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Germany's High Sea Fleet in the World War
Chapter 6a - Bombardment of Scarborough and Hartlepool, and the Battle of the Dogger Bank.

IN the first months of the war many efforts had been made to conduct our operations in a way that would cause the enemy such losses as would enable us to speak of a real equalisation of forces. But in vain. The results of our mine-laying were unknown, while the successes of our submarines did not weigh much in the scale, as the ships they torpedoed had no fighting value. On the other hand, raids by our cruisers were much more likely to bring considerable portions of the English Fleet out of their harbours and thus give our Fleet a favourable chance of intervening if it kept in close touch with its cruisers. For this purpose our cruisers would in any case have to go far beyond the limits of distance they had hitherto observed—not more than 100 nautical miles from Heligoland. Then only would our cruisers begin to have some real effect. Within the limits imposed upon him the Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet had described the efforts we had made—cruisers had put to sea, minelaying was carried out continuously in spite of the losses we had suffered, submarines had done far more than was expected of them, were untiring in their efforts and had penetrated as far as the English coasts, yet for the Fleet itself these operations had proved a disappointment. Strategical reasons had made it necessary to keep our Fleet back, and this looked like a want of confidence and affected the moral of the men, and gradually lowered their belief in their own efficiency to a regrettable degree. An impressive recital of these facts with the request that the Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet should be allowed greater latitude was met with a decided rebuff. The grounds of this refusal, as communicated by the Naval Staff, ran somewhat as follows:

"The existence of our Fleet, ready to strike at any moment, has hitherto kept the enemy away from the North Sea and Baltic coasts and made it possible to resume trade with neutral countries in the Baltic. The Fleet has thus taken over the protection of the coast and troops required for that purpose are now available for use in the field. After even a successful battle, the ascendancy of the Fleet under the numerical superiority of the enemy would give way, and under the pressure of the enemy Fleet the attitude of the neutrals would be prejudiciously influenced. The Fleet must therefore be held back and avoid actions which might lead to heavy losses. This does not, however, prevent favourable opportunities being made use of to damage the enemy. An employment of the Fleet outside the German Bight, which the enemy tries to bring about through his movements in the Skagerrak, is not mentioned in the orders for operations as being one of the favourable opportunities. There is nothing to be said against an attempt of the big cruisers in the North Sea to damage the enemy.."

These instructions served the purpose of the further enterprise against the English coast. On December l5 the big cruisers under the command of Vice-Admiral Hipper sailed under orders to bombard the fortified coast towns of Scarborough and Hartlepool and to lay mines along the coast, for there was constant traffic between the East Coast ports. Both these places, however, are 150 nautical miles nearer to the chief bases of the English Fleet in the North of the British Isles than is Yarmouth. It would, therefore, be much easier for vessels lying there or cruising at sea in the vicinity to beat off an attack, and the expedition would probably present a much greater risk, and a more urgent call for support from the Fleet.

The 2nd Scouting Division, composed of light cruisers and two torpedo-boat flotillas, was attached to the 1st Scouting Division of battle-cruisers. They left the Jade on the 15th at 3 A.M., followed late in the afternoon of the same day by squadrons of battleships. The hour of departure for both divisions was chosen in order to profit by the darkness and if possible put to sea unobserved. Judging from what ensued, this appears to have succeeded. A rendezvous at sea at 54° 30' N. Lat. and 7° 42' E. long. was appointed for the squadrons coming from the Jade and the Elbe. In order to get there I left the anchorage at Cuxhaven with Squadron II at 4 P.M. From the meeting-place Squadron II took the course ordered by the Commander-in-Chief—W.N.W. by ½W. at a speed of 15 knots. As all the ships were most carefully darkened, nothing could be seen of the other squadrons. The navigation had therefore to be most accurate in order that the squadrons might be in their proper places the next morning. Seven to five nautical miles had been determined on as the distance between the squadrons from flagship to flagship. The sailing order of the units was: Squadrons I, III and II. To ensure the safety of the Main Fleet when under way, the two older armoured cruisers, Prinz Heinrich and Roon, were placed ahead, together with a torpedo-boat flotilla. To cover the flanks two light cruisers were utilised, each with a flotilla. The light cruiser Stettin, with two flotillas, covered the rear. During the night several fishing steamers were stopped by the escorting torpedo-boats but released as non-suspect.

