At 2.20 p.m. reports were received from Galatea, the light cruiser stationed on the eastward flanks, indicating the presence of enemy vessels. The direction of advance was immediately altered to S. S. E., the course for Horn Reef, so as to place my force between the enemy and his base. At 2.35 p.m, a considerable amount of smoke was sighted to the eastward. This made it clear that the enemy was to the northward and eastward and that it would be impossible for him to round the Horn Reef without being brought to action. Course was accordingly altered to eastward and northeastward, the enemy being sighted at 3.31 p.m. They appeared to be five battle cruisers.
After the first report of the enemy the 1st and 3rd Light Cruiser Squadrons changed their direction and without waiting for orders spread to the east, thereby forming a screen in advance of the Battle Cruiser Squadrons and 5th Battle Squadron by the time we had hauled up to the course of approach. They engaged enemy light cruisers at long range. In the meantime the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron had come in at high speed and was able to take station ahead of the battle cruisers by the time we turned E.S.E., the course on which we first engaged the enemy. In this respect the work of the light cruiser squadrons was excellent and of great value.
From a report from Galatea at 2.25 p.m. it was evident that the enemy force was considerable and not merely an isolated unit of light cruisers, so at 2.45 p.m. I ordered Engadine to send up a seaplane and scout to N.N.E. At 3.08 p.m. a seaplane was well under way; her first reports of the enemy were received in Engadine about 3.30 p.m. Owing to clouds it was necessary to fly very low, and in order to identify four enemy light cruisers the plane had to fly at a height of 900 feet within 3,000 yards of them, the light cruisers opening fire on her with every gun that would bear. This in no way interfered with the clarity of reports, which indicate that seaplane under such circumstance are of distinct value.
At 3.30 p. m. I increased speed to 25 knots and formed line of battle, the 2nd Battle Cruiser Squadron forming astern of the 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron, with destroyers of the 13th and 9th Flotillas taking station ahead. I turned to E.S.E., slightly converging on the enemy, who were not at a ran ge of 3,000 yards, and formed the ships on a line of bearing to clear the smoke. The 5th Battle Squadron, who had conformed to our movements, were now bearing N.N.W., 10,000 yards. The visibility at this time was good, the sun behind us, and the wind S.E. Being between the enemy and his base, our situation was both tactically and strategically good.
At 3.48 p.m. the action commenced at a range of 18,500 yards, both forces opening fire practically simultaneously. Course was altered to the southward, and subsequently the mean direction was S.W.E., the enemy steering a parallel course distant about 18,000 to 14,500 yards.
It would appear that at this time we passed through a screen of enemy submarines. The destroyer Landrail of 9th Flotilla, who was on our port beam trying to take station ahead, sighted the periscope of a submarine on her port quarter. Though causing considerable inconvenience from smoke, the presence of Lydiard and Landrail undoubtedly preserved the battle cruisers from closer submarine attack. Nottingham also reported a submarine on the starboard beam.
Eight destroyers of the 13th Flotilla, Nestor, Nomad, Nicator, Narborough, Pelican, Petard. Obdurate. Nerissa, with Moorsom and Morris of 10th Flotilla, Turbulent and Termagant of the 9th Flotilla, having been ordered to attack the enemy with torpedoes when opportunity offered, moved out at 4.15 p.m. simultaneously with a similar movement on the part of the enemy. The attack was carried out in the most gallant manner and with great determination. Before arriving at a favorable position to fire torpedoes, they intercepted an enemy force consisting of a light cruiser and 15 destroyers. A fierce engagement ensued at close quarters, with the result that the enemy was forced to retire on their battle cruisers, having lost two destroyers sunk, and having their torpedo attack frustrated. (Some torpedoes were fired by the enemy two of which crossed the track of the 5th Battle Squadron, which had been turned away to avoid the attacks.) Our destroyers sustained no loss in this engagement, but their attack on the enemy battle cruisers was rendered less effective owing to some of the destroyers having dropped astern during the fight. Their position was therefore unfavorable for torpedo attack.
Nestor, Nomad and Nicator pressed home their attack on the battle cruisers and fired two torpedoes at them at a range of 6,000 and 5,000 yards, being subjected to a heavy fire from the enemy's secondary armament. Nomad was badly hit and apparently remained stopped between the lines. (She was sunk later by the German Battle Fleet.) Subsequently Nestor and Nicator altered course to the S.E., and in a short time the opposing battle cruisers having turned 16 points, found themselves within close range of a number of enemy battleships. Nothing daunted, though under a terrific fire, they stood on, and their position being favorable for torpedo attack, fired a torpedo at the second ship of the enemy line at a range of 3,000 yards. Before they could fire their fourth torpedo, Nestor was badly hit and swung to starboard, Nicator altering course inside her to avoid collision and thereby being prevented from firing the last torpedo. Nicator made good her escape and subsequently rejoined the 13th Flotilla. Nestor remained stopped, but was afloat when last seen. (She was sunk later by the German Battle Fleet.) Moorsom also carried out an attack on the enemy's Battle Fleet.
