Tag Archives: Falklands

The Battle of the Falkland Islands 8 December 1914

Vice Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee’s East Asia Squadron of the armoured cruisers SMS Scharnhorst (flag) and Gneisenau and the light cruisers SMS Dresden, Leipzig and Nürnberg arrived at the Falkland Islands on the morning of 8 December. Their intention was to destroy the local facilities and wireless station

These were the ships that had won the Battle of Coronel on 1 November. The previous entry in this series described the intervening events, including the despatch of the battlecruisers, HMS Invincible (flag of Vice Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee) and Inflexible to the South Atlantic.

The Falkland Islanders had expected to be attacked by Spee since they learnt of Coronel on 25 November. They had formed a local defence force in case of invasion, whilst Captain Heathcoat Grant had deliberately beached the pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Canopus on mud to protect the harbour. A signal station had been established on Sapper Hill in order to watch for enemy ships and to direct Canopus’ fire. A row of electric mines laid across the entrance to the outer harbour.

However, Sturdee’s force, also including the armoured cruisers HMS Carnarvon (flag of Rear Admiral Sir Archibald Stoddart ), Cornwall and Kent and the light cruisers HMS Bristol and Glasgow had arrived at the Falklands the day before with the intention of coaling before heading for Cape Horn in search of Spee. The Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Macedonia was also present. Another AMC, HMS Orama, was escorting Sturdee’s colliers to the Falklands.

The Naval Staff Monograph, written in 1921, says that German prisoners later told the British that the only ships that Spee expected to meet were HMS Canopus, Carnarvon, Kent, Cornwall, Glasgow, Bristol, Newcastle and possibly Defence at the Falklands.  This probably does not mean that he expected to encounter all of them.

The 1938 edition of Naval Operations, the British Official History, which was revised after the publication of the German Official History, Der Krieg zur See, 1914-1918, says Canopus, Carnarvon, and possibly Defence, Cornwall, and Glasgow.[1] The Germans could outrun Canopus and had heavier guns than all the others except Defence. Any British ships present would probably be coaling, so vulnerable to attack.

Spee’s plan was that Gneisenau and Nürnberg would carry out the attack, with the rest of his squadron standing off in support. They would enter Port Stanley behind a line of minesweeping boats. Gneisenau would take the Governor on board, whilst Nürnberg would enter the inner harbour and destroy the dockyard and wireless station. If hostile warships were present, they would withdraw to the rest of the squadron.

At 7:50 am the look outs spotted Gneisenau and Nürnberg approaching. Coaling had been slow because the first of Sturdee’s own colliers, had only just arrived at the Falklands to join three that were already there. Only Carnarvon and Glasgow had completed coaling. the battlecruisers and Bristol were coaling and the other three ships had not yet started to do so. Kent, as guardship, had steam at 30 minutes notice and the others were at two hours notice, except Bristol which needed engine repairs, so was at six hours notice.[2]

At 8 am the Germans spotted wireless masts and heavy smoke, which they initially assumed was the British burning their coal stocks. Gneisenau’s gunnery office, Kapitänleutnant Busch, is believed to have reported seeing tripod masts, which would have meant that British dreadnought battlecruisers or battleships were present. However, his report was not believed.[3]

The following account is based on Sturdee’s Despatch, available from this link to ‘The World War I Primary Documents Archive’, unless otherwise footnoted.

8:00 am: The signal from Sapper Hill reached Sturdee. He ordered Kent was to weigh anchor and the squadron to raise steam for full speed.

8:20 am: The signal station reported another column of smoke to the south.

8:45 am: Kent took up station at the harbour entrance.

8:47 am: Canopus reported that the first two ships were eight miles away and that the second column of smoke seemed to come from two ships about 20 miles away.

8:50 am: The signal station reported a further column of smoke to the south. Macedonia was ordered to weigh anchor and await orders.

9:20 am: Canopus opened fire on the two leading enemy ships at 11,000 yards. They turned away. Their masts and smoke were now visible at a range of 17,000 yards from Invincible’s upper bridge. A few minutes later the Germans changed course, as if to close on Kent, but then changed course and increased speed in order to join their consorts, apparently having spotted the battlecruisers.

9:40 am: Glasgow weighed anchor in order to join Kent.

9:45 am: Carnarvon, Inflexible, Invincible and Cornwall weighed anchor and left harbour in that order. The sea was calm, the sun bright, the sky clear and visibility at its maximum. There was a light breeze from the north west. The five German ships became visible once the squadron had passed Cape Pembroke Light.

Canopus missed the German ships, but the size of water splashes from her shells indicated that they were from 12 inch guns. Spee ordered his ships to turn away after Gneisenau reported that there were six enemy warships present.

