Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The loss of SMS Ariadne at Heligoland Bight

The battle of Heligoland Bight on the 28th August was an outstanding victory of British Naval daring with the Kaiserliche marine attacked on its home ground. One of the victims of the raid was the Gazelle class cruiser SMS Ariadne.

The Gazelle-class light cruiser was part of the evolution from the Bussard class through the individual vessels Gefion and Hela and was the first German modern class of cruiser not to have sail rigging and would be the basis for the development of future German light cruisers especially their immediate successor, the Bremen class of which SMS Leipzig was a member.
SMS Ariadne in action at Heligoland Bight

The Gazelle class was designed for speed with a top rate of 21.5 knots a 2 knot advantage on Gefion and 6 knots on the older Bussard class. They also sported ten 4.1" S/K L/40 guns which could pack quite a punch against lightly armoured or unprotected warships like the Bussards as well as two torpedo tubes. Speed was bought at a cost to armour though and the Gazelles only had 20-25mm deck armour, 50mm sloping Krupp steel sides, the gun shields were 50mm whilst the conning tower was 80mm with a 20mm roof protecting the ship's officers.

With Germany's growing colonial interests and territories in the Pacific Ocean the Gazelle class was envisioned as perfect for patrolling the vast reaches and getting to trouble spots quickly or scouting ahead of the High seas fleet. Their combat value against contemporary British Pelorus class cruiser had twice the deck armour though eight QF 4" guns, eight 3 lb quick firing guns and two torpedo tubes with a comparible speed of 20 knots. The succeeding Highflyer class sported eleven 6" QF guns , 9 12lb guns and six 3 pounder quick firing guns, a speed of 20 knots and double the armour of the Gazelles.

The Ariadne was completed in 1901 and assigned to the High Seas fleet reconnaissance force and the in 1905 she was moved to the Cruiser division. By the outbreak of the First World War it was realised that the combat value of the Gazelle class was limited and Ariadne was detached as a patrol and guard vessel off the Heligoland Bight. The patrol of the Bight was carried out at night by fast moving Destroyers and Torpedo boats who were escorted onto their stations by light cruisers like Ariadne and her sister Frauenlob with Rear Admiral Maass commanding the destroyers from his Light cruiser Cöln. On the 28th August the Ariadne had been rotated out of patrol duties and lay at anchor in the Jade river with the crew carrying out routine maintenance and duties when at 9:00 gun fire was heard followed shortly by a wireless transmission from the cruiser Stettin - the British were attacking a Cruiser support was needed immediately. 

Damage done to Frauenlob during the battle
The British plan was simple. The Harwich force commanders; Commodores Keyes (Officer commanding submarines) and Tyrwhitt (Officer commanding Destroyer flotilla) devised a cunning plan to disrupt the orderly German Destroyer patrols with a night time raid using three submarines as decoys and then cutting off the German response with thirty-one of their own destroyers whilst a line of submarines would watch the Jade and Wesser estuaries in case larger German surface units were to move out and assist.

There were some alterations made by the Admiralty including moving the time of attack to 0800 and catching the morning patrol. The request for the Grand Fleet to be within reaction range and six light cruisers under Commodore Goodenough was also turned down by Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Sturdee. It was felt that Cruiser force C, the old Cressey class cruisers 100 miles away and Force K’s two Battlecruisers New Zealand and Invincible 40 miles away would be more than adequate.

Admiral Jellicoe, the Commander of the Grand fleet was not even informed of the request by London and only found on on the 26th August, two days before the operation. Hoping to catch the German fleet unawares he requested that his warships were in attendance. London only allowed for Battlecruisers and Vice Admiral Beatty brought HMS Lion, Queen Mary and Princess Royal with Goodenough’s 1st Light Cruiser Squadron in support. Jellicoe sent Tyrwhitt an urgent dispatch to inform him of the changes but it was never passed from Harwich to Arethusa, Tyrwhitt’s flagship.

Visibility on the 28th August was atrocious with mists restricting views to 3 miles. At 7:00 the German Destroyer G-194 spotted a vessel steaming towards them with a flotilla of destroyers emerging through the mist. It was Arethusa. G-194 turned to flee whilst being chased by several Royal Navy destroyers. The German Captain, Korvettenkapitan Buss called for assistance and the remaining vessels of the 5th Flotilla turned south for home and immediately came under fire with several taking damage and G-9 called for the coastal artillery batteries to bring down suppressing fire. The coastal batteries, which should have given the Germans superiority were unable to return fire as they could not tell friend or foe due to the proximity of the vessels and the mists.

Vice Admiral Scheer heard the wireless transmissions that called for Stettin and Frauenlob to come to the 5th Flotilla’s assistance as well as two flotilla of U-boats to come to station. By 7:58 Tyrwhitt was forced to withdraw from his chase because they had got to close to Helgoland and with the arrival of Stettin and Frauenlob with their superior firepower and armour it was too dangerous for the destroyers.

Stettin seeing the British withdrawal and that their own destroyers were now safe turned for home but Frauenlob, another Gazelle became entangled in a furious duel with the brand new Arethusa. It was a battle that the German should have lost but Arethusa was suffering from teething issues including two of her 4” guns jamming and another being taken out by Frauenlob’s gunners. The battle came to an abrupt end with Frauenlob withdrawing after a 6” shell destroyed the bridge killing many including her Captain.

Surprise had been lost and Tyrwhitt decided the best course of action was to make use of the mists and return to the original plan and sweep east to west and roll up any enemy vessels they came across. It was a move that quickly saw dividends with six German destroyers chased. V-187 had originally responded to G-194 but by 8:20 was reporting the position of two unknown vessels to the light cruiser Köln who ordered her and all other destroyers to return to Helgoland. As V-187 turned she was set upon by four British destroyers. The commander hoped to make it to the Jade estuary and they ran solidly for 28-9 miles firing their aft 3.3" gun when she spotted two of Goodenough’s light cruisers; Nottingham and Lowestoft who began firing accurate salvos. The Germans tried a daring manoeuvre that would catch the British by surprise by turning straight towards the pursuing destroyers but were quickly surrounded and sunk.

There was a growing confusion of British vessels who kept encountering each other in the mists and with Goodenough's presence unknown to Keyes and Tyrwhitt the farcical situation of British destroyers fleeing British cruisers and leading them on to British Battlecruisers began to unfold and even saw Goodenough hunting two of his own cruisers Nottingham and Lowestoft and Southampton trying to ram a British submarine which was attempting to fire torpedoes at it!

The German heavy units in the Jade river were uable to leave their moorings as the tide was out and they would be unable to clear the sand bar at the mouth of the estuary and the Flag officers presumed that none of the other heavy units outside of the Jade would be available and did not request them. Instead Konteradmiral Maass probed into the mist with his light cruisers Köln, Ariadne and Strassburg spread out searching for British ships and the Mainz approaching from the south hoping to cut off the British retreat.

Mainz had recieved the order to move from the Ems estuary at 10:00. Kapitan Pasche had ordered his vessel to raise steam and prepare to get underway as soon as he had heard the first wireless messages concerning the British attack but dutifully awaited the orders from above before leaving his position with the aid of a reconnaissance aircraft stationed at Borkum who was ordered to spot enemy vessels. After a short flight it returned to base having sighted nothing. Through the mists Arethusa and eight destroyers were spotted at about 11:30 heading west and Mainz turned to give them a starboard broadside hitting one of the destroyer's bridge. The German vessel turned North and encountered four Birmingham class cruisers who opened fire. Mainz reported taking fire at 11:55 and turned south towards the Ems estuary under constant fire from Goodenough's cruisers which eventually caused damage to the stearing mechanism.and Mainz drifted back into the path of Arethusa and her escorting destroyers.

