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Invasion 1915

The German Invasion of Great Britain

By David Atwell (with special thanks to Chris Nuttall who inspired this AH)



When the plans for invasion of Great Britain, in a possible future European war, were first proposed by the German Navy in 1912, the Germany Army believed it to be ludicrous. No one in the Army believed it be to possible. Not only was the fact that the Royal Navy had to be defeated, which to the Germans even in 1912 seemed impossible, but then there was the almost impossible mission to get a large army to actually land on British soil. The German Army planners figured, even with perfect conditions, they would need at least 200 000 troops. The Navy did not argue with this figure.  

But regardless of what the Navy argued, the German Army still scoffed at the idea. First there were no such troops available for such a wild adventure. In any future European war, every available soldier would be needed for war on the Continent. The Germans rightly believed that they would face a war on two fronts - namely against the French & the Russians - the combined armies of which greatly outnumbered the Germans. Hence the last thing that the German Army wanted to deal with was sending 200 000 troops on a naval venture that would most likely fail.

The German Navy, on the other hand, believed that it could pull it off. The Kaiser somewhat warmed to the Navy’s arguments, especially when one considers that the Navy was his pet project. But the Army, at first, got their way. There was no doubt about it. The Army was quite right. The Royal Navy would have to be dealt with before any invasion could take place. As long as the Royal Navy controlled the North Sea, then any invasion convoy could be intercepted & destroyed. Furthermore, if by some miracle the invasion convoy did make it to their destination, then the Royal Navy could still intercept all, if not most, of the invasion force’s supply convoys. Either way it would mean defeat for Germany.

Nonetheless, in 1912, regardless of the pros & cons, it was merely an academic debate. War, however, changes things & come August of 1914, Europe found itself at war. Regardless of the best efforts of the German Army, they soon discovered that they could not simply march over the French armies. This was to be no Franco-Prussian War. Instead the Germans found themselves in trouble in Belgium & held up in North-Eastern France. The Army had disappointed the Kaiser. The Navy thus decided to take advantage of the Army’s lack lustre performance. This time, however, the Navy’s plans were long term & would not involve the Army until the path to invasion had been cleared. The Kaiser, the day after the German Army defeat at the Battle of the Marne, gave the go ahead for the Navy’s plans of taking Britain out of the War.

The Incorrigible Raids

The first part, of a multi-part operation, was possibly the most daring & dangerous of missions. After its completion, Winston Churchill First Lord of the Admiralty, would declare them “the most incorrigible of raids ever to be unleashed upon the United Kingdom”. He meant the comment as a sneer, but the Germans quickly seized upon Churchill’s own words & called the successful operation “The Incorrigible Raids”. Churchill was noted, by Admiralty staff, as not being at all impressed by the Germans attributing the name of their successful action after himself.

The raids were a two-fold effort which was forced upon the Navy by the very fact that the Army refused to supply any troops. Instead the Navy had to use their own. Thus the Marine Division & the Naval Division, with their attached groups, were given the unheard of task of carrying out what seemed the impossible. First they would demonstrate that a successful landing could be made on British soil. And second, being the more practical outcome, they would destroy four important Royal Navy bases in the north of Britain. It would be this last part which would prove to be the more important aspect of the raids.

Even so, the raids almost never got under way. The High Seas Fleet, a key component in future operations, had to opened the way for the raids. Admiral von Ingenohl was given the task of deceiving the Grand Fleet into sailing away from the British coast & chase him to Norway. At first, Admiral Jellicoe, the commander of the Grand Fleet, did not take the bait. Instead he remained not far from Scapa Flow. Jellicoe had become concerned from the start that the Germans might either lurer him into a submarine trap or sneak in an invasion force. This latter concern had much justification with Jellicoe as he had achieved exactly that during naval exercises in 1913.

It was only after British patrols, around Heligoland informed him that there were no German troop ships massing for an invasion, when Jellicoe decided to see what the High Seas Fleet was up to. Other than the concerns over an invasion, the other thing which the British did not want was the High Seas Fleet let loose on the sea lanes in the Atlantic Ocean.

There may have not been any troop ships in Jade Bay, but there were a large number of German destroyers & light cruisers. Although Jellicoe had been informed of their presence, he was prepared to accept them being there believing they were for local security. Already a Royal Navy attack had taken place on Wilhelmshaven, so it did not at all surprise Jellicoe, that the Germans may prepare a destroyer force to defend the important German port.

Unbeknownst to Jellicoe, this German destroyer/cruiser force, however, was not there for port defence. Rather the Germans had planned to take advantage of the speed of these ships &, after the Grand Fleet had left local waters to chase after the High Seas Fleet (of twelve capital ships plus their escorts), the ‘Raid Fleet’ for one of a better name, would dash across the North Sea & hit northern Britain. Thus on the evening of 17 October, the German V, VII, & IX Destroyer Flotillas & the IV Cruiser Squadron steamed off carrying close to 14 000 German Marines & 16 000 Naval troops.

