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SMS Von der Tann in the Great War - The Wartime Memories Project -

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- SMS Von der Tann during the Great War -


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SMS Von der Tann



28th August 1914 Battle of Heligoland Bight 1914  The First Battle of Heligoland Bight took place on the 28th August 1914 off the northwest German coast. The German High Seas Fleet as a general rule, stayed in safe harbours while the British Grand Fleet remained in the northern North Sea. Both sides undertook long-distance sorties with cruisers and battlecruisers while German destroyers maintained close reconnaissance of the Heligoland Bight. The British planned to ambush some of these destroyers on their regular daily patrols. A fleet of 31 destroyers and two cruisers under Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt and submarines commanded by Commodore Roger Keyes were dispatched. Backup support at longer range was provided by six light cruisers commanded by William Goodenough and five battlecruisers commanded by Vice Admiral David Beatty.Three German light cruisers and one destroyer were sunk. Three more light cruisers were damaged, 712 sailors killed, 530 injured and 336 taken prisoner. The British suffered one light cruiser and three destroyers damaged, 35 killed and 40 wounded. The battle was regarded as a great victory in Britain with the returning ships met by cheering crowds. The effect upon the German government and in particular the Kaiser was to restrict the freedom of action of the German fleet, instructing it to remain in port and avoid any contact with superior forces.

The battle took place within a month after Britain's declaration of war against Germany on 5 August 1914. Initially, the war on land went badly for the French and her allies, with an urgent need to get all possible troops to France to resist the German advances. The government had nothing but bad news, and looked to the navy, traditionally the mainstay of British military power, to gain some success. British naval tactics typically involved a close blockade of enemy ports and taking the fight to the enemy as was expected by the nation. However, the advent of submarines armed with torpedoes and mines hidden in open seas placed capital ships near enemy ports in great danger. Powered ships needed to keep moving to avoid becoming sitting targets, continuously using fuel and needed to return to home ports every few days to refuel. The German fleet had prepared to counter British blockades by investing heavily in submarines and coastal defences. The German High Seas Fleet was smaller than the British Grand Fleet and could not expect victory in a head to head fight. Instead a strategy of waiting in defended home ports for opportunities to attack the larger British force was adopted. The British chose to adopt a strategy of patrolling the North Sea rather than waters close to Germany. German ships leaving their home ports had to pass via two routes.

Straits of Dover, 20 miles wide defended by British submarines and mines, or the North Sea between Britain and Norway - 200 miles at its narrowest with the British fleet operating from Scapa Flow.

This led to a practical standoff, with both fleets holding the other endlessly waiting. The German ships were unable to attack merchant shipping arriving on the west of Britain, which was vital for British survival. Regular patrols with smaller ships and occasional forays by larger units of the Grand Fleet helped encourage the German fleet to stay at home. The bulk of the British Expeditionary Force was transported to France between 12 and 21 August. This operation was protected from German attack by British destroyers and submarines patrolling Heligoland Bight, which German ships would have to cross. The Grand Fleet was positioned in the centre of the North Sea ready to move south should any German attack commence, but none came. Although the German Army had anticipated a rapid transfer of the British army to aid France, German naval planning thought it would take longer for the British to organise. So they were caught by surprise when it commenced and submarines which might have been used to attack the British transports were away on patrols seeking the main British fleet.

Two British officers put forward a plan to carry the war to the German fleet. A squadron of submarines under the command of Commodore Roger Keyes regularly patrolled the Heligoland Bight and Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt commanded a destroyer patrol. Both units were operating from Harwich. They observed that German destroyers carried out regular pattern of patrols escorted out to their positions by cruisers each evening and met to escort back to port each morning. Their idea was to send in a superior force during darkness to catch the German destroyers as they returned. Three British submarines would surface in a position to draw the destroyers back out to sea while a larger British force of 31 destroyers accompanied by nine submarines would cut them off from Germany. Other submarines would wait for any larger German ships leaving the Jade estuary to help. Keyes impressed First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill by the daring of his plan, which was adopted with some changes. An attack at 0800 on the German daytime patrol was preferred. Keyes and Tyrwhitt requested support for their operation, both from the Grand Fleet and the squadron of six light cruisers commanded by Commodore William Goodenough. This was turned down by the Chief of Staff — Vice Admiral Doveton Sturdee — who agreed to provide only lighter forces consisting of "Cruiser Force K" under Rear Admiral Gordon Moore (two battlecruisers HMS New Zealand and Invincible) 40 miles to the northwest and "Cruiser Force C" a squadron of five Cressy-class armoured cruisers ( HMS Cressy, Aboukir, Bacchante, Hogue and Euryalus ) 100 miles west. It was decided that the attack would take place on 28 August. The submarines were to leave to take up their positions on 26 August, while Keyes would travel on the destroyer Lurcher. The surface ships would depart at dawn on 27 August. Tyrwhitt — aboard the brand new light cruiser HMS Arethusa — would command the 3rd Flotilla of 16 modern L-class destroyers and his subordinate, Captain Wilfred Blunt — on board the light cruiser HMS Fearless — would command the 1st Flotilla of 16 older destroyers. Arethusa did not arrive until 26 August. Her crew were inexperienced, and it was discovered that her new 4 in (100 mm) Mk V guns jammed when fired. Although the plan had been agreed by the Admiralty, Admiral John Jellicoe commanding the Grand Fleet was not informed until 26 August. Jellicoe immediately requested permission to send reinforcements and to move the fleet closer to the action, but only received permission for the battle cruisers. He sent Vice Admiral David Beatty with the battlecruisers HMS Lion, Queen Mary and Princess Royal, also Goodenough with the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron (HMS Southampton, Birmingham, Falmouth, Liverpool, Lowestoft and Nottingham). He then sailed south from Scapa Flow with the remainder of the fleet. Jellicoe despatched a message advising Tyrwhitt that he should expect reinforcements, but this was delayed at Harwich and never received. Tyrwhitt was unaware of the additional forces until Goodenough's ships appeared out of the mist, almost leading to an attack friend on friend as he was expecting to meet only enemy vessels. Three Groups of British submarines were deployed. E-class submarines HMS E4, E5 and E9 were positioned to attack reinforcing or retreating German vessels. HMS E6, E7 and E8 were positioned on the surface 4 miles further out attempting to entice the German destroyers out to sea. HMS D2 and D8 were stationed off mouth of the river Ems to attack reinforcements from that direction.

