Naval bombardment of Hartlepool remembered

The Royal Navy and the Army have joined with the community of Hartlepool to commemorate the centenary of the town’s bombardment which cost 130 lives.

Just after 8am on December 16 1914, German warships stole undetected onto the horizon of the north east town and unleashed more than 1000 high explosive shells.

The Headland’s Heugh Gun Battery returned fire in what was the only battle to be fought on British soil during World War One, and one of the Battery’s soldiers, Theo Jones of the Durham Light Infantry, became the first British soldier to be killed by enemy action on home ground in the war.

One hundred years to the day, Hartlepool has paid tribute to those it lost, as well as the 500 injured, in a day of civic and community events organised by Hartlepool Council in partnership with the Heugh Gun Battery Trust. A new Bombardment Memorial on land near the Headland lighthouse has been unveiled by the Lord-Lieutenant of County Durham, Mrs Sue Snowdon.

And representatives of the four military organisations which lost personnel in the bombardment – the Royal Navy, the Durham Light Infantry, the Royal Engineers and the Royal Artillery – laid plaques at the memorial.

The names of the 130 victims were read out and pupils from St Aidan’s Primary School – where Theo Jones was a teacher - planted 130 ceramic poppies from the recent Tower of London display and 130 wooden crosses.

Two buglers from The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Scotland heralded the start of the moving ceremony to unveil the memorial. The Royal Navy’s plaque was laid by Commander Richard Jermy, Chief of Staff to the Naval Regional Commander for Northern England. The buglers later marked the end of the day’s tributes with The Last Post.

At 08.03 on the morning of 16th December 1914 three German naval cruisers approached the coast and commenced a bombardment of Hartlepool. No warning had been given to the Royal Navy patrols at sea in the area (a squadron of destroyers) and with two light cruisers and a submarine in Hartlepool harbour, the German approach was unopposed.

Hartlepool was defended by three 6” naval guns, two at the Heugh Battery and one at the Lighthouse Battery. The initial German bombardment concentrated both on the town and Heugh battery – both sites suffering casualties as a result; the second shell actually killed the first soldier to be killed on English soil in WW1.

By this time the German ships had closed to approximately six miles and the effect of the bombardment was devastating.

As the shore batteries returned fire, the naval destroyer squadron at sea closed to engage the German vessels but were severely outgunned and withdrew with 20 persons dead and wounded.

From Hartlepool Harbour the two Royal Navy cruisers HMS Patrol and HMS Doon and submarine C-9 attempted to sail and in turn came under German fire; as they exited HMS Patrol was struck by two 8” shells and was forced aground.  

By the time C-9 and HMS Doon reached navigable waters, the enemy had gone; the last gun fired at 08.52.

The naval plaque is cast showing one of the cruisers and the submarine (C-9) exiting Hartlepool port at the start of the engagement. 

In less than 50 minutes, 63 residents from Hartlepool and 56 from West Hartlepool had been killed and hundreds more injured. 

Naval casualties included 20 amongst HMS Patrol and HMS Doon; there were additional casualties suffered at sea in the destroyers.