- HMS Dartmouth during the Great War -
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1st October 1914 Battle of Rufiji Delta The Battle of the Rufiji Delta took place in German East Africa (modern Tanzania) from October 1914 to July 1915 during the First World War. It was fought between the German light cruiser SMS Königsberg and a powerful group of British warships. The battle was a series of attempts to sink the blockaded German cruiser that eventually resulted in the destruction of Königsberg.
In 1914, the most powerful German ship in the Indian Ocean was the light cruiser Königsberg. After an engine failure, Königsberg, along with her supply ship Somali, sought refuge in the delta of the Rufiji River. She planned to hide there while her damaged machinery was transported overland to Dar es Salaam for repair. The British cruiser HMS Chatham discovered Königsberg in the delta towards the end of October. On 5 November, two additional British cruisers, HMS Dartmouth and Weymouth, arrived at the scene and blockaded the German ship in the delta. In early November, Chatham opened fire at long range and set fire to Somali, but she failed to hit Königsberg, which promptly moved further upstream. The British ships were more powerful than Königsberg, but were unable to navigate the delta. The crew of Königsberg disguised their ship so it looked like the forest around the delta.
The British made several attempts to sink Königsberg including one to slip a shallow-draught torpedo boat (with escorts) within range, an operation easily repulsed by the force in the delta. A blockship, the Newbridge, was successfully sunk by the British across one of the delta mouths to prevent her escape. However it was soon realized that Königsberg could still escape through one of the delta's other channels. Dummy mines were laid in some of these alternates, but they were considered a doubtful deterrent. A civilian pilot named Cutler was hired to bring his Curtiss seaplane for reconnaissance. His plane was shot down, although they verified the presence of the elusive cruiser. A pair of Royal Naval Air Service Sopwith seaplanes were brought up with the intention of scouting and even bombing the ship, but they soon fell apart in the tropical conditions. A trio of Short seaplanes fared a little better, managing to take photographs of the ship before they were grounded by the glue-melting tropical heat and German fire. Attempts to use the 12 inch guns of the old battleship HMS Goliath to sink the cruiser were unsuccessful, once again because the shallow waters prevented the battleship getting within range. However, by March 1915 food supplies were low and many of the crew members aboard the Königsberg died from malaria and other tropical diseases. Generally cut off from the outside world, the morale of the sailors fell. However, the situation was marginally improved with a scheme to resupply the ship and give her a fighting chance to return home. A captured British merchant ship, Rubens, was renamed Kronborg and given a Danish flag, papers, and a crew of German sailors specially selected for their ability to speak Danish. She was then loaded with coal, field guns, ammunition, fresh water, and supplies. After successfully infiltrating the waters of East Africa, she was intercepted by the alerted HMS Hyacinth, which chased her to Manza Bay. The trapped ship was set on fire by the crew and left. The Germans later salvaged much of her cargo which went on to be used in the land campaign and some transported to the Königsberg.
Two shallow-draught monitors, HMS Mersey and Severn, were towed to the Rufiji from Malta by the Red Sea making it to the delta in June 1915. With nonessential items removed, added armour bolted on, and covered by a full bombardment from the rest of the fleet, they ran the gauntlet. Aided by a squadron of four land planes—two Caudrons and two Henry Farmans, based at Mafia Island to spot the fall of shells, they engaged in a long-range duel with Königsberg, which was assisted by shore-based spotters. Although Mersey was hit and the monitors were unable to score on the first day, they returned again on 11 July. Finally, their 6 in guns knocked out Königsberg's armament and then reduced her to a wreck. At around 1400, Looff ordered her scuttled with a torpedo. After the battle, the British were unquestionably the strongest naval power in the Indian Ocean.
The next day, 33 German dead were buried by the 188 remaining crewmen. A plaque reading "Beim Untergang S.M.S. Königsberg am 11.7.15 gefallen..." was placed near the graves, followed by a list of the dead. The Germans recovered Königsberg's ten 105-millimetre quick-firing guns, mounted them on improvised field carriages, and used them with great success as powerful field guns in their guerrilla campaign against the Allies around East Africa. The guns were used as harbor fortifications in Dar es Salaam, with one being remounted onto the passenger ship Graf von Götzen. The last gun was not knocked out until October 1917. The remaining crew from Königsberg went on to serve as ground troops under General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck. Three of Königsberg's 105-mm guns survived; one is on display outside Fort Jesus, Mombasa, Kenya, another outside the Union Building in Pretoria, South Africa and a third at Jinja Barracks in Uganda. There are stories of another in the Congo, but no details have been forthcoming.John Doran
28th December 1915 Battle of Durazzo 1915 The First Battle of Durazzo was a naval battle of World War I. It was fought off Durazzo, Albania at the end of December 1915 and involved the navies of Austria, the United Kingdom, Italy, and France.
