The Battles of Coronel
& The Falkland Islands
In December 2014, to mark the 100th anniversary of the battles of Coronel and the Falklands, the Falkland Islands Museum & National Trust commemorated these two poignant sea battles with an exhibition at the Historic Dockyard Museum, Stanley.
Items from this page were among the many exhibits used to tell the dramatic and tragic stories of these two battles. Museum manager Leona Roberts says that assembling these exhibits has sometimes been heartbreaking:
"... Wherever I can I am using extracts from letters and postcards home there’s something so special about them... it is just heartbreaking to think of all those sons lost…"
he First World War was marked by the fact that there were so few battles at sea. This was partly because of Britain's perceived dominance at sea and partly because the powerful fleet Germany was able to build was often easily contained in its North Sea ports.
Today the best-known sea battle of WWl was undoubtedly the indecisive action at Jutland. But at the time the most important battles occurred within a few weeks of each other in the strategic waters around Cape Horn on the southern tip of South America thus deciding who would control the South Atlantic, the Pacific Ocean and access to the Indian Ocean around the Cape of Good Hope.
In the first action, British pride was dented when Germany sank a British flagship and a cruiser at Coronel on 1 November 1914. For a few weeks it seemed that Britain's command of the seas was in question. But, on 8 December 1914, this defeat was decisively avenged by the second action off the Falklands Islands when Britain sank the pride of the German fleet, reasserting her maritime superiority for the rest of the war.
The Battle of Coronel: Germany's East Asiatic squadron, under Count Maximilian von Spee, was trying to evade the British and Japanese as he sailed eastwards from the Caroline Islands across the Pacific. His squadron consisted of five vessels: the armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and three light cruisers Dresden, Leipzig, and Nürnberg. As he neared the coast of South America, the British unwisely chose to intercept him with the old and out-dated cruisers Good Hope and Monmouth, the light cruiser Glasgow and the armoured merchant ship Otranto. The ageing Canopus was in reserve. On 1 November the British squadron, commanded by Admiral Sir Christopher Craddock (1862-1914), met and engaged von Spee at Coronel off the Chilean coast. Craddock went down with his ship when Good Hope and Monmouth, were lost with all hands. Von Spee also drove off the other two British vessels.
The Battle of the Falkland Islands: Britain's revenge for Coronel occurred when its squadron of cruisers and a battleship under Admiral Sir Frederick Charles Doveton Sturdee (1859-1925) engaged von Spee again, destroying his entire squadron of cruisers and supply ships. On the morning of 8 December von Spee had dispatched the Gneisenau and the Nürnberg, on a skirmishing mission into Britain's Falkland Islands. They were sighted off Port Stanley where Sturdee's ships lay at anchor. The British cruiser Canopus opened fire and, although the two German ships were out of range, drove them back to rejoin their group which then steamed eastward at full speed to avoid action. At 09:45 most of the British squadron started in pursuit. By 13:00 the rear ships of the German column were within firing range of Britain's Invincible and Inflexible. By 18:00 the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, with von Spee aboard, were sunk. The remaining German ships were also sunk, with the exception of the Dresden which escaped only to scuttle herself when cornered by her British pursuers.
See the fascinating, original signal to the Admiralty made by HMS Canopus [right] describing the doomed encounter with von Spee's ships at Coronel. First news of the British defeat and its aftermath was: "...At 8.45 p.m. received first intimation that squadron had been engaged from GLASGOW. Signal read "Fear GOOD HOPE lost, our squadron scattered"..."
By November 1914 Rear Admiral Craddock found himself off the pacific coast of South America in command of a squadron of ageing vessels which had been supplemented by the armoured cruiser Good Hope with a crew of inexperienced reservists and cadets. Nevertheless Craddock transferred his flag to Good Hope when instructed to find and engage von Spee who was known to be in the Pacific. The rest of Craddock's squadron consisted of the armoured cruiser Monmouth, the light cruiser Glasgow and the armed merchant cruiser Otranto.
Right: Journalism has always been unreliable! HMS Otranto took part in the Battle of Coronel on 1 November 1914.
espite Admiralty assurances that he could reasonably challenge von Spee, Craddock's squadron, to be based in the Falkland Islands, was clearly no match for the German flotilla. He had been promised the armoured cruiser HMS Defence but instead had received the slow and geriatric pre-dreadnought battleship Canopus which had been brought out of reserve. Normally Canopus had a maximum speed of only 17 knots, but engine problems had reduced this to 12 knots. Her crew of reservists had never fired her guns which were anyway out-ranged by the German armoured cruisers. Canopus was therefore ordered to stand well clear of the impending action, along with some colliers.