Using speed as their only true defence during the crossing to the east of The Long Forties, the ‘Raid Fleet’ separated into four groups. These groups, it was calculated, should arrived at their respective objectives, Scapa Flow, Moray Firth, Dundee & Rosyth before or around dawn. There they would quickly disembark the troops, which they were carrying, & then give artillery support to the troops. It all seemed rather simple on paper, but as the troops well & truly knew (they were all veterans from the Battle for Antwerp), battle soon changes things.

The first group to land was possibly at the most important of the objectives: Scapa Flow. Here the German 1st Marine Brigade & the 2nd Erstz Brigade surprised the defenders of the Royal Naval base. Nonetheless fighting soon broke out in & around the area. Furthermore, the guns, which protected the base, began to fire, albeit in an unorganised & haphazard fashion. The German destroyers & cruisers covering the Marines did what they could, but two destroyers were sunk in the process.

On land, however, the weight of numbers were in the German’s favour & slowly, & at great cost to themselves, the German Marines were able to get to the more important facilities & wreaked havoc. By noon, the German troops were withdrawing after the chief engineering officer was satisfied with the damage caused by the demolition teams. Although some troops were lost & others taken prisoner during the withdrawal, most of the German raiding force were evacuated.

At Moray Firth the German 2nd Marine Brigade also succeeded in getting ashore. Unlike Scapa Flow, though, the defending force was not as large nor were the defending guns anywhere near as powerful or as plentiful as at Scapa Flow. Although one cruiser was damaged, the gun duels between the German ships & the defenders was basically a one-way contest. The German Marines had to endure a quick fire fight, but they too overwhelmed the handful of British personnel. The demolition teams went in & destroyed the entire base. Unlike Scapa Flow & the other bases, the Royal Navy believed that Moray Firth would be out of commission for a full year.

A similar story could be said for Dundee. Here the 1st Matrosen & 1st Marine Brigade, along with the 37th Landwehr Brigade, successfully landed unopposed at Dundee. Without any challenge by the defending guns, the troops quickly seized those & the base before a rifle was fired. This was soon to change as the British got over their surprise, but not even an attack around 11:00 hours by a Territorial Army battalion could dislodge the Germans. By 13:00 the demolition teams had done their job & the bulk of the German force was evacuated. Only near the end did the British try to attack the last Germans on the beach, but this was soon discovered to be folly, as the guns of the German destroyers & cruisers intervened.

Only at Rosyth was there any strong resistance presented to the Germans. And for that, the Germans paid dearly. Even before being able to land the 2nd Matrosen & 2nd Marine brigade along with the 38th Landwehr Brigade, the German ships had to fight their way past two determined Royal Navy destroyers. Although both defenders were eventually sunk, the gun battle alerted the defenders of Rosyth & nearby Edinburgh. By the time the German troops landed, they had a desperate fight on their hands. The first wave of British defenders may have been dealt with, but more were on the way. Whilst that was going on, artillery units from Edinburgh Castle & elsewhere began to engage the German ships. In the battle which followed, although many an artilleryman lost their life, they nonetheless were able to sink four German destroyers.

As battle on the Firth of Forth continued, the 2nd Matrosen & 2nd Marine Brigade managed to outflank their British rivals & headed straight for the naval base. Here they were met by the base’s defenders who gave a good account of themselves. The army units from Edinburgh tried to make ever effort to join up with the base’s defenders, but the 38th Landwehr Brigade had blocked the way. By 14:00 hours, the Germans had fought their way to the dock, & with bullets flying in all directions, the demolition teams managed to cause much damage. Most of the buildings & other facilities, however, were hardly touched except for numerous bullet holes. Once the docks, though, were destroyed to was decided to retreat. Alas, for the Germans, the 28th Landwehr Brigade had been cut off & there was no chance a message to withdraw could get through to them. After the German ships were finally forced to leave at 17:30 hours, the 38th Landwehr surrendered.

Even with the loss of an entire brigade & six ships, the Incorrigible Raids were a significant German success. They had ensured that four of the Royal Navy’s northern bases were crippled for at least six months. The effect of this meant that the Grand Fleet would have to be stationed further south in several different ports. The naval balance, although on paper had not changed, but in tactical & strategic terms, had moved towards the Germans.

Admiral Ingenohl, however, did not enjoy the success of the raids. Although he was able to lurer the Grand Fleet after him to the Norwegian coastline, he did not wait to have the Grand Fleet follow him further. Instead, as battle was raging around Rosyth, he immediately headed home. Jellicoe, on the other hand, was informed by radio of the raids at around 13:00 hours. Thinking that it was the start of an invasion, he immediately reversed course & headed to The Long Forties where he had been earlier. On the way back, further reports came in about the raids & he was pleased to hear that the Germans were withdrawing. Although he did not know of the precise location of the ‘Raid Fleet’ he made an educated guess of their whereabouts.

