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Article: The Falklands

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    The Falklands

    11 Comments by Brian Probetts (Site Admin) Published on 3rd May 2015 10:53 PM
    2 Jan 2015
    By Harold Briley OBE

    Their Grave is the Sea
    1914 Naval Battles: Coronal and Falklands

    Early in World War One the Royal Navy suffered one of its most disastrous defeats followed five weeks later by one of its most decisive victories. In the Battle of the Falkland Islands on 8 December, 1914, all five battle cruisers of the German East Asian Squadron and its three support ships were defeated with nearly 2,000 men killed including their commander, Vice Admiral Graf von Spee and his two sons. No British ships were lost and only eleven British sailors were killed.

    The battle avenged the Royal Navy’s most disastrous defeat for over a hundred years in the Battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile on 1 November, 1914. Graf von Spee’s squadron sank two cruisers Good Hope and Monmouth, the first British warships of any size sunk by enemy gunfire with all hands lost. More than 1,600 died including their commander, Rear-Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock. The Falkland Islands gold reserves of 3,750 lent by the Governor to Cradock also went down with his ship. He had fallen foul of the setting sun which plunged the Germans into darkness while silhouetting his own ships, a scenario he had warned against in a battle instruction handbook. Two other ships Otranto and Glasgow, with a gaping hole in her stern, were forced to withdraw. The Kaiser awarded Graf Spee and his men 300 Iron Crosses .

    Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, took a personal interest in the hunt for Graf von Spee’s squadron hiding in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, where it was a threat to commercial shipping and to troopships sailing to Europe from Australia and New Zealand. The Admiralty deployed a powerful force to the South Atlantic - eight cruisers, Invincible, Inflexible, Carnarvon; Cornwall, Kent, Bristol, Glasgow, and Macedonia, and the battleship Canopus, under the command of Rear-Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee. His orders were to pursue and destroy the German squadron.

    Its cruisers, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Dresden, Nurnberg and Leipzig and three supply ships rounded Cape Horn and, on their way back to Germany, von Spee, decided to attack and destroy the Falkland’s base installations, which he believed to be undefended. The Governor, William Allardyce, ordered the evacuation of 500 women and children from Stanley into the freezing countryside.

    Admiral von Spee was shocked to find the powerful British force had arrived in the Falklands only the previous day. Sturdee was equally surprised as his ships were unready for battle, still taking on thousands of tons of coal to fire their steam boilers. They were trapped and faced annihilation. Canopus had been driven five feet deep into mud to provide a stable platform for her heavy guns.

    Winston Churchill is quoted as saying that the outcome of the battle gave him one of his most anxious periods in two World Wars. He was misled by an ambiguous signal from Governor Allardyce from which he wrongly inferred that the British ships had been destroyed. But a second message hours later told him: “It’s all right, Sir, they are all at the bottom”, meaning the German fleet. Instead of attacking, von Spee beat a rapid retreat, a fatal mistake for the Germans and salvation for the British.

    Sturdee’s force set off in pursuit. Within a few hours Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Nurnberg, Leipzig and two supply transports, Baden and Santa Isabel, were sunk. Dresden escaped but three months later, in March 1915, she was found sheltering in Chilean waters by Kent and Glasgow, and was scuttled. The surviving German supply ship, Scydlitz, was interned by Argentina. All von Spee’s eight ships were accounted for.

    A pig given to Dresden’s crew by the German community in Chile swam ashore, was captured as a war trophy, re-christened Tirpitz, and raffled several times for the war effort. It died of old age and its stuffed head was put on display in the Imperial War Museum in London.

    Sturdee was knighted and later commanded ships in the 1917 Battle of Jutland. The Admiralty gave 10,000 to Sturdee and 12,160 in prize bounty to be shared among the crews of the battle cruisers.
    Churchill’s gamble of sending so many powerful warships so far away weakened Britain’s defence against invasion. The German High Seas Fleet seized the opportunity to send a squadron across the North Sea on 16 December to bombard Hartlepool, Scarborough and Whitby, killing 137 people and injuring 592, a consequence of a battle 8,000 miles away.

    The 100th anniversary was commemorated at Coronel, in the Falkland Islands and in London, with wreath-laying at sea and church services in which descendants of those who died played a prominent part, including relatives of the three admirals in command.

    At Coronel, The First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, cast a wreath on the sea from the Royal Navy’s most modern destroyer. HMS Dragon. And the Second Sea Lord, Vice Admiral David Steel, took part in a Falkland Islands Association service in the navy church, St Martin in the Fields in London.

    Wreaths were laid in Falklands waters from the Antarctic Ice Patrol ship, HMS Protector, commanded by Captain Rhett Hatcher. He took part a Royal Navy ceremony at the Battle of the Falklands Memorial in Stanley where Graf Von Spee’s great, great nephew remarked “Back then our nations were at war but now we stand together”.

