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Lieutenant-Commander Martin Nasmith VC and HM Submarine E11

Lieutenant-Commander Martin Nasmith was captain of the submarine HMS E11 at the outbreak of WWI. In October 1914 E11 was one of three British submarines that tried to enter the Baltic Sea. The other two succeeded, but E11 was delayed by technical problems. On 19 October she mistook a neutral Danish submarine for a German U-boat, but her torpedo attack fortunately missed. She was spotted by a seaplane whilst recharging her batteries on the surface the next day; destroyers searched for her all day. After trying but failing to get past the Germans patrols again the next day Nasmith headed back to base on 22 October.[1]

On 17 December E11 was at southern end of a patrol line of British submarines in Helgoland Bight. Just after 7:00 am a number of German destroyers appeared, searching at high speed. An hour later large ships, which must have been returning from the German raid on the English north east coast, came into sight. Nasmith approached to 400 yards of one of them and fired a torpedo, but it ran too deep. He tried to get a shot on the third in the German line, but its zigzag course left it 500 yards away and heading straight for E11, forcing Nasmith to dive rapidly. This disturbed the boat’s trim, and she broke the surface when returning to periscope depth. She was able to escape. but the Germans made off at high speed.[2] On Christmas Day 1914 E11 rescued four of the airman who took part in the Cuxhaven Raid.

By May 1915 E11 was in the Dardanelles. On 17 May E14 returned from a successful patrol in the Sea of Marmara that earned her captain, Lieutenant-Commander Edward Boyle, the Victoria Cross and every member of her crew a medal. E11 was to head through the Straits to replace her the next day. The night before Boyle briefed Nasmith on the mines, nets and guns defending the straits.[3]

19 May: E11 set off at 1:10 am on 19 May, passing through the Allied destroyer line at 3:20 am and then diving. At 6:10 am she saw the Ottoman battle ships Targut Reis and Heredin Barbarossa, accompanied by several destroyers. The battleships withdrew and the destroyers fired on E11 whenever her periscope was raised. It was very easy to spot because of the speed that she was making and the light conditions. By 9:45 pm she was through the Straits. At 10:00 pm she surfaced in order to charge her batteries.[4]

20 May: She stayed on the surface, charging her batteries until 4:00 am, apart from 0:30 – 0:40 am, when a destroyer appeared, forcing her to dive. No merchant ships were seen during the day. Generally E11 stayed on the surface at night in order to charge her batteries. During the day she was on the surface if it was safe to do so.

21 May: At 11:30 am E11 stopped a small sailing vessel. Four chickens were taken; the scared but polite skipper declined payment. E11 used the vessel as a screen for the rest of the day: it was then very foggy.

22 May: Only warships were encountered and evaded. Attempts to radio the destroyer HMS Jed failed.

23 May: Course was altered towards Istanbul at 3:00 am. A transport was encountered at 4:50 am, whilst E11 was inspecting a sailing vessel. E11 dived to attack, but the transport spotted her and made off. At 5:50 am the 775 ton Ottoman gunboat Peleng-I Derya was seen anchored off Istanbul.[5] E11 dived, approached her and fired a torpedo into her. The gunboat sank, but first got off rifle fire and shots from her 6 pounder gun; one of the latter put E11’s forward periscope out of action.

24 May: Radio contact was made with Jed. Thereafter E11 and Jed were in regular contact.

At 10:30 am a smaller steamer was spotted heading west. E11 surfaced and ordered her to stop. The steamer tried to flee, but stopped after coming under rifle fire from E11. Her crew panicked and started to abandon ship. The panic was calmed by Silas Q. Swing, the war correspondent of the New York Sun. He said that the steamer was a passenger ship that was heading for Chanak and was not, as far he knew, carrying stores, before just making the last boat.

The steamer was in fact carrying a 6 inch gun, other gun mountings and a large amount of ammunition. After taking some souvenirs E11’s crew set a demolition charge, sinking the ship, which was the 480 ton naval auxiliary Naga.[6]

More smoke had by then been spotted. It was another steamer, similar to the Naga. E11 dived to attack, but was spotted. The target headed for Rodasto, with E11 pursuing on the surface. Large quantities of stores could be seen on the steamer’s deck. She berthed at Rodasto’s pier. E11 dived and approached, but ran aground 2,000 yards away as the water quickly became shallower. She fired a torpedo, which sank the steamer; she was the 512 ton SS Hunkar Iskelesi.[7] E11 then withdrew under rifle fire, which seemed to be aimed at her remaining periscope. It was hit but not damaged.

Another vessel was then observed. It was a small paddle steamer, which initially tried to flee. It stopped after coming under rifle fire, but then tried to ram E11 after realising that the submarine did not have any guns other than rifles. The paddle steamer, which was carrying horses, finally ran ashore. E11 approached, but came under fire from 50-100 cavalrymen. She fired a torpedo, but it missed; only the stern could be targeted and the shallow water made it impossible to close the range.

At 10:30 pm E11 headed towards Istanbul.

25 May: On the same day as U21 sank the battleship HMS Triumph E11 arrived at the Golden Horn. At 12:30 pm she fired torpedoes at two transports moored at the Arsenal Wharf. One hit and damaged the 3,559 ton SS Istanbul, which beached herself in shallow water, while the other, aimed at SS Kismet, circled back, forcing E11 to take evasive action, before escaping back to the Sea of Marmara.[8] The action was observed by the USS Scorpion, guard ship to the US Embassy. Her log noted that four torpedo boats fired on E11.[9]

26 May: The spare torpedoes were made ready. The rest of the day was spent bathing, repairing and mending clothes and resting.

27 May: An Ottoman battleship and two destroyers were seen at 1:30 am, but one of the destroyers forced E11 to dive as she was about to fire. A small steamer was observed at 5:00 pm, but not attacked after she fired on E11.