The Naval Staff Monograph says the Germans saw the six British ships leaving the harbour at 10 am, but identified them as being two pre-dreadnought battleships, three armoured cruisers and a light cruiser and did not realise that could see that the two largest ships were battlecruisers rather than pre-dreadnoughts until 10:20am. The Germans were then heading east at 20 knots, The subsequent battle was so one sided that the Naval Staff Monograph concludes its account at this point by saying that ‘von Spee knew that his hour had come.’[4]

Naval Operations states that the Germans identified the battlecruisers at 9:40 am. Whenever they made the identification, it came as a great shock to them. There had been US newspaper reports that Invincible had been sent south, but Spee was unaware of them.[5]

Spee’s squadron could out run but not out fight pre-dreadnoughts. It could neither out run nor out fight battlecruisers. Withdrawing was the best action if he thought that he faced pre-dreadnoughts, but if he had realised that he faced battlecruisers, his only chance would have been to attack the first ship to leave harbour, Kent, in the hope of sinking her and obstructing the exit of the rest of the British squadron.

By the time that the battlecruisers had been identified, Spee’s only hope was that his doomed armoured cruisers could hold the British off for long enough that his three light cruisers might escape in order to carry out commerce raiding. The following table shows that the British had an overwhelming superiority.

Ship Completed Tonnage Speed (knots) Guns Weight of Broadside (lbs)
Scharnhorst 1907 11,420 23.8 8 x 8.2″ 1,957
6 x 5.9″
Gneisenau 1907 11,420 23.8 8 x 8.2″ 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
Dresden 1909 3,592 24.5 10 X 4.1″ 176
German Total 33,032 4,442
Invincible 1909 17,373 25.5 8 x 12″ 5,100
16 x 4″
Inflexible 1908 17,373 25.5 8 x 12″ 5,100
16 x 4″
Carnarvon 1905 10,850 22.0 4 x 7.5″ 900
6 x 6″
Cornwall 1903 9,800 22.4 14 x 6″ 900
Kent 1903 9,800 22.4 14 x 6″ 900
Glasgow 1911 4,800 25.3 2 x 6″ 325
10 x 4″
British Total 69,996 13,225

Sources: R. Gray, Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1906-1921 (London: Conway Maritime Press, 1985) pp. 24-25, <<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Carnarvon>&gt; [accessed 8 December 2014], 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, 122. Cornwall and Kent have been assumed to be identical to their sister Monmouth.

Kent and Leipzig both had reputations as being poor sailors that rarely achieved the designed speeds quoted above. The Germans ships were all in poor condition after four months of cruising.[6] Bristol and Macedonia have been omitted because they did not take part in the main action.

10:20 am: The signal for a general chase was given.

11:15 am: Speed reduced to 20 knots in order to allow the armoured cruisers to close up to the faster battlecruisers and Glasgow.

12:20 pm: Sturdee decided to attack the enemy with the battlecruisers and Glasgow.

12:47 pm: Sturdee signalled ‘Open fire and engage the enemy.’

12:55 pm: Inflexible fired the first shots at a range of 16,500 yards at Leipzig, the closest ship, which was dropping back from the rest of her squadron.

1:20 pm: The range was down to 15,000 yards. The three German light cruisers now turned away to the south west. Sturdee ordered Kent, Glasgow and Cornwall to follow them, whilst the battlecruisers and Carnarvon concentrated on the German armoured cruisers. Thereafter, the battle split into two separate actions.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Falkland_Islands#mediaviewer/File:Falklandschlacht.jpg

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Falkland_Islands#mediaviewer/File:Falklandschlacht.jpg. Originally from Eduard Rothert, Karten und Skizzen zum Weltkrieg, Druck und Verlag von A. Bagel, Düsseldorf, 1916

Naval Operations says that Spee had taken ‘a decision which did him and his service the highest honour.’[7] He would sacrifice himself, his two armoured cruisers and their crews in order to preserve the three light cruisers, which could then raid Allied commerce.

Action with the Armoured Cruisers:

1:25 pm: The Germans turned to port, opening fire five minutes later. Sturdee wanted to keep the range between 13,500 yards (the maximum of the German 8.2 inch guns) and 16,400 yards (the maximum of the British 12 inch guns). Spee wanted to close to less than the 12,000 yard range of his 5.9 inch guns.[8]

1:30 pm: The Germans opened fire. Soon afterwards, Sturdee ordered a turn.

2:00 pm: The range had opened to 16,450 yards.

2:10 pm: The Germans turned away and another chase began.

2:45 pm: The battlecruisers opened fire.

