The Struggle For Supremacy On The Sea
( Originally Published 1918 )
CAPTAIN MAHAN'S thesis that in any great war the nation possessing the greater sea power is likely to win, has been splendidly illustrated during the World War. The great English fleets have been the insuperable obstacle to the ambitious German plans of world dominion. The millions of soldiers landed in France from Great Britain, and its provinces, the millions of Americans trans-ported in safety across the water, and the enormous quantities of supplies put at the disposal of the Allies depended, absolutely, upon the Allied control of the sea routes of the world. With a superior navy a German blockade of England would have brought her to terms in a short period, and France, left to fight alone, would have been an easy victim. The British navy has saved the world.
Germany had for many years well under stood the necessity of power upon the sea. When the war broke out it was the second greatest of the sea powers. Its ships were mostly modern, for its navy was a creation of the past fifteen years, and its development was obviously for the purpose of attacking the British supremacy. The father of this new navy was a naval officer by the name of von Tirpitz, who, in 1897, had become the German Naval Minister. With the aid of the Emperor he had aroused among the Germans a great enthusiasm for maritime power, and had built up a navy in fifteen years, which was second only to the English navy.
Von Tirpitz was an interesting character. In appearance he looked like an old sea-wolf who had passed his life on the wave, but such a thought would be a mistake. The great admiral has done his work on land; he is an organizer, a diplomatist, a politician. He has created nothing new; in all its details he has copied the English fleet. He is tall, heavily built, with a great white beard, forked in the middle: He is a man of much dignity, with a smile which has won him renown. He might have been Chancellor of the Empire, but he preferred to devote himself to the navy, to prove that the future of Germany is on the seas. His glories are the Lusitania, the fleet safely -anchored at Kiel, and the long rows of innocent victims of the submarine.
He was born in 1850 at Kustrion on the Ildor, when the German navy was only a little group of worthless boats. In 1865 he entered the School of Cadets, in 1869 he was gazetted lieutenant, in 1875 he was lieutenant-commander with a reputation as an able organizer. In 1891 he was appointed Chief of Staff at Kiel. This was his opportunity, and he set himself at the task of creating and protecting the submarine division of the navy. As time went on he grew in importance. In 1898 he became Assistant Secretary of State at the Admiralty in Berlin. Two years later he became vice-admiral. His admirers recognized his powers, and he was called the master. In 1899 a patent of nobility was conferred upon him. In 1902 he gained permission to build 13,000-ton war ships, and the following year he was made admiral. In 1907 enormous appropriations were made at his desire for the enlargement of the fleet: In 1908 Emperor William conferred on him the Order of the Black Eagle. In 1904 the Kiel Canal was completed under his direction, and he informed the Emperor that the fleet was ready. It is only fair to add that in all his plans he had the active support of his Imperial Master. The Kaiser, too, had dreamed a dream. Von Tirpitz admired the English. His children had been brought up in England, as was also his wife. He imitated the English, but on the day of the declaration of war he absolutely forbade his family to talk English, and he made a bonfire of his fine scientific library of English books. The Kaiser treated Von Tirpitz as his friend, asked his advice, and followed his counsel. His son, Sub-Lieutenant ;Wolf Von Tirpitz, studied at Oxford, and is on the most friendly terms with many English gentlemen of importance. He was on board the Mainz, which was sunk off Helgoland in August, 1916. In full uniform he swam for twenty minutes, before being picked up by one of the boats of the cruiser Liverpool. He was a lucky prisoner of war. The German battleships and cruisers which represent the toil of Von Tirpitz for more than half a century, lay hidden away in the shelter of the Kiel Canal during the war to be ingloriously surrendered at its end. His name will remain linked with that of the Lusitania.
