Battle of Heligoland Bight the Light Forces Action

Battle of Heligoland Bight

World War 1 Naval Combat

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Battle of Heligoland Bight Map 1 Map of opening phase of the Battle of Heligoland Bight.  The idea was to use submarines to lure the German patrols further out to sea and them use the Harwich Force to sweep in behind them and cut them off.  The plan had some success in that E-9 was encountered but the plan to cut off the German warships did not work out as planed.

The first contact between the opposing forces was between the German torpedo boat G-194 and the British submarine E-9 at 0526. E-9 fired and missed with a torpedo as G-194 attempted to ram her. G-194 reported the presence of the submarine and the V Torpedo Boat Flotilla was sent from Heligoland to hunt for submarines.

Destroyers from the First Destroyer Flotilla sighted G-194 shortly before 0650. HMS Laurel and the other three destroyers of her division and a running fight to the SE started. It took some time for signals of this incident to reach Real Admiral Franz Hipper (via Read Admiral Maass in SMS Cln) in Wilhelmshaven who had overall responsibility for defence of the Bight. He thought that only British destroyers were involved so ordered the light cruisers SMS Stettin and Frauenlob to assist but no further reinforcements were sent.

Tyrwhitt on the light cruiser HMS Arethusa had become concerned that HMS Laurel and her division were becoming detached from his force so after a failed attempt to recall them he set off after them as the German V Torpedo Boat Flotilla was arriving for their expected submarine hunt. Unfortunately this meant that the German warships had only steam for enough steam to hunt submarines and not for a fast surface battle. On finding themselves facing enemy destroyers they retreated.

The British Third Destroyer Flotilla led HMS Arethusa were getting the better of the action with the German S-13 and V-1 worst damaged and although heading towards the batteries on Heligoland the mists prevented the German shore based artillery from assisting. The Third Destroyer Flotilla led by the light cruiser HMS Fearless was keeping a parallel course to the north but was not in range to take part in the action.

By now the pursuit had reached the second line of German ships consisting of minesweepers and was D-8 soon under fire from British forces. Fortunately for the battered German warships at 0757 the light cruisers SMS Frauenlob and Stettin arrived and the British changed course to engage these new more dangerous opponents.

Fearless quickly hit Stettin knocking out one of her guns and forcing the German cruiser to turn away towards Heligoland having successfully taken the pressure off the German destroyers. Fearless did not follow, as her orders were to continue the sweep of Heligoland Bight.

Meanwhile Arethusa and Frauenlob were engaging each other with the German cruiser gaining the upper hand over the new British warship. Arethusa suffered two 4inch guns out of action through jamming and another from damage as well as suffering wireless damage and engine room flooding that would affect her speed. Frauenlob was also hit about ten times but the British cruiser had been forced to turn away by 0830 at which point Frauenlob gave up the chase.

Meanwhile to the north west Keyes on HMS Lurcher sighted cruisers in the mist and as the message of late reinforcements of Goodenough and Beatty had not reached him he reported them as enemy cruisers and started to shadow them. Later the British cruisers sighted Keyes and in return pursued him to the west where Keyes hoped to lure them into the waiting British battlecruisers. It was not until 0950 that the confusion was cleared up.

Even further to the north west Goodenough detached the light cruisers HMS Nottingham and Lowestoft from his squadron to reinforce the Harwich Force. The pair of cruisers ran into the German V-187 that was being pursued by British destroyers led by HMS Goshawk. The British light cruisers opened fire at 4000 yards and soon the German torpedo boat was brought to a halt by the fire of the British warships. The V-187 sank at about 0910 and the British started to rescue survivors.

As this was happening Stettin appeared again and unintentionally interrupted the rescue operation forcing the British destroyers to leave a couple of their boats in the water as they escaped the cruiser. Later the British sailors and the German crew they were rescuing in the boats were surprised when the British submarine E-4 surfaced. The British crew were taken on board the submarine and three German prisoners were taken but there was no more room on the submarine so the remaining Germans were provided was a compass, directions to Heligoland and supplies.

By 0855 HMS Fearless had joined up with the damaged Arethusa which was attempted to make temporary repairs. 

Further German cruisers were on their way. The old SMS Hela had been heading for the action but intercepted a radio message from Stettin that said that the British were withdrawing and so Hela returned to her patrol position. SMS Ariadne also missed the first phase of the action and returned to her patrol position. SMS Cln and Strassburg were on their way from Wilhelmshaven and SMS Mainz was on the way from Ems.

At 0930 the British submarine E-6 attacked unsuccessfully HMS Southampton, not being aware of the presence of the British cruiser. Southampton returned the favour and tried and failed to ram the submarine.

Tyrwhitt in the crippled Arethusa was busy trying to reform his scattered destroyers and so changed course to the east to help collect them. Soon afterwards the visibility improved and Keyes and Goodenough were at last able to identify each other as friendly and clear up some of the British confusion. Tyrwhitt then decided to withdraw and headed west.

At this point SMS Strassburg attacked from the southeast but was driven off by Fearless and destroyers. As the destroyers were returning to screen Arethusa SMS Cln appeared and was again the massed destroyers of the Harwich Force drove the cruiser off. Again Strassburg returned to attack Arethusa.

Map of the next phase of the Battle of Heligoland Bight.  The Harwich force, especially HMS Arethusa, run into problems when German light cruisers counter attack.  They manage to beat them off because the German warships fail to coordinate their attacks but still need assistance from the First Light Cruiser Squadron and the Beatty to turn the tide. Battle of Heligoland Bight Map 2

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