Account of Eric Sydney Brand at the Battle of Jutland

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First-hand Account of Eric Sydney Brand at the Battle of Jutland, where he served as Rate Officer in Valiant. Taken from RNMN/BRAND in the Liddle Collection in the University of Leeds Library Special Collections, pp. 10-13.


On the evening of Tuesday 30th. May the familiar signal "Raise Steam" was received and, I suppose, about 10 pm. we slipped off quietly to sea. This was particularly easy in "Valiant" which was organised for just that and we slipped quietly into out three Defence watches, which whther closed up or not revolved in harbour as well as at sea. 1916 was the firse [sic] year of "Summer Time" and the Fleet had been ordered to keep it in harbour but to revert to G.M.T. at sea. "Valiant" however wanted none of the disturbances of upsetting the 'Routine' clocks and only altered the clocks which were concerned outside the ship.

It is for this reason that the times which follow in my memory may often be an hour ahead of the times usually given in the official reports. On 31st, May, I had the Morning watch 0400 - 0800 in the starboard Anti-Submarine Control shelter, facing out on the starboard bow just abaft the Conning Tower. It was a beautiful morning, flat calm sea and some light mist and the watch passed entirely uneventfully.

My Action Station in "Valiant" was 'Rate Officer' in the 15" Gun Control Tower, a cylindrical armoured Tower set more or less in the center of the Conning Tower which surrounded it. On top of the Gun Control Tower was mounted the 'Armoured Director' which duplicated the Director Tower set in the Foretop. The Rate of Change of Range, was an important item in the Gunnery Control set up and it was up to me to try to estimate it at any time. My 'instrument' was what was known as a 'Dumaresq', after its inventor. After I had made an estimate of the 'inclination' of our target, i.e. the angle which the target's course made with my line of sight, and estimated the target's speed, I set these on the Dumaresq and was rewarded by being told the 'Rate' and the Deflection (left or Right) to be set on the gun sights.

But, in the modern "Valiant" there was an elaborate and valuable check provided upon the 20-year old Sub-Lieutenant's judgement. Down below armour in the Transmitting Station, presided over by the Instructor-Commander, Whetherhead,[sic] was a much larger Dumaresq and the 'rate' it was showing was connected to a pencil which drew a line on the plotting paper on which the ranges of the target were being plotted as they came in. If then, 'my' rate prodiced a line which co-incided with the change of range shown by the mean of the rangefinder's plot, then 'my' guesstimation of the speed and inclination of the target must be pretty good. This whole set-up was known as the Dreyer table after the name of it's [sic] inventor, Captain F.C.Dreyer (of whom we shall hear more later.

To enable me to chat back and forth to the Dreyer plot I had a direct line and personal telephone to Midshipman B.R.Hooper who could make 'suggestions' to me regarding my guesstimations from what he deduced from 'his' plot. I was seated immediately alongside the 15" Control Officer (Archie May, the (G) Officer so that I could ask his opinion of the inclination and speed and if from his fall of shot it seemed to him that my 'rate' was not working right he could quickly tell me so. The 'rate' which was decided on at any moment was that which was transmitted to the Director Layers and the guns (in case the Director broke down) only, of course, they were not concerned with the 'rate' as such but with the continually changing gun range which it produced.

Though there was a Control Officer in the foretop, the Gunnery Officer in the Gun Control Tower was regarded as the primary control and the Director could be laid from either the foretop or the Armoured Director on top of the 15" G.C.T. The 6" guns were controlled from an armoured space on either side of the Main G.C.T. but in no physical connection with it. Torpedo Control was exercised from a Torpedo Control Tower abaft the Mainmast. There were no Plotting arrangements as we knew them later in 'private' ships. The Navigating Officer had a Midshipman crouched alongside the Magnetic Compass in the Conning Tower (Wemyss) writing down courses and general remarks in his Note Book while in the Lower Conning Tower and [sic] R.N.R. Lieutenant kept what reckoning he could.


Now, having set the stage, so to speak, I can get back to the 31st. May[.] I remember going on deck during the forenoon with the Squadron still steaming along at, I suppose, about 15 knots in a fine but misty day. After Lunch I went down to my cabin to have a nice sleep and when I awoke, about 1515 I put on my warmer clothes, lammy, sweater etc. for the Dog Watches in the Submarine Control Shelter and went to the Gun Room to tea where the wonderful old Maltese messman we had had produced a beautiful sugar cake for no particular reason.

