A month after German naval forces led by Admiral Maximilian von Spee inflicted the Royal Navy’s first defeat in a century by sinking two British cruisers with all hands off the southern coast of Chile, Spee’s squadron attempts to raid the Falkland Islands, located in the southern Atlantic Ocean, only to be thwarted by the British navy. Under the command of Admiral Doveton Sturdee, the British seamen sought vengeance on behalf of their defeated fellows.
Spee could have given the Falklands a wide berth, but he brought his fleet close to British squadrons anchored in Cape Pembroke in the Falkland Islands, confident he could outdistance the slow British Dreadnoughts, or big battleships, he saw in the port. Instead, the German light cruisers, damaged by the long voyage and heavy use, soon found themselves pursued by two swift battle cruisers, Inflexible and Invincible, designed by Britain’s famous First Sea Lord, Jackie Fisher, to combine speed and maneuverability with heavy hitting power.
Inflexible opened fire on the German ships from 16,500 yards, careful to stay outside the range of the German guns. Spee’s flagship, Scharnhorst was sunk first, with the admiral aboard; his two sons, on the Gneisenau and NÜrnberg, also went down with their ships. All told, Germany lost four warships and more than 2,000 sailors in the Falkland Islands, compared with only 10 British deaths.
Historians have referred to the Battle of the Falkland Islands as the most decisive naval battle of World War I. It gave the Allies a huge, much-needed surge of confidence on the seas, especially important because other areas of the war—the Western Front, Gallipoli—were not proceeding as hoped. The battle also represents one of the last important instances of old-style naval warfare, between ships and sailors and their guns alone, without the aid or interference of airplanes, submarines, or underwater minefields.
Falkland Islands was an area command and base of operations of the British Royal Navy created in World War One as one of the geographical divisions into which the Royal Navy administered its worldwide responsibilities. It was defined so by the Department of Admiralty to identify the area jurisdiction of the Naval Officer-in-Charge, Falkland Islands and existed until 1946. It was a subcommand of the South Atlantic Station, then later the America and West Indies Station.
For command purposes the Royal Navy was divided into a number of major or local stations, fleets or or other formations, each normally under an admiral or senior officer. Ώ]
The Falkland Islands have a rich history embracing maritime trade, sealing, whaling, cattle and sheep farming.
The English navigator, John Davis, aboard the "Desire" made the first confirmed sighting of the Islands in 1592. The first landing is attributed to the British Captain, John Strong, in 1690 at Bold Cove, Port Howard on West Falkland.
Early visitors were sealers, whalers and penguin hunters from different corners of the World. Many imported domestic animals and left these at various locations as a food source for future voyages. Cattle spread rapidly throughout the Islands. Travel was on horseback and South American gauchos made their mark. Stone and turf corrals were constructed and remains of these can be seen scattered across the Islands, particularly on East Falkland.
1833 saw the re-assertion by Britain of its sovereignty. By 1845 the capital had been moved to its present site and named Stanley, after the Colonial Secretary, Geoffrey Smith Stanley. Stanley became an important port for vessels involved in whaling and rounding Cape Horn. Settlements and farms were built around the Islands and sheep farming took over from cattle ranching as the mainstay of the economy.
Falkland Islanders participated in both World Wars. The World War One Battle of the Falklands is commemorated by a monument on Ross Road while the Cross of Sacrifice commemorates World War Two. For 74 days in 1982, Argentine troops occupied the Falkland Islands. A British Task Force was sent to recover the Islands. Fierce fighting took place on land, at sea and in the air with a number of Islanders aiding the British military wherever possible. Ultimately, Argentine Forces surrendered to the British Forces.
Today the Islands enjoy a healthy economy based on the sale of fishing licences, tourism and agricultural products including fine wool, mutton and beef.
The Empire Strikes Back: The First Battle of the Falkland Islands 1914
In terms of British military history, the Falkland Islands are best known for the 10-week war in 1982 against Argentina. However, almost 70 years earlier, the waters around these South Atlantic islands were the setting of a significant naval battle in the early months of the First World War.
The lead-up to the Battle of the Falklands actually began thousands of miles away on November 1st 1914, a date that remains as one of the darkest in Royal Navy history. Off the coast of Chile that day, a British squadron commanded by Rear Admiral Christopher Cradock was defeated by the expert gunnery of German Vice Admiral Maximilian Von Spee. Two old armoured British cruisers Monmouth and Good Hope were sunk with all hands, including Cradock. This first defeat of the Royal Navy since the War of 1812 severely damaged Britain’s perceived power and prestige, but more worryingly, all British trade in South America was now at the mercy of Von Spee’s ships.
Although victorious, Von Spee faced a serious problem - his ships had fired off over half their precious ammunition supply and re-supply was almost impossible owing to their isolated position. Von Spee’s only hope lay in a return to Germany.
Meanwhile, the British immediately dispatched two fast battlecruisers to the South Atlantic hoping to intercept Von Spee before he rounded Cape Horn and became lost in the vast Atlantic Ocean. Invincible and Inflexible, under the command of Vice-Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee, reached Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands on the morning of December 7th. The battlecruisers were now joined by the three armoured cruisers Cornwall, Carnarvon and Kent and two light cruisers, the Glasgow and Bristol. But after steaming thousands of miles, the British ships needed several days to load coal for the next phase of their mission to find Von Spee.
But while the British ships were safe in Port Stanley re-fueling, Von Spee had already rounded Cape Horn. Most admirals would have then simply raced for home port, but Von Spee announced to his surprised crew that he wanted to destroy the wireless station on the Falkland Islands. He believed the Falklands were undefended and this attack would constitute a final act of German defiance in the region. However, through an incredible piece of bad luck: although the British Squadron’s arrival was common knowledge in the ports down the Chilean coast no one had told the German admiral. It was to prove a fatal mistake.
On the morning of December 8th, Von Spee dispatched the armoured cruiser Gneisenau and the light cruiser Nürnberg to attack the Falklands, whilst his flagship the armoured cruiser Scharnhorst and the light cruisers Dresden and Leipzig waited over the horizon. As the Gneisenau and Nürnberg approached the Falklands at around 8.30am, British lookouts on the islands spotted their smoke and immediately reported this back to the Canopus, an old antiquated battleship whose only use to the fleet was to be beached at the entrance to Port Stanley and transformed into a fort.
Canopus saved the entire British squadron from destruction.
There was no telephone line between Canopus and the British flagship Invincible so the old battleship was forced to hoist the time-honoured signal “Enemy in Sight.” Busy coaling, the British ships were caught completely by surprise and it would be hours before any of them could raise steam. Although he didn’t know it, the Falklands wireless station and, in fact, the entire British squadron were at Von Spee’s mercy.
Remarkably, despite firing blind as the German ships were obscured by the headland, the second salvo from Canopus was a near-miss with shell splinters hitting the base of Gneisenau’s funnel The German ships were forced away and Canopus saved the entire British squadron from destruction.
Defied of his objective, Von Spee’s squadron re-grouped and was forced to flee, heading south. However, led by Sturdee aboard Invincible, the British fleet gave chase with the advantage of faster ships and fine weather. Within a few hours, the German spotters saw the large clouds of black smoke from the chasing British battlecruisers which carried deadly 12-inch guns – battle would soon commence. At 12.47pm, the battlecruiser Inflexible opened fire at the colossal range of 16,500 yards. No British warship had ever before fired at a live target from such distance. While the shell fire was inaccurate, Von Spee soon realised his position was already critical. He was forced into a selfless act of bravery, turning his two armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau into the path of the oncoming British battlecrusiers, hoping to draw their fire away from his remaining three light cruisers, allowing them to escape.
Admiral Sturdee, however, had planned for this, and while his battlecruisers Invincible and Inflexible would engage the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, the Kent, Cornwall and Glasgow could hunt the escaping German light cruisers.
Although British gunnery was poor, the sheer power of their 12-inch shells were slowly turning the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau into masses of twisted steel. Despite a desperate resistance, by 4.00pm the Scharnhorst ceased firing and by 4.17pm she slipped beneath the waves. Every member of her 800 strong crew perished, including Von Spee. By 5.15pm Gneisenau had ceased firing and also sank, with only 190 German sailors plucked from the icy seas.