    That was the theme of all the ceremonies, reconciliation of once bitter enemies, now friends and allies, paying respect to the courage and loss of life on both sides.

    British and German descendants shook hands at a new memorial wall bearing brass plaques images of the battles and of the three admirals. British and German flags flew side by side over Stanley.

    The Falkland Islands Government minted a new 2 coin depicting HMS Glasgow commanded by Captain John Luce which took part in both battles and in the search for Dresden.

    A film about the battle, made in 1927, described as one of the best war films ever made, starring Royal Navy ships, has been refreshed by the British Film Institute for the 100th anniversary.
    Battle of the River Plate, 1939

    The 1914 battles had an echo in the first major naval battle of the Second World War; again in the South Atlantic, in December, 1939 - the Battle of the River Plate whose 75th anniversary took place in 2014. The powerful German battleship Admiral Graf Spee, named after the First World War commander, was hunted down, engaged and defeated. Some of the men who fought in that engagement had also taken part in the 1914 Battle of the Falklands.

    At sea before the outbreak of war, she had sunk several British merchant ships. A radio message from one victim, the Doric Star, sunk off South Africa, alerted the Royal Navy. The South America Squadron known as “Force G” operating out of the Falkland Islands, was ordered to find and destroy the raider.

    The commander, Commodore Henry Harwood, anticipated that the Graf Spee would plunder shipping in the River Plate between Argentina and Uruguay. That is where they found her. Graf Spee had superior armaments and firepower with long-range guns and thick armour plating. The three smaller British cruisers, HMS Exeter, Ajax, and Achilles, a New Zealand warship, were faster and more manoeuvrable. The captain of Ajax was Charles Woodhouse, who fought in the 1914 Battle of the Falklands as a lieutenant on HMS Bristol.

    Graf Spee’s Captain, Hans Langsdorff, made the mistake of heading straight for the cruisers instead of standing off and picking them off while out of range of their guns. Harwood divided the enemy’s fire, with Exeter attacking from one side and Ajax and Achilles from the other. All three suffered damage and Exeter was forced to limp back to the Falklands. Ajax and Achilles continued to attack forcing the Graf Spee, crippled with a damaged fuel system and short of ammunition, to run for shelter in Montevideo in neutral Uruguay instead of Buenos Aires in pro-German Argentina.

    Under international rules (the Hague Convention) warships could remain in a neutral port for only a limited time. A clever propaganda campaign orchestrated by the British Ambassador in Uruguay, Eugen Milllington-Drake, deceived Langsdorff into believing an overwhelmingly superior force of warships waited outside Montevideo. In fact, the only ship to arrive was HMS Cumberland on 14 December after steaming full speed for 36 hours from the Falklands.

    With orders from Berlin not to let his ship be interned or captured, Langsdorff left port, evacuated his crew, and scuttled his ship on 17 December to avoid loss of more lives. Hitler was furious. Remarkably, Langsdorff, a compassionate commander, saved every British seaman from all the merchant ships he sank by first warning them to take to their lifeboats so he could safely take them prisoner. Langsdorff committed suicide. He shot himself in Buenos Aires on 19 December and was buried there with full military honours. More than 1,000 of his crew were interned in Argentina, many settling there and in Uruguay for the rest of their lives.

    In Uruguay Langsdorff had released 61 of his merchant ship prisoners he had on board. His remaining prisoners had been transferred to his supply ship Altmark from which they were freed two months later by a boarding party from HMS Cossack in neutral Norwegian waters. In all, 132 sailors were killed, 72 British mostly on Exeter, and 60 German, and many more were wounded. Most of the British were buried at sea but a few, along with the German dead, were buried in two cemeteries in Montevideo. Harwood was promoted to Rear Admiral and knighted.

    Winston Churchill, again in charge of the Navy as First Lord of the Admiralty, praised the 1939 victory as a “brilliant sea fight, which takes its place in our naval annals, and in a dark, cold winter, it warmed the cockles of the British heart".

    I interviewed Graf Spee’s chief engineer who planted the explosives which blew up the battleship in full view of Montevideo waterfront. I was the only journalist invited to the 40th anniversary reunion of German, British and New Zealand veterans in 1979. The theme was reconciliation as they re-told their experiences, drank beer and sang wartime songs on a ferry taking us from Buenos Aires across the River Plate where the masts of the Graf Spee were still visible above the waves.

    In Montevideo’s cemeteries, the veterans wept as they remembered their dead shipmates whose names on simple crosses showed many to be teenagers. I enjoyed the companionship of the survivors, men of courage and integrity, in contrast to Hitler’s Nazis.

