Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Last Night of the Year

The Boy is the only one of us to honor tradition this year. He's off with his pals playing "Dance Dance Revolution" and awaiting midnight as part of a New Year's sleepover.

The Girl is watching ponies with her little budgie under her hair, my Bride is reading the latest installment of the "Gentlemen Bastards" series.

I'm right here.

Tonight is supposed to be the night that we look back over the past year. And make promises for the coming one.

I don't make New Year's resolutions anymore; making pledges on my honor tends to end up with either breaking the pledge or the honor. And I have little enough honor left as it is. So that leaves looking back.

2013 wasn't an awful year for me (other than the slow painful deconstruction of my right hip, which would have happened regardless of what year it was).

I did some good.

Some good parenting, first. The Bride and I topped off our visits with Jean the Kid Counselor with the agreement that I would stop using my Drill Sergeant voice on The Boy. Jean said that although it worked - it stopped the Boy's behaviors that summoned the Drill Sergeant from the black depths of R'yleh - it had built up a pretty massive pile of anger and resentment in the Boy. So I stopped getting angry, at least on the outside where it showed, and since August the Boy has gotten much less angry and rough with his mother.

So, there's that.

The Girl? She's easy; just give her love and she turns to you like a flower seeks the sun. She loves her ponies and her soccer and her little budgie and her parents and her friend Lilah because Lilah likes what the Queen likes and it is important that you like what the Queen likes.

I've done some good marriage, too. My Bride and I have lived and loved in the way that good married couples live and love; sometime we've leaned on each other, sometimes we've pounded on each other, sometimes we've just leaned together against the winds of children and work and worry that never stop blowing.

Sometimes we fought, although usually fairly.

Sometimes were agreed to let each other go to hell each in our own way.

Mojo has done a terrific job working as a reading instructor at the kid's elementary school this year. She's also developed a sudden utter fascination with the news from North Korea (my Bride, the woman hitherto devoid of current events. Huh.)

Her sewing has grown apace. She is more accomplished, wiser, and more graceful than she was a year ago.

I've done some good work, more of the same I've been doing now for...21 years.

Damn, that's a long time.

Looking back I realize that there's a hell of a lot of awful crap littering the Portland area that I'm responsible for; fast food joints, quickie marts, cell towers, subdivisions. Think of any sort of horrible eyesore and I've been responsible for helping it get built.

But I've also worked for some good projects, too. Landslide fixes, road and embankment repairs, bridges...although if I never have to hike in two miles to another wilderness bridge project it'll be too soon.

Good citizen? Well, as always, the world outside my city and state seems to be going do hell in a handbasket, largely because of the toxic combination of a greedy elite that has learned nothing and forgotten nothing from the lessons taught the French aristocracy in 1789 and an intractably moronic Teabagging tribe of adult-sized four-year-olds on the political Right that is completely fooled by the former.

The pair of them are doing their level best to return my country to the Gilded Age, a time that was exceptionally awful for people like me. And for people like the Teabaggers, too, had they the wit to understand anything but their spastic grasp for guns and God. Which they do not, more's the pity.

So what has become a weary sort of year-end political ritual I look backward without fondness and ahead without hope. The chances for a renewed social contract that will benefit I and mine in any sort of reasonable way seem dimmer and dimmer. I do not look for a new New Deal in my lifetime.

As always, I stop at year's end to wonder what my purpose here at this blog is.

I can read the numbers, and the average supermarket flier probably gets a wider readership. I cannot pretend that I am doing any political good here, or any social good. It does seem that my essays on military history draw readers, but my own interests there are growing slender.

For those who take interest in this sort of thing, I have roughly eleven more "Battles" posts over the next two years.

Nothing at all for January and February. Glorieta Pass in March, nothing in April, two posts - the 1453 Fall of Constantinople and Crete 1941 - in May. Two more for June: Chalons in 451 and the Battle of the Philippine Sea. After that Bosworth Field in August along with a sort of extended rumination on the Stalingrad campaign. Marathon in September, The 1813 Battle of the Thames in October, and the Battle of Baquoba in November.

That's it.

Much of what I write here I write to amuse or entertain myself. But I could do that on a sheet of foolscap that I would put into a box, so clearly I must want someone else to read what I write. And though I am foolishly fond of some of what I write I won't pretend that I am better at it than many other writers out there in the Aether.

This past year I've found some of those writers to enjoy and refreshed my delight in some familiar companions.

Lisa Jakub is doing a fine job over at her joint; she's simple and fresh and intelligent, a good woman learning the strength and depth of her own goodness and finding her voice as a writer.

And Paul Bibeau is always reliably wonderful; acerbic as a splash of lemon in the eye, unsparing of fools and with a gift for the fine language that I wish I could summon as deftly as he can. An unfailing dispenser of delights.

And so to the end; I have no more tonight.

I wish I had something of exceptional matter, some crafty comment about the passing of the old year to end this post with.

I don't; my own life had no great joys or sorrows, no subject of great weight for me to jot down here. I and mine passed through the year with the small passing days, the pattering succession that marked our way from darkness to darkness, us holding up our lights as best we could.

But perhaps the simple steady passing of the days and the year is matter enough.

We choose this night to mark a boundary between the years, making the sunset one and the sunrise another.

But at the same time we know that tonight is not really different from every other night, that it is just one more pass in the the endless passing of the terminator, that boundary between day and night, that every night of every year passes over us as we move with the turning earth and wakes us with the light of a new day.

And a New Year.

Monday, December 30, 2013

There and Back Again, Again

Last year I - well, "reviewed", I suppose, is the right term - the first Peter Jackson installment of The Hobbit.

If you recall from that (and you probably don't; I think that post has been viewed something like eight times total...) I rather liked Jackson's version, noting that the one question I had was how he was handling the overall "tone" of the story. Here's what I said then:
"The one thing that did irk me a bit (as a writer, tho, rather than a parent) is that I don't think that Peter Jackson really has a handle on what "tone" he wants to set for this series.

Lord of the Rings is Middle Earth as drawn by Victor Hugo; stern, tragic, monumental - and Jackson got that perfectly; his flicks are ol' Prof. Tolkien's "yea, verily" language in film.

But The Hobbit is Middle Earth as drawn by A.A. Milne with a touch of Georges Feydeau; confiding, jolly, romping, and a trifle twee - a children's book written by an Oxford don in the arch style of the kid's books of his day.

They're very different."
With the second installment The Desolation of Smaug Jackson clearly thumps down on the "yea, verily" side of the question. There's no gray here; this is not The Hobbit. This is The Phantom Nazgul Menace, the prequel to the Lord of the Rings.

Now I'm not entirely opposed to that, OK?

I'm not some sort of Tolkien purist and I can enjoy these films as films, as one man's vision of Middle Earth, without feeling the need to bitch about every departure from the Canon. Because the Canon itself is far from perfect.

Lance Mannion - who wrote a fine review of this film - sums up some of the issues with The-Hobbit-as-written:
"The Hobbit was written for children but to be read by grownups who believe children need to be and want to be protected from life’s harsher realities.

The narrator’s jolly, confiding, chummy tone is meant to fool adults listening to themselves as they read out loud at bedtime that the story they’re telling won’t give the kids nightmares. They hear The Hobbit as a merry little fairy tale about a funny character with pointed ears, furry feet, and a pot-belly who goes on a treasure hunt and has some comical adventures along the way before coming home, safe and sound and rich, to live happily ever after in his snug little house in the ground in that cheerful and protected place with the comfortingly bucolic name the Shire and name that insists this is a place where nothing scary ever happens.

Children listening aren’t fooled. They know better.

The Hobbit is about what Terry Pratchett says all the old stories are about, sooner or later.

It’s about blood."
And y'know what?

That's fine. It's one artist's interpretation of another, and I can work with that. I can enjoy "Peter Jackson's The Hobbit" alongside J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. One is different from the other, but much as I enjoy Tolkien's work it's not without flaw (get me going on the whole pointlessness-of-the-entire-Tom-Bombadil-episode-in-The-Fellowship sometime...) or without the possibility of improvement by others' hands.

And while I was initially not particularly pleased with Jackson's treatment of the entire captive-of-the-Sylvan-elves segment and the inclusion of the character of Legolas in a story that seems well-off without him, Mannion makes some good points about that as not at all a bad emendation. I'll reserve judgement on that bit, then, until the final installment.


A couple of Jackson's choices seemed a trifle ripe to me; several minor and one that seems to me to be a very large misunderstanding of both the story and its main character that, in turn, does significant damage to the story and Jackson's telling of it.

First, the small stuff:

Evangeline Lilly's Tauriel character and her budding romance with Aiden Turner's Kíli. Call me a cynic on this one. Lilly and Turner both do adequate work with their characters in this film, but unless Jackson plans to simply rewrite the casualty list from the Battle of Five Armies we already know where this one is heading; both these two might as well be showing their pictures of each other around to their pals in their respective squads, "Tauriel" being the Sylvan Elvish and "Kíli" the Dwarvish for "deadmeat".

Call me a curmudgeon, too. It kinda irks me that after the Eowyn-Faramir romance, one of my favorite bits of byplay from the Lord of the Rings, got cut out of Jackson's version he manufactures this hot-hot-hot-elf-on-dwarf romance out of whole cloth knowing that it's gonna end about as badly as any romance can.

The entire sequence between Smaug and Bilbo (and then Thorin & Co.) in Erebor. In the original Bilbo's conversations with Smaug are one of the better pieces of writing that Tolkien ever did, from Bilbo's slippery verbal fencing with the great wyrm to his discovery of the weakness in Smaug's armor (and subsequent role in the dragon's fall...) to the not-laughing-at-live-dragons as Bilbo dashes back up the secret passage. I was anticipating a terrific, ominous, creepy scene complete with the verbal talents of Martin Freeman's Bilbo and Benedict Cumberbatch's Smaug while the delightfully-scary CGI dragon looms over Bilbo and us.

Well, what I got was, frankly, a fucking mess.

Mannion had the same issue I had with the Smaug character. Instead of the dangerously cunning serpent - all the more dangerous for holding that immense power in check as he riddles with Bilbo - we got a standard-issue D&D dragon complete with standard-issue voice. The dangerously cunning serpent is reduced to a thug.


But worse yet was the completely unnecessary extended chase-scene between the dragon and Thorin & Co that followed. That was a complete fucking clusterfuck, a Warner-Brothers-cartoon level piece of idiotic slapstick and action-movie thud-and-blunder culminating in perhaps the most moron-grade "special effect" I've ever seen - the dissolving-molten-gold-giant-dwarf-statue thing.

From beginning to end that entire bit was a disaster.

First, because as a sequence it was loud, incoherent, and useless. And, second, because it overwhelmed and undercut the earlier Bilbo-vs-Smaug scenes, poorly conceived as they were.

Bad, bad piece of filming; one of the worst I've seen from Jackson yet.

As for the remainder of the changes, well, like I said; I'm fine with the notion that this isn't "The Hobbit" but Peter Jackson's take on the original work. I wasn't pleased with what he did with the Beorn sequence, or the fight against the spiders in Mirkwood, but his version wasn't entirely discreditable to my mind and I can live with what he filmed. I would have done things a little differently, but I could tolerate his vision.

Same-same the orc-fight during the barrel escape from the Elvenking's halls; not what I would have done with the scene but not entirely unworkable.


This episode of the film series introduces one theme that, I thought, was a complete misunderstanding of the entire Hobbit-LotR cycle and a big, big, mistake.

