Steel Fleet   Battle of Coronel 1 November 1914
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bulletBackground
bulletBattle of Coronel

 

  Background
Whatever the strategic naval advantage conceded when Britain lunged for Germany's East Asian possessions in lieu of her fleet, by the time Vice Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee's East Asia Squadron had made its unlikely escape to Easter Island the fateful circumstances leading to the stunning defeat of Rear Admiral 'Kit' Cradock's cruiser squadron were rapidly converging as they hastened to a lonely, storm-lashed stretch of the Pacific Ocean off southern Chile and their fatal rendezvous.

The strategic origin of the naval battle is a study in inadequate reconnaissance and untimely orders from such distance as to be rendered locally difficult to interpret. To the respective admirals, while logistics remained distracting, it was largely a matter of forcing or blocking passage to the South Atlantic; and both were feeling their way blindly forward.

The battle
With only two armoured cruisers of inferior armament the 4th Cruiser Squadron was quickly scattered; HMS Good Hope and HMS Monmouth sinking with all hands. Initially each believed they were stalking a detached light cruiser of the other's force. When columns of smoke above the gale-blown sea revealed the situation Cradock, with little more than two armoured cruisers, HMS Good Hope and Monmouth, closed with the superior force in spite of their twelve 21cm (8.3") gun broadside. His only realistic chance lay with two 9.2" guns but one was disabled by SMS Scharnhorst's third salvo. His numerous quick-firing 6" guns could smother an enemy with explosive shells if the range were shortened but conditions favoured the British gunners only briefly and von Spee declined action until the sun had descended. Staying carefully beyond the range of Cradock's secondary armament he purposefully silenced the two British cruisers with his main batteries before dark fell; both sank that night with all hands in the unforgiving South Pacific. Von Spee's squadron, with lighter magazines but virtually unscathed, might soon steam unhindered for the Atlantic. But first they needed coal.

Shaun Appleby 03 August 2014

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