At dusk on 18 October, he found the Rosyth group of the ‘Raid Fleet’ to the east of Dogger Bank. Although the German ships were faster than most of his, Jellicoe nonetheless gave the order to open fire. At ranges of under 10 000 metres, the twelve Royal Navy battleships & three battle cruisers opened fire along with their escorts. All but three of the German ships would be sunk in this action along with the deaths of thousands of marines & naval troops. Only the night saved the surviving German ships. Jellicoe would retain his command. Ingenohl, however, was sacked by Tirpitz the next day.

Admiral Hipper became temporary commander of the High Seas Fleet, but Tirpitz was on the hunt for a permanent commander. Hipper knew this & wanted the job for himself. For this, & for the very reason of the Incorrigible Raids, Hipper wanted to go to sea immediately & have a fight there & then with the Grand Fleet. Tirpitz, though, had other ideas & was not at all keen on taking on the whole Grand Fleet just yet. Hipper would have to wait a while until the time was right.

Battle of Jutland

The Battle of Jutland was exactly what the Germans had hoped would occur as a result of the Incorrigible Raids. Now that four of the Royal Navy’s northern bases had been put out of action for at least six months, the Royal Navy had to split the Grand Fleet up into its separate squadrons & use the ports available to it from Newcastle down to Dover. Although the Grand Fleet could still operate as one, it would inevitably need to rendezvous at sea before it could counter any manoeuvre by the German High Seas Fleet. Such delays, Jellicoe knew, gave the Germans the advantage. It also meant that the Royal Navy had lost a significant advantage in the North Sea. The balance of power had shifted in the North Sea from Britain to Germany.

Hence it was in this situation when, on 16 December 1914, Hipper went to sea with everything he had at hand. Fourteen battleships & battle cruisers, with numerous escort ships, entered  the North Sea via the Kiel Cannel. These were spotted almost at once by a British patrol who immediately reported the sighting. Things moved fast at the Admiralty. Having picked up a lot of German Naval  radio activity earlier, the reported sighting of the High Seas Fleet merely confirmed what the Admiralty had already concluded. Ensuring that the Royal Navy would not be embarrassed again, the orders went out to sortie the Grand Fleet immediately.

The Royal Navy was able to get eighteen battleships &  four battle cruisers to sea as well as their escort ships. Some ships, however,  were on duties elsewhere in the world with their own respective missions. These included the HMAS Australia which was in the Pacific, HMS Inflexible & HMS Invincible which were together in the south Atlantic, HMS Princes Royal was covering troop convoys & HMS Indefatigable was in the Mediterranean. HMS Audacious, on the other hand, had been sunk by a German mine off Lough Swilly.

Although the Grand Fleet still outnumbered the High Seas Fleet by eight capital ships, the Germans enjoyed the fact that they were concentrated together from the start. Jellicoe, with pressure on his back from the Admiralty, did not enjoy the same conditions. Furthermore, some of his officers, especially his deputy, Beatty (who was in charge of the battle cruisers & 5th Battle Squadron based at Newcastle), were prone to risky adventures. And it would be this circumstance, along with the difficulties of rendezvousing at sea, which would led to disaster.

The Battle of Jutland was, in reality, a battle between Beatty’s two reduced squadrons & the High Seas Fleet. Not knowing of the position of the Germans, although well aware of their numbers, Beatty nonetheless disobeyed orders, which was nothing new, & instead of waiting for the rest of the fleet to arrive north of Dogger Bank, as Jellicoe had ordered, decided to seek out the enemy. Beatty’s intentions, however, were never to engage the Germans. Rather he was attempting to shadow the High Seas Fleet & send reports to Jellicoe.

This all seemed plausible enough until it was pointed out to Beatty that, even though he had radio, Jellicoe had ordered radio silence throughout the fleet. Still this did not deter Beatty from continuing with his plan. It has even been argued, especially later by Beatty himself, that he was trying to ensure that another amphibious operation was not under way by the Germans. The Royal Navy had already lost out poorly to the previous one & it could not afford to lose their bases at Newcastle, Sunderland, Hartlepool & Hull.

What Beatty did not know was that he was sailing into a trap. He had done exactly what Hipper had planned. Regardless of the radio silence orders, Beatty began calling Jellicoe in order to report the situation. Getting no reply, Beatty began calling the Admiralty reporting the situation. He made it clear that there was no amphibious convoy to be seen, but that the Germans had the High Seas Fleet out in full. By the time Beatty had finished his radio transmissions, the Germans had located his position & had set an interception course.

It was the HMS New Zealand which first raised the alarm. Being at the head of Beatty’s small fleet, her captain signalled that he could see several capital ships bearing down on his position. Not long thereafter, Commodore Alexander-Sinclair of the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron updated this report by adding that “the whole German fleet is coming this way”. Immediately after Beatty received these initial reports he considered his options. Never before had a fleet of the Royal Navy run away from the enemy without firing a shot regardless of it being outnumbered, & as far as Beatty was concerned, he was not going to run away either. 