That's how Jackson treats Bilbo's relationship to The Ring.

Now this is not a universal opinion. For example, it seems from his review that Mannion actually likes Jackson's version a trifle better:
"We know Bilbo kept the ring. What we maybe didn't know or maybe only suspected or knew in our hearts but didn't want to believe is that Bilbo didn't make a mistake because he didn't know better. Jackson is showing us that Bilbo knew and kept the ring anyway.

Right away after he finds it in An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo senses there's something odd and disturbing about the ring. In The Desolation of Smaug it's dawning on him he needs to get rid of it. Since we already know he's not going to, we know that what's ahead in There and Back Again is Bilbo's moral failure. The hero-hobbit is going to fail to resist the temptation the hero-king Isildur failed to resist, the temptation the hero Boromir will fail to resist, the temptation Aragorn can only resist by letting Frodo continue to suffer on his and everyone else's behalf. With what he's doing with Bilbo, Jackson's effectively gone back in time to set up the need for the Fellowship and the need for its being Frodo who carries the ring.

This is what really makes The Desolation of Smaug more than a bridge between An Unexpected Journey and There and Back Again. It's the chapter in which the plot of The Lord of the Rings really gets underway."
But that's where Mannion and I disagree and what I see as Jackson's biggest screwup. I don't see that Bilbo keeps the ring because he's a hero, because (as Mannion says) the adventuresome Tookish side of him is coming out, and he's drawn to the sense of Power and Danger he feels from it.

I think he keeps the ring because he doesn't feel it.

It's the shrewd, hardheaded Took in him, the guy who finds that he thoroughly enjoys getting the better of other hobbits (and dwarves, elves, and dragons, come to that) by trickery.

Frodo as Ringbearer is Christ-with-his-cross; I agree - he is as Mannion describes him, a saint and martyr. He feels the power and dread of the Ring intensely and is ground down by it as he's drawn into it.

But I see Bilbo as Ringbearer as completely different. He's a bit of a wideboy, indeed, to him the Ring is nothing more than a nifty gimmick he uses to turn invisible to steal stuff. It's a burglar's tool to him, and he uses it as nothing more than a tool.

He spends the years between The Hobbit and the opening of The Fellowship of the Ring using it to duck local busybodies and prank his neighbors.

That's how he manages to stay free of the corruption of the Ring; he treats it like a shiny gold lockpick.

He's not a hero, not hungry for power. He's a retired wideboy, a former-burglar in slippers with his pipe, and his comfort, and his gold gimmick to play tricks and outdeal people. A tragic hero? A Boromir? An Isildur?

Not our Bilbo.

I understand why Jackson gives Bilbo a Frodo-esque frisson of horror in his handling of the Ring, why he shows us the Lidless Eye (And, incidentally, why he makes Smaug a sort of super-orc, a minion of the Dark Lord in this film, instead of just a big ol' dragon greedy for loot and furious with competition); he's using the theme of the One Ring to make The Hobbit into a genuine prequel to his LotR films.

But to my mind that diminishes The Hobbit.

And that's too bad. The Hobbit is a genuinely great story in its own right; a dark and bloody tale of adventure and war, of heroism and cowardice, of high intentions and low cunning, of vaunting ambitions and blind groping around in the dark.

I want Jackson to make that book into a movie; I want him to respect the story for its own worth, to do it justice on its own terms.

But by making the Ring in The Hobbit into what it will become in The Lord of the Rings, into the Great Matter that is the center of the greater story, he makes what is on its own a damn good little story smaller and lesser; in my opinion in this Jackson shows a lack of understanding, and lack of respect, for his own source material.

And that's a damn shame.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Henk Pander

A Facebook friend of mine recently ran up a sort of challenge where she assigned her commentors each a particular living artist to research. I got this guy; Henk Pander.

His stuff is a strange and arresting mashup of organic and mechanical imagery with an emphasis on wreckage. His human and demihuman figures seem to float - or struggle - through a landscape of broken machinery and shattered buildings.

What intrigues me, other than the purely visual enjoyment, is that Pander's bio puts him in Holland during WW2; he was between 7 and 8 when the German army was chased out of the Netherlands. Clearly some of his work is directly influenced by his childhood, but I wonder; how much of the rest, those visions of life amid the ruins, can also be traced back to his young life under Nazi occupation?

Pander is an Oregonian today, and I like to think that he was also influenced by one of our most delightful public memories: the exploding whale.

Boom, baby!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Truce in the trenches

Speaking of soldiers and Christmastime...

I was thinking about the now-iconic "Christmas Truce" of 1914 on the way in to work today.

You know that story, right? German and British soldiers spontaneously stop fighting Christmas Eve, 1914, sing carols, meet in No Man's Land the next day and hang out, swap trinkets, kick a soccer ball around?
"The meeting of enemies as friends in no-man's land was experienced by hundreds, if not thousands, of men on the Western Front during Christmas 1914. Today, 90 years after it occurred, the event is seen as a shining episode of sanity from among the bloody chapters of World War One - a spontaneous effort by the lower ranks to create a peace that could have blossomed were it not for the interference of generals and politicians."
What got me thinking about this, though, was how the actual circumstances actually point out how unusual and peculiar the human conditions have to be to allow people to "create a peace".

Here's a little map that shows what we think was the rough extent of the largest area observing the truce. This sector of the Western Front was largely held by a mixture of English, Scots, and Irish units on the one side and Saxonian units of the German Army on the other.

The British soldiers were still at this point largely long-service professionals. Fighting was their business and while like any other sort of fighting the autumn battles of 1914 had surely engendered some hard feelings towards their German enemies I suspect the the feelings hadn't quite hardened into real bone-deep hatred. And the whole trench warfare business was also still new and I also suspect the the troopers hadn't gotten a good taste for the endless misery it would entail.

Saxons are apparently considered the softhearted slobs of Germany; "easygoing" is the term I've read. These guys probably weren't quite the hard men you'd have found from East Prussia or Pomerania, and the opportunity to have a day off and a kickabout probably seemed like a great idea to them.

So the two sides took the holiday off, and hung out, maybe played a little game or two. I have no doubt that some of the cannier sorts used the day to go out scrounging food, or firewood, or other material things to make their lives a little easier. That's a sort of Christmas tradition, too, when you think of it.

So it is a sort of wonderful story.

But being human we love the wonderful story and tend to forget that for most of the guys most everywhere else nothing of the sort happened that day.

Outside a couple of places where Germans and Frenchmen took a break from killing each other almost all the French sectors kept on fighting. The old hatreds were just too deep.

A small section of the Belgian lines is said to have held a truce, and a portion of the Austro-Russian front as well.

But for most of the soldiers across the face of Europe the Holy Night was just another day at war.

Hey, I love a wonderful story, too. They help us imagine how wonderful we can be when we work at it.

But sometimes the stories help us kid ourselves about how wonderful we usually are.

And that's not always so damn wonderful.

Soldiering in the Dead Time

One of the odd things that I remember about the Army of the late Eighties was something called the "half-day schedule".

You see, the two-week period that covered Christmas and the New Year was a dead time for the peacetime Army of that era. Other than the guys posted to places overseas that might genuinely expect some sort of trouble the CONUS outfits typically scheduled nothing for those two weeks. My two units at Fort Bragg and the third at Ft. Kobbe in Panama went to a training schedule that stopped at midday.

So everybody got out for PT in the morning, did some sort of minor housekeeping chores (this was a very popular time for knocking out the bullshit classes required by DoD or DA - accident prevention training, driver training, PMCS...whatever, if it could be done in four hours it was done), and then knocked off in the afternoon. The single guys played football or watched television or just hung out in the barracks, the married guys went home to the Issue Spouse and kiddos.

In a lot of outfits the single guys took all the holiday duties so the married guys could spend time with their families. Here I am at two in the morning pulling HHC CQ during one of those weeks. You can tell how thrilled I was to be there and be awake at that moment.

I suspect, like many of the "traditions" of that time the old half-days of Dead Time are long gone. We're a "warrior" Army now and I suspect that warriors are not encouraged to laze about the barracks watching "He-Man" cartoons.

But I'll bet that this week and next still have that strange, drifting, almost-vacant feeling that we shared during dead time. The sense that the old year had passed away but the new one had not begun; a hollow time, a sort of military Zappadan during which the guys (and girls) have waaaayyyy too much time to think about things done and undone and regret them both.

What made me think of this was coming across the news from Afghanistan and realizing with a nasty start how We the People have allowed our news sources to consign the guys and gals there to Dead Time.

While those of us Stateside civilians enjoy the seasonal largesse of material goods and family coziness they are still soldering on, and sometimes dying, as hidden from our sight as though they were in another world altogether.

Which ones of us know, or care, about the families and beloveds of SGT Vasselian, or the nameless Royal Engineer, that received the most awful Christmas present imaginable? Would we care if we knew? Care enough to rouse ourselves from holiday torpor to so much as give their grieving so much as a thought?

How have we come to this, where we are sending young men and women to serve in the hard lands, and, when called upon, to die in our names and without so much as a whisper in our ears to remind us that they have been killed with fire and steel, gladiators for our indifferent spectation?

Last year I posted one of my favorite Heine poems that reminded me of the lonely feel of soldiering during this un-time.

Now much as I love poetry I'm nothing of a poet (if you want to suffer I will dig up some of my old efforts, but, no; some things should be whispered only down a well at midnight) but I think that this poem really needs a translator who once humped a rucksack. So here it is again; my own take on Heine's vision of the Lament of the Tower Guard. The original text is at the link above. It's well worth the read for the poet's words in the original German.

If my work - and Heine's - please you, I hope you will also take a moment to ask yourself; what is being done in your name, and by whom, in this dead time far away from your sight, and do you care enough to stand up and ask; why?

Lost LP/OP (Enfant Perdu)

Forgotten outpost in the Liberation War
I've served here faithfully these thirty years.
I fought without hope that we would win,
knowing inside that I wouldn't get home safe.

I watched both day and night; I could not sleep
like my buddies did in the hootch nearby;
(though the loud snoring of these heroes
made sure I couldn't nod off even had I wanted to).

In the night weariness would grab me,
or fear - for only idiots have no fear -
and I would sing songs and rouse myself
and them, taking my revenge.

So...there I was, my weapon in my hands
when some sneaking bastard showed his head,
and I shot him good and proper and gave his brain
a juicy dose of hot lead.

But war and justice have far different laws,
and worthless acts are often done right well;
The fuckers' shots were better than their cause,
And I was hit and fell bleeding.

The LP is overrun! With my wound draining out
I go down hard and my bros all grab a hat -
So I died, unconquered, my rifle still ready;
Only my heart was broken.

~ Heinrich Heine

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Eve 1986

It was a practice in Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne) (Light) 187th Infantry Regiment for the unmarried sergeants to volunteer to take holiday duty for the wedded guys. So that's why I found myself standing on the landing outside the dayroom of the HHC barracks Christmas Eve day dressed tastefully in holiday-green tropical fatigues and a santa-red beret being violently abused by a Panamanian taxi driver.

It seems that one of our American heroes had, in an excess of Christmas cheer, commandeered the driver's services to motor all around Panama Viejo attempting to find a shapely little elf who would supply a Christmas stocking that he could fill.

Not surprisingly, given his slobberingly drunk condition, the only attentions he could find came from ladies who expected to receive green, folding presents in return, which struck our young hero as more than a little Grinchy.

