Tag Archives: Naval warfare

Diary entries which mention naval engagements during the war.

24 January 1918; Thursday

Up about 7.45. Not much to do all day. Walked to headquarters in the morning with the report. Heard that the Goeben and Breslau1 have been in a scrap and put out. Wrote to Ernie.

  1. Goeben and Breslau: there is a long story behind this brief reference: these German battle-cruisers had been on station in the Aegean in 1912 during the two Balkan Wars, and were still in the Mediterranean in August 1914. The Royal Navy failed to intercept them on the outbreak of WW1; Turkey gave them asylum, but had not yet declared war, so the two vessels were transferred to the Turkish Navy to avoid having to intern them (Goeben became the Yavuz Sultan Semil, and Breslau the Midilli.) This was quite a cause célèbre in August 1914, though it is not mentioned then in ALL’s diary. Now, in January 1918, the Turkish effort in Palestine (where Charlie Linfoot was) was failing, but the British Aegean Squadron had only coastal gunboats, destroyers and two pre-Dreadnought battleships, and in the temporary absence of the two old battleships the Turkish Navy brought these two battle-cruisers out to attack the small ships at what became the Battle of Imbros (20 January). The Turks badly damaged the gunboats etc, but both Yavuz Sultan Semil and Midilli struck mines; Midilli sank and Yavuz S S was disabled, and beached in the Dardanelles, effectively finishing off Turkey’s navy. Although the two ships had had Turkish names since August 1914, they were evidently still known in Britain by their original German names. 

5 February 1917; Monday

Up as usual. Busy all day. Billy Truman received orders to go on leave and cleared off after dinner. I took over his tent for a short time and then Harvey came up to it.

Heard of the Germans’ submarine scheme1 and war demands of America.

  1. Germany had resumed unrestricted submarine warfare on 1st February. Unrestricted submarine warfare had previously been Germany’s policy, but this policy had been quietly discontinued in late 1915 following the aftermath of the sinking of the Lusitania

11 July 1916; Tuesday

Up at 7 o’clock. Physical drill at 11 o’clock. Orders to clean buttons. Turned out at 2.15 to clean waggons. Dirtied tunic and had to clean it at night, and also belt. Beautiful evening. Sat outside billet and cleaned belt. Read account of North Sea battle1 in Daily News received from home this morning. Also read some of British Weekly2. Wrote letter home in reply to one received. Had slight trouble with toothache. Had short walk with Lee. Cleaned grease off tunic and pants.

  1. “North Sea battle”: Jutland was 6 weeks ago, but reports were still coming through. The Germans’ next attempt to capitalise on what they claimed as a victory was a projected raid to shell Sunderland, on 19 August, but this was intercepted and defeated by the RN following Intelligence reports. 

  2. The British Weekly, a Nonconformist newspaper founded by William Robertson Nicoll (1851 – 1923), a Scottish Free Church minister, journalist, editor, and man of letters. 

7 June 1916; Wednesday

Up at 5 o’clock. Breakfast at 9 o’clock.Paraded for gas helmets. Had dinner at 11 o’clock. Paraded squad 11.45. Left some of the men including Green to follow 1.15. Marched down to station. Had a bit bother about getting into the train. Left at 3.50. Train moved very slowly. Stopped at siding place all night and we left the train about 8.30 and got some tea and cake at a canteen. Tried to sleep at night but pretty uncomfortable and cold.

Received news of the loss of Kitchener1 on the Hampshire.

  1. Field-Marshal Earl (Herbert) Kitchener of Khartoum (1850 – 1916): secured Sudan, 1898; Commander-in-Chief, 2nd Boer War, 1900 – 02; Commander-in-Chief, India (1902 – 09; the Viceroy, Lord Curzon, resigned), then Consul-General in Egypt; Secretary of State for War (1914 – 16); was going to Russia for negotiations in the Tyne-built cruiser HMS Hampshire (which had been present at the Battle of Jutland a few days before: see reference on 31 May.) It struck a mine West of Orkney, in bad weather, on 5 June. K’s home was Broome Park, at Denton near Canterbury.  

31 May 1916; Wednesday

[At top of page above date – ] Big North Sea Battle1 Queen Mary, Indefatigable, Invincible, and many other ships lost.

Reveille at 4 o’clock. Paraded 5.15 for breakfast. Marched to station. Left 6.40. Beautiful country. Past Nottingham, Leicester, Sansbury†2, Oxford, Winchester and to Southampton. Arrived Southampton 1.153. Weren’t in ship until 5.15. Shaved and washed in strange conditions. Went aboard “Karnak4 at 5.15. Received lifebelts. Saw two aeroplanes.

