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Loss of the 'Live Bait' Squadron

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Tuesday, 22 September 1914


They were known as the “Live Bait” Squadron, hoping to tempt the German ships out.

Illustration by Hans Bohrdt depicting the sinking of HMS Cressy, HMS Hogue and HMS Aboukir by U-9 on 22 September 1914 off the Dutch coast.

They were sunk in turn as each ship went in turn to the assistance of their sisters.

“Early on September 22nd 1914 the German submarine U9 under the command of Commander Otto Weddigen sighted the Cressy, Aboukir and Hogue steaming NNE at 10 knots without zigzagging. Although the patrols were supposed to maintain 12-13 knots and zigzag the old cruisers were unable to maintain that speed and the zigzagging order was widely ignored as there had been no submarines sighted in the area during the war.

"Victories of U-9" - a contemporary German postcard showing the photo of Weddigen against the background of the sinking "Aboukir" and "Hogue".

U9 maneuvered to attack and at about 6.25 AM fired a single torpedo at Aboukir, which stuck her on her port side. Aboukir rapidly suffered heavy flooding and despite counter flooding developed a 20 degree list and lost engine power. It was soon clear that she was a lost cause and Captain Drummond ordered her to be abandoned, although only one boat had survived the attack so most crew had to jump into the sea. At first Drummond thought that Aboukir had been mined and signalled the other two cruisers to close and assist but he soon realised that it was a torpedo attack and ordered the other cruisers away, but too late.

HMS Aboukir at Malta

As Aboukir rolled over and sank, half an hour after being attacked, U9 fired two torpedoes at HMS Hogue that hit her amidships and rapidly flooded her engine room. Captain Nicholson of Hogue had stopped the ship to lower boats to rescue the crew of Aboukir, thinking that as he was the other side of Aboukir from U9 he would be safe. Unfortunately U9 had manoeuvred around Aboukir and attacked Hogue from a range of only 300 yards. The firing of two torpedoes affected the trim of U9 which broke the surface briefly and was fired on by Hogue without effect. It only took Hogue ten minutes to sink as U9 headed for HMS Cressy.

HMS Cressy

Cressy, under Captain Johnson, had also stopped to lower boats but got underway on sighting a periscope. At about 7.20 AM however U9 fired two torpedoes, one of which just missed but the other hit Cressy on her starboard side, Cressy briefly firing on U9s periscope with no effect. The damage to Cressy was not fatal but U9 turned round and fired her last torpedo which hit Cressy sinking her within a quarter of an hour.

HMS Hogue

Survivors were picked up by several nearby merchant ships including the Dutch Flora and Titan and the British trawlers JGC and Corainder before the Harwich force of light cruisers and destroyers arrived.

Flora returned to Holland with 286 rescued crew who were quickly returned to Britain even though the neutral Dutch should have interned them. In all 837 men were rescued but 1459 died, many of which were reservists or cadets.

Study of the loss of HMS 'Hogue', 'Cressy' and 'Aboukir' in the Broad Fourteens, 22 September 1914

This heavily annotated drawing is a study of the loss of the armoured cruisers 'Aboukir', 'Hogue' and 'Cressy' to torpedoes from the German submarine 'U9' in the Broad Fourteens (an area of the southern North Sea so-named for its even 14-fathom depth contour) on 22 September 1914. The upturned hull of the 'Aboukir' is in the foreground. On the right the 'Hogue' is being struck by two torpedoes in quick succession.

Study of the loss of HMS 'Hogue', 'Cressy' and 'Aboukir' in the Broad Fourteens, 22 September 1914

On the left is the 'Cressy' with the outline of a fountain of water to indicate the single torpedo hit which sank her, though she was not torpedoed until some time after the 'Hogue'.

Another note indicates the position of the 'Periscope' of 'U9' at right centre.

The annotations do not appear to be in Wyllie's usual hand and it may be that he did the sketch and showed it to a survivor of the action who added the various points , including the need to show the 'Hogue' listing more heavily. This may also indicate it is a preliminary study for an illustration of the action in a news periodical such as the 'Graphic' for which he did much work.

While the three British ships involved were old vessels, their loss in only the second month of the First World War - with heavy casualties - was a humiliating one and a major wake-up call on the so far underrated dangers posed by enemy submarines. 'UB9' had been out on an otherwise profitless North Sea foray against British merchant shipping and was returning to base when she fortuitously ran across the three patrolling British warships, which she sank as practically helpless targets with ruthlessly rapid efficiency.[2]

Royal Marine losses

HMS ABOUKIR lost 61 Royal Marines,

HMS CRESSY lost 67 Royal Marines,

HMS HOGUE lost 48 Royal Marines.

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