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HMS Monmouth in the Great War - The Wartime Memories Project -

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HMS Monmouth



1st Nov 1914 HMS Monmouth lost with all hands  HMS Monmouth was sunk by gunfire on 1st November 1914 by the German armoured cruisers SMS Scharnhorst and SMS Gneisenau off the Chilean Coast during the Battle of Coronel, the entire crew was lost. In October 1914 Admiral Cradock had learnt that Admiral von Spee, at the head of a squadron of five modern cruisers, was planning to leave the Pacific for the South Atlantic. Cradock decided to move into the Pacific in an attempt to prevent this. At Coronel (1 November 1914) Cradock was effectively ambushed by von Spee’s squadron. The Monmouth’s 6in guns were outranged by the 8.2in guns carried on von Spee’s best ships, the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau. The Monmouth was lost with all hands without being able to inflict any damage on the German ships.

1st November 1914 Battle of Coronel  The naval Battle of Coronel took place on 1 November 1914 off the coast of central Chile near the city of Coronel. German Kaiserliche Marine forces led by Vice-Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee met and defeated a Royal Navy squadron commanded by Rear-Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock. The engagement probably took place as a result of a series of misunderstandings. Neither admiral expected to meet the other in full force. Once the two met, Cradock understood his orders were to fight to the end, despite the odds being heavily against him. Although Spee had an easy victory, destroying two enemy armoured cruisers for just three men injured, the engagement also cost him half his supply of ammunition, which was impossible to replace. Shock at the British losses led to an immediate reaction and the sending of more ships which in turn destroyed Spee and the majority of his squadron at the Battle of the Falkland Islands.

The Royal Navy, along with Allied navies in the far east, had captured the German colonies of Kaiser-Wilhelmsland, Yap, Nauru and Samoa early in the war. Vice-Admiral Maximilian von Spee's German East Asia Squadron had abandoned its base at Tsingtao in China once Japan entered the war on Britain's side. Eventually, the British Admiralty concentrated the search in the western Pacific after Spee's squadron bombarded Papeete. On the 5th October an intercepted radio communication revealed Spee's plan to attack shipping along the west coast of South America. Rear-Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock's South Atlantic Squadron (HMS Good Hope (Cradock's flagship), HMS Monmouth, HMS Glasgow, three other light cruisers, a converted liner,HMS Otranto and two other armed merchantmen) were patrolling the area. Cradock's force was also to have been reinforced by the more powerful armoured cruiser HMS Defence, but the old pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Canopus was ordered to join him instead. The last-minute change left the British squadron with either obsolete or under-armed vessels, all crewed by inexperienced naval reservists. Monmouth and the Good Hope had a large number of 6-inch guns but only the Good Hope was equipped with two heavier 9.2-inch guns mounted in single turrets. In contrast, von Spee had five modern vessels (the armoured cruisers SMS Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the light cruisers SMS Dresden, Leipzig and Nürnberg), all led by officers handpicked by Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz himself. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were armed with eight 8.2 in guns each, which gave them an overwhelming advantage in range and firepower. This advantage was further compounded as the crews of both ships had earned accolades for their gunnery skill prior to the war. Cradock's orders were to "be prepared to meet them " with no effort made to clarify what action Cradock was expected to take, should he find von Spee. On receiving his orders, Cradock asked the Admiralty for permission to split his fleet into two forces to operate on the east and west coasts of South America. This was to stop von Spee slipping past Cradock and moving into the Atlantic. The Admiralty agreed and the east coast squadron, consisting of three cruisers and two armed merchantmen, was formed under Rear-Admiral A. P. Stoddart. The remaining vessels formed Cradock’s west coast squadron which was reinforced by HMS Canopus which finally arrived on 18 October. She was only able to manage a top speed of 14 mph which was just over half that of the remainder of the squadron. The Admiralty recognised that her slow speed meant the fleet would not be fast enough to force an engagement and also that without the Canopus the fleet stood no chance against von Spee. Cradock was told to use Canopus as security for the cruisers and maintain contact with von Spee while avoiding any risky engagements.The Chief of the Admiralty War Staff, Vice-Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee,requested additional ships be sent to reinforce Cradock, but this was vetoed (by First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill and First Sea Lord of the Admiralty, Prince Louis of Battenberg) on the grounds that Canopus was "sufficient reinforcement".