2:53 pm: The Germans turned.

2:55 pm: The Germans opened fire.

Naval Operations says that the German 5.9 inch guns were in range by 2:59 pm, but had little effect at their maximum range. The smoke from the battlecruisers was making gunnery very difficult for both sides, but Gneisenau was listing by 3:10 pm. Five minutes later, Scharnhorst, which was on fire and whose fire was slackening, lost a funnel.[9]

3:30 pm: Scharnhorst turned, apparently to bring her starboard guns into action. She was on fire and steam was coming from her. Around 4:00 pm (the linked file says 4:40 pm but this must be a typo), she listed heavily to port. Her colours were still flying.

4:17 pm: Scharnhorst sank with all hands.

5:08 pm: Gneisenau’s forward funnel fell and her fire slackened.

5:15 pm: A shell from Gneisenau hit Invincible.

5:30 pm: Gneisenau turned towards Invincible. Sturdee ordered ‘Cease fire’, but cancelled it before it had been raised after Gneisenau fired a single gun.

5:40 pm: The three British ships closed on Gneisenau. One of her flags appeared to be hauled down, but another was still flying.

5:50 pm: Sturdee signalled ‘Cease fire.’

6:00 pm: Gneisenau suddenly turned over and sank.

She had been pounded from 4,000 yards before being scuttled on the orders of Kapitän Julius Maerker. He did not survive, but Hans Pochhammer, his second in command, did. Invincible picked 108 men, 14 of whom were found to be dead, Inflexible 62 and Carnarvon 20.[10]

Invincible suffered no significant damage and no casualties, Carnarvon was not hit and Inflexible had one man killed and three wounded.[11]

Action with the Light Cruisers

3:00 pm. Glasgow exchanged shots with Leipzig at 12,000 yards.

The British 6 inch and German 4.1 inch guns could fire at this range, but not the British 4 inch guns. Captain John Luce of Glasgow successfully aimed to entice Leipzig to turn towards his ship, thus delaying her in order to allow the British armoured cruisers to catch up.[12]

3:36 pm: Cornwall ordered Kent to attack Nürnberg, the enemy ship closest to her.

4:00 pm: The weather changed, considerably reducing visibility. This helped Dresden, the fastest German ship, to escape. Only Glasgow was fast enough to catch her, but she was busy with Leipzig.

4:17 pm: Cornwall opened fire on Leipzig.

5:00 pm: Kent, whose engine room crew performed excellently, contrary to her reputation as a poor sailor, was in gun range of Nürnberg.

Robert Massie says that she was faster because the lack of coal on board made her light. Her crew made up for this by feeding as much wood as they could spare. including furniture, ladders, doors and even deck timbers into her furnaces.[13]

6:35 pm: Nürnberg was on fire and ceased fire. Kent closed to 3,300 yards, but re-opened fire after seeing that the German ship was still flying her colours. They were taken down after five minutes according to British reports, which Naval Operations says was ‘no shame’; it notes that the German Official History denies that they were hauled down.[14] At Coronel Nürnberg had been forced to carry on firing at the helpless HMS Monmouth when she refused to strike her colours.

Kent was only able to launch two hastily repaired boats. They were on their way to Leipzig when she sank just before 7:30 pm. The British searched until 9:00 pm, but was able to find only twelve men alive, five of whom later died.[15]

Sturdee’s report said that four men were killed and 12 wounded on Kent, but naval-history.net lists five men killed and 11 wounded, with three of the latter later dying.

Most of Kent’s casualties were inflicted by a single shell that struck a gunport. It caused a flash that went down the hoist into the ammunition passage. Without the courage and quick thinking of Royal Marine Sergeant Charles Mayes, this would most likely to have caused an explosion that would have destroyed the ship. Mayes was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, second only to the Victoria Cross for man of his rank. Sturdee’s Despatch stated that:

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.

However, the Admiralty failed to learn the lessons of this near disaster, with the result that three battlecruisers, including Invincible, blew up at Jutland in 1916.[16]

7:17 pm: Leipzig was on fire and Cornwall and Glasgow ceased fire.

Naval Operations says that ‘[n]o ship could have done better against such odds’ than Leipzig.[17] She was no longer firing, but she was moving through the water, her colours were flying and she Leipzig sea cocks had been opened in order to scuttle her.

According to Massie, the Germans were unable to pull their flag down because of a fire round the mast. They fired two green distress signals at 8:12 pm, which Luce took to be a sign of surrender. The British launched boats at 8:45 pm. Leipzig sank at 9:23 pm. Only 18 of her crew were rescued.[18] Glasgow had five men wounded, one of whom later died. Cornwall suffered no casualties.

