German naval forces under Admiral Franz von Hipper, encouraged by the success of a surprise attack on the British coastal towns of Hartlepool and Scarborough the previous month, set off toward Britain once again, only to be intercepted by a squadron of British cruisers led by Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty on the morning of January 24, 1915, near the Dogger Bank in the North Sea.
Knowing his Scouting Squadron would be overpowered by the British, Hipper turned his boats around, figuring his ships would be able to outrun the British boats in pursuit. Beatty’s cruisers were faster than von Spee anticipated, however, and caught up to the Germans within an hour. At about 9 a.m., the British flagship, HMS Lion, opened fire on the Germans from a distance of more than 20,000 yards. The lead German ship, Seydlitz, was soon ablaze; 192 of its crew members died but the ship itself was saved despite the damage. Of the four German ships in Hipper’s squadron, only the oldest and biggest, the Blucher, was sunk, killing 782 men. The demise of the Blucher was captured on moving film; an engraving of a still in the film, of its sailors sliding off the sinking ship into the sea, was later used to adorn silver cigarette cases sold as souvenirs in Britain.
The Lion herself took a beating, but only 15 British sailors were killed in the battle, which ended later that same day when Beatty, fearful of running into German mines and believing the enemy was setting up for a submarine attack, turned his ships around and let the rest of Hipper’s squadron escape.