"At the same moment the report reahed the bridge that three guns, with their crews, had been completely put out of action. In the stage of the action that followed, in which Mainz, with her helm jammed and going round in a circle to starboard, faced four cruisers of the Birmingham class and about twenty destroyers, our own fire was directed exclusively at the enemy destroyers. Against these only was a success worth mentioning possible. As several of the destroyers came quite close, it was possible to observe several hits upon them." -- Mainz's first officer Kapitanleutnant Tholens

By 12:20 the guns were all silent and the decks were shot to pieces with compartments below flooding with smoke and gas.
SMS Mainz sinking
Pasche gave the order to abandon ship and clear the conning tower but the order did not reach the whole vessel's company and another officer presumed Pasche dead and ordered any available gun to resume fire

Below decks the engineering crew were blissfully unaware of the state of the deck and calls to the bridge were left unanswered mainly because the tubes had been ruptured. In the main compartment it became clear the level of damaged sustained when water began running down the speaking tubes signifying water had penetrated the armoured decks.

The crew scurried through the wreckage over what remained of watertight doors and lockers, through she'll holes and onto the charnel house decks.

Commodore Keyes saw a signal from Mainz and brought his light cruiser, Lurcher alongside to save as many lives as possible and the wounded that could be helped. At 12:20 Mainz lurched and disappeared beneath the waves.

Köln and Strassburg came out of the mists firing their guns hoping they were forcing the British away unknowing what was awaiting them.

Vice Admiral Beatty had been listening to the wireless chatter and watching the clock knowing that as soon as the tides were right the might of the German High seas fleet could descend upon the destroyers and turn the day into a massacre. It was time to intervene to extricate the smaller units and his battlecruisers descended on Maass ripping Köln apart whilst Strassberg turned and fled saved only by her silhouette which looked too much like a British light cruiser. The only thing that saved Köln was the arrival of the unsuspecting Ariadne. Kapitän Seebohm later reported;

"Shortly afterwards gunfire was heard on our port bow, and we made straight in that direction. Shortly before 2 PM there emerged from the mist two ships, one of which, on our starboard bow, did not reply to our signal. It was recognised as an armoured cruiser so we immediately turned about. The second ship was Köln, which was being chased and would doubtless have got away if Ariadne had not appeared. The enemy immediately shifted his fire from Köln to Ariadne. Ariadne soon received a hit forward which started a fire in the coal, so that the stoke hold had to be abandoned on account of the danger from smoke. Five boilers were thus put out of action and Ariadne's speed was reduced to fifteen knots. Behind the enemy, which, judging by its silhouette, was the English Flagship Lion, a second English armoured cruiser soon appeared and joined in the action, firing at Ariadne for about half an hour at a range of from 45 to 60 hm., at times even from 33 hm. This last distance is only an estimate, as by now all the recording instruments were out of action. Ariadne received many hits from heavy guns, among them a whole series aft, which was soon enveloped in flames. Such of the personnel there as made good their escape owed it entirely to luck. The fore part of the ship also received a number of serious hits, one of which penetrated the armoured deck and put the torpedo chamber out of action, while another destroyed the sick-bay and killed its personnel. Amidships and the bridge, strange to say, were almost entirely spared. It is perfectly impossible to say how many hits in all the ship received. Apparently many shells passed through the rigging and were thereby detonated."

Fire soon engulfed the living quarters and decks burning uncontrollably with the extinguishers disabled. As the British disengaged possibly because the vessel was clearly doomed or because the smoke from the fires obstructed the range finder's view the surviving guns on Ariadne continued to fire independently at their attackers to no avail.

Seebohm praised his crew in his report;

In spite of the enemy's annihilating fire the ship's company worked with the greatest calm, as if on manoeuvres. The wounded were carried down by the stretcher-bearers. All ratings tried to carry out such repairs as were possible by themselves. The First Officer was carried away by a shell while between decks with the repairing section

Arrived to late; SMS Von der Tann
The forward magazine was thankfully flooded which meant the vessel wouldn't explode but the forward hatches were buckled from shell fire trapping crew below decks. Damage control reported the engines, boilers and rudder were in working order despite the telegraph having been cut. The wounded were gathered on the forecastle whilst the crew tried to fight the fires. The fumes and smoke was getting unbearable whilst the heat began igniting the ready ammunition on the deck showering the crew with shell splinters.

Seebohm ordered attempts to dave the ship to be abandoned and the crew assembled with the wounded on the forecastle where they cheered the Kaiser, sang the Deutschlandlied and the hymn for the flag. At 15:00, German time, the Bremen class SMS Danzig closed to the burning hulk and sent lifeboats.

The crew withdrew from the rapidly inhospitable forecastle to the midships where the wounded were lowered in boats. On a signal from the officers the rest of the crew jumped overboard and swam for Danzig's boats and the cruiser herself. The Stralsund also arrived and added her boats to the rescue operation lifting the Ariadne's non swimmers from the water and their rafts.

As Seebohm watched his former vessel he noted that the fires had finally died down and that the explosions had also calmed. He reasoned that his vessel and any men trapped below deck could be saved and immediately took himself to Stralsund with the intention of getting Kapitän Harder to take his vessel in tow.

However before any action could be taken Ariadne capsized suddenly and remained semi-submerged. The Gazelle had suffered 59 dead and 45 wounded from a crew of 257.

Meanwhile Köln was in a bad way. Maass was dead, the vessel burning, her hull holes from now to aft and her crew dead, dying, trapped or wounded. As a warship her time was over but as a hulk she had perhaps a little longer and the engineers managed to turn her South East and aim her roughly towards home but sadly she soon crossed Beatty's squadron again. Another two salvoes ended all hope that the ship could be saved scuttling charges were placed and the surviving 250 crewmen abandoned ship hoping for rescue from the British or their own ships.

Beatty was more concerned with getting his forces away before Hipper's dreadnoughts arrived. Arethusa was taken in tow and a withdrawal effected quickly and efficiently. Total British losses for the whole action were 35 dead and 55 wounded and no ships lost.
At 15:00 the Seydlitz and Blücher left port and joined the battlecruisers Moltke and Von der Tann who had not been in an estuary. They patrolled the area but by then the battle was over and the British long gone.

Admiral Scheer was to lament that;

If it was already known that the Heligoland Bight was insufficiently protected, because our scouting did not extend far enough, this day brought us the knowledge that a determined raid of the enemy against our weak forward patrol must inflict loss upon us every time. By the repetition of such surprises it might gradually be worn away altogether, while the Fleet got very little value out of its patrolling operations.Three days after the battle a German patrol fished leading stoker Neumann from the cold North Sea, he was the sole survivor of the 367 man crew of Köln.

Germany lost three light cruisers and a destroyer with some 1000 casualties including an Admiral. The Frauenlob was soon repaired and took her place in the Grand fleet scouting force. She would meet HMS Southampton again at the battle of Jutland in 1916 with deadly consequences.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Target Stavanger 11/4/1940

Stavanger being bombed on 17th April 1940
Unternehmen Weserübung - the German invasion of Norway and Denmark began on 9th April 1940 with German planners anxious to secure the Reich's northern flank and more importantly protect their supply of iron ore from Scandinavia.

Sources in the German foreign office were aware of the British attempt to send a force to secure the iron ore under the guise of supporting Finland in her war against Russia. There were also concerns that the British would mine Norwegian coastal waters forcing neutral and German shipping out into international waters where it could be intercepted by the Royal Navy. Worst still the British may just ignore the neutral waters as they had done with the Altmark incident in February.

Iron ore was crucial to the German war effort and with no chance of a pro-German government appearing in the near future the Wehrmacht was sent in with German envoys informing the Danish and Norwegian governments that the Germans were there to protect their neutrality from an Anglo-French invasion.

