Tuesday, 5 August 2014

First Shots, First Losses

HMS Amphion
On 5 August 1914 the Royal Navy's Harwich Force made their first wartime sweep of the northern approaches to the English Channel as far as the Dutch Coast.  The rear part - the cruiser HMS Amphion (Capt C H Fox) and destroyers from the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla - were advised by a trawler that a suspicious vessel had been seen "throwing things overboard".

The Koenigin Luise in peacetime - for war service she was re-painted in
the colours of a Great Eastern Railway Co ferry

Two of the destroyers, Lance and Landrail, were sent ahead to investigate.  About 11 am they sighted the Koenigin Luise (Cdr Biermann) a ferry that had been requisitioned to serve as a mine-layer.  The destroyers gave chase, signalling the rest of the force to join them.  Lance opened fire, the first British shots of the world war.

Lance's 4 in gun, preserved in the Imperial War Museum

When Amphion and the the rest of the destroyers joined the fight, Koenigin Luise attempted to withdraw to neutral waters (leading the British into a minefield on the way).  This failed and, hopelessly out-numbered, Biermann gave the order to scuttle.  Koenigin Luise sank at 12.22, and 46 of the 100 crew were picked up by the British ships.

Fox later commented on the effectiveness of his gunnery:-
I commenced with salvoes from the three foremost guns with 7,200 yards on the sights; the first salvo was short and badly out for deflection; I made a lucky correction for the latter and went up 500; one round of the next salvo hit the top of the Keonign [sic] Louise's foremast and exploded. This was too much for the guns' crews, whom I previously imagined to be drill perfect; they started off firing as fast as they could, and it was a good minute before by dint of throwing things at them that I could stop them; the sights were again corrected and the order given for rapid independent — "Fire three rounds." At least two out of the three shots hit consistently. 
The RN's first naval engagement was a victory - as the Official History puts it "and so we drew first blood".  Yet two incidents quickly followed that cast a shadow over this victory.

Capt (later Rear-Adm) Cecil Henry Fox

 As Amphion and the destroyers continued their sweep, the destroyers sighted another ship of the same type as Koenigin Luise flying a large German flag.  They opened fire.  But this wasn't a mine-layer, it was the St Petersburg, a ferry carrying the German ambassador away from England.  With a diplomatic incident in the offing, Capt Fox sent a signal to the destroyers to cease firing.  Whether caught up in the excitement of the moment, or because the order wasn't received, the destroyers continued to shell the ferry.  Fox was force to put Amphion between St Petersberg and his own ships in order to stop the engagement.

The second incident was more serious in its consequences.  At about 6.30 the next morning, while returning to Harwich, Amphion struck one of Koenigin Luise's mines.  The explosion caused severe damage, breaking the ship's back.  Surviving crew were given to abandon ship and were picked up by the destroyers.  151 members of Amphion's crew and 19 prisoners from the Koenigin Luise were killed.

