HMS Engadine at Jutland
By Ian Burns (Member No. 46).
This is an an edited version of text from Ian Burns’ book The RNAS and the Birth of the Aircraft Carrier 1914-1918
The Battle of Jutland was the greatest naval battle of the First World War and the greatest of the Dreadnought era. Arguably, it was also the most indecisive. The battle brought together fifty eight dreadnought battleships and battlecruisers, countless cruisers and destroyers, and a single seaplane carrier. There could, and should, have been two seaplane carriers. Both Campania and Engadine are usually relegated to a footnote or a brief paragraph of two. Campania missed the battle for reasons outside the scope of this article. Wherever possible, original documents and memoirs have been used to try and construct a comprehensive account of Engadine’s battle.
By 28 May 1916 it was becoming clear to the staff at Room 40 OB that the High Sea Fleet was preparing a major operation. On the morning of 30 May, the code breakers had sufficient decodes to be confident that the High Sea Fleet would be sailing
that evening. At noon Jellicoe and Beatty were warned that the High Sea Fleet was expected to put to sea early on 31 May. At 5.40 pm the Admiralty instructed the two commanders that, ‘You should concentrate to Eastward of Long Forties ready for eventualities.’ The Long Forties lie in the middle of the North Sea between Aberdeen and the south west coast of Norway. In anticipation of the Admiralty telegram, at 5.40 pm Jellicoe sent the Grand Fleet assembled at Scapa Flow a preparatory signal for leaving Scapa Flow, at the same time he signalled Beatty, ‘Urgent. Raise steam.’
Engadine’s normal berth at Rosyth was close to the harbour of Granton, near the mouth of the Forth. Her captain at this time was Lt Cdr Charles Gwillim Robinson, RN, and his second in command was Lt Handcock, RNR, her prewar captain. She was attached to the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron, Rear Admiral Trevylyan D W Napier, a mixed squadron of several classes of light cruisers. Falmouth (flag), and Yarmouth were Weymouth Class (eight 6 inch guns), Gloucester (Bristol class – two 6 inch and ten 4 inch guns) and Birkenhead (originally ordered for Greece as Antinavarchos Kountouriotis, but taken over in August 1914 – ten 5.5 inch guns), all were capable of at least 25 knots. Capable of only 22 knots Engadine was one of the slowest units of the Battlecruiser Fleet.
On the morning of 30 May all hands were called and commenced coaling, taking 350 tons aboard in just two hours. At 6.01 pm Napier signalled his squadron, including Engadine, to raise steam for 22 knots and report when ready, he indicated that Falmouth would be ready by 8 pm At 8.50 pm Beatty signalled the Battlecruiser Fleet to begin leaving harbour at 9 pm Eight minutes later Napier informed Engadine that the ‘3rd LCS will pass [the Forth] bridge at 9.35 pm, form astern of Gloucester, 4th ship.’ They were passing the Isle of May at the mouth of the Firth of Forth by 11.30 pm, joining the Battlecruiser Fleet steaming easterly at 16 knots, later increasing to 18 knots.
For the next ten hours Engadine proceeded in company with the cruisers, approximately ten miles ahead of the main Battlecruiser Fleet. At times the seaplane carrier was leading the fleet, although well protected by the light cruisers around her. She was located between Inconstant, 1st LCS, to port and Falmouth, 3rd LCS, to starboard, in an area of less disturbed water and well positioned to send her floatplanes to scout ahead of the fleet. In her aft hangar were two Short 184s (8029 and 8359) and two Sopwith Babys (8175 and 8182). Early in the morning the weather was unsuitable for flying but at 11.25 am Engadine signalled directly to Beatty ‘Conditions suitable for large and small machines.’
Leading Signalman H Y Ganderton, stationed on Engadine’s bridge recalled.