German troops aboard the Kriegsmarine's surface units pushed up the coast towards their various targets with the first arriving on the 9th April 1940. There were also attacks carried out by Fallscrimjäger (paratroops) on Norwegian airports including Stavanger-Sola on the far west coast of Norway.

The airfield had only been established in 1937 and defences were still under construction with only a scattering of light anti-aircraft guns, sixty soldiers and one bunker. The bomber wing on the airport consisted of obsolete aircraft which were evacuated as the Luftwaffe began its first attack with six BF 110 fighters. At around 09:00 the Fallscrimjäger jumped from their Ju 52s and within an hour the Germans had accepted the surrender of Lt Thor Tang, the garrison commander.

As soon as the airfield was taken German troops and equipment began landing with some 2-300 aircraft landing on the 9th alone. These newly landed troops quickly took the town of Stavenger and began organising the defences as well as continuing offencive operations.

In London the original force that had been earmarked for operations in Norway had to be hurriedly reassembled and dispatched. In the meanwhile RAF Bomber and coastal command weighed up their options. The only airport in range that the RAF could transfer their bombers too was Stavanger so with no where to land and no hope of getting Wellington's and Whitley's onto Aircraft carriers they decided to attack what they could. The only target within range of their heavy units was this same vital airport which they knew from reconnaissance pictures was being used as a main transport artery by the Germans.

 Vickers Wellington bombers.
115 squadron, on loan to Coastal command, was earmarked for the first bombing raid on an enemy mainland target. On the morning of the 11th April a Blenheim reconnaissance aircraft managed to get some clear shots of the airfield from 40 feet before heading straight back to Britain with its precious cargo. Back at Kinloss airfield the crews of six Wellington bombers gathered for their briefing whilst the ground crews searched for trolleys to carry the bombs from the magazine. This vital piece of equipment was still in transit to the airbase!

At the end of the briefing someone asked the briefing officer;

"You have told us how to evade one fighter, sir. What happens if we meet four?"

The response was optimistic;

"Most unlikely."

The Wellington crews had learnt during operations over Heligoland Bight that if they held formation the formidable rear turrets could scatter individual Luftwaffe fighters but against a numerical force of determined 109s or 110s they could become easy pickings. They were also assured that two Blenheim fighters of 254 squadron would be providing cover for them.

F/o Bain and Sgt Tubbs took off from Bircham Newton and proceeded to the rendezvous point and waited for the bombers but there was no sign of the Wimpys. Soon they received an order to "Hold position." There had been a delay with S/L Boulay's force not taking off until 18:00

Bain's response was "Message not understood."

After scouting the area the two Blenheims dropped down to 4000 feet and at 19:45 passed over the airfield at wingtip to wingtip emptying their magazines into the organised "bombers lined up in Germanic precision" in three lines. They circled around for a second pass catching many Germans who had come out to look at the wreckage presuming it was like the attack they had recieved earlier that day. Both fighters pulled to skip over a bluff before heading back to Britain.

The Germans stepped up security 9. Flakregiment 33 went on standby. The strafing run by the two Blenheims had caught them napping and the had only managed sporadic light machine gun fire any further strikes would have a tougher time of it.

At 21:00, half an hour after Bain and Tubbs had left, 115 squadron arrived and began to attack in two waves returning fire with their turrets as the Germans filled the air with shells. Boulay led his section across the aerodrome at 1000 feet dropping their 500 lb SAP bombs near hangers and the observers thought they saw petrol fires starting. P/o Barber led his section across at between 200 and 300 feet coming under heavy fire. F/Sgt Powell's bomber was struck several times and barely made it back to Kinloss whilst F/o Scott had his navigator Sgt Smith were wounded. Tragedy struck when P/o Barber's Wellington burst into flames and plowed into a school killing two civilians and the crew instantly.

On the return of 115 a summons was dispatched for Bain and Tubbs to report to Kinloss immediately where 115's Commander W/c Mills saw them personally. The loss of Barber and his crew was attributed to fighter interception as well as ground fire. Mills was going to reprimand them for leaving his men alone but was overruled by a senior officer as it was felt the fighter pilots had shown initiative and in a time when heroic actions were needed the two men were celebrated even giving a report on BBC radio.

P/o Barker, P/o Rankin, LAC Westcott, Sgt Pearce, P/o Bull and Sgt Geoffrey Juby are buried in Stavenger cemetery.

F/Sgt Powell was awarded thee DFM for nursing his damaged bomber home whilst wounded.

The following morning at 03:57 a Blenheim flew a reconnaissance mission over Stavanger and bore witness to the damage caused by the wreckage of P9284 to the town and school. The aerodrome itself was barely damaged though the raiders were credited with the destruction of a Do. 17 P of 1 (f)/320.

The attack was considered a success and one to be celebrated  with valuable lessons to be learnt. Over the coming weeks Stavanger was to be attacked several times by Wellingtons and shot up by Blenheims but never put out of action.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

First victory - Fairey Battles over Aachen

Fairey Battles in formation

The War started rather ingloriously for the Fairey Battles of the AASF as they settled in to their new aerodromes and began reconnaissance and training exercises. The RAF had formed two aerial forces to go to France with the offensive wing, the AASF (Advance Air Striking Force), comprising of the ten Fairey Battle and two Blenheim squadrons with support from two Hurricane fighter squadrons.

RAF bombing policy was tied down by the French who restricted raids on German industry and cities because they did not want to provoke a response from the Luftwaffe which they feared would decimate their infrastructure. RAF planners were keen to strike the Ruhr and cripple German industry but again the French felt that Allied bombers should support the army and make an immediate dent in any military advance. In the strategic impasse the squadrons of the AASF made themselves available to support the BEF and whatever the Army required of them which meant plenty of reconnaissance flights.

On the 20 September three Battles of 88 squadron's B Flight took off at 10:00 from their advance field of Mourmelon-le-Grand for a reconnaissance flight over Aachen. F/O Baker led his formation towards the border encountering only light anti-aircraft fire from a French emplacement as they passed South East of Bitche but this was the least of their worries as at 11:47 they approached the target only to be intercepted by three 109s in a tight vic formation.

Jagdgruppe 152 was an embryo formation of what would become Zerstörergeschwader 52. Due to a lack of Bf 110 fighters being available to arm the formation they had been given surplus Bf 109 D's which were slowly being phased out in favour of the Emil by the Jagdgeschwadern during the assault on Poland. The Stab formation of Jagdgruppe 152 was patrolling the Franco-German border led by Hauptmann Lessmann who had claimed a French Potez 63 the day before. Seeing their foe and supposedly presuming they were Hurricane fighters Lessmann gave theorder for the Messerschmitts to dive on their foes.

In one pass the Messerschmitts sent F/Sgt Douglas Page's craft spiralling towards the ground leaving no survivors. F/O Baker decreased height to avoid the diving German's fire whilst his observer Sgt Fredrick Letcher fired back shooting down one of the attackers. In the dive Baker had lost sight of F/O Graveley but decided to head for home before the Germans came back arriving at 13:10.

Flying officer Graveley
Reginald Graveley had managed to crash land his shattered craft and despite severe burns dragged his wounded observer Sgt Everett to a safe distance from the burning wreck. He returned for AC1 David John but found him dead at his gun with a bullet through the head and Graveley was unable to retrieve his body. Graveley and Everett were rescued but despite having his leg amputated the Sergeant died of his wounds that day. Graveley was awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal in December by the King who was touring France. This award was later converted to the George Cross on its inception with the following description in the London Gazette.

This officer displayed great gallantry and a total disregard of his own safety when the aircraft of which he was the pilot was shot down by an enemy fighter in September 1939, and crashed in flames. Though badly burned, he pulled his wounded air observer from the wreckage to a place of safety and then returned to rescue the gunner. He found the airman dead however, and was unable to lift him from the cockpit.

