Clearing the High Seas

Before World War I Imperial Germany had constructed a large fleet composed of modern warships crewed, it was proved, by brave and skilful sailors. On the outbreak of war the bulk of this force was concentrated in German home waters. There remained, however, large and dangerous German units in various parts of the world. We have seen how the Goeben and Breslau were able to escape allied naval units and take refuge at Constantinople. The largest of these overseas fleets was in the Pacific, commanded by Von Spee. We have recounted how his ships were hunted down and destroyed. This still left other German warships in other parts of the world which were in a position to pose a great threat to Allied interests.

HMS Highflyer
HMS Highflyer was early into action to combat this threat. This ship was a protected cruiser which had been launched on 4th June 1898. It had a top speed of 20 knots and a main armament of eleven Quick-Firing 6-inch guns mounted in single turrets. After several years of conscientious service, in August 1913 Highflyer had become a training ship for Special Entry Cadets. The outbreak of war one year later meant that ships like Highflyer had to be re-called to front-line service.

Highflyer was allocated to the 9th Cruiser Squadron and, when sailing to join that force, it intercepted the Dutch ocean-liner Tubantia. The Dutch ship was stopped, boarded and searched. £500,000 in gold was found, most of which was bound for the German Bank of London, along with 150 German reservists among the passengers, on their way home to join their country’s armed forces, and a large cargo of grain destined for Germany. The Tubantia was escorted into Plymouth.

Only a few days after this Highflyer was transferred to the Cape Verde Station to aid the 5th Cruiser Squadron search for a German raider called the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. This ship had been built as a trans-Atlantic passenger-carrying liner, and had been launched on 4th May 1897. In 1898 the ship had won the Blue Riband for crossing the Atlantic with a record highest speed. On the outbreak of war the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was quickly turned into an auxiliary cruiser by the addition of six 4.1-inch guns, and was given orders to attack Allied shipping in the Atlantic. This met with initial success and three Allied merchant ships were sunk.

When the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse’s coal stocks began to run low it went to re-stock at the Spanish colony of Rio de Oro on the west coast of Africa. This coaling was still going on when, on 26th August, HMS Highflyer came on the scene and immediately attacked the German vessel. HMS Highflyer had a main armament of eleven 6-inch guns, so the German ship was considerably outgunned. Nevertheless she sailed out to engage the Highflyer and a fierce fight took place from 15.10 to 16.45, but at the end of it the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was so badly damaged that her Captain scuttled her.

In late October Highflyer helped escort the convoy which brought the Cape Garrison back to Britain, and then took part in the search for the German light cruiser SMS Karlsruhe. This was a modern ship with a speed of 29.3 knots and main armament of twelve 10.5cm SK L/45 guns. During her career as a raider Karlsruhe captured or sank sixteen merchant ships. On the


night of 4th November the ship suffered a massive internal explosion which split the ship in half and it sank.

HMS Highflyer was then used in the hunt for the raider Kronprinz Wilhelm, which was a converted liner and sister-ship to the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. Highflyer came close to catching its prey in January 1915, but the German ship escaped and continued its activity until it was forced to put in at a neutral, American, port where it was interned.

Highflyer then spent most of the rest of the War on convoy duty across the Atlantic. On 6th December 1917 she was in the port of Halifax NS when the French ammunition ship Mont Blanc blew up. This was a massive explosion, which destroyed most of the town. When Highflyer saw a fire on the Mont Blanc a boat with ten men was sent to see if help could be given. The explosion occurred while this boat was approaching the Mont Blanc and nine of the ten men were killed. The Highflyer herself was damaged by the explosion and some crew were injured. Afterwards crew from the Highflyer helped clear debris in the town and provide medical assistance to the injured. Shortly afterwards she returned to escort duty. Highflyer survived the War and was finally paid off in 1921.

HMS Highflyer had a crew of 470, among whom we can identify one Orangeman. He was Brother W Harrison who was a member of Ulster Scot Loyal Orange Lodge number 287, which was based in Devonport.

SMS Königsberg was another German light cruiser that posed a threat to Allied shipping. This ship had a main armament of ten 4.1-inch guns and a top speed of 24 knots. On the outbreak of war the Königsberg had recently begun a two-year posting to German East Africa and had Dar-es-Salaam as its base. With war imminent Königsberg put to sea and evaded a British squadron composed of three protected cruisers HMS Pegasus, HMS Hyacinth, and HMS Astraea. Königsberg’s career as a commerce raider was hampered by the difficulty of replenishing its coal stocks and she managed to sink only one merchantman, but on the morning of 20th September 1914 she appeared off Zanzibar and caught the protected cruiser HMS Pegasus completely unprepared.

