The board minutes of Everton FC during the First World War are not a page turner; they are not going to win the Booker Prize any time soon. However, alongside the compensation claim for trousers torn on a turnstile nail and discussion of the insurance of the ground against the new menace of Zeppelin raids, the record of the years 1914 to 1918 are full of intriguing entries and occasional mysteries. There is much on the crisis that led to the suspension of League football in 1915 with the resignation of a director who had "felt out of sympathy with football in the current crisis", and a mysterious bribery case apparently involving one of the club's players. There are also a large number of entries about fundraising for the war effort both in terms of money and equipment like balls and football kit for the troops, although the shorts are rather incongruously referred to as knickers.
Goodison Park itself features as the club used the famous old ground to host charity games. One of these is noted in the minutes for March 29th 1916:
An application for a match between a team representing HMS Invincible and a team representing the Pals Battalion in aid of the Widows and children of killed and wounded soldiers of Liverpool was granted for any day in the first or second weeks of April.
The Pals battalion probably refers to the reserve formation of the Liverpool Pals who were based at Formby; the four front line battalions were in France preparing for what was called "the big push". HMS Invincible was a Royal Navy battlecruiser normally based at Rosyth near Edinburgh. However there is no evidence that the match took place. The local papers do not mention the match, or at least the name Invincible presumably for security, no further mention appears in the Everton transcripts and the ship's log book for April and May is missing. Was Invincible in the Mersey in the first two weeks of April 1916? Did the football team travel separately from the ship? It is a mystery.
The Revolutionary HMS Invincible
In the spring of 1916 Invincible had been in commission for just 7 years having been built between 2nd April 1907 and 20th March 1909. At the time she was a first, a vessel as fast as a cruiser but as well armed as a battleship. She was the brainchild of Admiral John "Jacky" Fisher, the 1st Sea Lord. Fisher's restless vision had resulted in HMS Dreadnought; the first all big gun battleship which entered service in 1906. Dreadnought carried ten 12-inch guns in five turrets and her coal-fired steam turbine engines gave her unprecedented speed; at a stroke she rendered all of the world's battleships obsolescent. However it did the same for the rest of the British fleet which was the largest in the world, and prompted an arms race in the years preceding WW1, as Germany in particular sought to rival the Royal Navy's centuries old command of the sea.
HMS Invincible was perhaps even more revolutionary than HMS Dreadnought. She was almost as heavily armed, carrying eight 12-inch guns but was five knots faster, faster than most cruisers then in service. She achieved this by sacrificing armour for speed; Fisher conceived that Invincible would be able to outrun anything that could match her guns and outgun anything that could match her speed. She and her sister ships could sweep enemy cruisers from the sea lanes, making the seas safe for British commerce.
The problem came when the competing naval powers started building battlecruisers of their own; crucially they adapted their designs to incorporate heavier armour. Fisher himself described the battlecruiser as "an eggshell armed with a sledgehammer", but continued to insist on limited armour and maximum speed. Winston Churchill, who as 1st Lord of the Admiralty between 1911 and 1915 was the political head of the Royal Navy, was not convinced of the battlecruiser concept; indeed the eggshell and sledgehammer quote is often attributed to him. He commissioned the building of oil powered battleships which were almost as fast as Invincible but massively more powerful in both protection and armament. By the spring of 1916, when the planned football match at Goodison was to take place Invincible was regarded as a second class vessel, such was the pace of development.
A diagram of the HMS Invincible
Invincible's Chequered Career
Invincible suffered a series of problems in the period up to the outbreak of war. She had been hit by a collier on the Tyne as she was being fitted out, and on her first voyage she collided with a sailing vessel. Her turrets were driven by electric motors which proved unreliable despite two refits and these were replaced with hydraulic power in 1914. We can only assume that her football team had plenty of time to practice during this period.
