COMMEMORATIONS are planned along the coast to mark the dark day when the horror of the First World War came to the region.

Death came from the sea and the sky when German warships opened fire in a surprise attack on three seaside towns on the morning of December 16. 1914.

Hundreds of shells rained down on Hartlepool and Scarborough in a half-hour attack that began shortly after 8am - before the attackers turned their attention to sleepy Whitby.

By the time the smoke cleared some 130 were dead in Hartlepool, 18 in Scarborough and two in Whitby. Another 600 people were injured.

And in two weeks’ time each of the towns will hold a series of special events, some of which are still being finalised, to mark the centenary.

They will include, among other things, the early-morning launch of a maroon from Scarborough castle to simulate the beginning of the attack, a candlelit vigil in Whitby and a spectacular outdoor theatre show in Headland Town Square in Hartlepool.

The bombardments were atrocities that shocked the nation and had a major impact on the outraged British public and people’s perception of the war.

Michael Knaggs, a volunteer at the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre, said: “It was the first time this country had been physically attacked for about 100 years.

"And in hindsight, it was the beginning of, I suppose, total war, along with what happened in Belgium, and it was a big shock."

He said the Germans chose their targets because of a gap in the minefields that led straight from the German naval bases.

"The idea was Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool would be sprats to catch some of the British Navy mackerels," he said.

The British knew something was going to happen because they had cracked German naval codes, however the navy planned to let the raid go ahead and intercept the German ships on their way back.

But bad weather and "inept" signalling, meant the British missed the Germans and they made their escape.

Mr Knaggs said people often refer to the Germans using "the big guns" but this was a myth.

He said: "Everybody always makes reference to 'the big guns'. The Germans did not fire the big guns - if they had done Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool would have been destroyed.

"They weren't going to waste very expensive 11 and 12-inch armoured piercing shells on bricks and mortar. They kept those shells back in case they met the British ships on the way back."

"They used the medium format shells."