A Story of Two Isles - the Falklands - part 6 - Battle of the Falklands, World War 1steemCreated with Sketch.

in #history4 years ago (edited)
So, we are entering a more contemporary era in our tale of the history of the Falkland Islands. A more convoluted stage, with bigger plays and more blood spilled. Here I summarize the events that happened during the biggest war of all time, in terms of sheer carnage: World War 1. An understanding of the Falkland´s older history is not mandatory since this inaugurates a whole new section about them, but I encourage you to read them when you have the time, nonetheless. Also, this is the only article of the saga in which the Falkland Islands are not in the center stage, but rather in the context of that great naval war that was taking place all around the world.

Previous parts:
Part 1: https://steemit.com/history/@wolfenlord/a-story-of-two-isles
Part 2: https://steemit.com/history/@wolfenlord/a-story-of-two-isles-part-2
Part 3: https://steemit.com/history/@wolfenlord/a-story-of-two-isles-the-falklands-part-3
Part 4: https://steemit.com/history/@wolfenlord/a-story-of-two-isles-the-falklands-part-4-the-rebellion
Part 5: https://steemit.com/history/@wolfenlord/a-story-of-two-isles-the-falklands-part-5-british-expansionism-before-the-war

In august 1914 the british went to war with a relatively small army, and the biggest navy humanity had ever seen. The first duty of the navy was to defend the british isles and prevent the central powers from cutting off britains commerce routes. Germany in turn, had been building the Kaiser´s battle fleet for years, with the idea that even though Britain fleet was the mightiest, they were scattered thin across lots of overseas colonies and that exactly is where german opportunity was.

