On September 4th 1917 a submarine surfaced in Cayton Bay. It was had been a glorious summers day. The sea was flat and on Scarboroughs South Bay beach the visitors were enjoying the early evening sun.
The submarine spotted the minesweeping fleet in the bay. They took advantage of surprize and opened fire with their guns. The minesweepers were basically armed trawlers crewed almost entirely by fishermen. They had become a regular sight in the bay. It took them a few minutes to react to this attack.
The submarine bombardment lasted between 10 and fifteen minutes. When the minesweepers weighed anchor and started to return fire the Submarine soon submerged and disappeared.
The first reports seem to emphasize the bombardment of the town yet in truth it was the minesweepers which were the target. Early reports stated that 30 rounds were fired with roughly half landing on the town and half in the sea. But the majority of the shots landed in the sea.
The minesweepers seem to have been missed entirely. There were also 30 or forty small boats at sea and they sustained no damage. These little pleasure boats made a dash for the shore when the bombardment began - their occupants pulling for the shore with their lives dependant on it. They were occasionally splashed by shells exploding in the sea nearby.
On shore the bombardment was not met with the panic that may have been expected. It must have been obvious that the target was the minesweepers in the bay. Visitors looked on with curiosity. Some ran for cover but others just stood enjoying a spectators view of this naval battle.
One man, described as a "trained observor" gave the following account -
"I have no doubt at all that it was primarily a legitimate attack on the minesweepers and not an attack on the town. The Rose and Crown incident could well have been an 'over', likewise those on Queens Terrace, the firing being from the direction of Cayton Bay".
The coastguard stated that the attack came from 4 miles South East. It seems the submarine was somewhere in the vicinity of Cayton Bay. The angle of fire was quite narrow - so the Germans were intent on attacking the minesweepers.
Despite the fact that this was largely a naval battle the casualties were mostly on shore. Three people died:
- Mrs Elizabeth Scott was the wife of a PC. She was hit by shrapnel on Hoxton Road and died at 10:30pm
- Lance corporal JW Parry of Manchester was injured in the South Bay and died in hospital.
- Thomas Temple Pickup, a 64 year old cabinet maker, was injured near the Rose and Crown but later died on the way to hospital.
Six others were injured. One was 17 Year old Alice Appleby who lived on Whitehead Hill. She was wounded in the leg whilst walking on Longwestgate. She later had to have the leg amputated.
In December 1914 Scarborough was attacked by two German cruisers. The assault on an unarmed civilian town was featured in the national press. It was deemed to be a breach of the rules of the rules of war. It was used by the military whose "Remember Scarborough!" poster led to a noticable increase in recruitment.
This second attack in September 1917 was barely mentioned by the national press. In 1914 the war had just begun and the spirits were high. The public eagerly read about this slaughter of unarmed civilians. In 1917 the nation was in its third year of the worst war in human history. There was an awareness of the huge price paid by the young (and increasingly older conscripted men) in France.
Afew pot shots taken by a submarine were of no importance to a national audience. The nation had become immune to the mass slaughter that World war One had become. In 1914 the public was eager for news of any battle but by 1917 they were war weary.
The attack in December 1914 was arguably the most important single event in Scarboroughs history. It was a full scale assault with no real justification. The submarine in 1917 just fired small calibre shells - not the huge rounds fired from a battle cruiser.
The day after the attack the Post Office was inundated with people. They were wiring relatives informing them that they were safe and spreading the word about what happened.
The victims of the 1917 attack were equally innocent yet their loss did not result in a national outcry. They were largely personal tragedies. The daughter of Elizabeth Scott - who was killed in the attack - gave a sorrowful account of her mothers death at the inquest. Her father was so upset he had to leave.
The town did turn out to show their feelings. One thousand people turned out on West Pier forming a public letter expressing
"its deep sympathy with the relatives of the victims of German frightfulness in the recent U-boat outrage".