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Second Battle of Heligoland Bight
Part of the First World War
HMS Calypso.jpg
HMS Calypso, heavily damaged during the battle
Date17 November 1917
LocationHeligoland Bight, North Sea
Result Indecisive
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland British Empire  German Empire
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Trevylyan Napier
Sir William Pakenham
German Empire Ludwig von Reuter
1 battlecruiser
2 large light cruisers
8 light cruisers
10 destroyers
2 battleships
4 light cruisers
8 destroyers
14 minesweepers
Casualties and losses
1 light cruiser damaged 1 minesweeper sunk
1 light cruiser damaged

The Second Battle of Heligoland Bight, also called the Action in the Helgoland Bight was an inconclusive naval engagement fought between British and German squadrons on 17 November 1917 during the First World War.


Following the German Navy's successful raid on the Scandinavian convoy on 17 October 1917, Admiral Sir David Beatty, Commander-in-Chief of the British Grand Fleet, determined to retaliate. On 17 November 1917 a strong force of cruisers under Vice Admiral Trevylyan Napier was sent to attack German minesweepers, which were clearing a channel through British minefields in the Heligoland Bight. The intentions of the German force had been revealed by British Naval Intelligence, allowing the British to mount an ambush.[1] The German sweepers were escorted by a group of cruisers and torpedo-boats under Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter.

The Battle

The action began at 7.30 a.m., roughly 65 nautical miles west of Sylt, when HMS Courageous sighted the enemy. She opened fire at 7:37 a.m. Admiral Reuter, the German commander, with four light cruisers and eight destroyers [Note 1], courageously advanced to engage his more powerful enemy in order to cover the withdrawal of his minesweepers, all of which escaped except for the trawler Kehdingen(GE), which was sunk. The battle thereafter developed into a stern chase as the German forces, skilfully using smoke-screens, withdrew south-east at their best speed, under fire from the pursuing British ships of the 1st Cruiser Squadron, the 1st and 6th Light Cruiser Squadrons, and, later, HMS Repulse (which had been detached from the 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron and came up at high speed to join the battle). Both sides were hampered in their maneuvers by the presence of naval minefields.

The British ships gave up the chase some two hours later, as they reached the edge of known minefields. At about the same time, the light cruisers came under fire of two German battleships, SMS Kaiser and SMS Kaiserin which had come up in support of von Reuter's ships; HMS Caledon was struck by one 12-in shell which did minimal damage; shortly thereafter, the British forces withdrew.

All personnel on the bridge of the light cruiser HMS Calypso, including her captain, Herbert Edwards, were killed by a 6-in shell [Note 2]. The battle cruiser HMS Repulse, briefly engaged the German ships at about 10:00,[2] scoring a single hit on the light cruiser SMS Königsberg that ignited a major fire on board.[3]

It was during this battle that Able Seaman John Henry Carless of HMS Caledon won a posthumous Victoria Cross for his bravery in manning a gun despite mortal wounds.[4]

Appendix: Order of Battle

Royal Navy Ensign British forces

The following British vessels were engaged [5][Note 3]

1st Cruiser Squadron: Vice Admiral Trevylyan D. W. Napier CB, MVO

Courageous (flag; Capt Arthur Bromley)
Glorious (Capt Charles B. Miller CB)

attached destroyers (13th Destroyer Flotilla[6])

Ursa (Cdr John C. Tovey)
Nerissa (Lt. Cdr. Montague G. B. Legge DSO)
Urchin (Lt Cdr Guy P. Bowles)
Umpire (Lt Cdr Roger V. Alison DSO)

6th Light Cruiser Squadron: Rear Admiral Edwyn S. Alexander-Sinclair CB MVO

Cardiff (flag; Capt. Claud H. Sinclair)
Ceres (Capt. the Hon. Herbert Meade DSO)
Calypso (Capt. Herbert L. Edwards)
Caradoc (Capt. William M. Kerr)

attached destroyers (13th Destroyer Flotilla[6])

Valentine (flotilla leader; Cdr. Charles A. Fremantle)
Vimiera (Cdr. Dashwood F. Moir)
Vanquisher (Lt Cdr. Kenneth A. Beattie)
Vehement (Lt. Vernon Hammersley-Heenan)

1st Light Cruiser Squadron: Commodore Walter H. Cowan CB, MVO, DSO

Caledon (Cdre Cowan)
Galatea (Capt. Charles M. Forbes DSO)
Royalist (Capt. the Hon. Mathew R. Best MVO, DSO)
Inconstant (Capt. Francis A. Marten)

attached destroyers (13th Destroyer Flotilla[6])

Vendetta (Cdr. Charles G. Ramsey)
Medway (Lt. Cdr. Charles H. Neill James)

1st Battle Cruiser Squadron (detachment[Note 4]): Rear Admiral Richard F. Phillimore CB, MVO

