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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Falkland Islands Battle

"FALKLAND ISLANDS BATTLE. - The battle of the Falklands, one of the principal naval actions of the World War, was fought on Dec. 8 1914 to the S.E. of the Falkland Is., between a British battle-cruiser squadron under Vice-Adml. Sir F. Doveton Sturdee and the German East Asiatic Squadron under Admi. Graf von Spee. The British ships were: " Invincible" (flag.), Capt. Percy Beamish, b. c., 1908, 8 12-in., 2 52 knots.

" Inflexible," Capt. R. F. Phillemore, b. c., 1908, 8 12-in., 252 knots.

" Carnarvon" (Rear-Adml. A. P. Stoddart), Capt. H. L. Skipwith, a. c., 1904, 4 7.5-in., 6 6-in., 20 knots.

" Cornwall," Capt. W. M. Ellerton, a. c., 1904, 14 6-in., 222 knots. " Kent," Capt. J. D. Allen, a. c., 1903, 14 6-in., 22 knots.

" Glasgow," Capt. John Luce,l. c., 1911, 2 6-in., 10 4-in., 252 knots. " Bristol," Capt. B. H. Fanshawe, 1911, 2 6-in., 10 4-in., 252 knots. " Macedonia," Capt. B. S. Evans, a. m. s.

The following composed the German squadron: " Scharnhorst," a. c., 1907, 8 8.2-in., 6 5.9-in., 202 knots. " Gneisenau," a. c., 1908, 8 8.2-in.. 6 5.9-in., 202 knots. " Leipzig," 1. c., 1906, io 4.1-in., 202 knots.

" Nurnberg," 1. c., 1908, 10 4.1-in., 22 knots.

" Dresden," 1. c., 1908, 10 4.1-in., 252 knots.

Also three supply ships, " Seydlitz," " Baden," " St. Isabel." Adml. Sturdee had arrived at Stanley Harbour, in the Falklands, only the day before, in the forenoon of Monday, Dec. 7. The " Canopus," an old battleship, was already there, moored in Port Stanley waiting in conjunction with a body of sturdy volunteers to resist von Spee's expected attack. It was Admi. Sturdee's intention to coal at once and continue the pursuit of von Spee on the 9th, but his own colliers had not arrived and there were only three in harbour. It was arranged that the " Carnarvon," " Bristol " and " Glasgow " should coal first, the battle cruisers next, and the " Kent " and " Cornwall " last. The squadron was ordered to keep steam for 12 knots at two hours' notice, and the " Macedonia," an armed merchant ship, Port Stanle '? German /r '. (egi s C 0tt ' '.' 4 FIG. I. - Battle of Falklands.

took the guard for the night. No sooner had coaling started than it was found that the coal in one collier had deteriorated, and at first only two colliers were available. The " Carnarvon " and " Glasgow " had finished by 6 A.M., and at first flush of dawn the " Bristol " and " Invincible " started to coal. By this time another collier had arrived, and the "Inflexible" began coaling about the same time. The " Kent," " Bristol " and " Cornwall " had not begun. The " Bristol " had her fires drawn to remedy defects, and the " Cornwall " an engine opened up at six hours' notice. This was the situation when, at eight o'clock, the " Glasgow " fired a gun. This was to call attention to a signal which had been flying for some minutes at the lookout station on Sapper Hill. It reported two strange ships in sight. A scene of bustle and commotion ensued. Colliers were cast off and great clouds of smoke began to pour from the funnels as the ships raised steam. At 8:14 A.M. the signal went up to prepare to weigh. The " Kent " by this time had taken over guard from the " Macedonia " and had passed down the harbour towards the entrance. The ships which had appeared so unexpectedly on the scene were the " Gneisenau " and " Nurnberg," which von Spee had sent on in advance. They approached from the south-west to within about 14,500 yd. and the men could be seen fallen-in on their decks ready to effect a landing. They were not in sight from the " Canopus," but a fire control station had been set up on the hill, and at 9 A.M. she opened fire with her 12-in. guns over the sand dunes. The shots fell short, but they made the " Gneisenau " turn away for a time to increase the range. The " Scharnhorst " was still some 15 m. from the entrance, but the clouds of smoke rising over the hills had aroused von Spee's suspicions and he ordered the supply ships to keep away. From the " Gneisenau " there came a report of six men-of-war in the harbour, and the Admiral ordered steam in all boilers, directing the " Gneisenau " at the same time to steer east and not to accept battle. By io A.M. the " Invincible," " Inflexible " and " Cornwall," which by dint of strenuous exertions on the part of her engine-room staff had got steam up, were under weigh and leaving harbour. They were vomiting out huge clouds of smoke which concealed them for a time, but it cleared away for a few minutes, revealing the tripod masts of battle cruisers, and von Spee knew that his hour of trial had come.

