BY 1915 THE WESTERN FRONT was already a giant industrial battlefield, so the war at sea soon became all about quantity, and the evolution of tactics in an industrial war at sea.

HMS Formidable – earliest loss
On 31 December, 1914, Royal Navy ships participated in a gunnery exercise off Portland, after which the fleet stayed at sea. In rough weather, the risk of submarine attack was considered low.
HMS Formidable was positioned at the rear of the squadron. The first torpedo from U24 exploded at 2.20am, striking the port side by the number 1 boiler. The order to abandon ship was given at 2.40, but darkness, a 20° list and worsening weather impeded launching the lifeboats.
At 3.05 a second torpedo struck the starboard side. Formidable capsized and sank at 4.45 on New Year’s Day, and 547 of the complement of 780 died.
The wreck has been dived, but in 2002 Formidable was designated a controlled site under the Protection of Military Remains Act and diving is not permitted. Still accessible, the wreck of HMS Empress of India, sunk as a gunnery target in 1913, is similar in design and also in Lyme Bay.
For divers visiting Lyme Regis, the cellar of the Pilot Boat pub was used as a mortuary for bodies recovered from the sea. The landlord’s collie-cross dog Lassie insisted on licking the face of one of the victims and would not leave him alone.
Thirty minutes later the crewman stirred. Taken to hospital, he made a full recovery.

Battle of the Dogger Bank
In December 1914 German ships had successfully bombarded the English coast, most notably at Scarborough. Following up, the same three battlecruisers with supporting cruisers and destroyers, commanded by Admiral Franz Hipper, put to sea to eliminate the British fishing fleet on the Dogger Bank.
Alerted by radio intercepts, a trap was laid by the Royal Navy. Admiral Beatty’s main force of five battlecruisers, again supported by cruisers and destroyers, intercepted and chased the German ships in fine weather on 24 January, eventually catching up and opening fire.
Hipper’s flagship Seydlitz and Beatty’s flagship Lion both suffered hits, though not fatal ones.
Lion lost speed and the consequent confusion of command allowed the German ships to escape, except the cruiser Blücher, on which the British concentrated fire. At 1.30pm Blücher capsized and sank.
In the confusion the British ships had failed to pursue the attack, but both the resistance to damage and accuracy of gunfire of the German ships gave warning of what was to come in 1916 at the Battle of Jutland.
The general depth in the area is 40m. Kieran Hatton has run several trips out to the Jutland wrecks, so I asked him whether he had dived the Blücher. “As far as I know it has never been found,” he says. “It would be a great dive though, and I’d love to go looking!”
Ex-Scarborough skipper now based in Narvik Gordon Wadsworth searched for the Blücher in the 1980s. “I was doing much diving on the Southernmost Rough and Dogger shoals. I became more convinced that I would have found such a big target, so she must be further east on Monkey Bank or Cleaver Bank, a vast area to search,” he says.

Lull in merchant raiders
1914 had seen various actions involving German naval cruisers and armed merchant cruisers converted from freighters and liners.
By 1915, those remaining were running short on supplies. In Tanzania, SMS Königsberg, blockaded in the Rufiji river delta, was sunk by two shallow-draught river gunboats brought in especially to dispatch her.
At Robinson Crusoe Island, HMS Glasgow and HMS Kent shelled and sank SMS Dresden, trapped in the harbour by engine failure. The wreck lies at 70m and diving is currently forbidden.
The last few cruisers entered neutral ports to be interned. Nevertheless, the early successes of the raiders and the RN resources committed to tracking them down encouraged Germany to convert further merchant ships for the role.
The auxiliary cruiser SMS Meteor was converted from the 1912-ton ss Vienna. Meteor’s first voyage was to lay a minefield in the White Sea. Then, in August 1915, it went to do the same in the Moray Firth, disguised as a Russian steamship.
On 8 August Meteor was stopped by the armed boarding ship HMS Ramsey. As Ramsey lowered boats to send across a boarding party, the German ensign was hoisted and Meteor opened fire. A torpedo sank Ramsey within minutes.
The wreck of HMS Ramsey is charted at approximately 100m in the Moray Firth, so is within range of technical divers, though I don’t know if it has been dived. Its cover blown, Meteor was in danger of being intercepted by RN light cruisers, and on 9 August was scuttled
by her crew.
The wreck is charted as being in 35m off Jutland, not far from some of the later warship wrecks.
However, bearing in mind the reported proximity to capture, I have reservations about this position.
Also on 9 August, Meteor’s minefield claimed the destroyer HMS Lynx, which was broken in two.
Two positions about five miles apart are listed, both in 50m, though neither has been confirmed as Lynx.

