The Battle Of Flushing

: The Coming Conquest Of England

The strategy of red tape, by which the Commander-in-Chief's hands were

tied, was destined, as in so many previous campaigns, to prove on this

occasion also a fatal error to the English.

Sir Percy Domvile, the British admiral, had received with silent rage

the order of battle communicated to him from London--the same order that

had fallen into the hands of the Germans. More than once already he had

d to show the Lords of the Admiralty what injury might be caused

by being tied to strict written orders in situations that could not

be foreseen. He now held in his own hands the proof how little the

officials, pervaded by the consciousness of their own importance and

superior wisdom, were disposed to allow themselves to be taught. But

he was too much of a service-man not to acquiesce in the orders of the

supreme court with unquestioning obedience. Certainly, if he had been

able to gauge in advance the far-reaching consequences of the mistake

already committed, he would probably, as a patriot, rather have

sacrificed himself than become the instrument for carrying out the

fundamentally erroneous tactics of the plan of battle communicated to

him. For more was now at stake than the proud British nation had ever

risked before in a naval engagement. It was a question of England's

prestige as the greatest naval power in the world, perhaps of the final

issue of this campaign which had been so disastrous for Great Britain.

All-powerful Albion, the dreaded mistress of the seas, was now fighting

for honour and existence. A great battle lost might easily mean a blow

from which the British lion, wounded to death, would never be able to


. . . . . . .

At the time when the Konig Wilhelm entered the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal

at the head of the German transport fleet, the Prince-Admiral, who had

hoisted his flag on the Wittelsbach, led the fighting fleet from the

harbour of Antwerp into the Zuid Bevelanden Canal, which connects the

East and West Schelde, and separates the island of Walcheren from Zuid

Bevelanden. Anchor was then cast.

His squadron consisted of the battleships of the Wittelsbach

class--Mecklenburg, Schwaben, Zahringen, Wettin, and Wittelsbach (the

flagship of the Prince-Admiral), and the battleships of the Kaiser

class--Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, Barbarossa, Karl der Grosse, Wilhelm

II., and Friedrich III.

These ironclads were accompanied by the large cruisers Friedrich Karl,

Prinz Adalbert, Prinz Heinrich, Furst Bismarck, Viktoria Luise, Kaiserin

Augusta, and the small cruisers Berlin, Hamburg, Bremen, Undine, Arcona,

Frauenlob, and Medusa.

The torpedo flotilla at the Prince's disposal consisted of the

torpedo-boats S 102 to 107, G 108 to 113, S 114 to 125, with the

division boats D 10, D 9, D 7, and D 8, built on the scale of


The three fast cruisers Friedrich Karl, Prinz Adalbert and Kaiserin

Augusta, with the torpedo-boats S 114 to 120, had been sent on as

scouts, to announce the approach of the enemy in good time. The cruisers

had been ordered to post themselves thirty knots west-north-west of

Flushing at intervals of five knots, while the torpedo-boats patrolled

on all sides to keep a look-out. After having reported the approach

of the English fleet to the main squadron by wireless telegraphy,

the scouts were to retire before the enemy out of range into the West

Schelde, and at the same time to keep up such a fire in their boilers

that the clouds of thick smoke might deceive the enemy as to the size

and number of the retiring ships. When out of sight of the English,

they were to wheel round and show themselves, and, if circumstances

permitted, take up the positions previously assigned them; otherwise

they were to act according to circumstances.

The object of this manoeuvre, calculated to mislead the enemy, was

completely attained.

A signal informed the Prince-Admiral that the English were in sight, and

a torpedo-boat detached from the scouting squadron brought more

exact information as to the number and formation of the enemy's

ships--information which exactly corresponded with the instructions

given in the order of battle, and was a fresh proof that it was intended

to adhere to them.

This provided a sure foundation for the tactical operations of the

German fleet. No alteration was necessary in the course of action

decided upon at the council of war on the previous day, and no fresh

instructions had to be issued to individual commanders.

The order of battle settled at this council of war ran, in the main, as


"The squadron will lie at anchor off Zuid-Beveland, fires banked, so

that they can get up steam in a quarter of an hour. The battleships will

anchor in double line, according to their tactical numbers. The cruisers

between Nord-Beveland and Zuid-Beveland. The torpedo-boats with their

division boats behind.

"At the signal 'weigh anchor' the ships carry out the order according to

their tactical number; the battleships through the Roompot; the cruisers

will re-enter the West Schelde through the canal and lie off Flushing


"The two other torpedo-boat divisions will accompany the squadron."