The German High Sea Fleet, at the beginning of the war, consisted of forty-one battle-ships, seven battle cruisers, nine armored cruisers, forty-nine light cruisers, one hundred and forty-five destroyers, eighty torpedo boats, and thirty-eight submarines. Under the direction of Von Tirpitz the navy had become democratic and had drawn to it many able men of the middle class. Its training was highly specialized and the officers were enthusiasts in their profession. The navy of Austria-Hungary had also expanded in recent years under the inspiration of Admiral Montecuculi. At the outbreak of the war the fleet comprised sixteen battleships, two armored and twelve light cruisers, eighteen destroyers, eighty-five torpedo boats and eleven submarines. The Al-lies were much more powerful. The French navy had in the matter of invention given the lead to the world, but its size had not kept pace with its quality. At the beginning of the war France had thirty-one battleships, twenty-four armored cruisers, eight light cruisers, eighty-seven destroyers, one hundred and fifty-three torpedo boats and seventy-six sub marines. Russia, after the war with Japan, had begun the creation of a powerful battle fleet, which had not been completed when war was declared. At that time she had on the Baltic four dreadnoughts, ten armored cruisers, eighty destroyers and twenty-four sub-marines, and a fleet of about half the strength in the Black Sea.
The English fleet had reached a point of efficiency which was unprecedented in its history. The progress of the German sea power had stimulated the spirit of the fleet, and led to a steady advance in training and equipment. The development of armament, and of battleship designing, the improvement in gunnery practice, the revision of the rate of pay, the opening up of careers from the lower deck, and the provision of a naval air service are landmarks in the advance. In the navy estimates of March, 1914, Parliament sanctioned over £51,000,000 for a naval defense, the largest appropriation for the purpose ever made. The home fleet was arranged in three units, the first fleet was divided into four battle squadrons, together with the flagship of the commander-in-chief. The first squadron was made up of eight battleships, the second squadron contained eight, the third eight and the fourth four. Attached to each fleet was a battle cruiser squadron, consisting of four ships in the first fleet, four in the second, four in the third and five in the fourth. The fourth also contained a light cruiser squadron, a squadron of six gunboats for mine sweeping, and four flotillas of destroyers, each with a flotilla cruiser attached. The second fleet was composed of two battle squadrons, the first containing eight pre-dreadnoughts, and the second six. Attached to this fleet were also two cruiser squadrons, a mine layer squadron of seven vessels, four patrol flotillas, consisting of destroyers and torpedo boats, and seven flotillas of submarines. A third fleet contained two battle squadrons, mainly composed of old ships, with six cruiser squadrons. The English strength, outside home waters, consisted of the Mediterranean fleet, containing three battle cruisers, four armored cruisers, four ordinary cruisers and a flotilla of seventeen destroyers, together with submarines and torpedo boats. In eastern waters there were a battleship, two cruisers, and four sloops. In the China squadron there were one battleship, two armored cruisers, two ordinary cruisers, and a number of gunboats, destroyers, submarines, and torpedo boats. In New Zealand there were four cruisers. The Australian fleet contained a battle cruiser, three ordinary cruisers, three destroyers and two submarines. Other cruisers and gunboats were stationed at the Cape, the west coast of Africa, and along the western Atlantic. At the outbreak of the war two destroyers were purchased from Chile, and two Turkish battleships, building in England, were commandeered by the government.
It is evident that the union of France and Britain made the Allies easily superior in the Mediterranean Sea, so that France was able to transport her African troops in safety, and the British commerce with India and the East could safely continue. The main field of the naval war, therefore, was the North Sea and the Baltic, where Germany had all her fleet, except a few naval raiders. The entrance to the Baltic was closed to the enemy by Den-mark, which, as a neutral, was bound to pre-vent an enemy fleet from passing. Germany, however, by means of the Kiel Canal, could permit the largest battle fleet to pass from the Baltic to the North Sea. The German High Sea Fleet was weaker than the British home fleet by more than forty per cent, and the German policy, therefore, was to avoid a battle, until, through minelayers and submarines, the British power should have been sufficiently weakened. The form of the German coast made this plan easily possible. The various bays and river mouths provided safe retreat for the German ships, and the German fleet were made secure by the fortifications along the coast. On July the 29th, 1914, at the conclusion of the annual maneuvers, instead of being demobilized as would have been usual, the Grand Fleet of Great Britain sailed from Portland along the coast into the mists, and from that moment dominated the whole course of the war.
