- SMS Derfflinger during the Great War -
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24th January 1915 Battle of Dogger Bank 1915 The First Battle of Dogger Bank was fought in the North Sea on 24 January 1915, between squadrons of the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet. The British, through decoded radio messages had received advance information that a German raiding squadron was heading for Dogger Bank and sent naval forces to intercept it.
They encountered the Germans at the expected location, surprising the smaller and slower German squadron, who fled homewards. Chasing them for several hours, the British slowly closed with the Germans and engaged them with long-range gunfire. The rearmost German ship, the Blücher was badly damaged, but the Germans also put the British flagship HMS Lion out of action with heavy damage. Due to a signalling error, the remaining British ships broke off pursuit of the fleeing enemy force to sink Blücher, as a result of which the German squadron escaped. All the remaining German vessels returned safely to harbour, though some had heavy damage requiring extended repairs.
Lion made it back to port but was out of action for several months. It was hailed as a British victory as no ships were lost and casualties were light, while the Germans lost a ship and most of its crew. Both navies drew lessons from the encounter and both Commanders were replaced on grounds of poor judgement.
Order of battle at Dogger Bank (1915)
- British Forces:
- 1st Battlecruiser Squadron: HMS Lion, Tiger and Princess Royal.
- 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron: HMS New Zealand and Indomitable.
- 1st Light Cruiser Squadron: HMS Southampton, Birmingham, Lowestoft, and Nottingham.
- Harwich Force: three light cruisers (HMS Aurora, Arethusa, Undaunted) and 35 destroyers.
- German Forces:
- 1st Scouting Group: SMS Seydlitz, Moltke, Derfflinger and Blücher.
- 2nd Scouting Group: SMS Kolberg, Stralsund, Rostock, and Graudenz.
- Two flotillas of torpedo boats - 18 in total.
Background to the action
The success at Heligoland Bight had the main German battle fleet effectively bottled up, so the German high command decided a raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby would be made with Admiral Franz Hipper's battlecruiser squadron. This comprised three battlecruisers and one large armoured cruiser—supported by light cruisers and destroyers. Hipper opened fire at 0800 on 16 December 1914, eventually killing 108 civilians and wounding 525. Public and political opinion was outraged that German warships could sail so close to the British coast, shelling coastal towns with apparent impunity. British naval forces had failed to prevent the attacks, and also failed to intercept Hipper's raiding squadron afterwards. Though the British fleet was at sea hunting Hipper after the raid, the Germans escaped in stormy weather, aided by low visibility and British communication problems.
Buoyed by the success of the raid, Admiral Hipper resolved to repeat the exercise by attacking the British fishing fleet on the Dogger Bank — midway between Germany and Britain — the following month. Hipper suspected that the British fishing fleet was providing intelligence on German fleet movements.
Through intercepted German radio traffic decoded by Room 40 of British Naval Intelligence, the British learned of Hipper's planned sortie on 23 January 1915. Acting Vice Admiral Beatty set sail from Rosyth with five battlecruisers — supported by four light cruisers — to attempt to trap Hipper's force. They were joined by additional cruisers and destroyers from Harwich as Beatty headed south, encountering Hipper's screening vessels at the Dogger Bank at 0705 on 24 January. The day was clear and visibility was unusually good.
Sighting the smoke from a large approaching force, Hipper headed southeast by 0735 to escape, but Beatty's ships were faster than the German squadron, which was held back by the slower armoured cruiser SMS Blücher and by Hipper's coal-fired torpedo boats. By 0800, Hipper's battlecruisers were sighted from Beatty's flagship, HMS Lion. The older battlecruisers of the British 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron lagged somewhat behind the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron. Chasing the Germans from a position astern and to starboard of Hipper's force, the British ships gradually caught up — some reaching speeds of 27 kn (31 mph; 50 km/h) — and closed to gun range. Beatty chose to approach from this direction because the prevailing wind then blew the British ships' smoke clear, allowing them a good view of the enemy, while Hipper's gunners were partially blinded by funnel and gun smoke blowing in the direction of their targets. Lion opened fire at 0852 at a range of 20,000 yd (18,000 m). Other British ships opened as they came within range, while the Germans were unable to reply until 0911 because of the shorter range of their guns. No warships had ever before engaged at such long ranges or at such high speeds and gunnery challenges for both sides were therefore unprecedented. Nevertheless, after a few salvos the British shells had straddled Blücher.
