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7th Cruiser Squadron
HMS Cressy.jpg
HMS Cressy,Lead ship of squadron
Active 1912-1914
Country United Kingdom
Allegiance British Empire
Branch Royal Navy
Size 6 ships
Engagements Action of 22 September 1914
R Adm A Christian

The 7th Cruiser Squadron was a blockading force of the Royal Navy during the First World War used to close the English Channel to German traffic. It was employed patrolling an area of the North Sea known as the "Broad Fourteens", in support of vessels guarding the northern entrance to the Channel. The Squadron had previously been part of the Third Fleet of the Home Fleets.

The squadron came to public attention when on 22 September 1914 three of the cruisers were sunk by one German submarine while on patrol. Approximately 1450 sailors were killed, and there was a public outcry at the losses. The incident eroded confidence in the government and damaged the reputation of the Royal Navy at a time when many countries were still considering which side in the war they might support.



The Seventh Cruiser Squadron was created at the Nore as part of the reorganisation of the Royal Navy's home fleets which took effect on 1 May 1912. It formed part of the Third Fleet of the Home Fleets, and effectively served as a reserve force stationed on the south coast of England. The squadron was composed mainly of the six Cressy class armoured cruisers, which had been transferred from the Sixth Cruiser Squadron of the former divisional structure of the Home Fleets, and already considered obsolescent despite being less than a dozen years old.[1] Their status meant that most of the time they were manned by "nucleus crews", an innovation introduced by Admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher a few years earlier. Their ship's complements of 700 men plus officers were only brought up to full strength for manœvres or mobilisation. The nucleus crews were expected to keep the ship in a seaworthy condition the rest of the time.

The 1913 manœvres illustrate the system. In June the command of squadrons was announced by the Admiralty. As a reserve formation the Seventh Cruiser Squadron had no flag officer, and on 10 June Rear-Admiral A.G.H.W. Moore, Third Sea Lord was given the command, taking leave from the Admiralty.[2] He hoisted his flag in Bacchante on 15 July,[3] All ships of the squadron would have been brought up to strength with men from other parts of the navy and from the Royal Naval Reserve. The manœvres took place, and on 9 August Rear-Admiral Moore struck his flag and on the 16th the squadron was reduced back to reserve commission.[4]

First World War

HMS Cressy

Upon the outbreak of war with Germany in 1914 the Royal Navy's Second and Third Fleets were combined to form a Channel Fleet. The Seventh Cruiser Squadron consisted of Cressy, Aboukir, Bacchante, Euryalus and Hogue. Their task was to patrol the relatively shallow waters of the Dogger Bank and the "Broad Fourteens" in the North Sea, being supported by destroyers of the Harwich Force.[5] The aim was to protect ships carrying supplies between Britain and France against German ships operating from the northern German naval ports.[6]

Although the cruisers had been designed for a speed of 21 knots, wear and tear meant they could now only manage 15 at most, more typically only 12 Knots. Bad weather sometimes meant that the smaller destroyers could not sail, and at such times the cruisers would patrol alone. A continuous patrol was maintained, with some ships on station while others returned to harbour for coal and supplies.[7]

From 26-28 August 1914 the squadron was held in reserve during the operations which led to the Battle of Heligoland Bight.[8]


The "Live Bait Squadron"

On 21 August Commodore Roger Keyes, commanding a submarine squadron also stationed at Harwich, wrote to his superior, Admiral Sir Arthur Leveson, warning that in his opinion the ships were at extreme risk of attack and sinking by German ships because of their age and inexperienced crews. The risk to the ships was so severe that they had earned the nickname 'the live bait squadron' within the fleet. By 17 September the note reached the attention of First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, who met with Keyes and Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt, commander of a destroyer squadron operating from Harwich,while travelling to Scapa Flow to visit the Grand Fleet on 18 September. Churchill, in consultation with the First Sea Lord Prince Louis of Battenberg, agreed that the cruisers should be withdrawn and wrote a memo stating:

The Bacchantes[9] ought not to continue on this beat. The risks to such ships is not justified by any services they can render.[10]

However, Vice Admiral Frederick Sturdee, chief of the admiralty war staff, objected that while the cruisers should be replaced, no modern ships were available, and they were the only ships which could be used during bad weather. It was therefore agreed between Battenberg and Sturdee to leave them on station until the arrival of new Arethusa class cruisers then being built.[11]

Sinking of three cruisers

At around 6 am on 22 September the three cruisers were steaming at 10 knots (19 km/h) in line ahead and they were spotted by the U-9, commanded by Lt. Otto Weddigen. Although they were not zigzagging, all of the ships had lookouts posted to search for periscopes and one gun on each side of each ship was manned.