Although the French authorities confirmed the wreckage of a German fighter the Luftwaffe Quartermaster shows no losses on that day. Nevertheless the Letcher's claim is considered to be the first German aircraft shot down by an Anglo/French aircraft. Letcher stayed with 88 squadron and was later killed in action when the Blenheim bomber he was acting as Observer in was shot down over Holland on 28th August 1941.

88 Squadron's losses on the 20th September 1939 were:
Battle K 9242:  Observer Sgt William Stanley Everett (26) and Gunner AC1 David Joshua John (22)
Battle K 9245   Flight Sergeant Douglas Aubrey Page (27), Observer Sgt Alfred William Eggington (25) and Gunner AC1 Edward Arthur William Radford (24).
All of the dead are buried at Choloy War cemetery.

Reginald Graveley’s medals are held at the Royal Airforce Museum at Hendon.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

SMS Königsberg and her river fortress

SMS Königsberg, the Nürnberg’s older sister and lead ship of her class was to have a pretty audacious career somewhat devoid of combat success but one that kept the Royal Navy busy in trying to destroy her. It was also a career that saw all but a handful of her crew die abroad in Africa.

The Königsberg’s deployment to the Schütztruppe started on the 1st April with the arrival of Fregattenkapit
än Max Loof who began to take stock of his crew and vessel which took until the 24th April. Königsberg moved from Kiel to Williamshaven and finally departed Germany on the 28th. It was supposed to be a two year deployment to Dar Es Salaam, a nice easy deployment to fly the flag and provide diplomatic pressure should it be needed. The Admiralstab knew well that should war come a light cruiser on the coast of Africa would provide a major distraction for the Royal Navy and could cause havoc for merchant ships around the Red Sea and provide a barrier for any troop transports from Australasia.

After a leisurely cruise through the Mediterranean via Spain and Italy she traveled through the Suez Canal finally arriving at her new assignment on the 5th June taking over from the Bussard cruiser Geier which had departed for Tsingtaō. Königsberg‘s crew began a training schedule whilst the officers poured over charts of the area and the vessel was assigned to survey the harbour of Bagamoyo. The situation in Europe though led Loof to abandon his training schedule and begin preparing his forces for war with Britain. On his return to Dar Es Salaam Loof began to organise a coast watching force to tell him if the Royal Navy were sailing north from the cape and keep a track of German shipping. In port he had the survey ship Möwe the sister of Planet which was of limited value militarily. There were no vessels suitable for conversion into auxiliaries either. Königsberg would have to stand alone should war come and according to a signal from Berlin on the 27th July warning him that war was imminent. Loof decided it was time to put to sea so that he wouldn't be caught in harbour.

Admiral King-Hall of the Cape Squadron was tasked with patrolling the whole of the South African station of St Helena to the Red sea with a squadron of aging cruisers, HMS Hyacinth, Pegasus and Astraea all of which were only saved from the wrecker’s yard by the fact that there was nothing to replace them until 1915. King-Hall knew that there would be no vessels available to assist him should Königsberg escape as Jerram was busy trying to contain the East Asiatic Squadron and Patey's squadron would be busy tackling German colonies, protecting the South Seas from von Spee and providing escort to the inevitable troop convoys. The Indian squadron was just as stretched having to police from Singapore to the Red sea. The only hope was that vessels could be released from the Mediterranean or home waters to assist him but with the pursuit of the Goeben and Breslau as well as the containment of the Austrian fleet it looked severely unlikely. He had to act quickly.

On the 28th July as Königsberg and Möewe practiced gunnery and torpedo runs but with news that the King-Hall’s squadron had come north to Zanzibar and were busy coaling was a concerning turn of events. Loof ordered his ship to sea on the 31st in the early hours in the morning but as they left Dar es Salaam the British squadron moved to escort positions.

King-Hall had been waiting for
Königsberg to move and although war between the two nations had not been formerly declared and at that point there was no concrete belief in England that it would do, King-Hall was not prepared to take the chance. The Admiralty believed that Königsberg would quit the theatre and try to head for the Mediterranean whilst the Suez Canal was still open to her. Having commenced resupply in Zanzibar on the 29th July King-Hall had been relying on the British Consul in Dar es Salaam and on the 31st he was given the signal that Königsberg had left at 4.30. Scrambling his vessels out of the harbour as quickly as he could paid quick dividends as at 6.30 Hyacinth spotted their prey. His vessels would shadow Königsberg and the moment war was declared offer Loof a fait accompli. Loof watched the cruisers with concern. True they were obsolete and their weapons now where near as comparable to his they did outgun him. In a fire fight the shear volume of falling shells would destroy his ship. There was little he could do but run. Loof ordered his engineers “full steam” and after forty five minutes he received the signal that the boilers were at full team pressure and the Königsberg began to pull away leaving King-Hall’s squadron in his wake but it took the coming dusk that evening and a rain squall to finally lose their British pursuers.

Following the escape of Königsberg King-Hall had to settle for next best thing and ordered Astraea sailed into Dar-es-Salaam on the 8th August and commenced firing on vessels in the harbour and destroyed the W/T station. The Germans panicked and Möwe was scuttled as was the floating dock which was the only part of the port capable of housing
Königsberg. Loof’s only safe haven, source of coal and parts for repair had been robbed from him in one swift bombardment if he was to stay active he would need to catch as many merchant vessels as he could and use their coal or rely on the Somali who carried 1200 tons or the Reichenfels in Colombo who could bring him 6000 tons. His vessel could only carry 850 tons which gave him a range of 6000 miles at 12 knots. 

Königsberg began her cruiser campaign well with her first sighting on the 6th August. It was the liner Zieten carrying German servicemen to East Africa including a hundred officers and men from the SMS Planet followed quickly by a British built vessel which refused to stop. Königsberg gave chase and fired across her bow. The ship was the German Goldenfels bound for Hamburg. That night a third vessel, SS City of Winchester under the Scottish Captain George Boyck was forcibly stopped illuminated with spot lights and signalled;

“What ship and Nationality?”

Boyck and his crew were seriously taken aback when a German oarding party came aboard under Leutnant Koch who ordered the W/T set destroyed and all charts and papers gathered up.

Königsberg gathered up the German vessels in the area and proceeded by a circuitous route to Hallaniya island where she coaled from Goldenfels. Between 11th-12th August City of Winchester’s 400 tons of coal and supplies of food, water and a portion of the cargo of tea was brought aboard before the British ship had her seacocks opened and a couple of shells put into her for good measure. Goldenfels took the prisoners to Cape town.

The Admiralty knew where the raider was and so began patrols whilst ordering merchant ships to halt which upset the London markets as the tea harvest was just beginning and suddenly none could be delivered!

Coal was running short and with the threat of British ships in the area Loof would need every lump he could get. Rough weather kept his planned rendezvous with the Somali had to be delayed and when they finally did meet he only had 200 tons left in his bunkers. The cruise in the Gulf of Aden was somewhat disappointing as in six days they had caught one British ship.

Whilst awaiting Somali off Ras Hafun in Somaliland the pressing need for drinking water led Koch to investigate the shoreline but the shore party were attacked by mounted tribesmen and forced back to the safety of he cruiser. If Somali did not arrive soon Loof knew that the Konigsberg's career would be over and he would be forced to scuttle her. Somali arrived two days later with 700 tons of precious coal and news that the Reichenfells had been impounded in Colombo and would not be able to assist Königsberg. Loof decided to take the warship south to Madagascar believing the British would be sweeping the Gulf of Aden but after the long cruise south they found no French ships at Majunga and a Red Cross flag fluttering from the W/T mast. Bitterly disappointed the Königsberg turned north to meet with Somali at a secluded atoll where they attempted to coal but the swell required them to find a more secluded place to hide, Kapitän Herm of Somali suggested the Rufiji river delta.

