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    London 1918, the Armistice and Gallantry research

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    London County Council in the Great War 1914 - 1918

    LCC index

    CHAPTER VII.

    Royal Navy.

    The fate of the countries engaged in the Great War was determined on the western front, and the fighting there has merited the most attention, but in no other conflict was it so true that, in the words of the Articles of War: " It is upon the Navy that, under the good Providence of God, the wealth, prosperity, and peace of these' islands and of the Empire do mainly depend." Without the Navy's powerful aid our country, if not conquered by invasion, would almost certainly have been starved into surrender, nor could our armies in France, and still less those farther away, have been supplied with reinforcements and munitions. Its position at the opening of the war has already been referred to. Although its influence was felt in all our operations, it will be convenient to give here a separate summary of its great work.

    Early in 1914 a test mobilisation of the Home Fleets had been ordered for 16th July. In the ordinary way the ships would have dispersed on the 27th, but on the 26th, three days after Austria's ultimatum to Serbia, the dispersal was countermanded. On the 29th the British First Fleet sailed for Scapa Flow in the Orkneys, and on 1st August our full naval forces were mobilised. Action followed close upon the declaration of war, for on the 5th the Konigin Luise, while laying mines some distance off the East Coast, was chased and sunk by H.M.S. Amphion. A few hours later the latter struck one of the mines and went down with most of her crew and some prisoners from the Luise. On the 6th H.M.S. Birmingham rammed and sank two enemy submarines.
    A brief account may here be given of the Navy's duties during the war. These were summarised by Mr. Balfour, as First Lord of the Admiralty, in July, 1915, as follows: —

    (i) To drive the enemy's commerce off the sea. This was accomplished by stationing strong forces in Scapa Flow and the English Channel, so as to cut off all egress from the North Sea. The area thus enclosed was then systematically patrolled by light craft, Harwich and Dover being two of the chief bases.

    (ii) To protect British commerce. To do this it was necessary to have control in all parts of the world. The Atlantic was the main avenue of supply, but routes had also to be considered to and from Australia, New Zealand, India and China. Also a northern patrol was necessary to insure the passage from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and north Russia. Mine-sweepers and trawlers had to be provided to deal with the mines laid by the enemy in the main traffic routes. Finally, when the unrestricted submarine campaign against trading vessels was undertaken, anti-submarine patrols and escorts both for ships-of-war and the mercantile marine had to be organised.

    (iii) To render the enemy's fleet impotent and (iv) to prevent the landing of enemy troops. These were brought about by the forces and patrols referred to under (i) and (ii) at Scapa, in the English Channel and elsewhere. Later the battle-cruiser and other squadrons were stationed in the Firth of Forth.

    (v) To enable our troops to be transported across the sea. This entailed the escort of several millions of troops between the British Isles, France, India, Australia, New Zealand, East, West and South Africa, Gallipoli, Egypt, Palestine, Salonica and latterly America and Russia.

    (vi) To secure supplies for troops in all theatres of war.

    (vii) In fitting circumstances to assist military operations such as those at Gallipoli and at different times on the Belgian coast.

    In the space available it is not possible to do more than to give a list of the chief actions in which the Navy was engaged.

    On 28th August a sweep by destroyers and light cruisers, aided later by battle cruisers, into the Heligoland Bight was organised. After some confused fighting V187, an enemy destroyer, and the light cruisers Koln, Mainz and Ariadne were sunk with the loss of over 1,000 men. Four enemy raiders were sunk, the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse by H.M.S. Highflyer on 26th August at Rio de Oro on the west coast of Africa, the Cap Trafalgar by H.M.S. Carmania on 14th September off Trinidada Island, Brazil, the Emden by H.M.S. Sydney on 9th November at the Cocos or Keeling Islands, in the Indian Ocean, and the Konigsberg on 11th July, 1915, by monitors in the River Rufiji, East Africa, where she had been shut up by H.M.S. Chatham six months before. H.M.S. Audacious struck a mine on 27th October and sank, and on 1st January, 1915, the Formidable was torpedoed off Start Point, Devon.
    Several destroyers and monitors aided the Allied left at Lombartzyde on the Belgian coast during the first Battle of Ypres in October. On 3rd November, Yarmouth, and on 14th December, Scarborough, Whitby and the Hartlepools, were bombarded, while on 24th January, 1915, another attempted raid was driven off with the loss of the Blucher and severe damage to the Seydlitz.