Crew of HMS Amphion

British Casualties of the Loss of HMS Amphion
ADAMS, Carl H B, Shipwright 2c. ARUNDEL, Norman Mc K, Leading Telegraphist. ASHTON, Robert, Stoker 1c. AUSTIN, Albert V, Chief Engine Room Artificer 1c.
BEARNE, George, Leading Signalman. BENNETT, Henry J, Engine Room Artificer 1c. BIRKIN, James W, Stoker 1c. BOND, John, Master at Arms. BOWEN, William, Act/Chief Stoker. BRETT, William, Stoker 2c. BURNS, Robert, Private, RMLI. BURT, Benjamin J, Armourer
CALLAGHAN, Owen, Stoker 1c. CANN, Jerome, Private, RMLI. CARTER, William A, Private, RMLI. CHARLES, Ernest E, Engine Room Artificer 4c. CHRISTIE, George, Joiner. CLARK, Thomas H, Ordinary Seaman. CLARKE, William. COKER, Fred, Stoker 1c. COLLINS, Andrew, Leading Stoker. COOK, Frank A, 2nd Sick Berth Steward. COOMBES, Edwin, Stoker 1c. COPLAND, Henry, Leading Stoker. COWLEY, Albert, Able Seaman. CRAIG, David, Leading Seaman. CRIDDLE, William J, Petty Officer. CROCKER, Samuel E, Chief Ship's Cook.
DAVENPORT, Raymond T, Able Seaman. DAWE, Samuel H, Petty Officer Telegraphist. DEACON, James W, Blacksmith. DENCH, John W, Ordinary Signalman. DICK, William, Stoker 2c. DONOVAN, Denis G, Stoker 2c. DOUGLAS, William J, Stoker 2c.
EDGCOMBE, Walter, Stoker 2c. ELLIOTT, Claude H, Shipwright 3c. ELLIS, William J R, Ship's Steward Assistant.
FIELDHOUSE, Ernest, Engine Room Artificer 4c. FISHER, Frank L, Stoker Petty Officer. FLACK, Robert W, Private, RMLI. FLEET, Frederick E, Leading Seaman. FOSTER, Jesse, Stoker 1c. FREEMAN, Cecil A T, Ordinary Seaman. FROST, Thomas N, Officer's Steward 3c.
GEDGE, Joseph T, Staff Paymaster. GRANGER, Charles, Act/Leading Stoker. GRISWOOD, Albert E, Stoker 1c. GROVES, Charles H, Private, RMLI. GUNN, James, Stoker 1c.
HAMLIN, Joseph, Leading Seaman. AMLIN, Thomas, Stoker 1c. HARRADINE, Albert L, Ordinary Seaman. HENDER, Charles R, Able Seaman. HICKS, William E, Signal Boy. HILLIER, Douglas R, Able Seaman,. HOCKING, Thomas J, Leading Seaman. HOLWILL, Thomas S, Leading Seaman. HORRIDGE, Frank V, Stoker 2c. HORTON, William E, Stoker 2c. HOURIHAN, Timothy, Able Seaman. HUGHES, William J, Leading Stoker. HULL, Richard E, Private, RMLI. HUNT, James W, Able Seaman
JARVIS, George, Stoker 1c. JENNINGS, George, Canteen Server, Admiralty civilian. JONES, George, Stoker Petty Officer. JONES, Richard G, Ordinary Seaman. JORDAN, Maurice P, Cooper's Crew. JUBB, Ernest W, Able Seaman. JULIAN, William, Leading Stoker.
KELLYN, Irvine, Private, RMLI. KERSWILL, Ernest R, Able Seaman. KINGHAM, Lionel F, Signalman. KINSMAN, Arthur W, Signal Boy. KNIGHT, William J, Stoker 2c.
LAMBELL, Peter J, Boy 1c. LANE, Albert E, Able Seaman. LANE, William J, Stoker 1c. LAVERACK, Francis W, Able Seaman. LENNON, Herbert, Stoker 2c. LOVELL, Henry, Able Seaman. LUXTON, Alfred J, Stoker 2c. LYNCH, Joseph, Petty Officer 2c. LYONS, Lawrence, Stoker 1c.
MACEY, Robert H G, Ship's Corporal, 1c. MAIR, William C, Leading Telegraphist. MARTIN, Albert, Stoker 1c. MAXWELL, John, Signal Boy. MCCONACHY, Charles G, Able Seaman. MCDOWALL, John, Corporal, RMLI. MCKEY, Victor J, Able Seaman. ERRETT, John E, Petty Officer 1c. MICHELL, Frederick C, Stoker 2c. MINIHANE, Jeremiah, Able Seaman. MOLES, Albert E, Able Seaman. MORRIS, Frederick, Stoker 1c. MORRISON, Frank, Stoker 1c. MULLEN, William, Leading Stoker. MUNNELLY, Martin, Chief Stoker. MURPHY, Joseph P, Signalman
NICHOLAS, William, Able Seaman.
OLVER, Charles H, Stoker Petty Officer.
PARSLOW, Samuel, Stoker 1c. PELLOW, James, Engine Room Artificer 2c. PENDRY, George F, Stoker 1c. PENGELLY, Albert G, Engine Room Artificer 4c. PINNOCK, Percy J, Stoker 2c. POUND, Frederick W, Stoker 1c. PRESS, Sidney L, Able Seaman.
REDFORD, Frank, Stoker 1c. REILLY, John, Act/Leading Stoker. RICE, James W, Leading Signalman. ROUTLEDGE, Charles, Private, RMLI. RUNDLE, Nicholas W, Able Seaman.
SCOTT, James E, Sergeant, RMLI. SHEPHARD, Archibald T, Stoker 1c. SIMMONDS, Alfred, Stoker Petty Officer. SKIDMORE, Walter H H, Ordinary Seaman. SKYRME, James H, Stoker 1c. SMITH, Gustave A C, Lance Corporal, RMLI. SPURDLE, Albert F, Boy 1c. STANLAKE, Henry T, Stoker 1c. STEVENSON, Joseph, Able Seaman. STOKES, George, Private, RMLI. STREET, Herbert J, Stoker 1c. SWEETMAN, Reginald H, Officer's Cook 3c. SYDENHAM, John W, Able Seaman.
TANCOCK, Thomas, Stoker 1c. TENNENT, John, Private, RMLI. THOMAS, Robert J, Petty Officer. THOMAS, William H, Stoker 2c. TICKELL, Nicholas, Able Seaman. TOLCHER, William J, Leading Seaman. TOOKEY, Frederick G, Stoker 2c. TOWILLIS, John D, Petty Officer. TUCKER, Reginald P, Act/Leading Stoker.
VIDLER, William H, Private, RMLI. VYVYAN, Francis A, Able Seaman.
WALLER, Harold, Stoker 2c. WARREN, John W, Carpenter's Crew. WARSAW, Eli W, Able Seaman. WELTON, William, Stoker 1c. WHITE, Thomas M, Stoker 1c. WILLIAMS, Edward A K, Shipwright 2c. WILLS, Frederick W, Stoker 1c. WOODHOUSE, Abraham, Leading Seaman.
YATES, Frederick J, Engine Room Artificer 4c.


  1. My favourite part of this story:
    "This was too much for the guns' crews, whom I previously imagined to be drill perfect; they started off firing as fast as they could, and it was a good minute before by dint of throwing things at them that I could stop them;"
    One wonders what it was that Capt. Fox was throwing at his excited gunners.
    Great post, Edwin, many thanks for it.

    1. The only reason I included the long quotation!

  2. Absolutely fascinating, thank you Edwin.

  3. An excellent post! However, it would be unfair to expect you to keep them coming for the next four years . . . but it'd be appreciated.


  4. War is truly a domain of madness. WWI was a failure of leadership that led to so many deaths. Crazyness.
    Interesting post though.


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