28 May: Smoke was spotted at 6:00 am. Half an hour later a convoy of one large and four small transports, escorted by a destroyer became visible. At 7:30 am a torpedo was fired at the largest transport, hitting and sinking the 474 ton SS Bandirma. Nasmith, conscious of the risk to E11’s periscope from Ottoman fire, dived his boat. He brought her back to periscope depth once safely clear, observing the destroyer searching for the submarine and the other transports continuing on their course.

At noon a steamship was seen approaching. A torpedo was fired, but no explosion was heard, although the target was seen to stop briefly. The torpedo was later found floating and hoisted back on board after Lieutenant Robert Browne had removed the firing pistol. Damage to the torpedo’s head showed that it had struck the ship, the 216 ton SS Dogan, without exploding.[10]

A small sailing vessel was stopped at 4:30 pm. She was not carrying any cargo and was allowed to continue after being relieved of various delicacies.

29 May: An attack on a store vessel at 7:00 am failed, with E11 breaking surface. Only two or three destroyers were seen during the rest of the day.

30 May: Day spent mainly in clearing the foul air in E11, cleaning her as far as possible and washing and bathing by the crew.

31 May: At 8:00 am a large ship of the German Rickmers Line was seen embarking troops at Panderma. At 9:20 am a torpedo was fired that hit her. She listed heavily to port, but her crew managed to beach her. The ship, the 3,431 ton SS Madeline Rickmers, was wrecked.[11]

1 June: A quiet day.

2 June: A destroyer was spotted at 8:10 am but E11 evaded her by diving. At 9:00 am E11 surfaced and headed to intercept a ship whose smoke had been observed just before diving. At 9:20 am E11 dived. She fired a torpedo 20 minutes later and the target, which was the 390 ton store SS Tecielli, sank in 3 minutes.[12]

At 12:30 pm the smoke of a small ship escorted by two destroyers was spotted. E11 dived at 1:15 pm. She fired a torpedo at the merchant ship at 2:15pm , but it passed under the target, which was the 400 ton SS Basangic.[13] The torpedo was found and floated back in to E11 via the stern torpedo tube after the firing pistol had been removed.

3 June: Smoke was seen at 3:00 pm. E11 dived and approached the vessel, which resembled a steam yacht. She was not closing the range quickly enough, so surfaced. When the range was down to 2,000 yards the enemy vessel turned and headed straight towards E11, which dived. The enemy had disappeared when E11 surfaced. A destroyer forced her to dive at 4:00 pm and remain submerged until midnight.

4 June: The only ship observed was a destroyer in the afternoon and evening, which was thought to be the one that had been hunting for E11 the day before.

5 June: The day was spent ventilating the boat, charging the batteries and bathing. Problems were found in one of the main motors and the intermediate shaft was cracked, so Jed was asked to give E11 permission to return to base.

6 June: A quiet Sunday of bathing, prayers, exercise and battery charging. A destroyer an some sailing vessels were seen in the afternoon. At 9:30 pm E11 headed slowly on the surface towards the north entrance to the Dardanelles.

7 June: E11 dived at 3:40 am and entered the Straits. At 6:30 am she passed Gallipoli at 90 feet. She examined all the anchorages, but found no battleships. A few small vessels and sailing ships were seen. The nest target was a troopship anchored off Moussa Bank. At noon a torpedo was fired at her. It struck, and the ship, which was the 3,590 ton SS Ceyhan, sank.[14]

E11 passed Nagara Point at 1:30 pm and Chanak 30 minutes later. A large mine became attached to the port foremost hydroplane at Chanak. At 4:00 pm E11 cleared the mine by surfacing stern first and heading astern at full speed. She was then met by the destroyer HMS Grampus, which escorted her to Port Mudros.

On 25 June the London Gazette printed the citation for the award of the Victoria Cross to Nasmith. Lieutenant Guy D’Oyly Hughes, his second in command, and Browne both received the Distinguished Service Cross and every petty officer and rating was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. Nasmith’s citation, reproduced on Naval-History.net, said that:

 29206 – 25 JUNE 1915

Admiralty, 24th June, 1915.

The KING (is) pleased to approve of the grant of the Victoria Cross to Lieutenant-Commander Martin Eric Nasmith, Royal Navy, for the conspicuous bravery specified below:

For most conspicuous bravery in command of one of His Majesty’s Submarines while operating in the Sea of Marmora. In the face of great danger he succeeded in destroying one large Turkish gunboat, two transports, one ammunition ship and three storeships, in addition to driving one storeship ashore. When he had safely passed the most difficult part of his homeward journey he returned again to torpedo a Turkish transport.

The number of ships that E11 was credited with sinking ties in with the ships named by Nicholas Lambert in his footnotes to the Navy Records Society’s reprint of the report of E11’s patrol on which the above is based. Their total tonnage was 13,211 tons.

This was only the first of three patrols that Nasmith and the crew of E11 made in the Dardanelles. The other two will be the subject of later posts.



[1] J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. i, pp. 237-38.

[2] Ibid. vol. ii, pp. 45-46.

[3] Ibid. vol. iii, 32.

[4] This account of E11’s patrol is based on [142] ‘The First Sea of Marmora Patrol’ by HM Submarine E11, 19 May to 7 Hune 1915 by Lieutenant-Cammander Martin Nasmith, Lieutenant Guy d’Oyly Hughes and Lieutenant Robert Browne, document no. 142 in N. A. Lambert, ed. The Submarine Service, 1900-1918 (Aldershot: Ashgate for the Navy Records Society, 2001), pp. 301-13. Additional comments made by the editor are footnoted.

[5] Ibid. Footnote 1, p. 303.

[6] Ibid. Footnote 1, p. 305.

[7] Ibid. Footnote 2, p. 305.

[8] Ibid. Footnotes 1-3, p. 306.

[9] Ibid., p. 307.

[10] Ibid., pp. footnote 1, p. 309.

[11] Ibid. Footnote 1, p. 310.

