeping gear as they again rushed downstream to get out of fire. One trawler ran into a mine and was lost, two more trawlers were hit by 6-inch shells and only two mines were collected and destroyed in this effort. Another fiasco was in store for March 11 when seven minesweepers went in without battleship support. "The less said about that night the better,’ Keyes wrote. ‘To put it briefly, the sweepers turned tail and fled as soon as they were fired upon. I was furious and told the officers…that it did not matter if we lost all seven sweepers, there were twenty-eight more, and the mines had got to be swept up. How could they talked about being stopped by heavy fire if they were not hit?" (Castles of Steel, Random House 2003, Robert K. Massie, at page 453) The night of March 13 saw a slight change in British tactics, as the battleship Cornwallis, a light cruiser and four destroyers went in first at 02:00 to soften up the batteries and the seven minesweepers followed at 03:00. It was another disaster as chewed the trawlers and two collided with each other. That was the last of the night sweep operations.
Carden decided to force the Narrows in daylight. Massed naval bombardment would neutralize the guns before the sweepers were deployed. However, Carden would not see this attack. His health had been deteriorating steadily and on March 17 he departed for Great Britain. The new commander was Admiral de Robeck who raised his flag on Queen Elizabeth. The next day came the grand daylight assault of the Narrows. Eighteen capitol ships were deployed. The plan called for the battleships to silence the heavy guns at long range and then to close range and pin the mobile batteries at close range. Once this was accomplished the minesweepers would be sent in. Once a channel was swept the battleships would steam up the cleared lane to complete the destruction of the enemy positions. Queen Elizabeth, Agamemnon, Lord Nelson and Inflexible would be the first line and would open fire at 14,000 yards. Two predreadnoughts, Prince George and Triumph were also included to suppress light howitzer batteries at this stage.
The second line of four French predreadnoughts, plus Majestic and Swiftsure would pass through the first line and close to 10,000 yards and then to 8,00 yards as Turkish fire diminished. A third line of four British predreadnoughts would relieve the 2nd line on signal. Six trawlers, supported by two more predreadnoughts would then sweep a lane. At 10:30 the first line entered the Straits. They opened up on the Turkish forts at 11:25. A heavy explosion was seen at 11:50 in the fort targeted by Queen Elizabeth and de Robeck ordered the second line to pass threw the first line. The battleships were being peppered but with the exception of the French Gaulois, which suffered a heavy hit under the waterline, Turkish shells could not penetrate the armor of the warships. Still they could chew up the unarmored upperworks. A shell hit the mast above the fire control top on Inflexible. Shrapnel cut threw the thin metal roof, scythed down the fire control crew and set the bridge on fire. The tripod legs of the foremast grew so hot from the fire that rescue workers could not come to the aid of the injured men in the top. She was hit seven times 12:23. Without a gun director in the fore top the Inflexible was blind and ceased fire, withdrew to put out the fire. Finally help arrived, the injured were lowered down from the top and the Inflexible went back to the line and resumed firing. Turkish fire was growing very sporadic by 14:00, so de Robeck ordered the 2nd line to withdraw and the third line to advance. As the Bouvet drew even with Queen Elizabeth, she hit a mine, capsized and sank within 60 seconds taking 640 of the crew. At 16:00 the sweepers were called in. They were successful at first and three mines were located and destroyed but under mobile howitzer fire, they turned and sped right back down the straits. At 16:11 Inflexible struck a mine. Her bow flooded and 9 of the crew were drowned. Her part in the attack was through as she slowly went back down the straits to seek repairs. When she anchored in shallow water at Tendos her forecastle was almost at sea level, carrying 2,000 tons of water in her bow. Local repair facilities for nonexistent for damage this severe and Inflexible and a temporary cofferdam was placed over the hole from the mine.
As she was steaming towards Malta, this repair worked loose and Inflexible almost foundered. She was towed backwards for the last six hours to Malta by Canopus. After Inflexible withdrew, the predreadnoughts Irresistible and Ocean were also lost to mines and de Robeck called off the attack. Ships are not designed to combat forts but even so, the naval assault was a close run thing. The large Turkish guns were out of ammunition and suppressed and even the light howitzers were low in ammunition. It is clear that using civilian crews for the mine sweeping trawlers was the weak link in the operation. Even when stiffened with RN officers, they would shrink from fire. After March 18 de Robeck developed a plan to replace the civilians in the trawlers with the crews of the lost battleships. This may well have worked and once past the Narrows, the fleet would have only Goeben to stand in their way from Constantinople. However, de Robeck went into a blue funk and by March 22, called it all off. In the mean time HMS Inflexible sat in the dry dock at Malta until June. She rejoined her sisters in the 3rd Battle Cruiser squadron of the Grand Fleet on June 19, 1915.
