I Scouting Group

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The I Scouting Group was a special reconnaissance unit within the German Kaiserliche Marine. The unit was famously commanded by Admiral Franz von Hipper during World War I. The I Scouting Group was one of the most active formations in the High Seas Fleet during the war; the unit took part in every major fleet operation in the North Sea, including the battles of Dogger Bank and Jutland. The unit also saw limited action in the Baltic Sea, including the Battle of the Gulf of Riga.[A 1]

Ships assigned to the I Scouting Group[edit]

SMS Von der Tann was the first battlecruiser assigned to the I Scouting group. The ship joined the unit on 8 May 1911.[1] On 30 September, Moltke was commissioned into the I Scouting Group, and replaced the old armored cruiser Roon.[2] Seydlitz joined the unit after she was commissioned on 22 May 1913.[3] Derfflinger was slated to be assigned to the unit by the end of October 1914, but turbine damage delayed the ship from joining the I Scouting Group until 16 November of that year.[4] Derfflinger's sistership Lützow joined the unit on 20 March 1916.[5] The third Derfflinger-class battlecruiser, and final ship to join the I Scouting Group, Hindenburg, was assigned to the unit on 6 November 1917.[6]

Service history[edit]

The I Scouting Group was one of the most active units in the High Seas Fleet during World War I. The ships were used a number of times in attempts to lure out a portion of the British Grand Fleet, where it could be defeated by the whole German battle fleet. Several of these operations called for the ships of the I Scouting Group to bombard the English coast; these included the raid on Yarmouth, the raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby, and the bombardment of Yarmouth and Lowestoft. The unit also participated in raids against British naval forces, including the operations that resulted in the Battle of Dogger Bank and the Battle of Jutland.

Battle of Heligoland Bight[edit]

Seydlitz with a zeppelin overhead

Shortly after the outbreak of World War I, a brief engagement between German light cruisers and a raiding force of British cruisers and battlecruisers took place on 28 August 1914. During the morning, British cruisers from the Harwich Force attacked the German destroyers patrolling the Heligoland Bight. Six German light cruisers—Cöln, SMS Strassburg, SMS Stettin, SMS Frauenlob, SMS Stralsund, and SMS Ariadne—responded to the attack and inflicted serious damage to the British raiders. However, the arrival at approximately 13:37 of the British 1st Battlecruiser Squadron, under the command of Vice Admiral David Beatty, quickly put the German ships at a disadvantage.[7]

The I Scouting Group battlecruisers were stationed in the Wilhelmshaven Roads on the morning of the battle. By 08:50, Rear Admiral Hipper had requested permission from Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl, the commander in chief of the High Seas Fleet, to send his ships to relieve the beleaguered German cruisers.[8] The battlecruisers Von der Tann and Moltke were ready to sail by 12:10, but the low tide prevented the ships from being able to pass over the sand bar at the mouth of the Jade Estuary safely. At 14:10, Moltke and Von der Tann were able to cross the Jade bar; Hipper ordered the German light cruisers to fall back to his ships, while Hipper himself was about an hour behind in Seydlitz. At 14:25, the remaining light cruisers—Strassburg, Stettin, Frauenlob, Stralsund, and Ariadne—rendezvoused with the battlecruisers.[9] Seydlitz arrived on the scene by 15:10, while Ariadne succumbed to battle damage and sank. Hipper ventured forth cautiously to search for the two missing light cruisers, Mainz and SMS Cöln (1909), which had already sunk. By 16:00, the German flotilla turned around to return to the Jade Estuary, arriving at approximately 20:23.[10]

Bombardment of Yarmouth[edit]

Main article: Raid on Yarmouth

On 2 November 1914, the I Scouting Group, composed of the flagship Seydlitz, Moltke, and Von der Tann, and the armored cruiser Blücher left the Jade Estuary and steamed towards the English coast. The ships were accompanied by four light cruisers.[11] The flotilla arrived off Great Yarmouth at daybreak the following morning and bombarded the port, while the light cruiser Stralsund laid a minefield. The British submarine D5 responded to the bombardment, but struck one of the mines laid by Stralsund and sank. Shortly thereafter, Hipper ordered his ships to turn back to German waters. However, while Hipper's ships were returning to German waters, a heavy fog covered the Heligoland Bight, so the ships were ordered to halt until visibility improved so they could safely navigate the defensive minefields. The armored cruiser Yorck made a navigational error that led the ship into one of the German minefields. Yorck struck two mines and quickly sank; the coastal defense ship Hagen was able to save 127 men of the crew.[11] The operation failed to draw out any heavy units of the British fleet.

