Action of 17 March, 1917
The Germans attempted to repeat their successful attack of 26-27 October 1916 on the Dover Strait anti-submarine net barrage and shipping on 23 November, 1916 but it and a raid of 25-26 February on shipping between England and the Hoof of Holland did little damage.
A new attack on the Dover Strait was planned for 17-18 March 1917. Seven torpedo boats of the Sixth Flotilla. would attack the barrage. Five of the First Zeebrugge Half Flotilla would be to the east. The four of the Second Zeebrugge Half Flotilla would operate against the Downs off the east coast of Kent.
Korvettenkapitän Werner Tillesen of the Sixth Flotilla led the attack. Tillesen planned the operation carefully in order to give each group of destroyers separate lines of approach and areas of operation. He wanted to be sure that confusion between his forces did not cost them the advantage of surprise and being able to open fire without having to first issuing a challenge. The flaw in the plan was that the weakest force would attack the most important area, the Downs.
The British had the destroyers H.M.S. Paragon, H.M.S. Laforey, H.M.S. Llewellyn and H.M.S. Laertes patrolling the barrage. The light cruiser H.M.S. Canterbury, the flotilla leader H.M.S. Faulknor and the destroyers H.M.S. Saracen, H.M.S. Viking, H.M.S. Mohawk and H.M.S. Ambuscade were anchored off the Deal. The monitors H.M.S. Erebus and H.M.S. Prince Eugene were also in the Downs.
At 2250 Paragon encountered three or four destroyers. She exchanged gunfire with them and fired a torpedo that hit a German ship without exploding. Paragon then blew up and sank with the loss of all but 10 men.
Laforey, assuming that Paragon had struck a mine, stopped at about 2300 and switched on her searchlight in order to see and pick up survivors. About 2315 she was narrowly missed by a torpedo that damaged Llewellyn. Laforey's captain, Lieutenant-in-Command Arthur E. Durham assumed that it had come from a U-boat and so set off in search of a submarine. Other British ships therefore remained in port.
The German destroyers attacking the Downs came across the merchantman S.S. Greypoint, which was anchored in an exposed position because her engines had broken down. They torpedoed and sank her, damaged a drifter and bombarded Broadstairs and Ramsgate without causing much damage, although some civilians had narrow escapes. The German ships then withdrew, outpacing the torpedo boat T.B. 4, the only British warship to spot them, and which was suffering from engine problems reducing its best speed to just 15 knots.
- Naval Operations. Vol. IV. p. 361-62.
- Naval Staff. Naval Staff Monograph. Volume VI. Monograph 35.—The Dover Command. p. 91.
- Naval Staff. Naval Staff Monograph. Volume VI. Monograph 35.—The Dover Command. p. 92.
- Naval Staff. Naval Staff Monograph. Volume VI. Monograph 35.—The Dover Command. p. 92-93.
- Naval Staff. Naval Staff Monograph. Volume VI. Monograph 35.—The Dover Command. p. 94.
- Naval Staff, Training and Staff Duties Division (1922). Naval Staff Monographs (Historical): Fleet Issue. Volume VI. The Dover Command. OU5413D (late CB917D). Copy at The National Archives.
- Newbolt, Henry (1928). Naval Operations. Vol. IV. London: Longmans, Green and Co..