November 1 This Day During World War l

November 1, 1914 – Battle of Coronel took place on 1 November 1914 off the coast of central Chile near the city of Coronel. German Kaiserliche Marine forces led by Vice-Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee met and defeated a Royal Navy squadron commanded by Rear-Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock.The engagement probably took place as a result of a series of misunderstandings. Neither admiral expected to meet the other in full force. Once the two met, Cradock understood his orders were to fight to the end, despite the odds heavily against him. Although Spee had an easy victory, destroying two enemy armoured cruisers for just three men injured, the engagement also cost him half his supply of ammunition, which was impossible to replace. Shock at the British losses led to an immediate reaction and the sending of more ships which in turn destroyed Spee and the majority of his squadron at the Battle of the Falkland Islands. On 22 October, Cradock cabled the Admiralty that he was going to round Cape Horn and was leaving Canopus behind to escort his colliers. Admiral John Fisher replaced Battenberg as First Sea Lord on 27 October, and the following day Fisher ordered Cradock not to engage von Spee without Canopus. He then ordered HMS Defence to reinforce Cradock. The previous week Cradock had sent Glasgow to Montevideo to pick up any messages the Admiralty may have sent. Von Spee, having learned of the presence of Glasgow off Coronel, sailed south from Valparaíso with all five warships with the intention of destroying her. Glasgow, however, intercepted radio traffic from one of the German cruisers and informed Cradock who turned his fleet north to intercept the cruiser. Given von Spee’s superiority in speed, firepower, efficiency and numbers, why Cradock chose to engage puzzles historians. It is known that a friend of Cradock was at that time awaiting Court-martial for failing to engage a superior enemy and he had been told by the Admiralty that his force was “sufficient”. The accepted view among Cradock’s colleagues was that he was “constitutionally incapable of refusing action”. The more common explanation is that Cradock, knowing his mission was impossible, wanted to damage von Spee and force him to use ammunition he could not replace. On 31 October, he ordered his squadron to adopt an attacking formation. Both sides likely expected a single ship until they sighted each other at 16:40 on 1 November. On 31 October, Glasgow entered Coronel harbour to collect messages and news from the British consul. Also in harbour was a supply ship—Göttingen—working for Spee, which immediately radioed with the news of the British ship entering harbour. Glasgow meanwhile was listening to radio traffic, which suggested that German warships were close. Matters were confused, because the German ships had been instructed to all use the same call sign, that of Leipzig. Spee decided to move his ships to Coronel, to trap Glasgow, while Admiral Cradock hurried north to catch Leipzig. Neither side realised the other’s main force was nearby. At 09:15 on 1 November, Glasgow left port to meet Cradock at noon, 40 mi (34.8 nmi; 64.4 km) west of Coronel. Seas were stormy so that it was impossible to send a boat between the ships to deliver the messages, which had to be transferred on a line floated in the sea. At 13:50, the ships formed into a line of battle 15 mi (13.0 nmi; 24.1 km) apart and started to steam north at 10 kn (11.5 mph; 18.5 km/h) searching for Leipzig. At 16:17, Leipzig, accompanied by the other German ships, spotted smoke from the British line. Von Spee ordered full speed so that Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Leipzig were approaching the British at 20 kn (23 mph; 37 km/h), with the slower light cruisers Dresden and Nürnberg some way behind. At 16:20, Glasgow and Otranto saw smoke to the north, and then three ships at a range of 12 mi (10.4 nmi; 19.3 km). The British reversed direction, so that both fleets were moving south, and a chase began which lasted 90 minutes. Cradock was faced with a choice; he could either take his three cruisers capable of 20 kn (23 mph; 37 km/h), abandon Otranto and run from the Germans, or stay and fight with Otranto, which could only manage 16 kn (18 mph; 30 km/h). The German ships slowed at a range of 15,000 yd (13,720 m) to reorganise themselves for best positions, and to await best visibility, when the British to their west would be outlined against the setting sun. At 17:10, Cradock decided he must fight, and drew his ships closer together. He changed course to south-east and attempted to close upon the German ships while the sun remained high. Von Spee declined to engage and turned his faster ships away, maintaining the distance between the forces which sailed roughly parallel at a distance of 14,000 yd (12,800 m). At 18:18, Cradock again attempted to close, steering directly towards the enemy, which once again turned away to a greater range of 18,000 yd (16,460 m). At 18:50, the sun set; Spee closed to 12,000 yd (10,970 m) and commenced firing. The German ships had sixteen 8.2 