Meanwhile, the remaining British cruisers were straining to catch the remaining three German ships. Engineers on the antiquated cruiser Kent were amazed that her unreliable engines were still working, but a more pressing issue was an increasing lack of coal, as the German squadron's arrival at the Falklands had delayed Kent’s resupply. Wrecking parties were organised who worked with superhuman energy stripping anything they could find to feed the boilers. This caused the ship to make 24 knots, a speed she had never before achieved. Eventually, Kent caught and overwhelmed the Nürnberg. Only twelve German sailors were rescued.
The British cruisers Glasgow and Cornwall together then sunk the Leipzig. But the Dresden managed to escape. Following her discovery by the British, she would eventually be scuttled several months later off the Chilean island of Más a Tierra by her own crew.
The Battle of the Falklands lasted just one day with four German ships destroyed and all British vessels surviving intact. British trade in South America was once again secure and Admiral Cradock’s death had been avenged. However, despite a clear British victory, it may be that the bravery of Von Spee and his gallant crew is the most memorable aspect of this unique naval battle.
How did the Falklands War shape modern British society?Margaret Thatcher's response to the Falklands War secured her grasp on power and revitalized her faltering political career. (University of Salford Press Office via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY 2.0)
Three days after Argentina invaded the Falklands, a survey of British citizens watching the events from home found that 88 percent of those polled felt the U.K. had an “obligation” to support the islanders. Seventy percent advocated sinking Argentinian ships if necessary, and 41 percent called for the immediate use of government force. In other words, the Falklands War was highly popular in an otherwise increasingly divided country.
“The empire was gone, the economy was struggling, the old industrial base was crumbling and the old certainties had vanished,” writes Sandbrook for History Extra. “Inflation, strikes, unemployment riots, bombings, scandals failure, shabbiness, disappointment: [T]his had been Britain’s narrative since the mid-1960s.”
Thatcher, who had run for office in 1979 on a platform of privatization of state-owned enterprises, decreased government spending and the restriction of trade unions, was finding it difficult to live up to her campaign slogan: “Don’t just hope for a better life. Vote for one.” Record-breaking unemployment and a recession the likes of which had not been seen since the Great Depression threatened to ensure her time as prime minister was short-lived. Then, Argentina invaded the Falklands, forcing the Conservative Party leader to quickly formulate a decisive response—a challenge she readily rose to meet.
Thatcher’s objectives were twofold, wrote historian Domenico Maria Bruni in a 2018 journal article: First, the prime minister had to defend her government against accusations of failing to prevent the attack. More importantly, she also needed to determine how best to defuse the potential military disaster.
“She was decisive, determined, effective,” Chris Collins, a historian at the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, told History.com in 2019. “There was never the slightest note of doubt in her public responses, and she was pretty clear privately too. We would get the islands back. I don’t think any other British leader at that time would have handled things quite as clearly.”
Sandbrook argues that the Falklands War supplied a dose of “nostalgic nationalism” to a country in need of a win.
“In practical terms it changed nothing,” he writes. “Psychologically, however, it changed everything. In the public imagination, it marked the end of an era defined by post-imperial introspection, providing a new national myth to rank alongside Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain.”
Following its humiliating defeat in the Falklands, Argentina’s military junta suffered a rapid fall from power, with citizens ousting the Peronist Justicialist Party in favor of a new regime. The result of 1983’s free election—the first of its kind in almost a decade—was widely heralded as “a vote for democracy,” according to the New York Times.
The Falklands, meanwhile, experienced an unprecedented period of post-war prosperity. As Larissa MacFarquhar writes for the New Yorker, Britain “allotted the islands more aid money than it ever had before,” in addition to granting islanders full British citizenship and offering independence “in all matters except foreign policy and defense.” In 2013, residents overwhelmingly opted to remain a British overseas territory, with just three of some 1,500 voters casting dissenting ballots.
The Falklands War: when was it fought, why did it happen and how was it won?
On 2 April 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a remote British colony in the South Atlantic – sparking a short and decisive war that grabbed international headlines, created sizeable politicial drama, and involved great bravery and great tragedy. Explore when and why did the conflict started, how was it won and what it meant for British domestic politics with experts including Sir Max Hastings and Sir Lawrence Freedman
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Published: December 5, 2020 at 12:30 pm
On 2 April 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a remote British colony in the South Atlantic. The UK, which had ruled the islands for nearly 150 years (though Argentina had long claimed sovereignty), quickly chose to fight and Britain’s Navy sailed south to retake the Falklands. Writing in BBC History Revealed, Matt Elton explores 9 big questions surrounding the conflict…
When was the Falklands War, and where did it take place?
The Falklands War saw Britain and Argentina battle for control of the Falkland Islands – a tiny archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean made up of two main islands (dubbed East Falkland and West Falkland) and around 776 smaller outcrops.
When was the Falklands War and how long did it last?
The conflict was fought between 2 April and 14 June 1982, lasting for 74 days.
How did the Falklands War start?
On 2 April, Argentina invaded and occupied the British dependent territory of the Falkland Islands, and they took the neighbouring island of South Georgia the following day. However, neither Britain nor Argentina declared a state of war at any point, meaning the conflict remained, officially, an ‘undeclared war’.
Why did the Falklands War start?
From an Argentine point of view, the war was sparked less by an ‘invasion’ and more by a reclamation of territory that was, by rights, theirs. The history of the Falklands is rather convoluted. France was the first nation to establish a colony on East Falkland in 1764, before the British claimed West Falkland as its own the next year. Five years after that, Spanish troops captured the fort of Port Egmont (Britain’s first settlement on West Falkland).
Fifty years on, a mercenary working for the United Provinces of the River Plate – a forerunner of what would later become Argentina – claimed possession of the islands. In 1833, the British reasserted their sovereignty and requested that the Argentine administration leave. Britain retained possession of the Falklands from that point on – but the issue of the islands’ sovereignty remained controversial.
In the early 1980s, Argentina was ruled by a military dictatorship – called a junta – and rocked by political unrest and economic crises. Its leadership believed that reclaiming the Falklands – the islands were about 300 miles off Argentina’s coastline, but over 8,000 miles from Britain’s shores – would appeal to nationalist sentiment and unite an increasingly fractious public behind the government.
Was the Queen opposed to the Falklands War?
In season 4 of The Crown, Queen Elizabeth II is seen looking distinctly unimpressed by events in the Falkland Islands. What did she really think of the war? Historian Dominic Sandbrook explains…
What was the sinking of the Belgrano and why was it controversial?
A Commando unit, SAS troops and members of the Special Boat Squadron retook South Georgia on 25 April. Yet it was the sinking of the Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano by British forces on 2 May that has been remembered as the conflict’s first major engagement – and it proved to be one of the most controversial acts of the war. Despite being discovered by the submarine HMS Conqueror outside of the exclusion zone, the decision was made to torpedo the cruiser – leading to the loss of 323 Argentinian lives.
The Sun’s headline in response to the sinking of the General Belgrano – “Gotcha” – remains one of the newspaper’s most famous (or infamous) front pages.
How did the Falklands War end?
By 12 June 1982, British forces had reached high ground around the capital, Stanley, and surrounded and blockaded its port. A series of short battles ensued, but it was clear that the town was cut off. Argentina surrendered on 14 June. British rule was restored later that year.
How many people died during the Falklands War?
The Falklands War left 650 Argentinian and 253 British people dead. Hundreds more were injured on both sides – the burns suffered by troops such as Simon Weston (a Welsh guardsman serving aboard the RFA Sir Galahad who was left with burns over 46 per cent of his body when his ship was bombed) became some of the most recognisable images of the conflict. Britain also captured around 11,000 Argentine prisoners, all of whom were freed when the fighting finished.
What did the Falklands War mean for Margaret Thatcher?
The conflict had received widespread popular support in Britain, possibly because the opening years of the 1980s had been characterised by bad news: economic recession, decline in industry, and – arguably – declining influence on the world stage. But the victory became a defining moment in British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s tenure.
As she put it in a speech in Cheltenham: “We have ceased to be a nation in retreat … we rejoice that Britain has rekindled that spirit which has fired her for generations past and which today has begun to burn as brightly as before.” It was a victory that was to translate into personal success for Thatcher: in the general election of the next year, her Conservative government won by the most decisive landslide since 1945.
Did the Falklands War resolve the issue of sovereignty?
In a word: no. Although the two nations re-established relations in a joint statement in 1989, Argentina still maintains its claim to the Falklands islands, even adding it to its constitution in 1994. In a 2013 referendum, all but three islanders voted to remain a UK overseas territory – a result dismissed by the Argentine government as a “publicity stunt”.
