27th October 1914: This was a fateful day for the Royal Navy. This is the kernel of this article and the date had its 100th anniversary recently. I will expand on this later.
28th June 1914: The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on this day was the immediate reason given for WW1 but sabre rattling had been going on since the turn of the century and even prior to that “War Signal Stations” were erected around the British Isles to assist with communications. These were manned by Coast Guards with some in the South of Ireland defended by Marines due to subversive activity. In the phoney war books like the “Riddle of the Sands” by Erskine Childers added to the intrigue.
1st August 1914: The move to war was swift and on 1st August 1914 British Naval Reserves were called up. On the 4th August 1914 Britain declared war. The first naval engagement was on the 5th August 1914. The SMS Königin Luise a converted steam ferry with a capacity of 200 mines left the River Ems to lay mines off the River Thames. It was spotted by the destroyers HMS Lance and HMS Landrail. The minelayer, which was outgunned, tried to escape from these newly commissioned destroyers which had 4” guns and a speed of 29 knots. The Lance fired the first shot of the war at sea. The minelayer sank after its crew scuttled her and the destroyers helped rescue survivors aided by the scout cruiser HMS Amphion.
6th August 1914: On this morning Amphion hit a mine which broke her back in the area where the Königin Luise was first spotted on the previous day and became the first British vessel to sink during WW1. Four men from the Königin Luise and four from the Amphion were buried side by side at a graveyard in Suffolk, with full military honours.
9th August 1914: Another first came soon after when the German submarine U15 became disabled close to Scappa Flow and was found by a cruiser squadron which included HMS Birmingham. The U15 was on the surface and was rammed amidships with the loss of all her 25 crew. This was the first submarine lost during warfare.
28th August 1914: The battle of Heligoland Bight became the first confrontation between the British and German Navies. The German cruiser SMS Mainz was sunk followed by the cruisers Ariadne and Köln and a further three limped back to port. No British ships were sunk though one cruiser was badly damaged. The British Admiralty were happy with this result.
5th September 1914: Near St Abbs HMS Pathfinder was found by U21 and became the first naval vessel to be sunk by a torpedo. It sank with the loss of 261 men.
22nd September 1914: The Royal Navy lost three battle cruisers HMS Hogue, HMS Aboukir and HMS Cressey in just over an hour to a single submarine U9 with the loss of 1,459 men, mainly reservists, most of whom were Coast Guards called up to serve on these “obsolete” vessels. See the following two sites: 100th anniversary news item: here on lugnad.ie, and the Belfast Telegraph site which gives details of 31 Irishmen who lost their lives during these sinkings.
11th October 1914: Following this HMS Hawke became a casualty. The Hawke had been in collision with the passenger liner RMS Olympic, see 3D impression of the incident elder sister to the ill-fated RMS Titanic in 1911, necessitating repairs to the Olympic, which borrowed parts from Titanic and delayed her launch. On 11th October the Hawke was in company with HMS Theseus patrolling the North Sea when U9 fired on both of them missing Theseus but hitting Hawke in the area of her magazine. She sank with the loss of 523 men and only 75 survived. Recent research has revealed that 49 of the crew who lost their lives were Ulstermen and only 6 were among the survivors.
- Olympic in dazzle camouflage. It was more difficult to judge the range, course or speed of ships in this guise. Radar had not yet been invented.
- Olympic as passenger ship. It also served as a troop ship during WW1 carrying 6,000 American troops across the Atlantic each trip and earned the name “Old Reliable”.
17th October 1914: Four German torpedo boats were sunk by a British destroyer flotilla off Texel. Since the battle of Heligoland Bight the bigger battleships remained in port in Germany and only submarines and smaller craft were deployed
27th October 1914: For the present I will skip the 27th October 1914 and will return to it at the end of this article to explain the significance of the title and the justification for it.
31st October 1914: HMS Hermes was sunk close to Calais by U27. This vessel had been converted to a seaplane carrier.
Jutland – An illustration of the British dreadnoughts in the foreground heading towards the German fleet in a formation reminiscent of days of sail.
1st November 1914: HMS Good Hope and HMS Monmouth fell foul of SMS Scharnhorst under the command of Vice-Admiral Von Spee off the coast of Chile. Both ships were lost with all hands, 1,570 men. This included Rear-Admiral Sir Christopher Craddock. It was after this event that the Admiralty reconsidered the use of Coast Guards as reservists. They were needed now to man communication sites, not least in Ireland to observe submarine activity.
26th November 1914: HMS Bulwalk a pre-dreadnought battleship blew up with up to 700 deaths. The immediate reason for the explosion was not known but it was later thought that overheating of cordite charges placed adjacent to a boiler was the cause.
8th of December 1914: The British Admiralty dispatched a naval force to exact revenge from Vice-Admiral Graf Von Spee. HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible arrived in the Falklands on the 7th joining many other British cruisers and support vessels. The Germans might have trapped them in port but they were spotted and chased. Only two German vessels of the eight which started the battle escaped. Von Spee’s Sharnhorst was lost with all hands of 765 men and 1,871 perished altogether.
1st January 1915: HMS Formidable was hit by two torpedoes off Start Point. There were only 199 survivors from a crew of 750.