Opening gambit

On 22 October, Cradock cabled the Admiralty of his intentions to round Cape Horn leaving Canopus behind to escort his colliers. Admiral John Fisher replaced Battenberg as First Sea Lord on 27 October and Fisher immediately ordered Cradock not to engage von Spee without Canopus. He then ordered HMS Defence to reinforce Cradock. The previous week Cradock had sent Glasgow to Montevideo to pick up any messages from the Admiralty. Von Spee, having learned of the presence of Glasgow sailed south from Valparaíso with all five warships with the intention of destroying her. Glasgow, however, intercepted radio traffic from one of the German cruisers and informed Cradock who turned his fleet north to intercept the cruiser. On 31 October, his squadron adopted an attacking formation. Both sides expected a single ship until they sighted each other at 1640 on 1 November.

Battle

On 31 October, Glasgow entered Coronel harbour to collect messages and news from the British consul. One of Spee's supply ships, Göttingen, was also in the harbour and immediately radioed with the news of the British ship entering harbour. Glasgow was also listening to radio traffic, which suggested that German warships were close. Further confusion was caused as the German ships were all using the same call sign, that of Leipzig. Spee decided to move his ships to Coronel, to trap Glasgow, while Admiral Cradock turned north to catch Leipzig. Neither side realised the other's main force was nearby. At 0915 on 1 November, Glasgow left port to meet Cradock at noon, 40 miles west of Coronel. The seas were stormy so that it was impossible to send a boat between the ships to deliver the messages, which had to be transferred on a line floated in the sea. At 1350, the ships formed into a line of battle 15 miles apart and started to steam north at 10 knots searching for Leipzig. At 1617, Leipzig, accompanied by the other German ships, spotted smoke from the British ships. Von Spee ordered full speed so that Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Leipzig were approaching the British at 20 knots, with the slower light cruisers Dresden and Nürnberg some way behind. At 1620, Glasgow and Otranto saw smoke to the north, and then three ships at a range of 12 miles. The British changed direction, so that both fleets were heading south. A chase began which lasted 90 minutes. Cradock was faced with a choice, either to take his three cruisers capable of 20 knots, abandon Otranto and run from the Germans, or stay and fight with Otranto which could only manage 16 knots. The German ships slowed at a range of 15,000 yd (13,720 m) to position themselves where the setting sun would outline the British Ships. At 1710, Cradock decided he must fight, and drew his ships closer together. He changed course to the south-east and attempted to close upon the German ships while the sun remained high. Von Spee declined to engage and turned his faster ships away, maintaining the distance between the forces which sailed roughly parallel at a distance of 14,000 yd (12,800 m). At 1818, Cradock again attempted to close, steering directly towards the enemy, which once again turned away to a greater range of 18,000 yd (16,460 m). At 1850, the sun set, so Spee closed to 12,000 yd (10,970 m) and commenced firing.