Bombardment of Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby[edit]

It was decided by Admiral von Ingenohl that another raid on the English coast was to be carried out, in the hopes of luring a portion of the Grand Fleet into combat where it could be destroyed.[11] At 03:20 on 15 December, the I Scouting Group, which had by then been augmented by the new battlecruiser Derfflinger, left the Jade. A quartet of light cruisers: Kolberg, Strassburg, Stralsund, and Graudenz, and two squadrons of torpedo boats escorted the battlecruisers.[12] The ships sailed north past the island of Heligoland, until they reached the Horns Reef lighthouse, at which point the ships turned west towards Scarborough. Twelve hours after Hipper left the Jade, the High Seas Fleet, consisting of 14 dreadnoughts and 8 pre-dreadnoughts and a screening force of 2 armored cruisers, 7 light cruisers, and 54 torpedo boats, departed to provide distant cover.[12]

On 26 August 1914, the German light cruiser Magdeburg had run aground in the Gulf of Finland; the wreck was captured by the Russian navy, which found code books used by the German navy, along with navigational charts for the North Sea. These documents were then passed on to the Royal Navy. Room 40 began decrypting German signals, and on 14 December, intercepted messages relating to the plan to bombard Scarborough.[12] However, the exact details of the plan were unknown, and it was assumed that the High Seas Fleet would remain safely in port, as in the previous bombardment. Vice Admiral Beatty's four battlecruisers, supported by the 3rd Cruiser Squadron and the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron, along with the 2nd Battle Squadron's six dreadnoughts, were to ambush Hipper's battlecruisers.[13]

During the night of 15 December, the main body of the High Seas Fleet encountered British destroyers. Fearing the prospect of a nighttime torpedo attack, Admiral Ingenohl ordered the ships to retreat.[13] Hipper was unaware of Ingenohl's reversal, and so he continued with the bombardment. Upon reaching the British coast, Hipper's battlecruisers split into two groups. Seydlitz, Moltke, and Blücher went north to shell Hartlepool, while Von der Tann and Derfflinger went south to shell Scarborough and Whitby.[14] During the bombardment of Hartlepool, Seydlitz three times and Blücher was hit six times by the coastal battery. Seydlitz suffered only minimal damage, and no casualties. [14] By 09:45 on the 16th, the two groups had reassembled, and they began to retreat eastward.[15]

The High Seas Fleet's disposition on the morning of 16 December

By this time, Beatty's battlecruisers were in position to block Hipper's chosen egress route, while other forces were en route to complete the encirclement. At 12:25, the light cruisers of the II Scouting Group began to pass through the British forces searching for Hipper.[16] One of the cruisers in the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron spotted Stralsund and signaled a report to Beatty. At 12:30, Beatty turned his battlecruisers towards the German ships. Beatty presumed that the German cruisers were the advance screen for Hipper's ships, however those were some 50 km (31 mi) ahead.[16] The 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron, which had been screening for Beatty's ships, detached to pursue the German cruisers, but a misinterpreted signal from the British battlecruisers sent them back to their screening positions.[A 2] This confusion allowed the German light cruisers to escape and alerted Hipper to the location of the British battlecruisers. The German battlecruisers wheeled to the northeast of the British forces and made good their escape.[16]

Both the British and the Germans were disappointed that they failed to effectively engage their opponents. Admiral Ingenohl's reputation suffered greatly as a result of his timidity. The captain of the Moltke was furious; he stated that Ingenohl had turned back "because he was afraid of eleven British destroyers which could have been eliminated...under the present leadership we will accomplish nothing."[17] The official German history criticized Ingenohl for failing to use his light forces to determine the size of the British fleet, stating: "he decided on a measure which not only seriously jeopardized his advance forces off the English coast but also deprived the German Fleet of a signal and certain victory."[17]

Battle of Dogger Bank[edit]

