Lieutenant AD Boyle – HMS New Zealand Letter dated 6 June 1916
It was what some might call some stunt and I cannot say that I enjoyed it.
I could write any amount about it but cannot because it is confidential. We were peacefully steaming along at 1530 on the 31st of May, our position being off Jutland.
It is an area when we have done the same thing before to find some small German ship to devour. We had no news at all of there being the slightest chance of meeting the Hun fleet.
I was having tea when somebody came in and said, “Some ass of a light cruiser reports two enemy destroyers in sight and the smoke of a fleet behind them”.
Everybody said, “What awful rot”, and went on eating. Five minutes later off went the bugle for action stations. We all flew.
I went to my cabin to get a life saving waistcoat and glasses and eventually to my turret, the faithful one at the stern that I have had ever since it was built.
On arrival we all agreed it must be a dummy run, till suddenly the order came, “German battle cruiser in sight, load”. I looked through my slit in the armour and there they were five of them, a very long way off.
The sort of feeling one gets when one goes to the dentist to have a tooth out comes over you. Let’s go and get it over. Nobody can truthfully say they enjoy these things. I know I do not.
Anyhow on this occasion there was not much getting in and getting it over with about it. We sat and did nothing for an hour whilst the admirals tried to outwit each other for positions of light.
The Huns obviously intended to fight and were trying to draw us in a certain direction. Putting two and two together we presumed the High Sea Fleet were out and it was to them that we were going.
Range gradually decreased and at about 1700 both Fleets opened fire when something like 10 miles apart. We were in the following order HMS Princess Royal, Queen Mary, Tiger, New Zealand, and Indefatigable.
It came on thick around the Huns and we could hardly see them whilst we were in clear weather and silhouetted against a clear sky.
This was our undoing as they could see there fall of shot and correct it and we had great difficulty in seeing ours.
They shot well. At about 1715 there was a roar and a blaze astern. I looked and saw poor Indefatigable go sky high.
She must have been hit in a magazine. It was a dreadful sight.
When the smoke had cleared away there was not a sign of anything at all with the exception of one raft with two men hanging on to it.
They were saved later. I had hardly finished looking at this when Queen Mary did the same thing.
Her foremast part went off and her stern came past us sticking right up in the air with the screw going around. As she got abreast of us the stern went up with an appalling explosion.
Bits few everywhere and some came aboard us. How anybody was saved from either ship I simply cannot think. This struck me as a good start for an action which seemed to be going to last for hours.
I began to wonder when our turn to go ballooning was coming. I did not have to think long as there was a terrific explosion alongside and the whole place became dense with smoke.
I shipped smoke pads and goggles, which we are supplied with and slipped down in to the turret thinking every moment the magazine would go up. Nothing happened.
My gun stopped firing of course and every body started coughing. There was absolutely no panic and as soon as the smoke cleared we found everything worked properly and went on firing. Not a soul was hurt.
After a few rounds however the turret would not train and we had to stop firing. I retired into the smoky bowels of the turret to find everyone very cheerful but very shaken. I did a visual inspection of the rollers on which the turret revolves assisted by a fat and thin man.
To get to these rollers it was necessary to be thin. I know you will not believe me when I say I as a fat man had difficulty getting thin.
Anyhow after perspiring freely partly from fright and partly from exertion we found a shell had hit the armour that protects the roller path and a large bit had been knocked in on the roller.
We moved this and some splinters that had got in between the rollers and tried to train on the enemy who where on the other beam. All this time we had been sitting with our backs to the Huns.
Not at all nice. Alas she would not move and decided to be brave and proceed outside the turret and see if there was anything stopping her outside but there was nothing.
Another inspection of the rollers was necessary. I was quite thin by this time and found bits of shell in the rollers and removed them and to our joy the turret went around.
We were soon hard at it again. The men did not know anything about the loss of the Indefatigable and Queen Mary thank goodness.
I resumed my position at my slit and reviewed the situation. I have never seen anything like it as we seemed to be not only fighting the German battle cruisers but most of the High Sea Fleet as well.
There were literally miles of ships and the sea was boiling with the falling shells. It seemed utterly impossible that a ship this size could live in this inferno. She did without being hit again.