Königsberg opened fire at 05.10 and after 45 minutes Pegasus had caught fire, rolled over to port, and sank. Throughout the short engagement Königsberg stayed outside the range of Pegasus’s guns and so received no hits. There were 38 British dead and 55 wounded, while there were no German casualties. On leaving the scene Königsberg sighted the picket ship HMS Helmut and opened fire, forcing the crew to abandon ship.

One of the crew of HMS Pegasus was an Orangeman, namely Brother Walter Morgan who was a member of Ulster Scot Loyal Orange Lodge number 287. The ship had a crew of 224 and, as Brother Morgan does not appear on the list of killed or wounded, we may hope he survived.

Königsberg needed a safe place to rest up for repair and re-supply. British ships were at Dar-es-Salaam so somewhere else was needed and the delta of the Rufiji River was chosen. On 30th October, however, British ships found her and soon had the mouth of the river blockaded. British ships attempted to bombard the Königsberg but this was not very effective

as the British ships were not able to get close enough. It did, however, cause the Königsberg to retreat further up river. In July 1915 the British deployed shallow-draught river monitors which could advance up the Rufiji and bring the Königsberg under more accurate fire. This was done, with the British bombardment being assisted by spotters in aircraft. The final bombardment took place on 11th July 1915 and the Germans were forced to abandon Königsberg and scuttle her, thereby ending another threat from a German raider.

One of the British ships which took part in the search for Königsberg was HMS Fox, a protected cruiser with a speed of 18 knots and a main armament of two Quick-Firing 6-inch guns and eight Quick-Firing 4.7-inch guns. The ship had been launched as far back as 1893 and was practically obsolete but it is of interest to us because, in its crew of 325 was an Orangeman, Brother Syd Shepherd of Ulster Scot Loyal Orange Lodge number 287.

On the outbreak of war HMS Fox was in the Indian Ocean and quickly made her presence felt by capturing two German merchant ships, the Australia on 10th August and the Holtenfels on the 11th, off Colombo. The Fox was next called on to support the British attack on the port of Tanga, on the coast of German East Africa, from the 2nd to the 4th of November. Sadly, this battle was an ignominious disaster. The British force outnumbered the defenders by about eight to one, but the Germans were commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck who rushed every available unit in his command to the battlefield and handled his forces with supreme skill. In contrast the British forces were mostly untrained and badly-led. It is often cited in mitigation that the British were attacked by swarms of angry bees, but this was an affliction to both sides. When the British withdrew in confusion they left behind so much equipment that Lettow-Vorbeck was able to expand his force of Askaris. Lettow-Vorbeck was the last German commander to surrender in 1918 and was one of the outstanding commanders of the War. The only consolation that can be taken is that HMS Fox bore no responsibility for the debacle.

It was after Tanga that Fox took part in the hunt for Königsberg, and at one time bombarded Dar-es-Salaam. In January 1915 Fox was part of an Allied force which captured Mafia Island so that it could be used as a base for the attack being prepared on the Königsberg. After this Fox returned to the East Indies and was then sent to Egypt. It was here that the ship acquired a new Captain, William Henry Dudley Boyle, 12th Earl of Cork and 12th Earl of Orrery, and was to play a significant role in support of the Arab Revolt.

Our Brother Syd Shepherd may have been Yeoman Signaller Sydney Alfred Shepherd, 220103, also based at Devonport, who was later Mentioned In Despatches for service in the Aegean. If so, he would have been born on 2nd December 1886 in Upper Holloway, North London.

HMS Cumberland
Another German colony in Africa which came under Allied attack in 1914 was Kamerun in west Africa. HMS Cumberland played a part in this campaign and also in other capacities. Cumberland was an armoured cruiser launched in 1902, and it had served for a time as a training ship but was brought back into service when war broke out. It had a speed of 23 knots and a main armament of fourteen breech-loading 6-inch Mark VII guns. Four of these were in two twin turrets and the rest were in single-gun turrets. Her crew of 678 contained


two Orangemen, Brother R McAllister and Brother J Brown, both members of King William III Loyal Orange Lodge number 688 which met at Plymouth.