Hood Takes Command
Battle of Jutland
Reports kept coming in that German ships were sighted. Hood steered his three battle cruisers ESE with the intent of cutting off the German retreat and increased speed to 22 knots. At 15:18 Action was sounded and the crew went to battle stations. At 15:38 Hood picked up a transmission from Beatty that his battle cruisers were in action with five German battle cruisers. Without informing Jellicoe, Hood ordered full speed and charged south at 16:06 to support the battle cruisers of the 1st and 2nd Battlecruiser Squadrons, estimated to be 50 miles to the south. "At 4.56 p.m. with Invincible and her consorts foaming through an empty sea at 26 knots, without sight or sound of the battle which was raging somewhere to the southward, Hood sent a radio message to Beatty requesting his position, course and speed. There was no reply." (Battlecruiser Invincible, The History of the First Battlecruiser 1909-16, by V.E. Tarrant, 1986, at page 99)
While Hood and the three Invincibles were charging south, Beatty’s force of six battle cruisers (Australia was absent) with the support of four Queen Elizabeth Class battleships, were making the "Run to the South" after the German battle cruisers. At 16:02 Indefatigable of the 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron was blown up by von der Tann and at 16:26 Queen Mary of the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron met the same fate from Derfflinger. "Fisher’s belief that ‘speed is armour’ had proved to be devastatingly foolish. ‘The loss of the two Battle Cruisers’, wrote Beatty in 1934, ‘was not the fault of anybody in them, poor souls, but of faulty design…Their ships were too stoutly built whereas ours went up in a blue flame on the smallest provocation." (Battlecruiser Invincible, The History of the First Battlecruiser 1909-16, by V.E. Tarrant, 1986, at page 102) At 16:36 the battleships of the High Seas Fleet were sighted steering north and ten minutes later Beatty turned his force northward, followed by the entire German fleet, towards the Grand Fleet. This started the "Run to the North".
Meanwhile Hood’s squadron started hitting patches of mist. Visibility would be at one-moment 16,000 yards and then quickly drop to only 2,000 yards. At 17:30 gunfire was first heard aboard Invincible to the southwest. This was from the German battle cruisers 14 miles away but unseen through the mist. Hood, believing Beatty was still ahead, maintained his course but sent the light cruiser Chester to investigate. In this mission Chester was surprised by German light cruisers and at 17:40 Hood saw gun flashes from the direction in which Chester had steamed. Hood altered course and sped his force towards those flashes. A few minutes later Chester reappeared heading back towards the 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron and she was surrounded by shell splashes. At 17:53 the four German light cruisers chasing Chester were sighted and Invincible opened up in battle for the first time since the Battle of the Falklands. Inflexible and Indomitable followed in opening fire two minutes later. The Germans made a quick about turn and disappeared into the mist at 18:00. The rear ship, Wiesbaden, didn’t reach the sanctuary of the mist in time and a twelve-inch shell from Invincible destroyed her engine room. Although mist enveloped her, she was dead in the water, to be raked later by guns of the Grand Fleet. Eventually she sank at 02:00 June 1 but her fate was sealed by Invincible. Inflexible hit Pillau and knocked out four of her eight boilers but she managed to creep away.
With the appearance of the British battle cruisers, the Germans immediately launched a torpedo attack from 31 destroyers. The four British escorting destroyers charged forward in spite of the 8 to 1 odds and blunted the attack. Because of the British destroyers’ gallant counterattack, the Germans were only able launch a total of nine torpedoes at the battle cruisers, which were broadside to the attack. As torpedoes were seen approaching, Inflexible turned into their path and Invincible and Indomitable turned way. During the turn the helm of Invincible jammed and she had to come to a stop. As the torpedoes passed harmlessly, Invincible, her helm problem fixed, regained speed and the other two fell behind the flag. Finally shortly before 18:30 at 4,000 yards, Admiral Hood saw Beatty’s battle cruisers of the 1st and 2nd Battlecruiser Squadrons approaching, followed by Hipper’s battle cruisers, 11,000 yards away.
