Monthly Archives: November 2014

The First Royal Navy VC of WWI

The first member of the RN to be awarded the Victoria Cross in WWI was Commander Henry Peel Ritchie. He was an officer of the pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Goliath, which in November 1914 was blockading the port of Dar-es-Salaam in the German colony of East Africa (now Tanzania). When the German light cruiser SMS Konigsberg sank HMS Pegasus she was operating from Dar-es-Salaam and several German merchant ships that could have supplied raiders were trapped in the harbour.

On 28 November Ritchie was put in charge of a raiding party that was ordered to disable the German merchantmen in the harbour. It came under heavy fire and Ritchie was wounded eight times, but he steered Goliath’s steam pinnace to safety. The citation for his VC stated that:

‘For most conspicuous bravery on the 28th November 1914 when in command of the searching and demolition operations at Dar-es-Salaam East Africa Though severely wounded several times his fortitude and resolution enabled him to continue to do his duty inspiring all by his example until at his eighth wound he became unconscious The interval between his first and last severe wound was between twenty and twenty five minutes.’

He was awarded the medal by the King in April 1915. According to Wikipedia, British casualties were one dead, 12 seriously wounded and 12 captured. Three large merchantmen were immobilised, several shore installations destroyed and 35 prisoners taken. As well as Ritchie’s VC, two men were awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal and seven the Distinguished Service Medal. Goliath and the protected cruiser HMS Fox bombarded the port two days later.

Ritchie’s wounds meant that he was unable to return to sea service and he had to retire in 1917. He lived until 1958, when he died in Edinburgh, just after one of his three daughters emigrated to the USA. He was buried in Warriston Cemetery. Nothing is known about his family since then, and the location of his VC is unknown. The UK Government, the RN and Edinburgh City Council have made a call for information on the missing parts of Commander Ritchie’s family tree.

On 28 November 2014, the 100th anniversary of his act of gallantry, a plaque to Ritchie was unveiled at his birthplace, 1 Melville Crescent, Edinburgh, which is now a government office. In 2013, the UK  Government announced that paving stones would be laid in their birthplaces to commemorate all British WWI VC recipients. After it was pointed out that a number of them were born outside the UK,  the plan was amended to give them a stone in the place in the UK with which they had the greatest connection.

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The Destruction of HMS Bulwark 26 November 1914

On the morning of 26 November 1914, the pre-dreadnought HMS Bulwark blew up whilst moored near Sheerness. Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, told the House of Commons later that day that:

‘I regret to say that I have bad news for the House. The “Bulwark” battleship, which was lying in Sheerness this morning, blew up at 7.53 a.m. The Vice and Rear-Admirals who were present have reported their conviction that it was an internal magazine explosion which rent the ship asunder. There was, apparently, no upheaval of water. The ship had entirely disappeared when the smoke had cleared away. An inquiry will be held to-morrow, which may possibly throw more light on this occurrence. The loss of the ship does not sensibly affect the military position; but I regret to say that the loss of life is very severe. Only twelve men are saved, and all the officers and the rest of the crew, which, I suppose, amounted to between 700 and 800 persons, have perished. I think the House would wish me to express on their behalf the deep sympathy and sorrow with which the House has heard the news, and the sympathy they feel with those who have lost their relatives and friends.’ [click here for online version of Hansard, the record of debates and statements in the British Parliament.]

Witnesses reported seeing a large sheet of flame and thick smoke, followed by an explosion. The ship had, apart from some debris, disappeared once the smoke cleared. Crockery and glassware on nearby ships was broken, buildings up to six miles away were shaken and debris was found over a wide area.

Rumours that the explosion resulted from sabotage, a U boat torpedo or a mine were dismissed by the Admiralty. Rear Admiral E. F. A. Gaunt, the President of the Admiralty Court of Enquiry told the Inquest into the 39 of the deaths that Bulwark had suffered an accidental internal explosion. It was impossible to be sure what had happened, but the court suspected that hot ashes had been piled up against the bulkhead that separated a boiler room from a magazine.

Six inch shells might also have been left in passageways after a recent exercise. This was against regulations, but Gaunt noted that a large proportion of Bulwark’s crew were reservists, who might not have properly followed the rules.

The Inquest concluded:

‘That the vessel had been destroyed by the exploding of a magazine or magazines – it was not certain which – and it was probable that some loose ammunition or cordite may have been detonated by some means that caused the explosion. There was no evidence of any external cause and the burns and multiple injures was the cause of death in almost all of the cases heard so far. The findings of the Court of Enquiry were satisfactory and endorsed that cause of death was by accident”. The jury agreed and returned a verdict of ‘Accidental Death’ in the thirty-nine cases.’ [quoted on the website of the Wessex Branch of the Western Front Association, which also includes a number of statements from witnesses and survivors.]

Churchill stated that there were 12 survivors, but there were actually 15 or 16 men alive when he spoke, of whom nine lived. However, he was speaking shortly after the event, so probably had incomplete information. Naval-history.net lists the dead and 16 survivors, of whom one died the same day, one on each of the next three days, two on 30 November and one on 18 January 1915.

Bulwark was an old ship and Churchill was correct that, even from a military rather than a human point of view,  the loss of the men was a more severe blow than the loss of the ship.

 

 

 

 

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The First British Invasion of Basra, 22 November 1914

At the outbreak of the First World War Britain intended to send three forces from its Indian Army overseas. The largest, Indian Expeditionary Force A, was headed for France. IEF B and C were both to be sent to East Africa, the former to attack German colonies and the latter to defend British ones.

Once it became likely that the Ottoman Empire would enter the war on the side of the Central Powers an additional force, IEF D, was sent to Basra in the Persian Gulf, now part of Iraq but then Ottoman territory. The British in those days normally called modern day Iraq Mesopotamia.

The IEF sailed from India on 16 October. The Royal Navy’s role in the transport of IEF A and C was confined to protecting them from German cruisers by escorting them to their destinations. However, IEF B and D had to land on enemy territory.

IEF B arrived at Tanga in German East Africa (now Tanzania) on 2 November, landing the next day. On 4 November it was defeated by local German forces commanded by Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck. The defeated troops were re-embarked the next day.

The British Official History of Naval Operations suggests that defeat was owed ‘partly perhaps to insufficient artillery support from the sea.’[1] The expedition was accompanied only by the protected cruiser HMS Fox. The pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Goliath had suffered mechanical problems and the modern light cruisers HMS Chatham, Dartmouth and Weymouth were blockading the German light cruiser SMS Königsberg in the Rufiji River.

IEF D was intended to protect Britain’s interests in the Gulf, the most important of which were the oil refinery on the Persian (now Iranian) island of Abadan at the mouth of the Shatt at Arab river and the pipeline connecting it to the Persian oilfields. The oilfields, pipeline and refinery were owned by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now BP).

