HMS Hawke was a steel Edgar class protected cruiser, built by Chatham Naval Dockyard and launched in March 1891. The vessels dimensions were 387.4′ x 60.0′ x 23.9’ with a tonnage of 7350 dt. Powered by two triple expansion steam engines, dual shaft by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. Ltd developing 12,000 ihp. The Hawke was armed with 2 x 9.2” breach loading Mk VI guns, 10 x quick firing 6” guns and 12 x 6 pounder guns.
In 1897-1898, HMS Hawke, under the command of Captain Sir Richard Poore, was in action in the Mediterranean in the operations which led to the pacification of Crete and the appointment of Prince George of Greece as High Commissioner under the suzerainty of the Sultan of Turkey. At one point, she was used as a troopship, taking on a Greek military force in Platina Bay and transporting them back to Greece.
On 20th September 1911, Hawke, under command of Commander W F Blunt in the Solent, collided in the with the White Star liner RMS Olympic. In the course of the collision Hawke lost her prow. The subsequent trial pronounced the men in charge of Hawke to be free from any blame. During the trial, a theory was advanced that the large amount of water displaced by the Olympic had generated a suction that had drawn Hawke off course. The decision provoked a series of unsuccessful legal appeals.
In the early days of World War I, Hawke, commanded by Captain Hugh Williams, was engaged in operations in the North Sea as part of the 10th Cruiser Squadron attached to the 3rd Fleet and predominantly used for training purposes. At 10:30am on the morning of 15th October, 1914 HMS Hawke was patrolling with her sister HMS Theseus when they slowed to pick up mails from the steamship SS Endymion. Her approximate position was later reported as 57° 49’N, 00° 10’W. They could not know that they were presenting an inviting target to the commander of U-9 (Kapitanleutnant Otto Weddigen) stealthily approaching the huge ships. However, the transfer was completed without incident and Hawke started to move to return to her patrol duties. Minutes later, at around 10:50 am, the ship was rocked by a huge explosion as a torpedo from U-9 smashed into the starboard side of the ship.
The crew leapt to collision stations but she was already listing badly making attempts to lower collision mats and lifeboats impossible. Within five minutes the ship slipped beneath the surface. The only boats that made it away were the port cutter, which floated clear of its own accord, and a picket boat. A number of men swam to the apparent safety of the little picket boat but it immediately turned turtle and sank dumping the men back into the cold North Sea. The lucky few men aboard the cutter were to be among the few survivors. They circled for some time picking up as many men as they could then pulled away from the scene in a north west direction. Some four and a half hours later they sighted a Norwegian steamer, the Modasta, which took the men on board. The Modasta then headed back towards the scene of the sinking but almost immediately German submarines were spotted so the captain reluctantly turned his ship back towards the Scottish coast. En route he encountered the Aberdeen steam trawler Ben Rinnes and the survivors were transferred to the trawler who took them on to Aberdeen. Five hundred and twenty four crewmen of Hawke, predominantly young cadets, were lost in the incident. Only 70 officers and men survived. After the incident there was some controversy and conjecture about why such a well built, albeit ageing, warship should have sunk so quickly. Although never proven, based on the size of the explosion, it was believed that the torpedo had struck close to one of the ships magazines resulting in an instantaneous internal explosion when the torpedo hit its target.
The reported position of the loss from C in C Rosyth was 57° 47’N, 00° 12’E which is 125km ENE off Peterhead. There is no survey data for this mark on the Hydrographic chart for the area, general seabed depths are 100-105 metres. There is a partially surveyed mark some 9km to the north of this position which notes a wreck in 110 metres rising 15 metres, but no sonar dimensions.