The skin of the warships had been toughened by steel and long gone were the sails, now replaced with steam chimneys. To steam ships, coal was life. A heavy ship ate a whole ton of coal for every mile sailed at high steam. Britain was fully aware that even with that big of a navy, they were overextended, and started concentrating back most of its ships back home. Sir John Fisher, first Sea Lord, wrote reassuringly at that time: "We will soon have in home waters two fleets, each of which is incomparably superior to the entire german fleet, fully mobilized for war, so sleep easy in your beds." Indeed, at the start of the Great War, Britain had won the shipbuilding race, it had 24 dreadnaught and battlecruisers against Germany who had only 16. It also had the moral advantage of more than 100 years of unchallenged dominance at sea. However they were unconscious that naval war balance was about to change.
In Germany a naval revolution took place silently underwater. Literally silently and underwater. A new invention, the submarine, was yet untested but it would soon show to the world just how vulnerable the biggest dreadnoughts were to it. The sea mines had also just been invented, but the british thought them to be only a mere nuisance. That is why they had no minelayers or minesweeper ships of their own, but they would soon realize that a just a single mine could sink a dreadnaught, and a few well placed torpedos could sink even the biggest ship of that time. They were not as fast as their WWII counterparts however, and other ships could see them coming slowly for miles, like the worst slo-mo chase ever. So they relied mainly on night cover and surprise. Submarines were so snail-paced than ships were safer while sailing than when they were moored at the docks. However, these "u-boats", as germans called them, could sneak in like a thief in the night, kill a few ships and get out without even getting detected. There were no more than 20 german u-boats around, but they made such a big impact, that made the United States enter the war by sinking the RMS Lusitania, a civilian ship, which went under with 1,198 passengers and crew, which included 128 Americans. The whole submarine warfare deal prompted England to change tactics and hit all german coaling stations(colonies where the Kaiser´s ships could refuel their coal), to restrict the main fleet´s movement.
After a few months, the majority of german coaling stations in the pacific were taken by the british, which in turn prompted the germans to change tactics, since most of their ships were bleeding their precious coal to their death with no refueling in sight. It was only in Tsingtao, China, that they could refuel and resupply. From there, sailed away the SMS Emden on a guerrilla tactics mission in the south seas. None of the 343 enlisted men onboard knew that they would never see Tsingtao again. The Kaiserliche Marine(German Imperial Navy) ordered the Emden into a suicide mission. He was to go alone into the south indian sea, the heard of the british indian empire, and attack enemy ships at random to divert attention from the operations that the german navy were conducting at their home seas.
The Emden was able to sink over 30 freighters(16 confirmed kills). The audacity of the german cruiser still dazzles contemporary british historians. This was the british indian ocean, and yet one single ship, one german cruiser was able to stay one step ahead of the british the whole time, all the while there are 20 to 30 british ships looking for her, but they never quite catch her. Eventually their luck was bound to end, the crew knew that, and even their captan wrote about it in the log. I´m not a fan of world powers, but I personally like the story of the Emden so much because his captain showed a lot of chivalry during the war, a long gone sentiment for most captains, of all countries. Survivors tell that this particular ship always rescued enemy freighter´s sailors and offloaded them onto neutral ships so that they could return to port. Keep that fact in your head and if you don´t believe in karma, keep reading and I´ll make a believer out of you.
After a few profitable months, the Emden arrived at the Cocos Island and sent a landing party ashore to wreck a new weapon: a radio station that provided intel to the enemy. That would prove to be their undoing since an australian cruiser, the HMAS Sydney, managed to sail about 100km top speed and arrive there just in time. When I say "just in time", its because almost half of the Emdens crew was still ashore attacking the radio station and it had not enough time to pick them up. A battle ensued, but the Sydney had heavier armament and Emdens lack of a full crew was also a factor. Karl von Müller, Emden´s Captain, saw a marathoning Sydney closing in at full speed, which had just gotten into optimal range to fire at the Emden with its 152mm guns. After hitting Sydney a few times but doing no critical damage on her, his last resort was to try to evade their big guns at close range while getting a torpedo firing solution (In case you
didn´t know, cruisers had lateral firing torpedos).
That´s when, to make matters worse, the Sydney damaged Emden´s rangefinders(the "computer", speaking kindly, which is like calling an abacus a calculator or a sextant a GPS). So after 4 manual attempts to get into a firing line, all the while taking so much enemy fire that turned Emden virtually into a sailing wreck(more than 100 enemy shells damaged the Emden, captain Müller decided that the life of the remaining 133 officers onboard(out of a crew of 343) were more important than getting the kill, so he surrendered. His injured men were sent to Australia, while the uninjured were sent to a POW camp in Malta.
On the other hand, the landing party on the shore observed the whole battle and knew that the Emden would sink, so they rushed to the pier and stole a wooden topsail schooner Ayesha, or as "Captain Jack Sparrow" would say: that damn boat. The boat leaked due to lack of maintenance, and the whole scene was so hilarious that the Sydney didn´t even try to stop it as they slooowly escaped into the horizon. But Karma owed them one for their kindness towards the freighter crews, so they escaped safely, at least for that day. What happened to the Ayesha´s newfound crew? That is a longer and more exciting story than you would expect, they desperately travelled for a year around half the globe to reach germany and they faced lots of dangers. That story is so interesting in fact, there is a whole movie about that trip. I´m thinking about doing a spinoff article detailing all the perils they had to endure.