Unrestricted sub warfare
Through 1914 German U-boats had conducted limited operations against merchant ships, operating under the same stop, search and capture or scuttle procedure used by raiding cruisers.
The British naval blockade on Germany was beginning to take effect and, in November 1914, the British declared the North Sea a war zone.
Germany responded that from 18 February all waters surrounding Britain would be a war zone. Every enemy merchant vessel encountered in this zone would be destroyed, and it would not always be possible to avert danger to non-combatants.
Both sides had adopted the practice of sailing under neutral flags, so the German announcement included that neutral ships would also be at risk.
On 19 February the Norwegian steamship Belridge became the first ship to be torpedoed by German submarines without warning. Belridge survived, but submarine warfare as we have come to know it was now under way.
Clusters of wrecks soon arose from the patrols of single U-boats, perhaps the most readily dived from this period being off Beachy Head and the Royal Sovereign in Sussex. Popular dives include the Branksome Chine, Rio Parana, Western Coast and Severn Seas.
In the confusion of so many ships being sunk close together, both geographically and in time, the identities of many of these wrecks present interesting puzzles for divers.
U-boats were also active in the Mediterranean and Baltic. In Aland in the Baltic on 23 April, U26 stopped and scuttled the Russian ss Frack (often known as Helge, its original name).
The deck is now at 45m. I was struck when diving the wreck how much of the woodwork is intact, retaining features lost on wrecks in salt water.
Initially, U-boat operations around Britain were mostly in the North Sea and the upper part of the English Channel. By May, U-boats were ranging further afield round Scotland and into the Western Approaches and Irish Sea.
On 12 June the 6047-ton tanker Desabla was sunk 35 miles off Montrose. While the crew took to the boats, U17 first used gunfire, then torpedoes and finally scuttling charges to sink her. The compartmentalisation of tankers can make them remarkably stubborn ships.
The wreck was located, lying on its port side in 67m, by Marine Quest of Eyemouth in 2010. A 100th anniversary dive is scheduled for this year.
The most notable wreck of 1915 was the liner RMS Lusitania. On 7 May she left Cork bound for the USA, sailing under a “false” American flag.
Twenty miles off the Old Head of Kinsale, U20 struck with a single torpedo. Among the 1198 victims were 128 US citizens, an outrage that could pull the USA into the war. It incurred much flag-waving in the American and British press.
The first groundbreaking mixed-gas dives on Lusitania were made in 1994 by the Starfish Enterprise team. At the time Simon Tapson wrote for DIVER: “She lies canted over to starboard with most of the superstructure and decks above the main deck having slid off like a pack of cards.”
The deep waters off Kinsale had become a popular hunting ground for U-boats and many other wrecks are listed at technical diving depths.
To further inflame the American press, on 19 August the White Star liner Arabic was torpedoed by U24, killing 44 passengers and crew, including four Americans.
At the other end of the depth scale, on 10 August off Norfolk ss Rosalie was torpedoed by UB11.
Rosalie was subsequently beached and can be shore-dived. “The ss Rosalie is an outstandingly beautiful wreck, furnished with swathes of plumose anemones. The bow lies in 4-5m of water,” writes Anita Sherwood in her book Top 100 British Shore Dives.
Concerned that increasing incidents involving American passengers would lead the USA into the war, on 28 August the German Chancellor ordered that passenger ships could be sunk only after warning and the saving of passengers and crew.
The German Naval High Command considered this impractical, and by 18 September U-boat action in the Atlantic was largely diverted to the Mediterranean, where Americans were less likely to become collateral damage.