This seeker of the true Spirit of Christmas imbibed some Chistmas spirits and then resolved to return to his only REAL family, his buddies at HHC 2/187, only to find on arrival that one of Santa's little ho-ho-hoes had lifted his wallet during his importunations. Or he had left it on the bar. Or whatever.

The upshot was, anyway, that he now had nothing to give the infuriated driver whose worn taxi now reeked of cheap perfume and drunken G.I. Worse yet, he turned out to be nimble as a monkey - even drunk - and had shinnied up the mango tree in front of the barracks and was hiding in the branches lobbing the occasional overripe fruit at both the driver and the taxi windshield.

The street in front of the barrack reeked of mango juice and the combined noise of a furious taxi driver and an intoxicated arboreal G.I. This, in turn, drew a small crowd of pre-Christmas revelers, who took turns abusing both parties and shying additional fruit at the taxi when the driver wasn't watching.

I managed to pay off the driver, scatter the crowd and talk the monkey-boy out of the tree just as one of my other single friends came sauntering down from his post as battalion staff duty NCO.

"I see life in the slums is still exotic and vigorous, even on Christmas Eve" he sneered.

SGT Chief: "Little you know about it, lolling about up there at Battalion as you do. It's like a freakin' Jerry Springer show down here, you know. Oh, and a Merry Christmas to you, too, jackass."

BN SDNCO: "Yeah, well, lucky for us that the first Christmas happened in Bethehem, not Fort Kobbe, eh?"

SGT Chief: "Why's that?"

BN SDNCO: "'Cause where the hell'd you find three wise men and a virgin around here..?"

It was an old joke but I was still chuckling as I ran back up the stairs to the dayroom to share warm Coke with the three guys watching football.

This year, as they have for the past eleven years now, American soldiers are preparing for a holiday in faraway places much less entertaining and far more hazardous than my Panamanian Christmas Eve two and a half decades ago. I'm sure that they share many of the same feelings I did then: loneliness, regret, some pride in a hard job well done in demanding circumstances, but mixed with others I didn't; fear of death or wounding, anger and grief at lost friends, hope that their own homecoming will be soon and safe.

As do I.

So Merry Christmas, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah...however you say it, however you celebrate it, all you young - and not so young - men and women in the hard places far from home; I hope you will all be home soon to enjoy this time with your families.

And to you, all my friends here, from near and far, let me say that although I have no more religion than I have hair on the top of my head and no more faith than I have illusions regarding nations, men, and women I'm touched on the heart a bit every year on this night of all the nights when we pretend that there really can be Peace on Earth to men and women of goodwill.

May you and yours find sleep this night at peace, surrounded by love and the loving of those you cherish. May you wake tomorrow to good cheer, and the promise of a better, brighter day.

Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof; tonight let us put aside what we know of the world and our fellow men and simply live in hopes that there can, indeed, be a silent night made holy by the caring and loving of one for another, and of us all.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Duck and Cover

I got more than a little bit of a laugh out of this:
"Robertson, the patriarch of the backwater Louisiana clan on the reality show about hunting, fishing and domestic squabbles, was put on indefinite "hiatus" by A&E for his remarks to GQ magazine characterizing homosexuality as sinful behavior."
But it did bring a couple of things to mind that I wanted to throw out for the comment-hounds to gnaw on.
First, I think that the Snarky PenguinTM has the right overall take on this whole ridiculous magilla:
"Phil Robertson is who he is, and always will be that person. He could have been steered towards realizing why his statements were offensive to so many people, and perhaps even apologized, but now that A&E has canned him for the exact same reason they hired him, well. Guess that teachable moment didn’t last too long, did it?"
Ol' redneck bible-banging dude believes stuff that ol' redneck bible-banging dudes often believe?

Whoa! Stop the presses! Film at 11!

Second, what is kind of irritating to me is how this brings up, again, how many "Christians" seem to have a bug up their ass about who goes up whose ass (or who's licking whose coochie, if the "whos" are lady-whos) or who is vacuuming out little blastocyst- and embryo-Americans as a feature of their faith.

Now I'm as unchurched as a mole rat but my gaffer, my mom's father, was a Salvation Army officer, a hardcore Jesus-pesterer with a degree in Jesus-pestering to prove it. Somewhere I've still got the awesome old King James Bible he gave me as a kiddo and I even read the thing (mostly for the smutty parts of the Old Testament but, still...) and I don't recall Jesus ever saying anything to the effect "Cursed are the faggots, for they bone each other up the butt and made me cry when I was a baby."

He doesn't even mention suctioning babies out of ladies' insides probably because, well, back in those days the ol' man just took Rebekah out behind the manger and kicked her in the belly to abort the little sprog (or she whipped up some nasty sort of abortifacient which killed either her child or her - either way the family didn't have another mouth to feed, which was often the point...)

Either way, the Reason for the Season didn't have much to say on either point.

Rich people, though?

Powerful people? The Galilean 1%? The Son-o-God has a pantsload to say about those fuckers and none of it good.

"You cannot serve both God and Money" he says. "There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." and then adds:
"My children," he said to them, "how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." They were more astonished than ever. "In that case," they said to one another, "who can be saved?" Jesus gazed at them. "For men," he said, "it is impossible, but not for God: because everything is possible for God... Many who are first will be last, and the last first."
No question there - The Christ is telling his believers; you want riches? You want power? You want to be a Big Star?

Forget me, then. I'm the guy who pals with lepers, prostitutes, and sinners.

You need to worry more about your poor brothers and less about where your next million is coming from.

So. Given his boss's directives, who did the old crackerfamilias (God love Charles Pierce, I tell ya...) tell his interviewer were going to Hell? Let's roll tape:
"Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won't inherit the kingdom of God. Don't deceive yourself. It's not right."
So the Robertson Hell Bucket List includes: three sexual offenders (adulterers, whores - but only rent-boys, and homos), idol worshippers (you know how those Baal-bangers are such a PITA nowadays), two economic offenders (greedheads and swindlers), drunks, and slanderers.

So Phil didn't let the wealthy off completely but his ire at those rich men his personal Savior says won't be there when He returns in Glory is outnumbered 6-2 by his irritation with people who put their totem pole in the wrong donut hole or who are sacrificing to Athena.


I guess that's what irks the shit out of me about this.

My take on the New Testament is pretty clear; the whole deal is about Christ and his sacrifice. And central to Christ's teaching is the notion that the Lord loves him some poor and humble. That the single easiest way to earn yourself a one-way ticket to the Lake of Fire is to be a rich, selfish dickhead.

But...all the furor I hear, all the billboards I see, all the T-shirts, the televangelist rants, the Fox News crap, the whacko Rightwingnut books, the Teatard tricorn-hat-waving, and now even duck guy interviews...all the heat seems to be on things sexual.

So I guess my ultimate take on Phil Robertson and his stated beliefs is; dude, if you're more worried about doin's of "Adam and Steve" than the greedy, grasping Servants of Mammon?
Christianity; U R doing it Wrong.

Oh, and just as a parting observation:

I learned to hunt from the Master Chief, who himself learned to hunt growing up back in the Depression, when a 10-cent shotgun shell meant dinner that would cost half a buck at the butcher's shop. I'm really a terrible shot, and nobody but me at the Fire Direction Center likes duck, and the first lessons the Master Chief taught me about wingshooting were 1) kill cleanly, and 2) don't kill what you can't eat. So I don't hunt a hell of a lot.

But I enjoy hunting. I love the dawn light, the birds coming in over the dekes with their wings cupped for landing, the satisfaction of making a tough shot, and the taste of mallard breast fresh from the field. So every so often I drag out the waders and the deke bag and go.

And here's the thing.

From twenty years of observation and practice, I've kinda figured out that a fucking duck call is a fucking duck call.

A duck call is an extreme case of the operator being a thousand times more critical than the equipment.

I've seen a great caller coax greenheads down out of a bluebird sky onto a half-assed set of decoys under a blind that wouldn't have fooled a retarded scaup.

I've also heard a shitty caller quack his lungs out while the birds sail past overhead, probably making high-school-level-duck-jokes about the voice of that duck-derp on the pond down there.

You don't need a goddamn one-hundred-and-eighty-fucking-dollar duck call to call fucking ducks.

You need to know how to call ducks.

So if this is ol' Phil's racket?

Shaking down wanna-be Nimrods with more money than sense with 180-buck duck calls?

He should probably stop and have a little chat with his buddy Jesus. His Savior-pal might have something fairly cutting to say about those piling up riches here on Earth.

All's I'm sayin'.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Battles Long Ago: First Dogger Bank (The Scarborough Raid) 1914

Naval Action at 3 Degrees East Date: 16 DEC 1914

Forces Engaged: Great Britain (Royal Army/Royal Navy) -

Battle Cruiser Fleet and escorts: (4 battlecruisers, 4 light cruisers)

HMS Lion (Flagship, VADM Beatty - Lion-class battlecruiser) 8 × BL 13.5-inch Mk V guns (4 twin turrets), 16 × 1 – BL 4-inch Mk VII guns, 2 × 1 – 21-inch Mk II submerged torpedo tubes, 28 knots

HMS Tiger (Lion-class battlecruiser) 8 × BL 13.5-inch Mk V guns (4 twin turrets), 12 × 1 – BL 6 inch Mk VII guns, 2 × 1 – 3-inch AA guns, 4 × 21-inch torpedo tubes, 28 knots

HMS Queen Mary (single-ship class) 8 × BL 13.5-inch Mk V guns (4 twin turrets), 16 × 1 – BL 4-inch Mk VII guns, 2 × 1 – 21-inch Mk II submerged torpedo tubes, 28 knots

HMS New Zealand (Indefatigable-class battlecruiser) 8 × BL 12-inch Mk X guns (4 twin turrets), 16 × 1 - BL 4-inch Mk VII guns, 2 × 1 submerged 18-inch torpedo tubes, 25 knots

(We'll talk about this in a bit, but these ships were among the most problematic ever launched - "eggshells armed with hammers" - lightly armored but armed with battleship cannon, the product of the wildly creative mind of ADM "Jackie" Fisher, the genius behind the dreadnought battleship.

While the dreadnoughts were an unqualified success and the defining warship of their age, I'll get this over upfront and just say that the entire "battlecruiser" concept was irretrievably flawed and a death sentence for many of the men who sailed in them. They were not battleships but looked and sailed like them, and because of that they were went where they should never have gone and in so doing killed their tens of thousands.)

The First Light Cruiser Squadron was assigned to the Battle Cruiser Fleet as escorts. This unit included four light cruisers of the "Town" class, 6-inch gun-armed, 25-knot what would have probably been called "protected" cruisers at the time of the Battle of Tsushima Strait nine years earlier. Good ships for their time and purpose.

2nd Battle Squadron, Grand Fleet, and escorts: (6 battleships, )

HMS King George V (Flagship, VADM Warrender - King George V-class battleship) 10 × BL 13.5-inch Mk V guns (5 double turrets), 16 × BL 4-inch Mk VII guns, 4 × 3-pounder (47 mm) guns, 5 × machine guns, 3 × 21 inch torpedo tubes, 21 knots

HMS Ajax (King George V-class battleship) (as KGV)

HMS Centurion (King George V-class battleship) (as KGV)

HMS Orion (2nd Flagship, RADM Arbuthnot - Orion-class battleship) 10 × BL 13.5-inch Mk V guns (5 double turrets), 16 x BL 4-inch Mk VII guns, 3 x 21 in torpedo tubes (submerged), 21 knots

HMS Monarch (Orion-class battleship) (as Orion)

HMS Conqueror (Orion-class battleship) (as Orion)

2nd Battle Squadron was one of Grand Fleet's most powerful subunits. The six battleships were all so-called "superdreadnoughts" (because they mounted cannon larger than 12") and all relatively modern; Ajax, newest of the six, had been completed only just over a year earlier. All six were relatively similar, with five centerline double turrets.