    During September, 1915, the Royal Edward carrying reinforcements to Gallipoli was torpedoed with the loss of 1,000 out of 1,600 officers and men. In October the transports Ramazan and Marquette were sunk in the AEgean, on the 28th H.M.S. Argyll ran aground on the Scotch coast, and on 30th December the Persia was torpedoed in the Mediterranean. The German battleship Pommern was torpedoed in the Baltic on 2nd July.
    On 25th April, 1916, Lowestoft and Yarmouth were again bombarded, in June H.M.S. Hampshire, carrying Lord Kitchener and his staff to Russia, struck a mine off the Orkneys and sank with the loss of nearly all on board, and during the latter part of the year several vessels of no great importance were damaged or destroyed on each side.
    On 31st January, 1917, the Germans proclaimed unrestricted action by their U-boats. This danger was met by developing the destroyer patrols and patrols by armed trawlers, smacks, drifters, fast motor boats, etc., by the use of strongly-armed vessels disguised as tramps, by the arming of merchantmen, by the use of depth charges which were constructed so as to explode at any depth desired, and by the use of seaplanes and airships to detect submarines even when submerged. Commanders of merchant vessels were instructed as to routes to be taken or avoided. The vessels were grouped into convoys and many of them were dazzle-painted so as to deceive the enemy as to their type and construction, and even as to their course and speed. Many ships after being sunk were raised by the salvage service; during the last three years of the war over a million and a half tons were so raised, the value of the ships and contents being about £50,000,000.

    The opening of 1918 was marked on 14th January by the third bombardment of Yarmouth. Ostend and Zeebrugge were of great assistance to the Germans as submarine bases, and one object of the Passchendaele fighting was to bring them under gunfire. On 23rd April, 1918, gallant efforts were made to seal the entrances to the harbours. At Zeebrugge, the Vindictive, under cover of a smoke screen, and accompanied by a flotilla of destroyers, monitors and motor launches, was driven on to the mole to serve as a landing-stage for a storming party. The latter, having landed, silenced a number of batteries, destroyed hangars and store-sheds and sank a destroyer. The submarine C3 was run into the piles of the railway and, by its explosion, caused very great damage. Three block ships were sunk in the channel leading to the Bruges canal. The crews of the submarine and block ships, after accomplishing their tasks, were taken off their vessels in motor boats. The attack at Ostend on the same night was not so successful, as the wind, changing suddenly, dispersed the smoke screen, and the block ships were blown up in the wrong place. In a second attempt on 9th May, the Vindictive was successfully blown up and sunk across the channel.

    As 1918 advanced the U-boats, partly owing to the reduction in numbers caused by losses and damage at sea, and partly owing to the success of our defensive measures, became much less effective. In October, 1918, when it was clear that the Germans had lost the war, their War Cabinet undertook that the principles of cruiser warfare should be observed and that the lives of non-combatants would be assured. At the end of the month their fleet, ordered out to sea in the hope that some desperate stroke might retrieve the situation, mutinied and it was realised that an offensive was impossible.

    In accordance with the terms of the Armistice fourteen battleships, seven cruisers and fifty destroyers surrendered on 21st November to the British Navy and were taken as prizes to the Firth of Forth. Submarines to the number of 150 were also surrendered and taken into Harwich.

    Casualties amongst the Council's staff.
    The actions in which members of the Council's staff perished were as follows:

    H.M.S. Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue.

    On 22nd September, 1914, H.M.S. Aboukir, Cressy, and Hogue, armoured cruisers of 12,000 tons displacement, were torpedoed and sunk in the North Sea to the south of the Dogger Bank with a loss of 60 officers and over 1,300 men. The sinking of the Aboukir was an ordinary hazard of patrolling duty, but the Hogue and the Cressy were sunk because they proceeded to the assistance of their consort, and remained, with engines stopped, endeavouring to save life, thus presenting an easy and certain target to further submarine attacks. All the men behaved extraordinarily well, obeying orders even when in the water swimming for their lives, and many acts of great self-sacrifice and gallantry were witnessed.

    Fifteen employees of the Council lost their lives in the sinking of these ships. They were Henry Arnold, J. E. Rawlings, A. S. Keeler, R. G. Grist, C. H. Boys, Walter Challis and A. A. Gaiger (Tramways), E. V. White, F. J. Owen, Westly Livingstone (L.F.B.), G. D. Davis and F. C. Chapman (Education), R. W. Medhurst (Ch. Engr.), William Lawrence (Asylums) and J. W. Curry (Pub. Cont.).

