The Battle of Dogger Bank - World War I

Sinking of SMS Blucher at the Battle of Dogger Bank, 1915. Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

The Battle of Dogger Bank was fought January 24, 1915, during World War I (1914-1918). The opening months of World War I saw the Royal Navy quickly assert its dominance around the world. Taking to the offensive soon after the beginning of hostilities, British forces won the Battle of Heligoland Bight in late August. Elsewhere, a surprise defeat at Coronel, off the coast of Chile, in early November was quickly avenged a month later at the Battle of the Falklands

Seeking to regain the initiative, Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl, commander of the German High Sea Fleet, approved a raid on the British coast for December 16. Moving forward, this saw Rear Admiral Franz Hipper bombard Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby, killing 104 civilians and injuring 525. Though the Royal Navy attempted to intercept Hipper as he withdrew, it was unsuccessful. The raid caused widespread public outrage in Britain and led to fears of future attacks.

Seeking to build on this success, Hipper began lobbying for another sortie with the goal of striking at the British fishing fleet near Dogger Bank. This was motivated by his belief that fishing vessels were reporting the movements of German warships to the Admiralty allowing the Royal Navy to anticipate the operations of the Kaiserliche Marine.

Commencing planning, Hipper intended to move forward with the attack in January 1915. In London, the Admiralty was aware of the of the impending German raid, though this information was received through radio intercepts that were decoded by Naval Intelligence's Room 40 rather than reports from fishing vessels. These decryption activities were made possible by using German code books which had been captured earlier by the Russians.

Fleets & Commanders:



The Fleet Sail

Putting to sea, Hipper sailed with the 1st Scouting Group consisting of the battlecruisers SMS Seydlitz (flagship), SMS Moltke, SMS Derfflinger, and the armored cruiser SMS Blücher. These ships were supported by the four light cruisers of the 2nd Scouting Group and eighteen torpedo boats. Learning that Hipper was at sea on January 23, the Admiralty directed Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty to immediately sail from Rosyth with the 1st and 2nd Battlecruiser Squadrons which were comprised of HMS Lion (flagship), HMS Tiger, HMS Princess Royal, HMS New Zealand, and HMS Indomitable. These capital ships were joined by the four light cruisers of the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron as well as three light cruisers and thirty-five destroyers from the Harwich Force.

Battle Joined

Steaming south through good weather, Beatty encountered Hipper's screening vessels shortly after 7:00 AM on January 24. Approximately half an hour later, the German admiral spotted the smoke from the approaching British ships. Realizing that it was a large enemy force, Hipper turned southeast and attempted to escape back to Wilhelmshaven. This was hampered by the older Blücher which was not as fast as his more modern battlecruisers. Pressing forward, Beatty was able to see the German battlecruisers at 8:00 AM and began moving into a position to attack. This saw the British ships approach from behind and to the starboard of the Hipper. Beatty chose this line of approach as it allowed the wind to blow funnel and gun smoke clear from his ships, while the German vessels would partially be blinded.

Charging forward at speeds of over twenty-five knots, Beatty's ships closed the gap with the Germans. At 8:52 AM, Lion opened fire at a range of around 20,000 yards and was soon followed by the other British battlecruisers. As the battle began, Beatty intended for his lead three ships to engage their German counterparts while New Zealand and Indomitable targeted Blücher. This failed to occur as Captain H.B. Pelly of Tiger instead focused his ship's fire on Seydlitz. As a result, Moltke was left uncovered and was able to return fire with impunity. At 9:43 AM, Lion struck Seydlitz causing an ammunition fire in the ship's aft turret barbette. This knocked both aft turrets out of action and only the prompt flooding of Seydlitz's magazines saved the ship.

An Opportunity Missed

Approximately half an hour later, Derfflinger began scoring hits on Lion. These caused flooding and engine damage which slowed the ship. Continuing to take hits, Beatty's flagship began to list to port and was effectively put out of action after being struck by fourteen shells. As Lion was being pummeled, Princess Royal scored a critical hit on Blücher which damaged its boilers and started an ammunition fire. This led to the ship slowing and falling further behind Hipper's squadron. Outnumbered and short on ammunition, Hipper elected to abandon Blücher and increased speed in an effort to escape. Though his battlecruisers were still gaining on the Germans, Beatty ordered a ninety-degree turn to port at 10:54 AM after reports of a submarine periscope.

Realizing this turn would allow the enemy to escape, he revised his order to a forty-five-degree turn. As Lion's electrical system was damaged, Beatty was forced to relay this revision via signal flags. Desiring his ships to continue after Hipper, he ordered "Course NE" (for the forty-five-degree turn) and "Engage the Enemy's Rear" to be hoisted. Seeing the signal flags, Beatty's second-in-command, Rear Admiral Gordon Moore, misinterpreted the message as Blücher lay to the northeast. Aboard New Zealand, Moore took Beatty's signal to mean that the fleet should focus its efforts against the stricken cruiser. Relaying this incorrect message, Moore broke off the pursuit of Hipper and the British ships attacked Blücher in earnest.

Seeing this, Beatty attempted to correct the situation by hoisting a variation of Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson's famed "Engage the Enemy More Closely" signal, but Moore and the other British ships were too far away to see the flags. As a result, the assault on Blücher was pressed home while Hipper successfully slipped away. Though the damaged cruiser managed to disable the destroyer HMS Meteor, it finally succumbed to British fire and was finished off by two torpedoes from the light cruiser HMS Arethusa. Capsizing at 12:13 PM, Blücher began to sink as British ships closed to rescue survivors. These efforts were broken off when a German seaplane and the Zeppelin L-5 arrived on scene and began dropping small bombs at the British.

The Aftermath

Unable to catch Hipper, Beatty withdrew back to Britain. As Lion was disabled, it was towed to port by Indomitable. The fighting at Dogger Bank cost Hipper 954 killed, 80 wounded, and 189 captured. In addition, Blücher was sunk and Seydlitz severely damaged. For Beatty, the engagement saw Lion and Meteor crippled as well as 15 sailors killed and 32 wounded. Hailed as a victory in Britain, Dogger Bank had severe consequences in Germany.

Concerned about the potential loss of capital ships, Kaiser Wilhelm II issued orders stating that all risks to surface vessels were to be avoided. Also, von Ingenohl was replaced as commander of the High Seas Fleet by Admiral Hugo von Pohl. Perhaps more importantly, in the wake of the fire on Seydlitz, the Kaiserliche Marine examined how magazines were protected and ammunition handled aboard its warships.

Improving both, their ships were better prepared for future battles. Having won the battle, the British failed to address similar issues aboard their battlecruisers, an omission that would have disastrous consequences at the Battle of Jutland the following year.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "The Battle of Dogger Bank - World War I." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 26). The Battle of Dogger Bank - World War I. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "The Battle of Dogger Bank - World War I." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).