The Royal Navy had gradually switched from coal to oil in the 10 years leading up to the war. By 1914 the light cruisers and battleships under construction were to be fuelled exclusively by oil. This meant that it needed secure supplies, so in 1914 the Admiralty took a 50% stake in APOC and gave it a 20 year supply contract in return for providing the capital needed to develop the Persian oilfields.[2]

Admiral Sir Edmond Slade, the Admiralty’s oil expert, wanted troops to be sent to protect the oilfields:

‘It is…of urgent importance that the troops indicated should be sent at once in order to safeguard our supply of oil…This question of defence has nothing to do with the investment of Government capital in the Company…It is necessary in order to ensure the due supply of oil required for the Fleet.’[3]

On the other hand, Winston Churchill, who as First Lord of the Admiralty was responsible for the deal with APOC, disagreed with Slade, writing on his minute that ‘[t]here is little likelihood of any troops being available for this purpose. Indian forces must be used at the decisive point. We shall have to buy our oil from elsewhere.[4]

Churchill’s reluctance to protect the Persian oil installations appears surprising given his role in the government’s purchase of shares in APOC, but it is consistent with his pre-war opinion. In a 1913 Cabinet memorandum on naval oil supplies he assumed ‘that in time of war money would be no object.’[5] The objective of the APOC contract was to build up an oil reserve of six months’ wartime naval oil consumption relatively cheaply in peacetime.

The oil facilities were very important, but they were not Britain’s only interest in the region. It is now assumed that everything in the Middle East is about oil, but in 1914 General Sir Edmund Barrow, the Military Secretary to the India Office, argued that:

‘troops could be landed on Persian soil at Mohammerah [now Khorramshahr] or at Abadan island, ostensibly to protect the oil installation, but in reality to notify to the Turks that we meant business and to the Arabs that we were ready to support them… With the Arabs on our side a Jihad is impossible, and our Indian frontier is safe from attack.’[6]

Britain then had good relations with a number of Arab rulers who were nominally subjects of the Ottoman Empire but had a fair degree of autonomy. It feared that in a war with the Ottoman Empire the Ottoman Sultan, who was also the Caliph, might call a Jihad, resulting in a revolt by Britain’s Muslim subjects, especially in British India, which included modern Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Despite Churchill’s views IEF D was sent to the Gulf. It initially consisted of the 16th Brigade of the 6th (Poona) Division, commanded by Brigadier-General Walter Delamain.

There were only three small British warships in the region: the sloops HMS Espiègle and Odin of the Cadmus class and the Indian Marine ship Dalhousie. They were too small to deal with SMS Emden, which was known to be in the Indian Ocean, so IEF D was escorted by the pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Ocean, captained by Captain Arthur Hayes-Sadler, who was put in charge of the naval part of the operation.

IEF D reached Bahrain on 28 October. The next day the Ottoman fleet, commanded by the German Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, and including the battlecruiser Goeben and the light cruiser Breslau, attacked Russian bases in the Black Sea. On 30 October, Delamain was ordered to proceed to the Shatt-al-Arab and another brigade of the 6th Division, the 18th, was sent to the Gulf. The next day he was warned that war with the Ottoman Empire was imminent.

Lord Crewe, the Secretary of State for India, had given the following instructions to the Indian Government regarding the operation:

‘The intention is to occupy Abadan, with the Force under orders, protect the oil-tanks and pipe-line, cover the landing of reinforcements, in the event of such being necessary, and show the Arabs that our intention is to support then against the Turks.’[7]

The British force reached the sandbar in the estuary of the Shatt-al-Arab on 3 November. Two days later Britain declared war on the Ottoman Empire. The next day the convoy entered the Shatt, apart for Ocean, which was too big to cross the bar. A battery of four guns beside the ruined fort of Fao was quickly silenced by Odin and the position taken by a landing force of 600 men. An Ottoman force appeared near Abadan, but were dispersed by gunfire from Espiègle.

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Meso-WW1-1.jpg Original Source: http://www.westpoint.edu/history/SiteAssets/SitePages/World%20War%20I/WWOne43.jpg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Meso-WW1-1.jpg
Original Source: http://www.westpoint.edu/history/SiteAssets/SitePages/World%20War%20I/WWOne43.jpg
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code

Delamain then took the rest of his brigade, two or three miles up the river and landed on the Ottoman side. By 10 November his troops, less a small garrison at Fao, were entrenched in a position that covered the oil refinery. An Ottoman attack on 11 November was beaten off.

The Ottoman telegraph cable from Upper Mesopotamia connected to the British one to Persia and India at Fao. The Ottomans had cut the cable, but the British quickly repaired it.

By 15 November the 18th Brigade and the artillery and divisional troops of the 6th Division had arrived. Its commander, Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Barrett, had instructions to take Basra. Intelligence from prisoners indicated that an attack by up to 10 Ottoman battalions was likely. A rapid victory was also likely to impress the Arabs, so Barrett decided to move on Basra quickly.[8]

Delamain’s brigade, plus two batteries of mountain artillery, defeated an Ottoman force at Saihan on 15 November. By the next day all the infantry and cavalry but only part of the artillery was ashore. Barrett decided to advance, with Odin, Espiègle, the armed yacht Lewis Pelly and the armed tug Sirdar-i-Naphte providing fire support from the river.

The main Ottoman force covering the route to Basra was attacked on 19 November at the mud fort at Kut-az-Zain. The Ottomans withdrew once the fort was destroyed by artillery and naval gunfire, but heavy rain turned the ground into a quagmire, meaning that the British cavalry could not turn the retreat into a rout. This action is referred to as being at Sahil by the British Official Histories.[9] “Sahil” is actually the local word for “shore”, so the name probably results from a misunderstanding.[10]

The Ottomans now made an attempt to block the Shatt-al-Arab using a Hamburg-Amerika liner that had been trapped in Basra and a number of smaller vessels. Barrett’s force was dependent on river transport, so this was potentially a very serious setback to his plans

On 19 November Hayes-Sadler went to investigate the obstacle in Espiègle. She came under fire from a shore battery of four 15 pounders, an armed launch and the gunboat Marmariss. Espiègle silenced the shore guns, sank the launch and forced Marmariss to withdrew without being hit herself. It then transpired that the passage was not completely blocked.

The Ottoman forces defending the approach to Basra and the city’s garrison withdrew the next day. By 5 pm on 21 November Espiègle, Odin and the newly arrived Indian Marine ship Lawrence were anchored off Basra’s Custom House. A blank round was fired in order to discourage looters, and naval parties were landed to deal with the fires that they had started. The first infantry arrived on the morning of 22 November.

The next day it was proclaimed that Basra was under British protection. The Sheikh of Kuwait was informed that Britain now recognised his territory as being an independent principality under British protection. The Ottoman Empire claimed it, but the Sheikh had placed himself under British protection by treaty in 1899.

The next stage of the campaign was an advance up river to Qurna, which was taken on 9 December. The initial objectives had then been achieved, but the Mesopotamian Campaign then grew as a result of mission creep. The capture of one place led to claims that somewhere else had to be taken to protect it. Easy early victories led to over confidence and there was a desire for further victories in a war that was going badly.

The lack of railways and roads meant that the Rivers Euphrates and Tigris were vital for communications, meaning that the RN continued to play an important role in this land campaign.

[1] J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. i, p. 374.

[2] M. Gibson, ‘”Oil Fuel Will Absolutely Revolutionize Naval Strategy”: The Royal Navy’s Adoption of Oil before the First World War,’ in A Military Transformed? Adaption and Innovation in the British Military, 1792-1945, ed. R. Mahoney, Mitchell, S., LoCicero, M. (Solihull: Helion and Company, 2014), pp. 110-23.

[3] NA, ADM 137/6, ‘Persian Gulf, Part 1, 30 July – 31 October 1914’, 1914.

[4] Ibid.

