Tag Archives: Yarmouth

The Lowestoft Raid 25 April 1916

Shortly after taking command of the German High Seas Fleet Admiral Reinhard Scheer laid down the strategy that it should follow. It could not currently win a decisive battle against the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet (GF), so should avoid having one forced on it. It should instead exert pressure to force the British to send out forces that could be attacked on terms favourable to the Germans. This should be achieved by submarine and mine warfare, attacks on British trade with Scandinavia and sorties by the High Seas Fleet.

The Russians had asked the British to carry out a demonstration in the North Sea to keep the High Seas Fleet there whilst they replaced their minefields in the Gulf of Finland, where the ice was melting. A sweep by destroyers, with close support from the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron backed by the 2nd Battle and 2nd Battle Cruiser squadrons, in the Skagerrak was therefore planned for 22 April. Submarines were positioned to attack any German ships that came north. Three days before the operation was to take place it was decided to add the 1st Battle Cruiser and 3rd Battle Squadrons.

On the afternoon of 21 April intelligence reached the Admiralty that the High Seas Fleet (HSF) was about to put to sea. The planned sweep was therefore replaced by a sortie by the entire GF. The German operation was then cancelled after the light cruiser SMS Graudenz struck a mine and other German ships reported spotting submarines.[1]

On the night of 22-23 April the British encountered heavy fog, during which the battle cruisers HMAS Australia and HMS New Zealand collided, as did three destroyers whilst a neutral merchantmen rammed the battleship HMS Neptune. There was no sign of the enemy, so the fleet returned to base on the morning of 23 April.[2]

At mid-day on 24 April the High Seas Fleet put to sea. The battle cruisers were led by Rear Admiral Friedrich Bödicker because Franz Hipper, their normal commander, was indisposed. His force was reduced to four ships after SMS Seydlitz struck a mine.[3]

The British were able to intercept and decode German wireless signal and realised that they were at sea when the German fleet flagship took over wireless control from a shore station. The damage to Seydlitz also created a lot of signals. Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, the Commander-in-Chief of the GF was ordered at 3:50 pm to hold the GF at two hours sailing notice once it was refuelled. Ten minutes later he was informed that Irish rebels had seized the General Post Office in Dublin.[4]

On 21 April Sir Roger Casement, an Irish Nationalist and a former British diplomat, had been arrested soon after being landed in Ireland by a U-boat. The same day the German auxiliary Libau, disguised as the Norwegian Aud, had been intercepted with a load of arms for the rebels. She scuttled herself the next day.[5]

Scheer’s memoirs makes no mention of events in Ireland when discussing this operation, but the British Official History argues that they influenced at least its timing. Scheer says that the objective was to force British ships out of port by naval bombardment of Lowestoft and Yarmouth and airship raids on Harwich, Ipswich, Lincoln and Norwich.[6]

At 4:28 pm on 24 April a signal from Scheer ordering that the German operation continue despite the damage to Seydlitz was intercepted. At 5:53 pm Jellicoe was told that the German battle cruisers were heading north west and that the Admiralty thought that the main German fleet was also out. British local defence flotillas, submarines and aircraft on the East coast were put on alert.[7]

Jellicoe ordered the ships at Scapa to raise steam at 7:00 pm, anticipating an order for the whole Grand Fleet to do so that arrived shortly afterwards from the Admiralty. It was clear that the Germans intended to attack somewhere, but it could be somewhere on the East coast or possibly Flanders, where German positions had been bombarded by the RN that morning.[8]

The 5th Battle Squadron, comprising the newest and fastest dreadnoughts, the Queen Elizabeth class, and the 4th Light Cruiser Squadron left Scapa at 9:10 pm. The 1st Battle Squadron departed from Invergordon at 10:000 pm, the Battle Cruiser Fleet (BCF) sailed from Rosyth at 10:50 pm and the rest of the GF left Scapa between 10:00 and 11:00 pm. A mutilated signal intercepted at 8:14 pm indicated that the German battle cruisers were heading towards Yarmouth, although it was possible that this was a feint, with the rest of the HSF heading to Flanders.[9]

At 3:50 am on 25 April, soon after daybreak, the three light cruisers and 18 destroyers of Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt’s Harwich Force encountered six German light cruisers and a number of destroyers. A few minutes later four battle cruisers became visible. Tyrwhitt turned south in the hope of drawing them over two British submarines. The Germans, however, continued northwards and by 4:13 am were bombarding Lowestoft.[10]

Tyrwhitt turned his force north and at 4:30 pm opened fire on the German light cruisers at 14,000 yards range in poor light. The Germans replied at 4:37 am. No damage was done by either side by 4:49  when the German battle cruisers joined in. The light cruiser HMS Conquest was hit by four or five 12 inch shells from SMS Derfflinger and/or Lützow. She suffered no vital damage, but 25 of her crew were killed and 13 wounded. The only other ship damaged was the destroyer HMS Laertes, which had a boiler put out of action by shell fragments. The Germans turned eastwards at 4:56 am and were soon out of sight. At 5:40 am Tyrwhitt turned north-eastwards in an attempt to regain contact with the Germans.[11]

The GF and BCF were still well to the north when the HSF withdrew. Both sides had submarines in position, but the only ones to be successful were SM UB18 which sank the submarine HMS E22 and UB29 which damaged the light cruiser HMS Penelope. Two German submarines were lost: UB13 struck a mine on 24 April and UC5 ran aground on 27 April; click on the names of the U-boats for more details from Uboat.net.

The raid on Lowestoft destroyed two 6 inch gun batteries and 200 houses. Three civilians were killed and 12 wounded. The attack on Yarmouth was curtailed by poor visibility and the appearance of the Harwich Force.[12] The accompanying raid by six airships was hampered by bad weather and most of the bombs dropped were ineffective. L16 injured one man, destroyed five houses and damaged 100 at Newmarket. A woman died of shock at Dilham, but the only other damage was to sheds and windows. L13 was slightly damaged by anti-aircraft fire.[13]

The operation boosted the prestige of the HSF in Germany.[14] It, however, In Britain there was anger with the RN’s failure to protect the British coast.[15]

This led to a realignment of British naval forces. The 3rd Battle Squadron of HMS Dreadnought and the seven remaining pre-dreadnoughts of the King Edward VII class (the name ship had been sunk by a mine on 6 January 1915) and the three Devonshire class armoured cruisers of the 3rd Cruiser Squadron were to be transferred from the GF to the south east of England. Rosyth on the Firth of Forth was to be developed into a base capable of accommodating the full GF. The work was completed in 1917 , but Rosyth did not become the GF’s main base in April 1918.[16] This did not really weaken the GF since only Dreadnought of the ships moved was modern enough to stand in the line of battle against dreadnoughts.

 

[1] The above is based on Naval Staff Monograph (Historical) 1927 vol. xvi, Lowestoft Raid 24th-25th April 1916. pp. pp. 6-10.

[2] J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. iii, pp. 298-99.

[3] 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. 424-25.

[4] Naval Staff vol. Xvi. p. 11.

[5] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. iii, p. 300.

[6] Ibid., pp. vol iii, pp. 303-4; R. Scheer, Germany’s High Sea Fleet in the World War (London: Cassell and Company, 1920), pp. 123-30.

[7] Naval Staff vol. Xvi. p. 11.

[8] Ibid., pp. pp. 12-13.

[9] Ibid., p. 14.

[10] Ibid., p. 22.

[11] Ibid., pp. 22-23.

[12] R. K. Massie, Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea (London: Jonathan Cape, 2004), p. 559.

[13] 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. 203-5.

[14] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. iii, p. 311

[15] Marder, From. vol. ii, pp. 433-34.

[16] Ibid., pp. 434-35.

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The German Raid on North East England 16 December 1914

On 16 December 1914 German battlecruisers raided Scarborough and Hartlepool; they were commanded by Rear Admiral Franz Hipper ( he did not become von Hipper until after the Battle of Jutland in 1916). This was the second raid by the German battlecruisers on the east coast of Britain. On 3 November a German force under Hipper had bombarded Yarmouth.

Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl, the Commander-in-Chief of the German High Seas Fleet, did not want to take the offensive in the North Sea. However, he was keen to carry out minelaying operations and coastal raids in order to maintain morale. The naval staff’s orders to him were that:

‘The Fleet must…be held back and avoid actions which might lead to heavy losses. This does not, however, prevent favourable opportunities being made use of to damage the enemy…There is nothing to be said against an attempt of the big cruisers in the North Sea to damage the enemy.’[1]

The odds then were in fact the best that they were going to be the Germans to have challenged the British Grand Fleet. The loss of the King George V class dreadnought HMS Audacious to a mine on 27 October and refits and technical problems briefly reduced British advantage in dreadnoughts to 17 to 15 German.[2]

In battlecruisers both sides for a period had four in the North Sea, excluding SMS Blücher, which was deployed as a battlecruiser but was really the ultimate armoured cruiser. The British had two in the Mediterranean, watching SMS Goeben, which the Germans had transferred to the Ottomans. HMAS Australia was still in the Pacific and after the German victory at Coronel on 1 November two British battlecruisers had been sent to the south Atlantic and one to the Caribbean . They did not return until after the British victory at the Falklands on 8 December.