     H.M.S. Hawke.

    On 15th October, 1914, H.M.S. Hawke was torpedoed and sunk in the northern waters of the North Sea. The Hawke was a cruiser with a displacement of 7,350 tons, and carried a crew of about 500, of whom only 4 officers and 69 men were saved. At about 11 a.m. the Hawke sighted a collier flying the Norwegian flag, and changed her course slightly in order to investigate the character of the vessel. The cruiser was moving through the water at a moderate speed when an explosion occurred and part of the ship's side was torn away. One boat only was got away and her crew pulled about endeavouring to save those in the water. Many men clambered on to life-saving rafts, but the cold was extreme and numbers of them fell from the rafts into the water. Three officers and forty-nine men were saved in this boat and were picked up ultimately by a trawler. One officer and twenty men were also picked up later from a raft.

    Six employees of the Council were among those who were lost, namely G. A. B. Allum and T. W. Jackson (Ch. Engr.), F. T. Hemming and C. W. Waite (L.F.B.), P. W. Hepworth (Asylums) and A. W. Woods (Tram.).

    Battles of Coronel and the Falkland Isles.

    Towards the evening of 1st November, 1914, H.M.S. Good Hope, an armoured cruiser of 14,100 tons and flagship of Admiral Sir C. Cradock, accompanied by H.M.S. Monmouth, an armoured cruiser of 9,800 tons, H.M.S. Glasgow, a light cruiser of 4,800 tons, and H.M.S. Otranto, an auxiliary cruiser, came up off Coronel on the coast of Chile with the squadron of Admiral von Spee, consisting of the armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau of 11,400 tons, and the light cruisers Dresden, Nurnberg and Leipzig, 3,540, 3,350 and 3,200 tons respectively. The enemy declined action until sunset, when the light gave them an important advantage. During the action, which began about 7 p.m. and lasted for an hour, darkness and the head sea made firing difficult. At an early stage both the Good Hope and Monmouth caught fire, but fought on until, at 7.50 p.m., a great explosion took place on the Good Hope, flames shooting 200 feet into the air, and the ship foundered with the loss of all on board. The Monmouth, accompanied by the Glasgow, hauled off at dark, but was unable to steam away. She was then attacked by the enemy and sank, all on board perishing. The Glasgow and Otranto escaped. The result of this action is attributed to the superior weight of metal possessed by the enemy and to the advantages of position. The British ships fought with gallantry but the odds were too great. F. H. Field and W. J. Brooker (Tram.), and J. E. Blake (Parks) lost their lives on the Good Hope.

    After the battle the Glasgow and the Otranto fell in with H.M.S. Canopus, of 12,950 tons, which also belonged to Cradock's squadron but had been left behind for repairs, and the three vessels made for the South Atlantic. Meanwhile a squadron, consisting of the battle cruisers H.M.S. Invincible and Inflexible, each of 17,250 tons, and the three armoured cruisers H.M.S. Carnarvon of 10,850 tons, and Kent and Cornwall, each of 9,800 tons, was dispatched from England under Rear- Admiral Sir F. D. Sturdee, and arrived on 7th December at the Falkland Isles off the extreme south-eastern coast of S. America. Next day, just as the combined squadrons had finished coaling, von Spec arrived expecting to find only the remnants of Cradock's force. When he realised his error he attempted to escape, but was compelled by the superior speed of the British ships to give battle. His vessels were overpowered; the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were sunk by the battle cruisers, the Nurnberg by the Kent and the Leipzig by the Glasgow and Cornwall. About 200 of the crews were rescued, the rest with von Spec himself going down with their ships. The Dresden escaped for the time being, but on 14th March, 1915, was sunk by the Kent and the Glasgow off the island of Juan Fernandez.

    Battle of Jutland.