Beatty’s decision to stand & fight was a drastic error. At this point Beatty had the chance to turn around & have the Germans follow him all the way back to Jellicoe & the Grand Fleet forming at Dogger Bank. Having said that, as events would unfold, this was precisely what he tried to do. But by then it was too late. No one had really fought a naval battle before at long range. In fact everyone thought that all such battles would be conducted at distances under 10 000 metres. At Jutland, however, this was not to be the case. With the two fleets steaming at each other at flank speed, the German ship Elbring opened fire at 14 000 metres, hitting the British cruiser HMS Galatea (Alexander-Sinclair’s flagship), at just after 15:00 hours on 18 December 1914. Not long afterwards, every German ship within sight, including the fourteen capital ships, copied the actions of the Elbring & lit up the horizon.

Having opened up at extreme ranges, the Germans had caught the Royal Navy off guard. What was more of a shock was the accuracy of the German guns. Beatty gave the order to return fire, but it was obvious that the power of the British gunnery was only half that of the Germans. Furthermore it was not as accurate. Just as Beatty was about to consider turning around & heading for Dogger Bank a huge explosion shook his flagship HMS Lion. By the time the smoke cleared HMS Queen Mary had split in two & was sinking fast. Everyone, including Beatty, was stunned. The dramatic loss of the Queen Mary convinced Beatty he had no choice but to withdraw to Dogger Bank.

Turning around a battleship, let alone a fleet, however, was easier said than done. Yet the mastery of seamanship, which the Royal Navy enjoyed, ensured that the manoeuvre was achieved with the minimum of fuss. Alas it would do little for the outcome of the battle. Having come even closer within the range of the charging Germans, Beatty’s force now came under constant hits. Beatty knew he had to do something, so he ordered the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron, along with the 13th Destroyer Flotilla, to attack the forward units of the pursuing Germans. 

By the time the attack went in, however, New Zealand exploded after numerous hits from the Germans. Being closest to the Germans for the entire engagement, New Zealand had already received twenty three known hits before the final one. It is thought that the shell, which destroyed her, came down through its already damaged ‘Q’ turret & exploded in the forward magazine. Like the Queen Mary, there were only a handful of survivors including Prince George of Battenberg. Beatty, on Lion, turned to Captain Chatfeld & said “there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today”.

The cruiser & destroyer attack went in as ordered, but the Germans did not stop. Their own forward screen of destroyers & cruisers dealt with their Royal Navy counterparts, although the German screen suffered for it. Most of the Royal Naval force amazingly survived the action & only retired after they had expended most of their ammunition. The Germans, though, lost three cruisers & five destroyers to the one British cruiser & three destroyers. The German capital ships, however, steamed onward.

At around 17:30 hours, HMS Lion had finally moved to the front of the retreating Royal Navy fleet. The Germans, though, were still close behind & firing. Damage to Lion had been minimal, but HMS Tiger had suffered several hits as had  all four battleships of the 5th Battle Squadron. What was worse was that two of these battleships, HMS Temeraire & HMS Ajax had serious damage & had slowed down as a result. Inturn, the rest of the squadron had also slowed in support of the two badly wounded ships. This, however, did not help their situation, but it did improve the gunnery of the British ships.

Up until now, the Germans had enjoyed the accuracy of their guns. This was about to change as full salvos from the Royal Navy battleships began to hit hard the two leading German battle cruisers. Within ten minutes the Seydiltz was put out of action whilst the Von der Tann was send to the bottom after a terrifying explosion. Nonetheless, this heroic action by the 5th Battle Squadron merely permitted the rest of the High Seas Fleet to catch up. Soon the four Royal Navy battleships were up against twelve German battleships. Within thirty minutes the Royal Navy had lost all four.

The destruction of the 5th Battle Squadron ensured that Beatty, on board Lion, a damaged Tiger & most of their escort ships, managed to escape a similar destruction. Yet it was a major defeat for the Royal Navy. Worst still was the fact that the High Seas Fleet had gained parity in numbers. It had also shown that their ships had a qualitative edge over their Royal Navy counterparts.  Having said all that, Hipper did not hang around to engage the rest of the Grand Fleet. Instead he returned to port.

Immediately after the battle, Jellicoe did what he could in order to catch the High Seas Fleet, but Hipper had too much of a head start on him. Furthermore, Hipper had no intention on taking on the rest of the Grand Fleet just yet. That would come later as part of the overall plan. Beatty, however, was ordered back to port in disgrace. Admiral Fisher, head of the Royal Navy, was furious & wanted heads. The first would be Beatty’s (Beatty would narrowly escape court martial), but before that could be done Fisher spelled it out very clearly to Jellicoe that another defeat would mean ruin for the entire country. Furthermore, Fisher ordered several more battleships & battle cruisers to replace those lost & add to those already in service. “I want them built faster than Dreadnought!” declared an angry Fisher. None, however, would be completed in time for the Battle of Dogger Bank

The Invasion

The German invasion of Great Britain, & the Battle of Dogger Bank, were essentially one & the same. The invasion would never had been initially successful without the Grand Fleet being turned back at Dogger Bank. Ironically, the naval battle would never had taken place without the invasion itself. Nonetheless, & that which the German Army had always feared, a German Naval defeat at Dogger Bank would mean the German Invasion Army would be cut off from supplies & reinforcements. This would, inturn, mean the inevitable defeat of 200 000 soldiers who could not be replaced. The German Army, though, even with a naval victory, still believed the invasion of Britain to be folly.