At around 0700, Arethusa, steaming south towards the anticipated position of the German ships, sighted a German destroyer, G-194. Accompanying Aethusa were 16 destroyers of the 3rd Flotilla with Fearless leading the 1st Flotilla of 16 destroyers 2 miles behind and Goodenough with his six cruisers a further 8 miles back. Visibility was no more than 3 miles. G-194 immediately turned towards Heligoland, radioing Rear Admiral Leberecht Maass, commander of the German destroyer squadron who in turn informed Rear Admiral Franz Hipper commanding the German battlecruiser squadron. Hipper was unaware of the scale of the attack, but ordered the light cruisers SMS Stettin and Frauenlob to defend the destroyers. Six other light cruisers were ordered to raise steam and join the action as soon as they could. SMS Mainz moored on the river Ems; SMS Strassburg, Cöln, Ariadne, Stralsund and Kolberg from the river Jade, Danzig and München from Brunsbüttelkoog on the river Elbe.

Tyrwhitt ordered four destroyers to attack G-149. The sound of firing alerted the remaining German destroyers, who turned south towards home. However they were sighted by British destroyers who commenced firing. The trailing destroyer V-1 was hit, followed by the destroyer-minesweepers D-8 and T-33. G-9 called for fire against the attacking ships from coastal artillery, but the mist meant the artillery were unable to distinguish friend from foe. At 0726, Tyrwhitt turned east, attempting to follow the sound of gunfire involving his four destroyers. He sighted 10 German destroyers which he chased through increasing mist for 30 minutes until the ships reached Heligoland and he was forced to turn away. At 0758, Stettin and Frauenlob arrived, reversing the situation so that the British destroyers were obliged to retreat toward their own cruisers Arethusa and Fearless. Stettin withdrew, since the German destroyers had now escaped, but Frauenlob was engaged by Arethusa. While Arethusa was theoretically the better armed ship, two of her four 4 in (100 mm) guns were jammed, while another was damaged by fire. Frauenlob — armed with ten 4 in (100 mm) guns — was able to cause considerable damage before a shell from one of Arethusa's two 6 in (150 mm) guns destroyed her bridge, killing 37 men including the captain, and forcing her to withdraw. Although badly damaged, she returned to Wilhelmshaven. At 0812, Tyrwhitt reverted to his original plan, which was an east to west sweep across the area. Six returning German destroyers were sighted but turned to flee. One of them — V187 — turned back as she had seen two cruisers, Nottingham and Lowestoft ahead of her. She hoped to pass through the British destroyers by surprise, but was surrounded by eight destroyers and sunk. As British ships attempted to rescue survivors from the water, the German light cruiser Stettin approached and opened fire, forcing the British to abandon the rescue, leaving behind some British sailors. The British submarine E4 had observed the action and launched a torpedo at Stettin, but missed. Stettin attempted to ram the submarine, which dived to escape. When she resurfaced all the larger ships had gone and the submarine rescued the British crewmen who were still afloat in small boats together with rescued German sailors. The Germans were left behind with a compass and given directions towards the mainland as the submarine was too small to take them.

At 0815, Keyes, with Lurcher and another destroyer, sighted two four-funneled cruisers. He was still unaware of the British reinforcements and assumed they were enemy cruisers. He signalled Invincible that he was chasing two German cruisers. Goodenough received the signal and abandoning his own search for enemy vessels to attack, steamed to assist Keyes against his own ships, Lowestoft and Nottingham. Keyes, seeing he was now being chased by four more enemy cruisers attempted to lead them towards Invincible and New Zealand, reporting them as enemy ships. Eventually, Keyes recognised Southampton, and the ships were able to join Tyrwhitt. However, the danger to Goodenough's ships was not over as the British submarines were still unaware the additional ships were present. At 0930, one of the British submarines attacked Southampton with two torpedoes. Fortunately they missed and in turn escaped when Southampton tried to ram the British submarine. Lowestoft and Nottingham remained out of communication range and, separated from the rest of their squadron, took no further part in the action. Tyrwhitt turned back to assist Keyes on receipt of the signal that he was being chased. He sighted Stettin, but lost her in the mist before coming upon Fearless and her destroyer squadron. Arethusa was badly damaged, so at 1017 Fearless came alongside and both cruisers were stopped for 20 minutes while repairs were made to the boilers.

The cruisers Cöln, Strassburg and Ariadne had sailed from Wilhelmshaven and Mainz was approaching from a different direction. Admiral Maass was still unsure of the nature of the attack, so he dispersed his ships in search of the enemy. Strassburg was first to find Arethusa and attacked her, but was driven off by torpedo attacks from the destroyers. As Tyrwhitt turned to the west, Cöln — with Admiral Maass — approached from the southeast and was also chased away by torpedoes. Tyrwhitt signalled Beatty requesting reinforcements and Goodenough with his remaining four cruisers came to assist. The force turned west. Beatty had been following the events by radio 40 miles to the north west. By 1135, the British ships had still not completed their mission and withdrawn. The rising tide would enable larger German ships to leave harbour and join the battle. He decided to intervene and took his five battlecruisers southeast at maximum speed to within an hour of the action. he advantage of closer proximity of his more powerful ships to rescue the others had to be weighed against the possibility of mischance by torpedo or of meeting German dreadnoughts. At 1130, Tyrwhitt's squadron came upon another German cruiser, Mainz. The ships engaged for 20 minutes, before the arrival of Goodenough caused Mainz to attempt escape. Goodenough gave chase, but in attempting to lose him Mainz came back across the path of Arethusa and her destroyers. Her steering was damaged, causing her to turn back into the path of Goodenough's ships and she was hit by shells and torpedo. At 1220, her captain ordered the crew to abandon ship and scuttled Mainz. Keyes brought Lurcher alongside Mainz to take off the crew. Three British destroyers had been seriously damaged in the engagement. Strassburg and Cöln now attacked together, but the battle was interrupted again by the arrival of Beatty and the battlecruisers.