From the 4th of August, the date of the declaration of war, the oceans of the world were practically rid of enemy war ships, and were closed to enemy mercantile marine. Although diplomacy had not yet failed, the masters of the English navy were not caught napping. The credit for this readiness has been given to Mr. Winston Churchill, one of the first Lords of the Admiralty, who had divined the coming danger. When the grand fleet sailed it seemed to disappear from English view. Occasionally some dweller along the coast might see an occasional cruiser or destroyer sweeping by in the distance, but the great battleships had gone. Somewhere, in some hidden harbor, lay the vigilant fleets of England.
Sea fighting had changed since the days of Admiral Nelson. The old wooden ship be-longed to a past generation. The guns of a battleship would have sunk the Spanish Armada with one broadside. In this modern day the battleship was protected by aircraft, which dropped bombs from the clouds. Unseen submarines circled about her. Beneath her might be mines, which could destroy her at the slightest touch. Everything had changed but the daring of the English sailor.
In command of the Home fleet was Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. Ile had had a distinguished career. Beginning as a lieutenant in the Egyptian War of 1882, he had become a commander in 1891. In 1897 he became a captain, and served in China, commanding the Naval Brigade in the Pekin Expedition of 1900, where he was severely wounded. Later he became naval assistant to the Controller of the Navy, Director of Naval Ordnance and Torpedoes, Rear-Admiral in the United fleet, Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty and Controller of the Navy, Vice-Admiral commanding the Atlantic fleet, Vice-Admiral commanding the second division of the Home fleet, and second Sea Lord of the Admiralty. He had distinguished himself in the naval maneuvers of 1913, and was one of the officers mainly responsible for the development of the mod-em English navy. He had the confidence of his colleagues, and a peculiar popularity among the British seamen.
On the day after the declaration of war, the first shots were fired. German mine layers, it is now believed, in disguise, had been dropping mines during the preceding week over a wide area of the North Sea. On the 5th of August the mine layer, Koenigen Luise, was sunk by the destroyer Lance, and on August 6th the British light cruiser Amphion struck one of the mines laid by the Koenigen Luise and was sunk with great loss of life. On Au-gust 9th, German submarines attacked a cruiser squadron without causing any damage, and one submarine was sunk.
It was in the Mediterranean, however, that the greatest interest was felt during the first week of the war. Two German war ships, the Goeben and the Breslau, were off the Algerian coast when war broke out. It is probable that when these ships received their sailing orders, Germany depended on the assistance of Italy, and had sent these ships to its assistance. They were admirably suited for commerce destroyers. They began by bombarding the Algerian coast towns of Bona and Phillipe, doing little damage. They then turned toward the coast of Gibraltar, but found before them the British fleet. Eluding the British they next appeared at Messina. There the captains and officers made their wills and de-posited their valuables, including signed portraits of the Kaiser, with the German consul. The decks were cleared for action, and with the bands playing they sailed out under a blood-red sunset.
However, they seem to have been intent only on escape, and they went at full speed eastward toward the Dardanelles, meeting in their way only with the British cruiser Gloucester, which, though much inferior in size, at-tacked them boldly but was unable to prevent their escape. On entering Constantinople they were reported as being sold to the Turkish Government, the Turks thus beginning the line of conduct which was ultimately to bring them into the war.
Picturesque as this incident was it was of no importance as compared with the great British blockade of Germany which began on the 4th of August. German merchantmen in every country of the empire were seized, and hundreds of ships were captured on the high seas. Those who escaped to neutral ports were at once interned. In a week German commerce had ceased to exist. A few German cruisers were still at large but it was not long before they had been captured, or driven into neutral ports. Among the most picturesque of these raiders were the Emden and the Koenigsburg. The Emden, in particular, interested the world with her romantic adventures. Her story is best told in the words of Lieutenant-Captain von Macke, and Lieutenant Gyssing, whose return to Germany with forty-four men, four officers and one surgeon, after the destruction of the ship, was a veritable Odyssey.
