The Cruise of SMS Emden

On 14 August 1914 Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee detached Fregattenkapitän Karl von Müller’s light cruiser SMS Emden (3,664 tons, 23.5 knots, 10 x 4.1 inch and 8 x 2 inch guns, 2 x 17.7 inch torpedo tubes) and the supply ship Markomannia from his East Asia Squadron to operate in the Indian Ocean.[1] Spee wrote in his war diary that:

A single light cruiser, which consumes far less coal and can, if necessary, coal from captured steamships, will be able to maintain herself longer than the whole Squadron in the Indian Ocean, and as there are great prizes to be won there (Indian, East Asiatic and Australian shipping), it seems advisable to despatch our fastest light cruiser, the Emden, with our best collier. She can subsequently proceed to the African coast, or should Holland remain neutral, to the Netherland East Indies.[2]

However, the Dutch decided to ‘rigorously enforce their neutrality.’[3] On 27 August the Dutch coast defence ship Tromp ordered Emden to stay out of Dutch territorial waters. She had earlier sent away a German collier that had stayed too long in Dutch waters. This meant that the Germans had to abandon their pre-war plan that supply ships should wait for orders in neutral waters. Emden’s coal bunkers had a capacity of 790 tons. She might carry up to 1,000 tons, but her combat efficiency and the crew’s living conditions would be adversely affected by the need to store coal wherever space could be found. At her most economical cruising speed of 12 knots she consumed 60 tons of coal an hour. At the maximum speed that she managed on trials of 23.85 knots she used 371 tons per hour. Thus, with a normal coal load, she had an endurance of just over 13 days and a range of just under 3,800 miles at 12 knots. She could maintain full speed for about 50 hours and 1200 miles.[4] Müller used the following tactics when attempting to capture a merchantman: The commerce raider should not show its colours until the last moment; it should raise the signals “Stop” and Do not use your wireless” along with its ensign; as little use as was possible should be made of searchlights; and the raider should take up a position that made it impossible for it to be rammed by the merchant ship. He also recommended that cruisers employed as commerce raiders should have larger than normal crews in order to be able to provide prize crews for colliers and guards for prisoners. Secrecy was vital for a commerce raider, but the disappearance of merchant ships and reports from neutral ships would mean that the enemy would discover the cruiser’s operating area. Consequently, delaying landing prisoners at ports would help preserve secrecy only if the cruiser had not stopped any neutral ships or if it was operating a long way from enemy signal stations or ports.[5] Emden’s appearance on the Colombo to Calcutta route in the Bay of Bengal surprised the British. They had returned to peacetime procedures, as they had not realised that Spee had detached one of his cruisers. Consequently, her early victims assumed that she was a British cruiser. Müller encouraged this by having a fake fourth funnel rigged. British light cruisers had two or four funnels, whereas Emden had three.[6] Emden coaled at Simular Island off Sumatra on 5 September, narrowly missing the armoured cruiser HMS Hampshire, which had searched there the day before.

On 10 September, Emden stopped a neutral ship, the Greek Pontoporos, whose cargo of coal was British, making her a legitimate target. Müller kept her as a collier. Emden had captured five British ships by 13 September. One, the Kabinga, had a US cargo, so was retained as a prison ship. The other four were sunk. The next ship intercepted by Emden was another neutral, the Italian Loredano. Her master, Captain Giacopolo, refused to take Emden’s prisoners on board on the grounds that his ship had insufficient provisions. Müller allowed her to go. She did not have a wireless, but the next day met and warned the City of Rangoon, a new ship carrying a cargo worth £600,000, which did have a wireless.[7] This led to a suspension of trade, which meant that several ships that would probably have been caught by Emden remained in Calcutta: she was then very close to that port. She did, however, capture and sink another merchantman that had already sailed. Müller now decided to change his area of operations. He first sent the Kabinga to Calcutta (now Kolkata), with his prisoners, before heading for the coast of Burma (now Myanmar). On the way, Emden captured and sunk another British ship, transferring her crew to a Norwegian ship on 16 September Müller’s next move, after coaling, was to attack Madras (now Chennai) after dark on 22 September. Some damage was caused to the steamer Chupra and to the town, but the main damage caused by the attack was the destruction of 425,000 gallons of oil in the Burmah Oil Company’s tanks. It also led to an interruption of trade in the Bay of Bengal at 2 am on 23 September, only 18 hours after the previous suspension had been lifted, and to alarm in Madras and the surrounding area. Five people were killed and a dozen wounded.[8] Between 25 and 27 September Emden took six prizes in the area of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Three were in ballast, but the Admiralty collier Buresk carried 6,000 tons of Welsh steam coal, the best coal in the world for naval use. Buresk was retained as a collier, four of the ships were sunk and the sixth sent to Colombo with the prisoners.[9] Emden then coaled in the Maldives, before arriving at Diego Garcia on 9 October to carry out repairs. Diego Garcia is still British territory and is now a major US base, but it was then so remote that its inhabitants had not learnt of the war. However, on 12 October the light cruiser HMS Yarmouth sank the Markomannia and removed the Pontoporos from German control. Müller next took his ship back to Ceylon, capturing seven merchantmen from 16 to 19 October. Five were sunk and another sent to port with the prisoners. The sixth, the Exford, was retained as she was another Admiralty collier carrying 6,000 tons of Welsh tons.[10] On 21 October Emden passed within 10-20 miles of Hampshire and the armed merchant cruiser HMS Empress of Asia, but the ships did not see each other because of poor visibility. At 5:00 am on 28 October, Emden entered Penang, which had no fixed defences, but was defended by three French destroyers and a torpedo boat. The Russian protected cruiser Zhemchug was also present (3,103 tons, 24.5 knots, 8 x 4.7 inch and 4 x 1.9 inch guns, 4 x 18 inch torpedo tubes): she was smaller than Emden, but not hugely outclassed.[11] Emden was initially assumed to be a British cruiser and did not raise German colours until she was three quarters of a mile from the Zhemchug. Emden then fired a torpedo at her, closed to 800 yards and opened fire.

