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Germany's High Sea Fleet in the World War
Chapter 9a - Enterprises in the Hoofden, and Bombardment of Yarmouth and Lowestoft

ON March 5, the day after the return of the Moewe, the High Sea Fleet, under my command, carried out the first of its greater enterprises, partaking of the nature of a more extended advance. The idea prompting this move was to attack the enemy light forces that were constantly reported in the Hoofden, and thus attract support from the English harbours to the south, and if possible force them between the pincers formed by our advanced cruisers and the Main Fleet following in the rear. At daybreak the distance between the battleships and the cruisers was approximately 30 nautical miles. The cruisers were then to advance from a position Terschelling Bank Lightship S.S.E. IS nautical miles to the Hoofden, and push on to the northern boundary of the English minefield. The battleships were to follow the course of the cruisers up to l0 A.M., when they would have reached latitude 53" 30', provided that in the meantime our action had not been checked by intervening circumstances. Squadron II (the older battleships) did not form part of this expedition, but was held ready, with a minesweeping division, to secure the safety of the Bight, in order to keep the return route open for the Fleet. Two flotillas accompanied the cruisers; the others were with the Main Fleet. To ensure the safety of the proceeding an airship was allotted to the Chief of Reconnaissance, while other airships were to reconnoitre early the following day in the sector north-west of Heligoland as far distant as 200 nautical miles, to protect the flank and rear of the Fleet. Should the weather the preceding night be favourable for airships, advantage was to be taken of it. This was carried out, and led to a very effective bombing of the important naval yards at Hull, on the Humber. A graphic picture of the attack is given in the description by one of the airship commanders who took part, Captain Victor Schulze, on board the "L 11," but who has since died the death of a hero. He writes:

" Our orders were: ' March 5, in morning, " L 11," with "L 13 " and "L 14," to attack England in the north.' At noon (on 4th) an ascent was made with the object of attacking the naval yard at Rosyth. In consequence, however, of an ever-increasing strong north-north-west wind, bringing heavy snow and hailstorms with it, it was decided on the way to seek out the munition factories at Middlesbrough instead of proceeding to Rosyth. The only shipping traffic noticeable was limited to a few fishing-boats off the Dogger Bank. Following the throwing out of benzine casks, the airship, towards lo P.M., was fired at through a thin bank of clouds, but without success, and the incident was not worth noticing. At 10.45 P.M. the English coast was crossed between Flamborough Head and Spurn Head at Hornsea, which led to the belief that the north wind was stronger. The ship now steered northwards over the distinctly visible snow-clad coast. Wherever the landscape was not hidden from view by heavy snow-clouds visibility was good. The upper line of cloud was at a height of 2,000-3,000 m.; above, the sky was bright and starry. Violent hailstorms again came on, the ship became coated with ice, and although all water was discharged and the temperature of the air was 16 degrees, she could not rise above 2,000 m. Not until just before the attack, and after a further discharge of benzine, did she achieve a somewhat risky 2,300 m. The antennæ and the ends of the metal props in gondola and corridor glistened through the snow and hail with balls of light—St. Elmo's fire. The gondola and platform were thickly covered with snow. When the weather cleared at 1 A.M., it appeared from the position of the ship that to steer ,further north would be fruitless with the velocity of the wind at 12 doms (doms—2 metres per second).

"Meanwhile the course of the Humber was now distinguishable in the snowy landscape further south, offering a very favourable chance of attack. The town of Hull was well darkened, but from where ' L 11 ' was stationed we could easily make out the dropping of bombs from ' L 14 '. Fresh snow-clouds then interfered with the view, but I had time to spare and remained at my post until the clouds cleared away in an hour's time. At 2 A.M. ' L 11 ' opened the attack and first dropped some bombs on Hull to induce the defence batteries and searchlights to disclose their position, for if that failed the ship could not have attacked against so strong a wind. The town remained quiet and dark, but at that moment the clouds cleared away and disclosed the following picture. The town and environs were white with the freshly-fallen snow. Although plunged in darkness the town lay sharply defined under the starlit sky with its streets, blocks of houses, quays and harbour basins just below the airship. A few lights moved in the streets. The ship, taking a northerly course and with all her engines at high pressure, was poised over her objective and stood by. For twenty minutes, following my instructions, bombs were dropped quite composedly on the harbour and docks and the effect of each bomb carefully watched. The first bomb hit the quay, knocking a great piece out of it; a second hit the middle of the dock-gate of a harbour basin. The bomb fell so accurately on the gate that it might have been taken for a shot deliberately aimed at it. Buildings fell down like so many houses built of cards. One bomb in particular had a tremendous effect. Near the spot where it exploded houses kept falling on each side until at last a huge black hole stood out on the snowy ground near the harbour. A similar large black spot in the neighbourhood was apparently caused by 'L 14'. People were seen through the telescope running hither and thither in the light of the flames. Ships that had been hit began moving about in the harbour. All counter-action at and round Hull was limited to a few weak searchlights that failed to find the ship, and to some isolated firing. While the bombs were being dropped, the airship ventured up to 2,700 m.