On the outbreak of war Cumberland was sent to west Africa to take part in the operations against Kamerun, but first it detoured to Lagos to take on board the King of Douala and several tribal officials. The strategically important part of the Kamerun coast was occupied by the Douala people, many of whom had converted to Christianity under the British Baptist missionary Alfred Saker, although it was Imperial Germany that took the territory into its empire. Rudolf Duala Manga Bell became King of the Douala when he succeeded his father in 1908, and at first he tried to work with the German colonisers. This changed in 1910 when the Germans announced a plan to deport the whole Douala people from their land in the Wouri River estuary to make room for an exclusively German settlement. Manga Bell protested against this by means that were wholly legal and constitutional but the Germans arrogantly ignored him.

Manga Bell then tried to enlist support from other Kamerun tribes and other european powers. Although it was never proved that Manga Bell had asked for armed support the Germans arrested him and charged him with treason. On 7th August 1914 he was tried along with his secretary and relative Adolf Ngoso Din and hanged the next day, a haste which hardly suggests that the Germans displayed the most scrupulous sense of jurisprudence.

Manga Bell was succeeded as king by his nephew, and when the Cumberland called at Lagos to take the royal party on board it was with a view to securing the support of the Douala people.

The Germans had light naval units in the Wouri estuary and they placed mines and sank several blocking ships at the mouth of the river. These were cleared methodically and the Cumberland, accompanied by the cruiser HMS Challenger and the gunboat HMS Dwarf, made their way up the river escorting five troopships. They arrived at the town of Douala on 26th September and, when the Germans declined to surrender, they bombarded the town. The following day around 1,000 British and French troops landed and took Douala unopposed. Subsequent operations proved very difficult due to the terrain and the climate but the Allied forces gradually forced the Germans to retreat and the last German resistance ended in January 1916. In the operations of 27th September 1914 the Cumberland had captured ten German merchant ships. In January 1915 HMS Cumberland was transferred to 5th Cruiser Squadron and spent the rest of the War on escort duty or looking for German raiders.

HMS Challenger
The Cumberland’s partner at Douala, HMS Challenger, also had an Orangeman on board. He was Brother A Johnson of Ulster Scot Loyal Orange Lodge number 287. The Challenger was a protected cruiser which was originally part of the 9th Cruiser Division serving off west Africa. Later she was assigned to east Africa.

HMS Carnarvon
We have already seen HMS Carnarvon when considering the battles of Coronel and The Falklands. At the outbreak of the War Carnarvon was at Gibraltar, but was ordered to go to the Cape Verde Islands. Many German merchantmen were at sea when war began between Britain and Germany, and the Admiralty wanted them rounded up.

On 23rd August 1914 Carnarvon captured the SS Professor Woermann and took the ship to Freetown in Sierra Leone and returned to patrol duties. The SS Professor Woermann was afterwards used as a troop transport. Carnarvon moved to the Brazilian coast in October and, when the British defeat at Coronel became known, was sent to the south Atlantic to join the force assembling there to confront Von Spee. In the Battle of the Falkland Islands Carnarvon accompanied the battlecruisers Invincible and Inflexible when they engaged and sank the German armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.

After the battle Carnarvon stayed in the south Atlantic for a time in the hunt for SMS Dresden. In February 1915 she headed north again to Brazil, but struck a coral reef at Abrolhos Archipelago. The damage was severe enough to merit the ship being beached for repair. Eventually Carnarvon was repaired sufficiently for the ship to make it to Montreal where May, June and July were taken up with repairs. When fully seaworthy Carnarvon was used to escort H-Class submarines from Halifax NS to Devonport. She then returned to Halifax, joined the North American and West Indian Station and spent the rest of the War in that region on escort duties.

As previously noted, HMS Carnarvon was the ship on which Carnarvon Loyal Orange Lodge number 827 met.

HMAS Australia
We have already seen the Australian battlecruiser HMAS Australia in action when we looked at the War in the Pacific. The commander, Rear-Admiral George Patey, and the crew were disappointed not to have an opportunity to engage directly with Von Spee’s squadron, but the fact that the Germans carefully avoided the Australian ship was a testimony to its effectiveness.

With the destruction of Von Spee’s squadron HMAS Australia was free for redeployment to home waters, and she sailed round South America into the Atlantic in December 1914/January 1915. On January 6th 1915 the Eleonora Woermann was spotted. This was a German ship that had started life as a passenger liner but had been converted to a naval auxiliary for raiding purposes. HMAS Australia fired warning shots and the German ship was forced to stop. The crew were taken on board Australia and the German raider was sunk. In this way HMAS Australia and her crew, and the Orange brethren who were part of the crew and also members of Australia Loyal Orange Lodge number 875, had followed their exploits in the Pacific with a successful action against a German raider.