The three Orions suffered from having their forward mast aft of the forward funnel; this tended to make the fire direction center located in the platform vulnerable to getting socked in with the cloud of coal smoke these ships emitted when under full power. They were the earlier version, and this problem was corrected in the King George V class.

Taken at face value this was a dangerous outfit. But it had some internal issues, the greatest of which being its commander, Vice-Admiral Sir George John Scott Warrender, 7th Baronet Lochend, KCB, a man of whom it was said later "never spoke in peacetime because he was deaf and everyone thought he must be thinking a lot. When war came, everyone said "Goodness gracious, what was he doing the whole time?" (Massie, 2004)

2nd Battle Squadron's escorts included the 3rd Cruiser Squadron (4 Devonshire-class armored cruisers, 4 8-inch and 6 6-inch cannon) and part of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla (7 destroyers of the Acasta (later renamed "K")-class, 3 x 4-inch cannon and 2 x 21" torpedo tubes)

While not directly involved in this phase of the action a small RN flotilla was located at Hartepool, one of the targets of the German raiders. This consisted of two light cruisers:

HMS Patrol (Pathfinder-class "scout" cruiser) 9 x 4-inch Mk IV guns, 6 x 6pdr guns, 2 x 18" torpedo tubes, 25 knots

HMS Forward (Forward-class scout cruiser) (as Patrol)

and four River-class destroyers armed with light (12- and 6-pounder) cannon and 2 18-inch torpedo tubes each.

Also at Hartepool were the coastal defence positions at Heugh and Lighthouse Batteries; three 6-inch Mk VII cannon and about 160 troops of the Durham Light Infantry (Royal Army).

So a total of 10 capital ships, 8 cruisers, and 7 destroyers: six battleships (with an escort of four armored cruisers and seven destroyers), four battlecruisers (with an escort of four light cruisers) in the main action, and another two scout cruisers and four destroyers in the earlier action at Hartepool.

No unified commander; VADM Warrender commanded 2nd Battle Squadron and escorts, VADM Beatty commanded the Battle Cruiser Fleet and escorts.

Deutsches Kaiserreich, Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial German Navy) -

The German forces engaged in both the raids on the east Yorkshire coast as well as the following actions near the Dogger Bank were entirely drawn from the Imperial Navy's High Seas Fleet (Hochseeflotte). The most critical element was the "1st Scouting Group " (I. Aufklärungsgruppe) consisting of four battlecruisers and an armored cruiser:

SMS Seydlitz (Flagship, KADM Hipper - single-ship class battlecruiser) 10 × 28cm (11 in.) SK L/50 guns (5 twin turrets), 12 × 15 cm (5.9 in) SK L/45 guns, 12 × 8.8 cm (3.5 in)guns, 26.5 knots

SMS Moltke (Moltke-class battlecruiser) 10 × 28 cm (11 in.)/50 SK guns (5 twin turrets), 12 × 15 cm (5.9 in) guns, 12 × 8.8 cm (3.5 in) guns, 28 knots

SMS Derfflinger (Derfflinger-class battlecruiser) 8 × 30.5 cm (12 in.) SK L/50 (4 twin turrets), 12 × 15 cm (5.9") SK L/45, 4 × 8.8 cm (4×1), 4 × single 50 cm (20 in) torpedo tubes, 26.5 knots

SMS Von der Tann (single-ship class battlecruiser) 8 × 28 cm (11 in.) SK L/45 guns (4 twin turrets), 10 × 15 cm (5.91 in) SK L/45 guns, 16 × 8.8 cm (3.46 in) SK L/45 guns, 4 × 45 cm (18 in) torpedo tubes, 27-28 knots

SMS Blücher (single-ship class Große Kreuzer [armored cruiser]1) 12 (6 twin turrets)× 21 cm (8.3 in) SK L/45 guns, 8 × 15 cm (5.9 in) SK L/45 guns, 16 × 8.8 cm (3.46 in) SK L/45 guns, 4 × 45 cm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes, 25 knots
(Note1: SMS Blücher was a troubled and, ultimately, a tragic vessel. She was designed in 1906, the same year as the first British battlecruisers of the Invincible-class but German Naval Intelligence was unable to learn anything about these British vessels before Blücher's design was finalized and monies for her construction allocated. The Imperial Marine Bureau (Reichsmarineamt or RMA) thought that the Invincibles were going to be big armored cruisers and when they turned out to be something entirely new, larger, and faster was unable, or unwilling, to either scrap this ship or redesign her.

The problem was with Blücher as designed is that she wasn't big, fast, or heavily-armed enough to be a battlecruiser but was way the hell bigger than any of the other Große Kreuzern. Here's a good illustration of that. The diagram below is from the 1914 Jane's Fighting Ships and shows Blücher's layout:
Now here's the diagram from the same source showing the layout of the preceding pair of Große Kreuzer, the Scharnhorst-class completed in 1906:
See the difference?

The Scharnhorsts are still fundamentally old school armored cruisers, laid out in pre-dreadnought style: main battery with only four guns in two round, slab-sided turrets with the other four 8" cannons in a "central casemate" mounting along with a bunch of 6" and lighter weapons, reciprocating engines driving the ships at a top speed of about 22-23 knots.

But Blücher is a dreadnought.

An early dreadnought, yes; all the goddamn wing turrets testify to that. But she's bigger, faster, and she's an "all-big-gun" ship, the stamp of the Dreadnought Era. She "looks" more like a battlecruiser or small battleship than the older "big cruisers", so in a sense you can understand the tendency of the Imperial Navy leadership to slot her in with the big boys of the 1st Scouting Group.

But she wasn't. She wasn't even the equal of the genuine battlecruisers, and, as we'll see, they weren't anything like their larger cousins the dreadnought battleships.

Had she been assigned, say, to the lighter 2nd Scouting Group she would have been the biggest, strongest ship in that element. Instead she was the smallest, weakest part of I. Aufklärungsgruppe.

Eventually that would kill her and many of those who sailed in her.
2nd Scouting Group (II. Aufklärungsgruppe - four light cruisers and 18 large torpedo boats/small destroyers2):

SMS Stralsund (Madgeburg-class light cruiser) 12 × 10.5 cm (4.1 in.) SK L/45 guns, 2 × 50 cm (19.7 in) torpedo tubes, 27 knots

SMS Graudenz (Graudenz-class light cruiser) 12 × 10.5 cm (4.1 in.) SK L/45 guns, 2 × 50 cm torpedo tubes, 27.5 knots

SMS Kolberg (Kolberg-class light cruiser) 12 × 1 - 10.5 cm (4.1 in.) guns, 2 × 450 mm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes

SMS Strassburg (Madgeburg-class light cruiser) (as Stralsund)

Also two "flotillas" of light craft totaling 18 vessels;

I. Torpedobootflotilla (TBF), about 9 large torpedo boats2 - Hochsee-torpedoboot - of the 1906 class [3 x 10.5 cm guns; 3 x 8.8 cm gun; 3 x 45 cm (18 in) torpedo tubes, 34 knots] and

IX. TBF (probably 9 large torpedo boats Großes Torpedoboot of the 1913 class [3 8.8 cm (3.5 in) L/45 guns, 6 x 50 cm (20 in) torpedo tubes, 36 knots])
(Note2: Unlike many other Western navies, Germany did not choose to upsize their light escort vessels in the first decades of the 20th Century. Most of their potential enemies, in particular the British, discarded the original "torpedo boat" designs in favor of what was originally laid down as an anti-torpedo-boat or "torpedo-boat-destroyer". The Royal Navy, among others including the USN, discovered that these "TBDs" were effective torpedo-launching platforms and had far superior sea-keeping qualities than the small, low-freeboard torpedoboats.

Germany didn't buy that. The RMA continued to design torpedoboats that still looked like torpedoboats though these things tended to get bigger and bigger. The vessels that accompanied Hipper's squadron across the North Sea in 1914 included some of the largest in the High Seas Fleet inventory, the 1913-class "large torpedo boats" which were destroyers in all but name.

Eventually the reality that there is such a thing as too small and too cheap sunk in; the smaller German torpedo boats were just outclassed by British destroyers. By 1917 Germany was no longer building any of the older type; the destroyer had, as her name indicated, destroyed the torpedo boat.
Battle Fleet (Fleet Flagship SMS Friedrich der Große, ADM Ingenohl)

The bulk of the capital ship strength of the High Seas Fleet was present but not engaged during this action, a total of 14 dreadnought battleships and 8 older pre-dreadnought battleships in three squadrons. Escorts included 2 armored cruisers, 7 light cruisers, and 56 destroyers.

Instead of listing the vessels and the capabilities I append the useful diagram courtesy of the good people at GHQ models (who produced a useful little summary of the Scarborough Raid we'll talk about in Sources):

To give you a sense of the overwhelming German superiority in numbers, here's the British forces from the same source:

Scary, innit? The German Navy should have kicked British ass like a crazy monkey.

The question this post will answer - I hope - is why didn't they?.

Anyway, the German forces shared a similar problem with the British - no overall commander.

The raiding force was under KADM (Rear Admiral) Franz Hipper, the main battle fleet was under command of ADM Friedrich von Ingenohl, the nominal commander of the High Seas Fleet. But operating under radio silence von Ingenohl was unable to direct Hipper and Hipper unable to inform his superior of his situation. So, effectively, the two forces were independent of one another.

The Sources: All the usual voluminous primary sources on both sides: ships' logs, war diaries, communications logs, orders, communiques and minutes, damage reports...the works.

If you want to take the time to do the original research the Imperial War Museum and the German Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr I highly recommend it. For this post I will try and provide some generally available (i.e. popular) published secondary source works as well as primary and secondary information available online to the English-speaking reader.

The British National Archives has an online library of its official documents from the 1914-1918 period. Well worth a perusal.

The Royal Navy has an official museum, as well as several specific locations (such as the old Portsmouth Dockyard) which tell individual parts of the story of the Senior Service, although, interestingly, a search of the RN Museum site on the words "Hartepool", Scarborough" and "Scarborough Raid" turned up absolutely nothing.


I couldn't even find a similar resource for the former Kaiserliche Marine. If there is a "German Navy Museum" it is tucked away somewhere away from the Internet. The modern German Navy website has nothing remotely similar, being instead a glossy recruiting device including color pictures of cute red-headed German matelots looking as adorably devastating as a 12-inch broadside from a Derfflinger-class battlecruiser:

A section of the website called "WWW.WW1" or the Great War Period Documentary Archive (GWPDA) contains a trove of materials relating to the First World War at sea. A bit sparse to look at, but rich in information.

Another potential resource is the German Historical Museum, although, again, a search of key words relating to the action at 3.5 Degrees East brought no results.

The website War Times Journal has reprinted two portions of an English translation of ADM Reihard Scheer's 1920 work Deutschlands Hochseeflotte im Weltkrieg; Persönliche Erinnerungen ("Germany's High Seas Fleet in the World War; personal memories"). Worthwhile look of how the actions of 16 DEC 1914 appeared from the German side of the hill and at that time - the great secret of Room 40 was still locked in the Official Secrets Act.

