HMS Lion was involved in three major actions during the First World War. These accounts are very brief, more detailed information can be found, for example, here.
The Battle of Heligoland, 28th August 1914
Commodore Roger Keyes, in command of the Harwich submarine force, had been exploring the German coastline of Heligoland and discovered that the enemy maintained a constant daily patrol of this area. It was planned, therefore, to bring the enemy to action off their own coastline. The destroyer force from Harwich, commanded by Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt, pushed its way into the mine infested waters of the Heligoland Bight, whilst at a discreet distance astern Admiral Beatty lay in wait with his battle cruiser squadron. The destroyer force delivered its attack on the German patrol vessels, and German light cruisers hastened to their rescue. This was just what he wanted: as our destroyers turned, there, to the consternation of the enemy, was Beatty with his powerful squadron! Immediately the German cruisers turned tail for home, but not before Admiral Beatty had sent three of them to the bottom, crippled three more and sunk one destroyer for good measure. This was a serious reverse for the German High Command, and for some months no German surface craft ventured from their home ports.
(Extract from 'Britain's Naval Heritage' by Gregory Clark)
The Battle of Dogger Bank, 24th January 1915
As the German High Seas Fleet was bottled up in the North Sea, they decided to make use of their battle cruisers in raids on English east coast towns. Before the end of 1914 both Scarborough and Hartlepool were bombarded. The enemy described these towns as fortified fortresses containing important gun emplacements. This was completely untrue, and their shells simply killed defenceless citizens. Admiral Beatty with his battle cruisers tried to intercept the enemy as they scuttled homewards, but the prevailing bad weather favoured the Germans, who, as one British naval officer wrote, 'came out of one rainstorm and disappeared into another'.
Later, in January 1915, German battle cruisers attempted another east coast raid, but this time Admiral Beatty's battle cruisers, supported by the Harwich destroyer force, had put to sea to intercept the enemy, who was encountered in the vicinity of the Dogger Bank. When the enemy realised he was in the presence of a stronger force he made for home at full speed. Admiral Beatty, who, like Nelson before him, was made a Flag Officer at the age of 39, raced after the Germans and opened fire as soon as the enemy battle cruisers came within range. At ten miles distance the first hits were observed, but there was no slackening of speed. The Germans retaliated well, fighting as they made for home. Three of their ship concentrated their fire on Beatty's flagship, the Lion, and she received a hit which forced her to reduce speed. At this moment one of the three German battle cruisers was fired on and the Blucher, an armoured cruiser, was obviously badly hit. To Beatty this presented great possibilities - the complete destruction of the enemy. He therefore hoisted Nelson's favourite signal, 'Engage the enemy more closely'. Unfortunately, this was misunderstood by the other British battle cruisers: they thought it meant they should concentrate on sinking the already crippled Blucher rather than pursue the rest of the squadron, and as a result the enemy escaped.
(Extract from 'Britain's Naval Heritage' by Gregory Clark)
The Battle of Jutland, 31st May 1916
The Dogger Bank action, incomplete as it was, put an end for some time to the appearance of German surface craft in the North Sea. But German naval architects had been very busy. As a result of the heavy damage incurred by their battle cruisers they made several improvements in the armour and magazine flooding arrangements of their vessels, and this was to prove of great importance in the next battle. Admiral Scheer became Commander-in-Chief of the German fleet at the beginning of 1916. He had been greatly impressed by the previous raids on the east coast of England, for he saw in them a means of destroying the British force based at Rosyth (Beatty's six battle cruisers and the Fifth Battle Squadron composed of four Queen Elizabeth class fast battleships) before the main Grand Fleet, coming from its more distant base at Scapa Flow, could intervene. His plan was that a force of battle cruisers should show themselves to the British Grand Fleet off the Norwegian coast and, knowing that the British battle cruisers would give chase, they were to be led into a trap just off the coast of Jutland, where the entire German High Seas Fleet would be lying in wait. Further, German U-boats were to assemble outside the British base at Scapa, where they would torpedo Admiral Jellicoe's capital ships as they raced out of harbour. To make certain of the whole picture as it progressed, zeppelins were to provide air reconnaissance.
