HMS CAROLINE | The Battle of Jutland - Centenary Initiative
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HMS CAROLINE

Caroline nearly gave the British another 15 minutes of daylight gunnery

HMS Caroline holds a special place in the hearts of all those connected with the Battle of Jutland. She is the last survivor and has been lovingly restored with monies from the Heritage Lottery Fund. I was fortunate enough to visit her before the rennovations startedy.

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Nick Jellicoe visiting HMS Caroline in 2013 shortly before

her rennovation.

Built in Birkenhead in the Merseyside, the 446 foot light cruiser, weighting 3,750 tons, was launched in December 1914. She was a beautiful sleek sight.

After Jutland Caroline served as a drill ship till 2011 though she had a short spell during World War II serving as an operational headquarters for the management of the transatlantic convoys.

The following is an account of her role at Jutland told by Warrant Officer Frederick Fielder.

« The ship left port on Tuesday 30th May in company with the remainder of the Grand Battle Fleet. A quiet night was passed as regards the Fleet, but it proved to be a somewhat exciting one aboard, owing to a slight steering gear defect which necessitated the hand steering gear being connected, the ship being steered by it for a couple of hours. The following morning we were informed by our Captain (Captain R. Ralph Crooke), with the aid of a sketch map, of the duties of our squadron in connection with the forthcoming fleet movements. This showed that we were to be the most advanced squadron in the movement which, it was hoped, would draw the German fleet from the Kiel canal where it had reposed in security for so many months.

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Warrant Officer Frederick

Fielder, HMS Caroline

Our position was to have been north of Zealand Island. Here we hoped to see something of the German ships, having wished to do so for a year and a half without having the good fortune to sight them, although we came within distance of them when the Blücher was sunk. We were told however to form an escort for the Lion, which was damaged in that engagement, but later returned safely to port.

During the forenoon, we were informed that the Battle Cruisers were in touch with the enemy. Later we were told that their Battle Fleet was out, but a long way off. Our direction had already been altered to bring us up with the Battle Cruisers. We had been to action stations and made all preparations for battle should we have the good luck to get on the scene of the engagement before the enemy scattered for port, as was their usual custom when meeting any of our ships.

At ten minutes past three, the alarm rattlers were sounded, and everyone at once rushed off to their stations. We had the exciting news that we were nearing the scene of conflict, and soon we could hear the sound of gunfire. Shortly afterwards coming in sight of our Battle Cruisers who were firing broadside after broadside. We rapidly closed on them, taking up positions to protect them from torpedo and submarine attacks, being for some time in company with the Lion, the flagship of the battle cruiser squadron flying the flag of Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty, At this time the whole of our fleet was in a very close formation, lines of battleships intermingled with lines of cruisers, light cruisers and destroyers. These ships, to the eye of an observer unused to naval tactics, would have appeared a hopeless mess of ships of all classes and sizes, even to us in the Grand Fleet who had regularly been engaged in similar practice evolutions at sea during the whole period of the war (now of nearly two years duration) it seemed a somewhat confusing situation as our particular squadron, (4th Light Cruiser Squadron) although in correct positions line abreast, had such a restricted area to manoeuvre in, owing to being between our own big ships, that the men manning our port guns, were talking to the men manning the starboard guns of the next ship to us, so close were we to each other, these men were chaffing each other about a boat race, which had taken place between the two ships the previous Saturday and while engaged in this pleasant pastime, big shells were falling round the ships, dropping perilously near, one destroyer just astern having a funnel knocked over the side, and another having her bows crumpled up, which necessitated her dropping out of the line, the men mentioned above still delighting each other by their wittiness.

The nearest big ship to us at the time, the Lion, had a shell inboard under the forecastle, causing a fire which must have given them trouble, as volumes of smoke were issuing from her port side, on several occasions belching forth with renewed intensity. However she was able to continue her course and firing.

The fleet had now spread out over a larger area, assuming a different formation, we being single line ahead by the side of the battle cruisers, who were pounding away at the enemy, now quite visible to the naked eye, their shells falling around us, at times being uncomfortably close, it being nothing short of marvellous that we were not struck, although in the light of a later experience, our numerous escapes were not so close as they might have been.

As our guns were of no avail against the big ships of the enemy who were only within range of the big guns of the battle ships and battle cruisers “Carry on smoking” was piped and we were in the position of being spectators of the fight now raging with intensity. Some difficulty had been experienced in keeping our men, who were engaged in ammunition supply and other multifarious duties below at the stations as they had now been some hours standing by doing nothing and naturally wanted to see the ‘scrap’. When the word was passed to ‘Carry on Smoking,’ they scrambled up on deck keeping handy to hatchways, ready to jump down to their stations should the necessity arise.

It was a glorious sight to see our big ships firing their broadsides. On two occasions, when their shells had found their billets on an enemy ship, which would be observed by the shells bursting against their sides loud cheers were given by our men, who also clapped as if witnessing a football match, being quite unconcerned about the big shells that only too frequently passed over our heads or dropped in the water near the ship.

