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During World War I, the British fleet guarded all routes out of the North Sea. The smaller German Navy avoided open engagement with the British, instead it sought opportunities to trap and destroy small squadrons of British ships. Short raids on British ports had proven to be an effect strategy, so Germany U-boats patrolled the English coast finding ideal ports to raid.
On the morning of 16 December 1914, German cruisers began bombarding the English coast. At 8am, the Derfflinger and the Von der Tann began shelling Scarborough; the castle, the Grand Hotel, three churches, and several private residences were hit. As it was out of season, there were only two guests staying at the Grand Hotel; both survived the bombardment.
The German cruisers expected fire from the barracks at the castle, but this was absent as there were no soldiers garrisoned at the castle. People swarmed to the railway station, attempting to flee by train as quickly as possible. The main target for the Germans was the Naval Wireless station at the top of Falsgrave Park. At 8.30am, the bombardment ceased; over 500 shells had been fired on the town overall.
During Wold War II, Scarborough was a target of German attacks. The first hostilities were against trawlers fishing off the coast. On 18 March 1941, Scarborough suffered its worst air raid, which became known as the ‘March Blitz'. Ninety-eight planes flew over the district dropping a large number of incendiaries.
After the bombardment of Scarborough on 16 December 1914, the Defflinger and Von der Tann moved to Whitby to begin shelling the Coast Watch station on East Cliff. The raid began shortly after 9am. Directly in the line of fire, behind the Coastguard Station, stood Whitby Abbey. A shell struck the abbey and destroyed the arch of the west doorway and the masonry above it, leaving a gap in the west wall (since partially reconstructed).
The explosion of the shells also damaged the Abbey Lodge, but the Abbey House was left unscathed. The other damage done by the bombardment was confined to Meadowfield Park and Fishburn Park. The attack lasted for just eleven minutes in which over 200 shells fell in the town - by the time it had ended four people had been killed or died as a result of their injuries and many more were hurt or wounded.