Weddigen ordered his submarine to submerge and closed the range to the unsuspecting British ships. At close range, he fired a single torpedo at the Aboukir. The torpedo broke the back of the Aboukir and she sank within 20 minutes with the loss of 527 men.

The captains of the Cressy and Hogue thought the Aboukir had struck a floating mine and came forward to assist her. They stood by and began to pick up survivors. At this point, Weddigen fired two torpedoes into the Hogue, mortally wounding that ship. As the Hogue sank, the captain of the Cressy realised that the squadron was being attacked by a submarine, and tried to flee. However, Weddigen fired two more torpedoes into the Cressy, and sank her as well.

A number of Dutch ships were nearby, and destroyers from Harwich were brought the to the scene by distress signals; they were able to rescue 837 of the crews, but 1397 men and 62 officers were lost.


Otto Weddigen returned to Germany as the first naval hero of the war and received the Iron Cross, first class. His crew each received the Iron Cross, second class. The effect was to shake the reputation of the British navy throughout the world. In Britain it was believed that this could not have been the work of just one submarine, but that many must have been involved. Both Admirals Beatty and Fisher spoke out against the folly of placing such ships where they had been. Churchill was widely blamed by the public for the disaster, though he had given orders for the ships to be removed.[12]

Admiral Christian was suspended on half pay, but later reinstated by Battenberg. Drummond was criticised for sailing in straight lines rather than zig-zag to shake off submarines, and for not calling for destroyer support as soon as the weather started to improve. Zig-Zagging had previously often not been taken seriously by ships captains, who had no experience of submarine attacks, but was now made compulsory in enemy waters. All major ships were instructed never to approach a ship struck by mine or torpedo, but to steam away and leave any rescue to smaller vessels. [13]

Three weeks later, Weddigen, now operating off Aberdeen, sank another British cruiser which failed to zig-zag, Hawke. Weddigen was himself killed in March 1915 during a raid in the Pentland Firth when his submarine was rammed by HMS Dreadnought.


Afterwards the remaining Cressy class ships were dispersed away from the British Isles, and the squadron was reconstituted the following year as part of the Grand Fleet, with more modern armoured squadrons. Nevertheless in 1916 it was disbanded again. It did not see service at the Battle of Jutland.


  1. ^ Jane's Fighting Ships 1914. pp. p. 61.  
  2. ^ "The Naval Manœvres" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Tuesday, 10 June 1913. Issue 40234, col B, p. 5.
  3. ^ "Naval and Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Friday, 4 July 1913. Issue 40255, col C, p. 6.
  4. ^ "Naval and Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Monday, 11 August 1913. Issue 40287, col C, p. 13.
  5. ^ Watts. The Royal Navy. pp. p. 91.  
  6. ^ 'Castles' p.128-129
  7. ^ 'Castles' p. 129
  8. ^ Osborne. Heligoland Bight. pp. p. 44.  
  9. ^ The class name given here is Baccante, and is reported thus in Massie, and Halpern. Janes gives Cressy class, and Cressy as was the first ship built
  10. ^ Churchill. The World Crisis. I. pp. p. 184.  
  11. ^ 'Castles' p. 129-130
  12. ^ 'Castles' p.137-138
  13. ^ 'Castles' p.138-139


  • Winston Churchill (2005). The World Crisis. Vol. I. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0743283430.  
  • Jane, Fred T., ed (1969). Jane's Fighting Ships 1914. New York: Arco Publishing Company, Inc..  
  • Osborne, Eric W. (2006). The Battle of Heligoland Bight. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253347424.  
  • Owen, David (2007). Anti-Submarine Warfare: An Illustrated History. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1591140145.  
  • Watts, Anthony John (1995). The Royal Navy: An Illustrated History. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1557507309.  
  • Robert Massie (2004). Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea. London: Johnathan Cape. ISBN 0224040928.  


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