The Coal Black Sea: Winston Churchill and the Worst Naval Catastrophe of the First World War



by Stuart Heaver

September 1914. When three Royal Navy armored cruisers were sunk in a single morning in the southern North Sea, causing 1,459 deaths, the British public reacted with shock and dismay. It was only six weeks into the war, and the loss was a huge blow to national morale. The incident also triggered a public relations disaster, a barrage of criticism, and a political crisis for the highly ambitious, 39-year-old First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. And yet, curiously, few have even heard of the incident. Even today, it has no proper name and is not even officially designated as an action by the Royal Navy.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Churchill spun a false narrative for the press and seemingly doctored official documents, all to save his faltering career. He claimed that the cruisers (part of the so-called 'live bait squadron' due to their supposed inefficiencies) were old and expendable, when they were anything but, and, in betraying those who died, shifted the blame onto commanding officers for their handling of the attack. Some of that false narrative was so skillfully woven that it still permeates official histories of the First World War, creating a lasting legacy of misinformation and fake news more than a century later.


6.14 x 1.02 x 9.21 inches

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