The Allied ships were caught unprepared. Emden sailed passed the French ships, turned and fired another torpedo into the Zhemchug, which sank 15 minutes after the start of the action. 91 of her crew of 340 were killed and 108 wounded. Emden tried to capture the steamer Glenturret, which was waiting for a pilot and was flying a flag that indicated that she was carrying explosives. However, the French destroyer Mousquet then returned from patrol. She was quickly overwhelmed by Emden and sank in seven minutes. The Germans picked up the French survivors, but then left, as the other French destroyers had now been alerted. Müller learnt from his prisoners that he had lost Pontoporos before he put them onto a merchant ship that he captured soon after leaving Penang. On 1 November a large convoy carrying Australian and New Zealand troops to Egypt left King George Sound, Albany, Western Australia. It was escorted by the Japanese battlecruiser Ibuki (14,636 tons, 21.5 knots, 4 x 12 inch, 8 x 8 inch, 14 x 4.7 inch and 4 x 3.1 inch guns, 3 x 18 inch torpedo tubes), the British armoured cruiser HMS Minotaur (14,600 tons, 23.1 knots, 4 x 9.2 inch, 10 x 7.5 inch and 16 x 12 pounder guns, 5 x 18 inch torpedo tubes) and the Australian light cruisers HMAS Melbourne and Sydney (each 5,400 tons, 25.5 knots, 8 x 6 inch and 4 x 3 pounder guns, 2 x 21 inch torpedo tubes).[12] On 8 November Minotaur received an order to join the Cape Squadron in South Africa in place of the pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Goliath, which had suffered mechanical problems. The Admiralty by then knew that Spee’s squadron was in the south Pacific, so the only threats to the Australasian Convoy were Emden and Königsberg. That day Emden and Buresk were meeting Exford 40 miles north of the Cocos Islands. The next day Emden appeared at Direction Island, landing about 50 men under Kapitänleutenant Hellmuth von Mücke to destroy the wireless station.[13] However, the fourth funnel had been poorly rigged, so the wireless station personnel realised that Emden was German and sent a warning. The convoy was 55 miles north of the Cocos just before 7:00 am when it received the warning. Captain M. L. Silver of Melbourne, the escort commander, was not allowed to detach his own ship, and decided that his must retain his most powerful one, Ibuki, in case the two German cruisers combined to attack the convoy. He therefore sent Sydney to the Cocos. On the morning of 9 November Emden saw smoke, which was assumed to be the Buresk. However, it soon became clear that it came from a four funnelled cruiser. She was Sydney, One of Emden’s officers assumed initially that she was either HMS Newcastle or Yarmouth, which both operated in the area. He later wrote that he was ‘pleased’ about this, which is rather puzzling.[14] Yarmouth was as strong as Sydney and Newcastle outgunned Emden, though not overwhelmingly (4,800 tons, 25 knots, 2 x 6 inch, 10 x 4 inch guns, 4 x 3 pounder guns, 2 x 18 inch torpedo tubes). Müller thought that she was Newcastle.[15] Müller ordered his ship to raise steam. There was not time to recover the landing party, and Emden left the lagoon entrance at 9:17 am. Müller wanted space in which to manoeuvre. Emden opened fire at 9:40 am at a range of 9.500 yards and soon scored hits, but her 4.1 inch guns could do little damage at that range.[16] Sydney initially over estimated the range, so did not hit until her 12th round.[17] Her actual speed advantage was more like 4 knots than the theoretical 2 knots, so her captain, John Glossop, was able to keep his ship out of the Emden’s effective range whilst causing heavy damage to the German cruiser. Early in the action, Emden lost her forward funnel and her steering gear, forcing her to steer with her engines. Sydney closed to 5,500 yards in order to launch a torpedo, which missed. She then opened the range. Müller tried a torpedo attack but could not get close enough By 10:20 am Emden had lost all three funnels and both her fire control positions. She was holed both fore and aft and the amount of smoke coming from her led Sydney to think briefly that she had sunk. The unequal action continued until 11:20 am, when it became obvious that Emden was sinking. She ran herself aground on the reef of North Keeling Island. Sydney then headed off in pursuit of Buresk. A prize crew boarded her, but the Germans had already opened her scuttles, and she was sinking. Sydney then returned to North Keeling Island and at 4:00 pm started firing on Emden, which was still flying her ensign because the lines that were used to raise and lower it had been shot away. Müller ordered his crew to abandon ship, but many were drowned as they tried to swim ashore. Sydney ceased fire after a white flag was shown and Seaman Werner climbed the mast to lower the ensign.[18] This was the Royal Australian Navy’s first victory over a warship. Müller was unhappy that Sydney fired on a helpless ship.[19] However, there were plenty of examples of both sides in this war carrying on firing on enemy ships until they struck their colours, including SMS Nürnberg on HMS Monmouth at Coronel eight days before.[20] Sydney then returned to Direction Island with the intention of capturing the landing party, first picking up the survivors of Emden who were in the water. When she reached the station, the landing party had sailed away in the proprietor’s schooner, Ayesha. The schooner became SMS Ayesha and managed to reach Arabia, then part of the Ottoman Empire. One man died of typhus and others were killed in skirmishes with Bedouin tribesmen. The 49 survivors travelled by the Hejaz Railway to Constantinople, where on 23 May 1915 they were welcomed by the German commander of the Ottoman fleet, Admiral Wilhelm Souchon. They were the only men from Germany’s two German and six light cruisers outside European waters at the outbreak of war to reach friendly territory with colours flying. [21] On 10 November Sydney returned to North Keeling Island to rescue Emden’s survivors. 134 of her crew had been killed in the battle and four of the 66 wounded prisoners died of their wounds. 145 men were captured unwounded. Sydney had four men killed and 122 wounded.[22] More of Emden’s crew were captured when Sydney boarded Buresk and when HMS Himalaya re-captured the Exford in December. Sydney lost four men killed and 12 wounded. Müller was much admired by both sides. Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, ordered that:

‘The captain, officers and crew of the Emden have earned the most honourable treatment possible under the rules of war. If there are no incidents that would preclude otherwise, the captain and his officers may retain their daggers.’[23]

This was equivalent to allowing army officers to keep their swords, but the daggers had been lost with the ship. The Official History of the RN in WWI praised Müller for his ‘skill, resource and boldness…and for the chivalry and humanity with which his duty had been discharged.’[24] Emden was one of only two German warships in WWI whose entire crew were awarded the Iron Cross Second Class, the other being the submarine U9. Müller was awarded Germany’s highest decoration, the Pour le Mérite, popularly known as the Blue Max, in 1918. By then, the British had allowed him to go first to the Netherlands and then back to Germany on the grounds of poor health. He had previously been awarded the Iron Cross First Class, but this medal had become more common since 1914, so a higher award was by 1918 thought to be more appropriate. Emden was the most successful of the German cruisers employed as commerce raiders. She destroyed 16 merchantmen with a total tonnage of 82,938 tons, and also sank two Allied warships. This was not greatly superior to the 76,609 tons of merchant shipping destroyed by Karlsruhe, but Emden caused far more disruption to British trade. Karlsruhe operated off the north east coast of Brazil and did not cost the British much more than the value of the ships that she sank. Emden caused trade in the Bay of Bengal to be suspended from 14 September to 2 October, apart from brief periods on 22-23 September and 1 October. An average of one Japanese battlecruiser, four armoured cruisers, four light cruisers and two armed merchant cruisers were searching for Emden at any one time.[25] The final word on Müller and Emden should go to the German Official History:

‘Müller delivered his blows where they would have the greatest political and economic effect. His sudden appearance and disappearance at the scene of operations and a correct appreciation of the enemy’s counter moves enabled him not only to achieve success in each individual operation, but also to render his capture difficult. It was not luck, but the capacity for forming an accurate estimate of the situation from the scanty information obtainable from prizes and intercepted wireless, that were responsible for his achievements in spite of all the enemy’s endeavours to catch him. Far from keeping to any fixed scheme, Captain Von Müller instantly dropped a predetermined course of action when circumstances rendered a change of plan desirable.’[26]

[1] Technical details of warships are from R. Gray, Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1906-1921 (London: Conway Maritime Press, 1985). unless otherwise stated. [2] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical)  Review of German Cruiser Warfare 1914-1918. p. 4. [3] P. G. Halpern, A Naval History of World War I (London: UCL Press, 1994), p. 74. [4] Gray, Conway’s 1906-1921, p. 157; R. K. Lochner, The Last Gentleman-of-War : The Raider Exploits of the Cruiser Emden, trans., T. Lindauer, H. Lindauer (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1988), p. 307.,  where the coal consumption is stated to be 60 tons a day at 12 knots. An alternative of 48 tons a day is given on p. 16, but the higher figure is the same as used by Gray. [5] German Cruiser Warfare. p. 7. [6] Lochner, Last Gentleman, p. 73. [7] C. E. Fayle, Seaborne Trade., 3 vols. (London: HMSO, 1920). vol. i, p. 207. [8] Ibid., pp. 209-11. [9] Ibid., p. 213. [10] J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. i, p. 334. [11] See Wikipedia entry linked to ship’s name in text above. <<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_cruiser_Zhemchug>&gt;. Accessed 10 November 2014. [12] P. H. Silverstone, Directory of the World’s Capital Ships (London: Ian Allan, 1984), p. 182. [13] UK National Archives, Kew, ADM 137/10221, ‘S.M.S. Emden: Later Papers’. ‘Account by Officer ex S.M.S. EMDEN of SYDNEY-EMDEN Action 9/11/14′, p. 272 says the landing party was 53 men, with a total of about 60 including boat crews; Lochner, Last Gentleman. says 50, p. 213. [14] ADM 137/1021, p. 273. [15] A. W. Jose, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, vol. ix, the Royal Australian Navy, 1914-1918, Ninth ed. (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1941), p. 195. [16] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. i, p. 382. [17] ADM 137/1021, p. 273. [18] Lochner, Last Gentleman, pp. 184-85. [19] Jose, R.A.N., pp. 200-1. [20] Ibid., pp. 188-89. [21] Lochner, Last Gentleman, pp. 279-80. [22] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval, p. 384. [23] Quoted in Lochner, Last Gentleman, p. 207. [24] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. i, p. 385. [25] German Cruiser Warfare. p. 8. [26] Quoted in Ibid.

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The Cruise of SMS Karlsruhe

In July 1914 the new German light cruiser SMS Karlsruhe was in the Caribbean in order to relieve SMS Dresden as the warship protecting German interests in Mexico, where a revolution was in progress. Her first task after the outbreak of war was to rendezvous with the liner Kronprinz Wilhelm in order to transfer guns, stores and men to her. The liner would then operate against Allied trade as an auxiliary cruiser.