Hood swung to a south-easterly course as the vanguard of the entire Grand Fleet deployed in line of battle behind and Invincible was on the very tip of the spear. Now the race was to the south again. Beatty’s battle cruisers concentrated on the rear of Hipper’s column while 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron concentrated on Lutzow from Invincible and Inflexible and on Derfflinger from Indomitable. For the next eight minutes Invincible maintained a very effective fire on Lutzow at 9,600 yards. About 50 rounds were fired and eight hits were achieved on Lutzow. Hood was very happy with firing of his flagship. He called Commander Dannreuther, his gunnery officer directing fire from the foretop. "Your firing is very good, keep at it as quickly as you can, every shot is telling!" Two of those eight hits were below the armor belt on the bow of Lutzow, which let in 2,000 tons of seawater. Lutzow pulled out of line away from the fire of Invincible and steered towards the mist. "Although she had been hit a total of twenty-four times by heavy shell in the course of the battle, it was these two hits by Invincible which sank her. Lutzow struggled on to 2.00 a.m. the following morning." (Battlecruiser Invincible, The History of the First Battlecruiser 1909-16, by V.E. Tarrant, 1986, at page 107)
Inflexible with Major Parts Dry-Fitted
Short Forward Stack, Probably from Indomitable Kit
Although Lutzow was mortally damaged by Invincible, she at least had over seven hours of live left. The same could not be said about the ship that had put paid to Hipper’s flagship. In the eight minutes of the engagement Lutzow and Derfflinger had concentrated their fire on the Invincible. After falling short by 1,200 yards, German salvos quickly bracketed Invincible. From Indomitable a salvo was seen to hit the stern of Invincible but without any apparent effect. At 18:34 another salvo from Derfflinger hit amidships. One shell hit the face of Q turret, penetrated the armor and burst inside, blowing off the turret roof. All of the Marine crew was killed except Bryan Gaston in an enclosed compartment of the rangefinder. Dannreuther in the foretop saw the turrets roof blown over the side. Either the flash from that explosion traveled down the trunk to the magazine or another shell from the same salvo penetrated the amidships magazine, which ran across the width of the ship and fed both P and Q turrets. The entire center part of Invincible was instantly converted into a huge fireball that rose to 400 feet. The entire amidships section of the battle cruiser was destroyed. With the ship blown in two, the separated bow and stern sections each had one end on the shallow seabed with the bow and stern jutting above the surface. As the Inflexible and Indomitable raced by, the survivors of Invincible cheered them on. Inflexible was now leading the pair until 18:54 when she was directed to take station astern of New Zealand. At 19:25 another torpedo attack was repelled and throughout the action Inflexible never received any damage. Because of the loss of three of their type, the Battle Cruiser Fleet was entirely reorganized. Inflexible was made part of the 2nd BCS on June 5, 1916. On August 19, 1916 U-65 fired two torpedoes at Inflexible but they missed.
Inflexible’s Last Battle
The Combrig HMS Inflexible
In describing the Combrig Inflexible, I’ll start with the hull. You have to love the Inflexible hull. It has that slab sided look with armor plates outboard of P and Q turrets. Be careful removing the hull from the box, as the bottom of the cutwater at the waterline is extremely fine and delicate, perhaps too delicate. It is quite easy to chip off the lower tip of the ram bow. The mixture of port holes and square windows also contributes to the allure of the design. As with the actual Inflexible, the net shelves protrude substantially at the deck edge over the hull with notches in the shelf where the top of the booms attached to the nets. First of all, decide whether your Inflexible will have torpedo booms and nets. The booms are included in the parts but you will have to scratch-build the rolled nets. Remember that the Inflexible did not have either the booms or nets in her chase of Goeben, at the Battle of the Falklands or in her attack on the Narrows. They were landed in 1913 and were not remounted until her return to the BCF in 1915. However, the ships did keep the shelves.
The real detail comes in with the plan view. The net shelves are very evident from this view. Since they are metal, they will stand in stark contrast with the wooden planking of the decks. As usual, Combrig has nicely done planking detail but without butt ends. Deck anchor hawse are well done with metal plates running to the windlasses. Although there is a significant amount of deck detail cast onto the hull, such as deck edge open chocks, bollards, access hatches and other fittings, locator holes are provided for the higher fittings, which are furnished as separate parts. The breakwater is commendably thin. There is a triangular formation of skylights surrounding A barbette with one on centerline in front and two on either side aft of the barbette. Combrig provides wells into which the superstructure fits, so there is no guessing or adjustments to be made in attaching those pieces. A series of lockers and other fittings ring the circumference of the forward superstructure. Amidships is dominated by the barbettes of P and Q turrets but there are also six access hatches and other fittings cast onto the hull, plus ten locator holes for the taller separate fittings that are found in this area. There is one area in the hull casting where detail is lacking but easily added. The lower level of the aft superstructure at the deck break between the upper deck and quarterdeck is lacking port holes and doors. By examining the line drawing profile in the instructions their locations can be readily ascertained. Use of a pin vice and addition of some brass doors will perk up these bulkheads. The long quarterdeck has comparatively fewer deck fittings with two skylights, four other coamings, four sets of open chocks, four sets of twin bollards and locator holes for nine higher fittings.
Box Art & Instructions
Larger Resin Parts
Smaller Resin Parts
Brass Photo-Etch Fret