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Naval Action - 5th November 1916

5th November 1916 Naval Action - 5th November 1916  The Naval Action on the 5th November 1916 was fought between a Royal Navy submarine and a dreadnought squadron of the Imperial German Navy. It took place in the months after the Battle of Jutland and is significant as it signalled a major shift in German naval policy.


On the 2nd November 1916, the German U-boat U-30 suffered a mechanical failure while patrolling off the Norwegian coast. She sent a distress signal which was answered by U-20 returning from patrol around Ireland. They met and both U-boats set off for the Danish coast where they were to be met off the Bovsberg Light. The British meanwhile had intercepted this wireless traffic and dispatched a destroyer force to intercept them, but were unsuccessful. However, on the 4th November, both U-boats went aground during the evening fog. The German Admiralty were concerned that the Danes would intern the two U-boats or that the British would find them. They were also mindful of the reputation of U-20 and her skipper who were responsible for the sinking of the ocean Lusitania. Admiral Scheer dispatched a salvage group, with a cover force comprising destroyers of the 4th Half-Flotilla and the battlecruiser SMS Moltke. These were followed by four dreadnoughts of 3rd Battle Squadron (SMS König, Grosser Kurfürst, Kronprinz and Markgraf). This move was also detected by the British, who alerted the submarine HMS J1, which was on patrol in the area. On the evening of 5 November, J1 encountered the Battle squadron and was in a position to attack.


On the 5th November, J1 was submerged on patrol in the North Sea, 30 miles south-west of Horns Reef. Her skipper, Commander NF Laurence, had been alerted to the approach of the German forces and, at 1150 in heavy seas, he spotted the four dreadnoughts of 3rd Battle Squadron only 2 miles away. Laurence went deeper to manoeuvre into a firing position, but on returning to periscope depth, he found that the dreadnoughts had altered course and were moving away. Surfacing to take advantage of J1's higher surface speed, but risking detection by the Squadron's destroyer escort, Laurence again moved into a firing position and at 1208 dived to launch four torpedoes. Two of these hit, striking Grosser Kurfurst astern and Kronprinz on the bow. Both were damaged, but were able to return to base under their own steam. J1 had not been detected by any of the screening destroyers during her approach and they were unable to make an effective counterattack. Laurence remained submerged until 1430 and on surfacing found the area was clear. The two damaged dreadnoughts were able to return to base, but both were under repair in drydocks for several months. The other German forces were able to return to base without further incident. U-30 was also able to return to base, but U-20 was unrecoverable and was scuttled to avoid capture. Laurence was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Service Order for this action.


Following this action, Scheer came under criticism from Pless, the Naval chief of staff, and the Kaiser himself, who felt that risking so many capital ships of the High Seas Fleet and having two dreadnoughts put out of action, for the sake of two U-boats, was inappropriate. However, Scheer defended himself robustly, stating that it was imperative to give the men of the U-boat arm the fullest possible support. He also stated that Germany's naval strategy should be to concentrate all her efforts on the U-boat offensive. Henceforth the main role of the German surface fleet should be to ensure the safety of the U-boat force. It was a major demonstration of the shift in German naval policy to the war on commerce by her U-boat arm.

John Doran

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