Scarborough Raid, 16 December 1914

Scarborough Raid, 16 December 1914


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Scarborough Raid, 16 December 1914

The Scarborough Raid of 16 December 1914 was the most controversial part of the German raid on the Yorkshire coast of 15-16 December 1914. At the time Scarborough was an undefended town, lacking any gun emplacements. The harbour was not suitable for warships, nor was it close to significant military targets. This was not true of the entire Yorkshire coast. To the north the mouth of the Tees and Hartlepool (just inside County Durham) were defended by gun batteries, as was the mouth of the Humber (the ruins of several generations of gun emplacements can still be explored at the tip of Spurn Point).

The Germans believed that Scarborough was also defended by a gun battery, making it a legitimate target under the rules agreed at the Hague Conference of 1907. The rules agreed in 1907 seem to belong to a different era completely from the First World War. Naval commanders could only bombard an open town if it refused a reasonable request for necessary supplies. Even military facilities in a town could only be attacked after the locals had been given a chance to destroy them themselves. In the circumstances of 1914, with two battle fleets undertaking carefully timed operations in the North Sea these restrictions seem utterly unrealistic. The Germans appear to have genuinely believed that the east coast towns would be defended in some ways (during the Second World War they would have been right – Scarborough and Filey were given 6in gun batteries, with some of the guns coming from HMS Lion, Beatty’s flagship at Jutland).

The German attack on Scarborough involved the battlecruisers Derrflinger and Von der Tann, and the light cruiser Kolberg. They appeared off Scarborough just before 8.00 a.m. The Kolberg was sent south east to lay a minefield off Flamborough Head, while the two battlecruisers opened fire on the coastguard station and the yeomanry barracks at 8.00 a.m. They then sailed south east along the coast, firing on the medieval castle on its headland and the Grand Hotel, the most obvious land mark in South Bay, apparently in the belief that this was the location of the non-existent gun battery.

Their next target was a naval wireless station just outside the suburb of Falsgrave (now the site of GCHQ Scarborough). The wireless station was undamaged, but some shells fell short. The two German battlecruisers then sailed north past the town, still firing, before heading around the coast to Whitby. The Kolberg sailed north east from Flamborough head back to the general rendezvous position, east of Whitby.

The attack on the east coast caused outrage in Britain. Part of this was due to the failure of the navy to intercept the German raiders, but much was made of the attack on an open town. Despite a bombardment lasting half an hour, only eighteen people were killed in Scarborough. Further north Hartlepool was much harder hit.

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Germans bombard English ports of Hartlepool and Scarborough

At approximately 8 o𠆜lock in the morning, German battle cruisers from Franz von Hipper’s Scouting Squadron catch the British navy by surprise as they begin heavy bombardment of Hartlepool and Scarborough, English port cities on the North Sea.

The bombardment lasted for about one and a half hours, killing more than 130 civilians and wounding another 500. It would unleash a damning response from the British press, which pointed to the incident as yet another example of German brutality. The German navy, however, saw the two port cities as valid targets due to their fortified status.

Two defense batteries in Hartlepool responded to the attacks, damaging three of the German vessels, including the heavy cruiser Blucher. Hipper’s squadron hoped to draw British forces to pursue them across waters freshly laced with mines. Another German fleet, commanded by Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl, sat waiting offshore to provide support. A major confrontation did not take place, however, as the British decided to keep most of their fleet�pleted by the dispatch of their major cruisers to pursue the dangerous squadron of Admiral Maximilian von Spee—in the harbor.

An attempt by the Scouting Squadron one month later to repeat the tactics used to surprise the British at Scarborough and Hartlepool resulted in the Battle of Dogger Bank, where Hipper’s squadron was defeated but managed to avoid capture.


16 December 1914 – Scarborough Raid

The sleepy harbor town of Scarborough is very old, but has flourished as a resort during the last half-century of Victorian economic growth. Town residents are awakened just after 8:00 this morning by a series of blasts that sunder the rainy, gray sky and shatter the calm breakfast hour. Vice Admiral Franz Hipper’s cruisers pass back and forth three times, firing more than 500 shells. The coastguard station on Castle Hill is destroyed, but only one round aimed at the wireless station lands anywhere near its target. The rest of them fly on into the town, shattering buildings and churches and shops and the town hall. Then the flotilla moves north to bombard the seaside town of Whitby.

