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SMS Blücher & Her Short Eventful Career in The First World War

SMS Blücher & Her Short Eventful Career in The First World War

SMS Blücher was the last armored cruiser built by the German Empire. She was designed to match the British Invincible-class battlecruisers. Blücher was larger than preceding armored cruisers and carried heavier guns. However, was unable to match the size and armament of the battlecruisers which replaced armored cruisers in the British Royal Navy and German Imperial Navy.

At the start of the war, she took part in regular patrols then Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl, commander of the German High Seas Fleet, decided that another raid on the English coast should be carried out in the hopes of luring a portion of the Grand Fleet into combat where it could be destroyed.

At 03:20, on 15 December 1914, Blücher, Moltke, Von der Tann, the new battlecruiser Derfflinger, and Seydlitz, along with the light cruisers Kolberg, Strassburg, Stralsund, Graudenz, and two squadrons of torpedo boats left the Jade estuary.

The ships sailed north past the island of Heligoland, until they reached the Horns Reef lighthouse, at which point the ships turned west towards Scarborough.

Twelve hours after Hipper left the Jade, the High Seas Fleet, consisting of 14 dreadnoughts and eight pre-dreadnoughts and a screening force of two armored cruisers, seven light cruisers, and 54 torpedo boats, departed to provide distant cover for the bombardment force.

Unluckily for the Germans on the 26th of August 1914, the German light cruiser Magdeburg ran aground in the Gulf of Finland and the Russian Navy captured the wreck.
Magdeburg aground off Odensholm
Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 134-B2501 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The wreck proved to be a military intelligence treasure.

Moreover, the Russians bounty included finding code books used by the German navy, along with navigational charts for the North Sea. These documents were then passed on to the Royal Navy.

As a result, the British started decrypting German signals, and on 14 December, intercepted messages relating to the plan to bombard Scarborough.

The exact details of the plan were unknown, and it was assumed that the High Seas Fleet would remain safely in port, as in the previous bombardment. Vice Admiral Beatty’s four battlecruisers, supported by the 3rd Cruiser Squadron and the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron, along with the 2nd Battle Squadron’s six dreadnoughts, were to ambush Hipper’s battlecruisers.

Beatty

On the night of 15/16 December, the main body of the High Seas Fleet encountered British destroyers. Fearing the prospect of a nighttime torpedo attack, Admiral Ingenohl ordered the ships to retreat. Hipper was unaware of Ingenohl’s reversal, and so he continued with the bombardment. Upon reaching the British coast, Hipper’s battlecruisers split into two groups. Seydlitz, Moltke, and Blücher went north to shell Hartlepool, while Von der Tann and Derfflinger went south to shell Scarborough and Whitby. Of the three towns, only Hartlepool was defended by coastal artillery batteries.

Seydlitz steaming into Scapa Flow

During the bombardment of Hartlepool, Seydlitz was hit three times and Blücher was hit six times by the coastal battery. Blücher suffered minimal damage, but nine men were killed. By 09:45 on the 16th, the two groups had reassembled, and they began to retreat eastward

By this time, Beatty’s battlecruisers were in position to block Hipper’s chosen egress route, while other forces were en route to complete the encirclement.

At 12:25, the light cruisers of the II Scouting Group began to pass through the British forces searching for Hipper. One of the cruisers in the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron spotted Stralsund and signaled a report to Beatty. At 12:30, Beatty turned his battlecruisers towards the German ships. Beatty presumed that the German cruisers were the advance screen for Hipper’s ships, but the battlecruisers were some 50 km ahead. The 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron, which had been screening for Beatty’s ships, detached to pursue the German cruisers, but a misinterpreted signal from the British battlecruisers sent them back to their screening positions. This confusion allowed the German light cruisers to escape and alerted Hipper to the location of the British battlecruisers. The German battlecruisers wheeled to the northeast of the British forces and escaped.

In early January 1915 the German naval command found out that British ships were conducting reconnaissance in the Dogger Bank area.

Area of the Dogger Bank

Admiral Ingenohl was initially reluctant to attempt to destroy these forces, because the I Scouting Group was temporarily weakened while Von der Tann was in drydock for periodic maintenance.

German battlecruisers (L–R) DerfflingerMoltke and Seydlitz en route to Dogger Bank.

The German counter admiral Richard Eckermann who was the Chief of Staff of the High Seas Fleet insisted on the operation, and so Ingenohl relented and ordered Hipper to take his battlecruisers to the Dogger Bank.

