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Operations in the Adriatic

On August 6, 1914, an agreement was formalized between the Royal Navy and the French Navy concerning the command of the allied forces in the Mediterranean. The latter thanks to its colonial bases and Toulon mobilized the bulk of her fleet on site, while other ships would came from the Atlantic later. It therefore seemed logical that the overall responsibility of combined forces should come under the authority of French admiral Boué de Lapeyrère. In the early hours of the war however, the allies, unable to communicate, could not stop Admiral Wilhelm Souchon from fleeing to Contantinople. Ye they set sail for the Adriatic and destroyed an Austro-Hungarian cruiser sheeling the coast of Montenegro. Subsequently, way before the Dardanelles campaign, the bulk of the Allied fleet operated in the Adriatic, expecting to force the KuKK Kriegsmarine out. Pola (formerly Pula) and Cattaro (later Kotor) became priority objectives.

Theater of operations

On the 29th of November, in fact, the Cugnot tried to cross the mouths of Cattaro and reached the bay of Topla. But she was caught and chased by the destroyer Blitz and a torpedo boat, being also spotted by a seaplane. She retreated without achieving success. The next day, the Curie arrived at night at the entrance of the port of Pola, hoping to pass. On December 20, she tried the first defenses but her propellers clogged into a net. Without being able to get out, Commander O’Byrne had no choice but to come out in daylight to renew the air. Immediately, the destroyer Magnet and torpedo-boat TB63 were on her, firing point-blank. The submarine was shattered, and eventually scuttled carrying with her three men, including the second master Pierre Chailley, helping opening the purges. 23 men were captured. The Curie was later raised, repaired and modified, and became the U14. She had a good career under the Austrian-Hungarian flag.

Austro-Hungarian Dreadnoughts at Pola

On the second day of December 21, the U12 torpedoed the dreadnought Jean Bart off Sazeno. The latter survived thanks to her dedicated compartments flooded but had to join Malta for long repairs. This same U12 was torpedoed later without success by the Brumaire. On February 24, 1915, the destroyer Dague, escorting an English freighter, was blown up by a mine. Armoured cruiser Victor Hugo narrowly escaped U5 torpedo off Paxos on 4 April under Schlosser’s command. She passed hands to famous Commander Von Trapp who managed to sink after an epic pursuit to Santa Maria di Leuca the Leon Gambetta, on April 27. This feat cost the French more than 650 sailors and Rear Admiral Sénès, right arm of Lapeyrère.

From June 1915, the Italian fleet joined the French fleet and liberated the allies from their presence in force, especially the British, who could concentrate all their attention in the Dardanelles sector. On June 5, no less than four French-Italian squadrons shelled the Austro-Hungarian coast. Ragusa, Donzella, Lagosta, Lissa and Sant’andrea were targeted. The combined fleet was not worried because no sortie was attempted from Pola. On December 5, the submersible Frésnel was sunk by destroyer Warasdiner, after having ran aground by error in Bojana’s reefs. On the 30th, Monge was rammed by cruiser Helgoland and forced to surface, and destroyed by destroyer Balaton. Commander Roland Morillot remained on board, sinking with her ship to open the purges and scuttle her.

Damaged Novara after the battle of Otranto strait, May, 15, 1917.

On September 15, 1915, the Foucault was bombed by two Austrian seaplanes, and forced to surface. The survivors left the boat which was achieved by L135 seaplane. This was the first successful aerial attack on a ship of this war, ushering in a new era and dimension of sea warfare. On March 18, 1915, the U6 commanded by Falkhausen torpedoed and sank the French destroyer Renaudin near Cape Laghi (now Selitis in Albania). On the same day the submersible Ampère torpedoed the No.1 hospital ship, which was forced to run aground so as not to sink. There were only two victims. On the 22nd and 23rd of November, another Austro-Hungarian fleet arrived (there had already been some in February and April), including the light cruiser Helgoland, and all the destroyers of the Tatra class. The only victim of this raid was the schooner Gallinara.

Gun turret of SMS Tegetthoff

On the night of December 22-23, four Austro-Hungarian destroyers (Scharfschutz, Reka, Dinara and Velebit) attacked armed trawlers patrolling the Otranto barrage. The latter called for the rescue of six French destroyers nearby, the Casques, Protet, Cdt-Rivière, Cdt-Bory, Dehorter and Boutefeu. What should have been a night battle turned into the most complete confusion: In the heat of battle, only the Casque and Cdt. Riviere attacked, the others being unaware of the position of the opposing ships, and the ultimately the damaged Casque had to reduce her speed. The Italians were called in as reinforcement and drove the Abba, Nievo and Pilo from Brindisi, followed quickly by the British Gloucester, and two other Italian destroyers. Joining together, the French and Italians collided: Abba rammed the Casque before being herself rammed by the Boutefeu. The three damaged ships had to be towed back, leaving Austrian units to escape.

Monge, French submarine

On December 31, 1915, during a sortie of the usual squadron led by the Helgoland (see above), the day the Monge was sunk, the Triglav and the Lika were sunk by mines of the Otranto dam, while that the rest of the squadron was being chased by the HMS Dartmouth and Quarto (Italian) cruisers. Other sorties, with sometimes smaller means in 1916, resulted in the destruction of only three patrol trawlers. On April 22, 1917, another sortie (there will be ten in 1917) will result in the sole destruction of steam Japigia. The only major action was the May 14-15 sortie, better known as the “Battle of the Strait of Otranto”. On May 15, 1916, the British cruiser HMS Dartmouth coming from the Otranto Canal surprised the UC25, which was returning from a minelaying mission in front of Brindisi. She was torpedoed by the latter, and left for lost. Her crew evacuated the submarine, but the few men remaining not only colmated the breaches, but led her back to port. The HMS Dartmouth in distress had launched an SOS captured by the Boutefeu, who came to save survivors, but only to meet on of the mines of the UC25. The submarine Le Verrier, four days after, attacked the Blitz at Cape Planka, but without results.

The sinking of Szent Istvan, 1918 (postcard)

On February 13, 1918, the Bernouilli sank on a mine while trying to penetrate the mouths of Cattaro. On the night of 22/23 April, the destroyers Triglav, Uszok, Dukla, Lika and Csepel fell on the British destroyers Jackal and Hornet, the Australian Torrens and the French Scimitar. During the duel, the Hornet was badly hit and the Jackal lost her front mast, but the Austrians won. On June 10, 1918, a final and massive sortie was made by Admiral Horty, who had taken over the head of the fleet since February and the mutiny of Cattaro, to attack the ships that shelled the coast. The heart of this massive force was the four dreadnoughts of the Tegetthoff class. But despite a night sortie, one of them, Szent Istvan, was torpedoed and sunk by MAS15 in ambush. Because of this tragedy, Horty ordered his fleet back to Pola. That was the last attempt. On September 20, 1918, the last loss of the war in the Adriatic was the French submarine Circe, torpedoed by U47 in front of Cape Rodoni (Albania). She sank with all hands. The Austro-Hungarian fleet was later dismantled, divided between Italians, French, British, Greeks, and Yugoslavs. The last loss of this navy was the Dreadnought Viribus Unitis in Pola mined by daring Italian frogmen the official day of Austro-Hungarian navy’s handover to the “Kingdom of the Croats, Serbs and Bosnians”.

Video:ww1 documentary about the adriatic campaign, footage

Sources/read More

The_Battle_of_the_Otranto_Straits (book)
Conways all the world’s fighting ships 1906-1921

Battle of Gotland (July, 2, 1915)

Reichsmarine vs Russian Navy

Fire on the Baltic

The fact that the Baltic did not saw naval major battles like Heligoland or Jutland don’t have to mask the myriad of naval actions that occurred in this war between the Russian Navy -albeit reduced after the crippling losses of 1905 in this theater- and the powerful Reichsmarine, that kept the bulk of the Hochseeflotte facing the north sea, waiting for opportunities to engage the Royal Navy.

This battle of Gotland, also called Battle of Åland Islands occurred nearby one of the largest island (if not the largest) of the baltic sea, the fortress guarding Swedish east coast. These already seen (and will see) many other clashes between German and Russian ships, but also testified of age-old clashes between Russians and Swedes in the past. This was a serious gun battle between cruisers of many types from both sides, the Germans loosing eventually the Albatross, and the Russian retiring with two badly damaged armoured cruisers.

Blueprint of the SMS Albatross

The day before the battle of Gotland, Kommodore Johannes Von Karf had been ordered to anchor a vast minefield off the Aäland Islands, closing the Gulf of Bothnia. He departed with the minelayer cruiser Albatross (frigate captain Fritz West), escorted by the armoured cruiser Roon, and the SMS Augsburg, Lübeck, as well as 12 destroyers. Following Odensholm’s action on 26 August, the Russians seized the codebooks and signals from the Hochseeflotte, and thus intercepted messages, enabling them to know the squadron’s exact departure. On the 2nd, a force comprising the armoured cruisers Admiral Makaroff and Bayan, assisted by the cruisers Oleg and Bogatyr sailed from Saint-Petersburg under the orders of Rear Admiral Mikhail Bakhirev in the hope of intercepting it. This force was joined and assisted by a British submersible.

SMS roon (1907), this class preceded the Scharnhorst and was strongly related

On the morning of the 2d, the German fleet was mooring mines in front of the Aaland Islands, when the black plumes of the Russian squadron were spotted. Immediately the operations in progress were abandoned, and the ships turned and headed south. However, the time to carry out the maneuver, the Russian cruisers were at gun range, and the slowest cruiser, SMS Albatross was catch and fired upon. The ship only had a few 88 mm pieces to oppose 203 and 152 mm guns on the Russian cruisers. This resembled quickly therefore to a real execution. However, the Roon and two light cruisers replied, but the duel of artillery was not conclusive. The two fleets advanced in parallel, heading south, and arrived off Gotland when Von Karf was informed of the arrival of two other armoured cruisers, the Prinz Heinrich and the Prinz Adalbert, which just sailed to the rescue. The balance was about to swap in favor of the Germans.

The minelaying cruiser Albatross failed after her fight against the Oleg and the Bogatyr.

The Russians for their part, brought out the Rurik, one of the most powerful armoured cruisers in the world, assisted by the destroyer Novik, no less formidable. They just set sail at the time the news of the clash off the Aaland Islands, and force-steamed south-west in an attempt to cut off Von Karf’s retreat. The threat was very serious, and the battle began to swap again, and this time, taking on a disastrous scale for the Germans. The Albatross, caught by the Oleg and Bogatyr, was severely hit, her machines partially drowned, drifting, silenced, crippled, and eventually ran aground on a sand bank off Gotland. Meanwhile Von Karf from his flagship Admiral Roon, was attacked by the Bayan and Makaroff, being hit several times and severely damaged. Getting the news of the arrival of the Rurik Von karf decided to break off the fight and retreat south-east towards Königsberg.

Russian cruiser Bayan

The two German armoured cruisers which came to reinforce, just informed of Von Karf’s decision to retreat, decided to head south, but the Prinz Adalbert was intercepted by British submarine E9 waiting in ambush, and was torpedoed. She survived thanks to the promptness of her crew, clogging the leaks with Makaroff slippers, and thus avoiding the entire engine room being submerged. The cruiser dragged herself to the coast and ran aground on a sand bank off Danzig. She would be later towed and repaired, but shortly after her return in service, on 23 October, she will be torpedoed once again, this time by E8, and sent to the bottom for good.

Russian Cruiser Oleg

In the end, Russian losses were difficult to evaluate but it is clear that the Bayan and Makaroff received some hits. The exact balance of the Russian side remains mysterious. In any case, the verdict was severe for the Germans, who, without ever suspecting being spied on or capable to explain the sudden arrival of the Russians to this point, lost the Albatross, which they never attempted to tow. Her surviving crew reached the boats in good order, sailing to the coast of Gotland (Sweden), and from there rejoined Germany afterwards. The Albatross was towed to be broken up later in 1921. The Germans were also deprived of the Roon and Prinz Adalbert, in repairs for long months. Worst still, mines of the Aaland Islands were quickly raised dredged by the Russians. So in the end, we have to see this battle of Gotland as a Russian tactical and strategic victory (three ships eliminated and a minefield).

Lake Tanganyika’s naval battles

Reichsmarine vs Royal Navy

Probably the strangest naval battle of ww1

Lake Tanganyika was one of the largest watery surface in Africa, as much as deep and of dynamic hydrography. Fed by several rivers this largest African Great Lake could only be compared to the American great lakes. It was a production of the Albertine Rift, western part of the East African Rift. This was the second oldest freshwater lake in the world, and the second largest by volume, plus second deepest, and the scene of probably the strangest naval battle of ww1, preceded by an epic British expedition from South Africa and through Congo.

German East Africa map in 1913

For the control of East Africa

On the strategic level, it ensured control for the Royal Navy of this very large coastal area, bordering Belgian Congo (West) and German East Africa. The Germans confidently had three ships without rivals in the whole lake, including two gunboats and a converted freighter, as an auxiliary cruiser, under the orders of Graf (Count) Goetzen. Against all odds, an eccentric London RN staff pushpaper, Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey Spicer-Simson conveyed three dismantled crafts by rail, road and river to Albertville and mounted a surprise attack, leading to two battles seeing the end of the African dreams of Wilhelm II.

German Company of Askaris

German presence and strategic assets

Gustav Adolf Graf von Götzen, former governor of German East Africa, set up a network of bases and a fleet of three ships, armed, to control the lake, meaning being able to land forces at any point of the bordering countries for reinforcement, flanking and rear actions, in no time compared to land moves. This was a most crucial strategic asset for the domination of East Africa. Deutsch-Ostafrika was colonized from 1885 onwards, eventually culminating with a grab of 384,180 square miles (995,000 km2), areas now represented as Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. A seven and a half million was governed by just 5,300 Europeans, which can pick at will in just such large manpower to develop the colonies and raise armies. Protection laid in the hands of a small 260 men Schutztruppe, assisted by more than 2650 Africans and 2700 Landsturm, reservist settlers, a bit like the antiquity’s Kleruch.

