Tenth Cruiser Squadron

Tenth Cruiser Squadron

The British Navy was starving Germany of the sinews of war. How often I heard a prisoner of war say, “I always wondered what the Navy was doing but I know now.” Behind the German Lines, The Experiences of a Prisoner of War. George H. Burgess, Shetland News, 6 March 1919.

Blockade had long been a British weapon in disputes with the continent. The northern approaches comprised a huge area of sea potentially as far west as Greenland. It was taxing, difficult, environment.

As the war began the Tenth Cruiser Squadron was mobilised under Admiral de Chair. It was stationed in Busta Voe, Delting. The task was to intercept, and if necessary destroy German shipping, and to prevent contraband supplies being brought into Germany. Neutral shipping was to be intercepted and searched. If they did not comply, force would be used.

The first vessels used were Edgar class cruisers, authentic but elderly Victorian Royal Navy vessels. They didn’t cope well with the North Atlantic. Since the Royal Navy dominated the North Sea, it was possible to replace the Edgars with armed merchant cruisers, often liners. The peak strength of this type was 25 vessels. Their crews were a mix of Royal Navy and Merchant Service personnel. The attendant cultural issues were mostly resolved and an efficient service resulted.

A number of Shetlanders served in the squadron. One, Captain John T. Hoseason was both a Merchant Service officer and RNR Lieutenant. He was proud to serve and wrote a memoir of his time in the Navy.

...I was appointed to HMS Ambrose, a unit of the 10th Cruiser Squadron, as a prize crew officer; the captain was what is known is a "commander in command", a splendid seaman, and very strict in those things that made for efficiency and smartness when on duty. In harbour or on other social occasions he was a charming personality and well liked by everybody on board; mostly a destroyer officer he took part in the Dogger Bank affair, being in command of a flotilla leader when our forces chased the German battle cruisers on that historic occasion. HMS Ambrose was an ex-Atlantic mail boat, but under the White Ensign was known as an armed merchant cruiser ...

Not surprisingly, the size of this force had effects in Shetland. It was a market for fresh food. One visible effect was the establishment of a bakery by T. M. Adie and Sons in Voe to supply fresh bread in 1916. Bread is still made in Voe, now by the Johnson and Wood firm.

The effectiveness and ethics of the British blockade of Germany have been debated over much of the past century. Certainly it played a major, but largely unnoticed part in degrading the German ability to fight. The Tenth Cruiser Squadron was effective. It is thought that it dealt with 95% of all possible intercepts.

Even so, it was disbanded in December 1917, nearly a year before the war ended. The USA had entered the war, of course. And by that time also the allies had used diplomatic and economic means to ensure that neutral countries did much of the cargo policing themselves. Effectively, they were rationed.

The blockade continued after the armistice, and ended on 12 July 1919, when the Versailles Treaty was ratified in Germany. It had succeeded through a combination of physical and soft power.


six inch guns on armed merchant cruiser alsatian
Six inch guns on Armed Merchant Cruiser Alsatian. Shetland Museum.