World War I: Raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby

Franz von Hipper during World War I
Admiral Franz von Hipper. Public Domain

Raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool, & Whitby - Conflict & Date:

The Raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby took place on December 16, 1914, during World War I (1914-1918).

Fleets & Commanders

Royal Navy

Kaiserliche Marine

  • 4 battlecruisers, 1 cruiser, 4 light cruisers, 18 destroyers

Raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool, & Whitby - Background:

The raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool, & Whitby drew inspiration from an operation in November 1914 which saw Rear Admiral Franz von Hipper's battlecruisers bombard the port of Yarmouth. Outnumbered and having suffered a minor defeat at Heligoland Bight in the opening weeks of World War I, Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl, commander of the German High Seas Fleet, sought ways in which elements of the Admiral John Jellicoe's Grand Fleet could be drawn out and destroyed. A series of successes in this type of engagement would allow the Germans to reduce or eliminate Britain's numerical superiority in terms of capital ships. Though the November 3 raid on Yarmouth proved relatively ineffective, it showed that potential existed for raids into British waters.

On November 16, Hipper requested that Ingenohl obtain permission from Kaiser Wilhelm II to mount another raid against the British coast using vessels from his scouting forces.

Ingenohl was supportive of the request as intelligence suggested that at least two British battlecruisers had been sent to the South Atlantic to deal with Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee's squadron. These reports were correct and the ships in question played a key role in the British victory at the Battle of the Falklands.

Approved by the Kaiser, the plan called for Hipper's ships to attack Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby while Ingenohl emerged from the Jade Estuary with the High Seas Fleet. Moving to a position just east of Dogger Bank, Ingenohl would be place to strike any British force that attempted to intercept Hipper.

Raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool, & Whitby - British Planning:

As German planning for the raid moved forward, the British became aware of the threat through radio intercepts. Utilizing captured German code books, cryptanalysts in the Admiralty's Room 40 were able to read enemy traffic shortly after it was transmitted. By December 14, the Royal Navy's leadership had obtained sufficient information to discern the part of the German plan pertaining to Hipper's battlecruisers but remained unaware that Ingenohl intended to take the entire fleet to sea. Sensing an opportunity to crush Hipper's force, Jellicoe was instructed to dispatch several squadrons to a position southeast of Dogger Bank. The British plan called for allowing the raid to occur but to then cut off Hipper's line of retreat to the Jade.

To accomplish this, Jellicoe directed Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty to take the battlecruisers HMS Lion, HMS Tiger, HMS Queen Mary, and HMS New Zealand south from Cromarty with the six battleships of Vice Admiral Sir George Warrender's Second Battle Squadron in support.

To aid Beatty and Warrender, Commodore William Goodenough put to sea with four light cruisers as did Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt's Harwich Force consisting of two light cruisers and 42 destroyers. Additional ships, in the form of Rear Admiral William Pakenham's Third Cruiser Squadron, also departed Rosyth. As a precaution against Hipper moving west through the English Channel, Commodore Roger Keyes deployed two destroyers and eight submarines off Terschelling.

Raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool, & Whitby - Hipper Strikes:

At 3:00 AM on December 15, Hipper departed the Jade with four battlecruisers, the armored cruiser SMS Blücher, four light cruisers, and 18 destroyers. He was followed by Ingenohl and the High Seas Fleet which steered for their holding position off Dogger Bank. At 6:35 AM on December 16, three of the light cruisers and all of the destroyers were ordered back to Germany.

One light cruiser, SMS Kolberg, remained with Hipper as it carried mines for placement off the British coast. Approaching their targets, the battlecruisers SMS Seydlitz and SMS Moltke as well as Blücher steered for Hartlepool while the battlecruisers SMS Von der Tann and SMS Derfflinger, with Kolberg in tow, moved for Scarborough. Around 8:15, Kolberg detached and began laying mines off Flamborough Head.