By 2.20 pm we were approaching enemy waters, and everyone was on the alert. Inconstant and Cordelia had drawn a little ahead of their former position, when smoke was observed on the horizon, and very soon the masts and funnels of two vessels hove in sight on our port bow, just topping the skyline. The captain levelled his glasses at the strange ships and remarked that they appeared to be warships, when a shout came from the lower bridge, and a hurried scatter of feet as the Yeoman of Signals pushed his way past and ran up the ladder to the Captain with the message: “Enemy in sight, Sir. The signal flag is flying at the masthead of Inconstant.” “Thank you,” was the quiet reply.
These were probably the German large destroyers SMS B109 and SMS B110 which had been sighted a few minutes earlier by the cruiser Galatea and identified as cruisers.
Shortly afterward, at 2.31 pm, Napier ordered Engadine to ‘Close Battlecruisers.’ He repeated this with more emphasis six minutes later, ‘Two enemy Cruisers sighted about East. Take cover near battlecruisers.’ Robinson, possibly relutantly, turned Engadine to the north towards the main fleet, and increased speed to 22 knots. Undoubted relieved to be rid of his impediment, Napier was now free to head into danger. Just a minute after Napier’s first signal Beatty had ordered the Battlecruiser Fleet, ‘Alter course leading ships together the rest in succession to SSE.’ Engadine and Beatty were now closing at over forty knots.
Galatea meanwhile was shadowing the two vessels she had earlier reported. At 2.45 pm she signalled Beatty that the ‘Enemy apparently turned North.’
At 2.46 pm Beatty ordered Champion (Capt James Uchtred Farie, Commodore D), flotilla leader of the 13th Destroyer Flotilla, to ‘Send two Destroyers to Engadine.’ Farie detached Onslow (Lt Cdr John Cronyn Tovey, later Admiral of the Fleet Sir John) and Moresby (Lt Cdr Roger Vincent Alison), they joined Engadine about 3.30 pm
At 2.47 pm Beatty ordered Engadine, by searchlight, to ‘Send up Seaplanes to scout NNE. Am sending two Destroyers to you.’ He appears to have been acting on Galatea’s signal and wanted the floatplanes to scout along the reported track of the German ships. Engadine was now passing between the two battlecruiser squadrons that were Beatty’s main force. The two ships of the Second Battlecruiser Squadron, New Zealand and Indefatigable, were to her starboard and once past Indefatigable, Robinson turned the seaplane carrier quickly across her stern and headed north-east looking for calmer water before launching the Short.
The pilots on Engadine flew according to a rota and on this day it was the turn of Flt S/Lt Grahame Donald. As the enemy came into sight on the bridge, he was ‘Sitting in the cockpit, waiting for instructions, engine warming up, clad in flying gear, chain hooked on ready to hoist – we’d have been in the water and away in about a minute and a half. And just as I got my engine nicely warmed up unfortunately our Senior Flying Officer, Flight Lieutenant Rutland, appeared, waved me down and my observer and told me that he’d got the Captain’s sanction that he was to go. So my old Short Seaplane 8359 away she went – but without us.’
Robinson reported, ‘When in company with the Battlecruiser Fleet, Seaplane No. 8359 was hoisted out at 3.07 pm with Flight Lieutenant Frederick Joseph Rutland, RN as pilot, and Assistance Paymaster George Stanley Trewin, RN as observer, with orders to scout NNE for hostile ships, in accordance with your signal received on board at 2.40 pm. The delay in hoisting out Seaplane was caused through the Ship having to keep clear of the Cruisers.’ Engadine’s clocks were out of synchronisation with Lion’s, a not uncommon occurance when reading through the signal records.
Rutland, ‘I steered N10E and after about ten minutes sighted the enemy. Clouds were at 1000 to 1200 feet, with patches at 900 feet. This necessitated flying very low. On sighting the enemy it was very hard to tell what they were and so I had to close to within a mile and a half at a height of 1000 feet.’