In the late morning Bristol and Macedonia were ordered to see in response to a report from a local woman, Mrs Felton, that there were three ships off Port Pleasant. There was a possibility that they might have been transports carrying troops recruited from German residents of South America.[19]

There were actually two, the Baden and Santa Isabel, and they were carrying coal. Captain Basil Fanshawe of Bristol obeyed the letter of Sturdee’s orders and sank them, after taking off their crews. He did not then know that the British had defeated Spee’s squadron. The third collier, the Seydlitz, managed to evade the British and was interned in Argentina in January 1915.[20]

All but one warship and one collier of Spee’s squadron had been sunk. Only 201 German sailors were rescued, and it is not clear from the sources quoted whether or not all of them lived. The ships sunk had total crews of at least 2,140, which may not include Spee’s staff on his flagship.[21]

Spee, the captains of all the ships sunk and his two sons, Otto on Nürnberg and Heinrich on Gneisenau, were amongst the dead. The British lost 6 dead and 19 wounded, with 4 of the wounded later dying.

Sturdee was acclaimed for his victory, except by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Lord Fisher. Sturdee received a baronetcy in January 1916. Fisher, however, had not forgotten that Sturdee had been on the other side in his feud with Admiral Lord Charles Beresford. He initially refused to allow Sturdee to return home until Dresden had been sunk, but this was vetoed by Winston Churchill, the First Lord.

Fisher argued that he should take much of the credit for his decision to send two battlecruisers after Spee, that Sturdee’s poor dispositions had led to the defeat at Coronel and that he had been lucky to encounter Spee at the Falklands. These comments were fair, but his criticisms of Sturdee for taking a long time and using a lot of ammunition to defeat an inferior enemy were not. Sturdee could not risk damage to his battlecruisers solely in order to win more quickly.

Sturdee’s performance in both his roles in 1914 shows that he was a man more suited to sea command than to shore based staff duties.

The British victory at the Falkland Islands removed the main German surface threat to Allied merchant shipping. This meant that a large number of RN warships could now be recalled to home waters, increasing the Grand Fleet’s superiority over the High Seas Fleet.

 

[1]Naval Staff Monograph (Historical)  vol. i. p. 165; J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. i, p. 411

[2] Naval Staff vol. i. p. 163.

[3] Ibid., p. 166.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. i, p, 416.

[6] Ibid. vol. i, p. 426.

[7] Ibid. vol. i, p. 419.

[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, pp. 122-23.

[9] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. i, pp. 421-22.

[10] R. K. Massie, Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea (London: Jonathan Cape, 2004), pp. 272-74.

[11] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. i, pp. 425-26.

[12] Ibid. vol. i, p. 427.

[13] Massie, Castles, p. 277.

[14] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. i, p. 432 and note 1.

[15] Massie, Castles, p. 278.

[16] G. Bennett, Naval Battles of the First World War (London: Pan, 1983), p. 110.

[17] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. i, p. 429.

[18] Massie, Castles, pp. 276-77.

[19] P. G. Halpern, A Naval History of World War I (London: UCL Press, 1994), p. 99.

[20] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval, p. 433.

[21] Bennett, Naval Battles, p. 122. 765 on each armoured cruiser, 290 on Leipzig and 320 on Nurnberg.

Advertisements

17 Comments

Filed under War History

Coronel to the Falkland Islands 1914

Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee’s East Asia Squadron of the armoured cruisers SMS Scharnhorst (flag)  and Gneisenau and the light cruisers SMS Dresden, Leipzig and Nürnberg defeated Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Craddock’s British squadron at Coronel, off the coast of Chile, on 1 November 1914. The British force was inferior to the German one, but the British were so used to naval superiority that any defeat was a major psychological blow to them and a boost to their enemy.

The existence of Spee’s squadron disrupted British South American trade. It might also appear off South Africa, where a significant proportion of the Boer population was pro-German. A large number of British ships were tied up in escorting convoys and hunting for German raiders.[1]

There had been three German light cruisers outside European waters at the start of the war as well as Spee’s squadron and three out of five German merchant ships armed as auxiliary raiders at the start of the war were still operating at the start of November.[2]

Spee had detached the light cruiser SMS Emden to operate in the Indian Ocean. Her highly successful cruise did not end until 9 November, when she was destroyed by HMS Sydney. SMS Königsberg was blockaded in the Rufiji River in East Africa by November 1914, but still tied up several British cruisers by her presence. SMS Karlsruhe successfully raided Allied shipping off north east Brazil before being destroyed by an accidental explosion on 4 November. However, it was some time before the British learnt of her fate.