The British fire was concentrated on two of the German ships, Hipper's flagship battlecruiser SMS Seydlitz at the head of the line and Blücher at the rear. With five British ships to the German four, Beatty intended that his two rear ships, HMS New Zealand and Indomitable, should engage Blücher, while his leading three engaged their opposite numbers. But Captain H.B. Pelly of the newly commissioned battlecruiser HMS Tiger assumed that two ships should concentrate on the leading German ship and engaged Seydlitz, leaving SMS Moltke unmolested to fire at Lion. Worse, Tiger's fire was ineffective, as she mistook Lion's shell splashes for her own (when her shots were actually falling 3,000 yd (2,700 m) beyond Seydlitz).
At 0943, Seydlitz was hit by a 13.5 in (340 mm) shell from Lion, which penetrated her after turret barbette and caused an ammunition fire in the working chamber. This fire spread rapidly through one compartment after another, igniting ready propellant charges all the way to the magazines, and knocked out both rear turrets with the loss of 165 men. Only the prompt action of the executive officer in flooding the magazines, saved Seydlitz from a massive magazine explosion that would have destroyed the ship.
The British ships were relatively unscathed until 1018, when SMS Derfflinger hit Lion with several 12 inches (305 mm) shells, damaging her engines and causing flooding so that Lion began to lag behind. At 1041, Lion narrowly escaped a disaster similar to what had happened on Seydlitz, when a German shell hit the forward turret and ignited a small ammunition fire which, fortunately for the British, was extinguished before it caused catastrophe. A few minutes later, taking on water and listing to port, Lion had to stop her port engine and reduce speed to 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h), and was soon out of action, having been hit 14 times.
Meanwhile, at 1030, Blücher was hit by a shell from HMS Princess Royal, which caused an ammunition fire and boiler room damage. As a result, Blücher had to reduce speed to 17 kn (20 mph; 31 km/h), and fell further and further behind the rest of the German force. Beatty ordered Indomitable — his slowest ship — to intercept Blücher.
Now Hipper, running low on ammunition, made the difficult decision to leave the disabled Blücher to her fate and steam for home, in order to save his remaining damaged ships. Nevertheless, the annihilation of the German squadron still appeared likely to the pursuing British until 1054, when Beatty — believing he saw a submarine's periscope on Lion's starboard bow — ordered a sharp, 90° turn to port to avoid a submarine trap. (It is possible that the "periscope" was actually a surfacing, run-out torpedo which had been launched 15 minutes earlier by the German destroyer V5). At 1102, realising that so sharp a turn would open the range too much, Beatty ordered "Course NE" to limit the turn to 45°, and then added "Engage the enemy's rear", in an attempt to clarify his intention that his other ships, which had now left Lion far behind, should pursue Hipper's main force. With Lion's electric generators now out of commission, Beatty could only signal using flag hoists, and both these signals were flown at the same time. But the combination of the signal of "Course NE" — which happened to be the direction of Blücher — and the signal to engage the rear was misunderstood by Beatty’s second-in-command — Rear-Admiral Gordon Moore on New Zealand — as an order for all the battlecruisers to finish off the cripple. Therefore, the remaining British battlecruisers broke off the pursuit of the fleeing German squadron and rounded on Blücher. Most of the British light cruisers and destroyers also attacked Blücher. Beatty tried to correct this obvious misunderstanding by using Horatio Nelson's famous order from Trafalgar "Engage the enemy more closely", but this order was not in the signal book, so he chose "Keep nearer to the enemy" as the closest equivalent. But by the time this signal was hoisted, Moore's ships were too far away to read Beatty's flags, and the correction was not received.