Matt Elton is the deputy editor of BBC History Magazine
Falklands War timeline: Sir Max Hastings picks 10 key dates in the conflict
19 March 1982 | A group of Argentines (purportedly scrap metal workers) land on South Georgia
2 April | Argentine forces invade the Falklands, capturing the islands after a brief fight
3 April | The UN Security Council calls unsuccessfully for an end to hostilities and an Argentine withdrawal
5 April | The British task force sets sail for the south Atlantic
25 April | South Georgia is recaptured by British commandos. Meanwhile the main task force has reached the vicinity of the Falkland Islands
2 May | Argentine cruiser General Belgrano is torpedoed by British submarine HMS Conqueror, resulting in the deaths of 323. Aerial and naval combat is stepped up
21 May | After the failure of several international attempts to mediate, British troops land on the Falklands at San Carlos and establish a bridgehead
29 May | British troops attack the Argentine positions at Darwin and Goose Green, inflicting heavy losses
8 June | Argentine aircraft raid the British supply ships Sir Tristram and Sir Galahad, killing 48 and injuring dozens more
14 June | Having captured important defensive positions, British troops arrive in Port Stanley, compelling the Argentine garrison to surrender
Sir Max Hastings is a journalist, author and historian, who became a household name reporting on the 1982 battle for the Falkland Islands. Here he shares his memories of what he describes as Britain’s “last really popular war”
The politics of the Falklands War
Sir Lawrence Freedman, official historian of the Falklands War, examines the build up to open warfare
Britain’s first surprise at the start of April 1982 was that it was at war the second that it was able to respond at all to the Argentine seizure of the Falkland Islands.
Argentina believed the British had taken the islands illegally from them in January 1833. In December 1981 a new military junta, led by General Leopoldo Galtieri, determined that the islands should be retaken, if necessary by force, by the 150th anniversary of this event. The British government had shown little interest in the islands, but stood by a commitment to the islanders, made first in 1968, that gave them the final say over whether sovereignty should be transferred to Argentina.
The population was tiny, barely 1,800 and declining. The British government saw little long term future, and was reluctant to invest in making the Falklands prosperous and secure. Yet it could not persuade the islanders to join Argentina, even under a lease-back arrangement that would leave them under Argentine sovereignty but British administration. By 1982 it had no policy other than procrastination, hoping the islanders might one day change their minds.
In March the dispute blew up in unexpected fashion. The island of South Georgia, uninhabited other than by the British Antarctic Survey, was administratively linked to the Falklands and also claimed by Argentina, although its constitutional history was quite different. An Argentine scrap metal merchant had a legitimate contract to clear up an old whaling station. His men were taken to the island by the Argentine Navy avoiding any formalities that would have acknowledged Britain’s sovereignty.
Their aim was to establish a long-term presence as a means of asserting Argentina’s sovereignty. From this a crisis developed that got out of hand. The junta became convinced that the British would use the crisis to reinforce their naval presence in the South Atlantic, thwarting any later attempts to take the Falklands. They decided to implement their occupation plans at once. On 2 April the Falklands was taken and a couple of days later so was South Georgia, after spirited resistance from the small Royal Marines garrison.
A plea by US President Ronald Reagan to General Galtieri not to go ahead was ignored. This was a critical moment for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She had gained a reputation for being tough yet was about to preside over the loss of sovereign territory. The Royal Navy came to her rescue. The First Sea Lord, Sir Henry Leach, insisted it would be possible to send a task force to retrieve the islands and that it could leave within days.
The fact that this proved to be the case was testament to an extraordinary effort by the armed forces to pull together people and equipment at great speed. It also reflected poor Argentine timing, because they had picked a moment before British naval cuts agreed in 1981 had taken effect, and when one chunk of the fleet was gathered close to Gibraltar for exercises while the rest was back at port.
The fact that the Prime Minister could announce that a task force was sailing meant that political attention soon moved on from the humiliation of being caught out (helped by the resignation of foreign secretary Lord Carrington) and on to the campaign. The initial assumption was that sending a task force would create conditions for a diplomatic settlement. The US Secretary of State Alexander Haig shuttled between London and Buenos Aires trying to get a deal. Later, even after serious fighting had begun, the UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar also tried. The British agreed to substantial concessions, including a measure of Argentine influence over an interim administration while talks over the long-term future of the islands went ahead. The junta, however, could not bring itself in the end to concede that the talks might not end with a transfer of sovereignty. Diplomatic activity filled the weeks as the British task force sailed south.
How the British won the Falklands War
Sir Lawrence Freedman, official historian of the Falklands War, recounts what happened when the British task force reached the Falkland Islands
If an amphibious landing was going to be undertaken then first it would be vital to reduce the naval and air threat. The reduction of the naval threat was the result of one of the most controversial encounters of the war. As soon as the carrier battle group reached the Falklands area the commander, Admiral Sandy Woodward, managed to draw out the Argentine navy and air force by giving the impression of attempting a landing. The British Sea Harriers demonstrated their superiority in dogfights to the Argentine Mirage and Skyhawk aircraft.
Meanwhile the Argentine navy sought to catch the British fleet in a pincer movement. Woodward’s hope had been that a British submarine would be able to attack the sole Argentine aircraft carrier, but it had not been found. Meanwhile the old Argentine cruiser, the General Belgrano, had been found by a submarine, HMS Conqueror.
As this was outside the “exclusion zone” around the Falklands, within which the British had warned that any Argentine vessel could be sunk, a change in the rules of engagement was needed to permit an attack. This was agreed and the Belgrano was torpedoed by Conqueror on 2 May even though the Argentine pincer movement had by then been called off and the cruiser had turned away. This, and the loss of 323 lives in the attack, led to later controversy, including erroneous claims that the torpedo strike was really about scuppering a new peace initiative. The military effect was exactly as intended, as the Argentine navy never again ventured out.
Argentina gained revenge on 4 May when Super-Etendard aircraft executed an exocet missile attack on HMS Sheffield. The next most deadly bout of fighting came on 21 May, when 5 Commando Brigade was landed at Port San Carlos. The initial landing was unopposed, but soon waves of Argentine aircraft came in. Over the next few days the ships of the task force took a battering, four being sunk and many others damaged. By the end of the month men and equipment were ashore and the fighting switched to land. The first battle, for Darwin and Goose Green settlements, was extremely hard fought, and led to the death of the commanding officer of 2 Para, Colonel “H” Jones.
By 12 June British forces had reached the perimeter defences of the Argentine garrison in Stanley, the Falklands’ capital – achieved with a considerable physical effort by the troops and the use of the limited supply of helicopters and ships, with only one major mishap when Sir Galahad was caught as it was unloading troops at Bluff Cove, with the loss of 47 lives.
The British launched their final push in a series of short but intense battles until finally the Argentine will collapsed. On 14 June 1982 the Argentine garrison surrendered.
The war cost some 650 Argentine and 253 British dead and did not settle the dispute: Argentina still claims the Falklands. If it had left well alone in 1982, depopulation would eventually have left the Falklands unviable. Instead the victory led to firmer British commitment, and so the Falklands is more prosperous and secure than ever before.
Sir Lawrence Freedman is emeritus professor of war studies at King’s College, London
The Battle of the Falkland Islands (1914)
Situated off the southeast coast of South America the group of islands, known as the Falklands, had definitely belonged to Great Britain since 1833. It consisted of about a hundred larger and smaller islands, the two chief being East and West Falkland, separated by a narrow channel of water known as the Falkland Sound. About 250 miles, at the nearest point, from Tierra del Fuego in the extreme south of the continent, they were some 300 miles distant from the Atlantic entrance of the Magellan Straits. Their climate was healthful but not attractive. Rain fell on more than half the days of the year. The seas surrounding them, even in their December midsummer, were of an arctic coldness and more often than not shrouded with mists that made navigation difficult and unpleasant. The chief industry was sheep farming, most of the farmers and shepherds being of Scottish descent but there was a certain amount of business done at Port Stanley in the way of ship-repairing and the provision of marine stores.
Until 1904, when it was abandoned as such, Port Stanley had been a naval station, and it still remained the principal town of the islands and the headquarters of the Government. Situated on the easternmost projection of the eastern of the two chief islands, it had a population of about a thousand, and stood on a tongue of land between the ocean on the south and the innermost of two natural and connected harbours on the north. Of these, the outer and larger was known as Port William, with its entrance to the east, the inner recess, on the shore of which stands the town, being known as Port Stanley.
