World War One: Surface Fleet

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Battle of Heligoland Bight

This was the first naval battle of the First World War; it took place on 28th August 1914. Commander Tyrwhitt led the Harwich Force, including light cruisers, Fearless and Arethusa, in a raid on German shipping close to the German naval base at Heligoland.

Acting as cover was the First Battlecruiser Squadron under the command of Vice-Admiral Beatty. This included battleships New Zealand and Invincible as well as three battlecruisers.

A pen and ink sketch of the First Battle Squadron at the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight on 17th November 1917 by C Herring.

The Second Battle of Heligoland Bight occurred when German minesweepers clearing a path through a British minefield near the coast of Germany were intercepted by two British cruisers, HMS Calypso and HMS Caledon, performing counter-minesweeping duties. The German ships fled south toward the protection of the battleships SMS Kaiser and SMS Kaiserin. The two British cruisers engaged the German battleships, while their own screening force of the battlecruisers HMS Tiger, HMS Renown, HMS Repulse, HMS Courageous, and HMS Glorious of the First Battlecruiser Squadron were coming to assist.

The action started with Tyrwhitt sinking two German torpedo boats. However the Germans were not completely surprised by the British attack and deployed the Frauenlob and the Stettin followed by four other light cruisers. Out gunned by these ships and with Arethusa damaged Tyrwhitt called Beatty for urgent help. Beatty arrived in time to save Tyrwhitt, his squadron sank Mainz, Koln and Ariadne. The Germans retreated; they had lost 1,200 men, in comparison to 35 British fatalities.

The battle enhanced Beatty's reputation and influenced the Admiralty's decision to appoint Beatty as Commander of the Grand Fleet, replacing Sir John Jellicoe when he was dismissed in 1917.


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