Go to WTJ Information Page Go to WTJ Portal Go to WTJ War Series Go to WTJ Archives Go to WTJ Articles Go to WTJ Gaming Go to WTJ Store Go to WTJ Home Page

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

No ships were sent up by Captain Strasser, the Commander of Airships, on April G. His estimate of the weather conditions proved quite correct, for in the course of the afternoon the slight northeasterly wind veered round to the east and when night came a regular storm was blowing. While the air raids of the previous night were proceeding several torpedo-boats started out from Horns Reef in a north-west and westerly direction and kept the outpost forces in constant activity. It led, however, to no engagement with the enemy.

From April 13 to April 19 the Fleet was kept in constant expectation of an English attack, news having been received that one was pending. But the enemy did not show himself.


On April 24, Easter Monday, the Fleet put out on an important enterprise which, like that in the beginning of March, was directed towards the Hoofden, but was to be extended farther so as to force the enemy out of port. I expected to achieve this by bombarding coastal towns and carrying out air raids on England the night the Fleet went out. Both these actions would probably result in counter measures being taken by the enemy that would give our forces an opportunity to attack. On the occasion of the advance of March 5 - 6 the enemy preferred withdrawing all his forces into port, as we learnt afterwards from intercepted wireless messages, as soon as he had news of our advance, either through agents or from submarines in the North Sea

The news we obtained from the enemy had repeatedly announced strong enemy forces in the northern section of the North Sea under the Norwegian coast; forces had also been sighted in the Hoofden and harbours on the south-east coast of England so that an opportunity would probably occur for our Fleet to push in between those two divisions of the enemy Fleet and attack with equal strength that section which should first present itself. It was, therefore, obvious that the most suitable direction for attack would be towards the south-east counties of England. If the enemy then wished to cut off our return he would have to move into the neighbourhood of Terschelling Bank, where the waters were favourable for offering battle. With luck we might even succeed in attacking the enemy advancing from the Hoofden on both sides; on the south with the forces told off to bombard the coast and on the north with the Main Fleet.

Lowestoft and Yarmouth were the only coastal towns it was intended to bombard. Both were fortified and were important military points of support for the enemy Lowestoft for mine-laying and sweeping; Yarmouth as a base for the submarines whence they started on their expeditions to the Bight. The destruction, therefore, of the harbours and other military establishments of both these coastal towns was a matter of great military importance, apart from the object of the bombardment in calling out the enemy. Simultaneous air-raids on southern England would offer the advantages of mutual support for the airships and the sea forces. The airships would reconnoitre for the forces afloat on their way to and fro, while the latter would be able to rescue the airships should they meet disaster. It was also hoped there might be an opportunity for trade-war under prize conditions.

All the available High Sea forces were assembled, including Squadron II, and the Chief Command of the Naval Corps in Flanders was enjoined to keep his available U-boats in readiness. The Naval Corps also offered to station two U-boats east of Lowestoft to facilitate the advance; they did excellent service in assisting the bombardment. The U-boats at the disposal of the High Sea Command were placed in a position to attack the Firth of Forth and the southern egress from the Firth was closed by a U-minelayer.

Eight of the newer airships were selected for the raid and three older ones were ordered to hold themselves in readiness on the second day in the rear of the fleet for reconnoitring. If at all possible, the bombardment was to take the towns by surprise at daybreak, in order to prevent counter-measures by the enemy, such as calling up submarines from Yarmouth to protect the coast. The forces intended to accompany the cruisers had to endeavour to keep, not actually in the Hoofden, but in the open waters west and north of Terschelling Bank in case it should come to a fight, as that was the only position where liberty of action in all eventual developments could be ensured. The bombardment of both the coastal towns was entrusted to the battle-cruisers. They were supported by Scouting Division II and two fast torpedo-boat flotillas (VI and IX). The Main Fleet, consisting of Squadrons I, II and III, Scouting Division IV, and the remainder of the torpedo flotillas was to accompany the battle-cruisers to the Hoofden until the bombardment was over, in order, if necessary, to protect them against superior enemy forces.