Objectives in 1914 were highlighted by the press in a popular concept of MittleAfrika which mirrored the alliance between Central powers in Europe and consisted in invading Belgian Congo, by then one of the largest colonial landmass worldwide (See German claims map, 1917). This would allow to link German colonies in the East with those South-West and west. However the German colonial Army here suffered from the same limitations than opposite forces: Troops were merely seen as an occupation force with police duties, and although well-trained, infantry was only given second-grade armaments fit for repressing indigenous insurgency: Old, black-powder Model 1871 rifle, and a few also old field guns drawn from reserves scratched to the bottom. Moreover these forces were largely spread along many outposts throughout the territory, with poor communication lines, and certainly not capable of mounting a quick offensive in force.

German claims in Africa, 1917

Gradually, objectives for newly-arrived Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck in 1911-1912, were to pin down as many allied troops as possible, preventing them to join the fight in Europe. First objective was to threaten the British vital Uganda Railway, thus drawing a British invasion force in East Africa where he can play a defensive war, and even fight a guerrilla campaign. For the Belgian Congo led by Jules Renkin, German nearby presence was also conceived as a threat, but also as an opportunity to expand controlled territories, possibly traded with the Portuguese. A victory there would be also a strong propaganda asset in Belgium, to avenge the 1914 invasion. Soon enough the Germans would take control of the Tanganiyka, and the control of the seas would triggered a naval battle.

Graf Von Goëtzen, in construction, in harbour, and blueprint. She will soon receive a very potent 105 mm QF gun from SMS Königsberg.

African Naval Battle: Rufiji Delta

Although this is a subject for another post, here are the events that saw SMS Königsberg, originally in the Indian Ocean was soon in action at the Battle of Zanzibar, sinking the old protected cruiser HMS Pegasus, and retiring soon after into the Rufiji River delta. The British Cape Squadron soon enclosed it in a blocus perimeter. The squadron was lead by an old pre-dreadnought HMS Goliath two shallow-draught monitors (former Brazilian ordered ships) and the whole affair was quickly wrapped up on 11 July 1915. Guns of the Pegasus (“Peggy guns”) were salvaged for further operations, while the crew of Königsberg did the same with the 4.1 in (100 mm) guns, quickly carried out by Schutztruppe for other operations and widely used until the end of hostilities.

German raids on the west coast

Lake Tanganyika was this giant highway for German troops right on the Congo border, laying ostensibly on the map as a contention point in all reunion of the general staff over the African theater. To escort and carry troops the Germans soon armed a fleet of three steamers and two unarmed motor boats. One of these armed steamers, the 60 t Hedwig von Wissman was given four pom-pom guns and the 45 t Kingani. First, the Wissman raided the port of Lukuga on 22 August, damaging the sole Belgian armed steamer Alexandre Delcommune. She was sunk after another raid. In November 1914, this time, British African Lakes Corporation’s steamer Cecil Rhodes was also sunk. Following this the Germans launched another raid on northern Rhodesia, which was repelled, but it was followed by other raids on British possessions and the bombardments of Lukuga. The Belgians had indeed at least two armoured shore batteries at Lukunga (they still exist today) obtained from British 12-pounder guns, armed barges and other minor crafts. The fear of these German raids was such that the Belgian steamer Baron Dhanis, stored in parts on its berth and certainly larger than the Kingani or Wissman was never assembled. The Aforementioned 12-pounder guns were given by the British to the Belgians to arm this ship.

Belgian floatplanes on the lake

British preparations

Meanwhile in London in April 1915, John R. Lee met Sir Henry Jackson at the Admiralty to discuss options. He was a veteran of the Second Boer War and knew the Germans ships and locations on the Tanganyika. Intelligence bring them the prospect of seeing this time a ship big enough to carry troops in addition to an even superior firepower: The KMS Graf von Götzen was about to be launched in the fortified port of Kigoma. Previously she was built in parts at Meyer shipyard at Papenburg, disassembled and conveyed by rail in 5000 crates from Dar-es-Salaam to Kigoma to be assembled in secret. This was a 67 m ship long (220 ft), 1,575 tons dwarving any other vessel on the lake. In response, Lee devise a plan to carry there three motor gunboats that would outrun and outmaneuver the larger German ships. Moreover they had to carry a 6,400 m (7,000 yd) range guns that would just allow them to pummel the German Ships while staying out of harm. The advantage of a small ship also was to avoid them to be carried in parts and assembled, keeping the surprise and avoiding any German attack preventing their launch. The bold plan was approved, and given to Jackson’s junior Admiral David Gamble, while Lee gave the details to his subordinate, Lieutenant-Commander Geoffrey Spicer-Simson.

Belgian shore artillery, as of today.

About Geoffrey Spicer-Simson

Geoffrey Spicer-Simson was once described by Giles Folden as “a man court-martialled for wrecking his own ships, an inveterate liar and a wearer of skirts.“. He was unlikely to be given any command as being unable to pass this rank because of his repeated blunders and behaviour. He was very much put in the closet by the Admiralty, supervising the transfer of merchant seamen into the navy. However he was not devoid or resources, if not unconventional. In 1905 he indeed imagine that two destroyers would hold a steel cable between them to cut the periscopes or catch German submarines. In August 1914, his ship HMS Niger was torpedoed and sunk at Ramsgate while he was entertaining his guest on the shore. He was given by default (by the lack of officers) the command of a small ship to patrol the Gambia river. He was given this mission eventually and prepared to assemble a team of 27 men, plus the requisition of two motor boats previously built by Thornycroft for the Greek Government. When in Africa, Simson still went on with his eccentricities, wearing at all time a tiny skirt, and after his December victory, performing some sort of ritual bath twice a week in front of the locals that quickly saw in him a natural leader and went to revere him. Heavily tattooed, he was soon named “lord of the loincloth”.

Geoffrey spicer-Simson

Simson’s preparations

The small motorboats were 40-foot-long (12 m), and were small enough to be carried by rail. They would have been named cat and dog but this was rejected by the Navy, but Simson then (as a test joke?) submitted Mimi and Toutou, which was accepted (these were popular surnames, even familiar bynames in French for cats and dogs). While crews from the Royal Naval Reserve were assembled, Simson started to modify the ships: They were given a Maxim guns and a 3-pounder Hotchkiss gun, and were tested on the Thames. Extra steel linings were also fitted to protect the petrol tanks. In june, trials went on, with fire training on fixed targets at speed. This showed the guns recoil was such they needed to be solidly bolted. When all was ready, both ships were loaded in SS Llanstephen Castle as well as everything that was to be carried by rail, properly packed in crates. This included special trailers designed to carry the ships by rail.

Belgian steamer Baron Dhanis

The expedition (June-October 1915)

At the same time the British freighter departed on June 15, British Intelligence has confirmed that previously on 8 June, German Graf von Götzen was launched and prepared for trials. During the trip through the Atlantic, towards South Africa (10,000 nautical miles or 16,000 km, 17 days at sea), Simson tried to prepare the land expedition, a 4,800 km (3,000 mi) trip inland, including deep jungle, waterfalls, hostile bugs and predators, and a 1,800 m mountain range. From the Cape, all was stored on a train bound to Elisabethville, reach on 26 July. From there, all had to be discharged and placed in a convoy of carts pulled by teams of oxen and steam tractors, for a bush trip 235 km (146 mi) long to the newt railway from Sankisia to Bukama. Then at Bukama, the whole materiel and ships had to be unloaded and again placed on carts to be carried voyage down the Lualaba River. The trip on this one was again an adventurous affair, the ships and barges running aground several times, then were loaded on a Belgian river steamer on Lake Kisale and ended they voyage at Kabalo on 22 October. From there, again, the whole convoy had to be loaded on rail, to reach the outskirts of the Belgian port of Lukuga. Upon arrival, an exhausted Simson had to confer with Belgian local Commandant Stinghlamber, and naval commander Goor.

First operations

Paradoxically, the German’s position on the lake has been just considerably strengthened again with the delivery of salvaged guns from KMS Konigsberg, recently sunk at the battle of Zanzibar. These 10.5 cm SK L/40 naval guns could be manned as the rest of the crews were drawn from the merchant fleet of the Deutsche Ost-Afrika Linie. One of these Schnelladekanone or QF guns was mounted on the Graf Goetzen, an unrivalled firepower, not match by the British 3-dpr at that stage.

German crew loading a 10.5 cm QF gun from Königsberg mounted on the Goetzen.

Meanwhile, the British made preparations to operate the Mimi and Toutou. The Belgians, led by Goor, can only muster an unnamed two guns-barge of the “Dix-Tonne” type, Netta, a motor boat, and a whaler fitted with an outboard motor. Real firepower came from the shore batteries. Goor nevertheless hoped to have the Baron Dhanis in commission soon, and plan to recover and repair the Alexandre Delcommune as soon as possible. But their major asset was a pair of recently arrived and mounted floatplanes, which can be used both for observation and strafing. The Germans do not have any significant AA at that time.

HMS Fifi, ex-Kingani

Seeking to know the work advancement level on the Baron Dhanis, a potential threat for the Götzen if she was caught in port off guard, German commander Zimmer ordered the Kingani (cdr. Rosenthal) to sail for a recoignition of Lukunga. Rosenthal arrived and saw the new harbour at Kalemie where the British motor boats were just been prepared. She returned on 1st December, but was this time spotted and rebuffed by the Belgian’s shore batteries. Undaunted, Rosenthal came back at night, going as far as swimming himself to see the Belgian slipways close and personal, then ventured inland to observe Spicer-Simson’s camp. Not able to find back the Kingani while in the dark, he was caught at dawn by a Belgian sentinel and made prisoner. He however would be able to send a message to Zimmer written in urine via a contact, not reaching him however for monthes. Meanwhile the British struck.

Simson on board the Netta.

Mimi and Toutou beats the Kingani

Both ships were ready and launched on 22 and 23 of December. The 24, they had been fitted with their planned armament and fuelled, made brief trials. However on 26 December, while Simpson was conducting a religious office (following Christmas), Kingani, now led by Sub-Lieutenant Junge was spotted on its way to Kalemie. He was found himself chased by Mimi and Toutou quickly out of the harbour, and ordered to increase speed. But he was doomed from then on. Kingani’s unique six-pounder gun was forward-firing. The two motorboats soon catch her, both wings, pummeling her with their three-pounder guns while staying our of reach. After 11 minutes, Kingani’s main gun was badly hit, and Junge and two petty officers, Penne and Schwarz killed. Eventually its engine was hit too, and eventually the surviving chief engineer hauled down the colors and surrendered. Captured, the ship was towed back to Lukunga, repaired and renamed Fifi, a fitting common dog’s (Parisian caniche) name, although it could also had been also suggested by the wife of a Belgian officer that had a caged bird. By doing so, the Fifi was given the extra 12-dpr left ashore, fitted at the bow.

Simson after Kingani’s capture

Hedwig von Wissmann’s turn.

While Spicer-Simson was promoted to commander, receiving the admiralty and Colonial Office congratulations, the Germans could not investigate the disappearance of their ship. Both sides left the bad season pass, and only in mid-January, the Germans sent the larger Hedwig von Wissmann in recognition. Meanwhile, working at frantic pace, the Belgians were able to repair the Alexandre DelCommune, renamed vengeur (“Avenger”). Hedwig’s commander Odebrecht staying ahead of the Belgian defences had nothing worthy of a report, ordered back to Lukuga on 8 February, for a Rendezvous with Zimmer’s Götzen. She was spotted en route off Lukunga the following day, and a combined Anglo-Belgian flotilla left (without Toutou, under repairs) to intercept her. Odebrecht spotted the flotilla back and continued toward the shore, then making sharp turn to port at 09:30 perhaps to lure the flotilla towards the approaching Götzen. Fifi opened fire first but was left behind by the force of the recoil. Mimi then overpassed her, but still, she was able to catch the German ships, firing with her lighter 3-pdr until Odebrecht, having a short range stern weapon was obliged to engage in a turn to use her bow gun. Both ships engaged in a spiralling duel. Eventually Fifi’s gun jammed and was unable to fire at the German ship, that turned again and headed to the Götzen. Fifi however successfully get rid of the jamming, fired and hit Hedwig’s hull and damaged her engines, starting a fire. The situation was so bad that Odebrecht ordered to abandon ship and place scuttling charges. The crew was captured and the ship sank. For the anecdote, the ship’s German naval ensign was the first captured in WW1.

Short S327 Floatplane

Götzen fate and the end of German’s African adventure.

The flotilla returned back home when the following day, Götzen appeared offshore. However Spicer-Simson forbade an attack, pereffering to search for a ship worthy of a duel, and eventually spotted the St George on Stanleyville’s lake, which he had dismantled, carried to Lake Tanganyika and reassembled there, delaying any action to May 1916. Menawhile, a Belgian force managed to capture Kigoma and a British one secured a path toward Bismarckburg. Eventually the flotilla now counting Mimi, Toutou, Fifi and Vengeur arrived off Bismarckburg on 5 June. However the latter having a fort, Spicer-Simson decided to retire to Kituta. Simson would learn afterwards that the guns were in fact dummies, and the Germans managed to escape with a fleet of Dhows. Soon the Belgians received four British Short Type 827 floatplanes and were able to flew reconnaissance missions over the lake. Meanwhile Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck ordered Zimmer to disarm his ship for the profit of the army, receiving dummies instead. When the Belgians captured Kigoma, the Götzen was driven south of Kigoma Bay to be scuttled on 26 July by a depth of 20 m. Therefore by mid-1916, control of the lake was assured. This would not prevent the war to drag on in East Africa for two more years, Von Lettow-Vorbeck despite having smaller forces maintaining all along a masterfully executed guerilla war, pinning down as expected allied forces far from the home front. But the way the lake was secured remains a story too colorful to ignore.

