No.71: Remember Scarborough!

Diary of the War No.5

Scarborough Castle from the air
Scarborough Castle from the air:  N061078, © English Heritage Picture Library

One hundred years ago this week three German warships loomed out of the North Sea in the early morning of 16 December 1914, and commenced shelling Scarborough, Whitby, and Hartlepool. Whitby Abbey was struck by the light cruiser Kolberg, causing considerable damage, and Scarborough Castle by the battle cruisers Derfflinger and Von der Tann. Civilians going about their ordinary morning business were also killed in this, the first attack on English soil of the First World War.

Whitby Abbey, West Front as seen from the east. This window was badly damaged in the shelling of 1914.  N080802 © English Heritage Photo Library
Whitby Abbey, West Front as seen from the east. This window was badly damaged in the shelling of 1914. N080802 © English Heritage Photo Library

Local residents and heritage sites were not the only victims of the raid, which screened the Kolberg‘s true objective of laying a minefield. That minefield claimed three victims the same day: the British collier Elterwater, bound from the Tyne for London, which sank in three minutes, three miles east of Scarborough itself; the Norwegian collier Vaaren, bound with Tyne coal for Palermo; and the British cargo vessel Princess Olga, laden with a general cargo, from Liverpool for Aberdeen. As the days and weeks went by, Kolberg‘s mines claimed further victims.

The mines off the Yorkshire coast were continually replenished during the war, designed to catch victims such as the Elterwater and Vaaren, and to strike at the coal trade on which Britain depended so heavily for heating, lighting, and export. The North Sea off the Yorkshire coast became a field of death and destruction, with the fishermen of Grimsby and Hull in the front line, manning the requisitioned trawlers turned minesweepers: as fast as they swept, more mines were laid, and as fast as they were laid, they were swept again.

Remember Scarborough! became the slogan of a recruitment poster. One hundred years on, we remember not only Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool, but also the deadly Scarborough minefield.

This is the first of a Christmas double bill: there will be another Wreck of the Week on Monday.

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