On October 29 Glasgow was sent to Coronel to pick up intelligence and intercepted signals traffic between Leipzig and a collier. Craddock therefore deployed his vessels at 20 mile intervals to sweep north. The British ships are said to have had little optimism about any encounter with the Germany's modern ships and experienced crews.
Only the modern light cruiser Glasgow was capable of out-gunning the German light cruisers, though not Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Monmouth's crew was less experienced even than Good Hope, as well as slow and under-armed. Otranto was a slow, lightly armed converted liner.
On November 1 at 16:30 Glasgow sighted smoke from Leipzig and then, minutes later, all the German armoured cruisers. Spee formed a battle line in the order Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Leipzig and Dresden. Nürnberg was thirty miles to the north, still returning from Valparaiso.
The British ordered was: Good Hope, Monmouth, Glasgow and Otranto. Craddock had the opportunity of turning towards Canopus, 300 miles to the south, there not being sufficient light for Spee to catch him that day but that risked losing Spee during the night.
At 19:30 at 12,000 yards (6.8 miles) the British turned towards the German line and the German armoured cruisers opened fire. The British squadron was silhouetted by the setting sun whilst the German ships were hard to see in the failing light. The third salvo from Scharnhorst hit Good Hope, knocking out her forward 9.2 inch gun. Monmouth was also hit by the third salvo from Gneisenau which set her forward turret on fire. The German gun crews maintained a rapid and accurate fire, both leading British cruisers being hit over thirty times.
The British reply was ineffectual with the Germans targeting fires on the British ships while the British could only aim at enemy gun flashes.
Leipzig and Glasgow engaged each other whilst Dresden fired on Otranto which rapidly pulled out of the line and fled. Dresden then also engaged Glasgow.
When Craddock closed the range to 5,500 yards to bring his 6 inch guns to action, Spee interpreted this as an attempt to launch a torpedo attack and increased the range.
At 19:50 Good Hope's magazine exploded. She drifted away and sank soon after with no survivors.
The crippled Monmouth was on fire and listing to port.
Left: At 08h:30 on 7 November 1914, this vital signal was made from HMS Canopus to the Admiralty in London (via the governor of the Falkland Islands and the British minister in Monte Video) describing the first contact between British and German ships at Coronel and the disastrous consequences of the subsequent actions. The author's grandfather, Surgeon-Lieutenant Michael Vlasto, kept this carbon-copy of the signal and annotated it with the time, position and speed of Canopus, no doubt aware of the great significance of the battle in which he was taking part. (Author's collection)
Glasgow had been hit five times and, seeing that Monmouth was beyond help, fled to avoid certain destruction. She then warned Canopus to turn back [see right].
The newly arrived Nürnberg found Monmouth still flying her White Ensign but unable to fire and finished her off with point blank gunfire seventy-five gun flashes being observed from Glasgow. Again there were no survivors.
Leipzig and Dresden were detached to find Glasgow and Otranto, both heading for the Falkland Islands whilst the rest of the squadron made for Valparaiso to coal and provision.
The British had suffered its first defeat for over a century with the loss of two armoured cruisers and nearly 1,600 crew. The Germans received two hits on Scharnhorst and four hits with three wounded on Gneisenau.
he shock of the defeat at the Battle of Coronel led the Royal Navy to take decisive action to destroy Spee. The battle cruisers HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible, under Vice-Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee, were despatched to the South Atlantic on 11 November 1914. They were to rendez-vous with other British vessels at the Abrolhos Rocks off the Brazilian coast and then sail south to the Falkand Islands.
Admiral Spee meanwhile, on his flagship SMS Scharnhorst, was savouring his victory at Coronel. He coaled his ships and then loitered in the Pacific whilst he decided what to do next. This indecision was to prove fatal. Eventually Spee decided to head for home through the Atlantic. His squadron had passed the Cape of Good Hope by December 1 and on the following day captured the Drummuir, carrying coal. It then rested for three days at Pictou Island. Spee wanted to raid the Falkland Islands but his captains were opposed to the idea. However, Spee decided to go ahead anyway another decision he was to regret.