Hedwig Von Wissman


Video- Documentary about the events

The Dardanelles Campaign (February-September 1915)

Turkish Navy vs Royal Navy


It was Churchill personal quest to attack the “soft underbelly” of the entente powers, reminds something ? Fortunately for the allies, this bloody campaign was halted in early 1916 instead of the campaign of Italy that lasted two solid years on a far bigger scale. Indeed at that time Turkey was seen very much as the “sick man” of Europe and an apparent easy target. Ousting Turkey from the war would have also allowed the control of the black sea, and opening a second front against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then the south of the German Empire. It was all about underestimating the resolve of the Turks to hold their ground.

Graphic map of the Dardanelles

The latter, after the regime change, aimed at modernizing the fleet and ordered several dreadnoughts to the UK, in addition to the battleships already acquired from Germany. The seizure of these ships at the outbreak of war (already paid) ulcered the Turkish government, but soon the unexpected support of two recent German ships together with the well trained crews of Admiral Souchon presented whole new possibilities and convinced Turkey to enter the war together with the Central powers, with ambitions over an arch-enemy, Russia, and in the middle east, targeting French and British interests.

Path to the campaign

Resentment against Great Britain, which had strategic interests in the Middle East, was greatly aided by the Kaiser’s privileged relations with Sultan Mohammed and Mustafa Kemal. It began with the closing of the Dardanelles strait to allied trade in October 1914. On the 28th, the Yavuz Sultan Selim and Midilli made a coastal raid against Russia, attacking Sevastopol and Odessa, and sinking several ships. The answer was Russia’s declaration of war to the Turks on November 2, followed by the British on the 6th. A Turkish offensive was launched in December in the Caucasus, stopped by the Russians, but at the price of an obvious drain on the numbers Opposed to the Germans in the west. As a result, the Tsar formally requested the help of Great Britain in January. Sir Winston Churchill, who had already studied the contingencies of a capture of the Dardanelles, considered opposition feeble, which can be taken by a bold combined naval operation. He therefore found the pretext sought for the operation.

Combined allied fleet en route to the Dardanelles

The campaign’s preparations

Vice-Admiral Carden, in charge of the Mediterranean squadron, was contacted on 11 January by Churchill to drawn a precise plan for the attack of the Dardanelles. Carden developed a strategy based on a battleship/minesweeper/submersible triptych. Like the Crimean campaign 60 years earlier, the fleet had to muzzle the forts covering the area, allowing minesweepers to clear waters. Submarines then had to cross the strait defenses as far as possible, entering the Marmara Sea and disrupt Turkish traffic, blockading Constantinople, and sink the fleet if attempting an outbreak against the allies.

On January 13th, the operation was approved by the council of war and Carden received 14 pre-dreadnoughts battleships (the most modern being kept the Grand Fleet), but also the very modern Queen Elizabeth, and the battlecruiser HMS Inflexible. France was solicited also as a major player in the Mediterranean, and sent a squadron of four pre-dreadnoughts (Gaulois, Bouvet, Suffren, Charlemagne) together with destroyers. Russia for its part mobilized a single cruiser, the Askold. The whole system was complemented by many light vessels for a combined fleet of 90 ships. The allies settled at Lemnos, but at the time of the operations, they rejoined Imbros, not far from the strait, and still far enough from Turkish fire range. Land forces were also set up and trained in Egypt for an amphibious operation under the command of Army Corps Commander John. S. Keyes, which included several Royal Marines contingents, the 29th Regular Infantry Division, and a strong contingent of New Zealanders and Australians (the famous ANZACs).

French troops at Lemnos, 1915.

First operations (19 Feb. 1915)

In fact, a “live test” was carried out long before any formal declaration of war. That was the action of November, 3, 1914 performed by the battle cruisers Indomitable and Indefatigable assisted by French battleships Vérité and Suffren. Each battleship had to aim at a fort in particular. The fort of Sedd-ul Bahr was put out of action after 10 minutes of bombardment. After these encouraging results, Carden was allowed to continue the development of his plan. On the other hand, surprise was lost and the Turks received a stronger support from German artillery experts, with better lookouts and training.

The first phase began on 19 February 1915 at 7:30 am. Four destroyers advanced alongside the HMS Cornwallis, the first to open fire, soon joined by HMS Vengeance,had to silence forts Oranhiye Tepe and Kum Kale on the southern tip of the entrance to the Strait (see map below). Both had Krupp 240 mm guns with a very effective sight control.

Map by the author of the Dardanelles landing zones and defenses.

As can be seen on this map, the bulk of the Turkish defenses were staggered in depth, which gave them a perfect defense of the passes of the strait as well as the north coast of Galipolli. These forts totaled 80 heavy pieces including 6x 355 mm cannons, 6x 150 mm Howitzer, and the remainder 240 and 280 mm artillery pieces. No less than 10 minefields (370 mines, later increased) barring the bottom of Erin Keui Bay and Sari Sighlar Bay, the narrowest passage. Two anti-submersible nets barred the entrance and exit of it, all under crossing fire from the forts, of which only the most important ones appears on the map.

February 19-21 bombardments

On the 19th of February, three English battleships and the Suffren, firing at 10,000 meters for a quarter of an hour, temporarily silenced the forts of Kum Kale, Oraniye Tepe, Ertrugul and Sed-Ul Bahir, which had already been badly damaged. But the expected results were delayed. The offensive resumed on the 21st, stopped because of the weather and resumed on the 25th, but the Turks had evacuated the defense forts at the entrance of the strait to concentrate on the forts of the pass between Dardanos and Canakkale. In any eventuality, the Royal Marines landed and finally took the forts, encountering little resistance. But the bombardment was to resume from 26 to 31 February and concentrated on Erin Kui Bay on the 1st of March.

HMS Canopus firing

Minesweepers in action

After the bay was cleaned of artillery threats, minelayers entered the fray, English as well as French. The British ones were requisitioned converted trawlers, with a crew composed partly of civilians and officers. They had a shearing machine behind the mines submerged a few yards below the surface, and these were brought up to the surface and gunned or blasted. The operation lasted between the fall of February and early march, and on March, 4th, HMS Queen Elizabeth big guns were brought to bear on Gaba Tepe, in the Gulf of Saros, the forts of the interior defenses which range was inferior to the battleship. On March, 8, at night, the small Turkish minelayer Nusret layed a new minefield parallel to the coast in Erin Keui Bay.

The Turks observed that the British ships leaving the bay were turning to the port while aiming straight into specific area where a minefield could be wisely placed. On the night of March, 13, the cruiser HMS Amethyst, leading 6 minesweepers, cleared the first minefield of the bay. But at night this was still a perilous task, and the Turkish forts, alerted, added to the confusion. A total of four minesweepers were literally riddled by fire, and the Amethyst barely escaped destruction after being hit by a large caliber. Churchill received these first reports, and had Carden relieved of his command, replaced by Rear-Admiral John de Robeck. The latter had in view a general offensive of the whole fleet in order to close the action before the Turks were ready for a better defense.

March, 18 general offensive

The high point of the offensive against the Dardanelles took place from March 18: Rear-Admiral John de Robeck, bearing his mark on the Vengeance, mobilized no less than three battleship rows comprising successively the Queen Elisabeth, Nelson, Agamemnon and Inflexible (Bearing the mark of Carden), in the second line the 4 French battleships (including the Suffren bearing the mark of Rear Admiral Guépratte) and the Vengeance, Irresistible, Albion and Ocean in the third line, flanks being protected by HMS Majestic, Prince George, Swiftsure and Triumph, with the Canopus and Cornwallis in reserve. The objective was to silence the defenses surrounding the first 5 minefields. The Royal Navy thus used wisely its numerous old pre-dreadnoughts, of little use for the Grand Fleet.

Rolling Thunder

From 11 am to 1:25 pm, a continuous rolling fire succeeded in silencing or destroying the Turkish forts. The task was not easy. The artillery pieces were well protected by massive concrete works (Built under German supervision), while more than 50 lighter guns were remarkably hidden in the foothills of the coast, leaving only embrasures covered with branches, only revealed by their brief muzzle blast. Torpedo tubes and searchlights were also hidden for night offensives, while fake batteries were prominently displayed. Moreover, crew were trained for accurate and fast-firing, and lower batteries offering little frontal surface, were hardly destructible. In most cases only debris obstructed embrasures and interfered with Turkish fire. The cannons themselves could only be neutralized by an assault of naval companies. On the 17th, the Nusret had returned to the bay and layed the last available mines, which will cause havoc and compromise the whole operation.

Suffren and other battleships are badly damaged

The bombardment on both sides was severe, but Turkish firing revealed itsel not as precise. The fort of Rumelia-Medjidieh had held particularly long. The Suffren, Gaulois, Agamemnon and Inflexible suffered severe hits. For the anecdote, an orchestra played on the rear deck of the Suffren for more than an hour, before the intensity of the fire became too dangerous to go on. Later, a 240 mm shell would destroy a 164 mm barbette, entering through the casemate’s sighting window, decapitating the firing officer, and then enter the loading room setting fire to 200 kgs powder B charges. The ensuring ball of fire would burn alive all the servants inside the barbette. The fire control room had been devastated later by a shell, all internal communications cut off.

Worse, a flaming 164 mm charge fell into the powder bunker, where 6 tons were stored. Unfortunately the six servants evacuating the room failed to open the valves to drown it. Battery’s chief Lannuzel however stayed inside to check the filling, and drowned. Another large caliber exploded in the chimney, destroyed the fans and obturated the cooling ducts. In a few minutes the heating chamber’s temperature exceeded sixty degrees, men collapsed at their post. On her side the Bouvet’s marble (extractor of burnt gases from the gun barrel) broke down, servants were asphyxiated. On the Inflexible, the turrets’s servants had also been killed. De Robeck decided to remove the battleships and to commit his second line assisted by the Swiftsure and Majestic.

The Bouvet sinking

The Bouvet is lost, the Inflexible almost followed

Retiring after two hours of almost uninterrupted fire the Bouvet was the last to depart, preceded by the Suffren, Gaulois and Charlemagne. While veering to starboard (right) she struck a mine laid by the Nusret. Its unprotected hull was blown open and torn along its length and the flood was severe and fast. In 45 seconds, the ship began to roll on its side, and capsized from the rear, then sank vertically prow in the air. She sank with 23 officers and 619 sailors. 47 survivors would be gathered by British destroyer Mosquito, while under Turkish fire. She was not the first loss: At about 4 pm HMS Inflexible also hit hard turned to starboard when retiring, but also came into the same minefield as the Bouvet. The explosion killed 60 and injured a hundred, many trapped by the automatic closure systems in the flooded compartments (a bit like on the Titanic). Thanks to its modern protection however, the battlecruiser was able to retire at a slow speed from the bay and managed to run aground on a sand bank on the island of Tenedos, sparing the crew and allowing future repairs.

Battleship Bouvet in the Dardanelles

Battleships Irresistible and Ocean are lost

The battleship HMS Irresistible, in turn, hit a mine when also veering to starboard (the configuration of the bay and radius of these mastodons left no other choice). Her machinery compartments were flooded, but the leaks were contained also by the crew’s plugs and multiple partitioning. However, pressure inside these flooded partitions and uncontrolled infiltration made certain its capsize at some point. As the crew was preparing to evacuate, the HMS Ocean approached to take her in tow. The shallows of the shore made the operation dangerous, and at about six o’clock the Ocean struck a mine in turn, blasting her rudder.

Now she became uncontrollable and also began to fill up. The two ships, immobilized, were at the mercy of Turkish artillery, which against all expectations had cased fire, deprived of ammunitions. Then “naval dust” came to rescue the large crews, then evacuated the zone in haste with the falling evening. Thinking the ships still afloat could possibly be recovered by the Turks, a destroyer was sent to torpedo them at night. After searching for them for four hours, she saw nothing: Both battleships had sunk. The results of the day had been a triumph for the Ottoman Empire, causing the Royal Navy the worst losses in its history since Trafalgar !

HMS Irresistible sinking in the Dardanelles

Landings at Gallipoli

The landings: 25-28 April 1915

This crushing naval failure did not cost De Robeck post, as Churchill, fully assuming his responsibilities, had to explain himself to a raging House of Commons. Henceforth, instead of persevering in this direction, the HQ would try to take the forts on by troops landed on a shore seeming defenseless. On February 22, 70,000 men were assembled under the command of Sir Ian Hamilton, forming the MEF (Mediterranean Expeditionary Force). Preparations lasted a month. The Turks who expected this offensive judiciously chose the most favorable points for an amphibious operation and fortified them with lines of trenches, barbed wire, machine gun nests, mortars and casemates supported by Howitzers. A first disembarkation was planned on Cape Helles, the troops had to cross 11 km and reach the plateau of Kilitbahir which commanded the peninsula, and later the town of Krithia and the Achi Baba hill on which heavy artillery pieces were to be placed for support.

ANZAC cove

On D-Day, April 25th, three battleships landed the first wave, followed by those carried by the destroyers Usk, Ribble, Chelmer, Scourge, Foxhound, Colne and Beagle, assisted and covered by the HMS London, Prince of Wales and Queen, the Majestic and Triumph, the Bacchante in the rear, troops taking place on boats. An error had been made at the site of the landing which took place further north, in a place now called “Anzac Creek.” In spite of the numerous troops disembarked, Turkish lines held firm, inflicting terrible losses on the 29th Division and Commonwealth troops, advancing a meter at a time. The firing of the battleships was not very accurate, despite seaplanes observations from the Ark Royal and balloons from Manica which corrected the fire. The first lines would finally be taken in the evening.

HMS Majestic leaving Mudros harbor to cover landings on April, 25.

Ships of the line’s fire was found ineffective and the troops felt the same sense of helplessness than their brothers in arms stucked in trenches on the western front. The situation differed according to the beaches. At the beaches V, W, and X, farther south of Cape Helles, the artillery preparation had been considerable, but not on “Anzac Cove” conceived as a surprise. The troops, mostly Australian, arrived in front of intact enemy lines. The artillery support only came after, but was restrained by safety concerns when the troops advanced inward. Another landing took place on the beach “S”, at Kum Kale, French troops supported by the Cornwallis, who took the village and held it in spite of Turkish counter-attacks.