Blücher underway

In early January 1915, it became known that British ships were conducting reconnaissance in the Dogger Bank area. Ingenohl was initially reluctant to attempt to destroy these forces, because the I Scouting Group was temporarily weakened while Von der Tann was in drydock for periodic maintenance. However, Konteradmiral Richard Eckermann, the Chief of Staff of the High Seas Fleet, insisted on the operation, and so Ingenohl relented and ordered Hipper to take his battlecruisers to the Dogger Bank.[18]

On 23 January, Hipper sortied, with Seydlitz in the lead, followed by Moltke, Derfflinger, and Blücher, along with the light cruisers Graudenz, Rostock, Stralsund, and Kolberg and 19 torpedo boats from V Flotilla and II and XVIII Half-Flotillas. Graudenz and Stralsund were assigned to the forward screen, while Kolberg and Rostock were assigned to the starboard and port, respectively. Each light cruiser had a half-flotilla of torpedo boats attached.[18]

Again, interception and decryption of German wireless signals played an important role. Although they were unaware of the exact plans, the cryptographers of Room 40 were able to deduce that Hipper would be conducting an operation in the Dogger Bank area.[18] To counter it, Beatty's 1st Battlecruiser Squadron, Rear Admiral Archibald Moore's 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron and Commodore William Goodenough's 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron were to rendezvous with Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt's Harwich Force at 8:00 on 24 January, approximately 30 mi (48 km) north of the Dogger Bank.[18]

At 08:14, Kolberg spotted the light cruiser Aurora and several destroyers from the Harwich Force.[19]Aurora challenged Kolberg with a search light, at which point Kolberg attacked Aurora and scored two hits. Aurora returned fire and scored two hits on Kolberg in retaliation. Hipper immediately turned his battlecruisers towards the gunfire, when, almost simultaneously, Stralsund spotted a large amount of smoke to the northwest of her position. This was identified as a number of large British warships steaming towards Hipper's ships.[19]

Hipper turned south to flee, but was limited to 23 knots (43 km/h), which was the maximum speed of the older armored cruiser Blücher. The pursuing British battlecruisers were steaming at 27 knots (50 km/h), and quickly caught up to the German ships. At 09:52, Lion opened fire on Blücher from a range of approximately 20,000 yards (18,300 m); shortly thereafter, Queen Mary and Tiger began firing as well.[19] At 10:09, the British guns made their first hit on Blücher. Two minutes later, the German ships began returning fire, primarily concentrating on Lion, from a range of 18,000 yards (15,460 m). At 10:28, Lion was struck on the waterline, which tore a hole in the side of the ship and flooded a coal bunker.[20] At 10:30, New Zealand, the fourth ship in Beatty's line, came within range of Blücher and opened fire. By 10:35, the range had closed to 17,500 yards (16,000 m), at which point the entire German line was within the effective range of the British ships. Beatty ordered his battlecruisers to engage their German counterparts.[A 3] However, confusion aboard Tiger led the captain to believe he was to fire on Seydlitz, which left Moltke able to fire without distraction.[20]

At 10:40, Lion hit Seydlitz with a single 343 mm (13.5 in) shell, and penetrated the rear barbette. The explosion detonated the propellant charges in the chamber, and spread to the ammunition working chambers for that turret, as well as the other aft turret.[20]

In the reloading chamber, where the shell penetrated, part of the charge in readiness for loading was set on fire. The flames rose high up into the turret and down into the ammunition chamber, and thence through a connecting door, usually kept shut, through which men from the ammunition chamber tried to escape into the fore turret. The flames thus made their way through to the other ammunition chamber and thence up to the second turret, and from this cause the entire guns' crews of both turrets perished very quickly. The flames rose above the turrets as high as a house.[20]

Blücher sinking at the end of the battle

The explosion killed 159 men, and destroyed both of the rear turrets. However, the fire was prevented from spreading to the shell magazines, which could have destroyed the ship, by the quick action of the executive officer, who ordered both magazines be flooded.[A 4] However, at 11:01, Seydlitz struck back at Lion, and with a single 28 cm shell, knocked out two of Lion's engines. Shortly thereafter, a pair of 30.5 cm shells fired by Derfflinger struck Lion, one at the waterline. The penetration allowed water to enter the port feed tank—this hit eventually crippled Lion, the sea water contamination forced the ship's crew to shut down the port engine.[21]

