THE HARWICH STRIKING FORCE: THE ROYAL NAVY’S FRONT LINE IN THE NORTH SEA 1914-1918

January 13, 2023
Posted by: ANDREW WELCH

The first impression of this book is how reassuringly ‘heavy’ it is – probably because the photos are liberally spread throughout & so all the paper has to be denser. It feels really well made, which is a pleasant change. The selection of photos is very good – far better than usual. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the maps. There is one, double page of the southern North Sea, at the start, but several more of specific incidents would have been welcome & the lack of any map showing the extensive (and frequently referred to) minefields & swept corridors is irritating. The author seems to have fallen between the two stools of writing a flowing narrative and producing a work of reference.

Perhaps an unusual complaint, but there are too many facts! For example, the armed patrol yacht Rhiannon, had been ‘the private steam yacht of Thomas Evelyn Scott-Ellis’,[1] 8th Baron Howard de Walden, 4th Baron Seaford…. and on for another 4 lines covering the 1908 Olympics, when he succeeded to his title, year he came of age & accolade as ‘Britain’s wealthiest bachelor’. Having written a book,[2] I know how difficult it is to resist using all the ‘fascinating’ facts and anecdotes that you have come across during your research, but this temptation should be resisted if they interrupt the flow too much or are just not relevant.  Oddly, therefore, there is no direct connection made between Lt Brian Schofield & VAdm Brian Schofield, the author of many naval tomes in the 1950/60/70s or Lt Cdr (Henry) Taprell Dorling & the prolific author Taffrail. Final criticism – there is too much Latin – quondam, felo de se & quotidien (regularly).

So, after all these criticisms, what about the actual contents.  If you want to know about WWI naval activity in the southern North Sea and, in particular, the Harwich Striking Force, I doubt that you will find a better book.  The major actions – Dogger Bank, Jutland & the German Battlecruiser raids on East Coast ports – are well covered, but the main impression that comes across from the narrative is the relentless (quotidien!) patrols, convoys, minesweeping & just sea time.  The light cruisers & destroyers, and Commodore Tyrwhitt was usually at sea with them, were worked very hard and, when not at sea, were usually at short notice to sail.  Perhaps the only historical feeling of unease that I had was the author’s, seemingly unreserved, support for Tyrwhitt’s views – he had a long running feud with VAdm Bacon (of the Dover Patrol) & Steve Dunn dismisses the Zeebrugge Raid of 23 April 1918 in one page as of no operational use and just a PR stunt.[3]

There are lots of interesting insights into the conduct of WWI naval ops – from the Kaiser’s micromanagement[4] of his Navy to the Royal Navy’s positive discouragement of initiative and the ‘Beef Trips’ (the convoys bringing food from the neutral Netherlands to England) to the birth of naval aviation & the first use of the Jolly Roger by a submarine CO (Lt Cdr Max Kennedy (see note 1 again) Horton of HMS E-9). The Author’s notes, appendices, bibliography & index are well put together (as befits a semi-reference book). I learnt a lot from this book & would certainly recommend it to anyone who is interested in this subject, but it’s not a ‘light’ read.

[1] Usually, everyone is given all their forenames, presumably just because the author has found them during his research.

[2] Sorry – a plug. The Royal Navy in the Cod Wars.

[3] My precis – PR was not a current term in Tyrwhitt’s time.

[4] Hitler followed suit with his instructions with regard to the WWII Capital ships.