The war at sea timeline

An overview of events that helped shape the war at sea


The first sinking of the war

German mine layer KÖNIGIN LUISE is scuttled in the North Sea after being fired on by the Royal Navy – the first sinking of the war.

Defense of the Realm Act

Defense of the Realm Act is passed, four days after the UK entered the war. It gives the government wide-ranging powers, including allowing requisitioning of ships.

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First sinking of a U-boat

The German U-boat U-15 is rammed by H.M.S. BIRMINGHAM and sinks with all hands.

AQUITANIA collides with the steamer CANADIAN

The Cunard liner AQUITANIA collides with the steamer CANADIAN, ending her two-week service as an Armed Merchant Cruiser. She returns to war service as a troopship in 1916.

First naval battle of the war

First Battle of Heligoland Bight, located at the mouth of the Elbe river. The first naval battle of the war, it was a significant victory for the British, sinking a destroyer and three light cruisers.

First sinking of a Royal Navy ship by a U-boat

A torpedo from U-21 hits H.M.S. PATHFINDER's magazine and she sank with the loss of most of her crew. This was the first sinking of a Royal Navy vessel by a U-boat.

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Heavy losses to U-boats

Three obsolete Royal Navy cruisers (ABOUKIR, HOGUE and CRESSEY) patrolling together off the coast of the Netherlands are sunk by U-9, with 1,460 fatalities.

Ottoman torpedo boat seized

Ships of the British Dardenelles squadron seize an Ottoman torpedo boat, which leads in October to the closure of the Dardenelles to Allied shipping.

Battle off Texel

A British light cruiser and four destroyers sink four German torpedo boats.

Loss of hospital ship ROHILLA

Six lifeboats participated in rescuing the survivors of the ROHILLA sinking

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Q-ships enter service

The first Q-ships, the British VICTORIA and the French MARGUERITE, go into service.

Battle of Coronel

Off the coast of central Chile, German Kaiserliche Marine forces defeat a Royal Navy squadron, sinking two armoured cruisers. Over 1,500 British lives were lost and three Germans were injured.

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Raid on Yarmouth

German ships shell the beach at Yarmouth. A British submarine sinks after hitting a mine, and a German cruiser is sunk by a mine as she returns home.

Turkish forts attacked

H.M.S. INDOMITABLE and INDEFATIGABLE with the French battleships SUFFREN and VÉRITÉ attack Turkish forts in the Dardnelles, before the formal declaration of war between Britain and the Ottoman Empire.

Battle of the Falkland Islands

The British battlecruisers INVINCIBLE and INFLEXIBLE, the armoured cruisers CARNARVON, CORNWALL and KENT, and the light cruisers BRISTOL and GLASGOE sink two armoured cruisers and two light cruisers, and capture two transports.

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Ottoman battleship torpedoed

Submarine H.M.S. B11 torpodoes the Ottoman battleship MESÛDIYE, south of Çanakkale.

Scarborough, Hartlepool & Whitby attacked

Raids on Scarborough, Hartlepool & Whitby by the German Navy result in 137 deaths and 592 casualties, many civilian. One British cruiser, three British destroyers and three German cruisers are damaged.

Cuxhaven Raid

Royal Naval Air Service aircraft, launched from the Royal Navy's seaplane tenders near Helgoland, attack Zeppelin bases in Lower Saxony.


The PRESIDENT receives its first cadets

The PRESIDENT (ex-GANNET) receives its first cadets as the dormitory for the Training Ship MERCURY.

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X lighter Spithead is built in Sunderland

X lighter Spithead is built in Sunderland

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Battle of Dogger Bank

A German raiding squadron is intecepted heading to Dogger Bank. The armoured cruiser BLUECHER is sunk but Admiral Beatty's flagship H.M.S LION is put out of action.

H.M.S. AMETHYST damaged

H.M.S. AMETHYST, on a minesweeping exercise in the Dardenelles, is badly damaged along with four of the converted trawlers accompanying her.

Battle of March 18

On March 18, during the Gallipoli campaign, an Anglo-French fleet attempts to attack the defences of minefields in the Dardenelles. The attack fails -- three battleships are sunk, another is damaged, resulting in 700 casualties. Turkish casualties were 118.

Sinking of U-29

H.M.S. DREADNOUGHT rams and sinks the u-boat U-29 in the Pentland Firth

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Submarine crew captured

Submarine H.M.S. E15 is stranded in the Dardenelles and the surviving crew captured by the Ottomans. The British eventually manage to sink it.

Battle off Noordhinder

Four British naval trawlers are attacked by two German torpedo boats off Noordhinder. Four destroyers come to the trawlers' aid, and both torpedo boats are sunk. One trawler is lost and one damaged.

R.M.S. LUSITANIA torpedoed

The Cunard liner R.M.S. LUSITANIA is torpedoed by U-20 11 miles off the south coast of Ireland, resulting in 1,198 deaths of passengers and crew.

Three Ottoman ships sunk

Submarine H.M.S. E11 sinks three Ottoman ships.

Q-ships success

The converted 373-ton coaster PRINCE CHARLES sinks U36 marking the first success for the Q-ships.


