|Steel Fleet||Coronel and Falkland Annotated bibliography|
and the Falklands, Batsford, 1962
Of all the Sixties histories of the battle this is the mature historical attempt with fairly deep analysis of some of the controversial aspects and competent research. It is an essential read for the historical context, along with the official history, Corbett's Naval Operations Vol I.
The author makes some excellent balanced presentations of difficult questions but sometimes leaves one hanging at the vital moment, like in this page note:
Immediately the news of the Falkland action was received, one of Sturdee's colleagues at the Admiralty wrote in a congratulatory letter: 'I have stated my opinion very strongly on the subject to (those here) who had been told that the dispatch of this squadron was a new move, the result of the advent of Fisher. I pointed out that you had arranged for a very similar squadron to be sent to South America directly we knew the Germans were crossing the Pacific, but that you had been overruled.'
Clearly this is an interesting line of inquiry but one wishes for a little more forensics and a little less insouciance; who was this colleague? Is there no evidence of this overruling? It would be more satisfying to have this argument elaborated or dismissed as hearsay.
Coronel and After, Peter Davies, 1934
So while the underlying narrative is largely related in the neutral, eyewitness voice of a diarist there are frequent digressions, such as this comment on the subject of Cradock's reinforcement:
Sometimes an entry comes along which changes ones view somewhat of the context of the campaign, such as the mention that Cradock's command had been on half rations before the battle. Another verbatim entry, possibly relevant to the assumption that without the burden of AMC Otranto Cradock retained the choice of declining action at Coronel:
The description of the movements and activities of HMS Glasgow, especially from the outbreak of war to the critical days before Coronel, is fascinating and embraces the search for SMS Dresden throughout. This overarching narrative of Glasgow's mission during the campaign spans two battles and ends where it began, pursuing Dresden. That there was an earlier phase of this search is often discounted or neglected in other histories; these two 'sister' ships seemed to often cross each other's path and met in three engagements .
It should be noted that the author spends considerable time on personal experiences which add colour to his narrative, such as his sojourn across West Falkland Island in mackintosh and puttees in search of mutton in which he apparently scared the womenfolk of a local shepherd witless by his sudden appearance in their remote kitchen. This episode ends with the unforgettable image of our erstwhile Ian Fleming, silhouetted by a brushfire he's set, semaphoring off into the twilight his signal to Glasgow "asking for a working party with two boats and some lashings for the legs of the sheep, as they would have to be brought off alive."
Nonetheless some actual issues of history are cast off with a single remark or brief diary entry so one has to be alert for these significant dates and details. On the other hand as an account of the entire campaign from a seemingly well-informed eyewitness who handled the actual telegrams between the fleet and Whitehall it is unique and arguably indispensable. Insights into the diplomatic niceties, such as they were, regarding neutrality and internment, particularly surrounding the final Dresden encounter, are provided in satisfying if anecdotal detail.
Pursuit of Admiral von Spee, Allen and Unwin, 1969
No fan of Churchill's strategic grasp the author makes a compelling case for miscarriage of purpose and mismanagement of resources by the Admiralty in their dispositions and movements in response to the East Asia Squadron's passage across the Pacific.
He also provides a sympathetic but fatalistic explanation of Rear Admiral Cradock's reasoning which led him to be confronted at Coronel by overwhelming force to which he had no effective counter. Hough's description of the actual battles is among the more detailed of the narrative and popular histories. With a keen grasp of gunnery, fire control and naval engineering his descriptions of the manoeuvre and fire which shaped both Coronel and Falkland Islands is coherent, insightful and satisfying.
Equally critical of Sturdee's apparent misapprehension of the urgency of his mission and indifferent gunnery his description of the Falkland Island battle concentrates on some of the frustrating circumstances which hampered the prompt defeat of von Spee's two most powerful vessels.
The volume includes an appendix consisting of the fragmentary journal of a gunnery officer present at Falkland Islands this is an essential read of both engagements.
and Falkland, Cassel, 1960
As with the author's other books a prosy omniscience couched in the familiar jargon of naval and military service is used to animate a vivid, dynamic narrative while riding securely at the anchor of historical record. Unlike more sober histories his narrative delivers some fraction of the immediacy one assumes accompanied the original experience while remaining reasonably grounded in the prudence of hindsight and cross-checking of sources.
At the book's very outset the reader is warned of a hypothetical therein speculating on Admiral Graf von Spee's thinking as he considered the fateful choices urging him toward Port Stanley and doom. Reassuringly when the author's plausible argument is subsequently made it is based on the strict timeline of communications sent and received by von Spee as he steamed from victory at Coronel to the South Atlantic. Beyond a persuasive insight into the information available to von Spee over time it also suggests a fatal irony of miscommunication just as the fateful decision is made.
If there is a vulnerability in the author's treatment it is probably a consequence of his demonstrated ability to present a compelling, embracing narrative, as history's witness, and thereby spinning a ripping good yarn. Yet one wonders if fragments that might complicate or confound these narratives are sometimes omitted.
Nevertheless, in Coronel and Falklands the
author finds an engaged yet impartial voice like the chorus of a Greek
tragedy; in this case attending the violent and ironic drama of sacrifice,
prestige and misapprehended duty which embraced the fate of both mortal
protagonists in turn; as alike in character as they are dissimilar in
temperament yet both doomed to heroic destruction along with almost the
whole of their respective commands. And tragically those whom perish,
often selflessly, do so in virtual ignominy, uncelebrated and far from
home, in distant isolation and unforgiving, frigid waters, almost always
denied even the few mercies reserved for those who fight under the rules
governing contemporary naval warfare on the indifferent and perilous sea: The matching bookends of Coronel and Falkland,
Cradock and von Spee, and the common theme of a fight to the death against
overwhelming odds at the farthest extremity of the world, sets these tales
apart and aptly suits them to the dramatic treatment provided by the
young, talented and clearly enthusiastic Barrie Pitt. Shaun Appleby 02 August 2014
The matching bookends of Coronel and Falkland, Cradock and von Spee, and the common theme of a fight to the death against overwhelming odds at the farthest extremity of the world, sets these tales apart and aptly suits them to the dramatic treatment provided by the young, talented and clearly enthusiastic Barrie Pitt.
Shaun Appleby 02 August 2014
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