Unfortunately, losses of the British Forces were such that the French were ordered leave the village and reinforce the MEF stuck on the west coast of the peninsula. Naval support was not effective against entrenched positions, but much more on Turkish troops moving on open ground to counterattack on the 27th and 28th. The Queen Elizabeth proved its worth by stopping the first offensive with a single salvo, While the second was literally annihilated by 381 mm shrapnells provided for the operation. She also showed precision when on the 27th she sank at long indirect range off Gaba Tepe a Turkish transport crossing the strait, spotted by a balloon.

The failure of Land operations

Faced with obstinate resistance by the Turks masterfully commanded by general Helmuth von Sanders, the offensive never reached its original objectives. The troops disembarked at Cape Helles and never came to the sight of Krithia, while those of “Anzac Cove” advanced only a few kilometers, the interior heights remaining to the enemy. Their situation was untenable because the terrain configuration made Turkish weaponry very effective ion the open, crossing fire covering the whole area. Trenches were dug but all assaults were doomed. Many superior officers lost their lives there. Troops were only supplied by night, but the evacuation of the wounded remained problematic.

Queen Elisabeth at Lemnos, 1915

It was not until May 1st that combined forces managed to form a shallow bridgehead. But the forehead remained frozen. On May 6, Hamilton decided to land in Suvla Bay and launch an attack on Kereves-Dere and Achi Baba. This will be a bloody failure, despite a new attempt with fresh troops on the 15th. More seriously, the support of the navy was now compromised: On May 12, the Turkish TB Muavenet managed to torpedo HMS Goliath, sending it to the bottom. Later, the 25th, the HMS Triumph was sunk by U21. Two days later, the same submarine also sank HMS Majestic. In the face of such losses the Admiralty decided to withdraw all battleships still in support, starting with the Queen Elizabeth that sailed to Egypt wisely. From now on only cruisers and destroyers will provide cover, as well as some “improvised monitors” made with requisitioned local ships and artillery pieces.

Turkish Battleship Messudieh. This old ironclad has been rebuilt but was still considered merely as a glorified coast guard.

Trying to Unlock the front

The last attempt to break the deadlock was carried out on 6th August: There were plans for two attacks south, on Cape Helles and Sari-Bari. The latter is led by the Anzac and totally failed. The second met with little resistance but negligence and nonchalance of the officers prevented any progresses, leaving time for the Turks to fortify their positions and send reinforcements. When Hamilton arrived, it was too late. This last failure further aggravated first Lord of the Sea’s point -Winston Churchill- while Hamilton was replaced by Munro. The latter was seconded by Kitchener, and the two came to the conclusion that the lack of effective support, with continuous fire by large Turkish pieces and the coming winter compromised any progresses.

The final decision to withdraw troops came when the situation in the Balkans deteriorated rapidly. Allied troops, some 100,000 men, were evacuated without much losses from October 1915 to January 1916, but soon disembarked at Salonica to support the Greek front. The largest amphibious operation of the First World War ended for the Allies as a crushing failure: Constantinople was secured, the government and population’s resolve highest than never, while the allies lost 7 battleships and left 250,000 men on the ground, dead and wounded.

Submarine’s revenge

And so were gone the troops, the big guns of the fleet, and with them any hope to secure the Dardanelles. But that did not bring an halt to the operations against the Turks in this area. The amphibious operation failure was compensated by the success of one of the branches of this plan, left aside until now: Submersibles. Despite the difficulties, English and French subs attempted to cross the Straits defenses. On December 13, 1914, the British submarine B13 succeeded in crossing all minefields, the two nets, and reached the bay of Sari Sighlar, south of Cannakale. She caught the old Messoudieh, anchored as a battery, and torpedoed her. The battleship sank in ten minutes, carrying more than 600 men with it. However miraculously most left the ship which hull still emerged, perforating it get out. The exploit of the B11 went on as she managed to come back through. Captain Holbrook was the first to receive the Victoria Cross for this feat.

Australian submarine AE2

On French side, submarine Saphir also passed through the defenses on 15 January, but ran aground on Nagara, and was scuttled. The British E15 attempted the same in April 17, but ran aground on Sari Sighlar after being caught by the strong currents. She was destroyed by fort Dardanos gunfire, the crew taken prisoner without being able to scuttle it. On 26 April the Australian submarine AE2 was the first to cross the Strait entirely, reaching the the Marmara Sea, but a week rampage ended without tangible results, partly because of torpedoes detonator shortages. On the 29th she was spotted and sunk by the Turkish torpedo-boat Sultanhissar.

On 27th of April, another submarine, Commander Boyle’s E14, also crossed the Marmara Sea, fired all his torpedoes, firing her gun, and sinking a large tonnage. She returned back, Boyle received the Victoria Cross. Trade in the sea of ​​marmara was interrupted for some time. Boyle would made later two further crossings without any hindrance, still inflicting losses on Turkish traffic, despite the installation of a new net in Erin Keui Bay. On May, 23, E11 did the same, sinking 11 ships, including three in the same port on the coast of Thrace. On August, 8, during a new attempt she sank the battleship Hayredin Barbarossa, a 1890s ex-German ship armed with three double 280mm turrets. There were also individual exploits of loners, such as Lieutenant Lyon, swimming to the coast from the E2, and managing packed TNT on a railway bridge. He never came back. Lt. Hugues did the same from E11. He derailed a train and won the D.S.O. On July, 17, E7 attacked a coastal railway by gunfire, stopped and destroyed two trains.

British submarine B11

There were also brave but unlucky attempts like the case of the E7, entangled in the first net, and the French Mariotte on July 27. The Joule was sunk on the 1st of May by a mine. The Turquoise story was edifying: She succeeded in crossing the strait on 28 October, penetrated into the Marmara Sea, sank some ships, but upon her return ran aground at the foot of a fort and was captured intact. The Turks towed her, renamed and put back into service in Turkish colors. The submarine also bring with it documents detailing allied operations and a rendezvous with the British submarine E20. When the latter arrived at the appointed time without knowing it, she was torpedoed by the U14 in ambush. In the end, the allies had sunk two Turkish battleships, a destroyer, 5 gunboats, 9 troop carriers, 7 suppliers and 200 steamers and various ships, literally emptying the Sea of ​​Marmara.

Turkish Battleship Heyreddin Barbarossa, sunk by E11

The hard lessons of the Dardanelles were not lost. If no other similar amphibious operation was undertaken in WW1 (apart from a 1918 project in the Baltic), new concepts were born that would bore fruit during the Second World War. Allied losses has been imputable to the forts but mines and submersibles. Fortunately the ships sunk were of little use in a modern battle line. Amphibious support seemed to be the only suitable task of those big guns battleship, a foretaste of their growing use in WW2. For the last few years, ultra-modern ships equipped with single, double or triple-caliber turrets for coastal support benefited from all the advances in terms of range, accuracy, and enhanced shells. Many monitors were indeed built to serve in the Adriatic by the Italians and the British in the Channel.


This campaign was also the occasion for a raising fame blue-eyed Turkish officer, Mustafa Kemal, to show his brillance as a commander and leader in the field. To this day the Dardanelles campaign is cherished by the memory of both the Turks which saw it as a brillant victory, and the Australians, which blood spilled on these bone-dry shores helped shaping a national identity. Memorials and cemeteries of all sides involved are still maintained with care, and veterans of the Anzacs visited these battlefields in the 1950-70s, followed by a trail of documentaries and Peter Weir’s movie in the 1981 starring a young Mel Gibson, “Gallipoli“.

Battle of the Falklands (8 December 1914)

German Navy vs Royal Navy
8 December 1914

British Revenge over Von Spee

Just as Newsweek frontpage stated in 1982, the “Empire Strikes Back” in December 1914. Like then and earlier, the Royal Navy departed for the Falklands. This remote, cold corner of the South Atlantic, not far from the Argentinian coast and infamous Cape Horn, was the theater of the last battle of Admiral Maximilian Von Spee, after a long and successful -if not legendary- cruise throughout the pacific. His Pacific squadron indeed concluded its odyssey back home by sinking the only obstacle in its way -Admiral Cradock’s Falklands squadron, which was soundly defeated at Coronel in November, off the Chilean coast (battle of Coronel). That was also the first naval defeat of the Royal navy since a century, which could not be left unaddressed. The mood felt like after the sinking of the Hood in 1941, the entire Royal Navy focused on taking revenge.

HMS Invincible

Von Spee’s next move

The purpose of the German Admiral then was to make his squadron pass into the South Atlantic, where he intended to attack Britain’s commercial traffic with Argentina (meat) and Chile (nitrate), and Possibly to join the metropolitan fleet. The route was free for Spee, who after a short stop at Valparaiso, where he embarked many exiled Germans (for a return to Germany), and after consulting the Naval HQ by the intermediary of the embassy, warning him against this project, he set course to the south. On the way, he captured four tall ships, before passing Cape Horn with his entire squadron on December 2nd. The initial route, passing 100 miles to the south to avoid being spotted from the coast, had to be abandoned because his worn out light cruisers couldn’t cope with very rough seas, even after it was necessary to throw over tons of Charcoal to lighten the hulls and avoid “plow share” effects. The squadron, therefore, returned twenty miles from the coast, and passed through less troubled weather.

SMS Scharnhorst

The Royal Navy mobilize

Meanwhile, the outcry caused by Coronel’s defeat caused some heads rolling in the Admiralty: Fisher took the lead as first Lord, immediately establishing a plan to join the Falklands with superior forces. He mobilized the two Invincible class battlecruisers, plus the HMS Queen Mary, previously sent to the West Indies in order to intercept Von Spee, although the latter managed to get through the British net. Eventually the Mediterranean fleet based at Gibraltar was mobilized, despite what the Dardanelles operations required, was scrambled and put in alert to intercept the German forces in case they attempted to reach the North Atlantic.

Postumhous symbolic funerals of Admiral Sir Cradock in port Stanley after the battle of Coronel.

The Royal Navy solicited half of the available battlecruisers force and the two aforesaid, commanded by Vice-Admiral Sturdee, set sail for the Falklands. Fisher projected that Von Spee should probably try to take the Falklands first, settle there in order to launch raids on the British traffic. Therefore it was vital to get there before him. In addition, local authorities send a message by telegraphy (captured by Spee) confirming the departure HMS Canopus for South Africa where a revolt would have broken out. The message was a forgery, and Spee, after crossing Cape Horn, capturing a British sailboat to refuel, lost three days and left the auxiliary steamer fleet in the maze of islands of this area, thinking he could land a party to take Port Stanley.

Sturdee arrived at the Falklands

At 7:30 am, Studee’s squadron arrived at the Falklands, before Spee, who unknowingly ran into a trap. Immediately the ships resupplied because Sturdee was asked by Fisher to resume his search for the German squadron as soon as possible. What Spee knows then, however, is that a Japanese squadron is at his heels from the Pacific, so no return is possible. Sturdee, who is unaware of Von Spee’s crossing on December, 2, still thinks he can find him before his crossing of Cape Horn. The black fumes of the German squadron are spotted by an English lookout. Immediately the alarm is raised, but the ships are in bad position, still coaling, their machines are cold, barges are at couple.

HMS Invincible racing towards the Falklands

The two fleets spots each other

Fortunately for them Von Spee only had at that time his vanguard with the Gneisenau and Nürnberg, and has to wait for the rest of his ships to catch up. Moreover, form that afar, if he spots masts and funnels, he does not identify which ships are present. On the British side, only the HMS Canopus is available immediately for action, the light cruisers Bristol and Glasgow whereas the cruisers Carnarvon, Cornwall and Kent, are also taking supplies. At 9:20 am, HMS Canopus, been deliberately stranded on a sand bank with the tide for stability, opened fire at 11,000 meters while everywhere else crews feverishly prepared for action. Spee had a unique opportunity to change things by sinking the Kent, sailing a parallel course to the exit of the harbor, which could have blocked Port Stanley. Joined by the rest of his forces, he could have the shelled the trapped, immobile English squadron while keeping his mobility.

The battle starts

However at war, nothing unfolds according to plan. Hans Pochammer, captain of the SMS Gneisenau, eventually identified and signaled to Von Spee the presence of the two English battlecruisers, spotting their tripod masts. For the British squadron, the weather was superb and visibility was perfect, and the crew just achieved a lightning fast preparation. Henceforth, all ships freed themselves of their moorings, ascended the anchors, while a black smoke rose above them. One can imagine then the effect produced by seven black plumes, while Von Spee expected to find not a single ship in Port Stanley!

HMS Canopus, firing the opening shots of the battle

The Admiral knew that his units were no match for battlecruisers, much more powerful and faster. Furthermore the Canopus then was hidden, firing from behind a hill, so it was invisible Von Spee’s lookouts, saving Sturdee valuable time. When the HMS Kent finally set sail for the harbour’s entrance, the whole squadron followed her. At 10:00 am, a “general hunt” flag climb to the mast of the Invincible, and the British squadron prepare to laid waste to the rest of Spee’squadron, the last ships arriving in the meantime. The latter renounced duelling with Kent. Aware of of the upcoming challenge, he ordered his light cruisers to escape. He was going to make a fighting retreat with his two armoured cruisers…


Sturdee, whose two battlecruisers reach 25 knots versus 22 for the Germans, caught them at 12:47 and opened fire at maximum elevation. The first sheaves fall near the Leipzig, but despite the perfectly flat sea, spotters are embarrassed by the torrents of greasy smoke coming out of the funnels, the engines being pushed full throttle. It is more than 13:00 PM when the Gneisenau receives three hits. Through the roof of the 210 mm casemate aft starboard, the middle deck, and the ammunition hold which had to be drowned in emergency. While the distance allowed to fire back, the Germans could not replicate, their targets being Masked by smoke. They managed eventually to hit the HMS Invincible, only a slight damage. The two armoured cruisers then attempted to change course, but the British seemed not to notice it. The German’s new position is however betrayed by HMS Carnarvon, which spotted the move. The duel resumed, but the British are still not close enough and fires at wide elevation. Shells following a parabolic trajectory penetrated the poorly protected bridges of both German Cruisers. In addition, Sturdee detached his three cruisers to chase the Leipzig and the Nürnberg out.

