Battle of the Falkland Islands
The Battle of the Falkland Islands was a British naval
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 victory over the Imperial German Navy
Kaiserliche Marine
The Imperial German Navy was the German Navy created at the time of the formation of the German Empire. It existed between 1871 and 1919, growing out of the small Prussian Navy and Norddeutsche Bundesmarine, which primarily had the mission of coastal defense. Kaiser Wilhelm II greatly expanded...

 on 8 December 1914 during the First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 in the South Atlantic. The British, after a defeat at the Battle of Coronel
Battle of Coronel
The First World War naval 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...

 on 1 November, sent a large force to track down and destroy the victorious German cruiser squadron.

Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee
Maximilian von Spee
Vice Admiral Maximilian Reichsgraf von Spee was a German admiral. Although he was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, the counts von Spee belonged to the prominent families of the Rhenish nobility. He joined the Kaiserliche Marine in 1878. In 1887–88 he commanded the Kamerun ports, in German West...

—commanding the German squadron of two armoured cruiser
Scharnhorst class armored cruiser
The Scharnhorst class was the last traditional class of armored cruisers built by the Kaiserliche Marine. The class comprised two ships, and . They were larger than the that preceded them; the extra size was used primarily to increase the main armament of 21 cm guns from four to eight...

s, and , the light cruiser
Light cruiser
A light cruiser is a type of small- or medium-sized warship. The term is a shortening of the phrase "light armored cruiser", describing a small ship that carried armor in the same way as an armored cruiser: a protective belt and deck...

s , Dresden and , and three auxiliaries—attempted to raid the British supply base at Stanley
Stanley, Falkland Islands
Stanley is the capital and only true cityin the Falkland Islands. It is located on the isle of East Falkland, on a north-facing slope in one of the wettest parts of the islands. At the 2006 census, the city had a population of 2,115...

 on the Falkland Isles. A larger British squadron— consisting of the battlecruisers  and , the armoured cruisers , and , and the light cruisers and —had arrived in the port only the day before.

Visibility was at its maximum, the sea was placid with a gentle breeze from the north west, a bright, sunny, clear day. The advance cruisers of the German squadron had been detected early on, and by nine o'clock that morning the British battlecruisers and cruisers were in hot pursuit of the five German vessels, these having taken flight in line abreast to the south-east. All except Dresden and the auxiliary Seydlitz were hunted down and sunk.


The British battlecruisers each mounted eight 12 in (304.8 mm) guns, whereas Spee's and each had eight 8.24 in (209 mm) guns. Additionally, the battlecruisers could make 25.5 kn (31.1 mph; 50 km/h) against Spee's 22.5 kn (27.4 mph; 44.1 km/h); thus, the British battlecruisers could both outrun their opponents and significantly outgun them. An obsolete pre-dreadnought
Pre-dreadnought battleship is the general term for all of the types of sea-going battleships built between the mid-1890s and 1905. Pre-dreadnoughts replaced the ironclad warships of the 1870s and 1880s...

 battleship——had also been grounded at Stanley to give a stable gunnery platform and act as a makeshift fortress for the defence of the area.

Spee's squadron

Following von Spee
Maximilian von Spee
Vice Admiral Maximilian Reichsgraf von Spee was a German admiral. Although he was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, the counts von Spee belonged to the prominent families of the Rhenish nobility. He joined the Kaiserliche Marine in 1878. In 1887–88 he commanded the Kamerun ports, in German West...

's success on 1 November 1914 at the Battle of Coronel
Battle of Coronel
The First World War naval 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...

, off the coast of Valparaíso, Chile, where his German East Asia Squadron
German East Asia Squadron
The German East Asia Squadron was a German Navy cruiser squadron which operated mainly in the Pacific Ocean between the 1870s and 1914...

 sank the cruisers (Admiral Cradock
Christopher Cradock
Rear-Admiral Sir Christopher "Kit" George Francis Maurice Cradock KCVO CB was a British officer of the Royal Navy. He was born at Hartforth, Richmond, North Yorkshire...