"We on the Emden had no idea where we were going, as, on August 11, 1914, we separated from the cruiser squadron, escorted only by the coaler Markomannia. Under way the Emden picked up three officers from German steamers. That was a piece of luck, for after-ward we needed many officers for the capturing and sinking of steamers, or manning them when we took them with us. On September 10th, the first boat came in sight. We stopped her; she proved to be a Greek tramp returning from England. On the next day we met the Indus, bound for Bombay, all fitted up as a troop transport, but still without troops. That was the first one we sunk. The crew we took aboard the Markomannia. Then we sank the Lovat, a troop transport ship, and took the the Kambinga along with us. One gets used quickly to new forms of activity. After a few days, capturing ships became a habit. Of the twenty-three which we captured most of them stopped after our first signal; when they didn't we fired a blank shot. Then they all stopped. Only one, the Clan Matteson, waited for a real shot across the bow before giving up its many automobiles and locomotives to the seas.
"The officers were mostly very polite, and let down rope ladders for us. After a few hours they would be on board with us. We ourselves never set foot in their cabins, nor took charge of them. The officers often acted on their own initiative, and signaled to us the nature of their cargo. Then the commandant decided as to whether to sink the ship or take it with us. Of the cargo we always took everything we could use, particularly provisions. Many of the English officers and sailors made good use of the hours of transfer to drink -up the supply of whisky instead of sacrificing it to, the waves. I heard that one captain was lying in tears at the enforced separation from his. beloved ship, but on investigation found that he was merely dead drunk. The captain on . one ship once called out cheerily `Thank God, I've been captured.' He had received expense money for the trip to Australia, and was now saved half the journey."
Parenthetically it may be remarked, that the Emden's captain, Karl von Mueller, conducted himself at all times with chivalrous bravery, according to the accounts of the English them-selves, who in their reports say of him, admiringly, "He played the game." Captain von.. Mücke's account continues:
"We had mostly quiet weather, so that cornmunication with captured ships was easy.. They were mostly dynamited, or else shot close-to the water line. At Calcutta we made one of our richest hauls, the Diplomat, chock full of tea, we sunk $2,500,000 worth. On the same - day the Trabbotch, too, which steered right straight towards us, was captured. By now- we wanted to beat it out of the Bay of Bengal, because we had learned from the papers that the Emden was being keenly searched for. By Rangoon we encountered a Norwegian tramp, which, for a cash consideration, took over all the rest of our prisoners of war.
"On September 23d we reached Madras, and steered straight for the harbor. We stopped still 3,000 yards before the city. Then we shot up the oil tanks; three or four of them burned up and illuminated the city. Two days later we navigated around Ceylon, and could see the lights of Colombo. On the same evening we gathered in two more steamers, the King Lund, and Tywerse. The next evening we got the Burresk, a nice steamer with 500 tons of nice Cardiff coal. Then followed in order, the Ryberia, Foyle, Grand Ponrabbel, Benmore, Troiens, Exfort, Graycefale, Sankt Eckbert, Chilkana. Most of them were sunk. The coal ships were kept. All this happened before October 20th. Then we sailed south-ward to Deogazia, southwest of Colombo."
The captain then tells with much gusto a story of a visit paid to the Emden by some English farmers, at Deogazia, who were entertained royally by the Emden offiers. They knew nothing about the war, and the Emden officers told them nothing. His narrative continues:
"Now we went toward Miniko, where we sank two ships more. On the next day we found three steamers to the north, one of them with much desired Cardiff coal. From English papers on the captured ships we learned that we were being hotly pursued. One night we started for Penang. On October 28th we raised a very practical fourth smokestack (for disguise). The harbor of Penang lies in a channel difficult of access. There was nothing doing by night. We had to do it at daybreak. At high speed, without smoke, with lights out, we steered into the mouth of the channel. A torpedo boat on guard slept well. We steamed past its small light. Inside lay a dark silhouette. That must be a warship. We recognized the silhouette dead sure. That was the Russian cruiser Jemtchud. There it lay, there it slept like a rat, no watch to be seen. They made it easy for us. Because of the narrowness of the harbor we had to keep close; we fired the first torpedo at four hundred yards.