At 11 am on 6 August the transfer had almost been completed when the British armoured cruiser HMS Suffolk appeared. The two German ships headed off; Suffolk pursued Karlsruhe, but was unable to catch the faster German ship. Kronprinz Wilhelm had received two 88mm guns, but only a third of the intended ammunition.

The high speed chase used up a lot of Karlsruhe’s coal, so her captain, Fregattenkapitän Erich Köhler, decided to head for Newport News in order to coal. However, at 8:30 pm in moonlight his ship spotted the British light cruiser HMS Bristol, which had already seen the German cruiser. An indecisive long range engagement followed, but Karlsruhe was out of sight by 10:30 pm.

Köhler was unable to get in touch with the supply ship Neckar, so decided to head for the Hamburg-Amerika line’s coal depot at St Thomas in the Virgin Islands. However, Karlsruhe did not have enough coal to get there, so diverted to Puerto Rico, narrowly missing the British armoured cruiser HMS Berwick during the night. She reached Puerto Rico with her bunkers almost empty.[1]

The US authorities allowed Karlsruhe to coal, but only 800 tons were available. Köhler, concerned that his ship was being pursued by more powerful British ships, accepted what was available before sailing to the Dutch island of Curacoa for more coal.

Once Karlsruhe’s coal bunkers were full, Köhler headed for the north east coast of Brazil, which he correctly anticipated would be a safer and more lucrative area for commerce raiding. He joined up with the supply ship Patagonia en route.

Karlsruhe began operations off Brazil on 30 August. She was able to coal five times from supplies obtained from neutral ports by her supply ships or captured from British ships. She always coaled off Lavadeira Reef, which Köhler ‘considered the only suitable anchorage in that area.’[2]

Karlsruhe captured 16 British merchantmen plus one Dutch ship that was carrying a British cargo with a total tonnage of 76,609 tons. Their value was estimated by British insurers as being well in excess of £1 million.[3]

She retained some as supply ships, scuttling the rest. The large number of prisoners taken became a problem, so on 18 October the supply ship Crefeld was sent to neutral Tenerife with 419 prisoners. The British Official History of Seaborne Trade during the war comments that some of the prisoners later complained about their treatment, ‘but it is generally admitted that the Germans did as well as was possible in the circumstances.’[4]

The Crefeld was due to reach Tenerife on 22 October. The prisoners would probably report Karlsruhe’s coaling base, and she had been observed by neutral ships, so Köhler decided to leave the Brazilian coast on 24 October and return to the West Indies. He intended to attack Barbados, destroying shipping in its harbour and interrupting British trade communications in the Caribbean.[5]

Karlsruhe made the last and largest of her 17 captures on the way, the 10,328 ton liner Vandyck on 26 October. She carried 200 passengers and a large amount of stores. Late the same day, Karlsruhe stopped the British merchantman Royal Sceptre, but released her after her master persuaded the boarding officer, falsely, that her cargo was neutral.

On 4 November Karlsruhe suffered an accidental internal explosion. 262 of her crew, including Köhler, were killed, but other 146 were rescued by two of her supply ships. One of these, the Hoffnung, formerly the British Indrani, was then scuttled. The survivors managed to get back to Germany a month later via Norway on the other, the Rio Negro.

Karlsruhe was the second most successful of the five German light cruisers employed as commerce raiders, after SMS Emden. At least 26 cruisers and armed merchant cruisers took part in the search for her at different times. There were 12 cruisers and 3 armed merchant cruisers looking for her at the end of August.[6]

The British learnt of her move away from Brazil when the prisoners from Vandyck and other prizes reached port on 2 November. However, they knew nothing of her destruction, so continued to search for her for some time. The battlecruiser HMS Princess Royal joined the search in mid-December, and reports about Karlsruhe’s alleged movements continued to be received during February and March 1915.

Kronprinz Wilhelm took 15 prizes, with a total tonnage of 60,522 tons, before 11 April 1915, when the poor state both the ship and her crew’s health forced her to enter Hampton Roads, where she was interned. She was comfortably the most successful of the five German merchant ships commissioned as commerce raiders in 1914.[7]

[1] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical) ‘Review of German Cruiser Warfare 1914-1918′, p. 10. says that it was estimated that 4 tons would be left; J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. i, p. 50, says 12 tons were left.

[2] German Cruiser Warfare, pp. 1, 10.

[3] C. E. Fayle, Seaborne Trade, 3 vols. (London: HMSO, 1920). vol. i, p. 331.

[4] Ibid. p. 261, footnote 1.

[5] Ibid., p. 330.

[6] German Cruiser Warfare, p. 12.

[7] Ibid., pp. 1, 12.

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The Battle of Coronel 1 November 1914

In 1914 Germany controlled the Chinese port of Tsingtao, now Qingdao, on a similar basis to British control of Hong Kong. Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee’s East Asia Squadron of two armoured and three light cruisers was based at Tsingtao, but none of its ships were there when war began between Britain and Germany.

The light cruiser SMS Emden had been in Tsingtao, but sailed on 31 July. Another light cruiser, SMS Leipzig, was on the west coast of Mexico, protecting German interests during the Mexican Revolution. The third, SMS Nürnberg, was on her way to relieve Leipzig. The two armoured cruisers, Spee’s flagship SMS Scharnhorst and SMS Gneisenau, were on a cruise through German Pacific islands.

At Hong Kong the Royal Navy had the armoured cruisers HMS Minotaur, which was slightly superior to either of Spee’s armoured cruisers, and HMS Hampshire, which was inferior to Spee’s ships, two light cruisers, eight destroyers and three submarines. The pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Triumph had been in reserve at the start of the war, but was quickly recommissioned. There were insufficient sailors available to fully crew her, but two officers, six signallers and 100 other men of the Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry volunteered for sea service. This gave the British a narrow margin over Spee in Chinese waters.

Further south, the battlecruiser HMAS Australia gave the British Empire naval forces a big superiority In Australasian waters. There were also a number of old French ships in Asia.

However, the major question for Spee was whether or not Japan would enter the war. It issued an ultimatum to Germany on 15 August demanding that Germany withdraw its ships from Chinese and Japanese waters and hand Tsingtao over to Japan. It declared war eight days later. A naval blockade of Tsingtao by a largely Japanese force that included a small British contingent began on 27 August. A land siege began on 31 October; the heavily outnumbered defenders surrendered on 7 November.

This meant that the German pre-war plan for Spee’s squadron to conduct commerce warfare, supplied from Tsingtao, was no longer feasible. By 12 August he had gathered Emden, Nürnberg, the two armoured cruisers and a number of supply ships at Pagan in the Marianas. The strength of the enemy and his lack of bases and coal supplies meant that his squadron could not operate in Indian, East Asian or Australasian waters. The high coal consumption of his armoured cruisers was a particular problem.

Spee did, however, detach Emden and the supply ship Markomannia, to operate in the Indian Ocean. One fast ship could raid commerce and obtain its coal supplies from prizes. The highly successful cruise of Fregattenkapitän Karl von Müller’s Emden will be the subject of a later post.

Spee also sent two armed merchantmen, Prinz Eitel Friedrich and Cormoran, south to raid commerce. The former captured and sank 11 merchantmen with a total displacement of 33,423 tons before coal supply problems forced her to accept internment at Newport News on 11 March 1915.[1]

Cormoran entered the US territory of Guam on 14 December 1914 with her coal bunkers almost empty. She was not allowed to re-coal, so could not leave, and was scuttled on 7 April 1917 after the USA declared war on Germany.

Spee’s squadron moved slowly in order to conserve coal, avoiding contact with Allied forces. He sent Nürnberg to Honolulu on 22 August in order coal and to send and pick up mail and to send orders to German agents in South America to obtain coal and other supplies for the squadron.

The capture and destruction of German wireless stations in the Pacific by Australian and New Zealand forces made it hard for Spee to communicate with Germany and its agents. He also wanted to maintain radio silence as much as possible.

On 12 October Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Nürnberg were at Easter Island, a remote Chilean possession where they could coal in security. The light cruiser SMS Dresden, which had been stationed in the Caribbean before the war, was already there. Two days later they were joined by Leipzig; her appearance off San Francisco on 11 August and erroneous rumours that she was accompanied by Nürnberg ‘paralysed the movements of [British] shipping from Vancouver to Panama.’[2] However, she was forced to lie low after the Japanese entered the war, since the armoured cruiser IMS Idzumo had been off Mexico, protecting Japanese interests.

