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Battle of Moon Sound 1917 in the Great War - The Wartime Memories Project -

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Battle of Moon Sound 1917

16th October 1917   The Battle of Moon Sound was a naval battle fought between the forces of Germany and the then Russian Republic alomg with three British submarines in the Baltic Sea from 16 October 1917 until 3 November 1917. The German intention was to destroy the Russian forces and occupy the West Estonian Archipelago. The German Navy had 1 battlecruiser, 10 battleships, 9 light cruisers, 1 mine cruiser, 50 destroyers and 6 submarines while the Russians had only 2 pre-dreadnoughts, 3 cruisers, 3 gunboats, 21 destroyers and 3 submarines.


It was the Germans' intention to destroy the Russian Army and occupy the West Estonian Archipelago (Moonsund Archipelago). The Germans captured the archipelago, with its main islands of Saaremaa (Ösel), Hiiumaa (Dagö), and Muhu (Moon) during the Operation Albion in September 1917. This left a Russian squadron consisting of the old Russo-Japanese War-era pre-dreadnought battleships Grazhdanin (Tsesarevich), and Slava, together with cruisers and destroyers, stranded in the Gulf of Riga. The Russian fleet escaped on 17 October 1917 by way of the Suur Strait separating the island of Muhu from the Estonian mainland.


At the start of the Battle of Moon Sound, there were two submarines in the Gulf of Riga. They were C 27 (Lt. Sealy) and C 32 (Lt. Satow). When the Germans got there, Captain Francis Cromie sent out another submarine called C 26 (Lt. Downie). On the night of the 16th of October, Lt. Sealy fired two torpedoes at two German ships but missed. Two further torpedoes struck their targets. C 27 returned to Hanko when it was no longer needed. C 32 attempted to attack a German ship but was spotted and bombed. In the afternoon of 16 October, Gruppe Behncke travelled to the south exit of the Suur Strait and dropped anchor around 8:30 pm. All German ships were anchored in a close line with a torpedo boat at each end. The Germans made significant progress on shore on 16 October, taking 120 officers and 400 men prisoner and capturing 49 guns. By the end of the day, German forces were prepared to capture the West Estonian Archipelago and the navy was ready to attack in the Matsalu Bay and the Suur Strait. The Russian battle strategy was changed at 0430 on October 17 due to a mistake made in the transfer of an order. That morning, ships were on the move by 0700. The 3rd M.S.H.F was heading east while the 8th H.f.F.l. was heading north under command of Erich Koellner. At 0720, Russian battleships opened fire on the 8th H.f.F.l, the 3rd M.S. Dive and the Sperrbrecher. The 8th advanced but were under constant Russian fire. It was the 3rd M.S.H.F's duty to clear mines. At 0800 Admiral Behncke ordered that the cruisers stay put and not advance any farther. At this point, König and Kronprinz proceeded east by the 3rd M.S.H.F, both under the command of Georg von der Marwitz. Slava was advancing so that she came between Paternoster and Werder and started firing upon any east-bound German ship. While this was going on, the 3rd M.S.H.F. had reached Laura Bank and turned north, König and Kronprinz continued east and Slava was now heading north. Admiral Hopman was at the same time heading west towards the Väike Strait. At 0910, two Russian ships that had returned south opened fire on the 3rd M.S.H.F. The Russians now understood that if they could stop the minesweepers, they could stop the entire German attack. At 0940, 3rd Ms. Dive was brought over to the east side of Russian minefields to assist the 3rd H.f.F.l. By 1000, the minesweepers were on the northern edge of the rectangular minefield. König and Kronprinz now went forward. Around 1013, König opened fire on Slava. By 1017, Kronprinz followed König`s lead and opened fire on the battleship Grazhdanin. Bayan was also attacked by König. Slava took many underwater hits, causing extensive damage. Grazhdanin only got hit twice in all of the chaos. At 1040 the Germans ceased fire. The Russians continued to fire on the 3rd M.S.H.F. Around 1030, Admiral Bachirev ordered all sea forces to withdraw to the northern Suur Strait. Slava was now fatally wounded, destroyed by Turkmerec Strauropolski. The Russians were determined to make the channel impossible to pass through so they laid out more mines and used damaged ships to their advantage. At 1046, the Werder Battery opened fire on the German battleships. At approximately 1109, two German battleships anchored while under fire at Võilaid. At 1128 there was a false submarine alarm followed by a legitimate one at 1208. Around 1335, Kolberg attacked Võilaid for approximately ten minutes but met no reply. At 1545, Admiral Hopman`s flagleutnant Obltz Keln led a landing party to take over Woi. At 1730, white star shell could be seen which meant that the battery had successfully been taken but the guns were unserviceable. By 1500, Kommodore Heinrich took V100 toward the channel that would lead them to the Suur Strait but were immediately under fire by gunboats under the control of Admiral Makarov. At 2200, Kptlt Zander began to go forward to the Suur Strait. The destroyer S 50 took up position to mark the passage. At the end of the day, Germans were in control over the southern Suur Strait, the Väike Strait and the Matsalu Bay. On the night of October 17, Russians gave up trying to capture the Suur Strait. Just after midnight on October 18, S 64 was shaken by a mine detonation and was rendered unmanoeuvrable. By 0100 , S 64 had sunk. At dawn, German torpedo boats assumed patrol stations in the Matsalu Bay. The landing operations on Hiiumaa gained momentum between 0715 and 0800 as the area around Emmaste was secured. By 0830, German minesweepers had worked forward to a mile south of the Viirelaid lighthouse. At 0800, Behncke's group started east and went behind the 3rd M.S.H.F. Just after 1000, Behncke ordered Admiral Hopman to dispatch Strassburg and the 8th M.S.H.F. to the 3rd squadron while Kolberg, the torpedo-boats and Sperrbrecher would remain to the west. At 1240 the 3rd M.S.H.F. and two boats of the half flotilla confirmed that Slava was sunk along with two freight steamers. The Germans could see Russian destroyers laying mines, the Russians had not yet detected the Germans, so the Germans opened fire, which was met with a reply. Two German torpedo boats opened fire as the Germans continued northward, two Russian gunboats and several destroyers took them under fire. They then turned south at high speed under the cover of a smoke screen. By the evening of the 18th, Kuressaare had been made a supply base, the southern part of Hiiumaa under control of the second Cyclist Battalion and the S-Flotilla landing section. Saaremaa and Muhu were now firmly in German hands. On October 19 the forces of the Gulf of Riga and numerous transport steamers and auxiliaries left the northern Suur Strait under the protection of minesweepers and destroyers. By mid-afternoon, the German forces had penetrated the strait. The German losses were seven minesweepers, nine trawlers and small boats as well as one torpedo-boat. The Imperial Navy had a total of 156 dead and 60 wounded. The Russian Navy had 54 dead and 141 wounded. The German Army captured 20,130 prisoners, 141 Russian guns including 47 heavy pieces and 130 machine guns.


Casualties of the Battle were far more extensive for the Germans than the Russians. 300 German soldiers were killed, and 200 were wounded while the Russians suffered fewer than 100 deaths and around the same number of wounded. German destroyers S 46, S 64 and the Russian destroyer Grom were sunk. All the four ships, Slava, Citizen, König and Kronprinz were damaged but Slava was in a bad condition. The German battleships Bayern and Grosser Kurfürst were badly damaged. Destroyer B 98 was damaged, A 32 ran aground and the auxiliary ship Corsika was damaged. 7 minesweepers and the destroyers S 65 and S 66 were sunk.

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