The Navy, though, bolstered by the success of the Incorrigible Raids & victory at Jutland, successfully convinced the Kaiser that the invasion would be yet another victory. Tirpitz plan would see an invasion force of some 230 000 troops, which now included the veteran 14 000 troops of the German Marine Division & the 16 000 troops of the German Naval Division, land on British soil around Hull. At this point in the planning, the German Army eventually stepped in & demanded that a large defendable port, which they demanded as essential to success, be captured in order to be used in support of the ground troops. This, as stated, the Navy had already incorporated in its plans, although the original port, Hull, was dropped in favour of Newcastle.

On 2 March 1914, the German Invasion Fleet left Wilhelmshaven & Cuxhaven & headed for the English coastline. Escorting it most of the way, the High Seas Fleet ensured that any attempt by the Grand Fleet to intercept the invasion force would result in a naval challenge. Yet Tirpitz had calculated correctly that the invasion fleet would get to Newcastle before the Grand Fleet could intercept it. Upon arriving at Newcastle, the High Seas Fleet, now under the command of Admiral Scheer, would be let loose to take on the Grand Fleet 

The initial invasion of Britain took three phases. The first & most dramatic phase took place at dawn on 3 March. This was the storming of the beaches on both sides of the Tyne. With no or little warning for the British defenders, the Germans came ashore in hundreds of small row boats, having been launched earlier from numerous destroyers & light cruisers close to shore. It took little effort, by the German Marine Division & the German Naval Division, to secure the beaches & the approaches at Tynemouth & North Shields respectively. Just as spectacular as the landing was the successful storming of Tynemouth Castle by the German Marines. By the time the Marines & Naval troops had moved a little further inland, to ensure that the next wave of German troops could not be fired upon or counterattacked, a little over an hour had past since the first German had stepped foot on British soil.

With success of the first phase, the first German Army units began to land where the initial invasion had taken place. Four large merchantmen, each carrying a brigade, deliberately beached themselves: two on Tynemouth beach & two on North Shields beach. Within minutes, thousands of troops, two divisions overall, disembarked onto the beaches. As these soldiers organised themselves into their respective regiments, they then began to march after the Marines & Naval troops.

By the time anyone in Newcastle (10 kilometres inland from the landings) had any idea what was going on, some two hours had passed since the German second phase had commenced. Not long thereafter, German patrols had began to enter the city proper. At this point, though, it was finally understood by the local British Territorial Army commander the importance of the moment. This was no German raid, but the actual invasion which the British army had feared could come. Alas for the Territorial commander, all he was able to do was to phone his regional headquarters & give his report. By the time he had finished speaking, the Germans had already taken control of his Regimental Depot & he had been captured in the process.

Word of the German invasion, however, had gotten out. By the time the German third phase had even started (the off loading at the captured port facilities of the bulk of the German Invasion Army from passenger liners & merchantmen), Northumberland Territorial Army Command had already alerted the various battalions under its jurisdiction. However, in the initial British response, these ‘independent’ battalions, which had rushed to block the advancing German units, reported to no one in particular but to everyone in general. Normally it was a less than satisfactory arrangement, but ironically it would be their strength in countering the initial German invasion efforts. The commanders of these ‘independent’ battalions had been given simple orders: “Advance to a significant defendable location & block all enemy probes”. They thus had the authority to act locally as they saw fit.

Most of the Territorial ‘independent’ battalions were remarkably successful, considering the circumstances, during this fundamental early stage. The exception being at Sunderland & Blyth, where the local defenders were simply overrun by much larger numbers of Germans. Nonetheless, the Territorials played an important role in confining the German area of conquest. Eventually, though, these independent Territorial battalions, numbering 40 000 troops overall, would be organised into brigades & divisions. But for the moment, they performed much better independently during the initial encounter battle stages, than later when they were ‘professionally’ organised & led.

The Germans, though, continued to spread out as best they could until their patrols discovered that they were being checked in every direction. Fearing an ambush, General von Bulow, who had been put in command of the German Invasion Army, halted any further advance of his forces until he understood what he faced.  When it was confirmed that the British defenders were only from their landwehr army, Bulow ordered the advance to continue. Three hours, however, was lost during this period. And the British had put this time to good use.

Since the ‘Incorrigible Raids’, the British Army had organised a ‘British Defence Force’ (BDF) to deal with any German invasion. It was a rather complicated command situation, as there were also five army commands which were also involved with the defence of the United Kingdom, not to mention regional commands as well. Nonetheless, the BDF was immediately contacted by the Northumberland Territorial Army Command & orders were subsequently issued to its subordinate divisions. These consisted of the Regular 8th & 28th Divisions, the 1st Canadian Division, the Yeomanry 2nd Mounted Division, the three Territorial 43rd (East Lancashire), 50th (Northumbrian) & 52nd (Lowland) Divisions, & finally the three New Army 9th (Scottish), 12th (Eastern) & 30th Divisions. As a result, by noon on Invasion Day 3 March, the British had 172 000 troops on the move towards Newcastle to add to the 40 000 Territorials already there.