Strassburg managed to disengage and escape when the battlecruisers approached, but Cöln was not so fortunate. Cut off from escape she was quickly disabled by the much larger guns of the battlecruisers. She was saved from immediate sinking by the sighting of another German light cruiser, SMS Ariadne, to which Beatty gave chase and again quickly overcame. Ariadne was left to sink, which she eventually did at 1500, attended by the German ships Danzig and Stralsund who took off survivors. At 1310, Beatty turned northwest and ordered all the British ships to withdraw since the tide had now risen sufficiently for larger German ships to pass out through the Jade estuary. Passing Cöln again, he opened fire, sinking her. Attempts to rescue the crew were interrupted by the arrival of a submarine. One survivor was rescued by a German ship two days later out of some 250 who had survived the sinking. Rear Admiral Maass perished with his ship. Four German cruisers survived the engagement, which they would not have done except for the mist. Strassburg nearly approached the battlecruisers, but saw them in time and turned away. She had four funnels, like the Town-class British cruisers, which caused sufficient confusion to allow her time to disappear into the mist. The German battlecruisers Moltke and Von der Tann left the Jade at 1410 and began a cautious search for other ships. Rear Admiral Hipper arrived with Seydlitz at 1510, but by then the battle was over.

The battle was a clear British victory. Germany had lost the three light cruisers SMS Mainz, Cöln and Ariadne and the destroyer V-187 sunk; light cruiser Frauenlob had been severely damaged. The light cruisers SMS Strassburg and Stettin had also been damaged. German casualties were 1,242 with 712 men killed, including Rear Admiral Maass, and 336 prisoners of war. The Royal Navy had lost no ships and only 35 men killed, with 40 wounded. The most significant result of the battle was the effect on the attitude of the Kaiser. To preserve his ships the Kaiser determined that the fleet should, "hold itself back and avoid actions which can lead to greater losses".

Churchill after the war observed: "All they saw was that the British did not hesitate to hazard their greatest vessels as well as their light craft in the most daring offensive action and had escaped apparently unscathed. They felt as we should have felt had German destroyers broken into the Solent and their battle cruisers penetrated as far as the Nab. The results of this action were far-reaching. Henceforward, the weight of British Naval prestige lay heavy across all German sea enterprise ... The German Navy was indeed "muzzled". Except for furtive movements by individual submarines and minelayers, not a dog stirred from August till November." But he also observed: "The Germans knew nothing of our defective staff work or the risks we had run."

One of the officers present on Southampton, Lieutenant Stephen King-Halllater wrote about the battle: "As may be deduced from these extracts the staff work was almost criminally negligent and it was a near miracle that we did not sink one or more of our submarines or that one of them did not sink us. Furthermore if anyone had suggested, say in 1917, that our battle-cruisers should rush about without anti-submarine protection and hundreds of miles away from the battle fleet in a mine infested area a few miles from the German battle fleet, he would have been certified on the spot. It was precisely because on paper the presence of the battle-cruisers (unsupported) was absurd that the logical Germans were sitting in Wilhelmshafen unable to move because the tide was too low on the bar of the Jade river! I should like to be able to write that this important hydrographical circumstance was part of the plan, but it was only discovered long afterwards. Nevertheless the strategical and indeed political consequences of this affair were of great importance. The German Navy was manned by a personnel no less courageous and at least as well trained as our own; their ships were superior type for type; their gunnery was more accurate. Yet in the mind of every German seaman was the reflection that they were challenging the might of a navy which, by and large, had dominated the seas for four centuries. The German seaman had a respect and almost traditional veneration for the British Royal Navy and entered the war with an inferiority complex in striking contrast to the superiority complex which the German Army felt towards all other armies. It was therefore a rude shock to the German Navy ... to learn of this audacious manoeuvre and successful engagement literally within sight of the main German base."

Both sides had lessons to learn from the battle. The Germans had assumed that their cruisers, leaving port one by one, would not meet larger ships or major forces. They failed to keep their ships together so they might have better odds in any engagement. Beatty — when faced with the choice of leaving one of his ships to finish off disabled enemies — had elected to keep his squadron together and only later return in force to finish off those ships. Goodenough, on the other hand, had managed to lose track of two cruisers, which therefore played no further part in the battle. German light cruisers armed with larger numbers of faster firing 4 in (100 mm) guns proved inferior to similar British cruisers with fewer but more powerful 6 in (150 mm) guns. However, their ships proved difficult to sink despite severe damage and impressed the British with the quality of their firing. Both British and German sources reported the determination and bravery of the defeated German ships when overwhelmed. No one reported the presence of British cruisers to Admiral Hipper until 1435. Had he known, he could have brought his own battlecruisers to sea faster and consolidated his fleet, possibly preventing the German losses and instead inflicting some on the departing British ships. The British operation had dragged out longer than anticipated so that the large German ships would have had sufficient high water to join the battle. The British side also suffered from poor communications, with ships failing to report engagement with the enemy to each other. The initial failure to include Jellicoe in planning the raid could have led to disaster had he not sent reinforcements, although the subsequent communications failures which meant British ships were unaware of the new arrivals could then have led to British ships attacking each other. There was no way to warn off British submarines which might have targeted their own ships. It had been the decision of Admiral Sturdee — Admiralty chief of staff — not to inform Jellicoe and also not to send additional larger ships which had originally been requested by Keyes. Jellicoe in effect countermanded this decision once he knew of the raid by sending ships which were part of his command. Keyes was disappointed that the opportunity for a greater success had been lost by not including the additional cruisers properly into the plan as he had originally intended. Jellicoe was disturbed by the Admiralty failure to discuss the raid with their commander in chief of the fleet at sea. The Germans appreciated that constant patrols by destroyers was both wasteful of time and resources of those ships, and left them open to attack. Instead, they designed defensive minefields to prevent enemy ships approaching and freed up the destroyers for duties escorting larger ships. In the future, ships were never to be sent out one by one. The British realised it was foolish to have sent Arethusa into battle with inadequate training and jammed guns. British ships were criticised for having fired considerable ammunition and torpedoes with little effect. This criticism later proved counter-productive when at the Battle of Dogger Bank, ships became overly cautious of wasting ammunition and thus missed opportunities to damage enemy vessels.

