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War Memorials

HMS DEFENCE

 

KILLED

54 Officers

849 Men

 

HMS Defence followed by HMS Warrior in action 31 May 1916
HMS Defence followed by HMS Warrior in action 31 May 1916

Position of the photographer not known

 

A description of the loss of HMS Defence

by an officer on HMS Obedient of the 12th Destroyer Flotilla.

 

"There was one incident at "Windy Corner" which, alas, was more prominent than any other.

From ahead, out of the mist there appeared the ill-fated 1st Cruiser Squadron led by the Defence. At first, the Defence did not seem to be damaged, but she was being heavily engaged, and salvoes were dropping all around her. When she was on our bow, three quick salvoes reached her, the first one "over", the next one "short" and the third all hit. The shells of the last salvo could clearly be seen to hit her just abaft the after turret, and after a second, a big red flame flashed up, but died away again at once. The ship heeled to the blow but quickly righted herself and steamed on again. Then almost immediately followed three more salvoes. Again the first was "over", the second one "short" and the third a hit, and again the shell of the hitting salvo could be clearly seen to strike, this time between the forecastle turret and the foremost funnel. At once, the ship was lost to sight in an enormous black cloud, which rose to a height of some hundred feet, and from which some dark object, possibly a boat or a funnel was hurled into space, twirling like some gigantic Catherine-wheel. The smoke quickly clearing, we could see no sign of a ship at all - Defence had gone.

Mercifully this death, by which the 900 or so officers and men of the Defence perished was an instantaneous one, causing them probably no suffering."

 

HMS Defence prior to the Great War

HMS Defence in port some years before the Battle of Jutland

Courtesy of Steve Johnson

 

From the account by Commander George van Hase, Chief Gunnery Officer on the German battleship Derflinger:

"At 8.15pm 31 May 1916 we received a heavy fire. Lieutenant Commander Hausser, who had been firing at a torpedo boat with our secondary battery, asked me "Sir, is this cruiser with the four funnels a German or an English cruiser?" I directed my periscope at the ship and examined it. In the grey light the colour of the German and the English ships looked almost exactly the same. The cruiser was not at all far from us. She had four funnels and two masts exactly like our Rostock who was with us*. "It is certainly English" exclaimed Lieutenant Commander Hausser; "May I fire?" "Yes - fire away!" I said. I became convinced that it was  a large English ship. The secondary guns were aimed at the new target and  Hausser commanded "69 hundred!" At the moment in which he was about to order "Fire!" something horrible, something terrific happened. The English ship which I meanwhile supposed to be an old English battle cruiser, broke asunder and there was an enormous explosion. Black smoke and pieces of the ship whirled upward, and flame swept through the entire ship, which then disappeared before our eyes beneath the water. Nothing was left to indicate the spot where a moment before a proud ship had been fighting, except an enormous cloud of smoke. According to my opinion, the ship was destroyed by the fire of the ship just ahead of us - the Luetzow, the flagship of Admiral Hipper.

The whole thing lasted only a few seconds and then we engaged with a new target. The destroyed ship was the Defence, one of the older armoured cruisers of the same type as the Black Prince which was sunk by gunfire the following night. She displaced 14, 800 tons, was armed with six 23.4 centimetre and ten 15.2 centimetre guns and had a crew of 700** men. Of the crew not a single soul was rescued. The ship was blown into atoms and every living soul was destroyed by the explosion. I shall never forget the sight I saw through my periscope in all its gruesomeness."

* SMS Rostock was torpedoed and sunk during the night fighting 31May/1June 1916.

** Substantially underestimated - Admiralty figures show that there were 903 men on board.

 

 
 
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