[12] Ibid. Footnote 1, p. 311.

[13] Ibid. Footnote 2, p. 311.

[14] Ibid. Footnote 1, p. 313.


Filed under War History

Trawler and Submarine Trap Sinks U-boats.

It was hard to detect or attack submerged submarines in June 1915. The only way of finding them was visual, mainly by spotting a raised periscope and/or the wake that it produced. It was also possible to see a submerged submarine that was close to the surface in the clear waters of the Mediterranean or the Dardanelles, but not in the Atlantic or North Sea.

Hydrophones, which detected submarines by sound, were introduced later in the war. Some were based onshore. Those on ships had the problem that the ship had to stop in order to prevent the sound of her engines interfering with that from the submarine: not ideal when a submarine was around.

There was also a lack of anti-submarine weapons. One not very efficient one was for ships to towing explosive sweeps. Ships fired on periscopes with their guns or tried to ram the submarine. Most submarines sunk early in the war, struck mines, suffered accident or were caught on the surface. The limited number of torpedoes carried meant that submarines preferred to surface and use guns to sink smaller ships.

One method of attacking submarines was to trick them into surfacing in order to attack with gunfire an apparently innocuous merchant ship. It would then open fire with its concealed weapons. These ships were called Q Ships and will be the subject of several later posts in this series.

A variation on this tactic was suggested by Acting Paymaster F. T. Spickernell, Secretary to Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty. It was that a trawler should tow a submerged submarine in areas were German U-boats were expected to be operating. The trawler and the British submarine would be in contact with each other via a telephone cable. A U-boat would surface to attack a trawler by gunfire rather than wasting a torpedo on a small craft. The trawler would then inform the British submarine by telephone. It would slip the tow and manoeuvre to torpedo the U-boat whilst herself remaining submerged.[1]

After a period of trials in the Forth in May, C class submarines from the Forth Local Defence were transferred to Aberdeen and Peterhead to work with the trawler Taranaki. The first patrol took began on 24 May, but no U-boats were encountered until 8 June, when Taranaki, towing C27, spotted U19 a mile and a half away, 30 miles east by north off Peterhead. She informed C27, which confirmed the situation by periscope before slipping her tow. She approached the German boat, raising her periscope again when she should have been in firing range only to see that U19 was heading towards her at 15 knots. C27 had to dive, and U19 was out of sight when she returned to periscope depth..[2]

Nothing had happened to make the Germans suspicious, but Taranaki’s appearance was changed as a precaution. She sailed from Aberdeen early on 23 June, commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Harrington D. Edwards, accompanied by Lieutenant Frederick H. Taylor’s C24. At 9:30 am the next day they were at sea to the south east of Aberdeen when U40 surfaced 2,500 yards away and fired a shot across Taranaki’s bows. A problem with the telephone meant that it was three more minutes before C24 was informed. She was unable to release the cable, so Taranaki had to release it from her end. C24 was not free until 9:45 am, during when Edwards had to keep his trawler under way. [3]

A trawler not stopping when approached by a U-boat might have made the Germans suspicious, but U40‘s captain, Kapitänleutnant Gerhardt Fürbringer, saw nothing to fear, although one of his junior officers was suspicious. [4] U40 was on her first war patrol. The British hoped that a U-boat would assume that the tow line was drawing the trawler’s net.[5]

U40 stopped 1,000 yards from Taranaki, whose crew pretended to panic and abandon ship. C24 was finding it difficult to maintain her trim because she was still attached to 100 fathoms of towing rope and telephone cable. Once this problem had been overcome, she raised her periscope, found U40 1,000 yards away, closed to 500 yards, positioned herself for a beam shot and fired a torpedo at U40 at 9:55 am. It struck the U-boat, which sank immediately. Fürbringer, another officer and a petty officer were picked up by the British. The other 29 crewmen went down with U40.[6]

The success of this method, which was kept secret, meant that the scheme was considerably expanded: C26 and C27 were to work with trawlers from Scapa Flow; C14 and C16 from the Tyne; C21 and C29 from the Humber and C3 and C34 from Harwich.[7]

On 18 July Lieutenant-Commander Claude C. Dobson’s C27 and the trawler Princess Marie José, temporarily renamed Princess Louise, set out on patrol from Scapa. The trawler was captained by Lieutenant L. Morton, but Lieutenant C. Cantlie and Lieutenant A. M. Tarver were also on board in order to train the crew. Cantile, who was the only regular officer of the three, the others being peacetime merchant marine officers who were members of  the Royal Navy Reserve, took command during the subsequent operation.[8]

At 7:55 am on 20 July Cantlie telephoned Dobson to tell him that a U-boat had been spotted 2,000 yards away. The phone then broke down; Dobson waited five minutes before slipping the cable; contact had not been restored, and he could hear gunfire.

The U-boat, which was U23, had fired one warning shot before firing at the trawler. She stopped, raised the Red Ensign and dipped it as a sign of surrender, whilst her crew prepared to abandon ship in an apparent panic. This was in accordance with the plan, which was to trick the Germans and hopefully persuade them to come closer. It worked so well that U40 stopped near the trawler.[9]

The trawler’s crew did not know where C27 was, but she was only 500 yards away on U40’s starboard beam when Dobson raised her periscope. He fired a torpedo, but U40 then started her engines, and it passed under her stern. He fired another that hit and sank U40. The British rescued 10 survivors, including her captain, Oberleutnant Hans Schulthess, and two other officers. The British Naval Staff Monograph, written after the war for internal Royal Navy use only, stated that the prisoners ‘gave a good deal of information, not only of a technical character…but also on the general work of German submarines’, which it suggests may have been a result of their good treatment.[10]

The reason why the captains and a high proportion of officers of both U-boats sunk in this manner survived was that they would have been on the bridge whilst their boats were on the surface.

