Go to WTJ Information Page Go to WTJ Portal Go to WTJ War Series Go to WTJ Archives Go to WTJ Articles Go to WTJ Gaming Go to WTJ Store Go to WTJ Home Page

Germany's High Sea Fleet in the World War
Chapter 4 - The English Break into the Heligoland Bight

THE nightly cruises from the foremost patrol line by Heligoland were continued and extended. On August 12 the light cruisers Köln (Flagship of the First Flag Officer of the destroyer flotillas, Rear-Admiral Maass) and Hamburg went out with Flotilla VI; Köln and Stuttgart with Flotillas I and II on the 15th, and the light cruiser Mainz with the Flotilla VIII on the 16th. As no enemy was met on any of these enterprises the light cruisers Stralsund (Captain Harder) and Strassburg (Captain Retzmann) were sent out to the Hoofden against the destroyer patrol line, the existence of which had been reported by submarines.

They put to sea on the morning of August 11 with two U-boats, which stood by near Vlieland while the cruisers steamed south to about the line Lowestoft—Scheveningen. When this was reached they turned), early on the morning of the 18th. Shortly afterwards the Strassburg sighted three enemy submarines, distant about l00 hm. (11,000 yards). These were fired on and one of them seemed to be hit. Soon after eight destroyers were sighted in a northerly direction and a light cruiser with another eight destroyers in an easterly direction, which were in a position to cut off the retreat of our cruisers. The range, however, did not fall below l00 hm., so that no success was obtained on either side. The possibility that there might be other English forces not far off seemed to make it imperative for our ships not to lose time in manœuvring for attack, for the sixteen destroyers of the enemy had an immense preponderance of gun-power over our cruisers armed only with 10.5 cm. guns. Both cruisers returned home without trouble.

In the second half of August the number of reports of submarines sighted at the mouth of the Ems and in the Heligoland Bight increased, and very heavy demands were made on the destroyers to drive them out. On August 21 the light cruisers Rostock and Strassburg with Flotilla VI made a sweep in the direction of the Dogger Bank with a view to searching the fishing grounds for English fishing-smacks. They also met enemy submarines, one of which fired two torpedoes at the Rostock, but both missed. On this cruise six fishing-steamers were destroyed which were found, well separated, in a circle round Heligoland, and were suspected of working with English submarines.

As all these cruises pointed to the conclusion that we could not expect to find considerable enemy forces in the southern half of the North Sea, our two mine-laying cruisers, Albatros (Commander West) and Nautilus (Commander Wilhelm Schultz) received orders to lay a minefield at the mouths of the Humber and Tyne. By day their operations were covered by a light cruiser and a half-flotilla of destroyers, as mine-layers must be kept out of action it at all possible. Both ships were able to carry out their commission undisturbed and laid their mines accurately at the places indicated. The actual work began at midnight and was favoured by thick weather. On the way back another six fishing-steamers were sunk.

The previous raids had been favoured by luck inasmuch as the forces employed, which were anything but strong, had not been located and cut off by superior forces. Their safety lay in speed alone. Before support from units lying ready in; the estuaries could reach them it might easily be too late. But for that purpose it was considered inadvisable to have proper supporting forces hanging about in the Heligoland Bight on account of the submarines reported there.

August 28th brought us the first serious collision with English cruisers. The reports taken back by the English submarines as to our offensive arrangements in the Heligoland Bight must have decided the English to roll up our patrol line. As the English dispatches on the events of this day have been published, a clear idea of the course of the action can be obtained (see map below). My own observations from Squadron II, which lay in the Elbe, are confined to the wireless messages received. About nine o'clock in the morning the first of these came in. "In squares 142 and 131 [that is 20 sea miles north-west of Heligoland] enemy cruisers and destroyers are chasing the 5th Flotilla." ¹

¹ - Naval charts are drawn squared, to simplify the location of places according to length and breadth, in degrees and minutes. This facilitates delivery of reports or commands and the identification of places on the chart. The size of the squares, a side of which represents five or ten sea miles, is governed by the scale of the chart.

