SMS Seydlitz – Operational History II

Conclusions after the Dogger Bank Battle

After the near-catastrophic hit on Seydlitz there was a searching inquiry into what had happened and why. As Kapitän zur See Egidy put it:

Afterwards, a thorough examination showed that everything had been done in accordance with regulations. I told the gunnery officer: ‘If we lose 190 men and almost the whole ship in accordance with regulations, then they are somehow wrong.’ So we made technical improvements and changed our methods of training as well as the regulations.

After the investigation a series of conclusions were detailed in a report signed by Flottenchef Admiral von Ingenohl. The report opened:

The detonation effect of the shell was mainly against the rooms outside the barbette and on the Zwischendeck. Only stray pieces of armour and flash flame seem to have penetrated into the barbette. Shell-parts were not found in the working chamber … In the working chamber the fore charges and main charges present were ignited by the shot, either through the flash of the shell detonation or by the hot fragments of the barbette armour. The flames struck upwards into the turret and below into the munition room, and ignited the powder in both.

Obviously, with the first burst of flames, the men in the munitions room fled forward to the cartridge loading room of turret C, and of the double doors that led there the first opened to aft, and the second opened forwards. The second was carried away as though from gas pressure. In this manner the flash flames penetrated into the cartridge loading room of turret C, and the powder munition found there was ignited and in this manner flashed into the surrounding rooms and up towards the guns.

Of the fore charges, all those out of their packing tins had burnt, as had those in their tins that were open. Of the main charges, only those outside their tins burnt, although the heat in the chamber was so intense that in some cases the zinc of the tins had melted in places. No armour-piercing shells detonated. The following conclusions were reached:

The munition in the working chamber represented a danger to the turret, and this should be changed, as intended with the 38cm guns.

The shell and cartridge hoists (elevators) must be equipped with doors which automatically close themselves with the passing of the hoist.

The fore charges must be protected again flash until they are up to the gun.

The main charges must be protected by a cover. The cover will only be removed prior to loading.

New ships must be equipped with separate munition rooms for each turret. The doors between the ammunition rooms for adjacent turrets of the ship, when in service, must be locked with padlocks, to prevent premature opening. The key to the locks must be with the turret Offizier during battle. The order to open may only be given when all the munition from the turret is fired.

The cartridge tin covers may only be removed when the cartridge is required. The present type of fastener (screw clasps) were presumably loosened before the beginning of the battle. For the future an improved type of fastener is required, the bayonet clasp.

The ready cartridges in the heavy turrets must be prevented from piling up. Armour-piercing shells have proved to be neutral in the existing cases of fire. High-explosive shells are in question after the experience of SMS Goeben. Therefore, high explosive cannot be recommended for the ready munition of the heavy artillery.

No more fore charges than main charge cartridges.

The report went on to say that after flooding, the water in the munition chambers penetrated neighbouring compartments through ventilation shafts, and therefore each watertight compartment should have its own ventilation shafts. The aft part of the ship lay 1.05m deeper in the water, and as the stern was also sucked lower at high speed there was a danger that further hits could cause flooding above the waterline. This problem could have been alleviated if there were means to drain the munitions chambers after they were flooded.

It was also recommended that the elevation of the gun mountings be increased, therefore increasing the range of the guns, including new ships as well.

Most of these recommendations were acted upon before the next major action.

Seydlitz remained under repair until 1 April 1915, when at 13.35 she cast off and went to anchor in Wilhelmshaven Roads, where she remained until 4 April, when at 23.30 she weighed anchor and steered to Brunsbüttel for the canal trip to the east. After passing through the southern lock, Seydlitz began the canal trip at 05.30 on 5 April and made fast to buoy A10 in Kiel at 17.50 that afternoon. A period of training was undertaken in Kiel Bay until 10 April, which included torpedo firing, calibre shooting to test the new RW equipment and night shooting. On 11 April at 07.30 Seydlitz began the journey back to the west, but fog on the Elbe River caused a delay so that she did not arrive in Schillig Roads until 06.20 on 13 April.

As Seydlitz’s war diary records, she weighed anchor at 21.10 on 17 April to conduct War Task 26, the support of a minelaying operation in the North Sea. The night was clear with a half-moon as the I AG advanced to the west, before at 05.30 the II AG was sighted ahead and shortly afterwards a turn was made to the ENE. From 09.30 to noon evolutions were undertaken with the fleet and at 19.10 Seydlitz anchored once more in Wilhelmshaven Roads.

At 23.50 on 21 April 1915 Seydlitz weighed anchor and steered down the Jade in accordance with Operational Order 27. After advancing towards the Dogger Bank at 10.30 a turn was made back to the SE and from 14.30 to 17.00 evolutions were carried out in the German Bight. At 21.44 she anchored in Wilhelmshaven Roads. Periods on picket duty and short intervals of dockyard time followed until mid-May.