In 1914 the Governor was the Hon. W. L. Allardyce, and it was toward the middle of October that he heard from the Admiralty that a raid on the islands was to be expected and that suitable precautions should be taken. Accordingly, on October 19th, a notice was posted that all women and children were to leave Port Stanley and this was promptly obeyed, camps being formed inland, and provisions stored in various places. All Government documents, books, and monies were removed from the town and conveyed to a safe hiding-place while, at the same time, a defense force was organized under the Governor, mustering, all told, about 130 men. All were good shots, and, with their two machine-guns, were fully prepared to fight to the last. On advice from the Admiralty, they were to adopt retiring tactics, should the Germans land horses and emergency rations were provided for everybody and, with their knowledge of the terrain, and their island hardihood, there can be little doubt that they would have put up a strong resistance.
This was the position in the island when, on November 3d, a wireless message was received, announcing the disaster at Coronel and, five days later, this was followed by the arrival of the Glasgow and Canopus. A raid by the enemy now amounted to a certainty both the British vessels believed the Germans to be on their heels and when, a few hours afterward, they received orders to sail for Monte Video, the feelings of the defenders naturally sank a little. They kept up a stout heart, however the strictest watch was maintained for several days and nights the Governor never had his clothes off and, when the Canopus reappeared, having been turned back before reaching Monte Video, in order to help the islanders with her guns, there was a general conviction that they would be able to give von Spee a somewhat difficult problem to solve on his arrival.
Laying a chain of mines at the entrance to Port William, the Canopus was put aground in the inner harbour, whence, protected by the land, she would be able to fire her big shells out to sea her smaller guns were converted into batteries, mounted in strategic positions among the surrounding hills. Meanwhile in England, under Lord Fisher, who had been recalled to the Admiralty as First Sea Lord, secret and decisive measures had been instantly adopted. Within ten days of the Battle of Coronel, by an act of the same genius that had created them, the Invincible and Inflexible—two of our earlier, but still very powerful battle-cruisers, each capable of a speed of 27 knots and carrying eight 12-inch guns—had been detached from the Grand Fleet, coaled and munitioned, and, under Vice-Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee, were steaming toward the equator, unknown to the world, to avenge Sir Christopher Cradock and his lost crew.
HMS Invincible HMS Inflexible
Ten days later, at a rendezvous in the South Atlantic, they met their assigned consorts under Rear-Admiral Stoddart and here the fleet assembled that was to proceed, first to the Falkland Islands, and thence, round Cape Horn, to engage von Spee. Apart from its colliers, of which there were about fourteen, several of these being out-steamed on the way to Port Stanley, it consisted of the Carnarvon, with Rear-Admiral Stoddart, the Kent, Glasgow, Bristol, and the armed merchantman Macedonia, including, of course, the two battle-cruisers from England, Sir Doveton Sturdee flying his flag on the Invincible.
The Glasgow had been in Rio as recently as November 16th, but every precaution against discovery had been taken all communication by wireless had been strictly forbidden by Admiral Sturdee and, at about eleven o’clock on the morning of December 7th, the squadron slipped quietly into Port William. For the anxious defense force on the islands the long vigil was now at an end. For such of the officers as could be spared ashore, and for those whose vessels had to wait their turn for coaling it was a welcome opportunity to touch land again, and they were sufficiently prompt to make characteristic use of it. One of them tells us that, sallying out with his gun, he shot two geese and six hares for the wardroom larder—as ignorant as everybody else of the larger game that was even then heading for the islands.
Vice Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee
For the most part, however, all on board every vessel were hard at work getting ready for the search—a search that was still believed, of course, to be inevitable, no news of von Spee having reached the island. The Glasgow and Bristol, in the inner harbour, were the first to coal, followed by the Carnarvon, who only finished at four o’clock the next morning, her collier, the Trelawney, then going to the Invincible. This was berthed beside her in the outer harbour of Port William, the Inflexible keeping them company, with the Kent and Cornwall lying a little to the south, the Kent, with her steam up, acting as guardship. Further to seaward, beyond the mine barrage, was anchored the Macedonia, serving as a look-out vessel while in the inner harbour were the Bristol and Glasgow, with the old Canopus still aground there. So the night passed. At various points in the islands, the volunteer sentries kept their watch and it was from one of these, stationed on Sapper’s Hill, above Port Stanley, that the first news of the approach of enemy vessels was received between seven and eight the next morning.
The day had dawned clear, with a calm sea and a light breeze blowing from the northwest. From horizon to horizon, in the glowing sunlight, the sea stretched blue as the Mediterranean. It was such a day as, in the Falkland Islands, might for weeks together have been prayed for in vain and, hidden in the harbour, lay such a fleet as von Spee, in his most depressed moments, was unlikely to have pictured. That he would find the Canopus there he may have thought probable. That the Glasgow and Bristol might be there he had deduced from their wireless. But that the giant battle-cruisers, Invincible and Inflexible, lay quiet as death behind those painted hills—that this December morning was the last morning that he would ever look upon on earth—none had told him, and, for all his forebodings, he himself could never have guessed. But the stage was set again the curtain had risen the watcher on Sapper’s Hill had heralded the last act. Let us look down for a moment with impartial eyes upon the chosen scene. Far to the south, resolved at last on action, but soon to pay the price of its strange hesitation, steamed the German squadron with its two colliers, the Santa Isabel and the Baden. To the watcher on Sapper’s Hill, at that early hour, only the foremost cruisers were as yet observable, faint smudges on the southern horizon—the Gneisenau and the Nürnberg. Equally faint, but clear and at their mercy, must have seemed that spit of land to the observers on the Gneisenau, wholly unconscious, as they then were, of the brisk activities that lay behind it. Nor were the cruisers in the hidden harbour any more aware of what the day heralded for them. With the prospect before them of a voyage round Cape Horn, they were stirring with preparations, but not for immediate action. The Kent alone of them, acting as guard-ship at the mouth of Port William, had her steam up. Only the Glasgow and Bristol in the inner harbour had finished coaling and lay with full bunkers and the latter had her fires out in order that her boilers might be cleaned. Beside the flagship Invincible, the colliers were still busy the flag-lieutenant was yawning in his dressing-gown over a cup of tea. The Inflexible, on one side of her, was in similar case, while, upon the other, the Cornwall was busy repairing her engines. Over them all arched a sky of serene and cloudless beauty. The air was so limpid that, through powerful glasses, the events of fifteen miles away might be happening almost at hand.
The flag-lieutenant went on yawning. He had had a long day yesterday, had been working most of the night, and was short of sleep. There came a knock at the door. A signalman entered. The smudges on the horizon had revealed themselves as men-of-war. They could only be von Spee’s, and yet it was hardly believable. To tell the admiral was the work of an instant and soon the amazing tidings were known throughout the fleet. The Kent was at once ordered to weigh anchor, and every ship in the squadron to raise steam for full speed. Colliers were shoved off. Sailors who were in their “land rig” scrambled out of it like quick-change artists. Down in the engine-rooms, grimed men worked miracles, of which, for the moment, let the Cornwall give an example. At eight o’clock, as we have said, she had her starboard engine down, with one cylinder opened for repairs at six hours’ notice and yet, before ten o’clock, she was under way, and, by a quarter past eleven, making more than twenty knots.
Meanwhile, at twenty minutes past eight, the Sapper’s Hill signaller had reported more smoke on the horizon and, a quarter of an hour later, as the Kent steamed to the harbour entrance, the captain of the Canopus reported this to be proceeding from two ships about twenty miles off, the two first sighted being now little more than eight miles away. Three minutes afterward yet another column of smoke was signalled from Sapper’s Hill and the Macedonia was ordered to weigh anchor on the inner side of the other cruisers. It was now evident that von Spee was arriving in force, probably with the whole of his squadron and, at twenty minutes past nine, the Gneisenau and Nürnberg were seen, broadside on, training their guns on the wireless station. By this time, however, at less than seven miles distance, they were well within range of the Canopus, who anticipated them by firing a salvo over the low-lying tongue of land that sheltered her. None of this first shower of 12-inch shells seems to have been effective in damaging the enemy but it no doubt confirmed for the German admiral the presence of the Canopus in the harbour and both the Gneisenau and Nürnberg were at once observed to alter their course. For a moment it appeared as if they intended to approach the Kent at the harbour entrance, but, a few minutes later, they wore away with the evident intention of joining their comrades.
