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HMS Falmouth: A Veteran of the Battle of Jutland

HMS Falmouth is the only substantial wreck in England's inshore waters of a ship that fought at the Battle of Jutland. The wreck lies in shallow waters just off the Yorkshire coast in Bridlington Bay.

The ship sank on Sunday 20 August 1916 while making for the safety of the Humber Estuary after being struck in two separate torpedo attacks by German U-boats.

New research

To mark the centenary of her loss Historic England commissioned new research into the wreck. The research, carried out by Fjordr Ltd, tells us more about the history and significance of HMS Falmouth.

Working with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency we surveyed the wreck in detail, accurately recording its current condition. We have combined this new survey with a 3D scan of a large scale model of HMS Falmouth held by the Imperial War Museum's store at Chatham and drawings of the ship from the National Maritime Museum.

Historic England's work helps bring the ship back to life ready for the anniversary and the commemoration of the 12 crew members who lost their lives on board.

See HMS Falmouth in 3D

A 3D model of HMS Falmouth
A 3D digital model of HMS Falmouth produced by Historic England’s Geospatial Imaging Team superimposed on a survey of the wreck by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency © Historic England

The ship

HMS Falmouth was built by William Beardmore and Co, Glasgow, and launched on the 20 September 1910. She was one of 21 coal-fired Town Class light cruisers built to support naval operations around the world; they were fast and well-armed.

War service

HMS Falmouth's war service was almost exclusively in North Sea operations. 

  • On 28 August 1914, HMS Falmouth fought against German cruisers in the Battle of Heligoland Bight
  • At the end of 1914 she was amongst the ships trying to intercept German raiders attacking the East Coast
  • In early 1915 she fought in the Battle of Dogger Bank
  • HMS Falmouth also intercepted ships trying to break the British blockade of German ports and sank a number of German fishing vessels

Postcard of HMS Falmouth
HMS Falmouth at sea shortly after she was commissioned in September 1911. Courtesy W D Cocroft

Jutland 31 May 1916

During the greatest naval clash of the war HMS Falmouth was the flagship from which Vice Admiral Trevylyan Napier commanded the Third Light Cruiser Squadron.

During the battle, HMS Falmouth engaged fiercely with several German warships, including the cruiser Lütow, and drove off a Zeppelin airship. She fired about 300 rounds and launched two torpedoes. When HMS Falmouth was torpedoed and her communications centre destroyed, she was the only ship in the squadron to be hit.

Loss

A few months later on 19 August 1916 the German High Seas Fleet again tried to lure the British Grand Fleet into action. As part of the trap the Germans stationed lines of U-boats across the expected path of the British fleet. Although, the main fleets avoided contact, in the late afternoon HMS Falmouth was struck by two torpedoes.

Two men died immediately, another was lost during the evacuation, and another died of wounds. During the evening most of the crew evacuated the ship, while a skeleton crew attempted to head for the safety of the shore. 

At noon on the following day the ship was hit by a further two torpedoes killing eight men deep in the stokehold. Attempts to tow the ship towards the shore continued, but at around 8pm she began to list and was finally lost.

HMS Falmouth ship’s crest
HMS Falmouth ship’s crest, silk badges such as this were given away in cigarette packs during the First World War. Courtesy W D Cocroft

The wreck

HMS Falmouth sank in fairly shallow waters and over the next few months Royal Navy salvage teams recovered most of her guns until bad autumnal weather put a stop to their work. There were further attempts to salvage the wreck during the 1930s, but her whereabouts were then forgotten until a local diver rediscovered her in 1973.

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