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Early in the morning of 22 September 1914, three Chatham Division cruisers, HMS Aboukir, HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy, were spotted by a single German submarine, U9, while on patrol off the Hook of Holland. In little under two hours, U9 had torpedoed and sunk all three ships.

This digital exhibition is a memorial to all those affected by this loss and a resource to help people to find out more.

The Outbreak of War

Britain entered the First World War with the world’s largest Navy equipped with some of the world’s most modern warships and also some of the most obsolescent. These included three 12,000-ton Chatham Division cruisers HMS Aboukir, HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy. Although only 14 years old the pace of technological change at the turn of the 20th century had left them slower, less well armed and less well protected than their more modern counterparts.

In late July 1914, with the prospect of war looming, Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, mobilised the Royal Navy. The First and Second Fleets, the Navy’s most modern and best trained ships, were sent to their war stations at Scapa Flow and in the Mediterranean whilst the Third Fleet was brought out of reserve with crews brought up to full complement with men from the Royal Fleet Reserve and Volunteer Reserve. HMS Aboukir, HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy, were despatched from Chatham to Harwich as part of the 7th Cruiser Squadron to support a force of destroyers and submarines patrolling the southern half of the North Sea.

On the 5th August, the day after war was declared HMS Lance, a Chatham-manned destroyer, fired the first British shot of the war in action in the North Sea against the Koningen Louise, a German minelayer. The next day, HMS Amphion, a Devonport based scout cruiser, became the first Royal Naval loss of the war – sunk by one of the Koningen Louise’s mines. A month later on the 5th September the Chatham light cruiser HMS Pathfinder was torpedoed off the East Coast of Scotland – the Royal Navy’s first ship to be sunk by a submarine launched torpedo.

The Loss of HMS Pathfinder, 5 September 1914
William Lionel Wylie
Oil on canvas
© Imperial War Museums, ART 5721

22 September 1914

Three weeks later on the morning of the 22 September 1914, HMS Aboukir, HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy were alone on patrol off the Hook of Holland, bad weather having prevented the destroyers and submarines they were meant to support setting to sea.

In the early hours of the morning they were spotted by a German submarine the U9. At 6.35 am HMS Aboukir was torpedoed and began to sink. Thinking she had hit a stray mine – both HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy stopped to pick up survivors. By the time it became clear that she had been torpedoed by a submarine HMS Hogue too had been hit (sinking within ten minutes) – followed shortly after by HMS Cressy.

Within a period of 90 minutes all three ships with a combined complement of 2,250 men on board, had been sunk by a single 425 ton German U-boat with a crew of 29. 1,459 men, both regulars and reservists, nearly all from the Chatham Division of the Royal Navy, many with close ties to Kent, were killed. The majority were lost at sea, although some bodies were recovered and buried in cemeteries in Holland. 791 men survived, rescued by the Flora and Titan, two Dutch merchant ships, which hurried to the scene of the tragedy, and Royal Naval warships led by the Chatham-built cruiser HMS Lowestoft which arrived some hours later.

On the 22nd September 1914 the Royal Navy and the people of Britain were brought face-to-face with the grim realities of modern submarine warfare. The Valour, Loss and Sacrifice shown on that day in the face of an often unseen enemy was to continue throughout the war. By November 1918 over 13,000 men of the Chatham Division of the Royal Navy had lost their lives. 8,299 were lost at sea and are commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial – whilst over 4,700 were buried on land in cemeteries across the world.

The Loss of the Three cruisers, c.1920s
Colour print
© CHDT ART.66

Chatham News clippings

The Sailors of HMS Aboukir, HMS Hogue, HMS Cressy

Discover more about the sailors who were lost and the accounts from those who survived…

Do you have a story to share?

If you have information or a story you would like to share relating to the loss of the three cruisers and their crews please email us at collections@chdt.org.uk as we would love to hear from you.