On 3 September Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock, until then commanding the 4th Cruiser Squadron in the West Indies, had been appointed to command the South American Station. He had his flagship the armoured cruiser HMS Good Hope, the County or Monmouth class armoured cruisers HMS Monmouth and Cornwall, the Town class light cruisers HMS Bristol and Glasgow and the armed merchant cruisers HMS Carmania, Macedonia and Otranto. He lost Carmania on 14 September because of damage that she sustained when sinking the German commerce raider SMS Cap Trafalgar.

The armoured cruiser HMS Defence, then in the Mediterranean, was ordered to head to Gibraltar on 10 September and then to South America after engine room defects had been corrected. A telegram of 14 September told Cradock that Defence was joining him, although she had not set off, and that the pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Canopus was on her way. Spee’s two armoured cruisers were likely to appear at the Magellan Straits. He was told that:

 ‘Until Defence joins keep at least Canopus and one County class with your flagship. As soon as you have superior force search the Magellan Straits with squadron, being ready to return and cover the River Plate, or, according to information, search north as far as Valparaiso, break up the German trade and destroy the German cruisers.’[3]

However, two days later he was told the German armoured cruisers had been seen at Samoa on 14 September and had left heading north west. He was now told that ‘[c]ruisers need not now be concentrated’ and ‘the German trade on the west coast of America was to be attacked at once.’[4]

On 14 October the Admiralty informed Cradock that it had accepted his proposal that he should concentrate Good Hope, Monmouth, Canopus, Glasgow and Otranto and that a second cruiser squadron should be formed on the east coast of South America. It would be commanded by Rear Admiral Archibald Stoddart and would consist of his flagship the County class armoured cruiser HMS Carnarvon, her sister HMS Cornwall, the light cruiser HMS Bristol and the armed merchant cruisers HMS Macedonia and Orama. HMS Defence would join Stoddart’s squadron when she arrived.

According to the Naval Staff Monograph on Coronel, a detailed report prepared by RN staff officers after the war for internal use only:

It was apparently intended that [Cradock’s] squadron, with the exception of the Glasgow, should concentrate and presumably remain at the Falkland Islands, but the actual instructions sent on October 14th did not emphasise this and certainly did not debar him from going to the west.[5]

The British Official History argues that the formation of a new squadron on the east coast and a mention of combined operations made Cradock assume that his orders of 5 October were still in effect, so he should ‘concentrate all his squadron on the west coast “to search and protect trade” in co-operation with his colleague.’[6] HMS Kent, another County class cruiser, was sent to join Cradock, but he does not seem to have been informed of this, and she was diverted elsewhere, so never joined his command.

The Admiralty had made a ‘fairly accurate’ estimate of Spee’s movements.[7] Cradock left the Falkland Islands in Good Hope on 22 October to rendezvous with Monmouth, Glasgow and Otranto at a secret coaling base in south west America. He left Canopus to convoy colliers because he believed that her speed was only 12 knots. However, she was actually capable of 16.5 knots, but her ‘Engineer Commander…was ill mentally…and made false reports on the state of the machinery.’[8]

On 26 October Cradock ordered Defence to join him, but the Admiralty countermanded this the next day, ordering her to join Stoddart. Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, claimed that this telegram did not reach Stoddart and a note for the Cabinet said that it is ‘not certain that this message reached Good Hope.’ However, Paymaster Lloyd Hirst of Glasgow, whose ship did receive it, wrote that it is ‘practically certain’ that it reached Cradock just before the battle.[9]

Glasgow went to the port of Coronel in south west Chile to send and receive messages on 31 October. By the time that they reached the Admiralty Lord Fisher had been re-appointed First Sea Lord following the resignation of Prince Louis of Battenberg on 29 October because of ‘rising agitation in the Press against every one German or of German descent.’[10] Fisher ordered Defence to join Cradock and sent a signal making it ‘clear that he was not to act without the Canopus.’[11] It never reached Cradock.

Cradock’s ships had picked up radio traffic from Leipzig, so were searching for her. Spee had used only her wireless in order to hide the presence of his other ships.[12] Spee was aware that Glasgow had been in Coronel, so was searching for her.

At 4:20 pm on 1 November the British ships were in a line 15 miles apart when Glasgow sighted smoke.[13] Shortly afterwards she could see two four funnelled cruisers [i.e. and a three funnelled cruiser. They were Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and a light cruiser. She informed Cradock, whose ship was then of sight, by wireless.

Good Hope came into view at 5:00 pm, and at 5:47 pm Cradock formed his ships into line of battle and closed the range.

Spee acted more cautiously, later writing that he ‘had manoeuvred so that the sun in the west would not disturb me.’[14] Captain John Luce of Glasgow commented that:

 ‘The sun was now setting immediately behind us, as viewed from the enemy, and as long as it remained above the horizon, all the advantage was with use, but the range was too great to be effective.

Shortly before 7:00 pm, the sun set, entirely changing the conditions of visibility, and whereas in the failing light it was difficult for us to see the enemy, our ships became clearly silhouetted against the afterglow, as viewed from them’[15]

Even without this tactical advantage, the odds in the battle hugely favoured the Germans. Their crews had served on their ships for years and were well trained. Many German sailors were conscripts, but Spee’s men were all long service volunteers because of the time that their ships spent away from Germany. The crews of both British armoured cruisers had been assigned to their ships at the outbreak of war and neither ship had had much opportunity for gunnery practice.

Many histories of the war at sea state that Good Hope and Monmouth both had crews largely consisting of reservists.[16] However, the Naval Staff Monograph makes no mention of Monmouth’s crew being mostly reservists, whilst stating that HMS Good Hope:

‘which was the only [British] ship carrying heavy guns, was a third fleet ship which had been commissioned for mobilisation, then paid off and commissioned with a fresh crew consisting largely of Royal Naval Reserve men, coastguards, and men of the Royal Fleet Reserve.’[17]

On 23 December 1915 Commander Carlyon Bellairs MP in the House of Commons asked the First Lord of the Admiralty, Arthur J. Balfour, if it was true that both ships had crews largely made up of reservists and whether or not their guns were fit for action. Balfour replied that:

These vessels were not commissioned entirely with reserve ratings. Each of them had on board not less than the authorised proportion of active service ratings; and, in fact, His Majesty’s ship Monmouth had a crew composed almost entirely of active service men. No guns in these ships had been retubed: they were all serviceable.[18]

It appears that a fact about Good Hope‘s crew has at some point been exaggerated to refer to both ships and has then been repeated.

The following table shows that Cradock’s squadron was clearly outgunned. The final column omits some guns on the two British armoured cruisers that could not be used in bad weather and two ships that took little part in the battle. Otranto was not intended to fight warships and Nürnberg was some distance from the rest of the German squadron. She arrived after the battle was decided, though in time to finish off the crippled Monmouth.

Ship Completed Tonnage Speed (knots) Guns Weight of Broadside (lbs) Broadside Usable at Coronel (lbs)
Scharnhorst 1907 11,420 23.8 8 x 8.2″ 1,957 1,957
6 x 5.9″
Gneisenau 1907 11,420 23.8 8 x 8.2″ 1,957 1,957
6 x 5.9″
Nürnberg 1908 3,400 23.0 10 x 4.1″ 176 -
Leipzig 1906 3,200 23.3 10 x 4.1″ 176 176
Dresden 1909 3,592 24.5 10 X 4.1″ 176 176
German Total 4,442 4,266
Good Hope 1902 14,100 23.0 2 x 9.2″ 1,560 1,160
16 x 6″
Monmouth 1903 9,800 22.4 14 x 6″ 900 600
Glasgow 1911 4,800 25.3 2 x 6″ 325 325
10 x 4″
Otranto 17.0 4 x 4.7″ 90 -
British Total 2,875 2,085
Source: Marder, A. J., From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow; the Royal Navy in the Fisher Era, 1904-1919. 5 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1961-70), vol. ii, p. 109.

Spee noted in his after action report that the heavy seas made things very difficult for the gunners:

‘With the head wind and sea, the ships laboured heavily, particularly the light cruisers on both sides. Spotting and range-finding suffered greatly from the seas, which came over the forecastle and conning tower, and the heavy swell obscured the target from the 15-prs on the middle decks, so that they never saw stern of their adversary at all, and the bow only now and then. On the other hand , the guns of the large cruisers could all be used, and shot well.’[19]

The high seas were bad for both sides, but even worse for the British, as the design of their two armoured cruisers meant that they could not fire their main deck 6 inch guns in heavy seas. The German guns that had difficulty firing were smaller ones, not listed in the table above.