's flagship) and , von Spee's force put into Valparaíso
Valparaíso is a city and commune of Chile, center of its third largest conurbation and one of the country's most important seaports and an increasing cultural center in the Southwest Pacific hemisphere. The city is the capital of the Valparaíso Province and the Valparaíso Region...

. As required under international law for belligerent ships in neutral countries, the ships left within 24 hours, moving to Mas Afuera, 400 mi (347.6 nmi; 643.7 km) off the Chilean coast. There they received news of the loss of the cruiser , which had previously detached from the squadron and had been raiding in the Indian Ocean
Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean is the third largest of the world's oceanic divisions, covering approximately 20% of the water on the Earth's surface. It is bounded on the north by the Indian Subcontinent and Arabian Peninsula ; on the west by eastern Africa; on the east by Indochina, the Sunda Islands, and...

. They also learned of the fall of the German colony at Tsingtao in China, which had been their home port. On 15 November, the squadron moved to Bahia San Quintin on the Chilean coast, where a ceremony was held to distribute 300 Iron Cross
Iron Cross
The Iron Cross is a cross symbol typically in black with a white or silver outline that originated after 1219 when the Kingdom of Jerusalem granted the Teutonic Order the right to combine the Teutonic Black Cross placed above a silver Cross of Jerusalem....

es second class, amongst the crew, and an Iron Cross first class to Admiral Spee.

Spee was recommended to return to Germany if he could. His ships had used half their ammunition—which could not be replaced—at Coronel, and had difficulties obtaining coal. Intelligence reports suggested that the British ships Defence, Cornwall and Carnarvon were stationed in the River Plate
Río de la Plata
The Río de la Plata —sometimes rendered River Plate in British English and the Commonwealth, and occasionally rendered [La] Plata River in other English-speaking countries—is the river and estuary formed by the confluence of the Uruguay River and the Paraná River on the border between Argentina and...

, and that there had been no British warships at Stanley when recently visited by a steamer. Spee had been concerned about reports of a British battleship, Canopus, but its location was unknown. On 26 November, the squadron set sail for Cape Horn
Cape Horn
Cape Horn is the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago of southern Chile, and is located on the small Hornos Island...

, which was reached on 1 December, then anchored at Picton Island, where they stayed for three days distributing coal from a captured British collier, Drummuir, and hunting. On 6 December, the British vessel was scuttled and the crew transferred to the auxiliary Seydlitz. The same day Spee proposed to raid the Falkland Islands before turning north. The raid was unnecessary because the squadron already had as much coal as they could carry and was opposed by most of Spee's captains, but he decided to proceed.

British preparations

On 30 October, retired Admiral of the Fleet
Admiral of the Fleet
An admiral of the fleet is a military naval officer of the highest rank. In many nations the rank is reserved for wartime or ceremonial appointments...

 Sir John Fisher was reappointed First Sea Lord
First Sea Lord
The First Sea Lord is the professional head of the Royal Navy and the whole Naval Service; it was formerly known as First Naval Lord. He also holds the title of Chief of Naval Staff, and is known by the abbreviations 1SL/CNS...

 to replace Admiral Prince Louis of Battenberg, who had been forced to resign because of public outcry against a perceived German prince running the British navy. On 3 November, Fisher was advised that Spee had been sighted off Valparaíso and acted to reinforce Cradock by ordering , already sent to patrol the eastern coast of South America, to reinforce his squadron. On 4 November, news of the defeat at Coronel arrived. As a result, battlecruisers and were ordered to leave the Grand Fleet and sail to Plymouth
Plymouth is a city and unitary authority area on the coast of Devon, England, about south-west of London. It is built between the mouths of the rivers Plym to the east and Tamar to the west, where they join Plymouth Sound...

 for overhaul and preparation for service abroad. Chief of Staff at the Admiralty was Vice-Admiral Doveton Sturdee
Doveton Sturdee
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Frederick Charles Doveton Sturdee, 1st Baronet, GCB, KCMG, CVO was a British admiral.-Naval career:...

