7th Cruiser Squadron (United Kingdom)


7th Cruiser Squadron (United Kingdom)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Sinking of the Live Bait Squadron
partof=the First World War


caption=HMS Aboukir
date=22 September 1914
place=Broad Fourteens, North Sea
result=German victory
combatant1=
combatant2=
commander1=Cpt. John Drummond
commander2=Cpt. Otto Weddigen
strength1=3 Armoured cruiser
strength2=1 submarine
casualties1=1459 killed
3 cruisers sunk
casualties2=none
The 7th Cruiser Squadron (also known as "The Live Bait Squadron") was a blockading force of the Royal Navy during the First World War used to close the English Channel to German traffic. It patrolled an area of the North Sea known as the "Broad Fourteens" and the old cruisers of the "Cressy" class were instructed to steam slowly in line abreast formation. [cite book |title=Anti-Submarine Warfare |last=Owen |pages=p. 18 ] The Squadron had previously been part of the Third Fleet of the Home Fleets.

The squadron came to public attention when on 22 September 1914 three of the cruisers were sunk by one German submarine while on patrol, unescorted by destroyers and without taking avoiding tactics against submarines. Approximately 1450 sailors were killed, mostly part-time men from the Royal Naval Reserve rather than regular sailors, and there was a public outcry at the losses. The incident eroded confidence in the government and damaged the reputation of the Royal Navy at a time when many countries were still considering which side in the war they might support.

Creation

The Seventh Cruiser Squadron was created at the Nore as part of the reorganisation of the Royal Navy's home fleets which took effect on 1 May 1912. It formed part of the Third Fleet of the Home Fleets, and effectively served as a reserve force stationed on the south coast of England. The squadron was composed mainly of the six "Cressy" class armoured cruisers, which had been transferred from the Sixth Cruiser Squadron of the former divisional structure of the Home Fleets, and already considered obsolescent despite being less than a dozen years old. [cite book |title=Jane's Fighting Ships 1914 |pages=p. 61 ] Their status meant that most of the time they were manned by "nucleus crews", an innovation introduced by Admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher a few years earlier. Their ship's complements of 700 men plus officers were only brought up to full strength for manœvres or mobilisation. The nucleus crews were expected to keep the ship in a seaworthy condition the rest of the time.

The 1913 manœvres illustrate the system. In June the command of squadrons was announced by the Admiralty. As a reserve formation the Seventh Cruiser Squadron had no flag officer, and on 10 June Rear-Admiral A.G.H.W. Moore, Third Sea Lord was given the command, taking leave from the Admiralty. [Cite newspaper The Times |articlename=The Naval Manœvres |section=Official Appointments and Notices |day_of_week=Tuesday |date=10 June 1913 |page_number=5 |issue=40234 |column=B ] He hoisted his flag in "Bacchante" on 15 July, [Cite newspaper The Times |articlename=Naval and Military Intelligence |section=Official Appointments and Notices |day_of_week=Friday |date=4 July 1913 |page_number=6 |issue=40255 |column=C ] All ships of the squadron would have been brought up to strength with men from other parts of the navy and from the Royal Naval Reserve. The manœvres took place, and on 9 August Rear-Admiral Moore struck his flag and on the 16th the squadron was reduced back to reserve commission. [Cite newspaper The Times |articlename=Naval and Military Intelligence |section=Official Appointments and Notices |day_of_week=Monday |date=11 August 1913 |page_number=13 |issue=40287 |column=C ]

First World War

Upon the outbreak of war with Germany in 1914 the Royal Navy's Second and Third Fleets were combined to form a Channel Fleet. The Seventh Cruiser Squadron consisted of "Cressy", "Aboukir", "Bacchante", "Euryalus" and "Hogue". Their task was to patrol the relatively shallow waters of the Dogger Bank and the "Broad Fourteens" in the North Sea, being supported by destroyers of the Harwich Force. [cite book |title=The Royal Navy |last=Watts |pages=p. 91 ] The aim was to protect ships carrying supplies between Britain and France against German ships operating from the northern German naval ports. ['Castles' p.128-129]

Although the cruisers had been designed for a speed of 21 knots, wear and tear meant they could now only manage 15 at most, more typically only 12 Knots. Bad weather sometimes meant that the smaller destroyers could not sail, and at such times the cruisers would patrol alone. A continuous patrol was maintained, with some ships on station while others returned to harbour for coal and supplies. ['Castles' p. 129]

From 26-28 August 1914 the squadron was held in reserve during the operations which led to the Battle of Heligoland Bight. [cite book |title=Heligoland Bight |last=Osborne |pages=p. 44 ]

On 21 August Commodore Roger Keyes, commanding a submarine squadron also stationed at Harwich, wrote to his superior, Admiral Sir Arthur Leveson, warning that in his opinion the ships were at extreme risk of attack and sinking by German ships because of their age and inexperienced crews. The risk to the ships was so severe that they had earned the nickname 'the live bait squadron' within the fleet. By 17 September the note reached the attention of First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, who met with Keyes and Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt, commander of a destroyer squadron operating from Harwich,while travelling to Scapa Flow to visit the Grand Fleet on 18 September. Churchill, in consultation with the First Sea Lord Prince Louis of Battenberg, agreed that the cruisers should be withdrawn and wrote a memo stating:

