Battle of the Falkland Islands

Commander

Historum Emeritas
Jun 2006
1,362
Jacksonville, FL
#1
1914 : The Battle of the Falkland Islands

A month after German naval forces led by Admiral Maximilian von Spee inflicted the Royal Navy’s first defeat in a century by sinking two British cruisers with all hands off the southern coast of Chile, Spee’s squadron attempts to raid the Falkland Islands, located in the southern Atlantic Ocean, only to be thwarted by the British navy. Under the command of Admiral Doveton Sturdee, the British seamen sought vengeance on behalf of their defeated fellows.

Spee could have given the Falklands a wide berth, but he brought his fleet close to British squadrons anchored in Cape Pembroke in the Falkland Islands, confident he could outdistance the slow British Dreadnoughts, or big battleships, he saw in the port. Instead, the German light cruisers, damaged by the long voyage and heavy use, soon found themselves pursued by two swift battle cruisers, Inflexible and Invincible, designed by Britain’s famous First Sea Lord, Jackie Fisher, to combine speed and maneuverability with heavy hitting power.

Inflexible opened fire on the German ships from 16,500 yards, careful to stay outside the range of the German guns. Spee’s flagship, Scharnhorst was sunk first, with the admiral aboard; his two sons, on the Gneisenau and NÜrnberg, also went down with their ships. All told, Germany lost four warships and more than 2,000 sailors in the Falkland Islands, compared with only 10 British deaths.

Historians have referred to the Battle of the Falkland Islands as the most decisive naval battle of World War I. It gave the Allies a huge, much-needed surge of confidence on the seas, especially important because other areas of the war—the Western Front, Gallipoli—were not proceeding as hoped. The battle also represents one of the last important instances of old-style naval warfare, between ships and sailors and their guns alone, without the aid or interference of airplanes, submarines, or underwater minefields.
 

Belisarius

Forum Staff
Jun 2006
10,359
U.K.
#2
The initial engagement took place off the coast of Coronel, in Chile, between a squadron of antiquated Royal Navy ships operating out of their Falkland Islands base led by British Admiral Cradock and von Spee’s elite squadron of modern fast cruisers. The Royal Navy crews, with the exception of that of HMS Glasgow, were all inexperienced reservists and cadets. This force was tasked to seek and destroy Admiral von Spee’s squadron. Poignant documents and letters left behind by the British show that many thought this was to be a suicide mission.

Nevertheless the squadrons met on November 1st 1914, when HMS Glasgow sighted smoke from SMS Leipzig and both squadrons formed line of battle. Cradock had the option, as it was late in the day, to turn and run back towards the pre-dreadnaught battleship HMS Canopus which, being too slow to keep up with the other ships, was following the squadron and was about 300 miles away at the time. He chose to engage the enemy, as he feared losing contact with the Germans in the night.

The British turned towards the German line and at about 7:30PM, the German ships opened fire. The British were at a disadvantage from the outset as the setting sun silhouetted the British squadron whilst the German ships were hard to see in the fading light. SMS Scharnhorst hit HMS Good Hope on their third attempt, causing an explosion, which knocked out her forward 9.2-inch gun. HMS Monmouth was also hit by shells from SMS Gneisenau, which set her forward turret on fire. The elite German gun crews maintained a rapid and accurate fire, and hit both leading British cruisers over thirty times, whilst the reply from the British was very ineffectual; the only damage the German ships sustained were two hits on Scharnhorst and four hits and three wounded on Gneisenau.

SMS Leipzig and HMS Glasgow exchanged fire and SMS Dresden fired on HMS Otranto, a converted passenger liner that, being completely outclassed, rapidly pulled out of the line and fled. This enabled SMS Dresden to switch fire to HMS Glasgow. Cradock tried to close the range to 5,500 yards to bring his 6-inch guns to action, but Spee thought he was attempting to launch a torpedo attack and pulled back, increasing the range. At 7:50PM HMS Good Hope was hit in the magazine, which exploded, and the crippled ship drifted out of sight and sank with no survivors.

HMS Monmouth was by now on fire and listing to port. HMS Glasgow had been hit five times and seeing that Monmouth was beyond help, fled to avoid certain destruction and to warn HMS Canopus to turn back. HMS Monmouth was unable to fire but as her White Ensign battle flag was still flying, the newly arrived SMS Nuremberg found her and finished her off with gunfire at point blank range. The ship sank with no survivors.

The battle ended when SMS Leipzig and SMS Dresden were detached to find HMS Glasgow and the Otranto, which both headed for the Falkland Islands. The rest of the German squadron made for Valparaiso to coal and re-provision.

The Royal Navy had suffered its first defeat for over a century, losing about 1600 dead.

As a postscript to the later Falklands battle, HMS Glasgow which had fought at both Coronel and the Falklands, later met SMS Dresden, the last survivor of Spee’s squadron on March 13 1915. Glasgow had escaped from Dresden at Coronel, Dresden had evaded Glasgow at the Falklands but it was HMS Glasgow that finally triumphed. Although Glasgow infringed Chilean neutrality by opening fire on Dresden whilst she was anchored in Chilean waters, Dresden was heavily damaged and surrendered after a short fight. Whilst surrender talks were going on, the Germans abandoned the ship and detonated her magazine.
 
Apr 2011
11
#3
"Poignant documents and letters left behind by the British show that many thought this was to be a suicide mission."

Nice write-up on these 2 actions guys. Do you have a source for the "documents and letters" you mention?

If it was suicidal, which under the conditions of light and sea I think it was, why do you think Cradock forced an action instead of running for it?
 
Jul 2009
9,944
#4
"Poignant documents and letters left behind by the British show that many thought this was to be a suicide mission."

Nice write-up on these 2 actions guys. Do you have a source for the "documents and letters" you mention?

If it was suicidal, which under the conditions of light and sea I think it was, why do you think Cradock forced an action instead of running for it?
Apparently the admiral thought it his duty to obey his orders.
 
Aug 2010
6,740
Ireland
#6
The battle also represents one of the last important instances of old-style naval warfare, between ships and sailors and their guns alone, without the aid or interference of airplanes, submarines, or underwater minefields.
not forgetting as well the earliy WW2 battle near the same area between the german Graf spee and the british Exeter, Ajax and Achilles
 

Similar History Discussions