on August 4th 1914, England declared war on Germany. In
anticipation of war the Konigin Luise, a former Hamburg
- Holland holiday ferry, had been converted to an auxiliary minelayer
by the Germans. On the night of 4th August she left her
home port of Emden and steamed south through the North Sea to
lay mines off the Thames Estuary. The ship resembled
the steamers of the Great Eastern Railway that plied from Harwick
to the Hook of Holland, and so she was painted in their colors
of black, buff, and yellow to disguise herself.
Meanwhile, at the port of Harwick 80 miles north of London, HMS
Amphion (Capt.Cecil H.Fox) and the destroyers of the 3rd
Flotilla were preparing to sail. They departed in the early
hours of the morning and by daylight on the 5th August they were
well out into the North Sea sweeping towards the Heligoland Bight.
A few hours after leaving port a destroyer on the screen spoke
to a fishing vessel who had seen an unknown vessel "throwing things
over the side" about 20 miles north of the Outer Gabbard.
At 1025 Amphion sighted the unknown steamer and
sent the destroyers Lance and Landrail to investigate.
The steamer was the Konigin Luise which made off at
20 knots, altering course, before disappearing into a
rain squall where she began laying mines. At 1030, Lance
signalled she was engaging the enemy and is credited with firing
the first shot of World War 1. They were soon joined by
Amphion ( which had won the fleetgunnery prize for 1914)
and the German came under very accurate fire.
The Konigin Luise was only lightly armed with two 3.7cm
MGs and some smaller weapons and offered little resistance. Commander
Biermann brought her onto a south-easterly course hoping to regain
neutral waters and draw the British ships into her minefield.
However, after receiving numerous hits, the order was given to
sink the ship to avoid any further loss of life. At 1222, on fire
amidships and with smoke and steam pouring from her funnels, the
Konigin Luise rolled over to port and sank at 55.5N 2.32E.
46 of the 100 crew were rescued.
During the action the Amphion gun crews from the
disengaged side crossed over to watch the firing and showed their
appreciation of good salvoes by cheering and applauding.
After the action Capt. Fox mustered all hands and reprimanded
the men for leaving their posts. He reminded them that they were
at war and no matter what the other fellow was doing, each
man was to go on with his duty and stick to it. The ship's
company rather enjoyed the lecture and saw the sense in it.
The British destroyers now sighted another ship of the same shape
and color of the Konigin Luise. She was flying
a huge German Flag and the destroyers began their attack. Amphion
recognized her as the St.Petersburg which was carrying
the German Ambassador back to Germany from England.
Amphion signaled the destroyers to cease fire but in the
excitement of the moment they ignored the signal and pressed home
the attack. Capt. Fox then put the Amphion between the
destroyers and the St Petersburg to deliberately foul
At 2100 Amphion and the destroyers set course to return
to Harwick. Unfortunately, due to reported problems with mines
and submarines, the allocated course ran very close to where
the Konigin Luise had laid her mines.
At 0645 the Amphion struck a mine which exploded just
beside the forebridge and broke the ship's back. The explosion
practically destroyed the bridge and smoke and flames poured from
the slits in the conning tower. Except for one man, all
the fo'csle gun crews were killed and the bridge occupants badly
burnt. As the hands were at breakfast, many were killed or suffocated
in the forward messdecks. This included 19 of 21 German survivors.
Capt.Fox stopped engines and proceeded aft to take charge. The
ship was well down at the bows and attempts to extinguish the
raging fires in the forward part of the ship failed. Abandon
Ship was ordered. As most of Amphion's boats were destroyed,
the destroyers sent their boats to rescue the crew.
was no confusion or panic. The men fell in on deck. Within twenty
minutes of the first explosion all the survivors were safely on
board the destroyers. Among the survivors was Midshipman E.F Fegan
who would later win a VC as Captain of the Jervis Bay
when it was sunk in WW2.
Unfortunately, although Amphions's engines were stopped,
she still had way on and she continued turning in a circle.
At 0703, just as the last boatload of survivors were taken off,
she again struck the same row of mines. Her magazine detonated
in a huge cloud of pale yellow smoke and the fore part of
the ship completely disintegrated showering the attending destroyers
with debris. There were several casualties, one 4-inch shell
falling on board the destroyer Lark, killing two of Amphion's
men and a German prisoner. Amphion then suddenly slid
astern and sank at 0705 at 52.11N 02.36E. One officer and
150 men were lost.
Thus, with the war only 32 hours old, HMS Amphion, which
had primarily assisted in inflicting the first German Naval loss
of the war, became the first British Naval war loss.