Read CHAPTER XIX of The Boy Allies at Jutland, free online book, by Robert L. Drake, on ReadCentral.com.

ADRIFT

The great naval battle of Jutland was over.

The British fleet now had given up pursuit of the fleeing Germans and Vice-Admiral Beatty paused to take stock of his losses; and they were enormous.

Three great battle cruisers had gone to the bottom-the Queen Mary, of 27,000 tons; the Indefatigable, of 18,750 tons, and the Invincible, of 17,250 tons. Cruisers lost included the Defense, of 14,600 tons; the Black Prince; of 13,550 tons, and the Warrior, of 13,550 tons. The giant battle cruiser Marlborough, of 27,500 tons, had been badly damaged, as had the Lion and other vessels. The destroyers Tipperary, Turbulent, Nestore, Alcaster, Fortune, Sparrow Hawk, Ardent and Shark had been sunk. Total losses ran high into the millions and in the number of men above 7,000.

The German losses had been less, but nevertheless, taking into consideration damage done to the effectiveness of the two fleets as a whole, the enemy had sustained the harder blow. The British fleet still maintained control of the North Sea, while the Germans, because of their losses, had been deprived of a large part of the fighting strength of their fleet. The British, in spite of their heavier losses, would recover more quickly than could the enemy.

The dreadnaught Westphalen was the largest ship lost by the Germans. It was of 18,600 tons. The three German battleships lost, the Pommern, the Freiderich and the Frauenlob, were each of 13,350 tons. Four battle cruisers had been sent to the bottom. They were the Elbing, the Essen, the Lutzow and the Hindenburg, each of 14,400 tons. The German losses in torpedo destroyers had been particularly heavy, an even dozen having been sent to the bottom. Besides this, the enemy had lost three submarines and two Zeppelin airships, besides a number of smaller aircraft. In men the Germans had lost slightly less than the British.

And so both British and Germans counted the battle a victory; the Germans because in total tonnage sunk they had the best of it; the British, because they held the scene of battle when the fighting was over and because the enemy had retired.

But, no matter with which side rested the victory, there was no gainsaying the fact that the battle of Jutland was the greatest naval struggle of all time.

After giving up pursuit of the enemy, the British withdrew. Damage to the various vessels was repaired as well as could be done at sea and the ships in need of a more thorough overhauling steamed for England, where they would go into dry-dock. The bulk of the British fleet, however, still in perfect fighting trim, again took up the task of patrolling the North Sea, that no German vessels might make their escape from the fortress of Heligoland, for which point the enemy headed immediately after the battle.

In spite of the severe losses of the Germans, the return of the high sea fleet to Heligoland was marked by a grand ovation by the civil population. Various reports were circulated on the island, and all through Germany for that matter. One report had it that the entire British fleet had been sent to the bottom; and Berlin, and all Germany, rejoiced.

But as time passed and the German fleet still remained secure behind its fortifications, the German people began to realize that the victory had not been so great as they had been led to believe. They knew they had been fooled; and they vented their anger in many ways.

Street riots occurred in Berlin and in others of the large cities. The people demanded to be told the facts. Later they were told, in a measure, but even then they were denied the whole truth. So conditions in the central empires grew from bad to worse.

Jack and Frank, struggling in the water where they had been hurled by the collision of the Queen Mary and the Indefatigable, were glad of the company of Harris, who had bobbed up so suddenly alongside of them in the darkness.

Harris greeted Jack’s exclamation of surprise with a grin.

“Yes; it’s me,” he replied, discarding his grammar absolutely; “and I’m glad to see you fellows again. Question is, what are we going to do now?”

“Well, you know as much about it as I do,” declared Jack. “I haven’t any idea how far we are from shore, but I am afraid it is farther than we can swim.”

All three cast their eyes over the water. There was not a spar nor other piece of wreckage in sight. But Jack made out a few moments later, some distance to the east, what appeared to be a ship of some sort. He called the attention of the others to it.

“Suppose we might as well head in that direction, then,” declared Harris.

“Right,” agreed Frank.

He struck out vigorously and the others did the same.

It was a long ways to that little speck on the water and the lads knew that if the vessel were moving away from them they probably would be lost. But at that distance the vessel seemed to be stationary, so they did not give up hope.

Half an hour later Frank exclaimed: “We’re making headway. Ship must be standing still.”

