Saturday 20 November 2010

Somewhere in the Black Sea....From the Bridge of the Yavuz Sultan Selim

From the bridge of the battle cruiser Yavuz Sultan Selim (until recently the German ship Goeben) Rear Admiral Wilhelm Souchon surveyed his small fleet through the watery gloom of a clearing sea mist with grim satisfaction. Despite the poor visibility his ships were where he expected them to be once the mist had lifted and even as he watched, those vessels that were slightly awry in their station keeping were manoeuvring into their correct positions. Thus far all had gone to plan and so it was with a sense of relief that the fleet could increase speed to an almost magisterial twelve knots. Souchon would have preferred to have made the journey at a faster rate but was constrained from doing so by the two old and slow Turkish battleships accompanying him. He was not concerned about meeting the Russians as he knew that they had nothing in the Black Sea that could match the Yavuz Sultan Selim in either speed or firepower but any combat contained an element of risk and he could ill afford to sustain any severe damage. This was of additional concern to the Rear Admiral but he was painfully aware that there was little to be done about it. He was as confident as he could be and knew that he had done as much as anyone could do to drag the creaking and woefully inefficient Turkish navy into the twentieth century.

Since war had been declared on Turkey by Russia, in part aided by his devastating preemptive shore bombardments, he had worked hard to instill both German discipline and training into the ramshackle Turkish navy. Efficiency had improved; albeit painfully slowly, but the more difficult issue of sufficient skilled crewman was another matter all together. The men were brave enough and when competently led were quite effective but there never seemed to be enough time or skilled personnel available for training on such an intricate device as a modern warship. It was not in his manner to complain of such difficulties but to a man used to the highest levels of both skill and competence it was nevertheless a daunting challenge. His concern was now focused on the material he was to fight with. The two Turkish cruisers, Hamidiye and Mecidiye, currently deployed with the Midilli (formerly the Breslau) in a loose line abreast in the van of the formation were useful enough, as were the newest destroyers – especially as he had been able to ‘salt’ the crews with a number of German officers and men. Small ship work suited the Turks better it seemed to Souchon, but national pride had demanded big ships. Those same big ships that had been confiscated by the Royal Navy and were now facing Germany from across the North Sea he mused, bitterly. He sighed inwardly and resumed his scan of the horizon forward. Satisfied that the cruiser screen was now on station and holding position, course and speed he turned his attention aft and to the two lumbering bulks of the old battleships Turgut Reiss and the Hareddin Babarossa. It was with great difficulty that Souchon was able to remind himself that these two museum pieces were in fact German built. They were decrepit, rust eaten, rat infested, disease ridden old wrecks that should have been scrapped years earlier. National pride had insisted that these two relics of a bygone age should be present in his fleet as a gesture of allied solidarity. It was a pity that the same pride had not been applied to the vessels upkeep and maintenance he thought. They were all that were available and so they had to be employed. Their one saving grace was that they would give the Russians something else to shoot at as well as his battle cruiser. Better they were damaged than the Goeben (he refused to call her by her new Turkish name) because he was under no illusions that the Turkish naval repair facilities would anywhere near as good as Wilhelmshaven. The operation the fleet was undertaking was simple enough and the value of sea time in respect of training was inestimable. A series of shore bombardments and the sowing of some minefields would be an effective demonstration of Turkish resolve in the Black Sea and would provide some badly needed live firing practise for the big gun crews. Should the Russian navy attempt to intervene then they would be engaged and Souchon was confident that he would be able to deal with them accordingly. Visibility was improving by the minute, bringing with it the promise of a bright and clear day. Souchon was about to leave the bridge to go to the wardroom when a noise like tearing canvas, preceded by dull rumble, reverberated around the normally silent interior.

A huge white pillar, the size of a house erupted in the sea ahead of the great ship. They were under fire! Immediately the bridge, and indeed the whole ship became a flurry of frenzied activity as the crew raced to their battle stations. Orders were barked out - both to the ship's company and the remainder of the squadron; bells rang, voices shouted and eager feet thundered urgently through the companionways and ladders as first a second, and then a third minaret-high shell splash seemed to smother the ship. The great engines throbbed as she worked up to full speed, as fast as her stokers could feed the blazing furnaces of her boilers as simultaneously the Captain swung her helm over hard to starboard, leaving her slower charges scurrying in her wake. The three screening cruisers had veered off to engage an as yet unseen enemy whilst the Yavuz Sultan Selim desperately maneuvered into her best firing position so her great guns could reply to her assailant. The rest of the fleet would have to follow her as best as it could as for now, the great battle cruiser was engaging the enemy on her own. No sooner had she straightened out of her violent turn than the firing switches were pressed and the ten eleven inch guns spoke in unison with an ear shattering roar. Battle was joined at last.


SteelonSand said...

Fantastic and evocative narrative, there - really entertaining - but shouldn't you be putting your creative energies into the Sword in the Sand, though? We're waiting on more you know!

David Crook said...

Hi SoS,

Funny you should say that.............;-)