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Battle off Texel

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Battle off Texel
Part of the First World War
A sketch of the ship positions and manoeuvres during the Battle off Texel by a sailor who participated in the battle
A sketch of the battle by one of the participants.
Date 17 October 1914
Location 50 nautical miles (58 mi; 93 km) off Texel, the Netherlands, North Sea
Result British victory
Belligerents
 United Kingdom Flag of the German Empire.svg Germany
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Cecil H. Fox German Empire Georg Thiele [1]
Strength
1 light cruiser,
4 destroyers
4 torpedo boats[2]
Casualties and losses
3 destroyers damaged
5 wounded
4 torpedo boats sunk
218 killed
30 captured[3]

The Battle off Texel, also known as the Action off Texel or the Action of 17 October 1914, was a naval battle off the coast of the Dutch island of Texel during the First World War. A British squadron consisting of one light cruiser and four destroyers on a routine patrol, encountered the remnants of the German 7th Half Flotilla of torpedo boats, which was en route to the British coast, to lay mines.[4][nb 1] The British forces attacked and sank the German flotilla of four torpedo boats. Outgunned, the German force attempted to flee and then fought a desperate and ineffective action against the British force.[5]

The battle resulted in the loss of the German torpedo boat squadron and prevented the mining of busy shipping lanes, such as the mouth of the River Thames. The British had few casualties and little damage to their vessels. The battle also greatly influenced the tactics and deployments of the remaining German torpedo boat flotillas in the North Sea area, as the loss greatly shook the faith of the commanders in the effectiveness of the force.[6]

Background[edit]

After the opening naval Battle of Heligoland Bight, the German High Seas Fleet was ordered to avoid confrontations with larger opposing forces, to avoid costly and demoralizing reverses. Apart from occasional German raids, the North Sea was dominated by the Royal Navy which regularly patrolled the area, although German light forces operated regularly in North Sea.[7] On 16 October 1914, information about activity by German light forces in the Heligoland Bight became more definite and the 1st Division of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla (Harwich Force), consisting of the new light cruiser HMS Undaunted (Captain Cecil Fox) and four Laforey-class destroyers, HMS Lennox, Lance, Loyal and Legion was sent to investigate. At 13:50 on 17 October, while steaming northwards, about 50 nmi (58 mi; 93 km) to the south-west of the island of Texel, the 1st Division encountered a squadron of German torpedo boats, comprising the remaining vessels of the 7th Half Flotilla (Korvettenkapitän Georg Thiele in S119) SMS S115, S117, S118 about 8 nmi (9.2 mi; 15 km) ahead.[nb 2] The German ships were sailing abreast, about 0.5 nmi (0.58 mi; 0.93 km) apart, on a bearing slightly to the east of the 1st Division. The German ships made no hostile move against the British and made no attempt flee; the British assuming that they had mistaken the ships for friendly vessels. The German flotilla was part of the Emden Patrol and had been sent out of the Ems River, to mine the southern coast of Britain including the mouth of the Thames but had been intercepted before reaching its objective.[8]

A German Torpedo boat cruising at sea with smoke billowing from a stack amidships.
A Großes Torpedoboot 1898 class torpedo boat, similar to those at Texel.

The British squadron out-gunned the German 7th Half Flotilla, the Undaunted (Captain Cecil Fox, squadron commander)—an Arethusa-class light cruiser—was armed with two BL 6 inch Mk XII naval guns and seven QF 4 inch Mk V naval guns, in single mounts (most without gun shields) and eight torpedo tubes. Undaunted was experimentally armed with a pair of 2-pounder anti-aircraft guns, something most of her class lacked and at best speed could make 28.5 kn (32.8 mph; 52.8 km/h). The four Laforey-class destroyers were armed with four torpedo tubes in two twin mounts, three 4-inch guns and a 2-pounder gun. The destroyers were slightly faster than the cruiser and could make about 29 kn (33 mph; 54 km/h) at full power.[9] The German vessels were inferior to the British in other areas, the 7th Half Flotilla was composed of ageing Großes Torpedoboot 1898 class boats and had been completed in 1904. The German boats were nearly equal in speed to the British at 28 knots (52 km/h; 32 mph).[10] Each of the German vessels was armed with three 50 mm (1.97 in) guns, that were of shorter range and throw-weight than the British guns. The biggest danger to the British squadron was the five 450 mm (17.7 in) torpedoes carried by each German boat.[11]

Battle[edit]

Island of Texel

Upon closer approach, the German vessels realized the nearby vessels were British and scattered, while Undaunted—which was closer to the Germans than the destroyers—opened fire on the nearest torpedo boat. This German vessel managed to dodge the fire from Undaunted by changing course but lost speed and the British force caught up. To protect Undaunted from torpedo attack and to destroy the Germans as quickly as possible, Fox ordered the squadron to divide. Lance and Lennox chased S115 and S119 as Legion and Loyal pursued S117 and S118.[12] Fire from Legion, Loyal and Undaunted damaged S118 so badly that its bridge was blown off the deck, sinking her at 15:17. Lance and Lennox engaged S115, disabling her steering gear and causing the German vessel to circle. Lennox's fire was so effective that the bridge of S115 was also destroyed but the German torpedo-boat did not strike her colours.[13]

Four German torpedo boats under fire from British ships off of the Dutch island of Texel.
German boats under fire off Texel