Still it would take a few days before the divisions of the BDF could get into action. During this time the Germans continued to advance, even though they had slowed down due to the stubborn resistance of the Territorial ‘independent’ battalions. The result was that, other than Newcastle, the Germans had only managed to take Sunderland & Blyth by 5 March. On 6 March, the Germans had been stopped at  Morpeth & Newbiggin to the north of Newcastle. The next day, 7 March, the Germans had been stopped along a line in the west from Hexham, to Willington & Bishop Auckland. To the south of Newcastle, on 9 March, the Germans had been finally stopped on a line from Darlington to Billingham.

The success of the BDF, however, did not only come from their fighting skills. In fact the three New Army divisions had hardly got into action before Bulow became overly cautious, which was nothing new for this general. Having received reports stating that his forward units were now facing regular British troops, as well as Territorial divisional troops & no longer the ‘independent’ battalions, Bulow ordered a halt for “a time to consolidate our gains in order to ensure that any enemy attack will be repulsed. I recommend defence works & trenches be constructed for that exact purpose.”

Bulow’s orders were a mistake & has caused many heated debates ever since. Although the BDF had clearly entered the battle, & were not willing to trade land for time but stand & fight, it was still uncertain whether or not the BDF could have actually stopped the German advance. As General Headquarters & the British government feverously watched on in London, GHQ was already considering to reinforce the BDF with six divisions which were already slotted for either France or Egypt. But the sudden halt to the German advance had stopped all that. More importantly, the British Expeditionary Force  (BEF) in France, which was desperately short of troops, & the Mediterranean theatre, which was also desperate for reinforcements, would get them. Just as importantly, their respective operations, especially Gallipoli, would continue as planned.

To understand Bulow’s controversial orders, though, one must consider what the German general had experienced in 1914. Unlike most other German generals, Bulow had experienced (albeit not first hand) the firepower of the BEF at Mons & Le Cateau. For this reason, & the fact he was a cautious commander, he was given the almost impossible task of invading Britain. Von Kluck had also been considered to command the German Invasion Army, but his leadership, or lack thereof, at Mons & Le Cateau, had become well known at German Army Headquarters (thanks mostly to Bulow’s constant complaints).

Furthermore, everyone knew too that Kluck’s performance had come about due to his reckless generalship, & although he might be able to blunder his way around France, such a general would be wholly unsuitable for the invasion of Britain. Yet when a bold general was needed to continue the German advance, for as long as possible, in Britain, the general they had chosen got scared instead & decided to dig-in. In doing so the German Invasion Army missed most of the objectives, which both the naval & army staff officers had planned, to ensure success.

By 12 March the front lines had been, more or less, firmly established around German occupied Northumberland & Durham.  The British, however, knew they did not have the strength yet to counterattack the Germans. This had been even more so accepted after the Battle of Dogger Bank (see below). Instead both sides settled into their trenches & decided to wait it out for the moment. Nonetheless, even at this point in the war, the German generals began to become concerned about the sudden lack of progress in Britain.

Although the German Invasion Army could still be supplied, the German Navy grimly informed all those involved that it may only be able to continue the supply convoys until the end of the year. They pointed out that, by the beginning of 1916, the Grand Fleet would be back to full strength. The High Seas Fleet, on the other hand, had no chance of recovering by then.  The Royal Navy would regain control of the North Sea. The German Invasion Army would be thus cut off & trapped. Tirpitz concluded that they should evacuate the invasion force immediately. Needless to say, the Army was far from happy. Furthermore, for all his efforts, Tirpitz was sacked by the Kaiser on 25 March 1914.

Battle of Dogger Bank

The battle, which would witness the smashing of two great naval fleets & ensure no one would control the North Sea for the rest of 1915, began on the morning of 4 March. Having invaded the day before, the new German Admiral Scheer had deliberately stationed the High Seas Fleet to the west of Dogger Bank in order to intercept the approaching Grand Fleet of Jellicoe’s. There would not be any fancy manoeuvres or ambushes played on behalf of the Germans unlike before. Scheer had every intention of having a stand up fight with the Royal Navy.

Jellicoe had all the available ships with him on the morning of 4 March. He had rendezvoused on 3 March off of Hull, which had unfortunately left Newcastle unknowingly unopposed to the German Invasion Fleet. Nonetheless, the mistakes of Jutland were to be avoided. There would be no token Royal Navy force which could be isolated & defeated in detail. Even Lion & Tiger had been ordered to leave Newcastle unguarded & it was probably just as well considering the power of the German Invasion Fleet. As a result, Jellicoe had four battle cruisers in the lead & seventeen battleships in the main fleet. Although this was a much reduced Grand Fleet from three months ago, they still outnumbered the Germans.