Invincible returned to service just in time to take part in the first naval action of the war, the battle of Heligoland Bight on 28th August 1914. The British battlecruisers commanded by Sir David Beatty came to the aid of lighter British forces conducting a sweep close to the German coast and sank three German light cruisers. However the action was notable for its confusion and lack of communication which nearly saw British ships torpedoed by their own submarines. Invincible fired her first salvoes in anger but didn't hit anything.
On 1st November 1914 the German East Asia Squadron led by the armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau under Admiral Graf von Spee sank two British cruisers off Coronel in Chile; it was the first British naval defeat for over a century. Von Spee took his ships into Valparaiso harbour where he was greeted by an ecstatic German expatriate community. Von Spee tried to avoid the crowd, but was presented with flowers; he graciously refused the gift saying they would be nice for his grave. The arrival may have been witnessed by the founders of CD Everton among the British community; however, two of their number, Malcolm Fraser and Frank Boundy were by then back in England. Malcolm Fraser was in Edinburgh studying when war broke out and Frank Boundy had left Valparaiso soon after. Malcolm was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Cameronians and would be killed on the 1st July 1916 at Ovillers on the Somme. Frank would become a Lieutenant in the King's Liverpool Regiment, win the MC and be killed in front of Guillemont on the Somme on 30th July 1916.
Scharnhorst and Gneisenau leaving Valparaiso harbour watched by the Chilean Navy on 3rd November 1914
The Battle of the Falklands
In response to the defeat at Coronel Invincible and her sister ship the Inflexible left for the South Atlantic on 11th November 1914 to hunt down the German ships. Von Spee's premonition over the flowers was correct; the Royal Navy wanted revenge. Picking up the cruisers of the South Atlantic squadron off the coast of Brazil, Invincible and Inflexible headed for the Falkland Islands. On the morning of 8th December 1914 Invincible was in the process of taking on coal in Port Stanley harbour from the hulk of the first ever steam passenger liner, the SS Great Britain. This was a back breaking task involving most of the crew (often including the officers), so any thought of some time on shore and a kick about for the football team was out of the question.
At 7:50am, two ships from the German squadron arrived intending to attack the radio station in Port Stanley. Neither side expected to meet the other, and it was nearly two hours before the British were able to raise steam and leave harbour in pursuit of Von Spee's cruisers. The British commander, the wonderfully named Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee, wisely sent the crews to breakfast before their departure; it was likely to be a long day. Observation out to sea was maintained by a lady living outside Port Stanley who ran a relay with her two maids riding up to the top of a hill to scan the horizon while she reported back by telephone.
The German squadron's smoke on the horizon photographed from HMS Invincible
Sturdee knew he had nearly a 6 mph speed advantage over the German cruisers which were in urgent need of maintenance, so he initially raced ahead with Invincible and Inflexible to maintain contact. He then slowed the battlecruisers progressively to allow his cruisers to catch up, and to reduce the amount of coal smoke his ships were belching as this obscured the fleeing German ships. At 1:00pm Invincible and Inflexible opened fire from 9 miles on the last German cruiser in line, the Leipzig. Their 12-inch guns had a maximum range of nearly 12 miles, but the problems of calculating ranges with optical range finders, taking into account the speed of the target, its bearing and the travel time of the shell was extremely complex. Invincible's shooting was poor, with only 4 hits from the first 210 rounds fired.
Inflexible opening fire as seen from Invincible
At 1:20 pm Von Spee turned Scharnhorst and Gneisenau to face Invincible and Inflexible while ordering his light cruisers to scatter. Sturdee ordered his cruisers to chase them and closed with Von Spee. Scharnhorst hit Invincible with an 8 inch shell at the extreme range of 7.5 miles causing the British to pull out of range. After a lull the four ships closed again and hits were made by both sides. The German shells did little damage but the British fire began to hit his adversaries hard. Sturdee was now downwind and as the funnel smoke cleared, the shooting of the two battlecruisers became more accurate and deadly. At 4:17 pm Scharnhorst sank with all hands and at 5:45 Gneisenau capsized. The British rushed to the site and rescued around 200 of her crew.