Both cruisers were now visible from the upper bridge of the Invincible and the tops of the Invincible and Inflexible must have been equally apparent to them though it still seems uncertain whether they had positively identified yet the two great cruisers that spelt their doom. Meanwhile, in the harbour, every preparation was being pushed forward with the utmost speed. At twenty minutes to ten the Glasgow weighed anchor and steamed down the harbour to join the Kent. Next to the two battle-cruisers, she was the speediest vessel in the squadron, and her orders were to observe the enemy. Five minutes later, the Carnarvon put out, followed by the Inflexible, Invincible, and Cornwall, the two big battle-cruisers burning their oil fuel, prudently spared for the occasion that had arrived.
It was now twenty minutes past ten, and the character of the future action was already determined. For the Germans it had become instantly clear that their only hope—if such it might be called—lay in flight and, on the British side, the order had been signalled for a general chase at full speed. Gathering pace, the two battle-cruisers from the north soon overtook and outstripped the Carnarvon and Kent, the position at eleven o’clock, with the squadron as a whole making about 20 knots, being as follows—the Glasgow was still leading, but had been ordered to remain within two miles of the flagship Invincible next came the Invincible herself, with her decks flooded by hoses to prevent fire and wash away the last of the coal-dust the Inflexible followed behind her, on her starboard quarter, with the Kent falling away from her astern and aport, followed by the Carnarvon, with the faster Cornwall reluctantly obeying orders to remain upon her quarter. Left behind in the harbour were the Bristol and Macedonia but, just at this moment, on the other side of the island, a lady watcher at Fitz Roy, Mrs. Roy Felton, had seen and reported three other German vessels. Two of these—the third made its escape—were the colliers, already familiar to us, the Santa Isabel and Baden. The coal on board these vessels had been obtained from various sources since the action off Coronel, some from the Valentino, a French prize, and some from the British vessel Drummuir, captured on December 2d and the Bristol and Macedonia were at once ordered by Admiral Sturdee to deal with them. Between nine and ten miles to the south, on a course east-north-east, von Spee in the Scharnhorst was travelling at full speed, followed by the Dresden, the Gneisenau, the Nürnberg, and the Leipzig, in the order named.
This was the situation then, and, before considering in detail one of the completest naval victories in our history, let us examine it for a moment as it presented itself to Admiral Sturdee, a remarkably cool-brained and deliberate tactician. With a long day in front of him, with nothing to fear in the way of destroyer or submarine-attack, with the whole of the enemy squadron now before his eyes, and with perfect visibility, he possessed under his command, in his own flagship, in the Inflexible, and in the Glasgow, three vessels at least that, in the matter of speed, were considerably superior to the enemy. Further, although the enemy’s gunnery was known to be excellent both in speed and accuracy, the 12-inch guns of the Invincible and Inflexible enabled him to dictate a long-range action and there were two other weighty considerations that suggested the wisdom of such a course. For, while in gun-power the two battle-cruisers were far ahead of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, in armour they were not so strong and the nearest repairing yard was at Gibraltar. There were no obligations, therefore, to run any risk. There was every reason for not doing so. So long as, in the end, the Germans were sunk, a few hours would make no difference. Sailors fight best when well fed. Tobacco is an excellent solvent for undue excitement and the British admiral therefore gave orders that dinner was to be served as usual, and that the men were to be allowed a few minutes for a quiet smoke. As one of the officers on the flagship afterward observed, they might almost have been at manoeuvres off Spithead—precisely the atmosphere that Admiral Sturdee had wisely designed to create.
It was at five minutes to one, at a range of about nine miles, that the first shot was fired by the Inflexible, taking for her target the light cruiser Leipzig, the last vessel of von Spee’s line. Five minutes afterward the Invincible followed suit, also taking the Leipzig for her target and soon afterward the battle resolved itself into three separate encounters—that between the Invincible, Inflexible, and Carnarvon, and the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau that between the Glasgow and Cornwall, and the Leipzig and finally, after an epic chase, that in which the Kent overtook and sank the Nürnberg.
These conditions were first brought about when, at twenty minutes past one, the Leipzig turned away toward the southwest, soon to be followed by the Nürnberg and Dresden, with the Glasgow, Kent, and Cornwall in pursuit. With them had started the Carnarvon, but the rear-admiral in command of her, finding his speed insufficient to keep up with the light cruisers, had to give up the chase, and joined the Invincible and Inflexible in engaging the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Leaving the action of the smaller cruisers in the capable hands of Captain Luce of the Glasgow, let us follow the fortunes of the other three in the most immediate and important task. Of these the ten-year-old Carnarvon, pushing on as stoutly as she could, was still trying vainly to keep up with her swifter sisters and the first encounter was reduced, therefore, to a four-cornered fight lasting for about fifty minutes.
Beginning at twenty minutes past one, the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, after five minutes of a running battle, turned a little to port, began to close the range, and accepted the challenge and, five minutes later, opened fire themselves. Though of smaller calibre, their guns, firing very rapidly, were as usual handled with extreme ability and, in the words of the flag-lieutenant—half-way up the Invincible’s foremast, in the director-tower with Admiral Sturdee—they shot indeed “fiendishly well.” “We went on hammering away,” he wrote, “for some time, getting closer and closer, and they were hitting us pretty badly. I thought that our foremast had gone once. The Admiral and I were half-way up so as to get a good view. One of the legs of the mast was shot away. Shell fire is unpleasant, to put it mildly. Exploding shells, when they hit the ship, are worse, as one wonders how many she will stand. The Admiral was wonderfully cool and collected, and I bobbed my head at every shell, and got a stiff neck from doing it!”
At a quarter to two the Invincible was being straddled—the Scharnhorst’s shells, that is to say, were exploding on both sides of her—and Admiral Sturdee, consistently with his plan of action, drew away a little to avoid undue risks. The Scharnhorst had by this time been hit on several occasions, but had not been disabled, though she broke off the action and, at ten minutes past two, the fight became a chase again, the Invincible reopening fire at a quarter to three. For eight minutes, again out-ranging them, the Invincible and Inflexible hammered the two German cruisers, forcing them round to port once more to reply as best they could. The heavier British guns had now begun definitely to tell, however, and the Scharnhorst was already on fire forward. “We hit again and again,” wrote Midshipman John Esmonde in a letter to his father after the action. “First our left gun sent her big crane spinning over the side. Then our right gun blew her funnel to atoms, and then another shot from the left gun sent her bridge and part of the forecastle sky-high. We were not escaping free, however. Shots were hitting us repeatedly, and the spray from the splashes of their shells was hiding the Scharnhorst from us…. Down came the range—11,000, 10,000, 9,000, to 8,800. We were hitting the Scharnhorst very nearly every time. One beauty from our right gun got one of her turrets fair and square and sent it whistling over the side. Suddenly our right gun misfired—we had got a jamb and one gun was out of action. The breech had caught against one of the cages and would neither open nor shut. We opened up the trap hatch, and I jumped out, and down the ladder with two men to try and find a crowbar. The 12-inch guns were firing all round us, and our left gun was doing work for two now that the right was jammed. The German shells were whistling unpleasantly close and there were splinters flying all over the place. The Scharnhorst was firing heavily, but I could see she was in a bad way. She was down by the bows and badly on fire amidships. I got the crowbar and brought it in, but they wanted a hacksaw as well, so I jumped out again, and just as I was coming back I saw the Scharnhorst’s ensign dip (never knew whether it came down or not, because just then one of the lyddite shells hit her and there was a dense cloud of smoke all over her). When it cleared she was on her side, and her propellers were lashing the water round into foam. Then she capsized altogether, going to the bottom.”
That was at a quarter past four her consort the Gneisenau was still firing with all her guns and, by this time, the old Carnarvon had at last arrived upon the scene—she had in fact fired a couple of shots at the Scharnhorst. The three cruisers, therefore, now turned their attention to the Gneisenau, who, after a moment’s hesitation, turned and stood at bay. Nothing in the whole day, indeed, was more gallant than her vain but desperate resistance. At half-past four she was still straddling the Invincible, though without causing casualties or serious damage. A few minutes after five, her forward funnel was knocked out and remained lolling against the second. Seven minutes later, just as she hit the Invincible for the last time, she was herself badly damaged again between the third and fourth funnels and how accurate the British fire had become can be gathered from the notebook of one of her officers, afterward rescued. “Five ten,” he wrote, “hit, hit 5.12, hit 5:14, hit, hit, hit again 5:20, after-turret gone 5:40, hit, hit—on fire everywhere 5:41, hit, hit—burning everywhere and sinking 5:45, hit—men lying everywhere 5:46, hit, hit.”