The course of events developed exactly in accordance with these


When the approach of the enemy's ships was announced, the

Prince-Admiral's flaghip signalled: "Weigh anchor! hoist top pennants!

clear for action! follow in the Admiral's wake! cruiser division and

torpedo-boats execute orders!"

Keeping close under the coast of Walcheren, the German squadron, full

steam up, advanced to meet the enemy.

Meanwhile the approaching English, having left their hospital and

munition ships and colliers in the open under the protection of the

cruisers and taken up their appointed positions, opened fire at a

distance of about 6,000 yards on Flushing and Fort Frederik Hendrik.

The English Admiral adhered so strictly to his instructions that,

with an incomprehensible carelessness, he neglected to search the East

Schelde with his second squadron, or even with his scouts. The entry of

the German ships which had been sent back from the open into the

West Schelde, evidently appeared to Sir Percy Domvile a sufficient

confirmation of the assumption that the whole German fleet was in this

arm of the river's mouth, for the clouds of smoke which they emitted

rendered an accurate computation of their strength impossible.

Thus, the Prince-Admiral's squadron was enabled to approach the enemy

so far unobserved that it would be able to take the British fleet in the

flank, when it had reached the west point of Walcheren.

At the signal: "Full steam ahead!" the German ships in the formation

agreed steamed against the surprised English, and opened fire from

their bow-guns. Naturally, the English Admiral at once ordered the first

squadron to take up its position behind the second, turned left with

both, and went to meet the enemy in double line.

This was the opportune moment, foreseen in the Prince's plan of battle,

for the advance of the cruisers lying in the West Schelde. In order

to deceive the enemy as to their number, they rapidly approached,

accompanied by the torpedo-boats which again sent up their clouds of

smoke. The English Admiral, completely surprised by the double attack,

was obliged to divide his attention.

Certainly this torpedo attack was still a hazardous undertaking, under

existing conditions. The English shot well, and two German boats were

sunk by the enemy's shells. Three others, however, hit their mark,

damaging three of the English ships so severely that they were incapable

of manoeuvring.

It was especially disadvantageous to the English that their

torpedo-boats, owing to the unforeseen change in the formation of the

battleships, were deprived of the necessary protection. The German

destroyers were not slow to make full use of this favourable situation,

and began to chase them. In this engagement, which the speed of the

little vessels rendered especially exciting for those who took part

in it, the pursuers succeeded in destroying four English torpedo-boats

without themselves suffering any damage worth mentioning. The others

escaped, and, for the time, might be regarded as out of action.

The enemy having altered his front, the Prince-Admiral had turned right

about, so that he might enter into action with all the guns of one side.

The English Admiral also doubled, but the manoeuvre proved the cause of

a fatal misfortune. Whether the disturbance of the tactical unity by the

loss of the three torpedoed vessels was the cause of it, or whether the

first and second divisions were unaccustomed to manoeuvre together, the

Formidable carried out orders so clumsily, that she was rammed amidships

by her neighbour the Renown, and immediately heeled over and sunk in a

few minutes, carrying hundreds of brave English sailors with her into

the deep.

The Renown herself, whose ram had caused the fearful disaster, had not

escaped without severe injury in the collision, which had shattered

the mighty floating fortress in all its joints. The two first fore

compartments, as the bulkheads did not hold together, had filled with

water. This caused the vessel to heel over; her value as a fighting

instrument was thereby sensibly diminished.

Thus the first great catastrophe in the battle was caused, not by the

power of the enemy, but by the clumsy manoeuvring of a friendly ship.

This naturally caused many of the spectators, deeply affected by

the sinking of the magnificent vessel and her gallant crew, to ask

themselves whether the great perfection attained in the construction

of modern ships of war was not to a great extent counterbalanced by

the defects that were combined with the increasing size and fighting

strength of these gigantic ironclads. No ship of the line, no frigate,

not even the little gunboat of earlier times could have disappeared from

the line of battle so speedily and without leaving a trace behind as

the Formidable, built of mighty dimensions and equipped with all the

appliances of naval technique. No doubt her armour-plate and steel

turrets would have been able successfully to resist a hail of the

heaviest projectiles, but a misunderstood steering order had been

sufficient to send her to the bottom. Neither the double bottoms nor the

division of the bulkheads, which should have prevented the inrush of

an excessive amount of water, had been able to avert the fate which

threatens every modern ironclad when severely damaged below the

water-line. The wooden ship of former times might have been riddled like

a sieve without sinking. But the stability of a modern ironclad could

be endangered by a single leak, whether caused by a torpedo or a ram, to

such an extent that the gigantic mass of iron would be drawn down into

the depths by its own weight in a few minutes.