They are one squadron of the twenty-seven German vessels now attacking four towns along a sixty mile stretch of shoreline. Interviewed later by the Independent, teenage apprentice Norman Collins recalls “a tremendous explosion rocked the house followed by an inferno of noise and the reek of high explosives.” Running outside, he is “amazed to see three huge, grey battle-cruisers which looked to be only a few hundred yards from the end of the breakwater. Their massive guns were firing broadsides and in the dull light of a winter’s morning it was like looking into a furnace.”

Hipper’s first raid on Yarmouth six weeks ago killed no civilians, but today’s operations will leave 137 dead and more than 450 injured. Although his ships fire thousands of shells during the ninety minute raid, they do remarkably little damage to legitimate military targets. The Scarborough Mercury reports of the attack on Whitby:

The great majority of the shots had passed over the East Cliff, and fell half a mile further on in the region of the railway station, where nearly all of the material damage was done. Here, in the Fishburn Park district, houses were wrecked right and left, and here it was that the second fatality occurred. Wiliam H. Tunmore, a railwayman employed on the North-eastern Railway, was the victim. He was driving a horse and cart at the Bagdale crossing near the railway station when a small shell struck him and killed him on the spot, though the horse was absolutely uninjured. He was sixty-one years of age, and a married man, his home being in Grey Street. The only other case was that of an invalid lady, Mrs Miller, of Springhill-terrace, who was hit in the side by a piece of shell while she was lying in bed.

The shock sends panic-stricken people fleeing into the country, sparks a surge of volunteers at recruiting stations across Britain, and stirs the British propaganda machine to its shrillest rhetorical heights. While the German government defends the raid as a justifiable act of war, it is arguably one of the greatest strategic blunders of 1914. Indeed, this day is filled with blundering from end to end. The war has turned nasty, for chivalry has given way to rage and hate and fear, and in their desperation to end the conflict quickly, the men who make the big plans are also making big mistakes.

Shell damage to civilian homes in Scarborough. Hundreds of houses were damaged

The raid is an attempt to draw the British Navy out of its ports and into an ambush set by the battlewagons of the Kaiser’s High Seas Fleet. As he turns his command out to sea and beats for home, Hipper does not know that Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl has already withdrawn four hours ago in the mistaken belief that a smaller force of British battleships approaching him was the vanguard of the entire Grand Fleet. Caught between the Kaiser’s orders on the one hand to avoid any battle in which he does not have a decisive advantage, and a mission profile that requires risk on the other hand, Ingenohl has defaulted to the safest option and missed his chance to greatly alter the balance of naval power in the North Sea.

The British press also criticizes the Navy for not preventing the raid — a charge that is more valid than they know. Only after the war will the British people learn that ‘Room 40,’ the cryptanalysis unit at Whitehall, was able to intercept and decode fleet signals to Hipper before his ships left Heligoland Bight. Rather than try to intercept Hipper, the Admiralty chose to position its own battlecruisers to entrap the German cruisers and destroyers in the channels between their minefields after the raid. But the very limited visibility of foul Winter weather on the North Sea leads to further missed opportunities as neither group manages to actually find the enemy. Furthermore, Room 40 never hears the High Seas Fleet making for Dogger Bank, either, so the Admiralty is completely unaware of the near-disaster their heaviest flotilla almost suffers.

Shore batteries do return fire with some effect, forcing the armored cruiser Blücher to pass behind the lighthouse. Ships do sortie against the attacking vessels, but for little gain: the light cruiser HMS Patrol is forced aground after taking damage from two shells, while the submarine C9 gets out of harbor by diving under fire — only to find the enemy already gone when Captain Bruce comes back up to use his periscope. The Admiralty intercepts a radio transmission from Ingenohl’s ships as they return to Heligoland, but interprets it as the High Seas Fleet coming out rather than coming home as a result, Admiral Jellicoe spends all of the next day fruitlessly seeking a major battle in the North Sea.

Left: shell damage to the lighthouse. Right: the exterior of the Royal Scarborough Hotel

It is the beginning of the age of total war. Today’s attack is denounced as an act of terrorism, and indeed German military planners suppose they can demoralize the people of Britain by making them feel vulnerable. Writing to a relative at the end of the month, Captain Walter Freiherr von Keyserlinck of the SMS Lothringen speaks to this view in demanding an unrestricted U-boat campaign against British commerce: “Unless war is made something real for the Englishman in his own country, this robber and murderer will not recognize what it means for other people.”