    The facts relating to the Battle of Jutland have been the subject of so much controversy that it must suffice to say here merely that on 31st May, 1916, the British Battle-cruiser Fleet, under the command of Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty, was cruising to the west of the Jutland peninsula when the Battle-cruiser Fleet of Vice-Admiral Hipper was sighted. A fierce battle commenced, and had lasted for nearly an hour when the main body of the German High Sea Fleet appeared and took part in the conflict. From the first sighting of the enemy two hours elapsed before the main British fleet could appear on the scene of action, and during the latter part of this time Sir David Beatty's force was engaged against overwhelming odds.
    Though it successfully held the German fleet and inflicted very heavy damage on the enemy, it necessarily sustained great losses in the unequal conflict. All the might of the German fleet was concentrated in turn against the leading ships of the British line. H.M.S. Queen Mary in particular received the full force of the enemy's fire, and after a stubborn fight the vessel was destroyed as the result of an explosion. Very few of the crew were saved and amongst those missing were George Doling (L.F.B.) who was serving as a gunner and E. W. Whitlock (Tram.) who was serving with the R.M.L.I. H.M.S. Tipperary formed a unit of the fourth torpedo flotilla attached to the main Battle Fleet. On the night (31st May/1st June, 1916) following the battle the Fourth, Eleventh and Twelfth Flotillas delivered a series of attacks on the enemy, causing him severe losses. In the course of these attacks H.M.S. Tipperary was sunk. Only 20 men were saved, and among others Leading Stoker E. W. Pouting (L.F.B.) lost his life.

    The Germans claimed the battle as a victory, but the grounds on which this claim was based are not obvious. It is difficult to estimate their losses, but they seem to have equalled ours. Their fleet did not continue the contest, but in the darkness of the early morning of 1st June returned to port. Our blockade was maintained, and never again did they venture to dispute our naval supremacy.

    General Casualties,

    I. J. Miller (R.N., L.F.B.) was on H.M.S. Viknor when she was lost in January, 1915, and F. A. Halliday (Educ.) and W. S. Entwistle (L.F.B.) were on H.M.S. Clan McNaughton, an armed merchant cruiser employed on patrol duty, when she disappeared, having probably foundered in heavy weather during February. James Waddingham (R.M.L.I., L.F.B.) was killed by a gunshot on 29th February, 1916, when H.M.S. Alcantara was sunk by the Greif, a German raider, and Alfred Bolt (Tram.) serving on Torpedo-boat No. II as a gunner lost his life on 7th March, 1916, when, having struck a mine off the East Coast, his vessel sank with most of her crew.

    H.M.S. Foyle struck a mine in the English Channel on 15th March, 1917, and sank with the loss of 29 men, one of whom was Arthur Roake, D.S.M. (R.F.R,, L.F.B.). Henry Carpenter (R.F.R., L.F.B.) lost his life on 30th June, 19 17, when H.M.S. Cheerful, while employed on escort duty, struck a mine and foundered in the North Sea. H.M.S. Ettrick, engaged in convoying transports, was torpedoed and sank on 7th July, 1917, off Beachy Head, those killed including James New (R.F.R., Tram.). C. J. C. Bastian (R.N., Educ.) was killed on 9th July, 1917, when H.M.S. Vanguard blew up in harbour as the result of an internal explosion. A. C. Jones (R.N.R., L.F.B.) was drowned on 30th July, 1917, when the s.s. Besswood on which he was serving as a gunner sank in the Irish Sea after a collision. H.M.S. Wolverine sank on 12th December, 1917, as a result of a collision, and John Richards (R.N., Tram.) was among the very few who lost their lives.

    J. W. Helps (Educ.) lost his life in the very gallant action on 20th January, 1918, when H.M.S. Raglan, a monitor of 4,500 tons, on which he was serving, aided by a smaller vessel of the same type, engaged the Goehen (22,640 tons) and the Breslau (4,480 tons) off the Dardanelles. The British vessels, hopelessly outgunned, were both sunk, but the Breslau, retreating after the engagement, struck a mine and sank, and the Goehen also struck a mine and to avoid destruction had to be beached in the Narrows. C. L. Pain (Tram.) was serving on H.M.S. Eleanor when on 12th February, 1918, while carrying a cargo of 2,000 mines, she blew up with the loss of all hands. W. F. Harden (Educ.) lost his life on i6th September, 1918, when an explosion occurred on board H.M.S. Glutton which, having caught fire, had to be destroyed in Dover Harbour so as to prevent damage to the shipping and the town.

    Decorations.
    Lieut. A. G. Dodman (R.N.R., Ch. Engr.) received the D.S.C. for the gallantry with which, while on patrol duty in the east Mediterranean on 6th December, 916, he went to the defence of the s.s, Camberwell, his skilful action probably leading to the destruction of the submarine making the attack. The facts relating to other naval decorations gained by members of the Council's staff are described under the various fronts.