When you hear or read about World War I, most people generally think of Europe, trenches, mud and mustard gas. However, many fail to realize that World War I was also fought in the Pacific Ocean.
In 1914, German Vice-Admiral Maximillian von Spee was in command of small fleet of five ships operating in the western Pacific where they raided in Chinese waters. At the time, the British Empire had a huge investment in China.
On August 7, 1914, the British asked japan for assistance in defeating Spee and the Germans operating in the western Pacific.
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On August 14, 1914, Japan sent Germany an ultimatum to stop operating in Chinese waters and the western Pacific. Germany never responded to the Japanese ultimatum.
On August 23, 1914, Japan declared war on Germany and sided with the British to drive the Germans out of the Pacific Ocean.
Upon hearing that the Japanese had entered the war on the side of the British, Spee and his fleet moved east and began operating off the coast of South America. Operating on the east coast of South America was British Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock with a small fleet of old outdated ships.
In October, Cradock sailed his fleet from the Falkland Islands off the coast of Argentina, around the Cape of Good Hope and north to Valparaiso, Chili. He then sent one of his ships, the HMS Glasgow, south to gather intelligence.
On October 18, 1914, Cradock learned that Spee and the German fleet was aware of the Glasgow’s lone presence. Once Spee learned of that the Glasgow was alone in the area of Coronel, Chili, about 300 miles of Valparaiso, he set plans to intercept and destroy the Glasgow.
Cradock learned of Spee’s intention and set sail south to help defend the Glasgow. At the same time, he was counting on reinforcements from both the British and Japanese. Churchill had dispatched two ships to help Cradock but neither arrived in time, nor did any Japanese reinforcements.
On this day, November 1, 1914, the Battle of Coronel took place when Cradock and his old outdated fleet encountered Spee and his more modern German fleet near the Island of Santa Maria, which lies about 15 miles off the coast of Coronel.
Late that afternoon, Spee realized that Cradock’s guns had a more limited range than his own so he moved his ships just out of range of the British guns. Once the sun set and moon rose, Spee could easily see the British ships and began firing at them in the moonlight.
The British armored cruiser, HMS Good Hope, Cradock’s flagship was hit by the German shells and ended up sinking with all hands on board including Admiral Cradock. The other British armored cruiser, the HMS Monmouth was also hit and sustained heavy damage. Spee asked them surrender but the British refused and the Monmouth ending up following the Good Hope to the bottom of the ocean with all hands still on board.
The Battle of Coronel was a decisive victory for Admiral Spee and his German fleet. However, the news of the defeat spurred the British to take action. They soon gathered a large naval force and set sail to South America to defeat Spee.
On December 8, 1914, the larger British fleet under the command of Vice Admiral Sir Frederick Sturdee defeated Spee and his German fleet at the Battle of the Falkland Islands.
Sources for the above includes: WWI Timeline; The Battle of Coronel, 1914; WW1 Coronel: An Unlikely Naval Battle Remembered; The Battle of Coronel; Battle of Coronel; The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands: the Best British War Film You’ve Never Seen; Battle of Coronel