Inflexible picking up survivors from the Gneisenau
Of the three German light cruisers, only one escaped and was eventually scuttled in March 1915 on the Chilean coast having run out of coal. A pig that was on board was rescued from the sea by the sailors of HMS Glasgow and was adopted as a mascot. It was named Tirpitz after the father of the German navy and eventually lived out its life in Portsmouth.
Invincible had been hit by 22 shells and holed below the waterline, so she returned to Port Stanley to make emergency repairs. She returned home via Gibraltar where she was repaired properly in dry dock. Her forward funnel was heightened to try and solve the problem of smoke affecting her shooting; and perhaps her football team was able to play some fixtures. Invincible re-joined the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys on 15th February 1915.
The Falklands was a perfect demonstration of the use of the battlecruiser to sweep the seas of enemy cruisers. The British lost 10 dead, the Germans 1,871. A Royal Marine Sergeant called George Mayes was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal for putting out a fire in an ammunition hoist on HMS Kent. The cordite propellant bags were stacked in the gun position and the hoist to maximise speed of fire and were set alight by a German shell. Mayes quick action was acknowledged to have saved the ship as the fire could have burned down to the shell magazine via the hoist. It was a lesson that was not learned.
The crew of HMS Glasgow with Tirpitz the pig
A Missed Opportunity
While Invincible was in dock at Gibraltar four of the newer British battlecruisers under Beatty had caught three German battlecruisers and a heavy cruiser at the Dogger Bank on 24th January 1915. British Naval intelligence had cracked German naval codes and were able to give advance warning of the German ships' movements. The British ships gave chase to the Germans but a combination of bad shooting, poor signalling and general confusion let the Germans escape with only the loss of the heavy cruiser Blucher. The German battlecruisers were damaged, particularly the Seydlitz which suffered a near catastrophic fire caused by stored propellants which wrecked her two rear turrets. The British flagship HMS Lion was also badly damaged and suffered a similar turret fire which was fortunately extinguished. The Germans changed their ammunition procedures as a consequence but the British did not.
Invincible at Goodison
What little we know of Invincible's movements in the spring of 1916 gives a tantalising series of clues as to whether the match mentioned in Everton's board minutes took place. On the 25th to the 26th March 1916 she was with the rest of the Battlecruiser fleet cruising in the vicinity of the Horns Reefs close to the Danish-German border in gales and a snowstorm to support a seaplane attack on the Zeppelin airship base at Hoyer. She took part in a second sortie between 24th and 26th April to prevent a German bombardment of the English east coast but collided with an armed yacht on the return voyage which caused considerable damage, part of the yacht's bows being left in her starboard side. Invincible went into dock at Rosyth near Edinburgh the following day.
In between these two dates we have only the testimony of a young midshipman on Invincible, Alexander Scrimgeour who served in her A turret. He kept an illegal diary up to 1915 and his letters from 1916 have survived. He was the son of a wealthy London stockbroker and mentions expecting to be "in London soon" on 5th March. On 19th March he says he expects one week's leave in the first or second week in April, and on 12th April he thanks his parents for their help during his leave last week. This seems to tie in with the Everton board minutes, but is only testimony of one man. We can speculate that Invincible was in dock in Liverpool for some repairs for that week and her football team ran out at Goodison, but we may never know.
"Der Tag": Jutland 31st May 1916
On 31st May 1916 HMS Invincible took part in the largest fleet action in WW1 off the Danish Jutland peninsula as the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas fleet met in battle for the one and only time. The Royal Navy and the British public were confidently expecting the confrontation to end in a decisive victory; among the ships of the Grand Fleet it was referred to by the German phrase "Der Tag" – the day.