The delta was remote with a small number of fishing villages scattered about in the midst of the mangrove swamps and jungle. They snuck up the river using the steam launch to sound the depths and halted 8 miles upstream at Salale. The local District officer Dankers was advised of their arrival and he sent a messenger who sent a messenger to summon up another District officer, Hauser and Doctor Fraenkel bringing news from the front and fruit which was gladly received by the crew. Coal was organised to be brought from Dar es Salaam and Tanga by coastal and river dhows as well as the Rovuma and from the hiding Präsident via tugboat. More news arrived that a lone British cruiser lay coaling in Zanzibar.

On the 19th September they weighed anchor with Herm acting as pilot acting "Mit Gött fur Kaiser und Reich" began their operation. At 4.00 on the following day the gunners were brought to action stations and the guns loaded and cruised past Chumbe island at 7 knots.

The Hellmuth, a German tug which had been seized by the Royal Navy on the 4th August as the German business men on the island loaded her up for an escape to Dar Es Salaam, was patrolling outside the channel under Lieutenant Charlewood. At just after 5.00 Charlewood spotted a shadow approaching which on closer inspection was the Königsberg. The German's first shell convinced the crew to abandon ship, the third passed through the boiler killing the last remaining crewman. Pegasus had been in port having her boilers overhauled and the night before the Engine chiefs had prepped them to light for leaving. The crew shot to action stations she they heard the shells that killed Hellmuth and then alerted when Leutnant Apel's first salvo roared over. The second one struck home whilst the third cut down gunners hurrying to their positions. When Pegasus did return fire the shots fell woefully short of the 9000 yards needed to strike Königsberg. The German's fire was accurate and unrelenting striking the bridge, destroying the range finding equipment and one of the starboard gun emplacement wiping out the gunners who were trying to aim through open sights. The decks became a charnel house of dead and wounded gunners caught in explosions or mowed down by splinters all within eight minutes. As fires broke out the guns fell silent. Damage control teams tried to slow the flooding below decks. The stokers were ordered to raise steam but it took three quartets of an hour to build up pressure and by then Pegasus's fate had been sealed. As Königsberg closed to 7000 yards Captain Ingles ordered the unthinkable and the colours were struck and the German cruiser ceased fire after twenty minutes of fire briefly to ascertain whether the colours were down but when it couldn't be confirmed Loof gave Pegasus another fifteen minutes but stopped again at 5.50.

The Eastern Telegraph office signalled King-Hall advising him of Pegasus's fate and updated
The Marine holding up the standard on Pegasus
numbers of casualties and wounded. Meanwhile the Königsberg had left port having fired 276 shells and jettisoning casings and barrels to look like sea mines.

Pegasus burned in the harbour whilst the wounded were taken into the French hospital where their wounds were treated The British attempted to beach the Pegasus using the coaster Kilwa but the damage was too extensive and the ship just rolled over and sank with all of her munitions in a mere thirty feet of water. With the port facility of Zanzibar now defenceless the local traders began to panic moving all the flammable goods away and the surviving sailors mobilised as a temporary garrison but not before the dead were laid to rest on Grave island. The total loss, including those who died from their wounds over the following day came to fifty six wounded and thirty eight dead including the ship's First Officer Richard Turner who had his leg blasted away and bled to death on the deck urging his men on against the odds before requesting a brandy and cigarette from the ship's surgeon. Another act of bravery and selflessness was the Marine who hoisted up the ships colours and flew the Cross of St George from the ship's bow amongst the storm of shells and death. The loss of Pegasus shocked the admiralty in London and Captain Drury-Lowe’s HMS Chatham was dispatched from the Red Sea to seek and destroy Königsberg at any cost.

The Königsberg sailed away victoriously with morale peaking when the ship quickly slowed to just above stop as the Chief engineer reported that one of the piston rods crosshead had split and she was losing steam. With regret they informed Loof that thy could not repair it at sea and the disappointed Kapitän had to make a painful decision, they would have to return to the river delta and abandon the plan to commerce raid their way back to Germany. On arrival at Salale the engine parts were disassembled and taken by farmers cart to the railway hub before forwarding them on to Dar Es Salaam engineering works a process that would take six weeks. 

Loof ordered the creation of an observation post network in tall trees and on the heights of Pemba hill and placed under command of the Naval officer present, Schoenfeld.  The crew cut down the mast heads to make her harder to spot and camouflaged the ship with palms and mangroves whilst an army of natives cut down swathes of the mangroves to provide fuel for the Königsberg and her engine trials.

The Chatham’s journey down the coast was watched by German signallers who were lighting fires and waving flags to pass on the information and there was no doubt that Königsberg would know that the British were coming and soon Dartmouth and Weymouth joined Drury-Lowe to search the coast but overlooked the Rufiji. The three British ships divided the coastline into sectors that each patrolled. However this sort of search was very intensive on coal and the British soon used up all of their coal and their supplies in Mombassa and Zanzibar ad soon colliers had to be summoned from other parts of the globe which curtailed operations for a time. Dartmouth caught the tug Adjutant whose log book showed that she had been to Salale but the British dismissed this as impossible as the Rufiji was considered unnavigable. The log did however say that it had travelled from Lindi so Chatham sent her steam pinnace up the river and discovered the Präesident camouflaged and painted white with the Red Cross flag and the German district officials claimed that she was a hospital ship and therefore not a combatant. The British refused to believe this and forced the issue and the vessel had her machinery disabled. On inspecting the vessel they found a reference to coal being shipped to Salale. Something did not add up and was going on up the river.
There was another rumour of Königsberg hiding in Dar es Salaam and Chatham moved to search the port discovering the Feldmarschall, König and Tabora in dock. After firing a few rounds the German harbour master and a representative of the Governor’s office went out by launch to request a ceasefire. They claimed that the port was neutral and not at war with England. Drury-Lowe ordered a full inspection to make sure the vessels were not auxiliaries and ordered all W/T equipment destroyed.

Finally the Chatham moved down to investigate the Rufiji and landed men to search the area. It was to one of these shore parties that a group of natives revealed that Königsberg was indeed hiding further up river and Chatham moved tentatively up the river. Her lookouts staring for the Königsberg. To their relief the German vessel that had so elusive was sighted and Chatham opened fire sending up showers of hot mud but causing no damage. Loof simply sent his men below decks and simply moved the ship up stream. Dartmouth and Weymouth were summoned and on 2nd November the flotilla sailed up stream and tried again but the Germans were just out of range.

The Admiralty’s order on the 2nd November was crystal clear; “Destruction or capture of Königsberg is a matter of highest importance.” Drury Lowe decided that the best course of action was to put a block ship into the deepest channel to stop Königsberg from escaping. With a flotilla of cutters and under the guns of the old battleship Goliath the task force  moved into position on the 7th November. The shore batteries established by Schoenfeld opened fire on them as they advanced which slowed them down. The Chatham was able to fire and strike the Somali setting the collier on fire and be wrecked. Königsberg withdrew a further five miles which led to her getting stranded on the sandbanks and silt which came with its own problems with movement being restricted on the vessel to stop toppling, silt getting into everything and requiring engineers to strip and clean everything time and time again.

On the 9th November Drury-Lowe ordered another attempt to sink his block ship, Newbridge, into the
SMS Konigsberg  in  Dar-es-Salaam
Ssimba Uranga channel. Newbridge was under the command of Commander Fitzmaurice with volunteers from Chatham and Pegasus and fitted with rudimental armour in the form of sandbags. The dynamite charges blasted a hole in the Newbridge sinking in the channel whilst under heavy fire from the shoreline at 6.15 in the morning. The operation, supported by Weymouth and Chatham barraging the shoreline resulted in two killed and nine wounded British sailors and a blocked channel. Drury-Lowe reported that “Königsberg was imprisoned and unable to do any more harm.”

