HMS Arethusa

HMS Arethusa was the name ship of the Arethusa class of light cruisers, and the only member of the class to be sunk during the First World War. In mid-August 1914 she was commissioned as part of the Harwich Force, one of the most active British naval forces. On 27 August she became the flagship of Commodore R. Y. Tyrwhitt, commander of the Harwich Force. She was also leader of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla, of 16 destroyers.

Commander Roger Keyes, c.1914
Roger Keyes, c.1914

Arethusa took part in the first significant naval action in the North Sea, the battle of Heligoland Bight of 28 August 1914. This action had originally been devised by Commodore Keyes, commander of the Submarine Flotilla. The Germans sent out a flotilla of destroyers into Heligoland Bight every day, supported by light cruisers. The British planned to attack this isolated force with Tyrwhitt’s destroyers and cruisers and Keyes’s submarines. The plan was then expanded to include the Grand Fleet’s Battlecruisers. The Germans learnt something was planned, and expanded their own forces to include a number of larger cruisers.

The Arethusa led the Harwich Force during the first phase of the battle, the attempted British ambush. She then came into contact with two German cruisers, Stettinand Frauenlob, and was badly damaged by gunfire. All but one 6in gun was knocked out, and the ship slowed. During the battle all but two of the 4in guns were repaired, but she was then attacked by the German cruiser Stralsund, and was in some danger when the British battlecruisers arrived. After the battle she had to be towed back to port by the Hogue, having suffered 11 dead and 17 wounded. She was still being repaired in mid-September.

On 3 November 1914, Arethusa was one of the British ships mobilised in an attempt to catch the German ships that had attacked Yarmouth, without success. On 25 December she was part of the force that protected the seaplane raid against Cuxhaven.

Arethusa played a part in the battle of Dogger Bank, 24 January 1915, firing two torpedoes into the German cruiser Blücher. Later she returned to the scene and rescued 260 survivors.

In June 1915 she became flagship of the newly formed 5th Light Cruiser Squadron, while remaining Tyrwhitt’s flagship. In that capacity she covered the Borkum seaplane raid of July 1915, and took part in the chase of the German minelayer Meteor. The German ship was scuttled when it became clear that she was surrounded by significant British forces.

On 11 February 1916 she hit a mine just off Felixstowe. The mine had been laid by the German submarine UC 7 on the previous day. The explosion killed six men. The engine stopped immediately, and the ship soon began to settle lower in the water. An attempt to tow her to safety failed, and she ran aground on Cutler Shoal. Attempts to retrieve her lasted until August, when the hulk was abandoned and allowed to break up.

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed


Armour – deck


 - belt





Two 6in Mk XII guns
Six 4in quick firing Mk IV guns
One 3pdr anti-aircraft gun
Four 21in torpedo tubes above water

Crew complement



25 November 1913


August 1914


11 February 1916



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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (20 October 2007), HMS Arethusa ,

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