Now the flame of german naval imperialism was flickering, with only admiral Maximilian Reichsgraf von Spee remaining at large. Von Spee was the commander of the greater naval task force(not that great, only five ships anyway) to which the Emden pertained. You need to remember that the Emden was sent alone to hunt for freighters as a diversion to give the task force relative surprise factor and impunity. For what?
When Von Spee heard news about the allied capture of german Samoa, he sent his group there in the hopes of catching some enemy warships just leaving the zone. He found no warships in or around the harbor, but decided against shelling samoa because he din´t wanna kill the locals or damage german property, so he sent his task group to attack a french colony, the Papeete, and in the battle that ensued they sank a french gunboat, the Zélée and made considerable damage to the harbor. They also decided against trying to appropiate the coal from the harbour itself, since rumors said there were explosives set to go off in the area if they tried. They continued up until they arrived at the coast of Chile, where they learned that the british cruiser Glasgow was moored in Coronel, ostensibly alone, and he decided to strike and try to sink the ship. As it turned out, it was a trap, and the Glasgow was in fact acting as bait. Her commander, Rear Admiral Christopher Cradock, was tasked to give hunt to Von Spee, and he was not alone, two other british heavy cruisers, one light cruiser and an armed merchant ship were accompanying him. Just imagine the surprise on Von Spee´s face. The odds were even, but the surprise was on the british side. To be fair, he was a very seasoned admiral and he knew what to do: he delayed the action using his ships' superior speed until later in the day, when the setting sun would silhouette Cradock's ships. The German ships would meanwhile be obscured against the Chilean coast, making the task of the British gunners more difficult. That made the difference and soon after, two of the british cruisers, the Monmouth and the Good Hope, were sinking into the ocean. They suffered more than 1600 deaths, including Cradock himself, though the german spent more than half of their ammunition in that battle. Von Spee was in dire need of provisions and fuel, so he sailed to Valparaiso, in Chile, a neutral country, where he was told to restock and be on their way as fast as possible. He was however greeted warmly in the German Club in Valparaiso, where they even gifted him with a bouquet of flowers to celebrate his victory, to which he stated: "They will do nicely for my grave. You must not forget that I am quite homeless. I cannot reach Germany. We possess no other truly secure harbor. I must fight my way through the seas of the world doing as much mischief as can, until my ammunition is exhausted, or a foe far superior in power succeeds in catching me. But it will cost the wretches dearly before they take me down." The ships hadn´t completely refueled when they were forced the next day to leave, as per the neutrality agreement they were only allowed in a neutral port for 24hs and they were forbidden to refill its ammo.
All those bad news for England shook the british people to the core. New tactics, mines, submarines, the Emden doing as it pleased on the indian ocean, and now news that the "undefeatable" british navy got beaten on a fair fight. That did terrify the people so much that they critisized the admiralty relentlessly. So the admiralty decided to make an example of Von Spee and they sent a pair of its meanest Battlecruisers, the Invincible and the Inflexible, equipped with the fastest engines available, to reinforce what was left of the british task force, hunt down Spee´s squadron and avenge Cradock's defeat. When Von Spee had a conference with his other ship commanders to derermine the next course of action, the options on the table were either to attack the radio station in the Falkland Islands or to go hunting for allied ships along the coasts of Argentina. As Von Spee´s task force approached Port Stanley in the Falklands, they saw a column of smoke rise above the horizon, but they thought they were the british on the port burning all their coal so they wouldn´t get seized. Later though, they noticed that in fact, it was the Invincible and the Inflexible, with the rest of the british task force taking positions around them. Vos Spee tried to outrun them but they were too fast, and at 13:20 they had caught up with him. So he turned around and decided to fight. The german cruiser Scharnhorst landed two hits on the Invincible and had managed to not get hit yet. But the british ships were closing fast despite all the zigzagging the germans made to avoid getting hit, and soon the distance between them was to close for the zigzagging to be effective, so the british gunfire became quite more accurate. Von Spee ordered the german cruiser Gneisenau to try to escape while he turned the Scharnhorst full steam towards his attackers for a torpedo run at cutthroat range. Reports are inncaurate because some say he did land a few torpedos on the british, and some say he didn´t, whats for sure is that at 16:17, the Scharnhorst, having taken too much concentrated fire from both british cruisers capsized and sank, taking her entire crew with her, including Von Spee who died like a hero protecting the rest of the ships on his task force. The british were still focused on chasing the rest of the german cruisers, so they made no attempt to rescue the survivors. Gneisenau, Leipzig, and Nürnberg were also sunk, leaving only the Dresden to escape. That last sole german ship was tracked later to the Juan Fernandez Islands and sunk too later that week. Von Spee was hailed as a hero in Germany and they emphasized his bravery and refusal to surrender. The germans would go on to name several of their cruisers with the name Graf Spee, two of them were even famous during WWII. As for the islands, they stood quiet now, they avoided being shelled and served as the perfect trap to catch germans. Order had been restored, but for how long?
Stay tuned for the next part, next week. And if you like my work, remember to upvote me, or I´ll shell your port and raid all of your coal!

Did you write an article about the faith of Ayesha and its crew?

Actually nope, that´s a really long story and didn´t wanna start another saga before finishing the Falklands one. I´ll find a way to condense it in two or three pages and I´ll write about it soon!

Looking forward!!

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