Alexander Fullerton - The Blooding of the Guns

from the publisher:
On the last day of May 1916, a decisive naval battle of World War I is fought as a vast array of warships confront each other at sea. One hundred fifty ships and sixty thousand men under the command of Sir John Jellicoe engage the German High Seas Fleet of one hundred ships and forty-five thousand men. Young Nicholas Everard is a sub-lieutenant serving on a British destroyer, and this is his first naval action.

Nick's older brother, David, is his father's preferred son. He is also present at Jutland as navigation officer on a cruiser; their uncle, Hugh Everard, is the captain of a battleship. Nick has already incurred severe punishment as a midshipman -- twelve cuts with a cane and a dozen blows with a rope's end as well as extra duty and stoppage of shore leave -- for striking a superior officer. He would have been court-martialed, but was shown leniency as theirs was a naval family. It seems doubtful that this hot-headed younger son will amount to anything in the navy. But in this battle he has the opportunity to demonstrate talent and courage, the very qualities needed as the Royal Navy meets the German challenge to its supremacy on the high seas.

Alexander Fullerton was born into a naval family and entered the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, at the age of thirteen. He first went to sea in 1941, serving in battleships, cruisers, destroyers and submarines. He is the author of more than thirty novels.

"The most meticulously researched war novels that I have ever read." --Len Deighton

"The research is unimpeachable and the scent of battle quite overpowering." --Sunday Times (London)

"The accuracy and flair of Forester at his best." --Irish Times

"His action superb and he never a period foot wrong." --The Observer

"The prose has a real sense of urgency, and so has the theme. The tension rarely slackens and the setting is completely convincing. So is the love story . . . Unusual and compelling." --Times Literary Supplement

"I have not found this splendid authenticity in any naval fiction since C.S. Forester's heyday." --Captain J.E. Moore, editor, Jane's Fighting Ships

The following is an excerpt from the book The Blooding of the Guns: A Novel of the Battle of Jutland by Alexander Fullerton.

Chapter 1


Nick took his eyes off the wilderness of black, grey-flecked sea. It was still dark, but greyer eastward as dawn approached. The glow from the binnacle lit the bony sharpness of his captain's face.

'Sir ?'

'What's the date?'

'May thirtieth, 1916, sir.'

All destroyer captains were mad. One knew that; everyone did.

'Sure it's not the thirty-first?'

'Certain, sir.'

'What's the displacement of this ship?'

'Eight hundred and seven tons, sir.'

'How d'ye know that?'

'Looked it up, sir.'

'Devil you did . . . Where were we built?'

'Yarrow, sir.'

'What's our horsepower, d'ye look that up?'

Sub-Lieutenant Nick Everard, Royal Navy, with salt water streaming down his face, neck and inside his shirt, nodded as he grabbed at a stanchion for support. 'Twenty-four thousand, sir.' Lanyard lurched, staggered, her stubby bow seeming to catch in a trough of sea like a boot-toe in a furrow; spray rattled against splinter-mattresses lashed to the bridge rail. Nick had forgotten, until now, that the bridge of an eight-hundred-ton torpedo-boat destroyer, when she was steaming head-on into even as moderate a sea as a Force Four wind kicked up, Was like the back of a frisky horse only wetter. Mortimer, her captain, spat a lungful of salt water down-wind; he'd appeared on the bridge a few minutes ago, wearing a long striped nightgown and a red woollen hat with a bobble on it; he'd looked like something out of a slapstick comedy even before the nightgown had been soaked through, plastered against his tall, angular frame like a long wet bathing-suit. He spat again, and laughed.

'You're wrong, Sub! Twenty-four thousand five hundred!'

The innacuracy seemed to have elated him. Nick stared back, not yet sure of him, wary that what looked like a friendly grin might turn out to be a grimace of fury. One couldn't be sure of any of these people yet. Nick had joined Lanyard only forty-eight hours ago -- he'd been ordered to her suddenly, without any sort of warning, transferred at a moment's notice from the dreadnought battleship that had housed him for the last two years. It had seemed so unbelievable that there'd had to be some snag in it. In spite of the sensation of relief and escape, he was still ready to find the snag, and meanwhile all his experience of officers senior to himself warned him to be cautious, to look every gift horse in the mouth.



'My first lieutenant informs me that you have the reputation of being lazy, ignorant and insubordinate. Would you dispute that?'

Nick stared straight ahead at the empty, foam-washed sea. Johnson, Lanyard's first lieutenant, was a contemporary and friend of Nick's elder brother David. He was standing behind, and holding on to the binnacle, beside Mortimer and within about three feet of Nick's own position. You couldn't be very much farther from each other than that, on a bridge about as large and which seemed just about as solid as a chicken-house roof. Johnson was officer of the watch, and Nick, who lacked as yet a watchkeeping certificate, was acting as his dogsbody. In the last few minutes the first lieutenant had been listening to Nick's exchanges with Mortimer while pretending either not to hear or to have no interest in them.

