Author's Note: This is a modified, slightly earlier, interpretation of a historical event; one in which the German High Seas Fleet came closest to achieving their prime strategic goal of engaging an isolated element of the British Grand Fleet with the possibility of destroying it; thereby changing the balance of Naval power (expressed in terms of Capital Ships per fleet) in their favour - which, at this time in the OTL, was closer than at any other. My intention is to use contributors' input to examine the whole operation stage-by-stage and see what might have happened.
In Naval terms, 3rd November 1914 was a sad day for Britain and a mixed day for Germany. The British Admiralty learned that morning of the defeat (the first for a century) of the South Atlantic Squadron, with the loss of two Armoured Cruisers, HMS Monmouth and HMS Good Hope (flagship of Rear-Admiral Sir Christopher Craddock, who died in the battle); and had further suffered a humiliating raid (albeit with only the loss of one submarine and three trawlers) by German warships on the port of Yarmouth. On the German side, their Battlecruisers had successfully completed their first offensive operation of the war; but without (as had been hoped) drawing any isolated parts of the Grand Fleet into an ambush. On returning to port the next day, they were heartened by hearing about the victory at Coronel by the East Asiatic Squadron, commanded by Vice-Admiral Maximillian Graf von Spee; but saddened by the loss (in the early hours of 4th November) of the Armoured Cruiser SMS Yorck, which had blundered into one of their own minefields in fog. Yorck's former crew had been transferred en-masse to SMS Seydlitz eighteen months earlier when that ship was commissioned.
Over the following two weeks the British appointed a new First Sea Lord (by re-appointing an old one) 74-year-old John "Jacky" Fisher (Admiral of the Fleet The Right Honourable the Lord Fisher of Kilverstone, to give him his proper title) and, among other things, started to plot the downfall of Admiral von Spee and his squadron, eventually deciding to send three of the Grand Fleet's precious Battlecruisers to American and South American waters. One Battlecruiser, HMS Princess Royal, was sent to cover the East Coast of America then to the eastern exit of the Panama Canal while the other two, HMS Inflexible and HMS Invincible (flagship of Vice-Admiral Doveton Sturdee), were sent to form the nucleus of a powerful hunting group covering the southern tip of South America, based on the Falkland Islands.
On the German side, Rear-Admiral Franz von Hipper (commanding the German Battlecruiser force) agitated for permission to take his ships (except SMS Blücher) south to rendezvous with the victorious East Asiatic Squadron and escort it back to Germany, but this was refused.
On 16th November (six days after sailing from Devonport) Invincible and Inflexible stopped to coal at the small Portuguese harbour of Sagres (near Cape St Vincent) and 24 hours later steamed over the horizon in the approximate direction of Brazil; seemingly oblivious to the fact that Portugal was neutral and there were several German merchant ships laid-up in the harbour. Local telegraph operators lost no time in chatting to their opposite numbers in South America about the British ships' movements. Also on 16th November (although unknown to the British Admiralty at the time) SMS Derfflinger, the lead ship in a new, more powerful, class of German Battlecruisers, was passed fit for active service with the fleet after having damaged one of her steam-turbine engines during trials.
It didn't happen historically, but What If the intelligence on the British Battlecruisers' movements had been passed to Berlin and von Hipper had learned of it? It could, so easily, have been!
One consequence would almost certainly be that German Diplomatic outposts in Chile and Argentina would be telegraphed orders to pass that intelligence on to Vice-Admiral von Spee at all costs - if not to give him fresh orders to keep out of sight for a period and certainly not to initiate any more offensive action.
Another consequence (in this ATL) occurred on Sunday, 22nd November 1914. It was an overcast, wet and breezy dawn at Hartlepool, visibility out to sea was limited by rain showers sweeping in periodically, driven by an on-shore breeze. The Army and Navy personnel stood-to as normal, but when nothing was sighted after the stipulated period the 'stand-to' gave way to a more relaxed Sunday morning wartime routine. At 9:00am most of the Civilian and Military populations were starting their particular format of Divine Worship (the more devout among the Civilian population had already attended Early Service, the less devout had used the time for extra sleep!). At 9:30am, their devotions were rudely interrupted by the express-train whistle of incoming shell-fire, followed by the crash of detonating rounds. Destroyer HMS Waveney didn't stand a chance, being hit simultaneously by two 21cm shells from Blücher's first salvo, one of which struck her torpedo launchers. She disintegrated in a massive explosion, showering nearby ships and buildings with wreckage and half-stunning all exposed personnel nearby - none of her crew survived.
As the Military abandoned 'Church' and rushed to man their weapons, several more ships appeared; three of them large. The first two of these targeted the headland batteries with their broadside armament in passing (no doubt aided in finding the range by the batteries' proximity to the lighthouse tower) and then proceded to fire into the docks and warehousing areas. The third ship (actually SMS Moltke) slowed as she came opposite the batteries and kept them under fire (over three hundred shell craters were later counted around their wrecked positions), again using just her broadside guns. Destroyers HMS Doon, HMS Test and HMS Moy (all outside the harbour) came under a hail of long-range fire from three Light Cruisers and were forced south without being able to launch a torpedo atack. While no direct hits were scored on them, they did suffer significantly from shell splinters, but only being armed with 12pdr guns were hopelessly outranged.
The two Scout Cruisers inside the harbour (HMS Patrol and HMS Forward) were unable to engage. HMS Patrol was spotted while moving by SMS Von der Tann and took a 28cm shell through her engine room, which (fortunately) did not explode but did cause rapid flooding, leading her Captain to run her aground in an effort to preserve her. HMS Forward (without sufficient steam in her boilers) attracted two full secondary armament broadsides from SMS Seydlitz and was left a floating pyre. HM Submarine C9 (having been peppered with debris from Waveney) also attempted to sail but was repeatedly rocked onto her beam-ends by random near-misses and lost electrical power.
The noise of the bombardment (and the impact of the inevitable 'overs', some of which hit houses and at least one church) caused panic among the civilian population, who started fleeing into the countryside, however the local telephone operator stayed at her post, frantically trying to get the alert out. Eventually, she got a connection to the Admiralty in London, and morse-keys began tapping-out 'Most Immediate' signals to Grand Fleet units.
After forty minutes of bombardment, the German ships moved slowly eastward, back out to sea, leaving the remaining inhabitants (once whe worst of the smoke and dust had cleared) to survey the wreckage of their ravaged town and start firefighting and rescue/recovery actions.
First point for discussion: The British Battleships have a maximum speed of about 21 or 22 knots; Beatty's Battlecruisers (if driven hard) can make about 27: a difference of about one hour for every 100 miles steamed - so would Beatty (in the Firth of Forth, 100 miles from the scene, and expecting to encounter only three, inferior, enemy Battlecruisers and a large Armoured Cruiser) keep to the slower pace of his supporting Battleships or (as Jellicoe historically feared) would the combination of the words 'German', 'Battlecruisers' and 'Blücher' act as a red rag to a bull and send him charging off unsupported on a best-guess interception course?
Your views please!
Please also read the "Background" post (below) before replying.