Mines in the North Sea
A new use for submarines was mine-laying. From the outset, both sides had been using variously adapted surface ships to lay offensive and defensive minefields in the North Sea. However, through the first half of 1915 the British Admiralty had been unable to trace how new minefields had been laid inshore in the North Sea, round East Anglia and in the Thames estuary.
The answer came when, on 2 July, the coaster Cottingham ran over the wreck of what could have been a U-boat.
RN diver Dusty Miller inspected the wreck and discovered the submarine to have six vertical chutes for mine-laying. One of the mines had exploded prematurely to put an end to UC2.
UC2 is not a dive-site, but subsequent UC boats can be dived, including UC42 off Cork and UC70 off Whitby (Wreck Tours 165 and 10).

Anti-submarine warfare
Convoying of merchant ships had yet to be established, and the vast majority of action against U-boats was by patrols
of destroyers and armed trawlers, by a combination of gunfire, depth-charges and ramming.
Apart from keeping a lookout for periscopes, submarine detection and defence tactics included sweeps, nets and obstacles such as blockships, more of which were sunk at Scapa Flow, including the Gobernador Bories (Wreck Tour 22).
On 4 March U8 became entangled in anti-sub nets in the straits of Dover and was seen by a patrolling drifter. U8 was forced to surface and scuttled by her crew when RN destroyers arrived on the scene. A second submarine engaged by the destroyers, but escaping, was U20 – subsequently to torpedo Lusitania.
Dover skipper and diver Dave Bachelor reports that the wreck is in 27m, upright and very intact.
In 2014 two divers were fined heavily for illegal salvage from many wrecks, including propellers from U8.
New trap tactics were experimented with. To counter U-boats attacking fishing fleets, trawlers were used to tow British submarines. When a U-boat surfaced to attack the trawler with its gun, the submarine would torpedo the U-boat or surface and use its own gun.
Initial success came off Scotland on
23 June. The submarine C24, under tow from trawler Taranaki, torpedoed U40.
“The wreck lies in 65m, at a 45° angle with the attack periscope still raised. The stern is badly damaged from the torpedo explosion,” says Eyemouth skipper Iain Easingwood.
The tactic worked again between Orkney and Shetland on 22 July when C27, under tow by trawler Princess Louise, torpedoed U23. The wreck has yet to be found.
Despite these two successes the Royal Navy was soon to abandon the tactic after two towed submarines were lost to mines, the combination of trawler and submarine connected by a cable being very effective at sweeping mines onto the submarines.

Q-ships
A more widely known Q-ship tactic was a merchant ship stuffed with timber to increase survivability and armed with hidden guns and depth-charges.
The generic plan was to appear disorganised and defenceless to draw a U-boat into a surface attack or even to launch a boarding party, then uncover the Q-ship’s guns and sink the U-boat.
The first success came north of Scotland on 24 July when the Q-ship Prince Charles sank U36. The general charted depth of the wreck is 80m, though I don’t know if U36 has ever been dived.
Earlier that day U36 had captured the sailing ship Pass of Balmaha, later converted to the merchant raider Seeadler – but that is a story for 1916.
The charted location of U36 is within range of some of the more adventurous Scapa Flow-based boats.
The next Q-ship success came on 14 August when UB4 surfaced among a fleet of fishing smacks off Smith Knoll in the southern North Sea. Unknown to UB4, one of the smacks was the Q-ship Inverlyon, armed with a three-pounder.
Inverlyon opened fire at point-blank range and UB4 went down by the bow, to become entangled in Inverlyon’s nets. Again the submarine was dived by Dusty Miller to recover plans for minefields. The wreck has been dived more recently, and is reported well broken in 30m.
A particularly aggressive Q-ship was the Baralong, sinking U27 on 19 August, about 100 miles from where U24 torpedoed the Arabic, then on 24  September sinking U41.
In the first incident survivors from U27 were massacred, and with U41 it is alleged that a lifeboat was deliberately run down. The charted positions of the wrecks are in 100m and 126m off Scilly, within range of technical divers.
Despite continued use through the Great War, later analysis was that Q-ships were not a particularly good use of resources. For 14 U-boats destroyed and 60 damaged, 27 Q-ships were lost.
Furthermore, once their threat was known, U-boats became more cautious, preferring to attack without warning rather than risk a trap.