"Then, to be sure, things livened up a bit on the sleeping warship. At the same time we took the crew quarters under fire five shells at a time. There was a flash of flame on board, then a kind of burning aureole. After the fourth shell the flame burned high. The first torpedo had struck the ship too deep, because we were too close to it. A second torpedo which we fired off from the other side didn't make the same mistake. After twenty seconds there was absolutely not a trace of the ship to be seen.
"But now another ship which we couldn't see was firing, That was the French D'Ivrebreville, toward which we now turned at once. A few minutes later an incoming torpedo destroyer was reported. It proved to be the French torpedo boat Mousquet. It came straight toward us. That's always remained a mystery to me, for it must have heard the shooting. An officer whom we fished up after-ward explained to me that they had only recognized we were a German warship when they were quite close to us. The Frenchman behaved well, accepted battle and fought on, but was polished off by us with three broadsides. The whole fight with those ships lasted half an hour. The commander of the torpedo boat lost both legs by the first broadside. When he saw that part of his crew were leaping overboard he cried out `Tie me fast. I will not survive after seeing Frenchmen desert their ship.' As a matter of fact he went down with his ship, as a brave captain, lashed fast to the mast. That was my only sea-fight.
"On November 9th I left the Emden in order to destroy the wireless plant on the Cocos Island. I had fifty men, four machine guns and about thirty rifles. Just as we were about to destroy the apparatus it reported `Careful. Emden near.' The work of destruction went smoothly. Presently the Emden signaled to us `Hurry up.' I pack up, but simultaneously wails the Emden's siren. I hurry up to the bridge, see the flag `Anna' go up. That means weigh anchor. We ran like mad into our boat, but already the Emden's pennant goes up, the battle flag is raised, they fire from starboard. The enemy is concealed by the island, and therefore not to be seen, but I see the shell strike the water. To follow and catch the Emden is out of question. She is going twenty knots, I only four with my steam pinnace. Therefore I turn back to land, raise the flag, declare German laws of war in force, seize all arms, set out my machine guns on shore in order to guard against a hostile landing. Then I run again in order to observe the fight."
The cable operator at Cocos Island gives the following account of what happened from this point. After describing the sudden flight of the Emden, he goes on:
"Looking to the eastward we could see the reason for this sudden departure, for a warship, which we afterwards learned was the Australian cruiser Sydney, was coming up at full speed in pursuit. The Emden did not wait to discuss matters, but, firing her first shot at a range of about 3,700 yards, steamed north as hard as she could go. At first the firing of the Emden seemed excellent, while that of the Sydney was somewhat erratic. This, as I after-ward learned, was due to the fact that the Australian cruiser's range finder was put out of action by one of the only two shots the Germans got home. However, the British gunners soon overcame any difficulties that this may bave caused, and settled down to their work, so that before long two of the Emden's funnels had been shot away. She also lost one of her masts quite early in the fight. Both blazing away with their big guns the two cruisers disappeared below the horizon, the Emden being on fire.
"Early the next morning, Tuesday, November 10th, we saw the Sydney returning, and at 8.45 A. ii. she anchored off the island. From various members of the crew I gathered some details of the running fight with the Emden. The Sydney, having an advantage in speed, was able to keep out of range of the Emden's ,guns, and to bombard with her own heavier metal. The engagement lasted eighty minutes, the Emden finally running ashore on North Keeling Island, and becoming an utter wreck. Only two German shots proved effective, one of these failed to explode, but smashed the main range finder and killed one man, the other killed three men and wounded fourteen.
"Each of the cruisers attempted to torpedo -the other, but both were unsuccessful, and the "duel proved a contest in hard pounding at long range. The Sydney's speed during the fighting was twenty-six knots, and the Emden's twenty-four knots. The British ship's superiority of two knots enabled her to choose the range at which the battle should be fought and to make the most of her superior guns. Finally, with a number of wounded prisoners ,on board, the Sydney left here yesterday, and our few hours of war excitement were over."
Captain Mucke's return home from the Cocos Island was filled with the most extraordinary adventures, and when he finally arrived in country controlled by his Allies he was greeted as a hero.