By this time, Blücher was severely damaged after having been pounded by heavy shells. However, the chase ended when there were several reports of U-boats ahead of the British ships; Beatty quickly ordered evasive maneuvers, which allowed the German ships to increase the distance to their pursuers.[22] At this time, Lion's last operational dynamo failed, which dropped her speed to 15 knots. Beatty, in the stricken Lion, ordered the remaining battlecruisers to "Engage the enemy's rear," but signal confusion caused the ships to solely target Blücher, allowing Moltke, Seydlitz, and Derfflinger to escape.[23] By the time Beatty regained control over his ships, after having boarded Princess Royal, the German ships had too far a lead for the British to catch them; at 13:50, he broke off the chase.[24]

Bombardment of Yarmouth and Lowestoft[edit]

The next operation for the I Scouting Group was the bombardment of Yarmouth and Lowestoft on 24–25 April. Hipper was away on sick leave, so the German ships were under the command of Konteradmiral Friedrich Bödicker. The German battlecruisers Derfflinger, Lützow, Moltke, Seydlitz and Von der Tann left the Jade Estuary at 10:55 on 24 April, and were supported by a screening force of 6 light cruisers and two torpedo boat flotillas.[25] The heavy units of the High Seas Fleet sailed at 13:40, with the objective to provide distant support for Bödicker's ships. The British Admiralty was made aware of the German sortie through the interception of German wireless signals, and deployed the Grand Fleet at 15:50.[25]

By 14:00, Bödicker's ships had reached a position off Norderney, at which point he turned his ships northward to avoid the Dutch observers on the island of Terschelling. At 15:38, Seydlitz struck a naval mine, which tore a 50-foot (15 m) hole in her hull, just abaft of the starboard broadside torpedo tube, allowing 1,400 short tons (1,250 long tons) of water to enter the ship.[25] Seydlitz turned back, with the screen of light cruisers, at a speed of 15 knots (28 km/h). The four remaining battlecruisers turned south immediately in the direction of Norderney to avoid further mine damage. By 16:00, Seydlitz was clear of imminent danger, so the ship stopped to allow Bödicker to disembark. The torpedo boat V28 brought Bödicker to Lützow.[26] After Bödicker departed the ship, Seydlitz, escorted by a pair of torpedo boats, withdrew southward to the Jade.[26] Seydlitz was out of service for over a month, due to the mine damage.[27]

At 04:50 on 25 April, the German battlecruisers were approaching Lowestoft when the light cruisers Rostock and Elbing, which had been covering the southern flank, spotted the light cruisers and destroyers of Commodore Tyrwhitt's Harwich Force.[26] Bödicker refused to be distracted by the British ships, and instead ordered his ships' guns be trained on Lowestoft. The German battlecruisers destroyed two 6 in(15 cm) shore batteries and inflicted other damage to the town. In the process, a single 6 in shell from one of the shore batteries struck Moltke, but the ship sustained no significant damage.[28] KzS Zenker, Von der Tann's commanding officer, later wrote:

Mist over the sea and the smoke from the ships ahead made it difficult for us to make out our targets as we steered for Lowestoft. But after we turned [to the north], the Empire Hotel offered us an ample landmark for effective bombardment. At 05:11 we opened fire with our heavy and medium calibres on the harbour works and swing bridges. After a few "shorts" the shooting was good. From the after-bridge a fire in the town, and from another vantage point a great explosion at the entry [to the harbour] were reported.[26]

At 05:20, the German raiders turned north, towards Yarmouth, which they reached by 05:42. The visibility was so poor that the German ships fired one salvo each, with the exception of Derfflinger, which fired fourteen rounds from her main battery. The German ships turned back south, and at 05:47 encountered for the second time the Harwich Force, which had by then been engaged by the six light cruisers of the screening force. Bödicker's ships opened fire from a range of 13,000 yards (12,000 m).[29] Tyrwhitt immediately turned his ships around and fled south, but not before the cruiser Conquest sustained severe damage. Due to reports of British submarines and torpedo attacks, Bödicker broke off the chase and turned back east towards the High Seas Fleet. At this point, Scheer, who had been warned of the Grand Fleet's sortie from Scapa Flow, turned back towards Germany.[29]