3rd November 1914 Yarmouth Raid - 3rd Nov 1914   The Raid on Yarmouth, which took place on 3 November 1914, was an attack by the German Navy on the British North Sea port and town of Great Yarmouth. Little damage was done to the town since shells only landed on the beach after German ships laying mines offshore were interrupted by British destroyers. One British submarine was sunk by a mine as it attempted to leave harbour and attack the German ships. One German armoured cruiser was sunk after striking two German mines outside its own home port.

Prelude

In October 1914, the German Navy was seeking ways to attack the British fleet. The Royal Navy had more ships than Germany, so it was felt inadvisable to enter into any direct fleet to fleet engagement. Instead, the Germans sought ways to attack British ships individually or in small groups. The Kaiser had given orders that no major fleet action was to take place, but small groups of ships might still take part in raids. The raids had several objectives. One was to lay mines which later might sink passing British ships. Another was to pick off any small ships encountered, or to entice larger groups into giving chase and lead them back to where the German High Seas Fleet would be waiting in relatively safe waters near to Germany. A further consideration was that raiding British coastal towns might force the British to alter the disposition of its ships to protect those towns. The British had resolved to keep the greater part of the Grand Fleet together, so it would always have superiority in numbers whenever it engaged the enemy. Germany hoped to make Britain split more ships from the main fleet for coastal defence thus giving Germany more opportunities to catch isolated ships. The Yarmouth raid was carried out by a German battlecruiser squadron commanded by Admiral Franz von Hipper with three battlecruisers (SMS Seydlitz, Von der Tann and Moltke), the slightly smaller armoured cruiser SMS Blücher and the light cruisers SMS Strassburg, Graudenz, Kolberg and Stralsund. On this occasion, mines were to be laid off the coast of Yarmouth and Lowestoft, but the ships were also to shell Yarmouth.

Raid

At 1630 on 2 November 1914, the battlecruiser squadron left its home base on the Jade River. Two squadrons of German battleships followed them from harbour slightly later, to lie in wait for any ships which the battlecruisers might be able to entice to chase them back. By midnight, the squadron was sufficiently north to be passing fishing trawlers from various countries. By 0630 on 3 November, the patrol sighted a marker buoy at "Smith's Knoll Watch", allowing them to determine their exact position and close in to Yarmouth. Yarmouth coast was patrolled by the minesweeper HMS Halcyon and the old destroyers HMS Lively and Leopard. Halcyon spotted two cruisers, which she challenged. The response came in the form of shellfire, first small, then from larger calibre guns. Lively, some 2 miles behind, started to make smoke to hide the ships. German shooting was less accurate than it might have been because all the battlecruisers fired upon her at once, making it harder for each ship to tell where their own shells were landing and correct their aim. At 0740, Hipper ceased firing at Lively and instead directed some shells toward Yarmouth, which hit the beach. Once Stralsund had finished laying mines, the ships departed. Halcyon, out of immediate danger, radioed a warning of the presence of German ships. The destroyer HMS Success moved to join Halcyon while three more destroyers in harbour started to raise steam. The submarines HMS E10, D5 and D3, inside the harbour, moved out to join the chase, but D5 struck a newly laid mine and sank. At 0830, Halcyon returned to harbour and provided a report of what had happened. At 0955, Admiral Beatty was ordered south with a British battlecruiser squadron, with squadrons of the Grand Fleet following from Ireland. By then, Hipper was 50 miles away, heading home. German ships returning home waited overnight in Schillig Roads for fog to clear before returning to harbour. In the fog, the armoured cruiser SMS Yorck, which was traveling from the Jade Bay to Wilhelmshaven, went off course and hit two mines. A number of the crew survived by sitting on the wreck of the ship, which had sunk in shallow water, but at least 235 men were killed.

Aftermath

Admiral Hipper was awarded an Iron Cross for the success of the raid, but refused to wear it, feeling little had been accomplished. Although the results were not spectacular, German commanders were heartened by the ease with which Hipper had arrived and departed, with little resistance and were encouraged to try again. In part, the lack of reaction from the British had been due to news received that morning of a much more serious loss at the Battle of Coronel and the fact that Admiral Jellicoe, commander of the Grand Fleet, was on a train returning to his ships at the time of the raid Also, according to First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, the British could not believe there was nothing more to the raid than briefly shelling Yarmouth and were waiting for something else to happen.

Order of Battle

  • Royal Navy
  • HMS Halcyon, minesweeper, flagship
  • HMS Lively, destroyer
  • HMS Leopard, destroyer
  • HMS Success, destroyer
  • HMS E10, submarine
  • HMS D5, submarine
  • HMS D3, submarine
  • German Navy
  • SMS Seydlitz, battlecruiser, flagship
  • SMS Von der Tann, battlecruiser
  • SMS Moltke, battlecruiser
  • SMS Blücher, armoured cruiser
  • SMS Strassburg, light cruiser
  • SMS Graudenz, light cruiser
  • SMS Kolberg, light cruiser
  • SMS Stralsund, light cruiser


8th August 1915 Battle of the Gulf of Riga 1915  The Battle of the Gulf of Riga was a World War I naval operation of the German High Seas Fleet against the Russian Baltic Fleet in the Gulf of Riga in the Baltic Sea in August 1915.The operation's objective was to destroy the Russian naval forces in the Gulf and facilitate the fall of Riga to the German army on the Eastern Front in 1915. The German fleet, however, failed to achieve its objective and was forced to return to its bases. Riga remained in Russian hands until it fell to the German Army on 1st of September 1917.