The German ships had sixteen 8.2 in (208 mm) guns of comparable range to the two 9.2 in (234 mm) guns on Good Hope and one of these was hit within five minutes of the engagement starting. Of the remaining 6 in (152 mm) guns on the British ships, most were in casemates along the sides of the ships, which continually flooded if the gun doors were opened to fire in heavy seas. The merchant cruiser Otranto, having only 4 in (100 mm) guns and being a much larger target than the other ships, retired west at full speed. With the British 6-inch guns having insufficient range to match the German 8-inch guns, Cradock attempted to close on the German ships. By 1930, he had reached 6,000 yd (5,490 m), but as he closed the German fire became correspondingly more accurate. Both Good Hope and Monmouth were on fire, presenting easy targets to the German gunners now that darkness had fallen, whereas the German ships had disappeared into the dark. Monmouth was first to be silenced. Good Hope continued firing, still trying to close on the German ships and receiving more and more fire. By 1950, she had also ceased firing; subsequently her forward section exploded, then she broke apart and sank with no one actually witnessing the sinking. Scharnhorst switched her fire towards Monmouth, while Gneisenau joined Leipzig and Dresden which had been engaging Glasgow. The German light cruisers had only 4.1 in (104 mm) guns, which had left Glasgow relatively unscathed, but these were now joined by the 8.2-inch guns of Gneisenau. John Luce, captain of Glasgow, concluded that nothing was to be gained by staying and attempting to fight. It was noticed that each time he fired, the flash of his guns was used by the Germans to aim a new salvo, so he also ceased firing. One compartment of the ship was flooded, but she could still manage 24 knots. He returned first to Monmouth, which was now dark but still afloat. Nothing could be done for the ship, which was sinking slowly but would attempt to beach on the Chilean coast. Glasgow turned south and departed. There was some confusion amongst the German ships as to the fate of the two armoured cruisers, which had disappeared into the dark once they ceased firing and a hunt began. Leipzig saw something burning, but on approaching found only wreckage. Nürnberg, slower than the other German ships, arrived late at the battle and sighted Monmouth, listing and badly damaged but still moving. After pointedly directing his searchlights at the ship's ensign, an invitation to surrender, which was declined, he opened fire, finally sinking the ship. Without firm information, von Spee decided that Good Hope had escaped and called off the search at 2215. Mindful of the reports that a British battleship was around somewhere, he turned north. With no survivors from either Good Hope or Monmouth, 1,600 British officers and men were dead with Cradock among them. Glasgow and Otranto both escaped, (the former suffering five hits and five wounded men). Just two shells had struck Scharnhorst, neither of which exploded: one 6-inch shell hit above the armour belt and penetrated to a storeroom where, in von Spee's words, "the creature just lay there as a kind of greeting." Another struck a funnel. In return, Scharnhorst had managed at least 35 hits on Good Hope, but at the expense of 422 8.2-inch shells, leaving her with 350. Four shells had struck Gneisenau, one of which nearly flooded the officers' wardroom. A shell from Glasgow struck her after turret and temporarily knocked it out. Three of Gneisenau's men were wounded; she expended 244 of her shells and had 528 left.

Aftermath

Von Spee commented afterward on the British tactics. He had been misinformed that the battleship Canopus sighted in the area was a relatively modern Queen-class ship, whereas it was a similar looking, old and barely seaworthy Canopus-class battleship, but nonetheless had four 12-inch guns and ten 6-inch guns. Von Spee believed he would have lost the engagement had all the British ships been together. Despite his victory he was pessimistic of the real harm done to the British navy and also of his own chances of survival. Cradock had been less convinced of the value of Canopus, being too slow at 12 knots to allow his other ships freedom of movement and manned only by inexperienced reservists. The official explanation of the defeat as presented to the House of Commons by Winston Churchill stated: "feeling he could not bring the enemy immediately to action as long as he kept with Canopus, he decided to attack them with his fast ships alone, in the belief that even if he himself were destroyed... he would inflict damage on them which ...would lead to their certain subsequent destruction." On 3 November, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Nürnberg entered Valparaiso harbour and were welcomed as heroes by the German population. Von Spee refused to join in the celebrations: presented with a bunch of flowers he commented, "these will do nicely for my grave". He was to die with most of the men on his ships approximately one month later at the Battle of the Falkland Islands, on 8 December 1914.

John Doran


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  These include information on officers service records, letters, diaries, personal accounts and information about actions during the Great War.


Those known to have served in

HMS Monmouth

during the Great War 1914-1918.

  • Bagot Maurice John Hervey. Lt. (d.1st Nov 1914)
  • Davey Edward. (d.1st Nov 1914)
  • Driver Charles William. W.Eng. (d.1st Nov 1914)
  • Dungey Charles. CPO. (d.1st Nov 1914)
  • Lamerton Thomas Pinch. Able Sea. (d.1st Nov 1914)
  • Sercombe Frederick. CPO. (d.1st Nov 1914)

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