Northern Patrol

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Northern Patrol
Active(1904-1917), (1939-1941)
Country United Kingdom
Branch Royal Navy
TypeNaval Force
Garrison/HQScapa Flow

The Northern Patrol also known as Cruiser Force B and Northern Patrol Force was an operation of the British or Royal Navy during the First World War and again during the Second World War.

The Patrol existed to form part of the British "distant" blockade of Germany. Its main task was to prevent trade to and from Germany by checking merchant ships and their cargoes. In addition it was to stop German warships, raiders and other German naval ships from leaving the North Sea for the Atlantic Ocean or entering the North Sea from the Atlantic, protect Shetland against invasion and gather intelligence from intercepted neutral ships.[1]

First World War[edit]

Already in 1904, ten years before the start of the First World War, the British naval War Plan saw Germany as the main potential enemy. The War Plan included a distant naval blockade to cut trade to and from Germany, including goods carried in neutral vessels. In case of war with Germany a special naval force was to be activated to patrol the sea routes between the Atlantic and North Sea between the north of Scotland and Norway. The force was designated Cruiser Force B or Northern Patrol Force and operated under control of the commander of the Home or Grand Fleet. It was to operate from Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands.[1] Later the force was redesignated 10th Cruiser Squadron.

During the First World War, the Admiral Commanding, Orkneys and Shetlands was established at the outbreak of hostilities to establish and maintain the Grand Fleet's principal base at Scapa Flow. This included the local defence forces for the base. The Northern Patrol operated within this command but its relationship to this shore command is unclear.[2]

By 1914 the Northern Patrol was to be composed of eight old Edgar class cruisers from the reserve fleet, to be augmented with armed merchant cruisers as soon as suitable merchant vessels had been converted.[3] With war between Great Britain and Germany expected to break out any moment the 10th Cruiser Squadron was mobilised on 1 August 1914 under command of Rear-Admiral Dudley de Chair. The first cruisers arrived at their Scapa base on 6 August 1914, two days after Britain declared war on Germany, and operations started on 9 August 1914.[4]

The Edgars with their poor sea-keeping capabilities and their old and unreliable engines were soon found unsuitable for operations with the Northern Patrol.[5] However, already in mid-August 1914 the first armed merchant cruiser had started operations with the Northern Patrol and soon enough AMCs were available to recall the surviving seven Edgars (HMS Hawke had been lost in October 1914) on 20 November 1914.[6] The AMCs had better sea-keeping and more reliable machinery than the Edgars and provided their crews with far more comfortable quarters.[7] Later armed trawlers were added to the force. Warships from the Grand Fleet or other commands were sometimes temporary attached to the Northern Patrol.

Admiral De Chair was early 1916 replaced by Rear-Admiral (later Vice-Admiral) Reginald Tupper.[8] He commanded the 10th Cruiser Squadron until it was abolished in November 1917. By then the entry of the United States, the main source of contraband, in the war drastically reduced the need for the blockade forces. The ships of the force were reassigned to convoy and anti-submarine work.[9]

During its existence the ships of the Northern Patrol inspected almost 13000 merchant vessels at sea. Only 642 ships had managed to penetrate the blockade without being inspected. The force lost one cruiser and ten AMCs. The blockade is generally considered to have been one of the main causes of the defeat of Germany in the First World War.[10]

Rear-Admiral Commanding[edit]


Rank Flag Name Term
Rear-Admiral Commanding, Northern Patrol
1 Rear-Admiral Flag of Rear-Admiral - Royal Navy.svg Sir Dudley Rawson Stratford de Chair August 1914-March 1916.
2 Rear-Admiral Flag of Rear-Admiral - Royal Navy.svg Sir Reginald Godfrey Otway Tupper March 1916-December 1917


Distribution of the Northern Patrol first formation included:[12][13]
Unit Date Notes
1 10th Cruiser Squadron August 1914-December 1917 23-24 Ships (armed merchant cruisers)

Second World War[edit]