By Io:20 Sturdee was clear of the harbour; the enemy was well down to the south-east about II m. off and the British Admiral hoisted the " General Chase," a signal for each ship to steam as hard as she could after the enemy. It was a perfect summer day with a blue cloudless sky and calm sea. A light wind was blowing from the north-west. Masses of black smoke were pouring from the battle cruisers' funnels and a great white wake was growing at their stern.

The engagement resolves itself into two phases. A chase from 10:20 A.M. to 1:28 P.M. and the action from 1:28 P.M. to 6:Io P.M. (see figs. I and 2). By II A.M. the enemy were showing above the horizon and the battle cruisers had eased to 24 knots. The "Glasgow " was on the " Invincible " port bow, the " Kent " on her quarter. The " Carnarvon " and " Cornwall " were five m. astern, and to give Rear-Admi. Stoddart in the former a chance to get up the Admiral reduced to 20 knots. The " Bristol" by extraordinary exertions on the part of her engine-room staff had managed to raise steam. Some ladies off Port Darwin FIG. 2. - The Main Action.

had seen von Spee's colliers, and the information was passed to Port Stanley and then to Adml. Sturdee, who dispatched the " Bristol " and " Macedonia " to deal with them. By 11:30 A.M. the chase was gradually coming round to south-east by east. The " Carnarvon's " efforts to get up were unavailing and Sturdee increased speed. By 12:50 P.M. the battle cruisers were going 25 knots, overhauling the enemy fast.

The " Leipzig " was beginning to feel the pace and was dropping behind. At 12:55 P.M. her range had dropped to 16,000 yd. and the " Inflexible " opened fire. Von Spee seeing his light cruisers in danger ordered them to scatter, and they broke off to the southward, but Adml. Sturdee was ready for the con ?:  ?', .

? Nurnberg p.m,

9.23 p escapes 05 28 1 1. 1 1111 $ ST 1?, 11111411111111' 1 11?





54, /,',,,, 5.0 German i ' 3.5 [[British E]] 111‘.11(Scharnhorst 4.77 p.m, rINVINCIBLE ,. ... 4 30 4.10 4 3 25 75 a.30' ' BRITISH ' '1.1.47 3 15 / Scharnhorst 4.17 p.m. +_

Gneisenau 8.0 p.m. 7.53 9.30 p.m. tingency, and the " Glasgow," " Cornwall " and " Kent " went after them in hot pursuit. Von Spee turned to E.N.E. to accept action and took station ahead of the " Gneisenau," while Sturdee's battle cruisers to the northward of him turned into line ahead on an easterly course. At 1:25 P.M. they opened fire, the " Invincible " on the " Gneisenau " and the " Inflexible " on the " Scharnhorst," at first, shifting target later when the " Scharnhorst " passed ahead.

The action which followed may be divided into three phases; an opening encounter from 1:25 P.M. to 2 P.M., then a pause from 2 P.M. to 2:45 P.M. in which the chase was resumed, and the final engagement. The opening shots were fired at about 14,000 yd., and von Spee led round to the north-east for a few minutes to close, continuing at 13,000 yd. on a north-easterly course, which gave the " Carnarvon " a chance of coming up. About 1:40 P.M. the " Invincible " was hit, and Sturdee turned to port to open the range and take advantage of his heavier guns.

Dense clouds of smoke were pouring from the battle-cruisers' funnels, and the north-easterly course and north-westerly wind carried it southward towards the enemy, smothering the range. By 2 P.M. the range had increased to 16,000 yd. and fire was checked. The " Invincible " led round to the south-east at 2 :0 5 P.M. to close, but the enemy was lost to sight for a few minutes in the smoke, and when he reappeared he was found to have turned right away to the southward in the direction of his light cruisers. Sturdee in reply turned to the southward and increased speed, and the chase began again. It continued for nearly 40 minutes. By 2:45 the range was down again to r 5,000 yd. and turning two points to port Sturdee opened fire. Von Spee did not reply for some minutes, then deciding to accept action he turned to the east again and opened fire at 2:55 P.M. The action ran to the eastward till 3:15 P.M. with the range falling from 12,000 to io,000 yards.