Jutland is the most controversial sea battle in history and the complex analysis and arguments about the outcome have spawned hundreds of books and articles. It is difficult to summarise the battle but essentially the British, aided by their intelligence advantage outmanoeuvred and nearly trapped the Germans but were let down by their signalling, communications, gunnery and in the case of the battlecruisers by the leadership of Admiral David Beatty. They also lost more ships and men, all of which has been the source of 100 years of discussion and disagreement.
In the early part of the battle, the five German battlecruisers fought a running battle with six British counterparts. Invincible was at the head of the main body of the Grand fleet at this time and took no part. Due to targeting mix-ups and poor gunnery the British ships were exposed and suffered the catastrophic loss of first HMS Indefatigable and then HMS Queen Mary. Both exploded after hits on gun turrets most likely resulting from fire travelling down the ammunition hoists caused by the stored cordite propellant bags. The British obsession with rate of fire which went back to before Nelson led the gun crews to take huge risks by stacking the charges all the way down to the magazines with disastrous consequences. Beatty's Flagship HMS Lion almost succumbed in the same way, but the last words of her Q turret commander Major Harvey were to close the blast doors and flood the magazine after the roof of the turret had been blown off. For his devotion to duty Harvey won a posthumous Victoria Cross.
HMS Queen Mary exploding with the burning HMS Lion surrounded by shell splashes
At this point the remaining British battlecruisers sighted the main body of the German fleet approaching from the south. They quickly turned and headed north and in turn led the Germans into the jaws of Sir John Jellicoe's 24 battleships, strung out across their course in a line over four miles long. With no reliable information coming from Beatty as to where the German fleet was Jellicoe brilliantly positioned his ships to cross the T of the approaching enemy, allowing him to bring all his guns to bear. Yet again the gunnery of the British was not effective enough and it was later found that the shells fired mostly exploded without penetrating the German ships' armour. The German ships pulled off a risky simultaneous 180-degree turn under heavy fire and sent their torpedo boats against the British battleships. The British ships had to turn to present the smallest target while their own destroyers engaged the German torpedo boats. This was the crucial moment of the battle for many subsequent commentators; Jellicoe could either turn towards the torpedoes and maintain contact with the Germans or turn away. Jellicoe chose the latter course conscious of his responsibility to preserve his fleet. This was summed up by Winston Churchill who described Jellicoe as the only man who could lose the war for Britain in an afternoon.
The Grand Fleet on the way to Jutland 31st May 1916
The torpedo attack did not succeed and the British line resumed their pursuit led by HMS Invincible. Despite losing contact with the German fleet, the British ships were between the German fleet and their bases. The Invincible now joined the other battlecruisers firing on their German counterparts and scored several hits including one on the German battlecruiser flagship, Lutzow, which would prove fatal. The British had the advantage of the setting sun behind the German ships as they turned to run parallel and were also mostly hidden by sea mists. However at 6:30 pm Invincible emerged into a patch of clear sea and was hit with several salvoes from the German battlecruisers. A 12-inch shell hit her Q turret and, like Indefatigable and Queen Mary she blew up. Of her crew of 1,032 only six survived, including one man who was miraculously thrown clear of the stricken Q turret. The other five were in the masthead observation station and one described stepping into the sea as the masthead hit the water. Among the dead was young midshipman Scrimgeour, and there is nothing to suggest any member of her football team survived.
Invincible photographed at the moment of the magazine explosion
As night fell the battered German fleet was still trapped to the west of the British who closed into night sailing mode with the battleships followed by their destroyer escorts. In a desperate attempt to escape from the British during the short night the Germans slowed and slipped behind the British battleships passing through the destroyers in their wake. Despite many opportunities to torpedo the escaping Germans the British destroyers let them slip away, terrified that they might be their own ships. Only one old German battleship, the Pommern was torpedoed and blew up. The failure to practice night action was added to the long list of British failings.
Jellicoe was aware of the action going on behind him as searchlights and firing was clearly seen and heard. He also received intelligence from the Admiralty code breakers that the Germans were escaping but ignored it, assuming the firing was between his and the German destroyers. Not one report was received from the destroyer flotillas to report that the Germans were passing to the rear. As dawn broke the seas were empty; the quarry had escaped.