The Germans opened fire at about 7:05 pm at a range of 12,000 yards. Scharnhorst fired at Good Hope and Gneisenau at Monmouth. Leipzig and Dresden both fired at Glasgow, since Otranto had moved out of range. Luce ordered his guns to fire independently as the roll of his ships slowed the rate of firing and firing salvos would have slowed it even further, but the Germans used salvo firing.

The Germans quickly found the range. The third salvo hit Good Hope, apparently putting her forward 9.2 inch gun out of action and starting a fire. Monmouth was soon also on fire. At some point, she headed off to starboard and became separated from Good Hope. Glasgow could not then follow Good Hope, as she would then have masked Monmouth’s fire. At least one of the British armoured cruisers was on fire at any one time.

Around 7:45 pm Good Hope lost way. About five minutes later she suffered ‘an immense explosion…the flames reached a height of at least 200 feet and all who saw it on board [Glasgow] had not doubt she could not recover from this shock.’[20] Good Hope then ceased fire.

Monmouth turned away to starboard, followed by Glasgow. It was now dark, and they were soon out of sight of the enemy. However, Monmouth was continuing to turn to starboard, steering north east and taking her closer to the Germans. Luce received no reply to a signal at 8:20 pm. The moon had now risen above the clouds, and Glasgow could see the Germans., although Luce thought that they could not see her.

Luce could not see how he could help the stricken Monmouth, and said that ‘with the utmost reluctance to leaving her, I felt obliged to do so.’[21] Glasgow headed west north west at full speed, which put the Germans astern of her, and was out of sight of them by 8:50 pm. She saw firing about 12 miles away 30 minutes later.

Luce’s intention was to find Canopus and warn her of what had happened. Otranto also escaped. The action had taken place beyond the range of her guns, and she was a large ship, whose presence in the British line would have done nothing except help the Germans to find their range. After zigzagging for a period, she withdrew.

The firing that Glasgow had seen came from Nürnberg and was directed at the helpless Monmouth. The German ship stopped firing for a period in order to give the British ship a chance to surrender, but she did not do so, giving the Germans, in the words of the British Official History, ‘no choice…but to give her the only end that she would accept.’[22] The heavy seas made it impossible for the Germans to rescue any survivors.

The Germans had sunk two British armoured cruisers with the loss of all their 1,570 men. Glasgow was hit five times, but only four of crew were wounded, all slightly. Only three Germans were wounded. Naval History.net lists all the British dead. It can be seem that few of Monmouth’s crew were reservists of the Royal Fleet Reserve (RFR), Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) or Coast Guard. A significant proportion of Good Hope’s crew were reservists, but not the 90% sometimes claimed.

The unanswered questions are: what would have happened if Cradock’s force had included either HMS Defence or Canopus?; and why did he seek out the enemy when his squadron was so clearly out classed?

Defence was the last British armoured cruiser built, so was newer and more powerful than Spee’s two armoured cruisers: 14,600 tons, speed of 23 knots and armed with four 9.2 inch and ten 7.5 inch guns. The British would then have had an advantage in firepower, but not by so overwhelming a margin as to guarantee victory if the German gunnery or tactics were better.

Canopus, as was often the case for a battleship of her day was no bigger than an armoured cruiser, but had larger guns: 12,950 tons, designed for 18 knots but only capable of 16.5 in 1914 and armed with four 12 inch and twelve 6 inch guns. Her 12 inch guns had a range of 14,000 yards, only 500 more than the 8.2 inch guns of Spee’s armoured cruisers.[23] Again, the Germans might still have won despite her presence.

Another possibility is that Spee might not have accepted battle with a force including a battleship. He wrote after the battle that he believed that the British:

 ‘have her another ship like Monmouth; also it seems, a battleship of the Queen type, with 12-inch guns. Against the last-named we can hardly do anything; if they had kept their forces together we should, I suppose, have got the worst of it.’[24]

The Queen class were larger (15,000 tons) than Canopus, but had a similar armament.

There are three theories about Cradock’s decision to seek battle. One, propounded by Luce is that he ‘was constitutionally incapable of refusing or even postponing action, if there was the slightest chance of success.’[25] Rear Admiral Sir Robert Arbuthnot said when he heard the news of Coronel that Cradock ‘always hoped he would be killed in battle or break his neck in the hunting field.’[26]

Another, put forward by Glasgow’s navigator Lieutenant Commander P. B. Portman, is that the Admiralty:

 ‘as good as told him that he was skulking at Stanley…If we hadn’t attacked that night, we might never have seen [Spee] again, and then the Admiralty would have blamed him for not fighting.’[27]

Cradock is known to have written to another admiral that ‘I will take care I do not suffer the fate of poor Troubridge’, who was then facing court martial for not having attacked SMS Goeben.[28]

The final, and most common, theory is that Cradock realised that realised that his squadron had no chance against Spee’s, but thought that that by damaging the Germans and force them to use up ammunition a long way from any base he could ensure that they would be beaten in the next action. If so, he partly succeeded: the Germans suffered little damage, but Scharnhorst used 422 8.2 inch shells and Gneisenau 244 out of a total of 728 carried on each ship.[29]

Subscribers to this theory include Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon, Balfour in his eulogy when unveiling Cradock’s memorial at York Minster, Sir Julian Corbett who quotes Balfour’s eulogy in the Official History of the RN in WWI, Churchill, Hirst and David Lloyd George.[30] It was also put forward in a film called The Battles of Coronel and the Falkland Islands made in 1927 that has been  recently restored and re-released.

Whatever Cradock’s motivation, the blame for the defeat should rest with the Admiralty. It knew the strength of Spee’s squadron and that it was heading for South America. However, it ignored the military principle of concentration, establishing two weak squadrons in the area instead of combining Cradock and Stoddart’s forces into a single squadron capable of defeating Spee.

Spee had won a victory, but he knew that the British would seek revenge. At a dinner held in his honour by the German residents of Valparaiso he refused to drink a toast to the ‘[d]amnation of the British Navy’, instead saying that ‘I drink to the memory of a gallant and honourable foe.’ On being offered a bouquet of flowers, he said that ‘[t]hey will do nicely for my grave.’[31]

 

 

[1] P. G. Halpern, A Naval History of World War I (London: UCL Press, 1994), p. 82.

[2] C. E. Fayle, Seaborne Trade., 3 vols. (London: HMSO, 1920). vol. i, p. 165.

[3] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical)  vol. i. ‘1. Coronel’, p. 19

[4] Ibid., p. 20.

[5] Ibid., p. 28.

[6] J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. i, p. 318.

[7] Ibid. vol. i, p. 319.

[8] A. J. Marder, From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow; the Royal Navy in the Fisher Era, 1904-1919, 5 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1961-70). vol. ii, note 8, p. 107.

[9] Ibid. vol. ii, p. 108.

[10] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. i, p. 246.

[11] Ibid. vol. i, p. 344.

[12] Halpern, Naval, p. 93.

[13] Times and ranges are from NA, ADM 137/1022, ‘Coronel Action, 1 November 1914′. ‘HMS Glasgow – Reports of Coronel Action, 1/11/14′, Captain John Luce, pp. 15-27.

[14] Quoted in Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. i, p. 349.

[15] ADM 137/1022, pp. 20-21.

[16] G. Bennett, Naval Battles of the First World War (London: Pan, 1983), pp. 71-72; G. A. H. Gordon, The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command (London: John Murray, 1996), p. 291; Halpern, Naval, p. 92; R. A. Hough, The Great War at Sea, 1914-1918 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), p. 90; R. K. Massie, Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea (London: Jonathan Cape, 2004), pp. 203-4. pp. 203-4. Massie gives his source as being a book by an officer of HMS Glasgow, Lloyd Hirst, Coronel and After (London: Peter Davies, 1934), p. 15

[17] Naval Staff vol. i.

[18] <<http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/written_answers/1915/dec/23/loss-of-hms-good-hope-and-monmouth>&gt; Accessed 30 October 2014.

[19] ADM 137/1022. Naval Engarment off Coronel on 1st November 1914′, September 1915: Graf von Spee’s despatch, Weser Zeitung, 2 July 1915, p. 361.