A running fire now went on at a distance of about 2,000 yards, in which

the superiority of the Krupp guns was as clearly manifested as the

admirable training of the German artillerists, in which the English

were far inferior. Certainly, the German ships also suffered various

injuries, but no serious damage had as yet occurred.

The three torpedoed and helpless English warships offered especially

favourable targets to the German cruisers. The latter, taking up

positions at a suitable distance, kept up such a heavy fire upon the

vessels, which could scarcely move, that their surrender was inevitable.

But before deciding on this, the English offered an heroic resistance,

and many of their shots took effect. The conning tower of the Friedrich

Karl was pierced by a shell, and the brave commander with those around

him found a glorious soldier's death. Other more or less serious

injuries were sustained, and it was almost a miracle that no vital

damage was done to any part of the ships' hulls.

After the three English ships had been put out of action, it was

unnecessary for the cruiser division to remain any longer in this

quarter of the scene of action. They accordingly proceeded with the

utmost despatch to where the Prince-Admiral was engaged in the main

fight with the battleships. Here, indeed, assistance was needed. For,

although four of the enemy's ships were lost, the superiority in numbers

still remained with the English, especially as the Mecklenburg had been

obliged to sheer off, her steering gear having been shot to pieces.

When the English Admiral saw the cruisers approaching, so that they

could bring all their bow-guns to bear at once, he recognised that the

decisive moment was at hand.

The cruisers' guns inflicted severe damage on the English, for the crews

had practised shooting rapidly at a gradually diminishing distance. The

high deck structures of the battleships offered an admirable target,

so that in the extended English line of battle nearly every shot took


For Sir Percy Domvile rapid and energetic action now became a necessary

condition of self-preservation. In the circumstances, the capture of

the German fleet, which according to the order of battle was to be the

object aimed at, was no longer to be thought of; the only thing left to

the Admiral was to endeavour to destroy as many of the enemy's ships

as possible. The British flagship signalled "Right about," and the

commandants knew that this was as good as an order to ram the German


But this manoeuvre, by which alone Sir Percy Domvile could meet the

danger that threatened him in consequence of the attack from two sides,

had been provided for by the Prince-Admiral. It had been taken into

consideration at the council of war held on the previous evening, and

each commander had received instructions as to the tactics to be pursued

in such an event. A special signal had been agreed upon, and as soon as

the English ironclads were observed wheeling round, it was hoisted on

the Admiral's ship. Each of the German battleships immediately took up

the position prescribed by the plan of battle. The squadron separated

into two halves; the first division, wheeling into line behind the

flagship, made "left about" with it, while the second division, also

making "left about," took up its position between the left wing ship.

These tactics, quite unknown to him, were completely unexpected by the

English Admiral. His purpose was entirely frustrated by the speedy and

clever manoeuvre of the German ships, the plan of destruction failed,

and his own ironclads, while proceeding athwart, had to stand a terrible

fire right and left, which was especially disastrous to the two ships on

the wings. Overwhelmed by a hail of light and heavy projectiles, and in

addition hit by torpedoes, they were in a few minutes put out of action;

one of them, the Victorious, sharing the fate of the unlucky Formidable,

sank with its crew of more than 700 men beneath the waves.

But the youthful German fleet had also received its baptism of fire in

this decisive battle.

All the means of destruction with which the modern art of war is

acquainted were employed by each of the two opponents to snatch victory

from his adversary. The shells of the heavy guns were combined with the

projectiles of the lighter armament and the machine-guns posted in the

fighting-tops, so that in the real sense of the word it was a "hail of

projectiles," which came down in passing on the ships wrapped in smoke

and steam.

Hermann Heideck had become so thoroughly familiar in India with the

horrors of war on land in their various forms, that he believed his

nerves were completely proof against the horrible sight of death and

devastation. But the scenes which were being enacted around him in

the comparatively narrow space of the magnificent flagship during this

engagement, far surpassed in their awfulness everything that he had

hitherto seen. Heideck was full of admiration for the heroic courage,

contempt of death, and discipline of officers and men, not one of whom

stirred a foot from the post assigned him.

As he only played the part of an inactive spectator in the drama that

had now reached its climax, he was able to move freely over the ship.

Wherever he went, the same spectacle of horrible destruction and heroic

devotion to duty everywhere met his eye.