At 5.20 A.M. a torpedo-boat in the vanguard reported four enemy destroyers in Square 105. This was at 54° 55' N. Lat. and 2° 10, E. Long. This spot was about 20 nautical miles north-west of the appointed meeting-place for the cruisers, to which destination the Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet was also steaming. As several hours must elapse before we could reach our destination, and no further message followed the first one, we continued on our way. An hour later there was another message from a torpedo-boat in the vanguard to the effect that ten enemy destroyers had been sighted and that flashes from guns were visible. A quarter of an hour later the same boat reported that a chase had started. Thereupon at 6.45 the Commander-in-Chief gave the signal for all the squadrons to turn into a S.E. course as it still wanted an hour and a half to daylight. By issuing that order he carried out his purpose of avoiding an encounter with the enemy torpedo-boats and denying them the opportunity to attack in the dark.

Meanwhile our vanguard had begun to fight with the enemy destroyers. At 6.58 the light cruiser Hamburg (Captain von Gaudecker) reported that he had sunk an enemy destroyer. At 7.10 the Fleet turned again to the E.S.E.- ½ E. and started! on the return journey.

It had passed considerably beyond the arc from Terschelling to Horns Reef that shuts off the Bight. Having set out with the object of supporting our cruisers, there was now no possibility of carrying out that plan, seeing the great distance that lay between the two divisions. In this case, therefore, the success of the cruisers' enterprise was entirely dependent on their taking the enemy by surprise and avoiding the enemy's superior forces.

Towards daybreak, when our cruisers were approaching the English coast, the wind rose to such a pitch and the sea ran so high that the light cruiser Strassburg reported at 7 A.M. that, owing to heavy seas off the land, firing was no longer possible and the ship had been obliged to turn on an easterly course. As, under these conditions, the light cruisers and torpedo-boats could only be a hindrance to the big cruisers, the Commander-in-Chief decided to dispatch those vessels in the direction of the Main Fleet, with the exception of the light cruiser Kolberg, which was to continue laying mines at the places determined on.

The big cruisers then divided into two groups for the bombardment of the coastal towns, the northern section, the Seydlitz, Moltke and Blücher, making for Hartlepool. An officer of one of the U-boats who had reconnoitred the area beforehand rendered good service in locating the place. Shortly before they were off Hartlepool the cruisers were attacked by four torpedo-boat destroyers of the " River " class that ran out to sea and were brought under fire at a distance of about 50 hm. The sinking of one destroyer and heavy damage to another were observed. After firing some torpedoes without any result, they turned away. We gave up pursuing them so as not to lose time for the bombardment. The Seydlitz opened fire on the Cemetery Battery and scored several hits, so that at last the fire was only returned by one 15 cm. gun and one light gun from the battery. The Moltke was hit above the water-line, causing much damage between decks but no loss of life. From the first, the Blücher came under a lively fire from the land batteries; she had nine killed and three wounded by one hit alone. 15 cm. howitzers and light artillery were used on land; the Blücher was hit six times altogether.

The southern group, Von der Tann and Derfflinger, made for Scarborough which was easily distinguishable. The coastguard station at Scarborough and the signalling and coastguard stations at Whitby were destroyed. At the latter place the second round brought down the signalling flagstaff with the English ensign and the entire station building as well. The Derfflinger also bombarded trenches and barracks at Scarborough. As there was no counteraction it must be assumed that the battery at Scarborough was either not manned in proper time, or had been evacuated by the garrison.

The light cruiser Kolberg laid her mines at the appointed place without much difficulty, although the ship heeled over to 12 degrees and the tip apparatus (for dropping the mines overboard) drew water. At 9.45 the cruisers assembled round the Seydlitz and started to retire in the direction of the meeting-place agreed on with the Main Fleet. An hour later, at 10.45, a wireless message was received from the Chief of Reconnaissance with the Fleet that the task was accomplished and that he was stationed at 54° 45' N., 0° 30' W. At 12.30 noon the Stralsund, of the Second Scouting Division, with Torpedo-Boat Flotilla II attached, sighted a number of enemy cruisers and, turning in a south-westerly direction, evaded them to try and join the large cruisers. The English cruisers were again lost to sight, as the weather was very misty. Soon afterwards the Stralsund sighted six large enemy ships which were made out to be battleships of the " Orion " class, and therefore the Second English Battle Squadron. The Stralsund kept in touch with them and continued to report on the course and the speed of the enemy. At 1 P.M. these groups were at 54° 20' N. lat., 2° 0' E. long. This report caused our big cruisers to turn off in a north-easterly direction, as owing to the bad visibility they were compelled to avoid an unexpected encounter with battleships of superior fighting strength than that of our own. At that time the position of the two forces facing each other was approximately as follows:

Great disappointment was caused on board my flagship by this report. If our big cruisers had got into difficulties between the enemy battle-squadron and other cruisers already reported and still in the vicinity, our help would be too late. There was no longer any possibility while it was still day of coming up with the enemy battle-squadron, which at one o'clock was 130 nautical miles distant from us. Our premature turning on to a E.S.E. course had robbed us of the opportunity of meeting certain divisions of the enemy according to the prearranged plan, which was now seen to have been correct. At all events the restrictions imposed on the Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet brought about the failure of the bold and promising plan, owing to its not having been carried out in the proper manner. As we now know from an English source, the destroyers fired at by the Hamburg were about 10 nautical miles in front of the Second Battle Squadron which had come down on a southerly course—the vanguard of which had got into touch with ours between 6 and 7 A.M.; and since the position at 1 P.M., reported by the Stralsund, coincides exactly with the English statement, it proves that at 7 A.M. both the main fleets were only about 50 nautical miles apart. It is extremely probable that by continuing in our original direction the two courses would have crossed within sight of each other during the morning.

The advantage in a battle ensuing therefrom was distinctly on our side. The English had at their disposal on the spot the Second Battle Squadron with six ships, the First Battle-Cruiser Squadron with four ships was within attacking distance, and added to these were a few light cruisers and the Third Cruiser Squadron attached to the Second Battle Squadron.

According to his own statement, the English admiral in command did not leave Scapa Flow with the other ships till 12 noon, after receiving news of the bombardment at 9 A.M. He could not possibly have been in time; while the Third English Squadron, which had been sighted at lo o'clock, would not have had the advantage over our Fleet.

On the part of the English, disappointment was felt that coastal towns had again been bombarded by our cruisers and that they could not succeed in stopping it, although the necessary forces chanced to be at sea and had even got into touch with our light cruisers. This, according to Admiral Jellicoe's account, may have been due to the fact that the squadrons at sea had received instructions from him how to act so as to cut off the enemy, but had also had direct orders from the English Admiralty which were totally different and which were acted upon by Sir George Warrender, in command of the Second Battle Squadron.

The weather conditions were remarkable on that day. In the east section of the North Sea—the area through which our Fleet had passed—there was a slight easterly wind, no sea running, and perfect visibility. At the 3rd deg. E. Long. there was a sharply defined spot where the weather changed. A north-westerly storm raged off the English coast and the sea was correspondingly rough, making it extremely difficult to serve the guns even on board the big cruisers. Between 9 A.M. and 2 P.M., as our Fleet withdrew, an extraordinary number of drifting mines were observed, more than 70, some of them already exploded. They must have broken loose from the big minefield at the entrance to the Canal. It was a lucky chance that we escaped damage when, on the preceding night, the ships passed through that area without being able to observe them. At 8 P.M. on December 16, Squadron II ran into the Elbe again, and the others returned to the Jade.

The impression that a specially favourable opportunity had been missed still prevailed, and the chance of another such arising could hardly be expected.

The behaviour of the English Fleet makes it obvious that our advance was a complete surprise to them, nor had they counted on our Main Fleet pushing forward to the Dogger Bank. Otherwise the English expedition would surely have comprised stronger forces than merely one battle squadron, a battle-cruiser squadron, and lighter forces. This combination certainly made them superior to our cruiser attack but not to an attack by our Fleet. The information that besides the German ships in action off the English coast a still greater number were out at sea was communicated to the English Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet at 2 P.M. by the English Admiralty.

The English received the news through their " directional stations " which they already had in use, but which were only introduced by us at a much later period. They are wireless stations for taking the directional bearings of wireless messages, and in combination are capable of indicating the direction from which intercepted wireless messages come and thus locating the signalling ship's station. The stretch of the English east coast is very favourable for the erection of these "directional stations." In possessing them the English had a very great advantage in the conduct of the war, as they were able thus to obtain quite accurate information as to the locality of the enemy as soon as any wireless signals were sent by him. In the case of a large fleet, where separate units are stationed far apart and communication between them is essential, an absolute cessation of all wireless intercourse would be fatal to any enterprise.