Listing heavily to starboard, and with her engines stopped, Admiral Sturdee had ordered the “Cease Fire” signal at about half-past five. But, before it could be hoisted, the Gneisenau began to shoot again, though now only spasmodically and with a single gun. She seems to have fired, indeed, until her ammunition was exhausted, when, at ten minutes to six, Admiral Sturdee ordered the “Cease Fire” again and, twelve minutes later, she turned on her side. “Then at last,” wrote another officer, “away first and second cutters, man sea-boat. For the Gneisenau is heeling right over on her side in the water. The beggars are done for. All our efforts will now be to save life, having done our utmost for five hours to destroy it…. Three of our boats are away picking up survivors. The Inflexible’s boats are doing the same, and so are the Carnarvon’s. The sea, which, so different from its state at noonday, is now quite angry, is strewn with floating wreckage supporting drowning men. To add to the misery, a drizzling rain is falling. We cast overboard every rope’s end we can, and try our hands at casting to some wretch feebly struggling within a few yards of the ship’s side. Missed him! Another shot. He’s farther off now! Ah! The rope isn’t long enough. No good, try someone else. He’s sunk now…. Many such do we see. Now we lend a hand hauling at a rope, pulling some poor devil out of the water. As they are hauled on deck they are taken below into the wardroom ante-room, or the Admiral’s spare cabin. Here with knives we tear off their dripping clothing. Then with towels we try to start a little warmth in their ice-cold bodies. They are trembling, violently trembling from the iciness of their immersion. Some of them had stuck it for thirty minutes in a temperature of 35 degrees Fahrenheit!”
“The Invincible alone,” reported Admiral Sturdee, “rescued 108 men, fourteen of whom were found to be dead after being brought on board. These men were buried at sea the following day with full military honours.” Few will say that they were undeserved.
By now the battle had been distributed over many leagues of sea the units engaged were not only out of sight of each other, but even beyond the sound of each other’s guns and it is time to return to Captain Luce in his war-scarred Glasgow, who, with the Kent and Cornwall, was pursuing the three light cruisers. More perhaps than to any others of the officers and crews engaged did their part in this struggle mean to those of the Glasgow. The sole survivors of Coronel, they had lived, as none of their comrades had done, for a bitter five weeks, with the picture of it before them. When all would fain have stayed and fought to the last, they had been compelled, in the interests of their service, to take the harder way. They had a peculiar debt to discharge, and now, if they could but seize it, their hour had come to repay it with interest.
It was at about twenty minutes past one when the three German cruisers had broken away toward the southwest, the Dresden leading with the Nürnberg and Leipzig following her on each quarter. The distance then separating them from the Glasgow, Kent, and Cornwall, was from nine to eleven miles all were speedy, the Dresden being the fastest and a long, stern chase therefore ensued. Of the three British cruisers, the Glasgow, in spite of her late experiences, was still considerably the swiftest and she soon drew away from them, overhauling the Leipzig and Nürnberg, until at three o’clock she was within seven miles of the former. Her idea was now, if possible, so to outrange the Leipzig as to turn and delay her until the arrival of the Kent and Cornwall, far slower vessels even than the Leipzig, but carrying fourteen 6-inch guns to the Glasgow’s two. At three o’clock, therefore, she opened fire with her 6-inch guns, and, for more than an hour, engaged the Leipzig until the arrival of the Cornwall. By that time she had already hit her many times over, but had had to draw away on several occasions, owing to the accuracy of the Leipzig’s gunners. With time and speed and the range on his side, Captain Luce, like his admiral, could afford to be deliberate and yet even so, with a little more luck, the Leipzig might have damaged the Glasgow rather severely. Two of her officers stationed in the control-top had a very narrow escape from losing their lives, a shell passing between them, and carrying away the hand of a signalman—three other men being wounded and one killed at about the same time. After an hour and a quarter, and having had an early tea, the Cornwall arrived on the scene, and was soon, as one of the Glasgow’s seamen, admitted, “shooting very well.”
We have last seen the Cornwall, not wholly to her liking, upon the quarter of the even slower Carnarvon but, a little after noon, to her great satisfaction, she had received orders to go ahead. When the three light cruisers had broken to the south in their endeavour to escape, she had turned after them, as we have said, with her sister ship, the Kent, in the wake of the nimbler Glasgow. Now, thanks to the Glasgow and the superhuman efforts of their two engine-room staffs, both the Kent and Cornwall were at last in action, the former being ordered in pursuit of the Nürnberg—where we may leave her for a moment performing imperishable conjuring-tricks in the way of stoking and engine-driving, while her luckier consorts, already at close grips, were battering the Leipzig to pieces.
At twenty minutes to five, a shot from the Cornwall, at a range of between four and five miles, carried away her foremast but, ten minutes later, after delivering a broadside, and as she was being hit herself, the Cornwall drew away a little. The Leipzig had now lost one of her funnels as well as being on fire aft, many of her guns being already silenced but at six o’clock she was still firing well enough to hit the Cornwall severely and once more to force the latter away a little. This was only for a moment, however, the Cornwall reopening with lyddite shell at a quarter past six, and now pressing her attack home with tremendous force and accuracy to a range of less than three miles. In this the Glasgow joined her—it being obviously useless now to hunt for the Dresden miles away in the mist—and, by ten minutes to seven, the Leipzig was on fire everywhere, though her flag was still flying and her guns occasionally responding. The two British cruisers then stopped firing for a little, but dared not draw near for fear of a torpedo-attack. Blazing in every corner, with her sides red hot, and with great gaps in her torn by the lyddite, it seemed now that every moment must be the Leipzig’s last but still she floated and would not strike her colours. Fire was again reopened, therefore, although, as one of the Cornwall’s officers said, “We all hated doing it,” and, half an hour later, she sent up a couple of rockets signifying that she surrendered and asking for help.
What her condition was then has been vividly described by Private Whittaker of the Royal Marine Light Infantry. “When we went right close,” he wrote to his mother, “she looked just like a night-watchman’s fire bucket, all holes and fire.” Searchlights were now playing upon her through the rain and darkness, but, in view of possible explosions, the boats could not approach too near out of her crew of over three hundred, less than a score were saved and, at just about nine o’clock, she rolled over to port, seemed to recover a moment, and then slipped out of sight.
So perished the Leipzig, not less gallantly, but as condignly as the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, news of whose destruction had been wirelessed to the Cornwall and Glasgow. Whatever might happen now, victory was assured the Good Hope and Monmouth had been amply avenged and to the Cornwall and Glasgow, buffeting home to Port Stanley, few happier moments were likely to come. Into the feelings of Captain Luce it would be impertinent to pry but a little may be guessed, perhaps, from what follows. “About half an hour ago,” said one of his crew, writing home on December 11th, “the Captain made a speech, or rather tried to, but failed. He first of all read out the King’s message to the Fleet, and then tried to say a few words himself ‘I have seen the Glasgow’s ship’s company fight twice, and I thank you for the way in which you fought. I couldn’t have a better ship’s company.’ Then he said, ‘I can’t say any more.'”
That is to leap forward, however, three days and to leave the Kent still ploughing after the Nürnberg—out of sight of everybody now and with the impossible task of making a doubtful 20-knot vessel catch one five knots faster and not only overtake her, but bring her to action, with the weather changing and darkness not far off. But to the engine-room staff of the Kent and to her stokers no less than to Captain Allen—”Sink-her” Allen, they called him—the word impossible, for to-night at least, might not be whispered with impunity. There was the Nürnberg flushed from Coronel, and here was the Kent with her fourteen good guns coal might be short and the engines in their second childhood, but if those guns did not find the Nürnberg, it would not be the fault of the engine-room. First out of harbour in the early morning, a spirit of extreme cheerfulness seems to have reigned in the Kent from the beginning of the action. Thus, at half-past ten, we find her officers drinking the toast of Deutschland unter Alles in sloe-gin. Soon afterward they lunched and then—as many of them as could be spared—established themselves on the top of the forward gun-turret to watch the fun.