Russian map of the battle

Deadly broadsides

The two battlecruisers then managed to present a broadside, being able to go take a parallel course to the German line at around 3:00 pm, while Spee could do nothing but come closer in order to replicate, exposing him even more. Around 3:30 pm, Spee enjoyed an unexpected and almost supernatural respite: A large white three-masted tall ship coming from nowhere crossed the route of the English battlecruisers, which -maritime code obliged- altered course and slowed to let it pass, sail having priority over steam !… The latter thanked them courteously as in regatta time. But a few minutes later, firing resumed, Sturdee willing to wrap it up before day’s fall. At 4:00 pm, the two German cruisers has been hit many times more by heavy caliber, were prey of flames, in particular the Scharnhorst which bears the mark of the Admiral. The latter now targeted by the two British ships, became a raging inferno and a wreck, signalling to the Gneisenau by searchlight to try to escape. At 4:04 Spee’s ship was slowed down, heeling heavily, her chimneys all crippled and the artillery muted.

Peak of the battle, the Scharnhost capsizes, the Gneisenau flees.

Spee’s final stand

What passed through Spee’s mind at that time ? He brought her flagship closer to his adversaries as if trying to launch a torpedo attack or even try to ram them. The British ships after trying to decipher the move unleashed a full broadside, secondary guns included, and put a quick end to the Maneuver: At 4:17 pm, the proud Scharnhorst began to sink forward rapidly, disappearing with 795 crewmen, including the two sons of the admiral. If that was not cruel enough, survivors are condemned to drawn or freeze to death: In their haste to finish off the squadron, the British ships immediately aimed at the fleeing Gneisenau, not stopping. Around 5:15 pm, the latter exhausted all his ammunition while receiving new hits: She could not sustain more than 16 knots. The two battlecruisers then separated, the Invincible passing by the front at 10,000 meters crossing the T, while the other sailed for the other side of the German ship. At 5:20 pm, SMS Gneisenau, silenced and immobilized, bunkers submerged, began to list. Major Maerker decided to evacuate and scuttle her. The Gneisenau would capsize at 5:35 PM, but this time 190 survivors would be recovered in time from the icy waters (famous photo), including Captain Pochammer, telling later the battle from the German perspective.

Job not done

If the battle of the Falklands seems over, for Sturdee, it’s “job not done”. There are still two light cruisers left to be caught and sent to the bottom. The Dresden meanwhile has taken very early a south-west heading. Three British ships are in hot pursuit, including the two old battleships. The Germans still have good hope: They are 12 miles ahead and night is coming. HMS Kent, however, which chases the Nürnberg, is older and slower, but pushed its engines beyond maximal designed speed, all boilers red hot. The ship managed to reach 25 knots, two more than what is normal. For her part the German cruiser was to make due with worn out machines subjected to heavy strain since the month of August, plus human exhaustion.

SMS Nürnberg

Nürnberg’s end

At 5:30 pm, it’s nearly game over, as Nürnberg’s commander believes that he could no longer flee more from an enemy while under fire and not at least trying to replicate. He changed course and engaged the fight. The duel was to the advantage of the British armoured cruiser, better armed and protected. In spite of this, the Nürnberg closed at 2700 meters – close range at cruiser standard – bearing all its pieces. In one hour and a half the German ship hit fourty times, but the well-protected British cruiser had only a few wounded and one dead to deplore, while the Nuremberg is devastated.

At 6.30 pm, the German cruiser indeed had suffered two boiler outbreaks, speed falling down to a few knots, and had no steering. At 7:00 pm, she had exhausted all her ammunition and was in flames from bow to stern. The commander had the colors struck down to allow his men evacuating without being shelled. The cruiser started to list quickly and at 7:27 pm capsized and sank. Survivors, few in number because the duel had been a slaughterfest, were only 17 to take place aboard Kent’s two only yoals… Her other boats had been riddled with shrapnel during the fight and were unusable.

HMS Glasgow

Glasgow’s revenge

The SMS Leipzig meanwhile was chased by HMS Glasgow, survivor of the battle of Coronel. Suffering the same worn out conditions, the older German cruiser is caught and 150 mm shells rain down its tail. The commander of the German ship decided to drop the distance voluntarily and turn to engage a duel with its own 105 mm pieces. An artillery exchange on semi-parallel chasing course then engaged, but thanks to its superior speed, the British cruiser gradually reduced the gap with the Leipzig, finding a parallel course offering a full broadside. The German ship handicapped by its light shells was heavily pounded, and the situation turned worse as the Cornwall, just catching up entered the fray and opened fire. The latter added not less than fourteen 6 in guns, so the duel turned into a real execution…

SMS Leipzig

Leipzig’s end

Soon the Leipzig lost its front sights while the central steering wheel steering post has been disabled, receiving only orders by voice relayed in chain until the end. Leipzig’s artillery pieces are also shut down one after the other. But the cruiser still stood firm despite the rain of steel and the duel went on, amazingly, for two more hours with all guns available. At 19:00, she only had left her torpedoes, but then maneuvered only at 16 Knots and the torpedoes missed their targets. The commander decided to scuttle the ship, survivors climbing onto the deck.

Damage on the HMS Kent after the battle

Through Glasgow’s sights, observers wonders: The German cruiser was no longer moving, and its crew hidden by the smoke of the fires, was invisible on the deck. Crucially no pavilion rose to the apple of her only remaining mast. The British were even unaware that the crippled cruiser had launched its last torpedoes and was completely defenseless. Therefore still considering the ship a threat, they decided to open fire, making a carnage on the deck. Immediately, fault of a flag, two flares of distress are fired. The British ships ceased fire and boats were laid down. But before arriving, the burning carcass of what was the Leipzig capsized and sank rapidly leaving only 18 shocked survivors.

SMS Dresden


That was the end of the battle. Indeed, the Dresden was in fact the only cruiser able to escape. She succeeded in reaching the maze of islands of the Terra de Fuego, hiding in for a while. She went off by March 14, 1915, and without orders nor hope to return home or finding a suitable base to attempt raids in the Atlantic, had no other alternative than to present the white flag to the first warship on sight. The commander thus spared the lives of his men, avoiding a final useless sacrifice.

Survivors of the Gneisenau being rescued by the Inflexible

For the British, who have cleared Coronel’s heavy blow on Royal Navy’s prestige, victory is total. They only deplored a few dead and injured on the Invincible, Kent and Glasgow but not a single loss on the Inflexible and Cornwall. But above all, the German presence elsewhere than in the North Sea comes to an end. Any threat to the precious blood lines of the empire disappears for long (until the submarine threat became obvious). The few remaining isolated units would be cornered and sunk, and by mid-1915 the only remaining German naval forces would be permanently confined to the Baltic, with the Skagerrak strait shut. Only submersibles would from then on try to reverse the situation, reaching a new height with the the loss of the Lusitania and its consequences. That was the end of a major naval chapter in ww1.

Sources/Read more


Battle of the Falkland Islands

J.J. Antier & Paul Chack, Histoire maritime de la première guerre mondiale

Battle of Cape Sarytch (18 November 1914)

Turkish Navy vs Russian Navy
18 November 1914

Prologue: New recruits for the Turkish fleet:

In August 1914, the declaration took by surprise all German units stationed outside the metropolis. These forces remote from home comprised initially the Pacific squadron under Von Spee (see battles of Coronel and the Falklands), but also of the cruiser Königsberg and the old gunboat Geier in East Africa, the Panther and Eber in West Africa (Cameroon), the Condor and Cormoran in Oceania, and the German Mediterranean squadron, stationed in Dar es Salaam (see the “Goeben’s run“). The two German ships, a battle-cruiser and a light cruiser, had fled to Constantinople since August 10 and had officially joined the Turkish navy since the 16th, with the consequent entry of Turkey alongside the central empires. The Goeben would be renamed Yavuz Sultan Selim later, but the Breslau became almost immediately the Midilli. The crew remained the same, and officers willfully exchanged their cap against the fez. The two ships now showing the red flag and crescent of the “sublime gate.”

Why this battle ?

The two ships were now the de facto spearhead of the Turkish fleet. They could attack mercantile traffic in the Black Sea, and strike Crimea and the Russian coasts by shelling coastal fortifications. A raid of the Turkish fleet against Sevastopol was no longer desirable but could not be foreseen. The fleet of the Black Sea was commanded by Vice-Admiral Andrei Augustovich Ebergard (or Eberhardt). It consisted of the pre-dreadnoughts battleships Evstafi, Ioann Zlaloust, Pantelimon (the former Potemkin), Tri Sviatitelia, and Rostislav, and several cruisers. The battleship crews had been trained in the technique of concentrating the firing of several ships on a single one, which had been learned at the expense of the Russo-Japanese War, and which required the use of one of the battleships as is, placed at the center of the line and correcting the shooting of the other ships by radio.

On 29 October diplomatic relations between Turkey and Russia were broken off. If the Turkish fleet, now reinforced, was now more threatening, the Russians awaited the completion of three modern dreadnoughts that were to restore the balance (the Imperatritza Mariya). On 15 November Eberhardt gathered his forces at Sebastopol (5 battleships and the cruisers Pamiat Azovia, Almaz and Kagul, as well as 13 destroyers) and tackled to raid the fortifications of Trebizond. He arrived there on the 17th, shelled the coast, and then ascended it to find possible enemy ships at anchor. Failing to find any valuable targets, he changed course for Sevastopol. For his part, Admiral Souchon, who commanded the Goeben, thought that a raid against the Russians would be relatively easy. The latter whom he considered to be undermined by political troubles after the 1905 mutiny and commanded by incompetent officers of best, also featured slow, obsolete ships. Informed by the headquarters of Constantinople of the raid of the Russian fleet, he set sail at 15:30 hoping to intercept him.

Turkish Cruiser Midilli

Order of battle

Souchon traveled up the Anatolian coast and first headed towards Sinope, but received by radio the news of a course change from Eberhardt to Sevastopol. He also headed north, hoping to catch up with his fleet. Indeed, the Goeben and Midilli could easily exceed 25 knots. But Souchon believed that the Russian fleet had to sail at the rate of the slowest units, like the Old Tri Sviatitelia, while himself had to stick to 15 knots, sparing the fuel reserves. On the morning of the 18th, Souchon was in sight of the Crimea, by a very dense fog. He sent the Midilli as a scout, while himself hit at 18 knots.

Battleship Pantelimon (ex-Potemkine)

On his side the Russian Admiral had divided his forces as follows: He placed his three cruisers in a vanguard, in one line (Pamiat Azova, Almaz and Kagul) and then followed himself 6.4 km behind, with a battle line on board battleship Evstafi, followed by Ioann Zlatoust, Pantelimon, Tri Sviatitelia and Rostislav. The latter two were slow, and when the Admiral ordered the speed to rise to 14 knots, only widening the gap that existed between the ships initially (457 meters). The line of battleship itself was followed and framed by two lines of destroyers.

Battleship Rostislav

The battle starts

Around 12:10, the Midilli and the Almaz saw at the same time. The two units flipped over to get back to the bulk of their fleet. The Russian cruisers then departed from the bulk of the forces and the Goeben headed east-southeast to face the Russian line. The two lines came in frontally. But if the tension and enthusiasm were palpable on board the Goeben, Admiral Eberhardt was very anxious on his side: The enemy’s line ship was still not visible. On paper, the Evstafi and the two battleships that followed immediately had 12 pieces of 305 mm of an old model against the latest Krupp batterie of ten 280 mm of the Goeben, less powerful but more accurate, faster to the point of being able to deliver almost two volleys for one. The armor of the Russian battleships had been defined before the Russo-Japanese War and was therefore poorly arranged, while the Goeben had internal armored bulkheads of 220 mm running over all the vital parts of the ship, and although theoretically less protected, Had for him its much superior speed. Finally, in the Russian tactics of fire concentration, it was the second battleship, Ioann Zlaloust, which had to correct by radio the firing of the other two.

Battleships are trying to catch up

Commander Galanin, oboard the leading battleship, was impatient to see the Admiral ordering the classical maneuver of “closing the T”, ie tacking all his ships in a course perpendicular to that presumed of the enemy in order to present a full broadside all his battleships. The maneuver had to be ordered quickly to have time to be executed by ships not exceeding 15 knots. But Eberhardt hesitated. He did not want to expose his ships while maneuvering. The German battle cruiser indeed could force the pace, arrive from a slightly different route to that planned, taking advantage of both the fog and its speed, bypass The Russian line and fall back on his rear before successively engaging his units starting with the weakest at the tail, whereas the line of fire of his ships were in a blind angle… On board battleship Ioann Zlaloust, the fire control lead ship for the whole line which followed at 450 meters, did not see the change of course of the Evstafi nor the German ship, such dense was the fog.

Battleship Johan Zlatoust

Goeben’s manoeuvers

The Goeben, for his part, had spotted the leading ship and in turn tried to “bar the T” by heading south, in order to present all his battery. The distance fal rapidly to 7040 meters, and Eberhardt, to the great relief of his men, decided that he could not wait further and opened fire at approximately 12:20. Only his front turret gave voice, for his maneuver to place himself in parallel was not yet completed. When his rear turret entered the dance, he also gave all his secondary battery pieces in view of the distance, letting the Goeben believe that he was gunned down by the whole line of Russian battleships. On the side of the second battleship was the Evstafi and its departures of fire, but not the German ship. The telemeters gave an erroneous first report, estimating the Goeben at 11,000 meters. He opened the fire followed by the Tri Sviatitelia, whose blows fell, of course, too long, while the Pantelimon gave up temporarily, and that the Rostislav engaged the Midilli whom he could see.

