Photo gallery: How German raids impacted Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth

The bombardment of Lowestoft on April 25, 1916
North End House The bombardment of Lowestoft on April 25, 1916 North End House

Tuesday, January 28, 2014
3:36 PM

In his new book, Bombardment of Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth by the Germans, local historian Robert Jarvis details the strategic and tactical history of the raids using contemporary accounts and “then and now” photographs showing the immediate aftermath and the same street scenes today.

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The first German naval raid of the First World War in home waters took place on November 3, 1914, when a German squadron fired on the coastguard gunboat Halcyon as she was patrolling the seas north of Lowestoft.

The enemy warships targeted Great Yarmouth without causing damage, but the rearmost German cruiser threw out mines that led to the sinking of a British submarine and the loss of most of her crew.

After that attack, East Anglia’s coastal defences were strengthened but in April 1916, Lowestoft and Yarmouth were targeted again – and this time the enemy was more successful.

The attack struck terror into the hearts of coastal residents and led to a nightly exodus of people from Lowestoft to the surrounding countryside amid fears that the Germans would return – or even attempt an invasion.

In his new book, Bombardment of Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth by the Germans, local historian Robert Jarvis details the strategic and tactical history of the raids using contemporary accounts and “then and now” photographs showing the immediate aftermath and the same street scenes today.

The book explains that, in bombarding Great Yarmouth in 1914, the German navy was believed to have taken its range from a light vessel that had recently shifted its moorings so that all their shells fell short of the town, with the exception of one that passed straight over and failed to explode.

In 1916, the enemy shelled Great Yarmouth for only a few minutes and the town escaped with little damage. The shoals (sand banks) had forced the battle cruisers to keep further out to sea and the visibility was so poor that only one German battleship continued to fire on the town after the first salvo.

However, Lowestoft had already taken a battering from Kaiser Wilhelm II’s navy, having been targeted some 20 minutes earlier.

Four battle cruisers opened fire on the town at 4.11am, aiming for the harbour works and swing bridges.

About 200 houses were damaged and 40 destroyed during the 20-minute bombardment and the South Pier Pavilion, which had been requisitioned as the headquarters of Commodore A Ellison, was also hit. But, mercifully, there were very few casualties.

Mr Jarvis’s book features contemporary accounts of the attack drawn from a variety of German and English sources.

They include the book Kiel and Jutland by German naval commander Georg von Hase, who described the raid as a “very heartening experience”.

He wrote: “I shall never forget the moment when the high shores of England emerged from the grey mists of dawn and we could make out the details of Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth, and fire mighty salvoes from our great guns at the harbour works.”

In the Lowestoft area, Canon Bignold, rector of the parish of Carlton, detailed the aftermath of the bombardment – and the panic it caused – in his diary.

He wrote: “The people poured out of Lowestoft. On Long Road they were so thick I had to get off my bike and walk. Shells were falling on both sides of the road.

“Some of the fleeing people went as far as Bungay. Hundreds of people continued to leave Lowestoft every night to sleep in Carlton, occupying every shed and empty barn.”

After the 1916 raid, East Anglia’s defences were further strengthened, with pill boxes built along the coast and batteries of field guns positioned at Caister, Corton and Pakefield.

To protect the approach to Great Yarmouth harbour, a naval gun was installed on Gorleston cliffs and the monitor HMS Havelock and the gunboat HMS Glowworm were sent to Lowestoft.

Mr Jarvis – curator of Lowestoft War Memorial Museum – said the bombardments in 1914 and 1916 did not have as much physical impact on the town as the bombing raids of the Second World War as the Germans had used armour piercing shells, which had failed to explode.

However, he said the 1916 bombardment did have a “massive” impact on the people of Lowestoft.

He said the events of the First World War were often overshadowed by the later conflict but it was important to remember what had happened.

He said: “Even though the Lowestoft War Memorial Museum is dedicated to both world wars it is mainly about the Second World War. A lot of people always said there is no point focusing on the First World War as nobody remembers it. That is the whole point of museums – to remember and to educate.”

The Bombardment of Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth by the Germans is published by Lowestoft War Memorial Museum and is available from Waterstones in Lowestoft and from the museum in Sparrow’s Nest gardens. It can also be ordered from any bookshop. Proceeds will go towards the running of the Lowestoft War Memorial Museum, which will be open over Easter and then from May 1.

1 comment

  • The idea of the raid was to act as a decoy to lure elements of the Royal navy battlefleet into the southrn north sea where the German High seas fleet was waiting. This is a fascinating episode in the town's history, which is a great deal more colourful than many people suppose.

    Report this comment

    Frank

    Tuesday, January 28, 2014

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