Trewin reported, ‘The clouds were very low, which necessitated low flying and therefore reduced the range of visibility which varied from nil to four miles, except for one short spell when it was about 7-10 miles. During this brief break in the mist clouds, I sighted 3 Cruisers and 5 Destroyers at about 3.20 pm. We closed this Fleet and from their position and composition it appeared to be hostile.’ The exact location of Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet was not clearly known and the ships seen could have been from his scouting forces, any doubts were soon dispelled. ‘When we had closed them to about 1½ miles, flying at a height of 1000 feet, I saw more Destroyers, and then heard the reports of bursting shell and saw shrapnel bursts around us.’
The appearance of the Short came as a surprise to the Germans. Leutnant zur See Heinrich Bassange on SMS Elbing, a light cruiser attached to the II Scouting Group of the High Sea Fleet, had already been involved in the first exchange of fire in the Battle of Jutland, coming to the support of the two destroyers B109 and B110 which were being fired on by Galatea and Phaeton. With two more German cruisers, SMS Pillau and SMS Frankfurt, coming up to support Elbing, the British cruisers retired on the battlecruisers and the brief action was broken off. Around 3.30 pm, ‘a little enemy seaplane came up from the south east. We were much taken aback it was not known that there were any enemy planes at this time; it must have been kept aboard an enemy ship. We had never thought of this idea. The whole manoeuvre took about two minutes. The aircraft inspected us from front to back in length and then disappeared into the mist.’
Rutland. ‘When sighted they were steering a northerly course. I flew through several of the columns of smoke caused through bursting shrapnel. When the Observer had counted and got the disposition of the enemy and was making his W/T report, I sheered to about three miles, keeping the enemy well in sight. While the Observer was sending one message, the enemy turned 16 points. I drew his attention to this and he forthwith transmitted it.’
Trewin. ‘In the middle of my sending a W/T message, timed 1530, I saw the hostile Fleet altering course to due South. On completion of that message, I transmitted another, timed 1533, giving their alteration of course. The Seaplane altered course to the Southward and stood off them about 3 miles, in order to watch their movements and verify their compostion, sending messages timed 1545 and 1548.’
Rutland, on spotting the battlecruisers during a brief break in the weather, believed that their messages had got through owing to the dispostions and course of the ships. Engadine certainly received the messages, but she was the only vessel to read them. The sad tale is reported by Robinson.
The following signals were received from the Seaplane :
1530.- Three enemy Cruisers and 5 Destroyers, distance from me 10 miles bearing 90º, steering course to the N.W.
1533.- Enemy’s course is South.
1545.- Three enemy Cruisers and 10 Destroyers steering South.
1548.- Four enemy Cruisers and 10 Destroyers steering South.
The last signal was not received in the Ship, which I think was due to Seaplane descending at the time and the amount of other W/T going on. Attempts were made to pass these signals on to Lion by searchlight but this could not now be done as apparently she had already opened fire on the enemy. An attempt was also made to pass them through Barham but this failed also for the same reason.
Whilst Trewin was attempting to send the last message, the fuel pipe to the left front carburettor (the Sunbeam 225 hp V-12 Mohawk had four carburettors) fractured and the engine power fell significantly. Rutland had to make an emergency landing, with Trewin desperately winding in his long trailing aerial with one hand whilst continuing to transmit with the other. After landing, Rutland quickly repaired the fuel pipe with some rubber tubing carried for just this purpose. Engadine had come up whilst Rutland was working on the engine, and ordered them to taxy alongside to be hoisted in. The Short was hoisted in at 4.04 pm
After being ejected from his Short, Grahame Donald was given,
A kind of consolation prize for missing the main flight, I was put out on the aft deck in my Schneider-Cup machine to chivvy any Zeppelins which were expected to accompany the German Fleet. But as it happened no Zeppelins put in an appearance which was perhaps rather a good thing for me because by the time the sea got up a bit, if I’d tried to take the little Schneider fighter off I’m afraid it would have been one more crash like the Tondern job – only this time I wouldn’t have been able to be picked up. Because nobody can stop in the middle of a naval battle to pick people up.