The Stettin and Frauenlob (light cruisers) were sent out to help. Two flotillas of U-boats took up station for attack. The remaining wireless messages from nine o'clock in the morning to five in the afternoon gave the following picture:

The ships which took part in the action comprised Destroyer Flotillas I and V, the light cruisers Mainz, Strassburg, Köln, Stralsund, Ariadne, Kolberg and Danzig, and two mine-sweeping divisions.

On the enemy's side were several cruisers of the "Town " class, armoured cruisers of the "Shannon " type, four battle-cruisers under the command of Admiral Beatty in Lion, and about thirty destroyers and eight submarines.

About six o'clock in the morning one of these submarines had fired two torpedoes, which missed, at a ship of Destroyer Flotilla I, which was retiring to the day patrol line. We had no other information on our side of the further doings of the English submarines on that day; the weather was thick, and as there was hardly any wind, visibility in the neighbourhood of Heligoland was only three to four miles. The upper part of the island was completely shrouded in mist.

The marine artillery on the island saw nothing of the action which raged within range of the island in the morning. It was not possible for our battle-cruisers to put to sea before one o'clock owing to the state of the tide at the bar of the Outer Jade. Their intervention came too late. The orders which were issued by the Flag Officer of the German cruisers proceeded on the assumption that the same weather conditions prevailed outside as in the Jade, and the cruisers regarded the situation as such that they would be able to retire in time before a superior force. Unfortunately this was not the case. Mainz and Köln, all unsuspecting, thus came upon English battle-cruisers and fell victims to their guns. Our plan of surrounding the English forces which had penetrated by cutting off their retreat to the west with Mainz, which was in the Ems, while other light cruisers barred the way in the north, was actually put into execution before a general view of the whole situation had made it feasible.

Exceptionally high demands were made on the presence of mind of the Flag Officers in command when they saw themselves faced with more powerful ships than they had expected. The battle training of our light cruisers revealed a high standard of efficiency. In spite of the serious damage to the ships and heavy losses in personnel, the gun crews served their guns and overcame the confusion of action with exemplary calm and precision. The bold intervention of the other ships and the impulse to hasten to where the thunder of the guns called and bring help, cost us, in addition to the loss of Köln and Mainz, the loss of the light cruiser Ariadne, which had been so damaged by fire that the men had to throw themselves overboard. The question was put whether it would have been of any avail for our big ships to come out of the estuary. They could have had no success, and this is obvious enough in view of the prevailing low visibility.

In the action between the cruisers and destroyers, the light cruiser Ariadne and the torpedo-boat "V 187," leader of Flotilla I, were sunk on our side. Most of the ship's company of Ariadne were saved by Stralsund and Danzig. Half of that of "V 187 were taken off by other ships of Flotilla I.

" Wireless communication with Köln and Mainz has stopped. They are both sunk. Two cruisers (Strassburg and Stettin) are damaged as well as the torpedo-boats D 8, V I and T 33. Many dead and wounded. Nothing known of English losses."

After the first news arrived Squadron II was held ready to 45 raise anchor in case battleships were required to go out in support. However, we received no order to intervene.

The surprise of our patrols by the two English cruisers Arethusa and Fearless, which were escorted by seventeen destroyers of the "I" class and fourteen of the "L" class (according to English reports), was a success for the enemy. The intervention of our two light cruisers Stettin and Frauenlob limited the losses on our side to one torpedo-boat, "V 187." As soon as the news of the break-through of light forces was received all other available light cruisers were sent out to meet them. In the action that now followed Arethusa and Fearless were seriously damaged and had to call in the help of the very strong English force held ready in support and not yet employed. Its intervention put our cruisers in an evil plight. Very thick weather made a survey of the whole situation difficult.

