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On This Day22nd September 2023

Remembering the Three Cruisers

REMEMBERING THE THREE CRUISERS.

Remembering the three cruisers this year for the 109th anniversary of the sinking of three Chatham Division cruisers, HMS ABOUKIR, HMS HOGUE and HMS CRESSY.

Britain entered the First World War with the world’s largest Navy equipped with some of the world’s most modern warships and also some of the most obsolescent. These included three 12,000-ton Chatham Division cruisers HMS ABOUKIR, HMS HOGUE and HMS CRESSY.

Fate of three 12,000-ton Chatham Division cruisers

Timeline

On that fateful day in September 1914, all three were spotted by a single German submarine, U9, while on patrol off the Hook of Holland. In little under two hours, all three ships had been torpedoed and sunk.

4 August 1914

War Declared

Britain entered the First World War with the world’s largest Navy equipped with some of the world’s most modern warships and also some of the most obsolescent.

5 August 1914

First British Shot Fired

HMS LANCE fired the first British shot of the First World War. The Chatham-manned destroyer fired against the Koningen Louise, a German minelayer.

6 August 1914

First Royal Navy Loss

HMS AMPHION, a Devonport based scout cruiser, became the first Royal Naval loss of the war – sunk by one of the Koningen Louise’s mines.

5 September 1914

First Torpedo Loss

Chatham light cruiser HMS PATHFINDER was torpedoed off the East Coast of Scotland.

22 September 1914

Hook of Holland

On the morning of the 22 September 1914, HMS ABOUKIR, HMS HOGUE, and HMS CRESSY were alone on patrol off the Hook of Holland, bad weather having prevented the destroyers and submarines they were meant to support setting to sea.

In the early hours of the morning they were spotted by a German submarine the U9.

06.35 22 September 1914

HMS ABOUKIR is Hit

At 6.35 am HMS ABOUKIR was torpedoed and began to sink. Initially, the attack was believed to have been the result of a mine.

06.55 22 September 1914

HMS HOGUE is Hit

By the time it became clear that she had been torpedoed by a submarine HMS HOGUE too had been hit (sinking within ten minutes).

07.20 22 September 1914

HMS CRESSY is hit.

The final ship to be hit in U9’s attack was HMS Cressy. Within 90 minutes, three ships had been torpedoed and sunk.

22 September 1914

Loss of Life

Out of a combined 2,250 men on board the three ships a total of 1,459 men, both regulars and reservists, were killed. Nearly all from the Chatham Division of the Royal Navy.

 

11 November 1918

The end of war

By November 1918 over 13,000 men of the Chatham Division of the Royal Navy had lost their lives. 8,299 were lost at sea and are commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial – whilst over 4,700 were buried on land in cemeteries across the world.

STORIES OF DESPERATION, Valour, and rescue

The digital exhibition about the sinking’s of HMS ABOUKIR, HMS HOGUE and HMS CRESSY also includes names of sailors who were lost and accounts from those who survived.

Survivor stories help to paint a picture of the horror and confusion that the sailors faced. There are numerous accounts of men holding on to floating planks of wood and other debris. As sailors in the water outnumbered the available flotsam, there are stories of over-crowding and drownings.

One story in particular that resonates the dangers that the sailors faced in the water is that of Midshipmen Duncan Stubbs and Geoffrey Gore-Browne. Both were no older than 15 years old but are remembered for heroically attempting to save the life of a drowning sailor. The two boys let go of the oar that they clung to to assist the gentleman, unfortunately he clung to the boys. In his panic, the older sailor dragged the boys under water repeatedly until a wave washed them all out of sight.

Of the incident, Thomas Arthur Rush, Artificer Engineer of HMS HOGUE recalled ‘I know that several sacrificed their lives for others’.

Being in the water waiting for rescue was the last resort. Samuel Pollard recalled that sailors from HMS HOGUE did not leave the ship until the Captain gave the order “every man for himself”. Once in the water, it could be a long wait for rescue with HMS HOGUE’S Chief Armourer, John Brading stranded in the water for nine hours. Brading was holding on to drift wood, whilst singing the hymn “Fight the good fight with all thy might” to maintain morale. Later, after rescue, his wife walked straight past him in the hospital, not recognising him. His hair had turned completely white due to the shock.

down with the ship

As with Naval tradition, where the Captain hold ultimate responsibility for the ship and all men on board. There are eye witness reports of Captain Nicholson of HMS HOGUE and Captain Johnson of HMS CRESSY going down with their ships.

On Samuel Pollard’s return to Harwich, Pollard made note of the bravery of his Captain (Nicholson), being the last man to leave the ship.

George Woodhead’s story of HMS CRESSY’S fate was recounted in the Yorkshire Evening News, where he recalls:

“As the ship was sinking the captain gave the order: ‘Well lads, look after yourselves. Get anything you can, and get overboard,’

I dived off the quarter-deck and was in the water for three hours surrounded by men who remarked, ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary now’ sang songs, and said to a despairing comrade, ‘Buck up, chum.’

Captain Johnson I saw go down with his ship, standing on the propeller as she sank. He was a typical, well-loved English gentlemen and a good naval officer to boot.”

LIVES LOST

1,459 men, both regulars and reservists, nearly all from the Chatham Division of the Royal Navy, many with close ties to Kent, were killed. The majority were lost at sea, although some bodies were recovered and buried in cemeteries in Holland. 791 men survived, rescued by the Flora and Titan, two Dutch merchant ships, which hurried to the scene of the tragedy, and Royal Naval warships led by the Chatham-built cruiser HMS LOWESTOFT which arrived some hours later.

sTORIES OF SAILORS

Read the stories of sailors including 15 year old Christopher (Kit) Wykeham-Musgrave, Midshipman, who was onboard HMS ABOUKIR when the warship was hit.

By a miraculous set of circumstances, Kit also survived the sinking’s of HMS HOGUE and HMS CRESSY.

To escape the sinking ABOUKIR, Kit managed to slide down the side of the ship into the water. From there he swam to HOGUE and seized the ropes slung down her side but moments later she too was struck. Having managed to escape a sinking ship for the second time and found refuge in CRESSY, Kit was in the sick bay with fellow cadets when the third ship was also struck by torpedo.

Finding himself in the water for a third time in one day, Kit clung to a plank and watched his friends disappear under the water. He was eventually picked up by one of the Dutch vessel SS Titan and later transferred to a Destroyer that brought him to Harwich.

Kit lived to 90 years old and died in 1989.

Kit’s story is only one of many sailors from that fateful day in 1914, discover more in the Remembering the Three Cruisers digital exhibition.

digital eXHIBITION – THREE CRUISERS

The digital exhibition for remembering the three cruisers is a memorial to all those affected by this loss and a resource to help people to find out more .

Read the full details of the attack, newspaper clippings of the time, and enlightening details from survivor’s encounters.

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