The following article appeared in the 16th December, 1934 edition of the Scarborough evening news and daily post. It was entitled "THE BOMBARDMENT"
THE BOMBARDMENT - TOMORROWS TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY - HOW THE RAIDERS ESCAPED. When the net was spread for them. DAY OF TRAGIC MEMORY RECALLED".
Tomorrow (Sunday) is the twentieth anniversary of the most notorious event in Scarborough's long and chequered history since the town was given to flames by Hardrada, the bombardment by the German Battle Cruiser squadron.
With the dawn on that still December morning came a rumble of thunder, quickly repeated with a violence that no thunder ever seemed to equal; and if the noise, which could be felt as well as heard, did not instantly convey that something much more sinister than a winter thunderstorm was afoot, the crimson gleams which flickered menacingly across the misty sky were an all too obvious indication of gun fire.
ROUSED FROM SLEEP
Many were rudely roused from sleep and comparatively few were out of doors at 8 o'clock, the hour when the tornado burst. Excepting those people who lived on the sea front, or those who could see masonry being disintegrated into clouds of dust, first thoughts seem to have been that a naval battle was in progress, and many set out excitedly to see what there might to be seen of so unique a spectacle. It is true that only six weeks earlier the first East Coast raid had occurred when Yarmouth and Lowestoft were bombarded, but at such range that the shells fell either in the sea or on the beach, and the affair had only left a vague impression on the public mind. People had lived through only the first four months daily communications and twice or thrice daily rumours, and were still in hourly expectation of a decisive naval engagement.
Too great a proportion of Scarborough's present population have their own vivid memories of that demonstration of German "frightfulness" for any detailed description to be necessary of the terrible half-hour in which from six to seven hundred naval shells were rained upon the town and its environs, three to four hundred direct hits were made on property, and, miraculously, only 17 people were killed outright. There are many, of course, now in their early twenties or younger, and others who are newcomers to the town, who know nothing of the realities of the occasion.
One case will show what war meant to a peaceful resort.
Almost the last shell struck No. 2 Wykeham Street, which is the end house, and exploded on the ground floor. There were seven people in the house, an old lady of nearly 90, the householder, and his wife, their two sons aged 25 and 23, a grandfather aged 9, and a little boy of 5, who was a relative. Only the father, one son and the old lady survived.
The elder son was just commencing to dress when the house was struck and he fell through the floor into the kitchen.
"I was practically buried," he said afterwards in relating a story of unavailing heroism. "When at last I could look around me, I had only a shirt and slipper on. If I asked one I asked a dozen, but I could not see a soul to help me. There was not one who would come bar two or three Territorials who got my brother out and took him to the hospital. He was terribly injured and died in the afternoon. I found mother and the children and my brother in a corner crowded together and buried beneath it all. When I found them mother was sitting on a chair nursing the children and she had lost her hand. Father was covered with debris, but somehow he pulled himself out. I don't remember much what happened after that - it was too terrible. Mother and the children were living when we got them out into the yard, but that was all. I carried the baby into the next house and he died as I put him down. As soon as I got out into the yard I asked some men to go for a doctor, but we could not get one, and never did get one. The ambulance men did come, but it was too late."
An old lady who was an invalid and had been confined to her bed, was not hurt and afterwards walked.
People were killed in the streets and in their homes.
Several of the wounded died within the next few days, and many elderly people never got over the shock. In reply to a message from the King, the number of injured was estimated at 200.
Gladstone Road School hall, in which half an hour later, several hundred boys and girls would have been assembled, was hit. A 5.9 inch shell struck the Workhouse and did not explode. For one day at any rate there were street scenes similar to those in shattered French and Belgian villages, and there was little to distinguish the spectacle of many hundreds of refugees streaming along Seamer Road, some with their bedding and other belongings, from those to be seen in the war areas.
Just before the bombardment commenced a Coastguard at the Castle Hill saw two battle cruisers appear from the mist very close in to the north of the Hill, and, as he turned his telescope on to them, called the attention of his mate with the remark, "What is this packet?" Momentarily he assumed the vessels to be British. The first salvoes were embedded in the face of the Castle Hill, which may account for the first explosions being muffled. The signal station was quickly demolished, and many shells were put into the old barracks in the Castle Yard, which in a few moments became an indescribable ruin. Some shells appear to have carried over to the South Cliff.
Then slowly steaming south, the ships loosened broadside after broadside, raking the town without discrimination, through a map now in the Town Hall indicates some concentration of the fire around the wireless station and the waterworks, both of which the Germans claim to have destroyed.
There was an interval of silence for a few minutes, explained by the fact that the warships turned about to bring their other broadsides to bear. Then the bombardment was resumed with great violence as the ships steamed North. A third cruiser engaged in laying a minefield, was also said by some eye-witnesses to have taken part in the firing.
RUMOURS OF LANDING
All sorts of rumours flew around while the bombardment was still in progress. "They've come," which was the remark with which many people greeted each other, speedily became "They've landed, and they are marching up so-and-so." Some people in the shock and excitement repeated what somebody else said they had seen, but manifestly had not. Half an hour later, when the reverberations of the attack on Whitby were heard, spirits rose with the thought that the enemy had been "caught," and were receiving what they had deserved.