Bad weather had kept the Zeppelins in their sheds on 30 May and the morning of 31 May, those that did get away in the afternoon saw nothing of the battle in the poor visibility. So Donald was spared his ducking.
Just eight minutes after hoisting in the Short, Lt Cdr Tovey of the escorting destroyer Onslow, signalled by semaphore, ‘Can you dispense with my services? If so, I will join 5th B.S.’ Clearly, hanging around the seaplane carrier was not to any destroyer man’s taste. Engadine replied, ‘Yes, certainly.’ The escort departed without further ado and the seaplane carrier followed the movements of the 5th Battle Squadron, new Queen Elizabeth class fast battleships, for several hours. Beatty by this time was too busy to give a thought to Engadine and any further aerial scouting and her moment in the spotlight was over, but she had one great role still to play.
The Battle of Jutland was not just a single massive clash of dreadnoughts. As the battle developed, weather conditions began to deteriorate, and the smoke from more than two hundred coal burning ships steaming at maximum speeds began to cloud the North Sea. Squadrons, flotillas and single ships became detached, many fighting their own isolated battles. One such engagement was fought by the 1st Cruiser Squadron, four ageing armoured cruisers Defence (flag, Rear Admiral Sir Robert Arbuthnot), Warrior (Capt Vincent Barkly Molteno), Duke of Edinburgh and Black Prince. The squadron had lost contact with Black Prince, but Arbuthnot led the three remaining ships towards the sound of battle, cutting across the bows of Beatty’s battlecruisers in the process. They attacked the crippled light cruiser SMS Wiesbaden, of the II Scouting Group, which had been previously mauled by the battlecruisers but was still capable of fighting back. Earlier she had hit Tovey’s Onslow in the engine room slowing the destroyer to a mere ten knots, undeterred Tovey lashed back and hit the cruiser with a single torpedo. Tovey sailed on and launched his final two torpedoes at the High Sea Fleet before turning away for home. Onslow was lucky to escape with just five casualties.
Whilst Arbuthnot concentrated on the crippled Wiesbaden, his own doom was fast approaching in the form of battlecruisers SMS Lützow and SMS Derfflinger. A few quick salvos and Defence blew up; there were no survivors from the 900 men aboard. Next in line Warrior now received the undivided attention of the two battlecruisers, hit fifteen times she survived and staggered off into the smoke of battle. Coming up behind, Duke of Edinburgh bore a charmed life, not seriously damaged she was able to escape under a self generated smoke screen, but almost collided with the Grand Fleet in this most confused of sea battles. Black Prince, separated from her squadron, met her private doom under the guns of the High Sea Fleet, taking her crew of 857 to their deaths. Duke of Edinburgh survived to reach Scapa Flow.
Wiesbaden, crippled and sinking, continued to fight a lonely and epic battle. Never giving in, her crew fought to save their ship and every British warship that came within range. Finally, alone, she rolled over and sank. There was a single survivor, plucked out of the sea by a passing Norwegian steamer.
Warrior on fire aft, one engine room flooded the other flooding, unable to control the remaining engine, over eighty dead or wounded, was limping off to the west. At 6.40 pm she was seen by Engadine who came to her assistance, keeping company whilst Warrior fought for her life. Finally, at 8.00 pm Warrior semaphored, ‘We are nearly stopped. Come and take me in tow.’ With considerable difficulty, Engadine took the much larger cruiser in tow. At 8.37 pm Engadine signalled the C in C (Jellicoe) that she had the cruiser in tow. Although she had had revolutions for 19 knots they were only making 8 knots through the water. At dawn it was evident that Warrior could not last much longer. At 7.20 am Captain Molteno ordered Engadine to drop the tow, and come alongside to take-off Warrior’s crew.