[5] NA, CAB 37/115/39, ‘Oil Fuel Supply for H.M. Navy’, 1913, p. 5.

[6] Quoted in F. J. Moberly, The Campaign in Mesopotamia, 1914-1918, 4 vols. (London: HMSO, 1923). vol. i, p. 87.

[7] PP, Mesopotamia Commission. Report of the Commission Appointed by Act of Parliament to Enquire into the Operations of War in Mesopotamia, Together with a Separate Report by Commander J. Wedgwood, D.S.O., M.P., and Appendices, HMSO 1917 [Cd. 8610]. p. 12.

[8] Moberly, Mesopotamia. vol i, p. 109.

[9] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. i, p. 389; Moberly, Mesopotamia. vol. i, p. 120.

[10] A. J. Barker, The First Iraq War, 1914-1918: Britain’s Mesopotamian Campaign (New York, NY: Enigma, 2009). This book was originally published in 1967 under the titles The Neglected War in the UK and The Bastard War in the US.

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The Cruise of SMS Emden

On 14 August 1914 Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee detached Fregattenkapitän Karl von Müller’s light cruiser SMS Emden (3,664 tons, 23.5 knots, 10 x 4.1 inch and 8 x 2 inch guns, 2 x 17.7 inch torpedo tubes) and the supply ship Markomannia from his East Asia Squadron to operate in the Indian Ocean.[1] Spee wrote in his war diary that:

A single light cruiser, which consumes far less coal and can, if necessary, coal from captured steamships, will be able to maintain herself longer than the whole Squadron in the Indian Ocean, and as there are great prizes to be won there (Indian, East Asiatic and Australian shipping), it seems advisable to despatch our fastest light cruiser, the Emden, with our best collier. She can subsequently proceed to the African coast, or should Holland remain neutral, to the Netherland East Indies.[2]

However, the Dutch decided to ‘rigorously enforce their neutrality.’[3] On 27 August the Dutch coast defence ship Tromp ordered Emden to stay out of Dutch territorial waters. She had earlier sent away a German collier that had stayed too long in Dutch waters. This meant that the Germans had to abandon their pre-war plan that supply ships should wait for orders in neutral waters. Emden’s coal bunkers had a capacity of 790 tons. She might carry up to 1,000 tons, but her combat efficiency and the crew’s living conditions would be adversely affected by the need to store coal wherever space could be found. At her most economical cruising speed of 12 knots she consumed 60 tons of coal an hour. At the maximum speed that she managed on trials of 23.85 knots she used 371 tons per hour. Thus, with a normal coal load, she had an endurance of just over 13 days and a range of just under 3,800 miles at 12 knots. She could maintain full speed for about 50 hours and 1200 miles.[4] Müller used the following tactics when attempting to capture a merchantman: The commerce raider should not show its colours until the last moment; it should raise the signals “Stop” and Do not use your wireless” along with its ensign; as little use as was possible should be made of searchlights; and the raider should take up a position that made it impossible for it to be rammed by the merchant ship. He also recommended that cruisers employed as commerce raiders should have larger than normal crews in order to be able to provide prize crews for colliers and guards for prisoners. Secrecy was vital for a commerce raider, but the disappearance of merchant ships and reports from neutral ships would mean that the enemy would discover the cruiser’s operating area. Consequently, delaying landing prisoners at ports would help preserve secrecy only if the cruiser had not stopped any neutral ships or if it was operating a long way from enemy signal stations or ports.[5] Emden’s appearance on the Colombo to Calcutta route in the Bay of Bengal surprised the British. They had returned to peacetime procedures, as they had not realised that Spee had detached one of his cruisers. Consequently, her early victims assumed that she was a British cruiser. Müller encouraged this by having a fake fourth funnel rigged. British light cruisers had two or four funnels, whereas Emden had three.[6] Emden coaled at Simular Island off Sumatra on 5 September, narrowly missing the armoured cruiser HMS Hampshire, which had searched there the day before.

On 10 September, Emden stopped a neutral ship, the Greek Pontoporos, whose cargo of coal was British, making her a legitimate target. Müller kept her as a collier. Emden had captured five British ships by 13 September. One, the Kabinga, had a US cargo, so was retained as a prison ship. The other four were sunk. The next ship intercepted by Emden was another neutral, the Italian Loredano. Her master, Captain Giacopolo, refused to take Emden’s prisoners on board on the grounds that his ship had insufficient provisions. Müller allowed her to go. She did not have a wireless, but the next day met and warned the City of Rangoon, a new ship carrying a cargo worth £600,000, which did have a wireless.[7] This led to a suspension of trade, which meant that several ships that would probably have been caught by Emden remained in Calcutta: she was then very close to that port. She did, however, capture and sink another merchantman that had already sailed. Müller now decided to change his area of operations. He first sent the Kabinga to Calcutta (now Kolkata), with his prisoners, before heading for the coast of Burma (now Myanmar). On the way, Emden captured and sunk another British ship, transferring her crew to a Norwegian ship on 16 September Müller’s next move, after coaling, was to attack Madras (now Chennai) after dark on 22 September. Some damage was caused to the steamer Chupra and to the town, but the main damage caused by the attack was the destruction of 425,000 gallons of oil in the Burmah Oil Company’s tanks. It also led to an interruption of trade in the Bay of Bengal at 2 am on 23 September, only 18 hours after the previous suspension had been lifted, and to alarm in Madras and the surrounding area. Five people were killed and a dozen wounded.[8] Between 25 and 27 September Emden took six prizes in the area of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Three were in ballast, but the Admiralty collier Buresk carried 6,000 tons of Welsh steam coal, the best coal in the world for naval use. Buresk was retained as a collier, four of the ships were sunk and the sixth sent to Colombo with the prisoners.[9] Emden then coaled in the Maldives, before arriving at Diego Garcia on 9 October to carry out repairs. Diego Garcia is still British territory and is now a major US base, but it was then so remote that its inhabitants had not learnt of the war. However, on 12 October the light cruiser HMS Yarmouth sank the Markomannia and removed the Pontoporos from German control. Müller next took his ship back to Ceylon, capturing seven merchantmen from 16 to 19 October. Five were sunk and another sent to port with the prisoners. The sixth, the Exford, was retained as she was another Admiralty collier carrying 6,000 tons of Welsh tons.[10] On 21 October Emden passed within 10-20 miles of Hampshire and the armed merchant cruiser HMS Empress of Asia, but the ships did not see each other because of poor visibility. At 5:00 am on 28 October, Emden entered Penang, which had no fixed defences, but was defended by three French destroyers and a torpedo boat. The Russian protected cruiser Zhemchug was also present (3,103 tons, 24.5 knots, 8 x 4.7 inch and 4 x 1.9 inch guns, 4 x 18 inch torpedo tubes): she was smaller than Emden, but not hugely outclassed.[11] Emden was initially assumed to be a British cruiser and did not raise German colours until she was three quarters of a mile from the Zhemchug. Emden then fired a torpedo at her, closed to 800 yards and opened fire.