Petard, Nerissa, Turbulent and Termagant also pressed home their attack on the enemy battle cruisers, firing torpedoes at 7,000 yards after the engagement with enemy destroyers Petard reports that all her torpedoes must have crossed the enemy's line, while Nerissa states that one torpedo appeared to strike the rear ship. These destroyer attacks were indicative of the spirit pervading His Majesty's Navy, and were worthy of its highest traditions.
From 4.15 to 4.43 p.m. the conflict between the opposing battle cruisers was a very fierce and resolute character. The 5th Battle Squadron was engaging the enemy's rear ships, unfortunately at very long range. Our fire began to tell, the accuracy and rapidity of that of the enemy depreciating considerably. At 4.18 p.m. the third enemy ship was seen to be on fire. The visibility to the north-eastward had become considerably reduced and the outline of the ships very indistinct.
At 4.26 p.m. there was a violent explosion in Queen Mary ; she was enveloped in clouds of gray smoke and disappeared. Eighteen of her officers and men were subsequently picked up by Laurel.
At 4.38 p.m. Southampton reported the enemy's Battle Fleet ahead. The destroyers were recalled, and at 4.42 p.m. the enemy's Battle Fleet was sighted S.E. Course was altered 16 points in succession to starboard. and I proceeded on a northerly course to l ead them towards the Grand Fleet. The enemy battle cruisers altered course shortly afterwards, and the action continued. Southampton with the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron held on to the southward to observe. They closed to within 13,000 yards of the enemy battle fleet and came under a very heavy but ineffective fire. Southampton's reports were most valuable.
The 5th Battle Squadron were now closing on an opposite course and engaging the enemy battle cruisers with all guns. The position of the enemy Battle Fleet was communicated to them, and I ordered them to alter course 16 points. Led by Rear Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas, M.V.O., in Barham, this squadron supported us brilliantly and effectively.
At 4.57 p.m. the 5th Battle Squadron turned up astern of me and came under the fire of the leading ships of the enemy Battle Fleet. Fearless, with the destroyers of 1st Flotilla, joined the battle cruisers, and, when speed admitted, took station ahead. Champion, with 13th Flotilla, took station on the 5th Battle Squadron. At 5 p.m. the 1st and 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron, which had been following me on the southerly course, took station on my starboard bow; the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron took station on my port quarter.
The weather conditions now became unfavorable, our ships being silhouetted against a clear horizon to the westward, while the enemy were for the most part obscured by mist, only showing up clearly at intervals. These conditions prevailed until we had turned their van at about 6 p.m.
Between 5 and 6 p.m. the action continued on a northerly course, the range being about 14,000 yards. During this time the enemy received very severe punishment, and undoubtedly one of their battle cruisers quitted the line in a considerably damaged condition. This came under my personal observation and was corroborated by Princess Royal and Tiger. Other enemy ships also showed signs of increasing injury.
At 5.05 p.m. Onslow and Moresby who had been detached to assist Engadine with the seaplane, rejoined the battle cruiser squadrons and took station on the starboard (engaged) bow of Lion. At 5.10 p.m. Moresby, being 2 points before the beam of the leading enemy ship. fired a torpedo at the 3rd in their line. Eight minutes later she observed a hit with a torpedo on what was judged to be the 6th ship in the line. Moresby then passed between the lines to clear the range of smoke, and rejoined Champion. In corroboration of this, Fearless reports having seen an enemy heavy ship heavily on fire at about 5.10 p.m., and shortly afterwards a huge cloud of smoke and steam similar to that which accompanied the blowing up of Queen Mary and Indefatigable.
At 5.35 p.m. our course was N.N.E. and the estimated position of the Grand Fleet was N. 16 W., 80 we gradually hauled to the northeastward keeping the range of the enemy at 14,000 yards. He was gradually hauling to the westward, receiving severe punishment at the head of his line, and probably acting on information received from his light cruisers which had sighted and were engaged with the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron. Possibly Zeppelins were present also. At 5.50 p.m. British cruisers were sighted on the port bow, and at 5.56 p.m. the leading battleships of the Grand Fleet bearing north 5 miles. I thereupon altered course to east and proceeded at utmost speed. This brought the range of the enemy down to 12,000 yards. I made a report to the Commander-in-Chief that the enemy battle cruiser bore southeast. At this time only three of the enemy battle cruisers were visible, closely followed by battle ships of the Konig class.
At 6.25 p.m. I altered course to the E.S.E. in support of the Light Battle Cruiser Squadron, who were at this time only 8,000 yards from the enemy's leading ship. They were pouring a hot fire into her, and caused her to turn to the westward of south. At the same time, I made a visual report to the Commander-in-Chief of the bearing and distance of the enemy Battle Fleet. At 6.33 p.m. Invincible blew up.
After the loss of the Invincible, the squadron was led by Inflexible until 6.50 p.m. By this time the battle cruisers were clear of our leading battle squadron, then bearing about N.N.W. 3 miles, and I ordered the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron to prolong the line astern and reduced to 18 knots. The visibility at this time was very indifferent, not more than 4 miles, and the enemy ships were temporarily lost sight of.