At 8:00 AM, Derfflinger and Von der Tann opened fire on Scarborough and hit Scarborough Castle and the Grand Hotel. Remaining offshore for an hour and a half, they compelled the town's population to flee inland. Around 9:30 AM, the two German ships departed and steamed north to attack the coast guard station at Whitby. This was successfully accomplished though some shells hit nearby Whitby Abbey. To the north, Hipper commenced his attack on Hartlepool at 8:10 AM. A more substantial port, Hartlepool was defended by two batteries of 6" guns and four destroyers patrolled offshore. While the latter were unable to inflict any damage on the attackers, the shore batteries scored several hits on Blücher. In the harbor, the light cruiser HMS Patrol attempted to get underway but soon sustained hits from two 8" shells. With his ship badly damaged, Patrol's Captain Alan C. Bruce ran it aground to prevent its loss. Departing at 8:50 AM, Hipper's ships had fired 1,150 shells at Hartlepool and hit a variety of targets.

Raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool, & Whitby - Encounter at Dogger Bank:

Uniting off Moray Firth at 11:00 AM on December 15, Beatty and Warrender's combined force steamed towards its intercept point southeast of Dogger Bank.

At 5:15 AM the next morning, the destroyer HMS Lynx spotted an unknown ship. Finding it to be the German destroyer SMS V155, a skirmish broke out. This fighting between British and German light forces continued for several hours. As the destroyers and cruisers involved in the engagement were part of Ingenohl's screening forces, he became concerned that he was facing the lead elements of Jellicoe's Grand Fleet. Under strict orders not to risk the High Seas Fleet in a general battle, he ordered his forces to reverse course and return to the Jade. In doing so, he missed a key opportunity to overwhelm Beatty and Warrender. In turning for home, Ingenohl failed to inform Hipper of his change of plans.

Raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool, & Whitby - Hipper Escapes:

Off Dogger Bank, the destroyer HMS Shark sighted the cruiser SMS Roon at 6:50 AM. Receiving this report, Beatty and Warrender moved towards Shark's position an hour later. They continued to scout for German forces until 8:42 AM when word reached them of the attack on Scarborough. Breaking off their search, they turned north to intercept Hipper. At 9:30 AM, the German commander's ships reunited and turned for home. His supporting light cruisers and destroyers were also en route back to Germany but were moving slowly due to poor weather. Around this time, Hipper learned that the High Sea Fleet had returned to port and that British forces were in the area. In an effort to trap the Germans, Beatty and Warrender separated to cover the different routes that Hipper might take through the minefields off the Yorkshire coast.

To intensify the search, Goodenough's four light cruisers entered the minefields.

One of these, HMS Southampton, spotted German destroyers and light cruisers through the rapidly deteriorating weather at 11:25 AM. Though this was reported to Beatty, a series of communications errors led to Southampton and its consorts to break off contact. At 12:15 PM, these same German ships emerged from the southern end of the minefield and were sighted by the battleship HMS Orion from Warrender's command. Though Orion's commander, Captain Frederic C. Dreyer, trained his guns on the light cruiser SMS Stralsund permission to fire was not forthcoming. Instead, Warrender directed Pakenham's cruisers to pursue. Too slow to overtake the enemy, they soon lost the Germans in the mist. Learning that Warrender had sighted German ships, Beatty mistakenly believed that Hipper's battlecruisers would be close behind.

As a result, he abandoned the northern exit of the minefield and steamed east then south to be in position to intercept Hipper if he eluded Warrender. Moving through the minefield, Hipper initially attempted to catch up to his light forces but upon receiving reports of British battleships instead turned for the northern exit. Emerging from the minefield, he found no opposition and set a course for the Jade. British forces, including the Grand Fleet, continued to search for the Germans through December 17 to no avail.

Raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool, & Whitby - Aftermath:

The raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby saw the British sustain 137 killed and 592 injured. In addition, one light cruiser and three destroyers were damaged. The bulk of British casualties were civilians who were killed or injured during the bombardments. In Hartlepool alone 86 civilians were killed while another 424 were wounded. Publicized as an attack against noncombatants, the raid served to rally the British population and was condemned by neutral nations such as the United States. The operation also led to criticism of the Royal Navy which had failed to prevent the attack or bring Hipper to battle. In the wake of the raid, Jellicoe moved Beatty's base south to Rosyth from Cromarty so that the battlecruisers would be in a better position to intercept another attack. Both sides returned to action the following month when the British won a victory at the Battle of Dogger Bank.

Selected Sources