The men serving the guns in the turrets and casemates were enduring the

pains of hell. In the low, ironclad chambers a fiery heat prevailed,

which rendered even breathing difficult. The terrific noise and the

superhuman excitement of the nerves seemed to have so dulled the men's

senses, that they no longer had any clear idea of what was going on

around them. Their faces did not wear that expression of rage and

exasperation, which Heideck had seen in so many soldiers in the land

battle at Lahore; rather, he observed a certain dull indifference, which

could no longer be shaken by the horror of the situation.

A shell struck a battery before Heideck's eyes, exploded, and with its

flying splinters struck down nearly all the men serving the guns.

Happy were those who found death at once; for the injuries of those who

writhed wounded on the ground were of a frightful nature. The red-hot

pieces of iron, which tore the unhappy men's flesh and shattered their

bones, at the same time inflicted fearful burns upon them. Indeed,

Heideck would have regarded it as an act of humanity to have been

allowed with a shot from a well-aimed revolver, to put an end to the

sufferings of this or that unfortunate, whose skin and flesh hung in

shreds from his body, or whose limbs were transformed into shapeless,

bloody masses.

But those who had escaped injury, after a few moments' stupefaction,

resumed their duty with the same mechanical precision as before. Amidst

their dead and dying comrades, about whom nobody could trouble himself

for the moment, they stood in the pools of warm, human blood, which

made the deck slippery, and quietly served the gun which had not been

seriously damaged.

A very young naval cadet, who had been sent down to the engine-room from

the Prince-Admiral's conning-tower with an order, met Heideck on the

narrow, suffocatingly hot passage. He was a slender, handsome youth

with a delicate, boyish face. The blood was streaming over his eyes and

cheeks from a wound in the forehead. He was obliged to lean with both

hands against the wall for support, while, with a superhuman effort of

will, he compelled his tottering knees to carry him forward, his sole

thought being that he must keep upright until he had fulfilled his

errand. When Heideck inquired sympathetically after the nature of his

wound, he even attempted to wreathe his pale lips, quivering with pain,

into a smile, for in spite of his seventeen years he felt himself at

this moment quite a man and a soldier, to whom it was an honour and a

delight to die for his country. But his heroic will was stronger than

his body, wounded to death. In the attempt to assume an erect military

bearing before the Major, he suddenly collapsed. He had just strength

enough to give Heideck the Admiral's order and ask him to carry it out.

Then his senses left him.

In another battery the store of ammunition had been exploded by a

shell. Not a man had escaped alive. Heideck himself, although since the

beginning of the engagement he had recklessly exposed himself to danger,

had hitherto, by a miracle, escaped death that threatened him in a

hundred different forms. He had been permitted, by express command of

the Prince, to stay a considerable time in the upper conning-tower,

from which the Imperial Admiral directed the battle, and the deliberate

calmness of the supreme commander, steadily pursuing his object, had

filled him with unshaken confidence in a victory for the German fleet,

in spite of the numerical superiority of the English.

Ever since Heideck had heard the news of Edith Irwin's death from

Brandelaar, all purely human feelings and sensations that connected

him with life had died in his heart. He was no longer anything but the

soldier, whose thoughts and efforts were filled exclusively with anxiety

for the victory of his country's arms. All personal experiences were

completely forgotten as if they had taken place ten years ago. At this

moment, when the existence or extinction of nations was at stake,

his own life was of so little importance to him that he was not even

conscious of the foolhardy intrepidity with which he risked it at every


Majestic and powerful, sending forth death-dealing flashes from her

turrets and portholes, the Wittelsbach had hitherto proceeded on her

way, not heeding the wounds which the enemy's shot had inflicted in her

hull. An almost thankful feeling for the glorious ship which carried him

arose in Heideck's breast.

"You do honour to the great name you bear," he thought. Through

smoke and steam he looked up at the conning-tower, where he knew the

Prince-Admiral was. Then he saw it no more, for suddenly a thick, black

cloud overspread his eyes. He had only felt a slight blow in his breast,

but no pain. He tried to lift his hand to the place where he had been

hit, but it sank powerlessly. It seemed as if he were being turned round

in a circle by an invisible hand. Thousands of fiery sparks shot

up suddenly from the dark cloud--the night closed completely round

him--deep, impenetrable night, and still, solemn silence.

Major Hermann Heideck had found a hero's death.

. . . . . . .

A torpedo-boat that had been summoned by signal hurried up at full

speed to the Admiral's flagship which was lying on her side. A broadside

torpedo had struck the Wittelsbach; and although there was no fear of

her sinking, it was impossible for operations to be directed from her

any longer.

