Scarborough Raid

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The Scarborough Raid was a tip-and-run bombardment by battlecruisers of the German fleet against British East Coast targets in the early morning hours of 16 December, 1914.


In mid-November, 1914 the commander of the German High Sea Fleet, Admiral von Ingenohl, under pressure for action from his subordinate Hipper, decided to bombard the British coastal towns of Scarborough and Hartlepool as soon as he received the permission of the German Emperor, Wilhelm II. In the aftermath of the German naval victory at the Battle of Coronel on 1 November, Wilhelm approved the idea. The Imperial German Navy Admiralstab ordered that before the operation could commence every ship of Scouting Group I had to be available. The bombardment was consequently delayed till mid-December because of machinery problems with the battlecruiser Von der Tann.[1]

On 8 December the British victory at the Battle of the Falkland Islands prompted von Ingenohl to back up the bombardment force by taking the entire High Sea Fleet to sea, an intention he decided to conceal from the German Emperor. The well-publicised presence of the British battle cruisers Invincible and Inflexible at the Falklands lowered the British numerical superiority in the North Sea, and von Ingenohl wanted to act before they returned to the Grand Fleet. At Vize-Admiral Reinhard Scheer's suggestion, the older German pre-dreadnoughts were left stationed in the Baltic Sea so as to negate the need for a potentially suspicious transit through the Kiel Canal. The submarine U 27 was sent to reconnoitre Scarborough and Hartlepool, and reported weak defences and no mine fields.[2]

Despite the German Navy's precautions, the British Royal Navy's Room 40 was able to deduce from intercepted wireless messages that the Germans intended to send out Hipper Scouting Groups, but not that von Ingenohl would be following with the rest of the High Sea Fleet.[3] On 11 December the Admiralty informed Jellicoe that the Germans:

can never again have such a good opportunity for successful offensive operations as at present, and you will no doubt consider how best to conserve and prepare your forces in the interval, so as to have the maximum number possible always ready and fresh. For the present the patrols to prevent contraband passing are of small importance.[4]

Jellicoe passed the warning on to the commander of the British battle cruisers, Vice-Admiral David Beatty, on 12 December: "There is an idea at Head Quarters that the Germans may move during the next week or two … "[5]

At 23:40 on 14 December Jellicoe was informed:

Good information has been received showing that a German cruiser squadron with destroyers will leave the Jade on Tuesday morning early and return on Wednesday night. It is apparent from our information that the battleships are very unlikely to come out. The enemy will have time to reach our coast. Send at once, leaving tonight, the Battle Cruiser Squadron and Light Cruiser Squadron supported by a Battle Squadron, preferably the Second. At dawn on Wednesday they should be at some point where they can intercept the enemy on his return. Tyrwhitt and his light cruisers will try to get in touch with the enemy off the British coast and shadow him, keeping the Admiral informed. From our information the German cruiser squadron will probably consist of four battle cruisers and five light cruisers and there will probably be three flotillas of destroyers.[6]

The Raid

Konteradmiral Franz Hipper's force of S.M.S. Seydlitz (flag), S.M.S. Moltke, S.M.S. Von der Tann. S.M.S. Derfflinger, S.M.S. Blücher, four light cruisers and two destroyer flotillas sailed on 15 December.

It was to be intercepted at Dogger Bank on its return home by a British force consisting of Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty's four battlecruisers, H.M.S. Lion (flag), Tiger, Queen Mary and New Zealand, Vice Admiral Sir George Warrender's Second Battle Squadron, the four ships of the Third Cruiser Squadron, the five ships of the First Light Cruiser Squadron and seven ships from the Fourth Destroyer Flotilla. The Third Battle Squadron consisted of the three surviving dreadnoughts of the King George V Class and the three available dreadnoughts of the Orion Class. H.M.S. Thunderer was missing because she was undergoing a refit.[7]

A line of eight submarines was placed along the German route. As the Germans were expected to have more destroyers, Jellicoe requested the support of the Harwich Force of light cruisers and destroyers. However, its four light cruisers and twenty-three destroyers were ordered only to be off Yarmouth at daylight, leaving it 100 miles in a straight line and 115 by swept channels from the rendezvous point. Two more destroyers were detached on a scouting mission.[8]