About 1545 "Action Stations" was sounded, but I thought nothing of it as it might well have been an Exercise and why should I worry I had to be up there at 1600 for the Dog Watches anyway so off I went to the Gun Control Tower. There was nothing in sight and nobody said anything about any enemy sighting so I tested my communication with Hooper in the transmitting Station and found all well. Then the Major of Marines, Iremonger, who was in charge of the Confidential Books put his head into the entrance and gave me a varnished board on which were typed the Confidential Gun Control signals which was one of his normal jobs. I think I said "Thank you, but I expect we shall be packing up again soon" to which he replied "You may as well have it anyway[.]"

I still was'nt [sic] taking much notice of what the Squadron was doing and still had no idea that it was anything but a routine drill when rather idly searching the horizon with my glasses out of the port 'slit' in the Tower, I saw a German ship and remember exclaiming "My God, it's the "Von der Tann" and getting busy estimating her 'Inclination' and speed - but I had no idea that there any enemy anywhere near. How much the Captain in the Conning Tower next door knew, I do not know but he never said anything to us. It must be remembered in those days there were no 'Public Address' system and any form of 'broadcasting' was completely unknown so that the Captain was quite unable to inform the ship's company of what was going on 'up top'.

As soon as we could, we opened fire on either "Von der Tann" or "Seydlitz" which had also appeared and I think the range was about 22,000 yards, at any rate the time of flight was around 45 seconds and in those days we only fired one four gun salvo and waited to see the splash before making any correction to the range and firing the next salvo. Nobody had thought of Double Salvoes separated by a definite amount of range in those days. That was one of the lessons we learnt that day. I do not think we got any hits at this point and it was frustrating to find that between the times of firing and the fall of shot the target had probably had time to make an alteration of course.

Then I remember the Battle-Cruisers passing us on opposite course on our engaged side and checking our fire for them but we did not check them off and never realised that both "Indefatigable" and "Queen Mary" were missing. A lille [sic] before however, Manly, our Signal Yeoman in the Tower had remarked rather casually "There's a ship sinking over there" To which I, the partisan little Englishman, remarked "German? I suppose." No, sir said Manly it had a white ensign as it sank" But I suppose I was too busy to bother anymore about it.

Was I frightened? By every instincet [sic] of my character I should have been but I do not remember having time to indulge in it which proves the value of 'Drill' so that one becomes so absorbed in doing what you have been 'drilled' to do that there is no time to wonder if you may be hit yourself. I well remember seeing five black objects falling into the water very close to us and sending up enormous splashes and during the 'run to the South' we all felt what seemed to be a hit on our port quarter. Careful investigation after we got into harbour however revealed nothing but I think I am right in saying that when the ship docked in ugust one or two 'bites' were found in the bilge keel, so it was a lucky miss for us.


When it came our turn to make the 16 point turn in succession to the Northward, I fancy that Captain Woollcombe and Freyberg, the Commander (N) contrived to turn well 'inside' and thus dodged the German concentration on our turning point. Then our Battle Cruisers drew away and the German battle Cruisers drew out of range, but, before long it seemed that we could see the Van of the High Seas Fleet on our starboard quarter in the mist and, after a while they drew within extreme range and we started to engage the leading ships. This meant 'B' Turret firing on an after bearing which made things pretty uncomfortable in the G.C.T. with the heavy blast. It was hard to see our targets and at one during this period Archie May left me and climbed up to the foretop to see if he could see any better from there, but he could not and soon returned to the G.C.T.

We began to feel pretty uncomfortable too since our Battle Cruisers had drawn out of sight and the High Seas Fleet seemed to be gaining on us. We had no idea that the Grand Fleet from Scapa was even at sea. If the Captain had, which I doubt, he certainly did not bother to mention it to us next door, when all of a sudden the yeoman, Manly,, looking out on the disengaged port bow said "There's the Grand Fleet" and what a welcome sight was "Marlborough's" Division coming with the rest of the fleet to join us. I was so elated I could not resist quoting Harry Tate down my phone to Hooper "There's some Reinforcements - No, not three and fourpence" which Tate said down the garden hose pipe when he called the War Office to report a supposed attack on his garden.

It was almost perfect the way in which Jellicoe had 'fitted' the Grand Fleet between our Squadron and the Battle Cruisers ahead - the perfect culmination of 'Line-of-Battle Tactics' down the ages. True the 5th. B.S. did have to slow down considerably to let "Marlborough's" Division in and at one time we were practically stopped and firing over "Barham's" quarter-deck or so it seemed. At this time we caught a glimpse of "Warspite" on our Starboard quarter circling with her helm jammed and on our starboard beam "Defence" blew up and "Warrior" was being badly straddled.