The rumour next day that Hartlepool was again being shelled caused widespread alarm. It was due to a telegram despatched from that port on the 16th, being received at Scarborough the following day.
In the office of this newspaper every effort was made to secure a comprehensive picture of what had occurred, but the censorship came down heavily on this project and those who rushed for the paper had to content themselves with official messages which bore little relation to the fact. A War Office statement based on a report from the fortress commander at Hartlepool recorded that "A small German warship also appeared off Scarborough." An Admiralty message was more honest and stated that the situation was developing and a late message intimated that the Germans had made their escape. Next day the attempt to suppress news was abandoned.
Twenty years after all the details of the naval movements on that memorable day are available to everybody.
It is a simple fact that the raiding squadron consisting of irreplaceable units escaped by the hairsbreadth, though the statement was accepted with some scepticism at the time.
This is only a fraction of the story, for at one juncture events were rapidly moving towards what might well have been the decisive naval battle of the war, for the whole of the opposing fleets were at sea.
The raid followed, of course, after the destruction of Von Spee's squadron at the Falklands which disclosed that two British battle cruisers were absent.
THE EVENTS AT SEA
The German battle cruisers left the Jade early on the 15th, but did not turn towards the English coast until 5 p.m. the German High Seas Fleet assembling at 8 p.m., 20 miles north-west of Heligoland to support and cover the retirement of the battle cruisers. The raid was anticipated and British dispositions had already been made if not to stop it, since the precise objective was not known, to ensure that the raiders should never return.
Beatty's battle cruisers and the powerful Second Battle Squadron were to arrive on the morning of the 16th, 110 miles from Flamborough Head in the direction of Heligoland, which was actually only 50 miles south-east of the rendezvous appointed by the German Admiral. Three hours before the bombardment destroyers acting as a screen to the British battle cruisers were in action wha number of times with destroyers forming a screen to the German Battle Fleet without the British knowing as a fact of the nearby presence of the Germans Fleet. The German Admiral had known as early as 4.20 a.m. of the presence of British destroyers - actually those attending a further the Second Battle Squadron - and after a further action between British destroyers and the cruiser Hamburg, he went for home, leaving the raiding force in the air. This the British Naval History explains, was because he had already exceeded his instructions in risking the Fleet so far. The cruiser Roon had been sighted and the British battle cruiser squadron was seeking for this vessel, not knowing that it was chasing the whole German Fleet.
While these manoeuvres were going on 150 miles from Scarborough came the first hint of what was happening on the Yorkshire coast.
The Patrol, leader of the Hartlepool flotilla, was heard telling the Tyne guard-ship that she was in action with two battle-cruisers. This was only an intercepted message. The 2nd Battle Squadron set a course immediately, but Beatty, seeming almost in touch with an enemy, was going to the rescue of a division of British destroyers which was being chased, when at 8.50 a.m. came an urgent message from the Admiralty that Scarborough was being shelled at 8.20 a.m., and he immediately turned.
The ships shelling Scarborough were the Derfflinger, 26,180 tons, 8-12 inch and 12-6.9 inch guns, the newest and heaviest gunned German battle cruiser, the Von Der Tann, 19,100 tons, 8-11 inch and 10-5.9 inch guns. The light cruiser Kolberg laid the minefield of 100 mines off the town as a protection against the Humber and Harwich flotillas, it is supposed.
The rest of the story is soon told. In the earliest days of the war the Germans had laid minefields some distance to sea off the North-East Coast. These were known to the British. Admiral Jellicoe coming down the middle of the North Sea with the Grand Fleet signalled that the enemy would probably get through a 25 mile gap in the minefield between Whitby and Scarborough. Beatty's battle cruisers and a battle squadron proceed thither and at 11.25, when visibility and wind and sea had become very bad, appeared to be coming up with the enemy force, for the light cruisers were chasing an enemy cruiser and destroyers. These, however, were vessels which it had been intended should take part in the bombardment, and owing to the steep short seas they had not been able to do so. They had been ordered to rejoin the main German fleet. They were very long way ahead to the retreating German raiders, who thus learnt that there was something in their path to be avoided, and succeeded in doing so in the deepening mist and squally rainstorms.
A local woman will recall tomorrows bombardment anniversary as being also the twentieth celebration of her wedding. When the bombardment started she was at Holy Communion at the church where the ceremony was to take place. The fact that one piece of shell from the warships caught the roofs of the church, St. Martin's, and made a large hole in it did not prevent the wedding, which took place three hours later.
The indiscriminate shelling was, of course a definite breach of international law. Such breaches were to become almost commonplace. The raid to the British coast, as distinct from the criminal shelling of an unfortified town, probably deserves to be regarded as bold enterprise, and not as the simple exploit which war propaganda represented it to be. The battle cruiser squadron was quite likely to be sacrificed in it, and a fleet action was risked.