In early August 1915, several powerful units of the German High Seas Fleet were transferred to the Baltic to participate in the foray into the Riga Gulf. The intention was to destroy the Russian naval forces in the area, including the pre-dreadnought battleship Slava, and to use the minelayer Deutschland to block the entrance to the Moon Sound with mines. The German naval forces, under the command of Vice Admiral Hipper, included the four Nassau-class and four Helgoland-class battleships, the battlecruisers SMS Moltke, Von der Tann, and Seydlitz, and a number of smaller craft.

Battle

On 8th of August, the first attempt to clear the gulf was made. The old battleships SMS Braunschweig and Elsass kept Slava at bay while minesweepers cleared a path through the inner belt of mines. During this period, the rest of the German fleet remained in the Baltic and provided protection against other units of the Russian fleet. However, the approach of nightfall meant that Deutschland would be unable to mine the entrance to the Suur Strait in time and so the operation was broken off. In the meantime, the German armored cruisers SMS Roon and Prinz Heinrich were detached to shell the Russian positions at the Sõrve Peninsula in the Saaremaa island. Several Russian destroyers were anchored at Sõrve and one was slightly damaged during the bombardment. The battlecruiser Von der Tann and the light cruiser SMS Kolberg were sent to shell the island of Utö. On 16th of August, a second attempt was made to enter the gulf. The dreadnoughts SMS Nassau and Posen, four light cruisers and 31 torpedo boats breached the defenses to the gulf. On the first day of the assault, the German minesweeper T46 was sunk, as was the destroyer V99. On 17th of August, Nassau and Posen engaged in an artillery duel with Slava, resulting in three hits on the Russian ship that prompted her withdrawal. After three days, the Russian minefields had been cleared and the flotilla entered the gulf on 19 August, but reports of Allied submarines in the area prompted a German withdrawal from the gulf the following day. Throughout the operation, the German battlecruisers remained in the Baltic and provided cover for the assault into the Gulf of Riga. On the morning of the 19th, Moltke was torpedoed by the British E-class submarine HMS E1. The torpedo was not spotted until it was approximately 200 yd away. Without time to manoeuver, the ship was struck in the bow torpedo room. The explosion damaged several torpedoes in the ship, but they did not detonate themselves. Eight men were killed and 480 short tons of water entered the ship. The ship was repaired at Blohm & Voss in Hamburg between 23 August and 20 September.

Order of battle

    Russia
  • Battleship: Slava
  • Gunboats: Grozyashchiy, Khrabry, Sivuch, Korietz
  • Minelayer: Amur
  • Flotilla of 16 destroyers

    Germany

  • Battleships: SMS Nassau, SMS Posen, SMS Braunschweig, SMS Elsass
  • Battlecruiser: SMS Moltke, SMS Seydlitz, SMS Von der Tann
  • Cruisers: SMS Augsburg, SMS Bremen, SMS Graudenz, SMS Pillau, SMS Roon, SMS Prinz Heinrich
  • Flotilla of 56 destroyers


24th April 1916 Lowestoft and Yarmouth Raid  The Bombardment of Yarmouth and Lowestoft, often referred to as the Lowestoft Raid, was a naval battle fought on the 24th April 1916. The German fleet sent a battlecruiser squadron with accompanying cruisers and destroyers, commanded by Rear Admiral Friedrich Bödicker, to bombard the coastal ports of Yarmouth and Lowestoft. Although the ports had some military importance, the main aim of the raid was to entice out defending ships to be attacked by the battlecruiser squadron or by the full High Seas Fleet. The result was inconclusive. Nearby British forces were too small to intervene and kept clear of the German battlecruisers. The German ships withdrew before the British fast response battlecruiser squadron or the Grand Fleet arrived. The raid was timed to coincide with the expected Easter Rising by Irish Nationalists who had requested German aid. The German Navy believed that the British had a strong force off Norway, another at Hoofden and further a force off the southeast coast of England. The Germans would sneak out between the two forces to bombard the English coast and then attack whichever British force showed first. With luck, the German battlecruisers could engage the southeast force and after defeating it meet the northern group in the area around Terschelling Bank. Here the battlecruisers would attack the second British group from the south and the main body of the High Seas Fleet would attack from the north. This could help to destroy significant elements of the British fleet before the main body of the British Grand Fleet could assist, thereby reducing or eliminating the Royal Navy's numerical superiority. If the British did not take the bait, then merchant ships could be captured and British units off the coast of Belgium destroyed. The forces sighted by Germany in the North Sea had been part of a raid launched on 22 April in an attempt to draw out the German fleet. The battlecruisers HMAS Australia and HMS New Zealand had collided off Denmark in fog, causing serious damage to both ships. Later, the battleship HMS Neptune collided with a merchant steamer and three destroyers were also damaged in collisions. The mission had been abandoned and the ships returned to port, so that on 24 April the main body of the Grand Fleet was, as usual, near its home bases. Rosyth for the battlecruiser squadron and Scapa Flow for the Grand Fleet.

Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth were selected as the targets of the German bombardment. Lowestoft was a base of operations for minelaying and sweeping, while Yarmouth was a base for the submarines that disrupted German movements in the Heligoland Bight. The destruction of the harbours and other military establishments of both these coastal towns would assist the German war effort. Eight Zeppelin airships would, after dropping their bombs, provide reconnaissance for the battlecruisers, which would in turn provide rescue operations should an airship be lost over the water. Two U-boats were sent out ahead of time to Lowestoft, while others were stationed off, or laid mines in, the Firth of Forth, Scotland. The 1st Scouting Group, consisting of five battlecruisers (SMS Seydlitz, Lützow, Derfflinger, Moltke and Von der Tann), commanded by Rear-Admiral Bödicker, would be supported by the four light cruisers of the 2nd Scouting Group and two fast torpedo boat flotillas (VI and IX), together with their two command light cruisers. The Main Fleet, consisting of Squadrons I, II and III, Scouting Division IV and the remainder of the torpedo flotillas, was to accompany the battlecruisers to the Hoofden until the bombardment was over, in order to protect them against superior enemy forces.