However, Spee had problems of his own. The Japanese entry into the war made his principal base of Tsingtao in China, now Qingdao, untenable. British Empire forces, mainly from Australia and New Zealand, captured Germany’s bases and wireless stations on various South Pacific islands. He could obtain coal and intelligence from German agents and diplomats in South America, but he had no means of repairing his ships or replenishing their ammunition.[3] They had suffered little damage at Coronel, but had used 666 out of their 1,456 8.2 inch shells.[4]

He told a former German Navy surgeon, who was then living in Valparaiso, that:

‘You must not forget that I am quite homeless. I cannot reach Germany, we possess no other secure harbour, I must plough the seas of the world, doing as much mischief as I can, till my ammunition is exhausted, or till a foe far superior in power succeeds in catching me.’[5]

The two German armoured cruisers and Nürnberg had entered Valparaiso after Coronel, but left on 4 November. The Admiralty had no knowledge of the whereabouts of the German squadron until 14 November. Dresden and Leipzig had entered Valparaiso the day before, but were not allowed to coal. They left at 1 am on 14 November and were reported to have met the rest of their squadron outside the port.

The Naval Staff Monograph argues the visit of the two light cruisers to Valparaiso, which may have been to allow their crews a chance to visit a port ‘was a mistake…[that] served no purpose of military utility’ and let the Admiralty know that Spee was still off the Chilean coast.[6]

On 21 November Spee’s squadron arrived at St Quintin Bay in Chile, along with seven colliers. It coaled from four of them: the Memphis, Luxor, Ithakotis and Amasis. The other three, the Seydlitz, Baden and St Isabel, carrying 17,000 tons of coal, sailed with the warships when they left St Quntin on 26 November. The squadron needed about 7,000 tons of coal every fortnight. [7]

On 2 December the British three masted barque Drummuir, carrying 2,800 tons of coal, was captured by Leipzig. The German squadron then detoured to Picton Island to transfer the coal to the bunkers of its colliers, which took until 6 December.

That day, Spee called a conference of his captains and senior staff officers. He informed them that he intended to attack the Falkland Islands, destroy its wireless station and dockyard and capture its governor in retaliation for the British capture of the German governor of Samoa. The majority opposed his plan, but he over-ruled them.[8]

The German squadron sailed for the Falklands that afternoon, first scuttling the Drummuir . The three days spent at Picton Island would prove to be a fatal delay for the Germans.

The British, meanwhile, had responded decisively to their defeat at Coronel. Admiral Lord ‘Jackie’ Fisher had been re-appointed First Sea Lord following the resignation of Prince Louis Battenberg on 29 October because of ‘rising agitation in the Press against every one German or of German descent.’[9]

On 4 November, six hours after learning of Coronel, Fisher decided to send two battlecruisers, HMS Inflexible and Invincible, to hunt for Spee’s squadron. Four days later they arrived at Devonport, where they were to take on stores and Invincible was to undergo repairs. The dockyard said that they would take until 13 November, but Fisher said that the ships must sail on 11 November, with dockyard workers on board if necessary. They made this target.

The Royal Navy cruiser squadron in the South Atlantic was commanded by Rear Admiral Sir Archibald Stoddart. The battlecruisers were, however, a Vice Admiral’s command and one was now available.

Fisher had both professional and personal objections to Vice Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee. the Chief of the War Staff at the Admiralty. Sturdee had been on the side of Admiral Lord Charles Beresford in his feud with Fisher. Additionally, Fisher blamed him for the loss of three cruisers to a single U-boat in September and for poor dispositions that led to Coronel. Fisher said that ‘[n]ever such utter rot as perpetrated by Sturdee in his world-wide dispersal of weak units! Strong nowhere, weak everywhere.’[10]

However, Winston Churchill, the First Lord, trusted Sturdee and did not want it to seem as if he was being fired because of Coronel.[11] Sturdee had declined Fisher’s offer of command of the China Station because he would be based on shore rather than at sea. Churchill then suggested giving him command of the squadron being sent to the South Atlantic. Sturdee was therefore appointed to command in the South Atlantic and Pacific, ’embracing as it did a wider extent of sea than had ever yet been committed to a single admiral.’[12]

Sturdee’s orders were:

‘Your main and most important duty is to search for the German armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and bring them to action, all other considerations are to be subordinated to this end. It is not intended that you should confine your operations to the limits of your station should the movements of the enemy render it necessary for you to pass beyond them.[13]

