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HMS Courageous

 HMS Courageous  

HMS Courageous

HMS Courageous was the lead ship of the Courageous-class cruisers built for the Royal Navy during the First World War. Designed to support the Baltic Project championed by the First Sea Lord, John Fisher, the ship was very lightly armoured and armed with only a few heavy guns. Courageous was completed in late 1916 and spent the war patrolling the North Sea. She participated in the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight in November 1917 and was present when the German High Seas Fleet surrendered a year later. Courageous was decommissioned after the war, but rebuilt as an aircraft carrier during the mid-1920s. She could carry 48 aircraft compared to the 36 carried by her half-sister Furious on approximately the same tonnage. After recommissioning she spent most of her career operating off Great Britain and Ireland. She briefly became a training carrier, but reverted to her normal role a few months before the start of the Second World War in September 1939. Courageous was torpedoed and sunk in the opening weeks of the war, going down with more than 500 of her crew.

  • Name: HMS Courageous
  • Ordered: 14 March 1915
  • Builder: Armstrong Whitworth
  • Cost: £2,038,225
  • Laid down: 26 March 1915
  • Launched: 5 February 1916
  • Completed: 4 November 1916
  • Reclassified: Converted to aircraft carrier, June 1924 – February 1928
  • Fate: Sunk by U-29, 17 September 1939

Laid down on 26 March 1915, Courageous was launched on 5 February 1916 and completed on 4 November. During her sea trials later that month, she sustained structural damage while running at full speed in a rough head sea but the exact cause is uncertain. The forecastle deck was deeply buckled in three places between the breakwater and the forward turret. In addition the side plating was visibly buckled between the forecastle and upper decks. Water had entered the submerged torpedo room and rivets had sheared in the angle irons securing the deck armour in place. The ship was stiffened with 130 long tons of steel in response. As of 23 November 1916, she cost £2,038,225 to build. Upon commissioning, Courageous was assigned to the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet. She became flagship of the 1st Cruiser Squadron near the end of 1916 when that unit was re-formed after most of its ships had been sunk at the Battle of Jutland in May. The ship was temporarily fitted as a minelayer in April 1917 by the addition of mine rails on her quarterdeck that could hold over 200 mines, but never actually laid any mines. In mid-1917, she received half a dozen torpedo mounts, each with two tubes. One mount on each side of the mainmast on the upper deck and two mounts on each side of the rear turret on the quarterdeck. On 30 July 1917, Rear-Admiral Trevylyan Napier assumed command of the 1st Cruiser Squadron and was appointed Acting Vice-Admiral Commanding the Light Cruiser Force until he was relieved on 26 October 1918. On 16 October 1917, the Admiralty received word of German ship movements, possibly indicating some sort of raid. Admiral Beatty, the commander of the Grand Fleet, ordered most of his light cruisers and destroyers to sea in an effort to locate the enemy ships. Courageous and Glorious were not initially included amongst them, but were sent to reinforce the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron patrolling the central part of the North Sea later that day. Two German Brummer-class light cruisers managed to slip through the gaps between the British patrols and destroy a convoy bound for Norway during the morning of 17 October, but no word was received of the engagement until that afternoon. The 1st Cruiser Squadron was ordered to intercept, but was unsuccessful as the German cruisers were faster than expected.