On December 7, Sturdee arrived at Port Stanley where HMS Canopus (a pre-dreadnought) was already beached on guard-duty. Sturdee's vessels now comprised: the battle cruisers HMS Invincible (flagship) and HMS Inflexible, the armoured cruisers HMS Kent, HMS Carnarvon and HMS Cornwall, the light cruisers HMS Bristol and HMS Glasgow and the armed merchant cruiser HMS Macedonia.
On December 8th, Invincible, Inflexible and the cruisers Bristol, Carnavon, Glasgow, Cornwall and Kent were coaling and, unaware of the German threat, were very vulnerable. Their only protection was the merchant cruiser Macedonia patrolling outside the harbour and Canopus within.
Meanwhile SMS Gneisenau and SMS Nürnberg were detached from Spee's main squadron to attack the wireless station and port facilities at Port Stanley. The rest of Spee's squadron (SMS Scharnhorst, SMS Dresden, SMS Leipzig and the colliers Baden and Santa Maria) followed about fifteen miles behind.
At 08:30 Gneisenau and Nürnberg sighted Macedonia's wireless mast and smoke as she returned from patrol to Port Stanley. They were unaware that at 07:50 they had themselves been sighted by a British hill-top spotter who signalled Canopus which in turn signalled her flagship via Glasgow.
The British ships, still coaling, would have take a couple of hours to get up steam and if attacked would have been stationary targets. Any ship attempting to leave harbour would have faced the concentrated fire of the full German squadron. If it had been sunk whilst leaving harbour the rest of the squadron would have been trapped in port. However Sturdee kept calm, ordered steam to be raised and then had breakfast.
Left: Surgeon Lieutenant Michael 'Michel' E. T. D. Vlasto served in HMS Canopus at the battles of Coronel and the Falkland Islands. In later life he was haunted by memories of sailors jumping from sinking ships into the sea at Coronel with rubber floatation rings around their necks. These new 'life preservers' proved disastrous when men jumped from almost any height. Their necks simply broke as they dropped into the water. Surgeons like Vlasto were appalled by the loss of life: "...hundreds floating dead in the water, who should have survived...". He was presumably referring to German sailors abandoning their ships after Battle of the Falkland Islands and it seems likely this revolutionary 'life-saver' was abandoned and the scandal hushed-up. The author has no evidence yet that British sailors were encouraged to wear neck rings of this sort...
At 09:00 the Germans made out the tripod masts of capital ships. Unsure of what these were, they knew that Canopus was in the area and hoped that these were pre-dreadnoughts which they could easily outrun. Canopus, beached out of site of the German ships and behind hills but had set up a system for targeting using land-based spotters. At 13,000 yards (7.3 miles) Canopus fired her forward turret but the range was well short. The massive shell splashes astonished the German ships which could see no enemy warships. Canopus then fired her rear turret using practice rounds which were already loaded for a planned practice shoot. The blank shells ricocheted off the sea, one of them hitting the rear-most funnel of Gneisenau.
The two German ships turned away. Canopus didn't fire again but saved the British from a perilous situation.
H.M.S. Canopus in 1914 or 1915. She saw action in the battles of Coronel and the Falkland Islands in late 1914. At Coronel she had the sad task of taking command of the remains of Admiral Craddock's ravaged squadron and reporting the defeat to the Admiralty.
At the Falklands she had only practice rounds in the breaches of her rear guns when she launched salvoes at German cruisers threatening to trap and destroy the entire British battle squadron as it lay at berth in Port Stanley. Thanks to her prompt action the British squadron had time to raise steam, chase the German vessels and sink them one by one in the South Atlantic.
The presence of the awning over the rear decks suggests that this picture may have been taken in the Mediterranean or Aegean where she was on station in Spring 1915 as the Gallipoli invasion approached. It was from this ship that arrangements were made for the burial of Rupert Brooke on the island of Skyros in April 1915 and the British handled intelligence communications with agents ashore.
By 09:45 Bristol had left harbour, followed 15 minutes later by Invincible, Inflexible, Kent, Caernarvon and Cornwall. Bristol and Macedonia stayed behind. The German squadron had a 15-20 mile lead but with over eight hours of daylight left and fine weather the battle cruisers would be in action in a couple of hours. The German look-outs could now tell that the tripod masts belonged to battle cruisers which at around 25 knots were considerably faster than the 20 knots the German ships could manage. Spee set course for the South East hoping to find bad weather. At first the British squadron stayed together but the battle cruisers were being slowed down by the other ships and so pulled ahead on their own.
At this point the diary of Captain J. D. Allen of HMS Kent provides a vivid account of the main action...