Sailed for France

Left Southampton about 8 o’clock. Very fine night. Sunset over before past the Isle of Wight. Coast looked splendid. Two destroyers escorted us out. Watched searchlights playing over the 3 boats and over the harbour. Enjoyed the sailing until about 10 o’clock and then lay down on deck to sleep. Pretty cold. Up two or three times. Slept pretty well considering.

Had stripes taken off 5.

  1. The “Big North Sea Battle” was of course Jutland

  2. I can’t find any Sansbury between Leicester and Oxford (or indeed anywhere), nor any location to match any possible interpretation of the shorthand, though it is comparatively clearly written. The troop train may have taken a circuitous route to avoid the timetabled traffic, but it must have passed through some station which ALL noted or remembered as something like Sansbury. Even Aylesbury, which is just about plausible on pre-Beeching railway lines, is simply not deducible from the shorthand outline. Wednesbury might be just about possible route-wise, though in that case Birmingham might well have been mentioned. Many troop trains from the North to Southampton converged on Banbury, where the big Grimsbury muntions factory adjoined the railway station, and while neither of these names fits the shorthand, this was very probably ALL’s route. (DL)

    A longer note on the mystery of Sansbury may be found here

  3. The map shows the entire journey from Sheffield (A), via Nottingham (B), Leicester (C), Grimsbury (D – see previous footnote and the longer explanation here), Oxford (E) and Winchester (F) to Southampton (G). 

  4. The Karnak, a French passenger ship, was operated by Messageries Maritimes, Marseille. She was torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-32 in the Mediterranean on November 27th, 1916 about 70 miles SE of Valetta, Malta when en route from Marseilles and Malta to Saloniki. 

  5. ALL had been promoted to Lance Corporal in September 1915. It was common for soldiers with acting rank to revert to their former rank on deployment to the field. According to an interview he gave in 1976, while he was aboard Karnak ALL was ordered to remove his stripes by “a strange officer who didn’t know me at all”. In the same interview, he went on to say “I am the only man in France who went through the war Lance Corporal acting Private with Lance Corporal’s pay.” It would appear that ALL’s demotion from “acting” Lance Corporal may have been a mistake. 

25 April 1916; Tuesday

On parade in the morning. Bank holiday1 in the afternoon and allowed out. Walked into town with Leishman. Had a drop tea at the Y.M. Went to Inwoods’ for belts2. Arranged to go to Victoria Hall concert. I met Mrs Inwood and Franchie in the car and went down together. Pretty good concert. After concert big rush for cars3. Mrs Inwood, Green and Leishman got in and left Franchie and I outside. We walked up to the Town Hall before we could get one. Stayed to Inwoods’ to supper. A man got *4 knocked down by a car and I helped to pick him up. Mr Inwood wrote out the paper of the Dublin Rebellion5.

Lowestoft6 Naval Raid.

  1. Actually the preceding day, 24 April, was the Easter Monday Bank Holiday. 

  2. “Belts”: clearly written as plural; uniform belts were often taken off indoors: presumably others besides ALL had done so the previous day. 

  3. “Cars”: Meaning tram-cars, as usual. 

  4. “Shorthand looks like “regiment”; ALL interrupted while writing – “. . man from regiment knocked down . .”? 

  5. “Wrote out the paper…”: Possibly the Proclamation of the Irish Republic

  6. Lowestoft: this was intended to be a very big operation, and was timed to coincide with the Dublin Easter Rising, the Irish rebels having asked for German supporting action. Very briefly: 8 Zeppelins bombed Norwich, Lincoln, Harwich and Ipswich on 24 April, then a strong German naval force arrived off East Anglia, and by bombarding Lowestoft and Yarmouth hoped to draw divided Royal Navy forces to be attacked and beaten separately; the Germans correctly believed that the High Seas Fleet was widely divided, part of it trying to carry out a similar plan on the German coast, but some British ships had returned after colliding in fog, and were not where the Germans expected. The German leading battleship hit a mine, and all in all the whole operation was greatly disrupted and achieved nothing. 

27 October 1915; Wednesday

Got up about 7 o’clock. Went into the town and ordered some things. For rations as usual. Read a bit and wrote some letters.

German Cruiser Prince Adalbert1 class sunk in Baltic by British submarine.

  1. Prinz Adalbert was a heavy cruiser (9,000 tons, 8.3” guns), and was torpedoed in the Baltic on 1 July by submarine E9, but repaired; soon after repair, on or around 23 October 1915, she was torpedoed by submarine E8, and sank with the loss of all but 3 of her 675 crew; the biggest single loss of life by the German fleet in the Baltic in WW1.