Regardless of the danger it involved, the Prince-Admiral had himself and

his staff transferred by the torpedo-boat to the Zahringen, on which his

flag was at once hoisted.

. . . . . . .

The progress of the engagement had hitherto been favourable to the

German fleet to a surprising extent. Its losses were considerably less

than those of its numerically far superior enemy, and its ships, with

few exceptions, were still able to fight and manoeuvre. But as yet,

considering the strength of the ships still at the enemy's disposal,

it was too early to speak of a decision in favour of the German fleet.

Although the clever manoeuvre of the German squadron had frustrated the

intended attack of the English, and inflicted very considerable losses

upon them, it might still be possible for Sir Percy Domvile to atone for

his mistake and to bind the capricious fortune of war to his flag.

The same frightful scenes which Major Heideck had witnessed on board

the Wittelsbach had also taken place on the other German battleships

and cruisers. Blood flowed in rivers, and, if the murderous engagement

continued much longer, the moment could not be far off when it would no

longer be possible to fill the gaps caused by death in the ranks of the

brave crews. A few luckily-aimed English torpedoes, and no genius in the

supreme command, no heroism on the part of the captains, officers, and

crew would have been able to avert disaster from the German arms.

Then, suddenly a fresh, apparently very powerful squadron, was sighted

from the south-west, which, if it had proved to be a British reserve

fleet, must have decided the victory at once in favour of the English.

The moments that passed until the question was definitely settled were

moments of the keenest suspense and excitement for those on board the

German vessels. The relief was so much the greater when it was seen to

be no fresh hostile force, but Admiral Courtille's squadron, advancing

at full speed, just at the right moment to decide the issue.

The state of affairs was now changed at one stroke so completely to

the disadvantage of the English, that a British victory had become an

impossibility. The intervention of the French squadron, still perfectly

intact, consisting of ten battleships, ten large and ten small cruisers,

was bound to bring about the annihilation of the English fleet. The

English Admiral was quickwitted enough to gauge the situation correctly,

as soon as he had recognised the approaching ships as the French fleet

and assured himself of the enemy's strength. The orders given to form

again for an attack were succeeded by fresh signals from the English

flagship, ordering a rapid retreat. The English Admiral, regarding the

battle as definitely lost, considered it his duty to save what could

still be saved of the fleet under his charge. Before the French could

actively intervene the English fleet steamed away at full speed to the


Thundering hurrahs on all the German ships acclaimed the victory

announced by this retreat. The boats of the torpedo division and some

swift cruisers were ordered to keep in touch with the fleeing enemy.

The French Admiral in command had gone on board the flagship

Zahringen to place himself and his squadron under the command of the

Prince-Admiral and to come to an arrangement as to the further joint

operations of the combined fleets. For there was no doubt that the

victory ought to be utilised at once to the fullest extent, if it were

really to be decisive.

Deeply moved, the Prince embraced Admiral Courtille, and thanked him for

appearing at the critical moment. The French Admiral, however, excused

himself for intervening so late. "I was obliged," said he, "to wait till

it was night and steer far out to the south-west before I could turn

north; I had to do this, so as to be able to break through Prince Louis

of Battenberg's blockading squadron without being seen, under cover of


Meanwhile, the scouts sent after the enemy had returned with the

information that the English fleet had altered its course and appeared

making for the Thames. Further pursuit was impossible, as the English

Admiral had detached some ships, for which the German cruisers were not

a match.

Previous arrangements had been made for transferring the dead and

wounded to the ships signalled to for the purpose, and were carried out

without great difficulty, the sea being now calmer. Now that the fearful

battle had ceased, for the first time the crews became fully conscious

of the horrors they had passed through. The rescue of the wounded showed

what cruel sacrifices the battle had demanded. It was a difficult and

melancholy task, which made many a sailor's heart beat with sorrow and

compassion. The dead were for the most part horribly mangled by the

splinters of the shells which had caused their death, and the injuries

of the wounded, for whom the surgeons on board had, of course, only been

able to provide first aid in the turmoil of battle, were nearly all so

severe, that they could only be moved slowly.

After the German ships had signalled that they were again ready for

action, those which had the dead and wounded on board, together with

the German ships put out of action and the captured English ships, were

ordered to make for Antwerp. The combined Franco-German fleet, under

the supreme command of the Prince-Admiral, resumed its voyage in the

direction of the mouth of the Thames.