"No time was lost and at twenty minutes to nine, just under half an hour after the signal was received, the Kent was under way and steaming down the harbour past the flagship. A general signal had been made for all ships to raise steam for full speed. The flagship signalled to the Kent to proceed to the entrance to the harbour and wait there for further orders. From aloft we could now see over the land two cruisers approaching the harbour; one had four funnels and the other three funnels. We discovered later on that they were the German cruisers Gneisenau and Nürnberg.
Meanwhile, all our ships were busy getting clear of the colliers, raising steam and preparing for action. In the Kent we had prepared for action coming down the harbour, throwing overboard all spare wood, wetting the decks, and clearing away the guns. We hoisted 3 ensigns including the silk ensign and Union jack which had been presented to the Kent by the ladies of the County of Kent, and which we had promised to hoist if ever we went into action.
The Gneisenau and Nürnberg came steadily on towards the harbour until they were only 14,000 yards from the Kent Suddenly we heard the Canopus open fire on them with her 12-inch guns across the land, and we saw the shell strike the water a few hundred yards short of the German ships. This must have surprised them, as Canopus was hidden behind the land. About this time also they must have caught sight of the tripod masts of the Invincible and Inflexible, as they immediately turned round and made off. We could now see the smoke of three more cruisers coming up from the southward: these were the Scharnhorst, Dresden, and Leipzig.
The Glasgow was now coming down the harbour, and soon afterwards the Invincible and Inflexible came out, followed by the Cornwall and Carnavon The Admiral now signalled to the Kent to proceed and observe the enemy's movements, keeping out of range. Off we went at full speed ahead in the direction of the enemy's ships, which were now clearly in sight to the south east, hull down. Presently the Glasgow came along full speed and passed us, then out came the Invincible and Inflexible sending up great columns of black smoke, then the Carnavon and Cornwall. It was a magnificent sight. It was a glorious day just like a fine spring day in England, a smooth sea, a bright sun, a light breeze from the north-west.
Right ahead of us we could see the masts, funnels and smoke of the five German cruisers, all in line abreast and steaming straight away from us. At 10.20 a.m. the signal was made for a general chase, and off we all went as hard as we could go. It was only a question of who could steam the fastest. The Invincible and Inflexible were increasing speed every minute, and soon passed the Kent. They were now steaming 25 knots and were rapidly gaining on the enemy.
At 12.55, the Inflexible opened fire from her fore turret at the right hand ship of the enemy, a light cruiser (SMS Leipzig). A few minutes later the Invincible opened fire at the same ship. As the first shots were fired, the Kent's men cheered and clapped. They were as happy and cheerful as any men could be, and you might have thought they were watching a football match instead of going into action. The first shots fell short, as the nearest ship of the enemy was still out of range, but at 1.20 p.m. a 12-inch shell fell close alongside the rear ship and the three light cruisers the Nürnberg, Leipzig, and Dresden turned away to starboard to the south-west. Seeing this, the Kent, Glasgow, and Cornwall turned to starboard, too, in chase of them
As a result of these movements the Kent was now steaming across the wake of the big ships, and about four miles away, so we had a splendid view of them without any risk of being hit. It was a wonderful sight, and the German ships were firing salvo after salvo with marvellous rapidity and control. Flash after flash travelled down their sides from head to stern, all their 6-inch and 8-inch guns firing every salvo. We could not see our own battle-cruisers so well, on account of their smoke, but it was evident they were keeping up a rapid fire. We could see their shell bursting all round and on board the German ships.
The battle became one of separate engagements, with Invincible and Inflexible engaging Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. The fastest German ship, Dresden escaped; Cornwall and Glasgow engaged the Leipzig, leaving Kent to go after Nürnberg: HMS Kent and SMS Nürnberg Kent Nürnberg Built: 1903 1908 Displacement: 9800 tons 3350 tons Designed Speed: 23 knots 23.5 knots Best Speed: 24.1 knots 23.7 knots Guns: fourteen 6-inch ten 4.1-inch Range: 11,000 yards 13,000 yards
It was nearly four o'clock, and the Nürnberg was still some distance ahead. Should we be able to catch her before it was dark? Orders were sent to the engine room to make a supreme effort to increase speed, and splendidly the engineer officers and stokers responded. There was little we could do on deck, so we assisted the stokers by smashing up all the wood we could find, spare spars, ladders, lockers, hen-coops, targets, etc., into suitable-sized pieces, and passed them down to the boiler-rooms to put on the fires. We were going along at a tremendous speed now - 25 knots - and there could be no doubt that we were steadily gaining on the enemy. At 5 p.m. the Nürnberg opened fire with her after guns. It was a great relief when we saw the flash of her guns, for then indeed we knew that we were gaining, and we all felt quite confident that if only we could get within range of her we should soon sink her.