The Allied ships were caught unprepared. Emden sailed passed the French ships, turned and fired another torpedo into the Zhemchug, which sank 15 minutes after the start of the action. 91 of her crew of 340 were killed and 108 wounded. Emden tried to capture the steamer Glenturret, which was waiting for a pilot and was flying a flag that indicated that she was carrying explosives. However, the French destroyer Mousquet then returned from patrol. She was quickly overwhelmed by Emden and sank in seven minutes. The Germans picked up the French survivors, but then left, as the other French destroyers had now been alerted. Müller learnt from his prisoners that he had lost Pontoporos before he put them onto a merchant ship that he captured soon after leaving Penang. On 1 November a large convoy carrying Australian and New Zealand troops to Egypt left King George Sound, Albany, Western Australia. It was escorted by the Japanese battlecruiser Ibuki (14,636 tons, 21.5 knots, 4 x 12 inch, 8 x 8 inch, 14 x 4.7 inch and 4 x 3.1 inch guns, 3 x 18 inch torpedo tubes), the British armoured cruiser HMS Minotaur (14,600 tons, 23.1 knots, 4 x 9.2 inch, 10 x 7.5 inch and 16 x 12 pounder guns, 5 x 18 inch torpedo tubes) and the Australian light cruisers HMAS Melbourne and Sydney (each 5,400 tons, 25.5 knots, 8 x 6 inch and 4 x 3 pounder guns, 2 x 21 inch torpedo tubes).[12] On 8 November Minotaur received an order to join the Cape Squadron in South Africa in place of the pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Goliath, which had suffered mechanical problems. The Admiralty by then knew that Spee’s squadron was in the south Pacific, so the only threats to the Australasian Convoy were Emden and Königsberg. That day Emden and Buresk were meeting Exford 40 miles north of the Cocos Islands. The next day Emden appeared at Direction Island, landing about 50 men under Kapitänleutenant Hellmuth von Mücke to destroy the wireless station.[13] However, the fourth funnel had been poorly rigged, so the wireless station personnel realised that Emden was German and sent a warning. The convoy was 55 miles north of the Cocos just before 7:00 am when it received the warning. Captain M. L. Silver of Melbourne, the escort commander, was not allowed to detach his own ship, and decided that his must retain his most powerful one, Ibuki, in case the two German cruisers combined to attack the convoy. He therefore sent Sydney to the Cocos. On the morning of 9 November Emden saw smoke, which was assumed to be the Buresk. However, it soon became clear that it came from a four funnelled cruiser. She was Sydney, One of Emden’s officers assumed initially that she was either HMS Newcastle or Yarmouth, which both operated in the area. He later wrote that he was ‘pleased’ about this, which is rather puzzling.[14] Yarmouth was as strong as Sydney and Newcastle outgunned Emden, though not overwhelmingly (4,800 tons, 25 knots, 2 x 6 inch, 10 x 4 inch guns, 4 x 3 pounder guns, 2 x 18 inch torpedo tubes). Müller thought that she was Newcastle.[15] Müller ordered his ship to raise steam. There was not time to recover the landing party, and Emden left the lagoon entrance at 9:17 am. Müller wanted space in which to manoeuvre. Emden opened fire at 9:40 am at a range of 9.500 yards and soon scored hits, but her 4.1 inch guns could do little damage at that range.[16] Sydney initially over estimated the range, so did not hit until her 12th round.[17] Her actual speed advantage was more like 4 knots than the theoretical 2 knots, so her captain, John Glossop, was able to keep his ship out of the Emden’s effective range whilst causing heavy damage to the German cruiser. Early in the action, Emden lost her forward funnel and her steering gear, forcing her to steer with her engines. Sydney closed to 5,500 yards in order to launch a torpedo, which missed. She then opened the range. Müller tried a torpedo attack but could not get close enough By 10:20 am Emden had lost all three funnels and both her fire control positions. She was holed both fore and aft and the amount of smoke coming from her led Sydney to think briefly that she had sunk. The unequal action continued until 11:20 am, when it became obvious that Emden was sinking. She ran herself aground on the reef of North Keeling Island. Sydney then headed off in pursuit of Buresk. A prize crew boarded her, but the Germans had already opened her scuttles, and she was sinking. Sydney then returned to North Keeling Island and at 4:00 pm started firing on Emden, which was still flying her ensign because the lines that were used to raise and lower it had been shot away. Müller ordered his crew to abandon ship, but many were drowned as they tried to swim ashore. Sydney ceased fire after a white flag was shown and Seaman Werner climbed the mast to lower the ensign.[18] This was the Royal Australian Navy’s first victory over a warship. Müller was unhappy that Sydney fired on a helpless ship.[19] However, there were plenty of examples of both sides in this war carrying on firing on enemy ships until they struck their colours, including SMS Nürnberg on HMS Monmouth at Coronel eight days before.[20] Sydney then returned to Direction Island with the intention of capturing the landing party, first picking up the survivors of Emden who were in the water. When she reached the station, the landing party had sailed away in the proprietor’s schooner, Ayesha. The schooner became SMS Ayesha and managed to reach Arabia, then part of the Ottoman Empire. One man died of typhus and others were killed in skirmishes with Bedouin tribesmen. The 49 survivors travelled by the Hejaz Railway to Constantinople, where on 23 May 1915 they were welcomed by the German commander of the Ottoman fleet, Admiral Wilhelm Souchon. They were the only men from Germany’s two German and six light cruisers outside European waters at the outbreak of war to reach friendly territory with colours flying. [21] On 10 November Sydney returned to North Keeling Island to rescue Emden’s survivors. 134 of her crew had been killed in the battle and four of the 66 wounded prisoners died of their wounds. 145 men were captured unwounded. Sydney had four men killed and 122 wounded.[22] More of Emden’s crew were captured when Sydney boarded Buresk and when HMS Himalaya re-captured the Exford in December. Sydney lost four men killed and 12 wounded. Müller was much admired by both sides. Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, ordered that:

‘The captain, officers and crew of the Emden have earned the most honourable treatment possible under the rules of war. If there are no incidents that would preclude otherwise, the captain and his officers may retain their daggers.’[23]

This was equivalent to allowing army officers to keep their swords, but the daggers had been lost with the ship. The Official History of the RN in WWI praised Müller for his ‘skill, resource and boldness…and for the chivalry and humanity with which his duty had been discharged.’[24] Emden was one of only two German warships in WWI whose entire crew were awarded the Iron Cross Second Class, the other being the submarine U9. Müller was awarded Germany’s highest decoration, the Pour le Mérite, popularly known as the Blue Max, in 1918. By then, the British had allowed him to go first to the Netherlands and then back to Germany on the grounds of poor health. He had previously been awarded the Iron Cross First Class, but this medal had become more common since 1914, so a higher award was by 1918 thought to be more appropriate. Emden was the most successful of the German cruisers employed as commerce raiders. She destroyed 16 merchantmen with a total tonnage of 82,938 tons, and also sank two Allied warships. This was not greatly superior to the 76,609 tons of merchant shipping destroyed by Karlsruhe, but Emden caused far more disruption to British trade. Karlsruhe operated off the north east coast of Brazil and did not cost the British much more than the value of the ships that she sank. Emden caused trade in the Bay of Bengal to be suspended from 14 September to 2 October, apart from brief periods on 22-23 September and 1 October. An average of one Japanese battlecruiser, four armoured cruisers, four light cruisers and two armed merchant cruisers were searching for Emden at any one time.[25] The final word on Müller and Emden should go to the German Official History:

‘Müller delivered his blows where they would have the greatest political and economic effect. His sudden appearance and disappearance at the scene of operations and a correct appreciation of the enemy’s counter moves enabled him not only to achieve success in each individual operation, but also to render his capture difficult. It was not luck, but the capacity for forming an accurate estimate of the situation from the scanty information obtainable from prizes and intercepted wireless, that were responsible for his achievements in spite of all the enemy’s endeavours to catch him. Far from keeping to any fixed scheme, Captain Von Müller instantly dropped a predetermined course of action when circumstances rendered a change of plan desirable.’[26]

[1] Technical details of warships are from R. Gray, Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1906-1921 (London: Conway Maritime Press, 1985). unless otherwise stated. [2] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical)  Review of German Cruiser Warfare 1914-1918. p. 4. [3] P. G. Halpern, A Naval History of World War I (London: UCL Press, 1994), p. 74. [4] Gray, Conway’s 1906-1921, p. 157; R. K. Lochner, The Last Gentleman-of-War : The Raider Exploits of the Cruiser Emden, trans., T. Lindauer, H. Lindauer (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1988), p. 307.,  where the coal consumption is stated to be 60 tons a day at 12 knots. An alternative of 48 tons a day is given on p. 16, but the higher figure is the same as used by Gray. [5] German Cruiser Warfare. p. 7. [6] Lochner, Last Gentleman, p. 73. [7] C. E. Fayle, Seaborne Trade., 3 vols. (London: HMSO, 1920). vol. i, p. 207. [8] Ibid., pp. 209-11. [9] Ibid., p. 213. [10] J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. i, p. 334. [11] See Wikipedia entry linked to ship’s name in text above. <<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_cruiser_Zhemchug>&gt;. Accessed 10 November 2014. [12] P. H. Silverstone, Directory of the World’s Capital Ships (London: Ian Allan, 1984), p. 182. [13] UK National Archives, Kew, ADM 137/10221, ‘S.M.S. Emden: Later Papers’. ‘Account by Officer ex S.M.S. EMDEN of SYDNEY-EMDEN Action 9/11/14’, p. 272 says the landing party was 53 men, with a total of about 60 including boat crews; Lochner, Last Gentleman. says 50, p. 213. [14] ADM 137/1021, p. 273. [15] A. W. Jose, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, vol. ix, the Royal Australian Navy, 1914-1918, Ninth ed. (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1941), p. 195. [16] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. i, p. 382. [17] ADM 137/1021, p. 273. [18] Lochner, Last Gentleman, pp. 184-85. [19] Jose, R.A.N., pp. 200-1. [20] Ibid., pp. 188-89. [21] Lochner, Last Gentleman, pp. 279-80. [22] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval, p. 384. [23] Quoted in Lochner, Last Gentleman, p. 207. [24] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. i, p. 385. [25] German Cruiser Warfare. p. 8. [26] Quoted in Ibid.

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The Cruise of SMS Karlsruhe

In July 1914 the new German light cruiser SMS Karlsruhe was in the Caribbean in order to relieve SMS Dresden as the warship protecting German interests in Mexico, where a revolution was in progress. Her first task after the outbreak of war was to rendezvous with the liner Kronprinz Wilhelm in order to transfer guns, stores and men to her. The liner would then operate against Allied trade as an auxiliary cruiser.

At 11 am on 6 August the transfer had almost been completed when the British armoured cruiser HMS Suffolk appeared. The two German ships headed off; Suffolk pursued Karlsruhe, but was unable to catch the faster German ship. Kronprinz Wilhelm had received two 88mm guns, but only a third of the intended ammunition.

The high speed chase used up a lot of Karlsruhe’s coal, so her captain, Fregattenkapitän Erich Köhler, decided to head for Newport News in order to coal. However, at 8:30 pm in moonlight his ship spotted the British light cruiser HMS Bristol, which had already seen the German cruiser. An indecisive long range engagement followed, but Karlsruhe was out of sight by 10:30 pm.

Köhler was unable to get in touch with the supply ship Neckar, so decided to head for the Hamburg-Amerika line’s coal depot at St Thomas in the Virgin Islands. However, Karlsruhe did not have enough coal to get there, so diverted to Puerto Rico, narrowly missing the British armoured cruiser HMS Berwick during the night. She reached Puerto Rico with her bunkers almost empty.[1]

The US authorities allowed Karlsruhe to coal, but only 800 tons were available. Köhler, concerned that his ship was being pursued by more powerful British ships, accepted what was available before sailing to the Dutch island of Curacoa for more coal.

Once Karlsruhe’s coal bunkers were full, Köhler headed for the north east coast of Brazil, which he correctly anticipated would be a safer and more lucrative area for commerce raiding. He joined up with the supply ship Patagonia en route.

Karlsruhe began operations off Brazil on 30 August. She was able to coal five times from supplies obtained from neutral ports by her supply ships or captured from British ships. She always coaled off Lavadeira Reef, which Köhler ‘considered the only suitable anchorage in that area.’[2]

Karlsruhe captured 16 British merchantmen plus one Dutch ship that was carrying a British cargo with a total tonnage of 76,609 tons. Their value was estimated by British insurers as being well in excess of £1 million.[3]

She retained some as supply ships, scuttling the rest. The large number of prisoners taken became a problem, so on 18 October the supply ship Crefeld was sent to neutral Tenerife with 419 prisoners. The British Official History of Seaborne Trade during the war comments that some of the prisoners later complained about their treatment, ‘but it is generally admitted that the Germans did as well as was possible in the circumstances.’[4]

The Crefeld was due to reach Tenerife on 22 October. The prisoners would probably report Karlsruhe’s coaling base, and she had been observed by neutral ships, so Köhler decided to leave the Brazilian coast on 24 October and return to the West Indies. He intended to attack Barbados, destroying shipping in its harbour and interrupting British trade communications in the Caribbean.[5]

Karlsruhe made the last and largest of her 17 captures on the way, the 10,328 ton liner Vandyck on 26 October. She carried 200 passengers and a large amount of stores. Late the same day, Karlsruhe stopped the British merchantman Royal Sceptre, but released her after her master persuaded the boarding officer, falsely, that her cargo was neutral.

On 4 November Karlsruhe suffered an accidental internal explosion. 262 of her crew, including Köhler, were killed, but other 146 were rescued by two of her supply ships. One of these, the Hoffnung, formerly the British Indrani, was then scuttled. The survivors managed to get back to Germany a month later via Norway on the other, the Rio Negro.

Karlsruhe was the second most successful of the five German light cruisers employed as commerce raiders, after SMS Emden. At least 26 cruisers and armed merchant cruisers took part in the search for her at different times. There were 12 cruisers and 3 armed merchant cruisers looking for her at the end of August.[6]

The British learnt of her move away from Brazil when the prisoners from Vandyck and other prizes reached port on 2 November. However, they knew nothing of her destruction, so continued to search for her for some time. The battlecruiser HMS Princess Royal joined the search in mid-December, and reports about Karlsruhe’s alleged movements continued to be received during February and March 1915.

Kronprinz Wilhelm took 15 prizes, with a total tonnage of 60,522 tons, before 11 April 1915, when the poor state both the ship and her crew’s health forced her to enter Hampton Roads, where she was interned. She was comfortably the most successful of the five German merchant ships commissioned as commerce raiders in 1914.[7]

[1] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical) ‘Review of German Cruiser Warfare 1914-1918’, p. 10. says that it was estimated that 4 tons would be left; J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. i, p. 50, says 12 tons were left.