As well as the two battlecruisers being sent with Sturdee, another, HMS Princes Royal, was sent to the Caribbean on 12 November. There was a risk that Spee might come through the Panama Canal. The USA allowed three belligerent warships in it and three in US territorial waters at each end at any one time, so Spee’s squadron could have transited it in less than a day.[14] However, the Naval Staff Monograph, written after the war for internal RN use only, says that the main reason for the despatch of Princess Royal was the risk of German cruisers breaking out from Germany into the Atlantic.[15]

The removal of three battlecruisers from the Grand Fleet meant that it was outnumbered five to four by the German High Seas Fleet in that type of ship. Its commander, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, was concerned that he had too small a margin over the enemy. He did not regard the recently completed ships, the battlecruiser HMS Tiger and the battleships HMS Benbow, Emperor of India and Queen Elizabeth, as being ready for action. However, Paul Halpern praises Fisher as showing ‘considerable nerve and moral courage for he correctly foresaw the need for overwhelming force at the decisive place.’[16]

Sturdee’s squadron sailed south at a slow speed in order to conserve coal. It lost 12 hours searching for the German auxiliary cruiser Kronprinz Wilhelm, which had wrongly been reported to be in the area, and another 12 clearing a wire that had fouled one of Invincible’s propellers during target practice.

On 26 November he rendezvoused with Stoddart’s squadron of the armoured cruisers HMS Carnarvon (flag), Cornwall and Kent, the light cruisers HMS Bristol and Glasgow and the Armed Merchant cruiser HMS Orama at the Abrolhos Rocks off north east Brazil. The armoured cruiser HMS Defence was also present, but she was to proceed to South Africa after transferring her modern wireless equipment to Invincible. It was hoped that this would prevent a repetition of the communications problems that had been an issue with Craddock’s squadron before Coronel.[17]

Sturdee had originally intended to remain at the Abrolhos Rocks until 29 November, transferring stores to Stoddart’s ships, but Captain John Luce of HMS Glasgow persuaded him to sail a day earlier. The British squadron therefore reached the Falkland Islands, where it intended to coal, on 7 December, a day before the Germans. The Germans would have been there first if they had not delayed at Picton Island or if Sturdee had not been persuaded by Luce to leave the Abrolhos Rocks sooner.

The next entry in this series will describe the Battle of the Falkland Islands on 8 December 1914.

[1] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical)  vol. i. ‘Monograph 3: Operations up to the Battle of The Falkland Islands’, pp. 140-41.

[2] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical)  Review of German Cruiser Warfare 1914-1918.

[3] For an analysis of Spee’s strategic options see P. Overlack, ‘The Force of Circumstance: Graf Spee’s Options for the East Asian Cruiser Squadron in 1914’, The Journal of Military History 60, no. 4 (1996), pp. 657-82.

[4] 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, p. 118.

[5] Quoted in Naval Staff vol. i. p. 154.

[6] Ibid., p. 148.

[7] Ibid., pp. 153-54.

[8] J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. i, p. 414.

[9] Ibid. vol. i, p. 246.

[10] Quoted in Marder, From. vol. ii, p. 120

[11] G. Bennett, Naval Battles of the First World War (London: Pan, 1983), p. 90; P. G. Halpern, A Naval History of World War I (London: UCL Press, 1994), p. 94; R. K. Massie, Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea (London: Jonathan Cape, 2004), p. 248.

[12] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. i, p. 365.

[13] Naval Staff vol. i. pp. 155-56.

[14] Halpern, Naval, p. 96.

[15] Naval Staff vol. i. p. 144.

[16] Halpern, Naval, p. 94.

[17] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval, p. 409.

1 Comment

Filed under War History

British Government Releases Falklands War Papers

British Government papers dealing with the Falklands War of 1982 have been released in accordance with the rule that government papers from 30 years ago are made public at the end of each year.

They reveal that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was taken by surprise by the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands. Later in 1982, she told the Falklands Islands Review Committee, commonly called the Franks Committee after its Chairman, Lord Franks, that:

I never, never expected the Argentines to invade the Falklands head-on. It was such a stupid thing to do, as events happened, such a stupid thing even to contemplate doing.

The BBC Website quotes the historian Lord Hennessy as saying that:

Mrs Thatcher’s evidence about the Falklands War was some of the most powerful material to be declassified by the National Archives in the last three decades.

The documents show that US support for the UK was equivocal. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and the Pentagon provided the UK with intelligence and weapons, including the newest version of the Sidewinder AAM. However, Secretary of State Alexander Haig and  Jeane Kirkpatrick, the US Ambassador to the UN, were concerned that taking sides would damage US relations with Latin America. This biography of Kirkpatrick argues that she was pro-Argentinian, and tried to undermine Haig, who favoured the UK.