The Northern Patrol was reactivated on 6 September 1939, three days after the start of the Second World War. Its area of operations was more extensive than during the First World War and included the areas north of Scotland and Ireland, between the north of Scotland and Norway, around Shetland, the Faeroe Islands and Iceland, and the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland.[14]

As in the First World War, older cruisers from the reserve fleet made up the original units of the new Northern Patrol: four C class and four D class light cruisers, with the heavy cruiser Effingham as flagship, and for a short time the two light cruisers of the E class.[15] However, armed merchant cruisers soon replaced those.[16] As in the First World War, warships from the Home Fleet or other commands were sometimes temporarily attached to the Northern Patrol.[17]

During the patrol's revival, the force continued to operate within the Orkneys and Shetlands Command but was not under the admiral commanding.[18]

Rear-Admiral/Vice-Admiral Commanding[edit]


Rank Flag Name Term
Rear-Admiral/Vice-Admiral Commanding, Northern Patrol [21]
1 Vice-Admiral Flag of Vice-Admiral - Royal Navy.svg Sir Max Kennedy Horton September 1939-January 1940.
2 Vice-Admiral Flag of Vice-Admiral - Royal Navy.svg Allen T. Hunt January 1940- July 1940.
3 Rear-Admiral Flag of Rear-Admiral - Royal Navy.svg Ernest John Spooner July 1940-September 1940.


Distribution of the Northern Patrol second formation included:[22]
Unit Date Notes
1 7th Cruiser Squadron September to December 1939
2 12th Cruiser Squadron September 1939- re-titled 3 October 1939 re-designated 11th Cruiser Squadron
3 11th Cruiser Squadron 3 October 1939 - January 1940

Note:These squadrons were supplemented and then replaced by armed merchant cruisers which operated until dispersed or converted to other duties between 1940-1941.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hampshire 1980, p. 17.
  2. ^ Watson, Graham. "The Home Commands". Naval History, 27 October 2015. Retrieved 31 October 2016.
  3. ^ Hampshire 1980, p. 18 and 35.
  4. ^ Hampshire 1980, p. 21.
  5. ^ Hampshire 1980, p. 32.
  6. ^ Hampshire 1980, p. 34.
  7. ^ Hampshire 1980, p. 38-39.
  8. ^ Hampshire 1980, p. 71.
  9. ^ Hampshire 1980, p. 86-87.
  10. ^ Hampshire 1980, p. 87-88.
  11. ^ Harley Tony, Lovell Simon, editors. "Northern Patrol". The Dreadnought Project, 15 July 2016. Retrieved 31 October 2016.
  12. ^ Watson, Dr Graham. "Royal Navy Organisation and Ship Deployment, Inter-War Years 1914-1918". Gordon Smith, 27 October 2015. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  13. ^ Watson, Dr Graham. "Tenth Cruiser Squadron, Northern Patrol of the Grand Fleet, 1914-1917". Gordon Smith, 11 July 2015. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  14. ^ Hampshire 1980, p. 93.
  15. ^ Hampshire 1980, p. 88-89.
  16. ^ Hampshire 1980.
  17. ^ Hampshire 1980, p. 107.
  18. ^ Watson, Graham. "Major Wartime Shore Commands". Naval History, 19 September 2015. Retrieved 31 October 2016.
  19. ^ Watson, Graham. "Major Wartime Shore Commands". Naval History, 19 September 2015. Retrieved 31 October 2016.
  20. ^ Bruce, Anthony; Cogar, William (2014). Encyclopedia of Naval History. Hoboken: Routledge. p. 181. ISBN 9781135935344.
  21. ^ Government, H.M. (October 1913). "Flag Officers - Vice Admirals". The Navy List. H.M. Stationery Office. p. 87.
  22. ^ Watson, Dr Graham. "Royal Navy Organisation in World War 2, 1939-1945". Gordon Smith, 19 September 2015. Retrieved 27 February 2018.


  • Hampshire, A. Cecil (1980). The Blockaders. London: William Kimber. ISBN 0-7183-0227-3.

External links[edit]