[2] German Cruiser Warfare, pp. 1, 10.

[3] C. E. Fayle, Seaborne Trade, 3 vols. (London: HMSO, 1920). vol. i, p. 331.

[4] Ibid. p. 261, footnote 1.

[5] Ibid., p. 330.

[6] German Cruiser Warfare, p. 12.

[7] Ibid., pp. 1, 12.

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The Battle of Coronel 1 November 1914

In 1914 Germany controlled the Chinese port of Tsingtao, now Qingdao, on a similar basis to British control of Hong Kong. Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee’s East Asia Squadron of two armoured and three light cruisers was based at Tsingtao, but none of its ships were there when war began between Britain and Germany.

The light cruiser SMS Emden had been in Tsingtao, but sailed on 31 July. Another light cruiser, SMS Leipzig, was on the west coast of Mexico, protecting German interests during the Mexican Revolution. The third, SMS Nürnberg, was on her way to relieve Leipzig. The two armoured cruisers, Spee’s flagship SMS Scharnhorst and SMS Gneisenau, were on a cruise through German Pacific islands.

At Hong Kong the Royal Navy had the armoured cruisers HMS Minotaur, which was slightly superior to either of Spee’s armoured cruisers, and HMS Hampshire, which was inferior to Spee’s ships, two light cruisers, eight destroyers and three submarines. The pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Triumph had been in reserve at the start of the war, but was quickly recommissioned. There were insufficient sailors available to fully crew her, but two officers, six signallers and 100 other men of the Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry volunteered for sea service. This gave the British a narrow margin over Spee in Chinese waters.

Further south, the battlecruiser HMAS Australia gave the British Empire naval forces a big superiority In Australasian waters. There were also a number of old French ships in Asia.

However, the major question for Spee was whether or not Japan would enter the war. It issued an ultimatum to Germany on 15 August demanding that Germany withdraw its ships from Chinese and Japanese waters and hand Tsingtao over to Japan. It declared war eight days later. A naval blockade of Tsingtao by a largely Japanese force that included a small British contingent began on 27 August. A land siege began on 31 October; the heavily outnumbered defenders surrendered on 7 November.

This meant that the German pre-war plan for Spee’s squadron to conduct commerce warfare, supplied from Tsingtao, was no longer feasible. By 12 August he had gathered Emden, Nürnberg, the two armoured cruisers and a number of supply ships at Pagan in the Marianas. The strength of the enemy and his lack of bases and coal supplies meant that his squadron could not operate in Indian, East Asian or Australasian waters. The high coal consumption of his armoured cruisers was a particular problem.

Spee did, however, detach Emden and the supply ship Markomannia, to operate in the Indian Ocean. One fast ship could raid commerce and obtain its coal supplies from prizes. The highly successful cruise of Fregattenkapitän Karl von Müller’s Emden will be the subject of a later post.

Spee also sent two armed merchantmen, Prinz Eitel Friedrich and Cormoran, south to raid commerce. The former captured and sank 11 merchantmen with a total displacement of 33,423 tons before coal supply problems forced her to accept internment at Newport News on 11 March 1915.[1]

Cormoran entered the US territory of Guam on 14 December 1914 with her coal bunkers almost empty. She was not allowed to re-coal, so could not leave, and was scuttled on 7 April 1917 after the USA declared war on Germany.

Spee’s squadron moved slowly in order to conserve coal, avoiding contact with Allied forces. He sent Nürnberg to Honolulu on 22 August in order coal and to send and pick up mail and to send orders to German agents in South America to obtain coal and other supplies for the squadron.

The capture and destruction of German wireless stations in the Pacific by Australian and New Zealand forces made it hard for Spee to communicate with Germany and its agents. He also wanted to maintain radio silence as much as possible.

On 12 October Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Nürnberg were at Easter Island, a remote Chilean possession where they could coal in security. The light cruiser SMS Dresden, which had been stationed in the Caribbean before the war, was already there. Two days later they were joined by Leipzig; her appearance off San Francisco on 11 August and erroneous rumours that she was accompanied by Nürnberg ‘paralysed the movements of [British] shipping from Vancouver to Panama.’[2] However, she was forced to lie low after the Japanese entered the war, since the armoured cruiser IMS Idzumo had been off Mexico, protecting Japanese interests.

On 3 September Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock, until then commanding the 4th Cruiser Squadron in the West Indies, had been appointed to command the South American Station. He had his flagship the armoured cruiser HMS Good Hope, the County or Monmouth class armoured cruisers HMS Monmouth and Cornwall, the Town class light cruisers HMS Bristol and Glasgow and the armed merchant cruisers HMS Carmania, Macedonia and Otranto. He lost Carmania on 14 September because of damage that she sustained when sinking the German commerce raider SMS Cap Trafalgar.

The armoured cruiser HMS Defence, then in the Mediterranean, was ordered to head to Gibraltar on 10 September and then to South America after engine room defects had been corrected. A telegram of 14 September told Cradock that Defence was joining him, although she had not set off, and that the pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Canopus was on her way. Spee’s two armoured cruisers were likely to appear at the Magellan Straits. He was told that:

 ‘Until Defence joins keep at least Canopus and one County class with your flagship. As soon as you have superior force search the Magellan Straits with squadron, being ready to return and cover the River Plate, or, according to information, search north as far as Valparaiso, break up the German trade and destroy the German cruisers.’[3]

However, two days later he was told the German armoured cruisers had been seen at Samoa on 14 September and had left heading north west. He was now told that ‘[c]ruisers need not now be concentrated’ and ‘the German trade on the west coast of America was to be attacked at once.’[4]

On 14 October the Admiralty informed Cradock that it had accepted his proposal that he should concentrate Good Hope, Monmouth, Canopus, Glasgow and Otranto and that a second cruiser squadron should be formed on the east coast of South America. It would be commanded by Rear Admiral Archibald Stoddart and would consist of his flagship the County class armoured cruiser HMS Carnarvon, her sister HMS Cornwall, the light cruiser HMS Bristol and the armed merchant cruisers HMS Macedonia and Orama. HMS Defence would join Stoddart’s squadron when she arrived.

According to the Naval Staff Monograph on Coronel, a detailed report prepared by RN staff officers after the war for internal use only:

It was apparently intended that [Cradock’s] squadron, with the exception of the Glasgow, should concentrate and presumably remain at the Falkland Islands, but the actual instructions sent on October 14th did not emphasise this and certainly did not debar him from going to the west.[5]

The British Official History argues that the formation of a new squadron on the east coast and a mention of combined operations made Cradock assume that his orders of 5 October were still in effect, so he should ‘concentrate all his squadron on the west coast “to search and protect trade” in co-operation with his colleague.’[6] HMS Kent, another County class cruiser, was sent to join Cradock, but he does not seem to have been informed of this, and she was diverted elsewhere, so never joined his command.