It was exasperating to know that we must submit to being fired at without being able to hit back until we could get near enough for our guns to reach her. But it was only a matter of time and the Kent could easily put up with a few hits at such long range without being any the worse. It only made us feel more determined We had several shots through our rigging and funnels, and one on the upper deck aft, but no serious damage had been done yet, and nothing to reduce our speed.. It was now raining, fine rain and mist, and the light was getting bad. We altered course slightly to port, and opened fire with the fore turret and the two foremost starboard casemates. Owing to the bad light and the rain it was very hard to see the fall of our shot, but as far as we could see they were going very close to her.
One of Kent's shells hit the Nürnberg's after steering compartment, below the waterline, and at about 5.35 p.m., two of her boilers burst, and her speed fell to 19 knots.
The range was now closing fast, and at 5.45 p.m. the Nürnberg turned She had evidently given up all hope of escape and meant to fight As the Nürnberg turned, she started firing all her port guns. The Kent turned to port too, but not quite as much, so as to get still closer, and opened fire with the starboard guns as soon as they would bear. Both ships were now firing away as fast as they could, and getting closer and closer. The Kent was steaming much faster than the Nürnberg now It was now 6 o'clock. The range was down to 4000 yards. Both ships were using independent firing, and firing as fast as the guns could be loaded and fired. The Kent was firing lyddite shell. We could see our shell bursting all over the Nürnberg, and we could see that she was on fire. There was a tremendous noise, guns firing and shell bursting, with a continuous crash of broken glass, splinters flying, things falling down, etc.
It was hard to understand how the Nürnberg could survive it so long. At times she was completely obscured by smoke, and we thought she must have sunk; but as soon as the smoke cleared away, there she was, looking much the same as ever and still firing her guns. She now turned away from us, as if unable to face such a heavy fire. Her foretopmast was shot away, her funnels riddled with holes, her speed reduced, and only two of her port guns were firing. At 6.10 she turned towards us, steaming very slowly, and we crossed her bow, raking her with all our starboard guns as she came end on. Two of our 6-inch shells burst together on her forecastle, destroying her forecastle guns. After crossing her bow, we turned to port till we were nearly on parallel courses again, firing at her with all the port guns. This was a great joy to the crews of our port broadside guns, as up till now they had not had a chance to fire. It was the port guns' turn now, and well they availed themselves of the chance, simply raining shells on the Nürnberg. At last, at 6.36, the Nürnberg ceased firing and immediately we ceased firing too. There was the Nürnberg about 5000 yards away, stopped, and burning gloriously.
We steamed slowly towards her, taking care to keep well before her beam, so that she could not hit us with a torpedo. As we got nearer to her we could see that her colours were still flying, and she shewed no signs of sinking. We had to sink her: there could be doubt about that, so at 6.45 we opened fire again. After five minutes, during which time she was repeatedly struck, she hauled down her colours. We immediately ceased firing. We could see now that she was sinking. Orders were given to get the boats ready for lowering, but (they) were riddled with holes
The men had now left their action stations and were all on the upper deck watching the Nürnberg. Ropes' ends, heaving lines, lifebuoys and lifebelts were got ready to save life. We could now see some of the men leaving the Nürnberg, jumping into the sea and swimming towards the Kent. At 7.26 she heeled right over onto her starboard side, lay there for a few seconds, then slowly turned over and quietly disappeared under the water. Just before she turned over we saw a group of men on her quarterdeck waving a German ensign attached to a staff. As soon as she had gone, we steamed slowly ahead towards the spot where she had gone down, so as to try and pick up as many men as we could from the ship while the boats were being patched. The sea was covered with bits of wreckage, oars, hammocks, chairs, etc., and a considerable number of men holding onto them or swimming in the sea. It was a ghastly sight. There was so little that we could do. Our sailors were shouting to them, trying to encourage them, telling them to hang on, etc Only twelve men were picked up altogether, and out of these only seven survived A north-west wind had sprung up during the afternoon, the surface of the sea was rough, and the water very cold Now did most of us hear for the first time of our own casualties. In a large ship engaged in an action most of the men are fully absorbed by their own particular duties, and know little of what is going on in other parts of the ship until the action is over
We got back to the Falkland Islands the next afternoon, December 9th, and as we approached the harbour we met the Macedonia coming out to look for the Kent. We immediately signalled (through) her to the Admiral: 'Sunk Nürnberg. Regret to report 4 men killed and 12 wounded. Picked up 7 survivors. Wireless telegraphy apparatus is damaged'.