In December 1915, the Austro-Hungarian Navy sent another cruiser Squadron into the Adriatic, this time to interfere with the Serbian Campaign. The new light cruiser SMS Helgoland, accompanied by five Tatra-class destroyers left Cattaro and headed for Durazzo late on 28 December 1915, with the submarine U-15 and two destroyers already off Durazzo on patrol. While on passage, the Austro-Hungarians sighted the French submarine Monge on patrol to the south of Cattaro. The destroyer SMS Balaton opened fire before ramming and sinking Monge. Early the next day, the Austrian squadron arrived off Durazzo and opened fire on the town, with Helgoland sinking a Greek steamer and two schooners. The destroyer Lika ran into a minefield and was sunk. Triglav was badly damaged by another mine. SMS Csepel attempted to take Triglav in tow, but fouled a propeller and the job was taken over by Tatra. The crippled Austrian force now returned slowly north. Allied forces in Brindisi were alerted to the Austrian force and the British sent out the Town-class light cruiser HMS Dartmouth. These were quickly followed by the Italian light cruisers Quatro and Nino Bixio, British destroyer HMS Weymouth and five French destroyers. The Austrians also responded and despatched from Cattaro, the armoured cruiser Kaiser Karl VI, and the light cruiser Novara, to support the returning survivors of the raid, but they did not see action. Early in the afternoon of 29 December the forward Allied ships came into action with the Austrian squadron which was still only halfway home. The French destroyers headed for the Austrian destroyer Triglav, still under tow, which was abandoned and scuttled off Cape Rondini, after being fired upon by the French destroyer Casque. Meanwhile, the Allied cruisers attempted to cut off and deal with Helgoland and the three remaining destroyers. In a long-range gunnery duel fought throughout the afternoon, Helgoland skillfully avoided the Allied cruisers and reached Cattaro safely but with the loss of the valuable Lika and Triglav. Tatra suffered a damaged engine from several shell hitsJohn Doran
14th May 1917 Battle of Straits of Otranto The 1917 Battle of the Strait of Otranto was the result of an Austro-Hungarian raid on the Otranto Barrage, an Allied naval blockade of the Strait of Otranto. The battle took place on 14–15 May 1917 and was the largest surface action in the Adriatic Sea during World War I. The Otranto Barrage was a fixed barrier, composed of lightly armed drifters with anti-submarine nets coupled with minefields and supported by Allied naval patrols. The Austro-Hungarian navy planned to raid the Otranto Barrage with a force of three light cruisers and two destroyers under the command of Captain Miklós Horthy. It was an attempt to break the barrier to allow U-boats greater access to the Mediterranean and Allied shipping. An Allied force composed of ships from three navies responded to the raid and in the ensuing battle, heavily damaged the Austro-Hungarian cruiser SMS Novara. However, the rapid approach of the Austro-Hungarian relief force persuaded Rear Admiral Acton, the Allied commander, to retreat.
Under the command of Horthy, three Austro-Hungarian cruisers (Novara, Saida, and Helgoland) modified to resemble large British destroyers, were to attack the drifters on the night of 14 May and attempt to destroy as many as possible before daybreak. The destroyers Csepel and Balaton were to mount a diversionary raid off the Albanian coast in order to confuse any Allied counter-attack. Two Austro-Hungarian U-boats, U-4 and U-27 together with the German U-boat UC-25, were to participate in the operation. A supporting force composed of the armored cruiser Sankt Georg, two destroyers, and a number of torpedo boats was on standby if the raiders ran into trouble. The old pre-dreadnought battleship Budapest and a screen of torpedo boats were also available if necessary. An Allied destroyer patrol was in the area on the night of 14 May, to the north of the Barrage. The Italian flotilla leader Mirabello was accompanied by the French destroyers Commandant Rivičre, Bisson, and Cimeterre. The Italian destroyer Borea was also in the area, escorting a small convoy to Valona. A support force was based in the port of Brindisi, consisting of the British cruisers Dartmouth and Bristol with several French and Italian destroyers.
Raid on the drifters
The Italian convoy escorted by Borea was attacked by the Austro-Hungarian destroyers Csepel and Balaton at approximately 0324. The Austro-Hungarians sank Borea, a munitions ship and a second was set on fire and abandoned. The three cruisers were able to pass through the line of drifters and at 0330 began attacking the small barrage ships. The Austro-Hungarians frequently gave the drifter crews warning to abandon ship before opening fire. In some instances the drifter crews chose to fight. Gowan Lee returned fire on the Austo-Hungarian ships. The ship was heavily damaged, but remained afloat. Her captain, Joseph Watt, was later awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during the battle. There were 47 drifters in Barrage on the night of 14 May. The Austro-Hungarians managed to sink 14 drifters and damage four more. The lack of sufficient Allied escorts forced the withdrawal of the remaining blockading ships, although only for a short time.
