Battle of Heligoland Bight

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Early this morning a concerted operation of some consequence was attempted against the Germans in the Helgoland Bight … According to the information that has reached the Admiralty so far, the operation has been fortunate and fruitful.
—Press Bureau Statement of 28 August, 1914

The Battle of Heligoland Bight was the first naval action of Great War, fought on 28 August 1914 near the island of Heligoland near the main German naval base at Wilhelmshaven.


In the early weeks of the Great War it was known to the British that the German High Sea Fleet was based in its North Sea ports. On 16 August the British Grand Fleet, supported by Cruiser Force C and the Harwich flotillas, had performed a sweep to within 40 miles of Heligoland, but had not encountered any German shipping. Another sweep was proposed to the Admiralty by three different authorities: On 18 August the Commander-in-Chief, Grand Fleet, Admiral Sir John R. Jellicoe, proposed: "a sweep in force at dawn on August 24th, to within 30 miles of Heligoland, the flotillas leading, covered by cruisers with the battle fleet supporting, and submarines keeping east of longitude 7° 40' E and south of 54° N." Rear-Admiral Arthur H. Christian, commanding a "combined force" based at Harwich, proposed at the same time a sweep to the eastward commencing on a line from Terschelling.

British Torpedo Analysis

The Royal Navy quantised its use of torpedoes during the action thusly.[1]

Fired at Cöln, judged collectively to have 95.8% chance of a hit
Time Firing Ship Range (yds) Enemy Speed (knots) Inclination Result
11:30am Lennox 3,000 20 150
11:45am Legion 5,000 20 90L
9:11am Liberty 6,000 20 90L
1:00pm New Zealand 4,000 0 Hit amidships
1:15pm New Zealand 5,000 very slow Ran under

The claimed "miss under" to New Zealand might be due to the torpedoes being set for 18 feet depth and Koln having a draught of 17.75 feet.

Fired at "4 funnel light cruiser"
Time Firing Ship Range (yds) Enemy Speed (knots) Inclination Result
11:00am Lance 4-5,000 15 70L Missed ahead?
11:00am Lysander 6,000 17 110L
Forenoon Lark 6,000 90R
11:30am Acheron x two 4,500 93L Target
Archer 4,500 20 113L
Attack x two 5,000 113L
Hind x two 4,500 22 110R
Noon Lookout x two 5,000 20 90R

Fired at Mainz
Time Firing Ship Range (yds) Enemy Speed (knots) Inclination Notes/Result
Fearless 5,000 21 90R
Fearless 7,000 21 135R
Defender 4,500 27 110R Believed hit
9:11am Liberty 5,000 20 90L
9:11am Liberty 5,000 20 90L
9:11am Linnet 3,500 0 Hit abaft fore funnel
10:30am Ferret 5,000 25 source
target turned
10:30am Laforey 5,000 10 130R
Laforey 5,000 10 130R hit port quarter[2]
10:43am Laertes 3,500 17 120L H.S., Hit near fore funnel
11:00am Lydiard 4,500 12 90R H.S., hit tween funnels 2&3
11:20am Lance 3,500/
18-20 45L
11:45am Lysander 4,500 20 110L
11:45am Lysander 4,500 20 110L hit engine room
11:45am Southampton 8,500 0
11:56am Ariel 6,000 18 140L Target turned
Noon Lark 4,000 Not stated 90R
Noon Lark 3,000 Not stated 90R hit Stb quarter
Noon Landrail 5,000 6 100L Believed hit
Noon Landrail 5,000 6 100L Believed hit
12:15pm Legion 5,500 22 90L Hit near fore funnel
12:15pm Falmouth 4,000 20 110L
12:20pm Falmouth 5,000 10 90L Believed hit
1:00pm Laurel 800 20 135R Hit under main mast

Firings at other targets
Time Firing Ship Range (yds) Enemy Speed (knots) Inclination Target/Result
7:45am Lance 3,500/
18 100R Ariadne, unclear
7:45am Lydiard 6,000 15 110L Frauenlob, unlikely
8:00am Ferret 5,000 20 90R 2-funnel L.C. turned
8:30am Arethusa 2,500 12 93L Frauenlob hit, H.S. setting
8:30am Arethusa 2,500 12 93L missed 50 yards astern, H.S. setting
9:11am Linnet 14,000 too far away to say
Forenoon Lark 5,000 90R Ariadne, unsure
11:19am Phoenix 4,000 20 90R Light cruiser, unsure


By Admiralty Order, each ship that was engaged in the action was to have the words "Heligoland, August 28th, 1914" painted on her in gold letters "in some convenient place." Additionally, H.M.S. Arethusa was to have a two stanza verse engraved on a brass plate.[3]

See Also


  1. Annual Report of the Torpedo School, 1915. pp. 22-23.
  2. how this hit the port quarter from the given inclination seems puzzling
  3. Admiralty Weekly Order No. 414 of 29 Sep, 1914. Arethusa's inscription is on her page..


  • Corbett, Sir Julian S. (1921). Naval Operations. Volume II. London: Longmans, Green and Co..
  • Goldrick, James (1984). The King's Ships Were At Sea: The War in the North Sea August 1914–February 1916. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-334-2.
  • Naval Staff, Training and Staff Duties Division (1921). Naval Staff Monographs (Historical). Fleet Issue. Volume III. Monograph 6.—Passage of the British Expeditionary Force, August, 1914. Monograph 7.—The Patrol Flotillas at the Commencement of the War. Monograph 11.—The Battle of Heligoland Bight, August 28th, 1914. Monograph 8.—Naval Operations Connected with the Raid on the North-East Coast, December 16th, 1914. Monograph 12:—The Action of Dogger Bank, January 24th, 1915. O.U. 6181 (late C.B. 1585.). Copy No. 127 at The National Archives. ADM 186/610.