Searching For Traces Of 1914 Contact The Battle of Skagerrak

The battle of Skagerrak

text and speaker: François Gaspar and Miguel Lentz
music: Felix Heinicke

The Battle of Skagerrak

Narrator:
Johann Hahn was called up by the Wehrmacht – the German armed forces – in 1912 and assigned to the German navy. He served for four years as a naval cadet in the German navy before he was killed on a torpedo boat in the Battle of Skagerrak (also known as “The Battle of Jutland”) on 1 June 1916. His comrade, Sepp Schmitt, brings the only remaining relicts, Johann's flute, which had consoled him in the difficult time on the high sea, together with his diary, to his mother.

On the high sea in the Skagerrak Strait between Denmark and Sweden, 30 May 1916

Narrator:
30 May 1916 So far life at sea has been very calm. Blockades and patrols are the order of the day. Our daily routine is limited to keeping watch and sleeping. Today, however, appears to be a special day. Admiral Reinhard von Scheer of the Imperial German Navy is planning to destroy a large part of the British Grand Fleet in an ambush. We have been waiting for this attack for over two years. We are situated 60 kilometres from the Danish coast and have already covered a large stretch of the coast from Kiel. The sea is calm and a fresh wind is blowing. We are sailing along the Skagerrak Strait at 20 knots. Our Frigate Admiral Schulz is planning to advance against the merchant shipping off the southern coast of Norway in order to seek out individual British units and the battlecruiser squadron. Yesterday was a hard day. Our comrade Müller was forced to kill himself in front of the entire crew. Schulz, the swine, made him shoot himself with his P38 on the bows. He is said to have got involved with a comrade. His body fell into the North Sea. The crew is hungry. We have not been given anything to eat for the past two days since our supplies on the ship are slowly running out. The hours pass by and we are becoming increasingly nervous. Schulz has the feeling that we will soon meet English troops. I am tired. I have had the night watch for three days and have to keep a lookout for enemy warships. It is very cold. But Sepp keeps me company – he is also on the night watch. We talk in order to pass the time…

Sepp Schmitt:
"We've got to hold out for another two weeks, Johann, and then we can return home again."

Johann Hahn:
"You're dead right there, Sepp. To be honest, I can't stand the rubbish they feed us here on the ship any longer. But I'd rather eat this muck than starve to death."

Sepp Schmitt:
"You’re right, there. But if only they’d come up with some food. I'm famished. Fat Otto, who dishes out the food, is trying to fool us when he says that supplies are low. We haven't been given anything to eat for two days, just bread and water. But how are things with your girlfriend, Maria? You haven't seen each other for ages, have you?"

Johann Hahn:
"The last time was five months ago on my furlough. But we write letters to each other regularly. I think I'll propose to her after the war."

Sepp Schmitt:
"Really? You've got big plans for after the war. Do you believe we'll escape from this hell alive?"

Johann Hahn:
"The last time was five months ago on my furlough. But we write letters to each other regularly. I think I'll propose to her after the war."

Sepp Schmitt:
"Really? You've got big plans for after the war. Do you believe we'll escape from this hell alive?"

Johann Hahn:
"What do you think, then? We'll show the English what's what. I really feel like fighting just thinking about that bunch of pikeys. It's our fatherland, and we're going to defend it!"

Sepp Schmitt:
"Schulz thinks that it won't be very long before we meet those pikeys. Apparently, the British intelligence service has read all our orders...

Johann Hahn:
"But that won't give them any advantage over us. With our battleships we're simply superior to the English. Ten of our torpedo boats will light a rocket under their backsides."

Sepp Schmitt:
"Hahaha, definitely."Hey, fancy a game of cards for money?"

Johann Hahn:
"Nah, let’s skip it. Maier took me to the cleaners yesterday. I lost 1,000 marks to the bastard! Not only that, he also conned me out of my whole supply of cigarettes."

Sepp Schmitt:
"Hahaha, take it easy. Here are a couple of ciggies."

Johann Hahn:
"Nah, let’s skip it. Maier took me to the cleaners yesterday. I lost 1,000 marks to the bastard! Not only that, he also conned me out of my whole supply of cigarettes."

Sepp Schmitt:
"Hahaha, take it easy. Here are a couple of ciggies."

Johann Hahn:
"Thanks, Sepp, it’s OK. But I can't stand the sight of that Maier any more. He tricks everybody with that bloody card game of his. Someday I'll get my own back, he can count on it."

Sepp Schmitt:
"Nonsense. Maier is harmless compared with Schuhmacher. He's a squealer who'll grass on anyone to Schulz. He deserve's to have gone overboard."

Johann Hahn:
"You're right there. Not like Lehnen. Do you still remember when the two of us fell asleep on the night watch and Schulz came round checking... If Lehnen hadn't distracted him we would still be scrubbing down the cabins. Schulz, he has no heart."

Sepp Schmitt:
"Hang on... Take a look through the binoculars. Is that a ship over there?"