Second Battle of Heligoland Bight

Throughout 1917 the Admiralty was becoming more concerned about German efforts to sweep paths through the British-laid minefields intended to restrict the actions of the High Seas Fleet and German submarines. A preliminary raid on German minesweeping forces on 31 October by light forces destroyed ten small ships. Based on intelligence reports, the Admiralty allocated the 1st Cruiser Squadron on 17 November 1917, with cover provided by the reinforced 1st Battlecruiser Squadron and distant cover by the battleships of the 1st Battle Squadron, to destroy the minesweepers and their light cruiser escorts. The German ships—four light cruisers of II Scouting Force, eight destroyers, three divisions of minesweepers, eight sperrbrechers (cork-filled trawlers) and two other trawlers to mark the swept route—were spotted at 0730. Courageous and the light cruiser Cardiff opened fire with their forward guns seven minutes later. The Germans responded by laying an effective smoke screen. The British continued in pursuit, but lost track of most of the smaller ships in the smoke and concentrated fire on the light cruisers. Courageous fired 92 fifteen-inch shells and 180 four-inch shells during the battle and the only damage she received was from her own muzzle blast. One fifteen-inch shell hit a gun shield of the light cruiser SMS Pillau but did not affect her speed. At 0930 the 1st Cruiser Squadron broke off their pursuit so they would not enter a minefield marked on their maps. The ships turned south, playing no further role in the battle. After the battle, the mine fittings on Courageous were removed, and she spent the rest of the war intermittently patrolling the North Sea. In 1918, short take-off platforms were fitted for a Sopwith Camel and a Sopwith 1½ Strutter on both 15-inch turrets. The ship was present at the surrender of the German High Seas fleet on 21 November 1918. Courageous was placed in reserve at Rosyth on 1 February 1919 and she again became Napier's flagship as he was appointed Vice-Admiral Commanding the Rosyth Reserve until 1 May. The ship was assigned to the Gunnery School at Devonport the following year as a turret drill ship. She became flagship of the Rear-Admiral Commanding the Reserve at Devonport in March 1920. Captain Sidney Meyrick became her Flag Captain in 1920.

John Doran

17th November 1917 Heligoland Bight 1917  The Second Battle of Heligoland Bight, also called the Action in the Helgoland Bight was an inconclusive naval engagement fought between British and German squadrons on 17 November 1917 during the First World War.

Background to events

Following the German Navy's successful raid on the Scandinavian convoy on 17 October 1917, Admiral Sir David Beatty, Commander-in-Chief of the British Grand Fleet, determined to retaliate. On 17 November 1917 a strong force of cruisers under Vice Admiral Trevylyan Napier was sent to attack German minesweepers, which were clearing a channel through British minefields in the Heligoland Bight. The intentions of the German force had been revealed by British Naval Intelligence, allowing the British to mount an ambush. The German sweepers were escorted by a group of cruisers and torpedo-boats under Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter.

The Battle

The action began at 0730 roughly 65 nautical miles west of Sylt, when HMS Courageous sighted the enemy. She opened fire at 0737. Admiral Reuter, the German commander, with four light cruisers and eight destroyers, courageously advanced to engage his more powerful enemy in order to cover the withdrawal of his minesweepers, all of which escaped except for the trawler Kehdingen(GE), which was sunk. The battle thereafter developed into a stern chase as the German forces, skilfully using smoke-screens, withdrew south-east at their best speed, under fire from the pursuing British ships of the 1st Cruiser Squadron, the 1st and 6th Light Cruiser Squadrons, and, later, HMS Repulse (which had been detached from the 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron and came up at high speed to join the battle). Both sides were hampered in their maneuvers by the presence of naval minefields. The British ships gave up the chase some two hours later, as they reached the edge of known minefields. At about the same time, the light cruisers came under fire of two German battleships, SMS Kaiser and SMS Kaiserin which had come up in support of von Reuter's ships. HMS Caledon was struck by one 12-in shell which did minimal damage and shortly thereafter, the British forces withdrew.

All personnel on the bridge of the light cruiser HMS Calypso, including her captain, Herbert Edwards, were killed by a 6-in shell. The battle cruiser HMS Repulse, briefly engaged the German ships at about 1000, scoring a single hit on the light cruiser SMS Königsberg that ignited a major fire on board. It was during this battle that Able Seaman John Henry Carless of HMS Caledon won a posthumous Victoria Cross for his bravery in manning a gun despite mortal wounds.

