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Remembering the War at Sea - Part 2

Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue 

The Consequences
The losses sent reverberations throughout Europe. Prior to the action of 22 September, many senior officers had criticised the use of aging cruisers that they deemed too vulnerable to undertake patrol duties and the triple sinking confirmed their fears. Despite being ordered to steam at 13 knots and to maintain a zig-zagging course to protect themselves against attack, the vessels were too old to maintain the speed and the order to zig-zag was widely ignored prior to the event as an over precaution.
The day before the losses, Churchill had delivered a divisive speech in which he claimed that the enemy would be dug out by British naval forces. The Admiralty had seemingly underestimated the German threat and the events of 22 September demonstrated this oversight. 

1944 sm U9 submarine

The true scale of the submarine threat had also not been anticipated and the loss of the Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue, all three of which were 19th century vessels, by the unseen 20th century threat would have been anathema to the Captains of the vessels, and to the British public. Warfare, and the maritime danger, had changed irreversibly. The decision of the Cressy and the Hogue to standby the Aboukir was also later described by Churchill as ‘chivalrous stupidity’, a phrase much maligned by commentators after the incident.

1942 Sketch of the Cressy sinking, by Henry Reuterdahl

On this day then, it is appropriate that we remember the sailors that lost their lives but also reflect on the naval arms race that occurred between Germany and Great Britain before the war. The perceived thwarting of Germany’s Imperial ambitions by the Royal Navy when Germany felt itself hemmed in by enemies on the European mainland in the form of France and Russia had been an ongoing source of tension. Whilst the war was sparked in the Balkans, and Britain entered it to support Belgian independence, the causes of conflict between Britain and Germany also relate to imperial and dynastic jealousies expressed in the number of Dreadnoughts owned. This came to naught for the German Imperial Navy, however, due to the strategic failure to break out into open sea following a tactical victory at Jutland; the failure of unrestricted U-boat warfare to bring Britain to its knees (although it came close); and in fact the effects of the campaign in the hastening of the US entry into the war; and vitally, the destruction of the German economy by blockade all contributed to their ultimate defeat. Whilst the sacrifices on the Western Front and elsewhere are highly visible to this day and provide a focus for remembrance and public perception of the conflict, let us not forget the naval conflict and its role in the final outcome of the war and those who have no resting place but the sea.
By Euan McNeill and Gemma Ingason
All images in public domain, source


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