All of von Spee's squadron, with the exception of Dresden, had been sunk, together with two colliers. In no other naval engagement of the Great War was there such a satisfying and decisive victory for the British. It more than made up for the defeat off Coronel, and the Grand Fleet in the North Sea was not able to repeat the South Atlantic success. On 15th December, HMS Kent left Port Stanley to search for the Dresden, and together with HMS Glasgow, was present when she was scuttled at Juan Fernandez on March 14th, 1915.
Admiral Sturdee's Despatch
From "The Navy League Annual 1915/16"
Action Off The Falkland Islands On Tuesday, December 8th, 1914.
The "London Gazette" (Supplement) No. 29087, March 3rd, 1915.
ADMIRALTY, March 3rd, 1915.
The following despatch has been received from Vice-Admiral Sir F. C. Doveton Sturdee, K.C.B., C.V.O., C.M.G., reporting the action off the Falkland Islands on Tuesday, December 8th, 1914.
"INVINCIBLE" AT SEA
December 19th, 1914.
SIR, I have the honour to forward a report on the action which took place on December 8th, 1914, against a German Squadron off the Falkland Islands. I have the honour to be, Sir, Your obedient Servant, F. C. D. STURDEE, Vice-Admiral, Commander-in-Chief.
The Secretary, Admiralty.
(a) Preliminary Movements
(b) Action with the Armoured Cruisers
(c) Action with the Light Cruisers
(d) Action with the Enemy's Transports
(a) Preliminary Movements
The squadron - consisting of H.M. ships Invincible, flying my flag, Flag Captain Percy T. H. Beamish; Inflexible, Captain Richard F. Phillimore; Carnarvon, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral Archibald P. Stoddart, Flag Captain Harry L. d'E. Skipwith Cornwall, Captain Walter M. Ellerton; Kent, Captain John D. Allen; Glasgow, Captain John Luce; Bristol, Captain Basil H. Fanshawe; and Macedonia, Captain Bertram S. Evans - arrived at Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, December 7th, 1914. Coaling was commenced at once, in order that the ships should be ready to resume the search for the enemy's squadron the next evening, December 8th. At 8 a.m. on Tuesday, December 8th, a signal was received from the signal station on shore:
"A four-funnel and two-funnel man-of-war in sight from Sapper Hill, steering northwards."
At this time, the positions of the various ships of the squadron were as follows:
Macedonia: At anchor as look-out ship.
Kent (guard ship): At anchor in Port William.
Invincible and Inflexible: In Port William.
Carnarvon: In Port William.
Cornwall: In Port William.
Glasgow: In Port Stanley.
Bristol: In Port Stanley.
The Kent was at once ordered to weigh, and a general signal was made to raise steam for full speed.
At 8:20 a.m. the signal station reported another column of smoke in sight to the southward, and at 8:45 a.m. the Kent passed down the harbour and took up a station at the entrance.
The Canopus, Captain Heathcoat S. Grant, reported at 8:47 a.m. that the first two ships were eight miles off, and that the smoke reported at 8:20 a.m. appeared to be the smoke of two ships about twenty miles off.
At 8:50 a.m. the signal station reported a further column of smoke in sight to the southward.
The Macedonia was ordered to weigh anchor on the inner side of the other ships, and await orders.
At 9:20 a.m. the two leading ships of the enemy (Gneisenau and Nürnberg), with guns trained on the wireless station, came within range of the Canopus, who opened fire at them across the low land at a range of 11,000 yards. The enemy at once hoisted their colours and turned away. At this time the masts and smoke of the enemy were visible from the upper bridge of the Invincible at a range of approximately 17,000 yards across the low lands to the south of Port William.
A few minutes later the two cruisers altered course to port, as though to close the Kent at the entrance to the harbour, but about this time it seems that the Invincible and Inflexible were seen over the land, as the enemy at once altered course and increased speed to join their consorts.
The Glasgow weighed and proceeded at 9:40 a.m. with orders to join the Kent and observe the enemy's movements.
