A centennial: The Battle of the Falkland Islands

oldWeather forum moderator Caro has been showcasing the history in our logs, by tweeting, every day, excerpts from the logs of exactly 100-years ago (follow along here). The terse style of the logs is a good match for Twitter, but on some days so much happened that we’d like to go into more detail. December 8th, 1914 was such a day, so Caro has written this post:

It’s been said before: oldWeather is not just about the weather. We transcribe history too and few of the historical narratives to emerge from our WWI ships’ logs can compare to the events that took place on this day, 8 December, 100 years ago: the Battle of the Falkland Islands. The logs of all nine Royal Navy ships involved ― Bristol, Canopus, Carnarvon, Cornwall, Glasgow, Inflexible, Invincible, Kent, and Macedonia ― have given our transcribers and editors first-hand accounts of one of the most important sea battles of WWI.

Back on November 1, Admiral von Spee and his German cruisers had defeated a Royal Navy squadron near Coronel, Chile. British losses were heavy; the ships Good Hope and Monmouth were lost and with them the lives of about 1600 men. Glasgow and Otranto escaped. The British Admiralty, realising the danger of the German ships escaping into the South Atlantic and disrupting the Allies’ operations along the African coast; or sailing around the Horn to attack the now almost defenceless British base in the Falkland Islands, sent a squadron to the South Atlantic to track down von Spee’s cruisers. Eight Royal Navy warships assembled at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands on December 7. The old battleship Canopus had been set in place as guardship for Port Stanley, resting on the mud, since mid-November.

On 8 December, the German cruisers Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Nürnberg, Dresden and Leipzig, together with three auxiliary vessels, gathered to attack the Falklands and raid the British facilities there. Gneisenau and Nürnberg detached from the rest of the German squadron and moved to attack the wireless station and port facilities of Port Stanley. The two raiders were seen by a hilltop spotter who reported their approach to Canopus, waiting out of sight behind the hills.

The logs continue the story:

  • 9.19am Canopus: Opened fire fore & aft 12” turrets on Gneisenau & Nürnberg
  • 930am Canopus: Ceased fire. Enemy retreated
  • 9.30am Glasgow: Weighed and proceeded
  • 9.50am Kent: Proceeded to follow enemy. 3 more German cruisers reported in sight, Scharnhorst, Leipzig, and Dresden
  • 10.15am Glasgow: As requisite keeping touch with enemy; squadron weighing and proceeding from Port William
  • 11.43am Carnarvon: Bristol ordered to take Macedonia & destroy transports
  • 12.57pm Inflexible: Opened fire at extreme range on Leipzig, firing 12 rounds of 12 inch, apparently making no hits
  • 12.57pm Invincible: Invincible opened fire
  • 1.25pm Invincible: Enemy’s light cruisers observed to spread to starboard
  • 1.33pm Invincible: Scharnhorst & Gneisenau opened fire
  • 1.35pm Invincible: Cornwall, Kent & Glasgow ordered to chase enemy light cruisers
  • 2.51pm Inflexible: Opened fire on Gneisenau, 15,200 yards, Invincible engaging Scharnhorst, the leading ship in line ahead
  • 3.00pm Glasgow: Opened fire & engaged Leipzig with 6″ gun
  • 3.30pm Bristol: Fired 2 rounds fore 6″ and ordered Santa Isabel and Baden, German colliers, to stop; crews ordered to abandon ships. German crews transferred to Macedonia
  • 4.01pm Inflexible: Scharnhorst listing heavily to starboard, two funnels gone, and ship on fire. Ceased firing on her
  • 4.15pm Carnarvon: Opened fire [on Scharnhorst]
  • 4.17pm Carnarvon: Scharnhorst turned over & sank bow first; cease fire
  • 5.00pm Kent: Kent proceeded in chase of Nürnberg
  • 5.30pm Cornwall: Opened fire [on Leipzig] with 6″ guns & continued action with all guns
  • 5.40pm Macedonia: Opened fire on Baden
  • 5.48pm Inflexible: Finally ceased firing [on Gneisenau]. Signalled to Carnarvon, “I think enemy have hauled down their colours”
  • 6.02pm Invincible: Gneisenau sinks. Invincible, Inflexible and Carnarvon proceeded at full speed to pick up survivors
  • 6.45pm Kent: Opened fire and finally ceased fire at 6.57pm; Nürnberg sank at 7.25 pm
  • 6.50pm Cornwall: Enemy [Leipzig] on fire fore and aft
  • 7.00pm Bristol: Macedonia ordered to remain till colliers sunk and proceed to Port Stanley with crews
  • 7.23pm Kent: Stopped and endeavoured to pick up [Nürnberg] survivors
  • 7.53pm Macedonia: Baden sank
  • 8.15pm Macedonia: Opened fire on Santa Isabel
  • 9.00pm Cornwall: Stopped; lowered port boats to pick up [Leipzig] survivors
  • 9.23pm Cornwall: Leipzig foundered
  • 9.30pm Macedonia: Santa Isabel sank

The German auxiliary Seydlitz and light cruiser Dresden escaped. Almost 1900 German seamen lost their lives; 10 British were killed.

One hundred years on, we remember all those who died at Coronel and the Falklands and in the battles to come.

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