Goeben at full speed

The engagement

The German and Russian reports diverge on certain points of the battle, but it seems that it was the Russian battleship Evstafi who shot first, with a good aim since the Goeben was touched twice in its freeboard. Moreover, the Goeben was slow to adjust its rise because the Russian ships were now advancing parallel to the coast, merging with the fog. But once a shooting solution was found, the first burst fell too long, although a shell smashed the front chimney, thereby simultaneously knocking out the radio sighting station, preventing during all the engagement the command ship to correct the firing of the other units that followed.

The Russian Battle line in the battle of Cape Sarytch

Her second salvo fell too short, but the next two put two blows to the goal each. The Russian ship, on the other hand, replied with powerful 203 and 150 mm secondary parts, even though the Goeben’s battery contained only 150 mm, which apparently did not come into action. The Goeben, to the stupefaction of Souchon who greatly underestimated the Russians, was struck by some other impacts, not very serious (the German reports are vague).

Then distance decreased to 6000 meters and towards 12h35, SMS Goeben disappeared from sight of the Russian battleship in vanguard. She took advantage of the cover of the mist. Although this fact is still debated, it is hard to believe that Goeben intentionally wanted to do battle in the thick of the fog. Her captain was also afraid of the nearby coastal batteries of Sebastopol, for his parallel race with the Russians was now leading him straight on. Still, 10 minutes later, Eberhardt ordered the squadron to head back to the harbour. German reports of the action of Cape Sarytch will attest that only 19 heavy caliber shells were fired during the engagement.

Battleship Tri Sviatitelia

The port side casemate had been hit hard by a 305 mm, and one gun was HS, its servants killed instantly. It is possible that the sharpness and density of the Russian fire disconcerted Souchon. It is also true that the range of his ship was not inferior, but he had the sight because of his position in relation to the coast and that the fog was indeed too thick to continue the engagement with success. Actually, and whatever opinion the Germans had at the time of the Russians, a battle cruiser could not face 5 battleships and hope to emerge unscathed… One thinks what would have happened had the weather been fine, which is common in the Black Sea.

Damage of the battleship Evstafi after the battle


In the end, the Goeben was doing quite well: If the 150 mm ammunition magazine located under the affected casemate had caught fire, the explosion that followed would have been catastrophic. There were about 16 victims on the German side, 33 dead and 25 wounded on the Russian side. The casemate was quickly repaired, as the Goeben made another sortie on December 6, but its activity became more modest until the end of the war. On the Russian side one could not speak of victory. Eberhardt had to fight against the fog since he had had a unique opportunity to sink the German ship thanks to a clear superiority of fire.


Staff, Gary (2014). German Battlecruisers of World War One: Design, Construction and Operations. Naval Institute Press
Halpern, Paul G. (11 October 2012). A Naval History of World War I. Naval Institute Press.
O’Hara, Vincent P. (2017). Clash of Fleets – Naval Institute Press
Battle_of_Cape_Sarych (wikipedia)
Russian Navy (Fr)
About the Turkish fleet in 1914 – (Fr)

Battle of Coronel (1st November 1914)

German Navy vs Royal Navy
1st November 1914

Graf Spee’s far east squadron in Valparaiso, Chile, about to sail afte the battle, Nov. 3, 1914

The first British defeat since 100 years

Long before the famous 1980s Falklands conflict, the Royal Navy had already crossed fire in this remote corner of the globe. This time it was against German forces, Graf Von Spee’s Far Eastern Squadron arriving from the Pacific, that was going to sail into the Atlantic and cause havoc on trade.

Apart from the confrontation with Heligoland, which had limited results, the first battle of Coronel was the single greatest naval event before the end of 1914. Its main protagonist was a Prussian aristocrat of the old school, National hero in his country after his epic on the other side of the world: The Count (Graf) Maximilian Von Spee.

Admiral Von Spee

This man, born in Denmark in 1861 and who spent most of his career in Africa, had become rear-admiral at 49. He was 53 when he was about to deliver the two battles of his life in a few months. He was promoted Vice-Admiral in 1912 and was given the task of the Far East squadron, consisting of partly obsolete ships, light cruisers and cruisers, based at Tsing Tao, the old German trading post in China. In June 1914, far from the noises of war, the crew of the two armoured cruisers was all to the enthusiasm of a beautiful cruise in the turquoise waters of the South Pacific. Then by wireless, he is asked to return to the colony. At the time of the declaration of war, all that was not necessary for combat was landed, and the cruisers who had time were repainted in two shades of grey, the other retaining for some time their beautiful white colonial livery. But the squadron could not remain on the spot, for fear of being destroyed at anchor, or intercepted en route by Allied British, Australian, Russian and Japanese fleets.

Armoured Cruiser SMS Scharnhorst, named after a Prussian General in the Napoleonic wars.

Von Spee prepared to send part of his squadron, including the two cruisers of the (Scharnhorst and Gneisenau), light cruiser Nürnberg, two of the Dresden class (Dresden and Emden), and the old Leipzig. The rest of the squadron consisted of ships of lesser tonnage, four gunboats of the Iltis class, and three river gunboats, the Tsingtau, Otter and Vaterland, S90 torpedo boat and the tanker Titania.

German light cruiser SMS Nürnberg. Late into the fight, she nevertheless caught the escaping, badly damaged HMS Monmouth almost by chance in the obscurity, trying to reach the Canopus.

A trapped squadron

After having assembled all the officers in the square of the Scharnhorst, which bore his mark, he discussed the best possible options. 1-He could tried to return to Germany and add his forces to the Hochseeflotte, but the risk was far too great in view of the proximity of the Grand Fleet and several closely guarded roads at the approach of the North Sea. 2-He could also attempt a privateer’s war to weaken allied traffic on all the seas of the globe, especially in the heavily defended southern hemisphere. This option seems the least risky and the most promising, and eventually pass Cape Horn and carry the war into the Atlantic. It was a real convoy of more than twenty ships which had taken shape, counting the 5 cruisers (the Emden had detached from the group on 14 August to deliver its own racing war in the Indian Ocean and make diversion). Von Spee measured the risks: He was to cross the vast South Pacific, but at 10 knots to save coal and keeping pace with the oldest, slowest steamers.

From Samoa to Tahiti

On board German ships, sailors were eager to fight. Von Spee confered one more time with officers and decided en route to attempt a raid on the Samoa Islands with his two armoured cruisers, to draw the attention of the British Navy, while hoping to find some enemy vessels at anchor. He fell on the islands at dawn, September 14th, but only to find the Apia’s wharf empty, and the Union Jack floating on the city. Apart a bombardment that would surely hurt his fellow citizens more than the British troops, he can not seriously consider taking back the city with his only two marines companies.

Von Spee biopic – The Great War channel.

Reluctantly, he resolve to change course and join Tahiti in order to shell Papeete, where a few French ships reside. He arrived on September 22 at dawn. German ships were not expected, they were no lookouts, and the two ships just maneuvered between the shallows to stand in battle line. Once spotted at last, the French evacuated the city and prepared the meager “coastal batteries” available: Guns of the gunboat Zelée, which have been landed and camouflaged previously. They fired a few warning shots, but remained silent to avoid being spotted when the two German vessels replied with their heavy artillery.

Von Spee now seek to disembark a company, since he thinks he is dealing with a weak garrison – which is true. The French then maneuvered and scuttled the Zélée across the pass, obstructing it. The two German ships then open fire on the city, quickly set ablaze. Von Spee realized that he will no longer be able to land his troops, or proceed to supply coal and food, and retire. His ultimate goal became to return to Chile, refuel, and then cross Cape Horn before engaging in a much more fruitful trade war in the Atlantic. The British, who received report from the squadron’s position are preparing to block his way. Leaving the rest of the convoy and refueling, the three light German cruisers (Nürnberg, Leipzig, Dresden), joined the two armoured cruisers.

Von Spee’s ships path

Sir Cradock’s Falklands squadron

Meanwhile, miles apart in Port Stanley, a British Navy squadron is awaiting orders from Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock. Nicknamed the “old Gentleman”, he is also an old refined aristocrat. Von Spee even knew him well personally during his stopovers in peace time. The two men respect each other. But now both are about to do their duty. Cradock’s squadron is the only one that can oppose the German ships on their way in the Atlantic. It consists of the Good Hope, an armoured cruiser, the cruisers Monmouth and Glasgow and the Otranto, an auxiliary cruiser, converted liner. Unfortunately, this squadron also includes the old battleship Canopus, but the latter had a considerable delay to heat his boilers, and would not sail in time. She only could make 12 knots and therefore layed behind.

Armoured cruiser HMS Good Hope

Cradock has been informed since the beginning of October of the imminent arrival of the Germans. He asked the Admiralty repeatedly for reinforcements, refused: The only other ships available were ordered to be kept in reserve on the other side of Cape Horn, in case the Germans passed in force. The old Admiral has no illusions about his fate: He has his own grave dug in the Falklands’s governor garden, deposited his medals, knowing his true steel sepulture would be at the bottom of the sea soon. He wrote his Testament, bids farewell to his family and the sailed following day for the cape of Good Hope (Even more Ironically named in this occurrence). His squadron set sail on October 22, headed southwest, crossed Cape Horn, and then headed north to cross the Germans.


He knows hen that Von Spee commanded two armoured cruisers, and that in the meantime his squadron was reinforced by the other three cruisers. This gives them a distinct advantage: HMS Good Hope had a more powerful artillery (240 mm) on paper, but these guns are old, with ancient sights, and can offer only one salvo for two for the Germans. As for the Monmouth, she was one of the least protected cruisers in the Royal Navy, an unfortunate experiment imposed by budget cuts. The HMS Glasgow was fairly well armed and fast, but less efficient in heavy weather. The Otranto has almost no military value. Worse still, Cradock’s ships are composed of reservists hastily mobilized and insufficiently trained…

Prelude to the battle

On 31 October, Von Spee was advised by wireless that an English cruiser had been seen entering the port of Coronel in Chile. Spee rallied directly the area from the northeast, leaving the Nürnberg behind off the Chilean coast, hoping to intercept the cruiser as it leaves. At the end of the afternoon (4:20 pm), Scharnhorst’s lookouts spotted three ships, later identified as British cruisers. HMS Monmouth and Glasgow are followed by the Otranto, sailing west-northwest, joined by the Good Hope at 17:20, taking the lead of the battle line, before changing course to present a broadside to the Germans. War pavilions are erected, and Von Spee prepares his ships for battle.

Armoured cruiser HMS Monmouth

A game of light and shadow

There is nearly a gale, disturbing lookouts of the two fleets, and making fire more imprecise, but the initial configuration is not clearly to the advantage of the Germans: The British ships indeed come from the south, far at sea compared to the Germans, which are coming from the North and arranged in a line along the coast. It is then 18:20. With the falling darkness, the Germans still have sunlight blinding their telemetric sights, while the British can see the metallic silhouette of the German ships shining out on the dark cliffs of Chile. Von Spee knows it, and try to stay out of reach as long as he can. The British are approaching, but not fast enough, allowing the setting sun to finally reverse the situation completely: Now the German ships are plunged in the dark and merging with the cliffs, while on the contrary Cradock ships are showing in Chinese shadows on the horizon. they are now a target of choice for the gunners of the two armoured cruisers who pass for the best of the fleet.

Rush hour

At 6.34 pm, the Scharnhorst, at the head, opened fire on the Good Hope, while the Gneisenau immediately followed on the HMS Monmouth and the Dresden on HMS Glasgow. SMS Nurnberg was still way behind. Cradock by then still hope to left the German ships and join the Canopus, which would have given him a decisive advantage, but the Germans stand precisely between him and the coast. The fight quickly turns to the advantage of the Germans who in the third salvo put the front turret of the Good Hope ablaze. The Monmouth is also also, loosing both turrets. The Otranto, in order not to be a useless victim, moves away from the battle.

As for the two light cruisers which clash at the end of the line, their salvos are lost at sea because of gale force waves. The struggle becomes fierce as the two British armoured cruisers takes more hits, burning wildly, all the communication lines destroyed. Gunners now shoot by view only. Distance soon fell to 6000 meters and the obscurity increase. Now the British ships are burning this makes the Germans firing much more precise and devastating. The secondary artillery of both English ships still cannot enter into action because or the high wave crests, and the main artillery soon silenced.

At 19:00, the distance fell to 5000 meters. Von Spee decides to take some distance, fearing a possible torpedo attack. The Gneisenau is hit by the Monmouth (three casualties). At 19:20, the Scharnhorst gives the coup de grace: One of her shells lands between chimneys 2 and 3 on the Good Hope which explodes and sank rapidly with all hands. As he foresaw, the “old Gentleman” followed his crew to the end… On the HMS Monmouth sides, things are equally gloomy. She fled, taking advantage of the falling night, at low speed, dodging the last shells.

British light cruiser HMS Glasgow

The end

The unequal battle is closing to its conclusion. The Monmouth takes advantage of the attention drawn for a while on the Good Hope, in an attempt to escape and extinguish its fires, as does HMS Glasgow in the dark. The commander of the latter then proposed to the Monmouth to take her in tow, but the latter refused, preferring to see the Glasgow escape sooner than risking to see both caught in such a bad posture. At 20:50, HMS Monmouth sails towards the coast at low speed, her blackened hull smoking, riddled with gaping holes through which yellow-orange lights still flickers.

Battleship HMS Canopus. She never was ready on time to join the battle

By then the Nürnberg just joined the fray, and by luck fall on the British ship, but she is unable to recognize the Monmouth and don’t open fire, fearing a friendly fire. Monmouth’s crew, rather than knocking down the flag and being rescued, decided to fight to the last man, despite having almost no cannon left but still one of their searchlights, which which they light their war pavilion. It’s an execution. The Nuremberg opens fire at point-blank range and achieve rapidly the sinking British ship. No survivors either. The Germans will later defend their non-assistance by pleading a nearly impossible rescue by night, in game winds and fearing possible British reinforcements (like the Canopus)… After this disaster the Otranto is left with HMS Glasgow, hit five times with low amage, that took a long loop in order to cross the HMS Canopus path.