Battle of Jutland[edit]

Almost immediately after the Lowestoft raid, Admiral Scheer began planning another foray into the North Sea. He had initially intended to launch the operation in mid-May, but the mine damage to Seydlitz had proved difficult to repair—Scheer was unwilling to embark on a major raid without his battlecruiser forces at full strength. On May 22, the Wilhelmshaven dockyard reported Seydlitz to be fit for duty, but tests carried out that night showed that the broadside torpedo flat that had been damaged by the mine was still not watertight, and there were still leaks in the fore and aft transverse bulkheads. Further repairs were necessary, and so the operation was postponed another week, by which time the Wilhelmshaven dockyard assured Scheer that the ship would be ready.[30] At noon on 28 May, the repairs to Seydlitz were finally completed, and the ship returned to the I Scouting Group.[31]

On the night of 30 May 1916, the five battlecruisers of the I Scouting Group lay in anchor in the Jade roadstead. The following morning, at 02:00 CET,[A 5] the ships slowly steamed out towards the Skagerrak at a speed of 16 knots (30 km/h).[31] By this time, Hipper had transferred his flag from Seydlitz to the newer battlecruiser Lützow. The flagship was followed by Derfflinger, Seydlitz, Moltke, and Von der Tann.[31] The II Scouting Group, consisting of the light cruisers SMS Frankfurt, Rear Admiral Bödicker's flagship, Wiesbaden, Pillau, and Elbing, and 30 torpedo boats of the II, VI, and IX Flotillas, accompanied Hipper's battlecruisers.[31]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ This article will primarily cover the I Scouting Group's composition and activities during World War I. There is very little information in English-language sources on the unit before the war.
  2. ^ Beatty had intended to retain only the two rearmost light cruisers from Goodenough's squadron; however, Nottingham's signalman misinterpreted the signal, thinking that it was intended for the whole squadron, and thus transmitted it to Goodenough, who ordered his ships back into their screening positions ahead of Beatty's battlecruisers.
  3. ^ Thus, Lion on Seydlitz, Tiger on Moltke, Princess Royal on Derfflinger, and New Zealand on Blücher.
  4. ^ However, the near destruction of Seydlitz revealed the dangers flash fires in main battery turrets and their working chambers. Following an investigation into the explosion, the German navy tightened ammunition and propellant handling procedures, which to a large degree made it unlikely that a flash fire could destroy a ship. The British navy was unaware of these dangers, and so did not take similar measures, which resulted in disastrous consequences for the British battlecruisers at the Battle of Jutland, where three ships were destroyed by magazine explosions. See: Tarrant, p. 40
  5. ^ It should be noted that the times mentioned in this section are in CET, which is congruent with the German perspective. This is one hour ahead of UTC, the time zone commonly used in British works.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Staff, p. 9
  2. ^ Staff, p. 15
  3. ^ Staff, p. 22
  4. ^ Staff, p. 39
  5. ^ Staff, p. 40
  6. ^ Staff, p. 42
  7. ^ Tarrant, p. 26
  8. ^ Massie, p. 107
  9. ^ Strachan, p. 417
  10. ^ Massie, p. 114
  11. ^ a b c Tarrant, p. 30
  12. ^ a b c Tarrant, p. 31
  13. ^ a b Tarrant, p. 32
  14. ^ a b Tarrant, p. 33
  15. ^ Scheer, p. 70
  16. ^ a b c Tarrant, p. 34
  17. ^ a b Tarrant, p. 35
  18. ^ a b c d Tarrant, p. 36
  19. ^ a b c Tarrant, p. 38
  20. ^ a b c d Tarrant, p.39
  21. ^ Tarrant, p. 40
  22. ^ Tarrant, pp. 40–41
  23. ^ Tarrant, p. 41
  24. ^ Tarrant, p. 42
  25. ^ a b c Tarrant, p. 52
  26. ^ a b c d Tarrant, p. 53
  27. ^ Tarrant, p. 55
  28. ^ Staff, p. 15
  29. ^ a b Tarrant, p. 54
  30. ^ Tarrant, p. 58
  31. ^ a b c d Tarrant, p. 62

References[edit]