There are some who think that the way in which the light cruisers went out separately is open to criticism as a piece of temerity. With the safe withdrawal of Flotillas I and V and the driving off of the cruisers Arethusa and Fearless as the result of the prompt and resolute intervention of Stettin and Frauenlob, the English attack had lost the character of a surprise, and the plan, which involved a great show of force, had gained but a moderate success with the sinking of "V187." On the other hand, was a baffled enemy to be allowed to withdraw from the Heligoland Bight unpursued in broad daylight?

Four weeks had passed before the first occasion had presented itself of getting to close quarters with the enemy. Were our ships to content themselves, the first time enemy light forces appeared, with hiding in the estuaries and make no attempt to deal with the enemy, who might perhaps fall into our hands if he were badly damaged ? The Flag Officers and commanders would have incurred a serious reproach if they had neglected to make the attempt to get to close quarters with the enemy. If the impression of the first meeting had been a feeling of inferiority and the conviction that we could do nothing but retire before the English, it would have had an unhappy effect on the spirit of the ships' companies and the further course of the operations. The effect produced was exactly the opposite, and we were all burning to avenge the slap in the face we had received.

The disintegration of the engagement into a number of detached actions which were fought at close range, owing to the poor visibility, produced such remarkable examples of the presence of mind and contempt of death of our men that they deserve better than to sink into oblivion. I shall therefore give a few extracts from war diaries.


"The Flotilla leader ' V187 ' was on patrol (at 16 knots) about 24 sea miles N.W. to W. of Heligoland on a W.N.W. course. Shortly after eight o'clock the ship on our right, ' G 194 ' (Lieutenant Commander Buss) reported: ' Am chased by enemy armoured cruiser.' We turned and made for ' G 194.' At 8.20 A.M. in thick weather, two destroyers came in sight in N.W. about three miles off, and were reported to S.M.S. Köln by wireless. The ship bore S.E. to E. and put on speed. The destroyers were kept in sight. After a short time another four destroyers or cruisers were observed. Accurate observation impossible owing to failing visibility. ' V 187 ' now put on full speed and altered course for Heligoland.

"Meanwhile an order from Köln to Flotillas I and V had been received, ' Make for shelter of Heligoland.' Simultaneously, four destroyers, which stood between us and Heligoland, emerged from the mist on our port quarter about four degrees to 50 hm. away. At about 40 hm. they opened an intermittent fire. ' V 187 ' turned south and replied with her after 8.8 cm. gun. The destroyers' shooting was mostly very poor. Only at regular intervals one gun fired shells which passed close over our bridge. The Commander intended to make shooting difficult by altering course and reaching the Jade or Ems at top speed. The ship ran 28 or 29 miles. The destroyers had only caught up a little and were now shooting at about 30 hm. Suddenly an enemy cruiser with four funnels appeared four points on our starboard bow. She apparently made a signal with her searchlight to ' V 187 ' or her own destroyers. Immediately afterwards she fired a series of salvos at 35 to 40 hm. After the third salvo the shooting was good. As escape was no longer possible the officer in command decided to close. The whole ship's company with the exception of the stokers caught hold of firearms and lifebelts. ' V 187 ' ported her helm and tried to cut her way through.

"The running action was fought at la to 8 hm. The destroyers, apparently surprised, ceased fire at first, but then they subjected us to an extremely rapid fire. A shell fell close to the 8.8 cm. gun and put the crew out of action with the exception of a slightly wounded petty officer. The forward gun only fired a few rounds after that.

"Another shell fell in stokehold 4 and penetrated the bunkers. Splinters wounded the stokers, the lights went out, the steam escaped and the boiler would not fill any more.

"Simultaneously other shots and splinters fell on the bridge. I turned to starboard with a view to ramming the destroyer immediately behind us and clearing our way past it.

"Hits now followed one another with rapid succession. Shells and splinters rained! down, and the ship was completely shrouded in smoke and fumes.

"The forward turbine was hit twice and stopped. Steam, mixed with black smoke, poured out of the hatches and ventilators.

"Boiler 2 was damaged and boiler 1 had also received hits.