In both instances the more senior of the commanders of the two British vessels involved, Edwards and Dobson, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, and the other one, Taylor and Cantlie, the Distinguished Service Cross. The coxswains of Taranaki and C24 were also awarded the Distinguished Service Medal after the earlier action. Dobson was later awarded the Victoria Cross.[11]

U23 was the last U-boat to be caught in this way. Her survivors managed to inform some German civilian internees who were being repatriated from the United Kingdom to Germany about her fate. Consequently no more U-boats fell into the trawler/submarine trap.[12]

[1] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical) 1925 vol. xiii, Home Waters part iv, February 1915 to July 1915. p. 249.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., p. 250.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid; R. H. Gibson, M. Prendergast, The German Submarine War, 1914-1918. (London: Constable, 1931), p. 46.

[6] Naval Staff vol. Xiii. p. 250.

[7] Ibid., pp. 250-51.

[8] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical) 1926 vol. xiv, Home Waters part v, July 1915 to October 1915. p. 34.

[9] Ibid., p. 35.

[10] Ibid.

[11] J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. iii, p. 48, note 1; A. S. Hurd, The Merchant Navy, 3 vols. (London: HMSO, 1921). vol. ii, pp. 55-56.

[12] V. E. Tarrant, The U-Boat Offensive, 1914-1945 (London: Arms and Armour, 1989), pp. 22-23.

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Warneford VC and the Destruction of Two Zeppelins on 7 June 1915

The first raid on the United Kingdom by German airships took place on 19 January 1915. In February Kaiser Wilhelm II relaxed his previous ban on raids on London: military targets east of the Tower of London could now be bombed. L8 had to abandon an attempt to bomb London on 26 February because of high winds. She tried again on 4 March, but was hit by gunfire and wrecked on landing in Belgium. A number of attacks were made on other targets on the East Coast of England and in France, including Paris, in March and April.[1]

In April the German army received LZ38, the first of the new P class Zeppelins. They had a maximum speed of 60 mph, a cruising speed of 40 mph, a crew of up to 19, a defensive armament of 7 or 8 machine guns and a bomb load of over two tons.[2]

The first raid on London was made by LZ38, captained by Hauptmann Erich Linnarz, on 31 May. She dropped over a ton of bombs, killing five people and injuring 35; damage worth £18,596 was done to property.[3]

Attempts by the Royal Naval Air Service to destroy airships, both by intercepting their raids and attacking their bases, had by then resulted in the destruction of only Z9. She was bombed in her shed by Flight Lieutenant Reginald Marix, flying a Sopwith Tabloid, on 8 October 1914. Squadron Commander Spenser Gray was unable to find the airship sheds, so bombed Cologne railway station.[4] Both were awarded the Distinguished Service Order. The Cuxhaven Raid on Christmas Day 1914 failed to find the German navy Zeppelin base.

On 3:15 am on 17 May the army Zeppelin LZ39 was spotted off Dunkirk. Seven RNAS aircraft took off from Dunkirk to join two other that were already on patrol. Grey and Flight Sub Lieutenant Reginald Warneford attacked the airship from below, but she climbed away from them and headed towards Ostend. Flight Commander Arthur Bigsworth, flying an Avro, managed to get 200 feet above her as she flew 10,000 feet above Ostend. He dropped four 20 pound bombs on the airship, which emitted some smoke from her tail, but continued on her way. She landed roughly but safely. One of her officers was killed and several men wounded, five gasbags damaged and one propeller lost.[5]

LZ37, LZ38, LZ39 and the navy Zeppelin L9 set out to bomb London on 6 June, but encountered strong winds and fog. Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Mathy’s L9 diverted to her alternative target, the Humber, using flares to find the docks.. She dropped 13 explosive and 39 incendiary bombs on Hull according to the British Official History: the German one says nine and 50 respectively. Around 40 shops and houses were damaged, a sawmill burnt down, 24 people killed and 40 hurt. Rioters sacked shops owned or allegedly owned by Germans. Hull had no anti-aircraft guns, so the only defensive fire came from HMS Adventure, under repair in the port. Mathy dropped seven more incendiaries on Grimsby, causing little damage, before heading home. Guns at Immingham and Waltham fired at L9 without hitting her.[6]

The fog also prevented British aircraft from taking off from Killingholme. The light cruisers HMS Aurora and Penelope, each carrying a seaplane, left Harwich in pursuit of L9, but she escaped.[7]

LZ39 suffered problems and had to turn back to her base at Evere. The other two army airships encountered fog, ad were unable to reach England, so also headed back home.[8]

In the early hours of 7 June, the RNAS airfield at Dunkirk sent four aircraft to bomb the airship bases at Evere and Berchem St Agathe. Two Henri-Farman biplanes, flown by Flight Lieutenant John Wilson and Flight Sub-Lieutenant John Mills, headed for Evere. Wilson took off at 12:40 am and arrived at 2:05 am. He replied to a series of long flashes from a searchlight with a series of short flashes, which kept the anti-aircraft guns quiet whilst he circled until there was enough light to attack. At 2:20 am he could just see the airship shed, so dropped his three 65 pound bombs from 2,000 feet. One hit the centre of the shed, sending up dense smoke but no flames. Mills turned up at 2:30 am, but was forced by anti-aircraft fire to turn away and gain height. He came back at 5,000 feet, dropped his four 20 pound bombs, setting LZ38 alight and destroying her. Both pilots had problems with fog, but got home safely, although Mills had to land on the beach between Calais and Dunkirk and Wilson in a field near Montreuil.[9]

One of the aircraft sent to attack Berchem St Agathe suffered technical problems, got lost and had to land in a field near Cassel. Warneford, flying the other, a Morane, spotted an airship just after 1:00 am. At 1:50 am he caught the Zeppelin, which was LZ37, over Bruges. Its machine guns fired on his Morane, forcing him to retire and climb. The airship turned after him and continued to fire for a period. Once Warneford had reached 11,000 feet, he headed back towards LZ37, switched off his engine, dived and dropped his six 20 pound bombs as he flew along the airship 150 feet above her. The Zeppelin exploded, throwing Warneford’s Morane upside down. He managed to regain control as it dived. One of LZ37’s crew fell through the roof of a nunnery and somehow survived, although the wreckage that fell with him killed two nuns.[10]

The explosion had damaged a petrol pipe in Warneford’s aircraft, forcing him to land behind enemy lines. He initially intended to destroy his aircraft, but then realised that he had not been seen, so set about repairing it. After 35 minutes on the ground behind enemy lines he was able to take off and landed safely, although at Cape Gris-Nez rather than Dunkirk because of the fog.

Warneford, the first pilot to destroy an airship in the air, was awarded the VC. The citation, available on naval-history.net, said that:

 29189 – 11 JUNE 1915

Admiralty, 10th June, 1915.

The KING (is) pleased to approve of the grant of the Victoria Cross to Flight Sub-Lieutenant Reginald Alexander John Warneford, Royal Naval Air Service, for the conspicuous act of bravery specified below:

For most conspicuous bravery on the 7th June, 1915, when he attacked and, singlehanded, completely destroyed a Zeppelin in mid-air. This brilliant achievement was accomplished after chasing the Zeppelin from the coast of Flanders to Ghent, where he succeeded in dropping his bombs on to it from a height of only one or two hundred feet. One of these bombs caused a terrific explosion which set the Zeppelin on fire from end to end, but at the same time overturned his Aeroplane and stopped the engine. In spite of this he succeeded in landing safely in hostile country, and after 15 minutes started his engine and returned to his base without damage.


He was killed on 17 June when an aircraft that he was testing crashed.

Wilson and Mills received the DSC:

 29201 – 22 JUNE 19….. award of the Distinguished Service Cross to:

Flight Lieutenant John Philip Wilson, R.N., and Flight Sub-Lieutenant John Stanley Mills, R.N., for their services on the 7th June, 1915, when, after a long flight in the darkness over hostile territory they threw bombs on the Zeppelin shed at St. Evere, near Brussels, and destroyed a Zeppelin, which was inside. The two Officers were exposed to heavy fire from anti-aircraft guns during the attack.

The bulk of the German army’s airships were transferred to the Eastern Front soon afterwards, where they bombed railway lines in support of the German offensive in Poland. However, two of them bombed London in July.[11]



[1] W. A. Raleigh, H. A. Jones, The War in the Air: Being the Story of the Part Played in the Great War by the Royal Air Force, 7 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922). vol. iii, pp. 93-97.

[2] J. H. Morrow, The Great War in the Air: Military Aviation from 1909 to 1921 (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993), p. 108.

[3] Raleigh, Jones, War in the Air. vol. iii, pp. 97-98.

[4] Ibid. vol. i, pp. 389-90.

[5] Ibid. vol. ii, p. 350.

[6] Ibid. vol. iii, p. 103.

[7] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical) 1925 vol. xiii, Home Waters part iv, February 1915 to July 1915. p. 237.

[8] Raleigh, Jones, War in the Air. vol. iii, pp. 104-5.

[9] Ibid. vol. ii, pp. 351-52.

[10] Ibid. vol. ii, pp. 352-53.

[11] Morrow, Air, p. 109.


Filed under War History

U21 Sinks Two British Battleships in Three Days

Following the Allied landings on Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 a force of British and French pre-dreadnought battleships and cruisers gave fire support to the troops ashore. It was known that German U-boats were on their way to the Dardanelles.

The first to arrive was U21, captained by Kapitänleutnant Otto Hersing. He had been in command of her on 5 September 1914 when she sank HMS Pathfinder, the first time that a submarine had sunk a ship with a motor torpedo.

U21 had sailed from Germany on 25 April 1915. She was supposed to re-fuel from a ship on the way, but its oil was unsuitable; her tanks were almost empty when she reached the Austro-Hungarian port of Cattaro in the Adriatic on 13 May. On 5 May she was spotted by HM Torpedo Boat 92 near the island of Alborán in the western Mediterranean, but attempts by U21 to torpedo 92 and by 92 to ram U21 failed. The Germans also sent ten smaller submarines of the UB type by rail in sections to the Adriatic. Three had arrived and were being assembled when U21 reached Cattaro, now Kotor.[1]

Reports of the imminent arrival of U21 meant that on 17 May the number of battleships operating offshore was reduced from seven to four at Cape Helles and four to tow at Anzac Cove. Anti-submarine precautions were taken, including nets and destroyer patrols.[2]

U21 appeared at the Dardanelles on 25 May. Around 7:30 am the Grimsby trawler Minoru spotted her and alerted the destroyers by giving blasts on her siren. HMS Harpy made for U21, which seemed to be heading for the French battleship St Louis, but did not attack. The British Official History speculates that U21 may have made off because of the presence of Harpy, but also notes that she had orders to attack the ships off Anzac.[3]

Her periscope was spotted passed between the battleships HMS Swiftsure and Agamemnon; the former fired at her, but missed. Just after 10 am she fired a torpedo at the battleship HMS Vengeance, which evaded it. All available destroyers and trawlers were ordered to search for the submarine. Her periscope was spotted and fired on four times, and a destroyer passed over her, but she was too deep to be damaged. Since U21 was heading north the balloon ship HMS Manica and transports in that direction were ordered away. The battleship HMS Canopus, which was zigzagging and escorted by the destroyer HMS Ribble, spotted U21, but was not attacked.[4]

About 12:25 the destroyer HMS Chelmer, which was patrolling round the battleship HMS Triumph at 15 knots off Anzac, spotted the wash of U21’s periscope 500 yards off Triumph. Chelmer made for it and Triumph opened fire, but Triumph was quickly hit by a torpedo that had passed through her anti-torpedo nets as if they had been ‘a spider’s web.’[5]

