THEY were on their way. The German ships which had the fate of all Hartlepools in their hands had set off on their fateful journey.
History was about to be played out – but not before two mighty fleets clashed at sea completely by accident.
With the help of volunteers at the Heugh Gun Battery, Chris Cordner reports.
IT was a game of cat and mouse.
The German fleet was heading for Hartlepool but the British knew all about it.
Russian sources had interrupted the German war codes which meant the First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill was onto the Hun.
He sent battle cruisers, light cruisers and destroyers to a rendezvous point and thought he’d got the jump on the enemy who he believed to be back in Germany – still on their way.
He was wrong. British ships gathered off Bridlington, unaware the whole German High Seas fleet was only 50 miles away.
Heugh Gun Battery volunteer Wally Stewart told the Hartlepool Mail: “The situation the Germans hoped for had happened entirely by accident.
“An inferior portion of the British grand fleet was about to crash headlong into the Germans.”
And so it began. At 5.15pm on December 16, HMS Lynx spotted a destroyer off her port bow and opened fire.
The German ship moved off with Lynx and other British ships chasing her.
Soon, enemy vessels came into view and the British switched their fire onto them. It was costly.
HMS Lynx was hit repeatedly. So was HMS Ambuscade, which began taking 5ft of water on her deck.
HMS Hardy and HMS Shark were soon involved in a battle with the German ship Hamburg. Hardy was severely damaged and had to leave the fight but not before she put the Hamburg’s lights out.
Hamburg stopped its shelling and headed for home.
And yet, while all this went on, the German raiding fleet had slipped away from the main battle and was on its way to Hartlepool.
The Seydlitz, Moltke and Blucher all came our way along with the Uboat U27. In command was OberLeutnant Ahlberg.
The stage was set and the battle lines had been drawn.
* Tomorrow – the Bombardment.