Towards the end of December a change was made in the squadron command. Other ships had been added to Squadron III since the declaration of war. The König, Grosser Kurfürst and Markgraf had all made their trial trips. The Kronprinz was very near completion and on January 2 was enrolled as the eighth ship in the squadron. I was entrusted with the command of this squadron. It was no easy matter for me to separate from Squadron II, which had been under my command for nearly two whole years, as I had learnt to value the splendid spirit of the crews, who, in spite of the inferior fighting powers of the ships, made it a point of honour never to be behindhand in anything. But personal feelings were not to be considered, and I had to look upon it as a great distinction that the command of our most powerful fighting squadron was given to me. The command of Squadron I I was taken over on December 26 by Rear-Admiral Funke, whereupon I left for Wilhelmshaven to take up my position on the Prinz Regent Liutpold.

The ensuing time was fully occupied in learning to know the peculiarities of the new class of ship and the standard of fighting power of each individual vessel, and in judging the personality of the commanders and the corps of officers. The prevailing conditions of war made it more difficult to cultivate close relations with them than would have been the case in peace time. My chief object was so to train the unit as to make it absolutely reliable for implicit obedience to commands. I applied, therefore, to the Commander-in-Chief for an opportunity for a period of training in the Baltic towards the end of January. This was all the more necessary in view of the fact that since they were commissioned the four ships of the "König" class had had no practice in torpedo firing.

From a military point of view torpedo firing practice is an urgent necessity in the training and further development of all torpedo officers, those who are in charge of the torpedo tubes, and of those in reserve, in order to prove that the results from the use of the weapon are equal to expectations. Particular attention must be given to range practice and angle-discharging, which make a great demand on the ability of the torpedo men. During the war many ships were provided with torpedoes with all the latest improvements, without the crew having had an opportunity to fire them or become familiar with the handling of them. Experience showed that it was necessary to test every torpedo that had lain unused for more than five months to make sure that it would act when needed.

So long as enemy submarines remained in those waters the inner Bight of the North Sea was not a suitable place for gun-practice; these craft could not have had a better opportunity for firing their torpedoes. The mouths of the rivers certainly offered chances to our gunners of practice on objects passing by, but there was very little scope for gun practice at long range under fighting conditions. The necessity of combining the training period with the time required for unavoidable repairs, as also with the war activities of the Fleet which called for the participation of the highest possible number of ships, was a matter of extreme difficulty from the point of view of organisation.

Before Squadron III could sail for the Baltic there was to be another enterprise by the Fleet in the North Sea, which, owing to bad weather, was postponed from day to day. January, 1915, opened with most unfavourable weather, and one violent storm followed rapidly on another. But when, in searching for a passage for the Fleet through the minefields, it was discovered that many new ones had been laid down, both north of Amrum and west of Borkum, and also in the gap between Norderney and the safety barrier we had put down, the plan for an advance by the Fleet was abandoned. These mines would first have had to be removed, which would have been slow work owing to the bad weather. Instead of a big action by the Fleet, two light cruisers went out to lay mines and succeeded in placing a barrier 50 nautical miles from the English coast, close to the mouth of the Humber, presumably just in the enemy's outgoing course.

Towards the middle of the month the Fleet was kept at a high pitch of readiness as there was reason to believe the English were planning a blockade of our estuaries. The idea was extremely probable, as the poor visibility in winter weather offered the most favourable conditions for carrying it out. In the Jade particularly the channel for large vessels was so narrow and so shallow that the traffic was greatly hindered, especially in the case of certain vessels. There could be no warding off such an attack by a coast battery, as Wangeroog was not yet fortified. In any case, we could not afford to over-estimate the difficulty of carrying out such an undertaking; in view of the vast amount of material possessed by England for such a purpose, success in it was by no means out of the question. The fact that the Fleet would be obliged to push the undertaking to our very river mouths doubtless formed their chief reason for not making such an attempt, the success of which would have been very detrimental to the carrying out of our U-boat and mining warfare.


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