Second Battle of Dogger Bank

Four minesweeping sloops are attacked by 25 German torpedo boats. Three of the British ships escape but H.M.S. ARABIS is sunk.

Mutual losses

A battle between S.M.S. GRIEF and H.M.S. ALCANTARA results in them both sinking.

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Lowestoft Raid

The bombardment of Yarmouth & Lowestoft, also known as the Lowestoft Raid takes place. Four German battlecruisers shell Lowestoft, killing three, injuring 12 and destroying 200 houses. They move on to Yarmouth, but fire only a few shells before retiring.

CUTTY SARK almost sinks in the Indian Ocean

A combination of storm, conscription and fear of U-boats conspires to almost sink CUTTY SARK in the Indian Ocean.

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Battle of Jutland

The Battle of Jutland was the only full-scale clash of battleships during the war, and one of the largest in history. Although British losses of both ships and men are greater than those of Germany, they are left in command of the area.

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Action of 18 August 1916

A German raid by a significant naval force is aborted when the British fleet is sighted. H.M.S. FALMOUTH is hit by torpedoes from U-63 and later sank while the German dreadnought WESTFALEN was torpedoed by H.M.S. E-23, although she was able to return to port.

U-boat successes

H.M.S. FALMOUTH under tow, having been torpedoed the previous day by U-63 is hit by two more torpedoes by U-66 and sinks. Further north, the light cruiser H.M.S. NOTTINGHAM also sinks after being torpedoed by U-52.

Battle of Dover Strait

23 torpedo boats launch a raid into the Dover Strait. The destroyer H.M.S. FLIRT challenges them and is sunk, along with six naval drifters. A flotilla of destroyers comes to repel them but the Germans retreat without serious damage.


H.M.H.S. BRITANNIC, the sister ship to the TITANIC, hits an underwater mine off the Greek island of Kea and sinks. It is the largest ship lost during the war. Over 1,000 people are saved but 30 men die.


German auxiliary cruiser LEOPARD is sunk

200 miles north east of Faroe Islands, the German auxiliary cruiser LEOPARD is engaged and sunk by the cruiser H.M.S. ACHILLES.

CMB 4 in action off Zeebrugge

CMB 4 takes part in a successful attack sinking a German destroyer and damaging another off Zeebrugge.

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Second Battle of Dover Strait

The British destroyers BROKE and SWIFT engage six German torpedo boats near the Goodwin Sands. Both are damaged, BROKE heavily so, but two torpedo boats are sunk.

Battle of the Strait of Otranto

Austro-Hungarian ships attack the Allied naval blockade in the Strait of Otranto in the Adriatic, but are met with an Italian-British-French fleet. The Austro-Hungarians lose fewer vessels than the Allies but gained no long term advantage.

H.M.S. VANGUARD explodes

H.M.S. VANGUARD, anchored at Scapa Flow, suffers an internal explosion, believed to have been caused by a stokehold fire heating cordite stored against an adjacent bulkhead in one of the magazines serving the admidships gun turrets. She sinks almost immediately, killing an estimated 804 men.

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Action off Lerwick

Two German light cruisers attack a convoy of coal-carrying ships off Lerwick. Two escorting destroyers, MARY ROSE and STRONGBOW, along with nine neutral Scandanavian ships, are sunk.

Second Battle of Heligoland Bight

A force of British cruisers and destroyers attack German minesweepers, and their escorts clearing a channel through British minefields. One German light cruiser is sunk and one damaged. The British light cruiser CALEDON is also slightly damaged. On board, Able Seaman John Carless wins a posthumous Victoria Cross for manning a gun despite his mortal injuries.


SS PEREGRINE of the General Steam Navigation Company ran aground on Long Shore Head with 59 passengers and 33 crew on board. The majority were refugees from the fighting in Flanders. Lifeboat JAMES STEVENS No. 14 brings all those on board to safety.

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X lighter Spithead is built in Sunderland

Zeebrugge Raid

The Royal Navy attempt to blockade the port at Zeebrugge by scuttling ships in the canal entrance to prevent German vessels from leaving port. Unfortunately the two ships are scuttled in the wrong place and the canal reopens a few days later.

First Ostend Raid

The Royal Navy tries to scuttle two obsolete cruisers in the canal mouth at Ostend but the assault ships are driven away.

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Second Ostend Raid

A second attempt by the Royal Navy to scuttle ships in the channe at Ostend is attempted. Heavy resistence is mounted by the Germans. Although the cruiser H.M.S. VINDICTIVE is sunk, she only partially blocks the channel.

German fleet scuttled

The German fleet is scuttled at Scapa Flow. In all ten battleships, five battlecruisers, five cruisers and 32 destroyers are sunk.

First air attack from a carrier

H.M.S. FURIOUS launches Sopwith Camels in a successful raid against Zeppelin hangers at Tondern (Denmark). This is the first attack in history made by aircraft flying from a carrier flight deck.

German submarines surrendered

The first group of German submarines are surrended to Admiral Tyrwhitt at Harwich. By 01 December, 122 have been handed over.


Peace pageant on the Thames

QUEEN MARY'S SHALLOP carries the King and Queen in the naval pageant to commemorate the end of the war

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