Little Bits of History

Battle of May Island

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 31, 2014
Battle of May Island

Battle of May Island

January 31, 1918: Battle of May Island begins. The combatants for this action were the British Navy and the British Navy. Operation E.C. 1 had several ships from the Royal Navy moving from Rosyth in Scotland to the North Sea for a fleet exercise. The night was foggy or misty and visibility was poor. As the ships moved near the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth (the waters of the estuary from the River Forth where it flows into the North Sea), they began a series of collisions.

Although the date indicates that the “battle” took place during World War I, it was an entirely accidental in nature and there were no enemy ships involved. About forty ships left Scotland in the afternoon and their final destination was to be Scapa Flow in Orkney where they would rendezvous with the entire Grand Fleet the next day. The ships included the 5th Battle Squadron comprised of three battleships and their destroyer escorts, the 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron made up of four battleships and their escort destroyers, two cruisers, and two flotillas of K-class submarines each led by a light cruiser. The two flotillas were the 12th Submarine and the 13th Submarine Flotillas each having four subs. These subs were specially designed to operate in concert with battle fleets. They each measured 339 feet long (large for the time) and used steam turbines for power. This gave them a speed of 24 knots and allowed them to keep pace with the fleet.

Around 6.30 PM, the vessels began their journey all in a single file which stretched nearly 30 miles long. Since there was some suspicion of German U-boats in the area, all ships traveled with only a dim stern light and keeping radio silence. As the ships passed the Isle of May, they changed course and speed, increasing to 20 knots. As the first group of subs passed the island, a pair of lights was seen and the flotilla altered course. K14’s helm jammed and the line was broken. As her helm was fixed, she tried to get back in line. A second sub lost sight of the line and veered off, too. The rest of the ships were unaware of the problem.

Within 75 minutes, two subs had sunk, four more had been damaged as had HMS Fearless, the light cruiser leading the flotilla. In all, 104 men died. There were 55 casualties frokm K4, 47 from K17, and two more from K14. The accident was kept secret during the war with a quiet court martial held. Most of the information was not released until the 1990s. Surveyors working the area in 2011 for an offshore wind farm published sonar images of the two submarines lost in the exercise.

The fear of death is the most unjustified of all fears, for there’s no risk of accident for someone who’s dead. – Albert Einstein

There is no such thing as accident; it is fate misnamed. – Napoleon Bonaparte

There is no such thing as chance; and what seem to us merest accident springs from the deepest source of destiny. – Friedrich Schiller

What men call accident is God’s own part. -Philip James Bailey

Also on this day: Sticking to Business – In 1930, 3M marketed Scotch tape.
Radiation Trap – In 1958, James Van Allen was given the means to describe the eponymous bands.
Love Bug – In 747: The London Lock Hospital opened as the first venereal disease clinic.
The Only One – In 1945, Eddie Slovik was executed.

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