One of the most dramatic days in Scarborough’s history is the Bombardment of the town by two German navy battlecruisers on Wednesday 16th December 1914.
In the space of around half an hour, over 700 shells rained down, killing 18, injuring many more, and causing major damage to properties. Whitby and Hartlepool were also targeted that same morning – in total, there were 137 fatalities and 592 casualties, most of them civilians.
But why Scarborough and Whitby? Hartlepool was a logical target for military action: it had extensive docks and factories, and its seafront was defended by heavy naval guns at Heugh Battery and Lighthouse Battery.
Scarborough and Whitby, however, were virtually undefended seaside resorts. There seemed to be no good reason for attacking them – at the time, Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, condemned the attack, with typically Churchillian invective:
“Nothing proves more plainly the effectiveness of British naval pressure, than the frenzy of hatred aroused against us in the breast of the enemy. This hatred has already passed the frontiers of reason. It clouds their vision, it darkens their counsels, it convulses their movements. We see a nation of military calculators, throwing calculation to the winds; of strategists, who have lost their sense of proportion; of schemers, who have ceased to balance loss and gain.
“Practically the whole fast cruiser force of the German navy, including some great ships vital to their fleet and utterly irreplaceable, has been risked for the passing pleasure of killing as many English people as possible, irrespective of sex, age, or condition, in the limited time available… [which] should confirm us in our courses. Their hate is the measure of their fear. Its senseless expression is the proof of their impotence and the seal of their dishonour.”
The Bombardment famously became the trigger for a recruitment drive under the slogan: Remember Scarborough!
Many theories have been advanced as to why our town was chosen, including that it may simply have been a mistake. But this map, was printed in advance, and shows clearly that the attacks were meticulously planned, detailing the German ships involved in the East Coast raids, their planned routes and the expected timings at certain points.
The copy of the map was kindly provided by the archive at the German Naval Memorial in Laboe, Germany, for an past exhibition at the Art Gallery called Remember Scarborough.