Nick said stiffly, 'No, sir.'

'You don't dispute it?'

'I'd rather not contradict the first lieutenant, sir.'

"Hear that, Number One?' Johnson nodded, poker-faced. He had a thin, pale face, dark-jowled, needing two shaves a day by the looks of it. Rather a David-type face, Nick thought gloomily. Lanyard had her bow up, scooting along like a duck landing on a pond; Mortimer asked Nick, 'What's cordite, when it's at home?'

'Blend of nitro-glycerine and nitrocellulose gelatinised with five per cent vaseline, sir.'


'Petroleum jelly, sir, to lubricate the bore of the gun.'

'What's the average speed of a twenty-one inch White-head torpedo when it's set for seven thousand yards?'

'Forty-five knots, sir.'

He was wondering when the difficult questions were going to start. But Mortimer was apparently satisfied, for the time being.

'Number One!'

Johnson turned to him. 'Sir.'

'I suspect you may have been partially misinformed. This officer is neither wholly ignorant nor pathologically insubordinate. Only time will tell us whether or not he's lazy. Give him plenty to do, and if he shirks it kick his arse.'

'Aye aye, sir . . .' Johnson pointed out over the starboard bow. 'Everard. Fishing vessel there, steering east, bearing steady. What action if any would you take ?'

'Alter course to starboard, sir, until past and clear.'

'Right. Come here.'

Nick stepped closer.

'Our course is south fifteen west, two hundred and sixty revolutions. Take over the ship.'

'Aye aye, sir.'

'I'll be in the chartroom.' He tapped the starboard voice-pipe's copper rim. 'This pipe. Let me know the minute we raise May Island.'

Nick watched Johnson and Mortimer leave the bridge together. Things really did seem, so far, to have changed quite strikingly for the better!

Not that one could count on it. Johnson, until he proved otherwise, was an enemy. He'd obey Mortimer's orders to the letter, but whether or not a man was 'lazy' was a matter for individual interpretation, and 'kicks' came in different shapes and sizes. Most disconcerting of all was the fact that this Johnson was a friend of brother David's who was up in Scapa as navigating officer of the cruiser Bantry. Bright, successful, correct brother David, whom one tried not to let into one's thoughts too often. Johnson's decision to leave one up here alone in charge of the watch wasn't any sign of trust or encouragement. An officer in a destroyer who couldn't keep a watch was a semi-passenger, leaving a lesser number of watchkeepers on the roster, and since the only way to get a watchkeeping certificate was to acquire experience it was in Johnson's interests to make sure he got some.

It was in Nick's too, though -- for present convenience, not career reasons. He'd decided long ago that he'd quit the Service when he could. There'd been no point in mentioning it to any one, not even to Sarah, his stepmother, to whom he confided most things. As long as the war lasted, one was stuck; one could only think of it as something that mercifully wouldn't last for ever. Like a prisoner sitting out a gaol sentence. And in those terms, the events of the past two days had left him feeling like a long-term convict unexpectedly offered parole.

He'd been in his battleship's gunroom, writing a letter to Sarah, at Mullbergh. She was the only person he ever did write to. He wrote about once a month, and never mentioned the Navy or the war. What would there have been to say about it? There was no action -- only pomposity and boredom. Somewhere distant, other men were fighting and being killed.

He wrote a lot about the Magnussons -- he'd never told another soul about these Orcadian friends of his -- and fishing, and the landscape of the Orkneys, that kind of thing. The Magnusson family and fishing provided the escape which as a midshipman and then junior sub-lieutenant in a battleship in the Grand Fleet he'd so badly needed; escape from boredom drills, bugle-calls, and from such horrors, too, as 'gunroom evolutions'.

Being well able to look after himself physically, he hadn't suffered much from the bullying rituals which were justified by the word 'tradition'; but he'd had to witness them, and pretend to take part in them. And they'd be in full swing again now, in the gunroom he'd just left. When he'd been promoted sub-lieutenant and become mess president, he'd stopped it all; but he knew the man who'd taken his place, and there was no doubt the 'evolutions' would have been re-established; evolutions such as 'Angostura Trail'. A midshipman would be blindfolded, forced to his hands and knees and made to follow with his nose a winding trail of Angostura bitters; if he lost the scent, all the others would lay into him. Or 'Running Torpedoes', which involved a boy being launched off the gunroom table as hard and fast as his messmates could manage it; if he tried to shield his head or break his fall, he'd be thrashed.