At noon on the 24th all the forces, including the airships, started. The course led first through the south opening in the barrier at Norderney and then north, round a minefield laid down by the English out of sight of the Dutch coast, and into the Hoofden where the bombardment was to open at daybreak and last for about thirty minutes. At 4 P.M. the movement received an unwelcome set-back owing to a message from Rear-Admiral Bödicker, leader of the reconnaissance ships, that his flagship, the battle-cruiser Seydlitz had struck a mine and her forward torpedo compartment was damaged. The ship was thus debarred from taking part in the expedition; she was still able to do 15 knots and returned to harbour under her own steam. The leader was, therefore, obliged to hoist his flag in another cruiser. The route on which the ship had struck the mine had been searched and swept last on the night of the 22nd and 23rd and had been constantly used by light forces on their night patrols.

Owing to this occurrence the battle-cruisers behind the Seydlitz stopped and turned according to agreement, awaiting further orders in case they, too, should come across mines. As the Seydlitz turned to follow them in order to transfer the admiral to the Lützow, two of the ships simultaneously reported the track of a torpedo and submarines. With that danger so near it would not have been advisable to attempt to stop the ship and transfer the admiral to another; and as the cruiser was already badly damaged, it would have been dangerous to expose her to still further injury. The Seydlitz continued, therefore, on her westerly course and the Chief of Reconnaissance on board a torpedo-boat reached the Lützow later and there resumed his duties. The Seydlitz was escorted on her homeward way by two torpedo-boats and "L7" and reached the harbour without further misadventure.

In consequence of this incident, the Fleet Command thought fit to alter the intended course, and the only alternative was to take the route along the coast of East Friesland. The weather being so very clear, it would have to be borne in mind that in following that route the ships could be observed from the islands of Rottum and Schiermonnikoog and the news probably dispatched farther. Unfortunately this lessened the chance of carrying out a surprise bombardment of Lowestoft and Yarmouth, but there was no reason on that account to give it up altogether. Relying on aerial reconnaissance, further developments might be expected and the enterprise was continued.

Towards 8 P.M. a wireless message from the Naval Staff confirmed what the Naval Corps in Flanders had already reported at noon, that since 6 A.M. numerous enemy forces had been assembled off the Belgian coast, at the mouth of the Scheldt; it was not possible to divine their intention, but very probably it was connected with a bombardment of the coast of Flanders. It was welcome news for our Fleet to hear of the assemblage of enemy forces there. Another wireless announced that on the morning of the 23rd large squadrons of English warships of all types had been sighted off Lindesnaes, the south-west point of Norway. I could count, therefore, on my presumption that the English Fleet was divided into two sections being correct.

At 9.30 P.M. a message was sent us from Bruges that according lo an intercepted English wireless all patrol boats had been ordered back to port. This showed that the meeting of our battle-cruisers with English submarines during the afternoon had resulted in their sending news of our movements.

Shortly before daybreak reports were received from the airships of the results of their attack. They were obliged to fight against unfavourable wind conditions, and bad visibility over the land; they also met with strong counter-action. The six air-ships taking part had raided Norwich, Lincoln, Harwich and Ipswich and had been engaged with outpost ships. None had been damaged and they were then in the act of returning home. At 5 A.M. our large cruisers approached the coast off Lowestoft. Good support was afforded them by the U-boats placed in position by the Naval Corps. The light cruiser Rostock, which formed the flank cover for the battle-cruisers, reported enemy ships and destroyers in a west south-west direction. But as the light was not good enough to open fire, Admiral Bödicker proceeded to bombard the towns. This was carried out at a distance of from 100—130 hm. Excellent results were observed In the harbour and the answering fire was weak. A north-west course was then taken to proceed with the bombardment of Great Yarmouth and to engage the ships reported by the Rostock.

Meanwhile the Rostock, supported by the light cruiser Elbing, had kept in touch with the enemy forces in the endeavour to bring them nearer to the battle-cruisers. The ships in question were four modern light cruisers and about twelve destroyers. As soon, however, as they caught sight of our battle-cruisers they turned at full speed southwards. We opened fire on them at a distance of 130 hm. until they were beyond our range. Many hits were observed, and on one of the cruisers a big fire was plainly visible. The high speed kept up by the enemy made pursuit useless. The cruisers then shaped their course in the direction of our Main Fleet and reported that their task was accomplished.

