The first news of the Russian attack on Aberdeen was received in London soon after five o’clock on the afternoon of the 30th, and produced an effect which it is quite beyond the power of language to describe. The first telegram containing the bare announcement of the fact fell like a bolt from the blue on the great Metropolis. It ran as follows:—
Aberdeen, 4.30 P.M.
A large fleet, supposed to be the Russian fleet which broke the blockade of the Baltic on the morning of the 28th, has appeared off the town. About forty large vessels can be made out. Our defences are quite inadequate to cope with such an immense force, but we shall do our best till help comes.
After that the wires were kept hot with messages until well into the night. The newspapers rushed out edition after edition to keep pace with them, and in all the office windows of the various journals copies of the telegrams were posted up as soon as they arrived.
As the messages multiplied in number they brought worse and worse tidings, until excitement grew to frenzy and frenzy degenerated into panic. The thousand tongues of rumour wagged faster and faster as each hour went by. The raid upon a single town was magnified into a general invasion of the whole country.
Very few people slept in London that night, and the streets were alive with anxious crowds till daybreak, waiting for the confidently-expected news of the landing of the Russian troops, in spite of the fact that the avowed and real object of the raid had been made public early in the evening. The following are the most important of the telegrams which were received, and will suffice to inform the reader of the course of events after the departure of the four air-ships from the scene of action —
A message has been received from the Commander of the Russian fleet demanding the surrender of the town for twelve hours to allow six of his ships to fill up with coal. The captain of the Ascalon, in command of the port, has refused this demand, and declares that he will fight while he has a ship that will float or a gun that can be fired. The Russians are accompanied by the air-ship which assisted them to break the blockade of the Sound. She is now floating over the town. The utmost terror prevails among the inhabitants, and crowds are flying into the country to escape the bombardment. Aid has been telegraphed for to Edinburgh and Dundee; but if the North Sea Squadron is still in the Firth of Forth, it cannot get here under nearly twelve hours’ steaming.
The bombardment has commenced, and fearful damage has been done already. With three or four shells the air-ship has blown up and utterly destroyed the fort on Girdleness, which mounted twenty-four heavy guns. But for the ships, this leaves the town almost unprotected. News has just come from the North Shore that the batteries there have met with the same fate. The Russians are pouring a perfect storm of shot and shell into the mouth of the river where our ships are lying, but the town has so far been spared.
We have just received news from Edinburgh that the North Sea Squadron left at daybreak this morning under orders to proceed to the mouth of the Elbe to assist in protecting Hamburg from an anticipated attack by the same fleet which has attacked us. There is now no hope that the town can be successfully defended, and the Provost has called a towns-meeting to consider the advisability of surrender, though it is feared that the Russians may now make larger demands. The whole country side is in a state of the utmost panic.
The towns-meeting empowered the Provost to call upon Captain Marchmont, of the Ascalon, to make terms with the Russians in order to save the town from destruction. He refused point blank, although one of the coast-defence ships, the Thunderer, has been disabled by shells from the air-ship, and all his other vessels have been terribly knocked about by the incessant cannonade from the fleet, which has now advanced to within two miles of the shore, having nothing more to fear from the land batteries. A terrific thunderstorm is raging, and no words can describe the horror of the scene. The air-ship ceased firing nearly an hour ago.
Five of our eleven ships — two battleships and three cruisers — have been sunk; the rest are little better than mere wrecks, and seven torpedo-boats have been destroyed in attempting to torpedo some of the enemy’s ships. Heavy firing has been heard to the southward, and we have learnt from Dundee that four battleships and six cruisers have been sent to our relief. A portion of the Russian fleet has been detached to meet them. We cannot hope anything from them. Captain Marchmont has now only four ships capable of fighting, but refuses to strike his flag. The storm has ceased, and a strong land breeze has blown the clouds and smoke to seaward. The air-ship has disappeared. Six large Russian ironclads are heading at full speed towards the mouth of the river —
The telegram broke off short here, and no more news was received from Aberdeen for several hours. Of this there was only one possible explanation. The town was in the hands of the Russians, and they had cut the wires. The long charm was broken, and the Isle Inviolate was inviolate no more. The next telegram from the North came from Findon, and was published in London just before ten o’clock on the following morning. It ran thus —
Findon, N.B., 9.15.
About ten o’clock last night the attack on Aberdeen ended in a rush of six ironclads into the river mouth. They charged down upon the four half-crippled British ships that were left, and in less than five minutes rammed and sank them. The Russians then demanded the unconditional surrender of the town, under pain of bombardment and destruction. There was no other course but to yield, and until eight o’clock this morning the town has been in the hands of the enemy.
The Russians at once landed a large force of sailors and marines, cut the telegraph wires and the railway lines, and fired without warning upon every one who attempted to leave the town. The stores of coal and ammunition were seized, and six large cruisers were taking in coal all night. The banks were also entered, and the specie taken possession of, as indemnity for the town. At eight o’clock the cruisers and battleships steamed out of the river without doing further damage. The squadron from the Tay was compelled to retire by the overwhelming force that the Russians brought to bear upon it after Aberdeen surrendered.
Half an hour ago the Russian fleet was lost sight of proceeding at full speed to the north-eastward. Our loss has been terribly heavy. The fort and batteries have been destroyed, all the ships have been sunk or disabled, and of the whole defending force scarcely three hundred men remain. Captain Marchmont went down on the Ascalon with his flag flying, and fighting to the last moment.
While the excitement caused by the news of the raid upon Aberdeen was at its height, that is to say, on the morning of the 2nd of July, intelligence was received in London of a tremendous disaster to the Anglo–Teutonic Alliance. It was nothing less, in short, than the fall of Berlin, the collapse of the German Empire, and the surrender of the Kaiser and the Crown Prince to the Tsar. After nearly sixty hours of almost continuous fighting, during which the fortifications had been wrecked by the war-balloons, the German ammunition-trains burnt and blown up by the fire-shells rained from the air, and the heroic defenders of the city disorganised by the aërial bombardment of melinite shells and cyanogen poison-bombs, and crushed by an overwhelming force of not less than four million assailants. So fell like a house of cards the stately fabric built up by the genius of Bismarck and Moltke; and so, after bearing his part gallantly in the death-struggle of his empire, had the grandson of the conqueror of Sedan yielded up his sword to the victorious Autocrat of the Russias.
The terrible news fell upon London like the premonitory echo of an approaching storm. The path of the triumphant Muscovites was now completely open to the forts of the Belgian Quadrilateral, under the walls of which they would form a junction, which nothing could now prevent, with the beleaguering forces of France. Would the Belgian strongholds be able to resist any more effectually than the fortifications of Berlin had done the assaults of the terrible war-balloons of the Tsar?
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08