The two central boats in the German flotilla, S117 and the flotilla leader S119, tried to hit Undaunted with torpedoes but Undaunted outmanoeuvred the German boats and remained unscathed.[14] When Legion and Loyal had finished off S118, they came to Undaunted's aid and engaged the two attackers. Legion attacked S117, which fired its last three torpedoes and continued to engage with gunfire. Legion pulverized S117, damaging her steering mechanism which forced her to circle before she was sunk at 15:30. At the same time, Lance and Lennox had damaged S115 to the point where only one of the destroyers was needed. Lance joined Loyal in bombarding S119 with lyddite shells.[15] S119 managed to fire a torpedo at Lance and hit the destroyer amidships but the torpedo failed to detonate. S119 was sunk at 15:35 by gunfire from Lance and Loyal, taking the German flotilla commander down with it. S115 stayed afloat despite constant attacks from Lennox, which sent a boarding party, who found a wreck with only one German on board who happily surrendered. Thirty members of the crew were eventually rescued from the sea by the British vessels.[16] The action ended at 16:30, with gunfire from Undaunted finishing off the abandoned hulk of S115.[17]

Aftermath[edit]

Analysis[edit]

The German Seventh Half Flotilla cruising at sea consisting of five torpedo boats one of which did not take part in the Battle off Texel
The German 7th Half Flotilla in 1911 (S116 in the photograph was sunk on 6 October)

The battle was seen as a great boost of morale for the British as two days previous, they had lost the cruiser HMS Hawke to a U-boat. The effect on British morale is reflected in its fictional and nationalistic inclusion in the 1915 dime novel The Boy Allies Under Two Flags, by Robert L. Drake.[18] Controversy arose in Germany, because the hospital ship Ophelia, which had been sent out to rescue survivors from the sunken boats, was seized by the British for violating the Hague Convention rules on the use of hospital ships.[19] The loss of a squadron of German torpedo boats, led to a drastic change in tactics in the English Channel and along the coast of Flanders. There were fewer sorties into the Channel and the torpedo boat force was relegated to coastal patrol and rescuing aircrew.[20] The British received a bonus on 30 November, when a trawler pulled up the sealed chest thrown off S119 by Captain Thiele. The chest contained a German codebook used by the German light forces stationed on the coast, allowing the British to read German wireless communication for long afterwards.[21]

Casualties[edit]

Despite the odds, no German vessel struck her colours and the flotilla fought to the end. The four ships of the German Seventh Half Flotilla were sunk by Harwich Force and over two hundred sailors were killed including the commanding officer. Thirty-one German sailors were rescued and taken prisoner; a captured officer died of wounds soon after.[22] Two more German sailors were later rescued by a neutral vessel.[23] Only four British sailors were wounded, along with superficial damage to three of the destroyers.[22] Legion had one 4 lb (1.8 kg) shell hit and one man was wounded by machine-gun fire. Loyal was hit twice and had three or four men wounded. Lance had superficial machine-gun damage and the other vessels were unscathed.[24]

Order of battle[edit]

Royal Navy[edit]

3rd Destroyer Flotilla (detachment), Captain Cecil H. Fox, Captain (D)

1st division, 3rd Destroyer Flotilla

  • HMS Lance, destroyer; Commander Wion de M. Egerton, division commander[22]
  • HMS Lennox, destroyer; Lieutenant-Commander Clement. R. Dane, commander[22]
  • HMS Legion, destroyer; Lieutenant-Commander Claud F. Allsup, commander[22]
  • HMS Loyal, destroyer; Lieutenant-Commander Burges Watson, commander[22]

German Navy[edit]

7th Torpedoboat Half-flotilla, Korvettenkapitän Georg Thiele , commander

Notes[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Some sources state that the German vessels were destroyers but German destroyer-like vessels were officially termed große Torpedoboote (large torpedo boats) during World War I.
  2. ^ S116 had also been a member of the 7th Half Flotilla but had been sunk by a British submarine on 6 October.

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Williamson, 2003, p. 9
  2. ^ Halsey, 1920, p. 16
  3. ^ Groner, 1990, pp. 169–171
  4. ^ Scheer, 1920, p. 60
  5. ^ NRV, 1919, pp. 140–145
  6. ^ Karau, 2003, pp. 44–58
  7. ^ Osborne, 2004, p. 90
  8. ^ Halpern, 1995, pp. 35–37
  9. ^ Parkes, 1919, pp. 1–634
  10. ^ Wyllie, 1918, p. 30
  11. ^ Groner, 1990, pp. 169–171
  12. ^ NRV, 1919, pp. 140–145
  13. ^ Wyllie, 1918, p. 28
  14. ^ Wyllie, 1918, p. 28
  15. ^ NRV, 1919, pp. 140–145
  16. ^ Wyllie, 1918, p. 30
  17. ^ NRV, 1919, pp. 140–145
  18. ^ Drake, 2004, p. 15
  19. ^ Scheer, 1920, p. 61
  20. ^ Karau, 2003, pp. 44–58
  21. ^ Halpern, 1995, pp. 35–37
  22. ^ a b c d e f Corbett 2009, p. 218.
  23. ^ Drake, 2004, p. 15
  24. ^ Drake, 2004, p. 15
  25. ^ Toeche-Mittler, 1920, nopp
  26. ^ Toeche-Mittler, 1920, nopp
  27. ^ Toeche-Mittler, 1920, nopp
  28. ^ Toeche-Mittler, 1920, nopp

References[edit]

Books
Journals
Newspapers
Web

Coordinates: 53°17′21″N 3°28′27″E / 53.28917°N 3.47417°E / 53.28917; 3.47417