Major Royal Navy defeat in 1914?

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AdmiralSemmes
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Major Royal Navy defeat in 1914?

Post by AdmiralSemmes » Wed Sep 16, 2020 9:59 am

In December 1914, the High Seas Fleet launched a daring raid on the North Sea coast of England, bombarding Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby. This was a particularly unwelcome event for the Royal Navy, coming at a time when about half of the battlecruiser fleet was on the other side of the Atlantic, and only one battle squadron, the 2nd, was at Scapa Flow.

Room 40 had intercept the message sending the battlecruisers to sea, but failed to do the same for the message for the dreadnoughts. When the Royal Navy sortied in response, the only capital ships present were Beatty's four battlecruisers, and Warrender's six dreadnoughts in 2nd Battle Squadron (he should have had eight, but Audacious had been lost to a mine and Thunderer was under repair).

Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl, commanding the High Seas Fleet, had fourteen dreadnoughts and eight pre-dreadnoughts at his disposal, but was under strict orders from the Kaiser not to risk an engagement in which he did not have a significant advantage or if risk to the dreadnoughts would take place. The High Seas Fleet actually met the destroyer screen of 2nd Battle Squadron, but Ingenohl decided this was the vanguard of the Grand Fleet, and declined battle.

Had Ingenohl kept going, he would have had a 2.3:1 advantage over Warrender. What the best and worst case scenarios for 2nd Battle Squadron in this engagement? While this will likely not affect the blockade, how could a serious British defeat affect the conflict?

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RF
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Re: Major Royal Navy defeat in 1914?

Post by RF » Wed Sep 16, 2020 11:12 am

Overall the RN had a sufficient lead over the HSF that any defeat here would not alter the course of the war.

As I see it, the two key questions would be:

1) Would the naval blockade of Germany continue? Clearly the answer is yes

2) Would Germany be capable of substantial amphibious landings on the east coast of England or Scotland? The answer is no.
''Give me a Ping and one Ping only'' - Sean Connery.

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wadinga
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Re: Major Royal Navy defeat in 1914?

Post by wadinga » Sun Oct 11, 2020 2:54 pm

Hello AdmiralSemmes,

Firstly I must take exception at describing the raid as "daring". Attacking an enemy stronghold like Zeebrugge or St Nazaire is daring. Killing old ladies in their beds, and babies in their cots is disreputable and dishonourable work for battlecruisers. Scarborough and Whitby were seaside resorts and this raid was the precursor for the Zeppelin "terror raids" supposed to turn British civilians against their government, and force it to withdraw from the War. Even Hartlepool was not exactly a tough nut, even if it was defended. Mark Marsay's superbly-researched book Bombardment! "The Day the East Coast Died" details the horrific impact on those who survived the loss of loved ones or even came through themselves with their own injuries. These attacks unleashed the principle of "distant war" against civilians which evolved through the aerial assault on England in 1917 and reached culmination in the efforts of the Luftwaffe, RAF and USAAF against Warsaw, Rotterdam, Berlin, Dresden and finally Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The British Admiralty assumed lack of mention of the full High Seas Fleet in the decrypt meant they would not deploy and instructed Jellicoe to send only Warrender in support. (Oops- A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing). If Warrender had blundered into von Ingelhohl, he could have been defeated and something like parity might have been achieved, but as RF has suggested, would it have changed anything? It seems unlikely that convoys of blockade runners bringing war supplies would have had safe escort by the High Seas Fleet around the North of Scotland. The fiasco of Gallipoli shows how difficult opposed seaborne landings are without specialised support. Would the Germans have sailed into the Channel to disrupt the Army's lifeline? Fleet action in constrained waters would be a risky business and it's a long way back to Wilhelmshaven. Geography was always against Germany. She could dominate the Baltic, but remained cut off from the Atlantic and the World. Only an invasion of Norway as Raeder proposed and got in WWII would have given Germany a better geographical base, but although the Kaiser liked to go there on holiday, he doesn't seem to have considered adding it to his empire.

Also there were more capital ships completing in UK yards than German, and such near-parity would be short lived.

Since Warrender's was the most powerful and fastest battle squadron in the Grand Fleet, he could most likely have turned and escaped with some losses once he realised he was over-matched. Embarrassing to lay a trap and yet get bitten instead, but survivable. Alternatively he wasn't the sharpest pencil in the box and might have done an Arbuthnot/Cradock. In reality since von Inglehohl started running away at very first contact 05:40, hours before Hipper even reached his objective, and didn't even warn his subordinate he suspected the Grand Fleet was between his battlecruisers and home, standing and fighting, unless he was confident he had the numbers, seems unlikely. If the two forces had come to grips, it seems probable to me the the High Seas Fleet would have headed for home anyway, before numbers could be counted, and the Pre-Dreadnoughts left trailing astern to fend for themselves in a stern chase as Blucher was at Dogger Bank. Hipper would have been faced with a difficult choice: riding to the rescue with an attack from behind or circumspectly circling around the demolition of the "5 minute ships".