Scheer’s numbers in ships were not, however, all that smaller than Jellicoe’s. Having only lost one battle cruiser at Jutland, the German Navy gained two battle cruisers & two battleships from the dockyards. Thus Scheer had fifteen battleships & three battle cruisers in the High Seas Fleet at Dogger Bank. One battleship accompanied the German Invasion Fleet along with all the armoured cruisers. The Seydiltz, which had suffered horrendous damage at Jutland, was still in dock at Kiel being repaired. There she would be joined by several more German ships over the next few days.

At dawn on 4 March Jellicoe, with intelligence coming in about the invasion, ordered the Grand Fleet north to intercept the German Invasion Fleet. Scheer, knowing that the Royal Navy had little choice other than to attack the German Invasion Fleet, had deliberately placed the High Seas Fleet in harms way. There could have been little else which Scheer could have done. The German Army would only have a chance of succeeding, with the invasion, if the Grand Fleet could be defeated  now before the British could complete more battleships.

At 10:10 hours a recently repaired Tiger reported to Jellicoe, who was on board HMS Canada, “Enemy in sight”. Jellicoe’s orders, however, to the Fleet did not change. Although the Royal Navy’s Order of Battle required the Fleet to engage the enemy in line, not too different from pre-Nelson’s day, Jellicoe had nevertheless ordered the Fleet to close the distance head-on before turning to port & establishing the battle line. Jellicoe thus hoped that, by closing the distance to under 10 000 metres, the German’s clear gun superiority at long distance would be reduced allowing the Royal Navy’s larger numbers come into play.

The Germans watching the Grand Fleet charge towards them were simply awed by the incredible sight. The twenty one capital ships of the Grand Fleet, along with their escorting vessels, ploughed  through the sea at over twenty-two knots. At around 15 000 metres the ships of the Grand Fleet began to spread out taking their place in the battle line prior to their port turn. Scheer would later write:

The most magnificent sight I ever saw was watching the British Fleet steaming recklessly before us at Dogger Bank. With waves spraying  high over their bows, higher than the most violent of storms, they showed every intention of sending my Fleet & I to the bottom of the sea. I had to summon all my courage there & then in order not to flee.

Unlike the Royal Navy, Scheer had stuck to convention & had already formed his line of battle upon sighting the Grand Fleet. Hence the German line was about sixteen kilometres long, albeit with an arch. With the battle cruisers at the front, the High Sea Fleet was steaming in a west-south-westerly direction which permitted a broadside at the British. At around 13 000 metres, Scheer gave the order to commence firing.

Although the gun accuracy of the Germans had not degraded since Jutland, the British tactics had. As Jellicoe had concluded, the charge towards the Germans not only limited the size of the target on offer, but the rapid reduction in distance played havoc with the German rangefinders. The result was significant for the Grand Fleet. Not one of their ships were hit in the approach, even though a few German salvos came close.

As a response to this British tactic, the commander of the leading III Destroyer Flotilla, Korvettenkaptain Hollmann, took the initiative & ordered a torpedo attack by his entire force. Without waiting for confirmation from Scheer,  Hollmann & his fellow destroyers headed for the centre of the Grand Fleet line. Even if his torpedo attack did not sink a ship, he reasoned that the British charge would become disorganised whilst dodging torpedos & give the German battleships an advantage.

Jellicoe, however, was always concerned about torpedo attacks & had deliberately deployed a heavy screen. Not only were three cruiser squadrons covering his approach, but three destroyer flotillas supported the cruisers. Upon seeing the oncoming German destroyer attack, Rear Admiral Arbuthnot ordered his 1st Cruiser Squadron, 4th Destroyer Flotilla & the 7th Flotilla to intercept the attacking German destroyers. Just as the German battleships opened fire on their Royal Navy counterparts, the destroyer battle commenced between the two main battle lines.

By the time the British battleships & battle cruisers returned fire at 12 500 metres range, it became apparent that the German destroyer attack had already been repulsed with some loss. Soon thereafter, however, Scheer became alarmed at the Royal Navy’s intention as, even though his destroyer force had withdrawn, the British destroyer/cruiser force kept on coming. Arbuthnot, never one to shy away from a fight regardless whether it be in a pub or in a naval battle, chased on after the fleeing German destroyers & had furthermore organised his own ad-hoc torpedo attack.

A number of German battleship guns now gave their attention to Arbuthnot with horrific effect. Unlike the German destroyers, who had faced weaponry similar to their own, Arbuthnot instead faced the big bore guns. Within ten minutes of this action, half of the Arbuthnot’s destroyers had been sunk while the rest made smoke & headed for safety. But what was worse was the destruction of the entire 1st Cruiser Squadron. HMS Black Prince & HMS Defence were both destroyed in the first few salvos of   the German big guns. Arbuthnot was killed along with his crew. HMS Duke of Edinburgh lasted several hits, but soon it too began to sink. Unlike the other two armoured cruisers, most of her crew survived. Only HMS Warrior managed to retreat to some safety before the crew had to abandon ship. Warrior would sink later in the afternoon.