Thatcher also successfully pressured the French not to supply Exocet missiles to Peru during the conflict, as she feared that the Peruvians would sell them to Argentina, which had limited stocks of Exocets. A programme broadcast in BBC Radio 4’s Document series in March 2012 argued that the French Government fully supported the UK, but that contractors working for the French company that supplied the missiles helped the Argentinians.

Hennessy said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that Weinberger was willing to lend the RN a US aircraft carrier if a British carrier was sunk. I had heard Weinberger say this on a TV documentary, but assumed that he meant a mothballed WWII veteran Essex class vessel or an Iwo Jima  class amphibious assault ship, which would have had a British crew and carried Harrier jump jets and helicopters.

According to Hennessy, Weinberger meant the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, an active nuclear powered carrier. Presumably she would have retained her US crew and aircraft.

The right wing Daily Telegraph comments that Thatcher rejected a proposal for a ceasefire by President Ronald Reagan after the British landing. The Americans feared that the Argentinians would look to Cuba and the USSR for support, suggested that British troops should be replaced by a US-Brazilian peacekeeping force after Port Stanley was re-captured.

The left wing Guardian notes that Thatcher was more willing to accept a diplomatic solution than has hitherto been realised.

The documents are available for consultation at the UK National Archives at Kew in London. The ones dealing with War Cabinet decisons are in files CAB 148/211 and CAB 148/212, which can be downloaded for free from its website.

1 Comment

Filed under Political History, War History

Bullets, Bombs and Bandages: How to Really Win at War: BBC4 TV

BBC4 has recently broadcast a very interesting three part series titled Bullets, Bombs and Bandages: How to Really Win at War. It was introduced by Saul David, Professor of War Studies at the University of Buckingham and explained the importance of planning, supply and logistics in war. Wars are won by the side with more supplies and better equipment, It has now finished, but is available, for UK viewers only, on the BBC I-Player until 28 February.

The first episode, ‘Staying Alive’, discussed the difficulties of keeping an army supplied with food. Archaeological evidence shows that the Romans shipped some foodstuffs from Spain to Hadrian’s Wall. Wellington’s army in Portugal and Spain during the Napoleonic Wars had to take a herd of cattle with it. An army of 80,000 men had to slaughter 300 animals per day. The invention of canned food eased supply problems, but early tin cans had to be opened with bayonets because the tin can was invented several years before the tin opener.

The second episode, ‘Stealing a March’, covered the difficulties of moving armies. In 1066, King Harold of England faced two threats. He quickly moved his army north to defeat Harald Hadrada’s Vikings at Stamford Bridge, but then had to return south to face William the Conqueror’s well prepared Normans. Harold’s army was depleted and exhausted, and he should have followed his mother’s advice and delayed giving battle. Instead he fought and lost.

Marlborough’s victory at Blenheim was one of logistics. His army used two-wheeled spring carts to transport its supplies. They were twice as fast as the farm carts used by his French and Bavarian opponents. In 1812, Napoleon expected to defeat Russia before winter. His army was equipped for summer, including the wrong type of horse shoes. A farrier explained that horses have to have different shoes in winter; Napoleon’s had summer shoes so could not grip the ice going up and down hills.

Railways enabled armies to be deployed more quickly and in greater numbers than previously. Helmuth von Moltke was one of the first to realise this, and his meticulous planning allowed the Prussians to mobilise more quickly than the French and to defeat them in the Franco-Prussian War. Railways allowed huge armies to be mobilised in World War I, but horses remained crucial in World War II because they were the fastest way of crossing rough ground until the invention of the jeep. The use of tanks and other motor vehicles made petrol supply vital; modern petrol cans are called jerry cans in the English-speaking world because they are based on a German design, which was more robust and practical than the British version.

Modern armies require huge amounts of supplies. The Allies required a port to keep their troops supplied after D-Day. Rather than capture one, they brought an artificial one, code-named Mulberry, with them. It was designed to last for nine weeks, but remained in use for nine months. Camp Bastion, Britain’s main supply base in Afghanistan, is a busier airport than Stansted. Despite all the modern equipment, losses of helicopters meant that British soldiers had to march to fight in the Falklands War.

See the BBC website for more on episode 2:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16929522

The final episode, ‘Raising Arms’, dealt with the importance of having the best equipment and being able to afford enough of it. The Bank of England was founded in the 1690s after England ran out of money following wars with France and Spain. Sound finances enabled wars to be fought as equipment became more sophisticated and thus expensive. The increasing importance of artillery meant greater casualties, requiring more attention to medical facilities. Armies became more professional and technical, requiring better training.

