Account of Anthony Boyce Combe at the Battle of Jutland

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Account of Anthony Boyce Combe at the Battle of Jutland, taken from notes made on H.M.S. Lion notepaper found in RNMN/Combe/2 in the Liddle Collection of the Special Collections in the Library at the University of Leeds.


It was on the afternoon of May 31st 1916 that I was having tea in the gunroom of H.M.S. Lion, The time being about 3.30 in the afternoon. We had just come down from "Control" during which there was rangefinder practice and so on. I was having a boiled egg & bread & butter enjoying my food immensely when "Control" again sounds off. Why they sounded off Control 5 mins after they had been at Control for an hour I couldn't make out at the time. But I wasn't going to leave my boiled egg or my tea until my hunger had been appeased. At 3.35 I thought I might as well stroll up and see what was doing and upon coming onto the Bridge I enquired why they had Sounded off again and the Chief Yeoman of Signals told me that there were some hostile cruisers on the Horizon. This sounded rather exciting so I thought and proceeded immediately up to the "Foretop" which is my station during action.

Upon arriving up there I found the Gunnery Lieut Comdr (now promoted to Comdr) and Lieut Lake (assistant spotter) and the Fleet Paymaster (Dumaresq Operator) and 2 Seamen 1 who works the "time of flight" card and the other who takes down on some paper Spotting correction & so forth. I was cursed for being so late but I was in high spirits so didn't mind and took my seat by the voicepipes which I look after. I can remember feeling very excited and pleased with life at the prospect of there being an action with the Huns.

A little later on H.M.S. Galatea (Commodore Sinclair) reported 2 light cruisers & Destroyers and at about 3.40 H.M.S. New Zealand reported Enemy Battlecruisers in sight on her Port bow therefore placing them right ahead of H.M.S. Lion. What I thought was rather bad luck was when H.M.S. New Zealand & Indefatigable were ordered to take station astern of us, however it meant that H.M.S. Lion would be the 1st into action. I could hardly believe my ears when I heard that [2] the Enemy Battle Cruisers were actually in sight and that I should get a glimpse of them in a few seconds when H.M.S. New Zealand got astern of us. It was when H.M.S. New Zealand & Indefatigable had taken station astern when the Captain reported German Battle Cruisers in sight right ahead and that he was going to alter course to Starboard. There were 5 of them altogether:— Seydlitz, Lutzow, Derfflinger, Moltke, Von der Tann.

Ahead of the Battle Cruisers arranged in a sort of fan formation you could see their destroyers. It was a very impressive sight and I don't suppose I shall ever forget it especially when their leading Battle cruiser opened fire. It was a very fine sight. It was a rippling Salvo which means that one gun fires after another in quick succession each gun being set to a different range so that the shot which falls nearest to the Enemy ship the range of which is put onto the remaining guns. The Ship which opened fire first was the Seydlitz.

Almost immediately after the enemy had opened fire the Captain said "open fire" to the Foretop and the Gunnery Lieut Comdr opened fire with 4 13.5 guns all at once. You could hear the firing bell in the T.S. ring and the director layer pressed the trigger at which the guns went off with a tremendous great crash. Then I set myself down at my voice pipes trusting to luck that the Foretop would be spared! After a bit the firing of the Enemy got hotter as time went and soon they began hitting us. Shells were all over the place and splinters by thousands were flying all over the whole ship and the air was full of them. It was a wonder the officers & men on the Bridge weren't hit, as it was, the ladder from the Bridge to the Director Tower was shot away at the bottom and consequently had to be made fast to one of the stanchions on the forebridge. It was during the 1st ¾ of an hour of hard fighting that H.M.S. Queen Mary & H.M.S. Indefatigable blew up. It was also at the end of the first 1st ¾ of an hours run that our Battle cruisers ran into their High Seas fleet which were right ahead. So for a short time of about 20 minutes we [3] were under 2 fires, So we turned about and steamed away from their High Seas fleet. When we turned about their Battle cruisers turned about as well and so we steamed parallel to each other on the opposite course. It was a very impressing sight seeing the British Battle cruisers turning about as I could see only H.M.S. Princess Royal + Tiger and the New Zealand as the Queen Mary + Indefatigable had gone to the Bottom.

The 3rd Battle Cruiser under Squadron under Rear Admiral Hood did not join us for another hour as they were at the Northern base with the Grand Fleet undergoing gunnery practice so they weren't able to join us for another hour from the time we turned about. After about a quarter of an hours steaming on the opposite course I saw the 5th Battle Squadron which comprises H.M.S. Barham, Warspite, Malaya, Valiant, (The Queen Elizabeth being in Dock at the time) steaming towards us at full speed shells falling all around them and I must say it was a grand sight seeing these fine big Dreadnoughts firing their big 15" guns as hard as they could. We passed them between them and the enemy and they turned about and followed in our rear. I felt rather relieved at them being with us as I could foresee a pretty rotten time ahead of us if we hadn't been reinforced with some more ships. We continued on this course for a long time all the time firing as hard as we could at the enemy Battle cruisers. Just after we had turned 16 points the 3rd Battle cruiser Squadron comprising H.M.S. Invincible, Inflexible, Indomitable which had been with the Grand Fleet and had proceeded down at full speed to get into action leaving the Grand Fleet miles astern.