The destruction of Arbuthnot’s force, however, ensured that Jellicoe’s battle line got to its 10 000 metre objective without damage & superbly stationed. The Germans, though, had suffered a few hits. The resulting damage, however, did little to effect those ships fighting capacity. This would soon change. As the Grand Fleet turned to port full broadsides were now presented to the Germans. In the middle of the British line was HMS Agincourt. Originally built for the Brazilin, then Turkish navy, she was confiscated by the Royal Navy shortly after war had began. Armed with fourteen 12 inch guns, when she opened fire it looked “like a Brock’s benefit” to one observer. The Germans had never seen anything like it & they were about to get a gut full of Royal Navy revenge.

Now that the British were within 10 000 metres & in line, the Grand Fleet shot everything they had at the Germans. The results were not, however, as hallowing as Jellicoe had hoped. Even though the Royal Navy ships had larger calibre guns, the Germans had wisely invested in armour. Yes, much damage was done to the German ships, but they took a pounding unlike their British counterparts. And now that the British had formed their line, the accuracy of the German rangefinders came into play.

As the next thirty minutes went by, each side pounded the other. But it was the Grand Fleet which started to suffer casualties first. For all its firepower, Agincourt was not built to take damaged. Constructed to the designs of a foreign navy, much had been left out due to expense. Not long after 11:00 hours, Agincourt took three 11 inch shells in her midships. A few seconds later a terrific explosion  ripped her in two. Over the next hour both the HMS Vanguard & HMS Neptune would suffer a similar fate.

The British would lose even more battleships during the engagement. HMS Centurion & HMS Bellerophon suffered severe damage to their waterline & eventually capsized. Centurion was eventually lost at 11:50 hours, whilst Bellerphon lasted until 12:15 hours. HMS St. Vincent suffered a terrible hit to her stern, which, after secondary explosions, broke off. Frantic attempts by her crew to stop the flooding failed & she sunk stern first at 12:45 hours.  The final British battleship to sink during the battle did so at 13:20 hours. HMS Royal Oak, after suffering well over 50 recorded hits, finally sunk bow first due to sever flooding. As she sank, her aft guns were still firing.

Two other British battleships & one battle cruiser would sink on the way home. Australia almost joined them at the bottom of the sea. The Royal Australian Navy’s flagship only just made it to Hull - a port which was not the most safest of places to be as it was near approaching units of the German Invasion Army. Nevertheless, Hull would hold out & the Australia would be repaired to fight another day. All of the other surviving ships of the Grand Fleet, regardless of class, were damaged to some degree & returned to safer ports. All would require repairs.

The Germans, all the same, did not get off lightly. The closer range between the battle lines meant that the larger shells of the British ships, regardless of the German’s superior armour, still got through. It just required a few more hits than German shells. As the survivors of the High Seas Fleet limped home, in no better condition than the Grand Fleet, all three battle cruisers had been lost during the battle. With them, at the bottom of the sea, went nine battleships including Scheer’s flagship Friedrich der GroBe, which had sunk due to flooding on the voyage home (Scheer survived). And again, like the Royal Navy, the rest of the High Seas Fleet would require months of repairs before it could return to sea. Unlike the Grand Fleet, though, the High Seas Fleet would never return to its previous size, power or glory.

The result of the Battle of Dogger Bank was, after all the dreadful carnage, a draw. The battle did not immediately effect the activities of the German Invasion Army, nor had it achieved naval supremacy for either side in the North Sea. What it did do was to smash the naval might of both Britain & Germany. Both sides, however, claimed victory & argued their own merits. The Germans were able to point out that they had sunk more British ships than they had lost in the action, whilst the British could claim that the North Sea was free of the German Fleet. The British argued, furthermore, that it would be only a matter of time before the German Army’s supply lines were thoroughly cut & their army forced to surrender.


If there is a word to describe the situation in Britain by May of 1915, then it would be ‘stalemate’ for the situation on both sea & land. The German planners, however, knew that  things would not remain this way for ever. According to their calculations, by the beginning of 1916, the Royal Navy would be almost back to pre-war strength with at least fourteen battleships & four battle cruisers. Again Britannia would rule the seas: especially the North Sea. The German Navy, on the other hand, would continue to be a shadow of its former self. The best that it could be able to muster at the beginning of 1916 would be nine battleships & three battle cruisers.

The situation on land would be no different. Not only did Britain continue to maintain the BEF in France, but she was able to launch the successful Gallipoli Campaign in late April of 1915 which eventually knocked Turkey, Germany’s ally in the eastern Mediterranean, out of the war. At the same time, Britain was able to hold the German Invasion Army in north-eastern England with a mix of Regular, Canadian, Territorial & New Army units which, more or less, equalled the German numbers. However, whilst Britain was continuing to mobilise its manpower both at home & throughout the Empire, Germany could spare few troops for their army in Britain. By 1916, Britain would have one million troops to throw at the invaders. The Germans would be outnumbered five to one. For all intents & purposes, the German invasion of Great Britain had failed not long after it had begun.



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Haythornthwaite, P. J. Gallipoli 1915, London 1991

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Baker, C. British Army Units and Formations, (

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Forsythe, M. A. German Order of Battle for 1914, (

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