DID CHURCHILL KNOW?
Since the First World War the truth has come out about the Scarborough raid. It has been suggested that Churchill knew that Scarborough was to be bombarded and let this happen because he knew it would enrage the nation and boost recruitment.
What is the truth in this?
It is true that 'Room 40' was in operation early in World War One decrypting messages sent by the Germans. A German light cruiser, the 'Magdeburg' was captured by the Russians in August 1914, after it ran aground in the Gulf of Finland. Code books were sent to the British and ended up at 'Room 40'.
It was known that the Germans were planning a raid on the 16th December, 1914. But it was not know where and they did not know the precise details of the plan.
It must be remembered that the raid on Scarborough was a naval operation and it was viewed in this way by the Grand Fleet, Churchill and the German High Seas Fleet.
At the same time the Grand Fleet tried to stay in port as much as possible. They had to be ready for a big Trafalgar style meeting between the German High Seas Fleet and the Grand Fleet. They did not want to commit forces to defend a particular port. The best way to prepare for this one off battle was to stay in port. Going to sea made the ships vulnerable to mines and U-Boats. Warships could even collide with each other putting them out of action for months.
Both sides had the bigger picture in mind. They knew the main priority was to win the war at sea. They both wished to win the war rather than an individual battle. This is why the defence of Scarborough was not considered a huge priority.
The Germans did not seriously see Scarborough as a place of military importance. The bombardment did not have any strategic value and the targets hit had no importance whatsoever. Scarborough was merely a pawn in a wider game of chess. Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl, commander of the German High Seas Fleet, intended to lure some of the Grand Fleet out where they could be outnumbered and destroyed.
This was all a game of cat and mouse but each side could play the part of cat and mouse. When the Germans bombarded Scarborough they were the cat and the poor civilians of Scarborough were the mice. Hipper's raiding party was soon to be chased like a mouse by Admiral Beatty's warships. The Derrflinger and Vonn Der Tan were risked in order to lure out the British. In the event, Hipper's raiding force got away from Beatty's squadron due to poor signalling and poor weather. The British did have prior knowledge of the raid but expected the vast proportion of the German High Seas Fleet to stay in port.
The German High Seas Fleet slipped out of port and might have given the Beatty's ships a beating. Admiral Ingenohl stayed on the German side of the North Sea and was later accused of being timid. But he suspected that they were being challenged by the whole of the Grand Fleet and so turned back. So in effect the mouse chased the cat as Beatty engaged the whole German High Seas Fleet who ran away.
The accusation that Churchill knew and that they sacrificed Scarborough is unfair. 'Room 40' had hints of what was going on but they did not have the whole battle plan. They simply knew ships were going to sea and this was likely to be a raiding party. The precise target was not known so Scarborough could not have been defended. In truth the German battle plan could not have been known because plans were fluid and Admiral Ingenohl could change strategy at any moment.
This slur against Churchill is unfair. There was no direct knowledge of Scarborough as a target so there is no case to answer. It must also be remembered that this was the first use of 'Room 40' and their military importance has been exaggerated.
It was good fortune that the Grand Fleet did not intercept the German raiding party. As the Illustrated Encyclopedia of World History states: "Though squadrons of the British Grand Fleet were moving to cut them off, these battle cruisers were not brought to action and destroyed. Indeed, it was lucky for the British that a general engagement did not result - the germans had almost their entire strength and the British only about half their fleet. Not only were many of the Grand Fleet's battle ships unavailable, but it was also weakened by the absence of two battle cruisers which had been sent off to fight Spee, and a third was guarding the convoys with Canadian troops. Thos was one of the occasions when the British were misled by their reading of the German wireless signals. The messages they intercepted did not reveal that the main force of the German fleet would be at sea."