Battles - The Battle of Heligoland Bight, 1914

Admiral Sir David BeattyDesigned by the British as a means of attacking German patrols in the north-west German coast, the encounter at Heligoland Bight on 28 August 1914 comprised the first naval battle of the war.

Commander Tyrwhitt was charged with leading the Harwich Force of two light cruisers, Fearless and Arethusa, accompanied by two flotillas of 31 destroyers, 1st and 3rd Flotillas, in a raid upon German shipping located close to the German naval base at Heligoland.

Acting as cover for Tyrwhitt's force was the First Battle Cruiser Squadron, recently arrived from Scapa Flow and under the command of Vice Admiral Beatty.  His squadron consisted of the battleships New Zealand and Invincible, plus three battlecruisers.

Tyrwhitt began the action by sinking two German torpedo boats at around 7am on 28 August.  Not entirely surprised by the British attack, the Germans hastily deployed the Frauenlob and the Stettin, joined shortly afterwards by four other light cruisers, including Rear Admiral Mass's flagship, Koln.

Finding himself outgunned by the German defence and under increasing fire, with the Arethusa heavily damaged, Tyrwhitt called Beatty for urgent assistance at 11.25am.  Beatty, some 40km to the north, hurried to Tyrwhitt's assistance, arriving at 12.40pm.  In time to save Tyrwhitt, Beatty's squadron sunk Mainz, Koln, and Ariadne and damaged a further three other cruisers.

Retreating hurriedly under the cover of mist, the Germans had lost 1,200 men, as opposed to just 35 British fatalities.

As a consequence of the action, Beatty enhanced his reputation as a fighting seaman; it also influenced the Admiralty's decision to appoint Beatty as Commander of the Grand Fleet, replacing Sir John Jellicoe, who was summarily dismissed by Lloyd George on Christmas Eve, 1917, in a dispute over the use of convoy shipping.

Beatty's success however overshadowed deficiencies in the British handling of the encounter, in areas as diverse as planning and communication.

Click here to view a map of naval operations in 1914.

Photograph courtesy of Photos of the Great War website

A "biff" was a Bristol fighter plane.

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