Despite the overwhelming odds, Blücher fought stubbornly to the end. Blücher managed to put the British destroyer HMS Meteor out of action and scored two hits on the British battlecruisers with her 8.2 in (210 mm) guns, but was pounded into a burning wreck by approximately 50 British shells. Finally, struck by two torpedoes from the light cruiser HMS Arethusa, Blücher capsized and sank at 1313 with the loss of 792 men. British efforts to rescue survivors in the water were interrupted by the arrival of the German Zeppelin L-5 (aka LZ-28), and by a German seaplane which attacked with small bombs. No damage was done, but the British ships — which were sitting targets while stopped in the water for rescue — put on speed and withdrew to avoid further aerial attack.
By this time, Hipper had escaped; his ships were now too far away for the British to catch them again. Beatty had lost control of the battle, and he perceived that the opportunity of an overwhelming victory had been lost. The Admiralty — incorrectly believing that Derfflinger had been badly damaged — would soon reach the same conclusion. However, in light of what happened later at Jutland, where the British battlecruisers were shown to be highly vulnerable to ammunition fires and magazine explosions following hits on gun turrets, it is possible that if Moore's three fast battlecruisers had pursued Hipper's remaining three (leaving the slower Indomitable behind as Beatty intended), the British might actually have been at a disadvantage and might have got the worst of it. Blücher demonstrated the ability of the German ships to absorb great punishment. All of Hipper's remaining ships were larger, faster, more modern, more heavily armed, and far better armoured than Blücher and only Seydlitz had suffered any serious damage. Apart from the sinking of Blücher, the Germans out-hit the British by over three to one, with 22 heavy-calibre hits — 16 on Lion and six on Tiger — against the British total of just seven hits.
Aftermath of the Battle
Lion had to be towed back to port by Indomitable at 10 kn (12 mph; 19 km/h), a long and dangerous voyage in which both battlecruisers were exposed to potential submarine attacks. Therefore, an enormous screen of over fifty ships was assigned to guard Lion and Indomitable as they crept home. Both reached port safely. The disabled Meteor was also towed home. Lion was out of action for four months, Lord Fisher having decreed that her damage be repaired on the Tyne without going into dry dock, making for an extremely difficult and time-consuming job.
All the surviving German ships reached port, though Seydlitz was heavily damaged and had to go into drydock for repairs. Although the Germans initially believed that Tiger had been sunk because of a large fire that had been seen on her decks, it was soon clear that the battle was a serious reverse. A furious Kaiser Wilhelm II issued an order that all further risks to surface vessels were to be avoided. Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl—commander of the High Seas Fleet—was replaced by Admiral Hugo von Pohl. The Germans took the lessons of the battle to heart, particularly the damage to Seydlitz, which revealed flaws in the protection of her magazines and dangerous ammunition-handling procedures.Some of these issues were corrected in Germany's battleships and battlecruisers in time for the Battle of Jutland the following summer. Although the Germans realized that the appearance of the British squadron at dawn was too remarkable to be mere coincidence, they concluded that an enemy agent near their base in the Jade Bay was responsible, and did not suspect that their wireless codes had been compromised.
Although the battle was not greatly consequential in itself, it boosted British morale. But while the Germans learned their lessons, the British did not. The unfortunate Rear-Admiral Moore was quietly replaced, but Beatty's flag lieutenant Ralph Seymour — responsible for hoisting Beatty's two commands on one flag hoist, thereby allowing them to be read as one — remained. Signalling on board Lion would again be poor in the first hours of Jutland, with serious consequences for the British. Nor did the battlecruisers learn their lesson about fire distribution, as similar targeting errors were made at Jutland.
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.
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.
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.
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