. Fisher had a long-standing disagreement with Sturdee, who had been one of those calling for his earlier dismissal as First Sea Lord in 1911, so he took the opportunity to appoint Sturdee Commander in Chief, South Atlantic and Pacific, to command the new squadron from Invincible.

On 11 November, Invincible and Inflexible left Devonport
HMNB Devonport
Her Majesty's Naval Base Devonport , is one of three operating bases in the United Kingdom for the Royal Navy . HMNB Devonport is located in Devonport, in the west of the city of Plymouth in Devon, England...

, although repairs to Invincible were incomplete and she sailed with workmen still aboard. Despite the urgency of the situation and their maximum speed of around 25 kn (30.4 mph; 49 km/h), the ships travelled at a steady 10 kn (12.2 mph; 19.6 km/h); running at high speed used significantly more coal, so to complete the long journey it was necessary to travel at the most economic speed. The two ships were also heavily loaded with supplies. Although secrecy of the mission was considered important so as to surprise Spee, on 17 November Lieutenant Hirst from Glasgow heard locals discussing the forthcoming arrival of the ships while ashore at Cape Verde; however the news did not reach Spee. Sturdee arrived at the Abrolhos Rocks
Abrolhos Marine National Park
The Abrolhos Marine National Park is a Marine Park located in the Abrolhos Archipelago since 1983.The Abrolhos are an archipelago of 5 islands with coral reefs off the southern coast of Bahia state in the northeast of Brazil, between 17º25’—18º09’ S and 38º33’—39º05’ W.-External links:***...

 on 26 November, where Rear Admiral Stoddart awaited him with the remainder of the squadron.

Sturdee announced his intention to depart for the Falkland Islands on 29 November. From there, the fast light cruisers Glasgow and Bristol would patrol seeking Spee, summoning reinforcements if they found him. Captain Luce
John Luce (Royal Navy officer)
Rear Admiral John Luce CB was a senior officer in the Royal Navy during and after World War I.-Early and family life:...

 of Glasgow, who had been at the battle of Coronel, objected that there was no need to wait so long and persuaded Sturdee to depart a day early. The squadron was delayed during the journey for 12 hours when a cable towing targets for practice firing became wrapped around one of Invincibles propeller
A propeller is a type of fan that transmits power by converting rotational motion into thrust. A pressure difference is produced between the forward and rear surfaces of the airfoil-shaped blade, and a fluid is accelerated behind the blade. Propeller dynamics can be modeled by both Bernoulli's...

s, but the ships arrived on the morning of 7 December. The two light cruisers moored in the inner part of Stanley Harbour
Stanley Harbour
Stanley Harbour is a large inlet on the east coast of East Falkland island. A strait called "the Narrows" leads into Port William.It serves the town of the same name - Stanley - as a harbour. Stanley has sprawled along the south shore of the harbour, to gain shelter from the low hill of Stanley...

, while the larger ships remained in the deeper outer harbour of Port William
Port William
Port William is a small fishing village in the county of Wigtownshire in south west Scotland. At present it comes under the administrative authority of Dumfries and Galloway...

. Divers set about removing the cable wrapped around Invincibles propeller. Cornwall extinguished her boiler fires to make repairs, and Bristol dismantled one of her engines. The famous ship —reduced to a coal bunker—supplied coal to Invincible and Inflexible. The armed merchant cruiser Macedonia was ordered to patrol the harbour, while Kent maintained steam in her boilers, ready to replace Macedonia the next day, 8 December. Spee's fleet arrived the morning of the 8th.


Spee's cruisers—Gneisenau and Nürnberg—approached Stanley first. At the time, the entire British fleet was coaling. Some believe that, had Spee pressed the attack, Sturdee's ships would have been easy targets, although this is a subject of conjecture and some controversy. Any British ship that tried to leave would have faced the full firepower of the German ships; having a vessel sunk might also have blocked the rest of the British squadron inside the harbour. Fortunately for the British, the Germans were surprised by gunfire from an unexpected source: Canopus, which had been grounded as a guardship and was behind a hill. This was enough to check the Germans' advance. The sight of the distinctive tripod masts of the British battlecruisers confirmed that they were facing a better-equipped enemy. Kent was already making way out of the harbour and had been ordered to pursue Spee's ships.