Raid

At noon on the 24th April 1916 German forces were in place and the operation began. The route led around British minefields to the English coast, and was intended to put the bombardment group off Lowestoft and Yarmouth at daybreak, where they would bombard the towns for 30 minutes. But at 1600, the battlecruiser Seydlitz struck a mine just north-west of Nordeney, in an area swept the night before. She was forced to turn back with a flooded torpedo compartment from a 50 ft hole on the starboard side, being only able to make 15 knots and 11 men were killed. While the rest of the squadron was stopped for Bödicker to transfer to Lützow and for Seydlitz to extract herself from the minefield, the German ships sighted, and avoided, torpedoes from one or more British submarines. Seydlitz returned to the river Jade, accompanied by two destroyers and Zeppelin L-7. To avoid other possible mines and submarines, the battlecruiser force altered course to a route along the coast of East Friesland. This had previously been avoided because the clear weather risked the ships being sighted from the islands of Rottum and Schiermonnikoog and their movements being reported to the British. It was assumed that the British would now be alerted to the movements of the German ships. The British had already been aware that the German fleet had sailed at midday. More information arrived at 2015, when an intercepted wireless message gave the information that they were headed for Yarmouth. At 1550, the British fleet had been placed on two hours notice of action and at 1905 were ordered to sail south from Scapa Flow. Around midnight, the Harwich squadron of three light cruisers and 18 destroyers was ordered to move north. Around 2000, German ships received a message confirming that a large British fleet was operating off the Belgian coast and that another large force had been sighted off Norway on the 23rd. This suggested that the British Fleet was still divided into two sections, giving rise to optimism that the operation would go off as planned, despite the mining of Seydlitz. At 2130, another message indicated that British patrol boats off the Belgian coast were heading back to harbour, which was interpreted as confirmation that British submarines had reported the German movements. In fact, by 24 April the northern British ships had returned to harbour for coaling. The ships at Flanders included 12 additional destroyers from the Harwich Force, which had been sent to assist with a barrage of the coast. The German airships, having dropped their bombs, reported back to the bombardment force. Visibility over land was poor, the winds were unfavourable and the towns were better defended than had been thought. The Zeppelins that had bombed Norwich, Lincoln, Harwich and Ipswich had been under fire by British ships, but none had been damaged. At about 0350, the light cruiser SMS Rostock, one of Bödicker's screen ships, sighted British ships in a west-southwest direction. Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt, commanding the Harwich ships, reported the sighting of four battlecruisers and six cruisers to the Grand Fleet. He turned away south, attempting to draw the German ships after him away from Lowestoft, but they did not follow. The four battlecruisers opened fire upon Lowestoft at 0410 for 10 minutes, destroying 200 houses and two defensive gun batteries, injuring 12 people and killing three. The ships then moved off to Yarmouth, but fog made it difficult to see the target. Only a few shells were fired before reports arrived that a British force had engaged the remainder of the German ships, and the battlecruisers broke off to rejoin them. When he found he could not draw the German ships away, Tyrwhitt had returned to them. Initially, he engaged the six light cruisers and escorts, but broke off the action when seriously outgunned after the battlecruisers returned. The light cruisers Rostock and Elbing had tried to lead the British ships into the waiting guns of the battlecruisers, but upon sighting the German capital ships, the British cruisers turned south. The German battlecruisers opened fire, causing severe damage to the cruiser HMS Conquest and the destroyer HMS Laertes and slightly damaging one other light cruiser. Conquest was hit by a shell, which reduced her speed and produced 40 casualties. Bödicker failed to follow the retreating ships, assuming they were faster and probably concerned whether other, larger vessels might be about. The Germans then ceased fire and turned northwest towards the rendezvous point off Terschelling Bank, hoping the British cruisers would follow, but they did not. During the bombardment of the two coastal towns, the light cruiser SMS Frankfurt sank an armed patrol steamer, while the leader of Torpedo-boat Flotilla VI, SMS G41 sank a second. The crews were rescued and taken prisoner. Around 0730, the German Naval Staff passed on reports from Flanders of intercepted wireless transmissions instructing British ships to coal and then proceed to Dunkirk. Tyrwhitt attempted to follow the German squadron at a distance. At 0830, he had located smoke from the ships, but was ordered to abandon the chase and return home. The Grand fleet had been fighting heavy seas and making slow progress coming south, also being forced to leave its destroyers behind because of the weather. At 1100, the Admiralty ordered the chase to be abandoned, at which point the main part of the fleet was 150 miles behind the British battlecruiser squadron, which started out from further south. The two battlecruiser squadrons came within 50 miles of each other, but did not meet.

Aftermath

As the German ships headed for home, they avoided submarine attacks, encountering only two neutral steamers and some fishing vessels. The operation had been almost a complete failure merely sinking two patrol craft and damaging one cruiser and one destroyer, in exchange for serious damage to a battlecruiser. The damage done to the naval establishments at Yarmouth and Lowestoft was also light. The German battlecruiser squadron had failed to take advantage of its superior numbers to engage the British light cruisers and destroyers present at Lowestoft. The German U-boats sent out to intercept British ships leaving harbour had not found any targets. Nor had six British submarines stationed off Yarmouth and six more off Harwich. One German submarine was destroyed and another captured when it became beached at Harwich. One British submarine was sunk, torpedoed by a German submarine. The raid infuriated the British. It cost the Germans heavily in the court of world opinion, as the operation brought back memories of the 'baby killer' raids earlier in the war. British casualties were 21 British servicemen killed at sea. One serviceman and three civilians were killed and 19 were wounded at Lowestoft. The British felt obliged to take steps to react more quickly to future raids. The 3rd Battle Squadron, consisting of seven King Edward VII-class battleships, was moved from Rosyth to the Thames, together with HMS Dreadnought. The presence of these ships on the Thames was given later as one reason the Harwich destroyers were not permitted to join the Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland. They were held back to escort the battleships should they be called upon to take part.

