Thursday, December 13, 2018

Torpedoed Sunk and Rescued – Three Times in One Hour


True Story from World War 1
Retold By

Dear Reader: Here is an incredible Navy Story from World War 1

Date: 22 September 1914
Place: North Sea (Atlantic Ocean)
Protagonist: Royal Navy Midshipman WH “Kit” Wykeham-Musgrave (Age 15 Years)

On 22 September 1914 – three Royal Navy Cruisers (of the “Cressy” Class) – HMS Aboukir, HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy – were on patrol in the North Sea when they were discovered by the German Submarine (U-Boat) U9. The German Submarine torpedoed and sank the three ships one by one within a time-span of one hour.

WH “Kit” Wykeham-Musgrave was a Naval Cadet who had just completed his first term at Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. On mobilization for war – he was sent to the fleet (along with his fellow cadets). He was appointed to HMS Aboukir as Midshipman.

When HMS Aboukir was torpedoed – he managed to get off and swim to HMS Hogue.

When HMS Hogue was sunk – he escaped to HMS Cressy.

When HMS Cressy went down – he found himself swimming for his life once again.

All this happened within one hour.

Eventually – after around three hours in water – he was rescued by a Dutch Trawler.  


Early in the morning on 22 September 1914 – the German submarine U9 (Commanded by Captain Otto Weddigen) spotted HMS Cressy, HMS Aboukir and HMS Hogue going at a modest speed and failing to zigzag, the classic avoidance technique even at this date for submarine attacks.

At 0625 Hrs (6:25 AM) – the German Submarine torpedoed and sank HMS Aboukir.

Midshipman WH “Kit” Wykeham-Musgrave was serving on HMS Aboukir. Here is an account of his ship being torpedoed in his words:

“…We were streaming line ahead with a distance of three miles between the ships. We (HMS Aboukir) were struck first. I was sleeping below at that time. We were woken up by a terrific crash and the whole ship shook and all the crockery in the pantry fell… we rushed up on deck…she (the ship) then started to list heavily. By that time (HMS) Cressy and Hogue had arrived and had let down their boats. The Aboukir went down suddenly and we slid down her side into the water. Fortunately – there was not a great deal of suction on the side we had jumped off – so with some difficulty – we got clear. I swam to the Hogue…”


At 0700 Hrs (7 AM) – the German Submarine (U9) torpedoed and sank HMS Hogue (while it was trying to rescue survivors from Aboukir). U9 shot two torpedoes – both hits – and Hogue sank in 3 minutes.

In the words of Midshipman WH “Kit” Wykeham-Musgrave:

“…I swam to the Hogue and was just going on board when she was struck and sank in three minutes. I then swam to the Cressy…”


At 0720 Hrs (7:20 AM) – the German Submarine (U9) shot two torpedoes at Cressy (one of which hit). U9 then shot a third torpedo to sink the struggling Cressy.

Midshipman WH “Kit” Wykeham-Musgrave writes:

“… (after Hogue was sunk ) I swam to the Cressy where I was hauled up the side with a rope. I went down to the Sick Bay where I had a cup of cocoa – but directly I had finished – she (Cressy) was struck also – and we were forced to go up on deck again. We sat on the fo’c’sle and we saw a submarine come as close as 200 or 300 yards off and we fired all the guns at her until we sank. I jumped off again and got clear – and after swimming for a long time – I found a plank to hang on to. I hung on to it – until I was picked up having been three hours in water. I don’t remember being picked up as I was unconscious. But – I woke up in the trawler Titan which was Dutch…(Later)…We were taken off on a destroyer called the Lucifer which took us to Harwich…”

He concludes: “It was a perfect miracle how I was saved since only 50 out of 800 of our crew were saved…”

(From the three ships which were torpedoed and sunk – – HMS Aboukir, HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy – of the 2296 men on board the three vessels – only 837 were rescued)

Among the 1500 who lost their lives were around a score (20) of young Midshipmen of Wykeham-Musgrave’s age (15) – “Winston’s Water Babies” – as they were dubbed – with more than a hint of criticism of the First Lord of the Admiralty (Winston Churchill) rashness in allowing so many young lives to be put at risk.

As far as Midshipman Wykeham-Musgrave was concerned – his later Naval Career was more fortunate – he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander – and survived till the age of 90.

Midshipman WH “Kit” Wykeham-Musgrave must surely be one of the luckiest men in the Royal Navy in World War One (WW1) – torpedoed and sunk 3 times in one hour – on 3 different ships – yet he survived.

1. The Imperial War Museum Book of the First World War (pp 93-94)
2. Bizarre History Blog Sunk Three Times in an Hour

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