"Some of the bridge personnel had fallen; the ship had little way on and was listing to port for no obvious reason. The officer in command!, who had been seriously wounded, now gave the order to sink the ship. I took one of the four explosive charges which were on the bridge, set it and threw it in the forward turbine room. The bridge personnel put two others in the forward part of the ship.

"Meanwhile two other destroyers coming from the north had joined in the fight. After fixing up the charges I gave orders to leave the ship on the leeside of the firing.

"I jumped overboard just before (according to my calculations) the charges would take effect. The rest of the gun crew of the after gun, which had continued firing to the last (among them Lieutenant Braune), sprang simultaneously into the water. The destroyers now ceased fire and sent out boats. Several men were picked up with lines and buoys. After a few minutes' swimming about I myself was picked up by an English boat. Just as I was getting in ' V 187 ' went down by the bows. No one could be seen on deck. The boat had three other men of the ship's company of 'V 187' on board.

"At that moment a German light cruiser (Stettin) opened fire on the destroyers. The English boat's crew went on board their destroyer. I refused to go on board, I with my three men as I did not want to be made prisoner. The English destroyer then started off at high speed. An English sailor had let go the hawser apparently in error.

"I then hauled another sixteen survivors into my English boat.

" Another English boat, under the command of an English officer, was left behind by the destroyers in the evening. It had on board Lieutenant Braune and several survivors.

"After a considerable time a partially submerged English submarine came from the east towards us.

"It came right up and took on board the English crew of one boat and Lieutenant Braune. At first I kept away from the submarine and took off my monkey jacket lest I should be recognised as an officer and taken prisoner. The submarine, which had the mark ' E 4 ' on the bows and the number ' 84 ' (as well as ' E 4 ' again) on the conning tower, dived and disappeared, half submerged, in the west.

"Another smaller English boat, which had on board five more survivors of ' V 187, ' now came up to me. The three boats then rowed for some considerable time in an E.S.E. direction towards the German patrol line. They were subsequently picked up by ' G 4 ' and ' G T I.' The more severely wounded of our men were bandaged on board the destroyers while the boats were sunk. After the destroyers had picked up six dead and had tried to identify the spot at which ' V 187 ' went down from the remains of charts and books, they proceeded to Heligoland. From there the six dead and forty-four survivors, the latter including seven severely and about twenty slightly wounded men, were brought to Wilhelmshaven in the steamer Arngast."

The light cruiser Mainz (Captain Wilhelm Pasche) was sunk on this day. According to the record made by the First Officer, lieutenant Tholens, who was taken as a prisoner to England, the action developed as follows:

"The order, ' Mainz immediately put to sea and take the reported English forces in the rear,' leached the ship at lo A.M. in the Ems. Thanks to the previous wireless messages from the Wallis Flotilla, she had steam up in all her boilers and was ready for sea. Mainz could therefore put out immediately and develop full speed very quickly. A northerly course was taken at first to cut off the retreat of the enemy ships. The aeroplane at Borkum, which was placed at the ship's disposal, was sent on in the same direction. When the ship started from the Ems the weather was calm, the air clear and visibility good. The conditions for reconnaissance by the aeroplane appeared to be the best imaginable, but after a short flight it returned without any results to show. Meanwhile the Mainz had run into haze. This made a surprise by enemy forces possible. About half-past twelve the Arethusa, with eight destroyers, appeared in N.E., moving on a westerly course and distant about 70 hm. To such a degree had visibility already decreased!

"To bring the enemy under fire with the starboard guns we turned to port somewhat on a line of bearing N.N.W. Shortly after the first salvos, to which the enemy ships replied with some of his guns, the enemy turned off on a northerly course. The conditions for shooting were extremely unfavourable, as the enemy ships were very difficult to make out in the haze. 'All the same, several salvos were very well placed, and hits were certainly observed on two destroyers, one of which wrecked a bridge and put out of action everyone on it, including the commander. With a view to keeping the enemy in sight, Mainz herself gradually turned on a northerly course. At 12.45 masses of smoke were suddenly reported in N.W., and a few minutes later revealed three cruisers of the ' Birmingham ' class. Mainz immediately turned hard to starboard, and even as she turned the salvos of the new enemy fell around! her, and a few minutes later she received the first hits. The fire of Arethusa and the destroyers, which had now apparently passed out of sight, had been without result.

