Battle of Dover Strait

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The Battle of Dover Strait was a small forces night action fought October 26-27, 1916 in the Dover Strait.

On 24 October 1916 Vice Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon, commanding the Dover Patrol, was warned that the German naval forces in Flanders had been reinforced by a flotilla of destroyers, meaning that an attack on either the anti-U-boat barrage across the Dover Straits or cross channel shipping was possible. Bacon thought it unlikely that the Germans would attack the Straits because no troops were transported at night but that an attack on shipping in the Downs, an area off the north east coast of Kent, was likely.[1]

He had at Dunkirk the flotilla leader H.M.S. Swift, four modern Laforey class destroyers on loan from the Harwich Force and four old destroyers, called 30 knotters because of their design speed. Four more Laforey class destroyers were at Deal, defending the Downs, where two old torpedo boats were permanently stationed. Six Tribal class destroyers, two 30 knotters, and a "P" Boat were at Dover. The Tribal class H.M.S. Zulu and two "P" boats were protecting the shipping traffic. The 30-knotter H.M.S. Flirt was guarding the drifters on the anti-submarine barrage.[2]

The light cruisers H.M.S. Attentive and Carysfort were also at Dover, but the former’s boilers were being cleaned and her crew had been granted night leave. The latter was due to go to Dunkirk after dawn and could be ready to for sea in two hours.[3]

The Tribals were assigned to the Dover Patrol because of their poor endurance. The "P" or Patrol boats were a wartime design with a low freeboard, a sharp turning circle and a deliberate resemblance to submarines, which it was hoped would allow them to close on U-boats and sink them by gunfire or ramming.[4]

That night 24 German torpedo boats, comparable to British destroyers, put to sea, commanded by Kapitän Andreas Michelsen, commodore of the High Sea Fleet's flotillas. They were divided into two flotillas, each split into two half flotillas. The Third Flotilla consisted of the Fifth (seven ships) and sixth Half Flotillas (six ships), each armed with three 4 inch guns and six torpedo tubes. Ninth Flotilla was made up of the 17th (six ships) and the 18th Half Flotillas (5 ships), each armed with three 4 inch or 22 pounder guns and six torpedo tubes. The Ninth Flotilla was to attack the transport line between Dover and Calais and the Third the drifters and the barrage. Each Half Flotilla would have its own area of operation.[5]

H.M.S. Flirt, supporting the drifters, saw but did not identify German torpedo boats at 2135. The Germans attack on the drifters lasted from 2215-2320. Flirt saw firing at 2215 and her captain Lieutenant Richard Kellett headed towards the action at full speed. At 2235, Flirt sighted the badly damaged drifter Waveney. Kellet stopped his ship nearby and lowered her whaler. Flirt was then overwhelmed by gunfire from several German ships and sank with the loss of all hands except the men in the whaler. .[6]

At 2230, the attack was reported to Dover by Commander W. H. Owen, R.N.R. on the yacht Template:UK-Ombra. The six Tribals, at Dover were ordered to put to sea at 2250. Five minutes later, the four Laforey class destroyers at Dunkirk received the same instruction. The Laforey class ships in the Downs were supposed to remain where they were but instead headed for Dunkirk because of two signalling errors. Fortunately for the British the Germans did not attack the Downs.[7]

The Germans attacked the transport line between 2300 and 2330 but sank only one of the 57 ships crossing the Channel, the transport Queen, whose crew were first allowed to board her lifeboats. The attack on the drifters resulted in the sinking of six out of 28 drifters as well as H.M.S. Flirt. The others managed to escape into the darkness.[8]

The Tribals failed to concentrate but came into contact with the Ninth Flotilla as it withdrew from its attack on the transport line. H.M.S. Nubian came under heavy fire at close range. She attempted to ram the last German torpedo boat but was instead torpedoed in the bow. She was put out of action and had to be towed back to port.

H.M.S. Amazon, which had become detached from the other Tribals, encountered some destroyers that her captain assumed were Laforey class ships. They were Germans, who opened fire, putting her after gun and two boilers out of action. They also damaged a trawler.

H.M.S. Viking, Mohawk and Tartar engaged the Germans but a shell hit Mohawk and jammed her helm. Tartar followed her and Viking had to change course to avoid a collision, with the result that contact was lost. The Dunkirk destroyers saw gun flashes but were too far away to get into action. This action showed that the barrage had limited effect, as 14 British destroyers had crossed it without being damaged.[9]

Nubian was too badly damaged to be repaired. On 8 November her sister ship H.M.S. Zulu had her stern blown off by a mine. The two ships were put together by Chatham Dockyard and the combined ship was commissioned as H.M.S. Zubian on 7 June 1917. She was credited with sinking the U-boat UC 50 on 7 January 1918, but later research suggests that she attacked but did not sink the homeward bound UC 72.

The Germans sank six drifters, a trawler, an empty transport ship and a torpedo boat and badly damaged two destroyers and several auxiliaries, suffering only minor damage to Template:DE-G91 in return. British human losses were forty-five dead, four wounded and ten captured. The dead included all the crew of Flirt, except for the boat party that had been lowered just before she was sunk to pick up survivors from the drifters. The German success was helped by their previous inactivity, which made the British complacent.[10]

See Also


  1. Naval Staff. Naval Staff Monograph. Volume VI. Monograph 35.—The Dover Command. p. 69.
  2. Naval Staff. Naval Staff Monograph. Volume VI. Monograph 35.—The Dover Command. p. 69-70.
  3. Naval Staff. Naval Staff Monograph. Volume VI. Monograph 35.—The Dover Command. p. 70.
  4. Naval Staff. Naval Staff Monograph. Volume VI. Monograph 35.—The Dover Command. p. 69-70.
  5. Naval Operations. Vol. IV. p. 52-56.
  6. Naval Staff. Naval Staff Monograph. Volume VI. Monograph 35.—The Dover Command. p. 71-72.
  7. Naval Operations. Vol. IV. p. 57-62.
  8. Faulkner. The Great War at Sea. p. 113
  9. Naval Staff. Naval Staff Monograph. Volume VI. Monograph 35.—The Dover Command. p. 82.
  10. Karau. The Naval Flank of the Western Front: The German MarineKorps Flandern, 1914-1918. p. 77-79


  • Naval Staff, Training and Staff Duties Division (1922). Naval Staff Monographs (Historical): Fleet Issue. Volume VI. The Dover Command. OU5413D (late CB917D). Copy at The National Archives.[1]
  • Faulkner, Marcus (2015). "The Great War at Sea: A Naval Atlas". Barnsley: Seaforth.
  • Karau, Mark D (2003). "The Naval Flank of the Western Front: The German MarineKorps Flandern, 1914-1918". Barnsley Seaforth.
  • Newbolt, Henry (1928). Naval Operations. Vol. IV. London: Longmans, Green and Co..
  • Newbolt, Henry (1931). Naval Operations. Vol. V. London: Longmans, Green and Co..