in (208 mm) guns of comparable range to the two 9.2 in (234 mm) guns on Good Hope. One of these was hit within five minutes of the engagement starting. Of the remaining 6 in (152 mm) guns on the British ships, most were in casemates along the sides of the ships, which continually flooded if the gun doors were opened to fire in heavy seas. The merchant cruiser Otranto—having only 4 in (100 mm) guns and being a much larger target than the other ships—retired west at full speed. With the British 6-inch guns having insufficient range to match the German 8-inch guns, Cradock attempted to close on the German ships. By 19:30, he had reached 6,000 yd (5,490 m), but as he closed the German fire became correspondingly more accurate. Both Good Hope and Monmouth were on fire, presenting easy targets to the German gunners now that darkness had fallen, whereas the German ships had disappeared into the dark. Monmouth was first to be silenced. Good Hope continued firing, continuing to close on the German ships and receiving more and more fire. By 19:50, she had also ceased firing; subsequently her forward section exploded, then she broke apart and sank, with no one actually witnessing the sinking. Scharnhorst switched firing towards Monmouth, while Gneisenau joined Leipzig and Dresden which had been engaging Glasgow. The German light cruisers had only 4.1 in (104 mm) guns, which had left Glasgow relatively unscathed, but these were now joined by the 8.2-inch guns of Gneisenau. John Luce — captain of Glasgow — determined that nothing was to be gained by staying and attempting to fight. It was noticed that each time he fired, the flash of his guns was used by the Germans to aim a new salvo, so he also ceased firing. One compartment of the ship was flooded, but she could still manage 24 kn (28 mph; 44 km/h). He returned first to Monmouth, which was now dark but still afloat. Nothing was to be done for the ship, which was sinking slowly but would attempt to beach on the Chilean coast. Glasgow turned south and departed. There was some confusion amongst the German ships as to the fate of the two armoured cruisers, which had disappeared into the dark once they ceased firing, and a hunt began. Leipzig saw something burning, but on approaching found only wreckage. Nürnberg—slower than the other German ships—arrived late at the battle and sighted Monmouth, listing and badly damaged but still moving. After pointedly directing his searchlights at the ship’s ensign, an invitation to surrender—which was declined—he opened fire, finally sinking the ship. Without firm information, von Spee decided that Good Hope had escaped and called off the search at 22:15. Mindful of the reports that a British battleship was around somewhere, he turned north. With no survivors from either Good Hope or Monmouth, 1,600 British officers and men were dead with Cradock among them. Glasgow and Otranto both escaped (the former suffering five hits and five wounded men). Just two shells had struck Scharnhorst, neither of which exploded: one 6-inch shell hit above the armour belt and penetrated to a storeroom where, in von Spee’s words, “the creature just lay there as a kind of greeting.” Another struck a funnel. In return, Scharnhorst had managed at least 35 hits on Good Hope, but at the expense of 422 8.2-inch shells, leaving her with 350. Four shells had struck Gneisenau, one of which nearly flooded the officers’ wardroom. A shell from Glasgow struck her after turret and temporarily knocked it out. Three of Gneisenau’s men were wounded; she expended 244 of her shells and had 528 left. Von Spee commented afterward on the British tactics. He had been misinformed that the battleship Canopus sighted in the area was a relatively modern Queen-class ship, whereas it was a similar appearing, old and barely seaworthy Canopus-class battleship, but nonetheless had four 12 inches (305 mm) guns and ten 6-inch guns. Von Spee believed he would have lost the engagement had all the British ships been together. Despite his victory he was pessimistic of the real harm done to the British navy, and also of his own chances of survival. Cradock had been less convinced of the value of Canopus, being too slow at 12 knots to allow his other ships freedom of movement and manned only by inexperienced reservists. The official explanation of the defeat as presented to the House of Commons by Winston Churchill stated: “feeling he could not bring the enemy immediately to action as long as he kept with Canopus, he decided to attack them with his fast ships alone, in the belief that even if he himself were destroyed… he would inflict damage on them which …would lead to their certain subsequent destruction.” On 3 November, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Nürnberg entered Valparaiso harbour and were welcomed as heroes by the German population. Von Spee refused to join in the celebrations: presented with a bunch of flowers he commented, “these will do nicely for my grave”. He was to die with most of the men on his ships approximately one month later at the Battle of the Falkland Islands, on 8 December 1914.


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