It was when the High Seas Fleet first came in that the Invincible, Indomitable and Inflexible joined us and within three minutes of arriving the poor Invincible went up with a roar.
I did not see her again thank goodness. The squadron where ahead of the HMS Lion.
At about 1830 the climax arrived when the HMS Warrior, Defence and Black Prince dashed across ahead of us and got between us and the High Sea Fleet.
Sir Robert Arbucknot was the Admiral and why he did it goodness only knows.
Some say because he wanted to clear the Defence’s name over the Goeber [sic]affair.
Others because he wanted to draw the enemy fire off us, and others again because he was Sir Robert, a man who knew no fear.
I fear he did not meet his object if it was to draw the enemies fire off us. It was a most wonderful sight but they might as well have gone and sat at the end of a Hun gun.
This is what we call windy corner it was dreadful but wonderful. Sir Robert and his ships where of course at once overwhelmed I did not see any of them actually sink.
They only stuck it a few minutes. A Hun light cruiser came past burning and sinking. We hurried her on to the bottom. This was the first real damage I had actually seen to the enemy and it bucked me up no end.
Of course they must have been hit many times but due to my low position and the mist I did not see any of our shells fall on them. Up till this time we had not been firing solidly.
All the time there were several short lulls when some mist or rain prevented us shooting. After windy corner there was a lull at 1900 when the four Queen Elizabeth class [battleships] came up and opened fire. A glorious sight.
I could not see there firing but they themselves where hit a few times. At about 1910 the Grand Fleet appeared and relieved us.
Still went on having small actions with the Hun battle cruisers whenever possible and it was during these actions that I did see some damage done and they replied very feebly.
I saw several ships burn. I could not see the action between the two battle fleets but some damage must have been done. Our last action started at 2120 and finished at 2140. We fairly shook them up that time.
Several of them fell out of line listing over and burning. Some say they saw two sink. I quite believe they did. They certainly were not firing back at us. It then became too misty and dark to see anything. We pushed on at them, but they all fled and disappeared in the night.
During the latter part of the action our destroyers continually attacked with torpedoes. Several of them were sunk. The Hun destroyers made an attack on us but where driven off by our light cruisers. All that night we chased the Huns with the hope of meeting them at dawn.
A deadly night sitting staring into darkness expecting any moment to be attacked by their destroyers. I did it until 0230 when I could not really see anything with fatigue. I routed out Baker my midshipman and lay down on the bare iron deck of the turret and in one moment was fast asleep.
I was called just as it was getting light but alas there was nothing in sight. I felt a bit dentistry still and hope we will meet them as I know they where very badly hit and we could have defeated them.
At 0330 when it was light a blooming Zeppelin came over and gave our position away and they escaped. We spent all day looking for them without result and at 1800 returned. At 1600 we passed over the spot where the battle took place.
It was a beastly sight, corpses thank goodness all Huns and wreckage. I did not see a single Englishman.
Food was not thought of much during the 24 hours. I ate quantities of ship biscuits and tinned beef, which was very good stuff.
the conclusions I draw from the show are that the Huns are very good at the beginning of an action but cannot keep it going.
At the end they were rotten and defeated. There is not the smallest doubt in my mind that they lost as many ships as we did and received considerably more damage.
I am perfectly convinced they will be defeated one day. They would have been completely that day had the light lasted. There luck at the beginning with mist and light gave them the first advantage.
The destroyers who attacked them in the night swear they saw some sink. I do not think the truth will ever be known. New Zealand was in the thick of it and came out with hardly a scratch to ship or person.
The other ships in the fleet where hit many more times than we were. The sailors say the Maori face we have painted on the central top saved the ship. If we painted it out now I am sure they would mutiny. We are not going to try. The Kangaroo was not there.
When the enemy fire you can see the dull red flash of their guns and then a cluster of dots getting bigger and bigger as they tear towards you. One knows it is no good ducking or getting behind anything as the only thing to do is sit still and hope they do not hit you.
It is like somebody throwing heavy stones at you whilst you sit still in a chair.
It is a nice little game this war and will not be sorry when it is over.