Sea battle near Heligoland (1914)

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Sea battle near Heligoland
Fall of the Mainz
Fall of the Mainz
date August 28, 1914
place off Helgoland , North Sea
output British victory
Parties to the conflict

United KingdomUnited Kingdom (Naval War Flag) United Kingdom

German EmpireGerman Empire (Reichskriegsflagge) German Empire


United KingdomUnited Kingdom (Naval War Flag) David Beatty William Goodenough
United KingdomUnited Kingdom (Naval War Flag)

German EmpireGerman Empire (Reichskriegsflagge) Franz von Hipper Leberecht Maaß
German EmpireGerman Empire (Reichskriegsflagge)

Troop strength
5 battle cruisers
8 light cruisers
33 destroyers
8 submarines
6 small cruisers
19 torpedo boats

35 dead
40 wounded

712 dead
158 wounded
381 prisoners
3 small cruisers
sunk a torpedo boat

The sea ​​battle near Helgoland took place at the beginning of the First World War on August 28, 1914 between warships of the British Royal Navy and the German Imperial Navy in the waters off the island of Heligoland . The superior British associations managed to sink the three small cruisers SMS  Mainz , SMS  Ariadne and SMS  Cöln as well as the torpedo boat V 187 .


British submarines had observed that German torpedo boats under the protection of small cruisers patrolled the Heligoland Bay in two shifts day and night. The outer German patrol line, 25 nautical miles west of Heligoland, consisted of nine modern torpedo boats from the I. Torpedo Boat Flotilla. 12 miles closer to Heligoland were vehicles of the III. Minesweeping Division. The torpedo boats were under the command of Rear Admiral Leberecht Maaß on board the small cruiser SMS  Cöln . These ships were supported by the small cruisers SMS  Hela , SMS  Ariadne , SMS  Frauenlob and SMS  Stettin . Another eight small cruisers were in the Ems , in Brunsbüttel and in the Jade . The German battlecruisers were also lying there , although they were hindered by the fact that they could not pass the bar of the Inner Jade at low tide .

Commodore Roger Keyes , the commander of the British submarines , then planned an operation to lure the Germans into a trap. Helgoland was armed with heavy artillery , but as soon as the German ships left the island's fire protection, they would be easy prey for a superior British squadron. The submarines and the Harwich Force under Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt were supposed to lure the Germans away from the coast and then pinch them. Some heavier units were to shield these ships from German reinforcements, and the Grand Fleet was to serve as remote security. Keyes proposed the plan to the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill , who found it good; However, the plan was changed by the chief of staff Sir Doveton Sturdee so that the fuse should consist of Force C (five old armored cruisers ) and Force K with the battle cruisers HMS  Invincible and HMS  New Zealand . Support from the Grand Fleet was considered unnecessary.

The attack was due to take place on August 28; Tyrwhitt and Keyes ran out on August 26th and 27th, the former with the newly commissioned light cruiser HMS  Arethusa as the flagship and the light cruiser HMS  Fearless and 31  destroyers , the latter with eight submarines. However, the Admiralty informed Admiral Sir John Jellicoe , the Commander in Chief of the Grand Fleet, only on August 26 of the project. He thought the security for an operation so close to the German bases was too weak and suggested using the Grand Fleet for this purpose. Sturdee told Jellicoe it wasn't necessary, but he could send more battlecruisers if he wanted. Jellicoe then informed the Admiralty that he would also send the I. Battlecruiser Squadron under Sir David Beatty and the I. Light Cruiser Squadron under William Goodenough to support Tyrwhitt and Keyes . The Admiralty, however, failed to relay this message to Tyrwhitt and Keyes.

The German secret service had learned of the action of the Harwich squadron and had the German battlecruisers anchored in the Jade put on alert. Each side tried to lure the other into a trap.

The battle

British submarines that appeared at daybreak on August 28 took up a position 40 nautical miles west of Heligoland. Due to the dense early morning fog, visibility was barely more than 1000 m. First contact between the opponents took place at 5:26 a.m. The British submarine E 6 sighted the torpedo boat G 194 and fired a torpedo, but without hitting. The torpedo boat in turn tried in vain to ram the submarine. When the torpedo boat was reported, the 5th torpedo boat flotilla ran out of Helgoland to hunt submarines. About an hour later, the G 194 encountered four British destroyers and, pursued by them, ran off to the southwest. Rear Admiral Franz von Hipper , who was responsible for the defense of the Heligoland Bay, believed that the enemy forces were only destroyers and only sent the two small cruisers SMS  Frauenlob and SMS  Stettin to help the torpedo boats . Since the view was completely clear in Wilhelmshaven , he assumed that similar conditions prevail at Heligoland and that the cruisers would see a superior enemy in time and could evade him. When the first contradicting reports came in, it was early afternoon and the battlecruisers could no longer leave the jade in time due to the low water level.