Made aware of the German ships, Sturdee had ordered the crews to breakfast, knowing that Canopus had bought them time while steam was raised.

To Spee, with his crew battle-weary and his ships out-gunned, the outcome seemed inevitable. Realising his danger too late—and having missed the golden opportunity to shell Sturdee's fleet while in port—Spee and his squadron dashed for the open sea. The British left port around 10:00. Spee was ahead by 15 mi (13 nmi; 24.1 km) but there was a lot of daylight left for the faster battlecruisers to catch up.

It was 13:00 when the British battlecruisers opened fire, but it took them half an hour to get the range of the Leipzig. Realising that he could not hope to outrun the fast British ships, Spee decided to engage them with his armoured cruisers alone, to give the light cruisers a chance to escape. They turned to fight just after 13:20. The German armoured cruisers had the advantage of being to windward of a freshening north-west breeze, causing the funnel smoke of the British to obscure their target practically throughout the action. Author Hans Pochhammer indicates that there was a long respite for the Germans during the early stages of the battle, as the British attempted unsuccessfully to force Admiral Spee away from his advantageous position.

Despite initial success by Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in striking Invincible, the British capital ships suffered little damage, thanks to their heavier armour. Spee then turned to escape, but the battlecruisers came within extreme firing range 40 minutes later.

Invincible and Inflexible engaged Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, while Sturdee detached his cruisers to chase Leipzig and Nürnberg.

Inflexible and Invincible turned to fire broadsides at the armoured cruisers and Spee responded by trying to close the range. His flagship Scharnhorst took extensive damage with funnels flattened, fires and a list. The list became worse at 16:04, and she sank by 16:17. Gneisenau continued to fire and evade until 17:15, by which time her ammunition had been exhausted, and her crew allowed her to sink at 18:02. During her death throes, Admiral Sturdee continued to engage Gneisenau with his two battlecruisers and the cruiser Carnarvon, rather than detaching one of the battlecruisers to hunt down the escaping Dresden. 190 of Gneisenaus crew were rescued from the water. The battlecruisers had received about 40 hits, with one man killed and four injured.

Meanwhile, Nürnberg and Leipzig had run from the British cruisers. Nürnberg was running at full speed but in need of maintenance, while the crew of the pursuing Kent were pushing her boilers and engines to the limit. Nürnberg finally turned to battle at 17:30. Kent had the advantage in shell weight and armour. Nürnberg suffered two boiler explosions around 18:30, giving the advantage in speed and manoeuvrability to Kent. She then rolled over at 19:27 after a long chase. Cruisers Glasgow and Cornwall had chased down Leipzig; Glasgow closed to finish Leipzig which had run out of ammunition but was still flying her battle ensign
Battle ensign
A battle ensign is the name given to a large war flag which is flown on a warship's mast just before going into battle.The flag identified the allegiance of the ship in what could be a very confusing situation, with thick clouds of gunsmoke obscuring the ships in action, hence the large size of...

. Leipzig fired two flares, so Glasgow ceased fire. At 21:23, more than 80 mi (69.5 nmi; 128.7 km) southeast of the Falklands, she rolled over, leaving only 18 survivors.


Ten British sailors were killed during the battle and nineteen wounded; none of the British ships was badly damaged. 2,200 German sailors were killed or drowned in the encounter, including Admiral Spee and his two sons. A further 215 survivors were rescued and ended up prisoners on the British ships. Most of them were from the , nine from and 18 from . There were no survivors from .

