The Scarborough Raid of 16 December 1914 was the most controversial part of the German raid on the Yorkshire coast of 15-16 December 1914. At the time Scarborough was an undefended town, lacking any gun emplacements. The harbour was not suitable for warships, nor was it close to significant military targets. This was not true of the entire Yorkshire coast. To the north the mouth of the Tees and Hartlepool (just inside County Durham) were defended by gun batteries, as was the mouth of the Humber (the ruins of several generations of gun emplacements can still be explored at the tip of Spurn Point).
The Germans believed that Scarborough was also defended by a gun battery, making it a legitimate target under the rules agreed at the Hague Conference of 1907. The rules agreed in 1907 seem to belong to a different era completely from the First World War. Naval commanders could only bombard an open town if it refused a reasonable request for necessary supplies. Even military facilities in a town could only be attacked after the locals had been given a chance to destroy them themselves. In the circumstances of 1914, with two battle fleets undertaking carefully timed operations in the North Sea these restrictions seem utterly unrealistic. The Germans appear to have genuinely believed that the east coast towns would be defended in some ways (during the Second World War they would have been right – Scarborough and Filey were given 6in gun batteries, with some of the guns coming from HMS Lion, Beatty’s flagship at Jutland).
The German attack on Scarborough involved the battlecruisers Derrflinger and Von der Tann, and the light cruiser Kolberg. They appeared off Scarborough just before 8.00 a.m. The Kolberg was sent south east to lay a minefield off Flamborough Head, while the two battlecruisers opened fire on the coastguard station and the yeomanry barracks at 8.00 a.m. They then sailed south east along the coast, firing on the medieval castle on its headland and the Grand Hotel, the most obvious land mark in South Bay, apparently in the belief that this was the location of the non-existent gun battery.
Their next target was a naval wireless station just outside the suburb of Falsgrave (now the site of GCHQ Scarborough). The wireless station was undamaged, but some shells fell short. The two German battlecruisers then sailed north past the town, still firing, before heading around the coast to Whitby. The Kolberg sailed north east from Flamborough head back to the general rendezvous position, east of Whitby.
The attack on the east coast caused outrage in Britain. Part of this was due to the failure of the navy to intercept the German raiders, but much was made of the attack on an open town. Despite a bombardment lasting half an hour, only eighteen people were killed in Scarborough. Further north Hartlepool was much harder hit.
|Official History of the War, Naval Operations Vol. II, Sir Julian Corbett. Volume two of five in the British Official History of the First World War at sea covers the naval attack on the Dardanelles and early months of the Gallipoli campaign. On the home front it includes the German raid on the Yorkshire coast of December 1914 and the battle of Dogger Bank [see more]|