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 to leave the North Sea into the Atlantic Ocean or enter the North Sea from the Atlantic, protect the Shetlands against invasion and gather intelligence from intercepted neutral ships.
The Northern patrol in WW I
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. Later the force was redesignated 10th Cruiser Squadron.
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. 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.
The Edgars with their poor sea-keeping capabilities and their old and unreliable engines were soon found unsuitable for operations with the Northern Patrol. 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. The AMCs had better sea-keeping and more reliable machinery than the Edgars and provided their crews with far more comfortable quarters. 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. 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.
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.
The Northern patrol in WW II
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 the Shetlands, the Faeroe Islands and Iceland, and the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland.
As in the First Wold War, older cruisers from the reserve fleet made up the original units of the new Northern Patrol: 4 C class and 4 D class light cruisers, the slightly larger light cruiser Effingham is flagship, and for a short time the two light cruisers of the E class. However, armed merchant cruisers soon supplanted and replaced those. As in the First World War, warships from the Home Fleet or other commands were sometimes temporary attached to the Northern Patrol.
- Hampshire 1980, p. 17.
- Hampshire 1980, p. 18 and 35.
- Hampshire 1980, p. 21.
- Hampshire 1980, p. 32.
- Hampshire 1980, p. 34.
- Hampshire 1980, p. 38-39.
- Hampshire 1980, p. 71.
- Hampshire 1980, p. 86-87.
- Hampshire 1980, p. 87-88.
- Hampshire 1980, p. 93.
- Hampshire 1980, p. 88-89.
- Hampshire 1980.
- Hampshire 1980, p. 107.