On this day in history : 22nd September 1914 – Three Royal Navy cruisers are sunk after being torpedoed by one single German U-Boat….
The incident was a wake up call to both the British and Germans; it had not yet been realised the full potential of the new submarines…. Some in authority had been dismissive of their usefulness – but this heralded the dawning of a new era….
The three Royal Navy cruisers, HMS Hogue, HMS Aboukir and HMS Cressy, were making their way across the North Sea and were a few miles off the coast of the Netherlands…. They had been sailing abreast at a distance of a couple of miles apart – no precautions against submarines, such as ‘zig-zagging’, were undertaken as the sea conditions were rough and considered as to be too unsuitable for the operation of submarines….
The three cruisers had been built in the late 1800s/early 1900s and the general view was that they were unreliable and verging on becoming obsolete…. The crews were inexperienced, mostly recruited reservists and many were young, even including naval college cadets younger than 15-years-old…. They were part of a squadron who’s job was to patrol the North Sea – such was their inadequacy they were known as the ‘Livebait Squadron’…. Some high ranking authorities – admirals, commodores and even the First Lord of the Admiralty himself, Winston Churchill – had raised concerns at such an inexperienced squadron performing this role…. However, those in direct charge insisted the squadron in its current capacity remain in service and continue their duties until the time came that they could be replaced by the new Arethusa Class cruisers – which were awaiting completion…. So the events of the 22nd of September would most likely have caused considerable embarrassment to the immediate senior officers – they had completely underestimated the capabilities of the German U-Boat….
Kapitanleutnan Otto Weddigen was in charge of the Tyne U9 U-Boat that was to first strike at 6.30 am…. He had been patrolling these waters, on the hunt – and the three cruisers were sitting ducks…. The first torpedo struck HMS Aboukir – the captain, John Drummond, thought they had hit a mine and called the other two ships for assistance…. A massive explosion sent the Aboukir down at 6.55am – just as she was disappearing beneath the surface HMS Hogue arrived to pick up any survivors….only to be hit by a torpedo herself…. Next on the scene was HMS Cressy – to meet the same fate….
In total 1,459 men lost their lives; Britain was horrified and outraged – but such was the propaganda that the news reported that the squadron had been hit by six German U-Boats – but in truth senior officers faced reprimands…. A valuable lesson was learned….albeit a very expensive one in the respect of the unnecessary loss of lives….
As for Kapitanleutnan Weddigen – he was hailed a national hero and awarded the Iron Cross First Class….and his crew received the Iron Cross Second Class….