Lighthouses and weather
While warfare continued, so did the normal run of shipping losses to weather and accidents. On 3 July the coaster Juno steamed onto the Manacles in fog.
A gale on 13 November blew the barque Calburga onto Strumble Head.
“The wreckage is scattered over a drop-off from 10 to 39m. There is a huge anchor that looks like it has been stuck to the side of the wall,” says Mark Deane, skipper of Wandrin’ Star.
In another storm on 26 December ss Heidrun foundered in Mount’s Bay (Wreck Tour 49).
With U-boats using British lighthouses for both navigation and to spot targets, many lighthouses were switched off, making dangerous reefs more dangerous than ever.
An early casualty in the Farne Islands was the steamship Chris Christensen, running across the southern end of the Longstone on 16 February.
ss Britannia met a similar fate on 27 September, running over the Crumbstone. The pair are similar dives, with wreckage strewn out from the rocks with the bow outermost at about 30m (Wreck Tours 32 and 45 respectively).
Such incidents were not restricted to merchant ships. On 28 October the 10,850-ton armoured cruiser HMS Argyll ran aground on Bell Rock off Scotland.
Much of the ship’s equipment was salvaged at the time and the propellers were salvaged in the 1970s. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of wreckage to be found flattened on the reef.
Unconnected with the war, on 24 January Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance became stuck and subsequently crushed by Antarctic ice, finally sinking on 21 November. Shackleton eventually reached help on South Georgia on 20 May, 1916.

The Dardanelles and Gallipoli
After the Ottoman Empire entered the war the Dardanelles and Bosphorus, the northern Turkish straits connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, became a key strategic crossroads. Its control connected the Ottoman Empire with Europe and prevented Allied shipping passing between the two seas.
The Dardanelles became a key point of RN submarine action and eventually surface action when, on 17 February, British and French battleships began bombardment. On 18 March battleships, preceded by a screen of minesweepers, attempted to force the straits, only to be defeated by mines. Troop landings on Gallipoli began on 25 April.
Providing support for the troops ashore, both British and French navies suffered further losses to mines and torpedoes from Turkish and German submarines and destroyers.
Ashore the campaign was characterised by mistakes of strategy, leadership, and communication, and a typically imperial under-estimation of the capabilities of the defending troops. The final Allied troops were evacuated on 8 January, 1916.
In 1999, John Bantin reported for divEr on a trip to investigate the wrecks following a similar ill fate. “What a shambles,” he wrote, as the diving was ill-managed and the boat came close to joining the wrecks below. Nevertheless,
16 years on diving in the area is now well-established, with locally run dive centres and experience of the wrecks.
Notable wrecks include the RN battleships Irresistible, Triumph, Ocean, Majestic and Goliath and the French battleship Bouvet. All were pre-Dreadnoughts and obsolete with respect to the home fleets.
Some of the battleship wrecks and many of the smaller craft are shallow enough for access without technical training, though the corollary is that many have been heavily salvaged.