With Königsberg holed up the British returned to Dar es Salaam on the 28th November to take care of König, Feldmarschall and Tabora and a boarding party form Goliath investigated the claims that Tabora was a hospital ship. Separate teams went aboard the other two vessels to disable machinery completely so they could not put to sea however the German garrison were not willing to let the British just waltz in and disable their ships in their harbour and soon rifle fire rang out from the shores at the boats in the harbour mouth. Goliath fired her 12” guns and flattened the Governor’s residence and the citizens began to flee for safety. After the withdrawal of the British ships the Germans tried to sink the König as a second block ship but failed to get it in the right place so on the 30th the Goliath and Fox returned and bombarded the seafront.

Drury-Lowe decided that if his vessels could not go in to get Königsberg then they could keep an eye them using aeroplanes or even try to sink her with bombs and King-Hall agreed. Two Curtiss F Hydroplanes were leased with their pilot Dennis Cutler for £150s a month and an insurance loss of £2000s. Cutler was given a rank of flight sub lieutenant in the RNVR and taken to Niororo Island twenty miles from the river delta. The first flight took place on the 19th November but cloud cover meant the aircraft got lost and had to put down and drift for six hours awaiting pickup from Chatham. The next flight on the 22nd November was more successful and they reported seeing the Königsberg in good condition and approximately ten miles inland which was confirmed on the second flight with the Captain of the supply ship Kingfauns castle to validate Cutler’s claim but also confirmed the belief that there were other navigable channals that Königsberg could escape down. King-Hall refused anymore blocking operations and on the 10th December Cutler was captured when his aircraft made a forced landing.

The Königsberg  was moved upstream into the Kikunja branch where she was grounded on a sandbank and after offloading equipment and ammo refloated and taken a further seven miles up stream where she was secured through monsoon season. The Germans also modified one of their main guns to work as an anti-aircraft gun firing shrapnel up at the British aerial invaders. Loof’s big problem was supply, a problem shared by Lettow-Vorbeck with equipment being scavenged from the enemy. The German High command were able to dispatch one vessel, the ex British SS Rubens under the Danish flag and name Kronborg carrying 1600 rifles, 1000 4.1” shells for the  Königsberg, two million rounds of small arms ammunition, medical supplies, letters from home and coal for Königsberg. After leaving Hamburg on 19th February, running the British blockade and rounding the Cape of Good Hope Captain Christensen was imprudent with his W/T transmissions sending out calls for Loof as he passed Madagascar. As the vessel arrived near Tanga on 14th April a warship did approach but it was HMS Hyacinth with a couple of armed whalers. Hyacinth opened fire striking the upper superstructure. In an attempt to salvage what cargo he could Christensen flooded the hold and set fire to the timber on deck which had been their “cargo” in the hope that playing dead would discourage further attack  Admiral King-Hall attempted to salvage the wreck but abandoned attempts and proceeded to shell Tanga. London vetoed a return to Kronborg in case of mines or German ambush which gifted the Germans their supplies. As much as could be salvaged was taken ashore and every round taken apart cleaned and put into supply.

Despite the gains for the Askaris Loof had to abandon his escape plan without coal Königsberg would not get far. He knew there was no hope of securing more and there was now a finality to the British blockade. On addressing the crew of this the morale plummeted as their temporary refuge had become a tomb. The siege had grown so demoralising with no contact with the outside world, an ever increasing numbers of new cases of malaria, black water fever, dysentery, malnutrition and want of medical supplies and the cruisers meagre medical facilities were soon overwhelmed. The heat and humidity below decks meant the men slept on the relative cool of the decks where they were at the mercy of the insects. A somewhat luckier detachment of one hundred men were taken to assist in the battles on lake Tanganyika and to form the Königsbergabtielung the nucleus of the Dar es Salaam defence force whilst Loof kept the rest of the crew busy with painting and as many maintenance duties as possible to keep morale up. As long as his vessel and defences were in existence the Royal Navy had to concentrate forces here rather than somewhere more vital like Dardanelles.

The siege of the hidden Königsberg and the inaccessibility of the river delta led to the Admiralty to revisit the aircraft as an untried weapon of war. On the 7th January 1915 the No. 4 Royal Navy Expeditionary Force was formed under the command of Flight Lieutenant John Cull with Flight Lieutenant Harold Watkins as his second. Both pilots had only learned to fly the year before but the untried crews and aircraft, which were only completed the same week at Kingston on Thames, were quickly loaded upon SS Persia at Tilbury and dispatched for Bombay on the 16th January. On arrival the Sopwith type 807 Seaplanes were put back together and tested by their pilots causing a panic when the locals believed the Germans were attacking as they had at Madras the year before and crowds rushed to the railway stations to evacuate.   Watkins also crashed his aircraft serial number 921 on landing. Even still they were again transported to Niororo Island arriving on the 20th February with their first mission chalked up for the following day. Cull climbed into the cockpit of 920 with his observer whilst the mechanics finished their duties checking the engine, fuelling up and fitting the bombs. Cull’s orders were to fly over the delta and locate the German cruiser and bomb it but the aircraft never reached the air. After four days of tinkering Cull tried to again but this time he could not get the aircraft above 1500 feet!

It was a disappointing start to the campaign and King-Hall himself became involved when he brought experts from Zanzibar to look at the engines. The complex system was quite perplexing but they suggested the best way to get the birds into the air was by mixing the Pratt’s aviation fluid with 10% local petrol . This however did very little to improve the situation and instead it made the aircraft’s handling a little worse. The nearest Royal Navy store facility in Egypt were contacted for advise but the lack knowledge of the aircraft or its handling capabilities led to a lot of strange suggestions that ultimately culminated in the bizarre instruction to just chop a bit of each propeller blade to increase the RPM or maybe the aircraft was just overloaded.  This was not the end of the farcical campaign that was unfolding for the RNAS as Watkins’ repaired 921 crashed following an engine failure and was written off and on the 28th February 920 had to be rescued by one of the tenders as she began to
The crashed and sinking 920
sink and had to be rebuilt using parts from the wrecked 921. Fully repaired again Cull’s aircraft developed yet another problem when the heat and humidity finally took its toll on the floats as they buckled and began to flood. The sunburnt mechanics managed to do some field repairs and modifications fix the floats but it was all for nothing as the a frustrated King-Hall suspended all flights of the Sopwith and signalled London that he wanted better aircraft sent immediately and was reassured three were already on their way.

The new aircraft, three pre-war (1913) Short folder Type 87 seaplanes that were considered useless by other squadrons and all that was available, arrived and taken to the recently liberated Mafia Island only 15 miles from Königsberg’s refuge.

Meanwhile Lieutenant Phillip Pretorius RNVR, a former Major and local landowner who knew the area well was tasked with providing information on tides, depth and plot the position of Königsberg in the Kikonji Channel. He took a dugout canoe and with local assistance was able to chart the delta over the course of a month and even managed to sneak aboard Königsberg. His work earned him a DSO from a grateful Admiralty who had resigned itself to having to send vessels in to get the German after the 12” guns of the aging battle ship Goliath failed to find the range.

The Admiralty had bought three shallow draft monitors from Vickers that had been destined for Brazil and pressed them into service for coastal bombardment duties off Belgium. On the 19th April HMS Severn and Mersey were ordered to be brought from Malta to Mafia Island under tow with the Collier Kendal Castle bringing vital 6000 tons of coal and the Liner Trent bringing supplies and providing accommodation. The convoy left Valetta on the 28th April and after a long complicated journey which almost saw Mersey wrecked and two men die from heat exhaustion it arrived on the 3rd June.