    The historic encounter was portrayed in an epic film “Battle of the River Plate” starring two of the original ships, re-enacting their own roles, Cumberland and Achilles, by then re-named Delhi as the Indian Navy’s flagship.
    The Royal Navy were to repeat their South Atlantic triumphs in the liberation of the Falkland Islands from Argentine invasion in 1982, another epic campaign won against near impossible odds. The death toll in 74 days of fighting was just over 900 – 255 British combatants, 3 Falkland Islanders, and 649 Argentines, mostly on the Battleship Belgrano, 323. Again, for many of the dead, their graves are sunken ships on the ocean bed.

    War Mission: Antarctic research
    In 1944, a clandestine wartime mission, code-named Operation Tabarin, was tasked to establish permanent British bases in the Antarctic and deter enemy activity. It was feared that Japan, having occupied the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, might invade and hand over the Falkland Islands to Argentina. Britain sent troop reinforcements.

    In peacetime, Operation Tabarin led to the formation of a world renowned organisation. Tabarin’s three bases were handed over to a new organisation, the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, which was renamed British Antarctic Survey(BAS) in 1962. It developed into an organisation of unrivalled scientific and environmental expertise. From its headquarters in Cambridge, it deploys more than 400 staff and operates five research stations, two Research Ships and five aircraft in and around Antarctica.

    End

    Harold Briley is my neighbour, a retired Journalist, Broadcaster and correspondent for the BBC.
    Brian Probetts (site admin)
    R760142

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: The Falklands

    Thank you Brian
    What a very interesting Article !
    Thanks
    Cheers
    Senior Member and Friend of this Website

    R697530

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    Default Re: The Falklands

    The next invasion of the Falklands will be assisted by RUSSIA, they have just signed a Military Pact in Moscow. They are sending 12 Supersonic bombers to Argentina and opening Navy Bases for the Russian Navy.
    Brian

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    Default Re: The Falklands

    Interesting article Brian,my great uncle went down on the Good Hope, he was 16 years of age. Obviously I never knew him, but I remember my gret grandmother who was totally deaf, sitting in her chair with tears in her eyes, and deep in her thoughts, and this was when she was in her eighties, there were no survivors from the Good Hope. Kt

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    Default Re: The Falklands

    Quote Originally Posted by Captain Kong View Post
    The next invasion of the Falklands will be assisted by RUSSIA, they have just signed a Military Pact in Moscow. They are sending 12 Supersonic bombers to Argentina and opening Navy Bases for the Russian Navy.
    Brian
    No one will need to invade the Falklands, as Mr Corbyn has declared (17/01) he would come to a negotiated settlement over some ridiculous islands thousands of miles away. He also apologised for the 'unfortunate incident' of the Belgrano in 1982, no mention was made of the 220+ UK military deaths or the 17 Merchant seamen, mind you nobody ever mentions the deaths of the Merchant seamen.

    So there you have Mr Corbyn will not only give away our trident, scrap the aircraft carriers and give away the Falklands he will have achieved his dream of destroying our society altogether as we remain defenceless against all and sundry

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    Default Re: The Falklands

    ####surely now even the leftist of the left must realise what utter fools are now in charge of the labour party .....submarines without teeth ......might as well be a viking longboat to protect our country.... we jail our own soldiers for killing the enemy.....we have in charge a person who looks like he is from the ban the bomb era of the 50s and 60s.....a defence minister who doesnt believe in defence ....senior cabinet ministers standing on picket lines......and anyone who does not bow to this cretin loses his job .....well the so called labour party has hung itself in scotland .......and now is doing the same to itself in the rest of the uk ......dont suppose anyone you know voted for them .......unless of course it was in a block vote from the commie union leninists .......i could not think of how such an effin mess could be at the helm of this once great country.......ps he wants to negotiate with the beheaders now .....well doesnt bliar look like moses now .......regards cappy

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    Default Re: The Falklands

    JC and his cronies in the far left are a joke
    The man is a fool who seems to engage mouth before brain.
    Vic

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    Default Re: The Falklands

    Cappy how do you feel about Bliar being known as Sir Bliar. He must by now be asking the present PM whats taking so long. Is the present PM frightened of a public outcry. After all Bliar was supposed to be selling certain gongs to foreign dignitaries if one can believe the press at the time. Then in a few years time it will be your favourite pollies turn, do you reckon he will change his shirt and underwear by that time. What a world to bring kids up in. Cheers John S.

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    Likes cappy, happy daze john in oz liked this post
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    Default Re: The Falklands

    Blair deservedly so should be titled the "Devil's Disciple".
    Considering the illegal war he started and all the terrorists he has pardoned in this country including the one who killed four Household Cavalry soldiers and seven horses in the Hyde Park bombing the only other thing he deserves is the "Wicked Witch" he married.
    FOURO.

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    Default Re: The Falklands

    Obama is no better than Blair in that respect. Apparently he is releasing prisoners from the prison in Guantanamo and it is reported that four have now gone to join ISIS. Wonderful pair.
    Happy daze John in Oz.

    Life is too short to blend in.

    John Strange R737787
    World Traveller

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