31st May 1916 Battle of Jutland  On 31 May 1916, the 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron consisted of HMS New Zealand (flagship of Rear Admiral William Christopher Pakenham) and HMS Indefatigable. (Australia was still under repair following her collision with New Zealand.) The squadron was assigned to Admiral Beatty's Battlecruiser Fleet, which had put to sea to intercept a sortie by the High Seas Fleet into the North Sea. The British were able to decode the German radio messages and left their bases before the Germans put to sea. Hipper's battlecruisers spotted the Battlecruiser Fleet to their west at 1520, but Beatty's ships didn't spot the Germans to their east until 1530. Two minutes later, he ordered a course change to east-south-east to position himself astride the German's line of retreat and called his ships' crews to action stations. He also ordered the 2nd BCS, which had been leading, to fall in astern of the 1st BCS. Hipper ordered his ships to turn to starboard, away from the British, to assume a south-easterly course, and reduced speed to 18 knots to allow three light cruisers of the 2nd Scouting Group to catch up. With this turn, Hipper was falling back on the High Seas Fleet, then about 60 miles behind him. Around this time, Beatty altered course to the east as it was quickly apparent that he was still too far north to cut off Hipper. Thus began the so-called "Run to the South" as Beatty changed course to steer east-south-east at 1545, paralleling Hipper's course, now that the range closed to under 18,000 yards. The Germans opened fire first at 3:48, followed by the British. The British ships were still in the process of making their turn, and only the two leading ships, HMS Lion and HMS Princess Royal, had steadied on their course when the Germans opened fire. The British formation was echeloned to the right with Indefatigable in the rear and the furthest to the west, and New Zealand ahead of her and slightly further east. The German fire was accurate from the beginning, but the British overestimated the range as the German ships blended into the haze. Indefatigable aimed at SMS Von der Tann, while New Zealand, unengaged herself, targeted SMS Moltke. By 3:54, the range was down to 12,900 yards (11,800 m) and Beatty ordered a course change two points to starboard to open up the range at 3:57. Indefatigable was destroyed at about 4:03, when her magazines exploded. After Indefatigable's loss, New Zealand shifted her fire to Von der Tann in accordance with Beatty's standing instructions. The range had grown too far for accurate shooting, so Beatty altered course four points to port to close the range again between 1612 and 1615. By this time, the 5th Battle Squadron, consisting of four Queen Elizabeth-class battleships, had closed up and was engaging Von der Tann and Moltke. At 1623, a 13.5-inch shell from HMS Tiger struck near Von der Tann's rear turret, starting a fire among the practice targets stowed there that completely obscured the ship and caused New Zealand to shift fire to Moltke. At 1626, the ship was hit by an 11 inch shell, fired by Von der Tann, on 'X' barbette that detonated on contact and knocked loose a piece of armour that briefly jammed 'X' turret and blew a hole in the upper deck. Four minutes later, Southampton, scouting in front of Beatty's ships, spotted the lead elements of the High Seas Fleet charging north at top speed. Three minutes later, she sighted the topmasts of Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer's battleships, but did not transmit a message to Beatty for another five minutes. Beatty continued south for another two minutes to confirm the sighting himself before ordering a sixteen point turn to starboard in succession. New Zealand, the last ship in the line, turned prematurely to stay outside the range of the oncoming battleships. A chunk of armour knocked from New Zealand's 'X' turret during the Battle of Jutland on display at the Torpedo Bay Navy Museum in Auckland New Zealand was straddled several times by the battleship SMS Prinzregent Luitpold but was not hit. Beatty's ships maintained full speed in an attempt to increase the distance between them and the High Seas Fleet and gradually moved out of range. They turned north and then north-east to try to rendezvous with the main body of the Grand Fleet. At 1740, they opened fire again on the German battlecruisers. The setting sun blinded the German gunners and, as they could not make out the British ships, they turned away to the north-east at 1747. Beatty gradually turned more towards the east to allow him to cover the deployment of the Grand Fleet in battle formation and to move ahead of it, but he mistimed his manoeuvre and forced the leading division to fall off towards the east, further away from the Germans. By 1835, Beatty was following Indomitable and HMS Inflexible of the 3rd BCS as they were steering east-south-east, leading the Grand Fleet, and continuing to engage Hipper's battlecruisers to their south-west. A few minutes earlier, Scheer had ordered a simultaneous 180° starboard turn and Beatty lost sight of the High Seas Fleet in the haze. Twenty minutes later, Scheer ordered another 180° turn which put them on a converging course again with the Grand Fleet, which had altered course to the south. This allowed the Grand Fleet to cross Scheer's T, forming a battle line that cut across his battle line and badly damaging his leading ships. Scheer ordered yet another 180° turn at 1913 in an attempt to extricate the High Seas Fleet from the trap into which he had sent them. This was successful and the British lost sight of the Germans until 2005, when HMS Castor spotted smoke bearing west-north-west. Ten minutes later, she had closed the range enough to identify German torpedo boats, and engaged them. Beatty turned west upon hearing gunfire and spotted the German battlecruisers only 8,500 yards away. Inflexible opened fire at 2020, followed by the rest of Beatty's battlecruisers.

New Zealand and Indomitable concentrated their fire on SMS Seydlitz, and hit her five times before she turned west to disengage. Shortly after 2030, the pre-dreadnought battleships of Rear Admiral Mauve's II Battle Squadron were spotted and fire switched to them. The Germans had poor visibility and were able to fire only a few rounds at them before turning away to the west. The British battlecruisers hit the German ships several times before they blended into the haze around 2040. After this, Beatty changed course to south-south-east and maintained that course, ahead of both the Grand Fleet and the High Seas Fleet, until 0255 the next morning, when the order was given to reverse course and head home.

New Zealand fired 420 twelve-inch shells during the battle, more than any other ship on either side. Despite this, only four successful hits were credited to the battlecruiser. Three on Seydlitz and one on the pre-dreadnought SMS Schleswig-Holstein. She was hit only once during the battle, confirming for the crew the piupiu and tiki worn by her new captain, J.F.E. (Jimmy) Green, brought good luck.