The new seaplanes had arrived on 23rd April and were airborne the following day but it was discovered rust had got to aircraft 121’s fuel tank. The first reconnaissance flight by 122 on the 25th resulted in good but slightly blurry pictures and a crashed aircraft brought down by rifle fire and a bullet into the engine. Both aircraft were repaired and back in action keeping an eye on the German cruiser and changes to the defence network. For the Germans on the ground they were a daily pest but not one they were powerless to stop, Askaris led by German officers were seen forming firing lines with great accuracy as Atkins found to his discomfort on the 5th May when his rudder was struck off. The resulting water landing saw  the 119 sinking and the Lieutenant and his observer being picked up by Cull in 122. By mid June the craft were suffering from extreme wear and tear with rubber pipes rotting, propellers falling off due to poor glue adhesion, very few spare parts and poor performance. With no other recourse the two remaining aircraft were simply abandoned on the beaches that June.

Squadron commander Robert Gordon with two Caudron G IIIs, two Farman F. 27s, two pilots (Flight lieutenant Vivian Blackburn and Flight Sub Lieutenant H Arnold) and thirteen maintenance crew arrived before the older craft were abandoned and a new runway was cut in to the bush for the land based aircraft. The plan was for round the clock surveillance however not long after their arrival one Caudron and a Farman had been written off in accidents. The Strategy adopted from now on was for the observers to use Morse code signals to help the monitors and cruisers ranging information using a clock code with Königsberg in the centre. The two monitors were given spare steel plate to armour the decks whilst rudimentary gun and bridge shields were deployed in the form of sandbags whilst empty petrol barrels were sowed in voids below deck to provide buoyancy should the worst happen. On the 6th July they pressed forward having practiced their targeting strategy aiming a dhow anchored behind Mafia Island. It was heard by the Germans on Königsberg and they knew what was coming.

It was early on the 6th July and the crew were awake early to watch the sun come up and eat their breakfast on the decks in the cool air as the sun slowly touched the top of the jungle sending out the first light. Deep in the bowls of the ship the middle shift were asleep in their hammocks and for that moment all was peaceful, just another day in the estuary. This serenity was not to last with the distant drone that had come to be the mark of daily life, they were early this morning.

As Watkins aircraft passed overhead two bombs fell striking the ground nearby but causing no damage. Crewmen hurriedly threw down their rifles and began looking for small arms when the roar of the Monitor’s guns filled the air. Action Stations was sounded and the crew rushed to positions, months of boredom quickly pushed aside by their training. A call to the bridge from Gengeni Island reported the position of the British monitors and relayed coordinates to the gun crews. At 7:00 the Germans began to return fire with Königsberg’s guns.

On the river the two British vessels had been making a slow and steady approach using Pistorious’ information in the dark, they had successfully sank one of Loof’s torpedo boats, scattered an infantry attack and briefly duelled a shore battery but by 6:20 they were receiving targeting information from Watkins who advised them  their first salvo went wide and 200 yards short. Königsberg however was accurate and brought her  4.1” shells down straddling the two invaders and often landing within fifteen yards. Severn hit Königsberg first at 7:31 through and kept up an accurate barrage for twenty minutes where as her sister Mersey bore the brunt of German fire which struck one of her 6” guns killing a portion of the gun crew and stunning the rest whilst others were wounded on the bridge. The motor launch was destroyed and Mersey holed beneath the waterline, on fire and listing she quit the anchorage as what could have been a killer salvo landed where she had been. Severn also began to take accurate fire and with Watkins having quit the area but not before destroying the German spotter’s tree off Gengeni Island. The two monitors moved to a range of 11,300 yards and using the Königsberg’s mast heads to gauge the range and began firing again at 9:45.

After a brief respite at 13:30 a second aeroplane arrived to give information but by 15:45 the decision was made to withdraw. Captain Fullerton reported that in the twelve hours that the monitors
HMS Mersey
had been ay sea they had fired 633 shells with 78 targeting corrections mainly due to faulty Morse equipment in the aircraft. Fullerton admitted that:
“Crews were at their stations continuously from 3:45 and this with the fact that the guns were hot did not make for accurate fire during the afternoon.”
It was his opinion though that Königsberg was no longer seaworthy without a full refit and also thanked the airmen who despite equipment failure and heavy fire managed to relay vital information.  Flight Lieutenant Cull had reported fire coming from Pema Hill but also acknowledged that the mission had been a failure.

Governor Schnee expressed his congratulations, via telegram, for repelling a force fifteen times the size of Königsberg’s defences. Loof had a keener grasp of the situation with two gun layers (Afel and Helfferich formerly of the Zeiten) had been killed in a ricocheted strike on the forward gun whilst a strike on the starboard wing bridge had knocked Loof to the ground and killed Seeman Plitt whilst Boatswain Bantelmann was killed by a shell which passed through the officer’s galley,  another shell holed her below the waterline flooding a bunker and Leutnant Wenig was wounded in the foot. Eleven men, including Wenig,  were seriously wounded and were evacuated on the Tomondo whilst the dead were taken away on the Nieusteiten. Loof and five other wounded were taken to the Königsberg’s limited sickbay.

As there was no doubt that the British would be back fresh preparations had to be made with ranging markers placed at Gengeni island, telephone cables repaired but Loof knew that their chances of survival were slim and getting slimmer. The 6” lyditte shells had played havoc with his vessel’s superstructure and his ammunition was running short as the Kronborg’s supplies had still not arrived.

The British were determined and after flight reconnaissance proved Königsberg was afloat the monitors were repaired and resupplied and were ready to attack by the 11th July passing the delta at 11:00 and immediately coming under fire from field guns. Mersey’s 6” gun was hit yet again but they passed by 11:45. They encountered a boat off Kikunja island but a brief salvo from Severn sent scurrying for the river bank. The torpedo mounted Wami had run aground and was unavailable but the rest of the delta force had been ready and fired everything they possessed at the British force. Königsberg joined the fray at 12:1 with a few wide bursts but gaining in rapidity at 12:17 concentrating fire on the Severn.

The ammunition supplies began running short and with the mounting damage on Königsberg’s rate of fire slowly dropped away until 12:55 when the guns fell silent having caused no significant damage to the monitors.

Severn began firing at 12:31 and by her eight salvo she was striking Königsberg’s superstructure until Flight Lieutenant Cull’s Henry Farman was forced to crash land at12:44 with both Cull and Subflight Lieutenant Arnold being recovered unharmed but very wet by Mersey’s motor launch. Severn and Cull had seen an explosion on Königsberg which began to belch smoke attracting Severn’s fire as she straddled her for an hour firing a staggering forty two salvos. Fullerton later reported that he personally went to Severn’s masthead and saw Königsberg aflame and her funnels blasted down and decided that there was no need to waste more ammunition as Königsberg was clearly unseaworthy and ordered his vessels to retire under fire from the river banks. He suggested Königsberg had been struck by fifty to seventy high explosive Lyditte shells.

Fullerton’s appraisal was spot on as fires swept into Königsberg’s magazine causing Loof to order the compartments flooded. The first British rounds had killed or wounded the forward gun crew. With damage and death toll increasing Loof’s ability to return fire began to dwindle exasperated by the severing of telephone cables to Pemba meant they were shooting blindly. Loof had to be evacuated below decks with two wounds that required immediate medical attention,  an ammunition locker exploded, the funnel came crashing down and the vessel was slowly getting blasted apart. A message came up to the first Officer, Koch, from Loof ordering the men over the sides and to throw the gun breaches overboard in case the British came to pillage the wreck. With great relief those able to leave jumped into the river whilst Koch and Seeman Huber set charges to scuttle the ship. The explosion rocked the already shattered cruiser and slowly she settled down into the mud of the river delta up to her decks. The siege was finally over.

I have heard with deepest regret that the Königsberg after a heroic fight against overwhelming odds
A view of Konigsberg's wreck
has been sunk.” Wrote Governor Schnee.