During the bombardment of the two coastal towns, the light cruiser Frankfurt sank an armed patrol steamer by gunfire. second one was sunk by the leader of Torpedo-boat Flotilla VI, "G41," the crew of which were rescued. From what the latter stated she was the King Stephen, of evil repute, which had allowed the crew of the airship "L 19 " to perish. These men certainly denied most emphatically that they were on the trawler then, and laid the blame on a former crew. They contradicted themselves so constantly, however, that the captain and the engineer grew very suspicious, and as the steamer had been used for war service the crew were made prisoners.

At 5.30 A.M. "L 9" reported being chased by aeroplanes in a south-westerly direction. When the fleet was sighted the airmen departed, probably to announce the approach of our ships, which at that time were steaming on a south-westerly course to meet the cruisers. At the same moment " L 11" and "L 23 " came in sight; they had not been able to discover the enemy. At 6 A.M., therefore, when the cruisers had reported the conclusion of the bombardment, Terschelling Bank was made for according to plan. Towards 7.30 A.M. the Naval Corps in Flanders reported that the English ships assembled there had been ordered by wireless, which was intercepted, to return. The English destroyers were to finish coaling and then move on to Dunkirk.

An approach, therefore, on the part of the enemy was not to be looked for from that quarter. The only hope now left was that enemy forces might be encountered off Terschelling. As we drew near to that zone, the Fleet was constantly obliged to evade submarine attacks, but no other enemy forces were met.

The return trip passed without further incident. Two neutral steamers, as well as some smaller vessels were stopped and searched for contraband goods. The enemy, hearing of the advance of our forces, withdrew all his ships from the Belgian coast and made no effort to locate us. It appears from subsequent English statements that the English Fleet had put to sea the day before for one of the usual North Sea expeditions, and it would be interesting to find out whether it could have had an opportunity of crossing our path in the Bight.

When the Seydlitz was docked a hole of 90 sq. m. was found in her, through which about 1,400 tons of water had poured into the ship. Eleven of the men had been killed at their post in the torpedo chamber. In spite of the considerable quantity of ammunition stored there, no further explosion occurred or the disaster would have been far greater.

Early in May the weather conditions were such as to allow of a resumption of the air raids on England. But this favourable phase in the weather was not of so long duration as in the preceding month, which was quite exceptional. Two raids were carried out in which eight airships took part. " L 20 " was lost in the second raid as a strong south-westerly wind had arisen, and the airship, owing to engine trouble, was unable to reach the home coast. The captain, Commander Stabbert, made, therefore, for the Norwegian coast, where he came down with his damaged airship in the neighbourhood of Jäderen, where the crew alighted and were interned. Then ensued a period of short nights which caused a cessation in the airships' raiding activities as the hours of darkness were not enough to afford them sufficient protection, and it was also obvious that latterly the defensive measures had become much more effectual. But the Fleet made good use of the airships for all reconnoitring purposes in connection with important enterprises, which gained in value through cooperation with the U-boats and on which all the more energy had to be expended since the trade-war by the U-boats had been stopped since the end of April.

Just as we were proceeding to Lowestoft a wireless message was received from the Chief of the Naval Staff, to the effect that trade war by U-boats was only to be carried out now in accordance with prize regulations. This was the result of the American protest in the case of the Sussex disaster. As I could not expect the U-boats to carry on a war of that description owing to the heavy casualties that might be expected, I had called back by wireless all the boats engaged in the trade-war, and subsequently received approval of this action in high quarters It was left to me until further notice to employ the U-boats in purely military enterprises. This helped still further to protect the German Bight, as definite areas could now he continuously occupied and we could expect early reports of enemy movements; we also hoped to find opportunities to attack the enemy submarines employed as guard-ships. The experiences of our U-boats confirmed the danger caused by the enemy submarines, which, appearing unexpectedly, had come to be very unpleasant adversaries, and we intended, therefore, to make use of our boats for defence purposes.

* To ascertain its position wireless signals are sent out from the airship, picked up at two different stations, and registered on the map. The position fixed is then transmitted to the airship by wireless. The whole proceeding occupies the shortest space of time, but when several airships are on an expedition together the wireless must be worked most carefully to avoid mutual misunderstandings and mistakes.


  Copyright © 1996-2003 by The War Times Journal at www.wtj.com. All rights reserved.