When German Ships Shelled Britain


World War One started in July 1914 when the Germans set out to make a rapid advance through neutral Belgium and take France quickly. It didn’t happen because the Beligians refused to move aside, and the delay resulted in four years of grinding trench warfare.

In the confrontation at sea, the German High Seas fleet was outnumbered and outgunned by the British Fleet. But the ocean is big, and the Germans took advantage of gaps in the British patrols to break out on raids from their safe harbour in north Germany.

In December 1914 the German fleet sailed to the North East coast of Britain and shelled the coast.

The German ships fired 1,150 shells into the town of Hartlepool, hitting the steelworks, the gasworks, the railways, and killing 86 civilians and injuring 424 more. Seven soldiers died and 14 injured.

If the raid had any lasting effect it was to harden the attitude of the British population against Germany, outraged that the Germans had targeted civilians.

They also blamed the British fleet for letting the Germans slip past them.

Four years later, at the end of the war, the German High Seas Fleet was interned at Scapa Flow. Then, through a misunderstanding over dates, the German fleet commander ordered the fleet to be scuttled.

In the years after the war, some of the ships were raised and salvaged. But three heavy battleships and four light cruisers were too deep to be raised.

The three battleships, SMS König, SMS Kronprinz, and SMS Markgraf, are still there on the sea bed at Scapa Flow.