Triumph’s watertight doors were all closed, but she capsized ten minutes after she had been hit. However, the order to abandon ship was given as soon as her list became dangerous, with the result that over 500 men were saved; only three officers and 70 men were lost, according to the Official History.[6] The large number of survivors was thanks to the ‘skilful handling of the Chelmer‘ by her captain, Lieutenant-Commander Hugh England.[7]

The sinking of Triumph resulted in the Allied battleships being withdrawn to Imbros, a protected harbour. However, the next day Vice Admiral Sir John de Robeck, the naval commander, decided that there should always be two off Helles, one of them in the Aegean and the other in the Dardanelles.[8]

On 26 May the French battleship Jauréguiberry spotted a periscope 100 yards away whilst off the entrance to the Dardanelles. She was in the process of turning and ran over the submarine. Some of her crew thought that she had rammed the submarine, but this was not the case.[9]

At 6:45 am on 27 May U21’s periscope appeared 400 yards from the battleship HMS Majestic. She fired on it, missing. Hersing fired a torpedo which went through a gap in the transports, passed through the nets and struck Majestic with what the British Official History called ‘a shot the best might envy.’[10] She capsized in nine minutes, but did not sink because the water was only nine fathoms deep. Instead, she rested on her foremast, with her keel exposed, leaving her ‘looking like a stranded whale.[11] All but 43 of her crew were saved.[12] The men lost on both battleships sunk by U21 are listed on naval-history.net.

The Allied battleships and cruisers were withdrawn to Imbros. They now provided fire support only when specifically requested by the army, with the day to day work being carried out by destroyers and monitors.[13]

The Official History noted that U21’s feats had ‘grave moral effects’, both positively for the Ottomans and negatively for the Allies.[14] There was also a considerable material impact, as supply arrangements were further complicated and ‘continuous battleship support for the army was no longer possible.[15]

Tim Travers, however, contends that naval fire was not accurate enough to deal with ‘precise targets like trenches, machine guns or enemy batteries.’[16] Henceforth, the Allied troops were dependent on shore based artillery. Many officers subsequently described this as being inadequate, but Travers suggests that they are comparing Allied artillery support at Gallipoli with the volumes of fire that they later experienced on the Western Front. He notes that ‘comments at the time often praised the artillery.’[17]

Hersing kept his boat in the area for two more days, before putting into an Ottoman coast station. He had difficulties entering the Straits because of a whirlpool, but reached Istanbul on 5 June with only half a ton of oil left to ‘scenes of great enthusiasm.’[18] He was later awarded Germany’s highest decoration, the Pour le Mérite. He and his boat survived the war.

[1] J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. ii, p. 384 and footnote 1.

[2] N. Steel, P. Hart, Defeat at Gallipoli (London: Papermac, 1995), p. 184.

[3] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. iii, p. 28.

[4] Ibid. vol. iii, p. 29.

[5] Ibid. vol. iii, p. 29.

[6] Ibid. vol. iii, pp. 29-30.

[7] Steel, Hart, Defeat, p. 185.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. iii, p. 30.

[10] Ibid. vol. iii, p. 31.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Steel, Hart, Defeat, p. 185.

[13] Ibid., p. 186.

[14] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. iii, p. 31.

[15] Ibid. vol. iii, p. 30.

[16] T. Travers, Gallipoli, 1915 (Stroud: Tempus, 2001), p. 226.

[17] Ibid., p. 227.

[18] R. H. Gibson, M. Prendergast, The German Submarine War, 1914-1918. (London: Constable, 1931), p. 72.


Filed under War History

Lieutenant Commander Edward Boyle VC and HMS E14

Allied submarines had tried to pass through the Narrows of the Dardanelles long before the main campaign began. HMS B11 had sunk the old Ottoman battleship Mesudiye on 13 December 1914: her captain, Lieutenant Norman Holbrook, was awarded the Victoria Cross and every member of the crew decorated. The French submarine Saphir managed to get past the mines in January 1915, but then ran aground and was lost

From late April 1915 submarines tried to pass through the Narrows in order to attack enemy supply ships in the Sea of Marmara. The French boats had too short a range to get to the Marmara, but tried to operate above the Narrows. However, the Bernouilli was unable to progress against the strong current and the Joule was lost with all mines after striking a mine on 1 May.[1]

The more modern British E-class boats, which had a longer range than the French ones, had more success, but still faced a difficult task in attempting to reach the Sea of Marmara. One, E15, had already been lost. She ran aground on 15 April and was destroyed by a British boat expedition three days later in order to prevent her being captured.

They had to pass through minefields and steel-wire anti-submarine nets without any metal blades to cut through the nets or the mine cables. They also had to avoid shore batteries and patrol boats, and to get through a 10 fathom deep stratum of fresh water that often made it very hard to control a boat.[2]

The first submarine to reach the Sea of Marmara was the Australian HMAS AE2, captained by Lieutenant Henry Stoker, followed by the British HMS E14. Lieutenant-Commander Edward Boyle, E14’s captain, took her past the forts at Chanak at dawn on 27 April. At noon she encountered a number of patrol boats and fired a torpedo at a torpedo boat. It hit, but she was forced to dive, so could not see if the Ottoman vessel had sunk.

E14 was hampered by the efforts of enemy patrols to find her and one of her periscopes had been damaged. On the afternoon of 29 April she attacked two troopships that were escorted by three destroyers. The calm sea meant that her periscope was very obvious, so she had to dive immediately after firing. An explosion was heard and half an hour later one transport was seen to be heading for the shore, emitting a great deal of yellow smoke.

That evening E14 met AE2, which had had no luck and had only one torpedo left. Three days later the Australian boat was caught by the Ottoman torpedo boat Sultanhisar and sunk after a two hour fight. However, all her crew survived as prisoners.

