Article from the 19th March 1920 in the 'Scarborough Mercury' entitled "The bombardment of Scarborough - GERMAN ADMIRAL'S ACCOUNT"
We quote the following from the 'Daily News,' which that journal gives us arrangement with Messrs. Cassell and Co., who are about to publish Admiral Scheer's 'Germany's High Seas Fleet in the World War':-
Continuing his reminiscences, Admiral Scheer writes:
"In the first months of the war many efforts were made to conduct our operations in a way that would cause the enemy such losses as would enable us to speak of a real equalisation of forces. But in vain. The results of our mine laying were unknown, while the successes of our submarines did not weigh much in the scale, as the ships they torpedoed had no fighting value. On the other hand, raids by our cruisers were much more likely to bring considerable portions of the English Fleet out of their harbours, and thus give our Fleet a favourable chance of intervening if it kept in close touch with its cruisers.
Strategical reasons had made it necessary to keep our Fleet back, and this looked like a want of confidence and affected the moral of the men, and gradually lowered their belief in their own efficiency to a regrettable degree. An impressive recital of these facts, with the request that the Commander in Chief of the Fleet should be allowed greater latitude, was met with a decided rebuff. The grounds of this refusal, as communicated by the Naval Staff, ran somewhat as follows:-
"The existence of our Fleet, ready to strike at any moment, has hitherto kept the enemy away from the North Sea and Baltic coasts and made it impossible to resume trade with neutral countries in the Baltic. The Fleet has thus taken over the protection of the coast, and troops required for that purpose are now available for use in the field. After even a successful battle, the ascendancy of the Fleet under the numerical superiority of the enemy would give way, and under the pressure of the enemy Fleet the attitude of the neutrals would be prejudiciously influenced. The Fleet must therefore be held back and avoid actions which might lead to heavy losses. This does not, however, prevent favourable opportunities being made use of to damage the enemy.
These instructions served the purpose of the further enterprise against the English coast. On December 15 the big cruisers under the command of Vice-Admiral Hipper sailed under orders to bombard the 'fortified' coast towns of Scarborough and Hartlepool and to lay mines along the coast, for there was constant traffic between East Coast ports.
The 2nd. Scouting Division, composed of light cruisers and two torpedo flotillas, was attached to the 1st. Scouting Division of battle-cruisers. The left the Jade on the 15th at 3-20 a.m., followed late in the afternoon of the same day by squadrons of battleships. The hour of departure for both divisions was chosen in order to profit by the darkness, and if possible to put to sea unobserved. Judging from what ensued this appears to have succeeded.
Meanwhile, our vanguard had begun to fight with the enemy destroyers. At 6-38 the light cruiser hamburg (Captain von Gaudocker) reported that he had sunk an enemy destroyer.
Towards daybreak, when our cruisers were approaching the English coast, the wind rose to such a pitch and the sea ran so high that the light cruiser Strassburg reported at 7 a.m. that owing to heavy seas off the land firing was no longer possible and the ships had been obliged to turn on an easterly course.
The big cruisers then divided into two groups for the bombardment of the coastal towns, the Seydlitz, Moltke, and Blucher, making for Hartlepool. An officer of one of the U boats who had reconnoitred the area beforehand rendered good service in locating the place. Shortly before they were off Hartlepool the cruisers were attacked by four torpedo boat destroyers of the 'River' class that ran out to sea and were brought under fire at a distance of 50hm. The sinking of one destroyer and heavy damage to another were observed. We gave up pursuing them so as not to lose time for the bombardment.
The Seydlitz opened fire on the Cemetery battery and scored several hits, so that at last the fire was only returned by one 15c.m. gun and one light gun from the battery. The Moltke was hit above the water line causing much damage between decks but no loss of life. From the first the Blucher came under lively fire from the land batteries; she had nine killed and three wounded by one hit alone; 15 c.m. howitzers and light artillery were used on land; the Blucher was hit six times altogether.
