Yesterday, The Mail enclosed a reprint of part of their edition dated December 17th 1914. The main heading says it all:
GERMANS BOMBARD THREE ENGLISH TOWNS
Back then there were two main types of fighting ships, the battleship and the battlecruiser. The former were heavily armed - and armoured! - which made them heavy, slow and ponderous. The latter were just as heavily gunned but were thin-skinned which made them fast. The German fleet stationed just across the North Sea had both but the Kaiser was unwilling to risk his newly created fleet in its entirety. However, he did give permission for the fast battlecruisers to mount raids across the North Sea to 'tweak the lion's tail'! Perhaps one imperative for this raid was to show the German public that revenge had been exacted for the recent destruction by the Royal Navy of Adm. von Spee's squadron in the South Atlantic.
Anyway, the battlecruiser fleet dashed across the North Sea and bombarded, er, Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool! Three more totally useless military targets cannot be imagined. I do not wish to be disrespectful to the memory of the 44 dead but I can't help wondering if the looks of those three north-eastern, coastal towns weren't improved slightly by the bombardment!
Of course, the British battlecruiser fleet, along with the battleships, was stationed well up north in Scapa Flow, Scotland, but immediately raced south to catch the Germans but they were too quick and made their escape back to Wilhelmshaven. The reason the British fleet was so far north was because the Admiralty had decided long before that in the event of war there would be no close blockade of the German port in the style of the Napoleonic wars - because it wasn't necessary. All the Royal Navy had to do was block off the top of the North Sea which could be done easily from Scapa Flow. No German Admiral would be mad enough to try and fight his fleet through the Straits of Dover.
However, this and other high-speed, pin-prick raids by the German battlecruisers, whilst they achieved nothing militarily, did cause enormous alarm amongst the British people living in these coastal towns. Questions were raised in Parliament! Something must be done! Thus it was that the decision was taken to move Adm. Beatty's battlecruiser fleet south to the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh. At this point the old law of unintended consequences took over.
Beatty was a rumbustious man with an ego the size of one of his ships but, alas, his strategic thinking did not match! His overal commander, Adm. Jellicoe was the exact opposite, a man for whom the word 'taciturn' was designed! He was a supreme naval strategist but he lacked the Nelson ability to imbue his subordinates with his vision. Suffice to say that Beatty and Jellicoe never hit it off but the decision to move Beatty and his battlecruiser fleet down to the south seperated the two men and they never had the chance to meld.
This lack of communication and understanding was to have profound effects in 1916 during what I call 'The First Battle of Britain', that is, Jutland, when the chance to destroy the German fleet in its entirety was lost. But that, as they say, is another story . . .