Details of the battle

Night’s sorrow

Although reunited, the two ships would not find Von Spee in the dark. The German squadron is retreating to Valparaiso. The Count squashed a champagne bottle in the square of the officers of the Scharnhorst while Schnapps flowed for sailors mad with joy. For the first time in more than a century, the Royal Navy is defeated at sea. Plus, the whole squadron had only three wounded to deplore (none fatally). As for damages, they could be repaired within a few hours. To do this, the squadron stops in Valparaiso from 2 to 3, to respect the 24 hours regulations for any belligerent in a neutral port, after refueling and gathering food. Von Spee regretted to not find the Glasgow and complete his destruction. Moreover he was afraid of the 12 inches armed Canopus still was looking for him. He then began a cautious run in the South Pacific, temporarily avoiding passage through the Cape Horn.

Painting of the battle by Hans Bohrdt

The British are Stunned

On the British side, the battle results are appealing: On November 2, News Headlines all tells the Cape Horn squadron and its famous admiral final doom. The House of Commons is agitated, demands explanations from the Admiralty. But this one has changed minds since Lord Fisher is appointed on the eve of the battle, as first lord of the sea in place of the old prince of Battenberg. Teaming Sir Winston Churchill, he decide to “take things in hand”. Indeed, Von Spee threatens the Chilean nitrate (vital for English shells) route, and the Argentinian beef route, providing half the needs of the population. Von Spee fate is sealed. There will be a sequel, the second battle of the Falklands, in shape of a revenge…

SMS Emden’s Incredible True Odyssey

The white pacific corsair: Her 1914 odyssey would deserve a big budget Hollywood movie*.

The truly epic saga of SMS Emden and her crew began shortly after she entered into service in 1909. Sent to subdue the colony of Ponape, one of the Carolinas, she represented there the authority of the Kaiser. By the year 1914, she was detached to the colony of Tsing-Tao (SE China), an old Prussian historical trade post of the middle empire. On the day of the declaration of war in 1914, Commander Von Müller decided to leave the base quickly so as not to be cornered by a superior enemy.

Other colonies (from the triple alliance) were close indeed, and the danger of Russian, French and English patrols was ever present. While joining Von Spee’s squadron in the Pacific through the Strait of Korea, SMS Emden boarded the Russian liner Riasan, whose crew was taken prisoner. However Admiral Jerram and his squadron arrived off Tsing tao, and Von Spee decided to try to return to the mainland and abandon the pacific. Fleeing south, because the Japanese entry into the war on 23 August, the Emden obtained to be able to stay and try a corsair war in the Indian Ocean.

The Indian Ocean raider

The SMS Emden at sea.

By leaving Spee, the white cruiser rampaging and preying on British shipping at will was to work as a diversion, allowing Von Spee’s squadron to sail to the Cape Horn without attracting too much attention. Thus, Emden crossed the shores of Indonesia, with a fourth fake chimney to be taken for an English Weymouth class cruiser, which precisely operated in these waters. Not seeing the Markomannia assisted by modest junks and coasters on September 8th, she then met the Greek coaler Pontoporos, neutral. Von Muller compelled, by means of finance, to dissuade the captain of the latter from going to deliver his cargo to Bombay. She became the second Emden coal supply ship instead. On the 10th of September, Emden seized the freighter “Indus”, loaded with food, which was seen as a blessing by the crew, and added extra range to this makeshift squadron.

However the ship was slow and her crew was transferred to the Markomannia, and sunk. The next day, the “Lovat”, a cargo, suffered the same fate. Later this day, it was the turn of the Kabinga, showing the English flag but carrying an American payload, bitterly seen by the boarding team when consulting the log book. In fact, it had not been sunk, but rather used to receive all prisoner crews, as well as later the small coaler Killin’s own cargo, also captured on the night of 14. “Von Müller’s squadron” counted by then four cargo ships in addition to the Emden herself. The Killin, after transfer of its cargo on the Kabinga, was sunk. The same day, it was the turn of the big “Diplomat” to be caught and sunk.

The chase began
However, Von Muller impunity had hitherto ceased the same day. Seizing the Italian cargo ship Loredano, and because of the triple alliance making the Italians allies of Germany, Von Muller was reluctant to let her go. Now on her guard, she made her way to her little squadron. Shortly after sending to the bottom the small coaster Trabboch, Von Müller finally intercepted by radio the message he most feared: The captain of the Loredano had spoken, and the hunt was now starting as since Von Muller’s position was known by the Admiralty.

Raiding British Ports
The Emden therefore leaved the Kabinga with all its crews on board and sailed at full speed. The news also caused maritime traffic to stop on this area, so no new prize will be taken. The Emden therefore attempted to attack the British ports on the Indian coast. On September 22, she raided the oil tanks of Madras, sending them volleys from 3000 meters. The weak English artillery could not counter-fire, leaving her to sail out unmolested, leaving all but burning wreckage, and replay this feat at Colombo. She gone as far as sinking a large transport of sugar in the harbour, wildly burning with a black panache kilometers high.

The raid on Madras

On Diego Garcia
But such an uproar attracted the English squadron. As far, the diversion perfectly working so much that Von Muller decided to keep a lower profile by hiding on the small and remote British island of Diego-Garcia, one of the Mauritius islands. As expected, Islanders did not had any fresh news for weeks, in fact, from well before the war. Von Müller of course briefed his staff and crew to kept shut about the state of war. Indeed the Emden, also still in its peace white colonial livery, came as for a “courtesy visit,” bearing the German National peace pavilion, and was well received by the Governor.

Emden’s 1914 cruise map

She can replenish serenely to the delight of the crew. In the drydock, she begins to make a new life when the TSF received warning of the imminent arrival of English ships. She left the island precipitately, and during the subsequent hangout, lost the cargo ship Markomannia. She then went hiding behind the island of Minnikoy, surprising and sinking no less than five English steamers in the process. The rescued crews were all transferred to the sixth.

Minicoy Island (Now Maliku, SW Indian Ocean).

The British Admiralty was now at a standstill, for the national press was unleashed against German war prowess and feats at the expense of the Royal Navy, at the other end of the world. Numerous warships constantly patrolled these waters that Von Müller decided to leave and eventually rally Von Spee’s squadron via the Malacca strait. But this was barely the start of an amazing story for her crew…

The Battle of Penang

Battle of Penang, commemorative German postcard.

The Emden presented herself on the 28th of October, just before dawn, off Georgetown, all lights shut. There were four French ships, at anchor, the Torpedo cruiser d’Iberville and three destroyers. One of these, the Mousquet, was patrolling all night long, and did not realized anything. There was also nearby at anchor the more threatening Russian cruiser Jemtchug. Arrived at point-blank range in the middle of the harbour, the commander order to hoist the flag of war. While crews were still asleep, a torpedo was launched, blowing up the Jemtchoug. The latter remaining afloat, and all the Emden artillery pieces went ablase, ripping off the unfortunate Russian ship from bow to stern.

HMAS Sydney, Emden’s opponent. Its 152 mm, with greater range and caliber, left no chance to what was classed as a light cruiser, essentially.

Commemoration postcard of Sydney’s first fight against the Emden.

Her crew however managed to put some of her 120 mm pieces in battery and open fire. The Emden launched a second torpedo, hitting the Jemtchug just in the ammunition hold. The Russian cruiser blew up skyhigh and sank in tens of seconds. Having sent down his flag, Von Muller had the nearby D’Iberville believing the cannonade was a mistake, and sent a signal that the French ship is not to be worried. But when Jemchug exploded, D’Iberville captain observed Emden’s fourth artificial chimney to be a fake, and realizing its sent the alarm. But by then the Emden is already too far for the Aviso’s puny guns.

Russian Cruiser Jemtchug. It has been already badly damaged at Tsushima a few years before.

The Emden left for the other side of the harbour, boarding the steamer Glen Turret when the French destroyer Mousquet (Musket) returning from her patrol, surprised the German cruiser. However disproportion of armaments meant that the Mousquet was in very bad position. Too close to flee and too far to act effectively, Mousquet’s captain decided to take on the Emden with torpedoes. However Emden’s tremendous fire left her not chance to approach. After a quarter of an hour of struggle, and despite her agility, the Mousquet sank off the harbor. During this time, the second destroyer was ready to sail and open fire. However when the latter managed to launch her attack, it was too late. The Emden had all but disappeared, and after a few hours the French destroyer, soon short of coal had to renounce chasing her.

Map of the Raid and battle of Penang

The Cocos Islands Battle
The Emden then joined the Cocos Islands. One of these islands had a radio station that Von Müller wants to destroy, in order to refuel without being worried. But a message was sent nevertheless when the German cruiser presented itself. The report is given to Australian cruisers HMAS Melbourne and Sydney, which escorted a convoy not far away. Japanese Ibuki, another escort, is order to remain guarding the convoy.

Full speed ahead, the two ships arrived in sight of the Cocos just half an hour later. At this very moment, a German infantry company had disembarked, now attempting to cut the radio cables on Direction Island with improvised tools. Australian cruiser Sydney then fired a first burst of its 152 mm pieces, too long. Widely superior in artillery, it can only overwhelm the Emden which does not have now the resource to flee. Her captain would then try to get closer and open fire with her main lower range artillery. However this had no serious consequences for the Australian cruisers that countered her very effectively. The salvo that follows blew up the Emden telemetry station, disrupting her accuracy. When the Emden tried to come closer again, the Sydney evaded its range at full speed and replied without being worried.

Emden’s wreck on North Keeling Island, took the day after.

At each salvo that weakened the Emden, losses were not replaced. Indeed, Von Mücke’s company had disembarked with fifty men and did followed the unequal action from the beach, the action wen so fast they never had any chance to get back onboard. Emden scored sixteen hits on Sydney, killing three of her crew and wounding another thirteen. But here fate was sealed. When all gun is silenced, her chimneys tumbled, her machines pierced, her steering damaged and her speed down to near zero, the German corsair is condemned. HMAS Sydney indeed poured 670 rounds of ammunition, and claimed about around 100 hits. Making water from all sides, Von Muller decided to beach the wounded ship with all engine power remaining onto the reefs of North Keeling.

Captain Glossop, from the observation deck of HMAS Sydney, ordered an approach, and after a first injunction to surrender, at first refused, and two warning salvoes, his face lightened up with satisfaction seeing at last the German white flag brought up. Meanwhile, 133 officers and enlisted men on the German ship died, out of a crew of 376. The remainder were either badly wounded or shocked, but still resolute: Von Muller indeed ordered to flood the engines and boilers, and throw overboard the breech blocks and torpedo aiming gear while and all signal books and secret papers were burned.

Emden’s 105 mm cannon trophy now in Hyde Park, Sydney.

The Sydney however leaved the beached Emden immediately after seeing the flag hoisted, going back to Direction Island, in order to land a company of riflemen to fight Von Mücke’s own men. But the latter meanwhile managed to storm the governor’s own schooner Ayesha, and sailed with all supplies available on board towards the island of Padang in the Dutch East Indies. Von Müller’s own men were taken prisoners the day after, the wounded men were interned in Australia while the uninjured were send to a POW camp in Malta. They only returned to Germany in 1920.

Sailing to Sumatra
Von Mücke’s infantry company, 50 strong, was then converted back as sailors, occupied by the rigging of the 95 metric tonnes schooner Ayesha all the way back to Sumatra. They crossed the path of rare ships in the process, unmoved by the white sailing ship showing a civilian flag. Eventually they managed to reach their destination on November, 7, but were refused all help by the Dutch. They waited and embarked in a German steamer which halted there, bound to Yemen. They disembarked a few days later near Bab-el-Mandeb, and Von Mücke’s leaved for an extraordinary journey back to Germany.

Von Mücke’s landing party at Direction Island. The governor’s schooner can bee seen in the foreground.

Von Mücke’s Arabian odyssey
The German commander started the long trip on foot and camel fom Bab-El-Mandeb, crossing all the Arabian peninsula, part foot, part on camel, as Yemen and Arabia were part of the Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany. Well received by local tribes, they eventually managed after several weeks to join Constantinople in june 1915. There, they met fellow Vice-Admiral Souchon, head of the Turkish fleet onboard the Goeben. From there, they can finally, in June 1915, join the fatherland and embrace their family, being treated as heroes.

In three month the Emden covered about 30,000 nautical miles (56,000 km; 35,000 mi), destroyed two Entente warships and sank or captured sixteen British steamers, one Russian merchant ship, plus Russian Cruiser Jemtchug and French warships d’Iberville and Mousquet, totaling 70,825 gross register tons. Von Muller succeeded in its main objective, creating a diversion in order to leave Von Spee’s own Pacific Squadron to reach the cape Horn. The latter however will met his fate in the Falklands, first with success, by destroying Admiral Cradock’s own British squadron, before being wiped out by a British fleet countering two battlecruisers in the second Falklands battle. This was the end for German’s oversea fleet.

Kaiser Wilhelm II awarded the Iron Cross to the Emden, and announced that a new cruiser would be built to honor the original one. bearing a large Iron Cross on her bow to commemorate her namesake ship. It however was never achieved and instead a new one was built to serve with the postwar Reichsmarine. Under the Kriegsmarine flag and ww2, she managed herself to sink several Soviet destroyers, as the first of brand new Kriegsmarine cruisers. The named was honored in the Cold War with Köln-class frigate Emden (1959) and the Bremen-class frigate (1979) still in service. No doubt the legacy will endure for some time in the next Century.

Movies about the Emden: How We Beat the Emden and How We Fought the Emden, 1928 The Exploits of the Emden, all produced in Australia. German, side 1926 silent Unsere Emden (footage) later incorporated in Kreuzer Emden, a 1932 feature film, and Heldentum und Todeskampf unserer Emden (1934). All three films were directed by Louis Ralph.

More recently, in 2012,Die Männer der Emden (The men of the Emden) was released, but only covering how Von Mücke’s men made their way back to Germany after the Battle of Cocos.

Read more:

1st Battle of Heligoland (28 August 1914)

British vs German Navy, 28 August 1914

The first major naval battle of ww1

Heligoland in the North Sea is a geological oddity, a block of harsh red cliffs laid in the North Sea. Successively Danish, English, and German, she locked the bay of the same name. Located on the west side of Denmark next to the mouth of the Elbe and 70 km from the coast this spot included two islands, the smallest of which was a simple dune.