The British guns were now establishing their mastery. A fire had broken out in the " Scharnhorst " and the " Gneisenau " was listing and showing signs of severe damage. But again the smother of smoke down the range made spotting difficult, and at 3:15 P.M. Adml. Sturdee to escape from it turned the battle cruisers to port together. The " Inflexible " was now leading to the westward and found herself for the first time free from smoke. Von Spee might have continued his course to the eastward which would have opened the range again to something like 17,000 yd. at the expense of a concentration of fire on the " Gneisenau " in rear, but he preferred to continue the battle on a parallel course, and led round to starboard in succession bringing his starboard guns into action. The "Scharnhorst " shifted fire to the " Inflexible " and was engaged by her. The action now ran to the south-westward with the British battle cruisers circling widely round the enemy, maintaining a range of about 14,000 yards. By 4:5 P.M. the " Scharnhorst " was bearing east on a south-westerly course; she had been hit several times and was listing heavily to port; her superstructure was a mass of ruins, and her speed had been reduced to 12 knots. The smoke was again driving down the range, and at 4:10 P.M. the " Inflexible " to get rid of it turned to starboard and engaged the " Gneisenau " on a north-easterly and opposite course. The " Invincible " did not follow her but ran on to the south-eastward. The end was now near. At 4:17 P.M. the Scharnhorst " heeled completely over to port; her stern rose steeply in the air and she went down. As she disappeared the " Invincible " turned to starboard and ran to the northward for ten minutes, then ordering the " Inflexible " to take station astern, and turning to port at 4:30 P.M. shaped course to the westward. The " Gneisenau " was some 13,000 yd. to the south-eastward, still struggling along on a south-westerly course. No sooner had the " Inflexible " formed astern of the flagship than the range was again obscured by smoke, and finding it impossible to see the enemy she turned 14 points to port at 4: 45 P.M., and leaving the flagship ran to the eastward towards the enemy, opening on him with her starboard guns before the beam and turning to the south-westward at 4:55 on his starboard quarter at io,000 yards. The " Invincible " meanwhile held on, and turning to the south-westward at 4:52 kept the "Gneisenau" on her port beam at about 12,000 yards. The " Gneisenau " was now under a heavy concentrated fire. By 5:15 she was in a sorry plight. The after turret was out of action, the foremost funnel gone and the ship was barely making headway. A drizzling rain had commenced to fall. At 5:30 P.M. the " Inflexible " ceased fire under the impression that she had struck, but the enemy's fore turret still maintained the contest. At J:45 P.M. she fired her last shot. She had received some 50 hits and was sinking slowly. At 6 P.M. she went down, stern first. The British battle cruisers rescued 188 survivors from the icy water.

The German light cruisers when they left the squadron had headed south at full speed with the " Kent," " Cornwall " and " Glasgow " in pursuit. When the chase began, the Nurnberg " was the centre ship, with the " Leipzig" about a mile on her starboard beam, and the " Dresden " ahead about four m. on the port bow. The speeds attained by various ships are difficult to ascertain with absolute certainty. The " Leipzig " was the slowest ship and was probably unable to go more than 204 knots; the " Dresden " was the fastest and was able to go about 251 knots, and possibly something over, while the " Nurnberg " could probably go 22. All the German ships had been cruising continuously for four months with no facilities for repair, and probably found it difficult to maintain their speeds. On the British side, the " Glasgow " could go 254 knots, and the " Cornwall " and " Kent " can be credited with 222 and 22 knots respectively. There could be no doubt as to the sequel once the British armoured cruisers got within range. The Germans had nothing heavier than the 4.1-in., good guns for their size but no match for the 14 6-in. carried by the armoured cruisers. When the German light cruisers broke off at 1:25 P.M. and the chase began the British cruisers were some 10 to 11 miles behind them. The " Glasgow " did not turn after them till 1:33 P.M., then going 24 knots she overhauled the " Kent " and " Cornwall " and crossed their bows.

According to German accounts Capt. Luce was overhauling the " Dresden " slowly for a time, but at 2:53 P.M. when some four m. ahead of the armoured cruisers he yawed and opened fire with his 6-in. guns on the " Leipzig," damaging one of her ventilating fans, which brought the steam pressure down. The armoured cruisers were now gradually creeping up, and about 4 P.M. the enemy cruisers began to scatter, the " Dresden " going off to the south-west, the " Nurnberg " to the south-east, and the " Leipzig " continuing to the southward. Capt. W. M. Ellerton of the " Cornwall " immediately arranged with Capt.

J. D. Allen of the " Kent " that he would take the " Leipzig," leaving the " Nurnberg " to the " Kent." This left the " Dresden " to the " Glasgow," but Capt. Luce thought her speed too great and preferred to remain with the armoured cruisers.