We now go forward to the main naval battle of WW1 the battle of Jutland. Please look at the enclosed link.
“The Battle of Jutland from History Place: Battle of Jutland
The Main Story:
I have portrayed many of the naval engagements and tragedies during 1914 to set the context of what happened on 27th October. I have also included the Battle of Jutland where the dreadnoughts faced off for the one and only time. All of this gives us an insight into Jellico’s reason for covering up the loss of a dreadnought so early in the war together with other losses and tragedies. The British were the supreme naval power at the start of the war with 150 vessels to call upon but submarines, mines and later air-power were to change the role of the battleship.
SS Berlin was built as a trans-Atlantic passenger liner in 1908 but she was converted to become a fast mine layer with a capacity of 200 mines in August 1914. In late September she set off from Williamshaven for her first mission but had to turn back after spotting British warships. On the 16th October she set off to lay mines off the Firth of Clyde. Due to unlit Irish Lights and heavy British wireless traffic its Captain thought better of proceeding close to the Clyde. Berlin laid her 200 mines in a V shape near Tory Island and Lough Swilly and left the area proceeding towards Norway. The New York Times reported on the 5th December that the Berlin was interned at Trondheim, Norway. It had arrived almost empty of coal and when it overstayed its 24 hours of grace was interned for the remainder of the war.
Lough Swilly became the temporary home of the Grand Fleet while Scappa Flow was having its poor defences against submarines strengthened. On the morning of 27th October 1914 Vice Admiral Warrender took the Second Battle Squadron on a gunnery exercise. This comprised of super-dreadnoughts Centurion, Ajax, Audacious, King George V, Orion, Monarch and Thunderer.
At 08:45 approx. the Audacious while turning heard a dull thud. It had been struck by a mine laid by Berlin. The dreadnought was a very well equipped and heavily armoured battleship but the mine exposed her weak underbelly. The mine had struck just forward of her after engine room bulkhead and she started to flood. Measures were taken to counter the flooding but the twisting of crossbeams meant that watertight doors could not be used.
By 10:00 the central engine room was under 5 feet of water. All but 250 essential crew were evacuated. By 14:00 RMS Olympic which was enroute to Glasgow attempted to tow her. The tow parted and further attempts were made by HMS Liverpool and the collier Thornhill.
By 18:15 the final 50 crew were taken off and Audacious was left to her fate. At 21:00 there was a large explosion followed by two others and the vessel sank.
In a desperate departure from time-honoured British practice Admiral Jellico urged the Admiralty and Parliament to keep the sinking a secret. The passengers of Olympic who only numbered around 250 were asked to keep the secret before they were allowed to disembark.
Until the end of the war the Audacious appeared in all shipping lists and movements. There had been no fatalities and it would have been very demoralising to the British public to admit the loss of such a vessel. In fact there was one casualty on the Liverpool who had been assisting with trying to tow and lifesaving. During the capsize and explosion a piece of deck plate hit and killed Petty Officer Burgess on the deck of the Liverpool.
Apart from the many thousands of naval personnel and merchantmen, fishermen and passengers who perished during WW1 please spare a thought for this man who was buried in a local cemetery in Buncrana, Co Donegal beside the naval base of Lough Swilly.
On this day they lost a state-of-the-art super “dreadnought” battleship the Audacious to a mine 20 miles NNE of Tory Island on the NW Coast of Ireland. They took the decision that this news had to be suppressed. The phrase “all is fair in love and war” comes to mind but this embarrassment would have been immense and could have been pivotal to their fortunes only weeks into WW1. Admiral Jellico knew that it would be unacceptable to the British public. His opposite number on learning of the deception had no quarrel with it. Some of the passengers on Olympic were American and owed no allegiance to the British and in due course pictures and even footage of the sinking appeared in America. By November the German Navy were convinced of the sinking.
14th November 1918: Only days after the end of the war the following appeared in the Times of London:
A Delayed Announcement.
The Secretary of the Admiralty makes the following announcement:-
H.M.S. Audacious sank after striking a mine off the North Irish coast on October 27, 1914.
This was kept secret at the urgent request of the Commander-in-Chief, Grand Fleet, and the Press loyally refrained from giving it any publicity.
Audacious Audacious sinking
- New York Times – 1914,
- Times of London – 1914,
- Wikipedia – various,
- Illustrated London News – 1916,
- The Grand Fleet, Jellico -1919,
- Ships of the Royal Navy, Colledge – 2010,
- Britain at War Magazine – 2014,
- Belfast Telegraph – 2014.
- “Königin Luise mine layer” from Jan Lettens on wrecksite.eu with “copyright unknown”
- “Amphion” photo Q43259 Imperial War Museum collection 2500
- “Olympic in Dazzle” Wikimedia Commons File:RMS Olympic in WWI dazzle paint.jpg
- “Olympic in New York” Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ggbain-09363
- “Post Card of Audacious” from wrecksite.eu from “personal collection” of Nick Chipchase.
- “Audacious Sinking” photograph taken by Mabel and Edith Smith of Derby, passengers on RMS Olympic, released to Wikimedia Commons by Nigel Aspdin, owner of original photographs
- “Jutland” was published in the Illustrated London News depiction from 1916 showing the British Grand Fleet