This turns out to be a terribly misguided approach. Instead of cowing people, the words “Remember Scarborough” will appear on countless recruiting posters, and Winston Churchill will immediately capitalize on the deaths of children by taunting the Germans as “baby-killers” — a phrase that will be repeated by the press throughout the war. Whereas few Britons bore Germany any real ill will in August, by December there is genuine conviction in most hearts that Germans deserve to suffer for their crimes, and that their cities ought to burn as well.

A map of the day’s operations from the British point of view. Click to enlarge

Above: the SMS Seydlitz, the battlecruiser which led today's operations. As if to answer the British Admiralty's charges yesterday that Germany has used neutral vessels to lay mines in the North Sea, today the minesweeper HMS Halcyon encounters a German force mining the&hellip

On land, these are actually the bloodiest days of the Great War. We tend to think of later trench warfare as the meat-grinder of this conflict, but in fact the trenches are dug by armies of men who are trying to escape&hellip

Above: the British fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow, chosen for its size and location. It was perfectly-positioned for keeping the German High Seas Fleet confined in the North Sea. All the powers at war already control their compliant presses, and none of them&hellip


Battle of the Bulge begins

On December 16, 1944, the Germans launch the last major offensive of the war, Operation Autumn Mist, also known as the Ardennes Offensive and the Battle of the Bulge, an attempt to push the Allied front line west from northern France to northwestern Belgium. The Battle of the Bulge, so-called because the Germans created a 𠇋ulge” around the area of the Ardennes forest in pushing through the American defensive line, was the largest fought on the Western front.

The Germans threw 250,000 soldiers into the initial assault, 14 German infantry divisions guarded by five panzer divisions-against a mere 80,000 Americans. Their assault came in early morning at the weakest part of the Allied line, an 80-mile poorly protected stretch of hilly, woody forest (the Allies simply believed the Ardennes too difficult to traverse, and therefore an unlikely location for a German offensive). Between the vulnerability of the thin, isolated American units and the thick fog that prevented Allied air cover from discovering German movement, the Germans were able to push the Americans into retreat.

One particularly effective German trick was the use of English-speaking German commandos who infiltrated American lines and, using captured U.S. uniforms, trucks, and jeeps, impersonated U.S. military and sabotaged communications. The ploy caused widespread chaos and suspicion among the American troops as to the identity of fellow soldiers𠄾ven after the ruse was discovered. Even General Omar Bradley himself had to prove his identity three times𠄻y answering questions about football and Betty Grable�ore being allowed to pass a sentry point.

The battle raged for three weeks, resulting in a massive loss of American and civilian life. Nazi atrocities abounded, including the murder of 72 American soldiers by SS soldiers in the Ardennes town of Malmedy. Historian Stephen Ambrose estimated that by war’s end, “Of the 600,000 GIs involved, almost 20,000 were killed, another 20,000 were captured, and 40,000 were wounded.” The United States also suffered its second-largest surrender of troops of the war: More than 7,500 members of the 106th Infantry Division capitulated at one time at Schnee Eifel. The devastating ferocity of the conflict also made desertion an issue for the American troops General Eisenhower was forced to make an example of Private Eddie Slovik, the first American executed for desertion since the Civil War.

The war would not end until better weather enabled American aircraft to bomb and strafe German positions.


Scarborough Raid, 16 December 1914 - History

Civillians caught up in the Bombardment

Over 1 000 shells rain down on the Hartlepool's

Military and civillians lives lost

16 December 1914 - 08.10am - Heugh Battery

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Heugh Battery becomes UK's First Home - WW1 'Live Battlefield'

Heugh Battery Remembered

16th December at 08.10am every year The Heugh Battery Museum holds a memorail service.

Heugh Battery

The Heugh Battery Museum stands proudly on the Ancient Headland Hartlepool, having defended and repelled the might of the German Navy.

Lives were lost and the face of the UK's defence changed due to the actions of the brave men on duty that frightful day 16th December 1914 at 08.10 am.

Support Us

The Heugh Battery Museum relies on your generous support, without which this historic battlefield would not be working towards it's preservation.

The Huegh Battery Museum requires sponsorship, donations, gifts, volunteers, joint co-operation on restorations and more. May we thank you for your help in advance.