[20] Ibid.  ‘HMS Glasgow – Report of Coronel Action, 1/1/14′, Captain John Luce, p. 20.

[21] Ibid., p. 21.

[22] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. i, p. 354.

[23] Marder, From. vol. ii, p. 106.

[24] ADM 137/1022. ‘Naval Engagement off Coronel on 1st November 1914′ September 1915: Letter of 2 November 1914, Kieler Neuste Nachrichten, 20 April 1915, p. 358.

[25] Quoted in Marder, From. vol. ii, p. 110.

[26] Quoted in Ibid. vol. ii, p. 115.

[27] ADM 137/1022. ‘Letter to Miss Ella Margaret Mary Haggard, 10 November 1914′, p. 369

[28] Quoted in Marder, From. vol. ii, p. 111.

[29] Ibid. vol. ii, p. 118.

[30] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. i, pp. 356-57; Marder, From. vol. ii, p. 111.

[31] Quotations in this paragraph are from Massie, Castles, p. 237.

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The Sinking of HMS Audacious 27 October 1914

In mid October 1914 the Germans decided to take advantage of a period of dark nights to mine the Grand Fleet’s bases. The minelayer SMS Nautilius, accompanied by the light cruiser SMS Kolberg, left port on 16 October, followed the next day by SMS Berlin, a 17,000 ton Norddeutscher Lloyd line converted into a minelayer. She was commanded by Kapitän Hans Pfundheller.

Nautilus and Kolberg headed for the Firth of Forth, but picked up wireless traffic and observed smoke when about 100 miles from May Island. Assuming wrongly that they had been discovered, they turned for home.

Berlin’s orders were to head for the Firth of Clyde. If possible, she was mine the approaches to Glasgow between Garroch Head and Fairland Head in the Firth. If this was not feasible, she should mine the entrance to the Firth between Pladda and Fairland Head.

The Germans expected that Berlin would have to pass through the British blockade patrols, but in fact they ‘could not have chosen a more favourable moment for the attempt to send a minelayer through the blockade line.’[1]

The threat from U-boats had led to the withdrawal of the Grand Fleet from the North Sea and its cruiser squadrons were to the north west of the Shetlands when she headed northward between the Shetlands and Norway. She then passed between Iceland and the Faeroes, where there were gaps in the blockade line because of a shortage of ships.

Once in the Irish Sea, Berlin picked up wireless traffic that indicated that she was near two British forces. Pfundheller had been told before his ship sailed that the entrance to the Irish Sea was not closely patrolled, but this was clearly wrong. He therefore decided that he could not enter the Firth of Clyde. Instead, he decided to lay his 200 mines north of Tory Island.

Berlin began to lay her mines at 11:35 pm on 22 October, finishing at 00:10 am the next day. She was only 30 miles away from the Grand Fleet at Lough Swilly, but its anti-submarine destroyers patrolled only inside the Lough. She then headed into the North Atlantic before passing between Greenland and Iceland on 30 October.

Pfundheller had been ordered to raid the Iceland fishing fleets, but the weather was too bad for them to be at sea, so he headed north to carry out his third task, the raiding of trade between Archangel and Britain. However, bad weather made commerce raiding impossible because boats could not be lowered in order to inspect merchant ships.

By 15 November, Berlin was short of coal, her boilers were defective and a bright moon made it likely that the British would find her. Pfundheller’s orders permitted him to allow his ship to be interned in a neutral port if there was no other practicable option open to him. At 9 am on 15 November, Berlin entered Trondheim in Norway. She was interned 24 hours later.

Despite this inauspicious end, Berlin’s cruise proved to be very successful. At 2:15 pm on 26 October, the merchantman Manchester Commerce struck one of her mines and sunk. The 30 survivors of her 44 man crew were picked up by the trawler City of London at 2:30 am on 27 October.

The trawler then made for Carnlough on the north east coast of Ireland to report the sinking. Her time of arrival is unknown, but was probably just after 10 am, since she was capable of 8 knots and had a 60 mile journey. The news was transmitted by the local police at 10:46 am to a coastguard war signal station and reached the Admiralty at 11:35 am. However, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, the commander of the Grand Fleet, did not receive it until 2 pm.[2]

At 5 pm on 26 October the eight Orion and King George V class dreadnoughts of the 5th Battle Squadron, commanded by Vice Admiral Sir George Warrender, left Lough Swilly to carry out practice firing. At 8:50 am HMS Audacious struck a mine, about a mile from where the Manchester Commerce had been sunk. It was at first assumed that she had been torpedoed by a U-boat, so the other battleships followed the orders issued after U9 had sunk three British cruisers in the Broad Fourteens and moved away. At 11:09 am, the dreadnought HMS Monarch reported that she had sighted a U-boat, although none were in the area. The light cruiser HMS Liverpool stayed with Audacious.

Audacious had struck one of Berlin’s mines, which had flooded her port engine room, causing the port engine to stop, though she was able to make about 9 knots for Lough Swilly using the starboard one. However, the very rough sea meant she was at risk of capsizing. Berlin’s mines had been set deep, meaning that they would not be hit by small ships, but would strike a battleship where its underwater protection was weakest.

Jellicoe sent all available destroyers and tugs, the collier Thornhill, the supply ship Assistance and the fleet messenger Cambria to give assistance. Vice Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly was on Cambria to direct operations. Jellicoe could not risk a larger ship whilst it was believed that Audacious had been torpedoed. However, the White Star liner Olympic, captained by Commodore Herbert Haddock RNR arrived in response to the distress signal.

All but 250 of Audacious’ crew were taken off, although the bad sea, exacerbated by the rolling of Audacious, made boat work very difficult.

At 2 pm, the destroyer HMS Fury, captained by Lieutenant-Commander Charles Sumner, managed to take a low line from Olympic to Audacious. However, it was impossible to steer the dreadnought and the line parted. Fury tried to pass tow lines from Liverpool and Thornhill, but was unsuccessful.

By 5 pm it was getting dark, and Audacious was rolling heavily. Her crew was reduced to a small party of volunteers, but at 6 pm it was decided to abandon her for the night because the risk of her capsizing was so high. By then, Jellicoe had learnt of the fate of the Manchester Commerce, so realised that Audacious had been mined, not torpedoed. He sent the pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Exmouth to take her in tow. However, Audacious had been abandoned by the time that Exmouth arrived.

At 9 pm, Audacious capsized and blew up. The only casualty was Petty Officer William Burgess of HMS Liverpool, who was killed by a large amour plate that was thrown 800 yards to his ship.

The British decided not to announce the loss of Audacious, something described by the Official History as being ‘so contrary to all British tradition and sentiment, that the Admiralty would not decide without reference to the Cabinet.’[3]

Jellicoe requested that the loss be kept quiet because of the poor military situation. Operations on the Belgian coast were at a crisis point, and it was possible that the German fleet might attack British warships supporting land forces. The Cabinet was more concerned with the impact on the Ottoman Empire, which the Allies still hoped to keep neutral.

It was accepted that the news could be kept quiet for only a week to 10 days. American passengers on board the Olympic had seen Audacious in severe difficulties and heard her explode. Some had taken photos of her listing and low in the water. Her departure was delayed for three days, but US newspapers reported the loss of Audacious In the event, the Germans did not learn the news until 19 November.

Britain did not acknowledge the loss of Audacious until after the war, even though all neutral countries realised that she had been sunk. She was even kept in official lists of ships’ movements and activities. This led many neutrals to distrust British government statements, which would ‘have disastrous repercussions after the Battle of Jutland in 1916.’[4]

Audacious was the first dreadnought to be sunk and the only British dreadnought battleship to be sunk by enemy action in WWI, although one was later lost to an accidental explosion and three British battlecruisers were sunk at Jutland in 1916.

 

[1] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical)  vol. xi, Home Waters part ii, September and October 1914. p. 126.

[2] Ibid. pp. 129-31 and notes 1-7 on p. 130.

[3] J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. i, p. 241.

[4] J. Goldrick, The King’s Ships Were at Sea: The War in the North Sea, August 1914-February 1915 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1984), p. 142.

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The Burning of the White House and the Star Spangled Banner

On 2 June 1814, 2,500 men from Wellington’s army under the command of Major General Robert Ross, like many of his men a Peninsular War veteran, left Bordeaux, arriving at Bermuda on 25 July. Another battalion of 900 men was then added to Ross’s force.