This was putting it mildly as thirty German sailors were dead, many others were wounded including Loof and they began the sorry task of burial when it became clear the British were not going to push and take the wreck. Salvaging what they could, including the vessel’s guns began as soon as possible with the 4.1” guns being removed, repaired and fitted on trucks pedestal mounts or wheels and gifted to von Lettow Vorbeck’s forces. This guns had a massive impact and provided the German army in East Africa with the largest guns on the field of battle. Five guns were deployed at Dar Es Salaam, two to Tanga and Kigona and the last to Muansa. The guns did not stay on point for long with them being deployed to key across the front including to Kahe where it made a great impact on Allied positions.

The crew were scattered across the theatre with gunners being stationed with their guns, able seamen
Two of Konigsberg's guns
and stokers were sent to vessels operating on Lake Tanganyika whilst the majority were added to the Königsbergabteilung, an infantry brigade that was used to defend Dar Es Salaam as well as to fight at the front. They were the only wholly white German regiment in the campaign. The war in East Africa was long and gruelling with attrition and disease claiming a vast swathe of the soldiers on both sides and the former sailors were not immune to it. Malaria, dysentery and a lack of medical aid took their toll. The rest of the Königsbergabteilung were forced to withdraw from Dar Es Salaam in the face of superior British numbers and they past the wreck of their former vessel. All in all only a small handful of German sailors from the Königsberg, Planet, Praesedent and other vessels actually made it home to Germany for the victory parade in 1919 save for Kapitän Loof who had served von Lettow-Vorbeck loyally and ably throughout and so took his place behind the General at the head of the column.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Ligny - Napoleon's last victory

On the morning of the 16 June 1815 the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's Armee du nord was poised to win a great victory that would bring Belgium back under their control. The French had "Humbugged" Wellington and arrived at Quatre Bras a day earlier than planned and the Dutch force was not sufficient enough to hold Marshal Ney's 18,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry. In the meantime the Prussian army under Marshall Blücher had fallen back to the village of Ligny.

Wellington was unsure where the French main thrust would come still believing a flanking move from the Mons would cut him off from Brussels. Napoleon on the other hand ordered Ney to take the cross roads and advance and join with Grouchey before taking Brussels.

Blücher had organised his forces to cover a large area with a network of fortified villages and an artillery signal system and laid in wait for the French invasion through May. They moved immediately to Ligny to prepare to hold the French.

Naploeon's forces were still at Charleroi when Grouchey reported Prussian movement up from Namur. Content that Ney could take Quatre Bras and that the British would not be able to intervene Napoleon moved his main force towards Blücher arriving around lunchtime.

Napoleon was forced to delay his attack until 14.30 when General Gérard's IV corps, who had arrived late, to deploy fully and news that his left flank was secure as Ney engaged at Quatre Bras. The ball opened with an artillery bombardment on the village o fFleurus and the III corps marched on the Prussian defensive position at St Amand la haye held by the 3rd Prussian brigade who quickly fell back. The French victory was short lived as the Prussians counter attacked under Steinmetz and stormed through the hamlet forcing a French withdrawal but they counterattacked in turn and pushed the weakened Prussians, who had lost 2000 men, out. 

Blücher was not prepared to allow his right flank to crumble so quickly and ordered his 2nd Brigade to take the hamlet but when they were repulsed he ordered elements of the II corps to cut the hamlet off from the main French force but this was also repulsed with French musketry cutting down their would be attackers as they got into position.

The attrition had taken its toll on the French though and when the energised and determined Blücher arrived to take personal command of the situation the Prussians swept them from the hamlet by 19:30. 

In the centre at Ligny the French had advanced under artillery fire on three sides but got a foothold in the village only to be caught in a viscous bombardment and counter bombardment followed up by the 3rd Prussian brigade's counter attack which became a bloody house to house fighting in the burning village that saw a heavily blooded French force fall back leaving Ligny in Prussian hands.

Orders were sent to Marshal Ney by the Emperor himself to detach his Reserves under General Drouet and bring them down on the Prussians left flank. Count de la Bédoyère who bore the message took it on his own initiative to lead Drouet's men personally as their commander was riding ahead to meet Ney. By 17:00 as the fighting in the two villages had reached crucial stages a large mass of dark uniformed men appeared on Napoleon's left flank whilst Blücher massed forces in the centre. This could be the end of the battle and campaign for the resurgent Emperor.

The perceived menace soon passed as Drouet's had returned to his corp with a threat of courtmartial from Ney ringing in his ears and led them back towards Quatre Bras. Tactically though it caused the French to hesitate unwilling to reinforce their attacks and prepare for this flank attack to come, a hesitation Blücher was happy to take advantage of. The Prussians fell on the French left flank but were repulsed by the Young guard to the west of St Amand and fell back to their starting positions.

Despite this recent set back the Prussians were still holding the French back but there was to be none of the promised support from Wellington. The battle of Quatre Bras was engulfing more and more of his forces and had almost seen him captured by a French cavalry charge! 

Blücher decided that he would personally throw back the French invaders and having strengthened his position in Ligny village led the last of his reserves in a charge on the French left flank that swept through St Amand but foundered at St Amand-le-Hameau and was forced to withdraw under attack from the Imperial Guard Chasseurs. The hard fought St Armand le Haye was also abandoned as the Prussians fell back.

Napoleon's killer instinct flared up; Blücher was beaten, his forces shattered and now was the time to release the Guard as he had done so many times before on battlefields across Europe. With the arrival of the Comte de Lobau's VI corp the French lines were secure for the attack. With the support of 60 guns and two cavalry corps the Guard advanced and shattered the Prussian centre. At 20:00 Major General Kraft reported he could not hold Ligny village for much longer and a mere half an hour later the Guard took control of the village.

With the infantry falling back in disarray Blücher counter attacked with all he had left and threw his cavalry against the elite French force only for it to be repulsed. The 72 year old Blücher personally took command of the cavalry's next attack but had his horse shot out from under him and he was carried from the field. 

With the charismatic and impetuous Feldmarschall incapacitated command devolved to Generalleutnant August von Gneisnau an altogether different general. The calculating Gneisnau did not trust Wellington to keep his promises and he foresaw the Coalition sitting idle whilst Napoleon destroyed his men or cut them off from home. Orders were issued that the army would withdraw leaving rearguards. Zieten's I corps rearguard fought on successfully until the following morning whilst Thieleman's withdrew at midnight. Although the army was shattered Gneisnau had them withdrawing in good order with most of their guns and stores falling back along their lines of communication East and not towards the Coalition forces until Blücher returned and ordered them North to parallel Wellington's withdrawal from Quatre Bras and towards Wavre where von Bülow's IV corps had begun setting up defensive positions.

At Quatre Bras the fighting had been just as intense with Ney's delayed offensive had allowed the British time to bring troops down to check his advance. The battle raged for the best part of the day but with Wellington unwilling to commit his whole army and Ney's inability to press home his attacks for want of men left it as an indecisive action. Wellington withdrew in good order to lead the French to a ground of his chosing a low ridge with three farmhouses and hamlets ranging from Hougemont to La Haye Sainte and Papelotte that were fortified not far from the village of Waterloo.

Ligny may have been a victory that cost Prussia 12,000 casualties 27 cannons and an estimated 8000 deserters but it also crippled Napoleon's force who had also lost 12,000 casualties. To gain victory over the considered weaker Coalition army Napoleon would have to move swiftly before either Wellington or Blücher could regroup and gain defensive positions but more importantly keep the two armies from joining forces against him.

There had been two critical delays with Ney failing to press Wellington as he withdrew but also Napoleon failing to press the Prussians and even allowing Thieleman's corps to retreat unharrassed. It wasn't until the 17th that Marshal Grouchy was given 30,000 men and ordered to advance behind the Prussian army and keep them in flight and away from Wellington at all cost. It was an order that would have serious ramifications for the whole campaign and the future of the Bonapartist Empire but that is another story...