Johann Hahn:
"Nonsense. We're not far from the Norwegian coast. I bet that's what you can see."

Sepp Schmitt:
"All this excitement is driving me up the wall so that I'm now seeing enemy ships on the horizon. It's now 4 o'clock. Do you mind if I take a nap."

Johann Hahn:
"No - just do it. I'll take over the watch."

Narrator
Johann plays a tune on his flute to break the boredom.

Johann Hahn (diary):
31 May 1916
The sun has not yet risen. We are all euphoric about the coming encounter with the English. We are firmly convinced that we will win and we are bolstering each other's morale. The night watch lasts until 8 am. We are keeping a lookout bit nothing has crossed our line of vision in the binoculars. Sepp and I are taking turns on watch so that each of us can have short breaks for sleep. Fortunately Schulz does not come round checking as otherwise we would be in trouble. We are exhausted. Schulz senses that the English will soon be on our doorstep and our stomachs feel a little queasy despite our desire to fight…

Johann Hahn:
"Sepp, get up, you sleepyhead, it' my turn to get some shuteye!"

Sepp Schmitt:
"OK"

Johann Hahn (diary):
The night has long passed. It is now midday. After 3 days fat Otto finally lights the stove again. We wonder what we will get to eat today. Hotpot probably, but just don't ask what's in it. It certainly won't be like someone's last meal before execution...

But then Sepp shouts…

Sepp Schmitt:
"Enemy in sight! Over there – an English armoured cruiser! All men to their stations! Johann, man the rapid fire gun in the bows!"

Johann Hahn (diary):
I feel a rush of adrenaline. Survival instinct now takes over. I go through the whole crew in my head, one by one. Will we all survive? Sepp, Schulz, Müller, Lehnen, Maier – have they all got the same fear of death as me? We are getting closer and closer to the enemy armoured cruiser. And then Sepp yells again…

Sepp Schmitt:
"God help us, there's an entire column of warships facing us!"

Johann Hahn (diary):
I run to the bows, position myself at the rapid fire gun and look to the horizon. I'm blinded by the sun but I can still make out the outlines of the warships. Everybody is quiet. There is a deathly silence. Only the torpedo boat engine can be heard together with the waves washing against the ship. My face is covered in sweat. I wait for Schulz to give the order to fire. Suddenly a large-calibre shell whizzes past about 50 metres away and hits the water. "Fire!” shouts Schulz, and the barrage begins. I aim at the black monsters and feel the recoil of the of the rapid fire gun in my arms. Six shining giants lined up in two rows face us. Sepp and Lehnen fire a torpedo at Schulz' command. The horizon is all of a sudden full of soot and smoke. We see a British warship sink. We hear the screams of British sailors above the blasts of the rapid fire gun. Reinforcements from the Imperial Navy move up behind us. The barrage eases. The British take a northerly course. I look around – no one is injured. Sepp relays an order…

Sepp Schmitt:
"Reload the torpedoes and the stationary guns. Admiral Scheer has radioed that we should draw the British northwards."

Johann Hahn (diary):
Our torpedo boar steers to the north. We pursue the British at 40 knots. It is now 5 pm. Admiral Scheer has ordered the entire High Seas Fleet to close up. We now number 61 torpedo boats, 16 battleships, five large and eleven small cruisers and are heading in a northerly direction. The soot emitted by the mighty ships' funnels turns the sky black. Suddenly the British ships come to a halt. They lie a good five kilometres away from us. We become suspicious and wonder why they have stopped. But then it seems as though we are facing the entire British ocean-going fleet. We have not left our stations. and we are continuing to draw nearer to the British fleet, waiting for the order to open fire. The ship next to us is suddenly hit by an enemy torpedo. Our German comrades cry out and the water turns red. Mentally I run through the rules of conduct listed in our first-aid instructions that were given to us when we commenced navy training. First destroy the enemy then treat minor injuries using the contents of the first-aid kit. In the event of more serious injuries, ask your superior officer for permission to visit the main combat first-aid point. I am totally immersed in the rules of conduct when Lehnen, who is standing beside me, is suddenly hit by a British rapid fire gun shell. I attempt to patch him up but it is too late. One bullet has torn through his right leg and another has hit his heart. There was nothing I could do for him. Sepp yells…

Sepp Schmitt:
"Torp..."

Johann Hahn:
My body is hurled back by the blast of the explosion. I feel shrapnel from the torpedo piercing my body. I fall into the cold waters of the North Sea, which are covered with wreckage and oil. 250 ships are face to face engaged in battle. I catch sight of my comrades who are being sucked down with me. I do not feel pain anymore and my lungs fill with salt water. I think one last time of Maria and how I will never see her again before losing consciousness.

Narrator:
Sepp Schmitt is the sole survivor of the frigate to return alive from the Battle of Jutland. As Johann had asked him, he handed the flute that Johann had given him the evening before to his mother together with the diary that he was able to rescue from the waters of the North Sea.