At 9:45 a.m. the squadron - less the Bristol - weighed, and proceeded out of harbour in the following order: Carnarvon, Inflexible, Invincible, and Cornwall. On passing Cape Pembroke Light, the five ships of the enemy appeared clearly in sight to the south-east, hull down. The visibility was at its maximum, the sea was calm, with a bright sun, a clear sky, and a light breeze from the north-west.
At 10:20 a.m. the signal for a general chase was made. The battle-cruisers quickly passed down ahead of the Carnarvon and overtook the Kent. The Glasgow was ordered to keep two miles from the Invincible, and the Inflexible was stationed on the starboard quarter of the flagship. Speed was eased to 20 knots at 11:15 a.m. to enable the other cruisers to get into station.
At this time the enemy's funnels and bridges showed just above the horizon.
Information was received from the Bristol at 11:27 a.m. that three enemy ships had appeared off Port Pleasant, probably colliers or transports. The Bristol was therefore directed to take the Macedonia under his orders and destroy transports.
The enemy was still maintaining their distance, and I decided, at 12:20 p.m., to attack with the two battle-cruisers and the Glasgow.
At 12:47 p.m. the signal to "Open fire and engage the enemy" was made.
The Inflexible opened fire at 12:55 p.m. from her fore turret at the right-hand ship of the enemy, a light cruiser; a few minutes later the Invincible opened fire at the same ship.
The deliberate fire from a range of 16,500 to 15,000 yards at the right-hand light cruiser, who was dropping astern, became too threatening, and when a shell fell close alongside her at 1:20 p.m. she (the Leipzig) turned away, with the Nürnberg and Dresden to the south-west. These light cruisers were at once followed by the Kent, Glasgow, and Cornwall, in accordance with my instructions.
The action finally developed into three separate encounters besides the subsidiary one dealing with the threatened landing.
(b) Action with the Armoured Cruisers.
The fire of the battle-cruisers was directed on the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. The effect of this was quickly seen, when at 1:25 p.m., with the Scharnhorst leading, they turned about seven points to port in succession into line ahead and opened fire at 1:30 p.m. Shortly afterwards speed was eased to 24 knots, and the battle-cruisers were ordered to turn together, bringing them into line ahead, with the Invincible leading.
The range was about 13,500 yards at the final turn, and increased until, at 2 p.m., it had reached 16,450 yards.
The enemy then (2:10 p.m.) turned away about 10 points to starboard and a second chase ensued, until, at 2:45 p.m., the battle-cruisers again opened fire; this caused the enemy, at 2:53 p.m., to turn into line ahead to port and open fire at 2:55 p.m.
The Scharnhorst caught fire forward, but not seriously, and her fire slackened perceptibly; the Gneisenau was badly hit by the Inflexible.
At 3:30 p.m. the Scharnhorst led round about 10 points to starboard; just previously her fire had slackened perceptibly, and one shell had shot away her third funnel; some guns were not firing, and it would appear that the turn was dictated by a desire to bring her starboard guns into action. The effect of the fire on the Scharnhorst became more and more apparent in consequence of smoke from fires, and also escaping steam; at times a shell would cause a large hole to appear in her side, through which could be seen a dull red glow of flame. At 4:40 p.m. the Scharnhorst, whose flag remained flying to the last, suddenly listed heavily to port, and within a minute it became clear that she was a doomed ship; for the list increased very rapidly until she lay on her beam ends, and at 4:17 p.m. she disappeared.
The Gneisenau passed on the far side of her late flagship, and continued a determined but ineffectual effort to fight the two battle-cruisers.
At 5:08 p.m. the forward funnel was knocked over and remained resting against the second funnel. She was evidently in serious straits, and her fire slackened very much.
At 5:15 p.m. one of the Gneisenau's shells struck the Invincible; this was her last effective effort.
At 5:30 p.m. she turned towards the flagship with a heavy list to starboard, and appeared stopped, with steam pouring from her escape-pipes, and smoke from shell and fires rising everywhere. About this time I ordered the signal "Cease fire" but before it was hoisted the Gneisenau opened fire again, and continued to fire from time to time with a single gun.
At 5:40 p.m. the three ships closed in on the Gneisenau, and, at this time, the flag flying at her fore truck was apparently hauled down, but at the peak continued flying.
At 5:50 p.m. "Cease fire" was made.
At 6 p.m. the Gneisenau heeled over very suddenly, showing the men gathered on her decks and then walking on her side as she lay a minute on her beam ends before sinking.