"Our own fire was now directed exclusively at the new enemy, and simultaneously the latter was reported by wireless. By 12.55 P.M. the enemy cruisers were only distinguishable by the flashes of their guns. Shortly afterwards even this had ceased, and with it the hail of enemy shells. Mainz ran 25 sea miles, approximately S.S.W. in the direction of the eastern Ems, and emitted' large quantities of smoke. Meanwhile almost abreast on our port beam another cruiser of the ' Birmingham ' class (Fearless) had come into sight, as well as six destroyers close together and several others by themselves. In the course of the action which now developed with these ships and in which several torpedoes were fired at the Mainz, the helm suddenly jammed at 10° to starboard.

" The order, ' Steer from the wheelhouse,' came through at the very same moment as the signal from the quartermaster, ' Port your helm.' The helm remained jammed, however, as the result of an explosion under the wheelhouse. The result was that although the steering gear throughout the ship was in working order, all our efforts to steer the ship were without success. We could only conclude that a hit under water had given the whole rudder a bend to starboard. The port engine was stopped.

" Mainz slowly turned more and more to starboard, and thus came again within range of the first three cruisers of the ' Birmingham ' class and the Arethusa, with her eight destroyers. At the same moment the report reached the bridge that three guns, with their crews, had been completely put out of action. In the stage of the action that followed, in which Mainz, with her helm jammed and going round in a circle to starboard, faced four cruisers of the ' Birmingham ' class and about twenty destroyers, our own fire was directed exclusively at the enemy destroyers. Against these only was a success worth mentioning possible. As several of the destroyers came quite close, it was possible to observe several hits upon them.

"Meanwhile casualty had followed upon casualty on the Mainz. About 1.20 P.M. most of the guns and gun crews were already out of action. The decks were shot to pieces. The sending up of ammunition had come to a standstill, and more than once compartments under the armoured deck had to be cleared on account of the danger from smoke and gas. The starboard engine could only go half speed.

" It was in this condition that about 1.20 P.M. the ship was struck by a torpedo amidships on the port beam. The effect of this on the conning-tower was that the whole apparatus for transmitting orders, with the exception of the speaking-tube and telephones to the central and torpedo rooms, were put out of action. The commander thereupon gave the order, ' Abandon ship, ship's company get clear with life-belts,' and left the conning-tower. This order, however, only reached the nearest action-stations, and accordingly was only carried out in part. As the result of the torpedo we had stopped firing everywhere. At this moment the First Gunnery Officer and the Torpedo Officer were in the conning-tower. The First Officer, who thought that the Commander must have fallen and knew nothing of his last order, gave orders to resume firing, and tried to launch some torpedoes. The torpedoes he fired, one from port at a light cruiser and two from starboard at destroyers, had no luck, as the enemy ships kept out of torpedo range. On the enemy's side two battle-cruisers had now intervened in the action. Whether they also tried to get in a few hits has never been definitely ascertained. In the Mainz only the first and fifth starboard guns were now in action."

The picture of the scene below decks after the explosion of the torpedo is amplified by the following observations of the senior surviving engineer, whose action-station was by the pumps.

" 1.15 P.M. - Hit by a torpedo. The ship staggered, heeled over quite sensibly and remained thus for a considerable time. Took even longer to right herself. The emergency lights went out. All the glass which was not already broken by concussion of the bursting shells was now broken. The electric light became dim and gradually went out. In the end our electric torches were the only light we had. The engines ceased to revolve. The gauge already showed that the ship was slowly settling by the head. The efforts to ascertain where the hole was were without result, as we could no longer get a reply from any of the compartments. After a short pause we could hear that firing had been resumed, but when the firing, and shortly afterwards the hail of enemy shells ceased, we could not get into touch with any other part of the ship. The conning-tower, too, did not reply. The water that poured out of the speaking-tube showed that the water had reached the armoured deck, and therefore that the flooded compartments must be submerged.

