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Battle of Dover Strait 1916 in the Great War - The Wartime Memories Project -

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Battle of Dover Strait 1916

26th October 1916 Naval Action in Dover Strait 1916  The First Battle of Dover Strait occurred on 2627 October 1916. Two and a half flotillas of German torpedo boats launched a raid into the Dover Strait in an attempt to destroy Allied shipping. Upon approaching the barrage, the German torpedo boats were challenged by the British destroyer HMS Flirt. The Germans were able to destroy Flirt and successfully assault the barrage's drifters, but a flotilla of British destroyers was sent to repel them. The Germans were able to fight off the additional British units before successfully withdrawing. The British had lost one destroyer, a transport, and several drifters while the Germans themselves suffered only minor damage to a single torpedo boat.


In October 1916, the Flanders Flotilla was reinforced by two full torpedo boat flotillas. The transfer of the 3rd and 9th Torpedo Boat Flotillas altered the balance of power in the Dover Strait. The Flanders Flotilla had not attacked the Dover Patrol in several months and as a result British defences were quite lax in the area. With his newly acquired flotillas, the Flanders Flotilla's commander Ludwig von Schroeder decided to launch a raid in the Dover Strait. Although the British had prohibited transports from being in the Channel at night in anticipation of a German raid, the Dover Barrage was not prepared to meet such an attack. Facing Schroeder's 23 boats, the Dover Barrage was only guarded by the old destroyer HMS Flirt, the yacht Ombra, and the naval trawler H. E. Straud. The four divisions of drifters manning the barrage's anti-submarine nets were only armed with a single rifle each for defence. In addition to the forces guarding the Barrage, there were six Tribal-class destroyers at Dover that could be called upon in the event of a raid.


The German boats split into five groups with each group attacking a different section of the shipping in the channel. The German 5th Half Flotilla sailed into the Dover Barrage. They came into contact with five drifters of the 10th Drifter Division tending the anti-submarine nets and began attacking them. Hearing gunfire, Flirt the drifters' escort approached and challenged the vessels. The German boats responded to the British signal with a similar signal. Confused, Flirt's commander thought they were Allied destroyers and that the drifters had been attacked by a submarine. An open boat was launched from Flirt to help rescue survivors from the sinking drifters. The German boats then turned their attention to the destroyer and attacked taking her completely by surprise. Flirt unsuccessfully attempted to ram one of the German boats and was sunk by gunfire and torpedoes. The Germans continued to attack the barrage, sinking two drifters each from the 8th and 16th Drifter Divisions. In all, a total of six drifters were sunk and three others were damaged, as well as the trawler H. E. Straud, before the Fifth Half-Flotilla withdrew. When the British received news of the German raid, they sent six Tribal-class destroyers HMS Amazon, Mohawk, Viking, Tartar, Cossack and Nubian to attempt to repel the German raiders. The British Commander Henry Oliphant of the Viking failed to keep his force compact as a single unit. He deployed his destroyers in two loose groups, one consisting of Viking, Mohawk, and Tartar and the other Nubian, Amazon and Cossack. The destroyer Nubian soon steamed far ahead of her group, and was the first of the dispatched vessels to reach the scene of Flirt's sinking. Meanwhile another half flotilla of German boats had caught the empty British transport Queen off Goodwin Sands as it returned from the French coast. The Germans boarded Queen and removed her crew before sinking her.

Nubian made the same mistake as Flirt and mistook the German boats for Allied vessels. Surprised with a hail of gunfire, Nubian attempted to ram the last boat in the German line of battle, but was struck by a torpedo that blew off her bow reducing her to a drifting hulk. Amazon and Cossack soon arrived to aid Nubian and began engaging the German boats. The Germans scored several hits on Amazon before withdrawing. The German 18th Half Flotilla was heading back to Zeebrugge when it met with Oliphant's group of destroyers, engaging them as they passed. Although Viking escaped unscathed, Mohawk suffered several hits before the Germans were able to break away. Near the end of the action, Reginald Bacon the commander of the Dover Patrol dispatched the Dunkirk Division to intercept the German torpedo boats, but the Germans were able to successfully withdraw before these further reinforcements arrived.


The British had failed to stop the raiders from destroying the drifters and six of them were sunk in addition to Flirt and the transport Queen. Besides those vessels that were sunk, several British vessels were damaged, including three destroyers, three drifters, and a naval trawler. The loss of life was also heavy with the British suffering 45 men killed, four wounded, and 10 taken prisoner. Of the German torpedo boats, only SMS G91 suffered any damage and no German vessel suffered any casualties. The success of the raid would spur further German sorties into the English Channel and raids continued until the Flanders Flotilla's 3rd and 9th Torpedo Boat Flotillas were redeployed to the High Seas Fleet in November 1916.

John Doran

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