Which brings us to one of the most critical parts of our story; the mysterious "Room 40" and the British cryptanalysis and codebreaking operation that set the clockwork in motion that almost resulted in a naval engagement at 3.5 Degrees East.

This piece of naval history has been the subject of several published works. Interestingly, there is little on-line that covers the subject exceptionally well. The Wikipedia entry is drawn largely from the published work of Patrick Beesly (1982) and, while neither badly written nor misinformed offers little that the reader couldn't get either from Beesly (1982) or Massie (2004).

However, several websites provide some juicy tidbits from the story Room 40.

The German Naval Warfare site contains a page offering several pieces of intel gathered by Room 40, including the page from the Signalbuch der Kaiserlichen Marine (SKM) taken from SMS Madgeburg early in 1914 that effectively started the entire British decryption program.

One of the pages from that codebook is inserted in this post above right.

British WW1 naval signals intelligence is a story fully as rich and fascinating as the "Ultra Secret" of WW2. It centers around the acquisition of three codes; the SKM, the Handelsschiffsverkehrsbuch (HVB) used (as the name implies) largely by German merchant marine but also to communicate with Imperial warships taken from the German steamer Hobart on 11 OCT and a diplomatic codebook, the Verkehrsbuch (VB) recovered on 30 NOV from the Channel where the commander of the torpedo boat S-119 had tossed it overboard as the ship foundered.

The story of the SKM is perhaps the most dramatic.

SMS Madgeburg ran aground scouting the island of Odensholm off the coast of Russian Estonia and in an ensuing clusterfuck - the commander tried to shatter her with explosives, the charges were set off too soon, and in the panic three copies of the codebook were either forgotten on-board or hastily hucked into the water. All three were grabbed up by the Russian Navy cruisers that arrived as the German-fire-drill was in progress.

Copy number 151 was the one passed to the British (the Russians kept the other two, the ones found in the water). The German Navy was using a fairly simple cipher as well as this code, so between the SKM, the HVB, and the VB the cipher was broken and the codebooks enabled British Naval Intelligence to read intercepted German wireless telegraphy (W/T) signals.

Here's the description of the SKM, from the Wiki entry:
"The SKM (sometimes abbreviated SB in German documents) was the code normally used during important actions by the German fleet. It was derived from the ordinary fleet signal books used by both British and German navies, which had thousands of predetermined instructions which could be represented by simple combinations of signal flags or lamp flashes for transmission between ships. There were 34,300 instructions each represented by a different group of three letters. A number of these reflected old-fashioned naval operations, and did not mention modern inventions such as aircraft. Ships were identified by a three letter grouping beginning with a Beta symbol. Messages not covered by the predetermined list could be spelled out using a substitution table for individual letters. The signals used four symbols not present in ordinary Morse code (given the names alpha beta gamma and rho), which caused some confusion until all those involved in interception learnt to recognise them and use a standardised way to write them."
The ciphers would be changed from time to time, but the SKM itself was a ginormous volume and the Imperial Navy really didn't want to rewrite it.

That, and the smart guys in Berlin and Kiel didn't believe that the effete Brits had the mental throw-weight to break their code, anyway. Why go to all that trouble?

The officers of the Kaiser's Navy were the Smartest Guys in the Room, right?

I don't really have room for all of it here but as I mentioned, the story of Room 40 and the British cryptographers is a hell of a tale and well worth pursuing on its own.

Lastly, I found two very useful popular sources for the overall conduct of the war, the events of December 1914, and the vessels involved.

The first, and best, was Robert Massie's terrific 2004 work Castles of Steel. A large part of this post was taken directly from Massie's book which, along with being a first-rate source of information is thumpingly well-written. I can't recommend it highly enough; a superb work of popular history.

One caveat, however.

Anyone researching the naval war of 1914 will quickly find that the Royal Navy side of the issue is fairly sharply divided between partisans of the then-commander of the Grand Fleet, ADM Sir John Jellicoe, and the man who commanded the Battle Cruiser Fleet at that time, VADM David Beatty.

I won't go any further than that into the matter - tho we'll hear more about this later - but suffice to say that Massie is a "Jellicoe man". I believe that where he issues judgements against Beatty he is in the main well-supported by the facts. But he IS a Jellicoe partisan and his work must be read as such.

The other was a nice little volume from the Osprey people; British Battlecruiser vs. German Battlecruiser 1914-1916 (Stille, 2013). A bright, readable summary of the issues of naval tactics and warship design as they were embodied in the battle cruisers, and the strategies that meant that the two elements would collide and result in the deaths of thousands of sailors.

I should add that after reading the latter I ran across a nicely done 2010 paper by someone named Ott entitled Battlecruisers at Jutland: A Comparative Analysis of British and German Warship Design and its Impact on the Naval War that provides very similar analysis and conclusions as does the Stille work. Well played, Ott!

So, are we done here? Good.

Let's first look at what was happening in the North Sea in December, 1914, and why.

The Campaign: 1. The Imperial German Navy and the Struggle for the North Sea

The fundamental reason that the Royal Navy was out in the North Sea in December 1914 was a certain gentleman in Berlin who was officially known as
"His Imperial and Royal Majesty Wilhelm the Second, by the Grace of God, German Emperor and King of Prussia, Margrave of Brandenburg, Burgrave of Nuremberg, Count of Hohenzollern, Duke of Silesia and of the County of Glatz, Grand Duke of the Lower Rhine and of Posen, Duke in Saxony, of Angria, of Westphalia, of Pomerania and of Lunenburg, Duke of Schleswig, of Holstein and of Crossen, Duke of Magdeburg, of Bremen, of Guelderland and of Jülich, Cleves and Berg, Duke of the Wends and the Kashubians, of Lauenburg and of Mecklenburg, Landgrave of Hesse and in Thuringia, Margrave of Upper and Lower Lusatia, Prince of Orange, of Rugen, of East Friesland, of Paderborn and of Pyrmont, Prince of Halberstadt, of Münster, of Minden, of Osnabrück, of Hildesheim, of Verden, of Kammin, of Fulda, of Nassau and of Moers, Princely Count of Henneberg, Count of the Mark, of Ravensberg, of Hohenstein, of Tecklenburg and of Lingen, Count of Mansfeld, of Sigmaringen and of Veringen, Lord of Frankfurt."
Kaiser Bill, as my great-uncle and his pals in the 42nd Division probably called him when they weren't calling him "that #!$%!#." He's important, and let's begin with him and his hard-on for battleships.

Prussia, Wilhelm's grandpappy's original dominion, had a navy as far back as 1701 (and the also-Hohenzollern-ruled state of Brandenburg earlier than that, but, whatev...) and the Preußische Marine was always kind of a Prussian in-joke, a good laugh for the potato-farmers of the East Prussian plain.

Prussia and its successors, first the "North German Confederation" and then Imperial Germany, had always been continental Powers, so until the late 19th Century the Prussian and German navy was ignored in peacetime and useless in wartime and most Prussians (and the other Germans) were just fine with that.

In particular the Prussian and later German Chancellor, Otto Bismarck, who considered the mightiest ocean not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian matelot and fought tirelessly against naval appropriations until the Emperor fired him in 1890. One of the main reasons is that Bismarck thought colonies and navies were worthless and his sovereign luuuurved them both.

That Imperial Germany had a genuine navy by 1914 was because Wilhelm II had a bizarre man-crush on navies, even more bizarre than the rest of his character which was a bit of a fright.

Here's what the historian Thomas Nipperdy had to say about him:
"...gifted, with a quick understanding, sometimes brilliant, with a taste for the modern,—technology, industry, science—but at the same time superficial, hasty, restless, unable to relax, without any deeper level of seriousness, without any desire for hard work or drive to see things through to the end, without any sense of sobriety, for balance and boundaries, or even for reality and real problems, uncontrollable and scarcely capable of learning from experience, desperate for applause and success, — as Bismarck said early on in his life, he wanted every day to be his birthday — romantic, sentimental and theatrical, unsure and arrogant, with an immeasurably exaggerated self-confidence and desire to show off..."
This guy, who as you can imagine would have been kind of irking if he had been in charge of a Pizza Hut but was absolutely terrifying as the supreme War Leader of the mightiest state in Europe, also had an intense love of, and hatred for, England and, in particular, the Royal Navy.

In that peculiar mind the most important thing that he could do was build a navy of his own, like the Royal Navy...but better, and, in the end, capable of defeating that navy and proving to all the superiority of all things German and, in particular, His Imperial and Royal Majesty Wilhelm the Second.

Like anything else connected with absolute rulers Wilhelm's obsession attracted others with similar tastes wishing to remora on to his power. Among them was a Prussian sailor named Alfred Tirpitz who had never forgotten his experience as a young officer when, in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, he and his ship had spent the time tied to the wharf whilst the German armies romped through France winning military glory.

That wasn't gonna happen again if Tirpitz had anything to do about it.

The Emperor and men like Tirpitz, intent on seapower, crafted the instrument that became the Imperial German Navy built around the capital ships, the battleships and battlecruisers of the High Seas Fleet. There was only one problem.

Bismarck was right.

Germany needed a navy like a rhinoceros needs a pair of water wings.

The High Seas Fleet did nothing but force Germany into a naval race and naval stand-off with Britain, because while a navy was an affectation for Wilhelm II it was a necessity for Great Britain.

2. The Naval Strategies of 1914, Simplified

Great Britain has depended on naval power almost since it was united as a nation, even before it's sprawling Victorian empire. An island nation nearly always develops seapower both for defending the island itself and for protecting the trading vessels it needs to ship its products out and its purchases in.

Typically - that is, from the late 16th to the early 20th centuries - a British European campaign involved a large maritime force blockading enemy ports and strangling enemy sea-lanes and something ranging from small to miniscule field army involved in caprioling about the periphery of continental Europe; the Low Countries and the Rhineland in the 17th and 18th, Spain and Portugal (and the Crimea) in the 19th.

Although 1914 marked the first use of a "big" army in war Britain had the same basic plans for her war at sea.

Basically, Great Britain couldn't "win" the war at sea; no naval force could push the German Army out of Belgium (Britain's casus belli) or France.

A naval blockade would have the gradual effect of weakening German war production and starving individual Germans. Curiously, the single most critical material cut off by the blockade was nitrate fertilizer, then largely produced from the bird-islands off the Andean coast of South America. Without imported bird shit German agriculture cratered. With the loss of farm products from the U.S. this led to a lot of hunger and suffering.
As predicted, this punished the hell out of the Central Powers.

But...thought the blockade might not "win", if the Royal Navy screwed up it could lose the war for Britain at sea.

Here's how.

Germany needed to blockade Britain, too, and that meant getting her navy out into the Channel, the North Sea, and the Atlantic. That meant that she had to hammer the British fleet out of the way, or at least that was the thinking in Berlin in 1914. The idea that submarines - small, slow, and fragile - might threaten the scepter'd isle seemed risible at the time.

Instead beating Britain meant beating her fleet, sinking the battleships that were the steel castles fortifying Britain's coasts and protecting her lifelines, the merchant vessels that supplied her factories and people.