On 23 January, Hipper sortied, with Seydlitz in the lead, followed by Moltke, Derfflinger, and Blücher.
SMS Derfflinger fires all his main guns

In addition to the light cruisers Graudenz, Rostock, Stralsund, and Kolberg and 19 torpedo boats from V Flotilla and II and XVIII Half-Flotillas. Graudenz and Stralsund were assigned to the forward screen, while Kolberg and Rostock were assigned to the starboard and port, respectively. Each light cruiser had a half-flotilla of torpedo boats attached.

Again, interception and decryption of German wireless signals played an important role. Although they were unaware of the exact plans, the British were able to deduce that Hipper would be conducting an operation in the Dogger Bank area. To counter it, Beatty’s 1st Battlecruiser Squadron, Rear Admiral Gordon Moore’s 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron and Commodore William Goodenough’s 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron were to rendezvous with Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt’s Harwich Force at 08:00 on 24 January, approximately 30 miles north of the Dogger Bank.

At 08:14, Kolberg spotted the light cruiser Aurora and several destroyers from the Harwich Force.
Positions in the battle

Aurora challenged Kolberg with a searchlight, at which point Kolberg attacked Aurora and scored two hits. Aurora returned fire and scored two hits on Kolberg in retaliation. Hipper immediately turned his battlecruisers towards the gunfire. When, almost simultaneously. Stralsund spotted a large amount of smoke to the northwest of her position, it was identified as a number of large British warships steaming toward Hipper’s ships.

Hipper turned south to flee, but was limited to 23 knots which was Blücher’s maximum speed at the time. The pursuing British battlecruisers were steaming at 27 knots, and were able to quickly catch up to the German ships. At 09:52, Lion opened fire on Blücher from a range of approximately 20,000 yards, shortly after Princess Royal and Tiger began firing as well.

The battlecruiser HMS Lion.

At 10:09, the British guns made their first hit on Blücher.

Two minutes later, the German ships began returning fire.

Primarily concentrating on Lion, from a range of 18,000 yd. At 10:28, Lion was struck on the waterline, which tore a hole in the side of the ship and flooded a coal bunker. At around this time, Blücher scored a hit with a 21 cm shell on Lion’s forward turret. The shell failed to penetrate the armor but had a concussion effect and temporarily disabled the left gun.

HMS Lion was the flagship of Rear Admiral David Beatty during the Battle of Dogger Bank on 24 January 1915.image: The British battlecruiser HMS Lion in action at sea, with large splashes in the water off her starboard side as a result of enemy fire. Another warship is visible in the background to the left.

At 10:30, New Zealand—the fourth ship in Beatty’s line came within range of Blücher and opened fire. By 10:35, the range had closed to 17,500 yards at which point the entire German line was within the effective range of the British ships. Beatty ordered his battlecruisers to engage their German counterparts.

New Zealand dry-docked at Cockatoo Island Dockyard in Sydney during Admiral Jellicoe’s tour of the Dominions

By 11:00, Blücher had been severely damaged after having been pounded by numerous heavy shells from the British battlecruisers. However, the three leading German battlecruisers, Seydlitz, Derfflinger, and Moltke, had concentrated their fire on Lion and scored several hits, two of her three dynamos were disabled, and the port side engine room had been flooded. At 11:48 HMS Indomitable arrived on the scene and was directed by Beatty to destroy the battered Blücher which was already on fire and listing heavily to port.

The British attack was interrupted due to reports of U-boats ahead of the British ships.

Beatty quickly ordered evasive maneuvers, which allowed the German ships to increase the distance from the RN, at this time, Lion’s last operational dynamo failed, which reduced her speed to 15 knots. Beatty, in the stricken Lion, ordered the remaining battlecruisers to “Engage the enemy’s rear”. But signal confusion caused the ships to target Blücher alone.

She continued to resist the attacks alone under heavy fire.

Blücher repulsed attacks by the four cruisers of the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron and four destroyers. However, the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron flagship, Aurora, hit Blücher twice with torpedoes.

By the time of the hits every main battery gun turret except the rear mount had been silenced.

A volley of seven more torpedoes was launched at point-blank range; these hits caused the ship to capsize at 13:13. In the course of the engagement, Blücher would be hit by 70–100 large-caliber shells and several torpedoes.

As the ship was sinking, British destroyers steamed towards her in an attempt to rescue survivors from the water. However, a German zeppelin mistook the sinking Blücher for a British battlecruiser and tried to bomb the destroyers which withdrew.

1916 advertisement for a viewing of panoramic footage of the Blücher sinking. Proceeds from the event went to orphans of artists and writers lost to the war.

In conclusion, it was reported that 6 officers of a total of 29 and 275 enlisted men of a complement of 999 were pulled from the water, for a total of 747 men killed.

Royal Scots Territorials firing a salute over the grave of Captain Erdmann, Commander of SMS Blücher

SMS Blücher & Her Short Eventful Career in The First World War

Written by Harry Gillespie

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