EVENTS AT SEA
1 January
HMS Formidable torpedoed.
24 January
Battle of the Dogger Bank. SMS Blücher sunk.
24 January
Shackleton’s ship Endurance becomes trapped in Antarctic ice.
THE WORLD AT WAR
19 January
First Zeppelin raid on England. Two Zeppelins target Humberside, but are blown off course and bomb towns in East Anglia, including Great Yarmouth.
26 January
Turkish forces advance on Suez canal through Sinai.
29 January
German submarine shells gun-battery at Barrow In Furness.
EVENTS AT SEA
16 February
ss Chris Christensen wrecked on Farne Islands.
23 February
On its second patrol U8 sinks the ss Branksome Chine, ss Rio Parana, ss Western Coast.
4 March
U8 trapped and scuttled at the start of its 3rd patrol.
14 March
SMS Dresden trapped and sunk at Robinson Crusoe Island by HMS Glasgow and HMS Kent.
18 March
First naval attack on the Dardanelles fails, with HMS Irresistible and HMS Ocean sunk by mines.
THE WORLD AT WAR
4 February
Turkish attack on Suez Canal repulsed.
9 February
Canadian troops arrive in France.
24 February
First British territorial troops arrive in France.
12 March
General Sir Ian Hamilton appointed Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean (Dardanelles) Expeditionary Force.
17 March
First battle of Champagne ends with no significant gains by the attacking French (started 20 December, 1914).
21 March
First Zeppelin raid on Paris.
17 April
For the first time mines are exploded under German positions at hill 60. The hill is recaptured by the Germans during the course of the larger Ypres battle.
22 April
2nd battle of Ypres begins. Germans use poison gas for the first time.
25 April
Troop landings begin at Gallipoli.
EVENTS AT SEA
7 May
RMS Lusitania torpedoed by U-20 off Kinsale.
May
HMS Goliath, Triumph and Majestic lost off Gallipoli.
23 June
U40 torpedoed by C24, under tow by trawler Taranaki.
2 July
Wreck of UC2 discovered and subsequently dived to reveal secret of mine-laying U-boats.
11 July
SMS Königsberg finally sunk in Tanzania.
18 July
Italian battleship Giuseppe Garibaldi torpedoed by Austrian U4 off Croatia. Wreck in 122m.
20 July
U23 torpedoed by C33, under tow by trawler Princess Louise.
24 July
U36 shelled and sunk by Q-ship Prince Charles.
8 August
HMS Ramsey torpedoed by mine-layer SMS Meteor. A day later Meteor is scuttled and HMS Lynx is lost to the minefield.
10 August
SS Rosalie torpedoed by UB11.
15 August
UB4 sunk in the southern North Sea by gunfire from Q-ship Inverlyon.
19 August
SS Arabic torpedoed by U24.
19 August
First Barlong incident – the Q-ship sinks U27 and massacres the crew.
29 August
HMS C29 strikes a mine, putting an end to trawler-towing submarine operations.
19 September
Passenger liner ss Athinai catches fire and sinks in the North Atlantic. Investigation reveals sabotage by two German dock-workers who had plans and materials in their homes to commit further acts of sabotage.
24 September
Q-ship Barlong sinks U-41
25 September
ss Britannia wrecked on Farne Islands.
28 October
Armoured cruiser HMS Argyll wrecked on Bell Rock.
21 November
Shackleton's ship Endurance finally sinks beneath the ice.
31 December
HMS Natal sinks in the Cromarty Firth following a magazine explosion.
THE WORLD AT WAR
9 May
Allied summer offensive begins across Flanders with no major changes in the front line. Most of 1915 proves to be a stalemate.
15 May
Admiral Lord Fisher resigns as First Sea Lord.
23 May
Italy declares war on Austria-Hungary
25 May
Prime Minister Asquith forms Liberal-led coalition government, marking the end of the last solely Liberal government in the UK.
25 May
2nd battle of Ypres ends.
27 May
Winston Churchill resigns as First Lord of the Admiralty.
28 May
Arthur Balfour appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. Admiral Sir Henry Jackson appointed First Sea Lord.
31 May
First Zeppelin raid on London.
THE WORLD AT WAR
9 May
Allied summer offensive begins across Flanders with no major changes in the front line. Most of 1915 proves to be a stalemate.
15 May
Admiral Lord Fisher resigns as First Sea Lord.
23 May
Italy declares war on Austria-Hungary
25 May
Prime Minister Asquith forms Liberal-led coalition government, marking the end of the last solely Liberal government in the UK.
25 May
2nd battle of Ypres ends.
27 May
Winston Churchill resigns as First Lord of the Admiralty.
28 May
Arthur Balfour appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. Admiral Sir Henry Jackson appointed First Sea Lord.
31 May
First Zeppelin raid on London.
7 June
Lt R Warnerford uses bombs to become the first pilot to down a Zeppelin, near Ghent.
25 September
First British use of poison gas at Loos.
14 October
Bulgaria and Serbia declare war on each other.
19 December
Evacuation of forces from Gallipoli begins.

SHIPPING LOSSES BY MONTH (tons)
January 47,981
February 59,921
March 80,775
April 55,725
May 120,058
June 131,428
July 109,640
August 185,866
September 151,884
October 88,534
November 153,043
December 123,141

TOTAL 1,307,996