So long as the Grand Fleet bottled up the North Sea and the Channel squadrons the Channel - so long as the High Seas Fleet couldn't break through, couldn't destroy these Royal Navy units - that wouldn't happen.
Just so you know, traditionally Britain had used what's called a "close blockade" against continental enemies. That is, British warships rode just off the hostile shore, within sight of the enemy ports. There they ran down enemy merchant ships and engaged any enemy naval vessels that came out to fight.
It worked for Nelson, and for the Royal Navy if it worked for Nelson it worked for them.

So it took over 100 years for the RN to realize that 20th Century threats like steam torpedoes, contact mines, and powered steel-hulled torpedo boats and destroyers presented the sort of threat to British battleships that Napoleon's three-deckers never did.

In 1913 the RN officially abandoned the grand tactic of "close blockade" for the distant picket line scheme implemented when war broke out in 1914. This meant that those battleships were still waiting, but now at the choke-points of the North Sea far from the German naval bases of Kiel and Heligoland.

For Britain, the most critical element of naval strategy was not losing her fleet.

So long as the Royal Navy possessed enough fighting power to keep the German Navy confined to the North Sea, so long as the Grand Fleet existed and continued to represent a dire threat to German seapower Britain could keep fighting and, hopefully, find a solution to the land-war problem.

For Germany, the most critical element of her strategy was defeating - or finding a way around - the Royal Navy.

You see the difference?

Germany had to win.

Britain just had not to lose.

3. When Enemies Don't Cooperate...

By the autumn of 1914 the Germany naval command realized it had a problem.

Since the formation of the High Seas Fleet in the 1880s German naval strategy had relied on the Royal Navy's "close blockade".

With the British capital ships close to the North German shore the High Seas Fleet - and especially swarms of torpedo boats and minelaying cruisers - could harass the British fleet until the German battleships could sortie and savage the remainder. Damaged German dreadnoughts could quickly retire to their harbors, while British cripples would have to risk the waters of the North Sea, German U-boats, mines, and torpedo craft.

August 1914 came, however, and not a British battlewagon was to be seen. German steamers were being pulled over far in the north, from the remote Grand Fleet base at Scapa Flow in high Scotland, and in the Western Approaches.

German trade was being strangled, German farmers losing crops, German soldiers going hungry.

But without a close blockade, what was the Kaiserliche Marine to do? How could the High Seas Fleet break the power of the Royal Navy if the Royal Navy wouldn't oblige it by coming out to fight - with the added restriction of following the Emperor's dictate not to risk German capital ships in a head-to-head clash with the Grand Fleet?

Although the All-Highest had forbidden the High Seas Fleet to seek out its enemy he had not ruled out any sort of offensive action. So the leadership of the Imperial Navy - Navy Chief of Staff ADM Hugo von Pohl, ADM Georg von Müller, the head of the Marine-Kabinett (a sort of Naval Secretariat that served as a sort of G-1 (personnel) and G-3 (operations) for the Emperor), and ADM von Ingenohl - came up with an idea in late October, 1914.

These jokers hoped to use a combination of mines, U-boats, and surface actions off the east coast of England to lure out pieces of the Grand Fleet in hopes of defeating these detachments and evening the odds. The plan was that Hipper's Scouting Group would dash across the North Sea and bombard coastal towns along the northeast coast of England; meanwhile light cruisers would lay mines and U-boats would lurk along the coastline, in both cases hoping to catch British warships responding to the initial attack.

The plan was a classic "baited ambush"; cause a ruckus then bushwhack the reaction force as it hurries towards the commotion.

The first of these raids took place 3 NOV 1914. The I. Aufklärungsgruppe sallied out of the Jade River on the afternoon of 2 NOV. Two squadrons (probably First and Third; I can't imagine why Ingenohl would bother with the old pre-dreadnoughts of the Second if he didn't have to...) of the High Seas Fleet sortied out of Wilhlemshaven later in the day to support the raiders.

The immediate objective was to lay mines off the the Norfolk port towns of Yarmouth and Lowestoft and shell Yarmouth as well. The overall grand tactical plan was that the raiders would lure the responding Grand Fleet element - presumably VADM Beatty's battlecruisers plus whatever Grand Fleet squadron and light units from the eastern Channel Fleet at Harwich were backing him up - south and eastwards onto the U-boats and the minefields. And when these lurking weapons had crippled the British squadron the great pale-gray leviathans would loom out of the sea-smoke.

There the arrogant British would be destroyed.

That was the plan, but in fact the actual action turned out to be something of a bust.

For one thing, the Admiralty never responded; no elements of the Grand Fleet so much as raised steam until the raiding forces were headed back to their moorings.

For another, the damage done to both sides was minimal and fairly even. A small RN force posted at Yarmouth lost a submarine to one of Stralsund's mines but the armored cruiser SMS Yorck blundered into a German minefield off Wilhelmshaven and sank of 4 NOV.

Hipper's force didn't even do any real damage to Yarmouth; most of the Scouting Group's shells landed on the beach nearby.

The results, however, seemed to prove that the idea was sound. All the German players, especially KADM Hipper (who was violently disappointed by the results of the Yarmouth Raid), wanted to try the trick again. This time, however, the targets would be further north in the county of Yorkshire; Whitby, Scarborough, and Hartepool.

Of the three Yorkshire Riviera towns only Hartepool was a fairly "legitimate" target. Its steel-, dock-, and gasworks served a war-industrial function and it had an actual coastal defence garrison manning two shore batteries and three 6-inch cannon. The other two towns (if they may be so termed; Whitby in 1914 probably had a total population of no more than 2,000 to 3,000 people) were of no real military value.

Whitby was basically a big fishing village.

Scarborough was something of the Cancun of coastal Yorkshire, the seaside playground of the North complete with an opulent resort hotel and the usual Victorian diversions.

The raid wasn't really about damaging the British war effort, however; it was about mousetrapping the Royal Navy.

4. The Scarborough Raid

The actual conduct of the coastal raid is fairly well detailed in the Wiki entry, and I won't cover it exhaustively here. As an operation it ran on rails. The raiding force left early in the morning of 15 DEC arrived off the Yorkshire coast early on 16 DEC; the only hitch was the weather which had deteriorated badly overnight, forcing Hipper to order his escorting light cruisers and torpedo boats back to port - only SMS Kolberg remained with the battlecruisers in order to carry out the minelaying part of the mission.

SMS Seydlitz, SMS Blücher and SMS Moltke shelled Hartlepool between 8 and 9am; SMS Derfflinger and SMS Von der Tann hit Scarborough between 8 and 9:00 and then sailed north and hit Whitby some time probably between 9 and 9:30.

While the big ships were shelling SMS Kolberg laid mines stretching about 10 miles east of Flamborough Head.

The British defenders did what they could in response. Four destroyers of the Hartepool stachment - HMS Doon, HMS Test, HMS Waveney and HMS Moy attempted to attack the three German warships off Hartepool but, outgunned and outranged withdrew after a token effort. HMS Patrol was the only cruiser in Hartepool harbor with steam up, but in putting out towards the harbor channel was crippled. The submarine C9 actually did clear the breakwater but was forced to dive and unable to catch the raiding force submerged.

The Durham Light Infantry did rather better, gunfire from the Lighthouse Battery in particular doing damage to SMS Blücher (hit six times, two of her secondary 6" cannon were disabled and one of her main guns damaged with 9 KIA and another 3 wounded).

The British gunners themselves lost 6 killed, 11 wounded. The Heugh Battery website says that the battery would have been hammered harder except "...the Germans were using standard anti-ship ammunition with time delay fuses which bounced off the gun aprons to explode behind the batteries..."

As it always seems customary in war, the unarmed suffered and died more than anyone in uniform. Somewhere north of 80 women, children, and civilian men were killed at Hartepool from the more than 1,100 German shells of all calibers fired into the city. Over 400 were wounded. Another 17 civilians were killed at Scarborough and two at Whitby, with another hundred or so wounded.

By about 10am the raiding force had rejoined and were heading back east towards what they assumed was a link-up with the High Seas Fleet and, hopefully, an ambush of a Royal Navy rushing to the rescue.

They couldn't have been more wrong, and that's where we'll begin our story of what should have been a crushing German naval victory averted by good intelligence and bad decisions.

The Engagement:

To tell the story of the battle that should have been we have to back up two days, to about seven in the evening Monday, 14 DEC, when Sir Arthur Wilson met with Winston Churchill (the First Sea Lord) and ADM Henry Oliver, the Chief of the Admiralty War Staff.

Wilson briefed his superiors on the signals intelligence that Room 40 had gathered. German radio messages indicated that the High Seas Fleet's scouting groups were going to sortie again. As we know, this was true.

But Wilson also added a conclusion that the sigint people had reached from a absence of wireless chatter that the battleship units of the Hochseeflotte were not going to support Hipper's group. Based on this information Churchill and Oliver agreed with Wilson that the British response should be less than maximal. A single Battle Squadron would be sent along with Beatty's battlecruisers to trap the raiders.

I don't know, and my sources don't explain, why Room 40 intercepted no transmissions from the main body of the High Seas Fleet. But Massie (2004) may provide a clue where he discusses German plans for the raid:
"The kaiser had forbidden Ingenohl to risk a major fleet action, and the admiral had no intention of disopbeying...Ingenohl was stretching his orders and he was careful to protect himself in a manner common in Imperial Germany: he did not tell the kaiser what he was going to do." (emphasis mine; Massie, 2004, p. 328)
It may be that this discretion extended to Ingenohl's fleet wireless discipline as well.

A radio message not sent was a message not recorded in a signal log or an order book. A message not recorded could be denied, or, at least, not provide a source of imperial suspicion and abrogation.

The Admiralty telegraphed orders to ADM Jellicoe at Scapa Flow: "Send at once, leaving tonight, the Battle Cruiser Squadron and Light Cruiser Squadron supported by a Battle Squadron, preferably the Second. At daylight on Wednesday they should be at some point where they can make sure of intercepting the enemy during his return."Jellicoe obeyed with concern and some annoyance.

At no time during the whole of WW1 were the High Seas and Grand Fleets so evenly matched as November and December of 1914.

HMS Audacious, a new King George V-class battleship, had been lost to a mine off Ireland in late October. Four other battleships were refitting, their engine machinery strained to breakdown by the constant patrolling of the North Sea. Three of Beatty's battlecruisers had been dispatched to the South Atlantic to hunt down the German Asiatic Squadron.

The British battlecruisers were particularly vulnerable, with four British ships matched against four German, five if the Blücher was included.

The German naval staff knew they might never have a better time to try and cut down the odds. But there was this problem; the Emperor would not risk his fleet. If the High Seas Fleet was going to seize the opportunity it would have to be through a loophole in the Imperial edict.

Massie (2004) explains:
"The kaiser had given the Commander-in-Chief a command to hold back the fleet in order to control the Baltic and permit the release of coast defense troops to alleviate the manpower demands of the army. But William had left a loophole: "This does not, however, prevent favorable opportunities being used to damage the enemy...There is nothing to be said against an attempt of the battle cruisers in the North Sea to damage the enemy."
There it was. That was the loophole.

The Scouting Group would be the bait, the mines and U-boats the trap.

The High Seas Fleet would simply provide insurance in case of...something.
The British squadrons weighed anchor separately; Beatty's battle cruisers from Cromarty Firth at 6am, Warrender's battle squadron from Scapa at 5:30. The weather was bad; "...a very heavy sea which caused even Lion to roll in a disquieting manner." (Massie, 2004, p. 335). The two British fleet units met off Moray Firth at 11am, 15 DEC amd proceeded south-southeast.

