Description of the Battle

Rear Admiral Cradock had his squadron reinforced by the armoured cruiser Good Hope. She had just come out of reserve and was manned by a very green crew of reservists and cadets but despite this Cradock transferred his flag to her as she was faster than his current ship. He was then given the task of finding Graf Spee and so headed for the Pacific. His squadron now consisted of Good Hope, the armoured cruiser Monmouth, the light cruiser Glasgow and the armed merchant cruiser Otranto. The squadron was inferior or the German squadron and so the old pre-dreadnought battleship Canopus was sent to bolster Cradock. Again she was straight out of reserve, slow (17 knots max.) and manned by reservists who had never fired her guns before, the guns being outranged by those of the German armoured cruisers. HMS Defence, an armoured cruiser, was also promised but never materialised. The Admiralty falsely gave Cradock the impression that they thought that this force was adequate for the task and he should engage Graf Spee if he could. The British squadron was to be based out of the Falkland Islands. When Canopus did finally turn up there it turned out that she had engine problems and was limited to 12 knots. Cradock decided to detach her from his main squadron, letting her follow at her own pace with his colliers.

On October 29 Glasgow was sent to Coronel to pick up intelligence and whilst there she picked up radio transmissions between Leipzig and one of her colliers. The squadron was reformed and spread out at 20 mile intervals to sweep north. There was little optimism in the British ships about the outcome should they meet the German squadron of modern ships with crack crews. Monmouth had an even less experienced crew than Good hope and was an old design that had a poor reputation being badly under-armed for a ship of her size and too slow to run away. Otranto was a converted liner, too slow, armed with old 4.7 inch guns (eight carried) and with a large silhouette and no armour. Only Glasgow was a decent ship, a modern light cruiser with a regular crew, decent speed and capable of outgunning the German light cruisers, but not Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.

On November 1 at 1630 Glasgow sighted smoke from Leipzig and then minutes later the ship and the German armoured cruisers. Spee formed a battle line in the order Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Leipzig and Dresden, Nurnberg was thirty miles to the north, still returning from Valparaiso. The British line was ordered Good Hope, Monmouth, Glasgow and Otranto. Cradock had the opportunity of turning towards Canopus, 300 miles to the south, there not being sufficient light for Spee to catch him that day but that risked the losing Spee during the night. The British turned towards the German line and at about 1930 at 12,000 yards the German armoured cruisers opened fire. The setting sun silhouetted the British squadron whilst the German ships were hard to see in the failing light. The third salvo from Scharnhorst hit Good hope, knocking out her forward 9.2 inch gun. Monmouth was also hit by the third salvo from Gneisenau, setting her forward turret on fire. The German gun crews maintained a rapid and accurate fire, both leading British cruisers being hit over thirty times, whilst the reply from the British was very ineffectual. The visibility deteriorated so that the Germans had to target the fires on the British ships whilst the British had to make do with aiming at the enemy gun flashes. Leipzig and Glasgow engaged each other whilst Dresden fired on Otranto which rapidly pulled out of the line and fled, enabling Dresden to also engage Glasgow. Cradock closed the range to 5,500 yards to bring his 6 inch guns to action. Spee interpreted this as an attempt to launch a torpedo attack and increased the range. At 1950 Good Hope suffered a magazine explosion, the crippled ship then drifting out of site and sinking soon afterwards. There were no survivors.

Monmouth was also in a bad way, being on fire and listing to port. Glasgow had been hit five times and seeing that Monmouth was beyond help fled to avoid certain destruction and to warn Canopus to turn back. Monmouth was unable to fire but her White Ensign was still flying. The newly arrived Nurberg found her and finished her off with gunfire at point blank, seventy five gun flashes being observed from Glasgow. Again there were no survivors.

Leipzig and Dresden were detached to find Glasgow and Otranto, both heading for the Falkland Islands whilst the rest of the squadron made for Valparaiso to coal and provision.

The British had suffered its first defeat for over a century with the loss of two armoured cruisers and nearly 1600 crew. The only damage to the Germans was two hits on Scharnhorst and four hits and three wounded on Gneisenau.

The above is the work of Darren Milford and has been copied from his site WW1 Naval Combat

 

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