About 4:15 P.M. the " Kent " opened fire on the " Nurnberg " and the " Cornwall " on the " Leipzig," and by 4:30 the latter was being straddled. The " Glasgow " now definitely abandoned all attempt to follow the " Dresden," which disappeared about 5 P.M. in a squall of rain. Turning to the eastward at 4:27 P.M. she passed astern of the " Cornwall," bringing her broadside to bear on the " Leipzig." The chase continued to the southeastward, for half an hour the " Cornwall " keeping the enemy on the starboard bow, and steering a more easterly course to keep her guns bearing. About 4:50. the " Leipzig " turned to the south-west, and the " Cornwall " following suit had her now on the port bow and brought her port guns into action. The " Leipzig " was now beginning to suffer from the effects of the combined fire, and the " Cornwall " and " Glasgow " had no difficulty in keeping her at ranges of 9,000 to io,000 yards. By 6 P.M. rain was falling, and as the target was becoming indistinct Capt. Luce made a signal to close. The " Cornwall " now began to fire lyddite with immediate effect. By 6:35 P.M. the " Leipzig " was blazing fore and aft, though still firing fitfully and going some 15 knots. At 7 P.M. her mainmast and her funnels had gone and she was practically only a burning wreck, though her flag still flew defiantly at the foremast. After opening the seacocks about 150 of her crew mustered amidship hoping to be saved. But as she made no sign of surrender the " Glasgow," after waiting half an hour, closed and opened fire again with terrible effect on the men gathered on her decks. Two green lights went up which were read as a signal of surrender and boats were lowered to perform the work of rescue, but she was heeling heavily to port, and at 9:23, while the boats were approaching, turned over and disappeared, some 80 m. south of the spot where her flagship had sunk five hours before. Only five officers and thirteen men were saved. The British cruisers had suffered little. The " Cornwall " had been hit 18 times. and had a list to port, but had suffered no casualties. The " Glasgow " had been hit twice with one man killed and four wounded. The " Kent " all this time had been vigorously pursuing the " Nurnberg " to the south-east. She had started some seven miles behind her, but the engine-room staff performed prodigies, and by feeding the fires with all the spare wood in the ship the range was brought down to 12,000 yd. by 5 P.M. The " Nurnberg " now opened fire with her stern guns. The " Kent's " shots were falling short, and mist and rain were seriously reducing the visibility. Within the next quarter of an hour however, the " Kent " scored a couple of hits, one of which penetrated the " Leipzig " below the waterline aft and did serious damage. Then came a dramatic change. Two of the " Nurnberg's " boilers gave out, her speed dropped to 19 knots and the " Kent " commenced to overhaul her rapidly. At 5:45 the " Kent " was on her port quarter some 6,000 yd. off, and the " Nurnberg " turned to port to engage her. There was no time to lose in the failing light and Capt. Allen forced the pace. Keeping the enemy well abaft the beam to avoid torpedo fire he closed in to 3,000 yards. The pace was too hot for the "Nurnberg" and she turned right away at 6:02. But the " Kent " followed her close. By 6:10 the enemy was on fire with only two guns in action; the " Kent " continued to hit, and circling right round her bows raked her at 3,500 yards. By 6:25 she was a burning wreck, listing heavily and down by the stern, but with her flag still flying. The " Kent " opened fire again and the flag came down. Just before 7:30 she turned over and sank, but though a search was kept up till 9 P.M. only seven survivors were found. The " Kent " had been hit 40 times, but suffered little structural damage and lost only four killed and 12 wounded.

Meanwhile the colliers " Santa Isabel " and " Baden " had been found by the " Bristol," who had chased them to the southward and eastward and captured them about 4 P.M. They were valuable ships, but Adml. Sturdee had given orders to sink all transports, and though they were not transports but ships full of valuable coal they were sunk. The supply ship " Seydlitz " got off to the southward and found safety amongst the icebergs. The " Dresden reached Magellan Straits on Dec. to and anchored in Cockburn Channel with only 150 tons of coal left. Thence she made for Punta Arenas, where news came of her on the 12th, though three long months elapsed before our cruisers could hunt her down.

This was the end of the chase and the encounter known as the battle of the Falklands. It was the one decisive naval battle of the war - the end of von Spee's squadron, of von Spee, and of both his sons. It marked the termination of a definite phase of the struggle at sea. Cruiser warfare collapsed. Germany could no longer challenge the control of the outer seas, and outside the North Sea and Baltic the command of the sea was won.

(A. C. D.)

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Falkland Islands Battle'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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