Grahame Donald later recalled the events of the next hour. The cruiser was many times the tonnage of the seaplane carrier and over 150 feet longer, but
Our captain was a marvellous seaman. He and old Handcock, ex of the South Eastern and Chatham Railway, handling her like bringing her alongside the pier, but there was quite a sea running and the Warrior was half under water, and she did punch one hole in our stoke hold with one of her casemate guns. One of our firemen saved the situation by stuffing his cap in the hole and shouting to the other chaps “Come on, give us a hand” and they packed it up.
The two ships were tied together, with men on Engadine standing by with axes should Warrior take a sudden plunge, rising and falling alongside each other with the passing waves. Warrior’s men were lined up in divisions ready to transfer, the able bodied men first to make room to transfer the wounded, when she gave a shudder as if she were about to sink.
It was unmistakable. Apart from pulling us with her, just for a moment there was that look on all those chaps’ faces – and keep in mind they’d had an awful hammering. I mean the scuppers were running with blood and casualties. There might have been a panic. The Captain just signalled the bugler. He blew the “Still” – just one toot. Every man jack stood to attention – and then they carried on in a very orderly manner.
Assisted by the officers and men lining Engadine’s side all those who could jumped or scrambled aboard and were hustled below out of the way. Then the walking wounded and stretcher cases were brought aboard, as gently and carefully as conditions permitted.
One fell from his stretcher into the maelstrom between the two ships. Instantly, men from Warrior moved to attempt a rescue and had to be ordered to stop by their Captain, anyone caught in the gap between the ships would be crushed. But Flt Lt Rutland could see that the man was resting on the remains of a fender and being carried forward into clearer water where the hull curved towards the bow. Coolly, he went down a rope, swam over to the man and pulled him back to the rope to be hoisted aboard. Rutland was awarded a well deserved Albert Medal for this act.
Last to leave Warrior was her Captain. As Engadine cast off, Ganderton remembered the battered cruiser as being ‘a truly forlorn spectacle, derelict, battered and battle scarred, forsaken at the last, and yet, with the White Ensign proudly flying at the masthead.’ The seaplane carrier set course for Rosyth with 35 officers, 681 men and 27 wounded aboard. She arrived at 1.35 am 2 June. Warrior was not seen again and probably foundered shortly afterwards.
Beatty, in his reports, praised the work of Engadine as well as Rutland and Trewin.
The work of Engadine appears to have been most praiseworthy throughout, and of great value. Lieutenant Commander C. G. Robinson deserves great credit for the skilful and seamanlike manner in which he handled his ship. He actually towed Warrior for 75 miles between 8.40 pm, May 31st, and 7.15 am, June 1st, and was instrumental in saving the lives of her ship’s company.
Beatty then turned his attention to the flight.
[My] order was carried out very quickly, and by 3.8 pm a seaplane, with Flight Lieutenant F. J. Rutland, R.N., as pilot, and Assistant Paymaster G. S. Trewin, R.N., as observer, was well underway; her first reports of the enemy were received in Engadine about 3.30 pm Owing to clouds it was necessary to fly very low, and in order to identify four enemy light cruisers the seaplane had to fly at a height of 900 ft. 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 their reports, and both Flight Lieutenant Rutland and Assistant Paymaster Trewin are to be congratulated on their achievement, which indicates that seaplanes under such circumstances are of distinct value.
The Admiralty also agreed. Rutland was awarded the DSC, ‘For his gallantry and persistence in flying within close range of four enemy light cruisers, in order to enable accurate information to be obtained and transmitted concerning them. Conditions at the time made low flying necessary.’ Trewin was Mentioned in Despatches for his role. Lt Cdr Robinson promoted Commander, ‘Was prompt in sending up a seaplane to scout. Handled his ship in a skilful and seamanlike manner, and towed Warrior for 75 miles, subsequently succeeding in taking off her crew, thus saving their lives.’