Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The loss of HMS Audacious

 One of Germany's short lived but successful Hilfenkreuzers SMH Berlin, a 17,324 GRT liner built in Bremen by AG Weser for the Norddeutscher Lloyd line. She was converted into a mine layer at the war's outset and fitted with two 4.1” guns, heavy machine guns, small arms and 200 mines. Her maiden voyage under Kapitän zur See Pfundheller involved mining the coast of Ireland to interdict coastal trade before heading out to the Atlantic.
SMH Berlin

   The battleship HMS Audacious, commissioned in September 1912 sporting ten 13.5” guns, was
part of the 2nd Battle squadron consisting of fellow Dreadnaughts King George V, Monarch, Thunderer and Orion in the area for a gunnery exercise on 27 October. While manoeuvring at 08:45 off Tory Island an explosion rocked the aft of the battleship causing rapid flooding through the port engine room, a shell room and gradual flooding in the main central engine room. Captain Dampier ordered counter flooding of the starboard side to stop the list.

   The first thought was that somehow a U-boat had penetrated home waters again and the fleet of Battleships scattered as fast as they could so as to not repeat the loss of the Cressy’s leaving Audacious to fend for herself. Dampier had a plan as his starboard engine was still running and could make 9 knots, if he could move quickly they could beach the ship and save the lives of his crew but the heavy swell and flooded compartments made the ship roll. The flooding continued to get worse and by 10:00 the central engine room had to be abandoned and the starboard engine stopped and within an hour the ship’s port deck was being lapped by the waves. Dampier signalled by wireless for assistance and a general SOS was met by RMS Olympic along with the light cruiser Liverpool. Both vessels lowered lifeboats and approached the stricken warship as her Captain ordered nonessential crew into the boats. Olympic, the lead ship of her class which had included the Titanic was a powerful vessel and Captain Haddock was an experienced officer of the White Star Line who knew his vessel extremely well and he offered to tow Audacious with the assistance of the destroyer Fury.

  Slowly but surely they began heading to Lough Swilly but to no avail. The Liverpool and tender Thornhill tried as well but by then the Audacious was a lost cause.
HMS Audacious sinking

   Up until the late afternoon Admiral Jellicoe had ordered his big ships to stay away in case of U-boats but he received communications that several vessels had been mined in the same area the day before and decided that it would be safe to act. HMS Exmouth, an aging battleship, was sent to tow Audacious and Admiral Sir Lewis Bayley arrived on the boarding ship Cambria to take charge of the situation. By the early evening the situation was completely hopeless and the remaining crew were taken off ship as she slowly sank before exploding with such ferocity that a piece of wreckage struck the Liverpool 800 yards away killing Petty Officer William Burgess. It was a sinking that the Royal Navy tried to hide but passengers from neutral countries on Olympic were more than happy to share their experience and photographs and the news reached Germany to much jubilation.

   Berlin however, did not go on to achieve any more successes. She had suffered storm damage and limped into Trondheim harbour in Norway on 17 November and was unable to repair herself or leave port within the 24-hour rule forcing Pfundheller to intern his vessel. It was a trade that the Admiralstab were willing to make, a liner for a brand new battleship.

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