This force was more than adequate to deal with that of Hipper. However, the British were unaware that he was being supported by fourteen dreadnoughts and the eight newest pre-dreadnoughts of the High Sea Fleet under its C.-in-C., Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl. The Admiralty had refused to allow Jellicoe to take his full fleet to sea, thus giving the Germans an opportunity to reduce or even eliminate the Royal Navy's numerical advantage by engaging a detachment of the Grand Fleet.[9]

At 0520 the destroyer H.M.S. Lynx encountered a German torpedo boat. A confused action followed in which Lynx, Ambuscade and Hardy were damaged. Two of Hardy's crew were killed and 15 wounded. The British sighted a light cruiser at 7:10 and then three light cruisers when the visibility improved 40 minutes later. They then retired at full speed, losing sight of the enemy at 0835.[10]

If Ingenohl had continued on his planned course, he would have been 30-40 miles north west of Warrender's squadron by 0730. However, he changed course to south east at 0530 and headed home, wanting to avoid an attack by torpedo craft in the dark. He also feared that the destroyers might be the screen of the full Grand Fleet. His orders from the Kaiser were to not risk major losses and to avoid action outside the German Bight.[11]

Hipper had divided his force into two. S.M.S. Derfflinger and Von der Tann bombarded Scarborough for half an hour, starting from about 0800, whilst the light cruiser Kolberg laid mines off Filey, eight miles south. The battlecruisers then moved sixteen miles north to Whitby, firing about fifty rounds from 0900. Though Admiral Reinhard Scheer later wrote that the Germans believed that there was a gun battery at Scarborough,[12] neither port was undefended and were thus not legitimate targets.[13]

Hartlepool, however, was defended by three 6-in guns and a flotilla consisting of the scout cruiser H.M.S. Patrol, four destroyers and a submarine. Patrol and the destroyer H.M.S. Doon were damaged, with casualties of four dead and seven wounded and three dead and six wounded respectively. Casualties on land were 86 civilians and nine soldiers killed and 424 civilians and 12 soldiers wounded. Moltke and Blücher were both damaged by the Hartlepool shore batteries.[14] Seventeen people were killed and 99 wounded at Scarborough. Two people were killed at Whitby.[15]

Jellicoe sent the Third Battle Squadron of eight King Edward VII Class pre-dreadnoughts from Rosyth to a point 30 miles east of Berwick in case the Germans headed north. It was already heading to sea in order to carry out gunnery practice off the Firth of Forth.[16]

The Germans had earlier laid minefields off the Tyne and the Humber, leaving a 20 mile gap between them. Warrender and Beatty were to make for the southern end. Beatty, however, was already too far north to pass to the south of the southwest Patch of the Dogger Bank, where the water depth was as little as seven fathoms and there were several wrecks. He therefore had to steer to the north, meaning that he and Warrender's forces were out of sight of each other from 1030 onwards.[17]

At 1100, the British and Germans were about 100 miles apart and heading towards each other with good visibility and calm seas. The British had four battlecuisers and six dreadnoughts between Hipper's four battlecruisers and their bases and expected to be in action about noon, assuming that the weather held.[18]

At just after 1100, however, a breeze and drizzling rain started. The wind was soon blowing hard from the west, along with driving rain squalls. Visibility was reduced to less than a mile.[19]

Around 1115, the light cruiser H.M.S. Nottingham briefly spotted an unidentified vessel to the south west, which seemed to be steering north west. About 15 minutes later, the light cruiser H.M.S. Southampton spotted what she identified as being a German 'armoured cruiser, two or three light cruisers and numerous destroyers.' They were actually the light cruisers S.M.S. Stralsund, Strassburg and Graudenz and the First and Ninth German Flotillas.[20]

The Germans opened fire and Southampton replied, with H.M.S. Birmingham supporting her. The choppy sea conditions meant that the fire of both sides was ineffective. About 1150, Nottingham came within sight of Beatty's flagship, which ordered her to resume her station. This signal was made to the entire First Light Cruiser Squadron instead of just to Nottingham, with the result that Southampton and Birmingham broke off the action. Beatty knew that the Germans had been 100 miles away at Hartlepool at 0850, so could not be to the east of his force. He therefore continued to head west.[21]

At 1205, Warrender's flagship H.M.S. King George V spotted enemy cruisers and destroyers, which were the same ones that Southampton had engaged. The weather was too bad to engage them and they were faster than his cruisers, so he lost contact after just under 30 minutes. He resumed his previous course at 1240. Meanwhile, Beatty had changed course to east south east at 1215 after being informed by the Admiralty that Warrender had contacted the enemy. Without this change of course he probably would have encountered Hipper about 1300.[22]