In the late 19th century the increasing range of rifles meant that armies had to abandon colourful clothing, such as the British red coat, which was replaced by khaki. By 1908, British soldiers wore equipment that was designed from scratch for efficiency rather than adapting what had been used before. The British Lee-Enfield rifle had a shorter range than the German Mauser but was otherwise superior. Its magazine held 10 rather than 5 bullets and it had a bent bolt that enable the British soldier to keep his eye on the target whilst operating it, unlike the Mauser’s straight bolt.

In 1915 British machine guns and artillery were firing ammunition more quickly than it could be manufactured. A Ministry of Munitions was established and new factories built. Shortage of acetone, imported before the war, created problems with the manufacture of cordite. Chaim Weizmann, a chemistry lecturer at Manchester University, discovered a method of fermenting grain to produce acetone. In 1917 the British Empire produced over 50 million shells and a billion bullets and the Allies were out-producing the Germans. In 1917-18 the war cost £20 million per day in 2012 money.

Since World War I military power has been measured by the means of destruction rather than by numbers of men and horses. The Allies dropped 3.4 million tons of bombs in World War II. The USA dropped 7 million tons in the Vietnam War. Equipment is now stockpiled in peace, but this leads to risks of its own. An accident at an RAF munitions depot at Fauld in Staffordshire on 27 November 1944 caused one of  the largest ever non-nuclear explosions and killed more than 70 people.

The cost of military equipment continues to rise. The USA fired 800 Tomahawk cruise missiles in 48 hours during its Shock and Awe attack on Baghdad in 2003. Each costs $0.5 million. A Typhoon Eurofighter costs £50 million and the Joint Strike Fighter is likely to be twice as expensive. NATO’s opponents in Afghanistan are armed with little more than AK47s and home-made bombs, but this conflict has cost the UK £18bn. The question is knowing who the next enemy will be. The problem is that tipping points in military technology are not apparent until after the event.

See the BBC website for more on episode 3:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17011607

5 Comments

Filed under Current affairs, Reviews, War History

Rising tensions in the South Atlantic

In recent months Argentina has stepped up its claim to the Falkland Islands and has persuaded the members of Mercosur, the regional trading bloc, to close their ports to ships flying the Falkland Islands flag. Hector Timerman, the Argentinian Foreign Minister, has accused Britain of increasing its military presence in the South Atlantic.

Argentina claims that the posting of Prince William to the Falklands is provocative, but Britain argues that it is a normal part of his duties as an RAF air sea rescue pilot. The Argentinians made a formal complaint to the UN after Britain sent HMS Dauntless, its most modern destroyer, to the South Atlantic. Britain points out that this is a routine deployment of one of its warships, and that it always has a guardship in the Falklands. Dauntless is a far more powerful and sophisticated ship than those that have been assigned to that duty in the past, but the declining size of the Royal Navy means that Britain has few ships available to send.

Hector Timerman, the Argentinian Foreign Minister, has now claimed that Britain has sent a Vanguard class nuclear submarine to the South Atlantic. Vanguard’s Trident nuclear missiles are capable of destroying a city such as Buenos Aires. Its presence in the South Atlantic  would contravene the Treaty of Tlatelolco for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean. The movements of such boats are exceedingly secret and it is unlikely that Britain would send one to the South Atlantic. It is more likely that Britain has sent a nuclear powered but conventionally armed submarine to the South Atlantic. Such a boat would not threaten Argentina’s cities, but would be able to sink an invasion fleet.

It is unlikely that there will be an invasion. There’s been a lot of comment in the UK that Britain could not retake the Falklands as it did in 1982 since it no longer has aircraft carriers. In fact, this has probably been the case since 2006, when the Sea Harrier interceptors were taken out of service, leaving the RN with only Harrier GR9 ground attack aircraft, now also taken out of service. The Harrier GR9 could carry air to air missiles, but did not have the right type of radar to be a successful interceptor. What British commentators often ignore is that Argentina’s air force is obsolete and its navy is not capable of launching an amphibious assault against a garrison that is much larger than in 1982. There are only 4 Typhoon Eurofighters on the Falklands, but it is a far more modern aircraft than any possessed by Argentina.

A recent article in The Sunday Times (no link as it is behind a paywall) admitted that Argentina could not invade the Falklands by sea but postulated that Argentinian special forces could arrive in an airliner and seize Mount Pleasant airfield. It argued that this could succeed because most of the British garrison are not infantry, but it seems unlikely that such a venture could succeed when there are 500 British troops at Mount Pleasant.

Tensions have risen since oil has been found in the South Atlantic. Perhaps Argentina should remember that the safest way to make money from mineral prospectors is to supply prospectors rather than to prospect yourself.

7 Comments

Filed under Current affairs