Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Cressy class joins the fleet.

"Being in all respects ready for sea..."

A warm weekend saw the completion of the six armoured cruisers for the pre-Dreadnought Royal Naval force. The models are simple in design and execution, but I think they look the part.

Front division - Cressy, Sutlej, Aboukir. Rear division - Hogue, Euryalus, Bacchante.

In the First World War the class had the unhappy distinction of losing half its number in a single encounter with the enemy.

Early morning, September 22nd 1914: HMS Cressy, Aboukir and Hogue as part of 7th Cruiser squadron were patrolling between the German minefields in the southern North Sea and the edge of Dutch territorial waters. The ships steamed at around 10 knots and were not zig-zagging against submarine attack. Hours before, the squadron's destroyer screen had been forced to return to port due to bad weather. A few days earlier First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill had ordered that such cruisers were not to operate without a destroyer screen, yet for some reason his order had not passed down the chain of command. The cruiser squadron's movements were repetitive, and the German naval staff were well aware of its position.

At 6.30am the squadron was about 30 miles west of Ymuiden when an explosion shattered the side of Aboukir, which began to sink. Orders had not then been given for vessels not to approach a sinking comrade. Assuming Aboukir had struck a mine, the Hogue immediately sailed to the rescue - only to be hit by two torpedoes, sinking ten minutes later. Aboukir went down after twenty five minutes. Cressy then approached and remained stopped to pick up survivors. As she began to move away two more torpedoes found their mark on her hull. She capsized and quickly sank.

The culprit was German submarine U9 commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Weddigen, a 500-ton boat armed with four torpedo tubes and six torpedoes. Weddigen reported that the cruisers were easy targets, and the highly-successful action stimulated German development of submarine warfare.

Sixty-two officers and one thousand three hundred and ninety-seven men were lost. The disaster was not reported in the British press as its effects on national morale would've been severe. It demonstrated that such elderly ships were vulnerable to torpedo attack, and led to other old ships being fitted with waterline bulges for protection against torpedo and mine attack.


Michael Awdry said...

Lovely work A.J. I had no idea of the fate of HMS Cressy, or indeed the others, until I read this. Fascinating stuff.

A J said...

Thanks, Michael. The wartime story of the Cressy class is indeed tragic. The other three ships survived, though. It shows how quickly a type of ship can become obsolete. Eighteen years is short by human terms, yet it was the duration of the Cressy's active service and saw radical changes in warfare.


home page uniques