The Admiralty had made a ‘fairly accurate’ estimate of Spee’s movements.[7] Cradock left the Falkland Islands in Good Hope on 22 October to rendezvous with Monmouth, Glasgow and Otranto at a secret coaling base in south west America. He left Canopus to convoy colliers because he believed that her speed was only 12 knots. However, she was actually capable of 16.5 knots, but her ‘Engineer Commander…was ill mentally…and made false reports on the state of the machinery.’[8]

On 26 October Cradock ordered Defence to join him, but the Admiralty countermanded this the next day, ordering her to join Stoddart. Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, claimed that this telegram did not reach Stoddart and a note for the Cabinet said that it is ‘not certain that this message reached Good Hope.’ However, Paymaster Lloyd Hirst of Glasgow, whose ship did receive it, wrote that it is ‘practically certain’ that it reached Cradock just before the battle.[9]

Glasgow went to the port of Coronel in south west Chile to send and receive messages on 31 October. By the time that they reached the Admiralty Lord Fisher had been re-appointed First Sea Lord following the resignation of Prince Louis of Battenberg on 29 October because of ‘rising agitation in the Press against every one German or of German descent.’[10] Fisher ordered Defence to join Cradock and sent a signal making it ‘clear that he was not to act without the Canopus.’[11] It never reached Cradock.

Cradock’s ships had picked up radio traffic from Leipzig, so were searching for her. Spee had used only her wireless in order to hide the presence of his other ships.[12] Spee was aware that Glasgow had been in Coronel, so was searching for her.

At 4:20 pm on 1 November the British ships were in a line 15 miles apart when Glasgow sighted smoke.[13] Shortly afterwards she could see two four funnelled cruisers [i.e. and a three funnelled cruiser. They were Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and a light cruiser. She informed Cradock, whose ship was then of sight, by wireless.

Good Hope came into view at 5:00 pm, and at 5:47 pm Cradock formed his ships into line of battle and closed the range.

Spee acted more cautiously, later writing that he ‘had manoeuvred so that the sun in the west would not disturb me.’[14] Captain John Luce of Glasgow commented that:

 ‘The sun was now setting immediately behind us, as viewed from the enemy, and as long as it remained above the horizon, all the advantage was with use, but the range was too great to be effective.

Shortly before 7:00 pm, the sun set, entirely changing the conditions of visibility, and whereas in the failing light it was difficult for us to see the enemy, our ships became clearly silhouetted against the afterglow, as viewed from them’[15]

Even without this tactical advantage, the odds in the battle hugely favoured the Germans. Their crews had served on their ships for years and were well trained. Many German sailors were conscripts, but Spee’s men were all long service volunteers because of the time that their ships spent away from Germany. The crews of both British armoured cruisers had been assigned to their ships at the outbreak of war and neither ship had had much opportunity for gunnery practice.

Many histories of the war at sea state that Good Hope and Monmouth both had crews largely consisting of reservists.[16] However, the Naval Staff Monograph makes no mention of Monmouth’s crew being mostly reservists, whilst stating that HMS Good Hope:

‘which was the only [British] ship carrying heavy guns, was a third fleet ship which had been commissioned for mobilisation, then paid off and commissioned with a fresh crew consisting largely of Royal Naval Reserve men, coastguards, and men of the Royal Fleet Reserve.’[17]

On 23 December 1915 Commander Carlyon Bellairs MP in the House of Commons asked the First Lord of the Admiralty, Arthur J. Balfour, if it was true that both ships had crews largely made up of reservists and whether or not their guns were fit for action. Balfour replied that:

These vessels were not commissioned entirely with reserve ratings. Each of them had on board not less than the authorised proportion of active service ratings; and, in fact, His Majesty’s ship Monmouth had a crew composed almost entirely of active service men. No guns in these ships had been retubed: they were all serviceable.[18]

It appears that a fact about Good Hope‘s crew has at some point been exaggerated to refer to both ships and has then been repeated.

The following table shows that Cradock’s squadron was clearly outgunned. The final column omits some guns on the two British armoured cruisers that could not be used in bad weather and two ships that took little part in the battle. Otranto was not intended to fight warships and Nürnberg was some distance from the rest of the German squadron. She arrived after the battle was decided, though in time to finish off the crippled Monmouth.

Ship Completed Tonnage Speed (knots) Guns Weight of Broadside (lbs) Broadside Usable at Coronel (lbs)
Scharnhorst 1907 11,420 23.8 8 x 8.2″ 1,957 1,957
6 x 5.9″
Gneisenau 1907 11,420 23.8 8 x 8.2″ 1,957 1,957
6 x 5.9″
Nürnberg 1908 3,400 23.0 10 x 4.1″ 176
Leipzig 1906 3,200 23.3 10 x 4.1″ 176 176
Dresden 1909 3,592 24.5 10 X 4.1″ 176 176
German Total 4,442 4,266
Good Hope 1902 14,100 23.0 2 x 9.2″ 1,560 1,160
16 x 6″
Monmouth 1903 9,800 22.4 14 x 6″ 900 600
Glasgow 1911 4,800 25.3 2 x 6″ 325 325
10 x 4″
Otranto 17.0 4 x 4.7″ 90
British Total 2,875 2,085
Source: Marder, A. J., From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow; the Royal Navy in the Fisher Era, 1904-1919. 5 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1961-70), vol. ii, p. 109.

Spee noted in his after action report that the heavy seas made things very difficult for the gunners:

‘With the head wind and sea, the ships laboured heavily, particularly the light cruisers on both sides. Spotting and range-finding suffered greatly from the seas, which came over the forecastle and conning tower, and the heavy swell obscured the target from the 15-prs on the middle decks, so that they never saw stern of their adversary at all, and the bow only now and then. On the other hand , the guns of the large cruisers could all be used, and shot well.’[19]

The high seas were bad for both sides, but even worse for the British, as the design of their two armoured cruisers meant that they could not fire their main deck 6 inch guns in heavy seas. The German guns that had difficulty firing were smaller ones, not listed in the table above.

The Germans opened fire at about 7:05 pm at a range of 12,000 yards. Scharnhorst fired at Good Hope and Gneisenau at Monmouth. Leipzig and Dresden both fired at Glasgow, since Otranto had moved out of range. Luce ordered his guns to fire independently as the roll of his ships slowed the rate of firing and firing salvos would have slowed it even further, but the Germans used salvo firing.

The Germans quickly found the range. The third salvo hit Good Hope, apparently putting her forward 9.2 inch gun out of action and starting a fire. Monmouth was soon also on fire. At some point, she headed off to starboard and became separated from Good Hope. Glasgow could not then follow Good Hope, as she would then have masked Monmouth’s fire. At least one of the British armoured cruisers was on fire at any one time.

Around 7:45 pm Good Hope lost way. About five minutes later she suffered ‘an immense explosion…the flames reached a height of at least 200 feet and all who saw it on board [Glasgow] had not doubt she could not recover from this shock.’[20] Good Hope then ceased fire.

Monmouth turned away to starboard, followed by Glasgow. It was now dark, and they were soon out of sight of the enemy. However, Monmouth was continuing to turn to starboard, steering north east and taking her closer to the Germans. Luce received no reply to a signal at 8:20 pm. The moon had now risen above the clouds, and Glasgow could see the Germans., although Luce thought that they could not see her.

Luce could not see how he could help the stricken Monmouth, and said that ‘with the utmost reluctance to leaving her, I felt obliged to do so.’[21] Glasgow headed west north west at full speed, which put the Germans astern of her, and was out of sight of them by 8:50 pm. She saw firing about 12 miles away 30 minutes later.

Luce’s intention was to find Canopus and warn her of what had happened. Otranto also escaped. The action had taken place beyond the range of her guns, and she was a large ship, whose presence in the British line would have done nothing except help the Germans to find their range. After zigzagging for a period, she withdrew.