Ross’s force and its naval escort then proceeded to Tangier Island in Chesapeake Bay where it joined a British fleet commanded by Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, who had been appointed to command of the Royal Navy’s North American Station in March. The combined fleet included more than 20 warships, four of them ships of the line, and a large number of transports. Ross’s force was increased to over 4,000 men by the addition of 700 marines.[1]

Cochrane sent frigates up the Potomac and towards Baltimore in order to confuse the Americans before entering the Patuxent. On 19 August Ross’s force made an unopposed landing at Benedict, 50 miles from Washington.. However, the difficulty of including horses in an amphibious operation meant his force lacked cavalry and had only one 6 pounder and two 3 pounder guns, which had to be man-handled.

Jeremy Black notes that:

‘the British could not only take Washington without fatal effects to the American war effort…but…the Americans had the opportunity to withdraw from Washington without losing their capacity to maintain their forces.’[2]

At Bladensburg on 24 August, Ross attacked a larger American force commanded by Brigadier-General William Winder, a lawyer before the war. He had been captured at the Battle of Stoney’s Creek in July 1813, and had only recently been released as part of a prisoner exchange.

Alfred Mahan quotes the subsequent US Court of Enquiry as saying that Winder had 5-6,000 men, all but 400 of them militia. The Navy had provided 120 marines under Captain Miller and the 500 sailors of Commodore Joshua Barney’s gunboat flotilla, but Barney had to leave some of his men behind to burn their vessels.[3]

Theodore Roosevelt says that the militia fled so quickly that only 1,500 British troops got into action, to be faced by 78 marines under Miller and 370 sailors under Barney with two 18 pounder guns and three 12 pounders.[4]

Mahan gives British casualties as being 64 killed and 184 wounded. He says that only 10 or 12 Americans were killed and 40 wounded ‘by the estimate of their superintending surgeon.’[5] Wikipedia quotes sources giving a range of 10-26 Americans killed, 40-51 wounded and 100-20 captured.  The small number of losses suffered by the losing side indicates how few Americans stood and fought. This should be blamed on politicians who did not make proper provision for the defence of their capital, rather than on poorly equipped, inexperienced and badly led citizen soldiers.

The British entered Washington the same night without further fighting. Rear Admiral George Cockburn ordered the destruction of the public buildings and military facilities, including the White House. Black comments that this was done:

‘in retaliation for American destructiveness at York in 1813, an attempt at equivalence not generally mentioned in American public history where the emphasis, instead, is in damage by the British.’[6]

It is often claimed that the White House is so called because it was painted white to hide the scorch marks from the burning. In fact it is built of white-grey sandstone;  the name was used unofficially from about 1810, when it was officially named the Executive Mansion, but it did not become the official name until 1902: see the Encyclopaedia Britannica‘s website.

Ross ordered that private property should not be destroyed. This was obeyed, with the exception of a small number of buildings whose occupants resisted the invaders. British looters were flogged.

The Americans themselves burnt the Navy Yard, its stores and supplies and two warships that were almost complete: the 44 gun frigate USS Columbia and the 18 gun USS Argus. The damage from this destruction alone was estimated to have cost $500,000.[7]

The invaders re-embarked on 30 August and landed at North Point, 10 miles from Baltimore. A force of Maryland militia confronted Ross and his advance guard. The British attacked and the Americans, assuming that they were heavily outnumbered, retreated, but Ross was killed.

The British, now under Colonel Arthur Brooke, another veteran, continued to advance, but met more Americans. The British defeated them, but Brooke halted his force a mile and a half from Baltimore as the British believed that the army could not advance further until the navy had overcome Fort McHenry. Baltimore’s defences had been greatly improved by Major General Samuel Smith, a rich merchant who commanded the Baltimore militia and was a Republican Senator.

The naval bombardment was carried out by the rocket ship HMS Erebus and the bomb ketches Devastation, Aetna, Meteor, Terror and Volcano, each carrying a 13 inch mortar with a range of two and a half miles. The bombardment lasted from dawn on 13 September to 7:30 am on 14 September. From 1,500 to 2,000 rockets and bombs were fired, but relatively little damage was done. Only four Americans were killed and 24 wounded.

The British ships stayed out of range of Fort McHenry’s guns, with the exception of a short period on the afternoon of 13 September, when they closed the range, before withdrawing again after being damaged by American fire. Ships of that period were vulnerable to forts, so the British were forced to stay at a range where they could do little damage. A night time amphibious assault also failed.

Brooke’s men re-embarked at North Point on 15 September and were taken to Jamaica. From there, they could threaten the Gulf Coast of the USA. The British defeat at Baltimore did not end their blockade of the USA.

The American victory was celebrated by Francis Scott Key in a poem called the Defence of Fort McHenry. It was then set to the tune of a British song called The Anacreontic Song, written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a London social club for amateur musicians. It was renamed The Star Spangled Banner and became the US national anthem in 1931.

HMS Terror was used as a polar exploration ship from 1836; bomb vessels had to be strongly built, so were particularly suited to operating in ice. She was fitted with a steam engine before being sent on the expedition led by Sir John Franklin that set off in 1845 to try and find the Northwest Passage.

The HMS Erebus that accompanied her was not the ship of the same name that had taken part in the bombardment of Fort McHenry. The entire expedition was lost, but in September 2014 the underwater wreck of Erebus was found.

 

 

[1] Troop and ship numbers are from A. T. Mahan, Sea Power in Its Relations to the War of 1812, 2 vols. (London: Samson Low, Marston, 1905). vol, ii, p. 184

[2] J. Black, The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2009), p. 167.

[3] Mahan, Sea Power 1812. vol. ii, pp. 185-87

[4] T. Roosevelt, The Naval War of 1812, 2 vols. (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1900-2). vol. ii, p. 44.

[5] Mahan, Sea Power 1812. vol. ii, p. 189.

[6] Black, War of 1812, p. 174.

[7] A. D. Lambert, The Challenge: Britain against America in the Naval War of 1812 (London: Faber, 2012). Kindle edition, location 6238.

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The Battle of Texel Island 17 October 1914

On 17 October, the 1st Division of the Royal Navy’s 3rd Flotilla was sent to relieve a routine patrol in the Broad Fourteens. It consisted of the new light cruiser HMS Undaunted (Captain Cecil Fox), the flotilla leader, and the Laforey class destroyers HMS Lance, Lennox, Legion and Loyal.

At about 1:40 pm, when about 50 miles south west of Texel Island,  Undaunted spotted the smoke of four ships about eight miles away and approaching. Ten minutes later, they were identified as German torpedo boats in line abreast. The British closed and the Germans turned away both at full speed.

However, the British destroyers were new vessels capable of 29 knots and Undaunted 28.5 knots. The German ships, S115, S117, S118 and S119 of the 7th Half Flotilla, were of the 1898 type and completed in 1903. They had been designed for 26 or 27 knots, but a Naval Staff Monograph, written post war for internal RN use, quotes the German Official Naval History as saying that they were capable of only 19 knots.[1]

The Germans were heavily outgunned, so stood little chance unless they got inside torpedo range: two 50 mm (1.97 inch) guns and three 45 cm (17.7 inch) torpedo tubes versus three 4 inch guns and four 21 inch torpedo tubes in the British destroyers and Undaunted’s two 6 inch and six 4 inch guns and four 21 inch torpedo tubes.

Undaunted opened fire at 8,000 yards range at 2:05 pm, but soon ceased fire as the Germans were zigzagging, making it hard to hit at that range. The Germans had been on a mine laying mission, and started to throw their mines overboard. The Naval Staff Monograph suggests that the British mistook the splashes for the launch of torpedoes.[2]

A general action began once the range was done to 2,500 yards. Legion and Loyal concentrated on the western most German, S117, which sank at 3:17 pm according to Fox’s report (3:14 according to his ship’s signal log).[3] Lance and Lennox concentrated on the eastern most German ship, S115, which was out of action by 4 pm, but did not sink for another half hour.

S118 struggled to keep up with the other German ships because of a leaking condenser. She therefore turned towards Undaunted. Korvettenkapitän Georg Thiele, the Half Flotilla commander, realising that his force had no chance of escaping, took S119 after her in the hope of torpedoing Undaunted.

Several German torpedoes were launched, but Fox kept his ship out of their range. All four German ships were sunk, although their skilful manoeuvring meant that the British used a lot of ammunition.