Let's Collaborate

Why not sponsor an artifact or event and gain maximum publicity.

The Heugh Battery Museum is always looking for others to join in and collaborate on all manner of ventures.

©HBM. All Rights Reserved. Registered Charity Number : 1106882 -- Registered with Companies House in England Number : 4774077


Battles - The War at Sea

This section contains details of the major actions fought at sea during the First World War and includes the greatest naval action of the war, at Jutland in 1916 - an inconclusive battle that continues to generate debate today (Germany won the tactical victory but the British claimed the more-important strategical success).

Also included are details of other significant encounters such as those at the Falkland Islands and at Dogger Bank.

Additional entries will be added periodically.

Click here to view a map of pre-war Europe.

Engagement Date
Battle of Heligoland Bight Opened 28 August 1914
Battle of Coronel Opened 1 November 1914
Battle of the Falkland Islands Opened 8 December 1914
Raid on Scarborough and Hartlepool Opened 16 December 1914
Battle of Dogger Bank Opened 24 January 1915
Battle of Jutland Opened 31 May 1916
Battle of Otranto Straits Opened 14 May 1917
Raid on Zeebrugge Opened 23 April 1918

Saturday, 22 August, 2009 Michael Duffy

'minnie' was a term used to describe the German trench mortar minnenwerfer (another such term was Moaning Minnie).

- Did you know?


Want to know more about Bombardment of Scarborough 1914?

Bombardment of Scarborough 1914

during the Great War 1914-1918.

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York & North Yorkshire

Under the cover of darkness a powerful German naval battle group negotiated the hazardous minefields of the North Sea, its target was the still slumbering north-east coastal towns of Scarborough and Hartlepool.

By early morning the battle group had divided three battlecruisers steaming north, two battlecruisers and a light cruiser steaming south.

Sheltered from prying eyes by the darkness and a bank of early morning mist they steamed to meet fate.

As the bow of the leading ship pierced the mist, her captain raised his field glasses and surveyed the tranquil beauty of Scarborough's twin bays.

High on the cliffs, north of the town, the attention of three workmen renovating a cottage was caught by the movement out at sea.

The speed of the ships increased, the smoke from their funnels turning from grey to black, a dense heavy cloud trailing in their wake. Nothing stood between the battleships and the pride of the Yorkshire coast.

Aboard the battlecruiser Von der Tann, her captain gave the order to his battle ready gun crews, 'Feuer Geben!'. The giant naval guns opened fire, their barrels erupting with great gouts of crimson flame.

A few hundred yards away the thunderous broadside was echoed by the Derfflinger.

The time was eight 'o' clock, the day was Wednesday 16th December 1914, and far removed from the battlefields of the Western Front death had come calling on the defenceless seaside town!

That fateful morning 18 people fell victim to the German attack, either killed instantly, as in the case of the 14-month-old baby boy John Shields Ryalls, or who died later as a result of their wounds like shoemaker Henry Harland.

Panic drove people from their homes, fear forced them to flee the town in all directions, whilst the sparse smattering of freshly recruited Territorials in the town tried to help the injured and wounded at the railway station.

Some 15 minutes or so later there was a brief calm as the ships steaming southward turned northwards and commenced firing again.

The attack lasted some 30 minutes, and the folk of Scarborough suffered greatly, being left to try and save what and who they could as the ships sailed off.

At around nine 'o' clock, Whitby felt the weight of the German broadsides as they steamed past the quiet fishing port heading for a rendezvous with the rest of their battle group who had attacked Hartlepool.

Seven people in Whitby died (although only three were ever officially recorded as having died as a direct result of the bombardment).

This was the first attack on British soil since the start of the Great War and would not be the last. Young men in their droves rushed to their local recruitment offices to 'avenge' Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool.

As Britain mourned her dead and questions were asked in Parliament about the whereabouts of the mighty Royal Navy, Germany struck a commemorative medal of the raids.

In just 30 minutes on that cold December morning in 1914, the Great War had finally become a harsh and bitter reality for the people of Scarborough and Whitby.


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                                  15/12/1914 Germany’s fleet puts to sea

                                  In the early hours of the morning, Rear Admiral Hipper leads the German battlecruiser squadron out of port. They set sail for the east coast of England, where they are to attack coastal targets. The British navy knows they are coming, thanks to the work of Admiralty code breakers. A British force is also putting to sea, intent on blocking the German battlecruisers return to port and forcing a battle in which they will be destroyed.