As we settled down into the battle-line it was hard to identify a target with any certainty but we engaged anything we could see until the German destroyers drew a curtain of smoke across the High Seas Fleet to conceal it's [sic] 'Battle Turn Away'. By this time "Warspite" was considerably astern of us due to her gyrations and I well remember Herbert Packer, who was her Sub-Lieutenant, stating at the Staff College in 1931 that he distinctly saw the 'Battle Turn Away' behind the German smoke screen but "Warspite" never reported it since, in those days, it was generally supposed that the Admiral knew everything and did not wish to be told his business by odd Captains.

After the German smoke screen we did not really know what was happening and, except for the burning "Weisbaden" [sic] between the lines I do not remember seeing any German heavy ships although their destroyers appeared to be drawing out to attack. After a while when dusk was falling and things seemed to have quietened down generally, I went on deck to look around. We had a small shrapnel hole on the starboard side of the foremost funnel and the 'Battle Honour Board['] on the after side of the searchlight control abaft the after funnel quoting "The Glorious First of June" had broken in halves and was hanging down. - A good omen we thought for the morrow. The Gun Room had been badly wrecked by the blast of "X" turret firing overhead at the start of the action and was uninhabitable.

Then I returned to the G.C.T. and, I think, someone must have produced some Corned beef sandwiches, it was getting pretty late by our 'summer' time. darkness fell and things seemed reasonably peaceful, though we had of course, to be prepared for Destroyer attacks during the night[.]


Archie May went off to look around and the Armoured Director's crew were being releived [sic] above us causing a lot of seaboots up and down the ladder and general confusion in the G.C.T. whe, to my horro, heavy firing broke out on our beam which seemed awfully close. It was the 2nd. Light Cruiser Squadron suddenly sighting the German 4th. Scouting Group and I could see that it was the Light Cruisers involved in the searchlights. I hurriedly trained the turrets onto the beam and did what I could to be prepared to get into the action when to my relief May turned up and at almost the same time the searchlights switched off and the action was over, but it was fierce while it lasted.

Thereafter, so far as we were concerned, the night passed rather peacefully, we remained closed up at Action Stations of course and as the night wore on we saw all sorts of actions going on astern of us. In one of these I well remember coming out of the G.C.T. and looking aft saw what was obviously a German Battleship of the "Nassau" class, easily recognisable by her boat crane, crossing our wake. The Captains of "Malaya" (next astern) and "Valiant" have both been blamed subsequently for not reporting this which would have given the C-in-C the clue that the German Fleet was passing astern which the Admiralty so lamentably failed to give him - the worst tragedy of all that day of tragedies.

Finally it became light on that misty June morning and no Germans were sighted so about 1100 the Fleet altered course for home. Soon after "Valiant" was detached to go on ahead into Rosyth and get filled up with oil etc since she (like "New Zealand") had sustained no damage or casualties. That evening I went down to the sick Bay and got the doctor to swab out my eyes which had got rather filled up with cordite smoke but he was able soon to put them right. Next morning early we fired our 6" guns to get the nosed-fuzed lyddite shells out of them, since these could not be 'rammed' back. I remember well sitting at breakfast in the Ward Room, the Gun Room as I have remarked being untenable, when the Commander (N), Geoffrey Freyberg came in and said "Well, I have made a very nice landfall "and I had to do it on the Gyro". (Sperry Gyro Compasses were not always very reliable in those days, the ballistic gyro frequently giving trouble and it was not until the Admiralty Compass observatory, after the war replaced it with mercury boxes that they became really reliable. But the Gyro was not before it's [sic] time since the magnetic Compasses in a modern battleship with all it's [sic] steel etc. had very little directive force left to it.)

Arrived back ih [in] Rosyth we soon got an oiler and an ammunition ship alongside. We had fired 35 rounds per 15" gun without any troubles and the last rounds loaded into the hot guns were still in them so that when according to the Drill book the ejectors were inserted into the muzzle to push back the shell and the order "Force Back" given nothing happened. However gradually by putting baulks of timber down the muzzle wedging them up on the rangefinder on the lower turrets (ij [in] the case of "B" and "X" and running the guns out hydraulically all the guns except one of "X" were finally unloaded. The nose of the recalcitrant shell in "X" (Left?) had got wood splintered all around it and finally it was removed by ordnance experts getting into the gun removing the base fuze and inserting a specially made strongback working against the sub-calibre ring secured in the breach. It was not until a week after that shell had been loaded that it was finally removed and the gun was 'Sponged Out' also in accordance with the Drill Book!