" As the ship was bound to sink very soon, amidships was now cleared. Between-decks over the armoured deck was so full of smoke that you could not see a yard ahead. Both the companions leading up from there were shot to pieces. It was only by scrambling through the holes made by shells, over the relics of hatches and lockers, that we managed to get out. The space under the forecastle was also filled with smoke from right forward as far as over the second gun.

"As soon as the firing had ceased on all sides the English ships made the greatest efforts to pick up the survivors. At a summons from the Mainz, which had not listed at all until about 2 o'clock, a destroyer came alongside the stern to take the wounded on board. All the wounded whose cases did not seem perfectly hopeless were thus removed to the destroyer, assisted by everybody who had not yet left the ship. About 2.10 P.M. Mainz heeled over to port and sank."

For a last example I will give the report of the action prepared by Captain Seebohm, commanding the light cruiser Ariadne-:

"On the 28th August S.M.S. Ariadne, flagship of the Harbour Flotilla of the Jade and Weser, was lying in the Outer Jade. On hearing the sound of guns about 9 o'clock, and more particularly on receiving a wireless from Stettin that cruiser support was requested, Ariadne set a course for Heligoland. Near the Outer Jade Lightship she met the cruiser Köln, flagship of Rear-Admiral Maass, which was making west at high speed. Ariadne then took much the same westerly course as Köln, which had soon disappeared in the haze. We received further wireless messages from Mainz and Strassburg that they were in action with enemy destroyers.

" Avoiding a certain area where a minefield was suspected, we steered towards the position of the ships named. Judging by her wireless reports, Köln appeared to be taking the same course. About l0 o'clock an enemy submarine was sighted square on our port beam. It immediately dived, and seemed at first to be manœuvring for position, but then suddenly disappeared, so that we had no chance to fire.

" Shortly afterwards gunfire was heard on our port bow, and we made straight in that direction. Shortly before 2 P.M. there emerged from the mist two ships, one of which, on our starboard bow, did not reply to our signal. It was recognised as an armoured cruiser so we immediately turned about. The second ship was Köln, which was being chased and would doubtless have got away if Ariadne had not appeared. The enemy immediately shifted his fire from Köln to Ariadne. Ariadne soon received a hit forward which started a fire in the coal, so that the stokehold had to be abandoned on account of the danger from smoke. Five boilers were thus put out of action and Ariadne's speed was reduced to fifteen knots. Behind the enemy, which, judging by its silhouette, was the English Flagship Lion, a second English armoured cruiser soon appeared and joined in the action, firing at Ariadne for about half an hour at a range of from 45 to 60 hm., at times even from 33 hm. This last distance is only an estimate, as by now all the recording instruments were out of action. Ariadne received many hits from heavy guns, among them a whole series aft, which was soon enveloped in flames. Such of the personnel there as made good their escape owed it entirely to luck. The fore part of the ship also received a number of serious hits, one of which penetrated the armoured deck and put the torpedo chamber out of action, while another destroyed the sick-bay and killed its personnel. Amidships and the bridge, strange to say, were almost entirely spared. It is perfectly impossible to say how many hits in all the ship received. Apparently many shells passed through the rigging and were thereby detonated. Others were observed to fall in the water without detonating. Many others passed to right and left as Ariadne was running away from the enemy and offered but a small target.

"The English salvos followed in succession with somewhat long pauses. The shells produced their effect mainly by starting fires. All the living quarters fore and aft were immediately in flames. The tremendous flames made it impossible to extinguish a fire which had once started. Further, the fire-extinguishers on the armoured deck had been utterly destroyed.

"About 2.30 the enemy suddenly turned west. I assume that he could no longer distinguish the Ariadne, which was enveloped in smoke from the fires. On the Ariadne the undamaged guns were still being worked and independently of the fire-control, as there were no means of transmitting orders. Further, the fumes from the ship made it impossible to see anything from the bridge.