As it was, the onset of typical North Sea bad weather and visibility frustrated both sides' hopes.

The Major Royal Navy defeat of 1914 was Coronel (the first since 1812), and German celebrations were shortlived when von Spee was annihilated at minimal cost shortly afterwards. The coastal bombardments were largely conceived as morale boosters to prove the German Navy was not cowed, but you can only play "knock up Ginger" so many times before getting caught out, especially if the enemy can hear your squeaky shoes.

All the best

wadinga
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Mostlyharmless
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Re: Major Royal Navy defeat in 1914?

Post by Mostlyharmless » Mon Oct 12, 2020 1:27 pm

The consequences may be more significant than some posters suspect. Italy decided to join WW1 to be on the winning side following Austro-Hungarian defeats in Galicia. If the control of the North Sea seems disputed in early 1915, Italy may decide to wait and see. It may be clear by mid 1915 that the RN has regained decisive superiority but after the Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive of May 1915, it will also be clear that Austro-Hungary is not about to collapse. Italian neutrality will put a hole in the blockade and will free up some Central Power's armies.

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wadinga
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Re: Major Royal Navy defeat in 1914?

Post by wadinga » Mon Oct 12, 2020 5:51 pm

Hello Mostly Harmless,

Intriguing strategic speculation but surely the Italian decision was more about exploiting perceived Austro-Hungarian weakness and the potential for land-grabbing around Trieste? The treaty with Germany and A-H was solely for defensive purposes and designed to avoid further conflict with A-H after previous embarrassing drubbings.

Even as a continued neutral there would be little benefit to the Central Powers and little loss to the Entente, although the A-H armies would have the chance to suffer more serious defeats elsewhere. If the Entente were to be completely defeated, what would stop A-H and the Ottomans dividing up the Medi amongst themselves? However, Italy joining the Entente suggested there might be a possibility of starting Mare Nostrum after getting back Italian speaking areas from the dissolved Empires. Italy had made a start against the Ottomans in Tripolitania in 1911-12.

Back in the North Sea, Max Hastings in "Catastrophe" reveals von Hipper, in his diary, thought the bombardment of coastal towns a footling gesture, not a serious operation and at odds with the gentlemanly code of his profession.

It has been hypothesised:
The consequences may be more significant than some posters suspect.
Indeed. Suppose a chasing Warrender, snapping at von Ingenohl's heels, had sunk a trailing SMS Schlieswig-Holstein in 1914.......Adolf could not have started WWII with her at Westerplatte! :shock:

All the best

wadinga
"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"

paul.mercer
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Re: Major Royal Navy defeat in 1914?

Post by paul.mercer » Wed Oct 14, 2020 8:43 am

Hi Wadinga,
I think we are going to have to add your last statement "but you can only play "knock up Ginger" so many times before getting caught out, especially if the enemy can hear your squeaky shoes". To the one about Nelson and Rodney were "too slow to even catch a cold" to the classics of this forum!
I have often wondered what the outcome would have been if the the whole Grand Fleet and High Seas Fleet had met up and fought it out - a wipe out for the Germans?

AdmiralSemmes
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Re: Major Royal Navy defeat in 1914?

Post by AdmiralSemmes » Thu Oct 15, 2020 11:15 am

wadinga wrote:
Sun Oct 11, 2020 2:54 pm
Firstly I must take exception at describing the raid as "daring". Attacking an enemy stronghold like Zeebrugge or St Nazaire is daring. Killing old ladies in their beds, and babies in their cots is disreputable and dishonourable work for battlecruisers. Scarborough and Whitby were seaside resorts and this raid was the precursor for the Zeppelin "terror raids" supposed to turn British civilians against their government, and force it to withdraw from the War. Even Hartlepool was not exactly a tough nut, even if it was defended. Mark Marsay's superbly-researched book Bombardment! "The Day the East Coast Died" details the horrific impact on those who survived the loss of loved ones or even came through themselves with their own injuries. These attacks unleashed the principle of "distant war" against civilians which evolved through the aerial assault on England in 1917 and reached culmination in the efforts of the Luftwaffe, RAF and USAAF against Warsaw, Rotterdam, Berlin, Dresden and finally Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I see what you mean, it was a very poor choice of words.

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