March 1

This Day in History

World War I

Mar 1, 1916:

Two ships sink in North Sea battle

On the afternoon of February 29, 1916, both the British armed merchant ship Alcantara and the German raider Grief sink after engaging each other in a close-range battle on the North Sea.

The German raider Grief was in disguise, flying under the Norwegian flag and with Norwegian colors displayed on its sides, when it attempted to run a British blockade. The Alcantara, still under the impression that the Grief was a Norwegian shipping vessel, was sent to investigate. The Grief did not respond to repeated attempts at communication from Captain Thomas E. Wardle of the Alcantara and continued heading northeast. When Captain Wardle ordered the ship to stop in order to be inspected, the crew of the Grief quickly lowered the Norwegian colors and raised the German flag before it opened fire on the surprised crew of the Alcantara, who quickly returned fire.

The battle raged for 12 agonizing minutes at close range. The Alcantara lost 74 men in the battle; the Grief lost nearly 200. By the time a second British armed merchant ship, the Andes, arrived on the scene, both ships had been badly damaged. On fire and sinking quickly, the desperate Grief fired one final torpedo, striking the Alcantara. Both ships eventually sank. The crew of the Andes picked up the survivors of both ships, taking more than 120 German prisoners.

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