Unfortunately for Scheer's plan, the British Admiralty, by monitoring German naval radio traffic, was able to know well in advance of any German sortie. Consequently when the High Seas Fleet sailed in the early hours of 31st May 1916, the Grand Fleet had already been at sea for some hours and was steering for a rendezvous off the Jutland Bank between its two portions under Admiral Jellicoe from Scapa and Beatty from Rosyth. The German situation became further complicated because of the weather, for low visibility prevented their airships from carrying out their air survey. Because of this, Admiral Scheer, lying in wait off Jutland, had no idea of the size of the fleet he was to fight. The German Admiral Hipper, who was to show his battle cruisers as bait to the British Grand Fleet, was steaming northwards for this purpose, with the German High Seas Fleet 40 miles astern. To Hipper's amazement he sighted Admiral Beatty with a superior force of battle cruisers at sea. Jellicoe and Beatty were still some 65 miles apart. Immediately the German battle cruisers turned southwards to join their main fleet, and Beatty followed. A gun battle on roughly parallel courses and at ranges varying between 16,500 and 13,000 yards ensued between Beatty's six battle cruisers and Hipper's five. In a very short time Beatty secured a hit on one of the enemy ships, which burst into flames, but two of his own battle cruisers, Queen Mary and Indefatigable, were hit in the magazine and blew up. The flagship, Lion, was only saved from a similar fate by flooding the magazine and shell room of her centre turret. Two other ships, Princess Royal and Tiger, were also heavily damaged. In spite of poor shooting by Beatty's ships in the early stages, Hipper did not escape hits and these became very heavy and damaging when the four Queen Elizabeth's, left behind when the battle cruisers turned south, at last brought their 15-inch guns accurately into action. On the other hand, none of Hipper's ships was sunk or put out of action. Undaunted, Beatty carried on, when suddenly the German High Seas Fleet came in sight, steaming northwards. It was now Beatty's turn to alter course and get away from this prepared trap, and Admiral Scheer's moment for action as he ordered full speed ahead to the High Seas Fleet, now in pursuit of Beatty. It was while reversing course that the design of the Queen Elizabeth class came under its severest test. As each ship swung ponderously round in the wake of the next ahead, it plunged into a veritable forest of shell splashes. Both the Barham and the Valiant were hit and suffered casualties. As the Malaya, the rear ship of the squadron, reached the turning point, salvoes fell round her at ten-second intervals. A 12-inch shell burst in her starboard 6-inch battery, setting the ready-use ammunition ablaze and causing more than a hundred casualties. Another hit the roof of one of her after turrets, but the armour kept it out and it did no serious damage. When her seemingly interminable ordeal was over and she steadied her course in the wake of the squadron, Malaya miraculously emerged with her main armament undamaged and speed unimpaired.
As the Fifth Battle Squadron steamed northwards it was able to demonstrate also the great offensive superiority of the Queen Elizabeth class. Two of them, Barham and Valiant, engaged Hipper's battle cruisers, scoring hits on Lutzow and Derfflinger and heavily damaging the Seydlitz. Warspite and Malaya meanwhile engaged the leading German battle ships and, in spite of the seemingly difficult light, got hits home on to the Grosser Kurfurst and Markgraf.
Every mile of this chase brought Admiral Scheer closer to the British Grand Fleet steaming towards the unsuspecting enemy. At about six in the evening the Germans found themselves opposed by the whole of Admiral Jellicoe's fleet, which, in the nick of time, had deployed across its bows. This was something that Scheer had not expected, and so began one of the most complicated battle in naval history. The trouble was the very poor visibility, which made it impossible to know at any one moment the exact position of any ship, and considering that over 250 warships on both sides were engaged in this action, it is easy to understand the confusion. The British battleships opened fire as Admiral Scheer did all he could to get out of this complicated trap, and great credit must be given to the German admiral for the manner in which he prevented the annihilation of his fleet. As he gave orders for evasive action, he sent his destroyers to the rear of his fleet, where, by means of smoke screens and torpedo attacks, they covered up the withdrawal of their capital ships. The smoke screen only added to the very poor visibility, and as dusk fell the German fleet, though badly mauled, managed to hide itself in the gloom. Scheer had to get home somehow and Jellicoe had to prevent him if he could. There were only three avenues of escape for the German fleet to their naval bases. Two of these were barred by Admiral Jellicoe's fleet, whilst the third had been made very unhealthy by a minefield hastily laid by one of the British minelayers. Admiral Scheer chose this path and managed to get his fleet past the barrier with the loss of only one battleship. Many of the British destroyers made contact with the enemy during darkness and threw themselves at Scheer's fleet in an attempt to prevent its escape. Their sacrifices were in vain, for Scheer managed to reach port, where he immediately announced a great German victory. British losses (three battle cruisers, three cruisers and eight destroyers) certainly appeared heavy - in fact, they were greater than those of the enemy - but there is really no doubt that Jutland was a British strategic victory, for the enemy withdrew from the battle area and - what is more important - they never effectively put to sea again during the war.
(Compiled from extracts from "Britain's Naval Heritage" by Gregory Clark and "The Man-of-War" by Donald Macintyre and Basil W Bathe)
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