The British had more ships under construction, meaning that the odds later moved heavily against the Germans.

The attack on Lowestoft was to be carried out by Hipper’s three battlecruisers, Seydlitz (flag), Moltke and Von der Tann, plus SMS Blücher, , and four light cruisers. Hipper’s squadron sailed at 4:30 pm on 2 November, followed 90 minutes later by two battle squadrons, which were to operate in support.[3]

The plan was, according to the post war British Naval Staff Monograph, to lay mines and bombard certain coast works which the imaginative German spies had reported as in place at Great Yarmouth.’[4] Hipper’s squadron narrowly missed a force of British light cruisers and destroyers that had been sent out to look for submarines and mines.

Just after 7:00 am HMS Halcyon, an elderly gunboat converted into a minesweeper, encountered the Germans. She escaped serious damage thanks to the destroyer HMS Lively, which laid a smoke screen, the first to be used in the war.[5] The destroyer HMS Leopard also came under fire, but the only Halcyon suffered casualties: the Naval Staff Monograph says one man was ‘severely wounded’ and Naval Operations ‘three men wounded’, but naval-history.net names one man as dying of wounds.[6]

There were three British submarines at Yarmouth, D3, D5 and E10. They left port when firing was heard, but D5 struck a mine, probably a British one that was adrift as it was a long way from the course that the Germans had been taking. Only five men survived, with 21 dying.

The Germans had been delayed by navigational problems resulting from the removal of the buoys that marked shoals off the Norfolk coast in peacetime and poor visibility making it difficult to take bearings. They were therefore behind schedule and Hipper decided to withdraw. The Naval Staff Monograph argues that the ‘boldness of the Halcyon and Lively…saved…Yarmouth from such damage as a well-directed bombardment would have inflicted.’[7]

The British were unable to intercept the retreating German force, but the armoured cruiser SMS Yorck, which had been part of the covering force, struck two German mines on her way back into port. The other German ships had anchored outside Wilhelmshaven because of thick fog, but Yorck, needing urgent dockyard repairs, was given permission to go into port.

Hipper suggested that breaking out into the Caribbean or South Atlantic to conduct commerce raiding would be a better use of his battlecruisers than coastal raiding or trying to lure the British into a trap. However, his plan, which ‘was vague on the inevitable question of coaling’, was rejected.[8] Ingenohl preferred to launch another raid on the east coast of England.

As a result of this raid, the Admiralty moved the Grand Fleet back to Scapa Flow from Lough Swilly. The 3rd Battle Squadron, consisting of the eight King Edward VII class battleships, the penultimate British pre-dreadnought class, was moved from Portland to Rosyth, arriving on 20 November. They were joined there by the four Devonshire class armoured cruisers of the 3rd Cruiser Squadron. The battlecruisers remained at Cromarty.

The German plan was to bombard Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool on 16 December. The British discovered this by intercepting German signals that were decoded by Room 40, the Admiralty’s code-breaking centre. This was so secret that it was not mentioned in the post war Naval Staff Monograph, a Confidential document intended for Royal Navy officers only.[9]

Hipper’s force, augmented by the recently completed battlecruiser SMS Derfflinger, sailed on 15 December. It was to be intercepted at Dogger Bank on its return home by a British force consisting of Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty’s four battlecruisers, HMS Lion (flag), Tiger, Queen Mary and New Zealand, Vice Admiral Sir George Warrender’s 2nd Battle Squadron, the 3rd Cruiser Squadron, the five ships of the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron and seven ships from the 4th Destroyer Squadron. The 2nd Battle Squadron consisted of the three surviving dreadnoughts of the King George V class and three dreadnought of the Orion class: HMS Thunderer was unavailable because of a refit.