19th August 1916 Bombardment of Sunderland   The raid on Sunderland, 19th August 1916, was part of a German post-Jutland attempt to draw our units of the British Grand Fleet to ambush them hoping to inflict losses to try to address the numerical superiority of the British Fleet.

The Action of 19 August 1916 was one of two further attempts made by the German High Seas Fleet in 1916 to engage elements of the British Royal Navy following the mixed results of the Battle of Jutland in World War I. The lesson of Jutland for Germany had been the vital need for reconnaissance so as to avoid the unexpected arrival of the British Grand Fleet during any raid, so on this occasion four Zeppelins were deployed to scout the North Sea between Scotland and Norway for signs of British ships, while four more scouted immediately ahead of German ships. Twenty four submarines were also deployed off the English coast in the southern North Sea and off the Dogger Bank.

Background

Although Jutland had been officially hailed as a success, the German commander Admiral Reinhard Scheer felt it important that another raid should be mounted as quickly as possible to maintain morale in his severely battered fleet. It was decided that the raid should follow the pattern of previous ones, with the battlecruisers carrying out a dawn artillery bombardment of an English town, in this case Sunderland. Only two battlecruisers were still serviceable after Jutland, Moltke and Von der Tann, so the force was bolstered by the addition of three battleships, Bayern, Markgraf and Grosser Kurfürst. The remainder of the High Seas Fleet, comprising 16 dreadnought battleships, was to carry out close support 20 miles behind. The fleet set sail at 2100 on 18 August from the Jade river.

Intelligence

Information about the upcoming raid was obtained by British Intelligence in Room 40 through intercepted and decoded radio messages. Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, commander of the British fleet, was on leave so had to be recalled urgently and boarded the light cruiser Royalist at Dundee to meet his fleet in the early hours of 19 August off the river Tay. In his absence, Admiral Cecil Burney took the fleet to sea on the afternoon of 18 August. Vice-Admiral David Beatty left the Firth of Forth with his squadron of six battlecruisers to meet the main fleet in the Long Forties. The Harwich Force of 20 destroyers and 5 light cruisers commanded by Commodore Tyrwhitt was ordered out, as were 25 British submarines which were stationed in likely areas to intercept German ships. The battlecruisers together with the 5th Battle Squadron of five fast battleships were stationed 30 miles ahead of the main fleet to scout for the enemy. The assembled fleet now moved south seeking the German fleet, but suffered the loss of one of the light cruisers screening the battlecruiser group, HMS Nottingham, which was hit by three torpedoes from submarine U-52 at 0600.

Finding the opposition

At 0615 Jellicoe received information from the Admiralty that one hour earlier the enemy had been 200 miles to his south east. However, the loss of the cruiser caused him to first head north for fear of endangering his other ships. No torpedo tracks or submarines had been seen, so it was unclear whether the cause had been a submarine or entering an unknown minefield. He did not resume a south-easterly course until 0900 when William Goodenough, commanding the light cruisers, advised that the cause had been a submarine attack. Further information from the admiralty indicated that the battlecruisers would be within 40 miles of the main German fleet by 1400 and Jellicoe increased to maximum speed. Weather conditions were good, with plenty of time for a fleet engagement before dark. The German force had received reassurances about Jellicoe's position, when a zeppelin had spotted the Grand Fleet heading north away from Scheer, at the time it had been avoiding the possible minefield. Unfortunately for the British, the Zeppelin L 13 sighted the Harwich force approximately 75 miles ENE of Cromer, mistakenly identifying the cruisers as battleships. This was precisely the sort of target Scheer was seeking, so he changed course at 1215 also to the south-east and away from the approaching British fleet. No further reports were received from zeppelins about the British fleet, but it was spotted by a U-boat just 65 miles north of Scheer. Scheer turned for home at 1435 abandoning his potential target. By 1600 Jellicoe had been advised that Scheer had abandoned the operation and so turned north himself.

The actual attack

A second cruiser attached to the battlecruiser squadron, HMS Falmouth, was hit by two torpedoes from U-63 at 1652 and sank the following day while being towed to the Humber, when hit by two more torpedoes fired by U-66. By 1745 the Harwich force had sighted German ships, but was too far behind for any prospect of an attack before nightfall so abandoned the chase. A British submarine HMS E23 commanded by Lieutenant-Commander R.R Turner managed to hit the German battleship SMS Westfalen at 0505 on the 19th, but the ship was able to return home.

Outcomes

This was the last occasion on which the German fleet travelled so far west into the North Sea. On 6 October a decision was made in Germany to resume attacks against merchant vessels by submarine, which meant the submarine fleet was no longer available for combined attacks against surface vessels. On 13 September a conference took place on Jellicoe's flagship to discuss recent events and it was decided that it was unsafe to conduct fleet operations south of latitude 55.5° North (approximately level with Horns reef and where the battle of Jutland had taken place), except in extreme emergency such as a German invasion force. Scheer was unimpressed by the efficiency of the zeppelin reconnaissance. Only three zeppelins had spotted anything and from seven reports four had been wrong. On 18–19 October Scheer once again led a brief sortie into the North Sea and British intelligence gave warning. However, the Grand Fleet declined to prepare an ambush, staying in port with steam raised ready to sail. The German sortie was abandoned after a few hours when SMS München was hit by a torpedo fired by E38, Lieutenant-Commander J. de B. Jessop, and it was feared other submarines might be in the area. Scheer suffered further difficulties when in November he sailed with Moltke and a division of dreadnoughts to rescue U-20 and U-30 which had become stranded on the Danish coast. British submarine J1, Commander J. Laurence, managed to hit the battleships Grosser Kurfürst and Kronprinz. The failure of these operations reinforced the belief, created at Jutland, that the risks involved in such operations were not justified by the outcomes. Both sides feared the loss of their capital ships to submarines or mines.

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SMS Von der Tann

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  • Dwyer Arthur Harry. Able Sea. (d.31st May 1916)

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