About this time, a large ship was observed on the far side of our battle cruisers to have burst into a vivid sheet of flame and when then the smoke cleared away, she was seen to be in two portions, as her stern was showing a few feet out of the water, while her bow was some forty or fifty feet standing perpendicularly out of the sea. We feared that it was one of our own ships, and after events proved that it was the Invincible.

The firing was now going on with increased intensity, and this ship in particular was extremely fortunate in avoiding not only shells but torpedoes, for two were observed to be coming towards the ship, but by splendid handling of the helm, one passed on each side of the ship and on another occasion, one was making for us, but fortunate, it was nearing the end of its run and was traveling at only about six knots and as it neared the ship, the wash of our propellers turned it away just sufficient to clear the stern by inches.

Dusk was now coming on, and the light, which had been very bad for firing all day was failing, and the German ships were getting very indistinct and were apparently getting very badly mauled by our shellfire.

A periscope was then observed some way off and in line with our course. Soon afterwards a bump was felt along our bottom. A man coming up from the fore boiler room reported that a distinct shock was felt there under the bottom. Whether we touched the submarine and sank her is not known, only that something was evidently struck.

A destroyer attack was now made on our battle fleet, and our squadron was detached off to repel it which was done with complete success, at least two of the destroyers being sunk and our leading ships ran in very close to the German Fleet, firing torpedoes and getting rather badly knocked about by the big guns of the enemy. However, all returned safely, our Commodore ship with nine killed and several injured.

The enemy, who were now getting punished unmercifully by our big ships, suddenly set up a smoke screen, and turned away under cover of it, evidently trying to get back to their harbour. They eluded us for the time being, and after a while, one half of the Officers and Men went below to get a meal as we had been some hours without an opportunity of getting one. A short time afterwards our alarm rattlers sounded off, and on dashing to our stations, we found that we were steaming on an almost parallel course to a line of German battle ships or battle cruiser being quite close to them. I had just come up on deck and on observing them said “Why, they are German ships” which could be easily seen by their distinctive funnels. Our starboard torpedo tubes were trained on them, and as we fired two torpedoes, so the nearest ship to us opened fire with a broadside of eleven inch guns, but we were lucky enough not to be struck, although it was a straddle, ie some shots falling short, others going over and by all the rules of gunnery, the next broadside should have finished our career, especially as we were at such close range and the enemy set up a large star shell to light us up, but our Guardian Angel was still protecting us, for the next broadside missed us, going over the shells screaming over our heads, some dropping between us and our own ships on he other side. By this time, we had set up a smoke screen and escaped from an extremely perilous position, for this small ship would have been literally blown off the water had any of the broadsides fired at us got home. However, we did escape, due no doubt to the erratic German shooting, their men probably being in a state of panic or blue funk as they must have received fearful punishment from our hands No more was seen of them that night by the main fleet, and we cruised about for the few hours of darkness, no one turning in as all hammocks and Officers bedding was stowed away in case of fire. We fully expected, and fervently hoped that we could finish the battle the next day and have another glorious first of June to add to the assets of the British Navy.

Darkness, such as it was, had now set in and we had time to finish our interrupted meal, which consisted of cold meat and bread, as there had been no opportunity of cooking anything. The other watch was more than relieved that the guns had stopped, and we settled down to our ordinary night war routine at sea.

All hands were roused to their stations at two a.m. And we fully expected to come in contact with the enemy again, as from ten O’clock to midnight, heavy firing had been taking place away off our port quarter, the light from the guns being reflected in the sky. I was on watch as Searchlight Control Officer, and being stationed aft had a full view of the reflections, which were sporadic, but very vivid at times. It afterwards transpired that our Destroyer flotillas were making a night attack on the enemy fleet, which was endeavouring to get back to harbour. They had evidently had quite enough for the day. We however, were only too anxious to continue the fight, and would have given much for four more hours of daylight.

The fleet cruised about in the vicinity of the scene of action all the following day. Scouts were out in the hope of seeing the German fleet again, or even any lame ducks. There was no German fleet in being though, and it cannot be too much emphasised how disappointed every man in our fleet was when we had to give up searching for them and return to our base to replenish with coal, oil and ammunition, without having the opportunity of finishing the battle.

Nothing of importance happened during the 300 or 400 mile trip back, except that the sea, which had hitherto been calm, was rising, and fears were entertained concerning the safety of the (name not given), one of our big Battleships, which had been torpedoed, but was making her way into harbour ».

The ship in question was the SMS Westfalen. Caroline’s torpedo had run absolutely true and went straight under her.

SOME MORE STORIES :
Imperial War Museum HMS Caroline community :
https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/community/2741

Chief gunner James Weddick :
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/horror-epic-sea-battle-world-7868609