" When fully convinced of the excellent effect of the bombs dropped on Hull, I decided to drop the remainder on the fortifications at Immingham which, as I had already noticed, had been heavily bombed by ' L 14 '. The airship made for Immingham with the last five explosive bombs and was received at once by four strong searchlights and very lively gun-fire. The searchlights tried in vain to find the ship through the light clouds just passing over, for although it was brightly lit up by them they always moved farther away. South of the searchlights on the bank the batteries were using much ammunition. From 40 to 50 fiery lights or fire-balls were scattered round the ship on all sides, above and below. The height these missiles reached was reckoned at 3,000 m. or more. The first explosive bomb that fell among the searchlights extinguished first one and then all the others. No other results were observed. Towards the end of the attack on Hull the fore engine was put permanently out of action by the stoppage of the water gauge and the consequent freezing of the oil and water pipes at a temperature of 19 degrees; at Immingham the aft engine was out of action for half an hour. The coast was crossed at 2.40 A.M. on the return journey. Again heavy snow and hailstorms accompanied by electric disturbances were encountered. In the space of three minutes a sudden squall carried the ship upwards from 2,400 to 3,200 m., 250 m. above our previous highest altitude. Coming down shortly afterwards the elevating gear got out of order, but the ship was worked by the crew as well as could be until the damage was repaired, though we were forced to rise again to 3,200 m. At 5 A.M. the rear engine gave way again and, owing to the freezing of oil and water, stopped altogether shortly before we landed. At 7 A.M. we met the First Scouting Division of Squadrons I and II 30 nautical miles north-north-west of the Terschelling-Bank Lightship. At 2 P.M. we landed safely at Nordholz. The ship was quite able to fly again."

The airship did the trip in 26 hours; it must be mentioned in this connection that the crew of a raider is so limited that all the men have to be on duty the whole time.

The Naval Corps in Flanders supported the Fleet's enterprise by stationing 12 U-boats off the English south-east coast. In spite of good visibility, there was no encounter with the enemy. The expedition, therefore, was only useful for the purpose of practicing unity of command, and the handling of individual ships under circumstances likely to arise during an offensive engagement of any big unit. The return voyage was made an occasion for different exercises in manœuvring the Fleet in fighting formation until we were compelled to withdraw, alarmed by the sighting of enemy submarines, for which the Fleet at Terschelling would have presented a good target. After our return all opportunity for further operations was put a stop to for a time owing to the bad weather, and to high east and north-east winds which our airships only just succeeded in escaping.

The dismissal of Grand Admiral von Tirpitz as Secretary of State of the Imperial Admiralty which was announced to the Fleet Command on March 18 aroused great sympathy, not only in view of his services in connection with the many-sided development of the Fleet through long years and in all branches of maritime service, but because, in these critical times for the country, much anxiety was aroused at the thought of being deprived of the services of a man who had shown himself to be a genial personality and of unwavering energy. This change in the conduct of the Naval Department, in particular, gave rise to grave fears as to the prompt carrying out of resolute and adequate U-boat warfare.

At the beginning of March the decision in this connection had again been postponed for four weeks. The Fleet was therefore bound all the more to aim at active action against the enemy, and every attention was given to that purpose by the new Fleet Command.

Meanwhile the English, by an unexpected attack, provided us with the opportunity of testing our preparations. The repeated air-raids, and particularly a very big and successful one on London on February I, roused them to make an effort to seek out and destroy these troublesome raiders in their own homes. The hangars at Tondern were the nearest. There had been no further attack on this group since the first unsuccessful one on Christmas Day, 1914. On March 25, in very unfavourable weather for flying—so much so that our own scouting machines did not go up owing to fog and snowstorms—an attack was made at 9.30 A.M. by some torpedo boat destroyers on our outpost group at List. They sank two fishing steamers that could have reported the attack, but were themselves obliged to withdraw before our aeroplanes which had gone up from List, and which dropped bombs on the enemy, hitting the destroyer Medusa. She was abandoned later on in a sinking condition. The English report gave out that the loss of the Medusa was owing to a collision with the destroyer Laverock.

