This Day In History: The German Navy Defeats the British at The Battle of Coronel (1914)

When WWI broke out in August 1914 it spread beyond Europe and soon engulfed much of the world. This was because of the huge European Empires at this time. The Germans had a series of small colonies in the South Pacific and an enclave in China. The Imperial German navy under Vice-Admiral Spee had a small naval squadron located in the Pacific when the war broke out. Japan soon joined the allies and this meant that Spee was very vulnerable. The Japanese had a huge navy and so the Germans decided that their best chance was to leave the Pacific and to return to Europe. They decided to sail around Latin America and enter the Atlantic and home to Germany. Spee decided to head to Chile which had a ready supply of the coal that the German squadron needed to power their ships. Furthermore, Chile although neutral had a large German population, which meant that Spee and his ships would not be turned away from the country’s ports.

Scharnhorst one of the German ships who took part in the battle

The small German squadron was chased by a large number of Japanese, Australian and British ships. Spee sailed towards the coast of Chile but off the south coast of that country, when his ships spotted a number of British ships. Spee decided to attack the British with his quicker ships. Before the British could respond the Germans fired on the British ships and they sank the British flagship, the Good Hope. The Good Hope did not even have a chance to return fire and it sank in less than an hour. The Germans then attacked the cruiser the Monomouth and after a brief chase, it too was sunk by the Nurnberg. In total over 1500 British sailors died and the Germans did not sustain any losses. Several smaller British ships escaped and alerted the British Admiralty of the defeat and the loss of the ships. As a result of the victory, the German ships were able to dock in the Chilean port of Valapariso where they secured supplies of coal.

It was the worst defeat suffered by the British army since the 18th century.  The news of the loss of two cruisers was received with shock in London. The British avenged the defeat at Coronel sometime later at the Battle of the Falklands.  The British send several large cruisers and battleships to intercept Spee and his ships in the South Atlantic and they encountered the Germans in the seas around the Falkland Islands.  In this battle, a larger British squadron sank all four ships in the German squadron and thousands of German sailors died, among them Spee and his two sons.  The defeat of the German ships at the Falklands persuaded Berlin to concentrate on waging submarine warfare against the superior British navy.

HMS Good Hope sunk at Coronel in 1914