HMS Aurora
HMS Aurora was an Arethusa-class cruiser launched in September 1913, with a speed of 28.5 knots and a main armament of two 6-inch guns supplemented by six Quick-Firing 4-inch Mark V guns. In the Grand Lodge Report for 1916 the Grand Secretary, Bro Rev Louis Ewart, wrote “A new Lodge has been opened on HMS Aurora, number 892, which promises to be a very strong one.” Presumably the Lodge was formed after the Lodge Directory for the year had been prepared and it does not appear in the Grand Lodge Report for 1919.

By the time the Lodge was formed on Aurora the ship had already had an active role in the War, so the Lodge members may well have been hardened veterans. On the outbreak of the


War Aurora was leader of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla in the Grand Fleet, and was in action at the Battle of the Dogger Bank. The ship was then transferred to 10th Destroyer Flotilla at Harwich as leader where it guarded the eastern end of the English Channel. In August 1915 Aurora took part in the sinking of the German raider SMS Meteor.

The Meteor was originally a British freighter but was in Hamburg at the outbreak of war and was seized by the Germans and converted into an auxiliary cruiser and minelayer. The Meteor set out on its first mission on 29th May 1915 and attacked shipping in the White Sea in order to disrupt the routes between Russia and the western Allies. It sank three ships and laid mines that sank another three. Meteor’s second voyage was in August 1915 with the objective of laying mines in the Moray Firth. One ship was sunk but the Meteor was intercepted by a British armed boarding vessel, the HMS Ramsey. The Meteor made as if stopping to be boarded, but suddenly opened fire on Ramsey and sank her. British cruisers in the area, including the Aurora, closed in on the Meteor, whose captain scuttled her.

HMS Minerva
HMS Minerva was a protected cruiser that had been launched in 1895. It had a speed of 18.5 knots, main armament of eleven 6-inch Quick-Firing guns, and a crew of 450, among whom was the Orangeman Brother A Morbey, a member of Prince of Wales Loyal Orange Lodge number 329, which met in Portsmouth.

On the outbreak of war Minerva was in 11th Cruiser Squadron based in Ireland but in September 1914 was transferred to 5th Cruiser Squadron with the specific task of hunting down enemy merchant ships attempting to return to Germany or Austria. In this capacity Minerva captured and sank the Austrian merchantman Bathori. HMS Minerva was later to see much action at the Dardanelles.

HMS Venus
Another ship to serve with the 11th Cruiser Squadron in Ireland was HMS Venus, a vessel of the same class as HMS Minerva and identical in most respects. Venus captured two German merchantmen in October 1914 and in the following month lost her foremast in a gale. She later served in Egypt and the East Indies.

HMS Venus’s crew contained the Orangeman Brother Robert Penn of Southdown Loyal Orange Lodge number 398 in the town of Lewes. Brother Penn is not recorded on the Lewes War Memorial and so is likely to have survived the War.

HMS Essex
HMS Essex was a Monmouth-class armoured cruiser. She began the War as part of 4th Cruiser Squadron on the North America and West Indies Station, and spent the entire war in the Atlantic escorting convoys and searching for German raiders. She captured a German merchantman as early as 10th August 1914 and repeated this feat in May 1916, while off the Canary Islands, and again on 7th September 1916. One of her crew was Brother H Walker of Ulster Scot Loyal Orange Lodge number 287.


HMS Donegal
HMS Donegal was another Monmouth-class armoured cruiser. Before the outbreak of war she had been in the Reserve Fleet but when hostilities commenced she was refitted and assigned to 5th Cruiser Squadron at Sierra Leone for convoy protection duties.

Donegal saw service in many parts of the world. In January 1915 she was assigned to the Grand Fleet and in November undertook escort duties for convoys to Archangel. She subsequently served with 9th Cruiser Squadron for mid-Atlantic duties and in 1917 she was transferred to the North American and West Indies Squadron.

Present among the crew of HMS Donegal was Brother R Roycroft of Ulster Scot Loyal Orange Lodge number 287. The ship’s log has a Mr Roycroft, Chief Mechanic, leaving the ship on 27th August 1917 while the ship was at Albert Dock in Liverpool.

HMS King Alfred
In the Grand Lodge Report for 1916 Rev Louis Ewart wrote of success in opening lodges for those on active service and said “Great progress has already been made in numbers on the Warspite, Australia, Virginia, and King Alfred”.

