The Battle of the Falkland Islands

- Monday, December 22, 2014

Amidst all the doom and gloom of the tanking oil price this week’s blog looks at a small event in the Falkland Islands this week that commemorated a very large event that took place on 8 December 1914. 


Falkland Islands


There is a tenuous link to the oil industry as Rust Resources has an office in the Falklands and is working with the major players as exploration is due to start in earnest in 2015. The event in question took place on the seas around the Islands and is known as the Battle of the Falkland Islands. Not to be confused with what happened in 1982 this was a little known but significant First World War Sea battle.


Admiral Graf Spee of the Imperial German Navy headed to the Islands following his victory at the battle of Coronel off the coast Valparaiso, Chile on 1 November 2014. Rear Admiral Craddock had been out classed and outgunned by a more modern force. It was the first British Naval defeat in over 100 years with the loss of two armored cruisers and nearly 1600 crew.
The victorious German force eventually headed south to raid the Falkland Islands relying on out of date intelligence that the British fleet was not in the area. Ironically they had already taken on coal from a captured auxiliary and didn’t really need to go the Islands but decided to anyway.
Unknown to Spee there were 9 British Naval ships in Stanley harbor. Their number included 2 Battle Cruisers and 3 Armored Cruisers. These ships were faster, better armed and had superior armor to the German ships.
The approaching fleet transports were spotted and the alarm raised by a great Aunt of two of the Falkland Islands Company directors; Cheryl Roberts and David Spencer. Before the Imperial Fleet had a chance to block the British fleet in the harbor they were fired upon by the 12-inch guns of Canopus, a pre Dreadnought class ship that had been beached at the end of Stanley harbor to create a stable gunnery platform.
The Germans took flight. Spee bravely made a stand and waited to engage the British and give the rest of his fleet time to escape. It was in vain and the British managed to get steam up in very short order (reportedly burning wardroom furniture to speed the process up) and ran down and engaged the German fleet. The battle took a number of turns but strategically it was essentially a stern chase the British won. Of the German force of 8 ships only two escaped. The losses included the armored cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst (flagship) and the light cruisers Leipzig and Numberg. Spee lost his life, as did his two sons. The British casualties and damage were very light in comparison.
The December 2014 ceremony was to unveil commemorative plaques to the lost and to the commanders.
It was attended by descendants of some of the participants including relatives of Vice Admiral Doveton Sturdee, Vice Admiral Christopher Craddock and Admiral Graf Von Spee. Guests also included the Mayor of Coronel and the Naval Attaché to the German Embassy in London. It was held in a spirit of reconciliation and was heralded as a symbol of a new relationship between Germany and the Falkland Islands.  
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