This was christened “the stalls” and seems to have been well patronized till half-past one when they went to Action Stations again. Falling out at twenty minutes past two, watch was resumed from the bridge, which then became known as “the upper circle.” At five minutes to four tea was served in the gun-room, and, twenty minutes later, Action Stations were taken up again. At that time the Leipzig and Nürnberg were well in view, with the Dresden almost out of sight on the horizon—the Leipzig on the starboard bow, nearer at hand, and being engaged by the Glasgow, and a moment afterward by the Cornwall, and the Nürnberg away to port and considerably more distant. Then came the order to pursue the latter, the Leipzig being given a salvo or two in passing and it was then that there began the race that was destined to become traditional in every engine-room of the navy. With no coal to spare, everything combustible was crammed into her long-suffering furnaces. Tables and chairs, officers’ furniture, wooden companion-ladders, even planks from the deck, were knocked to pieces and thrust into the flames for the ultimate destruction of the Nürnberg.
“The entire staff,” afterward wrote one of her engineer officers, “was doing its best, and, my word it was a best. We pushed her along, more, more, more. The revolutions of the engines at the first time of starting were more than the revolutions the dockyard could get out of her, and she was worked up gently bit by bit, easying down occasionally when things looked as if they were not going quite right, or when they threatened to do so. An anxious moment was reached when we got on every ounce of steam that the engines could take. We were just then going some sixteen revolutions a minute faster than the Admiralty full power, and also the designed power of 22,000 horse-power, some 5,000 horse-power more than we ought to have done. In times of peace we should have been court-martialled for this, but we came out top…. We were doing from 2-½ to 3 knots faster than the old Kent had ever done before. We were doing over 25 knots ‘full speed,’ the highest ever attained being 22 knots.”
Fortunately for the Kent, too, the Nürnberg had her own boiler troubles, but they were of a different order, and she was unable to make her usual speed and, after about an hour, the Kent was near enough to open fire at a range of a little over six miles. It was now the gunners’ opportunity, and though they were reservists, drawn, as one of the officers put it, “from all sorts of weird places,” they rose to the occasion, like first-class experts, and found their target almost at once. Nor could Captain Allen afford himself the license that had been the right policy for the other commanders. It was now past five rain was falling his supply of combustible bric-à-brac was strictly limited. It was a case of now or never, and the Kent, taking her punishment as it came, pushed the action for all she was worth.
With her foretop shot away down to the crows’ nest, and her silk ensign cut to ribbons with her wireless knocked out, so that she could no longer send, though she was still able to receive, messages with half a dozen holes through her funnels and several more in her side—she gained a quarter of a mile with every salvo until she was pounding the Nürnberg at less than three miles distance. Struck in all thirty-six times, and with five men killed and eleven wounded, the behaviour of all on board was, in their captain’s own words, “perfectly magnificent”—a typical example being that of Sergeant Mayes, whose courage and presence of mind probably saved the ship.
A bursting shell had started a fire among some cordite charges in the casemate. A tongue of flame had leaped down the hoist and into the ammunition passage, endangering the magazine. Without an instant’s pause, and although severely burned, Sergeant Mayes picked up a cordite charge and threw it away, afterward flooding the compartment and putting out a fire that had started in some neighbouring empty shell bags. No wonder that Captain Allen, writing afterward to the Association of Men at Kent, should have said that “though the enemy fought bravely to the very end, against such men as I have the honour to command, they never could have had a chance.”
By half-past six, the Nürnberg was on fire forward, all her guns being apparently silenced, and the Kent ceased shelling her, and drew up within two miles. Her flag was still flying, however, and the Kent opened fire again, but only for a few minutes longer, when the Nürnberg hauled her flag down and made signs of surrender. She was now blazing furiously, and listing heavily to starboard and the Kent began to take measures to save life. Unfortunately all her boats had been holed by the Nürnberg’s fire, and, before she could launch them, they had to be repaired. Two were quickly patched up, but the crews were only successful in saving a dozen men, five of whom afterward died on board from the effects of wounds and exposure.
To complete the victory of this single-ship action everyone on board had contributed his utmost, but it seems probable that in history the larger share of the credit will be given unstintingly to the engineers and stokers. It was certainly bestowed on them by their comrades in the Kent. “The captain,” we are told, “nearly fell on the engineer-commander’s neck and kissed him when he ‘blew up’ after the action to see him and to advise as to the best speed to go back to harbour. He nearly shouted at him for some time: ‘My dear fellow, my dear engineer-commander! You won the action, you did it splendid! Without your speed we should have lost everything.'”
Meanwhile, at Port Stanley, now in wireless communication with all the rest of Admiral Sturdee’s squadron, the silence of the Kent, owing to her broken wireless, had begun to give rise to some alarm. “Kent, Kent, Kent” rang the invisible call, but there was no reply, and it was feared that she had been lost. It was perhaps characteristic that, in spite of this, she was the first of them all to reach port the next day. Of von Spee’s squadron only the Dresden remained, to be run to earth three months later. The Bristol and Macedonia, after capturing their crews, had sunk the Santa Isabel and the Baden and the total British casualties in killed and wounded amounted to less than thirty.
 As a matter of fact, the Scharnhorst’s ensign was not lowered, but, as Admiral Sturdee afterward remarked, “Von Spee met his fate like a brave Admiral, though our foe.”
1592 First recorded sighting on August 14, by English sea captain John Davis in the ship ‘Desire’.
1594 First recorded claim on February 2, by Richard Hawkins for Queen Elizabeth I
1690 First recorded landing made by English navigator, Captain John Strong in his ship the ‘Welfare’. He named the channel dividing the two main islands ‘Falkland Sound’ after Viscount Falkland, then Treasurer of the Royal Navy.
Over the years several French ships visited the Islands, which they called Les Iles Malouines after the French port of St. Malo.
1740 Lord Anson passed the Islands on an exploration voyage and urged Britain to consider them as a preliminary step to establishing a base near Cape Horn.
1764 The French diplomat and explorer, Louis Antoine de Bougainville, established a settlement at Port Louis on East Falkland.
1765 Unaware of the French settlement, Commodore John Byron landed at Port Egmont on West Falkland and took possession of the Islands for the British Crown.
1766 Captain John MacBride established a British settlement at Port Egmont.
The Spanish Government protested about the French settlement and Bougainville was forced to surrender his interests in the Islands in return for an agreed sum of money. A Spanish Governor was appointed and Port Louis was renamed Puerto de la Soledad, and placed under the jurisdiction of the Captain-General of Buenos Aires then a Spanish colony.
1770 British forced from Port Egmont by the Spanish.
1771 Serious diplomatic negotiations involving Britain, Spain and France produce the Exchange of Declarations, whereby Port Egmont was restored to Britain.
1774 Britain withdrew from Port Egmont on economic grounds as part of a redeployment of forces due to the approaching American War of Independence, leaving behind a plaque as the mark of continuing British sovereignty.
1786 Lieutenant Thomas Edgar RN charts West Falkland island.
1811 The Spanish garrison withdrew from Puerto de la Soledad. At this time, South American colonies were in a state of revolt against Spain.
1816 The provinces which constituted the old Spanish vice-royalty declared independence from Spain as the United Provinces of the River Plate. Spain refused to recognise any such independence.
1820 A Buenos Aires privateer claimed the Falkland Islands in what was probably an unauthorised act – which was never reported to the Buenos Aires government. No occupation followed this.
1823 A private attempt was made to establish a settlement on the Islands, but this failed after a few months. The organisers requested the Buenos Aires government to appoint one of their employees the unpaid ‘Commander’ of the settlement.
1825 Britain and the Government of Buenos Aires signed a Treaty of Amity, Trade and Navigation without including and recognition of territory or legal rights.
1826 Louis Vernet, a naturalised citizen of Buenos Aires (originally French with German connections), undertook a private venture and established a new settlement at Puerto de la Soledad, having first informed the British Consul.
1829 Buenos Aires announced a claim to the Falkland Islands based on inheritance from Spain. Luis Vernet was appointed unpaid Commander of Soledad and Tierra del Fuego. Britain registered a formal protest, asserting her own sovereignty over the Falkland Islands.
Vernet made the first of several approaches to Britain then to re-assert its sovereignty over the Islands. Earlier he had got the British Consul in Buenos Aires to countersign his land grants.
1831 Vernet seized three American sealing ships, in an attempt to control fishing in Falkland waters. In retaliation, the US sloop ‘Lexington’ destroyed Puerto de la Soledad, and proclaimed the Islands ‘free of all government’. Most of the settlers were persuaded to leave on board the ‘Lexington’.