By this time, the Allied naval forces in the area were aware of the raid and were in a position to block the Austro-Hungarian retreat. Rear Admiral Alfredo Acton, the commanding officer of the Italian Scouting Division, ordered Mirabello's group southward at 0435, while he embarked on the British light cruiser HMS Dartmouth. By 0645, the cruisers Dartmouth and Bristol, along with the Italian destroyers Mosto, Pilo, Schiaffino, Acerbi, and Aquila,were sailing north in an attempt to cut off the Austro-Hungarian cruisers. The Italian light cruiser Marsala, the flotilla leader Racchia, and the destroyers Insidioso, Indomito, and Impavido were readying to sail in support as well. The Mirabello group engaged the Austro-Hungarian cruisers at 0700, but were heavily outgunned and instead attempted to shadow the fleeing cruisers. At 0745, Rear Admiral Acton's ships encountered the destroyers Csepel and Balaton. After 20 minutes, the Italian destroyers were able to close the distance to the Austro-Hungarian ships. The two groups engaged in a short artillery duel before a shot from Csepel struck Aquila and disabled the ship's boilers. By this time, the Austro-Hungarian destroyers were under the cover of the coastal batteries at Durazzo and were able to make good their escape. At 0900, Bristol's lookouts spotted the smoke from the Austro-Hungarian cruisers to the south of her position. The Allied ships turned to engage the Austro-Hungarian ships. The British ships had both a superiority in numbers and in firepower. Dartmouth was armed with eight 6 inch guns and Bristol had two 6 inch and ten 4 inch, compared to the nine 3.9 inch guns on each of the Austro-Hungarian ships. Unfortunately for the Allies, their numerical superiority was quickly lost, as their destroyers were either occupied with mechanical problems, or protecting those destroyers suffering from breakdowns. The support forces of both sides—the Sankt Georg group for the Austro-Hungarians, and the Marsala group for the Allies—were quickly dispatched to the battle. Dartmouth, faster than Bristol, closed to effective engagement range with the Austro-Hungarian ships and opened fire. A shell from Dartmouth struck Novara, at which point the Austro-Hungarian ships laid a smoke screen in order to close the distance. Dartmouth was struck several times and by 1100, Acton ordered the ship to reduce speed to allow Bristol to catch up. Novara was hit several more times and her main feed pumps and starboard auxiliary steam pipe had been damaged, which caused the ship to begin losing speed. At 1105, Acton turned away in an attempt to separate Saida from Novara and Helgoland. At this point, Sankt Georg was approaching the scene, which prompted Acton to temporarily withdraw to consolidate his forces. This break in the action was enough time for the Austro-Hungarians to save the crippled Novara. Saida took the ship under tow while Helgoland covered them. Unaware that Novara had been disabled, and fearing that his ships would be drawn too close to the Austrian naval base at Cattaro, Acton broke off the pursuit. The destroyer Acerbi misread the signal, and attempted to launch a torpedo attack, but was driven off by the combined fire of the Novara, Saida, and Helgoland. At 1205, Acton realized the dire situation Novara was in, but by this time, the Sankt Georg group was too close. The Sankt Georg group rendezvoused with Novara, Saida, and Helgoland, and Csepel and Balaton reached the scene as well. The entire group returned to Cattaro together. At 1330, the submarine UC-25 torpedoed Dartmouth, causing serious damage. The escorting destroyers forced UC-25 from the area, but Dartmouth had to be abandoned for a period of time, before it could be towed back to port. The French destroyer Boutefeu attempted to pursue the German submarine, but struck a mine laid by UC-25 that morning and sank rapidly.
As a result of the raid, it was decided by the British naval command that unless sufficient destroyers were available to protect the barrage, the drifters would have to be withdrawn at night. The drifters would only be operating for less than twelve hours a day and would have to leave their positions by 1500 every day. Despite the damage received by the Austro-Hungarian cruisers during the pursuit by Dartmouth and Bristol, the Austro-Hungarian forces inflicted more serious casualties on the Allied blockade. In addition to the sunk and damaged drifters, the cruiser Dartmouth was nearly sunk by the German submarine UC-25, the French destroyer Boutefeu was mined and sunk, and a munitions convoy to Valona was interdicted. However, in a strategic sense, the battle had little impact on the war. The barrage was never particularly effective at preventing the U-boat operations of Germany and Austria-Hungary in the first place. The drifters could cover approximately 5 miles apiece of the 40 miles wide Strait, only slightly more than ˝ of which was covered. The raid risked some of the most advanced units of the Austro-Hungarian fleet on an operation that offered minimal strategic returnsJohn Doran
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