Various reports were made by our aeroplanes, from which we gathered that an aerial attack had started from two vessels carrying aeroplanes, which were supported by battle-cruisers, light cruisers and destroyers. We were not able at once to determine what the intention was—whether there was to be a simultaneous attack from the west on the hangars at Hage (south of Norderney), or whether we were to expect an encircling movement of the enemy against our forces sent northwards, in an effort to force them to come out. The counter-action of our aeroplanes and the bad weather compelled all the five English airmen to come down. Two of them were picked up by one of their own torpedo-boats; the other three were taken by our aeroplanes. They did not succeed in doing any damage.

The English attack caused great commotion among our outpost forces, as well as among all the other ships, which at once got ready to put to sea, until the further purpose of the enemy was revealed. Our cruisers and several flotillas went in pursuit of the retiring enemy, who evidently did not attach much importance to the rescue of the airmen; but the weather becoming still worse, we were unable to get near the ships. There was an encounter that night between our torpedo-boats and English light cruisers, when the English cruiser Cleopatra succeeded in ramming and sinking one of our torpedo-boats, " G 194,' which had crossed her bows by mistake.

During these nocturnal proceedings another torpedo-boat, "S 22," Commander Karl Galster, struck a mine 55 " 45" North Lat., and 5"' 10" East Long. This boat broke in two at once; the fore-part sank quickly, the remainder floated for about five minutes and then suddenly went to the bottom. The hurrahs from the crew, led by the commander, proved that they stood firm at their posts to the very last. Torpedo-boat "S 18 " immediately tried to render assistance, but the wind and the high sea running made it impossible, and in spite of every effort only ten petty officers and seven of the crew were saved. We learned from the English report that the same night the Cleopatra was also run into by the English cruiser Undaunted, the latter receiving such heavy damage that she had to be towed into harbour. An English wireless intercepted during the night stated that a warship, together with destroyers, had tried to take a damaged English destroyer in tow, and it might be presumed that the ships would proceed northwards by night and return again at daybreak when there would be the possibility of encountering and capturing certain units of the enemy. Squadron II and Scouting Divisions I and IV were ordered to proceed to 55" 10' N. Lat. and 6" 0' E. Long., whither Squadrons I and II would follow; the flagship was with Squadron III. At 6.30 A.M. the cruisers reported that the sea was so rough that an engagement was impossible; the push was therefore given up as hopeless. We heard later that the same reason had induced the English to abandon the destroyer Medusa and return home very much battered by the storm.

At the end of March, by way of reprisal for the attempt to injure our aerial fleet, our airships enjoyed a very successful series of expeditions which, aided by a combination of favourable weather and dark nights, resulted in five successive attacks. It is difficult for airships to bring back an exact statement of their successes owing to the great altitude at which they fly, and also to the darkness and their exposure to anti-aircraft defences. The reports issued by the English official censor were, therefore, the only means of ascertaining the extent of the damage done, which was often represented as being of little importance in order to calm the fears of the population. But it is certain that at the time the uninterruptedly recurring raids caused a great feeling of panic, as the destruction in London itself surpassed anything ever before known. On our side, for the first time, we had to deplore the loss of an airship, brought down by enemy anti-aircraft guns. "L 15," Commander Breithaupt, was forced down on to the water at the mouth of the Thames after the airship's gondola had been repeatedly hit by shells. The crew, two officers and sixteen men, were rescued by English boats and taken prisoner; they did not, however, succeed in towing in the airship, the destruction of which had been provided for. It is worthy of note that in the night of the 2nd-3rd the Firth of Forth was reached for the first time, and ships lying there and buildings along the Firth were attacked: Bad weather set in again on April 6 and put an end to this exceptionally successful period. "L 11 " took part more than once in the attacks and its commander has given the following description:

"Order: ' L 11,' together with ' L 14,' to attack England south or centre on morning of April 1st.' At 12 noon an ascent was made for the purpose of attacking England in the south, but owing to the wind soon veering round to north-west, the centre of the coast was made for. There was lively traffic among steam-trawlers off the Dogger Bank, and the English wireless was distinctly heard at work. In spite of throwing out two casks of benzine, the temperature of the air did not allow of the ship rising above 2,200 m.; at 10 P.M. the English coast was reached south of the Tyne. While trying to bomb the docks on the Tyne and cross the coast, the ship was greeted with violent firing, which came from the whole coastal area north and south of the river. To draw back and seek the required weather side for the attack would have occupied several hours with the prevailing wind (W.N.W., 5-7 doms.) I decided not to cross the batteries on account of not being very high in relation to the firing, and also because of slow progress against the wind and the absolutely clear atmosphere up above. I fixed, therefore, on the town of Sunderland, with its extensive docks and the blast furnaces north-west of the town. Keeping on the weather side, the airships dropped explosive bombs on some works where one blast-furnace was blown up with a terrible detonation, sending out flames and smoke. The factories and dock buildings of Sunderland, now brightly illuminated, were then bombed with good results. The effect was grand; blocks of houses and rows of streets collapsed entirely; large fires broke out in places and a dense black cloud, from which bright sparks flew high, was caused by one bomb. A second explosive bomb was at once dropped at the same spot; judging from the situation, it may have been a railway station. While over Sunderland, the airship was caught by a powerful searchlight and was pelted with shrapnel and fire-balls, but to no purpose. The concussion from a shell bursting near the airship was felt as though she had been hit. After leaving the town, two other searchlights tried to get the ship, but only with partial success. Then followed slight firing, apparently with machine-guns. The last explosive bombs were dropped with good aim on two blast-furnace works in the neighbourhood of Middlesbrough. On returning, we again saw numbers of steam trawlers off the Dogger Bank. At lo A.M., April 2nd, we landed at Nordholz."