The southern group, Von Der Tann and Derfflinger, made for Scarborough, which was easily distinguishable. The coastguard station at Scarborough and the signalling and coastguard stations at Whitby were destroyed. At the latter place the second round brought down the signalling flagstaff with the English ensign and the entire station as well. The Derfflinger also bombarded trenches and barracks at Scarborough. As there was no counter action it must be assumed that the battery at Scarborough was either not manned in proper time or had been evacuated by the garrison.
At 9-45 the cruisers assembled round the Seydlitz and started to retire in the direction of the meeting place agreed with the main Fleet. An hour later, at 10-45, a wireless message was received from the Chief of Reconnaissance with the Fleet that the task was accomplished.
[at 1 p.m. reports of were received of the locality of the English battleships which the German battle-cruisers had had to avoid encountering.]
Great disappointment was caused on board my flagship by this report. If our big cruisers had got into difficulties between the enemy battle-squadron and other cruisers already reported and still in the vicinity our help would be too late. There was no longer any possibility while it was still day of coming up with the enemy battle-squadron, which at one o'clock was 130 nautical miles distant from us. Our premature turning on to an E.S.E. course had robbed us of the opportunity of meeting certain divisions of the enemy according to the prearranged plan, which was now seen to have been correct.
At all events the restrictions imposed on the Commander-In-Chief of the Fleet brought about the failure of the bold and promising plan, owing to its not having been carried out in the proper manner. As we now know from an English source the destroyers fired at by the Hamburg were about 10 nautical miles in front of the Second Battle Squadron, which had come down on a southerly course - the vanguard of which had got into touch with ours betwen 6 and 7 a.m. Both the main fleets were only about 50 nautical miles apart. It is extremely probable that by continuing in our original direction the two course would have crossed within sight of each other in the morning.
The advantage of a battle ensuing therefrom was distinctly on our side. The English had at their disposal on the spot the Second Battle Squadron with six ships, the First Battle Squadron with four ships was within attacking distance, and added to these were the Third Cruiser Squadron attached to the Second battle Squadron. According to his own statement, the English Admiral in command did not leave Scapa Flow with the other ships till 12 noon, after receiving news of the bombardment at 9 a.m. He could not possibly have been in time, while the Third English Squadron, which had been sighted at 10 o'clock, would not have had the advantage over our fleet.
On the part of the English, disappointment was felt that coastal towns had again been bombarded by our cruisers and that they could not succeed in stopping it, although the necessary forces chanced to be at sea, and had even got in touch with our light cruisers. This, according to Admiral Jellicoe's account, may have been due to the fact that the squadron's at sea had received instructions from him how to act so as to cut off the enemy, but had also had direct orders from the English Admiralty which were totally different and which were acted upon by Sir George Warrender, in command of the Second Battle Squadron.
The impression that a specially favourable opportunity had been missed still prevailed, and the chance of another such arising could hardly be expected.
The behaviour of the English Fleet makes it obvious that our advance was a complete surprise to them, nor had they counted on our Main Fleet pushing forward to the Dogger Bank. Otherwise the English expedition would surely have comprised stronger forces than merely one battle squadron, a battle cruiser squadron, and lighter forces. This combination certainly made them superior to our cruiser attack, but not to an attack by all our Fleet. The information that besides the German ships in action off the English coast a still greater number were out at sea was communicated to the English Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet at 2 p.m. by the English Admiralty.
The English received the news through their 'directional stations,' which they already had in use, but which were only introduced by us at a much later period. They are wireless stations for taking the directional bearings of wireless messages, and in combination are capable of indicating the direction from which intercepted messages come, and thus locating the signalling ship's station. The stretch of English east coast is very favourable for the erection of these 'directional stations'. In possessing them the English had a great advantage in the conduct of the war, as they were able thus to obtain the locality of the enemy as soon as any wireless signals were sent by him. In the case of a large fleet, where separate units are stationed far apart and communication between them is essential, an absolute cessation of all wireless intercourse would be fatal to any enterprise.