While the story of the Emden especially interested the world, the Koenigsburg also caused much trouble to English commerce. Her chief exploit occurred on the 20th of September, when she caught the British cruiser Pegasus in Zanzibar harbor undergoing re-pairs. The Pegasus had no chance, and was destroyed by the Koenigsburg's long-range fire. Nothing much was heard later of the Koenigsburg, which was finally destroyed by an English cruiser, July 11, 1915.
The exploits of these two German commerce raiders attracted general attention, because they were the exceptions to the rule. The British, on the other hand, were able to capture such German merchantmen as ventured on the sea without great difficulty, and as they did not destroy their capture, but brought them before prize courts, the incidents attracted no great attention. The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, which had been fitted up as a commerce destroyer by the Germans at the beginning of the war, as was the Spreewald of the Hamburg-American Line, and the Cap Trafalgar, were caught and sunk during the month of September. On the whole, English foreign trade was unimpaired.
But though the German fleet had been bottled up in her harbors, Germany was not yet impotent. There remained the submarine.
Up to 1905 Germany had not a single sub-marine. The first German submarine was launched on August 30, 1905. Even then it was considered merely an experiment. In February, 1907, it was added to the register of the fleet. On January 1, 1901, there were only four nations that possessed submarines, France, with fourteen ; the United States, with eight ; England, with six, of which not one was completed, and finally Italy, with two. In 1910, Germany appropriated 18,750,000 marks for submarines, and in 1913, 25,000,000 marks. On January 1, 1914, the total number of submarines of all nations was approximately four hundred.
Early in the war the submarine became a grave menace to the English navy and to English commerce. On the 5th of September the Pathfinder, a light cruiser, was torpedoed and sunk with great loss of life. On September 22d, three cruisers, the Cressy, Hogue, and Aboukir were engaged in patrolling the coast of Holland. A great storm had been raging and the cruisers were not protected by the usual screen of destroyers. At half-past six in the morning the seas had fallen and the cruisers proceeded to their posts. The report of Commander Nicholson, of the Cressy, of what followed gives a good idea of the effectiveness of the submarine.
"The Aboukir," says the report, "was struck at about 6.25 A. M. on the starboard beam. The Hogue and Cressy closed, and took up a position, the Hogue ahead of the Aboukir, and the Cressy about four hundred yards on her port beam. As soon as it was seen that Abou-kir was in danger of sinking, all the boats were sent away from the Cressy, and a picket boat was hoisted out without steam up. When cutters full of the Aboukir's men were returning to the Cressy, the Hogue was struck, apparently under the aft 9.2 magazine, as a very heavy explosion took place immediately. Al-most directly after the Hogue was hit we observed a periscope on our port bow about three hundred yards off. Fire was immediately opened, and the engines were put full speed ahead with the intention of running her down.
"Captain Johnson then maneuvered the ship so as to render assistance to the crews of the Hogue and Aboukir. About five minutes later another periscope was seen on our star-board quarter, and fire was opened. The track of the torpedo she fired at a range of from 500 to 600 yards was plainly visible, and it struck us on the starboard side just before the after bridge. The ship listed about ten degrees to the starboard and remained steady. The time was 7.15 A. m. All the water-tight doors, dead lights and scuttles had been securely closed before the torpedoes left the ship. All mess stools and table shores and all available timber below and on deck had been previously got up and thrown overside for the saving of life. A second torpedo fired by the same submarine missed and passed about ten feet astern.
"About a quarter of an hour after the first torpedo had hit, a third torpedo fired from the submarine just before the starboard beam, hit us under the No. 5 boiler room. The time was 7.30 A. M. The ship then began to heel rapidly, and finally turned keel up remaining so for about twenty minutes before she finally sank. It is possible that the same submarine fired all three torpedoes at the Cressy.''
Of the total crews of 1,459 officers and men only 779 were saved. The survivors believed that they had seen at least three submarines, but the German official account mentions only one, the U-9, under Captain-Lieutenant Otto Weddigen whose account of this battle con-firms the report of Commander Nicholson. Referring to the reports that a flotilla of German submarines had attacked the cruisers, he says:
"These reports were absolutely untrue.
