HMS Aboukir (1900)

HMS "Aboukir" was a "Cressy"-class armoured cruiser of 12,000 tons. Her triple expansion engines and twin screws gave her a top speed of convert|21|kn|km/h. She carried 2 × 9.2in and 12 × 6in guns. She was built by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd, Govan, Scotland, in 1902.

The "Cressy"-class vessels had rapidly become obsolete due to the great advances in naval architecture in the years leading up to the First World War. At the outbreak of the war, these ships were mostly staffed by reserve sailors. The "Aboukir" was one of four units that made up Rear Admiral Henry H Campbell's Seventh Cruiser Squadron. Owing to the obsolescence of these ships, the squadron was nicknamed the "Live Bait Squadron". [ cite web|url= | title=Channel4] [ cite web|url= |, July 2002]

The Live Bait Squadron

Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, "Aboukir" and her sister ships "Bacchante", "Euryalus", "Hogue" and "Cressy" were assigned to patrol the Broad Fourteens of the North Sea, in support of a force of destroyers and submarines based at Harwich which blocked the Eastern end of the English Channel from German warships attempting to attack the supply route between England and France. Since the smaller vessels were unable to operate in rough seas, the cruisers often formed the front line.cite book|title = Castles of Steel | author = Robert K. Massie | pages = 128-131 | id = ISBN 0-224-04092-8 | publisher = Jonathan Cape | year = 2004]

The British Admiralty was planning to withdraw them, when the "Aboukir" and two of her sisters, "Cressy" and "Hogue" were lost to submarine attack. Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty (the government minister responsible for the Navy) had minuted the First Sea Lord (the officer with overall responsibility for naval operations), Prince Louis Battenberg on 18 September 1914 that "The "Bacchantes" should ought not to continue on this beat. The risk to such ships is not justified by any services they can render. The narrow seas, being the nearest point to the enemy, should be kept by a small number of good modern ships", [cite web | url = | title = Churchill's Minute Regarding The Cressys| work = World War 1 Naval Combat | accessdate =2007-05-04 ] following a representation from Roger Keyes, the commander of the Harwich submarine force the previous day. However, Battenburg, concerned about the threat to cross-channel traffic from surface ships, was persuaded to retain the cruisers in this role until they could be replaced by "Arethusa" class light cruisers, of which only one had been completed and the remaining seven were under construction. In rough weather in which destroyers could not operate and in the absence of replacement ships, the old cruisers were all that were available to give an early warning of a German sortie into the channel.cite book|title = Castles of Steel | author = Robert K. Massie | pages = 128-131 | id = ISBN 0-224-04092-8 | publisher = Jonathan Cape | year = 2004]

When this was written the squadron was on patrol in its assigned area. The patrol originally included a fourth "Cressey"-class cruiser and flagship of the squadron, "Euryalus", and a destroyer screen. However deteriorating weather had led to the destroyers being withdrawn back to Harwich on the night of 17 September. At 6 am on 20 September, "Euryalus" had also returned to port because of low coal stocks. Rear Admiral Arthur Christian, in operational command of the squadron, had been unable to transfer to another ship because of the rough sea, and consequently command was passed to John Drummond, captain of "Aboukir", as the senior officer remaining with the squadron.

The three cruisers continued their patrol uneventfully for another two days. By the evening of 21 September the rough sea had died down. However the weather was still poor off Harwich and the destroyer screen was held back in port, several hours steaming from the cruisers, until 5 am.cite book|title = Castles of Steel | author = Robert K. Massie | pages = 128-131 | id = ISBN 0-224-04092-8 | publisher = Jonathan Cape | year = 2004]

At around 6 am on 22 September the three cruisers were steaming at convert|10|kn|km/h in line ahead and they were spotted by the U-9, commanded by Lt. Otto Weddigen. Although they were not zigzagging, all of the ships had lookouts posted to search for periscopes and one gun on each side of each ship was manned.

Weddigen ordered his submarine to submerge and closed the range to the unsuspecting British ships. At close range, he fired a single torpedo at the "Aboukir". The torpedo broke the back of the "Aboukir" and she sank within 20 minutes with the loss of 527 men.

The captains of the "Cressy" and "Hogue" thought the "Aboukir" had struck a floating mine and came forward to assist her. They stood by and began to pick up survivors. At this point, Weddigen fired two torpedoes into the "Hogue", mortally wounding that ship. As the "Hogue" sank, the captain of the "Cressy" realised that the squadron was being attacked by a submarine, and tried to flee. However, Weddigen fired two more torpedoes into the "Cressy", and sank her as well.

The entire battle had lasted less than two hours, and cost the British three warships, 62 officers and 1,397 ratings. Coming on the heels of the loss of the light cruiser HMS "Pathfinder" earlier to another submarine attack, this incident established the U-boat as a major weapon in the conduct of naval warfare.



ee also

* More Ships Built in Govan

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