My Year of the War eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 443 pages of information about My Year of the War.

XXIX On The “Inflexible”

What Englishman, let alone an American, knows the names of even all the British Dreadnoughts?  With a few exceptions, the units of the Grand Fleet seem anonymous.  The Warspite was quite unknown to the fame which her sister ship the Queen Elizabeth had won.  For “Lizzie” was back in the fold from the Dardanelles; and so was the Inflexible, heroine of the battle of the Falkland Islands.  Of all the ships which Sir John Jellicoe had sent away on special missions, the Inflexible had had the grandest Odyssey.  She, too, had been at the Dardanelles.

The Queen Elizabeth was disappointing so far as wounds went.  She had been so much in the public eye that one expected to find her badly battered, and she had suffered little, indeed, for the amount of sport she had had in tossing her fifteen-inch shells across the Gallipoli peninsula into the Turkish batteries and the amount of risk she had run from Turkish mines.  Some of these monsters contained only eleven thousand shrapnel bullets.  A strange business for a fifteen-inch naval gun to be firing shrapnel.  A year ago no one could have imagined that one day the most powerful British ship, built with the single thought of overwhelming an enemy’s Dreadnought, would ever be trying to force the Dardanelles.

The trouble was that she could not fire an army corps ashore along with her shells to take possession of the land after she had put batteries out of action.  She had some grand target practice; she escaped the mines; she kept out of reach of the German shells, and returned to report to Sir John with just enough scars to give zest to the recollection of her extraordinary adventure.  All the fleet was relieved to see her back in her proper place.  It is not the business of super-Dreadnoughts to be steaming around mine-fields, but to be surrounded by destroyers and light cruisers and submarines safeguarding her giant guns, which are depressed and elevated as easily as if they were drum-sticks.  One had an abrasion, a tracery of dents.

“That was from a Turkish shell,” said an officer.  “And you are standing where a shell hit.”

I looked down to see an irregular outline of fresh planking.

“An accident when we did not happen to be out of their reach.  We had the range of them,” he added.

“The range of them” is a great phrase.  Sir Frederick Doveton Sturdee used it in speaking of the battle of the Falkland Islands.  “The range of them” seems a sure prescription for victory.  Nothing in all the history of the war appeals to me as quite so smooth a bit of tactics as the Falkland affair.  It was so smooth that it was velvety; and it is worth telling again, as I understand it.  Sir Frederick is another young admiral.  Otherwise, how could the British navy have entrusted him with so important a task?  He is a different type from Beatty, who in an army one judges might have been in the cavalry.  Along with the peculiar charm and alertness which we associate with sailors—­they imbibe it from the salt air and from meeting all kinds of weather and all kinds of men, I think—­he has the quality of the scholar, with a suspicion of merriness in his eye.

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My Year of the War from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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