From the report of Rear-Admiral T. D. W. Napier, M.V.O., the Third Light Cruiser Squadron, which had maintained its station on our starboard bow well ahead of the enemy, at 6.25 p.m. attacked with the torpedo. Falmouth and Yarmouth both fired torpedoes at the leading enemy battle cruiser, and it is believed that one torpedo hit, as a heavy under-water explosion was observed. The Third Light Cruiser Squadron then gallantly attacked the heavy ships with gunfire, with impunity to themselves, thereby demonstrating that the fighting efficiency of the enemy had been seriously impaired. Rear Admiral Napier deserves great credit for his determined and effective attack. Indomitable reports that about this time one of the Derfflinger class fell out of the enemy's line.
Meanwhile, at 6 p.m. Canterbury had engaged enemy light cruisers which were firing heavily on the torpedo-boat destroyers Shark, Acasta and Christopher ; as a result of this engagement the Shark was sunk.
At 6.16 p.m. Defense and Warrior were observed passing down between the British and German Battle Fleets under a very heavy fire. Defense was seen to blow up and Warrior passed to the rear disabled. It is probable that Sir Robert Arbuthnot, during his engagement with the enemy's light cruisers and in his desire to complete their destruction, was not aware of the approach of the enemy's heavy ships, owing to the mist, until he found himself in close proximity to the main fleet, and before he could withdraw his ships they were caught under a heavy fire and disabled. It is not known when Black Prince, of the same squadron, was sunk, but as a wireless signal was received from her between 8 and 9 p.m. reporting the position of a submarine, it is possible that her loss was the result of a torpedo attack. There is much strong evidence of the presence of a large number of enemy submarines in the vicinity of the scene of the action.
At about 6.05 p.m. Onslow, being on the engaged bow of Lion, sighted an enemy light cruiser at a distance of 6,000 yards from us, apparently endeavoring to attack with torpedoes. Onslow at once closed and engaged her, firing 58 rounds at a range of from 4,000 to 2,000 yards, scoring a number of hits. Onslow then closed the enemy battle cruisers, and orders were given for all torpedoes to be fired. At this moment she was struck amidships by a heavy shell, with the result that only one torpedo was fired. Thinking that all his torpedoes had gone, the commanding officer proceeded to retire at slow speed. Being informed that he still had three torpedoes, he closed the light cruiser previously engaged and torpedoed her. The enemy's Battle Fleet was then sighted, and the remaining torpedoes were fired at them; having started correctly, they must have crossed the enemy's attack. Damage then caused Onslow to stop.
At 7.15 p.m. Defender, whose speed had been reduced to 10 knots, while on the disengaged side of the battle cruisers, was struck by a shell which damaged her foremost boiler, but closed Onslow and took her in tow. Shells were falling all round them during this operation, which, however, was successfully accomplished. During the heavy weather of the ensuing night the tow parted twice, but was resecured. The two struggled on together until 1p.m. 1st June, when Onslow was transferred to tugs. I consider the performances of these two destroyers to be gallant in the extreme, and I am recommending Lieutenant-Commander J. C. Tovey of Onslow, and Lieutenant Commander Palmer of Defender, for special recognition....
Here I should like to bring to your notice the action of a destroyer (name unknown) which we passed close in a disabled condition soon after 6 p.m. She apparently was able to struggle ahead again; and made straight for the Derfflinger to attack her. The incident appeared so courageous that it seems desirable to investigate it further.
Between 7 and 7.12 p.m. we hauled round gradually to S.W. by S. to regain touch with the enemy and at 7.14 p.m. again sighted them at a range of about 15,000 yards. The ships sighted at this time were two battle cruisers and two battleships, apparently of the Konig class. No doubt more continued the line to the northward, but that was all that could be seen. The visibility having improved considerably as the sun descended below the clouds, we re-engaged at 7.17 p.m. and increased speed to 22 knots. At 7.32 p.m. my course was S.W., speed 18 knots, the leading enemy battleship bearing N.W. by W. Again after a very short time the enemy showed signs of punishment, one ship being on fire while another appeared to drop right astern. The destroyers at the head of the enemy's line emitted volumes of gray smoke, covering their capital ships as with a pall, under cover of which they undoubtedly turned away, and at 7.45 p.m. we lost sight of them.
At 7.58 p.m. I ordered the First and Third Light Cruiser Squadrons to sweep to the westward and locate the head of the enemy's line, and at 8.20 p.m. we altered course to west in support. We soon located two battle cruisers and battleships, and more heavily engaged at a short range of about 10,000 yards. The leading ship was hit repeatedly by Lion and turned away 8 points, emitting very high flames and with a heavy list to port. Princess Royal set fire to a three-funneled battleship; New Zealand and Indomitable report that the third ship, which they both engaged, hauled out of the line, heeling over and on fire. The mist which now came down enveloped them, and Falmouth reported they were last seen at 8.38 p.m. steaming to the westward, an explosion on board a ship of the Kaiser class being seen at 8.40 p.m.