At 19.00 on 17 May she weighed anchor and steered in accordance with Operational Order 23, the laying of a mine barrier on the Dogger Bank by cruisers Graudenz and Stralsund. At 03.30 on the following morning the II AG came in sight directly ahead, and that afternoon evolutions were carried out before she returned to Wilhelmshaven Roads at 19.30.

On 29 May at 22.00 Seydlitz weighed anchor and put to sea in accordance with Operational Order 28, escorting the auxiliary cruiser Meteor to sea. After this task was carried out the I AG continued to the west before making a turn onto course E by S at 09.17. At 14.57 in square 099 epsilon Moltke reported a submerged submarine and Seydlitz turned away at 20kts. After that the I AG ran in and at 20.00 anchored in Wilhelmshaven Roads. Dockyard periods, picket duty and shooting practices followed, and on 8 June the heavy-calibre artillery carried out a shoot with full charges to test the RW equipment. Further shooting trials were carried out on 15 and 18 June.

On 25 June at 18.47 Seydlitz weighed anchor and steered from Schillig Roads towards the Elbe with the 12 TBHF as anti-submarine screen. Early the following morning, at 01.40, she ran into the southern lock at Brunsbüttel and began the journey through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal to the east. At 02.30 as Seydlitz passed König, her undertow caused the battleship to pull her mooring lines so taut so that two bollards were torn loose. At 14.52 on 26 June the Panzerkreuzer made fast to buoy A10 in Kiel. A period of training followed, which included evolutions, torpedo firing, co-operation with torpedo-boat flotillas, searchlight training and shooting with heavy, medium and light artillery. At 04.30 on 2 July Seydlitz cast off from buoy A10 for the return trip to the North Sea, and she arrived in Wilhelmshaven Roads at 23.13 that evening. After that she went into the dockyard for two days and then carried out artillery training. On 15 July she went into the floating dock at Wilhelmshaven for a couple of days before returning to picket duty. At around this time noises were heard coming from a low-pressure turbine so on 18 July she entered the dockyard and had both low-pressure turbines opened for inspection. Work on the turbines continued until 31 July.

On 1 August Seydlitz cast off from the imperial dockyard and went to Wilhelmshaven Roads. That afternoon at 14.10 she weighed anchor and steered out for engine trials, returning at 16.45. On 2 August at 16.40 she weighed anchor and steered to the Elbe with von der Tann, anchoring in Altenbruch Roads at 22.14. Early the following morning, at 04.00, Seydlitz weighed anchor and ran into the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal and made fast at buoy A8 in Kiel at 18.45, where she remained until 6 August.

At 18.05 on 6 August 1915 she cast off from buoy A8 and ran out into a light mist with the I AG, in accordance with Operational Order 5 of the Oberbefehlshaber der Ostseestreitkräfte (OdO, or Commander in Chief of the Baltic Forces) Prinz Heinrich von Preußen. The aim of the operation was to break in to the Riga Gulf, and the I AG would screen the operation from possible interference by Russian heavy forces. In a freshening northerly breeze the unit made a course SE and ESE across the Baltic and by 22.30 were travelling through strong rain squalls at 15kts. The following day the advance continued, screened by the IX TBF and III TBF. That afternoon there was rain with visibility down to 5nm. On 8 August, the day of the intended break-in to the Riga Gulf, the I AG held to seawards steering up and down on a zigzag course. Even though the attack was called off later on 8 August the I AG remained in position and on the morning of 10 August Kolberg and von der Tann bombarded the Russian advance base on the island of Üto. At 05.50 Seydlitz sighted a Russian armoured cruiser with four funnels. At 05.56 von der Tann was observed to open fire on the cruiser, Bayan, and then on the shore batteries. Then suddenly at 06.05 a torpedo boat standing abeam Moltke gave five short blasts with her siren, the signal for a submerged submarine in sight, and fired a white starshell. After the conclusion of the bombardment the I AG steered away to the south and from 08.00, when the I Squadron came in sight, the I AG steered on a zigzag course to Danzig Bay, general course SSW.

On 11 August Seydlitz and the I AG arrived in Putziger Wiek and anchored, and after coaling awaited the recommencement of the operation. Kapitän zur See Egidy was concerned that Putziger Wiek, in Danzig Bay, did not provide adequate protection against submarines. The operation got underway again on 15 August in accordance with Operational Order 7. As the I AG advanced the I TBF and V TBF provided an anti-submarine screen. On 16 August the Panzerkreuzers stood off the Riga Gulf cruising on a zigzag course, and at 10.15 it was thought a submarine had been observed through a rangefinder. Then again on 17 August at 08.55 it was believed a surfaced submarine was sighted at a range of 80hm and the starboard medium-calibre artillery fired a salvo at it. The submarine quickly dived.