HMS King Alfred was a Drake-class armoured cruiser, launched in 1901 and with a speed of 23 knots and a main armament of two BL 9.2-inch Mark X guns, supplemented by sixteen BL 6-inch Mark VII guns, all mounted singly. It had a crew of 900. By the start of the war King Alfred was in the Reserve Fleet but was recommissioned when hostilities commenced. Initially King Alfred was assigned to the 6th Cruiser Squadron and patrolled the northern exit of the North Sea. In October 1915 she was transferred to 9th Cruiser Squadron. This Squadron was commanded by Rear-Admiral Archibald Moore, who took King Alfred as his flagship.

In January 1916 the Squadron patrolled the area to the west of Gibraltar with a view to catching the German raider SMS Möwe. The Möwe was disguised as a neutral cargo ship but it was armed with four 15cm SK L/45 guns and two torpedo tubes. In its first voyage it sank or captured fifteen ships and laid mines that sank three more, one of them the pre-dreadnought battleship HMS King Edward VII. This first voyage ran from December 1915 to April 1916.

The Möwe’s second cruise ran from November 1916 to March 1917, during which she sank or captured 35 ships. Her cruise was cut short when she sustained damage, and five crewmen killed, when she was engaged by an armed New Zealand merchantman. During this raid HMS King Alfred was again the flagship of the force that was attempting to hunt down the Möwe, but the German escaped again. The Germans felt that the Möwe had become so much of a propaganda asset that they could not risk losing her and so she made no other raids. She was eventually sunk by British aircraft in World War II.

For the rest of 1917 HMS King Alfred was engaged in escorting convoys from the west coast of Africa to Plymouth. In February 1918 she began escorting troop convoys from Halifax NS across the Atlantic. On 11th April 1918 she was torpedoed by the German submarine UB-86. One crewman was killed, but HMS King Alfred made it to Liverpool where she was repaired.


Loyal Orange Lodge number 878 met on HMS King Alfred. The Lodge is shown as “moveable”, which suggests that lodge meetings took place on board ship. In the Grand Lodge Report for 1916 the Worshipful Master is given as Henry Miller, Mess 3, HMS King Alfred. The Secretary is not given. The Lodge does not appear in the Grand Lodge Report for 1919.

HMS Suffolk
HMS Suffolk was a Monmouth-class cruiser of the type we have seen elsewhere. She was launched in 1903 with a speed of 23 knots, a main armament of sixteen Breech-Loading 6-inch Mark VII guns and a crew of 678. For a time before the War she had been the flagship of Kit Cradock’s 4th Cruiser Squadron on the North America and West Indies Station. After war began Cradock transferred his flag to HMS Good Hope and Suffolk was retained in the Atlantic to hunt for German raiders. If she had not been she may well have gone down with Cradock at the Battle of Coronel. HMS Suffolk captured a German merchantman on 8th August 1914 and remained in the Atlantic until August 1917 when she was made flagship of the China Station.

The Orange interest in HMS Suffolk is supplied by Brother Arthur Patterson, of Ulster Scot Loyal Orange Lodge number 287 having been a member of her crew.

For very many years the picture of Orangemen fighting for their country in the First World War has been one of soldiers going over the top. In particular there is a picture of the 36th Ulster Division on 1st July 1916 which has been widely reproduced, even on lodge banners.

We now know that these brave men were not alone in upholding their cause. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Orangemen served in the Royal Navy. In particular there were lodges meeting in ports with a strong Royal Navy presence and the men of the Navy found the Orange Lodge a very congenial place in which to enjoy the fellowship of their brethren, and joined in large numbers.

Orangemen were present in all the major naval battles of the First World War – Heligoland Bight; Coronel; The Falkland Islands; Dogger Bank; and, especially, Jutland. But there was a side to the Naval War which was unspectacular though essential. At the start of the War the British had to eliminate the threat from German surface raiders and interdict Central Powers’ merchantmen. As we have seen in this paper, this they did. In the early days of the War the German raiders were hunted down and eliminated, just as their merchant ships were. By early 1915 the German U-Boats had begun to pose a threat far more deadly than the surface raiders ever did, and this created the need for ships to spend weeks at a time at sea on convoy duties.

This work was unspectacular, even boring, but the men of the Navy, including the Orangemen, stayed at their posts on the high seas in circumstances that were difficult and often dangerous. They kept open the sea-lanes that were vital for us and choked the life out of Germany and her allies. We are proud of them.

Michael Phelan
Historian, Loyal Orange Institution of England
12th August 2014