Occurring less than a month after the beginning of the conflict, the Battle of Heligoland Bight was the first naval battle of World War One and occurred as a result of a British raid on the German coast.
On 24 January 1915 the first clash of battle cruisers took place off the Dogger Bank, in the middle of the North Sea. This was a badly conducted battle on the British part which resulted in the German armoured cruiser SMS Blucher being sunk and HMS Lion being badly damaged.
The battle of Jutland was the only major clash between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet. It occurred in the southern North Sea, off the coast of the Jutland Peninsula which gives its name to the battle. While the British lost more ships than the Germans, it was the pivotal naval battle of the First World War.
One of the first engagements of World War One that involved New Zealand was the capture of German Western Samoa. Within days of the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914, Britain requested of New Zealand “a great and urgent imperial service,” the seizure of the new German radio transmitter recently installed in the hills above Apia in Western Samoa. New Zealand was quick to oblige and within ten days had despatched an Expeditionary Force of some 1400 troops.
The campaign against Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean was one of the most ill-conceived campaigns of the First World War. It arose out of a desire to open operations beyond the Western Front in France and relieve pressure on the Russians in the Caucasus. From a purely naval operation to force the Dardanelles on the western side of the Gallipoli Peninsula it developed into a land operation thrusting up the length of the peninsula, costing over 130,000 lives.
The Motor Launches acquired by the Royal Navy in 1916 had a large proportion of New Zealander's as officers and motor mechanics. These vessels formed part of the Auxiliary Patrol and were deployed around the British Isles and into the Mediterranean, performing a variety of tasks beyond that of anti-submarine patrolling for which they were originally acquired.
By 1917 Britain was in danger of losing the war because the shipping on which the country survived was being sunk at a greater rate than it could be replaced, by German submarines. Countering the submarine threat was a complex challenge, with hundreds of ships, vessels and aircraft employed hunting submarines and also leading to significant scientific developments. New Zealanders were involved in all areas of this aspect of the war.
The raids against Zeebrugge and Ostend in April-May 1918 were spectacular and carried out with much courage and daring. A number of New Zealanders were involved, mainly from the Motor Boat Patrol, but there was also Leading Stoker Charles Williams who was part of the crew of HMS Vindictive. One third of the New Zealanders involved were decorated, including two who received the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.
Cruiser warfare, or guerre de course, is a long-established naval strategy employed by weaker maritime nations during conflicts with naval powers. The strategy for Imperial Germany, with a navy weaker than that of Britain’s Royal Navy, was to use raiders to attack commerce around the globe, and thus disperse and weaken Britain’s Grand Fleet. On the outbreak of war in 1914 Von Spee’s squadron was scattered across the Pacific.