Battle of Heligoland Bight, 28 August 1914

The first significant naval engagement of the First World War. The German High Seas Fleet was based in Jade Bay, on the short German north sea coast. The bay was approached through the Heligoland Bight, the area of sea off the mouth of the Elbe, named after the island of Heligoland, thirty miles off the coast. Early in the war, a pattern of patrols was put in place by the Germans, where each evening, a destroyer flotilla, escorted by light cruisers, would arrive at Heligoland. The cruisers would then return to harbour, returning in the morning to escort the destroyers home. This was intended to detect any British night time attack on the High Seas Fleet. News of this patrol soon reached the British. Two Royal Navy officers, Commodore Roger Keyes in charge of the Submarine force, and Commodore
Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt (1870-1951)
Commodore
Reginald Tyrwhitt
(1870-1951)
Reginald Tyrwhitt, commander of the destroyers and light cruisers at Harwich, put forward a plan to intercept these forces. The original plan was to send forward a decoy force of very light cruisers and destroyers, to draw the German heavy ships out into a submarine ambush, aided by three battle cruisers from the Grand Fleet, committed after Tyrwhitt impressed Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty.

The Admiralty then decided to send six light cruisers, and up to battle cruiser force to five, this time without informing the original forces. The Germans guessed a raid was planned, and increased their cruiser force. When combat was joined, the British force only managed to sink one German destroyer, before German cruisers started to do serious damage. At this point (11.50 am) the first British reinforcements, the 1 Light Cruiser squadron, arrived, and saved the destroyers from a mauling, managing to sink the German cruiser SMS 'Mainz'. Luckily for the British, the heaviest German ships were trapped behind the sandbar at the mouth of Jade Bay by low tide, and could not join the battle. However, heavier German cruisers were despatched at speed to join the battle. Finally, the British battlecruisers, under Rear Admiral David Beatty, were engaged (12.30 am), and quickly sank the German cruisers SMS 'Koln' and SMS 'Ariadne' (which managed to leave the battle, but capsized at 3.10 PM). Only the mist, which limited visibility to at most 4-5 miles allowed the remaining German cruisers to escape. The battle was portrayed as a major victory in Britain, the Royal Navy having sunk three cruisers and a destroyer for no loss, just off the German coast. Its main impact was to confirm the Kaiser in his determination not to risk the High Seas Fleet in any major encounters, and thus to confirm British control of the North Sea, and the security of the blockade of Germany.

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

Naval Battles of the First World War, Geoffrey Bennett . Although this was first published in the 1960s it is still a good account of the major surface clashes of the First World War, looking at the early clashes in the world's oceans and the series of battles in the North Sea, ending with Jutland. The final part of the book looks at the U-boat war, although not in as much detail as the earlier surface sections. [read full review]
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coverThe First World War , John Keegan. An excellent narrative history of the First World War, especially strong on the buildup to war. Good on detail without losing the overall picture. Keegan keeps to a factual account of the war, leaving out the judgement calls that dominate some books. [see more]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (16 March 2001), Battle of Heligoland Bight, 28 August 1914, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_heligoland.html

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