|Silent killer SM U-9|
The 7th Squadron was caught in the same bad weather as the U-9 as the ships were tossed about it was decided that the Destroyer flotilla should stay in port with the light cruiser HMS Hawke and Admiral Christian aboard the Eurayles was forced to abandon the rest of his vessels and return to port for re-coaling and repair his storm damaged W/T sets. He would later cite the bad weather as preventing him from transferring his flag to the Aboukir and suffered much criticism. Captain Drummond of Aboukir, as the senior officer took charge of the ships and the proceeded along their course at the slow rate of 10 knots, to save on coal, in a straight line. Another oversight was that Christian failed to tell Drummond he could call for destroyer escort should he think it necessary.
Aboukir began to list at 20 degrees as the water seeped into the boiler rooms. Captain Drummond signalled Hogue and Cressy requesting assistance as she had lost all but one of her life boats. As the damage was evaluated Drummond realised it wasn't a mine but a torpedo, he ordered a signal sent to the other vessels to warn them away. In the mean time anything that could float was jettisoned as men dived into the cold early morning sea. As the temperature hit them panic set in and their core temperatures began to drop. The boats tried to clear the stricken vessel which capsized and disappeared into the abyss at 6.55 am.
Two torpedoes struck Hogue tearing her open. Within five minutes her quarterdeck was awash, five minutes later she was gone. However when the U-9 fired the sudden weight loss of two torpedoes meant she broke the surface at some 500 yards of Hogue who promptly opened fire at her, as did Cressy who also added speed to attempt to ram the U-boat.
As U-9 fled the scene the Dutch merchant vessels Flora and Titan as well as the British trawlers JCG and Corriander arrived to pick up survivors from the mass of splashing sailors and marines. Soon they were joined by Tyrwhitt's destroyers. In total 837 men were saved from the sea, 286 by the Dutch who repatriated them.
Admiral Campbell defended his position by saying that he had never been given any real instruction as to what to do with his command
Churchill, undeservedly, took the most criticism for ordering them there in the first place and because of an ill timed speech on the 21st in which he said that if the German fleet didn't come out and fight then "they would be dug out like rats from a hole"
This was somewhat unfair criticism as Churchill had agreed that the situation was dangerous and it was Sturdee and Battenberg who thought better of it.
Admiral Christian later defended his order of travelling at 10 knots by saying;
The maintainance of a three quarter speed of thirteen or fourteen knots would have entailed an expenditure of coal which would have resulted in continual withdrawal of vessels from the patrol.
Battenberg decided that court martialling Drummond was not a good use of time. The board of enquiry ultimately decided that no one person was to blame and it was considered that lessons had been learnt. From now the Long Fourteens were to be patrolled by smaller vessels, no large vessel was to go below 13 knots, they had to travel in zigzags and if a vessel was torpedoed then large vessels were forbidden to stop.
Whilst the press played down the incident as regrettable in the UK, in Germany it was hailed as a great victory against the Naval super power.
At 49 New Road, Gravesend, it was met with tears and pain at a husband and father who was lost at sea and would never come home again.