Repulse (flag; Capt. William H. D. Boyle)

KLM EnsignGerman forces

The following German vessels were engaged[7] [Note 5]:
2nd Scouting Group (Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter) light cruisers

Königsberg (FKpt Karl Feldmann)
Pillau (FKpt Gerhard von Gaudecker)
Frankfurt (FKpt Otto Seidensticker)
Nürnberg (KptzS Walther Hildebrand)

7th Torpedo-Boat Flotilla[Note 6] (KKpt Cordes)

S62 (KptLt Fink; lead boat, flotilla)
G87 (OLtzS Komorowski)

14th half-flotilla (KptLt Richard Beitzen)

G92 (KptLt Arthur von Killinger; lead boat, half-flotilla)
G93 (KptLt Reimer)
V83 (Kpt Lt Wedig von Keyserlingk)

12th half-flotilla (KKpt Lahs)

V43 (OLtzS Narjes; lead boat, half-flotilla)
V44 (OLtzS Kautter)
V45 (KptLt Laßmann)


6th Minesweeper Half-Flotilla (6.Minensuchhalbflottille) (KptLt d'Ottilié): M66, M7, A36, T74, M53, M4, M3, M1
4th Auxiliary Minesweeper Half-Flotilla (4.Hilfsminensuchhalbflottille) (KptLt d R Joachim Löwe): A63, A68, A69, A74, A41, A52
2nd Auxiliary Minesweeper Half-Flotilla (KptLt d R Klose): fishing vessels
6th Auxiliary Minesweeper Half-Flotilla (KptLt d R Wilke): fishing vessels
4th Barrier-Breaker Group (IV. Sperrbrechergruppe) (KptLt d R Hillebrand): two vessels
Group S, North Sea Outpost Half-Flotilla (LtzS Woldag): armed trawlers Fritz Reuter and Kehdingen(GE)

4th Battle Squadron (Vice Admiral Wilhelm Souchon) detachment (KptzS Kurt Graßhoff)

Kaiserin (KptzS Kurt Graßhoff)
Kaiser (KptzS Max Loesch)

attached torpedo-boats (anti-submarine escort)

S18 (KptLt Wildemann)
S24 (KptLt Paschen)

Notes and References

Explanatory Notes

  1. two of the German destroyers were initially detached, but rejoined during the battle
  2. There is some dispute as to whether it was a 6-in or 12-in shell which damaged HMS Calypso; since she was hit at 9.40 a.m. (see Newbolt, op. cit., p.175), before the German battleships opened fire, the former is the more likely.
  3. Other forces at sea in support (none of which were engaged):
    Battle Cruiser Force (Vice Admiral Sir William Pakenham KCB, KCVO): Lion (flag), Princess Royal, Tiger, New Zealand; attached light forces (13th Destroyer Flotilla): Champion (flotilla cruiser), Verdun, Telemachus, Oriana, Nepean , Obdurate, Tristram, Petard, Tower.
    1st Battle Squadron (Admiral Sir Charles Madden): Revenge (flag), Royal Oak, Resolution, Emperor of India, Benbow, Canada; attached destroyers (12th Destroyer Flotilla): Saumarez (flotilla leader), Valhalla (flotilla leader), Noble, Nonsuch, Napier, Penn, Paladin, Prince, Mischief, Munster, Narborough.
  4. Repulse, which was faster and of shallower draft than the other British battle cruisers, was detached by from Pakenham's group in order to support the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron, c.8.0am; she came into action c. 9.0am and scored a 15-inch hit Königsberg at 9.58am, the end of the engagement.
  5. Other forces at sea in support (none of which were engaged):
    battleships: Friedrich der Grosse, König Albert; battlecruisers: Hindenburg, Moltke.
  6. The German Navy's large torpedo boats (großer torpedoboote) were of similar size and function to the destroyers in the Royal Navy, and are often referred to as such.

References to Source Material

  1. Patrick Beesly (1984). Room 40: British Naval Intelligence, 1914–1918, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p.280.
  2. Newbolt, Henry (1931). History of the Great War: Naval Operations Vol. V , pp. 176
  3. Burt, R. A. (1986). British Battleships of World War One. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, p. 302. ISBN 0-87021-863-8
  4. Carless, John Henry, Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  5. The principal source for the British order of battle is Newbolt, Naval Operations v.5, pp. 168-9, footnote 2, with additional organizational details from The Admiralty (1917) Supplement to the Monthly Naval List, November 1917 (London: Harrison and Sons). Commanding officers are from The Admiralty (1917) Monthly Navy List, November 1917.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Monthly Naval List Supplement, (November 1917), p.12.
  7. The principal source for the German order of battle is Gladisch, p.56-57. Commanding officers are from Gladisch, Scheer op. cit., German Articles on the individual cruisers, and Dave Alton, Commanding Officers of German Capital Ships 1914-19 (accessed 29 May 2013).

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