                                  The British do not realise that they are sailing into terrible danger. The Germans are sending their battlecruisers to bombard coastal targets, but unbeknownst to the British they are also sending the rest of their fleet in support. If the two sides meet, it is the British who will be defeated, an outcome that would completely change the naval balance in the North Sea.


                                  Remember Scarborough - 1914

                                  Remember Scarborough
                                  In the midst of the casualties, the chaos and the considerable material damage which greeted the people of Scarborough on the morning of the 16th December 1914, it was not surprising that their faith in the Royal Navy was a little shaken.

                                  They could not believe that German cruisers like the Derrflinger, Von Der Tann and Kolberg could cross the North Sea , have time to bombard Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby, and then return home to their base without being discovered and destroyed.

                                  The first official explanation came from the First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr Winston Churchill) in a letter to the Mayor (Mr CC Graham) in which he said:

                                  Dear Mr Mayor,
                                  I send you a message of sympathy not only on my own account but on behalf of the Navy, in the losses Scarborough has sustained. We mourn with you the peaceful inhabitants who have been killed or maimed, and particularly the women and children. We admire the dignity and fortitude with which Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool have confronted outrage. We share your disappointment that the miscreants escaped unpunished. We await with patience the opportunity that will surely come.

                                  Owing to the censorship it was not possible for even the First Lord of the Admiralty to give a detailed account of the action taken by the Navy but what he said was reassuring particularly the last paragraph of his letter which was in true Churchillian style:

                                  "Their hate is the measure of their fear. Its senseless expression is the proof of their impotence and the seal of their dishonour. Whatever feats of arms the German navy may hereafter perform the stigma of the baby-killers of Scarborough will brand its officers and men while sailors sail the sea".

                                  It was not until 1928 that the full story was told. This was the occasion when Admiral of the Fleet Earl Jellicoe visited Scarborough for the British Legion conference and received the freedom of the Borough. Replying to the address of the Mayor (Alderman EH Mathews) Earl Jellicoe, referring to Scarborough's long association with the sea said:

                                  But of course the connection with the sea which must always be most in the minds of the people of Scarborough is the raid, the bombardment of Scarborough on 16th December 1914. The officers and men of the Grand Fleet were profoundly disappointed that the raid was carried out without the enemy having to pay a heavy toll. One of the reasons why the toll was not inflicted was because the Clerk of the Weather unfortunately threw in his lot on that particular occasion with the German High Seas Fleet.

                                  They left their ports in full strength with all their small craft in fine weather, and that fine weather carried them right across the North Sea. That portion of our fleet which the Admiralty ordered me to send to the sea from Scapa and Cromarty, at any rate the particular portion which left Scapa, was greatly handicapped with the weather. The weather was so bad that destroyers could not get to sea at all. Two light cruisers that went out with the second Battle Squadron had to return heavily damaged by the sea and with several men washed overboard and drowned.

                                  The Clerk of the weather, not content with having foiled us in getting our ships to sea, again allied himself with our enemy when they were retiring having carried out their work. A heavy mist came on which prevented our vessels, although they got occasional glimpses of the enemy, from inflicting the toll upon him which was due, I think perhaps, that explanation is necessary on this occasion."

                                  Part of the Navy's story was told in a letter which Sir David Beatty wrote to his wife but this was not made public until a much later date:

                                  . We were within an ace of achieving it (destruction of German cruisers) the other day. We had overcome all sorts of minor difficulties and we had made an excellent spot and arrived at the exact strategical situation. Our advanced ships had sighted them and then. I can't bear to write about it. If only we had got them on Wednesday as we ought to have done, we should have finished the war from a naval point of view.

                                  During the half hour's bombardment it is estimated 529 shells fell on the town . 17 people were killed, two died of wounds and 100 were injured. Altogether 209 buildings were damaged or destroyed including 10 public buildings, 7 churches and 5 hotels.

                                  The recruiting poster which the War Office issued following the Scarborough bombardment was based on a picture "Remember Scarborough", painted by Miss Edith Kemp Welch, the original of which is in the Town Hall.


                                  Watch the video: The Bombardment of Scarborough 1914. Keith Johnson


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