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The German Fleet in Valparaiso

When at a reception held by the German community, Von Spee was asked to toast the downfall of the Royal Navy his reply was ‘I drink to the memory of a galant and honourable foe’

Battle of Coronel and The Falklands

“I must plough the seas of the world doing as much mischief as I can, until my ammunition is exhausted or until a foe far superior in power succeeds in catching me.” – Vizeadmiral von Spee

CLARKE, CHARLES. PRIOR, Royal Navy 30 yrs, drowned at the sinking (1914) of HMS Good Hope. joined service at 15.

HMS Good HopeHMS Good Hope & Monmouth were sunk off the town of Coronel, Chile. They were ‘County’ class armoured cruisers both were lost with full hands. The crews were mainly reservists as against the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau whose ships and crews were the pride of the German Fleet………….

Germany’s interests in the Far East at the beginning of this century were serviced from an enclave at Tsingtao. This was also the base for their East Asiatic Squadron, a crack German Naval force under the command of Vizeadmiral Graf von Spee. It was clear that Tsingtao could not be held when war broke out, so von Spee’s squadron had already dispersed in August 1914.

HMS MonmouthBy October the 11,400 ton armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had been joined off the coast of Chile by the light cruisers Leipzig, and Dresden. Meeting a British squadron under Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock off Coronel, the crack German crews administered the first serious defeat of the Royal Navy in centuries. The armoured cruisers Good Hope and Monmouth went down with all their (largely reservist) crews. Von Spee seemed far from elated by his success

Though he had suffered no significant damage he had expended almost half of his major-calibre ammunition. There was little prospect of obtaining more, he was 16000 km (10,000 miles) from home and he was all too aware that the world’s greatest sea power, stung by its reverse, would be seeking him out to redress the score. Possibly a quick break round the Horn and into the vastness of the South Atlantic would have spelled success at this point, but again von Spee seemed to be afflicted by indecision, hanging around the isolated island of Mas-a-Fuera and then an anchorage off the desolate Chilean coast, north of the Magellan Strait.

Through summer in these latitudes the weather was atrocious and the squadron did not round the Horn until the night of 1/2nd December. Early on the morning of 2nd December a British sailing vessel laden with coal, was sighted. Ever mindful of his long run home, von Spee took her into sheltered waters and spent three days transferring her cargo. The 8th December dawned bright and clear. It found the Gneisenau, supported by the Nurnberg following the coast of East Falkland towards Stanley; von Spee was hull-down to the south.

ScharnhorstMain batteries were being trained on the radio station when suddenly the great splashes of a two-gun, major-calibre salvo erupted in the morning sun. It was followed by a second, close enough to put fragments on to the Gneisenau’s upper deck. Standing farther out, the two German ships eventually rounded the bluff that screened the harbour. At 09:40 there could be seen a great smoke cloud, and tall tripod masts. Chile MapThese could mean only one thing, British capital ships. Von Spee had wasted too much time. After the disaster at Coronel the British Admiralty had moved rapidly, despatching three battle-cruisers from the Grand Fleet strength. Two of them, HMS Invincible and Inflexible, had just arrived with four cruisers and were still coaling. Fortunately for Vice-Admiral Sturdee, in command. The old battleship HMS Canopus which had been beached as a static harbour defence and had bought time for the disadvantaged force by firing indirectly on the Gneisenau.

Escape to the East

The Gneisenau and Nurnberg closed on von Spee and the whole squadron made all haste away to the south east in loose formation. None could make designed speed through foul hulls and machinery problems. Even before they were over the horizon the Germans could see the first British ships Leaving Stanley. Visibility was perfect, the day was young and Nemesis was but a matter of time. The Leipzig began to lag, but urgency was sustained by the constant sight of the pursuers who, in no hurry, overhauled them inexorably under a dense cloud of funnel smoke. At 12:47 came the ranging 304mm (12-in) salvo from the leading battlecruiser, the Invincible. HMS InvincibleBy 13:00 the Germans were surrounded by splashes yet were still unable to reply. At 13:20, still without significant damage, von Spee detached his light cruisers to shift for themselves but could see their Britrsh counterparts peel off in pursuit while his own ships were still suffering at the hands of the two battle-cruisers.

He needed to close the range so turned abruptly and, at 13:30, got to within his 12,000 metre,(13,125 yard) maximum range. Opening fire the Scharnhorst rapidly hit the Inflexible, but the British reply was merely to sheer further off and continue the bombardment. The British were obviously content to stay at long range and expend as much ammunition as it took, even though the Gneisenau was having a light time with her big adversary, the Inflexible, blinded by her leader’s smoke. Long periods elapsed with no firing on either side, as each manoeuvred for advantage. By 15:00 the weather was deteriorating and the British obviously went for a decision.

ScharnhorstThe range fell to 10975 metres (12,000 yards) which, while allowing von Spee’s ships to use their secondary 150mm (5.9-in) guns, began to prove indecisive. The Scharnhorst was burning heavily forward and had lost her third funnel. As her shooting began to fall off the Gneisenau also started to list. Ignoring a call to surrender, von Spee’s ship suddenly ceased fire‘like a light blown out’ and foundered at 16:17. There were no survivors. The Gneisenau fought on, though. Through the mist of drizzling rain now falling, she could see her two opponents had been joined by a four-funnelled armoured cruiser, HMS Carnavon. The murk offered no sanctuary from punishment. Reportedly hit by over 50 large-calibre rounds, the Gneisenau had her foremost funnel leaning drunkenly against the second, her foremast was missing and she was faltering to a stop in a cloud of her own smoke. Ammunition had run out and the Inflexible closed the range and put 15 deliberate rounds into the wreck. The survivors formed up on deck, gave three cheers for the Kaiser and abandoned ship, only 200 were saved from the freezing water.

DresdenOf the light cruisers, only the Dresden was to escape for a further brief time. Coronel had been terribly avenged but besides proving obvious supremacy of of the Battle-cruiser over the Armoured cruiser, the Falklands battle demonstrated also the toughness of German ships, the surprising range of their armament and the fighting spirit of their crews.

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