The prisoners of war from the Gneisenau report that, by the time the ammunition was expended, some 600 men had been killed or wounded.
The surviving officers and men were all ordered on deck and told to provide for themselves with hammocks and any articles that could support them in the water.
When the ship capsized and sank there was probably some 200 unwounded survivors in the water, but owing to the shock of the cold water, many were drowned within sight of the boats and ship.
Every effort was made to save life as quickly as possible, both by boats and from the ships; life-buoys were thrown and ropes lowered, but only a portion could be rescued. The Invincible alone rescued 108 men, fourteen of whom were found to be dead after being brought on board; these men were buried at sea the following day with full military honours.
(c) Action with the Light Cruisers.
At about 1 p.m., when the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau turned to port to engage the Invincible and Inflexible, the enemy's light cruisers turned to starboard to escape; the Dresden was leading, and the Nürnberg and Leipzig followed on each quarter.
In accordance with my instructions, the Glasgow, Kent, and Cornwall at once went in chase of these ships; the Carnarvon, whose speed was insufficient to overtake them, closed the battle-cruisers.
The Glasgow drew well ahead of the Cornwall and Kent and, at 3 p.m., shots were exchanged with the Leipzig at 12,000 yards. The Glasgow's object was to endeavour to out-range the Leipzig with her 6-inch guns and thus cause her to alter course and give the Cornwall and Kent a chance of coming into action.
At 4:17 p.m. the Cornwall opened fire, also on the Leipzig.
At 7:17 p.m. the Leipzig was on fire fore and aft, and the Cornwall and Glasgow ceased fire.
The Leipzig turned over on her port side and disappeared at 9 p.m. Seven officers and eleven men were saved.
At 3:36 p.m. the Cornwall ordered the Kent to engage the Nürnberg, the nearest cruiser to her.
Owing to the excellent and strenuous efforts of the engine-room department, the Kent was able to get within range of the Nürnberg at 5 p.m. At 6:35 p.m., the Nürnberg was on fire forward and ceased firing. The Kent also ceased firing and closed to 3,300 yards; as the colours were still observed to be flying in the Nürnberg, the Kent opened fire again. Fire was finally stopped five minutes later on the colours being hauled down, and every preparation was made to save life.
The Nürnberg sank at 7:27 p.m., and as she sank, a group of men were waving a German ensign attached to a staff. Twelve men were rescued, but only seven survived.
The Kent had four men killed and twelve wounded, mostly caused by one shell.
During the time the three cruisers were engaged with the Nürnberg and Leipzig, the Dresden, who was beyond her consorts, effected her escape owing to her superior speed. The Glasgow was the only cruiser with sufficient speed to have had any chance of success. However, she was fully employed in engaging the Leipzig for over an hour before either the Cornwall or Kent could come up and get within range. During this time the Dresden was able to increase her distance and get out of sight.
The weather changed after 4 p.m., and the visibility was much reduced; further, the sky was overcast and cloudy, thus assisting the Dresden to get away unobserved.
(d) Action with the Enemy's Transports.
A report was received at 11:27 a.m. from H.M.S. Bristol that three ships of the enemy, probably transports or colliers, had appeared off Port Pleasant. The Bristol was ordered to take the Macedonia under his orders and destroy the transports.
H.M.S. Macedonia reports that only two ships, steamships Baden and Santa Isabel, were present; both ships were sunk after the removal of the crew.
I have pleasure in reporting that the officers and men under my orders carried out their duties with admirable efficiency and coolness, and great credit is due to the Engineer Officers of all the ships, several of which exceeded their normal full speed.
March 3rd, 1915.
The King has been graciously pleased to give orders for the award of the Distinguished Service Cross to the undermentioned Officers, in recognition of their services mentioned in the foregoing despatch:
Carpenter Thomas Andrew Walls
Carpenter William Henry Venning
Carpenter George Henry Egford
The following award has also been made
To receive the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal
Sergeant Charles Mayes, H.M.S. Kent.
A shell burst and ignited some cordite charges in the casemate; a flash of flame went down the hoist into the ammunition passage. Sergeant Mayes picked up a charge of cordite and threw it away. He then got hold of a fire hose and flooded the compartment, extinguishing the fire in some empty shell bags which were burning. The extinction of this fire saved a disaster which might have led to the loss of the ship.
See also: Surg. Lt. Michel Vlasto of 'Canopus'
See also: Opposing Formations in The Falklands
See also: Memoirs of HMS Kent's Captain
See also: Admiral Sturdee's Official Report
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