Three before breakfast

by Norman Gardner.

The first WWI casualties on active service to be recorded by the Lancaster Guardian, on the third of October nineteen fourteen were; Thomas Henry Adams, aged 35, Able Seaman 188155, gunner, (RFR/CH/B/6034) aboard HMS 'Aboukir', a naval reservist and former railway worker, and Able Seaman, 212496, Wilfrid Wilson, aged 30, a torpedo man on HMS 'Cressey'.

Adams Thomas Henry Naval reservist on HMS Aboukir, presumed drowned, address 40 Sylvester Street, Lancaster employed by L & NW Railway. Member of Centenary Church & National Union of Railwaymen. Wife Mrs Adams has two children. Source Lancaster Guardian date 3 October 1914 page 3, ibid., 17 October 1914 p.3.

Wilson Wilfrid Torpedo man on HMS Cressey, presumed lost. His time had almost expired; address 13 Perth Street, Lancaster. Married with no children. . Source Lancaster Guardian date 3 October 1914 page 3

They are named on the Royal Navy Memorial, Chatham, panels one and three, also Lancaster War Memorial. Mrs Mary Ellen Adams, formerly of 18 Clarence Street, Moecambe lived at 40 Sylvester Street with her two children, her Adams in laws lived at Buxton, Derbyshire. Mrs Sarah Ann Wilson, was living at 13 Perth Street , formerly of 98, Penny Street, Lancaster, the couple had no children.

On the twenty second of, September , 1914 The British Cruisers 'Aboukir', 'Hogue' and 'Cressey', were spotted off the coast of Holland by the German submarine U-9. The British ships were in line abreast, taking no evasive action and sailing slowly. The Cressey, launched 1900, with Krupp armour plate, had a top speed of twenty one knots, but the older ships could not maintain the ordered speed of thirteen knots, and all failed to zig zag because no submarine had been spotted. Just before half past six in the morning U-9 torpedoed HMS 'Aboukir', under the command of Captain Drummond, which sank within half an hour. The other ships stopped to pick up survivors, and Captain Nicholson's Hogue was attacked from three hundred yards, sinking within ten minutes. The Cressey commanded by Captain Johnson, then got under way, but at twenty past seven that fateful morning, U-9 claimed, with two hits, her third victim within the hour, and the Cressey sank within fifteen minutes. Over fifteen hundred British sailors died in the action. The U-boat captain, Lieutnant Weddingen was awarded the Iron Cross, and died ten months later in the newer U-boat, U-90, when he was sunk by British destroyers.

Lieut. Otto Weddigen's Account
of the U-9 Submarine Attack

22 September 1914

The First Submarine Blow is Struck, By Lieutenant Otto Weddigen, Commander of the U-9

It was ten minutes after 6 on the morning of last Tuesday when I caught sight of one of the big cruisers of the enemy. I was then eighteen sea miles northwest of the Hook of Holland. I had then traveled considerably more than 200 miles from my base. My boat was one of an old type, but she had been built on honor, and she was behaving beautifully. I had been going ahead partly submerged, with about five feet of my periscope showing. Almost immediately I caught sight of the first cruiser and two others. I submerged completely and laid my course so as to bring up in the center of the trio, which held a sort of triangular formation. I could see their gray-black sides riding high over the water.

When I first sighted them they were near enough for torpedo work, but I wanted to make my aim sure, so I went down and in on them. I had taken the position of the three ships before submerging, and I succeeded in getting another flash through my periscope before I began action. I soon reached what I regarded as a good shooting point.

Then I loosed one of my torpedoes at the middle ship. I was then about twelve feet under water, and got the shot off in good shape, my men handling the boat as if she had been a skiff. I climbed to the surface to get a sight through my tube of the effect, and discovered that the shot had gone straight and true, striking the ship, which I later learned was the Aboukir, under one of her magazines, which in exploding helped the torpedo's work of destruction.

There were a fountain of water, a burst of smoke, a flash of fire, and part of the cruiser rose in the air. Then I heard a roar and felt reverberations sent through the water by the detonation. She had been broken apart, and sank in a few minutes. The Aboukir had been stricken in a vital spot and by an unseen force; that made the blow all the greater.