“Well, I wish it would come this way,” declared Harris. “We’re still a long way from safety.”

“It’s probably a German, anyhow,” said Jack, “so if we are rescued it will be only to be made prisoners.”

“That’s better than being made shark bait,” said Harris; “and, by the way, speaking of sharks, I have heard that there were many of them in these waters.”

Frank shuddered; for he had a wholesome disgust for the man eaters.

“Hope they don’t smell us,” he said.

“And so do I,” agreed Jack. “We couldn’t hope to fight them off, for we have no arms.”

“I’ve got a knife,” said Harris, “but I am afraid I wouldn’t know what to do with it should a shark get after me.”

The three became silent, saving all their strength for swimming.

An hour later they had drawn close to the vessel.

“It’s a German all right,” said Jack, regretfully.

“Any port in a storm,” said Harris. “That talk of shark a while back made me feel sort of squeamish. I want to get out of this water.”

They continued to swim toward the ship.

“Wonder what’s the matter on board?” exclaimed Frank, suddenly.

They had approached close enough now to see men rushing hurriedly about the deck. Hoarse commands carried across the water, though the words were unintelligible to the three swimmers at that distance.

“Something wrong,” said Jack, quietly.

“That’s what I call hard luck,” declared Frank. “Here we think we have reached a place of safety and something goes wrong.”

“Don’t cry till you’re hurt, youngster,” said Harris, quietly. “The ship is there and we’re pretty close to it. Those fellows aboard, German or English, are bound to lend us a hand.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” declared Frank.

“Well, I am,” said Harris. “The German sailor is all right. It’s the German officer who makes all the trouble. They’ll help us if they can.”

The three swimmers were a short distance from the ship now.

Jack raised his voice in a shout.

“Help!” he cried in German.

There was no move aboard the German vessel to indicate that the lad’s cry had been heard.

“Told you so,” said Frank.

“Don’t cry too soon, youngster,” said Harris. “We’ll try it again, and all yell together.”

They did and this time their cries were heard.

Several men aboard the German vessel stopped their rushing about and gazed across the sea in the direction of the swimmers. One man produced a glass and levelled it in their direction. Then he turned to the others and they could be seen to gesticulate excitedly.

“One wants to save us and the others don’t,” declared Frank.

For some moments the men continued to argue. One shook his finger in the faces of the others and pointed in the direction of the swimmers.

“You’re all right,” declared Frank, speaking of the one man. “Wish I were there to lend you a hand. But I’m afraid the others are too much for you.”

At this juncture the man who opposed the others produced a revolver and made an angry gesture. He was ordering the others to the aid of the three friends in the water.

“By Jove!” said Harris. “He’s all right. I’d like to be able to do him a good turn.”

And the chance was to come sooner than he expected.

Apparently the men aboard the German vessel had decided to obey the order of the man who would save the three swimmers. A boat was lowered over the side.

Three men stood ready to leap into it. The hopes of the three friends in the water rose high; but they were shattered a moment later in a sudden and unexpected manner.

A dull rumbling roar came suddenly across the water. Instantly all became confusion aboard the German vessel. Officers shouted hoarse commands and struck out with the flat of their swords as members of the crew rushed for the rails.

“An explosion!” cried Frank. “Swim back quickly.”

The others understood the significance of that strange rumbling aboard the German vessel as quickly as Frank, and turning rapidly, they struck out as fast as they could.

An explosion such as that dull roar indicated could have but one result and the lads knew it. Evidently there had been a fire on board-that accounted for the strange activities of the men on the ship-and the flames had reached the vessel’s magazine.

A second and a louder roar came now. Men jumped into the sea by the scores and struck out vigorously that they might not be pulled under by the suction when the ship sank.

Then there came an explosion even louder than the rest. The great ship parted in the middle as though cut by a knife. A huge tongue of flame shot high in the air. Hoarse cries from aboard, screams and frightful yells. Split in twain, the vessel settled fore and aft.

A second huge tongue of flame leaped into the sky; and then the vessel disappeared beneath the sea.

Giant waves leaped in the direction taken by Jack, Frank and Harris. The sea churned angrily about them and the three had all they could do to keep their heads above water. Then the water calmed down. Frank looked around and there, not fifty feet away, rolling gently on the waves, was the small boat so recently lowered over the side of the German vessel.

With a cry to the others to follow him, Frank turned about and headed for the boat with powerful strokes.