The 5th torpedo boat flotilla unexpectedly came across some of the British destroyers with the cruiser HMS  Arethusa and withdrew to Heligoland, where the two torpedo boats S 13 and V 1 were damaged by artillery hits. The German coastal batteries on Heligoland could not provide fire protection because of the fog. The British cruiser HMS  Fearless ran with some of the destroyers in the north on a parallel course, but did not intervene in the battle. The British subsequently encountered the second row of German outposts, but were intercepted shortly before 8:00 a.m. by the two small cruisers SMS  Frauenlob and SMS  Stettin . The Fearless quickly scored hits on the Stettin and forced them to turn in the direction of Helgoland. Meanwhile, the Frauenlob scored several hits on the Arethusa , which was severely damaged. The British had to turn away, and the women praise gave up the pursuit of their ailing opponent around 8:30 a.m.

The torpedo boat V 187

In the meantime Keyes had spotted the British reinforcements on the destroyer HMS  Lurcher , but - since the information about them had not reached him - he took them to be Germans. It was only due to fortunate circumstances that there was no exchange of fire between the various British squadrons; it took until just before 10:00 a.m. to clear the confusion. A torpedo from the British submarine E-6 narrowly missed the cruiser HMS  Southampton , and the cruiser's attempt to ram the attacker also failed. Further north, Goodenough had assigned the two cruisers HMS  Nottingham and HMS  Lowestoft to reinforce Tyrwhitt's ships. The two cruisers happened upon the German torpedo boat V 187, which was being pursued by British destroyers, and sank it at around 9:10 a.m. with their superior firepower without difficulty. While the British began to rescue the survivors, the SMS  Stettin appeared and the destroyers had to leave the castaways and some of their boats with their crews behind and withdraw. The British sailors and some Germans were later rescued from a British submarine; the Germans, for whom there was no longer enough space on board, received a compass, provisions and the course to Helgoland. When the Szczecin announced that the British were withdrawing, the Hela returned to her patrol position, as did the Ariadne . The small cruisers SMS  Cöln with Rear Admiral Maaß on board and SMS  Strasbourg came as reinforcements from Wilhelmshaven , from the Ems the SMS  Mainz ran out under Captain Paschen.

Tyrwhitt used the lull in action to regroup his scattered destroyers and turn them west. At that moment, the Strasbourg attacked from the southwest, but was driven off by HMS  Fearless and the destroyers. Afterwards the Cöln attacked , but was also chased away. When the Strasbourg attacked the ailing HMS Arethusa again , Tyrwhitt requested support from Beattys battle cruiser  , which he promised despite the danger from mines and submarines. The destroyers succeeded in driving away the Strasbourg by torpedo attacks; some of them now collided with the small cruiser Mainz . Around 11:50 am, Goodenough and his cruiser squadron arrived at the battlefield, whereupon the Mainz turned off, but unfortunately ran straight into the course of the Harwich squadron. Since the controls of the German cruiser were damaged by a hit by the Fearless , the Mainz could no longer escape. After a tough fight in which the Germans damaged three destroyers, the British stopped fire on the incapacitated ship at 12:25 p.m. to rescue survivors. The German cruiser sank about 40 minutes later. When the survivors were handed over to Beatty's battle cruiser squadron, the latter greeted them with the signal: "I am proud to welcome such brave men on board my squadron."

Meanwhile, SMS Cöln and SMS Strasbourg attacked the ailing Arethusa again , but she was saved by the arrival of Beatty's battlecruisers. Given the vastly superior British ships, the two German cruisers tried to escape. The Cöln quickly received several hits, but was relieved by the arrival of Ariadne at around 1 p.m. The battle cruisers took the small and outdated Ariadne under fire at close range and turned her into a burning wreck within a quarter of an hour. Part of the team was later rescued by SMS Danzig .

SMS Cologne

While the Strasbourg escaped thanks to the fog - it was sighted several times, but thought to be a British ship - the Cöln was sighted at 1:25 p.m. by the battle cruiser HMS  Lion and sunk despite bitter resistance. Only one member of the crew survived the sinking. With this exchange of fire, the battle ended. The Stettin and Stralsund managed to escape and united with the German battlecruisers, which arrived too late to intervene in the battle. The heavily damaged HMS Arethusa was towed into port by the armored cruiser HMS  Hogue .


The sea battle at Heligoland ended with a clear British victory. The Germans had lost three small cruisers, a torpedo boat and over 1200 men, while the British only suffered severe damage to HMS Arethusa . The team losses were only 35 dead. The battle was badly planned on the German side - the battle cruiser squadron was prevented from intervening in time due to its location in the Jade - and was burdened by just as bad tactics, since the ships had been sent into battle individually and without coordination. Although they knew about it, the German ships were ambushed. In view of the defeat, the emperor ordered that no more sea operations could take place without his express permission.

For the British, this victory in German home waters was a psychologically important success in view of the German advance on the Western Front . However, there were serious planning errors and information gaps, and only fortunate circumstances prevented losses from " friendly fire ". The cooperation between the associations involved also only worked imperfectly.


  • George Bruce: Naval Battles of the 20th Century . Urbes Verlag Hansen, Graefelfing 1993, ISBN 3-924896-36-4 .
  • Otto Mielke : Small cruisers “Mainz” and “Ariadne”. August 28, 1914 (= SOS - Fate of German Ships . Issue No. 108). Pabel-Moewig, Munich 1957.
  • Eric W. Osborne: The Battle of Heligoland Bight. Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN et al. 2006, ISBN 0-253-34742-4 .

Web links

Commons : Seegefecht bei Helgoland (1914)  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files