The Great War, I was there - Part 7

It was difficult to distinguish the ensign. Both flags at a distance, especi­ally when fouled by funnel -fumes, appeared the same. I refer, of course, to the old imperial German ensign. South Gare, in consequence, hearing the firing and seeing what they thought to be three English cruisers attacked by Ger­man destroyers, for the Germans were only using their seaward, or starboard armaments swarmed onto the parapet and took what they thought were front stalls for a most interesting fight. Only when they saw later these same ships firing on the Hartlepool forts did they realize the mistake. By that time South Gare was out of range. ('"'Nut of the mist, and almost head-on at a range of only 4,000 yards, came the leading ship. Identification is diffi­cult under such conditions. In a few seconds the position was clarified. A large red light suddenly showed from the foremast of the Seydlitz, and the Germans opened immediately with some ranging rounds. The ships between them had twenty 11’2 guns, eight 8'2, eighteen 5‘9, besides a host of leaser armament available for“ port-side ”fire. To reply, we had three 6-inch, two at Hcugh and atone Lighthouse. All three German ships ranged quickly the forts even more speedily. The two guns in Heugh engaged the leading ship, while Lighthouse took on Bliicher, the last ship in the line, and the only one in the arc of fire from this battery. The third round from the Lighthouse was a “juicer." An immense sheet of flame upshot from the Blucher’s after-deck. The deck supply for one 5’9 had been detonated by our lyddite shell, and the effect passed onto the next gun, whose ammunition did ditto. Half the after -bridge was brought down, and eleven seamen killed. I mentioned the fact of it being low water. Both Heugh and Lighthouse are very low-sited batteries. The range was short, the mean range during the in­fighting being only 5,‘300 yards con­sequently the trajectories of the hostile guns, designed for fighting at 20,000 yards, were, at this distance, absolutely rigid, i.e. straight lines—the smallest error inlaying was amiss. Each 6-inch gun had to be hit to damage it, and each presents a relatively small target even at short range. Clods of earth and chunks of masonry there were in plenty, but the guns remained intact, though the three had several hair-breadth escapes. FORTS ESCAPE BUT PEOPLE DIE "To render things more difficult for the Germans, Colonel Robson, the Fire Commander, had a few days previously run a camouflage extension along the rear fort wall of Heugh. It agave jagged skyline from the sea—an appear­ance of false height. Tiiis and low water agave most exaggerated height to the battery, and the enemy projectiles hummed over—only just over—the work, to burst in the houses behind. Naturally, the enemy then shortened the range his shell burst justin front of the guns. Here the defences scored heavily, for he used delay armour- piercing projectiles, which struck to bounce and burst far over in the air. The pieces, however, killed and wounded many inhabitants, who were now in the streets and getting a move on for the country. A pilot cutter, becalmed half-way between the combatants, was in a somewhat unique position. The Germans left her alone. Her captain could actually see some of our six-inch projectiles whirring away after they had failed to penetrate the tough armour of the battle-cruisers. When the range was adjusted to hit the upper works, considerable damage was seen on funnels, etc. Voice :“Go o-n-n-n !Shove ’em through 1 Shove ’em through !Give the b---s hell !”Another Voice :“Mr. X. !Do stop dancing about, and save your breath for your gun corrections 1 ”The worst thing of all was seeing each ship momentarily lit up by a nasty yellow glare, that seemed to trickle along her side, and having to wait for the result. It was only a matter of a few seconds at that range. Each salvo as it arrived was preceded by an appalling“ onde-de-choc,’’ that curious double report which occurs when you are stationed inline with a high velocity gun at short or medium range. The shells were so low that the wind of each salvo knocked down any men that happened to be on the manning parade, and caps were snatched off heads and whirled away like leaves. AUDACIOUS ATTACKER OF ENGLAND'S COAST Out of the mist that hung above the sea and onshore the morning of December 16,1914, emerged-the bulky shapes of three great warships. Watchers speculated on their nationality. Then came the whine and crash of shells, and the Durham towns, the Hartlepools, awoke to the horror and shock of a German bombardment. Among the trio of enemy craft that carried out this surprise attack was the battle-cruiser Moltke, shown above. The Bliicher, third of the cruisers that attacked the Hartlepools, was sunk at the Dogger Bank battle six weeks later [seepage 292).260
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