However, Vice Admiral Frederick Sturdee, chief of the admiralty war staff, objected that while the cruisers should be replaced, no modern ships were available, and they were the only ships which could be used during bad weather. It was therefore agreed between Battenberg and Sturdee to leave them on station until the arrival of new "Arethusa" class cruisers then being built. ['Castles' p. 129-130]

inking of three cruisers

On 17 September four cruisers patrolled without destroyer escort because bad weather had forced the destroyers to return to port. At 06.00a.m. on 20 September "Euryalus" broke off patrol to return to port for coal, but the continuing bad weather meant Rear Admiral Christian commanding the squadron could not transfer to another ship, and had to return with her. Captain John Drummond assumed command of the squadron consisting of his ship "Aboukir", "Hogue" and "Cressy". ['Castles' p.130]

At 6.30 a.m. on the morning of 21 August the weather had calmed and the ships were patrolling at 10 knots, line abreast, two miles apart. Lookouts were posted for submarine periscopes or ships and one gun either side of each ship was manned. German Navy submarine, "U-9" commanded by Kapitänleutnant Otto Weddigen had been ordered to attack British transport ships at Ostend, but had been forced to dive and shelter from the storm. On surfacing, he spotted the British ships and determined to attack. At 6.20 a.m. the submarine fired one torpedo at the nearest ship from a range of 550 yards, which struck "Aboukir" on the starboard side, flooding the engine room and causing the ship to stop immediately. No submarines had been sighted, so Drummond assumed that the ship had hit a mine, and ordered the other two cruisers to close in to help. After twenty five minutes "Aboukir" capsized, and sank five minutes later. Only one boat could be launched, because of damage from the explosion and failure of steam powered winches needed to launch them. ['Castles' p.133-134 ]

"U-9" surfaced from her dive after firing the initial torpedo to observe two British cruisers engaged in the rescue of men from the sinking ship. Weddigen fired two more torpedoes at his next target, "Hogue", from a range of 300 yards. As the torpedoes left the submarine, the bows rose out of the water and she was spotted by "Hogue", which opened fire before the submarine dived. The two torpedoes struck "Hogue"; Within five minutes Captain Wilmot Nickolson gave the order to abandon ship, after 10 minutes she capsized before sinking at 7.15 am. ['Castles' p.134] At 7.20 a.m. "U-9" fired two torpedoes from her stern torpedo tubes at a range of 1000 yards. One missed, so the submarine turned to face her one remaining bow torpedo towards "Cressy", and fired at a range of 550 yards. "Cressy" had already seen the submarine, had opened fire and attempted to ram, but failed. The ship had then returned to picking up survivors. The first torpedo struck the starboard side at around 7.15 a.m., the second the port beam at 7.30 a.m. The ship capsized to starboard and floated upside down until 7.55 a.m. ['Castles' p.135]

Distress calls had been received by Commodore Tyrwhitt, who with the destroyer squadron had already been at sea returning to the cruisers now the weather had improved. At 8.30 a.m. a Dutch steamship "Flora" approached the scene (having seen the sinkings) and rescued 286 men. A second steamer "Titan", picked up another 147. More were rescued by two trawlers, before the destroyers arrived at 10.45 a.m. 837 men were rescued while 1,397 men and 62 officers had died. The destroyers began a search for the submarine, which had little electrical power remaining to travel underwater and could only make 14 knots, trailing a plume of exhaust smoke, on the surface. The submarine submerged for the night before returning home the next day. ['Castles' p. 136]

Afterwards the remaining "Cressy" class ships were dispersed away from the British Isles, and the squadron was reconstituted the following year as part of the Grand Fleet, with more modern armoured squadrons. Nevertheless in 1916 it was disbanded again. It did not see service at the Battle of Jutland.

Aftermath

Otto Weddigen returned to Germany as the first naval hero of the war and received the Iron Cross, first class. His crew each received the Iron Cross, second class. The effect was to shake the reputation of the British navy throughout the world. In Britain it was believed that this could not have been the work of just one submarine, but that many must have been involved. Both Admirals Beatty and Fisher spoke out against the folly of placing such ships where they had been. Churchill was widely blamed by the public for the disaster, though he had given orders for the ships to be removed. ['Castles' p.137-138]

Admiral Christian was suspended on half pay, but later reinstated by Battenberg. Drummond was criticised for sailing in straight lines rather than zig-zag to shake off submarines, and for not calling for destroyer support as soon as the weather started to improve. Zig-Zagging had previously often not been taken seriously by ships captains, who had no experience of submarine attacks, but was now made compulsory in enemy waters. All major ships were instructed never to approach a ship struck by mine or torpedo, but to steam away and leave any rescue to smaller vessels. ['Castles' p.138-139]

Three weeks later, Weddigen, now operating off Aberdeen, sank another British cruiser which failed to zig-zag, "Hawke". Weddigen was himself killed in March 1915 during a raid in the Pentland Firth when his submarine was rammed by HMS "Dreadnought".

Notes

References

*cite book |title=The World Crisis |volume=Vol. I |author=Winston Churchill |year=2005 |publisher=Simon and Schuster |location=New York |isbn= 0743283430
*cite book |title=Jane's Fighting Ships 1914 |editor=Jane, Fred T. |year=1969 |publisher=Arco Publishing Company, Inc. |location=New York
*cite book |title=The Battle of Heligoland Bight |last=Osborne |first=Eric W. |year=2006 |publisher=Indiana University Press |location=Indianapolis |isbn=0253347424
*cite book |title=Anti-Submarine Warfare: An Illustrated History |last=Owen |first=David |year=2007 |publisher=Naval Institute Press |location=Annapolis, MD |isbn=1591140145
*cite book |title=The Royal Navy: An Illustrated History |last=Watts |first=Anthony John |year=1995 |publisher=Naval Institute Press |location=Annapolis, MD |isbn=1557507309
*cite book|title= |author= Robert Massie|publisher=Johnathan Cape |year= 2004 |location=London |isbn= 0224040928


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