On 1 May Boyle decided to attack the enemy vessels that were harassing E14. She sank a small gunboat and fired two torpedoes at a larger one, but they missed. This made the Ottoman patrols more cautious, but they and shore look outs continued to restrict E14’s actions. Her presence had some impact, but she was unable to completely stop reinforcements crossing the Sea of Marmara.[3]

Four days later E14 encountered a large transport that was escorted by a destroyer. A calm sea and a well handled escort made the attack difficult, but Boyle was able to fire a torpedo from 600 yards when the destroyer was on the other side of the transport. However, it failed to explode.

The next day E14 met another transport, but it spotted her in time to turn back towards Istanbul. She pursued several ships over the next few days, but allowed all that she caught to continue as they were all carrying refugees.

Early on 10 May E14 evaded a destroyer. In the evening she encountered two large transports, escorted by a destroyer. The torpedo did not run true, but the second hit the second transport, which was the Gul Djemal, formally the White Star liner Germania, carrying troops to Gallipoli. She disappeared into the darkness. A witness later claimed that she sank with all hands, but the German Official History states that she was damaged, but was towed back to the Golden Horn the next day.

E14 now had only one torpedo left, which turned out to be faulty. Boyle kept her in the Marmara for a while in the hope that her presence would impede enemy movements, but on 17 May he was ordered to return to base.[4]

Boyle was awarded the Victoria Cross, E14’s other two officers the Distinguished Service Cross and all her petty officers and ratings the Distinguished Service Medal. Boyle’s citation, quoted on naval-history.net, stated that:

The KING (is) pleased to approve of the grant of the Victoria Cross to Lieutenant-Commander Edward Courtney Boyle, Royal Navy, for the conspicuous act of bravery specified below:

For most conspicuous bravery, in command of Submarine E.14, when he dived his vessel under the enemy minefields and entered the Sea of Marmora on the 27th April, 1915. In spite of great navigational difficulties from strong currents, of the continual neighbourhood of hostile patrols, and of the hourly danger of attack from the enemy, he continued to operate in the narrow waters of the Straits and succeeded in sinking two Turkish gunboats and one large military transport.


[1] J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. ii, p. 374.

[2] 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, p. 312.

[3] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. ii, pp. 374-75.

[4] Ibid. vol. iii, pp. 26-27.


Filed under War History

Admiral Fisher Resigns as First Sea Lord

On 13 May 1915 at a meeting at the Admiralty Field Marshall Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, criticised the Admiralty’s recent decision to recall the super dreadnought HMS Queen Elizabeth from the Dardanelles. He argued that this would damage Allied morale and boost that of the enemy.[1]

The report of The Dardanelles Commission, later set up to investigate the campaign, noted that ‘[i]t is difficult to say why Lord Kitchener should have attached to much importance to the retention of the Queen Elizabeth.’[2] Kitchener by then was dead. The results of naval gunfire support to the army had been disappointing and the removal of Queen Elizabeth was more than compensated for by the despatch of other ships, including monitors, to the Dardanelles.

In return, Admiral Lord Fisher, the First Sea Lord, threatened to resign if Queen Elizabeth remained. Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, backed Fisher, albeit reluctantly in the view of Major General Charles Callwell, the Director of Military Operations and Intelligence, who was present.[3]

The next day the War Council met. The Admiralty argued that it would not have agreed to a solely naval attack on the Dardanelles had it been aware that 100,000 soldiers would soon be available for an amphibious landing. The demands on the Royal Navy by the German U-boat offensive, the Allied Italian Naval Convention and the need to maintain the strength of the Grand Fleet meant that the campaign must now be a land one with naval support rather than the other way round.

The army, however, claimed that the presence of Queen Elizabeth and her 15 inch guns had been a major factor in its belief that it could see the fleet through to Istanbul. It could not see how a rapid victory could be achieved, but withdrawal was inconceivable at this stage. This left siege warfare as the only option, but it was unclear how many troops could be provided, given the demands of the Western Front and home defence.

Fisher had originally proposed a combined land and naval attack on the Dardanelles, which he hoped would have won a quick victory. He had been reluctant in his support for the naval only attack. He now feared that the ships that he had been constructing to use in operations in the northern waters would instead he sent to the Dardanelles.[4]

The War Council meeting left Fisher with the impression that more ships would be sent to the Dardanelles. He told Captain Thomas Crease, his Naval Assistant, that if operations in the Dardanelles were to continue ‘they should henceforth be directed on the naval side by somebody who believed in them.’[5]

On 15 May Fisher received a memo from Churchill that proposed sending far more naval reinforcements to the Dardanelles than the two men had agreed the evening before. Fisher had offered his resignation several times before, but this time he finally quit. He officially remained First Sea Lord until 22 May, but seems to have visited his office only once more, on 17 May to remove some personal items.[6]

The departure of Fisher, coupled with the revelation that the British Army lacked enough high explosive shells, led to the replacement of the Liberal Government with a Liberal/Conservative Coalition. It was certain that the Conservatives would insist that Churchill, who had left them to join the Liberals in 1904 over the issue of free trade, would be removed from the office of First Lord.

Fisher at first had a substantial degree of public support, with several newspapers, led by The Times, arguing that he should become First Lord. There were several precedents from the 18th and early 19th centuries for that position, a political rather than a military one, to be held by an Admiral.

However, Fisher made two mistakes on 17 May. Room 40, the Admiralty’s code-breakers, decoded signals indicating that the German High Seas Fleet was about to put to sea. Crease told Fisher that he should go to the Admiralty to supervise operations. but he refused to do so. Vice Admiral Sir Frederick Hamilton had to act as First Sea Lord. He was the Second Sea Lord, with responsibility for personnel and shore establishments, so was not sufficiently versed in operational matters to stand in for the First Sea Lord. As it happened, the High Seas Fleet was only covering mine laying operations and did not go far into the North Sea.