Fox’s report indicates that the second German ship sank at 3:30 pm and the third at 3:55 pm. Only 35 Germans survived, of whom 33 were picked up by the British and two by a neutral fishing boat the next day. 223 Germans were killed including one who died of wounds after being rescued by the British. British casualties were five wounded and their ships suffered little damage.

This was a one sided action, but it boosted British morale after the sinking of HMS Hawke by U9 two days before. More importantly, on 30 November a British fishing vessel trawled up a chest that had been thrown overboard by Thiele’s S119. It contained code books, including one used by admirals and the commanders of squadrons and flotillas.

[1] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical)  vol. xi, Home Waters part ii, September and October 1914. p. 118. This document and others in the same series can be freely downloaded from this link to the Royal Australian Navy’s website.

[2] Ibid., p. 119.

[3] This account is largely based on Ibid. pp. 118-19, which in turn is based on Fox’s report and the logs of his ships.

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U9 Sinks HMS Hawke 15 October 1914

On 13 October the German Navy, after receiving intelligence that the British Grand Fleet was at least partly operating from Scapa Flow, sent two U-boats to patrol off the Orkneys. The U9, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Otto Weddigen, which had already sunk three British cruisers in a single engagement, was to patrol to the east of the Orkneys. The U18 was ordered to patrol to the west, but had to return to base almost immediately because of a hot bearing. She was replaced with the U17. The U-boats were to stay 60-100 miles off the Orkneys.

U9 was an early German submarine, carrying only four 17.7 inch torpedo tubes and just six torpedoes. She was capable of only 8 knots submerged. On the surface her Körting paraffin engines gave off a lot of smoke and sparks and a speed of only 14 knots. She could make 8 knots submerged. U17 and U18 were newer, larger and faster: 15 knots on the surface and 9 submerged. However, they had the same armament as U9 and also had paraffin engines.

Other U-boats had been operating in the North Sea; U16 fired two torpedoes at the cruiser HMS Antrim on 9 October, but they missed thanks to orders given quickly by Commander John Webster, Antrim’s navigating officer. He was promoted to Captain for his action.

The Grand Fleet had been patrolling the North Sea in early October because of the risk that German battlecruisers would try and break out in order to attack a convoy that had left Canada on 2 October carrying over 30,000 men and their equipment to Europe. Click here for more details.

It was escorted by four old cruisers, two pre-dreadnought battleships and one of the Royal Navy’s newest battlecruisers, HMS Princess Royal. Other cruisers covered ports on the east coast of the USA in case German liners that had been trapped there by the outbreak of war had been secretly armed and tried to break out to attack the convoy.

So secret was the assignment of Princess Royal to the escort that neither the Canadian government nor the escort commander, Rear Admiral Wester Wemyss, knew about it until she met the convoy in the Atlantic. This level of secrecy was justified by the need to minimise ‘the risk entailed in weakening the 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron.’[1] The convoy reached the UK without being attacked, although the presence of U-boats in the channel forced it to dock at Devonport rather than Southampton, as originally planned.

On 15 October five Edgar class cruisers were on patrol off Peterhead on the north east coast of Scotland, sailing in line abreast 10 miles apart. Rear Admiral Dudley de Chair’s flagship HMS Crescent had returned to Cromarty to take on coal, ‘but he had left definite instructions for the method of cruising so as to minimise the risk of submarine attack.’[2]

The squadron did not repeat the errors of U9‘s earlier victims, which had kept to a steady course, formation and speed. Instead, the Edgars ‘kept well apart; they continually altered course; they varied their speed.’[3]

However at 9:30 am HMS Hawke and Endymion ‘incredibly’ stopped so that Hawke could send a boat to her sister ship in order to collect mail.[4] Endymion returned to her station once the boat had left. Hawke was stationary for 15 minutes until she had recovered her boat before moving off at 12-13 knots. By then the rest of the squadron was out of sight.

Weddigen had been tracking the squadron since daybreak, but had been unable to get into a position to fire. He dived after almost being run down by a cruiser and came up to periscope depth expecting to have a shot at the cruiser with one of his stern tubes. However, she was in front of U9, so he fired a bow tube. Hawke was hit amidships at 10:30 am and sank within 10 minutes. Only two boats could be launched in the time available.

The rest of the squadron did not know what had happened until 1:20 pm, when U17 fired a torpedo at HMS Theseus. The squadron was obeying de Chair’s instructions regarding anti-submarine measures, and the torpedo missed. The squadron was ordered to head north west at full speed, but Hawke did not reply.

One of Hawke’s boats, with 49 survivors, was found by the Norwegian merchantman Modesta, but there was no sign of the other one, which was probably crushed by Hawke as she capsized. Another 22 men on a raft were rescued by the fast flotilla leader HMS Swift. U17 fired a torpedo at her as she headed to Scapa, but it missed thanks to Swift’s high speed. One of the men rescued died the next day, making a total of 70 saved and 524 lost. They are listed on the website Naval-History.net.

At 1:15 pm on 16 October, the Acorn class destroyers HMS Lyra, Nymphe, Nemesis and Alarm, were making 13 knots on patrol off the eastern entrance to Scapa Flow. Nymphe had just increased speed to 15 knots and followed a change of course signalled by Lyra when her officer of the watch spotted a periscope.

It belonged to U9, which was manoeuvring with the intention of getting between Lyra and Nymphe so that it could torpedo them simultaneously using a stern and a bow tube respectively. It fired a bow torpedo that missed Nymphe by two feet, Nemesis by 200 yards and Alarm by 10 yards after she went hard a port to stop the torpedo hitting her stern. Nymphe tried to ram U9, but Weddigen managed to dive his boat in time. The destroyers stayed in the area until dark, but had no means of attacking a submerged submarine.

There had been a number of false sightings of alleged German U-boats in British harbours. One on 1 September led to the First Battle of Scapa Flow, with British ships firing on phantom periscopes. The first ‘periscope’ sighted was probably a seal. [5]

The Grand Fleet went to sea after this, with all but the 3rd Battle Squadron then being based at Loch Ewe from 5 to 24 September. This base was thought to be far enough from German bases to be safe from U-boats, but it was also too far from the English Channel for the Grand Fleet to have arrived in time had German High Seas Fleet entered the English Channel to attack the British Army’s supply ships.

In October a mistaken sighting of a periscope as the battle cruisers entered the Cromarty Firth led to the Battle of Jemimaville in which a 4 inch shell damaged the roof and chimney of a house in the village of Jemimaville. A baby was slightly injured, but the parents were ‘soothed’ with the news that two U-boats had been sunk.[6]

At 4 pm on the afternoon of 16 October, it was reported wrongly that there was a U-boat in Scapa Flow. Loch Ewe had been abandoned as a base after a U-boat had been reported in the harbour on 6 October. There was another reporting of a submarine in Scapa Flow on 17 October. The next day the Grand Fleet’s commander Admiral Sir John Jellicoe started to move it to Lough Swilly on the north coast of Ireland and Loch na Keal, south of Loch Ewe. These harbours had narrow and easily defensible entrances and Lough Swilly was shallow, making it hard for a submerged submarine to safely enter.

The Grand Fleet returned to Scapa Flow on 9 November. A fortnight later the trawler Dorothy Gray rammed U-18 inside the anchorage. The submarine was so badly damaged that her captain, Kapitänleutnant Heinrich von Henning, had to scuttle her. One man was lost, and the rest of her crew captured. Had she escaped, the Germans would have learnt about the weakness of Scapa Flow’s defences, but her loss made them assume that it was well defended.

There were few more submarine alerts until later in the war. However, it was the middle of 1915 before Scapa Flow had been made secure by the use of sunken merchant ships and booms to block some channels, defensive minefields, seaplanes, gun batteries and searchlights. Hydrophones were later added to the defences.

 

 

[1] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical) 1924 xi, Home Waters part ii, September and October 1914. p. 103.

[2] J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). i, p. 207

[3] R. H. Gibson, M. Prendergast, The German Submarine War, 1914-1918. (London: Constable, 1931), p. 12.

[4] J. Goldrick, The King’s Ships Were at Sea: The War in the North Sea, August 1914-February 1915 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1984), p. 138.

[5] A. J. Marder, From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow; the Royal Navy in the Fisher Era, 1904-1919, 5 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1961-70). ii, p. 66.

[6] R. K. Massie, Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea (London: Jonathan Cape, 2004), p. 155.

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