A line of eight submarines was placed along the German route. As the Germans were expected to have more destroyers, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet, requested the support of the Harwich force of light cruisers and destroyers. However, its four light cruisers and 23 destroyers was ordered only to be off Yarmouth at daylight, leaving it 100 miles in a straight line and 115 by swept channels from the rendezvous point. Two more destroyers were detached on a scouting mission.[10]

This force was more than adequate to deal with Hipper’s four battlecruisers, one armoured cruiser, four light cruisers and two destroyer flotillas. However, the British were unaware that he was being supported by 14 dreadnoughts and eight pre-dreadnoughts of the High Seas Fleet.  The Admiralty had refused to allow Jellicoe to take his full fleet to sea, thus giving the Germans an opportunity to reduce or even eliminate the RN’s numerical advantage by engaging a detachment of the Grand Fleet. [11]

At 5:15 am the destroyers HMS Lynx and SMS V155 encountered each other. A confused action followed in which Lynx and HMS Hardy were damaged. Two of Hardy’s crew were killed and 15 wounded. The British sighted a light cruiser at 7:10 and then three light cruisers when the visibility improved 40 minutes later. They then retired at full speed, losing sight of the enemy at 8:35 am.

If Ingenohl had continued on his planned course, he would have been 30-40 miles north west of Warrender’s squadron by 7:30 am. However, he changed course to south east at 5:30 am and headed home, wanting to avoid an attack by torpedo craft in the dark. He also feared that the destroyers might be the screen of the full Grand Fleet. His orders from the Kaiser were to not risk major losses and to avoid action outside the German Bight.[12]

Hipper had divided his force into two. SMS Derfflinger and Von der Tann bombarded Scarborough for half an hour, starting from 8 am, whilst the light cruiser Kolberg laid mines. The battlecruisers then moved to Whitby, firing about 50 rounds from 9 am.

Admiral Reinhard Scheer claimed that the Germans believed that there was a gun battery at Scarborough.[13] However, both were undefended ports and thus not legitimate targets.[14] This website lists the 18 people in Scarborough and three in Whitby who were killed. All were civilians except one coastguard.

The Germans were on stronger legal ground in their attack on Hartlepool, which was defended by three 6 inch guns and a flotilla of the scout cruiser HMS Patrol, four destroyers and a submarine. Patrol and the destroyer HMS Doon were damaged, with casualties were four dead and four wounded and two dead and 10 wounded respectively: see naval-history.net. Naval Operations gives casualties on land as being 86 civilians and nine soldiers killed and 424 civilians and 12 soldiers wounded.[15]

However, the Germans had to face return fire at Hartlepool. Moltke and Blücher were both damaged by the shore battery, with one hit on Blücher killing nine men and wounding three.

The German battlecruisers were now 150 miles from the British, who ought to have been able to intercept them. However, a combination of luck, weather, poor signalling and other mistakes mean that the Germans escaped.

The fact that the Germans had attacked Britain and escaped caused great anger in Britain. However, the civilian casualties gave the British a propaganda victory, which was used in Army recruitment posters, some of which are reproduced on the BBC website, along with some then and now pictures and quotes from survivors. Another BBC page describes the 100th anniversary commemoration of the Hartlepool raid.

In naval terms, both sides missed an opportunity to inflict significant losses on the enemy. For the Germans, this was their best such chance of the war. The east coast raids inflicted little military damage on Britain, apart from the loss of D5 to a friendly mine, which was more than cancelled out by the loss of Yorck to the same cause.

 

 

[1] R. Scheer, Germany’s High Sea Fleet in the World War (London: Cassell and Company, 1920), p. 68. Scheer says on p. 67 that the orders ran ‘somewhat as follows’ so this is his summary of them rather than a direct quote from them.

[2] P. G. Halpern, A Naval History of World War I (London: UCL Press, 1994), p. 38.

[3] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical)  vol. xii, Home Waters part iii, November 1914 to the end of January 1915. p. 6.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., p. 9.

[6] Ibid; J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. i, p. 251

[7] Naval Staff vol. Xii. p. 10.

[8] Halpern, Naval, p. 40.

[9] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical)  vol. iii. Monograph 8 – Naval Operations connected with the Raid on the North-East Coast, December16th, 1914, pp. 167-208.

[10] Ibid., pp. 177-79.

[11] Halpern, Naval, p. 41.

[12] Naval Staff vol. iii. pp. 179-81.

[13] Scheer, Germany’s, p. 70.

[14] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. ii, pp. 31-32.

[15] Ibid., p. 85.

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