NOVEMBER 1 1914 – RUSSIA DECLARES WAR ON THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE, THE BATTLE OF CORONEL

             On August 10, 1914, two German warships, the Göben and the Breslau, arrived at the entrance to the Dardanelles, requesting permission from the Turkish empire to enter. For some time, the two ships had been dodging and chasing the British in the Mediterranean, but now they needed to find a port. Enver Pasha, the Turkish minister of war, felt a great deal of stress . . . the German diplomats insisted that he admit the ships, and the British and French insisted that he refuse. He tried to delay a decision, but when the Germans demanded a response, he yielded: the German ships entered the Dardanelles, effectively closing them to the forces of the Entente (France, Russia, Britain). The Germans auspiciously gave the ships to the Turks as gifts, and they even received Turkish names . . . but this gift was a largely empty gesture: the ships retained their German crews, and continued to take orders from Berlin.

The role of these ships in international politics did not end there, however.

The Germans used these ships to additional advantage . . . first they had edged the Turks closer to being allies of the Germans, now they would edge the Russians closer to being enemies to the Turks: the ships steamed up the Bosporus strait into the Black Sea and, while flying Turkish flags, shelled the Russian cities of Feodosiya, Odessa, and Sebastopol.

Naturally, the Turks were nearly as outraged as the Russians themselves, and they quickly assured St. Petersburg that the act had been German, not Turkish. Russia replied that they could prove their innocence by expelling the Germans from their territory . . . an ultimatum condition that the Turks were powerless to fulfill. The Russians received no answer, and by November 1, 1914, Turkey was at war with not only Russia, but her allies France and Britain as well. For all intents and purposes, this brought Turkey into the war as an ally of Germany.

. . . . . .

Off the coast of central Chile, another naval action was brewing. The British had gotten word that a German squadron was operating in the area, conducting raids on commerce.

The Royal Navy ordered Admiral Christopher Cradock’s West Indies Squadron to deal with them.

Cradock’s force, however, was not a particularly modern or powerful collection of warships. He had two armored cruisers (Good Hope and Monmouth), the light cruiser Glasgow, and a converted ocean-liner, Otranto. He had been ordered to confront a force of greater power and modern construction, as the German squadron were all recent additions to their fleet, consisting of the armored cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, as well as three light cruisers. They were commanded by Admiral Maximilian von Spee.

The spin up to the battle itself began on October 18, when Spee received intelligence that Glasgow was sailing alone. He set off with his entire force to intercept.

Cradock, meanwhile, had no intention of leaving Glasgow alone to be annihilated . . . he had sent the ship to gather intelligence near Coronel, expecting either a rendezvous long before the Germans ever learned of her isolation. Indeed, though he had been promised several reinforcements from London, he decided he could wait no longer, and set off from the Falkland Islands with his entire squadron in order to join up with Glasgow near Coronel. En route, he intercepted a radio message which suggested that the slowest of the German ships, the light cruiser Leipzig, was in the area. Cradock grew excited in anticipation.

Amazingly, each squadron steamed towards the other in full force, expecting to prey upon a single enemy ship.

Cradock and Spee located each other at about 4:30PM on November 1, 1914. Though obviously over-matched, Cradock believed that his orders mandated that he fight. Though he ordered the nearly impotent Otranto to flee, he prepared to confront Spee’s powerful squadron.

Spee was nobody’s fool at this battle, and had no intention of allowing Cradock any unnecessary opportunities. He kept his ships out of the range of the British ships, and began to shell them from afar at about 7PM by the light of the moon. Scharnhorst‘s third salvo crippled the Good Hope, and the Monmouth fared no better . . . all went down except for Glasgow, which managed to escape.

The Germans had won a strong victory at the cost of only 3 men wounded. The British, humiliated by this event, quickly dispatched a stronger force to the area which later resulted in the Battle of the Falkland Islands.

#100yearssinceWWI

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