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HMS Leonidas in the Great War - The Wartime Memories Project -

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HMS Leonidas



1st May 1915 Battle off Noorhinder Bank  The Battle off Noordhinder Bank on 1 May 1915 was a naval action between a squadron of four British naval trawlers supported by a flotilla of four British destroyers and two German torpedo boats from the Flanders Flotilla. The battle began when the two torpedo boats were sent on a search and rescue mission and ran into a British patrol. The Germans fought with the patrolling trawlers until a heavier force of British destroyers from Harwich Force arrived and sank the German vessels. The battle greatly demoralized the German flotilla at Flanders as the boats that were sunk had just been launched shortly before the battle. The action off Noordhinder Bank highlighted that the Flanders Flotilla was too inadequately armed to protect the coast it was assigned to defend let alone harass British shipping in the channel. Eventually, after other similar defeats, the small torpedo boats such as those used off Noordhinder Bank were relegated to coastal patrol. Heavier units were finally transferred to even the balance of power in the English Channel.

After the 7th Torpedo Boat Half Flotilla was lost during the Battle off Texel, German naval authorities were reluctant to commit any further forces for offensive operations off the coast of Flanders. Despite this, the commander of Marine Corps Flanders – Admiral Ludwig von Schroeder – continued to press for a transfer of a force of submarines and torpedo boats to his command. After several months of resisting Schroeder's demands, the Kaiserliche Marine finally relented and sent him a force of light torpedo boats and submarines. Although these forces were greatly inferior in armament and displacement to those he had requested, Admiral Schroeder put his newly acquired forces to use immediately. He formed the Flanders Torpedo Boat Flotilla made up of 15 "A"-class torpedo boats under the command of Korvettenkapitän Hermann Schoemann. Three days later, on 1 May 1915, two German seaplanes reported a squadron of four trawlers off Noordhinder Bank. One of these seaplanes was forced to make an emergency landing and Schoeman was dispatched with boats SMS A2 and A6 to rescue the seaplane's crew and destroy the trawlers. Meanwhile, while patrolling off the Galloper lightship near Goodwin Sands, HMS Recruit was sunk by the German submarine UB-6. Recruit's consort – Brazen – as well as the four trawlers the German seaplanes had spotted began searching for Recruit's attacker. A2 and A6 caught the trawlers off the Noordhinder Bank at 1500. The trawlers Columbia, Barbados, Chirsit, and Miura were under the command of Lieutenant Sir James Domville onboard Barbados. Armed with a single 3-pounder gun each, the trawlers were outgunned by the German torpedo boats, which were both armed with two torpedo tubes as well as a four-pound gun.

Battle

As soon as the trawlers were spotted by Schoeman's boats they were engaged. Rather than attempt to flee, the commander of the squadron of trawlers – Lieutenant Domville – decided to try to fight his way out. A2 and A6 both made torpedo runs against the trawlers, but of the four torpedoes launched, only one hit its target, sinking Columbia and killing the British commander. Outgunned, the trawler Barbados resorted to ramming A6, damaging it enough that the Germans decided to withdraw from the action. Before withdrawing, the Germans managed to rescue a lieutenant and two deckhands from Columbia making them prisoners of war. Upon being attacked, the trawlers had alerted Harwich Force of the situation and as a result a squadron of four "L"-class destroyers were dispatched to rescue the trawlers. The dispatched squadron – consisting of HMS Laforey, Lawford, Leonidas, and Lark from Harwich Force – managed to gain sight of the German boats soon after arriving on the scene. Heavily outgunned, the German boats attempted to make for the safety of the Flanders coast, but were pursued by the British destroyers. Once the British managed to catch up with the torpedo boats, they were engaged in a running fight that lasted nearly an hour. By the end of the action, both torpedo boats were destroyed with many of the Germans, including the new commander of the Flanders Flotilla, going down with their ships. The British destroyers suffered no casualties.

Aftermath

When the battle ended, British losses included Columbia sunk and Barbados damaged. Columbia suffered 16 dead with only one surviving deckhand being recovered after the action. The Germans suffered much worse losing both A2 and A6 along with 13 killed and 46 captured. Among the German dead was the commander of the German forces, Hermann Schoemann. Controversy erupted after it was discovered from the captured Germans that the three men taken from the sinking Columbia had been locked away below decks on one of the torpedoboats. They were left to die when the German vessel started to sink. The Germans reported that they did not have enough time to get to the British prisoners and were barely able to escape the sinking hulk themselves. The battle showed Admiral Schroeder the severe limitations of the "A"-class torpedo boats. Too poorly armed for raiding, the boats were delegated to coastal patro duties. Defeat at Noordhinder allowed Schroeder's pleas for reinforcements to be finally heard by the German Admiralty. He was sent heavier vessels to complement the forces he already possessed. The next engagement involving an "A"-class torpedo boat would also reinforce the perception that the class was too weak for service. Several of the newly constructed boats were put in reserve as soon as larger and more capable boats were transferred to the Flanders Flotilla.

John Doran


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