"In spite of the enemy's annihilating fire the ship's company worked with the greatest calm, as if on manœuvres. The wounded were carried down by the stretcher-bearers. All ratings tried to carry out such repairs as were possible by themselves. The First Officer was carried away by a shell while between decks with the repairing section.

"After the enemy turned away I first ordered 'all hands' to extinguish the fire. This turned out to be impossible as we could no longer get aft and the ship had to be cleared forward as well almost at once. On the order ' Flood the magazine,' the men ran to the forward magazine. It was ascertained that this was already under water. It was impossible to get to the magazine aft. A previous attempt to open the compartments 1 and 2 where some of the men were still imprisoned proved witless, as the deckplates had been bent by shells. The engine-room and the after boiler room had remained uninjured throughout, and the same was true of the rudder. The telegraph apparatus failed. The cable was apparently cut by an explosion under the conning-tower.

"The heat and smoke made it more and more unpleasant to remain on the ship, and it was even worse when the ammunition piled round the guns began to go off. These explosions, however, did not do much damage. A large number of small splinters were scattered which, for example, penetrated the bridge from below.

"The ship's company assembled in perfect order on the fo'c'sle, whither the wounded also had been brought. I asked for three cheers for His Majesty and then the flag hymn and ' Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles' was sung. Even the wounded joined in. One man asked for three cheers for the officers.

"Just before 3 o'clock S.M.S. Danzig (Captain Reiss) came up and sent boats to us. As has already been mentioned, we had not suffered so severely amidships and it was therefore possible to lower the Ariadne's cutters also. The first to be put in the boats were the wounded, who were lowered from the fo'c'sle with ropes. As it gradually became impossible to remain on the fo'c'sle the rest of the ship's company jumped into the sea at the word of command. Some of the stronger swimmers swam all the way to the Danzig and Stralsund (Captain Harder), which had also approached. The non-swimmers, who had lifebelts and rafts, were picked up by the boats. Meanwhile the fire on the ship—which was gutted—had died down somewhat, and the explosions were less frequent. I therefore betook myself to Stralsund with a few men who had returned in Ariadne's boat, in order to request her captain to take Ariadne in tow. However, just about this time Ariadne suddenly heeled over to port and then capsized to starboard. The keel was visible for some time above the water."

If it was already known that the Heligoland Bight was insufficiently protected, because our scouting did not extend far enough, this day brought us the knowledge that a determined raid of the enemy against our weak forward patrol must inflict loss upon us every time. By the repetition of such surprises it might gradually be worn away altogether, while the Fleet got very little value out of its patrolling operations. The continuous employment of personnel and material on patrol work in the lengthening nights weakened both and thereby prejudiced the efficiency for their main task—to fight the enemy fleet. The unmolested irruption of the enemy cruisers and destroyers and the complete freedom of movement they had enjoyed in the Heligoland Bight must be made much more difficult, as also must the perpetual harassing operations of English submarines, although the latter had not hitherto displayed any great skill in torpedo work.

Far-reaching changes were made in both directions. As regards the patrol service a large number of armed fishing steamers were secured and prepared with the utmost despatch. They had previously been employed only in the harbour flotillas, which looked after the security of the estuaries. Moreover, in the middle of September two large minefields were laid west of Heligoland, which increased the danger for the enemy and offered a safe retreat for our patrols when they were hard pressed.

On September 13 an English submarine, "E 9," succeeded in torpedoing the cruiser Hela south of Heligoland. The ship took twenty minutes to sink, so that there was time to save the whole ship's company, and our losses were limited to three men killed where the torpedo exploded..

The minefields before Heligoland proved effective, and in conjunction with progressive defensive measures such as aeroplanes and the equipment of our patrols with weapons which could be employed offensively against submerged submarines (such weapons were wholly lacking at the beginning of the war), kept the inner area so clear that the danger from submarines came at last to be quite a rare and exceptional possibility.


  Copyright © 1996-2003 by The War Times Journal at www.wtj.com. All rights reserved.