At this point either the sigint had not revealed the German objective or Room 40 had not passed this information on to the fleet. Warrender's flag signals are recorded as informing Beatty "I think raid probably Harwich or Humber...", both well south of the actual targets on the central Yorkshire coastline.

From the rendezvous point the combined British force headed southeast to the location Jellicoe had chosen as the intercept point (and, supposedly, a meetup with light forces from the Channel fleet); about 100 miles east-southeast of Scarborough and 180 miles north-northwest of the Heligoland coast of Germany. The big ships moved heavily in the rough seas, and in the overcast night visibility ranged from poor to virtually nil.

So. Here's our first position map; the three main forces at about 4:00am.

(I apologize for the quality of the map; I had to use what I could find on the Web, so my base map wasn't great. If you enlarge the picture you'll get a better view.)

Anyway, you can see the British force is still moving southeast, roughly 50 to 60 nautical miles northwest of their planned intercept point. The German 1st Scouting Group is south and west of them moving west, the main body of the High Seas Fleet roughly 150 nautical miles east of the British main body.

Both the British and the German battle fleet have light forces screening them; the British to the southwest, southeast and east, the German battle fleet to the west. Hipper's light ships are taking a pounding in the heavy seas; some have already lost contact, including the S-33 (remember, Hipper orders them to turn east about two hours later...) but the weather is actually breaking up. As daylight approached the seas began to drop and the sky clear, at least clear for a North Sea December

The little S-33 began the day's adventure with a frightening encounter.

The torpedo boat was separated from the rest of 1st Scouting Group before midnight. She tried to raise another German vessel in the raiding force and was told to shut the hell up - her radio transmissions were compromising security of the group.

Lost and alone, S-33 reversed course and headed for home. At 4:00am she blundered into four British destroyers steaming southeast (presumably part of the Beatty/Warrender force's escorts).

The German captain turned onto a parallel course and spent what must have been a hell of a nervous twenty minutes cruising along trying to look British before S-33 was able to slip away. She broke radio silence again to inform KADM Hipper that the British - at least some of their light forces - were out in the North Sea that night.

Still, there's no reason yet for a German naval officer to get his panties in a twist. Yes, there were British ships abroad in the night. But so far there was no sign of enemy capital ships and, surely, the High Seas Fleet had gunpower enough to deal with any stray British destroyer flotillas.

All the vessels maintained their courses and speeds.

Situation: 4:00am - 9:00am

This condition continued until about 5:30am.

The disposition of the various forces were as shown below:

The Second Battle Squadron still steamed southeast, the center of the formation. Beatty's four battlecruisers formed the point element five miles southeast of the six battleships. The four light cruisers formed the starboard-side screen, steaming in line-ahead about five miles southwest, the four armored cruisers about a mile to port (northeast) with Beatty's seven destroyers another nine miles beyond that.

It was these destroyers who made contact with the German main body screen.

HMS Lynx, leading the group, ran across the large torpedo boat V-155. As you can see from the battle map, V-155 turned and ran north for the next half hour, trading gunfire with the British flotilla in pursuit.

As would reoccur again and again in the North Sea between that night and the battle of Jutland two year later German gunnery was both more rapid and more accurate. Two hits smashed Lynx's propeller or rudder or both and she veered hard to port, the entire British line swinging southwest with her. Ten minutes later V-155 holed HMS Ambuscade below the waterline and she staggered away to starboard - west - leaving her six sisters behind.

The six survivors weren't enjoying themselves. The light cruiser SMS Hamburg with two escorting torpedo boats arrived in response to V-155's frantic messages for help and smashed HMS Hardy with searchlight-directed gunfire. Hardy's bridge was wrecked and her steering gear disabled, she was afire, and her captain was conning the destroyer by shouting down the engine room hatch.

The little ship wasn't going without a fight, however; her guns blasted Hamburg's searchlight platform. She also fired a torpedo; Hamburg's lookouts spotted the wake and the cruiser turned away, broadcasting a warning at about 6am that British torpedoes were in the water.
The warning was superfluous; the High Seas Fleet was turning away. Massie (2004) describes what had happened:
"The presence of British destroyers...had been reported to Admiral von Ingenohl as early as 4:20 a.m....The report worried Ingenohl. Like Warrender, the German admiral feared a destroyer torpedo attack on his battleships, especially a night torpedo attack. An hour later, at 5:23 a.m., when news of the destroyer action reached his flagship...the admiral's apprehension markedly increased. Already he had stretched his instructions...now here he was in the middle of the North Sea in the darkness of a December night, seeing the flashes of guns on the horizon...a British torpedo in the water, his screen retreating, the British pursuing - and an hour still remaining before daybreak." (p. 338)
At 5:30 ADM Ingenohl ordered the High Seas Fleet to reverse course.

Massie (2004) is merciless about this; he states flatly that Ingenohl's "courage failed him". I cannot be quite as condemnatory. To me, Ingenohl's courage was suspect when he allowed this entire plan to proceed knowing that he was in violation of his Supreme Commander's order - regardless of the wisdom of that order - and that if placed in the exact position he was in before dawn on 16 DEC he would have to choose either to risk all or abandon some of those in his charge.

But the decision that the commander of the High Seas Fleet made then, in the pre-dawn twilight of the bridge of the Friedrich der Große, well...it seems to me a fine line between cowardice and common sense.

Had the entire Grand Fleet been at sea? Had the German battleships suddenly stumbled into a wild dawn melee with a swarm of British destroyers backed by the massed heavy guns of the full strength of the Royal navy..?

I cannot simply condemn Ingenohl out of hand for that.

For approving the mission as planned? Yes.

For making the choice he made that morning?


So the High Seas Fleet turned away.
"For forty minutes the two fleets were steaming on almost parallel courses (southeast), the British destroyers south of the Germans, the British battleships and battlecruisers to the southwest. The screens continued to brush against each other. At 6:15 (the cruiser) Roon saw and was seen by Lynx and Unity...Earlier, Ingenohl had received Hamburg's report of her encounter with Hardy. Now, from Roon, he heard about another destroyer contact. Confirmed in his belief that the sea was swarming with enemies, Ingenohl at 6:20 a.m. singaled a further turn to port and at high speed made directly for Germany." (Massie, 2004, p. 340)
The British destroyer and German cruiser-torpedo boat screens continued to clash for the next hour and a half, first one way then another. Finally at about 8:00, as the day was breaking the two screens broke contact, the Germans heading east to cover the retreat of the High Seas Fleet, the British west to rejoin the main body of the capital ships.

By this time the wind and dropped and the sea calmed; the morning was as clear as one could hope for in the North Sea in December. Warrender and Beatty's force had arrived near the prearranged meetup/intercept point (the Channel forces had been recalled by the Admiralty without informing either commander, an incident that caused some minor confusion and irritation, especially to Beatty. Warrender had commandeered his destroyers and he had expected to be reinforced from the Channel Fleet).

Radio reports from the British destroyers had been confusing and somewhat garbled, and the Royal Navy battleships and battlecruisers spent the next hour loafing about the meeting point trying to do something without really knowing who or where they needed to do it to; the section of the main battlemap below gives some idea of how random the British movements were:

The black trackline is 2nd Battle Squadron, the blue is the Battle Cruiser Fleet; light units are dashed lines in blue or black depending on which major element they were attached to.

It's like a bad wiring diagram, isn't it?

Anyway, the other shoe dropped at 8:42. HMS Lion picked up a signal from HMS Patrol announcing that she was engaging two German battlecruisers.

A few minutes later a signal from the Admiralty in London announced that Scarborough was being shelled.

Situation: 9:00am - 3:30pm For the approximate positions of the various forces at about 9:00am, see below:

The British battle squadrons were steaming northwest, the battlecruisers and light cruisers ahead and slightly north of the battleships and armored cruisers. Between 10 and 10:30am the two forces diverged around a nasty shallow portion of the Dogger Bank (the "southwest patch") on the battle map below. Beatty and the battlecruisers went north of the patch, Warrender's battleships to the south.

This led the British forces towards a large gap in the minefields that lay off the Yorkshire coast north and south of the Scarborough-Whitby coastline. A roughly twenty-mile wide gap opened due east of the German targets; this would be the most likely route for the retreating German battlecruisers. Second Battle Squadron was headed for the south side of this lane, while the Battle Cruiser Fleet was headed for the north. 1st Scouting Group was steaming east for the exit at top speed.

Here's the positions of the forces a bit later, around 12:30 to give you an idea:

First the Kaiser's order, the dark, and the British destroyers had help save the Royal Navy's capital ships. Now the weather and a series of poor decisions intervened to help save the German battlecruisers.

In fifteen minutes - between 11 and 11:15 - rain squalls and heavy mists blew in from the northwest, just another North Sea winter storm. Visibility dropped to less than a mile in the worst of the squalls, forcing the big ships to reduce speed and tormenting the smaller ones.

Still; at about 11:25 HMS Southampton sighted SMS Stralsund and eight torpedo boats steaming directly east towards her.

Southhampton exchanged fire with Stralsund, and the German squadron turned south trading shots with the British cruiser. The British light cruiser force closed up to engage and as they did Southampton, the leading ship, saw two more German cruisers (these were Strassburg and Graudenz and their escorts - the remainder of the light vessels Hipper had ordered to return to port earlier) approaching from the west.

Here the officer commanding the British light cruisers, RADM William Goodenough, made an error. He had directed his signals officer to radio VADM Beatty when the Southampton first engaged Stralsund

He did not inform his superior of the additional German cruisers.

VADM Beatty watched as his screening cruisers veered away to pursue - as he knew it - a single enemy light cruiser and a handful of torpedo boats. Worried about blundering into the German battlecruisers without a scouting screen, he ordered the last cruisers to leave his battlecruisers - HMS Nottingham and HMS Falmouth - to resume their station as escorts.

Beatty's signals officer - his "flag Lieutenant" LT Ralph Seymour - then compounded the error. Rather than signalling the two cruisers his blinker-light signal simply read "light cruiser". This was passed on to RADM Goodenough as a recall for the entire squadron at about 11:50 a.m. Goodenough ordered his unit to cease pursuit at about 11:55.

Too late, VADM Beatty was furious that his subordinate would turn away from a fight and bitched out his cruiser commander in a series of signals that the entire squadron could read, heedless of the fact that it was his own signals officer whose sloppiness had largely caused the break in contact.

Meanwhile the lucky Stralsund was being saved from destruction yet again, this time from Warrender's battleships.
At about 12:15 the German cruiser sighted the 2nd Battle Squadron and was, in turn, sighted by the leading ship in the starboard (northern) column, HMS Orion. VADM Warrender and his staff on King George V was socked in by a rain squall and could not see the Germans.

Orion ran up "enemy in sight" and her captain ordered her main battery trained onto the Stralsund, the leading German cruiser. He pleaded with the commander of his division, RADM Arbuthnot, embarked on Orion, for permission to open fire.

Arbuthnot (that's him over on the left) refused; it was his commander. Warrender's, place to give that order.

But Warrender never did give the order, Orion did not fire, and the German cruisers and torpedo boats easily evaded the slower British armored cruisers Warrender finally did send out to chase down the German lights. The Germans disappeared into the mist and rain.

At about this point VADM Beatty made a bad decision.

