8/12/1914 The Battle of the Falklands: Spee’s fleet destroyed

Admiral Spee has led the German Pacific Squadron around the south Pacific, raiding Tahiti and smashing a British squadron at the Battle of Coronel. Now he has crossed into the Atlantic. After a difficult voyage through the stormy waters of Cape Horn he leads his ships to attack the British station on the Falkland Islands. But as his ships approach the harbour of Port Stanley, they see the tripod turrets of capital ships. The British must have sent some big ships south to take him on. And indeed they have, with Doveton Sturdee commanding two capital ships and a number of lighter cruisers.

Spee’s ships turn and run, assuming the British vessels are battleships, slow and heavily armoured. But they are not, they are battlecruisers, carrying heavy guns but lightly armoured and built for speed. They can outpace Spee’s ships and destroy them at a distance with their powerful guns.

The Germans speed away as fast as they can but the British ships catch up. In an uneven battle they destroy Spee’s squadron. Only one of Spee’s ships, the Dresden manages to escape. The rest are sunk. Some 2,200 German sailors meet their deaths in the icy waters of the South Atlantic, including Admiral Spee and his two sons, who were also serving in the squadron. A couple of hundred German survivors are picked up by the British.

map image source (Wikipedia)

survivors image source (Wikipedia)

In 1927 a feature film was released describing the initial triumph and then the defeat of Spee’s squadron, The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands. Earlier this year it was restored by the British Film Institute and received a limited cinema release. It can also be seen on the BFI Player and is a fascinating account of these events.

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