The day following "L 11 " again set out for a raid on England in company with "L 17," and reported as follows:

"Owing to the expected warm temperature of the air, only five mechanics and forty-five bombs were carried; the spare parts were limited; two machine-guns and a landing-rope were left behind, and the supply of benzine very sparingly measured out, as both going and coming back the wind was expected to be behind us. The ascent was made at 2.30 P.M. The flight was so rapid that the last bearings¹ taken showed that the English coast would be reached near Sheringham at about 10.30 P.M. As the atmosphere was becoming still thicker, it was impossible to distinguish anything beyond a few dim lights. As the coast could not be made out at the expected time, I turned by degrees out of my previous course W. ½ S. to S.W. to S., presuming that the wind would have gone further south on land. Finally, however, the bearings taken at 1.10 A.M. revealed the surprising fact that the slight W.S.W. wind blowing had risen to 8'-10 doms. When, therefore, we found at 2.45 A.M. that the ship was over the land, a further advance towards London became purposeless. Moreover, on ascertaining the exact position, it was too late, and in view of the strength and direction of the wind, to turn off towards the mouth of the Humber. So long as the darkness lasted, I determined to try for some objective in the county of Norfolk. Norwich, which was in complete darkness, could not be made out.

"Towards 3.55 A.M., after 'L 11 had crossed the coast close to the west of Yarmouth, violent gun-fire was observed through the mist in the rear. A turn was made, and altogether thirteen well aimed bombs were dropped on the place where the firing came from. We had to give up the idea of staying longer on the coast as at the altitude of the airship day was already beginning to break. The return journey, as was anticipated, was favoured at a high altitude by a fresh W.S.W. wind. At 10 A.M. we landed at Nordholz."

On April 5, " L 11 " with " L 13 " and " 16 " again went up for a raid on the English Midlands. An account of this expedition will serve to give the reader some idea of the strain and exertions to which our airships' crews were exposed on such occasions.

" At 9.45 p.m. the airship crossed the distinctly visible coast south of Flamborough Head and took a course for Sheffield. When over Hull to the north the airship was found to be over several newly erected batteries with four very strong searchlights, which caught up the ship easily in the very clear air; whereupon, from 10.10 to 10 30 an unusually heavy firing with shells and shrapnel was kept up. The aim was good; many shells burst quite close to the airship, causing the frame to shake violently. The next battery was at once attacked and silenced by explosive bombs. Being at the low altitude of 2,300 metres and in such clear air it was not considered advisable to continue to pass over the numerous other batteries, so we turned round intending to take a southerly course outside the coast in order to rise higher when the moon had gone down and to proceed inland. In setting off, the rear engine was put out of order through worn-out crank bearings. The commander decided, therefore, to put himself on the lee side of the north-north-east wind and look for Hartlepool. The line of the coast and the course of the rivers were just as plainly visible as on the map. North and south of Flamborough Head there was much shipping activity. Several neutral vessels were distinguishable by the bright lights above their neutrality marking.

"At 2 A.M., just off Hartlepool, the fore engine gave out. The attack on the town was abandoned, and it was decided on the way back to destroy a large iron factory at Whitby. Even from the high altitude of the airship, the factory appeared to be a very extensive establishment with many brightly illuminated blast furnaces and numerous buildings. It was situated on the shore and had steam extinguishing apparatus. The airship hovered sufficiently long over this factory to drop carefully aimed bombs. The distinctly visible result consisted not only in the utter destruction of the furnaces and buildings through fire and explosion, but there were also heavy explosions in the darker sections of the factory, which led to the conclusion that the entire establishment had been destroyed. At 10.30 A.M. the airship got into a dense fog on the return journey, and with a view to safer navigation went over land and made good her way at 50 m. altitude, landing at Nordholz at 3 P.M. in clear weather."


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