Of the known German force of eight ships, two escaped: the auxiliary Seydlitz and the light cruiser , which roamed at large for a further three months before her captain was cornered by a British squadron off the Juan Fernández Islands
Juan Fernández Islands
The Juan Fernández Islands are a sparsely inhabited island group reliant on tourism and fishing in the South Pacific Ocean, situated about off the coast of Chile, and is composed of three main volcanic islands; Robinson Crusoe Island, Alejandro Selkirk Island and Santa Clara Island, the first...

 on 14 March 1915. After fighting a short battle
Battle of Más a Tierra
The Battle of Más a Tierra was a First World War battle fought on 14 March 1915, near the Chilean island of Más a Tierra, between a British squadron and a German light cruiser...

, Dresden's captain evacuated his ship and scuttled her by detonating the main ammunition magazine.

As a consequence of the battle, German commerce raiding
Commerce raiding
Commerce raiding or guerre de course is a form of naval warfare used to destroy or disrupt the logistics of an enemy on the open sea by attacking its merchant shipping, rather than engaging the combatants themselves or enforcing a blockade against them.Commerce raiding was heavily criticised by...

 on the high seas by regular warships of the Kaiserliche Marine was brought to an end. However, Germany put several armed merchant vessels
Armed merchantmen
Armed merchantman is a term that has come to mean a merchant ship equipped with guns, usually for defensive purposes, either by design or after the fact. In the days of sail, piracy and privateers, many merchantmen would be routinely armed, especially those engaging in long distance and high value...

 into service as commerce raiders until the end of the war (for example, see Felix von Luckner
Felix von Luckner
Felix Graf von Luckner was a German nobleman, navy officer, author and noted sailor who earned the epithet Der Seeteufel -- and his crew that of Die Piraten des Kaisers -- for his exploits in command of the sailing commerce raider SMS Seeadler in...


Secret Service trap

After the disaster, German naval experts were baffled at why Admiral Spee attacked the base and how the two squadrons could have met so coincidentally in so many thousands miles of open waters. Kaiser William II
William II
William II may refer to:* William II of Aquitaine * William II of Montferrat * William II Sánchez of Gascony * William II of Provence * William II of Besalú...

's handwritten note on the official report of the battle reads: "It remains a mystery what made Spee attack the Falkland Islands." See Mahan's Naval Strategy."

It is generally believed that Spee was misled by the German admiralty into attacking the Falklands. He called a meeting of his officers and announced that he would attack the base which acted as a coaling station and wireless relay station for the British, as his intelligence, received from the German wireless station at Valparaíso, reported the port to be free of Royal Navy warships. Despite objections by the captains of three of his ships, the attack proceeded.

However, in 1925 the German naval officer, Franz von Rintelen
Franz von Rintelen
Captain Franz Dagobert Johannes von Rintelen was a German Naval Intelligence officer in the United States during World War I....

, interviewed Admiral William Reginald Hall
William Reginald Hall
Admiral Sir William Reginald Hall, KCMG, CB, RN was the British Director of Naval Intelligence from 1914 to 1919...

, Director of the Admiralty's Naval Intelligence Division
Naval Intelligence Division
The Naval Intelligence Division was the intelligence arm of the British Admiralty before the establishment of a unified Defence Staff in 1965. It dealt with matters concerning British naval plans, with the collection of naval intelligence...

(NID), who said that the Spee Squadron had been lured towards the British battlecruiser squadron by means of a fake signal sent in a German naval code broken by British cryptographers.

Broadcast of a false order in a broken naval code would have been against the British Naval Staff's policy as noted by Rear-Admiral Herbert Hope "In a very few months we obtained a very good working knowledge of the organization, operations, and internal economy of the German Fleet. Had we been called upon by the Staff to do so, we could have furnished valuable information as to the movements of submarines, minefields, mine-sweeping, etc. But the Staff was obsessed by the idea of secrecy; they realized that they held the trump card and they worked on the principle that every effort must be made to keep our knowledge up our sleeves for a really great occasion such as the German Fleet coming out in all their strength to throw down the gage of battle. In other words the Staff determined to make use of our information defensively and not offensively" No less than Winston Churchill replied most sharply to Admiral Jellicoe even mentioning the subject by telegraph specifically, so sharp was the concern that the breaking of the German Naval codes might be uncovered.

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