U-9 was the only submarine on deck." He adds : "I reached the home port on the after-neon of the 23d and on the 24th went to Wilhelmshaven to find that news of my effort had become public. My wife, dry-eyed when I went away, met me with tears. Then I learned that my little vessel and her brave crew had won the plaudit of the Kaiser, who conferred upon each of my co-workers the Iron Cross of the second class and upon me the Iron Crosses of the first and second classes."
Weddigen was the hero of the hour in Germany. He had with him twenty-five men. He seems to have acted with courage and skill, but it is also evident that the English staff work was to blame. Three such vessels should never have been sent out without a screen of destroyers, nor should the Hogue and the Cressy have gone to the rescue of the Aboukir. A few days after the disaster the English admiralty issued the following statement :
The sinking of the Aboukir was of course an ordinary hazard of patrolling duty. The Hogue and Cressy, however, were sunk because they proceeded to the assistance of their consort, and remained with engines stopped, endeavoring to save life, thus presenting an easy target to further submarine attacks. The natural promptings of humanity have in this case led to heavy losses, which would have been avoided by a strict adhesion to military consideration. Modern naval war is presenting us with so many new and strange situations that an error of judgment of this character is pardon-able. But it has become necessary to point out for the future guidance of His Majesty's ships that the conditions which prevail when one vessel of a squadron is injured in the mine field, or is exposed to submarine attack, are analogous to those which occur in action, and that the rule of leaving ships to their own resources is applicable, so far, at any rate, as large vessels are concerned.
On the 28th of August occurred the first important naval action of the war, the battle of Helgoland. From the 9th of August German cruisers had shown activity in the seas around Helgoland and had sunk a number of British trawlers. The English submarines, E-6 and E-8, and the light cruiser Fearless, had patrolled the seas, and on the 21st of August the Fearless had come under the enemy's shell fire. On August 26th the submarine flotilla, under Commodore Keyes, sailed from Harwich for the Bight of Helgoland, and all the next day the Lurcher and the Firedrake, destroyers, scouted for submarines. On that same day sailed the first and third destroyer flotillas, the battle cruiser squadron, first light cruiser squadron, and the seventh cruiser squadron, having a rendezvous at this point on the morning of the 28th.
The morning was beautiful and clear, so that the submarines could be easily seen. Close to Helgoland were Commodore Keyes' eight sub-marines, and his two small destroyers. Approaching rapidly from the northwest were Commodore Tyrwhitt's two destroyer flotillas, a little to the east was Commodore Goodenough's first light cruiser squadron. Behind this squadron were Sir David Beatty's battle cruisers with four destroyers. To the south and west of Helgoland lay Admiral Christian's seventh cruiser squadron.
Presently from behind Helgoland came a number of German destroyers, followed by two cruisers; and the English submarines, with the 'two small destroyers, fled westwards, acting as a decoy. As the Germans followed, the British destroyer flotillas on the northwest came rapidly down. At the sight of these destroyers the German destroyers fled, and the British attempted to head them off.
According to the official report the principle of the movement was to cut the German light craft from home, and engage it at leisure on the open sea.
But between the two German cruisers and English cruisers a fierce battle took place. The Arethusa was engaged with the German Ariadne, and the Fearless with the Strasburg. A shot from the Arethusa shattered the fore bridge of the Ariadne and killed the captain, and both German cruisers drew off to Helgoland.
Meanwhile the destroyers were engaged in a hot fight. They sunk the leading boat of the German flotilla and damaged a dozen more. Between nine and ten o'clock there was a lull in the fight; the submarines, with some of the destroyers, remained in the neighborhood of Helgoland, and the Germans, believing that these boats were the only hostile vessels in the neighborhood, determined to attack them.
The Mainz, the Kohl, and the Strasburg came again on the scene, and opened a heavy fire on some of the boats of the first flotilla which were busy saving life. The small destroyers were driven away, but the seamen in the boats were rescued by an English sub-marine. The Arethusa and the Fearless, with the destroyers in their company, engaged with three enemy cruisers. The Strasburg, seriously injured, was compelled to flee. The boilers of the Mainz blew up, and she became a wreck. The Koln only remaining and carrying on the fight.
