Sinking of HMS Hawke

Sinking of HMS Hawke

On 15th October 1914 Midshipman John Kempson went down with his ship HMS Hawke in the North Sea. He was seventeen years of age. John Reginald Kempson was born in Knighton, Leicestershire on 17th June 1897. At the tender age of thirteen John decided on a career in the Royal Navy and by May 1910 had been accepted as a cadet at Osborne. His training was completed at Dartmouth where he did so well that on his first posting, to HMS Cumberland, he was promoted after only a month and reallocated as Midshipman to the cruiser HMS Hawke in August 1914 as the ship’s crew was brought up to strength in preparation for war. On Thursday 15th October HMS Hawke was approximately 60 miles off Aberdeen when she was stopped in order to receive mails and signals from another cruiser, Endymion, via a cutter between the two ships. The manoeuvre was observed by the commander of a nearby German submarine, Otto Weddingen, and following the delivery of mail, Endymion got away but Hawke was struck by a torpedo. on the starboard side causing two simultaneous explosions sending her to the bottom in less than eight minutes at 11 am. Nearly 600 seamen subsequently found themselves trapped or struggling to survive the freezing waters. One survivor commented – “I have never been on a ship so well equipped with lifesaving apparatus, but the way the vessel heeled over made it almost impossible to get the boats out,” whilst another stated – “many of the crew had scrambled on to the side of the sinking cruiser as she turned turtle and were sliding and diving into the sea.” Several rafts had floated clear along with the mailboat cutter, but for the vast majority of the seamen there was little hope. Hawke’s fate was not realised until later that day, and the first of 70 men to be rescued not picked up until early on Friday morning.

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  • Profile picture for John Reginald Kempson

    Born 1897

    Died 1914

    Royal Navy Midshipman

    Royal Navy Midshipman Cumberland

    Royal Navy Midshipman Hawke