H. H. Asquith, the Prime Minister, said that ‘[s]trictly speaking, [Fisher] ought to be shot’ with King George V, who had supported Fisher until then, stating that his behaviour ‘was bound to have a deplorable, if not a disastrous effect upon the public, not only at home, but abroad.’[7]

Fisher’s second mistake was to say that he would stay as First Sea Lord subject to various conditions that no politician was likely to accept. He insisted that Churchill’s replacement should not be Arthur Balfour, the Conservative who did become First Lord. Fisher also wanted an increase in the responsibilities of the First Sea Lord at the expense of the First Lord and the other members of the Board of Admiralty.

Even then, it was not until 22 May that Asquith accepted Fisher’s resignation. A final attempt the day before to persuade him to stay failed because Fisher would not serve under Balfour. The Coalition took power on 25 May, with Balfour as First Lord. Churchill remained in the Cabinet as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, a job without ministerial responsibilities usually given to inexperienced ministers.

The new First Sea Lord was Admiral Sir Henry Jackson. As he was ‘almost unknown to the nation, the appointment elicited a lukewarm response.’[8] The outstanding candidate, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, could not be spared from his current post as Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet.

[1] 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, p. 276.

[2] PP, The Final Report of the Dardanelles Commission. (Part II–Conduct of Operations, &C.) with Appendix of Documents and Maps (1919), p. 23.

[3] Marder, From. vol. ii, pp. 276-77.

[4] This and the two previous paragraphs are based on J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. ii, pp. 408-10.

[5] Quoted in Marder, From. vol. ii, p. 277.

[6] The remainder of this post is based on Ibid. vol. ii, pp.279-91.

[7] Quotes from Ibid. vol. ii, p. 283.

[8] Ibid. vol. ii, p.291.


Filed under War History

The Sinking of HMS Goliath 13 May 1915

Following the amphibious landings at Cape Helles and Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915 Allied warships continued to give fire support to the troops. Their fire was not always accurate, but its potential benefitted the Allies in both physical and moral terms.[1]

Each night two battleships, escorted by five destroyers covered the right hand flank of the Allied position, giving fire support to the French at the ravine of Kereves Dere. On the night of 12-13 May Kapitänleutnant Rudolph Firle, a German officer serving with the Ottoman navy, was given permission to take the destroyer Muavenet-i Milliye, captained by Senior Lieutenant Ayasofyali Ahmed Saffed, to attack them.

The night was dark and foggy, with no moon, which helped the Muavenet to avoid the British destroyers. However, she was spotted and hailed by the battleship HMS Goliath at 1:15 am. The Ottomans made some sort of reply, the challenge was repeated and the Muavenet rushed forward and fired three torpedoes as Goliath was ordered to fire.

Hits abreast of the fore turret and the foremost funnel caused Goliath to list badly to port before the third torpedo struck her close to the after turret. She turned turtle before most of her crew could get to the deck and sank after floating upside down for a couple of minutes. The Muavenet was able to escape into the darkness, although the British destroyers picked up her wireless signals reporting her success.[2]

The 4-5 knot current made it impossible for men to swim to shore. Only about 180 of the 750 men on board Goliath survived. The dead and the survivors are listed on naval-history.net. This was the most men to die on board a single Royal Navy ship in the Dardanelles, although more French sailors were killed when the battleship Bouvet struck a mine on 18 March. Every member of the Muavenet’s crew was given a gold watch and an embroidered purse full of gold.[3]

Goliath was the first battleship to be sunk in combat with another surface ship during the war. HMS Audacious and the two RN ships sunk along with the Bouvet on 18 March struck mines, HMS Formidable and the Ottoman Mesudiye were torpedoed by submarines and HMS Bulwark blew up accidentally. The ships sunk at Helgoland Bight, Coronel and the Falklands were all cruisers. SMS Blücher, sunk at Dogger Bank, is sometimes referred to as a battlecruiser, but was really an armoured cruiser.

The Admiralty now decided to bring the super dreadnought HMS Queen Elizabeth home. Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, later wrote that the sinking of the Goliath led Lord Fisher, the First Sea Lord, to make ‘a most strenuous counter-demand to that effect.’[4]

However, the sequence of events given in the Official History suggests that the issue was decided on 12 March, before Goliath was sunk. The Admiralty believed that Queen Elizabeth was needed by the Grand Fleet, where she would work with HMS Warspite, her newly completed sister ship. At least three U-boats were known to be on their way to the Dardanelles: one was unsuccessfully attacked by French destroyers off Sicily on 11 May. As replacements two pre-dreadnoughts, HMS Venerable and Exmouth and the first two of the Abercrombie class of monitors were to be sent to the Dardanelles.[5]

The four Abercrombies were each armed with a twin 14 inch gun turret that that had originally been built in the USA for the Greek dreadnought Salamis, which was under construction at Hamburg. Since they would never get through the British blockade, the manufacturer offered them to the RN. Because of their US guns, the ships were originally named after American Civil War leaders. However, their names were changed to those of British generals because the sale of the guns to the UK was controversial enough in the USA without highlighting it by naming the ships after Americans. The monitors were less vulnerable than battleships or cruisers to torpedoes because of their shallow draft and anti-torpedo bulges.[6]

Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, was very unhappy at the removal of the RN’s biggest and newest ship from the Dardanelles. He argued that it would have a major effect on the morale of both sides, but Fisher, who threatened to resign, got his way and Queen Elizabeth was ordered home.[7]



[1] N. Steel, P. Hart, Defeat at Gallipoli (London: Papermac, 1995), p. 183.

[2] This and the two previous paragraphs are based on J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. ii. pp. 406-8.

[3] R. K. Massie, Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea (London: Jonathan Cape, 2004), pp. 483-84.

[4] W. S. Churchill, The World Crisis, 1911-1918, 5 vols. (London: Odhams Press, 1939). vol. ii, Kindle edition. Location 5351 of 9134.

[5] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. ii, pp. 405-6.

[6] R. Gray, Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1906-1921 (London: Conway Maritime Press, 1985), pp. 43-44.

[7] 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, pp. 276-77.


Filed under War History