His forces were headed for the east edge of the minefield gap. Massie (2004) says:
"He expected to arrived around 12:30pm...and begin patrolling back and forth. Had he followed this plan, only unimaginably bad weather could have prevented him from sighting the German battle cruisers as they emerged from the gap around 1:00p.m."(p. 349)
But Beatty was fidgety - he was always fidgety - and he was worried what might happen if Hipper's ships were headed towards the south side of the gap. He decided to turn back east. When he did so, at 12:30 p.m., Hipper's group was only about twelve miles to the west.

The Battle Cruiser Fleet steamed due east for 45 minutes, then north for another 40 minutes, then east again, then southeast. He found nothing.

Warrender's battleships had no better luck. They arrived at the southern minefield gap at about 1 p.m., quartered the area for about 25 minutes, then turned north.

First Scouting Group, meanwhile, had reached the eastern end of the gap at about 12:45 and turned hard to the north. Warrender's ships were close; the cruiser Kolberg was limping behind , damaged by the heavy seas, and was close enough to see Warrender's force's funnel smoke about 1 p.m.

The British forces continued to pursue until about 2:30 p.m. Here's a piece of the battlemap that gives you an idea of their wanderings:

At this time the Admiralty passed along a signal intercept giving the position of the High Seas Fleet as in the eastern North Sea. This was interpreted wrongly as a transmission from the German main battle fleet emerging from rather than returning to its harbor. The British called off the chase at about 3:30 p.m.

I should note here that Hipper's battlecruisers had more then one stroke of luck. When his light cruisers first encountered the British at around 11:30 the Konteradmiral's instinct was to back up his escorts and he sped eastwards at 23 knots.

Before he could collide with the British, however, Stralsund radioed that she had sighted enemy battleships. Hipper was neither a coward nor a fool; he continued east until his light cruisers radioed that they had evaded the British force. The scouting group commander then felt free to turn away, running in a wide loop to the north of the British forces. Here's the full battlemap showing the full scope of the action west of 4 Degrees East; note Hipper's movements in a wide arc to the north:

By 7:30 am the following day, 17 DEC, the last German vessel anchored in the Jade.

The Outcome: Minor German tactical victory

The Impact: The greatest impact of the actual raid was emotional. The dead of Scarborough, Hartepool, and Whitby were the first English people killed on their own soil by foreign enemies for some 200 years. British propaganda made great play about the deaths of innocents. "Remember Scarborough" - Whitby was too puny and Hartepool, perhaps, too grimy and, after all, a legitimate target - became a slogan for recruiters and war-fund drives.

The public was enraged at the German attacks but not pleased with the Royal Navy, either. Most of the RN didn't understand how lucky they were in that; the public didn't know about the Room 40 intercepts, or that it might have been possible to intercept the German raiders before they reached their targets. Had this information been public at the time the furor might have been insurmountable, a testimony to the later observation about the necessity of a "bodyguard of lies" for truths such as the Navy's intelligence program.

Within the Royal Navy Beatty blamed Goodenough for his bad decision but passed over his own signal officer's mistake; he would pay for this when Seymour would make more critical errors at both Dogger Bank in 1915 and Jutland in 1916. Arbuthnot was never censured for his hesitation, Warrender retired for health reasons in 1915. Beatty remained a popular hero and untouchable within the Navy.

Furious at not ensnaring Hipper's battlecruisers the British never suspected how close they had come to a disaster of their own; not until much later in the war did the Royal Navy suspect how close the twenty-two battleships of the High Seas Fleet had been to their ten capital ships, how thin the margin of their own survival had been.

In general the German public considered the Raid a great success. The haughty British had received a taste of war, and the Imperial Navy had swaggered across the North Sea and back with impunity.

Inside that Navy, however, many officers were not satisfied. The old doyenne of the Kaiserliche Marine, ADM Tirpitz, VADM Scheer, and Hipper himself considered that Ingenohl's retreat had thrown away a mighty opportunity to smash an arm of the Grand Fleet. Even the Emperor lectured his commander. "The effort to preserve the fleet..." the All-Highest prosed to ADM Ingenohl "...must under no circumstances be carried so far that favorable prospects of a success are missed owing to possible losses." (Massie, p. 359-360)

Ingenohl remained in command. The Berliner Borzeitung claimed "...the bombardment possibly heralds greater events to come." (Massie, 2004, p. 359)

No more coastal raids were ever carried out.

What might Have Happened?

I believe that had ADM Ingenohl held his course a general engagement between the High Sea Fleet and the British Battle Cruiser Fleet and 2nd Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet would have taken place around dawn on 16 DEC 1914. While it is difficult to predict the fates of individuals and ships the weight of metal was so overwhelmingly in favor of the German force that it is difficult to believe that either of the British units would have escaped without significant loss, especially from the Battle Cruiser Fleet.


1. Armor Protection and Ship Type

The conventional "story" is that the British battlecruisers were disastrously underarmored; that Fisher's "speed is armor" philosophy led to a class of vessels without enough armor to protect themselves and as a result three were lost at Jutland along with almost every man in their crews, over 3,000 lives.

It is true that the battlecruiser was a flawed concept. Constructing a large, battleship-like, vessel, armed with battleship-caliber cannons, with the intent of then keeping this vessel out of battleship combat was a fool's notion. Even by WW1 I think this was being realized; you only have to look at the so-called "fast battleships" of the mid-war years, the Queen Elizabeth-class in Britain and the Bayern-class in Germany. These ships had a battlecruiser's speed but without the reduction in armor, armament, or internal protection.

How important was this? Look at the record of the two types at Jutland.

The battleships of the 5th Battle Squadron followed the battle cruisers. HMS Malaya was hit seven times, including one directly on top of her "X" Turret, Warspite 13 times, Barham six times. None of these hit resulted in significant damage.

Three British battlecruisers; Invincible, Indefatigable, and Queen Mary, were all sunk by gunfire at Jutland, at least two of them to fewer than 5 hits from heavy cannon rounds.

2. Ammo Handling and Propellant Type

But I think the the real problem went beyond just armoring; indeed, German battlecruisers proved much better-designed and better-armored but could still be holed by 11-inch and larger shells. Lützow was lost at Jutland and Seydlitz suffered tremendous damage there and at Dogger Bank, as well. Derfflinger took a hell of a hammering at Jutland and survived.

In fact, I believe that in December 1914 the propellant characteristics and shell handling procedures of the RN battleships and, especially, battlecruisers were dangerously inadequate. This is well discussed in Ott (2010) as well as Stille (2013), and I will try and summarize their work here.

The British and German navies both used a nitrocellulose-based propellant. The British version was known as cordite and came in the form of cords or sticks, like some sort of explosive Slim Jim.

The British also used a form of naval gun breech that allowed the propellant charges to be stored in cloth - usually silk - bags. These bags were kept inside metal containers in the magazines to help prevent flash fire. Prior to sending the propellant and igniters up the shell hoists to the turret the bags had to be taken out of the metal boxes and the igniters stripped out of their paper containers.

But this took time, and the British gun crews were drilled that rate of fire was the most critical part of naval gunnery. The ammo handlers therefore commonly stripped the propellant out of the containers and even stacked them outside the doors to the magazines. Doors were propped open and flashtight shutters either opened or not installed around the hoists.

The British cordite propellant also had a much faster burn rate than the German propellant. German propellant burned; cordite exploded.

3. Gunnery

German naval gunnery was consistently better throughout WW1. Just an example: at Jutland the British Battle Cruiser Fleet fired a total of 1,842 main gun rounds at their German targets for a total of 37 hits - a success rate of 2.01%. If you subtract the performance of the 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron (fresh from gunnery exercises at Scapa Flow) this drops to 1.43% - 21 hits for 1,469 rounds fired.

The 5th Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet fired 1,099 rounds and scored 29 hits; 2.64% - if you add that to the battle cruisers' total you get an overall British gunnery accuracy of 2.24%.
During that time Hipper's I. Aufklärungsgruppe battlecruisers fired 1,670 rounds and scored 65 hits, 3.89 percent, or 1.7 times the British hit ratio.

German capital ships proved consistently quicker to establish the correct range to their targets and better at hitting those targets consistently, despite not using a central fire direction control system. At Dogger Bank the three battlecruisers and the armored cruiser Blücher of the 1st Scouting Group scored 22 hits on the four British battlecruisers. Aside from the hits that sank Blücher the Battle Cruiser Fleet put only six other rounds on target.

Combine all these factors:

The lack of protection to the British battle cruisers, poor ammunition handling procedures, highly combustible propellants, more accurate German gunnery, and the overwhelming advantage in numbers (22 battleships against 6 and the evenly matched battlecruiser numbers) and it is hard not to imagine that the High Seas Fleet might have won a smashing victory that day.

But...there was no battle.

What about the other counterfactual? What if Beatty had held his course and met Hipper's squadron emerging from the minefield gap?

Even assuming that something like Jutland happens and the German battlecruisers destroy, say, New Zealand and Queen Mary at the cost of Blücher badly wrecked, could Beatty have held onto the 1st Scouting Group long enough to let the 2nd Battle Squadron come up and pile on?

Remember, the Orions and KGVs were only 21 knot battleships. Assuming that British gunnery was no better in December 1914 than it was in 1916 I have to suspect that Hipper's big ships would have put the hammer down and escaped - probably losing the poor armored cruiser as they did at the real Dogger Bank.

Regardless of which example we take, a combination of poor planning, faulty decision-making, and bad luck combined to prevent the German fleet from trapping the British force, and then the British from trapping the German battle cruisers. And, most importantly, the Grand Fleet, and the Royal Navy forces ringing the North Sea, remained in place, dangerous as ever, and Germany's strategic position remained unchanged.

We know the rest; the failure of the High Seas Fleet to change the naval balance, the turn to the submarines, the "unrestricted" U-boot campaign that helped bring the United States into the war and help bring about the defeat of Germany and the Central Powers.

It is difficult now to say whether a smashing German naval victory at Dogger Bank in December 1914 would have turned the tide of the Great War.

But it might have nudged the flow sideways a bit.

We will never know.

What this non-battle reminds me is how often the affairs of men and states turn on the acts of one individual.

Had Ingenohl kept his course another half hour...had Beatty not turned east...had Jellicoe insisted on sortieing the entire Grand Fleet...had Goodenough signalled his contact with Hipper's entire cruiser screen, and had Seymour been better at his job...what might have happened instead of what did, fleets and squadrons passing in the cold rain and the mist, searching fruitlessly the gray waters of the restless sea.

Touchline Tattles: As is often the case in war, even the humorous tales to emerge from the events of 16 DEC are a grim sort of humor.

After the bombardment a coronor's inquest was held in Scarborough on Friday, 18 DEC, as is required whenever a British subject dies suspiciously or by violence. The Scarborough newspapers reported that :
"Mr Plummer Yoeman, Chairman of the Jury, stated "it was a murderous attack which caused all these deaths, a murderous attack on an unfortified town, and all the world should know".
and asked the coroner if the jury could not bring in a finding of murder.

The coroner
"replied that if the jury returned a verdict of murder, he 'would have to go through the formality of binding the police over to prosecute someone'. The persons responsible, he pointed out, were the officers of the German ships, and, as the jury was bound to recognize, these persons were unavailable. Frustrated, the prosecutors terminated the proceedings." (Massie, 2004, p. 327)
Supposedly the "Sandside Mission for Seamen" kept a parrot; I have no idea why other than perhaps the notion that parrots and sailors went together. The story goes that Pol Parrot was a talking bird and jabbered away volubly until the German shells started landing.

After that it never spoke again - perhaps Scarborough's first victim of shellshock.