The English destroyers were much crippled, and as the battle had now lasted for five hours any moment the German great battleships might come on the scene. A wireless signal had been sent to Sir David Beatty, asking for help, and about twelve o'clock the Falmouth and the Nottingham arrived on the scene of action. By this time the first destroyer flotilla was out of action and the third flotilla and the Arethusa had their hands full with the Kohn. The light cruisers were followed at 12.15 by the English battle cruisers, the Lion came first, and she alone among the battle cruisers seems to have used her guns. Her gun power beat down all opposition. The Koln made for home, but the Lion's guns set her on fire. The luckless Ariadne hove in sight, but the terrible 18.5-inch guns sufficed for her. The battle cruisers circled around, and in ten minutes the Koln went to the bottom.
At twenty minutes to two, Admiral Beatty turned homeward. The German cruisers Mainz, Koln, and the Ariadne had been sunk; the Strasburg was seriously damaged. One destroyer was sunk, and at least seven seriously injured. About seven hundred of the German crew perished and there were three hundred prisoners. The British force returned without the loss of a single ship. The Arethusa had been badly damaged, but was easily repaired. The casualty list was thirty-two killed and fifty-two wounded. The battle was fought on both sides with great gallantry, the chief glory belonging to the Arethusa and the Fearless who bore the brunt of the battle. The strategy and tactical skill employed were admirable, and the German admiral, Von Ingenohl, from that time on, with one exception, kept his battleships in harbor, and confined his activities to mine laying and the use of submarines.
In the first days of the war the German mine layers had been busy. By means of trawlers disguised as neutrals, mines were dropped off the north coast of Ireland, and a large mine field was laid off the eastern coast of England. One of the most important duties of the Royal Naval Reserve was the task of mine sweeping. Over seven hundred mine-sweeping vessels were constantly employed in keeping an area of 7,200 square miles clear for shipping. These ships swept 15,000 square miles monthly, and steamed over 1,100,000 miles in carrying out their duties. In spite of all these precautions many English ships were destroyed by the mines.
It would be hard to overestimate the effect of the British blockade of the German ports upon the fortunes of the war. The Germans for a long time attempted, by the use of neutral ships, to obtain the necessary supplies through Holland, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland. Millions of dollars' worth of food and munitions ultimately reached German hands. The imports of all these nations were multiplied many times, but as the time went on the blockade grew stricter and stricter until the Germans felt the pinch. To conduct efficiently this blockade meant the use of over 3,600 vessels which were added to the auxiliary patrol service. Over 13,000 vessels were intercepted and examined by units of the British navy employed on blockade channels.
The Germans protested with great vigor against this blockade, and ultimately endeavored to counteract it by declaring unrestricted submarine warfare. In fact, Great Britain had gone too far, and vigorous protests from America followed her attempt to seize contra-band goods in American vessels.
The code of maritime law, adopted in the Declaration at Paris of 1856, as well as the Declaration in London of 1909, had been framed in the interests of unmaritime nations. The British plenipotentiaries had agreed to these laws on the theory that in any war of the future Britain would be neutral. The rights of neutrals had been greatly increased. A blockade was difficult to enforce, for the right of a blockading power to capture a blockade runner did not cover the whole period of her voyage, and was confined to ships of the blockading force. A ship carrying contraband could only be condemned if the contraband formed more than half its cargo. A belligerent warship could destroy a neutral vessel without taking it into a port for a judgment. The transfer of an enemy vessel to a neutral flag was presumed to be valid, if effected more than thirty days before the outbreak of war. Belligerents in neutral vessels on the high seas were exempt from capture. The Emden could justify its sinking of British ships, but the English were handicapped in their endeavor to prevent neutral ships from carrying supplies to Germany.
But Germany had become a law unto it-self. And England found it necessary in retaliation to issue orders in council which made nugatory many of the provisions of the maritime code. The protests of the American Government and those of other neutrals were treated with the greatest consideration, and every endeavor was made that no real injustice should be done. When America itself later entered the war these differences of opinion disappeared from public view.