1832 Diplomatic relations between the US and Argentina broke down until 1844. Supporting Britain, the US questioned the claim that all Spanish possessions had been transferred to the Government of Buenos Aires and confirmed its use of the Falklands as a fishing base for over 50 years. The US declared that Spain had exercised no sovereignty over several coasts to which Buenos Aires claimed to be heir, including Patagonia.
Buenos Aires appointed an interim Commander to the Islands, Commander Mestivier, who arrived in October (with a tiny garrison and some convicts). Britain’s Minister protested once more.
December 20, Commander Onslow, aboard Clio, returned to Port Egmont and rebuilds the fort.
1833 Commander Mestivier had been murdered by his own men by the time Captain Onslow sailed from Port Egmont in the warship ‘Clio’ and took command of Port Louis for Britain. The remains of the garrison from Buenos Aires left peacefully.
Buenos Aires protested, only to be told: “The British Government upon this occasion has only exercised its full and undoubted right … The British Government at one time thought it inexpedient to maintain any Garrison in those Islands: It has now altered its views, and has deemed it proper to establish a Post there.”
Since this time, British administration has remained unbroken apart from a ten week Argentine occupation in 1982.
1845 Stanley officially became the capital of the Islands when Governor Moody moved the administration from Port Louis. The capital was so named after the Colonial Secretary of the day, Edward Geoffrey Smith Stanley, 14 th Earl of Derby.
1914 Battle of the Falkland Islands, one of the major naval engagements of the First World War in which British victory secured the Cape Horn passage for the remainder of the war.
1947 The Falkland Islands are listed at the United Nations as a Non-Self Governing Territory (NSGT) subject to the UN’s decolonisation process.
1960 UN Resolution 1514 grants the right of Self-Determination to all peoples of NSGTs.
1965 United Nations Assembly passed Resolution 2065, following lobbying by Argentina. This reminded members of the organisation’s pledge to end all forms of colonialism. Argentine and British Governments were called upon to negotiate a peaceful solution to the sovereignty dispute, bringing the issue to international attention formally for the first time.
1966 Through diplomatic channels, Britain and Argentina began discussions in response to UN Assembly pressure.
1967 The Falkland Islands Emergency Committee was set up by influential supporters in the UK to lobby the British Government against any weakening on the sovereignty issue. In April, the Foreign Secretary assured the House of Commons that the Islanders’ interests were paramount in any discussions with Argentina.
1971 Communications Agreement was signed by the British and Argentine governments whereby external communications would be provided to the Falkland Islands by Argentina.
1982 On 2 April Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and diplomatic relations between the two nations were broken off. Argentine troops occupied the Islands for ten weeks before being defeated by the British. The Argentines surrendered on 14 June, now known as Liberation Day.
1990 Diplomatic relations between Britain and Argentina were restored.
1999 At the instigation of, and with the involvement of, Falkland Islands Councillors, a Joint Statement was signed between the British and Argentine Governments on 14 July. This was designed ‘to build confidence and reduce tension’ between the Islands and Argentina. Two Councillors from the Islands witnessed the signing on behalf of the Falkland Islands Government.
2009 Following almost ten years of discussion and negotiation, a new Constitution for the Falkland Islands took effect on 1 January 2009. Marking an important milestone in the history of the Falkland Islands, the new Constitution provides enhanced local democracy and internal self-government, and enshrines the right of self-determination.
2013 Referendum held in March, overseen by international observers. Falkland Islanders voted to determine their future, 99.8% of the electorate voted YES to maintaining current political status as a British Overseas Territory.
To speak to a Falkland Islands Government representative in London, please call:
+44 (0)20 7222 2542
To speak to a Falkland Islands Government representative in Stanley, please call:
Battle of the Falklands, 8 December 1914
The Battle of the Falklands, 8 December 1914, saw the defeat of a squadron of German cruisers under Admiral Maximilian von Spee. On 1 November von Spee&rsquos squadron of five modern cruisers had defeated a small British squadron under Admiral Christopher Cradock, at the Battle of Coronel, sinking two British cruisers with the loss of all hands.
The defeat had caused outrage in Britain. The new First Sea Lord, Sir John Fisher, responded by reinforcing British naval squadrons around the Atlantic, while the Japanese navy moved ships across the Pacific to prevent von Spee from escaping back into the Pacific.
Before the victory at Coronel von Spee had decided to move his squadron from the Pacific to the South Atlantic. After the battle he stuck to that plan, and by the start of December was in the Atlantic. Once there, he decided to attack the British coaling station on the Falkland Islands.
This was a serious error of judgement. The inevitable British response to the defeat at Coronel saw the formation of a new South American Squadron to replace the one lost at Coronel. Commanded by Vice-Admiral Doveton Sturdee, this new squadron was built around two battle-cruisers, HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible. Sturdee also had three armoured cruisers, two light cruisers and the Canopus, an elderly battleship that had been too slow take part in the disastrous expedition to Coronel. The two battle-cruisers were a match for the German squadron, faster and with 12-inch guns (compared to von Spee&rsquos 8-inch guns). The battle-cruisers gained a bad reputation later in the war in clashes against German dreadnaughts, where their lack of armour left then vulnerable, but they were ideal for use against von Spee&rsquos cruisers.
On 8 December von Spee approached the Falklands and discovered the British squadron. A long chase followed, but in the early afternoon Sturdee&rsquos battle-cruisers had caught up with von Spee&rsquos fleet. In an attempt to win time for the rest of his ships to escape, von Spee decided to fight with his two biggest ships, the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau. Inevitably the two German cruisers were sunk, with heavy losses. Of his remaining three ships, the Nürnberg and Leipzig were caught and sunk by Studee&rsquos cruisers. Only the Dresden escaped, remaining at large until March 1915.
The battle of the Falklands and the destruction of the Dresden ended the German presence on the high seas. A number of armed merchantmen would slip through the Allied blockade but the main German naval threat outside the north sea would come from the U-boats.Naval Battles of the First World War, Geoffrey Bennett . Although this was first published in the 1960s it is still a good account of the major surface clashes of the First World War, looking at the early clashes in the world's oceans and the series of battles in the North Sea, ending with Jutland. The final part of the book looks at the U-boat war, although not in as much detail as the earlier surface sections. [read full review]
The Retaking of the Falkland Islands
The leaders of the Task Force had to decide between six potential landing points in the Falklands Islands, a crucial decision as there was just one chance at a successful landing. Failing to make the right choice could have thwarted everything.
Task Force leaders were faced with the tough decision of opting for the right landing point on the Falkland Islands, something which, if chosen incorrectly, could have had disastrous consequences including cast numbers of deaths. There were six possible landing points, the first being the capital of the islands, Port Stanley.
Port Stanley was acting as the headquarters for the Argentine forces and as a result was a heavily fortified base. While it was rumoured that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in favour of landing here, the possibility of many civilians being killed or injured ruled it out.
The second potential landing spot was Uranie Bay, which lay 25 miles to the northwest of Port Stanley and Berkeley Sound. The location of Uranie Bay would have offered the British men some protection against the inclement weather, but the concern of an attack by the Argentine troops who were located close by put Uranine Bay out of the runnin
Cow Bay, located to the north of Berkeley Bay, was the third possible landing point. Located far enough away from the capital to make an Argentine counter-attack less likely as it would have required a detour inland, Cow Bay was a strong possibility. It is said that a military leader, Brigadier Thompson, thought Cow Bay should be the one to be chosen.
The fourth possibility for the landing point was Port North on the West Falklands as it would have been possible to create an airstrip on the site. While Admiral Sandy Woodward favoured this potential site, Brigadier Thompson did not like its location so far away from Port Stanley, feeling that the extra travel for British troops across Falkland Sound would have put them at more risk of air attacks from the enemy.
Low Bay was named as the fifth potential landing zone. Located on East Falklands, southwest of Port Stanley, Low Bay would have been a simple landing for British troops as it possessed extremely flat terrain. However, Thompson said that this terrain would also prove to be a failing as troops would be more vulnerable to attacks from the air.
San Carlos Bay was the final landing spot option. Lying on the west side of East Falklands, the bay was protected by the surrounding hills, making it ideal for the Rapier missile systems to provide give protection against Argentine planes. However, San Carlos Bay was located 65 miles away from Port Stanley. Despite this flaw, Thompson decided that it was the best entry point and, on 20 May, he was given the green light to begin landings via the code word ‘Palpas.’ Task Force men began landing at San Carlos Bay on 21 May 1982.