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SMS Scharnhorst



22nd September 1914 Bombardment of Papeete 1914  The Bombardment of Papeete occurred in French Polynesia when German warships attacked on 22 September 1914, during World War I. The German armoured cruisers SMS Scharnhorst and Gneisenau entered the port of Papeete on the island of Tahiti and sank the French gunboat Zélée and freighter Walkure before bombarding the town's fortifications. French shore batteries and a gunboat resisted the German intrusion, but were greatly outgunned. The main German objective was to seize the coal piles stored on the island, but these were destroyed by the French at the start of the action. The German vessels were largely undamaged but the French lost their gunboat. Several of Papeete's buildings were destroyed and the town's economy was severely disrupted. The main strategic consequence of the engagement was the disclosure of the cruisers' positions to the British Admiralty, which led to the Battle of Coronel where the entire German East Asia Squadron defeated a Royal Navy squadron. The depletion of Scharnhorst's and Gneisenau's ammunition at Papeete also contributed to their subsequent destruction at the Battle of the Falklands.

Background

Word of war reached Admiral Maximilian von Spee—of the German East Asia Squadron—while at Ponape (17 July – 6 August). He concentrated the majority of his squadron at Pagan Island in the nearby Mariana Islands, and then steamed off into the Pacific with the Scharnhorst-class armored cruisers SMS Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, the Königsberg-class light cruiser SMS Nürnberg, the auxiliary cruiser SMS Titania, and several colliers at his disposal. Nürnberg and Titania were sent to gather intelligence at Hawaii and raid the cable station at Fanning Island. Von Spee then learned that Australian and New Zealand forces had captured German Samoa and he sailed off in his flagship Scharnhorst—along with her sister ship Gneisenau—to engage what Allied forces they could find there. Failing to catch the Samoa Expeditionary Force at Apia and having seen no action at all since leaving Pagan Island, the men of Admiral von Spee's armored cruisers were eager to meet the enemy in battle. Von Spee decided to raid Papeete in Tahiti on his way to rendezvous with the rest of his squadron at Easter Island. The French held over 5,000 tonnes of high-quality Cardiff coal at the port and von Spee hoped to seize the coal piles to replenish his squadron's supply. Additionally, von Spee aimed at destroying what allied shipping he could find in the harbour and thought the raid might help raise his men's morale. Von Spee intended to coal at Suwarrow Atoll before sailing to Papeete, but was prevented by foul weather. Instead, von Spee decided to take Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and attempt to resupply at Bora Bora while Nürnberg and Titania were dispatched to Nukuhiva to guard the fleet's colliers. The German admiral intended to keep his vessels' identities secret by disguising them as French ships, flying French flags, and only allowing French- and English-speaking members of his crew contact with the Frenchmen present there. Von Spee managed to replenish his food stores using gold seized by Titania and Nürnberg during their raid of Fanning and was able to discover the strength of the French military in the region as well as the exact size and positions of the coal piles at Papeete. The French had no heavy defenses at Papeete but had been warned that von Spee's squadron might raid Tahiti and that a German squadron had been sighted off Samoa. Although Papeete was the capital of the French Settlements in Oceania, by 1914 it had become a colonial backwater, lacking a wireless station and having a garrison of only 25 colonial infantry and 20 gendarmes. In order to bolster the town's defenses, Lieutenant Maxime Destremau—commander of the old wooden gunboat Zélée and the ranking officer at Papeete—had his ship's 100 mm stern gun and all of her 65 mm and 37 mm guns removed from his vessel and placed ashore to be used in place of Papeete's antiquated land batteries. Several Ford trucks were turned into impromptu armored cars by mounting them with Zélée's 37-mm guns and 160 sailors and marines drilled in preparation to repel any German attempt at landing. Zélée retained only her 100-mm bow gun and 10 men under the ship's second in command. In addition to the gunboat and harbor fortifications, the French also had at Papeete the unarmed German freighter Walkure, which had been captured by Zélée at the start of the war. Despite the French preparations, the two German cruisers were more than a match for the forces Destremau commanded at Papeete. Both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau heavily outgunned Zélée, each being armed with eight 210 mm guns, six 150 mm guns, eighteen 88 mm guns and four torpedo tubes. Von Spee's forces also outnumbered the French with over 1,500 sailors aboard their vessels, more than enough to form a landing party and overwhelm the forces Destremau had to oppose them.

Battle

At 0700 on 22 September 1914, the French sighted two unidentified cruisers approaching the harbour of Papeete. The alarm was raised, the harbor's signal beacons destroyed and three warning shots were fired by the French batteries to signal the approaching cruisers that they must identify themselves. The cruisers replied with a shot of their own and raised the German colors, signaling the town to surrender. The French refused the German demands and von Spee's vessels began to shell the shore batteries and town from a distance of 6,000 m (6,600 yd). The land batteries and the gunboat in the harbor returned fire, but scored no hits on the armored cruisers. Having difficulty in discovering the exact position of the French batteries, the German cruisers soon turned their attention to the French shipping in the harbor. The French commander—Destremau—had ordered the coal piles burned at the start of the action and now smoke began billowing over the town. Zélée and Walkure were sighted and fired upon by the Germans. The French had begun to scuttle their vessels when the action had begun, but both were still afloat when Scharnhorst and Gneisenau began firing upon them and finished the two ships off. By now, most of the Papeete's inhabitants had fled and the town had caught fire from the German shelling, with two blocks of Papeete set alight. With the coal piles destroyed and the threat of mines in the harbor, von Spee saw no meaningful purpose in making a landing. Accordingly, the German admiral withdrew his ships from Papeete's harbor by 1100. After leaving Papeete, the ships steamed out towards Nuku Hiva to meet Nürnberg, Titania and colliers waiting there.

Aftermath

By the time von Spee withdrew his ships, large portions of the town had been destroyed. Two entire blocks of Papeete had burnt to the ground before the fires were finally put out. A copra store, a market and several other buildings and residences were among those destroyed by the shellfire and resulting inferno. While the majority of Papeete's civilians fled to the interior of the island as soon as the fighting began, a Japanese civilian and a Polynesian boy were both killed by German shellfire. Although the two French vessels in the harbor had been sunk, there were no military casualties on either side and the German vessels took no damage. Overall, the bombardment was estimated in 1915 to have caused over 2 million francs' worth of property damage, some of which was recouped through the seizure of a German store on the island. In addition to the seizure of their property, several local Germans were interned and forced to repair the damage von Spee's squadron had caused. Perhaps the most lasting effect of the bombardment on the French was the dramatic fall of copra prices in the region, as local suppliers had previously sold a majority of their produce to German merchants in the area who were now interned. Further havoc and distress spread throughout the island 18 days after von Spee's squadron had left, when rumors started to spread that a second German bombardment was about to begin. After withdrawing, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau rendezvoused with Nürnberg and Titania at Nuku Hiva, where they resupplied and their crews took shore leave before moving on to meet the rest of the squadron at Easter Island. Although the Germans had destroyed the shipping at Papeete and wreaked havoc in the town, they had been denied their primary objective of seizing the French coal piles and replenishing their own stocks. Von Spee's raid allowed the British Admiralty to receive word on his position and heading, allowing them to inform Rear Admiral Christopher Cradock of the German intentions thus leading to the Battle of Coronel. Another effect was the reduction of ammunition available to the two German cruisers. The hundreds of shells fired by von Spee's ships at Papeete were irreplaceable. The depletion of ammunition as a result of the action at Papeete contributed to the German East Asia Squadron's failure to adequately defend itself at the Battle of the Falkland Islands against British battlecruisers. Lieutenant Destremau was chastised by his misinformed superior officer for his actions during the defense of Papeete and for the loss of the gunboat Zélée. He was summoned back to Toulon under arrest to be court-martialled, but died of illness in 1915 before the trial. In 1918, Destremau was finally recognized for his actions at Papeete and was posthumously awarded the Légion d'honneur.

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.

8th December 1914 Battle of the Falklands  

German East Asia Squadron leaving Valparaiso, Chile. (4 Nov 1914)

The Battle of the Falkland Islands took place on the 8th December 1914 during the First World War in the South Atlantic. The British, suffering a defeat at the Battle of Coronel on 1 November, had sent a large force to track down and destroy the victorious German cruiser squadron. Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee commanded the German squadron which consisted of two armoured cruisers SMS Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, three light cruisers SMS Nürnberg, Dresden and Leipzig together with three auxiliarie. They attempted to raid the British supply base at Stanley in the Falkland Islands.

A larger British squadron, consisting of two battlecruisers HMS Invincible and Inflexible, three armoured cruisers HMS Carnarvon, Cornwall and Kent and two light cruisers HMS Bristol and Glasgow had arrived in the port only the day before. Visibility was at its maximum, the sea was calm with a light northwesterly breeze and a bright sunny day. The German squadron had been detected early on and by nine o'clock that morning the British were in hot pursuit of the five German vessels who had taken flight to the southeast.

The only ships to escape were the light cruiser Dresden and the auxiliary Seydlitz- all the others were sunk. The British battlecruisers each mounted eight 12 inch guns, whereas Spee's heaviest ships (Scharnhorst and Gneisenau), were only equipped with eight 8.3 inch guns. Additionally, the British battlecruisers could make 29.3 mph against Spee's 25.9 mph. So the British battlecruisers could not only outrun their opponents but significantly outgun them too. The old pre-dreadnought battleship, HMS Canopus, had been grounded at Stanley to act as a makeshift defence battery for the area.

At the outbreak of hostilities in World War One, the German East Asian squadron, which Admiral Spee commanded, was heavily outnumbered by the Royal Navy and the Japanese Navy. The German High Command realised that the Asian possessions could not be defended and that the squadron might not survive. Spee therefore tried to get his ships home via the Pacific and Cape Horn, but was pessimistic of their chances. Following von Spee's success at Coronel off the coast of Valparaíso, Chile, where his squadron sank the cruisers HMS Good Hope and Monmouth, von Spee's force put into Valparaíso. As required under international law for belligerent ships in neutral countries, the ships left within 24 hours, moving to Mas Afuera, 400 miles off the Chilean coast. There they received news of the loss of the cruiser SMS Emden, which had previously detached from the squadron and had been raiding in the Indian Ocean. They also learned of the fall of the German colony at Tsingtao in China, which had been their home port. On 15 November, the squadron moved to Bahia San Quintin on the Chilean coast, where 300 Iron Crosses second class were awarded to the crew, and an Iron Cross first class to Admiral Spee. Spee was advised by his officers to return to Germany if he could. His ships had used half their ammunition at Coronel, and had difficulties obtaining coal. Intelligence reported the British ships HMS Defence, Cornwall and Carnarvon were stationed in the River Plate and that there were no British warships at Stanley. Spee had been concerned about reports of a British battleship, Canopus, but its location was unknown.

On 26 November, the squadron set sail and reached Cape Horn on the 1st December, anchoring at Picton Island for 3 days coaling from acaptured British collier, the Drummuir. On 6 December, the British vessel was scuttled and the crew transferred to the auxiliary Seydlitz. Spee proposed to raid the Falkland Islands before turning north to sail up the Atlantic back to Germany even though it was unnecessary and opposed by three of his captains.

On the 30th October, retired Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Fisher was reappointed First Sea Lord to replace Admiral Prince Louis of Battenberg. On the 3rd November, Fisher was advised that Spee had been sighted off Valparaíso and acted to reinforce Cradock by ordering Defence,to join his squadron. On the 4th November, news of the defeat at Coronel arrived. As a result, the battlecruisers Invincible and Inflexible were detached from the Grand Fleet and sailed for Plymouth to prepare for overseas service. Chief of Staff at the Admiralty was Vice-Admiral Doveton Sturdee with whom Fisher had a long-standing disagreement, so he took the opportunity to appoint Sturdee as Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic and Pacific, to command the new squadron from Invincible. On 11 November, Invincible and Inflexible left Devonport. Repairs to Invincible were incomplete and she sailed with workmen still on board. The ships travelled at a reduced 12 mph as running at high speed used significantly more coal, so to complete the long journey it was necessary to travel at the most economic speed. The two ships were also heavily loaded with supplies. Sturdee arrived at the Abrolhos Rocks on the 26th November, where Rear Admiral Stoddart awaited him with the remainder of the squadron. Sturdee announced his intention to depart for the Falkland Islands on 29 November. From there, the fast light cruisers Glasgow and Bristol would patrol seeking Spee, summoning reinforcements if they found him. Captain Luce of Glasgow, who had been at the battle of Coronel persuaded Sturdee to depart a day early. The squadron was delayed during the journey for 12 hours when a cable towing targets became wrapped around one of Invincible's propellers, but the ships arrived on the morning of 7 December. The two light cruisers moored in to the inner part of Stanley Harbour, while the larger ships remained in the deeper outer harbour of Port William. Divers set about removing the offending cable from Invincible, Cornwall's boiler fires were extinguished to make repairs, and Bristol had one of her engines dismantled. The famous ship SS Great Britain, reduced to a coal bunker, supplied coal to Invincible and Inflexible. The armed merchant cruiser Macedonia was ordered to patrol the harbour, while Kent maintained steam ready to replace Macedonia the next day, 8th December. Spee's fleet arrived in the morning of the same day.

Two of Spee's cruisers—Gneisenau and Nürnberg—approached Stanley first and, at that time, the entire British fleet was still coaling. Some believe that, had Spee pressed the attack, Sturdee's ships would have been easy targets. Any British ship trying to leave would have faced the full firepower of the German ships and having a vessel sunk might also have blocked the rest of the British squadron inside the harbour. Fortunately for the British, the Germans were surprised by gunfire from an unexpected source as Canopus, which had been grounded as a guardship and was hidden behind a hill, opened fire. This was enough to check the Germans' advance. The sight of the distinctive tripod masts of the British battlecruisers confirmed that they were facing a better-equipped enemy. Kent was already making her way out of the harbour and had been ordered to pursue Spee's ships. Made aware of the German ships, Sturdee had ordered the crews to breakfast, knowing that Canopus had bought them time while steam was raised. To Spee, with his crew battle-weary and his ships outgunned, the outcome seemed inevitable. Realising his danger too late, and having lost any chance to attack the British ships while they were at anchor, Spee and his squadron dashed for the open sea. The British left port around 1000. Spee was ahead by 15 miles but there was a lot of daylight left for the faster battlecruisers to catch them.

It was 1300 when the British battlecruisers opened fire, but it took them half an hour to get the range of Leipzig. Realising that he could not outrun the British ships, Spee decided to engage them with his armoured cruisers to give the light cruisers a chance to escape. They turned to fight just after 1320. The German armoured cruisers had the advantage of a freshening north-west breeze which caused the funnel smoke of the British ships to obscure their targets practically throughout the action. Despite initial success by Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in striking Invincible, the British capital ships suffered little damage. Spee then turned to escape, but the battlecruisers came within extreme firing range 40 minutes later. Invincible and Inflexible engaged Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, while Sturdee detached his cruisers to chase Leipzig and Nürnberg. Inflexible and Invincible turned to fire broadsides at the armoured cruisers and Spee responded by trying to close the range. His flagship Scharnhorst suffered extensive damage with funnels flattened, fires and developed a list. The list became worse at 1604, and she sank by 1617. Gneisenau continued to fire and evade until 1715, by which time her ammunition had been exhausted, and her crew allowed her to sink at 1802. During her death throes, Admiral Sturdee continued to engage Gneisenau with his two battlecruisers and the cruiser Carnarvon seemingly ignoring the escaping Dresden. 190 of Gneisenau's crew were rescued from the water. The battlecruisers had received about 40 hits, with one man killed and four injured. Meanwhile, Nürnberg and Leipzig had run from the British cruisers. Nürnberg was running at full speed while the crew of the pursuing Kent were pushing her boilers and engines to the limit. Nürnberg finally turned for battle at 1730. Kent had the advantage in shell weight and armour. Nürnberg suffered two boiler explosions around 1830, giving further advantage in speed and manoeuvrability to Kent. The German ship then rolled over at 1927 after a long chase. The cruisers Glasgow and Cornwall had chased down Leipzig. Glasgow closed to finish Leipzig which had run out of ammunition but was still flying her battle ensign. Leipzig fired two flares, so Glasgow ceased fire. At 2123, more than 80 miles southeast of the Falklands, she also rolled over, leaving only 18 survivors.

The British suffered only very light casualties and damage whereas Admiral Spee and his two sons were among the German dead. There were 215 rescued German survivors who became prisoners on the British ships. Most were from the Gneisenau, nine were from Nürnberg and 18 were from Leipzig. There were no survivors from Scharnhorst. Of the known German force of eight ships, two escaped, the auxiliary Seydlitz and the light cruiser Dresden, which roamed at large for a further three months before she was cornered by a British squadron off the Juan Fernández Islands on 14 March 1915. After fighting a short battle, Dresden's captain evacuated his ship and scuttled her by detonating the main ammunition magazine. As a consequence of the battle, German commerce raiding on the high seas by regular warships of the Kaiserliche Marine was brought to an end. However, Germany put several armed merchant vessels into service as commerce raiders until the end of the war.

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    If the information here has been helpful or you have enjoyed reaching the stories please conside making a donation, no matter how small, would be much appreciated, annually we need to raise enough funds to pay for our web hosting or this site will vanish from the web. In these difficult times current donations are falling far short of this target.

    If you enjoy this site please consider making a donation.


    Announcements

    • The Wartime Memories Project is the original WW1 and WW2 commemoration website

      This website has been running for 16 years and receives in excess of a million hits per month. The website and our group will continue long after the 2014-18 events are over. We hope that people will continue to support us by submitting material and stories in addition to submitting to the new websites set up for the anniversary.

    • We are looking for volunteers to help with researching the activities of units of the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Territorial Force, Regular Army, Pals Battalions, Kitchener's New Armies, Voluntary Organisations and the Ships of the Royal Navy. We currently have a huge backlog of stories and historical documents which need to be edited or transcribed for display online, if you have a good standard of written English, an interest in the two World Wars and a little time to spare online we would appreciate your help. For more information please see our page on Volunteering.

    Wanted: Digital copies of Group photographs, Scrapbooks, Autograph books, photo albums, newspaper clippings, letters, postcards and ephemera relating to the Great War. If you have any unwanted photographs, documents or items from the First or Second World War, please do not destroy them. The Wartime Memories Project will give them a good home and ensure that they are used for educational purposes. Please get in touch.





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    If you have a general question please post it on our Facebook page.


    Mar 2017

        Please note we currently have a backlog of submitted material, our volunteers are working through this as quickly as possible and all names, stories and photos will be added to the site. If you have already submitted a story to the site and your UID reference number is higher than 229915 your submission is still in the queue, please do not resubmit without contacting us first.

    World War 1 One ww1 wwII greatwar great
    Did you know? We also have a section on World War Two. and a Timecapsule to preserve stories from other conflicts for future generations.




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      The Wartime Memories Project is a non profit organisation run by volunteers.

      This website is paid for out of our own pockets, library subscriptions and from donations made by visitors. The popularity of the site means that it is far exceeding available resources.

      If you are enjoying the site, please consider making a donation, however small to help with the costs of keeping the site running.


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      is archived for preservation by the British Library





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