of Coronel 1
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.
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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