Order of Battle

  • Royal Navy Ensign British forces - The following British vessels were engaged
  • 1st Cruiser Squadron: Vice Admiral Trevylyan D. W. Napier CB, MVO
  • HMS Courageous (flag; Capt Arthur Bromley)
  • HMS Glorious (Capt Charles B. Miller CB)
  • 13th Destroyer Flotilla
  • HMS Ursa (Cdr John C. Tovey)
  • HMS Nerissa (Lt. Cdr. Montague G. B. Legge DSO)
  • HMS Urchin (Lt Cdr Guy P. Bowles)
  • HMS Umpire (Lt Cdr Roger V. Alison DSO)
  • 6th Light Cruiser Squadron: Rear Admiral Edwyn S. Alexander-Sinclair CB MVO
  • HMS Cardiff (flag; Capt. Claud H. Sinclair)
  • HMS Ceres (Capt. the Hon. Herbert Meade DSO)
  • HMS Calypso (Capt. Herbert L. Edwards)
  • HMS Caradoc (Capt. William M. Kerr)
  • 13th Destroyer Flotilla
  • HMS Valentine - flotilla leader (Cdr. Charles A. Fremantle)
  • HMS Vimiera (Cdr. Dashwood F. Moir)
  • HMS Vanquisher (Lt Cdr. Kenneth A. Beattie)
  • HMS Vehement (Lt. Vernon Hammersley-Heenan)
  • 1st Light Cruiser Squadron: Commodore Walter H. Cowan CB, MVO, DSO
  • HMS Caledon (Cdre Cowan)
  • HMS Galatea (Capt. Charles M. Forbes DSO)
  • HMS Royalist (Capt. the Hon. Mathew R. Best MVO, DSO)
  • HMS Inconstant (Capt. Francis A. Marten)
  • 13th Destroyer Flotilla
  • HMS Vendetta (Cdr. Charles G. Ramsey)
  • HMS Medway (Lt. Cdr. Charles H. Neill James)
  • 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron Detahment Rear Admiral Richard F. Phillimore CB, MVO
  • HMS Repulse (flag; Capt. William H. D. Boyle)

KLM Ensign German forces

  • The following German vessels were engaged
  • 2nd Scouting Group (Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter) light cruisers
  • SMS Königsberg (FKpt Karl Feldmann)
  • SMS Pillau (FKpt Gerhard von Gaudecker)
  • SMS Frankfurt (FKpt Otto Seidensticker)
  • SMS Nürnberg (KptzS Walther Hildebrand)
  • 7th Torpedo-Boat Flotilla (KKpt Cordes)
  • S62 (KptLt Fink; lead boat, flotilla)
  • G87 (OLtzS Komorowski)
  • 14th half-flotilla (KptLt Richard Beitzen)
  • G92 (KptLt Arthur von Killinger; lead boat, half-flotilla)
  • G93 (KptLt Reimer)
  • V83 (Kpt Lt Wedig von Keyserlingk)
  • 12th half-flotilla (KKpt Lahs)
  • V43 (OLtzS Narjes; lead boat, half-flotilla)
  • V44 (OLtzS Kautter)
  • V45 (KptLt Laßmann)
  • Minesweepers
  • 6th Minesweeper Half-Flotilla (6.Minensuchhalbflottille) (KptLt d'Ottilié):
  • M66, M7, A36, T74, M53, M4, M3,
  • M14th Auxiliary Minesweeper Half-Flotilla (4.Hilfsminensuchhalbflottille) (KptLt d R Joachim Löwe)
  • A63, A68, A69, A74, A41, A52
  • 2nd Auxiliary Minesweeper Half-Flotilla (KptLt d R Klose): fishing vessels
  • 6th Auxiliary Minesweeper Half-Flotilla (KptLt d R Wilke): fishing vessels
  • 4th Barrier-Breaker Group (IV. Sperrbrechergruppe) (KptLt d R Hillebrand): two vessels Group S
  • North Sea Outpost Half-Flotilla (LtzS Woldag): armed trawlers Fritz Reuter and Kehdingen(GE)
  • 4th Battle Squadron (Vice Admiral Wilhelm Souchon) detachment (KptzS Kurt Graßhoff)
  • SMS Kaiserin (KptzS Kurt Graßhoff)
  • SMS Kaiser (KptzS Max Loesch)
  • attached torpedo-boats (anti-submarine escort)
  • S18 (KptLt Wildemann)
  • S24 (KptLt Paschen)
John Doran

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