At 5.30 we ceased firing, turrets trained fore and aft and lined up Director and Checked Sights all being correct. During this lull I looked out of the Foretop and saw Q turret. The front plate & roof were blown right off and the roof plate was lying on the deck. It was smoking and there were flames every now and again the remains of the cordite which had exploded. The shell evidently had burst on top of the left gun and had blown off the roof and front of the turret. The inside of the turret had caught fire and the major who was badly wounded sent the sergeant major to [4] report the turret out of action. 10 minutes after he had sent the Sergeant Major up to report the Cordite in the gun-loading and waiting trays exploded and the flash travelled right down the trunk and exploded the Cordite in the Hoppers and also went into the Shell Room and killed everybody there. The magazine doors had just been closed a fact which saved the Ship. Every one in the handing room was killed and the flash travelled up through the hatches to the Switchboard killing Doctor Moon, Mr Goad and all the men stationed there, then went right up & along the mess deck, and the blast of it was noticed by the people in the wireless office. Another hit by the Canteen had wiped out nearly the whole of the after repair party.

During this lull I also saw that a shell had come across from the Port side and smashed the sheet cable holder and gone out through the Ships side without exploding. A large part of the cable holder was found on top of the turret and pieces of the cable all over the focle (sic). At 5.37 we reoppened (sic) fire on the Starboard side. At 5.44 the Enemy ceased firing at us but we did not cease firing at them. The visibility by now was getting very bad and it was very hard to see the Enemy at all in fact we were firing at the flashes of the enemy's guns most of the time not a very good mark however we hoped that they hit. Several German ships seemed to be missing at this time. At 6.0 about we heard that the Grand Fleet was in sight in fact about 5 secs after I espied them myself on the Port bow. At 6.2 we ceased firing and shifted object to a light cruiser bearing Green 38. We fired one salvo then checked fire. Then I saw a sight I am not likely to forget as long as I live and that was Sir Robert Arbuthnot with his armoured cruisers . They steamed full speed right across our bows and were firing at an enormous rate. They were going full pelt for the enemy and was the finest sight as I have said before that I have ever seen and ever will likely to see. At 6.12 we opened fired (sic) again on a Battle cruiser the left hand ship of their line. The light cruiser we had been firing at was seen to be on fire at 6.15. At 6.20 the range of the Battle cruiser was 7200 yards and consequently I felt a bit uneasy as we had only 5 guns in action. She did not seem to be hitting us much though. She must have been having a pretty poor time. At 7.40 we saw a big ship broken in Half with bow and stern sticking out of the water. We all thought it was one of the enemy and were fearfuly (sic) bucked with life. She subsequently proved to be H.M.S. Invincible. At about 6.40 we ceased firing.

It was very misty now and quite calm still with the wind rising slowly. We were easing ourselves and getting something to eat consisting of Corned Beef + Stale Bread, when suddenly the mist lifted and we saw Enemy Battle cruisers, I am not quite sure how many but I think 2. They opened fire at once being about 12000 yards off. We did not [5] fire for very long as they disappeared into the mist again. At 8.17 opened fire on a light cruiser Green 70 quite rapid firing. B turret fired both guns at once which shook us a bit. At 8.30 we were firing at a Battle cruiser again, apparently it was exceedingly good firing as Lieut Comdr Longhurst declared he'd hit several times. She was blazing all over. Anyway she only fired 2 salvos at us. At 9.24 we ceased firing for good and Lieut Comdr Longhurst told us in the Foretop to get as much sleep as possible as we may be having another action during the night and next day. However as we shall see neither happened. Before we went to sleep we ate some ham which I had procured* and also some scons (sic) + loaves of Bread. nothing happened next morning. The turrets had only about 15 rounds of A.P. let as they had been firing A.P. the whole time.

Nothing much happened on Thursday we steamed about in the hopes of finding the enemy. In the afternoon I went around the ship to see all the damage done. I saw the dead being taken out of Q turret. Nasty Sight. Captain Jones had been on top of the turret all Wednesday night. They used the Admiral's + Captain's cabins for the wounded Captain's Bathroom as operating theatre. There was a huge hole in the Midship funnel and it was great luck that the funnel did not blow over when we were steaming back as it was exceedingly rough. The 2nd cutter was burnt except about a quarter of it which was all blistered and cracked with the heat of the flames. 2nd whaler which lies in the cutter was jammed between the stump derrick and 2nd cutter or what remained of the 2nd cutter. The Galley was blown to smithereens so consequently the food had to be cooked under the After Shelter Deck where the 4" guns are. There was another shell in the Canteen flat which killed a number of men which were down there at the time. It was an awful sight seeing bits of body and arms and legs lying about. Another shell just above it smashed no 9 motor Bollard another came into the Sick bay via the Skylight and made good against an armoured plate on the Ship's side thus forcing the plate out a couple of inches. Of course Q turret was a mass of twisted metal and limbs & blood and everything smelt of T.T. powder. The times our Ships sunk were:— Queen Mary at 4.26 Indefatigable at at 4.0 Invincible at 5.36. All the above times are G.M.T. One of the Midshipmen saw all the above named ships sink, I saw the Invincible sink. Shells were quite visible especially ricos [ricochets] which could be seen very plainly one came quite near the Foretop once. One complete 12" shell landed in the Midship funnel and didn't explode. They tried to take the fuze out but it was jammed and so they had to roll it over the side. We remained at B.J.1. Stations till noon on Thursday + steamed N + South looking for disable Enemy ships. We arrived at Rosyth at about 8.0 am. on Friday. Soldiers gave us a cheer as we went under the bridge. Tiger and Princess Royal went into the Dockyard at once. We coaled ship 1200 tons. Men were nearly dead by the time we had finished. Directly we finished coaling and had washed down we ammunitioned ship all night.



  • During the battle Combe was sent to get some food from the Wardroom. He returned with a ham buttoned into his jacket, and he had to go past Vice-Admiral Beatty's chart room to climb back up to the Foretop. Beatty bellowed at Combe, "You young blighter! What are you doing, stealing my ham?" Despite the fact that he had not raided the Vice-Admiral's pantry, Combe was thereafter known as "The Snotty who Pinched the Admiral's Ham."