Ships anchored in Wilhelmhaven and Bremerhaven crossed its path at any outlet in North Sea. In addition, if the island had so far been mainly a stop for sailors and popular holiday resort thanks to its microclimate, Tirpitz soon contemplated its naval base potential and started to built two large piers and military installations.

From the start of the war, British submersible watched moves and regular patrols of destroyers and light cruisers in the area. Commodore Roger Keyes, who commanded the force of British submersibles, formulated a plan that involved the Harwich Fleet commanded by Admiral Tyrwhitt.

Initial Plans

< Commodore Roger Keyes. The plan was to attract the bulk of the enemy light forces off the coast of Heligoland by a submersible curtain split into two groups, one of which was to play the role of decoy, and attract the enemy ships onto Harwich Fleet and the other to prevent reinforcements. It was planned a another force composed of heavier vessels (battle cruisers and armoured cruisers) within reach in case of massive reinforcements from Bremerhaven or even the Grand Fleet.

Heligoland battle and ships involved (Postcard)

But the staff at that time had other things in mind and provisionally dismissed the Keyes plan. The latter resurfaced when W.Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty and explained his views. Cheerful, boiling Churchill then requested a meeting and confered with Tyrwhitt, the Prince of Battenberg (1st Lord of the Sea), Sturdee (Chief of Staff of the Admiralty) and Hamilton (2nd Lord of the Sea). Sturdee opposed any mobilization of the Grand Fleet in support, but agreed to provide coverage of the operation with five cruisers, battleships of the force C and the two battle cruisers of the Force K.

The Island of Helgoland circa 1890-1900

Keyes’ submarines are deployed

Both Keyes’s submersible groups were composed of E4, E5, E9 placed north and south of Heligoland to prevent the Germans reach to coast, while another line consisting of E6, E7 and E8 was sent 74 km from there to attract Germans to the west force. Finally the D2 and D8 were placed at the mouth of the Ems to intercept any reinforcements. The day was to be scheduled for 28 August. However John Jellicoe, the commander of the Grand Fleet was only informed of this in very vague terms, on the 26, just when Keyes was sailing his submarine force.

Submarine HMS E4

Cruisers are committed

The latter finally offered the assistance of the Grand Fleet, worrying an exit so close to German coasts. Sturdee objected again, but nonetheless allowed to detach some battle cruisers, which could be quickly in the area. A force comprising the first squadron of battle cruisers under David Beatty and a squadron of light cruisers under Commodore Goodenough was established. But Keyes and Tyrwhitt had at that time almost reached their positions and were then could not be contacted. So they ignored this support force. Thus the unexpected meeting just before dawn on the Force of Harwich and Goodenough nearly turned to confrontation before the watchmen confirmed that they were friendly vessels !

SMS Frauenlob, Gazelle class

German order of battle

From their side, the Germans had sent a force of nine modern destroyers from the first flotilla of torpedo boats, 46 km west of the island. 22 km of the island was also posted the Third Division of minesweepers. In support, were the light cruisers SMS Hela, Ariadne, Frauenlob and Stettin, while the Mainz was still in the mouth of the Ems, and 7 other light cruisers were anchored at Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbuttel. No heavier ship was available. The Harwich force commanded by Tyrwhitt included no less than 31 destroyers led by light cruisers Arethusa and Fearless. In support, C Force counted five armoured cruisers, and Force K had six light cruisers and battle cruisers HMS Invincible and New Zealand.

Heligoland Fortifications

< German Rear Admiral Maass At the first light of dawn, the German destroyer E9 spotted the G194, and at 5:26, torpedoed, but missed the latter while is was proceeding at full steam for ramming. The German ship immediately signaled her position, and other destroyers of the flotilla aimed at full speed for this sector.

Tyrwhitt’s destroyers at the vanguard

Then Tyrwhitt Forces arrived with vanguard, Laurel and 3 other class “L” destroyers. The latter spotted the G194 at 6:50, and was pitted against Admiral Leberecht Maas, who hoisted his mark on the Cöln, the first to see the enemy. He echoed the new commander in chief of the defense of the bay of Heligoland, Rear-Admiral Franz Hipper. The latter, thinking it was just an isolated squadron of four destroyers, only authorized the departure as Stettin and Frauenlob in immediate reinforcement.

HMS Loyal, 1913

Tyrwhitt on his side feared for his too advanced destroyers, and unable to recall them, was obliged to sail at full speed to assist them. This is when the first flotilla of destroyers arrived. These spotted the cruisers and destroyers which did not joined the battle, preferring to retreat to the shelter battery of Heligoland. Detached, the first flotilla led by Fearless made its way north. The Third flotilla led by Arethusa, having mauled the S13 and V1, reached the second German line, composed of frail minesweepers.

But at 7:57, the British watchers signaled the presence of two enemy cruisers: These were the SMS Frauenlob and Stettin. The 3rd fleet veered towards these ships, while the first in gunnery reach engaged combat. Soon the Fearless hit the Stettin, which came to support the destroyers veering towards the island. However, the Fearless was ordered to continue north of the island. Arethusa, meanwhile, heavily engaged the Frauenlob.

HMS destroyer Laurel

The ordeal of HMS Arethusa

However because of the concentration of German Fire, the Arethusa was also hit several times, with its machinery damaged, flooded, its engine and transmission out of order, but especially its two main guns knocked off, the others quickly following. The Frauenlob on her side and conceded 10 impacts. But the British cruiser situation worsened with the arrival of the SMS Stettin, recently “released” from its duel with the Fearless, pulling northeast. At 8:30, the Arethusa, too badly damaged, broke off the fight and headed due west, with the Frauenlob on its tail.

SMS V187 destroyer at Heligoland

Meanwhile, a chase ensued between Keyes aboard HMS Lurcher and light cruisers of Goodenough, each thinking the other was the enemy, because of lack of communication. This confusion ended at 9:50. Goodenough then decided to detach the Lowestoft and Nottingham of the first squadron of cruisers. These crossed the path of V187, which was hit and pursued by several destroyers led by HMS Goshawk. The German destroyer was sunk at 9:10 am and survivors rescued.

Maass’ cruisers arrives

Just when these operations were underway, while two whaleboats were at sea, destroyers had to depart hastily when watchmen signaled the Stettin. The few English sailors left in their boats and German sailors were surprised when the submersible E4 surface. There was not enough room to collect them all, and only English sailors and three prisoners boarded while the remaining Germans were given compass, food, and the direction of Heligoland. Around 8:55, the Fearless and Arethusa were traveling southwest in concert.

HMS Arethusa light cruiser

The Hela and Ariadne, warned, were too far from the action and returned to their patrols, while the Strassburg, Mainz and Cöln had sailed towards the island and were now racing towards combat. Confusion still raged on when at 9:30, HMS Southampton of the Goodenough squadron was torpedoed unsuccessfully by the E6 which took her for a German cruiser. The latter in turn took her to a German submarine and started a ramming maneuver.

Meanwhile, Tyrwhitt was trying to reform his squadron lost in the fog, which then began to rise. That’s when the Germans cruisers catch on. SMS Strassburg began shell the slow retreating, wounded Arethusa, despite and active defense from destroyers led by HMS Fearless. SMS Strassburg break off down, but the Cöln in turn started to pound the hapless Arethusa. Once again, she was saved by the bold defense of the British destroyers. In turn the Strassburg also tried to finish off te British Cruiser. Under pressure, Tyrwhitt demanded urgent intervention of David Beatty. The latter complied and came in support despite the presence of mines in the area at 11:35. Regarding the strength of Harwich, the battle raged between the English destroyers and the cruiser when the SMS Mainz arrived in turn. At 11:50 Goodenough’s squadron was reported by the Germans watchmen and the three cruisers changed course.

Sinking of the Mainz at Heligoland

Cruisers vs destroyers

The Mainz had its rudder jammed by a lucky shot from the Fearless. She continued to drive on course by modulating the speed of its two screws, but was violently attacked by destroyers Laurel, Liberty and Laertes. The latter has been badly hit in return. The British cruisers then in turn pounded her until she was evacuated by her crew. She will sink in 40 minutes at 24:50. Meanwhile, Cöln and Strassburg took advantage of this diversion to re-attack the Arethusa (almost defenseless), its destroyers being dispersed.

Beatty’s battle cruisers to the rescue

It was then David Beatty’s turn to arrive timely with his battle cruisers. They opened fire from a distance, surprising the Germans cruisers that at last break the fight and change course. The distance dwindled rapidly during this maneuver, so the Cöln was quickly hit. Ariadne then arises, attempted a diversion by taking fire. A bold more, but she was immediately hit at close range by both the Lion and the Princess Royal, and quickly set ablase. The Strassburg took advantage of the confusion, still cruising between the two lines, and managed to escape, but the Cöln was spotted by the watchmen of the Lion, and at 13:25, the German cruiser, unable to fire back because of its shorter gunnery range, was sunk.

SMS Ariadne, light cruiser path on the final phase of the battle


At 14:00 it was all over. SMS Strassburg had escaped his pursuers, and the bulk of British forces has being folded. The latter deplored 36 victims while HMS Arethusa and three destroyers had to undergo lengthy repairs. But on their side the Germans deplored 1200 casualties or missing and prisoners, and had lost 3 cruisers and a destroyer. This battle showed firstly the serious shortcomings of the defense of the bay of Heligoland, since the German system had proved too light and that the attacks lacked coordination, reinforcements arrived too slowly. But on the other side the British showed a critical lack of communication of coordination between the different forces involved, which nearly ended in disaster. This does detract from the success of Beatty who will reap the greatest credit of this victory in the newspapers…

Cruiser SMS Mainz


Second phase of the Battle

Last phase of the Battle

SMS Mainz sinking


Links and Sources

The Battle of Heligoland bight on wikipedia
The Battle of Heligoland bight on British-Battles
The Battle of Heligoland bight on naval-history.net

The Odensholm Action (August 26, 1914)

German Navy
26 August 1914

Mining the Gulf of Finland

Odensholm (currently Osmussaar, desolate island of 4.7 kilometers belonging to Estonia – where according to legend, Odin was burned at his funeral) was located 67 km southwest of Tallinn (59°17′30″N 23°23′30″E). By its strategic location, it closed the Gulf of Finland, gateway to the Baltic from St Petersburg. Upon declaration of war, it was entrusted to the care of the Hochseeflotte to lay mines at the entrance to the Gulf. On 25 August, were designated for this the cruisers Magdeburg and Augsburg. The first sailed from Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) and rallied the entrance to the Gulf during the night of August, 26.

SMS Magdeburg, German light cruiser

Return of fate

Unfortunately the weather was foggy, and the Magdeburg ran aground on shoals north of the island of Odensholm, at only 200 m from the lighthouse at midnight past 38 minutes, when the starboard forward hit sand where water was only 2.5 meters deep. Escorting destroyer V26 tried to take her in tow for digging out, but in vain. However, from the nearby island Lighthouse, as the weather cleared up in the first lights, the Russian watchman gave the alarm to the headquarters of the Baltic Fleet. The naval base of Tallinn was only 50 miles away. Situation was now critical and Lieutenant Commander Habenitch orders the crew to evacuate the ship and prepare for scuttling.

Russian cruiser Bogatyr


Charges were laid, confidential archives are burned in a boiler. As the crew prepares to embark on the V26, a watchman signaled two Russians cruisers in sight. This was actually the Bogatyr, followed at a distance by the Pallada, that came through at 9.10 am. The V26 resumed abruptly boarding operations and left the area immediately, leaving the men left to their fate. The cruiser had not brought the colors yet, so the Russians cruisers opened fire in a blind spot: The German cruiser would not even have time or opportunity to replicate. After warning shots, seeing that the German cruiser failed to comply and bring the colors down, they shelled the ship at short range and quickly blown its superstructures up. A raging fire started, and the beginning of a panic seized the German crew. Moreover, charges at the front blown up at the same time, the back charges then being inactivated probably to left time to evacuate the ship. As a result, the ship essentially was left unscaved, as the Russians quickly stopped firing and sent a boarding party.

Stranded SMS Magdeburg being evacuated (seen probably from a Russian cruiser’s bridge), as the front part has been blown up. The lighthouse can be seen 200m in the background. (Bundesarchiv)


Ultimately, 56 sailors and Commander Richard Habenicht were captured, 17 dead, 21 wounded and 85 missing were declared. Captain Nepenin, chief of intelligence of the Baltic fleet sent a search team who to find a copy of the precious codes book of the Hochseeflotte, the Signalbuch der Kaiserlichen Marine (SKM), which was eventually discovered under a pile of clothes in the room of the commander. This document was indeed of paramount importance, giving precious intelligence to the allies.

Moreover two others were also found with their decoding manuals attached: The around maps (containing coded squares). Two of these copied code books were sent to the fleet of the Baltic and the Black Sea, and the third one sent to London by captains Kedrov and Smirnof that delivered these personally to Winston Churchill, then 1st Lord of the Admiralty. Discovered also were the 4977.73 Marks, maps with the registered German minefields and corresponding secret codes.

German signal flags.

These were immediately sent to the “Room 40” and intersected with other documents. From then on the Royal Navy and the Russian Navy will always have an edge over the Hochseeflotte. Indeed, the German staff ignored that the allies were now in possession of these ultra-secret documents, as the 56 men of the Magdeburg were held in Siberia until the capitulation. Moreover, in October 1914 the British also obtained the Imperial German Navy’s Handelsschiffsverkehrsbuch (HVB). This codebook was used by German naval warships, merchantmen, naval zeppelins and U-Boats. This case recalls another, which occur 19 years after: The seizing of enigma machines and breaking of the encryption code (which ultimately led to the invention of the computer).

Links & resources

Osmussar – Odensholm
German signal flags from 1815 (pdf)
The Code Bearers (Google book) By John Westwood
Das Ende von SMS Magdeburg
Room 40