The I AG continued to cruise off the Riga Gulf during 18–19 August, but at 07.20 on 19 August Seydlitz sighted a torpedo track to starboard and immediately gave the siren and flag signal for a submerged submarine in sight. The torpedo missed Seydlitz but continued on and struck Moltke in the bows. As Kontreadmiral Hipper had intended to begin the return trip to Putziger Wiek about noon anyway, he determined to commence the retirement early to ascertain the damage to Moltke before continuing his operation. At about 04.20 on 20 August the three Panzerkreuzers of the I AG anchored in Putziger Wiek and immediately began coaling. After investigation of her hull by divers Moltke was dispatched to Hamburg for repairs, but for Seydlitz and von der Tann the operation would continue. At 20.00 on that same day, 20 August, they weighed anchor and steered NE, escorted by torpedo boats. During 21 August Seydlitz again patrolled off the Riga Gulf, and at 19.00 the return passage to Kiel was begun at a speed of 18kts, later reduced to 15kts, and after dark to 12kts. The voyage to Kiel continued during 22 August and at 05.22 on 23 August Seydlitz made fast to buoy A8 in Kiel harbour. Seydlitz lay in Kiel harbour from 23–27 August and then at 03.55 on 28 August began the return trip to the North Sea, anchoring in Schillig Roads at 21.35 that evening. A period in harbour followed.

On 9 September Seydlitz ran out to Wilhelmshaven Roads and the following day conducted a sub-calibre shoot in Schillig Roads, followed by BAK shooting.

Just two days later, on 11 September at 2013, she and the I AG weighed anchor and put to sea in accordance with secret Operational Order 30, the support of the II AG minelaying operation on the Swarte Bank. On a starless night Seydlitz proceeded to the west behind a screen consisting of Rostock with torpedo boats G37 and G38, whilst to starboard were V28, V29 and S34, and to port V27, S32 and S33. At 05.35 the leader of the II AG reported task complete, so at 05.40 a turn was made back to the German Bight. During the return trip a lot of drifting mines were reported and torpedo boat G196 struck one, but was towed back to Wilhelmshaven. At 20.59 Seydlitz anchored in Wilhelmshaven Roads. A period of picket duty and dockyard time followed and evolutions took place on 9 October.

In clear moonlight at 19.30 on 23 October Seydlitz weighed anchor and put to sea in the unit in accordance with Operational Order 31; 18 TBHF formed an antisubmarine screen. The Panzerkreuzers continued to the north and then NW before at 06.00 on 24 October a turn was made to put them on a reciprocal course. At 08.53 it was reported that a British submarine had fired a torpedo at Hamburg, which had missed. A short time later, at 09.29, there was a torpedo attack on Rostock, and then twenty minutes later von der Tann reported a torpedo track to starboard. The torpedo attacks on Hamburg and Rostock were carried out by the submarine E6. The first torpedo, at 08.35, was fired from point-blank range from a beam tube, but passed under the cruiser. The next, at Rostock, was fired from 300yds range from the bow tube at 09.20. In his report the British commander said that he observed that the German cruisers had their aft funnels painted red, which, he said, made them appear like merchant ships. At 17.36 Seydlitz anchored in Wilhelmshaven Roads.

The remainder of October and November 1915 were occupied with the usual picket duty, gunnery practice, BAK shooting at airborne targets and periods in the dockyard. At 04.15 on 24 November Seydlitz began a journey to the Baltic and arrived at buoy A11 in Kiel at 16.53 that afternoon. A period of training followed, employing the various arms and including night shooting and trials with starshells. At 08.00 on 4 December she cast off from buoy A11 and ran into the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal for the return journey to the North Sea and made fast in the north lock of Brunsbüttel at 19.35. As Seydlitz ran out of this lock at 20.26 she ran onto a torpedo protection net which had not been opened for her to pass. The Panzerkreuzer immediately anchored with her stern anchor, but was stuck fast on Dalben Bank. Four tugs came to her assistance. After that divers found that a starboard propeller was entangled in the net which had to be cut clear. Seydlitz did not arrive in Wilhelmshaven Roads until 05.14 on 6 December 1915. On 9 December she went into the floating dock at Wilhelmshaven for inspection of the propeller, but no damage was found. The remainder of December was taken up with picket duty and some dockyard time; a short advance was, however, made to Amrum Bank with the I AG on 30 December.

