The German navy is smaller than that of Britain. The main German fleet is in Kiel and is unable to put to sea without encountering the superior forces of the British. But in the Pacific the situation is different. The Germans have a cruiser squadron there commanded by Admiral Maximilian von Spee, stronger than anything the Allies have in that ocean. But Spee is in a tricky position. His main base is Tsingtao, which is now under attack by the Japanese. Germany’s other possessions in the Pacific are being gobbled up by the Allies. He has no chance of making it back to Germany, as trying to do so would lead to his destruction by the main British fleet.
Spee resolves to keep his fleet together and cause as much trouble for the Allies as he can in the Pacific. He hopes to be able to acquire more coal in Chile. But one of his subordinates disagrees. Karl von Müller of the Emden thinks it would be better if Spee’s ships were to disperse, the better to prey upon Allied shipping. They agree to differ; Spee releases the Emden from his squadron and lets Müller head west into the Indian Ocean, to attack British shipping there. The rest of Spee’s ships remain with him in the Pacific.