The firing that Glasgow had seen came from Nürnberg and was directed at the helpless Monmouth. The German ship stopped firing for a period in order to give the British ship a chance to surrender, but she did not do so, giving the Germans, in the words of the British Official History, ‘no choice…but to give her the only end that she would accept.’[22] The heavy seas made it impossible for the Germans to rescue any survivors.

The Germans had sunk two British armoured cruisers with the loss of all their 1,570 men. Glasgow was hit five times, but only four of crew were wounded, all slightly. Only three Germans were wounded. Naval History.net lists all the British dead. It can be seem that few of Monmouth’s crew were reservists of the Royal Fleet Reserve (RFR), Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) or Coast Guard. A significant proportion of Good Hope’s crew were reservists, but not the 90% sometimes claimed.

The unanswered questions are: what would have happened if Cradock’s force had included either HMS Defence or Canopus?; and why did he seek out the enemy when his squadron was so clearly out classed?

Defence was the last British armoured cruiser built, so was newer and more powerful than Spee’s two armoured cruisers: 14,600 tons, speed of 23 knots and armed with four 9.2 inch and ten 7.5 inch guns. The British would then have had an advantage in firepower, but not by so overwhelming a margin as to guarantee victory if the German gunnery or tactics were better.

Canopus, as was often the case for a battleship of her day was no bigger than an armoured cruiser, but had larger guns: 12,950 tons, designed for 18 knots but only capable of 16.5 in 1914 and armed with four 12 inch and twelve 6 inch guns. Her 12 inch guns had a range of 14,000 yards, only 500 more than the 8.2 inch guns of Spee’s armoured cruisers.[23] Again, the Germans might still have won despite her presence.

Another possibility is that Spee might not have accepted battle with a force including a battleship. He wrote after the battle that he believed that the British:

 ‘have her another ship like Monmouth; also it seems, a battleship of the Queen type, with 12-inch guns. Against the last-named we can hardly do anything; if they had kept their forces together we should, I suppose, have got the worst of it.’[24]

The Queen class were larger (15,000 tons) than Canopus, but had a similar armament.

There are three theories about Cradock’s decision to seek battle. One, propounded by Luce is that he ‘was constitutionally incapable of refusing or even postponing action, if there was the slightest chance of success.’[25] Rear Admiral Sir Robert Arbuthnot said when he heard the news of Coronel that Cradock ‘always hoped he would be killed in battle or break his neck in the hunting field.’[26]

Another, put forward by Glasgow’s navigator Lieutenant Commander P. B. Portman, is that the Admiralty:

 ‘as good as told him that he was skulking at Stanley…If we hadn’t attacked that night, we might never have seen [Spee] again, and then the Admiralty would have blamed him for not fighting.’[27]

Cradock is known to have written to another admiral that ‘I will take care I do not suffer the fate of poor Troubridge’, who was then facing court martial for not having attacked SMS Goeben.[28]

The final, and most common, theory is that Cradock realised that realised that his squadron had no chance against Spee’s, but thought that that by damaging the Germans and force them to use up ammunition a long way from any base he could ensure that they would be beaten in the next action. If so, he partly succeeded: the Germans suffered little damage, but Scharnhorst used 422 8.2 inch shells and Gneisenau 244 out of a total of 728 carried on each ship.[29]

Subscribers to this theory include Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon, Balfour in his eulogy when unveiling Cradock’s memorial at York Minster, Sir Julian Corbett who quotes Balfour’s eulogy in the Official History of the RN in WWI, Churchill, Hirst and David Lloyd George.[30] It was also put forward in a film called The Battles of Coronel and the Falkland Islands made in 1927 that has been  recently restored and re-released.

Whatever Cradock’s motivation, the blame for the defeat should rest with the Admiralty. It knew the strength of Spee’s squadron and that it was heading for South America. However, it ignored the military principle of concentration, establishing two weak squadrons in the area instead of combining Cradock and Stoddart’s forces into a single squadron capable of defeating Spee.

Spee had won a victory, but he knew that the British would seek revenge. At a dinner held in his honour by the German residents of Valparaiso he refused to drink a toast to the ‘[d]amnation of the British Navy’, instead saying that ‘I drink to the memory of a gallant and honourable foe.’ On being offered a bouquet of flowers, he said that ‘[t]hey will do nicely for my grave.’[31]

 

 

[1] P. G. Halpern, A Naval History of World War I (London: UCL Press, 1994), p. 82.

[2] C. E. Fayle, Seaborne Trade., 3 vols. (London: HMSO, 1920). vol. i, p. 165.

[3] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical)  vol. i. ‘1. Coronel’, p. 19

[4] Ibid., p. 20.

[5] Ibid., p. 28.

[6] J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. i, p. 318.

[7] Ibid. vol. i, p. 319.

[8] A. J. Marder, From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow; the Royal Navy in the Fisher Era, 1904-1919, 5 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1961-70). vol. ii, note 8, p. 107.

[9] Ibid. vol. ii, p. 108.

[10] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. i, p. 246.

[11] Ibid. vol. i, p. 344.

[12] Halpern, Naval, p. 93.

[13] Times and ranges are from NA, ADM 137/1022, ‘Coronel Action, 1 November 1914’. ‘HMS Glasgow – Reports of Coronel Action, 1/11/14’, Captain John Luce, pp. 15-27.

[14] Quoted in Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. i, p. 349.

[15] ADM 137/1022, pp. 20-21.

[16] G. Bennett, Naval Battles of the First World War (London: Pan, 1983), pp. 71-72; G. A. H. Gordon, The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command (London: John Murray, 1996), p. 291; Halpern, Naval, p. 92; R. A. Hough, The Great War at Sea, 1914-1918 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), p. 90; R. K. Massie, Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea (London: Jonathan Cape, 2004), pp. 203-4. pp. 203-4. Massie gives his source as being a book by an officer of HMS Glasgow, Lloyd Hirst, Coronel and After (London: Peter Davies, 1934), p. 15

[17] Naval Staff vol. i.

[18] <<http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/written_answers/1915/dec/23/loss-of-hms-good-hope-and-monmouth>&gt; Accessed 30 October 2014.

[19] ADM 137/1022. Naval Engarment off Coronel on 1st November 1914′, September 1915: Graf von Spee’s despatch, Weser Zeitung, 2 July 1915, p. 361.

[20] Ibid.  ‘HMS Glasgow – Report of Coronel Action, 1/1/14’, Captain John Luce, p. 20.

[21] Ibid., p. 21.

[22] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. i, p. 354.

[23] Marder, From. vol. ii, p. 106.

[24] ADM 137/1022. ‘Naval Engagement off Coronel on 1st November 1914’ September 1915: Letter of 2 November 1914, Kieler Neuste Nachrichten, 20 April 1915, p. 358.

[25] Quoted in Marder, From. vol. ii, p. 110.

[26] Quoted in Ibid. vol. ii, p. 115.

[27] ADM 137/1022. ‘Letter to Miss Ella Margaret Mary Haggard, 10 November 1914’, p. 369

[28] Quoted in Marder, From. vol. ii, p. 111.

[29] Ibid. vol. ii, p. 118.

[30] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. i, pp. 356-57; Marder, From. vol. ii, p. 111.

[31] Quotations in this paragraph are from Massie, Castles, p. 237.

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