The Raid On Scarborough – A Failed Attempt at Intimidation I THE GREAT WAR Week 21


December 18th, 1914 The British Empire was worldwide in 1914,
and the sun truly never set upon it. It had been built by centuries of war and conquest
abroad, but this week something different happened. For the first time in over 200 years,
British civilians at home were killed by enemy action. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week we saw the Austro-Hungarian army
disgraced as it retreated once again from Serbia, having been badly beaten by the Serbs.
Further north, the Austrians were pushing the Russians back in the mountains while even
further north the German-Russian front had settled into stalemate for the winter. The
Western Front was still also in stalemate, where it would remain for years, and the German
Pacific navy had been finally destroyed. 1915 is just around the corner so let’s
take a look at how some of the warring nations now viewed the war. Britain and France were by this point committed
to the destruction of Prussian militarism, and they meant to ensure that post-war Germany
would not have the industrial or military means to start another war. Thing is, this
made the conditions for victory nothing short of total victory in order to be able to dictate
such terms. The Germans were a little more existential
about the whole thing. They realized that defeat would mean total disgrace. Now, they
certainly had no initial plans for world domination, but as things unfolded the schemes got grander
and grander, especially among bankers and industrialists, who enthusiastically spoke
of annexations, and not just economic hegemony as the result. Army Chief of Staff Falkenhayn,
for example, had ideas of permanent conquest in the west, though not in the east. The German strategy had been based on a quick
war so 1915 was the war year that never should have been. Germany found itself on a huge
two front war against Russia and France with England slowly pulling her strength together
from her worldwide empire that would eventually see her also fielding millions of soldiers
on the western front. At around this time in Germany there were
the suddenly popular catchwords “the war must be won in the east”, and many people
believed that it was actually possible to defeat Russia by force of arms and this would
cause the western allies to change their minds about the war and sue for peace. This was
ludicrous. No decision in the east would spare them from fighting to the end in the west. And the French and British really had no option
other than to continue to attack and attack on the western front. Germany’s successes
back in August had given her most of Belgium and a big industrial chunk of France, and
the Germans were only around 100km from Paris. French General Joseph Joffre couldn’t take
a passive approach, which would allow the Germans to either plan a big offensive or
transfer troops to the eastern front. Especially with the patriotic issue of getting the Germans
off of French soil. The big question was how? The answer for the moment was a series of
winter offensives that began this week and continued well into 1915. One of these was the first battle of Artois,
which began on December 17th. The objective was gaining control of the heights of the
Vimy ridge. Interestingly, the French began to use siege techniques from centuries ago
that now once again had a place in warfare. They sapped trenches across no mans land and
connected them to form jumping off points as close to the German lines as possible.
They also began to avoid mass offensives and instead make series of smaller attacks against
points of tactical importance, such as the ridge. In addition to the developing action at Artois,
the Champagne offensive was just about to begin all along a 40 kilometer stretch from
Auberive to Massiges in an attempt to break through to the Mezieres railway junction.
Over 250,000 troops would be deployed backed by 700 guns. That is a huge number of men, but as we’ve
seen time and again, it’s often dwarfed by the amount of men fighting on the Eastern
Front. Now, a couple of weeks ago there we saw the
Austro-Hungarian Imperial army pushing the Russians back at the battle of Limanowa to
halt the Russia drive toward Budapest. That battle finally ended this week with a Russian
defeat. The Austrians held the Dukla pass and the threat of Russian invasion of Hungary
was over. Actually, the Austrians nearly had an opportunity
to surround the Russians but the winter weather and the inadequate railway system ruined that
chance. This was not quite the end of the war of motion on the Eastern Front, which
had em phatically ended on the western one, but it was another big step in ending the
possibilities of Russian invasions of Austrian or German territory. British territory was not, on the other hand,
safe any more. On December 16th, the German navy bombarded
Scarborough, Whitley, and Hartlepool, which resulted in the first British civilians killed
by enemy action since 1690. You gotta wonder what the Germans were thinking,
though. This was a purely terrorist exercise that didn’t have a military purpose- on
the contrary it was to demoralize the British by highlighting their vulnerability, but it
failed. In fact, it had just the opposite effect and was a huge propaganda victory for
the British, certainly increasing popular hatred of the Germans and steeling British
resolve, and in future the Germans would even be sometimes known as the “baby killers
of Scarborough”. Thing is, German Admiral Franz von Hipper
was totally unenthusiastic about bombing British seaside towns, which he thought completely
irrelevant strategically. He was really concerned with facing the British Fleet, and he actually
should have had his chance this very day. For all the remembrance of Scarborough, the
events of December 16th could have gone many many times worse for the British. See, British code breakers knew already the
14th that von Hipper was heading out the following day for a raid but didn’t know his target.
So there were 6 British battleships and four battle cruisers waiting at Dogger Bank in
the North Sea with some support to engage von Hipper when they could find him, but what
the code breakers did NOT know was that the entire German High Seas fleet was heading
right for the British ships including 18 dreadnoughts and 54 destroyers. Now, during [as]the night and morning of the
16th a few rival destroyers engaged each other occasionally, but the seas were too heavy
for anything decisive and visibility was pretty terrible, but after a few hours the question
became evident- where was the high seas fleet? Well, Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl had suddenly
taken it home. Seriously. At 5:45 in the morning, after hearing about the clashing destroyers,
he had erroneously assumed that he was about to face the entire Grand Fleet. But his mission
was only to support von Hipper’s coastal raid and he had no orders from the Kaiser
to fight a big battle so he turned around and went home and threw away the German navy’s
best strategic opportunity of the entire war. Both fleets made it back home without the
loss of a ship, but while the Germans lost a great battle opportunity and the British
got a PR boost, think how much respect the British fleet lost when its actions of that
day became public: it knew that von Hipper was coming, but did not try to head him off
from the coast, sacrificing dozens of civilian lives with hundreds more injured, and then
failed to intercept him after the attack when he was heading home, meaning those people
were sacrificed for nothing. Not a good day for the British Navy. Neither was it a good day for someone we haven’t
heard from yet in the war-neutral Portugal. Specifically, Portuguese Angola. This week saw the battle of Naulila, which
actually has a bit of a back-story. In October, a German delegation to the fort of Naulila
from German Southwest Africa to negotiate a non-aggression pact had been killed, and
the Germans had responded by attacking and destroying first Fort Cuangar and then some
other small forts. Now, on December 18th, it was Naulila’s turn. The attack was quick
and the Portuguese fled after a few hours of fighting during which they lost about 150
men, roughly five times the German losses. But Portugal and Germany were still not officially
at war, and indeed would not be until 1916, in spite of skirmishes between their colonial
territories. Funny how many people can die in a war when you’re not “at war”. So that’s where we stand at the end of the
week, with small actions in Africa, small actions along the British coast that triggered
big outrage, a huge action beginning in France, and a huge action ending in the East. Think how it must have felt to the people
of Scarborough, Whitley, and Hartlepool. Oh sure, they were at war and knew it, but no
one, not even Napoleon, had attacked the ordinary people of their little island kingdom for
hundreds of years. It meant a quick and rude awakening to the reality of modern war- that
this was not a war of honor, not a war of decency, and not a war conducted by any traditional
moral standards. It was a war of brutality and of death on a scale never before imagined,
and it was a war where no one, man, woman, or child, in any of the warring nations, was
safe. See you next week. If you missed last weeks Episode where we
talked about the Austrian – Hungarien Empire being badly beaten by the Serbs than click
right here. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter if you want
more inside on THE GREAT WAR. And Don’t forget to subscribe to our channel
and tell your friends all about us. See you next week.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *