- SMS Leipzig during the Great War -
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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".
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.
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.
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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