Her crew were brave, and even with death staring them in the face kept to their posts, ready to handle their useless guns, for I submerged at once. But I had stayed on top long enough to see the other cruisers, which I learned were the Cressy and the Hogue turn and steam full speed to their dying sister, whose plight they could not understand, unless it had been due to an accident. The ships came on a mission of inquiry and rescue, for many of the Aboukir's crew were now in the water, the order having been given, "Each man for himself."

But soon the other two English cruisers learned what had brought about the destruction so suddenly. As I reached my torpedo depth I sent a second charge at the nearest of the oncoming vessels. which was the Hogue. The English were playing my game, for I had scarcely to move out of my position, which was a great aid, since it helped to keep me from detection.

On board my little boat the spirit of the German Navy was to be seen in its best form. With enthusiasm every man held himself in check and gave attention to the work in hand.

The attack on the Hogue went true. But this time I did not have the advantageous aid of having the torpedo detonate under the magazine, so for twenty minutes the "Hogue lay wounded and helpless on the surface before she heaved, half turned over and sank.

But this time, the third cruiser knew of course that the enemy was upon her and she sought as best she could to defend herself. She loosed her torpedo defense batteries on boats, starboard and port, and stood her ground as if more anxious to help the many sailors who we re in the water than to save herself. In common with the method of defending herself against a submarine attack, she steamed in a zigzag course, and this made it necessary for me to hold my torpedoes until I could lay a true course for them, which also made it necessary for me to get nearer to the "Cressy." I had come to the surface for a view and saw how wildly the fire was being sent from the ship. Small wonder that was when they did not know where to shoot, although one shot went unpleasantly near us.

When I got within suitable range I sent away my third attack. This time I sent a second torpedo after the first to make the strike doubly certain. My crew were aiming like sharpshooters and both torpedoes went to their bull's-eye. My luck was with me again, for the enemy was made useless and at once began sinking by her head. Then she careened far over, but all the while her men stayed at the guns looking for their invisible foe. They were brave and true to their country's sea traditions. Then she eventually suffered a boiler explosion and completely turned turtle. With her keel uppermost she floated until the air got out from under her and then she sank with a loud sound, as if from a creature in pain.

The whole affair had taken less than one hour from the time of shooting off the first torpedo until the Cressy went to the bottom. Not one of the three had been able to use any of its big guns. I knew the wireless of the three cruisers had been calling for aid. I was still quite able to defend myself, but I knew that news of the disaster would call many English submarines and torpedo boat destroyers, so, having done my appointed work, I set my course for home.

My surmise was right, for before I got very far some British cruisers and destroyers were on the spot, ant the destroyers took up the chase. I kept under water most of the way, but managed to get off a wireless to the German fleet that I was heading homeward and being pursued. I hoped to entice the enemy, by allowing them now and then a glimpse of me, into the zone in which they might be exposed to capture or destruction by German warships, but, although their destroyers saw me plainly at dusk on the 22d and made a final effort to stop me, they abandoned the attempt, as it was taking them too far from safety and needlessly exposing them to attack from our fleet and submarines.

How much they feared our submarines and how wide was the agitation caused by good little U-9 is shown by the English reports that a whole flotilla of German submarines had attacked the cruisers and that this flotilla had approached under cover of the flag of Holland.

These reports were absolutely untrue. U-9 was the only submarine on deck, and she flew the flag she still flies -- the German naval ensign.... The Kaiser conferred upon each of my coworkers the Iron Cross of the second class and upon me the Iron Cross of the first and second classes.

POSTSCRIPT

For his efforts, and subsequent deeds, Otto Weddigen was awarded Germany's highest military decoration, Pour Le Merite, but his successes were short lived. On the 18th March 1915, whilst commanding the newer boat U29 he was rammed by none other than HMS Deadnought herself. The tiny boat was split clean in two her mighty bows, and Weddigen perished along with his crew. It was his first and last mission in command of U29. As for the U9 she survived the war and was surrendered along with most of the German High Seas Fleet as part of the armistice. She was sold by the admiralty to TW Ward and was broken up by Ward's at Morecambe along with a number of other U-boats in the summer of 1919. Weddigen's memory was not, however forgotten. When Germany began to rebuild her U-boat fleet in the thirties they marked the new U9 with an Iron Cross in memory of his successes.

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