The two halves of Invincible as they settled to the bottom of the North Sea
The Germans immediately proclaimed a great victory based on having sunk three British battlecruisers to one of their own. However, the German Naval command realised that they had been extraordinarily lucky not to lose far more ships, although the almost unsinkable design of their ships, particularly the battered battlecruisers, had been vindicated. The German sailors had shown remarkable skill and fortitude to nurse their shattered ships back to harbour. Repairs to their ships were made but they did not risk another Jutland and remained largely confined to their home harbours. A report in an American newspaper summed up the battle perfectly with the headline "German fleet assaults its jailor, remains in jail".
The Germans instead turned to unrestricted submarine warfare to try and bring Britain to the negotiating table and despite some success only succeeded in bringing the USA into the war in April 1917. One of the first contributions of the Americans to the war effort was to add five of their battleships to the British Grand fleet, lengthening the odds against Germany's fleet even further. In October 1918 they were ordered to sea in a desperate attempt to beat the Royal Navy and stave off defeat on the battlefield. The crews mutinied and took over the fleet, starting the short lived German revolution. The once proud German High Seas fleet was interned in Scapa Flow as part of the Armistice agreement, where their crews scuttled their ships on 21st June 1919.
The British by contrast were shocked by their losses at Jutland and initially saw it as a serious defeat; in some cases returning ships were booed as they entered home harbours. Apart from the battlecruisers they had lost three armoured cruisers and eight destroyers. Most importantly 6,094 sailors had died. The recriminations started almost immediately and continued long after the war. Jellicoe was promoted to First Sea Lord and Beatty given command of the Grand Fleet despite his failures in handling the battlecruisers. He waged a successful campaign to cover these up including accusations that he had the official history of the war altered in the 20's when he had himself become First Sea Lord.
The British absorbed many of the lessons learned from the failings of Jutland. New shells were designed, night fighting was practiced and the existing battlecruisers were modified with thicker armour. The design of the new battlecruiser HMS Hood then under construction was also changed in the light of the losses at Jutland. However, in a tragic postscript the flawed concept of the fast but lightly armoured battlecruiser was shown up yet again almost exactly 25 years after Jutland. On 24th May 1941 HMS Hood was hit by a salvo from the Bismarck in the Denmark Straight and exploded with the loss of all but three of her 1,418 man crew.
As part of the Light Night celebration on 13th May 2016, I visited the Room of Remembrance in Liverpool Town Hall, and among the terribly long lists of names I spotted several men who had served on HMS Invincible. It was remarkable how the name suddenly sprang from the lists. I wondered if any of them had been part of the football team, and, if they were of the Blue persuasion, might they have fulfilled the dream of all Evertonians to run out onto the Goodison pitch. Did the Invincible's team ever line up around the centre circle, which the new kit advert tells us is 53.4389 degrees North and 2.9664 degrees west? Maybe one day a chance find in the archives, or the discovery of long forgotten letters will shed light on the mystery of the whereabouts of Invincible and her football team in the spring of 1916. I'll keep my eyes open. Only their last location is certain; today they lie with their ship and shipmates in the cold North Sea at 57.0444 N - 6.1208 W. They are not forgotten and may they rest in peace.
EFC Heritage Society
As ever I am indebted to my friend JP Levinge for scouring the contemporary newspapers for any mention of the Invincible football match; and to TCC from the Great War Forum I am grateful for the help and guidance with the Scrimgeour letters and Invincible's movements in April 1915. I am also grateful to my friends in the Everton in the Community over 75's group whose comments on the ideas for this article were very helpful.
Anyone interested in Jutland might want to look at this excellent animation on Vimeo; the narrator is Sir John Jellicoe's grandson Nick.
The photographs used are either courtesy of the Imperial War Museum collection or from the excellent Britishbattles.com/battle-of-the-falkland-islands
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