Beatty received another signal from the Admiralty at 1345, informing him of Hipper's position and speed at 1215. He therefore headed east at full speed. However, at 1425 he was warned that the High Sea Fleet was to the east and just after 1500 that Hipper had changed course. By 1545, it was obvious that Beatty could not bring the enemy to action before dark, so Warrender ordered him to end the pursuit.[23]

Commodore (S) Roger Keyes, commanding the Harwich submarines, was at sea in the destroyer H.M.S. Lurcher. On learning of the German raid he sent his other destroyer, H.M.S. Firedrake to ask for instruction since he was out of radio transmission range. He then set about collecting his eight submarines, one of which was French. The bad weather conditions meant that they had lost touch with each other and by 1700 he had found only E 10, E 11, E 15 and the French Archimède. He had received orders from the Admiralty at 1535 to attack the High Sea Fleet on its return to base, so positioned his four available boats accordingly. Only E 11, placed at the mouth of the River Weser saw the enemy. She fired at the two leading German dreadnoughts but they were zigzagging and the poor sea conditions caused her to roll, with the result that her torpedoes ran too deep. She tried to attack the third ship but had to dive after the dreadnought headed straight for her.[24]


The Admiralty moved Beatty's battlecruisers and the First Light Cruiser Squadron to Rosyth to join the Third Battle Squadron and the Third Cruiser Squadron in order that they would have more chance of intercepting another German raid. [25]

The fact that the Germans had attacked Britain and escaped caused great anger amongst the British population. However, the civilian casualties gave the British a propaganda victory, which was used in Army recruitment posters. In naval terms, both sides missed an opportunity to inflict significant losses on the enemy. For the Germans, this was their best such chance of the war. The raid inflicted little military damage on Britain.

See Also


  1. The King's Ships Were At Sea. p. 191.
  2. The King's Ships Were At Sea. pp. 190-191.
  3. The King's Ships Were At Sea. p. 191.
  4. Admiralty to C-in-C Grand Fleet. 11 December, 1914. Sent 00:20. Naval Staff Monograph (Historical). Volume XII. p. 214. Quoted in Goldrick. King's Ships. p. 191.
  5. The Jellicoe Papers. I. p. 105.
  6. Beesly. p. 51. A "précis of [the] original telegram" is given in the Staff Monograph. p. 189. The time for the message is taken from that version.
  7. Naval Staff Monographs. Volume III. p.177.
  8. Naval Staff Monographs. Volume III. p.178.
  9. Halpern. "A Naval History of World War I". p. 41.
  10. Naval Staff Monographs. Volume III. p.179-80.
  11. Naval Staff Monographs. Volume III. p.181.
  12. Scheer. "Germany's High Sea Fleet in the World War". p. 70.
  13. Naval Operations. Volume II. pp. 31-32.
  14. Naval Operations. Volume II. p. 35.
  15. Naval Staff Monographs. Volume III. p.183 note 4.
  16. Naval Staff Monographs. Volume III. p.184.
  17. Naval Staff Monographs. Volume III. p.184-85.
  18. From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow. Volume II. p. 138.
  19. Naval Staff Monographs. Volume III. p.184-85.
  20. Naval Staff Monographs. Volume III. p.186 and Note 5.
  21. Naval Staff Monographs. Volume III. p.186-87.
  22. Naval Staff Monographs. Volume III. p.187.
  23. Naval Staff Monographs. Volume III. p.187-88 .
  24. Naval Staff Monographs. Volume III. p.188 .
  25. From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow. Volume II. p. 148.


  • 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.
  • Halpern, Paul (1994). A Naval History of World War I. London: UCL Press.
  • Marder, Arthur Jacob (1965). From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, The Royal Navy in the Fisher Era, 1904-1919: The War Years : To the Eve of Jutland.. Volume II. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Naval Staff, Training and Staff Duties Division (July, 1921). Naval Staff Monographs. (Fleet Issue.) Volume III. O.U. 6181 (late C.B. 1585). Copy No 127 at The National Archives. ADM 186/610.
  • Scheer, Reinhard (1920) Germany's High Sea Fleet in the World War. London: Cassell and Company.