The year of 1916 began in much the same way as 1915 finished, with more picket duty and dockyard time, accompanied by a period of poor weather. On 17 January evolutions were undertaken in the German Bight. On 11 February at 01.20 Seydlitz and the I AG put to sea to support the II TBF, which was embroiled with British forces, returning at 13.35. A short trip into the Helgoland Bight followed on 28 February.

At 23.30 on 3 March Seydlitz led the I AG, IV AG and I Squadron out to Amrum Bank to welcome home the auxiliary cruiser Möve and at 06.00 on 4 March she was met off Horns Reef. At 15.25 Seydlitz again anchored in Wilhelmshaven Roads. At 20.30 on 5 March she weighed anchor and steered to the west for an operation into the Hoofden. Half an hour later there was a short snowstorm, and then conditions cleared. At dawn the IX TBF went ahead as anti-submarine cover, with the II AG and IV TBF ahead of them. By 09.55 on 6 March the German cruisers had reached a position between Norfolk and Holland where they made a turn and towards 13.30 sighted the main body of the High Sea Fleet. There was no enemy contact, just numerous neutral, probably Dutch, trawlers. On 7 March at 09.10 an enemy submarine was sighted to port at a range of 500m and Seydlitz turned away at 18kts. That afternoon Seydlitz ran into Wilhelmshaven imperial dockyard.

On 17 March at 14.06 Seydlitz weighed anchor and began the trip to the Elbe, but was delayed en route because of fog. Only on the following day at 11.17 did she make fast in Brunsbüttel locks. Likewise the canal journey was delayed by fog and only at 11.45 on 19 March did she make fast to buoy A15 in Kiel harbour. A period of training followed and it is of particular interest that the emphasis seemed to be on calibre shooting and night calibre shooting. During this visit to Kiel the new Panzerkreuzer Lützow joined the I AG for the first time. Training continued until 24 March when the return to the North Sea began, arriving at Wilhelmshaven Roads at 08.40, 25 March. That same day Seydlitz interrupted her coaling and ran out into the North Sea as British destroyer forces and fliers had been reported from List. Seydlitz steered to the Amrum Bank passage, but owing to the strong swell, utilisation of the weapons was problematic. At 09.15 on 26 March a diving submarine was sighted 800m to port and the ship turned away to starboard. At 21.00 that night Seydlitz anchored in Wilhelmshaven Roads before later entering the dockyard early the following morning. On 29 March the ship entered the floating dock for planned overhaul work. This work continued until 14 April.

On 16 April 1916 Seydlitz made a brief advance in the unit before returning to Schillig Roads at 09.10. On 20 April information arrived that a British force had put to sea and was heading towards Horns Reef, and Vizeadmiral Scheer, believing it to be an expected attack on Tondern airship base, dispatched forces including Seydlitz, to sea to intercept the British. As Seydlitz, Lützow and von der Tann advanced early on the morning of 22 April the small cruiser Graudenz ran onto a mine at 00.30. At 05.20 V44 reported a submarine to port abeam and Seydlitz turned away to starboard. At 14.00 Seydlitz anchored in Wilhelmshaven Roads and began coaling.

The next large-scale operation was the bombardment of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft beginning on 24 April 1916. At 07.30 that day Seydlitz weighed anchor and moved from Wilhelmshaven to Schillig Roads. A conference of cruiser commanders followed at 08.45. As Vizeadmiral Hipper was on sick leave from 29 March until 15 May, Kontreadmiral Boedicker, normally commander of the II AG, was in command of the I AG. At 10.50 Seydlitz weighed anchor and the I AG ran out and steered to the west, screened by the IX TBF, and with the II AG ahead. Even though the I AG circumvented the known British minefields, at 15.48 Seydlitz struck a mine in grid square 104 epsilon, right upper. The detonation occurred on the starboard side between frames 130 and 140. The forecastle compartments XIV–XVI below the armoured deck filled with water. A mine-indicator buoy was cast overboard and the remainder of the I AG made a turn and ran east of the mine barrier located to the south. Seydlitz steered to the west of the barrier and, because an enemy submarine was believed to have been sighted, turned away to port. Later, there was another submarine alarm, though uncertain. The torpedo boats V69 and V45 were dispatched to Seydlitz from the II AG, so that by 17.15 her screen consisted of these two boats together with V28. At 18.50 a drifting mine was sighted to starboard. Only at 19.25 did Kontreadmiral Boedicker transfer to V28 to go to Lützow to continue the operation, and after passing the Britishmined area to the west, Seydlitz made for the east towards the river Ems. At 22.30 she encountered the westward-going main body and exchanged recognition signals with the leading ship, König. At 06.05 on 25 April the damaged Panzerkreuzer ran into the northern lock of the III Entrance and at 07.10 made fast at berth A4. The following day, 26 April, she moved to the floating dock for repairs.

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